Actions

Work Header

United

Chapter Text

Chapter 01: Target on His Back

 

“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

ROMAN POV

Roman gestured for his assistant, Mirabel, to leave the room right before his phone rang.

He glanced at the caller ID and answered immediately.

“Yes?” he said in greeting.

“The usual place,” a masculine voice whispered. “And be sure you are not followed. One of your immediate circle cannot be trusted.”

“I know,” Roman responded with a roll of his eyes before he hung up. In truth, he’d known that Mirabel was a spy for almost six years. However, he’d kept her on nonetheless, allowing her access to only enough information to make sure her “boss” didn’t become suspicious.

It hadn’t taken Roman long at all to learn who that boss was: Nan Flanagan.

He’d not been surprised. Though he didn’t know why Nan was so interested in his personal business, he’d never completely trusted her. After all, Roman had not lived as long as he had being careless with his life—or too trusting of anyone who didn’t share his blood.

With that in mind, he quickly used the office phone to dial Mirabel.

“I’ll be out for a while,” he informed.

“May I ask where you will be? Just in case someone calls for you?” his assistant asked.

The spying bitch.

“I have a hankering for B-positive,” Roman answered simply before hanging up. Quickly, the Guardian of the Authority used his thumbprint to open an access panel. Then, he entered a twenty-digit code that opened the secret door that led to the secret tunnel that led to his secret exit from the building—an exit that was over a mile from the building.

Call him paranoid—but Roman had told no one except for his child, Jacob, and his trusted confidant, Duncan, of the passage; most vampires in the Authority assumed that he exited the building via one of the other “quasi-secret” passages. Roman let them assume.

Though he couldn’t fly, Roman had always been incredibly fast, and he had the ability to cover his own scent, an extremely rare gift among vampires. Still, he double-checked to make sure he’d not been followed after he reached the meeting place.

“Child,” a voice behind him said.

Roman turned to his maker and bowed before her. She looked like an old woman, but she’d always been able to sneak up on him, for she, too, had the ability to conceal her scent—though she rarely bothered.

“You are the sneakiest bitch on this earth; I am certain of it,” he stated flatly.

She chuckled and approached him slowly. She was using a cane to support herself, but they both knew that it could become a weapon if need be—a deadly one. “Do not sell me short, child. I am certain that I have more stealth than many in other realms too.”

He nodded in agreement and once more looked around to ensure their privacy—and her safety.

“No one followed you,” she said with certainty. “Rise, child.”

He nodded again and stood. His maker couldn’t call up visions, so she never saw everything about the future; however, when she spoke with surety, she was not to be doubted.

“Why have you called me?” he asked. “I thought we’d not meet again until Rhodes.”

“You need to make Duncan your Magister,” she said without preamble.

“That would put a target on his back that I’d rather not see there,” Roman said cautiously of his closest friend. Plus, he’d always preferred having Duncan as his more-less personal enforcer. And Duncan had never wanted an “official” role in the Authority; otherwise, Roman would have made him a Councilor years before.

“He needs to have one on his back,” the Ancient Pythoness said. “And he needs to get that target tonight!”

“Will he survive having it?” Roman asked with concern.

“The Welshman’s chances are even better than yours when it comes to surviving,” Pythia said forebodingly, though there was a smirk on her lips.

In fact, there was rarely a moment when she wasn’t smirking. She claimed that it was how she’d survived so long.

Roman chuckled. He’d heard similar “threats” before related to the Russell Edgington situation. What he could get out of his maker’s often enigmatic statements was that a war with Russell Edgington was inevitable, yet Roman was not to be the general of this conflict.

That role would belong to Eric Northman. Roman could admit that he envied the Viking when it came to this role; however, his maker had made it very clear that Roman’s only chance of survival was in giving up leadership when it came to the fight with Russell. And Roman wanted to keep his un-dead life more than he wanted glory in battle.

But just barely.

Moreover, the fact that Eric Northman was Duncan’s vampire brother hadn’t hurt matters. That fact made Roman predisposed to like the Norseman.

“I will appoint Duncan the new Magister then,” Roman told his maker.

Pythia approached her child and stroked his cheek tenderly.

“This could be our last moment together,” she said matter-of-factly.

If Roman would have had breath, it would have been stolen from him. “No!” he denied.

Shorter than him, Pythia smiled up at her child. And, though her glassy gaze didn’t seem to connect with anything, Roman knew that she was looking intently at him.

“Truth is truth, my son. Destiny is destiny. I am shown several versions of the future because the Fates are cunts,” she cackled. “And they like to toy with me. In many of those futures, this is that last time I see you, and I wish to tell you how much I have,” she paused, “loved you.”

“But surely . . . .”

“There is no such thing as ‘sure’ when it comes to the future; that word applies only to the past and to the now,” she interrupted.

“I won’t say goodbye to you,” he said stubbornly, once more sinking down to one knee before his maker.

“I would not ask you to,” she returned as she gently patted his head. “I would say only that you have never disappointed me. Nor will you ever.”

And, with that, she was gone.

“Stealthy bitch,” Roman chuckled ruefully, even as he stayed on his knees.

He closed his eyes, saying a prayer to Jupiter and Zeus. He hoped that between his gods and Pythia’s gods, he would have the chance to be with his maker again.

After a few more minutes and a few more prayers, the Guardian rose to his feet and took out his phone. He called Mirabel and instructed her to begin the paperwork that would install Duncan as Magister—knowing that he was making his friend’s target ever bigger with every word he spoke to the spy.

ONE HOUR LATER

RUSSELL POV

“I’ve killed one Magister. I can kill another, and that prick, Duncan, has needed to die for centuries!” Russell seethed.

“There’s more,” Nan said, a wicked smile in her voice.

“What?” Russell asked, sensing that his child was about to tell him something good.

“Mirabel monitored Roman’s call to Duncan. You will never believe one of their topics of conversation.”

“What?” Russell asked again.

“Roman wanted to make sure that Duncan would be prepared to do what was necessary once Eric Northman is caught.”

“Why would he be concerned that Duncan wouldn’t?” Russell asked.

“Duncan was the second child of,” Nan paused dramatically, “Godric.”

“Duncan is Eric’s brother?”

“Yes.”

“And what did he tell Roman?”

“That he would be prepared to execute Eric for the death of his predecessor. That his loyalty has belonged to Roman for centuries.”

“Yes,” Russell said sourly, “it has. Duncan is a glorified pit bull.”

“I’m frankly surprised that he accepted the position as Magister,” Nan commented. “He’s always avoided leadership positions before.”

“Roman obviously feels threatened,” Russell mused. “He must sense that something is in the air.”

“Maybe,” Nan returned. “And Duncan’s loyalty—despite his familial relationship to Northman—cannot be questioned.”

“That relationship is yet another reason to kill the Welshman,” Russell growled.

“Then I have good news. Roman’s call to Duncan was traced to Atlanta,” Nan reported.

“I have allies in Georgia,” Russell said sinisterly.

“And—given the fact that we’ve been unable to lock down Duncan’s location for over a decade—this might be the perfect time to take him out,” the vampiress stated. “Plus, in his role as Magister, he’ll be more visible. And I will know of all his trial dates.”

“Yes,” Russell responded, smiling at the thought of getting rid of Roman’s enforcer. “Make him go away. Before Rhodes if possible.”

“I will,” his child said before hanging up.

TALBOT POV

“Is all well, my love?” Talbot asked venturing into his lover’s office. Since the whole debacle had occurred in Arizona, Russell had been in a foul mood—which had been made even more foul by the fact that the fairy, who had apparently been helping Eric Northman, had left the vehicle that Victor had been tracking in the parking garage of one of Felipe’s hotels.

Needless to say, Russell had destroyed more than one of their prized possessions since he’d woken up and gotten the report.

“Yes,” Russell responded, calmer now. He patted his lap for his lover to sit on.

With a coquettish smile, Talbot did as his master requested.

“Do you wish to talk about it?” Talbot asked.

“No,” Russell responded, nuzzling his lover’s ear.

“Good,” Talbot grinned, “talking bores me, and William has procured us two young men to enjoy this evening. Both are virgins—in male sex and in blood-giving.”

Russell smiled. “William was a good find, I think.”

“And so very fun to manipulate. You should have seen his flash of guilt when I asked him to get us a pure meal,” Talbot laughed.

“Ah, yes,” Russell chuckled in return. “William’s guilt is only equaled by his cruelty once he’s wound up. He is like a never-ending cycle of amusement. And I do so enjoy watching you fuck him. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you take a man.”

“Well then,” Talbot cooed even as he licked Russell’s fang, “let’s go be amused.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 02: Brutal and Brave

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”—Bruce Lee

SOOKIE POV

Sookie couldn’t move, nor did she want to. The weight of Eric’s arm was comforting—his body cradling. And, for once, her bladder seemed to be of the same mind as the rest of her.

“That’s because the pee was all scared out of me yesterday,” Sookie whispered mordantly into the dark.

Since the room was light-tight, she had no idea what time it was. And she didn’t care. All she cared about at that moment was staying safe in the arms of the man she loved.

The day before had sapped so much of her energy from her, but it had also helped her to understand things with much more clarity.

Almost dying could obviously do that.

Most important, she’d had an up-close look at the strength—and the brutality—of the vampire with whom she had created the Fae bond. Oh—she’d known that Eric was powerful before, but she’d never witnessed him as he’d been in that parking garage. And she knew that he’d not even been at his strongest—given the fact that it had been daytime.

He’d been savage.

He’d been primal.

He’d been an animal.

Before that, Eric had always demonstrated restraint around her. Lafayette had once told her about Eric literally tearing the limbs from the redneck who had burned down Malcolm’s nest. But—as horrible as that was—Lafayette hadn’t been particularly condemning of Eric’s actions, given the fact that the stupid redneck had pressed silver into Eric’s flesh.

Indeed—when she really thought about it—Sookie couldn’t much blame Eric for killing that man. After all, he’d murdered four vampires in Eric’s area, and though Malcolm and his nest-mates had been horrible in Sookie’s judgment, Eric still needed to see justice done in order to reassure the other vampires of Area 5.

Goodness knows that the Bon Temps police department hadn’t done much of anything to investigate the arson that had killed four vampires! Sookie had been into both Andy’s and Bud’s heads as they’d “investigated” the aftermath of the fire, which seemed to involve kicking a lot of burned wood around a charred house foundation. And—especially after Bill was found to be alive—neither of them had cared about pursuing the matter any further. To them, it was only a crime against vampires—and unsavory vampires at that.

To them, the fact that Malcolm, Liam, and Diane were “bad” made the matter unimportant—and, therefore, closed.

In fact, both Andy and Bud were glad to have the potentially unruly vampires gone.

For good.

And for the good.

Of course, Sookie had also seen the after-effects of Eric’s treatment of Lafayette. However, even her friend had admitted that he’d suffered very little physical pain because of Eric, beyond spending a week in the “dungeon” and getting bitten a few times. He’d apparently been given food and water and a bucket for his “human needs.” And—as horrible as that sounded—at the time, Eric had been questioning Lafayette for crimes against vampire law: selling V and draining a vampire. Sookie now knew that Eric had intended to let Lafayette go—not only because he needed Lafayette to sell the queen’s V but also because he didn’t want to kill her friend. It had been a jumpy Ginger who had given Lafayette his worst injury—the gunshot wound—when he’d tried to escape.

A part of Sookie was still horrified by what Eric had done to Lafayette, but she could also understand the Viking’s actions. Lafayette had been selling vampire blood, and that—in and of itself—could have been a death sentence. And then there had been the matter of the missing vampire, Eddie. Indeed—there had been clear restraint in Eric’s actions. Eric had shown similar restraint in the Fellowship of the Sun church—albeit because of Godric’s orders. Still Eric had tried to get them out of the church without creating a bloodbath.

But the day before—in that Phoenix parking garage—Eric had shown her just how large of a massacre he was capable of creating. She closed her eyes and let the images she recalled patch themselves together into a narrative. She’d been hit in the head by Ray. And she’d been groggy, but she’d still been able to feel Eric’s presence like a hurricane—a hurricane that had swept through the garage even as she was kept in the eye of the storm.

She’d felt the degenerate Were who’d been holding onto her—who’d been planning to rape her—go absolutely limp. However, before she’d crumpled to the hard concrete floor, gentle hands had lowered her down. After that, it had been difficult for her to keep track of Eric because of her blurry eyes and the rapidity of his movements. But she had seen—and had especially heard—the splats and the thuds of body parts hitting the floor and walls of the garage. And she’d seen Ray’s cruel eyes, opened and near to where she lay; they’d been in a head that was no longer connected to any body.

By Sookie’s reckoning, Eric had killed seven Weres in less than a minute—before any of them had been able to shift even! And there had been ambient sunlight in that garage—as well as wisps of light streaming in through the windows of the parking structure! Yet Eric had not let himself fall to his knees until he’d known that their back-up had arrived.

She moved her fingers to gently caress Eric’s face. His skin, as always, was cool to her touch. It was difficult to explain to anyone who’d never seen it—felt it—just what a vampire was like when he “slept.” Yes—the vampire was dead for the day, completely still. But there were differences between a vampire and a human corpse. Sookie smiled a little. The glow that marked Eric as a vampire was ever-present to her, reminding her of the magic that animated him—that magic that was him.

She sighed. He was so strong, stronger than even he knew. He’d come for her during the day.

Rescued her during the day—from nine Weres.

And he’d personally accounted for seven of their deaths. Sookie had no doubt that he would have dealt with the other two as well—if Leonie and Claude hadn’t arrived to help.

Eric would call his actions a “calculated risk.” He had once critiqued Bill for coming to “rescue” her when Rene Lenier was trying to kill her, and he’d been right to do so. Bill hadn’t gone about things in an intelligent way. He’d not arranged for other—useful—help to come by calling the police. He’d not calculated the help that he could give before the sun burned him. Hell—Bill hadn’t even grabbed a blanket to cover himself with.

By contrast, Eric had already arranged for help to be coming in the form of Leonie and Claude. Clearly, Eric had also calculated exactly how much help he could be to her before he succumbed to the sun. Plus, she was certain that he had been using all the magic in his own blood to stave off the sun’s effects.

Still, despite his “calculations,” he’d also risked himself—for her.

He could have waited the one more minute it took for Leonie and Claude to arrive. Sookie knew that the Weres would have done more damage to her, but she also knew that they wouldn’t have killed her in that minute. And Eric would have known that too. Despite the risks to himself, Eric had chosen to act before the Weres could rape her. It was as simply as that. And Sookie knew that wasn’t because Eric thought he “owned” her either.

It was because Eric knew what it would do to her if she were raped.

Sookie wiggled a little closer to the vampire. She’d learned about more than just Eric’s strength the day before. She’d also learned a little about her own. She’d been scared all throughout the day, but she’d kept her wits about her. In fact, she’d not allowed herself the luxury of falling apart until she had Eric and herself safely to Needles.

Yes—it was safe to say that Sookie had learned that she was stronger than she had thought.

And she was also confident that she would become even stronger! She had been overcome by the Weres that day, but she’d also successfully used her light several times. It was the fact that one had hit her from behind which had caused her to be caught. But—before that—she’d felt more in control of her light than she ever had before. She would have a month before Rhodes, and in that month, she was determined to gain even more control—so that she’d never put Eric into a position of having to endanger himself again.

She stroked his long neck and collar bone. “I swear that I’ll keep you safe during the day from now on; that’s my job, my love.”

Sookie closed her eyes and tried to focus upon more of what she’d done right the day before, rather than the fact that her situation had caused Eric to come out from his safe haven during the day. She’d been able to both control and manipulate her scent, even reproducing Leonie’s scent at one point. The only thing that had let her down had been her ability to “pop”—or inability, that is. But—then again—she’d literally just been punched when she’d tried it. So she was willing to let herself off the hook just a little.

The important thing was that she’d fought with intelligence and effective weaponry. And then she’d protected her beloved vampire after he’d fought. They’d complemented each other—just as the Fae bond dictated.

And that complementing had felt good to Sookie—good and right.

“I love you,” came a voice from next to her—Eric’s voice.

Sookie was caught off guard, for Eric’s words had come at the exact moment of his reanimation.

“You do?” she asked uncertainly, not knowing what else to say.

“Yes. I love you, min älskade,” he reaffirmed, as he raised his fingers so that they could roam in her soft hair.

“Min älskade,” she whispered, repeating his words as a tear fell from her eye.

“Those words do mean that you are my woman,” Eric responded. “But their literal translation is ‘my beloved.’ I was,” he paused, “afraid to tell you that yesterday.”

“Afraid? Why?”

The glow of his skin helped her to see his small smile. “Why is any man afraid to admit love?”

Sookie’s eyebrows crumpled together, and her mouth turned down into a frown. “I have no idea.”

Eric shrugged. “Neither do I.” He chuckled. “General dumbassery.”

“Dumbassery? Is that even a word?” she challenged.

Eric’s grin widened. “When there is not a word for something in any language, one must improvise and create one.”

Sookie smiled. “So—you love me?”

“I do.”

“What about the Fae bond? How do you know it’s not just forcing you to love me?” she asked as she looked down. The smile fell from her face a little.

Eric sighed and lifted her chin with his fingers. “I was a fool to believe there was a difference between the fae bond and my own feelings. And—for that—I am sorrier than you will ever know. I am sorry that I hurt you, min älskade. But I am done with that. I ask for your forgiveness—for my dumbassery.”

“But,” Sookie stammered, “the Fae bond does make us feel things that we wouldn’t feel otherwise.”

“No,” Eric said firmly. “I realized something last night—something I should have recognized as soon as I learned about the bond.” His eyes filled with regret. “I was so hell-bent on blaming the Fae bond for all of the new feelings that I’d been experiencing that I didn’t stop to remember.”

“Remember what?” Sookie asked.

“The exact moment I truly fell in love with you, Sookie,” Eric responded quietly.

“The exact moment?” she asked as another tear fell.

“Yes,” the vampire responded gently as he thumbed her tear away and brought it to his lips. “That moment was just confused with so many other moments that night that I didn’t recognize it.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I loved you before you touched me on that rooftop. I’m saying that I’d been falling in love with you from the moment I first saw you and that my love for you solidified the exact moment you defied Bill and spoke up for Godric in front of Nan Flanagan. My maker had already abdicated his position as sheriff. And he was not speaking up for himself. I was,” Eric paused, “just beginning to apprehend his intention to meet the sun—to kill himself. And—still Godric kept our bond closed. I couldn’t feel him, but I felt you in that room. Because you’d had my blood.

“I felt your intense desire to help him—to make not only Nan but also Godric see how valuable he was. To us all.” The vampire sighed and gently brushed the backs of his fingers from her cheek to her chin. “If anyone’s words could have swayed Godric from killing himself that morning, it would have been the words that you spoke in that hotel room—the words reminding everyone that Godric’s actions had saved not only yourself but also the lives of many others—both human and vampire.”

Eric tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’d felt your emotions for a little while the night before—right after the bombing. You were concerned for others and angry at me.” He chuckled. “Then—the next night—I initially felt your anger again. And then I felt resolve from you. I knew you were coming to grips with having my blood in you. But your blood was not fighting mine. If anything, it seemed almost ‘thoughtful.'”

“My blood was,” she paused, “thoughtful?”

“Wary,” Eric corrected. “Likely because you are part Fae, your blood has more control over itself than human blood. That is how you recognized and resisted—at least subconsciously—some of Bill’s influence. As you know, I had sent you a dream before I fell into my day rest that first morning we were connected by a blood tie, but I had no idea what it entailed or if you’d even slept that day.”

“What did you send?” she asked.

“As I told you before, I sent the more passive form of dream. But I did try to infuse my blood with lust before I entered my day-sleep.”

“It didn’t quite work that way,” Sookie said with a blush.

“You’ve never told me about that dream,” Eric said with curiosity. “Will you tell me now?”

“We were in bed—naked.” She giggled.

“And how was that funny?” the vampire asked flirtingly, even as he tickled her side a little.

She wiggled away from him. “My imagination got most of how you looked naked correct, but it underestimated your—um . . . .” She blushed and glanced down.

Eric chuckled. “I see. Well—the naked and in bed part gels with what I was trying to send to you that morning.”

“Maybe. But mostly we just talked in the dream,” Sookie shared with a shrug. “We talked about how we perceived each other. You said that I’d make a good vampire.”

“You would,” Eric responded without hesitation.

Sookie smiled a little. “I told you that there was more to you than what you showed the world. I said you were deep.” She sighed. “You were affectionate with me in the dream—playful even.” She stroked his cheek. “You were like you are with me now, and though it ended with us kissing, ‘lust’ wasn’t the biggest part of the dream.”

“Love,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her gently on the lips. “It’s just as I have come to realize; I already felt love for you then. Otherwise, the dream wouldn’t have been imprinted as it was.” Eric sighed. “I couldn’t infuse the dream with mere lust because that is not how I felt about you. I was confusing my feelings. Denying them. And I kept doing that—after we learned of the Fae bond—hurting myself and you with each denial. Forgive me?” he asked again.

Sookie took a deep breath as another tear tracked down her cheek. She nodded. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 03: A Moving Sea

 

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”—Khalil Gibran

He smiled, gratefulness alighting his eyes. “I looked at you when you were defending Godric. You were so passionate—so fierce. And I felt . . . .” His voice trailed off.

“What?”

“It was a thought really—attached to a feeling I didn’t understand at the time.”

“A thought?”

“Yes. I pictured us together. I was showing you my farm—in Sweden.” He shrugged. “It was an odd thought to have in that moment.”

“And the feeling?” she asked.

“I think it was contentment,” he responded after a moment. “It is what I feel with you now—always—despite the threat we face.”

Sookie smiled a little.

Eric pushed another strand of hair behind her ear. “At the time, my thought was fleeting. No, that’s not true; I actively expelled it from my mind for the moment, promising myself that I would return to it—and analyze it after I spoke with Godric.”

Sookie’s smile turned a little rueful. “I’m familiar with doing things like that. But—in the past—it wasn’t often that I’d actually let myself get around to thinking about the hardest things.”

“I, too, ignored the things related to feelings I did not want to have or to understand,” Eric admitted, his fingers now drawing patterns upon her shoulders. “And after the roof happened and Godric was gone, all I could feel for a while was my pain—until the night you came to Fangtasia in that lavender dress.” His eyebrows furrowed.

“What?” she asked.

“It was a lovely dress,” Eric said. “And you looked beautiful, but the garment didn’t suit you. A shade paler would have better complemented the hue of your skin—the bronze in your eyes. A shade darker would have intensified the pink in your cheeks, the gold of your hair.” His smile turned from longing to mischief. “And—of course—it wasn’t red.”

“Your favorite color.”

“Yes,” he chuckled. His face became more serious again as he went on. “The night after that, you came back to Fangtasia, that time with the picture of the Were’s tattoo. And—after that—it was difficult to control or to understand my feelings once more. My grief over Godric’s death and my affection for you both got overridden by my hatred of the Weres and then Russell. But after the severing spell—when we were in Slidell—I relaxed a little. And I let myself feel. I let myself be free to just enjoy the sensations of being with you.”

“And then we learned about the Fae bond,” Sookie said ruefully.

“Yes, and it felt as if my feelings were out of my control again.”

Sookie caressed his cheek, offering what comfort she could with her hand and her eyes.

He brought his hand up to cover hers. “So—the Fae bond may have made me act on my feelings for you in a way that I might have been too stubborn to do otherwise, but I now know that it didn’t create my feelings. I am sorry I didn’t recognize that before I caused you pain, min älskade.”

“I can’t believe that you’re apologizing,” Sookie smirked, trying to infuse her tone with a little playfulness.

“But I am,” Eric said sincerely. “As I told you before, I had tried to instill the first dream that I sent to you with lust, but I didn’t feel that emotion from you the next night—during the meeting with Nan.”

“What did you feel from me?”

“Curiosity. Affection even. And it wasn’t just in the way you kept looking over at me either. It was as if your blood was curious about mine inside of you. I had very little blood in you at the time, but I was using it to monitor your blood and your feelings carefully. By then, you’d begun to question Bill’s blood in you. I felt him trying to use that blood to foist fear into you when you spoke up for Godric. And I felt your blood,” he paused, “resist his—almost shield itself. It was,” he paused again, “amazing. You fought Bill’s influence because your own emotions refused to be undermined. You spoke out of care for Godric, but your blood also showed me that you cared for me as well,” he continued with something akin to awe in his tone. “I did not know how to interpret that. For a moment, I worried that I had unwittingly influenced your blood to fight against his—because I hated him.”

“But you hadn’t,” Sookie stated with certainty.

“No. Feeling your emotions, I realized that you already thought better of me than I had hoped was possible. And—again—I just didn’t quite know what to do with that.” He paused, his gaze thoughtful. “Now—ironically—my only fear is that the Fae bond created your love for me.”

“I don’t care if it did or not,” Sookie said sincerely—and stubbornly. “The truth is that the Fae bond would have never formed if I hadn’t wanted it to. Whatever happened before or after it was made, I reached out to you on that rooftop because I cared for you—because I somehow knew you cared for me too. Maybe my blood inherently recognized something about yours—that it was its match. That you are my match.”

“And I accepted that match,” Eric said, his eyes burning with love. “It doesn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing—not anymore. What matters is that—in accepting the Fae bond—I was following my instincts. And it was the best thing that has ever happened to me, Sookie. A thousand years, and that moment—that horrible moment when I felt that my life was ending—was actually the beginning of what I now know is my “true” life. A life with you.”

Tears now streaming down her cheeks, Sookie tilted her head up to kiss Eric. At first, it was soft as their lips barely touched. Then—progressively—it became more heated, just as Sookie’s flesh heated. Even in the confined space of the twin-sized bed, Eric and Sookie had plenty of room, for there was no separation between their bodies.

“You love me,” she panted when she had to break the kiss to get air.

“Yes. With my whole being,” Eric grunted as he trailed kisses along her jawline and then up to her lips again. It wasn’t long before Sookie had to be let up for air again.

“Eric,” she said as he recommenced his sweet assault on her chin, “I want to complete the vampire bond.”

Eric stopped his ministrations and pushed himself up a little so that he could look into her eyes. “You do?”

Sookie nodded. “I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid of how you feel about me or of how I feel about you.” She took a deep breath. “And this is a bond that we can choose, Eric. And I do choose it. I choose it with every part of who I am. My head tells me that creating another bond with you would be the smart thing to do—because it will make us stronger. My heart wants to do it because I love you. You’re the best friend that I’ve ever had, and I believe in you—and in us.” She took a breath. “Finally, my gut chooses you.” She smiled. “Maybe it all comes down to the blood, after all, because every instinct I have has always told me that I could trust you. You see me as who I am and what I could be—not as who you want me to be. So—if you choose it too—I want to bond your way.”

“Yes,” Eric said simply. “It is what I choose.”

“You don’t need to think about it?” Sookie asked somewhat nervously.

“No,” Eric confirmed. “I thought about it as I was driving us here. You are right. On every level, it is the right choice. It will make us stronger, and we will need all of our strength for the days ahead. It will allow you to feel my love for you—even when I have a difficult time expressing it. It will allow me to send you comfort in times of distress—like yesterday.” His eyes flashed with an emotion the likes of which she’d never seen from him before—pure devotion. “And it would enable me to be a proper helpmeet to you, Sookie Stackhouse. I wish to pledge to you.”

“Pledge?”

“It is the vampire way of marriage. I want you for my wife.”

“You wanna marry me?” Sookie gasped, as fresh tears fell from her eyes. Eric quickly brushed them away.

He smiled. “If we had no blood tie, I wouldn’t feel how happy my words are making you, and I would be worried because of these tears, min älskade. Once we are bonded in the vampire way, you will have similar peace of mind about my feelings.”

“How do we pledge?” Sookie asked. “Can we do it now?”

“But you have not yet told me ‘yes,'” Eric teased.

“I figured you could feel the ‘yes,'” she teased back.

“Still—I would like to hear it,” he responded sincerely. “I have never asked a woman for her hand in marriage.”

“But—you were married when you were a human,” Sookie said.

“Yes—but I negotiated a marriage treaty with the woman’s father. I’d said fewer than ten words to Aude before we wed.”

“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed, marveling at how different Eric’s human life was compared to hers.

“So?” Eric asked.

“So?” Sookie responded, still lost in her thoughts about the Viking culture.

“Your answer, min älskade.”

“Yes!” she cried out, bringing her hand up to stroke his cheek once more. “I want to pledge with you. And I want to marry you according to human law. And I want to call up Leonie and see if there’s a Fae version of marriage too! I want to do it all.”

“Greedy,” Eric chuckled.

“You love it when I’m greedy,” Sookie said knowingly.

“Yes, I do,” Eric confirmed, capturing her lips hungrily.

Sookie wound her arms around him as tightly as she could as he repositioned them so that he was lying over her. She sighed as she felt some of the weight of him, even though she knew that he was holding most of it off of her with his strong forearms. As their tongues continued to play together, he slid home into her.

“Eric,” she moaned into his mouth as she brought up her legs to wrap around his taut bottom.

“Sookie,” he said at the same time.

Buried to the hilt, he didn’t move for a moment.

“Do you feel that?” he asked as he broke the kiss and looked down at her.

She let out a breathy giggle. “Yes—it’d be difficult not to.”

He laughed, causing his cock to twitch inside of her. She moaned at the sensation.

“I meant how perfectly we fit,” Eric said, his smile softening. “In a thousand years, no one has felt this perfect. And in a thousand more, I will still be amazed by the feeling of it.”

“It won’t get old for you?” she asked with a mixture of playfulness and concern.

“Impossible,” he said. “It will get better.”

With that, he began to move. In. Out. In. Out. Faster. Then slower. Deeper. Then more shallow. Sometimes brushing her g-spot. Sometimes filling every inch of her sheath.

Holding him tightly, she thrust back, complementing each of his movements with her own—dancing with him. Hips raising and then lowering. Internal muscles squeezing and then relaxing.

“Sookie,” he moaned as she ground her pelvis against his, creating impossibly deeper contact.

“Do you want to finish the bond now?” she asked breathlessly.

“Later,” he said as he sped up his movements again.

“Okay,” she grunted as he thrust upward, spurring her release. “Eric!” she yelled out as her walls throbbed around his cock.

For his part, Eric let lose a string of profanities from a variety of languages as his own orgasm began.

He was shivering over her—well after her own long release had ended.

“You okay?” she asked as she brought a shaky hand up to his cheek.

His fangs were down, and his eyes were savage and protective; he looked as if he could have just crawled out of the primordial soup of the earth.

“This is the first time I’ve had sex with someone I knew that I loved,” he said gently, his tone contradicting his fierce look.

She smiled and continued to gently stroke his face. “It’s nice—isn’t it?”

He nodded and looked down at her with adoration. “Leonie was right.”

“About what?”

“Because I love you, I do have more to lose. But I have so much more to fight for too,” he said, moving a hand to caress her face in a mirror of her own actions. “I loved Godric, but I couldn’t stay with him on that rooftop. I loved my parents, but I didn’t go out into the dark to avenge them.”

“I know,” Sookie said with a little sob. “And I’m glad. You would have died, otherwise.”

“I will let no dark or light stop me from coming for you, min älskade,” he vowed ardently.

“Or me for you,” she responded, even as they leaned toward each other for a soft kiss. As it ended, they were both smiling.

Chapter Text

Chapter 04: Setting up House

 

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”—Maya Angelou

Eric heard the vehicle just as Sookie closed her eyes to listen for the thoughts of its driver.

“Your range is getting better,” Eric smiled.

Sookie opened her eyes. “Yeah—stretching it yesterday to try to hear the thoughts of the Weres following us sucked, but it was good exercise.”

“I’m sorry you had to hear them,” Eric said with regret.

Sookie took a deep breath. “It was horrible hearing what Ray and some of the other Weres wanted to do to me, but I’m not . . . .” She paused. “I’m not the scared little girl I was when my uncle . . . .” She took another deep breath. “I’m not the quiet victim hiding in the attic anymore. And—even if the worst had happened—I know that I would have survived.”

“Yes,” Eric said, pulling her closer, “you would have.”

She looked up at him, awestruck by his confidence in her—and by him. “But you didn’t let that happen to me Eric.”

“No—and I never will,” he vowed.

She smiled at him. “Thank you for being my own personal knight in shining armor.”

He smirked. “I am no hero, Sookie.”

“Oh yes, you are,” she corrected with a smirk. “And—as the fairy in the story—I get to make the rules about the knight.”

He chuckled and got out of bed as the delivery truck pulled up to the cabin. “Is all well?” he asked.

“Yep. Two humans. They are checking the manifest. Both are happy for the overtime this job is giving them. They have been speculating about who you are, given the fact that this cabin is prime real estate in this area—and really secluded.”

Eric zipped up his jeans. “And who do they think I am?”

“Well,” Sookie said contemplatively, “one is pretty sure you’re a Hollywood movie star, up here to escape the paparazzi.”

Eric chuckled. “And the other?”

“He thinks you’re some rich asshole—up here to cheat on your wife.”

Eric laughed even louder as he pulled on his shirt.

“They’ve made a bet,” Sookie informed.

“And who is more deserving to win it?” Eric asked mischievously.

Sookie closed her eyes. “The one who thinks you’re the asshole having an affair. He’s gotta pregnant wife at home and is doing this extra job to save up for a crib to surprise her. The other would just blow the money in Vegas.”

Eric grinned. “Okay—so the expecting father will win.” He winked.

She giggled. “Good. His name is Hal, and he’s the one with dark hair.”

Eric nodded. “Ready to get some furniture? And,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes, “ready to pretend to be my secret mistress?”

“Yep. No—actually. I’m gonna potty, clean up, and then go make coffee.”

Eric chuckled as there was a knock at the door. “Then I’ll let in our furniture delivery crew.”

“Don’t worry, once I have coffee, I’ll make a grand entrance that will ensure Hal his money,” she grinned back.

“I can’t wait, Lover,” Eric leered.

Fifteen minutes later, Sookie had showered and her human needs had been met.

She gasped when she exited the light-tight space of the bedroom. That bedroom they’d been in was obviously not the master bedroom; it was just a simple square space with sloped ceilings, and the attached bathroom was nice, but mainly just functional. In fact, the bedroom and bathroom had reminded her a lot of the other homes they’d stayed in during their time on the lam: nice, but with no fancy bells and whistles.

As she walked out of the bedroom, however, she realized that her first impression of the home had been all wrong.

The loft, where two light-tight bedrooms were located, was quite small; however, it was only the tip of the iceberg—the tip of a very luxurious iceberg! She wound her way around the round staircase and wondered how the two movers were going to get the king-sized bed that she ordered for her and Eric up there.

“Hello, lover,” Eric said—emphasizing the endearment—as he presented her with a cup of steaming coffee.

“You made this?” she asked.

“Define ‘made.'”

“You glamoured one of the delivery men to make it—didn’t you?” she chuckled.

“I simply offered both of them a cup of coffee and then had them make it,” he grinned. “Manners, hospitality, and all that stuff,” he added.

She took a sip of her beverage.

“Is it good, or will I have to torture the humans?” he asked playfully.

She grinned. “A little stout, but good.”

Eric nodded. “Then the humans will live.” He winked.

She giggled.

“They have already brought in several boxes for the kitchen—if you wish to begin unpacking,” he said.

Sookie nodded and followed him to the large, open kitchen, which faced a row of windows looking out onto a lake.

“Wow!” Sookie gasped. “It’s beautiful here.” She looked up at him. “This cabin is so unlike most of your other hideouts.”

He smiled a little. “I had thought that this cabin might eventually make a good vacation spot. This area has much snow in the winter—like the place where I am from. And it has been the last place on my escape route—at least in this country—for about three years now. I wanted someplace secluded—in relatively friendly territory—where I could hold up in comfort for a while if need be.”

Sookie smiled. “Well—I love what I’ve seen of it so far.” She closed her eyes. “And I can’t sense any neighbors,” she whispered, despite the clamor of the delivery men in what must have been the living room.

“I believe that our nearest neighbor is about three miles to the north,” Eric reported. “And the small lake you see is more-less a bowl, pretty much cut off from the other lakes in the area.” He smiled. “There’s a small natural hot springs on the property too. It would do well for a bath, lover,” he purred.

Sookie flushed red. “And is it secluded?” she asked coyly.

“Oh yes. Very.”

She giggled as she stripped the tape off of the first box, which contained pots and pans. “Then you might just get lucky.”

By the time Sookie was done unpacking and washing the items she’d gotten for the kitchen, the deliverymen had finished with the rest of the house. Eric was quick to glamour them to believe that he was—indeed—some stuffy, rich businessman. And—in their memories at least—Sookie reminded them of a playboy bunny who’d had one plastic surgery too many. They left with a fat tip, a nice story to tell their friends, and an imperfect knowledge of how to find the cabin. “Sadly,” they also lost the manifest with the address printed on it.

After they were gone, Eric led Sookie out to the large central room of the cabin. Since the loft was only a fraction of the overall square footage of the main dwelling, the living room area had vaulted ceilings and huge windows to complement the fireplace.

“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed. “When you told me to get the largest sectional I could find, I thought it might make the room look small,” she laughed, taking in the huge living room.

“Nope,” Eric said as he lit a match and started the fire. “Well?” he sighed. “Ready?”

Sookie nodded as she watched Eric unwrap the log that contained the magical spell that would cover the scents in the cabin from all supernatural noses and/or spells.

“What about all the property around the house?” Sookie asked.

“This should cover all that too,” Eric grinned. “The spell is for the property, so don’t worry. Those hot springs I told you about will be included.”

She giggled in return, even as she appreciated his fine form as he continue to stoke the fire. She had to shake her head to clear it of her lust-filled thoughts.

Eric turned to wink at her.

“So—uh—I’ll be able to practice my Fae powers outside?” Sookie asked to clarify.

“Yes,” Eric responded. “According to Octavia, the scent of any magic you produce on the property will be locked inside the spell.”

“Cool,” Sookie smiled. She closed her eyes as another mind came into range. She noticed that Eric was tilting his head a little.

“The groceries?” Eric asked.

Sookie read the mind of the driver and nodded. “Yes.”

Eric felt Sookie’s excitement through their blood tie.

“Putting away groceries shouldn’t have you so enthusiastic,” he observed as he came into the kitchen. He smiled as he noticed that one of her hands was behind her back.

“What are you trying to hide from me, Miss Stackhouse?” he smirked, as he prowled toward her.

“A surprise isn’t a surprise if you know about it before you should, Mr. Northman,” she returned flirtingly, even as she took a few steps back.

“Who says I like surprises?” he returned.

“Oh—I think you’ll like this one,” she responded. “But you’ll have to wait for it.”

“Will I?” he challenged.

“Please,” she smiled and batted her eyelashes in an exaggerated way.

He narrowed his gaze. “Never tell Pam that I have gone soft.”

She let out a laugh. “I don’t think Pam and I will be sharing any secrets any time soon.” Her eyebrows scrunched together. “Pam doesn’t much like me—you know?”

Eric shrugged. “Pam doesn’t like anyone.”

“She likes you,” Sookie challenged.

“Hmmm,” Eric smirked. “Sometimes. Seriously, though, she has felt quite a few things around you, but dislike hasn’t really been one of them.”

“What does she think about me?” she asked curiously.

“She’s very attracted to you,” Eric began.

Sookie shook her head and chuckled. “Yeah. That part—I’ve picked up on.” Her eyebrow arched. “Like maker, like progeny?”

Eric chuckled. “Something like that.”

“What else does she think?”

“She is curious about you; we were both curious about your scent. She was amused that you had the ability to,” he paused, “unnerve me.”

“Hmm—unnerve you?” Sookie maneuvered a drawer behind her open with her free hand and managed to put her surprise inside of it without Eric seeing the item. She gave Eric a warning look when he looked ready to pounce on the drawer.

“Please?” she asked with a little smile.

He chuckled and zipped toward her to take her into his arms. “Who knew that one word from you would be my kryptonite?”

Her smile widened. “Unnerving isn’t it?”

He chuckled. “It truly is,” he agreed right before capturing her lips with his.

“Let’s go break in that big bed I picked out,” she panted as she moved her kisses down his neck and bit a little.

He growled and sped them to the bedroom.

The bed was soft.

The Viking? He was hard.

Chapter Text

Chapter 05: Welcome Guest

 

It was just past 3:00 p.m. when Sookie woke up the next day. One of her arms was tucked under her pillow, and the other was draped over Eric’s waist. She stayed still for a few minutes, content to simply enjoy the man she intended to marry in every way she possibly could.

She smiled. A week before, she wouldn’t have thought that this moment would have been possible. But so much felt as if it were possible now—so much more than ever before. Smiling wider, she disentangled her legs from Eric’s and lifted his heavy hand from where it rested on her hip. She quickly got up and pulled on a robe before running to the bathroom.

After taking care of her human needs, she ran straight to the kitchen to get Eric’s “surprise.” However, even as she opened the drawer, she “heard” a mind suddenly come into her range. She recognized its signature and looked toward the front door with surprise.

“Hello!” Leonie said pleasantly as Sookie opened the door somewhat warily.

It wasn’t that Sookie didn’t trust the fairy; after all, Leonie had helped to save her and Eric the day before. At the same time, however, Sookie was feeling inexplicably protective—and possessive—of her mate, almost as if instincts she’d been stifling had been finally let free.

“How did you know where to find us?” Sookie asked.

“Your vampire told me—of course,” the fairy practically chirped, giving Sookie a knowing look. “I mean him no harm.”

“Are you alone?” Sookie asked.

The fairy nodded in confirmation.

“Claude?”

“He went back to his home,” Leonie replied.

“He went to the fairy world?”

“Oh—no, dear. He went to his home on this plane. I doubt if he will ever return to Faerie. Claude and Niall have quite different ideas about what Claude’s life should be like.”

“I can empathize,” Sookie mumbled.

Leonie smiled. “Niall is not completely unreasonable, however. He is torn when it comes to Claude. As a member of the royal family, Claude should marry and try to have a child in order to further our line. He does not want children. And he is averse to wedding a female—even if it is for duty.”

“Oh,” Sookie said with realization.

“As long as I have dealings in this realm, however, it gives Claude an excuse to stay here—as my guard.”

“He’s your guard?” Sookie asked.

“Oh—not really, dear,” Leonie chuckled. “But Niall needed an excuse to unofficially let Claude off the hook—an excuse that was acceptable in the eyes of other fairies. It was his idea to send Claude here with me—you see.”

“Because he knew Claude would be unhappy in the fairy world—having to fulfill his duty?” Sookie asked.

Leonie nodded. “Not that Niall’s ever admitted that out loud, but yes.” She scoffed. “The stubborn man won’t even tell Claude that he supports his choices.”

“And what about Claudine? And your other granddaughter?”

“Claudette,” Leonie supplied. “They are both content to marry and settle down in Faerie, though Claudine enjoyed her time on this realm. By contrast, Claudette does not like to be away from Faerie, and Niall is grooming her to be his successor.” Leonie smiled proudly. “She is quite wonderful in her role as his second, and that gives me the freedom to stay in this realm most of the time.”

Sookie smiled back at the fairy and then realized she’d yet to invite her into the house. Remembering her manners, she was about to do just that when a question occurred to her.

“Uh—how did you get here?” Sookie asked. “I thought you couldn’t just pop to places you’d never been before.”

“I drove,” Leonie responded, motioning toward the car parked at the edge of the tree line—so that it would be concealed from above. She smiled beatifically. “And I have been here before—well, not here specifically, but to the city of Mammoth Lakes. Claude and I went sightseeing in this area about fifty years ago—though the city was much smaller then. I was able to pop to where I’d been before; then I rented a car and drove to this cabin.” She held up her phone. “Mapquest.”

Sookie couldn’t help but to chuckle. The sight of the fairy holding up a tool of technology was odd to her—despite the fact that she was used to seeing a thousand-year-old vampire using all kinds of modern gadgets.

She motioned toward Leonie. “Come in—please.”

Leonine stepped over the threshold and looked around with approval. “This is a lovely place.”

Sookie nodded in agreement as she led Leonie toward the kitchen.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Sookie asked. “And I was just about to make myself some breakfast—if you are hungry.”

Leonie smiled at her. “Oh—yummy!” she said excitedly.

Sookie smiled back. If she’d learned anything about fairies by being around them, it was that they loved to eat.

“So—um—why are you here?” Sookie asked as she began taking out items so that she could make scrambled eggs and bacon.

“Well,” Leonie began, as she eyed the ingredients with anticipation, “I figured that you could use a friend, given your ordeal; it was partially your mate’s idea.” She transferred her gaze to Sookie. “However, now I see that you look relaxed and well-rested—happy.”

Unable to stop herself, Sookie grinned widely. “I am happy. Eric and I have decided to finish the vampire bond. And he wants to pledge to me too—though he never got around to telling me just how that happens,” she added with a hint of a blush.

Leonie seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “This is good,” she smiled. “I am glad that he has finally come to his senses.”

Sookie frowned. “What do you mean?”

Leonie chuckled. “Your vampire is a good man—and a strong warrior. But he is the king of denial,” she winked.

Sookie giggled. “Well—actually we’re both pretty good at wanting to hide from our true feelings.”

Sookie poured Leonie a glass of orange juice.

“You can have this—right? It’s just lemon that hurts you—not all citrus?”

Leonie smiled. “Yes. And thank you.” She took a long drink.

“So—um—do you know anything about vampire pledgings?” Sookie asked.

Leonie nodded as she gazed longingly at the vegetables that Sookie was chopping for omelets. “I have seen a pledging before. In fact, I was,” she paused as if looking for a word, “something like the matron of honor for the ceremony.”

“Oh?” Sookie asked.

“Yes—Klymene, Godric’s maker, is my friend. She is pledged to a vampire named Duncan.”

“Really?” Sookie asked. “Wait—do you mean Duncan as in Eric’s brother? As in Godric’s other child?”

Leonie smiled widely. “Have you met Duncan? He’s quite the rake—actually. But he’s completely faithful to Klymene—when she requires it,” Leonie winked.

“Wait,” Sookie said again, scrunching her eyebrows together. “Duncan and Klymene? But—uh—isn’t Duncan in the Authority? And—uh—I’m sure that Eric doesn’t know that they are pledged.”

“No—he wouldn’t,” Leonie said thoughtfully after she’d swallowed another gulp of orange juice. “Duncan needed to keep the relationship hidden from his colleagues, for Enforcers for the Authority are forbidden from entering into such binding relationships.” She winked. “Now that Duncan is Magister, that can change, for the Magister can do whatever he wants!” she added flippantly. “Plus, Klymene prefers her privacy. Other than myself, I believe that only Godric knew. His maker and his child sought out his blessing for their union. He attended the pledging as well, and—from what I could tell—he was pleased by it.”

“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed as she whisked eggs. “Can I tell Eric? Wait! Eric’s brother is the new Magister?”

“I assumed you would tell your mate,” Leonie said with another wink. “I don’t think either Klymene or Duncan would fret about Eric knowing—especially given Duncan’s change in roll. And, yes, he was made Magister just last night. Klymene said that he was madder than a hatter—whatever that might mean!” her eyes glistened mischievously. “Anyway, your mate has taken Godric’s place in their blood line, so it is his right to know of things that occur within the line.”

“Godric’s place?”

“Yes. Klymene is the oldest remaining member, the matriarch. But—as the oldest male of the line—Eric is the patriarch. Both progenitors are tasked with watching over the line.” She smiled a little. “I know that Klymene is quite proud of Eric.”

“Are you good friends with Klymene? You must be if you were her Matron of Honor,” Sookie commented as she started cooking the omelets.

“Klymene is my dearest friend,” Leonie smiled sincerely, “so dear that I don’t even flirt with Duncan—though that is very difficult. He is quite attractive.”

Sookie chuckled.

Leonie sighed. “There are some beings in the wide worlds that just seem to,” she paused, “click. The moment I met Klymene, I recognized her as a sister—despite the fact that she is vampire and I am Fae. And once we were over the whole ‘I want to eat you business,’ we became close.”

“What?” Sookie exclaimed. “She wanted to eat you?”

“I’m just kidding about that part,” Leonie giggled.

“Oh—well that’s good,” Sookie commented.

Leonie smiled kindly. “I think that is why your affection for Eric does not seem odd to me. Who we are is so much more important than what we are.”

Sookie nodded in agreement and smiled. “So—a pledging?” she asked.

“Oh—it’s quite simple really,” Klymene informed. “One member of the couple—traditionally the younger of the pair—will present the older with a dagger. Or—in your case—the non-vampire presents the vampire with a dagger.”

“A dagger?” Sookie asked.

“Yes—usually one that is infused with magic.”

“What then?”

“Well—if the older accepts the dagger and kisses the object, then the pledge is accepted.” Leonie shrugged. “It is as simple as that. There can also be a blood exchange—though that is optional and usually done only between those who love one another. From what Klymene has told me, most vampire pledgings have very little to do with love, however.”

Sookie plated one of the omelets and pushed it toward Klymene before starting to cook her own. “Dig in while it’s hot,” she said.

The fairy smiled and did just that, shoving a large bite of the meal into her mouth—but still somehow managing to look dainty while doing it.

“So—uh—what do fairies do when they get married?” Sookie asked. “I want to marry Eric by those traditions too—if it’s possible.”

Leonie smiled softly—almost proudly. “I am glad. A Fae wedding is also quite simple. A blessing is spoken over the couple by an elder.

“A blessing?”

“Hmm,” Leonie sounded as she swallowed another bite. “A blessing asking for long life and children.”

Sookie frowned. “I guess the kids part would be wasted on me.”

Leonie shrugged. “In this realm, adoption is common—is it not? And—if you are ever made vampire—you might turn a child. And you would be Eric’s child should he turn you. Those are all ways to carry on a family line.”

Sookie contemplated for a moment. “I’d never thought about things like that, but you’re right.”

Leonie grinned. “This is very good,” she said, before taking another large bite.

“I’m glad you like it,” Sookie smiled as she plated her own breakfast before sitting at the counter next to Leonie.

“So it’s—uh—just a blessing?” Sookie asked. “And then fairies are married?”

Leonie shook her head. “No. There is a ring exchange—not unlike what humans do—though the ring sits on the strongest finger of the strongest hand,” she added as she lifted up her right hand where there was a beautiful ring on Leonie’s index finger.”

“Wow! That’s lovely!” Sookie exclaimed.

“Thank you. Niall had it designed when we were betrothed.”

Sookie shook her head. “It’s difficult for me to imagine him doing something so—nice.”

Leonie chuckled and then took another bite.

“Is that it?” Sookie asked. “A ring and a blessing?”

Leonie nodded. “Yes—usually. However, there is a dance if the marriage is a love match.” Her eyes brightened. “It is usually the female who initiates the dance; it is a signal of her true affection and devotion to her mate. Would you like to learn it?” she asked excitedly.

Sookie nodded her head enthusiastically. “Yes. Please!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 06: Faith

“Forever is composed of nows.”—Emily Dickinson

Eric shook his head a little as he took in the information Sookie had given him.

“So Duncan and Klymene are pledged,” he mused.

“Yeah. That’s what Leonie told me,” Sookie responded. “Are you—uh—okay with that?”

Eric shrugged. “I have no reason to object.” He smirked. “I suppose that I am just a little surprised that my brother kept all this from me.”

“When did you last talk to him?” Sookie asked.

“After Godric,” Eric said softly. “Duncan was on the East Coast when it happened, so he was dead for the day when Godric died.” He paused. “I sent him a text so that he would know why he would no longer feel our maker. And he called me the next night.”

Sookie automatically reached out and took his hand. They both felt the power of the Fae bond seemingly encasing Eric’s pain—and then soothing it.

Eric smiled softly. “That feeling will take some getting used to, little one.”

“But you don’t hate it anymore?” she asked.

“No. I can feel that my sorrow for Godric is my own. And I was wrong about the Fae bond. It is not taking away my choices. In fact, it is giving me choices I didn’t have before.”

“What do you mean?” Sookie asked curiously.

“Just now, I felt the power of you comforting me,” the vampire responded. “I immediately knew that I could accept that comfort and feel better or I could choose to push the comfort away. I had choice, min älskade. Choice.”

Sookie smiled a little. “And you chose to accept the comfort,” she said, even as she closed her eyes and let the feeling of that acceptance wash over her. Into her. “I can feel it.”

“Yes,” Eric relayed, as he leaned forward to kiss Sookie lightly on the lips. “I have learned that in resisting the bond—I would be resisting you and what you can add to my life. What you can teach me.”

“What I can teach you?” Sookie asked, her eyes opening widely in disbelief.

He kissed her lightly again. “Yes. You could have been beaten down by the things that you experienced as a child, but you were not. You managed to survive with your beautiful spirit intact. You could have become bitter, but you stayed open-minded; otherwise, you would never have accepted me into your heart. You have proven your bravery and your survival instincts. And you have demonstrated your cleverness.”

She scoffed. “I’ve also done a lot of stupid things.”

Eric shrugged. “And you’ve moved on from them. And—most importantly—you’ve learned why you made your errors.” He chuckled. “I cannot say that I was so wise when I was your age. And—even at great age—I am not beyond the scope of making errors of my own.” He shook his head. “For instance, bringing Lorena into the equation in Dallas was my doing. I wanted you to see the kind of vampire Bill really was, but I underestimated the potential harm she could bring to you.”

“So—we’ve both done some screwing up.”

Eric nodded. “And we’ve both had to adapt to something neither of us was prepared for.”

“The Fae bond.”

“Yes. The beautiful gift you gave to me before I realized that you were the true gift.” Eric smiled softly. “I am a supernatural being, but—other than my turning—I have always tried to keep myself grounded in the realities of the world. I have seen and used magic, but only as,” he paused, “a tool. I have looked upon my own gifts and the magic that keeps me animated as weapons. But I never ‘lost’ myself to magic—not until I lost myself in you and found something beyond all other things.”

Overwhelmed by Eric’s words, Sookie brushed away a tear.

He continued, “The best thing is that when I accepted your comfort just now, my sorrow over Godric did not magically go away. My sorrow is still there!”

“How is that the best thing?” Sookie asked, obviously confused.

“Because—if it had gone away, it would have felt artificial. Your comfort aided me, min kära, because I know I no longer have to face my sorrows alone.”

Sookie brushed away another tear even as she squeezed Eric’s hand. “Please tell me that we are going to win—against Russell. Please tell me that we won’t lose what we’ve found—not so soon after we found it.”

Eric leaned in and kissed her again—this time deeper than before. Their lips moved in unerring harmony—the kind of movement gained only through practice and understanding.

The vampire pulled back slightly. “Even if what we share is fleeting—even if it lasts mere weeks—it is and will remain the most profound thing in our existences. Where you go, Sookie, I will follow. And where I go—there will you be too. We will face Russell and his allies together. And we will either win or lose—but we will not be separated. Should I meet my final death, you will be pulled into the afterlife with me. Should you meet yours, I will go with you. And—in whatever afterlife we find—we will, once again, learn to adapt to our new circumstances.”

“Together?”

“Always.”

“You really believe that?” she asked. “You really believe that we’ll be together even after death?”

“Yes,” he said quickly—simply.

“How can you know for sure?”

“My certainty is not from knowledge,” he replied. “It is from faith. And faith—though, perhaps, unprovable—is stronger than truth for the very reason that it cannot be verified.” He smiled at her. “But you know this already, for you are the one who taught me about faith.”

This time it was he who brushed away her tear as he leaned in to kiss her again—this time harder than before. It wasn’t long before she was stretched out on the comfortable couch with him on top of her. He lifted his body off of hers a little so that he could look her in the eyes.

“Do you want to wait?” he asked.

“Wait?” she panted. “What?”

“Wait to make our third blood exchange and complete our bond.”

“Why would we wait any longer?” she asked her brow furrowing. “I get why we didn’t do it last night. I wanted you to be sure, and you wanted me to be sure. You’re sure—right?”

“Yes,” he answered quickly. “But we could wait until we’re pledged.”

“Would that change anything? Would doing that make the vampire bond stronger?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Some believe that there is a power added to a pledging when the couple exchanges blood during the ceremony. And, if that exchange were to complete a bond, there might be even more magic. But, even if neither of those things is true, waiting to make the blood exchange might make the pledging seem more like,” he paused, “a real wedding to you—more like a new beginning.”

“Like humans waiting to have sex until they get married,” she commented.

“Wait!” he exclaimed, looking like someone was threatening to take his favorite toy away. “I wasn’t saying we should wait to have sex!”

“But it is a good idea? Don’t you think?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.

Seeing the look of anxiety in his eyes and the sudden pout on his lips, Sookie giggled even as she gripped his shoulders and pulled herself up a little so that she could give him a quick peck.

“Sometimes you’re just like a human man,” she said, still giggling. “As soon as you think your sex is getting cut off, you start pouting.”

“I don’t pout,” he responded, though he was clearly still doing just that.

She gave him another quick kiss and then let her body fall back onto the couch. “Well, I would be pouting—big time—if I didn’t get my nightly dosage of Northman.”

“Well—I’d hate to leave you without your medicine,” he chuckled, lowering his body a little so that she could clearly feel the size of the intended dosage.

She grinned back, but then looked thoughtful. “Do you want to wait to complete our bond until we pledge? And—uh—if we did that, how long would we have to wait?”

“Until tomorrow night. I texted Mr. Cataliades after I rose asking him to send a ceremonial knife.”

“Are they easy to find?” Sookie asked. “Leonie said that they needed to be magical.”

Eric nodded. “The powerful ones are quite magical. And, no, they are not so common, but the demon is resourceful.”

“Wouldn’t we need a—uh—witness for the pledging?”

“Yes. It is best if we had the Magister as witness, but that’s impossible—since Russell killed him. However, another Supernatural being can witness a pledging, and Mr. Cataliades can file the paperwork in a way so that the witness can remain anonymous. Brady will be bringing the dagger, along with our new vehicle. He will witness. Perhaps—since she has been here already—we can ask Leonie to return tomorrow night too. I know you might prefer your brother and your friends from Bon Temps—and I know that Leonie is not your great-grandmother by blood—but I think she would agree to be another witness.”

Sookie smiled, “Truth be told, she seems more like my kin than Niall. And she helped to save our lives.” Her happy expression faded a little. “But you are right. I would like to have the rest of the people I care about present when I get married, but the most important person will be there—you.”

He smiled down at her. “When all this is over, we can have a large human ceremony in a state that allows vampire-human marriage.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want that. I mean—I wouldn’t mind going to a justice of the peace so that I can officially change my name to Northman, but I don’t need anything bigger than that.

Eric repositioned himself so that he was lying on his side next to her on the wide couch. “You wish to have my name?” he asked with a little surprise.

She nodded and brought her hand up so that she could caress his cheek. “Yeah. As much as I always associated myself with the Stackhouse name, it never should have been mine.”

He went to interrupt, but she moved her fingers over his mouth.

“It’s okay. Now that I’ve met a couple of Brigants I like, I’m fine with being one of those. And it’s not like I was ever around very many Stackhouses—except for Gran, and Stackhouse was only her fake married name.” She shrugged. “It’s weird to think about—but I have never met a Stackhouse. And I know that Northman isn’t your family name either, but it’s your name. And I want to share in whatever name you have. You’re my family, Eric.”

Eric could feel the throbbing within the Fae bond. It truly was amazing. As Sookie had spoken, her hopes had flittered around the bond—each hope a living entity of light. Those wisps of light wanted to link and fuse with his own swirling hopes—his own desire for connectedness. He felt the choice he could make. He could reject both of their hopes and—therefore—extinguish the lights. Or he could accept what she offered him and let himself be filled that much more.

“No matter how long we live in this realm together, little one, we will always be each other’s family. And our name will be but one part of that.”

“Speaking of that—um—if Leonie can come, I would like to marry you in the fairy way too tomorrow—when we pledge. If that’s okay with you.”

“Oh?” Eric looked at her in surprise.

“Leonie told me about the fairy ceremony. It’s—uh—just a blessing being spoken by an elder.”

“She could offer the blessing?” he asked.

“Yes. And there’s a ring exchange too. She said that she could help us get the rings for it—if you want,” Sookie said uncertainly.

Eric smiled. “I have already arranged for Brady to bring an engagement ring for you anyway—to signify our intention to make our union legal among humans too.”

“Sneaky,” she chided playfully.

“Vampire,” he said was if to explain—and excuse—her “charge” of sneakiness.

She smiled at him. “Well, Mister Sneaky, fairies put the ring on the strongest finger of the strongest hand,” she informed playfully, holding up her own right index finger and then twining it with his.”

The Viking smiled and shrugged. “Then you will just have to settle for two rings,” he chuckled. “One for the Fae marriage and one for the human marriage we will eventually have.”

Sookie giggled, “So we’ll be bonded, pledged, fairy married, and engaged.”

“I look forward to making love to my bonded, pledged, engaged fairy wife,” Eric said, his eyes darkening.

“Maybe you should practice now.”

As she smiled, he leaned in toward her and took her lips with his again.

“Wait!” she screeched out.

“What?” he answered with sudden concern.

“Uh,” she panted as her skin reddened, “if we exchanged blood during our pledging—which would finish the vampire bond—wouldn’t that make us want to—uh—have sex? Right then and there?” She shook her head. “I love you and all, but I’m not gonna do that in front of an audience!”

Eric chuckled. “You are right that the completion of our bond will compel us to want to join in other ways,” he responded waggling his eyebrows. “But—given the occasion—I think we could control ourselves.”

“And if we couldn’t?” Sookie asked somewhat pensively.

“Then I would make sure Brady and Leonie knew that they were to leave the room—if the clothing started flying,” he responded teasingly. But then his tone turned serious. “Trust me when I tell you that I want no others to see your body as I am honored to see it. I want—just as much as you do—to keep sacred and private what we share physically.”

She sighed—both in relief and because his words were so beautiful. “Thank you,” she said as she pulled him closer. “Now—where were we?”

“Practicing, my lover,” he said with a leer, even as he captured her lips in a slow, sensual kiss, meant to seal his words to her and to heighten her arousal.

The couch had a lot of room, but the vampire knew he’d want even more in order to “practice” properly, so he shifted her so that she was on top of them and then flew them toward the pallet they’d made earlier in front of the fireplace. She registered the movement with a chuckle and then a little squirm above him. Both made him smile in return.

They’d made love when he’d risen that evening—their bodies curling into each other as soon as he’d awoken. He’d entered her from on top then. Thus, when he settled them onto the floor so that she was on top, he left her there.

Sookie leaned up and away from their kiss, sitting up on his body. Her mischievous grin was enough to cause him to harden even more than her squirming had. And then when she reached behind her back to stroke him through his flannel pajama pants, he knew he’d soon be undone by her.

Sookie couldn’t help but to grin as she saw Eric’s head loll back. They’d had a lot of sex during the past week, but since he’d accepted the bond, the nature of that sex had changed. There was no longer any holding back of feelings as their bodies joined.

He had put himself, quite literally, into her hands—trusting her with his body and his soul. Still sitting at his waist, she used both hands to shove his flannel pants past his thighs and then turned around so that she could see his large cock. Her core ached to take him in, but she decided that she wanted him in her mouth first. However, she was feeling a little selfish too, and she yanked her nightgown over her head. Eric growled when he saw that she had nothing on under it.

Without needing her to tell him her wishes, he pulled her lower body toward his mouth even as she leaned forward. As his tongue darted out to lick her clit, hers flicked over his tip, greedily taking a drop of pre-cum as she did. Sookie had come to discover that she enjoyed the taste of all things that were Eric. And, as she rounded her lips and took his cock a few inches into her mouth, she thanked God that Eric seemed to like her taste just as much.

Eric moaned as he thrust his tongue into her opening as far as he could. The moans coming from Sookie’s mouth as she sucked his cock added to his own pleasure as his mouth vibrated against her clit.

Hands, fingers, lips, tongues, and teeth all worked in concert as Sookie and Eric brought each other to the precipice of pleasure.

And then that precipice fell away.

Their orgasms ripped through them, and the Fae bond absorbed and then pulsated with their pleasure. Eric gratefully accepted Sookie’s small warm release, and Sookie swallowed what she could of his cool one before pumping the rest of it out of him and onto his stomach, even as she arched upward and continued to enjoy the motions of Eric’s tongue.

“Oh my God!” she gasped as she shook above him.

The next thing she knew, she was moving through the air again, and in the next instant, she was on her knees with Eric behind her. She arched her back into his smooth torso as he thrust into her from behind.

“Oh God!” she half-moaned and half-shouted as he pulled out of her and then thrust back in again—hard.

Her hips moved back and forth to meet his thrusts, and he brought one of his hands around her body to stroke her clit.

“You feel so big like this,” Sookie gasped as she squeezed her internal muscles in order to increase his pleasure.

“Unghh,” he sounded as his fangs clicked downward.

Sookie smiled at the sound. She knew that—when Eric’s fangs popped down during sex, which they always did—he was close to cumming. He didn’t always bite her, again because it was considered a sign of affection to a human when a vampire didn’t take blood during sex, but she loved that he sometimes did bite—that he sometimes couldn’t help himself.

And bite her he did—just as they both came apart.

She smiled as she panted through her orgasm. The next night, she would be biting back.

Chapter Text

Chapter 07: On the Chessboard, Part 1

TWENTY HOURS LATER

PAM POV

Eric had managed to keep his end of their maker-child bond closed off for most of the time they’d been apart, but Pam had felt him one time per night—though the time would vary. She figured that he would let her feel him so that she would know that he was alive, but he never left their bond open long enough for her to get a “fix” on his location.

Thus—Pam had to be satisfied with little flashes of her maker’s nightly feelings, but all those vignettes together were a mosaic forming a larger picture that came more and more into focus each day: Eric Northman was in love. The frustration, the hurt, and the powerlessness that had dominated his feelings during the weeks before had now been replaced by his contentment, focus, and love.

However, one emotion had been at the center of his feelings every night since Pam had left his side: acceptance.

Though that acceptance had come in different forms.

“What are you smiling about, Miss Pam?” Bubba asked her.

The vampiress turned to look at her favorite of her two companions. She’d come to appreciate both Thalia and Bubba during the month that she’d been with them. However, it was—surprisingly—the gentle-souled, supposedly brain-damaged vampire that she had the best time conversing with. Thalia had “warmed up” to her a bit, but the fierce queen kept her sentences to eight words or less. Pam knew. She’d been counting.

“The concept of acceptance,” Pam answered.

“Mama told me that to love someone was to accept them the way they were,” the ex-singer said sagely before his face darkened. “I remember tryin’ to hide myself in the things I drank into my human body. I didn’t like myself then—didn’t accept myself then.”

Pam smiled softly at the vampire. “I know, Bubba. But you accept the way you are now.” The vampiress had come to learn that the reason Bubba didn’t like being reminded of who he’d been as a human wasn’t out of regret for his humanity. It was because he had truly learned how to accept his new state—despite the circumstances surrounding his turning. Bubba had—at long last—found contentment. In fact, he loved his existence. And Thalia loved and accepted him. In turn, he did the same for her.

Pam thought it was fucking beautiful—though she’d never admit her sentimentality to anyone.

“So—uh—what about acceptance were you thinkin’ about, Miss Pam?” Bubba asked as he sat next to the vampiress. She watched him pick a few pieces of cat fur from a chip at the end of one of his fingernails. She held in her chuckle as she contemplated Bubba’s “odd” eating habits.

“My maker has finally accepted that he is in love,” Pam reported, not feeling the need to hide that fact from her host. “Over the last weeks, I’ve felt him accept that he was in deep shit. I’ve felt him accept that he cared about someone. I’ve felt him accept that some things were beyond his control. I’ve felt him accept that he didn’t always need to be in control. And—now, tonight—I feel that he’s truly accepted love.”

Bubba smiled widely. “That’s a good thing. I remember the night I met my Thalia; I took a shine to her right away. But I had to wait a while before she took one back.” He chuckled. “I’m sure glad she came ’round.”

Pam smiled, but her expression fell a little.

“What’s wrong?” Bubba asked.

“I am trying to figure out if I can accept the changes in my maker.” She shook her head. “He sent me here, so I know that something major must be happening to him—some danger he is trying to protect me from. But each night when I feel him, it is his feelings for someone else that dominate his emotions. And I can’t help but to wonder why my maker isn’t focused entirely on getting himself out of whatever shit he’s in.”

“And you are jealous,” Thalia stated flatly as she entered the living room of her “estate.” Despite the fact that she was a vampire queen, Thalia was the opposite of ostentatious. She was satisfied to live in a secluded cabin, which was heavily warded. Shifters and Weres patrolled the borders of her property, but they were stationed outside the wards. Pam had learned that all of the two-natured in Thalia’s employ were what one might call “lone wolves,” those who didn’t much care for the society of others, but whom were loyal to someone who deserved it. Chief among them was a Were named Mustapha Khan, whom Pam had known many years before as KeShawn Johnson. Eric had sent Mustapha in Thalia’s direction the decade before when he’d had a run-in with some corrupt vampires. Pam didn’t know the details, but she’d heard that Victor Madden was involved, and that vampire was pure bastard.

“I’m guessin’ that Miss Pam just wants to make sure Mister Eric doesn’t come to no harm,” Bubba said diplomatically.

Pam scoffed. “You’re both right,” she admitted. She knew that the only person who could influence Eric to feel as he did was Sookie Stackhouse, and Pam could admit that she was jealous of her to a certain extent. For so many years, Pam had felt her maker’s affection for only two beings: Godric and herself. But what he felt now—for Sookie—was light years beyond that.

“You still have your place with him,” Thalia said knowingly as she sat down next to Bubba and snuggled into his side. The sight of the warrior showing such affection for her mate still caught Pam off guard at times.

Bubba turned his head and kissed Thalia’s forehead, a smile of contentment washing over his face. He turned back to Pam. “Oh—is that all it is?” He grinned brightly. “Well, of course, your maker still wants you to be ’round, Miss Pam! That’s why he sent you here!” He shook his head as if Pam’s jealously was a silly notion. “Why—it’s not like you’re in love with Mister Eric—are you?”

Pam shook her head distastefully. “Not like that. I do not think I would like to be in love like that.”

Thalia snuggled into the side of her chosen king a little further. “The day may come,” she said.

Pam looked a little skeptical. “If it does, I might just have to stake myself.”

Bubba chuckled. “Oh, Miss Pam, I’m so glad Mister Eric sent you here for a while. You tell the funniest jokes I think I’ve ever done heard!”

Pam stifled the urge to roll her eyes. After all, Bubba was being sincere. And he did get a kick out of her sarcasm. She looked at Thalia. “Do you know anything about his plans?”

The queen shook her head. “Not Yet. I wait for word.”

Pam sighed and handed Bubba the nail file she’d been using to make sure her own manicure was perfect.

Bubba looked at her in confusion.

“To get the chips out,” Pam instructed, “so you don’t get any more cat hair stuck in your fingernails.”

“Why—thank you very kindly, Miss Pam!” Bubba said with a delighted smile.

RUSSELL POV

“Are you certain your information is correct?” Russell asked.

“Yes. Absolutely,” Bartlett returned. “The Ancient Pythoness will be in Rhodes.”

Russell sat back in his chair—a self-satisfied look on his face. “Do you know her purpose for going?”

“No—but my guess is that the situation between Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico has something to do with it,” Bartlett reported.

Russell chuckled. “Attempted regicide will do that.” At first he’d been skeptical to hear that Dulcina, the Queen of Texas, and Mitchell, the king of New Mexico, had had a falling out. But—then—it became clear that Freyda of Oklahoma had put her hat in the ring for the New Mexico king, too. Rumor had it that Freyda had arranged for her rival to be assassinated the week before. However—unfortunately—the wooden bullet had hit one of Dulcina’s guards instead of the queen herself. Russell found that a shame—really. He figured that Freyda would swiftly become an ally to him once the winds of change were in the air. That bitch had no loyalty, but her self-preservation skills were excellent; thus, she would quickly align herself with whomever she thought was most powerful.

“It would have been useful to have the Queen of Texas out of the way,” Bartlett commented.

“Indeed,” Russell agreed. “Dulcina is beloved by her people—and she is the stronger for it, despite the fact that she isn’t particularly old. And—even more inconvenient—she is not easily manipulated. But we shall take care of her soon enough.”

Bartlett made a sound of agreement. “Yes. Her and any others that stand in your way, my liege.”

At Bartlett’s words, Russell did some quick planning in his head. It was a poorly-concealed secret that certain monarchs favored the Authority more than others. Dulcina was a strong supporter of it, as were Edwin and Agnes, the king and queen of California, Oregon, and Washington. It was also a poorly-concealed secret that the Ancient Pythoness was a supporter of the Authority, and she passed information along to its Guardian. That was why no one had the balls to go against Roman in any organized way. After all, when a future-teller was an ally to a ruling body, defeating that body was difficult to say the least. But, if the Ancient Pythoness could be done away with, then that would be a game-changer.

Hallow had long ago made Russell and his confederates talismans designed to ensure that their actions would be obscured from supernatural powers. Russell had commissioned that veryexpensiveproject for one reason only: so that he could fly under Pythia’s radar. Truth be told, he hated the bitch. She would disappear for centuries at a time—only popping up when she felt the need to remind vampires that she should be “revered.”

What-the-fuck-ever!

Russell had never revered the old bag. In his opinion, she was a fucking cheater! She had done nothing to earn the fear and respect she garnered, except tell her minions how to avoid certain future events she’d “seen.” Russell hated the very idea of someone being able to know the future. He hated—even more—the notion that his carefully laid plans could be destroyed by such a being. Russell didn’t like the thought of anyone fucking with his future! He fucking owned the future!

The ancient king was older than Pythia. And—because of the talismans—she wouldn’t know of his plans. And, once she was dead, the Authority would be easy to bring down.

“I think I will be going to Rhodes—after all.”

“I thought you might,” Bartlett said. “How is your project of finding the Northman coming?”

Russell scoffed. “Now that I have bigger fish to fry, I intend to put Northman on the back-burner for a while.” In truth, Russell was frustrated. A car smelling of Northman and an unknown fairy had been left in a parking garage in de Castro’s own goddamned casino! The unknown fairy had exited the fucking car, waved at the cameras, and then ‘popped’ away! How the Northman had managed to join forces with a fairy was beyond Russell. But the Viking seemed lucky in that way—first with the Stackhouse girl and now with someone who smelled infinity more delicious. Hell—Victor had apparently cum in his pants when he’d investigated the car—just from the scent the fairy had left behind!

But Northman and his delicious friend could wait. Russell had eternity to deal with them, after all.

“I believe that we should interpret the Ancient Pythoness’s appearance as a sign for us to move forward more quickly,” the ancient vampire said.

“I thought you might, my liege.”

“We will eliminate her, the Authority, and all the monarchs who might oppose us at Rhodes.”

“Just tell me what you wish me to do, my liege. My sword is yours.”

HALLOW POV

“You know, most women would be very angry at a man who yelled out another woman’s name during sex,” Hallow said with a wry smile.

Bill grunted and withdrew his cock from the witch’s soaked vagina. Now that she looked like herself again, he was much less excited to be inside of her. In fact, he felt a little disgusted with himself.

“Most women would be unable to use magic to look like another woman,” he returned.

Exhausted, Bill fell to the bed next to Hallow, who turned to her side to better regard her vampire lover. “So I take it you enjoyed the spell?”

He sighed as sorrow filled his eyes. “I did, but . . . .”

“But?”

“The illusion never lasts,” he said with another sigh. “Your magic may be able to let me think you are my beloved Sookeh for a few minutes, but you’re not her.”

“Then why did you ask me to use the potion again?” Hallow asked curiously, even as she hid her amusement over Bill’s mispronunciation. Truth be told, he pronounced her name more like “holloh” than “Hallow.” But that just amused the witch all the more.

Because of an old potion that the old witch, Octavia, had shared with her—she was able to make herself appear to be the one Bill desired most.

At least until he orgasmed.

Hallow had used the potion with him three times so far, and the vampire seemed more desperate to repeat it with each “taste” he got of “Sookie.”

“I miss her,” Bill said in an agonized tone.

“Of course you do,” Hallow cooed with false sympathy. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the sex with Compton. She did. In fact, she always made a point to get “friendly” with a vampire in any court she was in—given her insatiable sex drive. Weres no longer satisfied her desires, and humans were even more useless. She enjoyed Bill more than many of her other lovers because he was almost violent in his search for his own physical gratification. Luckily, that was just the kind of lover Hallow preferred.

The kind she needed.

And it didn’t hurt that he amused her to no end. He pretended to be a Southern gentleman, but he was far from it! And his obsession with the now-dead fairy hybrid was hilarious to the witch. She considered herself lucky that she’d found the illusion spell at the old witch’s New Orleans shop. Of course, such spells were useless to those who weren’t truly magical. But Hallow had more magic in her pinkie finger than most covens had altogether.

Thinking about the elderly witch, Hallow asked, “So—has Russell arranged things so that you can glamour Octavia Fant?”

Bill scoffed. The idea that he’d not been able to do it upon first meeting her pissed him off to no end. “Yes—finally. I should have just done it when we went into her shop.”

“Now, Bill, you could see the symbol that indicated she belonged to a demon just as well as I could. If you would have glamoured her, the demon would have been able to tell.”

“But Octavia is only a human.”

“She’s also a relatively skilled witch,” Hallow commented. “Nothing compared to me—but her little shop was,” she paused, “quaint.”

Bill rolled out of bed. “Well then—let’s go to her quaint little shop and get this over with. He glanced at the clock. We are to meet her and her demon husband at 9:30 p.m.”

Hallow pouted. “Why do I have to go?”

“Russell wants you there to ensure that the witch doesn’t use magic to avoid my glamour.”

Hallow scoffed. “She’s not that powerful.”

“Doesn’t matter. Russell wants you there, so you’ll be there,” Bill responded firmly.

Hallow sighed. “Fine. Let’s get this over with so that we can return and,” she licked her lips, “enjoy more time together.”

“No!” he said firmly. “Talbot wants me back in Jackson tonight.”

Hallow frowned. “Maybe I can return with you.”

Bill sighed. “You and I both know that wouldn’t be a good idea. Russell is not pleased that you have been unable to help locate Northman or his bitch of a progeny.”

Hallow shrugged. “That’s not my fault.”

“Regardless. Once Octavia has been glamoured to ensure that she knows nothing, Russell plans to order you to Vegas to follow up on the fairy scent there—since you are no longer of use to him here.”

Hallow frowned. “Your king thinks he can order me?” she said angrily.

Bill shot Hallow a look of concern. “It’s best not to cross him—you know.”

Hallow sighed. “Perhaps I could convince him that I need you with me. After all, you have some expertise regarding fairies—don’t you?”

Bill nodded and smiled back. “Yes. I do. And I would like the chance to investigate the scent in that car—to see if it resembles Sookeh.”

Hallow smiled mischievously. “Speaking of resembling Sookie, perhaps I could get more of the illusion potion while we’re at Octavia’s shop tonight.”

Bill’s expression showed his mixed feelings. On the one hand, he felt almost like Sookie was back with him when Hallow took the potion. On the other, he felt that much more desolate when its effects wore off.

As if reading his mind Hallow purred. “And this time, I’ll be sure to get more than before—so that I can be her for many nights to come.”

Bill’s fangs clicked into the place and he looked at Hallow lustfully.

“I thought we needed to go meet the witch,” Hallow purred.

“We do,” Bill said. “But first, I’m going to fuck you against that wall,” he added, pointing with both his finger and his cock.

Chapter Text

Chapter 08: On the Chessboard, Part 2

 

OCTAVIA POV

Octavia refrained from rolling her eyes, but it was difficult. The young vampire in front of her had one of the most “unfortunate” haircuts she’d ever seen. And his glamouring was even more pathetic.

Oh—she could tell that Bill Compton was quite skilled. Hell—she even felt a little tingle in her mind, and that was unusual when a vampire tried to glamour her. Still, he was pathetic—not because of a lack of power, but because of the way he was questioning her.

“Do you know anything of Eric Northman?” he asked.

Again—she had to refrain from an eye roll.

“Of course,” she replied, dreamily. “He fucked me six ways from Sunday dee night I met him.”

“When was that?” Bill charged.

“About forty years ago,” Octavia smiled vaguely, having perfected her “being glamoured act” many decades before. “He was the second best lover I ever had,” she sighed.

Bill growled and looked at the demon sitting next to the witch. The demon’s expression was calm.

“I am the best,” he said with a smirk.

“So she knows Northman?” Bill asked the demon.

“Biblically,” Jasper Fant confirmed, unbothered by the fact that his wife had—at some point—had sex with the vampire. “But the last time she saw him was in the 1960’s, I believe.”

Bill frowned in distaste. “And you have not seen Eric Northman since then?” he asked the older witch.

“I would have remembered dat,” Octavia sighed.

“Has he contacted you in any way? Or has his child contacted you?” Bill asked.

“Eric Northman has a child?” Octavia asked dreamily. “Is he as well-endowed as his maker?”

Bill sneered as both Hallow and Jasper chuckled.

“I have been assured that my size is adequate as well—though she has told me that the vampire was bigger—slightly,” Jasper commented.

“I bet you are—well-endowed,” Hallow leered, looking at the demon with lust.

“Unfortunately, I’m a one witch man,” Jasper said to the witch good-naturedly.

Bill shook his head with disgust. “She knows nothing of Eric,” he said.

“I could have told you that,” Hallow said. “She lacks the skill to create concealment spells.” She looked at the demon. “No offense.”

Jasper shrugged. “She would take none. My Octavia has always been happy with the skills she has been given. She has done her utmost with them.”

“Yes. She is gifted—for a human,” Hallow said somewhat condescendingly.

Jasper nodded graciously. “I will tell her you said that once she’s come back to herself. She will be honored.”

Hallow sat up a little straighter, obviously happy with the flattering she was receiving from the distinguished demon.

Bill rolled his eyes at Hallow and released the human witch from his glamour.

“Oh dear,” Octavia said, looking around a little disoriented.

“You are fine, my love,” Jasper comforted.

Octavia blinked a few times. “Are we already done?”

Bill sighed. “Yes.”

“Was I able to offer you any help?” Octavia asked, almost hopefully.

“No,” Bill said sourly. “None.”

Octavia opened her eyes. She’d been using her skills to monitor Bill and Hallow.

“Compton and dee hussy witch are out of dee area,” she reported.

“You did brilliantly, my love,” Jasper smiled, leaning forward to kiss Octavia’s cheek.

“For one so young, Compton is gifted with glamour. No wonder Sookie succumbed to dee power of his blood.” She sighed. “I wanted to kill him on Sookie’s behalf.”

“But that would not have been prudent,” Jasper observed.

“No. We must wait for dee right time, and I do not believe dat I will be the one who has the honor of killing him—but I do hope to have dee privilege of eliminating dee Were-witch.”

“You are so fucking sexy when you talk like that,” Jasper growled.

“Den remind me of how you are ten times dee man of any others I’ve ever had,” Octavia challenged.

“Oh—I’ll make you forget all about them,” he said confidently.

And he did.

THE PREVIOUS NIGHT

DUNCAN POV

“It has been too long, my love,” Duncan said as he wrapped Klymene into his strong arms. Her petite form fit perfectly against his, but he didn’t kid himself by thinking he was stronger than his maker’s maker.

No—he had seen Klymene fight, and she was as deadly as she was beautiful.

She turned over to face him, placing her hand on his hip and then trailing a caress up the side of his body until her hand rested on his cheek.

“Soon, we will not have to part from each other again,” she said.

“You are certain?” Duncan asked.

“Yes. One way or another.”

“What do you mean?” he asked his mate.

Klymene sighed. “She has seen two possible ends for your brother’s confrontation with Edgington. Either end would have us together—one remaining in this plane of existence and the other traveling into the next.”

“So we will live together or die together,” Duncan commented.

“Yes, but let us endeavor to live,” Klymene smirked even as she slowly dragged a finger down Duncan’s chest. “After all, I would miss your corporeal state if you got yourself staked.”

Duncan chuckled and quickly moved them so that he was hovering over her.

“And I would never forgive myself if I allowed anything to happen to your perfect breasts,” he said as he kissed his way down to them.

Klymene moaned as Duncan’s kisses traveled even further down her body.

After he’d spent several minutes teasing her lower lips, the older vampiress took control of her mate, and in the next second, Duncan was on his back. She lowered herself onto his cock and took what she needed from him, moving at a pace that would have been impossible for human eyes to follow.

It wasn’t long before both vampires were yelling out their releases as they bit into each other’s bodies and drew blood to extend their orgasms.

Sated for the moment, Klymene lay on top of her mate, luxuriating in the feeling of his coolness beneath her own.

“Do you think my brother will succeed?” Duncan asked after a while.

“The Ancient Pythoness is not sure,” Klymene responded. “Russell is strong, and—because of Hallow—she is no longer able to follow the specific path of his scheming. All that she knows is that he has many powerful allies, but so will Eric.”

“Russell should have been stopped centuries ago,” Duncan commented, and edge to his tone. “If we had known—if she would have told us of the danger he would cause . . . .”

Klymene smiled down at Duncan. “My love, you know as well as I that the Ancient Pythoness does nothing unless she is certain she can do more good than harm.” She caressed his cheek lovingly. “I have been a handmaiden and guard to her for many centuries, and I have seen her agonize over her visions time and again. Plus, it is only when there are two clear paths that she can try to change things.” She sighed. “That is why she did not tell me about my child—your maker.”

Immediately grief took over Duncan’s features, and he pulled his beloved closer. “I was still dead for the day when he met the sun. When I woke up, Godric was,” Duncan sighed, “missing from me.”

Klymene sighed. “Me too. I am sorry I was not with you when you found out what happened, my love.”

“Did she tell you?” Duncan asked.

Klymene nodded. “Yes. She had a vision of Godric’s death almost a month before he met the sun. She knew of the pain it would cause me, and she was waiting in my chambers when I woke up—missing my child in our bond.”

“But she didn’t warn you,” Duncan commented with frustration.

“His fate was sealed. Only a maker’s command could have prevented Godric from taking his own life. And my mistress knew that if I took choice away from Godric, both he and I would have been hurt in an irreparable way.” Klymene sighed deeply. “You know how Godric was in the end as well as I do.”

Duncan nodded. “Yes. In the end, he would not even see Eric, and he’d shut down his bonds with both of us.”

“And with me,” Klymene shared. “It was one of his gifts—to control the bond to such an extent.” The vampiress closed her eyes. “The night I made Godric, he was beautiful, but he was not made to live forever.” She caressed Duncan’s cheek. “Not like you and your brother. Not like me.”

“I know,” Duncan admitted, again pulling his mate as close as he could as he tried to comfort himself.

“I loved him too,” the vampiress said softly as she caressed his broad back.

The pair was silent for a moment.

“Will Eric succeed?” Duncan asked finally.

“As I said, the Ancient Pythoness gives him an even chance,” Klymene responded.

“I wasn’t asking what she thought,” Duncan said. “What do you believe?”

Klymene smiled at her pledged mate. “You stole my heart the moment I first laid eyes on you—so long ago. I knew even then that you would be a great vampire. But Eric . . . .”

“Yes?” Duncan asked after Klymene was silent for a few moments.

“Your vampire brother has always been different from others—a paradox in and of himself.”

“Paradox?”

Klymene nodded. “He clung to the teachings of his human father, even as he embraced all that Godric taught him. And—where there was a contradiction—Eric somehow found a balance.”

Duncan nodded in agreement.

Klymene smiled a little in recollection. “Indeed, I have always marveled at all of the contradictions in your brother. So did Godric. Eric kept a quest for revenge going for a thousand years, but he still managed to enjoy his existence by living in the moment. He learned to control his emotions, yet he often embraces the most dangerous ones.”

Again, Duncan nodded. “Yes,” he agreed. “He denies the ability to love, yet he has always demonstrated fervor in caring for those he values.” The vampire shook his head. “God knows—he saved my ass more times than I can count.”

“And for that, I’m very grateful,” Klymene sighed as she caressed that lovely bottom.

“Has he really bonded with the woman?” Duncan asked, even as he enjoyed the ministrations of his beloved.

“Yes and no. The vampire bond will be completed soon, but there is already a Fae bond in place, according to both the Ancient Pythoness and Leonie.”

Duncan shook his head. “I didn’t know such things could be formed between fairies and vampires. A Fae has never even bonded with a human.”

Klymene shrugged, “According to Leonie, many fairies believe that bonding ultimately weakens them, and not many find partners worth the risks. Eric’s woman—his mate—hadn’t intended to form the bond, but, according to my mistress, there would have been no surviving for Eric or the girl without it. That bond is what created the second possible path for your brother.”

“A path in which he could defeat a three-thousand-year-old vampire,” Duncan said, shaking his head a little.

“Yes. That second path also untied my mistress’s hands so that she could help.” Klymene sighed. “Though I wish it could be me, my mistress has assured that Eric must be the one to kill Russell—if he is to be killed. It will be our job to protect him and his bonded from the rest of Russell’s army—to give your brother his chance.”

“And if he succeeds? What then? I know Roman. The Authority and the AVL will want for Eric and his bonded to be some kind of vampire and human relations spokespeople.”

Klymene chuckled. “Roman may try, but his maker will intervene.”

Duncan smirked. “Oh—Roman won’t like that at all.”

Klymene shrugged. “It will matter very little what Roman wants in this instance; I believe my mistress is ready to issue a maker’s command if she needs to.”

Duncan chuckled. “Oh—Roman really wouldn’t like that. She’s not commanded him for hundreds of years.”

“I dare say Roman would get over it,” the vampiress smirked.

“Well—it would serve him right,” Duncan pouted.

Klymene chuckled. “Are you still upset that Roman made you Magister.”

Duncan scoffed. “Yes. He knows I prefer being behind the scenes.”

“Well, my love, you’ll just have to deal with it—for a while,” she said, stifling another laugh. “You and your brother share a contradiction you know.”

“What?” he asked, still pouting a little.

“You are both born leaders.”

“But neither of us are particularly fond of leading,” Duncan finished.

Klymene nodded and smiled fondly. “It was like pulling fangs to get Eric to accept being a sheriff.” She chuckled. “And—despite his hesitation—he took an area that had only three other vampires in it when he arrived and transformed it into a more profitable region than New Orleans! Yes—he was born to lead.”

“I know that Roman wished that he would have accepted a Chancellorship with the Authority,” Duncan commented.

Klymene nodded. “Yes. And he would have been excellent in that role. I believe that Roman has asked you to be a Chancellor several times as well,” she said coyly.

“Now that would be torture,” Duncan chuckled.

“Worse than Magister?” she teased.

“Much worse.”

“I know that Eric has been offered several kingships too,” Klymene commented.

“He’d rather be wrapped in silver,” Duncan chuckled.

“My mistress understands this, and—as a favor to me—she will make sure that Eric is left to seek the peaceful life he longs for after this is all over. If he survives,” she added with a twinge of anxiety in her voice.

“If we all survive,” Duncan commented quietly. “When do you have to go?” he asked, switching gears.

“It is you who will have to leave first tonight, my love,” Klymene said with regret. “I need you to take something to your brother for me.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 09: Brothers

 

THE NEXT NIGHT

“If Eric had told me how beautiful you were, I would have shown up sooner,” Brady said with a rakish grin.

Sookie giggled as she handed Brady another beer.

The Were had arrived earlier that day, delivering a new vampire-safe vehicle, as well as the pledging knife that she and Eric intended to use later that night. Sookie had been anxious when there had been a void accompanying Brady, but she’d calmed down when the Were had told her that the vampire was Duncan, who had come to pass along some information to Eric.

Sookie was anxious to meet Eric’s “brother,” and she was happy that he was there—happy that he’d have family at their pledging/fairy wedding.

When they left the next night, Brady and Duncan would be taking the other vehicle Sookie and Eric had been using. Sookie glanced at the clock and saw that it was still about fifty minutes before sundown. She sat down across from Brady and picked back up the beer she’d been drinking.

“You should ditch the vampire and run away with me instead,” Brady winked.

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m pretty sure that the whole Fae bond thing would complicate things,” she grinned.

Brady looked at Sookie more seriously. “And if the Fae bond wasn’t there?”

“My life would be so different,” she sighed, taking a drink.

“How?” he asked, genuinely curious. It hadn’t taken Sookie long to genuinely like and trust the amiable Were who’d been such a help to Eric over the years. Of course, she was also keeping a close “ear” on his thoughts—just to make sure. So far, they exactly matched his words and actions.

She shook her head and smiled ruefully. “Imagining what my life would be like if I’d never formed the Fae bond with Eric has made me truly grateful for it.”

“How so?” Brady asked.

“Did Eric tell you when the bond was formed?” Sookie asked.

Brady shook his head. “No.”

“It was the morning Godric met the sun—less than five minutes before Godric died.”

“Oh,” the Were said soberly.

“Lots of things happened around that time,” Sookie explained. “It felt like I was trapped in a whirlwind. I’d found out—just a couple of days before—that Bill was forced to turn someone into a vampire.” She sighed. “Of course, I never judged him for that—even though it was clear that he judged himself. After all, turning someone was his sentence for saving my life, but he tried to hide Jessica—that’s his progeny—from me. He tried to foist her upon Eric—like she was some kind of disposable goods. And then when I tried to help her, he became enraged—at the both of us. I’d never seen that side of him before; it scared me.”

Brady sat forward. “So you broke up with him?”

“I intended to. I got out of his car on a lonely country road because I just couldn’t stomach being in the same space that he was anymore. But then a maenad attacked me.”

Brady snorted out a laugh.

“Hey!” Sookie cried out. “Not funny!”

“No,” Brady chortled. “It’s just that Eric said you had a tendency to attract trouble. Only a trouble magnet would find a maenad in the woods.”

Sookie rolled her eyes. “Whatever. That maenad almost killed me. But—by the end of the night—I’d had more of Bill’s blood, and somehow I’d managed to forgive him for everything.” She sighed and shook her head.

“His blood,” Brady commented. “He was using it to influence you.”

Sookie nodded in agreement. “Yeah—as much as he could. Then, the next thing I knew, we were in Dallas—looking for a vampire, who turned out to be Godric, in the Fellowship of the Sun church. And then there was the bomb in Godric’s nest. And then Godric met the sun. And then Bill and I went back to Bon Temps, and there was the whole maenad thing to clean up.”

She paused for a moment and took a long drink of her beer. “I was so pissed off at Eric for tricking me into taking his blood after the bomb went off, but that’s what activated my fairy powers, and—without those—I’m pretty sure that the maenad would have killed me. And—without Eric’s blood and the Fae bond—I probably wouldn’t have been questioning my and Bill’s relationship, as I’d begun doing. I would have said yes immediately when Bill asked me to marry him. And, had I been with Bill when he was kidnapped by Russell’s Weres, who knows what would have happened to me!? But I do know that I wouldn’t have had Eric’s help through any of it.” She shook her head. “And that would not have been good. Russell, Sophie-Anne, Lorena, or Bill—” Sookie paused and let out a long breath, “whichever one of them ended up with me—it would have been bad. At best, I could have looked forward to continual manipulation by Bill. At worst—well—the term ‘enslavement’ comes to mind. I would have been used for my telepathy and my blood—until I prayed for death. Then I would have been turned and controlled forever,” she finished in barely a whisper.

Brady sighed heavily. “Yeah—that’s probably an accurate supposition.”

Sookie managed to smile a little. “But none of that happened. And Eric’s not going to allow it to happen either. So—yeah—I’ve learned to be grateful for the Fae bond. Very grateful. I just wish that . . . .” She stopped midsentence.

“You think Eric doesn’t feel the same?” Brady asked.

Sookie sighed. “Eric has accepted the Fae bond. No—that’s not quite true. He’s embraced it now. And I know he loves me.” She smiled a little wider than before. “And I also know that his love for me goes beyond the Fae bond.”

“But you worry that Eric’s acceptance of the Fae bond stemmed from his pragmatism?” Brady discerned.

“I know it did,’ Sookie responded. “And that’s okay; after all, being logical is one of Eric’s traits that I appreciate most.”

“But you still wonder if he will come to the same conclusion that you have—that the Fae bond has made your life better,” Brady commented perceptively.

Sookie sighed. “When I look at my life pre-bond and post-bond, I know without a shadow of a doubt which one is better. But I wonder about Eric. If it wasn’t for the Fae bond forming, would he just be running Fangtasia? Safe and sound?”

“From what Eric’s told me, his trouble with the Magister and the queen would have come to a head even without your involvement,” Brady reasoned.

“Maybe,” Sookie mused. “But Eric spent a lot of time and a lot of energy helping me out during the nights following Bill’s disappearance. He arranged for Alcide Herveaux to escort me to Jackson. And he spent hours with me the night before I left in order to protect me—and to explain the dangers of the tattooed Weres to me. If I’d not formed the Fae bond with him, I would have been taken with Bill. I would have never involved Eric in the Were mess or the Russell mess. He would have been concentrating on the threat from the queen. And—if he had been—he probably could have avoided her attempt to entrap him by planting V in Fangtasia. So—arguably—without the Fae bond, he would have been better off.”

“No, Sookie,” came Eric’s voice from the entrance to the living room. The special shutters in the house eliminated most of the light that could still harm him, so Sookie didn’t worry about his being exposed to the sun.

However, clearly, she was worried about her remaining fears being exposed to him.

“I may have managed to outmaneuver the queen—as you said. But I wouldn’t have been better off,” Eric promised. “I would have remained in the dark about who killed my family. I would be suffering much more acute grief because of losing my maker. And I would not have found that which I no longer wish to exist without,” he said intensely. “You!”

“Well—I think I’ll go check on Duncan,” Brady said, obviously in tune with the fact that the couple needed some time alone. “The sun’s not quite down yet, but he’ll be emerging from the car soon.”

“Duncan’s here?” Eric asked with surprise.

“Yep. He’s got some information for you,” Brady responded as he moved to leave the room. “But that will keep until you and Sookie have finished your discussion.”

Eric nodded in acknowledgment and turned his gaze once more to Sookie.

“We were—uh—just talking about the Fae bond,” Sookie said quietly.

“And you have come to the conclusion that I would be better off if it had never been formed?”

“Wouldn’t you be?” she asked.

He zipped in front of her and got down onto his knees before where she sat, taking her hands into his much larger ones. “Sookie, I want you to understand something very important—before we pledge to each other and complete our bond.”

“Okay,” she said, trying to sound calm, even though her heart was beating rapidly due to the passion in Eric’s gaze.

“If I could go back to that Dallas rooftop—back to the moment when you touched me and we formed the bond—I would change only two things.”

“What would you change?” she squeaked out.

“First—our knowledge of the bond, so that we both could have made a conscious choice to make it,” he said fervently.

“What’s the second thing you would change?” she asked shakily.

“I would have reached out for your hand—just as you were reaching out for mine when we touched.”

“You would have?”

He nodded. “Yes—if I could go back to that moment, I wouldn’t change the fact that we formed the Fae bond. It is the second best thing in my life.”

“And the first?” she asked breathlessly.

“The best is the woman who formed it with me,” he responded, leaning forward to kiss her.

Sookie closed her eyes and felt her body relax against Eric’s completely. In that moment, the last inkling of doubt she had about her, Eric, and the Fae bond dissipated. And she felt the Fae bond surge with power and love—as she realized that Eric was offering her surety through the bond. She accepted his comfort.

She also recognized that—like him—she would want the bond no matter what. A retroactive choice.

Even if she could go back in time to prevent Hadley from speaking about her to the queen, Sookie realized that she wouldn’t. Horrible things had followed Hadley’s misguided attempts to endear herself to Queen Sophie-Anne—the most tragic being Gran’s death—but life had worked the way it had for a reason. And as Eric’s lips moved gently against hers, she finally felt truly happy and comfortable with herself. And him.

Them.

Eric pulled away and looked at her with intense love. “What are you thinking?” he asked, his eyes bright. “I’ve never felt such joy or contentment from you,” he added softly, as if afraid to break the spell created by her feelings.

She smiled. “I’ve known I loved you for a while. I’ve known that I was right where I wanted to be for a while. I’ve known that I was happy to be with you for a while. But I just realized that I’m happy to be myself—that I’m not just worthy of being loved by others, but that I love myself, too.”

He sighed and rested his forehead against hers. The wisps of energy she felt coming from him into the Fae bond spoke—better than words could—of how happy he was for her. She could also sense his relief as if it were a palpable thing. She knew that he was thankful that she’d finally healed from all of the emotional pain she’d endured throughout her life. During the severing spell, he’d told her that she would one day stop blaming herself for all the bad in her life. And—with his actions—he’d shown her something more: that he found her too valuable to lose. He’d been strong for her that day—and all days following—while giving her the opportunity to mend and to accept her own worth.

“Thank you,” she said softly as she caressed his cheeks. “Thank you for believing in me until I learned to do it myself.”

“It was an honor,” he said with a sincere smile. “I love you, Sookie.”

“I love me, too.”

She giggled as he tickled her.

“I think you are supposed to tell me that you love me, too,” he smirked.

She smiled, and using all of her focus, she let him feel her love. “I love you like crazy, Eric Northman,” she averred, even as he gasped from the feelings she was sending to him.

He returned her smile and then stood up, helping her rise along the way. “Would you like to meet my brother, min kära?”

Sookie nodded. “I’d love to.”

Sookie inhaled sharply as she watched Eric and his vampire brother clasp arms as if they were warriors of old.

Of course, that’s exactly what they were. And seeing two such magnificent men made her heart quicken.

“Are you okay, Sookie?” Brady asked, whispering into her ear, though he obviously knew that Eric and Duncan could hear his words perfectly well. “You seem a bit flushed.”

Sookie immediately blushed deeply. Indeed, Brady had “caught” her ogling at her bonded—and soon to be husband in the Supe world’s eyes—as well as his vampire brother. And—come to think of it—Brady wasn’t hard on the eyes either.

Duncan turned to her and winked as he approached.

“Mae hi’n brydferth, brawd,” the dashing vampire said in Welsh as he kissed Sookie’s hand. [“She is beautiful, Brother.”]

“That she is,” Eric said, refraining from his primal urge to rip his brother’s head off for touching—let alone kissing—his mate, even if it was just her hand.

Duncan looked at Eric knowingly. “Rwy’n addo na fyddaf yn ceisio ei ddwyn oddi wrthych.” [“I promise I will not try to steal her from you.”]

“Da. Yna ni fydd yn rhaid i mi ladd chi, brawd.” [“Good. Then I will not have to kill you, brother.”]

“Alright. Enough!” Sookie chided, looking at Eric through narrowed eyes. “No talking in languages I don’t understand—unless I’m being taught.”

“I like her,” Duncan announced, looking at the placement of Sookie’s hands on her hips with appreciation. “She’s feisty.”

“And Leonie was right about you,” Sookie said with a smile.

“Ah—my mate’s dear fairy friend. Whatever did she say about me? All good—I’d suspect,” he grinned.

“She said you were a rake,” Sookie reported.

“Well—fairies are known for being truthful,” Duncan grinned widely.

“Indeed we are,” Leonie said—even as a popping noise echoed in the air. By instinct, the vampires turned to her with fangs “drawn”; similarly, Brady’s form shimmered as if he was about ready to shift.

“Oh my! Sookie! It seems like you have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to protectors—handsome ones,” she giggled as the men relaxed. Leonie’s eyes settled on the handsome Were.

“Did you bring it?” Sookie asked with a smile.

Leonie nodded. “Yes.” She lifted up the bag in her hand.

“Thank you,” Sookie said.

Eric looked at Sookie. “Bring what?”

“A surprise for you,” Sookie grinned. “Just a,” she paused, “pretty dress and a few other things. I know this isn’t going to be fancy tonight, but I still . . . .”

“Wanted for it to be special,” Eric finished.

Sookie nodded as Eric moved to place a gentle kiss on her cheek.

“On behalf of Sookie’s family, I am honored to officiate your Fae joining,” Leonie said, almost formally.

“And I will stand for Eric’s family,” Duncan said with a wide smile. And—as a representative of the Authority—I will also sanction your pledging.” He chuckled. “Of course, I won’t submit the paperwork until after Russell is no more, but—once he is—you two will be official in the vampire community.”

“But as Roman’s enforcer, you don’t have that kind of authority,” Eric commented.

“Oh—you haven’t heard. Guess who Roman made the new Magister?” Duncan said with a roll of his eyes. “Of course, my new role isn’t widely known yet. Roman thought that Rhodes would be a good place to officially announce it to everyone, though I’ll be holding some sessions before then so rumor will likely travel.”

“It seems that many things will be happening in Rhodes,” Eric said cautiously.

“More than even you know, brother, though I would suggest that we speak of those things tomorrow night.”

“I figured you would leave tonight—after the pledging,” Eric commented.

Duncan looked at Brady and then at Leonie before looking at Eric again. “You are well-secured here, brother, but on this night—the night of your joining with your mate—I would ask that you allow me the honor of guarding you. Tomorrow—during the day—Brady and Leonie will be here to serve as guards. Then, tomorrow night, we can brainstorm for Rhodes. It is safer that way.”

“Safer?” Eric asked.

“My own mate—guided by her mistress—has suggested this timeframe to me. I am not one to deny her,” Duncan said.

“Her mistress?” Sookie asked.

“The Ancient Pythoness,” Leonie reported. “Klymene and I have been handmaidens and guards to her for many years—though our role in her security is little known.” She winked at Sookie. “Even your great-grandfather doesn’t know how entwined I am within this realm—though my promised term of service to Pythia, like Klymene’s, has almost reached its end.”

“You knew this?” Eric asked Duncan.

He shrugged. “My mate keeps no secrets from me.”

“But you have secrets from me,” Eric said through narrowed eyes. “Why did you never tell me that you and Klymene were together? That you were pledged?”

Duncan shrugged. “You never needed to know before,” he responded simply. “And Klymene and I haven’t exactly advertised our relationship—though it is my hope that we will soon be living together openly.”

“Openly?” Eric asked.

Duncan nodded. “In fact, the whole of the Authority wishes to become more visible.”

“But other than Roman, the Authority members’ identities have never been known,” Eric commented.

“Times change,” Duncan responded. “Now that the nature of vampires is no longer a secret from humans, Roman believes it would be best to unveil the mystery of the Authority members to other vampires. He believes that—if vampires knew who the members of the Authority were—they would understand better why they deserve their respect. Plus, the current Councilors are ready to share the power. There are to be elections in the future.”

“If someone like Russell knew of their identities, though . . . ,” Eric began.

“Yes. That would be problematic,” Duncan admitted. “However, let us speak of such things tomorrow. Tonight should be about your pledging with your mate, my brother.”

Eric seemed reluctant to leave the subject, but nodded nonetheless.

“Well,” Leonie said brightly, “why don’t we get you ready, Sookie?”

“And I have a suit for you in the car,” Brady told Eric.

“A suit?” the Viking asked.

Duncan rolled his eyes. “You cannot get married in a pair of lounge pants, brother.” He gestured at Eric’s current attire. “Come. I will try to make you presentable as Leonie readies your mate.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Breath

 

“Love is anterior to life, posterior to death, initial of creation, and the exponents of breath.”-Emily Dickinson

NINETY MINUTES LATER

The gown that Leonie had brought for Sookie was long, and the only word to describe it was “ethereal.”

“Do these colors mean anything?” Sookie asked as Leonie finished putting loose curls into her newly re-blond hair.

“Yes. Lavender and gold are the colors of my family,” Leonie informed. “This was my dress when I wed Niall, and—though I know you are not my blood—your grandfather, Fintan, was as a son to me. It gives me great pleasure to see you in this gown,” the fairy smiled.

“Let’s hope it has better luck for Eric and me than for you and Niall,” Sookie muttered.

Leonie’s tinkling laughter filled the air. “You and your vampire already have the ‘love’ part well-covered. And though he can be insufferable—as you well know—Niall is also a good leader and an excellent life-partner. We have been married for quite a long time, and I would wish you and your vampire even a small measure of the cooperative mutuality my husband and I have shared. We respect each other.” The fairy smiled. “Niall and I never had the sweeping love or romance that you and Eric have, but what we do have is enduring—in its own way. I hope you find the same endurance with your vampire. No—I know you will find it. And—with the love you share—you will find even more!” she added happily.

Sookie smiled and nodded. “Thank you. I’m really glad you’re here. I mean—I don’t know you well—but you feel like family to me.”

“I’m very glad of that,” Leonie smiled. She turned Sookie toward the mirror. “You are ready.”

Sookie gasped. “Wow! I look . . . .” She stopped midsentence.

“Beautiful,” Leonie completed. “I would say you looked like a fairy princess, but I’ve never seen one of those who was your equal,” she smiled brightly.

Sookie took a deep breath as she took herself in. It had been a while since she’d seen herself as a blonde. She’d spent most of the ninety minutes she’d been getting ready removing the dye from her hair. In fact, the kit for doing so had been the item she’d been keen to hide from her husband the night before.

She wanted to pledge with Eric as “herself,” and she wanted to look like that “self” too. Being a brunette had grown on her, and being a redhead had been fun in a way—but when she thought of herself, it was as a blonde.

“I have brought these for you and your mate,” Leonie said, pulling out a small box.

Sookie opened the box to find two beautiful rings. “Wow! Are these rubies?”

“They are called ‘naetralia‘—firestones. I believe they are of similar composition to the rubies found in the human realm, but these minerals are from Faerie.”

Sookie took a deep breath as she examined the rings. The one obviously meant for her had a central firestone that was triangular in shape. On either side of the stone were two rows of diamond-like stones leading into the silver-colored band.

As if intuiting Sookie’s concern, Leonie spoke. “The bands is made of noximan. It is a mineral found on Faerie and perfectly harmless to vampires.”

Sookie smiled and nodded in understanding as she looked at the ring meant for Eric. The ring looked as if it should belong to a king. Square-shaped firestones surrounded the band, and each of those was framed by the same type of diamond-like stones found on her ring.

“This ring belonged to my grandmother,” Leonie said of the ring meant for Sookie.

“I cannot take something so,” she paused, “valuable.”

Leonie smiled. “Nonsense. It has already been given!” The fairy touched the ring meant for Eric. “My mistress, the Ancient Pythoness, gave me this ring to give to your mate. I do not know its history, but I can sense that it was made by Fae hands. And my mistress has blessed this ring with a gift.”

“A gift?” Sookie asked.

Leonie nodded. “A moment of her own power when it is most needed.”

“So if Eric has this on, he’ll be able to see the future?” Sookie asked.

“Yes—but only for a second. And only when it will benefit him the most,” Leonie replied. “I do not know when that moment will occur, but I would not turn down such a gift.”

“I won’t. We won’t,” Sookie responded, taking the ring out of the box. She could almost feel the magic in her hand. She looked at Leonie. “Why is the Ancient Pythoness helping us? I mean—Eric has told me about her. And I can tell that he reveres her, but this seems like out-of-the-ordinary help.”

Leonie contemplated for a moment. “I know that my mistress dislikes Russell Edgington and the future he would cause, but Pythia would survive his insurgency regardless. I recently asked her the same question you are asking me, and she told me that the answer would come—in time.”

Sookie sighed. This wasn’t the first time a vampire’s motives had been unclear to her, and she was sure that it wouldn’t be the last. But she was, at least, glad that there was one vampire whom she could completely trust—the one she was ready to pledge to and to marry in the Fae tradition.

There was a knock at the door.

The fairy tilted her head. “It is Brady.”

“I know,” Sookie smiled, tapping her own head.

“Come in,” Leonie called.

Brady had changed from jeans and a T-shirt into black slacks and a light blue button-down shirt. Sookie held in her giggle as Leonie swept her gaze over the Were appreciatively.

“They’re ready,” Brady informed, doing some leering of his own in the fairy’s direction. He turned his gaze toward Sookie with seeming difficulty. “But, Sookie, there is still time for you to run away with me,” he winked.

Sookie giggled. “I think I’m all set, but thanks again for the offer.”

Brady shrugged. “Well—you look lovely,” he grinned. “And I have this for you.” He held out a box. “It’s not from me,” he chuckled.

She opened the box and gasped. Inside was a beautiful white gold necklace with a cluster of black stones inside of it. The white gold pendant surrounding the diamond looked like a knot. There was a note tucked into the top of the box. She put the box onto the dresser and opened the note.

In my time, a husband would offer his bride a gift, a token of affection. I know that black might not seem to be an appropriate color for a stone that signifies our love, but—to me—it was the only color I could choose. I am the dark, yet you surround me with brightness. The pendant is in the shape of a lover’s knot. We are forever bound, my lover—both by fate and by choice. And I am happy for both.

Yours always,

E

Sookie held in a sob as she refolded the note and looked more carefully at the necklace.

Leonie chuckled. “It does not go with your dress at all,” the fairy said as she moved to put the necklace onto Sookie.

As soon as it was on, Leonie tilted her head a little. “Maybe I was wrong,” her tinkling voice said. “It looks beautiful on you.”

Brady agreed as he held out a pouch to Sookie.

“More?” she asked.

Brady chuckled. “Just one thing more.”

“This is the ceremonial knife?” Sookie asked as she took the bundle.

Brady nodded. “Yes.”

“And I just give this to Eric?” Sookie clarified.

“Yes,” Leonie smiled. “And—once he accepts it, you will be pledged. And then I will say the Fae blessing, and you will place the rings on each other’s fingers. After that you will be wed in the Fae way too.”

Sookie nodded and smiled. “Well. Let’s get to it! I have a vampire to marry!”

“I’ll go tell him you’re coming,” Brady grinned.

“Wait!” Sookie said, right as he moved to the door. She reached into her nightstand and pulled out a box, opened it, and removed the watch that had belonged to her grandfather, Fintan. “Will you give this to him?”

As she quickly scribbled out a note for Eric, Sookie didn’t notice Leonie’s quick intake of breath.

However, Brady did. He could sense the magic in the object and see the relief on the fairy’s lovely face, but he said nothing.

Eric took the watch—the cluviel dor—from Brady’s hands. And then the Were handed him a note. Duncan looked at the Were knowingly, and then both left the room.

Eric opened the note.

You don’t need this watch to know the time. But Gran gave it to Grandpa Earl—Fintan—because she wanted him to know the depth of her love. I hope you will never doubt the depth of my love for you, Eric. Gran was mortal and knew she’d be separated from Fintan. But you and I will go on together. You are my night—my knight—but you are also my light.

Forever,

Sookie

The Viking smiled, wound the watch, and set the time—midnight on his wedding night. He’d known that neither the pledging nor the Fae wedding came with the traditional vows of humans. That was what he’d intended his note to Sookie to be—his vow. As he attached the chain of the pocket watch to his trousers, he realized just how well Sookie understood him. Her note—too—was a vow. He carefully folded it and put it into the pocket of his suit.

Duncan reentered the room wearing a dark ceremonial cloak.

Eric couldn’t help but to snicker. “You look like the Grim Reaper, brother.”

Duncan rolled his eyes.

“I told him he looked like that guy in Star Wars—the evil Emperor,” Brady intoned, walking past Duncan and slapping him on the shoulder.

“You could be easily killed, Were,” Duncan threatened, though there was humor in his tone too.

Eric snickered but then his expression became serious as he heard the door to the bedroom where Sookie was getting ready opening.

He took a breath, just so that he could feel himself holding it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: More Alive

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”-Vincent Van Gogh

Eric Northman liked to wear black.

Sookie had once asked him why he seemed to be in that color so often, and he’d explained that it was practical. Because of his propensity for black clothing, she always noticed when he wore another color. The first time she’d seen him in non-black was after the Maenad attack. He wore a V-neck T-shirt in dark green. It made his hair seem like a field of wheat. She’d also seen him in a light blue sweater that made his eyes look like the truest sky blue that had ever existed, and she’d stared into a lot of sun-filled skies before—so she was something of an expert about sky blue.

Eric’s “uniform” was consistent in all of his safe houses, which were stocked with pretty much the same items: black T-shirts, black or dark blue jeans, black jacket, black track pants, black underwear. Of course the anomaly had been plaid flannel sleep pants, thrown in at a couple of the places. Eric had told her that he liked the feeling of the flannel, but it was difficult to find in solid black.

However, he wasn’t wearing solid black as he waited for her. He was wearing gray, a beautiful shade with a touch of silver and blue. His button-down shirt was a lighter shade of gray, almost white. He looked beautiful, especially as he smiled at her.

Sookie had always thought of herself as somewhat plain-looking. After all, hearing about all of one’s flaws from people’s heads—over and over again—was bound to stick. However, in that moment, with Eric looking at her as if she were his own personal sun, she felt more beautiful than she’d ever felt before.

In fact, she knew that she’d never feel plain or ugly again, for the person whose opinion mattered found her to his liking.

It was more than enough. So much more.

She trembled in anticipation as she walked up to him.

“Hi,” she said, almost shyly.

“Hi,” he returned, seemingly just as taken by her appearance as she was by his. “You look beautiful, min kära.”

She felt her smile widen as she held the dagger out for Eric to take. Her vampire gasped as he saw it and glanced toward Duncan.

“What is it?” Sookie asked, suddenly very nervous.

Eric smiled at her. “The dagger—it is quite ancient, and I can feel its magic.”

Duncan nodded. “It is Klymene’s gift to you—blessed by both fairy magic and the underlying magic of this realm.”

“Is it okay?” Sookie asked a little nervously.

Eric nodded. “Yes. Using such a dagger will strengthen the pledging.”

Sookie took a deep breath and lifted the dagger—offering it up to Eric.

He took the object gently—reverently—and brought it to his lips.

Duncan spoke. “I stand as witness to this pledging, and—as a representative of the Authority—I recognize and approve of this match without reservation.” He smiled. “Who else witnesses here?”

“I am the fairy, Leonie Macone Brigant. I am of the Earth Fae, married to Niall of the Sky Fae,” Leonie said formally.

“I am Brady, Were. I am the son of Maggie and Christopher,” Brady chimed in.

Duncan acknowledged the witnesses.

“Would you two like to seal your union with blood?” he asked Eric and Sookie.

“Yes,” Sookie and Eric answered as one.

Duncan smiled and turned to retrieve a chalice he’d placed on the mantle.

“This is the vessel from which Klymene and I shared blood following our pledging. It has been cleaned, of course,” he winked at Sookie. “But we hoped that the love that has already been sealed in this chalice will work to strengthen your own.”

“Thank you, Brother,” Eric said, though his eyes stayed fixed on Sookie.

Duncan put the chalice onto a small table and gestured for Eric and Sookie to stand on either side of the vessel. Then he took the dagger from Eric and positioned the couple’s palms so that they were turned upward and next to each other’s over the mouth of the goblet.

Sookie took a deep breath in anticipation of the cut, and then Duncan sliced across both of their palms with one long stroke. Immediately, Eric clasped her hand to his—palm to palm—and turned their hands so that their comingling blood would drip into the chalice.

Sookie took another deep breath as she tried to ignore the pain of the cut. She’d been prepared for this and knew that the cut would heal as soon as she drank; plus, Eric’s blood directly against hers was already causing the wound to tingle, as if that area were being numbed.

As soon as Duncan determined there was enough blood in the chalice he lifted it. “Since you have chosen to share blood, your pledging will not be limited to the normal term.”

Sookie looked at Eric in question.

“Normally, a pledging between vampires lasts only a hundred years, but sealing it with blood does away with that rule,” Eric responded quietly.

Sookie nodded and then took the chalice as Duncan handed it to her. She knew to take about half of the amount and then pass the cup to Eric. She took a deep breath and brought the cup to her lips. She’d tasted Eric’s blood before, and it hadn’t tasted like blood at all. The combination of their blood didn’t taste as she’d expected either. Instead of her blood adding a metallic flavor to Eric’s, it seemed to change the nature of the sweetness she’d always gotten from Eric’s blood. The only flavor she had to compare to it was a blackberry, with its harmonic mixing of sweetness and tartness.

Eric growled a little, obviously feeling his blood traveling into her body, and she handed him the cup. As if about to bring ambrosia to his mouth, he licked his lips and lifted the chalice.

What their shared blood tasted like to Eric, Sookie didn’t know, but she immediately felt a change within herself as soon as the blood was in Eric’s body.

His strong emotions hit her so hard that she wondered if she could stay on her feet.

Love.

Lust.

Desire.

Contentment.

Certainty.

Joy.

Sookie closed her eyes and let Eric’s emotions comingle with her own, just as their blood was mixing. She felt the same things that he did, and as their emotions seemed to ricochet throughout her body, she felt warmth in the Fae bond, as if it were lighting her up from the inside. In her mind she imagined swirls of light, only to open her eyes and see such a swirl on the palm of her now completely healed hand.

Eric was looking at it with longing, and she could “feel” what he wanted, so she reached out and touched his chest, letting the light absorb into it.

Sookie’s light in him felt like rain to a land that had been in a drought. Eric closed his eyes and had a flash of himself as a young man, lifting his head to the skies during a warm summer rain. He recalled the way the sun had still lit up the sky, despite the summer shower. He remembered the way that the sun-warmed rain felt so different than rain usually did. Being so far north, the rain was so often frigid—or, at least, cool. He inhaled deeply, marveling at the fact that he could vividly recall even the scents of that day. The freshness of the rain. The salt from the nearby sea. The blooming of Blåklint.

He smiled slightly, recalling that Blåklint—now known as cornflower—symbolized a man’s love for his woman in his human culture. A man would pick a blossom and give it to his beloved to wear. If the bloom dried without the color fading, the man’s love was thought to be eternal. Eric had never loved a woman enough to make a test of it, but he knew that if he were to give Sookie such a flower, it would stay vibrant for eternity. He felt a sense of calm consume him as the Fae bond seemed to accept and then rejoice in the vampire bond. Just as Octavia had said, he could feel his own feelings clearly—and distinguish them from the Fae bond. He could also feel Sookie’s feelings more than ever. And the foundation of those feelings was her love for him—her love coming from all of her, not just the Fae bond.

“You are a marvel,” he said in a reverent whisper.

“So are you,” she returned. “I shouldn’t have been afraid.”

“Of what?” he asked.

“Of feeling what you feel for me,” she responded, her eyes, rich and warm, tearing through him.

They heard clapping from across the room.

“Oh—sorry,” Leonie said as she smiled widely. Her eyes were tear-filled. “It’s just that I’m so happy for you!”

Sookie tore her eyes from Eric’s and smiled back at Leonie. “It’s fine. I guess we should get to the Fae part of the wedding now.”

Leonie moved to take Duncan’s place, even as Eric handed Duncan the now-empty chalice. The fairy smiled at both of them and then said words in the Fae language that neither of them could understand, though the blessing of them seemed clear.

The fairy then handed Sookie the box with the rings, and Sookie took out the one meant for Eric.

“To fairies,” Leonie said, “a ring symbolizes similar things as it symbolizes for humans. It is a token of partnership, a promise to support and to protect. It is placed on the strongest finger of the strongest hand to symbolize the strength of the commitment. Now, Eric, choose the finger you wish to offer your bonded.”

Without hesitation, he held out his right hand and extended his index finger.

“Should I say anything?” Sookie asked as she held the ring up to his finger.

“What do humans say?” Leonie asked.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Sookie responded.

“Then say that,” the fairy smiled.

Sookie looked up into Eric’s eyes, “With this ring—I thee wed,” she said, her voice and both bonds humming with her emotions.

As soon as the ring was on Eric’s finger, it glowed and shrank slightly in size until it fit perfectly onto Eric’s finger. The vampire then picked up the ring meant for Sookie. Immediately, she held out the right index finger of her right hand.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Eric said. As soon as it was on her finger, the ring glowed, and the magic within it resized the ring.

“You are now wed in the fairy way,” Leonie said. “As with vampires, most weddings between fairies are for reasons other than love, but when two fairies love, the marriage is celebrated with a dance.”

Sookie bit her lip a bit nervously and led Eric to the middle of the living room floor.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered with a shy smile, “the woman leads this one—at least at first.”

Eric chuckled, even as Sookie held out her right hand to him. Eric mirrored her action. The dance was quite simple really, similar to a waltz, but done in a tighter circle. As a vampire, Eric took no time at all to catch onto the movements. There was no audible music, but Eric felt something that vibrated through him from the Fae bond, creating a rhythm matching the dance.

In that moment he was certain of something: he had found his Valhalla.

Much too soon, Sookie ended the dance, and Leonie said a few more words in the Fae language, an extra blessing for the union.

Eric bent down to kiss Sookie lightly on the lips and then bent down until he was on one knee before her.

He grinned mischievously as he pulled a small black box from his jacket pocket. “Sookie, you are my bonded, my pledged, and my wife. Would you honor me with being my fiancé?”

Sookie giggled at the ridiculousness of Eric’s words but then gasped as she looked at the ring. A white diamond was framed with small black diamonds. The piece obviously was made to complement her necklace. The ring was signaling that he would protect her just as he felt protected by her.

“You approve?” he asked teasingly.

“Oh hush and put a ring on it,” she teased back, wagging her ring finger at him.

He chuckled heartily. “I’m afraid I have no Fae magic to resize this if it doesn’t fit, but I think it will work.”

She nodded and held her breath as he placed the ring onto her finger.

“Að þessi hringur er ástin mín,” he said in his native language. [In this ring is my love.]

As much as Eric wanted to consummate his marriage with Sookie right then and there, her light had—ironically enough—calmed him and quenched his urge to take her as soon as he’d drunk their mixed blood. And he’d been content to enjoy the Fae wedding, and—most certainly—the dance Sookie had led him in. However, even that hadn’t increased his arousal too much, despite their closeness. Indeed, the dance seemed to feed their bonds with love, rather than lust.

And then had come the playfulness of his proposal, followed by the congratulations of those in the room and an impromptu celebration, complete with food for Sookie, Leonie, and Brady and even a small cake with a small plastic bride and groom on it, which Sookie seemed to appreciate so much that Eric had informed Brady he would be getting a raise.

It was close to 2:00 a.m. when Eric felt his physical need for Sookie grow to a point that he could no longer stifle. As he looked at his bonded and bride speaking with Leonie from across the room, the firelight hit her blond hair so beautifully that he felt himself gasp. He’d missed her looking like herself. He’d missed being reminded of the sun as he’d looked at her hair.

Seeing her so beautiful and laughing so freely made his heart ache with happiness and his cock stir with desire. Feeling his lust, she turned and shared her smile with him.

His heart clenched, and his feet moved toward her.

Duncan chuckled from where Eric had left him in the middle of a sentence.

“We’ll take that as our cue to become scarce,” he said, though Eric didn’t turn around to look at his vampire sibling.

Sookie, too, was walking toward her mate, and she didn’t seem to notice as their three friends left the room.

There was only the two of them—their growing desire for each other echoing back and forth between them.

“Eric,” she whispered as he picked her up into his arms.

For a moment, she lay her head against his chest, but then she turned her face upward toward his. Their kiss began as a glowing ember: warm and comforting. But as soon as Eric placed Sookie in their bed and lay on top of her, a fire caught between them.

Using all of the control left in him, Eric maneuvered Sookie’s dress from her body without tearing it. At the same time, she pushed his jacket from his shoulders. He was content to let her save his suit, but he tore the shirt from his body, sending buttons and scraps of fabric flying across the room. Her hands were on his trousers and then on his aching cock as he pushed the last remaining garment off of himself. She wore only a tempting piece of now-damp lace, and that was quickly torn away.

Her warm hands traveled to his back and she pulled him down on top of her, taking most of his weight and seeming to want more as her heated body met his cool flesh.

Hot fire and cold fire ignited.

“Eric please,” Sookie pleaded, looking at him with eyes burning so bright that they were almost gold.

Like her, he, too, was impatient. And, though a part of him wanted to worship her, he knew that would have to wait for the need that was now driving him. Her blood called to him. Both of their bonds called to him. Her love called to him.

He could not deny any of them.

“My wife!” he cried out as he thrust into her, lessening the ache inside of them—even as he increased the yearning.

“Husband,” Sookie sighed, closing her eyes.

“Look at me,” Eric growled.

Sookie shook her head. “I can’t. Too much,” she panted as he moved out and then into her again.

“Look at me,” he repeated, his tone softening. “I have you,” he promised even more gently.

She opened her eyes as if afraid to see something too beautiful for human eyes. But she was not human. She was his. And he would always hold onto her.

His body shook above hers, and he went to speak, but no words came.

She sighed and moved one of her hands to his cheek. “I know,” she said in a whisper. “You will always have me,” she added, her words meaning so much all at once.

His eyes now wanted to close at the sincerity in hers, but he forced them to stay open and to watch over his beloved as he established a rhythm perfect for both of them. He moved into her deeply, enjoying the feeling of her heat as it gripped and massaged his cock; fully seated, he grounded his body against her clit. Then, he pulled out more slowly, letting his member drag against the spot he knew gave her more pleasure than any other.

But she was not passive. She lifted her hips into his thrusts perfectly, meeting him stroke for stroke; all the while her hands swept over his body, sometimes in gentle caresses that tamed the monster inside of him and other times scratching and clawing as if she were the monster.

“I love you,” he said, wanting her to feel his words as well as to hear them.

“I love you,” she returned, sending that emotion to him through both of their bonds.

He felt the vampire bond wrap around the Fae bond like their rings had wrapped around their fingers.

And—suddenly—he could feel no difference between their two bonds. They consumed each other and they consumed him. And—finally—he recognized the truth that Leonie had been trying to convey to him when she’d told him about the mistletoe. Yes, it consumed the tree that it adhered itself to. But, given choice, mistletoe would choose only the strongest of trees—the tree who could take being consumed a little for the sake of the ecosystem as a whole.

The tree that would thrive even more in order to bear the weight of the plant.

The tree that would not be weighed down by doubt or regret.

The tree that would live on in its new existence, grateful for the gift of companionship.

Of symbiosis.

“Bite, please,” he found himself saying as Sookie buried her nose against his neck with a growl that made him want to fuck her forever.

And bite she did—as hard as she could. He felt his blood leaving him, even as he heard her gulp it down and bite again. And that was it for him. In the next moment, he was biting her neck and taking her blood as he was pumping his release into her. The simultaneous giving and getting made his body seize and freeze mid-release, and he roared against the wound he’d made on her skin.

He’d never felt more vampire.

He’d never felt more human.

He’d never felt more alive.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Evolution

 

“God, you are good!” Brady panted as he withdrew from Leonie’s body.

“I know,” she returned brazenly.

The Were grinned. “So modest too.”

Leonie grinned even wider than her new lover. “I’ve never needed to be modest, and I bet you haven’t either. In fact, with some teaching, you’d be . . . .”

He interrupted her with a searing kiss, even as he shifted them so that she was on her back and he was poised over her.

She was breathless when he was done with her lips.

“What were you saying?” he asked waggling his eyebrows.

He was already reinvigorated because of his Were blood and the amazing scent of her arousal.

“Nothing,” she gasped as he thrust into her.

A while later, Leonie and Brady were both sated again—lying tangled together in a glade in the woods. Both Were and Earth Fae had been drawn to the richness of the soil—to the darkness of the forest.

“Thanks so much for helping me to guard the house,” Duncan said sarcastically interrupting the peaceful scene before him. He took in the beautiful pair, nude and twisted together, but he didn’t do anything more than appreciate them. He’d been faithful to Klymene for 150 years. And he would remain faithful to her until he met his true death. Oh—she’d told him to seek out others in their years apart, and he’d taken blood from many humans, but he’d never allowed himself to seek physical pleasure with them—not with the memory of his mate’s body and smile rippling through his mind.

And—despite her own encouragements—he knew that she’d known no other’s body since their pledging either.

“So tell me, Leonie,” Duncan said, gazing into the night sky instead of at the couple, “is this the one who will finally tame you?”

Leonie sighed. “Perhaps,” she responded, getting up and quickly putting on her gown, even as she threw Brady his pants. She winked at the Were. “He certainly has stamina.”

Duncan chuckled. “Vampires have greater stamina.”

“Yes,” Leonie giggled, “but they also have those pesky fangs, and—even though I can conceal my scent—I cannot conceal the flavor of my blood. And, to quote a famous line, ‘Once a vampire would pop, he couldn’t stop!'”

Brady laughed heartily. “You are evoking the Pringles slogan?”

“What?” Leonie asked innocently. “Pringles are my favorite food item in this realm. And the advertisements are right. If I eat one, I must eat an entire package.”

Brady chuckled again, even as he leaned in to steal a kiss from Leonie. “Then I will remember to gift you with some the next time we are together.”

“You presume there will be a next time?” she asked with an uplifted eyebrow.

“I hope,” Brady said with a grin.

The day had come and gone in peace—with Leonie and Brady guarding the cabin.

The sun had set more than ninety minutes before, and—even as Eric and Sookie had continued their honeymoon “acrobatics”—Brady and Leonie had requested that Duncan take guard duty so that they could “rest” until Eric and Sookie were done.

Duncan looked at the ceiling and grinned. Brady and Leonie were doing anything but “resting.” And Eric and Sookie sounded very far from being “done.”

In that moment, Duncan would have given a lot to have his own beloved with him, but—for some reason—the Ancient Pythoness had asked that Eric and Sookie be watched over on the night that they pledged and completed their bond.

And then the day and night after that.

Duncan wasn’t one to ask too many questions, especially when his own pledged mate had made the request of him, based on information she’d gotten from the Ancient Pythoness herself. If those two told him to stick with Eric and Sookie, then he would. It was just that simple.

He’d been told only that if he and the fairy, Leonie, were at the cabin guarding Eric and Sookie, all would be well. And if they weren’t, there would be “variables.” Hell—for all Duncan knew—he was the piece on the board that needed to be out of sight for a while. He chuckled, wondering what kind of trouble he might have caused if he’d gone to Texas as he’d planned.

Duncan propped his feet up and sipped a TrueBlood as he re-read a letter that Klymene had hidden in his duffel bag during his last visit with her. He smirked at the light fixture shaking precariously because of the “activity” upstairs.

It was as if the couples were trying to outdo each other. He chuckled. It was a good thing that Sookie was without supernatural hearing. She struck him as too modest to be comfortable with the idea that every moan and squeak she made could be heard by four sets of supernatural ears—if Eric was counted.

He chuckled as Leonie cried out. Duncan had to hand it to the Were. Keeping up with a fairy didn’t seem to be an easy task. However, Duncan had to hand the “win” to his bror. Eric had Sookie begging and calling him God by the time she yelled out her release. And, apparently, Sookie somehow managed to be a goddess, an angel, and a Valkyrie all in one—and she’d elicited curses in four languages from Eric.

His bror roared out his own release.

“Nope—six,” Duncan smiled as Eric yelled out curses from another two languages.

“Swahili and Hungarian, bror?” he chuckled. “What an interesting encore!”

He finished his blood substitute and put away his letter. Leonie and Brady were the first to come downstairs.

“Did you have a nice—uh—rest?” Duncan asked sarcastically.

“I feel downright restored,” Brady responded caddishly.

Leonie smacked his ass. “You’ll do,” she purred, “for a while—at least.”

“Just a while?” Brady asked, eyebrow raised.

“Maybe a long while,” she said as she raked her fingers over his jean-covered cock.

Brady winked at her.

Duncan chuckled. He’d heard about Leonie’s track-record from Klymene. Still—he’d give the Were at least six months before the fairy tired of him. Moreover, he’d give him a fifty percent chance of surviving the fairy’s “attentions,” which was—sadly enough—better than his chances of surviving Rhodes.

They all turned their focus upward as the shower in Eric and Sookie’s bathroom turned on.

“It’ll be another hour—at least,” Duncan sighed as he settled back against the couch.

Leonie seemed to contemplate her options before she turned to Brady. Her smirk was full-on by the time her contemplations were done. “Do you know how to cook, Brady Jones?”

To his credit, he smirked right back. “Jones isn’t really my last name. And I can cook a steak that will make you orgasm as you eat.”

“Prove it,” she said as she led him to the kitchen.

Duncan chuckled and decided to go into downtime instead of listening to the buckling of kitchen and bathroom tiles.

Sookie couldn’t see. The steam in the shower was so thick that her hands were now her sharpest sensory organs, given the fact that she’d sunk into the void of Eric’s brain in order to “rest” her extra-sensory ability. She figured that it was her honeymoon—after all.

She deserved a break from her telepathy—even if she no longer viewed it as a curse. And she trusted the others in the cabin to keep her and her bonded husband safe.

She let herself sink fully into their bonds—feeding them with her lust. Eric responded in kind and she gasped.

“Is it too hot for you, wife?” Eric asked suggestively.

“No,” Sookie whispered, as her hands glided upward from his hips to the perfect expanse of his chest. “Just right,” she added, as her hands moved to his back and then traveled back down—until they landed on his bottom.

He chuckled. “You do seem to like that part of me.”

“I like this part—and every other part,” she said honestly as she squeezed his ass, but then moaned as Eric’s fingers began an exploration of their own.

Contrasting the steam of the water, he ghosted touches over her thighs and waist and breasts—so light that the strokes seemed to dissipate into the steam itself.

And so did her breaths.

“More,” she commanded.

“I will never deny my wife,” he breathed into her ear, even as he nipped the lobe. His hands began touching her with more pressure—perfect pressure. She arched into those hands.

“Your wife,” she sighed, her voice joining his in the steam.

“Min kván,” he added, speaking in the first tongue he’d known.

“My husband,” she responded possessively, feeding the beast in him.

“You are mine, Sookie. Mine!” he said as his body moved against hers, pushing her against the cool tiles of the shower. His voice had never sounded more possessive before—never more vampire.

His broad chest pressed against her soft breasts. The water should have made the connection slippery, but their bodies fit together so well—so true—that there was no separation between their torsos as he picked her up.

Her legs wrapped around his waist.

Hot water.

Eric’s cool skin.

The cool tile of the shower.

Steam.

It was a perfect medley for her heightened senses.

He didn’t need to check whether she was ready. He had half a dozen indicators that she was: her scent piercing the steam; her moans crying out for completion that only he could bring—connection that only he could bring; her eyes compelling him to enter her; her legs pulling him ever closer to paradise.

The vampire bond—telling him exactly what her emotions were.

The Fae bond—practically “sighing” at their already close proximity. And ready to explode with their joining.

It was difficult for him not to explode with the pleasure of it all as he entered her.

“You’re perfect,” he groaned out.

“Mine!” she yelled with added possessiveness of her own as he began his thrusts in and out of her.

It would have been difficult for either of them to explain the heightened sensations that the joining of their bonds had brought to them. In many ways the bonds “were” them in that moment.

The Fae bond had been almost “timid” after it had first been formed—uncertain of its own standing—but it had been growing with strength and beauty, even as Sookie’s own confidence and ease with herself had grown. Like her, the Fae bond seemed ready to evolve—to continue advancing.

The vampire bond, on the other hand, had swept through them both upon its completion. Like the vampire who had initiated it, this bond was ready, willing, and able to be the architect of its own destiny.

And—in the Fae bond—it saw its mate. No matter the circumstances that had first connected Eric and Sookie to each other—no matter the previous doubts—the two bonds had responded to their own mates with nothing less than fireworks.

Two bodies moved as one through steam and water.

Two minds marveled at the perfection of the joining.

Two hearts—one beating and one still—ached at the beauty.

Two souls simply sang together.

Both Eric and Sookie cried out as he emptied inside of her.

He bit into her neck. He took her blood.

She nourished him.

He cried out in ecstasy.

And light filled the shower.

Light from him. Not her.

Light that he sent into her chest.

Golden light—rather than the vibrant blue that hers had become as her strength had increased.

Her blood. His light.

A reversal.

A destiny waiting a thousand years to unravel.

A mystery waiting even longer to be discovered.

And now it had been.

Neither of them questioned as her blue light shone to join his fainter golden wisps. The water of the shower reflected and absorbed all that they shared.

And they were refreshed.

Renewed.

Maybe even remade a little.

In each other.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Gold

 

Eric and Sookie’s hands were entwined as they walked down the stairs. They met the stares of those who had guarded them during the day and the night thus far.

“Something happened—didn’t it?” Leonie asked knowingly, though not judgmentally. “A kind of exchange you didn’t expect?” She sounded hopeful—and in awe.

“How do you know?” a pensive Sookie asked.

“I felt the magic of a fairy of my line in this house,” Leonie said even as a tear of joy seeped from her eye.

“What do you mean?” Eric asked.

“You, Eric,” she smiled as more tears fell from the fairy’s eyes.

“Me?” the Viking asked.

“I don’t know how it could be,” Leonie practically whispered. “But—not fifteen minutes ago—I began to sense a fairy who shared my blood in this home. It is not Sookie. And there are no other fairies near here. You, Eric. It is you. I felt your magic. I felt your light. Your bonding with Sookie—fully bonding with her in your way and in hers—has made the magic within you grow. And that magic includes Fae magic.”

“How can that be?” Eric asked.

“There is only one way,” Leonie said, as Eric sat down, settling Sookie onto his lap. “Search your heart and you will see it.”

“Ione,” Eric whispered.

Leonie nodded. “Yes. One of her grandchildren was unaccounted for in her tapestry. That child, Eric, was a relative of yours.”

“My mother,” Eric whispered with realization. “She was taken in by the people of my village when she was only a small child. She’d been left at the lodge of my grandfather, who was—then—the chieftain. There was gold left with her—a fortune unlike any my people had ever seen. My grandparents took in the child and raised her with love. They said she was a gift from the gods, and they were incredibly prosperous after she came to them. To honor the gift, they never used the gold. They set it aside for her. That girl—Astrid—grew up to be the most beautiful woman in the village. And the strongest. My father loved her from the time they were children. And—when given the choice,” he continued, pulling Sookie closer to him, “she picked my father. She said that his family was hers and that her wealth was theirs.” He looked at Leonie. “But how is that possible. Wasn’t Ione in this realm many, many years before my mother could have been born?”

Leonie’s tears were falling freely now. “Time, Eric. The time between Faerie and this realm shifts as the wind. But—what you say about your mother, Astrid—rings a bell in my heart. The Ancient Pythoness told me that you were the great-grandson of Ione; I was almost afraid to believe it, and then tonight I felt that you are my blood—my kin. And I am,” she paused and brushed away her tears, “joyful. You are the evidence that Ione’s line continued in this realm. The flower—Eric—it bloomed for you.”

“Flower?” Sookie asked.

Eric could feel the watch in his pocket—the token that could help him cheat death itself if Sookie were to be taken from him.

He turned her gently in his arms. As he looked into her eyes, he knew that he would never lie to her, but he also knew that he didn’t want her to know about the cluviel dor—not because it wasn’t her right to know, but because he didn’t want her to know its function. If she knew of it, she might be more reckless. She might risk herself for him—or for someone else she cared for—hoping that the cluviel dor could save her. But Eric couldn’t take that risk.

“You don’t want to tell me,” Sookie said perceptively.

“You’re right,” Eric whispered.

She nodded. “You have a good reason?”

“I think so,” he responded.

She leaned in and kissed him. “Okay then.”

Sookie looked at Leonie. “No offense. I’ve begun thinkin’ of you as my great-grandmother—though you look like you could be my older sister. But right about now, I’m really, really glad that we aren’t related by blood.”

Leonie’s tinkling laughter filled the room. “Me too—though your Eric and I are not closely related. Ione was my great-great-great Aunt. So we are very distant cousins—indeed!” the fairy smiled.

“The light that came from me,” Eric said. “Is it like Sookie’s?”

“Can you show it to me?” Leonie asked.

“I don’t know how,” Eric said truthfully. “It came from me when . . . .”

“Eric Northman!” Sookie interrupted. “Do not finish that sentence!”

All of the supernaturals in the room laughed heartily, knowing exactly what Eric would have said.

“Emotion brings on a fairy’s light,” Leonie said. “And yours was freed as the Fae bond and vampire bond strengthened you both. So hold out your hand and think of your love for your mate.”

Eric nodded and reached out one of his hands, palm up. He closed his eyes, and before long, a small ball of bright gold light appeared.

“Eric,” Sookie whispered, causing him to open his eyes.

“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” Eric said with awe, “even when I was a human.”

“For many human-fairy hybrids, powers never manifest fully, for the spark within them never matures. However, this color of light isn’t often seen—even among fairies.”

“So—as a human—I was part Fae,” Eric observed still seeming to disbelieve the evidence of his eyes.

“Yes. You were—are—the same proportion of fairy as Sookie is,” Leonie responded with a smile. “Like found like. Because of you, Sookie’s spark was lit, and—when she offered you the Fae bond—the fairy in you would have known that you were the same. You would have instinctively found a connection in each other.”

“Wow!” Brady said from across the room.

“Agreed,” Duncan added.

Eric took a long breath, filling his unnecessary lungs with air from a realm that he didn’t fully belong to.

“You okay?” Sookie asked.

“Yes,” Eric answered, smiling down at her. “This is just more confirmation that you and I are matches for one another.” He kissed her lightly, even as the warrior within him came to the forefront. “Okay—so I have this light. Can it be used as a weapon—like Sookie’s?”

“No,” Leonie said, “at least not a traditional one. The color of the light you made is gold—a rare color among the Fae and signaling a rare gift. Unlike Niall and Sookie, you and I are not Sky Fae—at least not fully. Ione’s parents were not both Sky Fae. It was with them that the Sky Fae and the Earth Fae made a lasting alliance, and that alliance was secured with the marriage of Aengus, of the Sky Fae, and, Ajthne of the Earth Fae. The golden light you produced is from your Earth Fae roots, but it is rare even among them.”

“What does it do?” Eric asked.

“Like a match, it is a light that rekindles strength. That is why it is not often seen, for this kind of light provides a fairy with greater than ordinary strength and prowess. I imagine that—even as a human—you did not tire in battle. I imagine that you had stamina well beyond other humans, and—when you did tire—your fairy magic would have worked within you to rekindle the strength you had lost. And I am guessing that this trait has continued for you as a vampire. I imagine that it is easier for you than most to force yourself to stay up with the day. I imagine that, in battle, you are rarely bested—even when facing older vampires. I imagine that your vampire gifts and traits were strong almost from the start—and that you noticed an unusual endurance when your gifts were needed the most. For it is need that activates a fairy’s magic.”

Eric didn’t speak, but he nodded in confirmation of her words.

Leonie shook her head. “I noticed something that day in the Phoenix garage. As Claude and I arrived, you were fighting despite the fact that it was daytime. Yes—you were spurred by love and the desire to protect your mate. I thought it was Sookie’s blood in you—or the Fae bond. But there was so much more to it. Your own fairy gift kept you going for much longer than would have been otherwise possible.”

“So—I wouldn’t have manifested this light externally,” Eric began, “because it works to strengthen from within.”

Duncan sat forward. “Eric, so much of this makes sense. I once heard Godric and Klymene speaking of the way that you fought like a much older vampire—of the way that you could withstand pain or torture that would break or even kill other vampires.”

Leonie nodded. “Yes. And now your ability to awaken Sookie’s spark with your blood is even more explainable, for your blood would have held your Fae magic too—the power to light what had been unlit before. You lit Sookie up—quite literally—from the inside.”

“Yet another way you complement each other,” Brady observed.

“Yes,” Leonie agreed. “And in fully accepting the Fae bond and consummating the vampire bond, the nature of your light is trying to strengthen your mate as well now. That is why you were able to see it tonight.”

“The Fae bond works to strengthen us both,” Eric said with awe. But then he looked at Sookie with regret.

“Don’t say it,” she said. “Don’t apologize for not accepting the Fae bond before you did.”

He sighed, but nodded.

“Okay—so we can add this gift to our assets,” Eric said practically, even as he gave Sookie a look that let her know that he considered her to be his greatest asset of all.

“That sneaky hag,” Duncan chuckled.

“Huh?” Sookie and Brady asked as one.

“The Ancient Pythoness was so insistent that Duncan and I both be here to guard you at this time,” Leonie relayed.

“But there have been no signs of anything amiss,” Brady said.

“However, she knew that you would see evidence of your fairy blood tonight,” Duncan added.

“So we are here,” Leonie finished.

Eric and Sookie both let out sighs.

“Fine,” Eric said with a shake of his head and a smirk on this lips. “Enough of the revelations for tonight. It’s time for me to learn about the assets I have at my disposal. All of them,” the vampire said to Duncan.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Rhodes, Day One

OCTOBER 29, 2009

Sookie fought a gasp as she entered the large lobby of the Pyramid of Gizeh hotel and looked toward the concierge desk. But her gasp wasn’t because of the grandness of the space, though it was beautiful.

She halted her progress immediately and—thankfully—the Weres with her did too. She slowly turned around. Obviously, something had changed in Russell’s entourage’s schedule that Rasul hadn’t been able to inform them about.

“Trouble,” she mouthed, giving one of the Weres a significant look.

Russell’s people weren’t supposed to have arrived until several hours later that day—after Eric and all of their other vampire allies were safely inside the light-tight suites in which Octavia and Amelia had already placed concealment spells.

As planned, Brady was at the front desk of the hotel—looking as charming as ever. And as cool.

But Debbie Pelt being at the desk arguing with him was not a part of the plan!

“Big trouble,” she mouthed more than whispered to the three Weres with her, even as she subtly motioned toward the desk, which was—thankfully—still thirty feet from where they stood. Luckily, the Were in charge, who Sookie knew from his head was named Henry, seemed to “get” immediately that the woman at the front desk was an unwelcome variable. He nodded and then rolled the coffin he’d been pushing off to the side. The other two Weres followed with the second coffin as Sookie went with them and pretended to be looking for something in her purse, all the while carefully keeping her back turned to Debbie.

Sookie tried to calm herself, telling herself that there was no reason for Debbie to recognize her now that her back was turned. Sookie was back to being a brunette and she was using one of her Fae gifts to conceal her scent. The Weres with her were not from Mississippi or Louisiana, so Debbie wouldn’t recognize them. And—at least for the moment—Eric’s coffin was well out of range of Debbie’s ability to smell him since he had on Octavia’s potion to cover his scent. However, if Debbie got close enough, the potion’s capabilities would be tested.

The Telepath put herself into Brady’s familiar head so that she could hear his conversation with Debbie. Her hearing was better than ever, given the fact that she’d had a good deal of Eric’s blood, but it still wasn’t quite good enough to pick up everything they were saying from across the large, crowded lobby.

“Miss Pelt,” Brady said congenially, “we were not aware that anyone from King Edgington’s party would be arriving before 8:00 p.m. tonight.”

Debbie scoffed. “The king has sent me—and a few others—to make sure that everything is up to snuff in advance of his arrival,” she responded in an unpleasant, haughty tone.

Through Brady’s eyes, Sookie could see that Debbie was dressed in expensive clothing—though she still managed to look cheap.

“Yes—you said that already,” Brady said evenly, “but that doesn’t change the fact that King Edgington’s rooms were not due to be prepared until at least 5:00 p.m. as per his day-person’s specifications. We are working—even now—to expedite their readiness. Perhaps I could escort you to the lounge where you could enjoy some refreshments as you wait—on the house, of course?”

Debbie growled. “No! I will oversee the preparations to my king’s rooms myself!”

“Debbie!” a sharply put together human woman said as she walked up to the counter. “What are you doing? I asked that you wait with the luggage as I arranged for our early arrival.”

Sookie tried to breathe normally as she moved her focus in order to listen to the thoughts of the human who’d joined Debbie at the counter. Jennifer Rigans, who Sookie quickly learned was Russell’s day-woman, had been instructed to come early in order to make sure Russell’s quarters were secure. Overall, she had instructions from Russell which matched Debbie’s; however, the two women’s thoughts were very different in nature. While Debbie’s were frenetic and full of aggression, Jennifer’s thoughts were calm and efficient.

“Jonathan?” the woman said to Brady, as she read the nametag that the Were was wearing.

“Yes,” Brady responded.

“Good afternoon. My name is Jennifer Rigans.”

“Of course, King Edgington’s day-person. I was just explaining to your associate that the king’s rooms were scheduled to be prepared by early this evening in anticipation of the arrival time we’d been told. Of course, as soon as I discovered that some of the king’s entourage had come early, I immediately arranged for our staff to reprioritize their duties. As you can imagine, there are many royal arrivals today and tomorrow. However, I believe that I can have Russell’s suite as well as the rest of the rooms for his entourage ready for your inspection within the hour.”

“Is there a problem here?” an attractive man asked as he joined Brady.

Slipping into his head, Sookie learned that he was Lance Johnston, the Were owner of the Pyramid of Gizeh hotel.

“Yeah,” Debbie said aggressively. “Your lackey fucked up our reservation!”

Lance looked at Brady for an explanation.

“Ms. Rigans and Ms. Pelt arrived early,” Brady explained professionally. “King Edgington’s party wasn’t slated to arrive until 5:00 p.m., so the rooms haven’t been prepared yet. I have re-tasked a team to get them ready as soon as possible.”

Lance’s thoughts told Sookie that he was pleased with Brady’s actions, as well as his job performance in general.

“And I was just about to tell him ‘thank you,'” Jennifer said evenly, though she was looking at Debbie like the Were was a misbehaving child.

“Russell made clear that I was to make sure the rooms were safe for him,” Debbie snarled.

“And so you will,” Jennifer said firmly. “However, we are arriving unexpectedly and must give the hotel staff sufficient time to make accommodations for the change in our itinerary.”

Sookie slipped back into Jennifer’s mind.

“Russell wanted for us to arrive unexpectedly,” Debbie seethed, “so that we could catch any of his potential enemies off-guard.”

Jennifer sighed. Sookie could tell from her thoughts that the woman did not care for Debbie Pelt in the least: in fact, the words “overstepping bitch” had been on the tip of Jennifer’s tongue several times during the last few minutes. However, Jennifer was clearly loyal to her master and good at her job, so she was determined to maintain her professional demeanor despite having to work with the unpleasant Were.

Sookie probed further into Jennifer’s mind as she’d been training to do with Leonie. She couldn’t read a mind like an open book yet, but she could explore thoughts below the surface level. As long as Jennifer was thinking about Russell and/or her work, Sookie could delve into her related memories.

According to Jennifer’s thoughts, Russell had sent her and several other Weres of his employ, as well as the witch, Hallow, to conduct a sweep of the entire hotel before the three-thousand-year-old king’s arrival that evening. Hallow, who was with the other Weres, was to place protective spells around Russell’s, Felipe de Castro’s, and Bartlett Crowe’s suites before their arrival. Quickly, Sookie texted Amelia in order to make sure that Octavia’s and her magic wouldn’t be detected by the Weres or the witch once they began their sweep of the hotel.

Moments later, she received a text back which told her not to worry.

“I should be allowed in Russell’s room now,” Debbie sulked.

Moving back to the Were-bitch’s head, Sookie could tell that Debbie was high—but already anxious for more V. In fact, no amount of V seemed to be enough for her now. Sookie almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

Obviously used to dealing with the demands of Supernaturals, Lance gave Brady a look of commiseration—which Debbie scoffed at.

“May I escort you and your party to the lounge so that you can have refreshments while you wait?” Lance asked Jennifer.

“Yes,” Jennifer said, “that would be lovely.”

“Text me as soon as the rooms are ready,” Lance said to Brady.

“Of course,” Brady responded.

Debbie stayed in place when Jennifer and the hotel owner began walking away from the counter. Thankfully, they weren’t walking in Sookie’s direction. Debbie growled at Brady, posturing as if she were ready to shift and fight him. Sookie could see Brady through Debbie’s eyes. He’d maintained his calm countenance, though Sookie knew he was likely fighting a smirk.

“Come, Debbie,” Jennifer ordered as if she knew she was speaking to a mutt.

The Were growled a little more, but—thankfully—followed Russell’s day-person and Lance.

Once they were in the lounge, Sookie turned around to face the desk. Brady gave her a little nod to tell her to approach. Back in Jennifer’s thoughts, Sookie could tell that Debbie could no longer see the lobby from where they were. Sookie “read” a text through Jennifer’s eyes, telling her that the other three Weres and Hallow were commencing their search; they would be starting in the underground parking garage, which had several levels. Sookie let out a sigh of relief, knowing she’d have time to get Eric to their room before they got to the lobby level.

As Sookie approached the front desk, she made sure that the coffin containing Eric was close to her. “Hello,” she said, trying to keep the anxiety from her tone, “I’m Janet Smith, Queen Thalia’s day-person. I am here to check in her and her consort.”

Brady nodded, and he quickly pushed a couple of buttons on his computer before grabbing a packet with the hotel suite’s room keys. “Of course, the suite for Queen Thalia and her consort is prepared. I will escort you up myself,” Brady said as he signaled another concierge to take his place.

Lance Johnston was an excellent owner/manager, and he ran his business in a way that was catered to Supernaturals. Thus, there were plenty of concierges ready to offer personal attention—especially given the fact that dozens of vampire monarchs and their entourages were being catered to. Luckily—Lance could also be glamoured. Duncan had done the job himself, glamouring Lance to hire Brady—aka Jonathan Jones—as a concierge. Hell—he likely would have hired him anyway, given the size of the summit and the need for good help; it went without saying that Brady’s resume was stellar—and completely verifiable, though also completely fake. He’d been on the job for two weeks, and between his mother and himself, they’d managed to get control of all of the hotel’s computerized systems. They’d already programed the facial recognition software in the hotel to not recognize either Eric or Sookie, but the group still walked with quickened paces toward the elevators. None of them wanted to take any chances of Sookie’s being recognized, especially since Russell’s people were already in the building.

As soon as the elevator doors shut, Sookie let out a small sigh of relief and put her hand on the coffin holding Eric. Brady squeezed her shoulder comfortingly before putting a keycard into a slot and pushing the button for the 22nd floor.

“So that it doesn’t stop,” he explained with a wink.

Sookie nodded gratefully and glanced around the spacious elevator. It easily accommodated her, Brady, three Were guards, and two large coffins. The second coffin contained both Thalia and Bubba. Sookie hadn’t yet met the couple, but she knew that Eric trusted Thalia, and Bubba—who was Elvis!—was an essential aspect of Eric’s plan.

Of course, Sookie was anxious to meet the King of Rock and Roll, but her anxiousness to be safely in the suite outweighed her anticipation as the elevator took them to the 22nd floor, the lowest floor that was vampire-safe. Russell would be on the 40th floor, the highest in the pyramid-shaped structure. That whole floor was one large suite; the 39th and 38th floors seemed to be filled with Russell’s friends and allies, including Felipe de Castro and Bartlett Crowe. And Brady had found out that a small army of Russell’s Weres would also be staying nearby—in an old warehouse that had been rented by William T. Compton.

The group exited the elevator quickly, but not suspiciously so. Still—they were in their suite only three minutes after they’d left the front desk. As the main door to the suite was closed, Sookie let out an even bigger sigh of relief.

“Debbie fucking Pelt! That was not funny,” she said, her voice ragged with fear that had been waiting to catch up with her.

“Sorry, Sook,” Brady apologized. “But Debbie walked in less than a minute before you did, and the vehicle she and Jennifer Rigans arrived in wasn’t one that we had flagged as Russell’s.”

“It’s okay,” Sookie said, calming herself. “Right?” she asked for confirmation.

“Yes—it is,” Brady assured. “But I’m going to get back down there to keep an eye on things.”

“Wait,” Sookie said, stopping him. “There are three other Weres and Hallow with Jennifer and Debbie. They are planning to do a sweep of the entire hotel.”

“I’ll contact our witches,” Brady said, opening his phone.

“I already did,” Sookie said.

“You are worrying me, Sookie,” Brady chuckled.

“Huh?”

“You are starting to think like Eric.”

Sookie rolled her eyes. “The Weres and witch came in a silver sedan and are starting in the parking garage below the hotel,” she informed.

“Thanks. I’m have Mom sniff them out,” Brady said, winking at Sookie.

“Pam—they could recognize her scent if they got close enough to her location. She’s got the potion on, but if they got within ten feet of her . . . .”

Brady nodded. “We’ll be careful. I won’t let her be brought in until Debbie and Russell’s day-woman are in Russell’s suite and others are out of the way,” he assured before leaving the room.

Sookie breathed yet another sigh of relief.

“So—where should we put them?” one of the Weres asked.

Sookie looked at him and reached out her hand. “Thank you for helping us. I’m Sookie Northman—by the way. Sorry I didn’t do this before,” she shrugged somewhat apologetically, “too nervous.”

Of course, she hadn’t been too nervous to delve into their brains thoroughly before giving her name—which was the real reason why she’d held off on the introductions.

The Were smiled and shook her hand. “Henry Jiles.”

“Hello, Tray Dawson,” one of the other Weres nodded in her direction.

“Mustapha Khan,” the third one said with a little wave. “I’m chief of security for Queen Thalia.”

“And Tray and I will be you and your vampire’s guards while you’re here,” Henry said. “Eric the Northman?”

Sookie smirked. “You’ve heard of him?”

“Who hasn’t?” Tray said under his breath.

Sookie smiled at the Weres. She and Eric had been told about Henry and Tray by Brady, so she knew they were trustworthy. Plus, their thoughts had confirmed this. And Eric had apparently known Mustapha for years. In fact, he’d helped the wayward Were find his place with the Queen of Wyoming and the King of Rock-and-Roll after Mustapha had run into some trouble with the Shreveport pack.

“You can put Thalia and Elv—I mean Bubba—in the biggest room,” Sookie instructed. “And just put Eric in the other one with the ensuite bathroom.”

“Will do,” Henry said, getting to work.

Sookie took a moment to take in the suite. It was the definition of luxury. The floors were made of a very light—almost white—wood, and there were beige textured area rugs placed to delineate two separate seating areas—one of them with a fireplace and piano! There was a dining room with a long enough table to seat ten. There was also a kitchen—bigger than the one in her home in Bon Temps!

Most of the furnishings were light brown—though two of the chairs in one of the seating areas were dark orange in color. The chairs complemented a piece of modern art on one of the walls and a couple of throw pillows on a cream-colored couch. Dark ocean blue drapes added the only other color to the room. They were wide open and Sookie gasped at the view of the city from the specially treated windows.

Eric had told her that all of the windows on the vampire floors of the hotel had been made with a “new” kind of glass that allowed for some light to pass through—but kept out the rays that affected vampires. The effect was to make it seem as if it were dusk outside instead of noon.

The vampires were moved into the rooms quickly; despite the unexpected presence of Debbie Pelt, Sookie hoped that the other vampires in their “army” arrived just as safely as she and Eric had.

Just to be safe, she found some wood to knock on.

If all went according to plan, Duncan and Pam would be the next two to arrive and would be coming in a single coffin, even as Isabel and her brother Miguelito were traveling in another single coffin. They would all be with the Queen of Texas’s party, which was—conveniently enough—also staying on the 22nd floor. Right across the hall, in fact. Pam and Duncan would be brought to “Thalia’s” suite, and Pam would be staying in one of the five rooms there. Sookie wasn’t sure where Duncan was staying, but she figured that it was with Klymene somewhere.

Because of a spy in Roman’s ranks, Russell had learned that Duncan was Eric’s brother. And Duncan had been the target of several failed assassination attempts during the past weeks, but he’d laughed them off the last time Eric spoke to him about them. Between the information Rasul had been able to provide and the help he was getting from the Ancient Pythoness, Duncan had been able to thwart the threats against him. In fact, he seemed to be encouraging them in order to keep Russell and his minions “busy.”

Tray and Henry, who were the “captains” of Eric’s Were force, would be staying in the fourth bedroom of their suite. They would be rotating their sleep schedules so that one of them would be on duty at all times. Mustapha would have the fifth room of the large suite.

Sookie was somewhat nervous that they didn’t have more guards in the room, but—given the fact that Thalia wasn’t messed with—for a variety of reasons, including the fact that she kept Bubba, who was universally regarded, out of trouble—more guards would have seemed suspicious for her.

Sookie made herself relax a little. The wards put in place by Octavia and Amelia would do the job of concealing their presence—as long as they were in the suite. And that was their best defense against being found out by Russell or his people.

“Well—I’m going to go get some shut eye,” Tray said after sharing a quiet word with Henry.

“Would you mind helping me get Bubba and Thalia into bed first?” Mustapha asked. “Bubba gets a little freaked out if he wakes up in a coffin.”

“Sure,” Tray agreed, following the other Were into Thalia and Bubba’s room.

Sookie sat down heavily onto one of the orange chairs. It was even more comfortable than it had looked.

“It is okay,” Henry assured. “No one knows you’re here.” He went over to the kitchen and took two bottles of water out of the refrigerator. Then he sat on the couch opposite Sookie after handing her one of the waters.

“Thank you,” Sookie smiled. “Thank you—so much—for helping us.”

Given her practice and the increased power of her telepathy because of her and Eric’s bonds, she was able to read the Were’s thoughts like a human’s. Henry was helping them because Russell’s Weres had once decimated the pack that his father had led. Henry was an honorable man, a good leader, and a lethal Were—a good person to have on their side.

Henry nodded. “You’re welcome. In truth, I’m glad to be able to right some past wrongs.”

Sookie nodded, acknowledging the Were’s motivation. “And the others with you? They are all loyal? You only brought the ones from the list you got from Klymene?” she asked, though she felt a little bad about it. Henry had no idea she was a telepath, but she and Eric both thought it was essential that they confirm that Henry had followed Klymene’s instructions to the letter.

“Yes,” Henry answered without hesitation.

Sookie heard only honesty from his thoughts as his mind went through the Weres who had come with him. Because of Jennifer Rigans’s thoughts, Sookie now knew that Russell’s Were force was larger than Henry’s; she just hoped that the Werebears on their side would make up for the difference. Sookie was still monitoring the people that Henry was thinking about when two familiar faces popped into his head.

“Alcide! Tara!” Sookie exclaimed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Faith’s Author

 

When Bill’s eyes popped open, they were met by the fine silk of his coffin lid. Talbot always insisted upon the best.

Bill used his sense of smell to confirm that he was alone in his room and then unlocked his coffin. Sitting up, he took in the opulence of his accommodations. The suite on the top floor of the Pyramid of Gizeh hotel in Rhodes was a luxury few could afford—even among vampires. There were only three bedrooms in the top-floor suite of the pyramid-shaped hotel, and Bill had been granted one of them, though his was certain to be the least grand of them.

Still, the room was lush. The bed was fitted with crimson and gold linens fit for a king. There was a padded headboard that would certainly come in handy if he was able to “entertain” in the room. And there was a small sitting area. Of course, he also had his own private bathroom.

His suitcases were placed neatly on a luggage rack near the windows, which were dressed with expensive-looking drapes. He marveled for a moment at the glass that was, even then, protecting him from the last wispy rays of the sun. He’d heard that some vampires forced themselves to stay awake past the dawn just so that they could enjoy the ambient sunlight allowed in by the special windows of the hotel. Though he was embracing his vampire nature more and more each night, Bill could now understand why they’d suffer the bleeds. Even seeing the muted twilight was something to behold!

Bill smiled as he looked around his room once more. In the finest room in the suite were Russell and Talbot—of course. Sophie-Anne and, by extension, Hadley were in the second finest room. Bill couldn’t complain, however. He’d been awarded a very high honor indeed when Russell had asked him to stay in his luxurious suite with him.

Knowing that the other—older—vampires would already be up, Bill quickly prepared himself for the night, showering and then dressing in a perfectly-tailored navy blue suit.

Only the best.

In addition to attending the opening reception, Bill was to begin spreading rumors about the database he was working on. A prototype was already available, and Russell had decided that a little “teaser” would be sold to any vampire he deemed worthy. It was Bill’s job to drum up interest—so that the price charged could be exorbitant.

Russell was—Bill had quickly learned—a fucking genius when it came to money-making. Plus, he was a visionary. The same skills that made Bill an excellent glamourer also made him very good at getting information from vampires, especially the younger ones. And Russell had seen the potential in Bill’s database plan immediately, though Sophie-Anne had needed to be cajoled to see its worth.

Bill shrugged. Sophie-Anne might as well be Talbot’s pet for all the use she now served, but as long as Talbot found her amusing, Russell humored her. Thus, Bill would do the same.

Bill used his phone to check the night’s itinerary. Other than the opening reception, there was little occurring that night—only a few of the more boring conferences about vampire-human relations, topics that Russell wasn’t interested in.

The next night would carry with it some intrigue, however. The queens of Texas and Oklahoma were in a dispute over the King of New Mexico, and there was to be a trial to decide who got him.

Or whom he got—more like.

Bill smiled. Even if Talbot hadn’t been so excited about all the gossip, Bill would have been looking forward to the drama that would play out the next night.

As soon as Bill left his room to join the others in the suite’s opulent living room, Talbot screeched out, “William! You must hear the news!”

Talbot was dressed in a beautiful deep gray, three-piece suit with a red silk ascot.

Sophie-Anne, who was still dressed in only a robe, looked just as excited as Talbot did. A nude Hadley was sitting at her mistress’s feet, looking very pale—probably because Sophie-Anne rarely went a night without feeding from her. In addition—at least once a week—Talbot took a significant amount of blood from her and used it to create some kind of designer blood dish.

The sorbet the week before had been especially delicious.

Sophie-Anne was petting her pet’s hair. In truth, Hadley was looking the worse for wear these days, and Bill wondered how long she would last. Long gone was the voluptuous pink-cheeked girl with the big, almost innocent blue eyes. In her place was a human who’d accepted her role in the food chain.

Bill approved, though he felt a pang that Sookie might have suffered a similar fate—if she’d not been murdered by Northman. No—Bill thought to himself—Sookie was far worthier and more valuable than Hadley. Indeed, Russell would have kept his promise and allowed Bill to “keep” Sookie. And there would have been more control demonstrated in how much of her blood was taken! He would have made sure of that! He would never have allowed her to become as worn down as Hadley. He would never have allowed her to be displayed so vulgarly! And, though Bill would have encouraged Sookie to show deference to Russell, he wouldn’t have made her sit on her knees before him. No—he would have allowed her to sit by his side. He imagined her in one of her prim sundresses, every hair in place as she did her work for their king.

Talbot frowned. “What’s wrong, William?”

“Nothing,” Bill returned, schooling his features and pushing his fantasies about Sookie to the side. He found himself hoping that Hallow had brought some of her “illusion” potion with her.

“Well—then,” Talbot said, patting the place on the couch next to him, “come so that I can tell you the gossip.”

“Must we hear it again?” Russell drawled as he came out of the room he was sharing with his lover. Dressed in a jet black suit with a black and gray vest and a deep blue ascot, he was the epitome of kingly. In fact, he looked so powerful and rich that Bill’s fangs almost dropped.

Russell winked at him.

“William hasn’t heard,” Talbot pouted, even as Russell winked at Bill a second time. If Bill could have blushed, he would have.

It was clear that Russell was just teasing his consort. “Then by all means, you’d better tell him, darling,” the king said seriously.

“Well,” Talbot said eagerly, “it seems that King Mitchell has sent a petition to the Ancient Pythoness herself!”

“The old hag,” Russell intoned.

Talbot shot him a look to which Russell put up his hands in false surrender.

“Sorry, darling,” the king smiled. “I will not interrupt again.”

Talbot rolled his eyes. “Anyway, King Mitchell wants the whole situation to be decided by a bidding war over him. A public bidding war! Imagine that!”

“You could be the auctioneer, dear,” Russell intoned.

“Do you think they’d let me?” Talbot asked excitedly.

Russell shrugged. “Within a few days, you can do anything you wish, my love.”

Talbot beamed.

“But—sadly—the trial is to be tomorrow,” Russell reminded, causing Talbot’s smile to fade.

“Didn’t King Mitchell sign an agreement to pledge with Texas?” Bill asked.

“No—it was just a verbal agreement,” Sophie-Anne piped in, much to the chagrin of the main storyteller. “Apparently, anything they had on paper has been lost,” she added somewhat evilly.

After shushing Sophie-Anne with a gesture, Talbot went on. “Usually, a verbal agreement would be enough, but King Mitchell is now saying that he told Dulcina only that he was almost certain about their match. Regardless—it’s his word against hers. Clearly, he prefers blonde to brunette,” he grinned. “At least this month.”

“Do you think that the Authority will accept his plan?” Bill asked.

“Who knows what the new Magister will do,” Talbot said with a shrug.

“I hope that they have to bid for him,” Sophie-Anne excitedly. “Seeing Freyda and Dulcina in that situation—being humiliated like that—would be marvelous!” she clapped gleefully before returning to her petting of Hadley’s hair.

“Agreed!” Talbot chimed.

“But wouldn’t one of them withdraw her claim in order to avoid the scandal?” Bill asked.

“Oh no!” Talbot exclaimed. “They hate each other too much for that!”

“So true,” Sophie-Anne added with a smirk. “Neither will give up because neither would want the other to win. And New Mexico is actually a pretty rich state.”

“And about to get richer after Mitchell earns the dowry from the queen that wins him!” Talbot laughed.

“More importantly, it is also an important political piece,” Russell remarked, joining the conversation now that the frivolous gossip was out of the way.

“How so?” Bill asked.

“Even if she survives the summit, Dulcina will be surrounded by potential threats if Mitchell aligns with Freyda,” Talbot responded.

“There’s Louisiana and Mississippi to one side,” Sophie-Anne said.

“And Felipe and Samson are our allies in Nevada and Arizona,” Russell added.

“What of Oklahoma?” Bill asked.

“I will be speaking with her later tonight,” Russell smiled. “I believe that she is like-minded enough to join our cause. Plus, we can offer her money—to help her to finance her bidding for King Mitchell.”

“What of the vampire queen of Mexico?” Bill asked.

“Zulma won’t be a problem,” Russell said. “Her allegiance can be easily bought.”

“What if Dulcina wins the bidding though? Or what if the Magister won’t go along with it?” Bill asked.

“It hardly matters. Either way, Dulcina will have to spend a lot of money to secure Mitchell, and I think that he can be turned to our side regardless. In fact, he might ultimately prefer it if Texas wins. He could get Dulcina’s money and she’d be weakened in the process. Then he could help us to eliminate her. After that, he could align with Freyda anyway, getting another fortune from her.”

“So you think he will work with us?” Bill asked.

Russell shrugged. “King Mitchell is vain and brash. His type is easy enough to deal with. But—given the fact that he’s a good fighter—it would be good to have him on our side. We will have to see.”

“I hope he does join us,” Talbot said dreamily. “He’s quite the handsome devil.”

Russell chuckled. “That’s my Talbot,” he said, bending down to kiss his lover on the cheek. “Always thinking with your cock.”

“What else is there to think with, darling?” the consort coyly replied.

Sophie-Anne rose. “Come, Hadley, let’s get ready for tonight’s reception.”

“I’ll help,” Talbot enthused, jumping to his feet. “Sophie, darling, let’s make sure that you put both Oklahoma and Texas to shame!”

As soon as they were out of the room, Russell turned to Bill. “Felipe and Bart have contacted me already, but I want you to make sure that all of their people are in place. Also, make contact with Alabama, Georgia, and Ms. Flower, and explain what I want their roles to be. I’m sure that they will be receptive, but tell them that I will happily give them an audience later if they have questions. When we go after the members of the Authority and the Ancient Pythoness, we will need them all, especially if we are to lure the other kings and queens at the summit to our side following the melee.”

“And the ones who cannot be lured?”

“We’ll kill them too,” Russell returned sinisterly.

Bill smiled at his master and went to leave the room, pleased that he was so well-trusted by Russell. In addition, he looked forward to demonstrating his importance to the two monarchs that Russell had asked him to check in with: Johnathan, the King of Alabama and Lilah, the Queen of Georgia. Plus, he would be meeting with Jade Flower, who would be killing and replacing the King of Arkansas.

Bill smiled even wider. It seemed as if all of Russell’s plans were coming together perfectly, and he was honored to be at the center of those plans.

Eric was pacing so feverishly that Sookie felt like he truly might wear a hole in the carpet, which was a shame since it was so nice. Still, she let her husband do as he needed to do as she watched him.

“I don’t like this,” he snarled.

“I know,” she said softly. “But Leonie will be with me.”

He turned to look at her and then used vampire speed to take her into his arms.

She didn’t flinch. She was used to it by now; plus, their bonds told her how nervous he was—how much he needed to touch her. To hold her.

She needed it too.

“I’ve become useless when you aren’t by my side,” he confessed.

She ran her hand down his chest. “You should see me in the daytime when you’re asleep. I’m a wreck,” she smirked.

“You’re lying,” he said with a little smirk of his own.

“Yeah,” she smiled. “And so are you. You’re anything but useless, Eric. And you know it.”

“I don’t like the thought of her telling you things without me there,” he said.

She smiled. “Now that—I believe. But you and I both know that I cannot deny a summons from the Ancient Pythoness.”

“I know,” he said with a pout.

“Plus, you are going to be busy,” she reminded.

“Monitoring the video feed,” he said with a sigh.

“Yep.”

“Promise me that you will be careful,” he implored. “Promise me that you will come back to me.”

“What’ll I get when I do?” she asked coyly, though they both knew that her flirtatiousness was laced with trepidation.

“This,” he answered as he leaned down to kiss her breath away. “And more,” he added as she gasped in the wake of his kiss.

“I’ll hold you to that,” she panted and smiled up at him.

He kissed her one more time—though barely touching her lips this time—and then he rested his forehead to hers.

The love between them flowed between their bonds, and no words were needed. In the days following their pledging, those bonds had flourished. And—though there was no telepathic connection between them—the two didn’t need it. Their souls seemed to speak to each other in feelings so pure that they made words superfluous.

Still, Eric spoke some. “Be careful, min kära.”

“Have fun with Pam,” she returned.

“That is not the answer I was looking for,” he sighed.

“I’ll be as careful as I can be,” she promised.

“That’s not the answer I was looking for either,” he returned.

She leaned up and kissed him lightly on the lips, asking for his trust—his faith—through the bond.

The vampire—so used to being in control of everything—didn’t hesitate as he gave his wife exactly what she was looking for.

Of course she had his trust.

And she was the author of his faith.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Mistress & Handmaidens

 

Sookie knew that teleportation was practical—and necessary—at times, but it wasn’t her favorite thing to do.

Not by a long-shot.

Even when she’d teleported just herself, Sookie hadn’t liked the sensation of it. Maybe it was that her first experience with teleportation would have taken her away from Eric forever—if Niall had gotten his wish. Or maybe it was simply that her human DNA was protesting a process that wasn’t natural for it to undergo.

Brass tacks? It fucking hurt.

Of course, Sookie had set aside her thoughts of the discomfort and had become much better at the process during the past month. Twice a week Leonie had visited her at the cabin during the days and had practically drilled her into the ground as they’d worked on her fairy skills. She’d even learned how to teleport with Eric, which had been something that Leonie had thought she might be able to do because of Eric and Sookie’s bonds and blood sharing. Still—teleportation wasn’t a “natural” gift for Sookie. Teleporting with Eric had worn her out for an entire night—and the day after it! Plus, she’d needed to meditate for five full minutes before she’d been able to accomplish the feat to begin with.

Nope—not a natural gift to her at all!

Sookie’s “natural” gift? Her light. Fighting.

Claudine had been right. Sookie was inclined to fighting and not fleeing, though Leonie and Eric had both been trying to guide her to understand that sometimes it was best to go against instinct.

She smiled slightly as she recalled a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.”

Sookie tried to center herself as she looked in the mirror in her and Eric’s room. She put her hair up into a ponytail and then looked at her outfit—jeans, a comfortable T-shirt, a jean jacket, and tennis shoes. She shook her head. What did one wear to meet the fabled Ancient Pythoness?

She was about to change into something else—not that she had anything too formal other than her Masquerade dress—when there was a light knock on the door: Leonie.

“Hello, dear,” the fairy smiled as she walked into the room. She looked ethereal in a gown of green silk that complemented her red hair and freckled, pale skin to perfection.

Knowing that Brady was in the suite, Sookie automatically zoomed into his head. Yep—he was “mentally” drooling.

“Ready?” Leonie asked with a smirk, as if she knew whom Sookie had been listening to.

“You tell me,” Sookie said, gesturing down at her clothing. “This meeting was a bit of a surprise to me, and I’m not exactly sure what to wear,” she added somewhat apprehensively.

Leonie waved off her concern. “You look lovely, dear.”

Sookie shook her head and chuckled. “And you look like some kind of goddess—and that’s not just according to the Were you’ve leashed,” she added with a wink.

Leonie giggled like a schoolgirl. “This? It’s just a uniform really. All of Pythia’s handmaidens have to wear them.” She laughed as if she’d just told a joke.

Though she didn’t “get” the joke, Sookie couldn’t help but to laugh with the fairy as she walked over to her.

“Then I guess I’m ready,” Sookie said.

“Eric?” Leonie asked.

Sookie’s smile faded for a moment. “We figured it would be best if I left while he was in the other room, so he wouldn’t try to hitch a ride by instinct.”

Knowing how tightly bonded the pair were, Leonie nodded and reached out her hands. Sookie seemed reluctant to take them.

“What is it, dear? Are you nervous about leaving your bonded? Meeting Pythia? You shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t exactly call her ‘nice,’ but I think you will like her, nonetheless.”

“Well—yeah. Both. But it’s neither of those things,” Sookie responded. “It’s that I still don’t really like this teleporting thing.”

Leonie laughed heartily as Sookie took her hands and was still laughing when they arrived in a room with no windows. The room was bare of furniture and empty except for one individual: a beautiful brunette vampiress with clear blue eyes. She was dressed in a gown similar to Leonie’s; only hers was orange.

“Klymene?” Sookie guessed with a gasp.

“Yes,” the gorgeous vampiress confirmed. She approached Sookie and took her two hands before falling to her knees before the telepath.

“What?” Sookie asked, startled by the lovely vampiress’s action. “Um—what are you doing?”

“My child,” Klymene responded simply. “I could not save Godric. But I know that you did in a way, and—for that—I will forever be in your debt.”

Immediately, Sookie’s tears began to fall, and she felt a ping through her bonds with Eric. She sent back comfort—letting him know that she was okay.

She took to her knees with the vampiress. “I just stayed with him at the end,” Sookie whispered.

Klymene shook her head. “Godric could not hide his feelings from me as he could from his children. For years, I felt his despair. Then, I felt his despondency. Finally, I felt it when he decided to die. But—right before the end—I felt his hope. You gave him that.”

Sookie sniffled, trying to stop herself from sobbing at the memory of Godric killing himself.

Again, she felt Eric’s concern through their bonds; she sent back her love as she thought of him on his knees on the rooftop.

As she thought of the touch between them which had started their Fae bond.

Klymene’s beautiful eyes full of a mixture of sorrow and gratefulness, she rose to her feet, bringing Sookie with her. “I was pulled to make Godric as soon as I first saw him, though I waited a while. He was so beautiful.” She smiled. “None but me know this, but he was a warrior during his human life, as vicious as he was honorable.”

“Like Eric,” Sookie observed.

Klymene nodded. “Yes. I was staying with a vampire monarch near to where Godric was based. I kept up with him.” She smiled proudly. “After all, how many boys of thirteen are feared generals?” She frowned. “I was biding my time—waiting for him to be older before I asked him if he would join me in the night. It was several years after I first saw Godric that I made a brief visit to a neighboring king. When I returned, I learned that Godric’s army had been decimated—though it had taken a force ten-times larger than his own to do the job. Godric had been captured and made a slave. And he had been horribly mistreated and humiliated. He was but seventeen then.”

“But you went to him. You turned him,” Sookie said.

“I could not help myself,” Klymene responded.

Sookie nodded. “The pull. Eric had it with Pam, too.”

Klymene smiled. “As Godric had it with both Eric and Duncan.”

The vampiress’s smile quickly faded, however, and was replaced with a look of sadness. Instinctively, Sookie took her hands again.

“Godric was a magnificent vampire,” Klymene sighed, “however, two years ago—the last time we were together in person—he told me that he hated his existence as a vampire. Nonetheless, I could feel that he was glad that I had made him one.”

“Because of Eric and Duncan,” Sookie offered.

“Yes,” Klymene responded. “Godric was made to be a maker. And—when his duty was done to his boys—he could not find reason to go on.”

“You loved him,” Sookie said.

“Yes,” Klymene responded. “Had Leonie not teleported me to Duncan’s side after Godric died, I might have sought my child in the sun myself. Duncan believes that I was there to comfort him; however, it was he who kept me sane.”

“You were there when Eric called Duncan?” Sookie asked.

“Yes. I listened as Eric told him that he had begged Godric to stay. I listened as he told him of a human woman—a woman of good heart—who had stayed with him until the end.”

“Godric was,” Sookie paused, “the good one.”

“Yes,” Klymene agreed, “though he was always doubtful about that. At almost six hundred years old, I was not a young vampire when I made him. I had made two children before him, but it was with him that I felt the strongest pull.” She sighed. “Neither of my other children lived long lives as Godric did.”

Sookie nodded, remembering the test that Godric had given to Eric—the one Godric had learned firsthand from his own maker. The hand of a vampire was exposed to the sunlight. The vampire had the choice of either allowing the sun to burn through his or her hand or marshaling his or her magic in order to fight against it. The second choice would lead to the vampire’s death.

Magic spent until the vampire was sludge.

Sookie had found the test to be cruel; however, Eric had pointed out that it had been instructive—that it had taught him that giving up a part of himself was sometimes necessary for a greater good. He pointed to the lesson as one of the reasons he’d survived a millennia. Godric, too, had once faced this test—and had passed it. However, Eric had explained that Klymene’s other children had failed the test. At the time, Sookie had judged the ancient vampiress who had allowed two of her children to die in that way as heartless, but—seeing the pain in Klymene’s eyes—Sookie knew that wasn’t true.

“Godric felt so much guilt,” the vampiress sighed.

“Why?”

“Because he had much to be guilty for,” Klymene responded sadly. “I have never been shy about killing my enemies, Sookie. And I have no compunction about draining a human miscreant, but I have never had the desire to kill innocents for sport or greed for blood. Therefore, my conscience has remained clear—though most would consider me a murderer.”

“But Godric?” Sookie asked with a sigh.

Klymene looked down for a moment. “He was so young when I brought him over—so used to seeing slaughter. Yet—unlike Eric—Godric did not have a human father who taught him how to temper his violence. He did not know mercy. He did not have a hearth and a home as a human; thus, he was not taught warmth.” She sighed deeply. “I kept Godric by my side for the first four hundred years of his vampire life, trying to give him a sense of family and peace. But he seemed always restless—though he learned to control his vampire urges quickly.” Her body tensed a little. “Eventually, there was no excuse but selfishness for me to keep him with me, so I gave him the freedom to venture out on his own. It was during that time that he turned wild,” she continued, her eyes brimming with red tears.

“Wild?” Sookie asked.

The vampiress nodded. “It was a more brutal time for humans and vampires alike. Still, I tried to do right by my child—to teach him to show mercy to innocents. But, once he was on his own, Godric allowed his baser instincts to have reign. He fell under the influence of a vampire named Appius Livius Ocella, Russell Edgington’s vampire brother.”

“No!” Sookie said with surprise.

“Russell is older—by several centuries. Appius and I are close in age, in fact. It is difficult to know which one is worse. While Russell can feign civility, Appius has never really tried to. Centuries ago, the kings and queens of the Old World established order by forming a Supernatural Council; soon after, Appius was expelled from Europe after rampaging through a village in Lisbon. However, the King of the Russian Empire still allows him to enter his territory, so he shows up there every now and then. He has continued his old ways in Asia, Africa, and South America. He’s been given many nicknames, but most translate roughly to ‘the monster in the night.'”

A tear dropped from Sookie’s eye. “And Godric fell under his influence?”

The vampiress nodded. “My child spoke to me of that time only once, but yes. It was before the Council was formed. For a while, his brutality outmatched even Appius’s. But—thankfully—my child was able to pull himself from Appius’s side. Godric was nomadic after that—until he chanced upon Eric.”

Sookie gasped, finding it difficult to imagine Godric so brutal. “I always wondered why he seemed so racked with guilt—in the end. I mean—I know that Eric isn’t shy when it comes to killing enemies, and he’s told me that he has killed innocents accidentally or when he would have starved otherwise, but it was clear to me that Godric believed that he’d done worse.”

“He had,” Klymene whispered as a red tear fell down her alabaster cheek. She wiped it away with her fingers and—in true vampire style—brought the blood to her lips. “I believe that it was his making of Eric that turned things around for him—made him,” she paused, “more civilized. Eric gave Godric a sense of purpose—and family.”

“Eric told me that he’d met you only once before,” Sookie said, feeling the need to change the mood of the conversation.

“Yes—Godric returned to my side about a hundred years after he had made Eric. He stayed with me for a month. Eric was respectful, but still growing into his gifts. After that visit, Godric and I would meet periodically, but I did not see Eric again. There was no need.”

“And Duncan?” Sookie asked.

“I intended to meet him only once as well, but our connection was,” she paused, “immediate—powerful.”

Sookie smiled at the ancient vampiress for a moment—before she felt compelled to ask a question that had been replaying in her mind ever since Eric had told her about his maker’s maker. “You’re almost Russell’s age. Could you kill him?”

Klymene sighed. “I have very much wanted to try. My mistress has told me that I can help Eric in the upcoming battle—but she has made clear that if I engage Russell directly, I will meet my end and harm Eric’s chances of defeating him.” Her eyes darkened with anger and her fangs came down. She looked terrifying, and her power seemed to fill the small room in an instant.

Intellectually, Sookie knew that Klymene would not harm her, but her fairy instincts were a different story. It was only with difficulty that she was able to resist the impulse to allow her hands to light up in the face of the deadly vampiress.

“If my mistress had not stopped me, I would have confronted Russell Edgington well before now,” Klymene growled. “And his monstrous brother too, for that matter! I am old—and strong.” She paused and reigned in her emotions. Her fangs clicked upward. “Alas, Russell is stronger than I, and he has a craft in battle that I could not match.”

“A craft that Eric has,” Sookie said, her pride for her mate clear in her voice.

“Yes. He is Russell’s equal in strategy. And—as far as battle acumen goes—he is even craftier.”

Hearing a call, the vampiress tilted her head toward a door in the room.

“She will see you now,” Klymene said, putting an abrupt end to their conversation.

Sookie’s anxiety rose as she looked at the door; immediately she felt Eric trying to calm her. She smiled a little. She’d grown to love the give and take of emotions between them.

Leonie, who had stayed silent throughout Klymene and Sookie’s exchange, opened the door to the Ancient Pythoness’s chambers. As Sookie went into the room, it was clear that neither Klymene nor Leonie was coming inside with her. She took a deep breath as Leonie closed the door behind her.

It took Sookie’s eyes several seconds to adjust to the low light of the room. Instead of a bed, there was a pallet in the corner—which was probably where the Ancient Pythoness intended to die for the day. There was also a seating area—though, instead of modern chairs, there were a few padded benches.

One of the benches was occupied by a woman whom Sookie could tell was old by both human terms and vampire terms.

The Ancient Pythoness had been silently regarding Sookie as she took in her surroundings. After Sookie had, the vampiress gestured for the telepath to sit with her.

“You are Sookie,” she said as if telling her something that she didn’t already know.

Sookie nodded, but seeing that the old vampiress’s eyes seemed to be clouded over, she decided to verbalize her response as well. “Yes. Um—why did you wanna see me? I mean talk to me?” she asked nervously. “Um—without Eric?”

The Ancient Pythoness chuckled. “I can see you, despite the way my eyes look. The clouding came with my human age—cataracts I think they are called now. But—when I was turned—my vampire sight evened things out. I cannot see as well as many of my kind, but—then again—I do not need to.”

“Oh,” Sookie responded, clearly surprised, “I figured your eyes were like that because of your—uh—other sight.”

The vampiress laughed again—though it seemed more like a cackle to Sookie. “Yes—most assume that, and I find no need to correct them.” Her eyes seemed to twinkle despite their glossiness. “It is an advantage that many perceive me as being blind.”

Sookie nodded in understanding.

There was silence between the two for several minutes as the Ancient Pythoness seemed to slip into downtime.

“Um—so why did you want to see me?” Sookie finally asked again—this time even more nervously.

“Sorry,” the vampiress responded. “It is sometimes difficult to focus on the now.”

“Oh,” was Sookie’s only reply. In truth, she didn’t know what else to say to that information.

“I have always endeavored to surround myself with women who were strong and who possessed strong gifts—like your telepathy and your other fairy traits. These women are my handmaidens, my protectors, and my friends. Tell me, Sookie, would you like to be one of them?”

Sookie gasped, not expecting that question at all. “What? Uh—what about Russell? Eric?”

The ancient lady frowned. “If you become my handmaiden now, you will be assured to live on. It would be difficult. Because of your bonds with the Norseman, I would have to turn you into a vampire as soon as your mate was killed by Russell, but—because of my second sight—I would know exactly when to do the turning. And you would survive on as a vampire.”

“But Eric would be dead?” Sookie asked in horror.

“Yes,” the vampiress responded, closing her cloudy eyes. “The Viking would die. You would mourn greatly. But you would find a measure of contentment during the centuries to come. You and I would become good friends. We would live quietly through Russell’s reign. But—eventually—he would become careless, and we would defeat him together. After that, the world would settle down into relative peace again.”

“That’s the future?” Sookie asked, tears in her eyes.

“Only one possible future. However—know this—it is the only future in which I can guarantee that you live on in this plane of existence.” She paused for a moment. “I felt that you deserved to know this. You can live on as my child if that is your choice.”

Sookie didn’t need to think about her response.

“No offense, but no thank you. I won’t live on without Eric,” Sookie returned fervently.

The Ancient Pythoness nodded. “I did not think you would choose to be my child, but—selfishly—I had to ask. As I said, you and I would have been good friends, and I think that I would have liked to have experienced having you as my child. You would have been only my second.” The vampiress shrugged and opened her opaque eyes. “But that future is now gone,” she reported, her tone a strange mixture of acceptance and resignation.

Sookie suddenly felt sorry for the ancient woman before her. Her own strife with her gift helped her to understand the burden that the Ancient Pythoness must have experienced many, many times throughout her long years. She felt an odd connection toward her, but there was no way she would ever choose to leave Eric.

“Maybe we could be friends anyway,” Sookie offered, “once this is all over?”

“Let us become friends now,” the vampiress said with a smirk, “just in case we do not have the chance to do so later.”

Sookie let out a rueful chuckle.

“You may call me Pythia, and I will call you Sookie. That is,” she paused, “friendly—I think.”

“Okay,” Sookie agreed, this time with a sincere chuckle.

“I am sorry to say that I must begin our friendship by asking you to do something that might end our friendship very soon indeed,” Pythia said, her smirk fading.

“And what’s that?” Sookie asked with trepidation.

“To die.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Maneuvering

Dane Mitchell watched the others in the large ballroom carefully. According to the rules of the summit, each monarch was allowed only one Were guard to accompany him or her to the major social gatherings. Not surprisingly, the Were guard was not allowed to attend “official” meetings; those were “vampire only.”

Of course, Dane knew that his master, Russell Edgington, was fully capable of dealing with any threats. Indeed, Russell Edgington was the most powerful being in Rhodes! But the Alpha Were still took his duties very seriously and was ready to do anything to aid his master. Russell’s previous Alpha, Cooter, had been loyal as well, but Dane hadn’t felt that he was worthy enough to serve such a great king as Russell. In fact, in Dane’s opinion, the pack’s quality had spiraled downward because of Cooter’s excessive V usage. For this reason, if Cooter hadn’t been killed, Dane would have challenged him in a few years. Simply put, Dane had not been made to follow; he’d been born to lead a pack.

Dane clenched his fists as his eyes roved the room. The Alpha felt his strength and aggression flowing through his veins, amplified by Russell’s blood. The vampire had given the powerful liquid to Dane only an hour before—directly from this wrist. The Were had been honored to receive such a distinction. Of course, Dane was also smart enough to know that the taking of vampire blood needed to be done in moderation—only out of duty and necessity and not because of uncontrolled addiction. He’d worked very hard to instill more discipline into his pack during the last months, and—with many members—he’d succeeded.

However, there were still some undesirables—like Debbie Pelt—who were out of control. Dane frowned as he thought about her. Russell seemed to want to keep her around, but Dane thought she was more-less a waste of space. She’d pissed him off earlier that same day when she’d behaved as if she were the leader of the group he’d sent ahead to surveil the hotel. And then she’d wanted to be the one to accompany Russell to the gathering.

Dane scoffed. Debbie was a loose cannon, but he knew that he would need to keep a muzzle on her for only a couple more days—until Russell was ready to make his move to take over the Vampire Council. Hell—with any luck—she’d do something asinine during the battle and get herself killed.

And, if she didn’t, Dane planned to “help” her along.

The Were smiled at that thought and at the promise of the fight to come. Of course, his main role wouldn’t be eliminating the more powerful vampires. Dane knew that he had limitations, even with V adding to his strength. But Dane still had an important role. Russell had him in place to make sure that any Weres and/or younger vampires fighting against his monarch were dealt with quickly and summarily.

With that in mind, Dane studied the others of two natures at the function. Like him, they were ostensibly there to keep an eye on their monarchs—to protect them. However, Dane knew that their real function was similar to his own: to observe and assess their monarchs’ potential enemies.

Not surprisingly, most of the Weres and other shifters at the gathering were Alphas, making Dane’s own skin crawl with the desire to shift and then challenge them. Of course, he refrained—as did the other shifters in the room. Thankfully, the moon was a mere crescent in the sky.

Dane noted the Weres that he figured might actually challenge him. One, who was with the Queen of Wyoming, was looking back at him, sizing him up in return. Dane had heard the Were’s name spoken: Mustapha. Dane nodded at the man, who—in turn—nodded back as an acknowledgment that they would have preferred to be fighting each other for dominance rather than making “nice” in a room full of vampires.

Dane moved his gaze around the room before resting it on an older Werebear, a female. This, in and of itself, was odd since most Were groups were strictly patriarchies. Still, Dane could tell that the She-bear was formidable, despite her gender and age, and she was looking around the room with wise eyes. Dane was just wondering whom she was affiliated with when King Mitchell of New Mexico sauntered over to her to share a few words.

Dane was slightly disappointed. Neither Mustapha nor the She-bear was at the summit guarding an enemy of his master. Thus, he wouldn’t get to test their metal. But he reconciled himself, knowing there would be others. His gaze next fell upon the familiar frame of his lover, Hallow. She leered at him, though she didn’t approach him. Hallow didn’t want their relationship to be in the public eye until the war had been fought and won. Plus, Dane knew that she, too, was on duty—monitoring for any signs of magic.

Still, he couldn’t wait to openly claim her. To breed with her.

Their firstborn cub would be formidable indeed!

His attention was drawn from his lover when two queens entered from opposite ends of the large room.

Dulcina of Texas.

Freyda of Oklahoma.

Dane smiled to himself, ready to witness a vampire soap opera play out before his very eyes. He might have served a worthy vampire, but he still enjoyed watching other fangers make fools of themselves.

King Mitchell knew well what his role was for the night—to add to the intrigue swirling around his “love triangle.”

To build the interest in the next night’s trial.

To keep the attention away from those allied against King Russell Edgington.

In truth, Mitchell didn’t mind being the center of attention, and he enjoyed good drama. However, he did find it distasteful to have to pretend to desire Freyda. Oh—she was a beautiful woman, and he’d enjoyed seeing her on her knees as she blew him during her last “courtship” visit to his state.

But he’d wanted to put tape over those pretty lips at every other moment of her visit.

On the contrary, Mitchell had long been wanting to align with Dulcina, whose beauty was matched by her intelligence and elegance. Though neither one of them desired a monogamous relationship, theirs was a match based upon both genuine affection and respect; plus, they shared the same wariness about the direction in which some of the monarchs in the states surrounding theirs were heading.

When Mitchell and Dulcina had been called to meet in secret with Roman, their concerns had been confirmed. Now king of both Mississippi and—for all intents and purposes—Louisiana, Russell Edgington was leading a faction including the monarchs of Nevada, Arizona, and Indiana. Likely also aligned with Russell were many of the kings and queens from the south, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma. According to Roman, the insane, ancient king wanted to eliminate the Authority members that had made mainstreaming possible, as well as the monarchs who continued to support that movement. Clearly, Russell also had designs on taking over several states, including Texas. And, apparently, Russell felt that Freyda could easily manipulate Mitchell to go along with all of Russell’s plans.

The King of New Mexico scoffed. As if.

Though he was known as being laid-back and something of a playboy, Mitchell was no “follower.” He was actually a great supporter to mainstreaming, and his state had functioned very well following the Great Revelation. He’d always been good at finding common ground between groups, which was probably why he had a good relationship with the large Werebear group in his state. There was also a small group of shifters near the Mexican border, but Mitchell let them stay mostly to themselves—as they preferred. In his state, however, there was not the usual ambivalence between his vampires and the two-natured, nor would he allow the supernatural elements to victimize humans. He required that his subjects keep the peace or move elsewhere.

Most of them stayed. And stayed in line.

Mitchell kept his countenance calm as he said a few words to Elina, his most trusted Werebear ally. Her son, the alpha of the Werebear group, had been injured a few days before, and Elina had stepped up to lead the Werebears who were guarding Mitchell at the summit. In truth, Mitchell was glad to have her in charge. He respected her son, but Elina was a more cunning warrior in the vampire’s opinion.

And—when it came to a choice between cunning and power? Mitchell always preferred the former.

Even as Elina assured him that all was well, Mitchell saw that Russell Edgington was studying him—more like ogling actually. Putting on his most charming smile, Mitchell nodded at the king, who licked his lips in seeming invitation.

With difficulty, Mitchell held back his distaste. Oh, he’d fucked plenty of men during his long years, but Russell was his enemy and—among other things—the ancient vampire wanted to kill Dulcina, along with the Authority members after they revealed their identities at the Masquerade ball planned for two nights hence.

Apparently, once the Authority was out of his way, Russell intended to establish himself as an emperor, overseeing the various kings and queens as if they were his minions—and ultimately manipulating and controlling them by evoking the antiquated vampire religion of Lilith.

In truth, Mitchell was afraid of Edgington, scared shitless actually—not that he was capable of bowel movements anymore. But he wasn’t about to let himself be controlled by a madman. And he wasn’t about to let the world slip into the rigid dictatorship that Russell promised.

Not without a fight.

By contrast, Roman had very different plans for the future—plans that Mitchell fully supported. After the Edgington threat was dealt with, Roman wanted to make the identities of the Authority Council members public. Most—though not all—of the Councilors were kings or queens, and they were anxious to spread the duties of the Authority around. They had decided to follow the European model, where vampire monarchs rotated in and out of the leadership body. What had stopped Roman up to this point had been the fact that kings like Edgington would have used such an opportunity to manipulate the “Democratic” system and to take the vampire agenda back into the Dark Ages.

King Mitchell knew that Roman was being aided by powerful vampires—other than Dulcina and himself—including even the Ancient Pythoness herself! The lady was rumored to be coming out of her seclusion in order to attend the Masquerade—in a show of support for her child Roman’s agenda.

Not surprisingly, Russell’s faction was planning to strike as soon as the reveal was made. However, they were not aware that Roman’s group knew of their intentions and would be ready for the fight. King Mitchell recognized that the battle would get bloody, but he also believed that he was on the “right” side, a side that he was ready to die for.

But that was two nights away! And, for the moment, he had the role of a lothario to play.

Mitchell smirked. It wasn’t that he shied away from necessary fights; however, he’d always been more of a lover than a fighter.

He caught the gaze of Freyda and then looked toward Dulcina, making sure that they were both watching him. Of course, Dulcina knew exactly what he was going to be doing, for she had a role to play too.

Mitchell hoped that she’d sharpened her nails.

The New Mexico King smiled his most caddish smile and then sauntered over to a woman that neither of his two potential wives cared for: Sophie-Anne Leclerq.

It was time to stir the hornets’ nest.

“Dearest, Sophie-Anne,” Mitchell leered. “You are a vision!”

Talbot laughed gleefully as he saw that Dulcina and Freyda were both fuming over Mitchell’s attentions toward Sophie-Anne.

“And you look very handsome, but I believe that you are up to no good, you rogue,” Sophie-Anne flirted back.

“You are right,” he whispered. “Would you care to help me start a cat fight?”

Sophie-Anne and Talbot—who, of course, had been listening in—both clapped their hands excitedly.

Eagerly.

Fish on a hook.

Russell looked on with amusement as his “wife” and his consort both helped the handsome King of New Mexico drive his two suitors into a frenzy. It was a good diversion for them. As for himself, he was busy scoping out his potential enemies and allies. He’d learned from Nan’s spy that Roman wouldn’t be coming to the summit until the Masquerade ball two nights later.

Meanwhile, Russell would be moving all of his pieces into position as well as making sure they had their final instructions.

Their primary targets.

He smiled as he sipped his champagne flute full of warmed Royalty Blended. In truth, he couldn’t have been more pleased with the situation. Even a few months before, he’d been reconciled to the idea that he might have to wait many years before he’d be able to overthrow the Authority, but the perfect opportunity to take power immediately had fallen into his lap—an opportunity that he knew about thanks to his clever child, Nan. He couldn’t wait to officially claim her and to give her a position of honor in his Empire. She had more than earned it with all the information she’d gotten for him.

The ancient vampire exchanged a nod with Lilah, the Queen of Georgia, who’d been predictably pissed off when William had told her that one of her own subjects, Rosalyn Harris, was a Councilor on the Authority. Lilah hadn’t liked the idea of an “underling” ultimately having more power than she did, and she was personally affronted that Rosalyn had been chosen as a Councilor over her—despite the fact that Rosalyn was obviously savvier than the queen. According to William, as Lilah had gotten more and more worked up, it had been easy for him to manipulate the queen into following Russell’s directives, though she had no idea of the extent of his agenda. However, she would be easy enough to control long-term—just as many of the other kings and queens would be.

Meanwhile, Lilah’s role for the Masquerade ball would be limited to doing exactly what she wanted to do: killing Rosalyn. Russell smiled. He prided himself on manipulating younger, dumber vampires like Lilah.

The ancient vampire next focused upon King Johnathan of Alabama. He, too, had been easily malleable, according to William. Johnathan’s specific target would be the King of Illinois, Kibwe, whom Russell also knew was a Councilor of the Authority thanks to Nan. Johnathan had a longstanding dislike of Kibwe because their makers had once feuded over a human pet. Johnathan was older than Lilah, but he, too, would fall fully in line after the takeover.

Russell’s attention was stolen by Freyda’s hissing. He chuckled as he watched the Oklahoma queen and Dulcina squabble over the vampire both of them wanted to marry. Of course, Russell knew that Freyda wouldn’t have to worry about her competition for long. Whether or not the Queen of Texas turned out to be an Authority member, Russell would be making sure that the lovely Dulcina met the end of a stake soon enough. In fact, he planned to do away with at least half of the kings and queens in the country—the ones who wouldn’t be easy to control. Simply put, he didn’t want to have to deal with them.

Next looking at the sour-faced Thalia, Russell chuckled. He had already decided to let her and “Bubba” stay in Wyoming. After all, no one else would want that mostly barren territory, and Russell didn’t mind the vampiress. In fact, he rather liked the fact that she’d never had much to do with the Authority—or any governing body for that matter.

However, other than the square-shaped state she occupied, he planned to redraw the fucking map. He scoffed. He’d always hated the idea that vampires followed the humans’ state delineations. The vampire kings and queens who agreed to follow him would be granted larger territories than they had now, a “reward” that would increase their loyalty.

And, soon after, mainstreaming would be fucking abolished! It was high-time that vampires took their rightful place at the top of the food-chain! And that meant putting humans in their place too!

Russell smiled again to himself. Indeed, it was high-time for him to take his rightful place.

As emperor!

“You aren’t going to tell me about your meeting with her—are you?” Eric asked, running his fingers over his wife’s bare arm. As soon as she’d returned to his side after her visit with the Ancient Pythoness, he’d jetted them to their bedroom, where they’d proceeded to claim each other—vigorously.

Multiple times.

Now in the calm aftermath of their love-making, Eric finally felt able to ask her about her meeting, though he intuited that she wouldn’t tell him much.

Still—he needed to ask. Monitoring her swirl of emotions when she’d been away from him had been very disquieting for him.

“No,” she said softly. “I can’t.”

Eric sighed. “Because I’d do something to fuck things up if I knew what she’d said to you?”

“Yeah,” she sighed.

“Are you in danger?”

“No.”

“Liar,” he said, smirking against her skin.

“I know.”

They both knew that she was in danger; they were both in danger. And, the next night, that danger would increase tenfold.

Eric pulled her impossibly closer. “I,” he paused, “worry about tomorrow night.”

“Me too,” she whispered as she kissed his cool chest, right where his un-beating heart lay.

“But it will work,” he said likely trying to convince them both that one of the riskiest elements of their plan would succeed.

“It will,” she agreed.

“You will come back to me.”

“Yes,” she promised.

“And I will be with you—in the bond,” he said.

“And I’ll be with you, too,” she said. “Always.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Rhodes, Day Two

 

“Because you can’t,” Henry said, his steely tone allowing for no arguments.

“But I’m the best goddamned tracker here,” Alcide responded—loudly.

“That doesn’t matter, and you fucking know it,” Henry returned reasonably. “You’re staying here at least until after the fight begins, and that’s the end of it.”

Alcide growled but nodded—in deference—to the Were to whom he’d sworn fealty. In truth, he knew that Henry was one-hundred percent right, but he was pissed off that Debbie Pelt continued to be a nuisance in his life. He shook his head a little as he tried to push back his fond memories of her—to separate the Debbie who had been born only one day after he was and with whom he’d been inseparable for years with the Debbie who was now a bat-shit-crazy V-addict.

A homicidal one.

“I need to get back,” Henry said.

“Where?” Alcide asked.

“You know I’m guarding someone of importance,” Henry reminded.

“Who?”

Henry’s eyebrow rose.

“Okay—I get it,” Alcide sighed. “It’s need to know. And I don’t.”

Henry chuckled. “You were made from the Alpha mold, Alcide. I know you are frustrated.”

Alcide sighed and looked at Tara. “Maybe. But we are looking for a quiet life after this.”

Henry grinned. “You will have that life as long as you stay with my pack. However, when you are ready, there are enough of the pack members who want to return to Mississippi to reform the old pack there. You are the leader I’d most trust for them.”

Alcide shook his head a little. “I don’t know.”

“When you do know, let me know,” Henry responded, grasping Alcide’s shoulder fondly before leaving the little room Alcide was sharing with Tara.

“He’s right,” Tara said softly, reaching out to touch Alcide’s arm. “You’re strong. And brave. I can’t imagine anyone better suited to lead a new pack.”

“If we make it out of this alive,” Alcide said sourly.

Tara chuckled. “There is that issue—yes.”

“I fucking hate that Debbie’s here,” Alcide said sullenly.

“I fucking hate that we didn’t kill her when we had the chance,” Tara added.

Alcide smiled down at her. “You can be vicious, Miss Thornton.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Herveaux,” she growled, reaching up to pull him down into a forceful kiss.

The kiss soon turned into nipping, licking, and tickling.

Alcide stopped them right before the first piece of clothing was discarded.

Tara panted. “What is it?”

“These walls are thin,” Alcide gasped. “And Were hearing is excellent.”

“Are you confusing me with someone who’s modest?” she challenged.

His grin was feral. “Not anymore.”

An hour later, Tara and Alcide lay twined together—and spent.

“What are you thinking?” Tara asked her “boyfriend.”

Of course, neither Alcide nor Tara had outwardly announced that they were “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” Both were too afraid to jinx things.

“I’m pissed off that I still,” Alcide paused, “care whether that bitch lives or dies. And I’m even more pissed off that I thought about her after we had sex.”

“But not while?” Tara asked coyly.

Alcide chuckled. “Woman, you make me lose the ability to think while.”

Tara giggled. “That’s a good thing.”

“Very fucking good,” Alcide chuckled.

Tara took Alcide’s hand and threaded his fingers with hers.

Having always had a jealous streak a mile wide, Tara had been surprised that she’d never been jealous where Alcide was concerned. It was as if being around him brought out the reason in her—the peace—and it was a feeling that she liked.

During their trip North, Alcide had talked at length about Debbie and even about his once-burgeoning feelings for Sookie, but Tara hadn’t had a moment’s pause—or a moment’s insecurity—when it came to the Were who was holding her. That was likely because Alcide seemed to take her exactly as she was—a first for Tara. That made it easy for her to take him as he was in return.

“You still care about her because you are a good man, Alcide Herveaux,” Tara said sincerely.

“I feel fuckin’ useless,” the Were said with frustration.

Tara chuckled. “Imagine being the only human in a group of Weres. Then we’ll talk about useless.”

Alcide leaned forward to kiss her. “You aren’t useless—not to me. Never.”

Tara’s heart stopped for a moment. “I know,” she sighed. “But I’m just as sidelined here as you are. I was at Russell’s with Franklin; plus, my scent was all over Sookie’s house, and that means I’d be recognized too. By Debbie and maybe Russell’s other Weres, too.”

Alcide nodded and touched his forehead to hers. He didn’t like to hear Franklin Mott’s name. He didn’t like thinking about the vampire hurting the woman whom he’d begun thinking of as “his.”

She was his!

To stop his thoughts about how Mott had hurt her, he leaned in to kiss her again and again.

And then he claimed her until neither of them could catch their breaths.

“I fucking love you!” Dane panted as he lifted himself off of Hallow’s lithe and slender body.

“Love?” the witch asked, her tone laced with amusement.

The Alpha chuckled. “You have bewitched me.”

Hallow cackled. “And you have fucked me into submission.”

Dane moved so that he was on his side, looking at his lover. “Promise me that—after this—you will no longer fuck the vampire.”

“Bill?” Hallow asked. “An easy promise to make. He’s been amusing to toy with, but his skills when fucking are lacking—especially for a vampire. Hell—if I didn’t know otherwise, I would venture to guess that he’d been a vanilla-loving missionary during his human life!”

Dane chuckled. “So no loss?”

“Hmm,” Hallow contemplated. “Not much of one. He’s outlived his usefulness—I think.”

“Then you will be mine and mine alone?” Dane asked with a possessive growl.

Hallow stifled an eye roll and moved to mirror his pose. She nodded. “Yes. At least until you father a pup for me.”

Dane growled. “And after that?”

“Keep me satisfied, and I will be yours only,” Hallow returned.

“Oh—I will,” Dane said confidently. “I can’t see what you ever fucking saw in Compton though,” he added with a growl.

“A consistent vampire blood source so that I can strengthen my powers,” she responded airily.

The Alpha sighed. “Russell gives you blood.”

“Yes. But only when doing so serves his purposes,” Hallow returned.

Dane didn’t respond to her words or the slight derision in them. He was loyal to his master—completely loyal. And the only thing he didn’t like about his chosen mate was her subtle disrespect toward Russell.

Hallow smiled softly, her eyes looking uncharacteristically innocent for a moment. “I know you are loyal to your master; rest assured, I would not move against Russell Edgington. I’ve never much liked vampires, but he’s my kind of,” she paused, “preferred business associate. Plus, I’m no fool; he is stronger than I am. And,” she paused, “it would be unfair to make you choose between us.”

Dane held her tight against his broad chest. Unbeknownst to the Were, the witch’s sincere look soon turned to a smirk. What she wasn’t saying was that she hoped—one day—to be stronger than even Russell himself. Or—at the very least—to leave an heir that was. That’s where Dane came in. He was strong—a worthy stud for a child.

But he was ultimately expendable.

On the other hand, Bill had provided her with a steady supply of vampire blood from the vein—more punch than vialed blood and much less chance of addiction. The last thing Hallow wanted was to turn into a Debbie fucking Pelt! And—given that Bill was a short-sighted putz—he didn’t even realize that she was using him for blood and amusement.

Of course, that amusement wasn’t of the physical kind. Bill was too selfish of a lover for that. Hell—even Dane had more stamina and more knowledge of what to do with a clit.

Of course—Hallow had been enjoying manipulating the foolish, egotistical vampire. He was endlessly entertaining in his ignorance and arrogance.

“What are you thinking about?” Dane asked, running his fingers over her lean hip.

“The future,” the witch answered.

Sookie woke up at 3:30 p.m. Eric’s arm was around her, as if pulling her closer even in his death-sleep. She smiled but then panicked a moment later when she realized just how full her bladder was.

Without a steady supply of Eric’s blood for the last two weeks, she was no longer as strong as she’d been before.

However, with a grateful grunt, she wormed her way out from under Eric’s arm and sprinted to the bathroom. Her relief was quickly found.

And, if all went well, she’d have a new infusion of vampire blood later that night.

She knocked on the wood of the cabinet.

FLASHBACK: FOURTEEN DAYS EARLIER, 4:39 P.M.

Sookie’s three favorite words had become “natural hot springs.”

Leonie chuckled from next to her . . . her . . . friend? Her student? In truth Sookie felt like more than that to the fairy.

Leonie shrugged. Humans would have labeled Ione as Leonie’s great-aunt—times ten or eleven. That would make Eric her second cousin, though nine times removed. Or ten. Or was it eight? Heck, without the family scrolls, Leonie was useless at figuring such things exactly! Thus, that officially made Sookie her—what? Second cousin in-law—eight, nine, or ten times removed? Leonie shrugged again, giving up. Figuring out how humans labeled their relatives was too damned confusing.

In the Faerie realm, Leonie and Eric would simply be mitalan—a word that meant “family.” Their “lights” would have recognized each other as kin from the first time they’d met—if it had been in the magic-filled Fae realm. In the human world, it had taken the magic of Sookie’s light to illuminate Eric’s light for all to see—finally.

“What are you thinking about?” Sookie asked.

“Family,” Leonie smiled, even as she got out of the hot springs. Still modest, Sookie averted her eyes from the naked form of the fairy. Not surprisingly, Sookie had on a bikini since there was “company.”

Respecting her friend’s sensibilities, Leonie stifled her laugh as she quickly wrapped a towel around her lissome form.

Though it was cold outside, the fairy seemed unaffected. Sookie shivered a little—in sympathy. The only bad thing about the hot springs was the chilly dash that had to be made into the house following a soak.

“Will you be back tomorrow?” Sookie asked even as she lay her head back against the smooth rock bank of the natural hot springs. Practicing with Leonie was helpful, and she really liked hanging out with the woman, but their teleporting training sessions always exhausted her.

Leonie giggled as if reading Sookie’s mind. Heck—maybe she was. Sookie was too exhausted to know one way or the other at that point.

“I think I’ll let you rest for a day or two; perhaps, the teleportation practice took much out of you,” Leonie added with a twinge of concern.

“You could—uh—just come by tomorrow afternoon. For lunch? To visit?” Sookie asked almost shyly.

“I would like that very much. I will see you tomorrow,” Leonie smiled back before “popping” away.

Sookie chuckled. She’d learned that Supernaturals’ phone etiquette—or lack thereof, since none of them ever said goodbye—was just a reflection of how they were in their normal lives. She sighed as she pondered why that might be before coming to the conclusion that their goodbyes must be both easier and harder for them. For two immortals, the concept would be practically moot, for “goodbye” didn’t apply to them—at least not as it did for mortals. And—when a vampire or a fairy did become attached to a human or two-natured being—the “goodbye” was likely a reminder that future “goodbyes” ought to be avoided.

“Or maybe they’re just rude,” Sookie chuckled, digging herself out of her own “deep thoughts.” She was bone-tired, and letting herself get lost inside of her musings would only keep her head spinning.

She couldn’t help but to smile when she “felt” Eric wake up through their bonds. She could feel the initial “stretching” of his mind and senses, which she now knew was him automatically checking his surroundings: the habit of a one-thousand-year-old survivor. The next feeling she got from him was disappointment, but it was followed quickly by anticipation and lust.

She shivered.

But not from the cold outside.

She felt that he was disappointed that she hadn’t been with him in their bed when he woke up. But he’d used his blood to hone in on her position and was obviously planning to join her in the hot springs. She sent him a dosage of her own lust.

And craving.

She couldn’t hear her mate’s growl, but she could feel it as if it were vibrating throughout her body. She stretched into that feeling—and then took off her bikini to wait for him.

No need to lose another one.

The sun wouldn’t officially set until 6:45 p.m., but Eric knew he’d be able to leave the room ten minutes before that. Due to the positioning of the cabin, the sun disappeared behind a mountain before it dipped into the horizon. Hell—with all the tree cover and Sookie’s blood in him, he probably could have risked going to her fifteen minutes before sunset.

But he didn’t want to risk being the cause of her concern.

Plus, he enjoyed the anticipation.

He set himself to the task of making a fire in their bedroom fireplace. Then he placed quilts in front of it, including “their” quilt from Slidell. Seeing it always stirred something within him—stirred the man who’d found a home.

He smiled at that thought.

Figuring that he and his beloved might be quite wet when they got back to the house, he put several towels over the pallet in order to save the blankets from the moisture.

Finishing his task, he began to pace—waiting for the sun.

Not finding her cuddled next to him when he rose had been disappointing, but imagining her in the water of the hot springs, her beautiful breasts swaying upward in the gentle waves, caused a certain muscle in Eric’s body to sway upward. He felt the sounds of his desire vibrating through him, reverberating inside of his very soul.

But then he felt her weariness, right alongside her lust, and the husband within him calmed the beast. Still, the vampire made his way to his mate as soon as it was safe to do so. Sookie looked just as ethereal in the last ambient rays of the sun as he’d imagined she would; no—she looked even more beautiful.

Steam rose from water and rock as she leaned into the embrace of the earth’s natural bath. Her skin was pinkened—her cheeks even more so. Her hair—still golden as her god had intended—was bound in a loose bun on the top of her head. Her bikini was already tossed safely to the side.

Smart. She was very smart.

It’s not as if pulling a few strings on a bathing costume was hard for him—usually. But his mate could make him so hard that even the easiest of tasks became impossible.

“You might get frostbite if you don’t get in,” she said flirtingly, even as she gave him a burst of lust from their bonds and a come-hither look that almost made him cum.

He stood motionless for a moment longer, resolving to keep his animal-side at bay since she was tired. In the past—the very recent past—he would have just initiated a blood exchange to restore her energy. But part of their plan involved her needing to show evidence of wounds. His blood inside of her would already strive to heal her—despite it being two weeks until Rhodes. However, any fresh infusions during the next fourteen days would likely prevent her body from “keeping” the evidence of any wounds at all.

His expression clouded.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, sensing his darkening mood.

The vampire couldn’t help it. The thought of his pledged being in any pain cut into his un-dead heart.

“I was just thinking about the unpleasantness of any of my extremities being lost due to frostbite,” he answered, trying to smirk, as he smoothly got into the natural bath and moved toward Sookie with immeasurable grace.

“You’re lying,” she observed.

“Hmm,” he answered noncommittally, stopping just shy of touching her.

Her eyebrow rose, imploring him to spill his thought—as if into the water still between them.

“You are tired,” he said quietly.

She nodded her head. “Yeah. A long day of sparring with Leonie. And lots of teleporting,” she added with distaste.

“I wish we could exchange,” he admitted.

She covered the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. “I wish we could exchange blood every night. And we will—just as soon as the job is done.”

He nodded. “I won’t feed from you tonight,” he said stubbornly.

She sighed, but nodded. “I’ll make steaks tomorrow. And Leonie’s coming over tomorrow afternoon, but only to eat and hang out—not to spar.”

“If she is to share the meal, you should make extra—much extra,” he joked, needing to lighten the mood. Neither one of them wanted to think about the distasteful task she’d be doing in Rhodes the night before the battle—the one that required that she not take her mate’s blood for the time being.

Sookie giggled. “She eats more than Jason ever did.”

“No sparring for us tonight either,” Eric announced as Sookie leaned against him and placed her head onto his shoulder.

“But . . . ,” she started.

“Will you listen to my reasoning? And then decide?” he asked.

Sookie leaned up so that he could see that she was smirking in his direction. He’d learned during their short weeks together that asking those two questions always led to her listening to him.

And usually agreeing.

She nodded.

“Teleporting is a good skill to have, but I would suggest that you practice it—at maximum—only one to two times per day. And, even then, only once every few training sessions. For the time being, you cannot have my blood to limit the tiredness you feel.” He sighed. “None of your other Fae gifts take this much energy from you. And you are not overly tired by our practices with the sword either. Please, consider this, Sookie. I would not have you worn down before we go to Rhodes.”

She was quiet for a few moments. “I think that’s a good idea. I’ll tell Leonie tomorrow.”

“No arguments?”

She shook her head. “You’re right. And teleportation isn’t really practical for us during this situation either.”

“Sookie . . . ,” he started, gearing up to argue. He wanted to know that she could escape if the situation were dire.

“Will you listen to my reasoning? And then decide?” she interrupted, throwing his own words back at him.

He chuckled. “It’s only fair.”

He felt her grinning against his flesh as she snuggled into him.

“This is where I belong—by your side. I won’t teleport away from it—not unless it will save both of us. And—even then—I wouldn’t stay gone for long.”

The vampire tightened his hold upon his beloved. He couldn’t argue with her words since he would never leave her side either—not unless it was to save them both. And—even then—it would only be for a little while.

“Sookie,” he sighed as he moved to kiss her lips gently. When she needed to breathe, he moved his lips to her cheek and then to her chin—before nipping at her neck.

For her part, Sookie let her mate—her husband—love her. She was tired. But—more than that—she recognized that he needed to make love to her tenderly.

As he worked her body up slowly, she marveled at the vampire in her arms. She remembered the first time she’d seen him—dressed all in black and looking just as dangerous as he did alluring. The words “loving” and “gentle” had been the furthest ones from her mind that night, but now she knew that Eric could be those things.

With her.

“My Sookie,” he sighed as he finally moved her body onto his so that they could join fully. The hot water had warmed him to a certain extent, but his member was still blissfully cool inside of her—as it stretched her. They moved together in the calm waves of the warm water for a while before Eric lifted them out of the spring until he was sitting on the edge of the bank. He brought her down to straddle him. The steam from the pool still warming her, but the water no longer interfered with the friction they were both ready for.

He moved fingertips to her clit and found purchase there, and moments later, they were both gasping out their releases.

She shivered against him—in bliss. But eventually he felt a different type of shivering and lowered them back into the heated water, cradling her body to his own.

They both closed their eyes and sank into each other and into the healing waters.

It was not long before a dim golden light was bouncing off of the natural bath’s surface.

His light.

It was Sookie who noticed it first. “This is a good compromise,” she said with a smile in her tone as she looked up at her husband’s serene face. His own eyes were still closed.

“Hmm?”

She chuckled. “You’ve found a way to strengthen my light without messing with the vamp-blood ratio thing,” she offered, not quite knowing how to clearly state her point.

“Hmm?”

“Open your eyes,” Sookie said, her voice half-playful and half-awestruck.

When Eric did, they immediately widened. After learning that his Fae gift, his own light, worked to strengthen him—and, in turn, his mate—the Viking had been grateful for it. He’d even seen use for it—knowing that it would make him stronger than Russell expected, knowing that it could keep him “fresh” if the fight were a long one. But he was even happier for its current use—replenishing the strength of his mate after she’d had a taxing day.

She chuckled and slapped his chest playfully. “I’m still going to do the teleporting thing sparingly—just in case you’re charging your blood in me, too, Mr. Goldilocks.”

“I think I prefer Mr. Goldenrod,” he leered, letting her feel that his “rod” had, indeed, stayed hard for her.

“How about Colonel Mustard?” she teased but then gasped as he quickly took them out of the water and flew them inside to the pallet he’d made for them.

It took her a moment to catch her breath due to the sudden cold and then the contrasting warmth of the roaring fire, and when she did, he stole it again.

Half an hour later, when they were finally sated—for the time being, at least—she chuckled in his arms.

“What is it, min kära?”

“I know who did it?”

“Who? It?”

She giggled a little louder. “Yep. It was Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the bedroom!”

He pulled her closer and laughed with her.

FLASHBACK OVER

Sookie had quickly finished her business in bathroom. After that, she tried to curl her body back into her husband’s side, but her worries about the coming night soon started to fill her mind.

Sensing her mood, Tray and Mustapha gave her a wide berth when she ventured into the living area.

She tried watching some television, but nothing caught her interest.

She tried monitoring the surveillance footage of the lobby from the computer Brady had set up, but she couldn’t focus.

Given her anxiety, she tried eating something light—crackers and ginger ale. Soon enough, she deposited her “meal” into the toilet.

And then there was nothing to be done—but to wait for her mate to rise.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: Angst

OCTOBER 30, 2009, NIGHT

When Eric woke up to Sookie sitting on the bed—her hair back to being blonde—anxiety filled him.

She, too, was anxious—though determined.

“I need you to do it,” she whispered, her voice laced with apology. “I know that we decided Duncan, but . . . .” Her voice trailed off and her eyes were pleading.

As soon as it had been determined that Sookie would need to display several angry-looking bite marks for the next part of their plan, Eric had prayed that he’d not have to be the one to do it. However, a part of the Viking had known that his bonded would ask him to do the thing which went against his very soul.

To hurt her.

But—then again—how could he allow another to harm her? And how could he deny her? Initially, Sookie had insisted that it would be less difficult if someone else did it, but now it was clear that she’d changed her mind.

“Please, Eric. I will let Duncan if you can’t, but I want . . . .” She stopped. “I don’t think it would be easier if he bit me. I think it would be harder. He’s become my brother too,” she paused, “but I don’t want him to have my blood. You are my bonded. I don’t ever want anyone other than you to have it.”

Eric took a long breath into his useless lungs and steeled himself. “You’re right, my love,” he said taking her into his arms. “But before I harm you, I need to love you,” he said, his voice cracking—almost agonized in timbre.

A tear slipped from Sookie’s eye; she immediately collected it with her finger and offered it to her mate. Eric took her finger into his mouth and sucked gently before letting it go and then capturing her lips with his own. He could taste the salt of her tear as their tongues joined their lips in embrace. He quickly pushed the robe from her shoulders in order to uncover her glorious flesh, but that was the last fast move that he made.

Slowly, he moved his lips to taste and to tantalize other parts of her body—parts that he knew as well as his own flesh.

Her perfect cheekbones—always so ready to support her rosy cheeks when she smiled.

The tender places behind her ears that always made gooseflesh erupt onto her skin when he brushed his lips against them just right.

Her earlobes, which she loved having softly nibbled.

The long column of her neck.

The sweet curve of her shoulders.

Her supple breasts.

Her swelling hips.

Indeed, he kissed every part of her, but when he reached her womanhood, his kisses became more purposeful licks and sucks and nibbles. As she moaned under his ministrations, he slowly moved two fingers into her body, enjoying her pleasure with her through their bonds. Her eyes were closed, but—for once—he didn’t feel the need to ask her to open them.

He wanted to watch her—to feel her—being pleasured. He needed to know that she didn’t fear him for the pain he would soon be causing her.

By closing her eyes and relaxing completely, she was showing him her trust, and he relished that even more than her ambrosial taste.

It wasn’t long before she was spinning into her orgasm.

He let her come down from it slowly, patient to witness and to feel her contentment. When she opened her eyes, he was hovering over her. She lifted a hand to cup his cheek.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered.

“I know. Are you ready? It will be easier—for the both of us—if it happens,” he paused, “during.”

She smiled and nodded before lifting her head up to kiss him.

“Thank you,” she said against his lips. “I’m ready.”

He nodded. He wasn’t ready, but he knew what had to be done.

And it seemed as if their bonds did too. Understanding burst through them. And Eric prayed that they would anesthetize both Sookie and him to what he was about to do.

He prayed that the cold, heartless vampire in him would rise to the surface. He prayed that compartmentalizing his thoughts would allow him to forget that it was his mate in his bed.

And—as if she could hear him—Sookie turned around and got onto her hands and knees.

Taking someone from behind had been his favorite way to fuck before he’d begun his relationship with his wife. From behind, he could pound into his sexual toy relentlessly—without having to see his or her face. For, except for Godric and Pam, the person had never mattered before Sookie. No—only the physical pleasure and the blood had mattered.

Of course, he and Sookie had made love in every way imaginable—including this way. But they had never stayed in this position during an entire love-making session. Eric craved seeing his wife’s eyes too much. He craved witnessing the pleasure in them. But, now, he wanted to avoid seeing the pain.

Knowing that he would leave bruises—needing to leave them—he pressed his fingertips against her shoulders and neck as he moved her body to meet each of his thrusts.

She groaned from both pleasure and pain as he purposely bruised her.

Despite the grip of his fingers, the sex itself wasn’t hard. That was the paradox of the situation. Eric kept his thrusts “light” and shallow, and he used all of his grace and skill to ensure that his cock brushed her g-spot every time he moved in. And every time he moved out.

Given his turmoil, he knew that he would not be able to achieve orgasm. It was only his wife’s magnificent body that was keeping him hard. It was only his desire to make sure she felt just as much pleasure as pain.

More pleasure.

He longed to bring her body upward, to place his chest to her back and stroke her body with sweet caresses. But he knew that if he did that, she would turn her head so that they could kiss. He would see her eyes. Her face. Her love for him.

And—if he did—he wasn’t sure he could continue.

He moved his hands to her upper and then lower arms, creating more bruises in his wake. Then he moved his fingers to her wrists, squeezing down roughly. Meanwhile, he continued to give her as much pleasure as possible. When her walls began fluttering, he leaned forward.

For the first time during his vampire existence, it was difficult for Eric to make his fangs pop down. He had to think of Russell and the ensuing battle in order to make them extend.

Sookie said nothing, probably sensing that—if she did—he wouldn’t be able to bite. She didn’t turn her head toward him. She didn’t offer him comfort through their bonds. In fact, she tried to shut herself off to their bonds—to just feel the pleasure he was giving her body without thinking of anything else.

Eric tried to turn off his mind, focusing on only Sookie’s body and how it was reacting to his cock. He tried imagining her as anyone other than his mate.

He closed his eyes, and as soon as her orgasm ripped through her, he bit.

He bit her hard.

She gasped in pain.

He growled, disengaged himself from her flesh, and then he bit her again.

Harder.

This time—when he pulled his fangs from her—he ripped her flesh.

She cried out.

He swallowed her blood only because he knew that she’d be angry if he didn’t, considering the fight that awaited them the next night.

He bit again, knowing that the magics of their shared bonds and blood would heal her too quickly if he wasn’t brutal.

Sookie screamed as he bit a fourth time and then a fifth time, and then she blacked out from pain and blood loss.

When Sookie regained consciousness a few minutes later, Eric’s back was to her, and he was sitting at the side of the bed. His head was in his hands, and his body was shaking with sobs.

She grunted in pain as she sat up. Automatically, she moved her fingers to the bite marks that Eric had left on her flesh. The wounds were angry and—of course—they were unhealed, though Eric’s blood inside of her had stopped the bleeding. But her mate’s emotional pain was stronger than her physical pain. Sookie reached out and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Never again,” he whispered, even as he rocked back and forth. “Please forgive me. Please forgive me. I will never hurt you again. No matter what. I can’t. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.”

She scooted over to him and leaned her chest against his back, wrapping her arms around him. “I’ll never ask again. Please forgive me,” she cried, repeating his words.

When he turned to face her, she saw his tear-stained cheeks. His eyes immediately went to the wounds he’d left in her body.

But she wasn’t having that. With tears streaking her own cheeks, she lifted his chin, making his eyes meet hers. “As soon as I get back, you’ll heal me.”

“Yes,” he nodded, even as every fiber of his being screamed out for him to heal her right away. But he didn’t.

She leaned in and kissed him softly on his lips, opening their bonds so that he could feel her love for him—so that he could feel that there was nothing to forgive. So that he could feel her trust. “I’m going to get ready now,” she said after a moment.

Eric nodded and—without a word—followed her into the bathroom. He turned on the water, bringing it to the temperature that he knew pleased her. As soon as the room was steamy, she stepped into the shower, pulling him in with her. She embraced him, and they both closed their eyes so that they would not have to watch the blood spill down the drain.

The blood from his tears.

The blood from her wounds.

After a few silent minutes, he began to wash her, his fingers moving over her body gently, but avoiding her wounds.

“I hate to see you marked like this,” he said in a whisper. “Marred like this. Hurt like this.”

“It needed to be done,” she reminded.

He nodded, but Sookie could still feel his guilt. She sent him calm through their bonds—and love.

After they’d bathed, Eric turned off the water and then dried off his wife. Sookie allowed his caretaking, knowing that a creature as tactile as Eric needed the physical contact in order to begin healing from what he’d done to her. Sookie was happy for the psychological healing of his gentle touch as well. After she was dry, Eric brushed her hair, careful not to irritate her wounds. Then she dressed in a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt.

When she was done, the couple went into the living room area. Brady and his mother, Maggie, were there and had already set up some computer equipment. Both Weres gasped as they saw the wounds on Sookie’s neck. But neither of them made a comment, for they both knew the plan for the night.

“Report,” Eric demanded.

“The situation is ideal. Compton is currently speaking with the Queen of Georgia in her suite,” Brady reported. “She’s staying on the twenty-sixth floor of the hotel. We’re ready to take over the cameras on the whole floor.”

“Sookie, room 2605 is empty,” Maggie said, handing her a keycard, which she’d just programmed in a little machine next to her computer. “Wait for Bill at the end of the hallway—near the elevator.”

“Get him into the room as soon as possible,” Brady picked up. “We can control the elevators if need be. And we’ll have Thalia and Leonie waiting for you in the stairwell. If something happens, just make sure Eric knows it. They’ll be able to get to you almost immediately.”

“And—if something does happen—you need to let Leonie teleport you back here,” Eric said nervously. “No heroics. Thalia can take care of herself.”

Sookie nodded. “Okay. I’m ready.”

“Bill?” Sookie whispered tentatively, trying to look at the back of her former boyfriend and lover without cringing. Trying to sound broken.

He was standing in front of the elevator, waiting for the conveyance to pick him up. It stopped and the doors opened, but the vampire didn’t get on the elevator.

Instead, Bill turned around slowly.

“How—how are you sounding like her?” he asked with a stutter.

“Like who?” she asked.

“Like Sookie. The potion makes you look like her, but you’ve never sounded like her before.”

Sookie took a tentative step toward him.

“How—how do you smell like her?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Bill, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but we don’t have much time. Come with me, please.” She reached out to him. Stunned, he took her hand and followed her to room 2605.

“Hallow?” Bill asked once they were in the room.

“No, Bill,” Sookie said, shaking her head.

“Sookie?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Sookie?” he repeated.

“Bill, we don’t have much time. He will find me—once he knows I’ve left the room he put me into. Right now, he’s out of the hotel. But he’s had my blood, and he’s made me take his,” she informed, trying to sound frightened.

“Sookie? Is it really you?” Bill asked once again, his tone a mixture of fear and disbelief. He shook his head. “No. It can’t be. You died.”

“Eric was able to break the blood tie I had with you, Bill,” Sookie said desperately. “He has a witch helping him! A powerful one! Please, Bill, I need your help. I have to get away from him. He’s been,” she paused, “hurting me.”

Bill zipped to her and pushed her hair back from her neck. Angry bite marks were littered over her flesh. He pushed her sleeves up, seeing the bruising on her arms.

“Sookie?” he asked again, still not quite believing she was alive.

“Help me, Bill. Please! You’re my only hope.”

Seeming to come to the realization that his beloved really was in front of him, Bill pulled her into his embrace. “Sookie! I’ll take you to Russell. He’ll protect you,” the vampire said already moving them toward the door.

“No!” Sookie practically shouted as if no idea scared her more than that one. “Eric will kill me if you do that! And he’ll kill you,” she wept. “I can’t let anything happen to you, Bill,” she added desperately. “If you take me to Russell tonight, his witch will find out, and she’ll do things to me! And to you!”

“His witch? Eric’s?”

“Yes,” Sookie panted—almost frantically. “And Russell’s. Russell thinks she’s loyal, but she’s not.”

“What witch?” Bill asked, growing even more pale than usual.

“You said her name earlier,” she whispered. “Hallow. She was the one who severed our blood tie. I had been coming to you that day—driving as fast as I could to get to you! But she stopped me. And then she,” Sookie stopped, letting her sobs overtake her for a moment.

“What, Sookie? What?” he asked, his tone offering concern and support.

“She hurt me so badly—just to get your blood out of me!”

“But she was out of the country at the time,” Bill remembered, unwilling to believe that his current lover had harmed his former one—or that Hallow was working with Eric.

“She’s so powerful, Bill,” Sookie whimpered. “And she can travel by teleportation—like some fairies can. And she wanted something I had: you. She said that she’d do anything to have you.”

“But she didn’t even know me then,” Bill breathed.

“She’d seen you in Sophie-Anne’s court,” Sookie responded. “And she knew Lorena—loved Lorena! They were lovers in Mississippi for more than a year! And now she’s turned her fixation upon you. Please, Bill! You have to protect yourself from her!”

Bill thought for a moment. “We’ll go to Russell—tell him everything. He’ll know what to do.”

“If you do that, I’m dead,” Sookie said as she shook like a leaf. “And so are you.”

“I’ll protect you,” Bill promised.

“Not from Eric. Not from Hallow,” Sookie said in a haunted tone. “You can’t.”

“I can. And Russell is stronger than both of them!” Bill said confidently.

“I know,” Sookie said with hope in her voice. “And you are strong, too. That’s why I’ve come to you. She told me how to find you.”

“She?” Bill asked.

“The Ancient Pythoness,” Sookie said in a reverent tone. “I’ve heard her in my mind, and she has shown me a way that we can all survive!”

“The Ancient Pythoness?” Bill asked, his voice awestruck. “But I thought that she was Russell’s enemy.”

“No,” Sookie responded. “That was just misdirection on her part! She usually doesn’t get involved in vampire politics, but she believes the Authority is bad for vampires! Bill, did you know that the head of it is her own child?”

“Yes,” Bill nodded, leading Sookie to sit onto the bed. “Roman.”

“She told me that she couldn’t bring herself to kill her own child; that’s why she needs Russell’s help. And,” Sookie paused, “there’s more. Eric is plotting against Russell too! She has seen that if Roman and Eric join forces, they will defeat Russell!”

“No!” Bill exclaimed, his eyes wide.

“But we can stop it, Bill. You can stop it! She said that she’s foreseen it!”

“Me?”

“Yes. She wants to help me and you be together. She’s seen the power of our love, Bill!”

“Our love,” he gasped, clearly still somewhat in disbelief.

“She told me that I should wait for you, Bill—right by the elevators. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you, but she was right! You were there!”

“H—how?” he asked, stammering a little.

“She spoke with me two days ago,” Sookie said almost reverently. “Eric had left me chained up in a room. I don’t know where exactly. Maybe half an hour from here? But in the country where I couldn’t hear any thoughts. I’d been there for weeks! But, then, all of a sudden, I heard her voice in my head. I thought I was crazy at first. She knew so many things, and I really did think I’d finally lost it. But then the things she told me about actually started to happen!”

“What do you mean?”

“She told me that Eric would put me into the trunk of a blue car right after sundown tonight. She told me that the next thing I saw would be a Were who would be thinking about a football game he’d bet on.” Her eyes widened. “She was right! After that, she said we’d be going to a suite. She said that Eric would be meeting with the witch there. She told me that I would overhear a conversation between them that would confirm what she’d been telling me.”

“And Hallow came?”

“Yes.”

“What did she and Northman say?” he growled.

“Eric locked me into the bathroom, but the Ancient Pythoness was right. I could hear them because of a vent. Eric asked Hallow for more potion so that he could continue concealing our scents; he ran out of it two nights ago. That’s the only reason why you can smell me right now. Hallow promised him more potion tomorrow at midnight. That’s when she plans to help Eric sneak into the Masquerade! He and Roman will go after Russell from two sides, and Hallow plans to be chanting a spell that will weaken Russell! She’s just been pretending to be loyal to him!”

“Why would Hallow help Northman? You said she was fixated on me,” Bill asked suspiciously, looking at Sookie through narrowed eyes. “Is Eric controlling you, Sookie? With his blood?” he growled as he grabbed her arm roughly.

She cried out, but his grip only tightened.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: Misdirection

 

BILL POV

Sookie whimpered due to Bill’s manhandling of her. However, eyes showed innocence. “Bill, you’re hurting me.”

The vampire looked at where his fingers were gripping her arm, and he loosened them a little.

“I don’t blame you for thinking that Eric’s controlling me,” Sookie whispered. “But he can’t influence me with his blood—just like I can’t be controlled by glamour.”

Bill was thoughtful for a moment as he considered the difficulty he’d had exerting any but the most subtle kinds of control over Sookie. He released a sigh of relief.

“I’m sorry, Sookie,” he apologized.

“It’s fine,” she replied offering him a little smile as she rubbed her arm. “It only hurt because of what,” she paused and sniffled, “he had already done.”

“I still wonder why Hallow would help Eric. He is my enemy, after all,” Bill mused.

“Bill, Eric and Hallow are lovers.” Sookie cringed. “For what I can tell, there’s no genuine affection between them. I’ve heard them,” she paused, “having sex several times. But—despite that—it’s clear to me that she’s obsessed with you. And she’s jealous.”

“Of you?” Bill asked.

“For one. That’s why she took such pleasure in hurting me when she broke our blood tie. But mainly she’s jealous of Russell.”

“Of course!” Bill said with realization.

“She doesn’t want to share you with Russell—or anyone. Eric has promised to make sure you aren’t harmed during the battle so that you can,” Sookie paused as tears streamed down her cheeks, “become her puppet.”

Bill growled. “What happened after they spoke?”

“They had sex and then left,” Sookie whimpered. “They were going to go meet with Roman.”

“How did you get out?” Bill asked.

“The Ancient Pythoness. I think she somehow arranged for the Were guard to be drugged. He was dead asleep; there was a room service tray next to him. I was able to slip out of the room. She told me where to find you, too. She left the key to this room for me under the vase near the elevator,” she continued, her voice in awe. “I followed her instructions, and they led me to you!”

Bill drew her into his embrace.

“Bill,” Sookie offered, “she told me that there is a way for us to be together and for you to save Russell from Eric and Roman!”

“What is it?” Bill asked, holding her tighter.

“If you can kill Hallow—kill her before the Masquerade tomorrow night—then she can’t help Eric.”

“I’ll kill her tonight,” Bill growled.

Sookie shook her head. “You can’t. The Ancient Pythoness said that it has to be tomorrow night so that the future progresses in the way we want.”

“What do you mean?” he asked in confusion.

“If you do it now, Eric and Roman would regroup—make new plans. But—tomorrow night—if you do it then—Eric and Roman won’t find out in time. Eric will go to his meeting place with Hallow as planned, and Russell can ambush him there.”

Bill’s eyes widened. “Yes! He can kill the bastard!”

“Yes,” Sookie said, even as she began to cry again.

“You aren’t crying for him—are you?” Bill asked with an angry twinge to his tone.

“No. I’m crying because . . . . Because . . . .”

“Because?”

“Bill, you have to forgive me!” Sookie said, looking at him with pleading eyes.

“For what?” he asked.

“Eric—he’s been raping me!”

“No!” Bill yelled out, grabbing her shoulders.

Sookie cringed at the pain of his touch, but buried her head against Bill’s chest, nonetheless. “I’ve fought him every single time he’s done that to me, but—when he takes my blood, he’s so . . . .” She stopped midsentence.

Bill held her—more gently now—though his body was shaking with rage. “It will be fine,” he finally said, his voice steely. “We will overcome this together.”

“Oh, Bill!” Sookie said her voice brimming with gratefulness and disbelief. “Really? You’d forgive me?”

“There is nothing to forgive. Eric is the villain here—as I always told you he was. But I must tell Russell of all of this.”

Sookie nodded. “Okay, but not yet. Not until Hallow is dead. She has a way of knowing everything Russell is doing. She told him that the talisman he wears is a ward to keep others from spying on him. But Hallow’s the one doing the spying!”

Bill’s eyes opened wide as he opened his shirt to reveal the talisman that Russell had given him.

“Then she will know about this,” Bill stammered in fear. “She will know that you have come to me.”

“No,” Sookie said immediately. “I was there the day when she made this one. She’d come to Texas where Eric was keeping me at the time. They had sex for hours, and then I overheard from her head that Russell had asked her to make this talisman for you. She was happy he had—glad that she was going to be able to know everything you did. Like I said—she’s obsessed with you, and Eric has promised that you will be fully in her power after this is all over!”

“You said that before, but how can that be?” Bill asked, obviously affronted.

“Eric’s helping Hallow to collect the ingredients for a spell that will bind you to her—body and soul. As if she were your maker,” Sookie whimpered. “That’s the main reason why I was brave enough to come to you tonight! I couldn’t let them do that—not to you!”

“But the talisman,” Bill gasped.

“It’s nothing,” Sookie laughed through her tears. “Hallow was going over her ingredients in her head. One was your hair. Eric was making me be a brunette at the time, and I was able to replace your hair with mine. And, just tonight, I overheard her saying that the talisman she made for you was not working. Eric was furious!” she laughed ruefully. “That’s how I knew that I could contact you safely. That’s how I knew that we could trust the Ancient Pythoness.” Her eyes widened. “She told me that I could be just like her one day, Bill. And I’m scared—scared of how Eric would use me if I did. Please, Bill. Please, protect me!”

Bill’s eyes widened as he thought about the implications of what Sookie was saying. He’d overheard Russell mention the name of the Ancient Pythoness with some derision before, but the king obviously didn’t know about her dissention with her child.

“You will be a seer one day?” Bill asked.

“That’s what the Ancient Pythoness said. And I’d be able to help you with my ability—unless you thought it made me too much of a freak,” she added insecurely.

“I would never think that, Sookie. You are just,” he paused, “unique.”

Bill smiled as he caressed Sookie’s back. He couldn’t believe his luck! Not only was Sookie alive, but also she would become a powerful being—like the Ancient Pythoness—and she would be his! He would help her learn how to use her new skill—without becoming prideful about it—just as he’d once helped her learn how to control her telepathy. She would need him, and one day, he would turn her.

He considered some more. Indeed, what Sookie was saying to him about Hallow made sense. Why else would the witch be so anxious to manipulate him with the spell that made her take on Sookie’s appearance? Plus, at every turn, Hallow was making an excuse to be with him. Even earlier that night, she’d called him—wanting to meet up and fuck. But he’d denied her because he had business to attend to for Russell. That must have been before the bitch had gone to Eric! Fucked Eric! Hell—even Russell had insinuated that Hallow was not to be fully trusted, which was why Bill had kept his dalliance with her from his king.

“Tomorrow night,” Sookie said, sounding desperate. “Tomorrow. Like I said, if you kill Hallow before the Masquerade, Russell will be able to ambush Eric and kill him once and for all! And then we will be free to be together. But you can’t tell anyone about anything I’ve said; you can’t tell anyone that I’m alive. If you do, the Ancient Pythoness said that our chance to be together forever will be lost. And Russell will be in danger. Bill,” she said reluctantly, “I have to go back now.”

“Wait! I can’t let you go back to him tonight,” Bill said fervently.

Sookie sighed. “I don’t want to go back; I’d give anything to stay with you—forever.”

“Then stay.”

Sookie sniffled. “I can’t risk you, Bill—not when I finally have,” she paused, “hope.” A tear fell down her cheek. “At least, he’s already,” she paused, “fed from me tonight. And he will have sated himself with Hallow. He always does when she visits.”

Bill growled. “He raped you—earlier tonight?”

Sookie lowered her eyes to the floor with shame. “Yes. I tried to wash him off, but you must smell that he did.”

Bill inhaled deeply. His growl reverberated in the room.

“Just one more night,” she whimpered. “I can survive just one more—for you. For us.”

Bill held her closer and kissed her head before bringing his lips to hers. She returned the kiss for a moment, but then pulled away from him.

“He mustn’t smell you in me,” she gasped, her tone full of fear.

“You’re right!” Bill agreed. “Will you be able to bathe? Can you get rid of these garments?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes. The Ancient Pythoness told me I’d be able to sneak back in. And these clothes aren’t even mine. I convinced a maid to let me borrow them. Usually he doesn’t . . . .”

“Doesn’t what?” Bill asked with a growl.

“He doesn’t—allow me to dress beyond a robe,” she whispered, even as she kept her eyes focused on the floor.

“Oh, darling!” Bill exclaimed.

She looked up at him, her eyes full of tears. “Just promise me that you will rid the world of Hallow tomorrow night. And then let Russell deal with Eric. The Ancient Pythoness told me that you are my only hope! And Russell’s only hope, too! But she was very specific about how things needed to happen. Otherwise, we won’t be able to be together!”

“Sookie,” Bill sighed. “I hate letting you go again. I thought you were dead.”

“And I feared that you were, too—for a long time,” Sookie whispered in despair. “Eric told me that he’d killed you! But—if we do as the prophetess has said, then we can be together tomorrow night. If you still want me,” she said uncertainly, “despite what he’s done.”

“I will always want you,” Bill assured.

Sookie cried, even as her eyes brimmed with hope. “Thank you, Bill. Thank you. I’d given up hope . . . ,” she said, her voice trailing off.

“I am part of Russell’s retinue now,” Bill informed. “We can’t go back to Bon Temps.”

“I know. But I also know that Russell’s a good man. The Ancient Pythoness told me that he is destined for greatness, and you’re going to be right by his side, Bill,” she added proudly. “Eric is the monster. After being his prisoner, I’d be happy to work for Russell—as long as you and I can be together.”

We will be,” Bill promised. “But I still think I should at least tell Russell—warn him about all of this.”

“After,” Sookie emphasized, “you kill Hallow. Then it will be safe for you to tell him everything. And Russell will be grateful to you. But if he finds out tonight, things won’t happen as they should.” She smiled softly at Bill. “You’ll be a hero! You will have protected Russell—just as you have always tried to protect me.” She let out a sob. “I’m so sorry, Bill. I’m so sorry I believed Eric’s lies about you in the hospital. It’s just that—you’d almost drained me that day. I didn’t know what to do! I was so confused!” She threw herself back into his arms.

“I forgive you,” Bill said, hugging Sookie close.

“My brother,” Sookie asked frantically. “Is he okay? Eric has threatened many times that he will have Jason killed if I don’t cooperate.”

“Jason’s fine,” Bill assured.

“And Tara? Sam?”

“I don’t know about Tara,” Bill said. “But Sam is still running Merlotte’s. And Lafayette is fine too.”

Sookie looked up at him, her brown eyes wet with tears. “I’ve never stopped loving you, Bill. It’s what’s kept me alive.”

“And I’ve never stopped loving you either, darling.”

Sookie leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips.

“I’m counting on you, Bill. I’m counting on you to save my life,” she said earnestly.

“I will. I swear it!”

“I have to go,” she said, looking around pensively. “I’ve lingered too long as it is.”

“Are you staying here? At the hotel?”

Sookie shook her head. “No. I don’t know where we’ll be going, but the Were guarding me has been ordered to take me somewhere before morning. But I should go,” she said again—just as reluctantly. “I trust that the Ancient Pythoness would have ensured that the Were stay asleep, but I don’t want to risk staying longer.”

“I know,” Bill agreed before giving her a lingering kiss. He rose, helping her to her feet as well.

“I will be waiting for you and Russell to save me, Bill,” Sookie whispered, placing a slip of paper in Bill’s hand. “This is the address where Eric’s meeting Hallow at midnight tomorrow night. Give this to Russell after you’ve killed Hallow. But—please—promise me that you will not tell him before that. If you do, I’ll lose you!”

Bill looked at his beloved. “I swear it, Sookie.”

“Thank you,” Sookie said with undeniable sincerity. “The Ancient Pythoness helped me to get this room for your use. She arranged for clothing for you in the bathroom.”

Bill looked at her in surprise. “Why?”

“She’s very smart, Bill. She reminds me of you,” Sookie said with a shy smile. “She said that you should shower here so that you don’t smell like me after you leave,” she added somewhat fearfully. “Remember, no one must know of this meeting, or we will both die, according to the seer. Tomorrow night you can reveal everything to Russell, including the roll of the Ancient Pythoness. I know that Russell will be pleased to learn that she’s his ally. And he’ll be pleased with you. After the time you’ve spent with him, I know that Russell must trust you a great deal. But if he doubts you, bring him to this room to let him smell the clothes you’re wearing now. He knows my scent. Here’s the key to the room,” Sookie said, handing him the object.

Clearly impressed by the Ancient Pythoness’s interest in him and what he knew must be the vampiress’s foresight, Bill nodded. “Okay.” He looked around the room. “I’ll bring Hallow here to kill her,” he mused. “I will lure her here.”

“Brilliant!” Sookie said, looking up at Bill with admiration in her eyes. “I knew I could count on you to know what to do.”

“Tomorrow, Sookie,” he said softly, caressing her cheek. She leaned into his touch. “Tomorrow night, Russell will kill Eric, and you’ll be safe.”

“And we’ll be together,” she added with a sigh.

Sookie kissed Bill one last time and then hurried from the room.

Bill sat back onto the bed heavily, allowing his shock at seeing Sookie—at her being alive—to wash over him. He weighed his options. Despite what Sookie had said, a part of him wanted to tell Russell what was happening. But there was a bigger part of him that knew he needed to obey the directions of the Ancient Pythoness. He smiled. Obviously, that legendary creature had taken a great interest in him and in Sookie. He smiled even wider as he thought about the next night—when he would be able to tell Russell that he’d not only killed a betrayer, but also knew of the location of Eric Northman! Moreover, he’d bring the news that the Ancient Pythoness wished to align herself with Russell and that Sookie was going to become a seer!

Thinking of how grateful his master would be, Bill practically skipped as he went to take his shower.

ERIC POV

Nausea.

Irritability.

Disgust.

These were the feelings that Eric felt from Sookie as he tried to prepare for his meeting with his allies.

Of course, most of what he’d done was to wear a track into the carpet with his pacing.

Meanwhile, he sent his mate support and comfort.

Knowing that he’d tear the hotel apart if he witnessed Bill’s “reunion” with Sookie, Eric had wisely stayed in his and Sookie’s room—away from the surveillance equipment. Thalia and Leonie were nearby Sookie—ready to act at a moment’s notice—and, from the living room of Eric’s suite, Brady, Maggie, and Klymene were carefully monitoring the footage of the hallway outside of Room 2605. So if Bill tried anything—or if things went too far—Eric was comforted by the fact that Bill would be dead within moments.

Of course, if he would have felt his wife’s fear at any moment, all bets would have been off! At most, he’d felt anxiety from her.

His cell phone rang in his pocket—the cell phone that only Sookie’s phone could dial.

“Min kära,” he answered.

“I’m safe,” she said.

“Okay,” he returned. “Where are you?”

“I’m going to shower.”

“Where?”

“Dulcina’s room. Leonie is with me. We’ll join you soon.”

“Why are you showering?” Eric asked with a growl.

“To get the smell of vermin off of me,” Sookie returned sourly.

His growl intensified.

“Eric!” Sookie said sternly.

“Yes,” he responded.

“What happened is exactly what we knew had to happen—no more.”

“Sookie,” he growled desperately, “I need you—now.”

“Eric,” she responded, sending him calm, “just start your meeting, and stop worrying about me! You need to concentrate, and I’m not going to come to you smelling like this. We don’t need a Berserker on our hands.” She chuckled a little.

Eric sighed. “My Valkyrie, I know you’re right, but . . . ,” he started.

“But nothing. I’ll be there soon, General Northman,” she returned.

“Okay,” he said, unable to stifle a little smile. “But I cannot be,” he paused, “easy until you are with me.”

“Soon,” she said with longing in her voice. “I’ll be there before the meeting is over—I promise,” she added as she hung up.

Eric tried to calm himself. Having heard from Sookie and knowing that she was away from Bill and safe helped. The Viking fought back his urge to seek her out, and managed to turn his focus onto finishing preparations for the meeting. For safety’s sake, the gathering in his suite would be corresponding to the time of the trial which would determine who King Mitchell’s marriage partner would be. Given the gossip from the night before, it was safe to assume that most of the vampires in the hotel would be in the large ballroom where the courtroom had been set up.

Eric thought about Duncan, who would be presiding over the trial, and said a quick prayer that his brother would remain safe.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: House of Cards

“I must complain the cards are ill-shuffled till I have a good hand.”-Jonathan Swift

As Magister, Duncan had to preside over the “wedding” trial, though he could think of about a million places he’d rather be—the chiefest being between his bonded’s thighs.

The vampire licked his lips.

However—despite his preferences—it was part of Eric’s plan that he be the arbiter for the conflict between Dulcina and Freyda. At least he could amuse himself with being the theater master as he distracted the other vampires from the machinations going on behind the scenes that night.

The wily Welshman looked around the room. Given the series of attempts on his “un-death,” Isabel, Miguelito, and several other allies were watching over him, though—from what Rasul had reported—no plans were in place to attack him that night. And that was likely the only way he had been able to avoid wearing Klymene like a shadow. He smiled as he thought of his mate and her “attentions” earlier that evening when he rose. She’d been especially thorough, and he’d been especially thorough right back.

With regret, he concentrated on the matter at hand, rather than the way his pledged mate had felt in his hands. Duncan had already studied the layout of the large room, quickly identifying escape routes. Just as quickly, he identified the vampires who were potential threats to him. A few were older than he was; however, his chair was placed on a raised dais at the front of the room. From this position, he would be able to see any enemies coming. And he’d have the higher ground from which to fight—and, therefore, the upper hand.

To conduct all of his business as Magister, Duncan had opted to use a large comfortable leather swivel chair—the kind one might see in an executive’s office. However, his chair was “special,” fully loaded with stakes and silver-tipped throwing daggers. There was even a short sword concealed below the chair’s base. As an added bonus, Duncan had learned over the previous weeks that many were disconcerted when he “swiveled” or “spun” during their testimonies, and that amused him to no end.

He decided to swivel a bit to continue his study of his surroundings. Three conference tables with two seats each were set up about ten feet from him. Mitchell would be using the middle table and his two suitors would be on either side of him. Rows of chairs were packed into the rest of the room.

Duncan took note of the arrival of Thalia and Bubba. He smirked. If Thalia was there, it meant that his “sister-in-law” was safe.

“A fucking circus,” Jacob whispered snidely as he took the seat next to Duncan’s. Roman’s child was acting as the court scribe for the night. Nan had been offered the job—since two of the three states involved in the trial were generally considered to be a part of her jurisdiction, but she’d refrained, claiming that she had work outside of Rhodes that night. Of course, both Duncan and Jacob knew better.

Of course, Duncan certainly preferred Jacob’s company to Nan’s, especially since he was a fellow Welshman and a trusted ally. The two could converse easily in Welsh, and none were the wiser about anything they said.

“Three ring,” Duncan intoned, not bothering to speak quietly.

And, indeed, the “trial” was a circus. Not surprisingly, the room was already practically packed, despite the fact that there were still a few minutes before the monarchs involved in the trial were set to arrive. However, Duncan noticed that some monarchs were missing from the gathering, including Russell, Felipe de Castro, and Bartlett Crowe.

Duncan smirked. His brother had been right. Eric had been certain that Russell and his chief confederates would use the “cover” of the trial to meet and finalize their plans.

“Gods, I hate this motherfucking job,” Duncan commented as he watched Sophie-Anne and Talbot gossiping merrily.

Jacob chuckled. Because of his maker, Jacob had known his fellow Welshman for years, and he’d been present at a few of Duncan’s trial sessions during the last several weeks—mostly as back-up given the several attempts that had already been made on Duncan’s life. Amusingly, Duncan seemed much more annoyed during the trials themselves than during the assassination attempts that almost invariably occurred before or after them. In fact, when—after the last session, which had been held in Portland—there hadn’t been an attempt made on his life, Duncan had seemed downright disappointed, calling the entire evening a waste of time. Indeed, Jacob hoped that Duncan would be “let off the hook” by Roman once the turmoil with Russell was over. Of course, if things didn’t go their way, Duncan would be let off the hook anyway.

“Bydd yn fuan yn cael ei orffen, o leiaf,” Jacob commented. [“It will soon be over, at least.”]

“Gadewch i ni obeithio hynny,” Duncan intoned, knowing that both he and Jacob were referring to the job in its entirety—and not just the insufferable trial that night. [“Let us hope so.”]

Duncan tried to comfort himself. At least, his role for the evening was important for the cause—so to speak. After all, exploiting the “love triangle” was a key element of Eric’s plan; its role was to create diversions at various times during the summit, and so far that had been accomplished in spades. Of course, the outcome of the trial itself had already been determined. Dulcina was to lose, and the wedding of Mitchell and Freyda was to be set for the next night—an appetizer for the Masquerade.

Another occasion for distraction.

An opportunity to move key allies into place.

Duncan felt sorry for King Mitchell, who would have to go through with the farce and be married to Freyda for a few hours. In fact, he felt bad for both Mitchell and Dulcina, who seemed to have true affection for each other. But, then again, their reward would be getting control of Oklahoma, following Freyda’s death the next night.

If Eric’s plan worked—that is.

Personally, Duncan had great confidence in his brother and in his plan. But he was wise enough to know that the odds were still not really in their favor—though he’d give Eric’s plan an even chance against the stacked deck possessed by Russell Edgington.

One of the wild cards in that deck walked into the room. Bill Compton. The Antebellum asshole’s eyes darted around as if he were looking for someone.

“Surely the idiot doesn’t think he’ll find Eric here!” Duncan thought to himself with a smirk.

When Compton’s eyes lingered on him and a scowl found its way to his already constipated-looking face, Duncan knew that Russell had told his minion that Eric and Duncan were brothers.

“Efallai ei fod yn credu fy mod yn cadw fy mrawd yn fy mhoced.,” Duncan whispered so that only Jacob could hear. [“Maybe he thinks I am keeping my brother in my pocket.“]

Jacob chuckled. “Neu hyd eich casgen.” [“Or up your ass.“]

Duncan joined his friend in laughing. “Mae’n rhy fawr i ffitio.” [“He is too big to fit.“]

“Mwy na thebyg yn well y ffordd honno,” Jacob intoned. [“Probably better that way.”]

Deciding to have a moment of fun at the Dixie douchebag’s expense, Duncan glared at Bill, who was still scowling at him; to Bill’s credit, he schooled his face almost immediately and went over to join his party.

Duncan could tell that Thalia, who was seated right behind Talbot, Sophie-Anne, and Bill, was listening carefully to everything the younger vampires were saying. This would be a test of whether Bill was going to keep his trap shut about seeing Sookie. It was already clear that he’d not gone straight to Russell. And since Maggie and Brady were monitoring communications—both in-house and cell signals—they also knew that Bill had not placed any phone calls.

As an added safeguard, Klymene had tailed Bill after his and Sookie’s meeting. According to a text from Klymene, he’d done exactly as Sookie had asked—just like a “good boy.” He’d showered, changed his clothing, and had proceeded immediately to the trial room.

Wearing a disguise and Octavia’s modified scent-concealment potion, Klymene slipped into the room and gave Duncan a little nod, confirming that all was going according to plan. She would be tracking the accented ass for the rest of the night in order to make sure that Billy remained a good little boy.

Quinn, the Weretiger from Nevada and the master of ceremonies at the Summit, came to the front of the room and called the audience to order. Knowing about Quinn’s role in the pursuit of Eric and Sookie in Arizona, Duncan had the impulse to rip the tiger’s head off.

“Tomorrow night,” he promised himself as he swiveled his chair to watch King Mitchell enter the room. He was accompanied by his second and was dressed to impress in a tailored navy suit. His tie was obviously custom-made. Half of it was deep red and the other half was bright yellow—the respective colors of the queens of Texas and Oklahoma.

” Sut diplomyddol,” he intoned to Jacob. [“How diplomatic.”]

Next into the room was Dulcina, who was dressed in a sharp red business suit—the same hue as half of Mitchell’s tie. Jasper Fant, a well-respected demon lawyer (and the husband of one of his brother’s helpful witch friends), accompanied her. The Queen of Texas looked professional and well-put-together.

A few minutes after Quinn announced her—and then announced her again—Freyda finally swept into the room dramatically, wearing an extremely full yellow ball gown. There were garish white flowers sewn into the bodice, and the queen wore a crown. Freyda was followed by Desmond Cataliades, whom Duncan knew had been asked to represent Freyda by Russell Edgington.

“Dim cystadleuaeth fucking,” Jacob muttered under his breath. [“No fucking contest.”]

Duncan chuckled at Jacob amalgamation of Welsh and English as he shared an eye roll at the Oklahoma queen’s gaudy display with his fellow Welshman. Dulcina outclassed her in spades!

“Are there hoops in those sleeves or just the skirt?” Duncan—loudly—asked the pretentious queen as she passed in front of the dais.

“This is a one of a kind Oscar de la Renta, designed in honor of my future husband,” the Oklahoma queen preened as she leered at Mitchell.

“Delectable,” Duncan lied. “Now sit,” he instructed, as if he were speaking to a dog, “if you can.”

Freyda scoffed, but Duncan didn’t give a fuck.

Of course, it took several minutes for Freyda to get herself seated since the small table and chair were not designed to accommodate a skirt the volume of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float! Many of the vampires in the room had heckled or made comments about the pretentious queen by the time she was settled.

After Quinn read a description of the conflict between the queens of Texas and Oklahoma, Duncan had to endure almost an hour of “testimony.” Only an occasional glance at his mate and feeling her amusement through their bond every time his swiveling distracted Freyda kept him from ripping the Oklahoma queen’s head from her shoulders—just to shut her the fuck up!

Finally, it came time to “consider” his judgment. In the end, the case—as it was argued convincingly by Cataliades—was simple mathematics. Russell had lent Freyda an enormous amount of money in order to “change” Mitchell’s affections—though the true source of the money, obviously, hadn’t been revealed during the trial. Although there had been an agreement between the Texas and New Mexico monarchs before Freyda had entered the equation, Texas didn’t have as much money to offer the New Mexico king for his affections. Ruining Dulcina’s chances was that the signed documents between herself and Mitchell had been conveniently “stolen” from her lawyer’s office and “lost” on Mitchell’s end.

Duncan had to hand it to Dulcina. She played her part flawlessly—as did Mitchell, who seemed truly indifferent to the woman he ended up with, as long as he ended up with the one offering his state the most money.

Just to amuse himself, Duncan swiveled for quite a while, looking at Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico in turn. Then, he spun around in a circle a few times while looking upward as if waiting for the answer from God.

However, eventually—just as Eric had scripted—Duncan ruled in Oklahoma’s favor, though seeing her cry out in triumph turned his stomach in a way that he would have thought impossible for a vampire.

He cringed as he watched Freyda squeal and lunge at Mitchell.

“May God have mercy on your soul,” he smirked in Mitchell’s direction, before moving his eyes to Bill, who was listening to a gossiping Sophie-Anne.

“Good boy,” he muttered under his breath as he left the room.

MEANWHILE IN ERIC’S SUITE

“Russell, Bartlett, and Felipe are meeting in Russell’s suite,” Maggie reported.

“And the trial?” Eric asked Brady, who was monitoring surveillance in the ballroom, even as his mother was keeping track of the traffic on Russell’s floor.

“It’s going smoothly,” he responded, “though Duncan looks like he’s about ready to kill someone.”

Eric chuckled.

“Compton is there and seems to be operating as expected,” the Were added.

Eric’s laughter turned to a growl. “Keep an eye on that fucker.”

Brady nodded.

“Nan just entered Russell’s suite,” Maggie reported.

“No doubt to give him the most up-to-date information on me,” Roman intoned.

The Guardian was sitting at one end of the dining room. “It’s a pity we cannot overhear their conversation,” he added, looking at Eric piercingly.

“Even I am old enough to pick up the sound of a bug—even one which is using passive technology,” Eric said cautiously. He didn’t want to alienate Roman Zimojic; he already knew that it was a stretch for the older vampire—the fucking Guardian of the Authority, no less—to follow Eric’s directions.

Roman nodded to concede the point. “Shall we get started then?” he asked.

“Certainly,” Eric replied, deferring to the Guardian’s directive, though the Viking’s posture conveyed that he was clearly the one in charge. Eric took a moment to look around the table. Roman, Brady, Maggie, Pam, and Octavia were the only ones present, for—other than Klymene, Leonie, Duncan, and Sookie, who were all busy elsewhere—they were the only ones who knew all of the elements of his plan.

Or, at least, most of them.

Even Sookie didn’t know all of them. She wasn’t aware of the cluviel dor, which he kept in his pocket at all times as if it was an answer to a prayer.

Of course, he wasn’t aware of all the details of Sookie’s conversation with the Ancient Pythoness either.

However, Eric had learned that asking too many questions could be even more dangerous than asking none. And he trusted the Ancient Pythoness. Most importantly, however, he trusted in his wife—just as she trusted in him.

“Where is Sookie?” Octavia asked. “Are we not gonna wait for her?” she added, somewhat teasingly.

“Sookie and Leonie will be here soon,” Eric said in response, ignoring Octavia’s playful lilt. “What of the improved concealment potion?” he asked the witch.

“We are testing it tonight on Klymene,” Octavia reported, her accent as thick as ever. “Apparently, not even Duncan can smell her—not even when dey were touching. ‘T’will work to conceal your scents completely.” She grinned.

“Proud of yourself?” Eric asked her with a smirk.

“Yes, but I’m most happy because my Jasper and I were celebrating my new discovery—right up until dee moment I had to get dressed to come here. ‘Course, he couldn’t have gone to dee trial naked either,” she cackled.

Eric chuckled. “I take it the celebration was satisfactory.”

“‘T’always is with my mate,” Octavia giggled.

“How many doses of your new invention were you able to make? How long does it last?” the Viking asked, getting back to business.

“It don’t last long—only ’bout six hours. I’ve enough to give dosages to you, Klymene, Pam, and Claude,” she reported. “And one other.”

“What of Pythia?” Roman asked, obviously concerned about his maker’s ability to make a surprise entrance.

Octavia smirked. “Dat lady called me to visit her earlier dis night. She told me dat she needed no part of my potions. She also said dat we would need her dosage for someone else, but dee lady would not tell me who. She said dat Sookie would have an idea of who should have it, so I will leave dee extra with you.” She chuckled and looked at Roman. “Your maker seems to like keeping her secrets.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Roman muttered under his breath.

Eric considered this new information for a moment and then shrugged. “I’m sure its use will come to light. Are the Authority members ready?” Eric asked, looking at Roman.

“We are all meeting later; they will be prepared,” Roman responded. “They are all ready to fight for their lives—to fight for the mainstreaming cause.”

“Likely, Russell will have someone ready to take them out—specific assassins assigned to each of them. And you will likely be his intended target,” Eric commented.

“How can you be sure?” Roman asked.

“That would be my strategy if I were him.”

Roman nodded. “It makes sense. If each of his allies has but one main goal, their energy will not be divided.”

“Did you ensure that Nan’s spy knows of all but two of the Councilors?” Eric asked.

“Yes. I called Mirabel into my office before I left last night. I’m sure that she overheard the tail end of my conference call with most of the Councilors. Isaiah of Kentucky and Lena of Quebec have remained unknown since they are the oldest of the Councilors.”

Eric nodded. “If I am right, Russell will task Felipe and Bartlett with engaging the unknown members. He will choose the assassins for the others very carefully.”

The Viking looked at the papers in front of him. “Bill Compton met with the Queen of Georgia earlier tonight. If I had to speculate, I would guess that Lilah will target Rosalyn.”

Roman nodded. “I will tell Rosalyn to watch herself; however, Lilah is older than Rosalyn.”

Eric nodded. “Others will be assigned to aid Rosalyn.”

“Good,” Roman said. “I imagine that the King of Alabama has been enlisted to fight Kibwe, given their past disagreements.”

“Agreed,” Eric responded. “They are evenly matched. But Johnathan will be expecting surprise to be on his side. And Kibwe will be ready.”

“There’s no prize for guessing who will go after the King of Arkansas,” Brady intoned.

Roman nodded in agreement. “Very true. Now that we know Bartlett Crowe is one of Russell’s cronies, it is logical that his child, Jade Flower, was placed in Peter’s court to eventually betray and murder him. Peter is very anxious to kill his two-faced lieutenant—and you know how volatile he can be. But I have convinced him to wait until tomorrow night.”

The group spent the next several minutes speculating about who might target the other now-known Councilors, who included Agnes, the Queen of California; Edwin, the king of Oregon and Washington; and Dieter Braun, the former King of Germany, the vampire brother to the Queen of New York, and a prominent businessman.

The allies also made a list of other likely targets, including Duncan, Jacob, Dulcina, Isabel, and Miguelito. Then they worked to list Russell’s other known allies.

After all the likely pieces were identified, Eric assigned each of his own allies to handle weaker or equivalent opponents on the figurative chessboard in his mind.

When he was done, he was pleased with the configurations. In their guise as hotel employees, Maggie and Brady were tasked with informing all the non-Authority members of their particular assignments. Roman would take care of the Councilors.

“Our people should be ready to strike as soon as the last Authority member makes himself known,” Eric said.

“Why not before then?” Roman asked.

“Because—as much as we prepare—we are currently unaware of all of Russell’s allies. Just as he is unaware of all of yours,” Eric responded with a respectful nod in Roman’s direction. “And—unless you want potential enemies to remain alive or un-dead—we must allow Russell to unleash his full army first. Ours will be waiting.”

“Russell will come after me,” Roman stated flatly. “And I cannot defeat him. If I thought I could, I would have done so years ago.”

“Don’t worry. Russell will be distracted when Sookie and I will reveal ourselves, and—as soon as he sees us—he won’t give a fuck about you. No offense.”

“None taken,” the Guardian chuckled.

“After he’s busy, you can turn your attention to making sure the rest of Russell’s army is stopped,” Eric said.

Roman nodded as he looked at the schematics of the first floor of the hotel. He pointed to the large ballroom where the Masquerade was being held. “I will have my guards stationed in the lobby and along these three corridors,” he said, pointing at the blueprints.

“But we have to assume that Russell will plan on your bringing troopers,” Eric remarked. “He will have forces beyond his Were pack.”

“Who?” Pam asked, speaking up for the first time.

“Additional Weres?” Eric speculated. “Ones we don’t know about yet? Maybe vampires who owe him favors. Russell had alienated most in Europe before he left the Old World, but there are a few who still owe him their loyalty. We must expect the unexpected.”

“Wildcards,” Roman observed.

“Speaking of wildcards,” Maggie said with a little growl, “guess what bastard just entered Russell’s room?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: Jokers Wild

 

TWENTY MINUTES EARLIER

“Our forces are in place?” Felipe asked, his Spanish accent thick.

“Yes,” Russell responded, sitting back in his chair and grabbing a cigar. Vampires could still enjoy the taste of such things. In fact, moving the smoke through their dead lungs was pleasurable for many vampires.

“The Weres?” Bartlett Crowe asked.

“Ready. But they will need to be fed vampire blood tomorrow evening,” Russell noted. “We’ll want them primed and ready,” he added with a grin.

“Jade and I can take our people to the motel and get the group there ready at first dark tomorrow—if you wish,” Bartlett offered.

“Good. I don’t want to waste the time—or the blood—on that lot,” the ancient vampire chuckled. “I will feed my Alpha and Hallow personally, and I’ll have William feed the other guards stationed here. I’ve some other people nearby, and they will feed the group that will infiltrate the building posing the bomb squad team.”

The other monarchs nodded.

“So we will move against the Authority as soon as they all name themselves?” Felipe asked.

“No,” Russell said with a smirk.

“Why has the plan changed?” Felipe asked with a hint of challenge in his tone.

Russell glared at his co-conspirator. “I know you are not questioning me,” he growled, putting the younger king into his place.

“No,” Felipe said, clearly a little scared.

Russell smiled. It was good to have his minions retain a healthy fear of him. “We will delay our attack only until the Ancient Pythoness arrives to endorse the Authority.”

“So it is a certainty? She will truly be here?” Felipe asked.

Russell glared at Felipe for this questioning. He was losing patience with the be-caped king! But he still needed him. With a long-suffering sigh, he looked at Bartlett and indicated for him to respond to Felipe’s question.

“Pythia’s a sneaky bitch, but I have traced her to the area—though she’s not staying in this hotel. It seems certain that she will stay hidden until right after the announcement.”

“The cunt wants to make a dramatic entry,” Russell sneered. “To make us all quake in our boots at her pomp and circumstance,” he added dramatically as he swung his cigar as if he were conducting an orchestra.

“So you truly will have no opposition left,” Felipe said with awe.

“None that will matter,” Russell said arrogantly, “not in this half of the world, at least.”

Just then, Dane led Nan into the room.

Not yet ready to let on to even his closest confederates that Nan was his child, Russell simply nodded at her.

“Do you have information for me?” he asked.

“Yes. Mirabel has been able to ascertain the identities of six of the eight Authority members, master,” she relayed.

Russell’s eyes lit up. “Tell me!”

“In addition to Rosalyn Harris and King Kibwe of Illinois, whom you already knew about, she has confirmed that King Peter of Arkansas is Authority. And last night, she learned of others: King Edwin of Oregon and Washington, Queen Agnes of California, and Dieter Braun.”

“It figures that Agnes and Edwin would be Councilors,” Felipe said with ire. His distaste of the united monarchs in the West was well-known.

“But Dieter is a surprise,” Russell mused.

“That leaves only two of whom we are unaware,” Nan smiled.

“Well done. Make sure little Mirabel is rewarded,” Russell commented. He contemplated for a few moments and then looked at Felipe and Bartlett. “Those two unknown vampires will be your responsibilities. You will take on the older of them,” Russell said to Felipe.

“But I want to deal with Edwin and Agnes,” Felipe practically pouted. “They’ve literally been a thorn in my side for decades.”

Russell tilted his head and growled. “You can feel free to help with their destruction after you perform the task I have set for you!”

Again, Felipe cowed to the more powerful vampire. “Of course, master. I meant no disrespect.”

Russell contemplated for a moment, planning which of his people he would use to target Agnes and Edwin. Dieter’s assassin would be much easier to arrange for. Russell already had someone in particular in mind for the job.

“So—we strike when the old hag comes into the room,” Felipe commented, deflecting the conversation from his master’s earlier anger.

Russell allowed this change of mood.

“Yes,” he responded. “Hallow will perform a spell that will ensure that our vampires and Weres can get through the hotel’s security and into the ballroom on my signal. And then all hell will break loose,” he chuckled. “And I intend to be the King of that Hell,” he added somewhat madly.

“Will you set your sights on the Old World after this one?” Bartlett asked.

“Not quite,” Russell responded with a smirk. “I have someone else in mind for that,” he added, even as he heard a knock on the door. “Ah—and that someone has perfect timing!”

Eric gave Maggie a look that indicated that he wasn’t keen on playing guessing games. “Who the fuck just entered Russell’s suite?” he growled.

“Sorry,” the Were said conciliatorily. “Appius Livius Ocella and his child, Alexei.”

“Fuck!” Eric and Roman said at the same time.

“Duncan!” Eric said with realization.

Everyone looked at the Viking in question.

“Eighty years ago, Duncan tried to kill Alexei after the boy went on a rampage in Germany—when Dieter was king,” Eric explained.

“Yes. I remember that. Appius spirited the boy away to South America,” Roman added.

“Yes. Where they’ve killed countless innocents together in the lawlessness of that continent. Appius has held a grudge against Dieter and especially Duncan ever since then,” Eric said, immediately rearranging the chess pieces in his mind.

“Well—there’s one of Russell’s wildcards,” Pam said resignedly. “Appius is almost as old as his vampire brother!”

Everyone nodded in agreement, hoping that there wouldn’t be many more jokers up Russell’s sleeves.

After a few silent moments, Roman asked Eric a question that they’d all been avoiding asking. “What if you are killed, Eric? All of this is a moot point if Russell survives, and according to my maker, none but you can take him out.”

“If I fall,” Eric returned, “you need to get the fuck out.”

“I won’t run away with my tail between my legs. I’ll deal with Russell myself if you fail,” Roman snarled.

“No!” Eric returned sharply.

Roman rolled his eyes. “All due respect, Viking, but my maker has made it clear to me that if you fail, I’m dead tomorrow night—no matter what. And I won’t die running. If Edgington is to build his empire on the ashes of the Authority—as my maker has foreseen may occur—I’ll be damned if I make it easy for him!”

Eric went to speak again, but Roman continued before he could. “Listen—I’ve had to accept the fact that it’s you making all the plans here, although the last thing I want to be is a fucking foot soldier in my own fucking war! But on the rare occasions that my maker tells me to jump, I don’t bother to ask how high because I’m already in the fucking air!”

Eric chuckled as he looked at the older vampire—a vampire who had deferred to him, a criminal wanted by the very Authority that he ran.

When they’d first spoken about the ensuing battle weeks before, Roman had accepted that Eric hadn’t killed the old Magister without needing an explanation. Moreover, he’d made it clear that it didn’t matter one way or another. If Russell wasn’t killed, facing punishment for the ex-Magister’s death would be the last of Eric’s worries.

And everyone knew it.

Despite Roman’s closeness to Duncan, Eric had never met the Guardian until thirty minutes before. Eric was—despite his position as sheriff—not an ambitious politician. And when Roman had had his people sniff around Eric before—in order to offer him higher positions—Eric had simply not returned their texts. Or emails. Or calls. Or letters. Hell—Roman had even sent a carrier pigeon once.

Eric had killed the bird.

And then he’d moved to a different home.

At that moment, Eric’s musings were put to an end when his bonds with his mate throbbed. Clearly, Sookie and Leonie had just teleported back to the bedroom. Not two seconds later, they walked into the room.

The eyes of the mates locked together, inventorying each other—looking for signs of injury. Sookie sighed with relief to see her husband well, even as Eric’s eyes stopped at the bite marks on her neck—the marks he had made. His ensuing growl was deep and low, and everyone in the room—save Eric’s mate—trembled.

And, finally, Roman understood why his maker thought Northman was the only one who could best Russell Edgington. In the moment, the Viking was fucking terrifying—even to him!

MEANWHILE, IN RUSSELL’S SUITE

Dane led Appius Livius Ocella and his child Alexei into the suite’s luxurious living room. Russell rose and exchanged a bow with the other ancient.

Appius was the only being who was afforded such respect by Russell Edgington.

“I am sure no introductions are needed,” Russell commented to the others, who had also stood.

“None,” Bartlett said, bowing low. “It is an honor, my lord.”

Appius nodded in the Indiana King’s direction, appreciative that the younger vampire knew how to address him properly. Very few had earned the right to call him by name, and the only one whom he allowed to address him by his first name was Russell—his older vampire brother.

“My lord,” Felipe echoed, though his bow was a little less deep. Appius, of course, noted that.

Nan Flanagan bowed more deeply than either of the monarchs had. “My lord, are your accommodations acceptable.”

“Very,” Appius said curtly. “Though Alexei and I will require more donors tonight. The three you provided were spent quickly, for my child has a very strong thirst.”

Alexei hissed.

“A true vampire!” Russell smirked, looking at his “nephew.” “It is nice to see you again, lad.”

Alexei grinned. His fangs were down and still stained from his feeding. “You as well, Uncle,” he said with a deep bow.

Nan bowed toward both Russell and then Appius again. “I will make the arrangements for additional donors now. Do you have a favorite type?” she asked.

“Tied up and struggling,” Alexei said morbidly.

“As you like. They will be waiting in your room,” Nan said evenly as she left the room.

“Your arrival time was fortuitous, Appius,” Russell smiled. “Felipe here was just asking me if I had designs on Europe next. I was about to tell my allies that you had agreed to help me to solidify my control over this continent. And then, in turn, we would help you secure the Old World,” he chuckled.

“It will be a good night, indeed, when the mainstreaming movement is put to an end throughout the world,” Appius smiled.

“And with you in control of the Old World and me ruling the New, it soon will be,” Russell grinned deviously.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Erasing the Stench

Eric smelled him all over his mate.

Bill Compton.

Despite Sookie’s shower.

The fucker’s scent clung to her like a skunk’s “perfume”!

Immediately, Sookie knew that Eric had smelled Bill. Without guilt, she looked her mate in the eye. “Russell’s witch will be dealt with—as will Bill.”

Eric closed his eyes, obviously trying to get his temper under control. Smelling Compton anywhere near his mate enraged him. But he trusted her. And he trusted in them. Bill was nothing now—nothing but a pest that needed to be exterminated.

Sooner rather than later.

“You know your orders,” Eric growled toward the others in the room.

Everyone else at the dining room table—including Roman—was wise enough to make himself or herself scarce.

Quickly.

Leonie kissed Sookie’s cheek before “popping” out of the room.

A crack was heard as Eric broke the dining room table. He’d not even realized that he’d been gripping it until then.

Sookie lifted her chin and looked at her husband—still without fear.

In fact, with almost challenge in her eyes.

“Tell me,” he snarled. “Tell me the worst of it.”

She sneered. “I kissed him—more than once. He hugged me. And I hugged him. I had to be in the same fucking room as he was and witness him salivating over the idea of being my fucking hero! I had to ignore bile even as I swallowed bite after bite of humble pie because I finally noticed every fucking one of the ‘tells’ that should have told me that he was a bastard all along!”

Eric’s growl had become deeper and continuous as she spoke.

“It was disgusting!” she added.

“I felt your disgust,” he snarled.

“So you know it was worse for me than it was you,” she scowled, her eyes lighting up a little.

“I know!” he replied angrily, though his anger clearly wasn’t directed toward her.

They looked at each other for a full minute, her standing with her hands on her hips and him with pieces of the snapped table still in his grip.

“What you did—it proves how strong you are,” Eric said finally, his voice still low and dangerous-sounding.

“I know,” she whispered. “And your letting me do it proves how strong you are.”

“I am trying to stay calm,” Eric admitted with a grimace.

“Me too,” she returned.

Their bond seemed to be alit within them—burning with love and fear that was almost overwhelming. Distrust didn’t enter the equation. Nor did regret. Nor did guilt. Nor did anger at anything other than the situation. And Bill.

“Claim me,” she whispered. “I’m yours, Eric. Being in the same space as Bill was . . . . ,” she paused. “It was horrible; I need you to erase it.”

He had dropped the ruined furniture and was next to her before she could blink—kissing her.

Hard.

Mercurial.

She felt a whoosh of air and knew that he’d taken them to their bedroom.

“Yes!” she exclaimed when he moved his lips from hers, trailing them down her neck in order to lathe the wounds that he’d made in her flesh earlier. He’d already punctured his tongue to coat them with a mixture of his healing saliva and blood.

“Never again!” Eric yelled. “He’ll never touch you again.”

“No—he won’t,” she gasped. “Touch me, Eric. Touch, me. Please.”

He ripped the dress that she was wearing into two pieces, not giving a fuck that it looked lovely on her.

“I hated saying those lies to him—him of all people!” Sookie gasped as she quickly opened the buttons of his shirt. “It hurt to say those things—against you. My pledged. My husband. My bonded. My mate.”

“You forgot fiancé,” he added, before capturing her lips again. Rapidly, he took off her bra before taking two hands to tear apart her panties. Vampire speed almost didn’t seem fast enough for him as he got out of the rest of his clothing.

As soon as his was bare, she shot her light into his chest. He growled in ecstasy.

“You are mine, Eric Northman!” she exclaimed, her eyes almost white as she shoved him back onto the bed.

The vampire growled at his mate, and she growled back. “Fae Sookie” had come into her own during the past weeks, her power ever-growing.

And the vampire loved it.

She’d embraced both “hers” and—in so doing—had become the “true” her.

She mounted him. There was no foreplay. That wasn’t needed between them right then. They didn’t need to assure one another of their love. They needed for Bill Compton’s scent to be eradicated.

It was fairy.

It was vampire.

It was animal.

“Sookie!” he moaned, as she moved up and down on him as rapidly—and as rabidly—as possible.

“Eric,” she sighed, her tone not matching her rough movements in any way. “I’m sorry that it wasn’t just you—only you. Ever.”

“But it was,” he said, slowing them down. “It was in every way that mattered. That matters. Just as it has only ever been you—for me. This, Sookie. This, min kära. It is good. It is right.”

She stroked his cheek. “It’s more than good. More than right.”

He chuckled and then moaned again. “Tell me, Sookie, tell me how you want me.”

“You know,” she said insistently.

He nodded and trust upward slowly, their frenzy evolving into an unhurried coupling. Their lips touched any flesh they could meet.

She held onto his shoulders, her nails piercing his skin.

His own arms were wrapped around her gently, stabilizing her and moving her when she became too breathless to move herself. Unlike their coupling earlier that night, there was no pain for either of them.

On the contrary, there was healing.

“Yes!” Sookie cried out again and again until she quivered and then came. That’s when he bit into her flesh. His previous marks—the ones she’d asked him to make—to leave on her body and not to heal—were shadowed by the new bite he made. In contrast to the previous, his fangs slid in with loving precision. Even unhealed, they would have left only tiny marks. But he intended to completely heal those and the others.

Of course, with his beloved, there was always a twist. Before he could heal her, she had healed herself—by biting into his flesh.

By taking his blood.

He roared in pleasure.

It had been too long.

Their bonds sang in triumph. When the magic of his blood had healed both of their wounds—from the inside out—they moved to share a kiss, and, with it, they shared the remnants of the blood they’d consumed.

With his next coherent thought, he lay back and pulled her spent body against his own. She clung to him, enjoying the coolness of his skin against her heated flesh.

“Tell me,” he said—now calm—after her breath had evened out.

“Bill bought everything hook, line, and sinker,” she responded.

“You think he’ll kill the witch?”

“I know he’ll try,” Sookie said confidently. “But, if he fails, Hallow will take Bill out. Either way, one problem will be solved. Hallow or Bill.”

“And if Bill succeeds, we will have killed two birds with one stone. Bill will go to Russell and stir him up into a frenzy,” Eric mused.

“Yes,” she agreed, knowing that agitating Russell was one of the main reasons she’d approached Bill.

“Maggie has learned that Hallow has a brother, a Were named Mark Stonebrook. He is somewhat magical too—and hooked on V. Hallow has been secretly creating a little coven inside of Russell’s pack. I intend to make sure Russell finds out that tidbit of information around the time that Bill approaches him tomorrow night,” Eric relayed, lightly caressing Sookie’s newly-unmarred neck.

She knew that the pain of having to inflict her earlier wounds still weighed heavily upon her mate’s broad shoulders. She sent him comfort. And love.

And trust.

“If Hallow is eliminated, will the brother and the coven become more dangerous?” Sookie asked, rubbing gentle circles upon her mate’s chest, soft blue light flowing into him as she did.

He sighed, finally at peace. “Octavia is certain that she and Amelia can counteract anything they do, and we are certain that the real power lies with Hallow. According to Octavia, Hallow likely channels the coven’s power. Without her, they will be greatly limited in what they can do.”

“What about the concealment potion?” Sookie asked.

“A success, even from very close proximity. Octavia tried it on Klymene earlier and even Duncan couldn’t smell her when she was in his arms. A full dose will work for only about six hours, but that should be enough time.” Eric looked down to catch his mate’s eye. “Octavia left an extra dose—one she said that you would have an idea about how to use.”

“I do,” Sookie said after a moment’s pause. She was biting her lower lip nervously.

“But you don’t want to tell me about it?” he asked intuitively.

“No. Not yet.”

The Viking nodded. “I can feel that you are confident in your reasoning not to tell me, and I trust you.”

“As I trust you,” she whispered, kissing his chest.

Their bonds hummed with that mutual trust, and Sookie was almost as grateful for it as she was for their love. It was that trust—more than anything else—that made her feel strong.

“Did Rasul contact you before the meeting?” she asked after a few minutes of silence had stretched comfortably between them.

“Yes. He confirmed the information about Hallow’s little coven and reported that vampires from Russell’s, Bartlett’s, and Felipe’s retinues will be converging in the area tomorrow evening. Oklahoma is also providing soldiers. Rasul figures that there are 60-70 vampires ready to fight for Russell’s side. Oh—and he also confirmed that Chow is among them, though he is actually with us.”

Sookie chuckled. “Good. I always kind of liked Chow. But,” she went on pensively, “do we have enough people? To fight against them all?”

“Yes,” Eric assured. “We have a similar number as they do. The monarchs of California, Oregon and Washington, Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico, and New York have many vampires gathered and ready.”

Sookie nodded against his chest. “And Rasul is well?”

“Yes. But anxious to be done with his spying.”

“We are in his debt,” Sookie commented.

“Yes,” Eric agreed.

In addition to the information Rasul had given them about Russell’s movements and the size of his forces, he’d also been the one to tell them that Hallow and Bill had been secretly having an affair, information that they’d already found of particular use.

“Are you sure that you are okay?” Eric asked. “Earlier—when I bit you—I know it hurt.”

“It did,” Sookie said honestly, though there was no judgment in her voice—or in the bond. “But it was needed, and it did fool Bill,” she added evenly, showing no signs of positive emotions for her first lover. There were no favorable emotions coming from the bond either. For Sookie, there was only indifference left for Bill Compton—indifference tinged with a dosage disgust and dislike.

Eric was glad about the fact that her emotions for Bill had dissipated almost completely. After all, Compton didn’t matter to them—except for the fact that he was garbage that needed to be taken out.

Smelly garbage.

“Still, I hate that you had to see him,” the Viking said quietly.

“Me too.”

“I hate that he touched you in any way.”

“I know. Me too.”

Eric pulled his mate as closely against his body as was physically possible.

Sookie was more than happy to be flesh to flesh with him.

Neither of them spoke again before the dawn pulled Eric to his death and Sookie to her sleep.

They didn’t need to speak. They both knew that the next night would be a new beginning for them—either in this life or the next.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: Rhodes, Day Three

 

“Do you really think this is a good idea?” Leonie asked Sookie.

“What?” she returned. “Letting Brady drive?”

The charismatic Were smirked. “Of course, I’m an excellent driver,” he said, channeling his inner Rain man.”

Leonie giggled at her lover and then looked back at Sookie. “You know what I mean.”

Sookie sighed. “Yeah. But Henry is at the warehouse now, and he’s sure that the area is secure. Plus, Brady made sure we weren’t seen as we were leaving—didn’t ya, Brady?”

The Were nodded. “Of course I’m not wearing underwear,” he grinned.

“He’s not,” Leonie giggled. “I was anxious and tore them.”

“TMI!” Sookie screeched.

Leonie chuckled, but then turned serious. “Sookie, Eric wouldn’t like you leaving his side—not today of all days,” she reminded.

“I know,” Sookie agreed. “I don’t like being away from him either—believe me,” she said, placing her hand over the area where she felt her and her mate’s bonds in her body.

“Do you feel the ache? Even after so short of an absence? And at so little a distance?” Leonie asked, the concern clear in her voice as she turned around in the front seat to face Sookie more fully.

“No. Nothing like that,” Sookie reassured. “I just want to be with him, but I need to see Tara. I need to know that she’s okay and that she doesn’t hate me for dragging her into all this. She is my oldest friend.”

“The actions of others are not your fault,” Leonie said soothingly.

“I know,” Sookie agreed. “But the truth is that the sociopathic vampire who kidnapped and raped Tara came to my house looking for me.” She sighed loudly. “I’ve worked hard to try to stop blaming myself for the actions of others, and Eric’s helped me.” She looked at Leonie and smiled a little. “And you’ve helped me. And Octavia. Lots of people.”

“Surely you don’t think your friend still blames you for Franklin Mott’s actions,” Brady said, looking at her in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t know,” Sookie sighed. “Truthfully, I was pretty shocked when I heard from Henry’s head that Tara and Alcide were part of the group. The last time I saw them . . . .” She paused. “Well—let’s just say that it was clear that helping vampires was the last thing that either of them would have been looking to do.”

“You’re not just making your visit in order to reconcile with your friends—are you?” Brady asked perceptively.

Sookie shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “In battle—if they saw Eric—it’s possible that they might try to harm him, and that’s the last thing we would need.”

“You didn’t tell Eric that Tara and Alcide were here—did you?” Brady smirked.

“No. I’m going to see them and read them,” she said assertively. “And—if they are truly on our side after they know that Eric and I are involved, then I’ll tell him.”

“And if they aren’t?” Leonie asked.

“Well—then we’re going to secure them somewhere where they will be out of the way and won’t pose a danger to the plan until after all of this is over, and—after that—it won’t matter,” she responded.

“You are keeping secrets from your husband?” Leonie asked. “I am surprised.”

“Why? You keep secrets from Niall,” Sookie returned.

Leonie chuckled. “That I do. But our relationship is very different from yours with your mate.”

“I know,” Sookie sighed. “I don’t like keeping things from Eric. But—if there’s one thing I’ve learned—it’s that I don’t need to know everything that Eric does in order to know that he’s working for what’s best for us.” She shrugged. “And he feels the same about me.”

Brady nodded in agreement from the front seat.

Sookie smiled at him. “Eric’s talked about us being a team lots of times, and on a team people all know the game plan, but everyone has a different job to do. So—not telling Eric about this—is a loophole I’m using to make sure Tara and Alcide get the chance to choose their side once they have all the relevant information. I owe them that.

And I want to ensure that they don’t cause us trouble tonight. I owe us that!”

Sookie was nervous as she entered the warehouse where Henry’s people had set up camp. She was covering her scent with her Fae gift, and Leonie was also covering hers, and Brady—of course—was a Were now known to them, so hardly anyone looked at the group as they walked in.

Her conversation with Leonie and Brady in the car had brought up a lot of Sookie’s own misgivings about leaving the hotel that morning. Would she have preferred staying nestled in her beloved’s arms? Yes.

Should have she told Eric of her plans?

Perhaps. Probably.

“Maybe,” she whispered to herself even as she used her telepathy to gauge the loyalty of Henry’s people. So far, so good.

Sookie had been telling the truth that she’d been surprised to hear of Alcide and Tara’s involvement in the situation. No—she’d been shocked!

Henry had assured her that they’d been on the list of people whom Klymene had provided, and Sookie was certain that that list had come from the Ancient Pythoness herself. However, none of Henry’s people had heard Sookie or Eric’s name when it came to their mission.

They did know that they were helping vampires solidify the mainstreaming power structure, but most of them had chosen to help Henry because they wanted to eliminate the V-fueled pack of Weres that Russell Edgington controlled. All of them recognized the dangers of such a pack; in fact, many of them knew about those dangers firsthand.

The warehouse was made up of a large central area where many of the Weres were gathered. Most of them were playing cards as they waited for their signal to go to the hotel where they’d face off against Russell’s Weres later that night. Ideally, they would ambush them before they could even enter the hotel. Sookie could also sense quite a few Weres in the smaller rooms that framed the central area. Most of those individuals were sleeping.

At the corner of the warehouse, Sookie sensed two familiar minds, made even louder because of the strengthening of her telepathy: Alcide and Tara.

She was somewhat surprised to hear that their thoughts were concentrated upon a kiss that they were sharing. And those thoughts weren’t just about lust either; they were about real affection. “Good for them,” she muttered to herself.

She nodded at Henry who was standing nearby the door of the room her friends were in. She took a breath, knowing that she was about to interrupt them by shocking them—by showing them a ghost.

She knocked.

But there was no answer.

Sookie made sure to make plenty of noise as she entered the room, but it still took Tara and Alcide a second or two to end their kiss.

“What is it?” Alcide growled. His back was to the door, and he was obviously pissed off at the interruption.

Tara was the first to see Sookie.

She gasped. “What the fuck? Sook!”

Alcide spun around. “Sookie!” he exclaimed, just as surprised as Tara.

“Uh—hi,” Sookie waved rather awkwardly.

After that, they all stood silently for a few seconds before Tara rushed to embrace her friend.

“We thought that you were dead,” she cried.

“I’m not,” Sookie said, stating the obvious. In truth, it was difficult to know where to begin with her explanations. So she began by talking about them. “I’m glad you and Alcide are safe.”

“You too,” Tara said, holding her even tighter. “I’m so sorry, Sook. Sorry about the things I said to you in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry too, Tara.”

“What are you doing here?” Tara asked after another minute.

“Let’s sit,” Sookie responded gently as she reached out to pat Alcide’s arm in greeting.

Tara stroked a piece of Sookie’s hair. “You’re brunette?”

Sookie chuckled. “Sometimes.” In fact, she’d once again colored her blond locks as an extra precaution since she was leaving the hotel. However, she was more than ready to be a blonde again—permanently.

“I can’t smell you,” Alcide said, somewhat suspiciously.

“I’ve been working on my fairy gifts,” Sookie explained.

“Huh?” Tara asked.

“It’s a long story, but I’m part fairy. And I’ve learned how to inhibit my scent,” Sookie explained.

“Fairy?” Alcide asked, his surprise clear. “But I thought they were a myth.”

“Nope. They’re real. Believe me,” Sookie smirked, letting her scent come through just long enough to let Alcide take a whiff.

His eyes and mouth opened in surprise. “It is you!”

“Yep,” the telepath nodded.

Sookie took in her friends. They were clearly a couple now. They’d both sat down on the cot that had been set up in the room. And their hands had clasped together in the kind of unconscious way that Sookie knew that she and Eric always reached out for connection.

“What are you doing here?” Alcide asked, repeating Tara’s earlier question. “Are you helping the vamps?”

“Yes,” she responded. “And they are helping me too. As long as Russell’s alive, I won’t be safe. And neither will Eric,” she added, waiting to gauge their reactions and their thoughts about her mate.

“Northman,” Alcide growled.

“Sookie, he stole you from that hospital,” Tara said, her voice full of anger. “We thought he’d killed you! Why are you helping him?”

“He did not steal me,” Sookie returned. “And I’m not just helping him,” she explained evenly. “I’m with him. After he helped me to break the blood tie I had with Bill—and with himself—we got closer. And we eventually became a couple by choice. We are bonded now,” she said to Alcide, knowing that he’d understand the significance of that.

“But, Sookie, you’ll never be able to get away from him now,” Alcide objected.

“I don’t want to get away from him,” she responded, her voice firm. “I bonded with him willingly,” she added, now speaking of both of their bonds. “And—when we formed the vampire bond—I knew exactly what I was getting into. Moreover, we’re not just bonded in the vampire way. We are married according to fairy traditions and bound by Fae magic. And we’ve pledged. Eric and I are one, and we love each other.”

“But, Sook, vampires are dangerous to you,” Tara said reasonably. “After what happened in that van with Bill, I can’t believe that you would . . . .”

Sookie interrupted with a growl. “Eric is nothing like Bill. Eric is honorable, and he is my chosen mate. I came here to make sure that you both understood that you will not just be fighting against Russell’s Weres tonight; you will be fighting for Eric and me. If you can’t do that, then you need to bow out now.” She looked at Tara. “I love you like a sister, and I’m so sorry about all that you’ve been through because others wanted to use my telepathy. But Eric’s my husband and my partner—in every way that matters. My life is his, and his is mine. And anyone who can’t accept that—and be happy for me—won’t have a place in my life. A life I very much want to try to rebuild if we can defeat Russell and his people. And it’s a life I would love for you to be a part of, but you have to accept my choices—and me. And not just when you agree with my actions,” she finished.

The three were silent for a few long and tense moments.

“I haven’t been very good at that—accepting you for yourself—have I?” Tara finally asked guiltily.

“I always knew that you loved me, Tara,” Sookie said tactfully. “And I know that it was hard on everyone—because I was different.”

“But I never really took into account that it was hardest on you—and that you only felt so different because that’s how we thought of you. All of us.”

Tara looked up at Alcide and continued, “When Sam first told me about his shifting—I freaked out, and I’m sure I made him feel like some kind of freak in the process.” She shook her head and turned back to Sookie. “And that’s the last thing I should have done! But that just makes me think about all the times I freaked out on you—all the times I blamed you for listening in on me. As if you had a choice!” She sighed. “I should have supported you—like you always supported me. But I’m here now,” she added, straightening her body. “Better late than never—right?”

Sookie brushed away a few tears and reached out to take her friend’s free hand. Tara’s thoughts matched her words exactly.

“You supported me just fine, Tara.” She looked at Alcide. Though he was less than thrilled that she was involved with Eric—bonded with him—the Were was thinking about how, given Debbie, he didn’t have any right to tell Sookie how to live her life. And he was wishing the best for her. Most importantly, his thoughts made clear that he was willing to fight with her—and Eric.

Sookie stood up. “I’m glad we were able to see each other—before everything happens.”

“What is happening?” Alcide asked. “Henry hasn’t told us much.”

“A war,” Sookie said soberly. “But if y’all can help take out Russell’s Weres, then it’ll be a lot easier for the vampires to,” she sighed and shook her head, “focus on killing each other.”

“And you?” Tara asked. “Where will you be in all of this?”

“Next to my husband,” Sookie said with a little smile. “Right where I need to be. Where I belong.”

Tara and Sookie shared a look that was full of meaning—full of the context of innumerable memories. Both of them had struggled with finding a place where they belonged. Both of them had suffered prejudice and hate for things that were part of their genetics—things that no sane person should have ever asked them to apologize for.

They each recognized the mistakes that they’d made in their own relationship, yet they both hoped that the future—if they made it there—would be better.

Sookie took a small vial from her pocket. She handed it to Alcide. “Debbie is working with Russell. But if you rub this potion into your forehead, she won’t be able to smell you.” She then looked at Tara. “You are tougher than anyone I know, Tara, but you are still human. And I need to ask you to stay here tonight.”

“But . . . ,” Tara started.

“Please,” Alcide chimed in. “I need to know that you are safe too.”

Tara put her hands on her hips. “There has to be something I can do to help.”

“There is,” Sookie said, reaching for her friend’s hand. “If I don’t make it, tell Jason I love him? And Lala. And Sam. Hell—even Arlene. And also tell them that I have been happier than I’ve ever been before during my time with Eric. Tell them that I found love—the kind that makes you feel like you can fly. The kind that takes you flying!”

Tara looked like she was going to refuse, but then sighed. “Those are things you should tell them your goddamned self.”

“I hope to do just that,” Sookie whispered. “But I need you to be my back-up plan.”

Tara looked at Alcide and then back at Sookie.

“Okay,” she finally agreed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Coverage

 

Leonie had traveled with Sookie to the warehouse for one reason and one reason only: so that she could teleport Sookie and herself back to the hotel—and into the safety of Octavia’s wards—in a mere second.

Though Sookie had become better at teleportation, she was no expert by any means, and she was not confident in traveling very far. Plus, teleporting invariably taxed her energy, and Sookie would need all that she could get that night.

Brady, who was “working” the evening shift as concierge at the hotel, would be returning to the hotel with Henry once they’d prepped Henry’s pack.

As soon as Leonie and Sookie were back in the hotel suite, they both breathed a sigh of relief. The trip to see Tara and Alcide had been a calculated risk, but Sookie didn’t regret her choice to take that risk. Being with Eric had helped her to learn when to trust her instincts—and when to question her impulses. And she’d also learned to cover her bases so that her instincts wouldn’t lead her or the ones she loved into unnecessary trouble.

In the living room of the suite, Maggie, Brady’s mother, was sitting with Tray; they were having coffee. Sookie looked at their cups longingly.

Maggie chuckled, her rich voice vibrating with amusement. “There’s more coffee in the kitchen, hon.”

Sookie had met Maggie two days before, and the Were reminded her a little of Gran, though Maggie was younger than Gran had been—or seemed to be younger. In truth, Were age still mystified Sookie a bit, though she did know that Weres tended to stay healthy and live longer than humans. Regardless, Sookie hadn’t asked Maggie how old she was; after all, one didn’t ask such things of a lady.

As she’d been masquerading as a maid in the hotel, Maggie had managed to install several surveillance devices that piggy-backed off of the hotel’s own system. She also had supplemented that system, filling in blank spots that allowed them to fully surveil Russell’s movements—and the movements of his allies—once he left his suite. Unfortunately, monitoring him in that suite was impossible. In addition, when the time was right, Maggie and Brady would be able to take over the entire hotel computer system.

“So—anything happen while we were gone?” Sookie asked as she sat down in one of the room’s comfortable chairs.

“Nothing unexpected,” Maggie responded as she scrolled through some screens on one of her laptops.

“And Russell’s Weres?” Sookie asked.

“Most of them are still at the motel they’re occupying,” Tray indicated. “We heard Russell’s Alpha say that he’d be meeting with a few of their people in the lobby—to give them instructions—in about an hour. In addition to him, we’ve seen about six other Weres guarding Russell’s suite.”

Mustapha walked into the room and headed straight for the coffee. “It’s a shame we can’t just go in there and stake Russell during the daytime,” he said coolly.

“Damned right!” Sookie agreed.

Maggie chuckled at Sookie. “Blood-thirsty. I bet the Viking loves that about you.”

Sookie blushed.

“And that,” Maggie added, gesturing toward Sookie’s visible burst of embarrassment.

The blonde rolled her eyes but chuckled along with Maggie and Leonie, who seemed delighted with the mother of her current lover.

“So?” Sookie inquired, returning to the serious subject at hand, though the levity of the group was helping her to keep her stress levels down.

Tray quickly caught on that she wanted to get back on topic. “So—because of Maggie’s skillfulness, we have Russell’s Weres under surveillance at intermittent points between their motel and here, and they won’t be able to slip through unseen. We’ll wait to see where they position themselves tonight and then move our people in right behind them. Chances are, they’ll try to use more than one service entrance in order to breech the building.”

“Once things get going, Brady, Tray, and the Werebears will deal with Russell’s Alpha and the others already in the hotel. And—of course—I intend to kick a little ass too,” Maggie grinned.

Leonie giggled.

“Why wait to learn where Russell’s Weres will try to enter?” Sookie asked. “If Russell’s Alpha is meeting with some of his people, then I should be close so that I can listen in.”

Maggie, Tray, and Mustapha shared a look.

“We thought of that,” Maggie said honestly, “but the Alpha spoke of the meeting outside of Russell’s suite, so we were able to overhear his phone call. Debbie Pelt is insisting on going to the meeting with the Alpha. And we don’t want to risk her seeing you.”

“Even better,” Sookie said with a smile. “Just get me as close as possible to the lobby—maybe directly above it on the second floor? Then I can lock onto Debbie’s mind since I’ll recognize it. I won’t even need to be close.”

As Maggie started doing something on her computer, Tray spoke up with concern. “I still don’t like the thought of you out of the suite for too long.” He looked at Leonie. “You’re a telepath—right? Could you listen in on them?”

“I must be careful to conceal myself too,” the fairy responded. “My appearance is known to our enemies because I was seen by de Castro’s cameras in Las Vegas when I took Eric and Sookie’s vehicle to Felipe’s casino’s parking garage. I showed myself so that no one would suspect that Sookie was still alive—that she was the fairy who was helping Eric. Plus, I believe that a Were would feel it if I were trying to read his thoughts. My telepathy is different from Sookie’s in that way.”

“What’s that?” Mustapha asked, touching his forehead.

“Me. See?” Leonie said.

Tray’s expression showed his disappointment and his concern for Sookie as he looked back at her.

“How close do you need to be in order to read them accurately? Could you do it from here?” Mustapha asked Sookie.

“There are so many people between here and the lobby that I would likely miss them or, at least, lose some of their thoughts,” Sookie replied frankly.

Just then, Henry and Brady came into the room. After they were caught up on the situation, both of them agreed that Sookie’s plan to listen from the floor right above the lobby was a good one, and Maggie quickly set up the cameras in the areas where Sookie would be walking so that the images would loop. And, of course, Sookie’s face wouldn’t register with the hotel’s recognition software even if she were seen.

Having set up the video feeds, Maggie went to her cart and pulled out a maid’s uniform like the one she wore.

All eyes moved to Maggie.

“What?” the older Werewolf asked. “Always be prepared for every contingency.” She moved over to her son and popped him lightly on the cheek. “I taught you that.”

She handed the uniform to Sookie and gestured toward her cart. “Sookie and I will go down to the second floor. Several rooms are empty and ready for cleaning. Via computer, I’ve just assigned myself to that task. Sookie can listen from whichever of the empties works best for her, and I’ll guard her.”

“Ah, Mom, you’re the best,” Brady grinned as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

She brushed him off. “I know I am.”

Sookie giggled at the mother-son interaction in front of her. And she let herself—for just a moment—wish that she could have had something similar with her own mother. But then she tried to brush that regret aside. Gran had been wonderful. Certainly, their relationship had been different from the one she might have shared with her mother—in a perfect world, that is. Gran had come from a generation that believed in propriety and manners—not that there was anything wrong with that. But Sookie had always felt bad—for lack of a better word—that she couldn’t fulfill her grandmother’s very traditional wishes for her life: marrying, having babies, and taking care of her own home.

Being normal.

“I’ll just go change. I’ll be right back,” Sookie said with a forced smile—one she’d rarely used since her time at Merlotte’s. Having her shields up, she didn’t realize that Leonie was following her until she almost shut the door on her.

“Um—did you need the bathroom?” Sookie asked. She still wasn’t sure if fairies went to the bathroom like humans did, but Leonie ate more than any other person Sookie had ever met. She couldn’t help but to giggle a little as she pondered whether fairies had magic colons of some kind.

Before she could get too wrapped up in her contemplations, however, Leonie had her wrapped up in a warm hug.

“Huh?” Sookie asked with a laugh as she hugged the fairy back.

“You looked sad in there—for a moment—and then you smiled in a way that didn’t include your eyes,” Leonie explained, letting Sookie go. “I am doing my best to adhere to your wishes that I don’t try to check into your mind. But I can give you a hug—when it looks like you need one. That is not against the rules—is it?”

Sookie felt her eyes warming with quickly-brought-on tears. “No,” she whispered, as she pulled Leonie back into an embrace.

“Thanks,” Sookie said after a few moments.

Leonie softly stroked Sookie’s hair. “I am not your mother—or even your grandmother or great-grandmother—though I think of myself as your kin. I suppose I always have—ever since Finn told Niall and me about Adele and his human family.” She sighed, but then chuckled a little. “And, of course, it is best that I’m not your family by blood—since it turns out that Eric is actually my kin by blood. Though in fairy culture, it is still common for cousins and other distant kin to marry, it is out of fashion in human culture—I believe.”

“Yes,” Sookie agreed.

Leonie sighed. “Sookie, we may all die tonight. And I just want you to know that meeting you—getting to know you . . . .” She paused for a moment, clearly emotional. “Well, as you know, my own daughter, Magallen, died long ago. And, with the Claudes, I’m a grandmother—not that they are allowed to call me such—but my behavior toward them reflects that. You see—I never wanted to try to replace their mother, so I kept that line very clear. But—with you—well . . . .” Again the fairy paused. “Of course, I don’t want to replace your mother or your grandmother either, but you feel very much like a daughter to me, and I care for you deeply, Sookie. And I am proud of you as a mother would be proud of a child. No matter what is to come, I wanted you to know that.”

With each of Leonie’s words, more and more tears fell from Sookie’s eyes. “Thank you,” she said after a few moments of trying to compose herself. “Thank you—Mother.”

Leonie hugged Sookie so tightly that the hybrid grunted, but she didn’t hold back either.

Finally, the fairy broke the hug and smiled at Sookie. She spoke quietly, as if telling a secret. “You have trained hard, Dearest. But there is much more to you than your powers and your magic. There is your goodness and your faith. Without them, you would not have ever offered your light to the Viking.”

“He is good too,” Sookie whispered.

“Yes. And it was his faith that accepted your light. I wish—now—that I had defied Niall and been a part of your life long before I was. I hope that—after tonight—I will remain a part of it for a long time to come.”

“Me too,” Sookie said, sniffling.

“You will do well tonight,” Leonie said confidently. “And we will succeed.”

“I hope so,” Sookie responded quietly.

“Hope is more powerful than any sword or blast of energy. Remember that if the battle seems lost.”

Sookie nodded as Leonie leaned in to kiss Sookie’s forehead.

“You should get ready so that you can listen to Russell’s Weres,” Leonie said. “The Werewolves will protect you. I must go collect Claude now; he’d be very angry if he missed the fight.”

Sookie reached out and hugged Leonie once more—quickly and tightly. “See you soon, Mother,” she whispered.

It was Leonie who brushed away tears as she popped out of the room.

DEBBIE POV

“V! Russell’s V!” Debbie thought, knowing that she’d be getting some that night, likely directly from the vein. Oh—her so-called pack-master judged her for her cravings. Debbie was sure of that. But she didn’t give a fuck! As long as Russell wanted to keep her around, she’d be around. And as long as he fed her his blood, she would be loyal.

Even as Debbie exited the elevator with Dane, however, she felt the Alpha’s disapproval. In another life, she might have tried to seduce him, but she was done pursuing men. Her heart was too broken. After that bitch—Sookie Stackhouse—had caused her Coot to die at the hands of her former lover, Alcide, Debbie just didn’t see the point of love.

Now—lust. That was another thing altogether.

She felt herself getting a little wet at the thought of Alcide. Alcide! Despite all of his betrayals in the past, he was a Were she could go for fucking right about then! She shook herself from that thought. Alcide was long gone—all because of Sookie Stackhouse.

As always, Debbie regretted that it hadn’t been her claws and fangs to be the cause of that bitch’s painful demise. However, she was comforted somewhat, knowing that she’d been killed—likely drained—by a vampire.

“Why Russell wanted you here, I’ll never know,” Dane muttered as he led them to a secluded corner of the lounge.

“You should be nice to me,” Debbie purred. “Russell wants me to help him replenish the pack with strong children once we get our new blood,” she reported.

Dane cringed as she ran a finger across his cheek. “Maybe he’ll even want me to have your little whelp.”

Debbie enjoyed the Alpha’s discomfort and replayed her movement, causing Dane to slap her hand away.

“Never. Gonna. Happen,” he snarled.

“Oh—you’ll do whatever Russell wants, and you know it,” Debbie grinned.

He frowned, but did not answer as they were joined by another Were,

Debbie licked her lips at the sight of him.

“Dillon Roth?” Dane asked.

The Were nodded and sat down.

Debbie studied him. She couldn’t remember seeing a more beautiful male specimen—or one better suited to her tastes. Even though he had a shirt on, she could sense that his muscles had muscles, though she hoped to taste one muscle in particular. She could see tattoos peeking out of his sleeves and his collar. Yes—it was as if he’d been specially ordered just for her.

How fucking kind of Russell!

Debbie licked her lips again, but managed to focus on the words being exchanged between Dillon and Dane. Dillon was the leader of a group of lone wolves—mostly men—who made the Hell’s Angels look like a church choir. These were the wolves that Russell wanted to add to his pack—the ones that were to offer the group fresh blood.

Studs.

Hell—if they all looked like Dillon, Debbie wouldn’t mind having whelps with them all!

For security’s sake, very few knew about them—with Debbie being one of the few. They were going to be posing as a bomb squad, which would be entering the hotel that evening to follow-up on a vague national announcement by the Fellowship of the Sun. The announcement would raise the threat levels at vamp-friendly establishments. Of course, the Fellowship announcement had actually been orchestrated by one of Russell’s people, who glamoured just the right idiots to do his bidding. But the situation would allow Russell to move one of his insurance policies into place.

Debbie just hoped that she’d get to sample the “coverage” before the night was over.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: A Little Art, a Little War

 

23 NIGHTS EARLIER, MAMMOTH LAKES

“What’s this?” Sookie asked, looking at the wrapped package on the coffee table. A fire was roaring in the hearth, thanks to Eric, and she was snacking on some cut fruit.

“A gift of sorts,” Eric responded with a smirk, “for you.”

“Of sorts?” she asked skeptically.

“Hmmm.”

She chuckled and reached for the package. “Shall I?” she asked, putting her fruit on the coffee table.

“Mmmm,” he sounding in affirmation.

She ripped into the paper. “A book,” she commented, turning the volume over in her hands. She looked at the spine. “The Art of War by Sun Tzu. How romantic,” she added wryly, batting her eyes.

He reached over to tickle her.

She giggled and squirmed away from his marauding fingers.

“This book is even more ancient than you—isn’t it?” she teased, earning her another round of tickling. Once he thought she’d had enough, they both became more serious.

“I first read it long before the 1700s, when it was translated into French. Godric and I traveled through parts of China in the 1300s. It was a culture not very open to outsiders, especially uncommonly tall, blond ones,” he grinned, “but we were creative in our travels.”

“I bet you were,” she laughed, as she opened the book.

“Its teachings have saved my life as many times as my father’s teachings—and Godric’s teachings,” Eric informed. “I’ve found that—as I’ve been trying to figure out how to defeat Russell—I’ve been thinking of this text more and more. And I want you to know what I’m thinking.” He paused and stroked her cheek lightly—affectionately. “Since we have bonded in the vampire way . . . ,” he started, but then stopped. “No. It was before that. Since I accepted the fairy bond you gifted me with, I have been happier than I’ve ever been during my thousand years.” He hesitated for a moment. “I have seen so much, experienced so much. But I find that I want to experience all things anew—as this new man that you have helped to form.”

Sookie smiled at her mate and placed her hand onto his cheek. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been before, too, Eric.”

“I know,” he smiled, placing his hand softly over her heart. He leaned forward and touched his lips to hers just as softly.

“Mmmm,” she sounded contently as she shifted her body on the couch in order to better embrace her mate.

He moved as well, bringing their bodies closer. They wore only robes, and—having the same idea—they both brought their hands to each other’s shoulders and pushed the garments out of their way.

The book was put aside for a while—as were all thoughts of war.

PRESENT DAY

Sookie slipped out of the maid’s uniform and into bed with her husband, her pledged, her fiancé, her bonded, her lover, and her closest friend.

Her partner. Her soul mate.

But not her everything.

She smiled a little. Her talk with Leonie and her visit with Tara and Alcide had reminded Sookie that she and Eric did not live in a bubble—despite the way it had sometimes seemed when they were on the run from Russell. But that wasn’t a bad thing. Yes—Eric was now the center of her life in a profound way, but she had discovered that she was right next to him in that center.

However, the center wasn’t the whole. She’d learned that, in addition to her mate, she could have family and friends who accepted her without reservations. And—now that she was comfortable with who she was—she would never again accept relationships based upon what she was.

She rested against Eric’s broad chest.

“My spot,” she whispered as she marveled for the millionth time about how well they fitted with each other. “One of my spots,” she corrected with a chuckle, for—in truth—being next to her vampire in any way offered a little slice of physical perfection.

And perfection for their very souls too—as their bonds celebrated their proximity. Even as he slept.

She closed her eyes and thought about what she’d learned during the past hour.

Number one: Russell’s Alpha, Dane, was extremely efficient and tactical. And he was well-trusted by Russell. Instead of bringing in all of his available “army” in one mass, Dane planned to have about twenty of them enter the hotel two hours before the intended attack—on the pretense that the Fellowship of the Sun was making threats to attack vampire-friendly businesses and that a vampire summit would make the perfect target. With the picketers outside, the story wouldn’t be doubted—at least not by humans or the very safety-conscious owner of the hotel.

Sookie had read from Dane’s mind that Russell now had a force of fifty Weres outside the hotel—in addition to the ten who were assigned to his immediate circle. However, the twenty “bomb squad” members were unknown to most of the others. Victor Madden had arranged for that group to have equipment and identification that matched the actual bomb squad in Rhodes.

Russell’s new recruits were mostly ex-military or ex-mercenary, and—though Russell had brought them together using the lure of his blood—it was clear from Dane’s head that there were strict rules in place for them about how much vampire blood anyone could take. Apparently, both Russell and Dane wanted to weed out the less desirables from the pre-existing pack and replace them with stronger stock.

And that brought Sookie to the second thing she’d learned; Russell thought of most of the Weres in his “old” pack as expendable: cannon fodder. Their main goal was to storm the hotel and cause chaos. And—if they died in the process—that would actually be seen as convenient, given the fact that most of them were so addicted to V that they couldn’t function well without it.

Or with it—it seemed.

From Dane’s thoughts, Sookie had learned that he felt like Debbie Pelt should be one of the first weeds pulled. However, disturbingly, after Rhodes, Russell planned to “get Debbie clean” and use her as a breeder. Again, Sookie almost felt sorry for the woman—almost. After all, spending time in her head had made Sookie feel downright dirty!

Indeed, from Debbie’s thoughts, Sookie had learned that she was even crazier than before—something that she would have thought impossible. Indeed, Debbie was addicted to V to the point that it was constantly on her mind. She took it as soon as she woke up—and as many times during the day as possible; however, she could never seem to get enough to feel “okay” unless she took Russell’s blood.

And the ancient seemed very willing to give it to her. Like Dane, Sookie couldn’t help but wonder why Russell bothered with Debbie at all, but—knowing the sadistic king—it was likely because he found the crazy Were entertaining. Russell also liked using people. And he enjoyed sycophants, and Debbie was certainly one of those. Indeed, maybe he wanted to keep her around because he enjoyed watching people self-destruct, and Debbie’s self-destruction was looking to be epic.

Thirdly, Sookie had been able to learn where Russell’s “old” pack intended to enter the building. A dozen of them would come in through a loading dock at the north of the building, while the others would be entering through the main lobby. The “bomb squad” was to back them up and “finish their work,” but only if needed.

Fourth, from one of the humans lingering in the lobby, Sookie had confirmed that the threat from the Fellowship of the Sun was very, very real—and, more importantly, she’d learned that Dane and his people knew nothing about the realness of it.

By contrast, she’d learned about the Fellowship threat not long after she and Eric had arrived at the hotel. So many thoughts swirling with hate had—naturally—garnered her interest. Ironically, the radical group’s bombs had become her and Eric’s failsafe plan.

Sookie opened her eyes and let them adjust to the limited light in the room. The special windows were made out of a material that was virtually unbreakable. And it darkened when there was sunlight. However, the glass did let in a little light, just enough for Sookie to make out the objects in the room and her beloved vampire, glowing slightly next to her.

He always glowed—both from the outside and from the inside. At least to Sookie.

In truth, she’d always found it ironic that terrorists like the members of the Fellowship of the Sun called vampires creatures of darkness, for all vampires glowed a little. Human eyes just couldn’t pick that up.

“It’s the humans that don’t naturally put off a light,” Sookie whispered into the quiet room.

Of course, Sookie knew that dark souls existed among all types of creatures. And none were darker than the one they were getting ready to face.

“Russell,” she whispered, even as she caressed Eric’s chest. He wouldn’t be able to feel her touch on a conscious level, but she could feel their bonds awake and alive in him. It was the one thing she’d not yet told anyone about their bonds—not even her mate. However, she couldn’t fully answer why she’d chosen not to say anything to Eric about it.

Maybe it was because of awe. She had first “felt” Eric this way—so “alive” for lack of a better word—the day after they’d learned that he was part fairy. Since then, he had accepted that fact as he did most other things—with practicality. He’d seen the use of his fairy gift in keeping himself strong. But Sookie knew that he’d yet to accept that his new family was the same as hers in many ways. The Claudes were distant cousins to both of them, though through different bloodlines. And the woman whom she really was beginning to think of as a maternal figure, Leonie, was actually Eric’s closest remaining blood relative in a way.

She had a feeling that Eric was waiting to embrace this “new” family until after they were done with their fight with Russell. And Sookie couldn’t fault her husband for that. After all, she, more than anyone else, knew him. Despite the fact that he’d opened himself up to her, he didn’t “do” feelings particularly well, and he’d been bombarded by them lately.

She certainly planned to tell him about his somewhat altered day-state when the time was right, but she’d become wise enough about her husband during their relatively short amount of time together to know that it wasn’t yet that time.

She chuckled. “Maybe I’m the one being highhanded now.”

As she snuggled back against the body of her vampire, she noticed the book on the nightstand.

“The Art of War,” she whispered.

She’d practically memorized the volume during the previous weeks. Eric had been right about it offering sound advice—even millennia after it had been conceived.

She closed her eyes and recited one of the longer passages that she’d committed to memory:

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Sookie smiled a little. It seemed that everyone around her was a student of Sun Tzu: Eric, Octavia, Duncan, Leonie, Klymene, Brady, Maggie. Even the Ancient Pythoness herself.

“‘If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him,'” she whispered, even as she thought of her mate’s almost-constant planning during the previous month. Eric had literally climbed into Russell’s head better than any telepath might have done. He’d imagined his enemy’s every move, and then he’d countered each move with a plan, a back-up plan, and a back-up to the back-up plan.

“‘If he is of superior strength, evade him,'” she whispered next. “Evade,” she repeated a little louder, closing her eyes more tightly. She and Eric had done just that for months, but running and hiding was not in the DNA of either of them. Still, Sookie had learned that evasion was much different than hiding. It could mean avoiding attack or being ready to fight most efficiently when an attack came.

The Masquerade was the perfect opportunity for her and Eric to blend into the crowd until the “right” moment. They would evade, and then they would attack Russell together—with all that they were.

“‘If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him,'” Sookie recited. She nodded her head at that line. Indeed—Russell was temperamental. And Bill was to be the one to create his irritation. If they were lucky, Bill would kill Hallow, Russell’s prized witch. Then, he would tell his master that the witch had betrayed him with his enemy. Yes—Russell would be irritated. Not only would he learn that one of his people had betrayed him, but he would also be thrown off his game with the notion that Eric was near—and manipulating Russell’s own people.

Manipulating Bill.

“And I’m the wild card,” Sookie said to herself. “Bill will tell Russell that I’m alive. But Russell will be skeptical.”

She scoffed. Bill had been so easy to manipulate. “‘Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant,'” she repeated. Bill was the poster boy of arrogance.

Her thoughts went back to Russell. “‘If he is taking his ease, give him no rest,'” she said, knowing that—within a few hours—Russell would be looking over his shoulder, wondering if Eric—or another enemy—was behind every masked man that he saw at the Masquerade.

“‘If his forces are united, separate them,'” she recited. “‘If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them.'” Sookie knew that as soon as Bill killed Hallow, he’d go to Russell for “help.” And when Russell heard Bill’s tale, he’d begin to doubt Bill’s loyalty—as well as the loyalty of others who were close to him.

Or—he’d doubt Bill’s intelligence. Either way, Bill was screwed!

Still, Eric and she were confident that Russell would remain arrogant about his plans—even in the face of their unwinding. They were counting on Russell’s stubborn belief that Eric was no match for him—that nobody was.

“‘Attack him where he is unprepared,'” Sookie whispered, “‘appear where you are not expected.'”

Eric was wanted by the Authority. Russell wouldn’t doubt for a moment that Eric might be stalking him, but the monarch would discount Eric’s ability to succeed. And—in truth—he would doubt that Eric would show up in a room full of Authority members. Ironically, his doubt would rise even further after Bill told him that Roman and Eric were working together!

More importantly, Russell would never expect that the Authority members would be working under Eric’s command.

“‘So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak,'” Sookie said, thinking of another part of the Art of War, the first part that she and Eric had discussed after her initial reading of the text.

21 NIGHTS EARLIER

“Bill,” Sookie said as soon as Eric woke up from his day rest. Her eyes were animated and she looked anxious, but the vampire could feel no fear in her. What he felt was more like excitement—and pride.

Still, the name of one of his enemies—especially the name of that one—elicited a growl from the vampire, and he couldn’t help himself from going on alert, using all of his superior senses to assess whether they were alone in the cabin.

Sookie smiled at her mate and caressed his cheek lightly. She knew him well enough to know exactly what he was doing and to appreciate his urge to make sure that they were safe.

“We’re all alone,” she assured, even as his senses brought him to the same conclusion. “Sorry,” she added. “I didn’t mean to wake you up quite that way.”

Seeing the light in her eyes, the Viking chuckled. “I will admit that hearing Compton’s name upon first rising does put a bad taste into one’s mouth.”

“Mmm,” she flirted, “wanna put a better taste in there?”

In the next second, the vampire had her on her back beneath him. She giggled.

“Now that’s an offer I cannot refuse,” he purred, nibbling lightly on her neck.

“Eric,” Sookie sighed, stretching out her neck to meet his nips.

“You test my control, woman,” he growled playfully.

“You don’t need your control with me,” she teased.

He sobered immediately, his expression serious. “Of course I do! With you more than any other.”

“Even now—you’re afraid you’d hurt me?” she asked.

Looking to the side—and looking a little ashamed—he nodded.

“Eric,” she sighed, pulling his body toward hers—taking his weight upon herself. “I know you would never hurt me,” she said with certainty.

“You cannot know that,” he responded, looking back into her brown, earthy eyes, his own like the sky above them.

She considered for a moment. “You’re right. But I have faith that our love will survive any unintentional hurt—don’t you?”

After a moment, he nodded in affirmation.

“Don’t hold back so much,” she smiled up at him. “I’m not as fragile as one might think.”

He smiled, but it was tempered with concern. “I worry for you, min kära.

“And I worry for you,” she replied raising herself up to kiss his chest. And then his neck. And then his lips.

In a flash, he was on his back and she was straddling him.

“Do your worst,” Eric said caddishly, having regained his playfulness.

She proceeded to contradict him, doing her best instead.

“So Bill,” Sookie said after they’d exhausted themselves with lovemaking.

Eric groaned. “Not him again.”

She giggled. “Not really him—just what he is,” she clarified, raising herself onto her elbow.

“What he is?” Eric asked.

“Russell’s weakest link,” Sookie said excitedly. “It’s in The Art of War. ‘So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak,'” she recited.

Eric was silent for a few moments. “How should we strike at Bill?”

“We use me,” Sookie said confidently.

Eric closed his eyes and pulled her close. “I was afraid you might say that.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: The Art of Love

 

PRESENT DAY (THE NIGHT OF THE BATTLE)

Eric Northman was very aware that—when his eyes opened—he might be “waking up” to his last night in the earthly plain.

“But what a sight to awaken to,” he whispered as he took in his beloved, nestled half on him and half next to him. The vampire couldn’t help but to be grateful for the fact that his mate wasn’t freaked out by the fact that he “died” during the day.

He stretched out his senses. Being in a hotel, there were a lot of scents and sounds, but in the immediate area, he sensed only the people that were supposed to be in the suite: the Weres, Henry, Mustapha, and Tray; the vampires, Pam, Thalia, and Bubba. He felt the magic of the witches, Octavia and Amelia, encasing the suite they all occupied.

“Safe,” he sighed out the word. He closed his eyes. “For now.”

Sookie’s breathing was even and deep, the breath she always displayed when she was in complete rest. Eric thanked the gods for it. Soon, they would face battle, and he was grateful that his mate had found her well-earned sleep.

“Vampires have it easy,” he said, whispering a kiss against her brow. “We have no worries when it comes falling asleep.”

In his supple mind, the Viking went over the plan for the night. He’d made sure that all of those in his group knew their assignments. But, of course, the battle itself would invariably prove chaotic; thus, Eric had made sure that everyone on his side would be wearing a particular pin—the symbol of the “New” Authority—before they entered the fray. This was essential in avoiding “friendly fire.”

And a nod to Roman. Best to keep him happy.

Of course, to keep their enemies from identifying the symbol, no one would be putting on the pins until right before the fight.

Eric closed his eyes and let the battle unfold before his eyes. He envisioned fights between various individuals. He paused the “film” in his head and made alterations about how to place some of his people. Then he advanced the vision again, letting it run for several minutes, before taking it back and make slight changes again.

Sun Tzu had said that “victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Thus, Eric played out various scenarios that would offer his allies the best chance at victory, and then he envisioned his and Sookie’s confrontation with Russell. He and Sookie had been practicing fighting together, choreographing battle movements that would make their bodies one machine—a machine without cogs. Their bonds allowed them to anticipate each other’s movements with precision—almost precognition. However, Eric knew that muscle memory would be essential to allowing them to move that much faster. They’d even practiced with their Masquerade costumes on; Sookie had called them dress rehearsals.

The vampire couldn’t help but to smile as Sookie moved against his body, snuggling into him.

“You’re awake,” she said sleepily.

“Yes,” he replied needlessly.

She looked up into his eyes, brown meeting blue—the sand meeting the sea.

Eric and Sookie were both silent for several minutes. Sundown would come soon, and not long after that, there would be preparations to make and costumes to don.

But before that, there was a need beyond all else—a need the likes of which neither of them had ever felt before.

It was sexual.

It was emotional.

It was primordial.

It was about strengthening.

It was about hope.

It was about love.

It was a compulsion.

It was a goodbye.

It was a wish that the goodbye would not be needed.

Mirroring each other’s actions, they both leaned in for a kiss at the same time. Their mouths quickly turned hungry as their tongues joined their lips. Their bodies pressed together, flesh to flesh—as many parts touching as possible.

The kiss lasted as long as Sookie’s oxygen levels would allow, and then he trailed kisses over her cheeks, then chin, then neck—anywhere he could reach without removing any of his body from hers. He was on top of her, covering her with his full body, though she didn’t feel his weight.

She felt only his need to protect. And—in those moments—she felt protected.

She responded to his kisses by moving to meet them before finding places to kiss of her own.

As one, they moved so that his cock was above her entrance. Instinctively, she moved her legs to wrap around his strong thighs, and she raised her pelvis to meet his member as he eased into her body.

A shared sigh of contentment—of pleasure—was the only sound in the room as he set a slow pace. He moved his hands—both to find hers to hold and to make sure that his weight didn’t become too much for her. Her fingers were soon threaded together with his.

She smiled up as him as he paused his movements. He smiled back—that beautiful soft smile she’d only ever seen from him when they were alone. It was a smile that made her feel as if the universe itself were smiling down upon her. His lips were still upturned as he moved to kiss her and then recommenced his slow, deep thrusts into her welcoming body.

Because of the urgings of their bonds, their bodies had become masters in the art of love, having learned just how to move in order to bring each other the most pleasure. She felt his pleasure—and felt what she could do to bring him more. In turn, he felt hers and made it his mission to bring her more. Fed by their bonds and the melody of their bodies joining, they were both brought to long releases. Through them, their fingers stayed locked together, adding inexplicably to the intimacy of the moment.

As vibrantly blue as his eyes, her light passed through her palms and into his without her consciously sending it into him. His own gold-colored light greeted hers and strengthened it; his body absorbed her magic and then sent his own rejuvenating strength into her.

Only after her quivering had ended did Eric break their kiss and the lock of their hands. He moved so that he lay behind her, spooning her much smaller body with his own.

Eric wasted no in biting one of the palms that had just been pressed against hers. She took his offered blood happily even as he gently slipped his fangs into the curve of her neck.

Matching moans filled the room as Eric moved his lower body so that he could slip his member into his mate’s body again. Their new position made her feel impossibly more tight—and warmer—to him, while he felt even bigger inside of her—filling her in a way that made her body sing.

She licked his small wound after it closed and groaned as she felt him doing the same so that the fang marks in her neck were healed. As she freed his hand, he moved it down to her clit in order to provide her with some extra pleasure. Immediately, she turned her head so that their lips could meet.

His trusts became faster, harder—as she lifted one of her legs to settle over one of his. Soon, his fingers stimulating her clit and his cock brushing against her g-spot sent her over the edge; it didn’t take him long to follow.

A few minutes later—after she’d caught her breath—Sookie spoke the first words that had been shared between them for almost an hour. “Alcide and Tara are part of Henry’s group.”

He considered that information for a moment. “You saw them?”

“Yeah.”

“Are they with us?” he asked, not needing her to explain her actions. He could understand her reasons without needing to hear them. But he did need to ascertain whether they might be a fly in the ointment.

“Yes. They are.”

Eric nodded in acceptance. “Did you give Alcide the concealment potion?”

“Yes. And I asked Tara to stay behind in the warehouse.”

Eric nodded. Sookie’s friend might be plucky when it came to fighting, but he agreed with his mate that it would be best not to have to worry about the human during the fray. The vampire stood and reached for Sookie’s hand before leading her to their bathroom. Soon, he had the water temperature where she liked it. Unlike their shower from the night before, they washed each other this time.

And—of course—he felt her guilt as soon as it entered their bonds. He knew what it was about; he’d been expecting it.

“We will succeed, min kära. And then we will warn the humans to get out of here,” he assured.

“And—if we don’t succeed—many of them will die,” she sighed.

Eric nodded stoically. He and Sookie had talked for many hours their first night in Rhodes about the Fellowship’s plan to bring down the hotel with strategically-placed bombs.

The bombing was to occur the next morning—right around 8:00 a.m.—when the vampires would be most vulnerable. Sookie had overheard one of them thinking about the plan and then had told Brady how to find him. The man had been brought to their suite, where he’d been glamoured to spill the entire plan and then forget everything he’d said.

Unlike other Fellowship terror cells, the one in Rhodes was well-organized and led by someone as skilled as he was insane. He’d moved his group to Rhodes about a year before, and their target was always going to be the Pyramid of Gizeh—since it was a hotel catering to vampires. However, the leader had been waiting for a large event to strike. Meanwhile, several of his people had gotten jobs at the hotel so that they would be well-placed when it came time to set the charges to bring the huge structure down.

According to Brady, the charges that the group had been carefully placing in the hotel for the past two days would be enough to level the hotel. Having learned of the vampire Masquerade, the leader of the terrorist cell had decided that the event would draw the most vampires—thus the timing of the next morning. In addition, he wanted to take out the most “fangbangers” and “fang-lovers” as possible—as punishment for them working for vampires. And 8:00 a.m. was when the shift changed and also when most of the janitorial and maintenance staff arrived at the hotel for their day shifts. Of course, the Fellowship members had no idea that this was also when the all-Were staff that took care of the hotel at night was replaced by mostly humans for the day.

The fact that the hotel owner, Lance Johnston, and high-level employees were Weres was one of the draws for vampires, after all. They knew that their fellow Supernaturals would help them cover up any “unfortunate” events.

Given this fact, Eric figured that Russell Edgington—if he was successful at defeating him and the Authority—would be in a celebratory mood and would likely gorge himself in his suite as his minions and the hotel staff were called upon to clean up whatever mess was made in the ballroom below. Indeed, Russell would likely want to hold court the next night—to receive the supplication of his followers.

And to publically take the head of anyone left who refused to bow before him.

Not surprisingly, when Eric had first suggested that the hotel should be brought down—as a failsafe in case they were unsuccessful or as a measure to explain the deaths of so many vampire monarchs if they succeeded—Sookie was against the plan. However, it hadn’t taken her long to recognize that Eric was right—that the vampire hotel needed to come down for the sake of them all.

In fact, they’d even added to the charges; Brady had set several additional bombs on the roof and on the floors right below Russell’s and his followers’ bevy of suites. The terrorists didn’t have the security clearance to access the vampire floors. Basically speaking, Brady had done that for them.

Still—Sookie had insisted that as many human lives as possible should be saved. However, if there was a general alarm, the Weres protecting Russell during the day would find out too and, perhaps, be able to get their master to safety.

It had been Maggie who had come up with a plan to ensure that couldn’t happen.

If Eric’s plan failed and Russell succeeded, an anonymous email would be sent to the hotel ten minutes before the hotel was to explode. At that same moment, Maggie had set the system to go into lockdown on all the vampire floors, meaning that steel doors would come down in front of all stairwells and elevators. These doors would have been no match for vampires, but they would keep the Weres busy for more than ten minutes.

Meanwhile, the humans and two-natured employees in the hotel would have those ten minutes to save their own lives. Sookie wasn’t naïve. She knew that wasn’t enough time for everyone to get out. Plus, there would undoubtedly be humans—donors and pets—trapped on the vampire floors, but her conscience was as clear as it was going to get.

Of course, if Eric’s plan succeeded, all the vampires on their side would clear out of the hotel right after the battle, and warnings would be given to any “neutral” vampires, too. The bomb threat would be emailed to the hotel staff a half hour before the bombs went off—rather than ten minutes—ensuring the successful evacuation of even more humans and Weres. The upper vampire floors would be still be placed on lock-down, however. Thus, the bombs’ destruction would cover up the real reason why so many vampires had lost their lives and—hopefully—prevent any uprisings by the followers of the fallen kings and queens.

Still, Sookie couldn’t prevent her guilt. It was almost certain that—no matter what—some innocent lives would be lost.

Not to mention everyone who might die during the battle itself, including donors or other hotel guests who got caught in the crossfire.

The Viking patiently waited as his mate experienced whatever emotions she needed to experience, and then he held her when she cried. He hated her tears, but—in truth—he’d been expecting them. He’d learned that his bonded sometimes needed to cry. He didn’t quite empathize with that impulse, but he could understand it—especially with what would be coming that night. Thus, he simply offered her comfort through their bonds and waited.

It wasn’t long before he felt her sorrow change into resolution, and he knew that the fighter inside of his mate had come to the surface. She looked up at him with resolute brown eyes.

“I’m ready,” she whispered.

“As am I,” he responded.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28: You Are the Weakest Link

A/N: CONTENT WARNING: Though the violent sex scene in the following chapter doesn’t involve the protagonists of this story, it might disturb some of you. It is “safe” until you get to the Bill POV with the asterisk next to it (*BILL POV).

 

ONE HOUR EARLIER

BILL POV

Bill woke up nervous and alone. He kept his eyes closed for a moment, vowing to himself that Sookie—the real one—would be next to him when next he woke up.

Bill had not been invited into Russell and Talbot’s bed the night before because they were entertaining Felipe and Victor, and Bill had learned that situations such as those could become quite crowded.

Indeed, Bill had been happy to go straight to his own room following the trial. He had much to think about, after all. Plus—if he’d been with Russell for several hours—he might have let the truth about Sookie slip.

He shook his head. “All in good time,” he whispered.

He sat up and reached for his cell phone on the bedside table. Steadying his nerves, he called Hallow.

“William,” the witch purred.

He had to work hard to hold in his scoff as he thought about where Hallow had been the night before—and whom she’d been with.

Northman!

“Hallow,” Bill said, trying to sound seductive, “I have set something special up for us tonight.”

“Oh really?” she asked. “And what is that?”

“A surprise. Meet me in room 2605 in fifteen minutes,” he said. “And bring the potion,” he added before hanging up.

Quickly, Bill dressed and went into the living room of the suite.

“Ah, William!” Russell said from the comfortable sofa that he was lounging on. He looked to be pink and sated, no doubt because of the hotel’s excellent room service and Bill’s skills in setting up his master’s meals with the concierge. Sadly, Russell had to refrain from draining his meals while at the hotel, but Bill wasn’t about to let his master suffer poor-tasting blood either!

“Master,” Bill bowed a little.

“I assume that delectable blond and the downright scrumptious redhead were your doing,” Russell crooned.

Again, Bill bowed a little to acknowledge his work.

“You are very good at what you do,” Russell complimented, standing up and approaching his minion. He stopped in front of Bill and leaned forward to give him a tender kiss on the lips.

“Thank you,” Bill said humbly. If he were capable of blushing, he likely would have in the presence of his approving master.

“And the dark-headed one was especially for Talbot,” Russell commented softly. “I could tell. Do not think that all you work goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Quite the contrary,” he said, caressing Bill’s cheek and looking deeply into his eyes.

“I want only to serve you,” the younger vampire said.

Russell smiled. “In that case, I have a task for you.”

“Of course,” Bill said.

“A few of my Weres are in the hotel and need a booster for tonight. I’d like you to meet them in the room that is serving as their base twenty minutes before the Masquerade is to begin.”

“Of course,” Bill repeated, even though he didn’t like the idea of giving Weres his blood. However, he saw the necessity of doing so, given their current situation.

He moved toward the door of the suite.

“Feed well, William, but make sure you are back within the hour. You know that Talbot will want your input as he helps Sophie-Anne into her costume.”

Bill chuckled. “Of course. I will return within the hour.”

HALLOW POV

It had taken no key for Hallow to get into Room 2605 so that she could be waiting for Bill. A simple spell influencing a maid had done the trick.

The witch looked in the mirror and took in Sookie Stackhouse’s appearance. Hallow grinned at her image—letting her expression distort the face of the Southern belle who had died at the hands of Eric Northman. She licked her lips.

Now—the Viking was a man whom she bet could definitely scratch any sexual itch she had! She rolled her eyes as she applied some lip gloss. She’d learned that Sookie wore a very conservative amount of makeup, so that’s what she mimicked when giving Compton his special “treats.”

In truth, part of her wondered why she bothered with Bill Compton at all. As a lover, he was adequate, but boring. Though his role with Russell was likely always as a submissive bottom, Bill seemed to enjoy being the aggressor when he was with females—especially “Sookie.” The sex was always three things: hard, fast, and bloody. Bill could never stop himself from taking blood, though he knew better than to try to take too much from Hallow.

But he gave blood too. And that’s what Hallow desired more than anything.

And—because of her magic—she’d staved off any pesky ties or bonds that might be formed. The witch had no time for such things!

In truth, the Were didn’t mind the slight violence in Bill’s sexual actions; after all, she was a Were and could take the “wear and tear” so to speak. But she did wonder how the woman whose face she now wore had tolerated it. Maybe Compton had been gentler with her; however, honestly, Hallow didn’t really care.

What she cared about was blood.

And amusement, of course.

And Bill was so very amusing! He played the tormented hero to a “T,” and his self-loathing was a thing of beauty. Even better, Bill had managed to prove himself useful to Russell, and he was good for giving her information about the monarch. Oh—it wasn’t as if the witch had plans to go against the ancient vampire. Russell was one of the few creatures that Hallow truly feared, after all! But she did like knowing that little things that would ensure she could keep an even footing with the vampire.

And—of course—Russell had no idea that Bill Compton and she were lovers, and that’s how she planned to keep it.

At least until having Russell find out would benefit her.

Hallow smiled at the Sookie face in the mirror. Indeed, the potion she’d obtained at Octavia’s shop had come in handy, but only someone with great power could have actually made the potion work. Not just anyone could cast a spell that would create such an illusion, and it was time for Bill to appreciate it.

She glanced at the clock on her phone. It was only a couple of minutes before Bill was due to arrive. Quickly, she stripped off her clothing and slipped into bed.

*BILL POV

Bill walked in the room that the Ancient Pythoness herself had arranged for him with an air of confidence. However, he stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw his beloved in the bed.

“Sookie?” he asked.

“Yes,” the woman purred.

Bill shook his head a little. The voice wasn’t right. He inhaled deeply. The scent wasn’t right either.

“Hallow?”

“You were expecting someone else?” she asked, pushing back the covers to expose her body—Sookie’s body.

Bill took in the breasts of his beloved. The supple hips. The womanhood that he knew would feel just as tight as Sookie’s.

“No!” Bill growled, pulling his sweater over his head. At vampire speed, he took off the rest of his clothing as well. And in the next moment, he was on top of her, taking her lips with his. He thrust his tongue into her mouth, seeking his pleasure.

He growled again, but not in passion this time. No—he growled because Hallow didn’t taste like Sookie. Didn’t smell like Sookie. Didn’t demurely accept his attentions with the innocence that Sookie would have.

No—she was wantonly returning his passion.

Without testing the witch’s readiness, he entered her. Of course, she moaned like a greedy whore anyway!

He growled again.

Indeed, Hallow was made for the ilk of Eric Northman, that bastard who had raped his Sookie.

Bill’s property!

His!

He pounded into the body under him even harder as it pressed its fingernails into his shoulders.

Another growl, even more feral.

Bill was relentless, wanting to fuck this Sookie—this fake Sookie—in the way that Northman had fucked his Sookie. Later, after all was done, he would be tender with the real Sookie.

Yes. He would cherish her. He would help her to regain her innocence after what Northman had done. He would save her.

The body beneath him writhed in pleasure as Bill felt his own release building. He opened his eyes and saw Sookie’s underneath him. And that was when he realized that he could live out a fantasy during the next few moments.

The fantasy of draining the life out of Sookie.

All vampires had that fantasy when it came to any lovers they had. Draining was a vampire instinct, after all.

Bill groaned as he remembered all the times that he’d wanted to drain Sookie.

After he’d had her for the first time—when he saw drops of her blood on that virginal white nightgown she’d worn for him.

When he’d come up from the ground and found her crying over his grave, fearing that he’d been killed. Oh—how he’d loved fucking her—quite literally—into the ground. And the dirt. And the muck.

When she defied him by taking Jessica to her human family’s home.

When the maenad had streaked her skin with beautiful red claw marks.

When Sookie had disrespected Lorena at Godric’s nest.

When she’d disrespected Bill himself—by going to the rooftop to tend to Godric. And Eric.

Bill growled again, pulled out of Hallow, and reentered her in her even tighter hole—a hole that was virginal on Sookie.

The witch cried out in both pain and pleasure, her nails digging even further into Bill’s back.

But the vampire did not feel that. He was too busy enjoying the tightness of the ass he was fucking. He was too busy reliving the most glorious minutes he’d ever spent with Sookie—the ones in which he was taking her blood in Herveaux’s van.

He’d fed without thought. He’d fed without feeling. He’d fed telling himself that he couldn’t help himself—telling himself that he didn’t know what he’d been doing.

But he had known. He’d wanted to take every drop of Sookie’s blood—take it and then replace it with his own. He’d wanted to make her his child—make her his in all ways to command.

Bill growled again and pounded his flesh into the witch’s even harder. She yelled out, but he didn’t care as he sank his fangs into her neck.

She tasted like sawdust compared to his beloved, but he drank anyway.

At first, it was clear that Hallow liked his feeding from her—as she always enjoyed giving him blood when they fucked. But then Bill felt her ecstatic cries and amorous touches become desperate.

But he only latched on harder and drank faster.

When he heard her trying to chant something, he raised a hand and quickly snapped her jaw, practically ripping her face in two with his strength. He felt her lose consciousness, but still he drank, even as he emptied his seed into her ass.

He drank until there was no other drop to be had. When he opened his eyes, it was not Sookie’s corpse that met his eyes, but Hallow’s.

“Ding, dong the witch is dead,” Bill recited, with a smile so wide that blood dripped out of both ends of it.

“I have done as you asked, Sookie,” he sighed even as he pulled his spent cock from Hallow’s drained body. “We’ll be together soon.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 29: Authority

PETER POV

Peter Threadgill had been the King of Arkansas for only thirty years; he’d taken over the state from his maker, whom he’d dearly loved—and whom he’d always suspected had been killed because of the machinations of Sophie-Anne Leclerq.

Peter had been a vampire since 1835, and that made him young for a vampire king, but he’d been determined to take over for his maker, and he’d done well in the role of monarch—so well that Roman had asked him to take over his maker’s role in the Authority too.

Despite his relative “youth” compared to many monarchs—even in the New World—Peter felt as if he could take on anyone.

But not necessarily in a fair fight.

Raised in the wilderness of Tennessee by parents who could barely make their farm yield enough food for the six children they’d borne, Peter—as the eldest—had quickly learned that survival could be painful. He worked on his parents’ farm and did extra work on neighboring farms, picking crops next to slaves—not for wages, but for food that he could take home to his family.

Hell—he often wondered if the term “redneck” had originated with him, but he wasn’t ashamed of his past. He fucking owned it!

Eventually, he’d worked just hard enough to be noticed by Davy Crocket himself, who paid ten dollars to secure Peter’s services for a year.

Peter’s parents had never seen so much cash at once.

And that was why Peter had been at the fucking Alamo! He was only glad that his maker had chosen him to transform into a vampire—chosen him out of all of the great men who died in that horrible place.

Peter had never looked back at his human life—beyond sending his family a fucking fortune! He’d followed his kin enough after that to know that they’d bought one of the plantations he’d used to work on. All of his brothers and several of his nephews had died within thirty years of his own “death”—during the Civil War. One nephew, however, had been too young to fight. And that boy’s mother had been just stubborn enough to drag the family through the war and then through Reconstruction.

Thus, Peter’s human family had gone on, and they were doing well for themselves.

Not surprisingly, given his background, Peter was clever when it came to finding ways to survive.

Even though he’d not learned to read until he was taught by his maker.

No—Peter didn’t need a fair fight. Hell—he preferred an unfair fight, which was how he’d managed to take out many vampires twice or three times his age. And if people didn’t like his tactics, they were fucking welcome to suck his fucking balls!

Even as he stuck his specially-made silver-tipped Bowie knife through theirs!

Usually an excellent judge of character due to his frontier instincts, Peter had surrounded himself with loyal people—or so he’d thought. It seemed that he’d been wrong—very wrong—when it came to Jade Flower.

And, ever since Roman had told him about her true allegiances, he had wanted nothing more than to chew her fucking neck apart with his blunt teeth in order to take her head off in the most painful way imaginable. He’d fucking done it before!

Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

“You know that you will need to be patient—right?” Roman asked him.

“Yes,” Peter agreed gruffly, even as he continued to sharpen his Bowie knife. Having known the man that the weapon had been name for, Peter was proud to wear it.

Roman chuckled and looked at the others in the room. “Okay—so you all know your targets. When the first signal is given, make sure that you put on your pins so that your followers will know to do the same. Do this as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, and then—when the second signal comes—attack your targets.”

He looked at Peter. “And don’t take your time with them.”

The Arkansas king frowned.

“There will be plenty more people to kill—other vampires, Weres, other shifters. Hell! There’s even a tiger,” Roman offered.

Peter’s expression lightened a little. “So quantity over quality?”

“This time,” Roman smirked.

“I suppose that will have to do,” Peter remarked with an answering smirk, even as he continued to sharpen his knife with his well-used whetstone.

“And the rest of you?” Roman asked the other Authority members.

All nodded in affirmation.

“So I am still unknown?” Queen Lena of Quebec asked.

“Yes. You and Isaiah,” Roman clarified, nodding toward the King of Kentucky. “For this reason, you will present yourselves last. Russell might attack right then—so be prepared—but we think he’ll want to wait for the Ancient Pythoness to arrive before he strikes. After you have presented yourselves, I will inform those gathered that my maker will be arriving within the half hour.”

“And that is the first signal?” Isaiah asked.

“Yes. The attack will begin exactly one minute after that announcement. Make your way off the stage and toward your targets. Bubba will be taking the stage at the same time. His first note is the second signal. If we are right, Russell has made your own targets his very instruments to kill you too—though they will be hoping to take you by surprise. Thus, they will likely be trying to stay close to you anyway.”

“Ah—this we, the one who has helped you make this plan,” Dieter commented, his German accent thick. “Is it your maker?”

Peter scoffed.

Roman looked at the younger vampire and growled.

The Arkansas king rolled his eyes as he put his knife into its scabbard. “Pull your panties out of your ass, Roman. I’m not reacting in disrespect to your creator; she is one bitch I’d never go against.”

“I’m sure he meant bitch as a compliment,” Lena offered.

“Absolutely,” Peter said with a nod, obviously not concerned about Roman’s fangs being down. “There isn’t a creature on the planet I respect more, but I still don’t think she’s the one responsible for this plan. Don’t forget—I was Northman’s neighbor to the north for years. This plan has the Viking’s stamp all over it.”

Roman’s expression neutralized and he put his fangs away. “Yes,” he confirmed, looking around the room. “That is the last bit of news I needed to share with you tonight. Northman is leading this attack, so don’t kill him.”

Dieter stood. “I will admit that I did not believe that the Viking killed the old Magister; however, he is a fugitive for that crime. How did it come about that he is leading us?”

“Who better?” Peter asked bluntly.

Dieter looked down at him. “There are older vampires in this room than the Northman.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Riiight,” he intoned, elongating the word. “But I’ve had the opportunity to watch Northman’s actions pretty closely over the years. After that bitch Sophie-Anne killed my maker, I would have taken her out—if Northman hadn’t created a buffer. None of my spies got past him,” Peter chuckled, “not even the best of them. It was frustrating as hell, but I came to respect him. And—now that he is no longer in the bitch queen’s employ—I can even tell him that to his face.”

Used to Peter’s bluntness and—for lack of a better term—”abrasiveness,” several of the people in the room chuckled. Most of them were old enough to remember Eric’s exploits as an enforcer to many a king in Europe. He had been almost as strong as Godric, and his battle craft had been viewed as second to none.

Agnes, Queen of California, voiced the thoughts of the older vampires in the room. “I have no pause following the Viking into any battle.” She shrugged. “Hell—I can remember a time when I was second to the Queen of Spain, when that old bastard in Germany thought he might take over,” she said, winking at Dieter.

He scowled back. “I am no bastard. And even you have to admit that the queen was a cunt—and much too young to be the ruler of such a large kingdom.”

Agnes chuckled. “Yes. Though I worked for her because of her maker’s relationship with my own, she was quite a cunt. However, she was good at choosing her general.”

Dieter growled. “Northman.”

“He certainly laid you on your ass back then,” Agnes chuckled.

“I recall,” Dieter admitted.

“And—if I remember correctly—you didn’t attack Spain again until after Northman had moved on?” she teased.

“Don’t make me regret letting you live back then,” Dieter growled.

Agnes laughed. “You were just taking your cue from the Viking sparing your life—and the lives of most of your people. Of course, you had to vow not to attack him again.”

Dieter smiled. “Yes. He did,” he paused, “convince me to agree not to attack him.”

“A lovely loophole when he left the queen’s service,” King Edwin laughed, taking the hand of Agnes, his pledged and beloved.

“Indeed,” Dieter chuckled.

“Well—as enlightening as this history lesson is for us young’uns, we should return to our rooms and prepare for the Masquerade,” Rosalyn Harris said. “I, for one, need an hour and a bucket of Crisco to even get into my dress.”

“Just make sure you can fight in it,” Roman chuckled.

“Fight—yes,” she responded with a laugh. “But I am very glad I don’t have to breathe.”

“It is secure for us to return to our rooms—yes?” Lena asked.

Roman nodded. “This suite is warded—as I told you before—and our people control all the cameras. No one will know you were here. And, of course, your own rooms are warded too.”

All but one of the Councilors took their leave.

“Is there something more, Peter?” Roman asked.

“I want Sophie-Anne,” the monarch said. “She is the one behind my maker’s death, and you know it. Doesn’t matter that it couldn’t be proven,” he growled.

Roman sighed. “You know that you are needed to take out Jade Flower.”

“Oh—I intend to do that, but I want Sophie-Anne too,” Peter growled.

“Greedy?” Roman chuckled.

“For the blood of my enemies? Yes!” Peter exclaimed.

“Pam, the Viking’s child, has been given the assignment of Sophie-Anne. I will tell her that you want to play with the queen. I will tell her that you wish to share in the queen’s death and will try to convince her to toy with her target for a few moments until you can join her. But I won’t have her risk herself, so—if you can’t take out Jade right away—I cannot guarantee any additional fun for you.”

Peter chuckled. “Pamela? Perfect! She likes to toy with her opponents anyway. Let her know that I look forward to battling beside her,” he added, licking his lips.

“You know that she prefers women—right?” Roman chuckled.

“Prefers—yes. But I also know that she makes exceptions,” Peter grinned.

“And you think she’ll make one for you?” Roman smirked.

“In the midst of bloodlust? Abso-fucking-lutely!” Peter responded roguishly. “And I can work from there.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 30: In Costume

 

“You look beautiful,” Leonie grinned as she took in Sookie’s appearance. The fairy had styled Sookie’s newly-blond-again hair into golden ringlets and then had put most of them into an elaborate up-do. Sookie was determined that it was going to stay its natural hue this time!

Sookie’s dress looked like it was straight out of the Victorian era. The bodice was crimson and pulled tightly against her frame; capped, ruffled sleeves and a V-shaped neckline complemented her shoulders and collarbones. The back bustle of the dress was also made out of crimson material—as was the rest of the dress. However, the main part of the skirt and the train had been bunched together with lace so that a darker effect was created. A similar darker effect, created with beads, had been crafted in the middle of the bodice, accentuating Sookie’s waist.

Sookie smiled at the fairy. “You look beautiful too.”

Indeed, Leonie did look spectacular. She wore cornflower blue silk and looked like a Grecian goddess.

“Brady thought so,” she winked.

Sookie chuckled, even as she made sure that her costume was ready to be transformed. As lovely as it was, the skirt would be impossible to fight in. However, with the pulling of a few strategically-placed ribbons, the skirt would drop, revealing pants that were made of an amazingly supple fabric that felt like a second skin. Leonie had called it fairy leather.

Sookie knew that as soon as her skirt was off, her weapons would be revealed. Of course, her main weapon was her light, but Sookie also carried several stakes made of very strong wood. She and Eric had trained with the stakes so that Sookie could use them for both offense and defense.

Given the fact that Brady was the one in charge of checking the guests for weapons—most of their allies would be hiding arms inside or under their elaborate costumes. No doubt, Russell’s people would have found ways to sneak weapons in as well; however, Sookie knew that her side had an advantage because they could both bring in what they needed and count on weapons that had been hidden in the room by Brady and Maggie as well.

Glancing back at Leonie, Sookie couldn’t help but wonder where her weapon might be—given the fact that the material of the dress seemed almost sheer.

“Obviously fairy magic,” Sookie muttered.

“What, dear?” Leonie asked knowingly as she handed Sookie her mask.

“Nothing,” Sookie grinned even as she put on her mask. It was gold with a large crimson flower on one side; the mask covered the top half of her face, ensuring that she’d not be recognized. Even so, she was wearing blue contacts to make the disguise even more effective.

“I’m ready,” Sookie said, looking in the mirror—even as Leonie put on her own mask. It was made of black lace and peacock feathers and complemented her dress perfectly.

“Me too,” the fairy said.

“I think your dress weighs more than my armor,” Eric quipped as he watched his child put the finishing touches on her outfit.

“It probably does,” she intoned, even as she pulled up her heavily-beaded bodice so that it showed off the tops of her breasts to perfection.

“Now—lace me up,” she ordered.

Eric chuckled and did as “commanded.”

“I thought you were a Viking. Put your back into it,” Pam said impatiently.

Eric pulled again until he heard one of Pam’s rib crack.

“Perfect!” the vampiress purred.

Eric rolled his eyes. Of course the crack would have already healed, but—obviously—there was no known cure for his child’s vanity.

Ostensibly, Pam had insisted that Eric dress in her room so that he’d be surprised when he saw Sookie. But Eric had seen Sookie’s costume many times during their training sessions—though he’d never seen her fully made up. Still, the Viking knew why Pam had wanted him near and alone. And he couldn’t blame her.

After all, he’d missed her too.

His dottir was decked out in white from head to toe—white with crystal beads everywhere. Her strapless gown paid her curves every compliment imaginable. And the diamond necklace around her neck made her look like a queen. Her elaborate mask, complete with headdress, completed the breathtaking image.

“You have a fan—you know,” Eric said with a smirk.

“A fan?” his child asked as she expertly applied her lipstick.

“A king,” he teased.

“Which one?” she asked, sounding bored.

He chuckled. “Peter Threadgill.”

“Ah—the redneck,” she intoned, though Eric noticed that her eyes sparked a little interest.

“I think he might prefer the term ‘hillbilly,'” the Viking chuckled.

Pam grinned. “How do you know his interest?”

“He is a member of the Authority and asked Roman to ask me to ask you a favor.”

“So—he passed a note in study hall?” she sassed.

Eric chuckled. “Something like that.”

“What does he want?”

“A share in Sophie-Anne’s death,” he responded.

“That cunt is mine! Fuck him!” she said quickly.

“I think he’d rather enjoy both your cunt and a fuck,” Eric grinned as he adjusted his own costume.

“A little literal—isn’t it?” Pam asked, gesturing toward the warrior outfit Eric wore. “Viking?”

“No. Brady tells me that it’s inspired by a video game.”

“God, he’s such a geek, Eric! You really should choose better friends.”

Eric’s eyebrow rose as he finished securing his breastplate.

“Fine—he’s a good friend,” Pam relented. “But he’s still a geek.”

Eric chuckled. “I think he’d gladly accept that label—along with many others.”

“Now that looks Viking,” Pam said, gesturing toward Eric’s helmet, which lay on her bed. It was made of metal and would cover his head and face. On the sides were downturned horns.

“That is because you have no idea what real Viking armor and helmets looked like,” Eric chuckled. He ran his fingers over his breastplate. “This would have been beyond the skills of my village’s blacksmith—though ours was better than most. And these,” he added, pointing to the horns, “would have been made fun of by my people—rightly!”

Pam rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Don’t you think it looks too stereotypically Viking?”

Eric scoffed. “Russell will know the difference, too, and he wouldn’t expect me to go,” he paused, “campy.”

“Well—let’s see the whole effect,” she said, pointing to the mask.

Eric indulged her and put it on.

“You do look like you’re a character in a video game,” she intoned.

“And you look like a frigid ice bitch.”

“So—at least one of our costumes is accurate then,” she grinned.

“Hmm.”

“So—the King of Arkansas wants in my pants,” Pam commented.

“Hmm.” Eric’s eyes shone. He’d known that she would be interested. After all, Peter was well known for being an irreverent, audacious bastard. And he was rumored to have a big cock. When Pam “went man,” he was just her type.

“And—he wants me to share Sophie-Anne with him.”

“Hmm.”

“Well—I always did love a good threesome,” she finished.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Pam said after adjusting her breasts again.

Eric rolled his eyes as Leonie entered.

“You need to see Sookie,” the fairy said.

“She needs me?” he asked with some concern, getting up from the bed where he’d been siting.

“Just see her,” Leonie grinned. “You might need to,” she paused, “do things before we go—given her appearance.”

“Do things like fuck,” Pam said crassly, even as she looked the fairy up and down.

Leonie chuckled. “Perhaps.” She winked at Pam. “Sorry, doll, but I simply must see a dog about a bone.”

Pam rolled her eyes—yet again. “Why must all the beautiful fairies around me prefer dicks to chicks?”

“Peter Threadgill prefers you,” Eric smirked.

“Not. A. Fairy!” Pam yelled, adjusting her breasts yet again.

Eric chuckled as he left his child’s room to go see his wife. Indeed, he had missed Pam—very much. His reunion with his child had been quite emotional—especially when considering the two vampires involved. There had even been a hug—though a short one since Pam had almost immediately noticed that others were present. And Gods forbid that she be seen actually showing affection.

She’d been horrified that her mascara had run with her blood!

He chuckled.

However, that laugh and the vampire’s thoughts stopped—as did his feet—when he saw his mate. She looked . . . .

She looked . . . .

Eric didn’t have a word for how she looked. He’d seen her in her dress as they’d practiced together, and that had been quite enough to arouse the lust in him. But now she looked . . . .

She looked . . . .

“We can’t,” she said sternly, even as she was taking him in with pure lust in her own eyes.

“We can,” he said in a feral tone as he walked toward her.

Their bonds were not helping either of their control.

“Do not mess up my hair,” she ordered.

“I won’t,” he growled.

“Or my makeup.”

He paused. “Lipstick?” he asked.

“Other than that,” she compromised.

He grinned.

“Do NOT tear this dress!”

“Oh—I have experience with these,” he said, his fangs popping out.

She hit him with her light—not so gently. He had to step back a few steps because of the impact. Thankfully, his armor absorbed most of it.

“I don’t want to hear about any other experiences you’ve had,” she said threateningly.

His eyes narrowed as he took in the predator before him.

His mate.

His perfect fucking mate!

“No experience compares to you,” he growled softly.

“Then come experience me, Viking,” she growled back.

And he did.

Without mussing her hair.

Or tearing her dress.

The vampire had talent.

There was no denying it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31: Masters at Work

 

THIRTY MINUTES EARLIER

Bill Compton had dealt out torture—especially in his younger days. He’d also experienced his fair share of torture. After all, he’d been Lorena’s child.

His maker had enjoyed both mental and physical torture, and anytime that Bill had tried to defy her, he’d received a large dosage of one or both types from her.

Some of it—he’d learned to like.

Pulled nipple clamps, for example, always aroused him. Lorena had made his mental torment worse by exploiting these reactions of his body.

However, there was absolutely no pleasure in Bill’s current situation. And he couldn’t help but to wonder what the fuck he’d done so very wrong.

Russell still wasn’t telling him. No. The king was too busy dealing out pain. And a vampire named Appius was helping.

Both vampires were ancient. And both had learned techniques that Bill wouldn’t have been able to imagine.

Before they were used on him.

Still—no matter how “good” the techniques were, Bill was glad to know that there was one universal truth of torture. Once the torturer went too far, a body sort of shut itself down—instead of feeling more pain.

Its nerves simply gave up for a while and decided that they were too tired to continue firing out pain. Of course, especially for a vampire, this phenomenon was the harbinger that immense damage had been done—the kind of damage that would take weeks or months to heal, even if he or she were given a lot of fresh blood. Indeed, the healing might even be as painful as the torture in some ways.

But Bill always welcomed it when his body shut down as it had now done—and not just because the pain went away. It was in moments like this one that he could take a moment to truly enjoy the artistry of his torturer’s work. Lorena had always set up mirrors so that he could see what she’d done to him. And—as sick as it was—Bill liked seeing it. He liked the feeling of being completely at the mercy of another—even as his body was no longer capable of feeling.

He liked seeing himself survive such things.

And—though Bill felt “wrong” for appreciating a part of the experience of being tortured—he believed that there was a kind of inexplicable beauty in the blood and gore that his body could be made to create.

Plus, a certain odd clarity of mind—self-awareness even—accompanied torture as if it were a friend. The magic that wouldn’t let him age or get sick or die in a “human” way had stalled for the moment. It was no longer able to even attempt to heal him; it was no longer able to keep him alive. What was keeping him alive was his torturers—their choice not to put wood into his heart, their choice not to take his head from his body.

Their choice not to push his body too far.

He truly was just along for the ride—a mind in a shell. He listened to that shell’s masters above him.

“Russell,” Appius said almost sternly, “he is no longer reacting.”

As if watching a film, Bill saw Russell take off another of his fingers and toss it to the floor. He saw one finger left, his ring finger. He tried to move his head to see his other hand, for he’d lost track of his losses on that side, but he couldn’t call upon his neck muscles to make the slight movement.

Russell hadn’t said two words to Bill since the younger vampire had come to him after killing Hallow. And it had been about an hour since Bill had tried asking his master what he’d done wrong.

Bill went over the events of the night again.

He’d woken up and arranged to see Hallow. She’d already been in the room when he’d gotten there—wearing Sookie’s face.

Enraged at Hallow’s betrayal and at Eric’s tainting of his beloved, Bill had taken out his emotions on the body of the witch, fucking her roughly. And—then—he’d drained her, after breaking her jaw so that she couldn’t chant out one of her spells.

Following that, he’d quickly showered, removing the blood that had spilled onto his body because of his violent treatment of Hallow.

After redressing, Bill had immediately gone to his master.

Talbot had been clamoring that it had been time to “begin” to prepare Sophie-Anne, but Bill had put him off and had asked to speak with Russell privately. Russell had, of course, granted the audience.

Bill had told him about his visit from Sookie. He’d told him about Eric being in the area. He’d told him about Hallow’s duplicity and her illicit involvement with the Viking. He’d explained how he’d killed Hallow before she could do any great harm to Russell’s plans to take out the Authority. He’d justified why he’d had to wait to tell his master. He’d explained Roman’s involvement with Eric. He’d proudly proclaimed that the Ancient Pythoness herself was using him as a messenger and that she was the one who had told Sookie that Bill needed to wait a night and then kill Hallow before going to Russell. Knowing that she could tell the future, Bill had complied. Bill had explained that the Ancient Pythoness had even secured a room for him, and that was where Hallow’s body could be found. He’d also told his master that his clothing from the night before was also in the room and that it smelled of Sookie.

Finally—triumphantly—Bill had given Russell the address that Sookie had given to him—the location where Russell would be able to find the Viking vulnerable since Hallow could no longer meet him there.

Russell had looked down at the piece of paper with the information and then had crumpled it in his hands.

And then the ancient vampire had hit Bill in the head, cracking his skull. Bill had been knocked out, and when he awoke, Russell and Appius began their “work” on him. No questions were asked of him. In fact, the only interruption had come from Debbie Pelt and Nan Flanagan—though Bill had no idea how the vampiress had become involved.

Nan had confirmed that the witch was, indeed, dead.

Debbie had told Russell that she could find no clothing with the scent of Sookie Stackhouse on it.

No one listened to Bill’s pleas that that was impossible—that he’d placed them in the dresser himself.

Finally, Nan had handed Russell a DVD and had told him that Bill had filmed everything.

Bill had denied being the one who had set up a video, for he truly hadn’t; he had tried to explain that it must have been Hallow herself who had done it. But his words didn’t matter.

A computer was brought in and the video played.

“Sookie Stackhouse?” Russell had questioned as the video began.

“No,” Nan had corrected. She’d fast-forwarded through the sex and the murder and then had shown her maker that Hallow was the one in the bed. Debbie had handed Russell a vial of liquid, explaining that it smelled of magic.

Bill had spoken up again, confessing that Hallow used the potion to look like Sookie. He also confessed that he’d been fucking Hallow for months, but he insisted that the Sookie he saw the night before was real.

Again, no one had paid any mind to his words, and the pain had begun anew after Nan and Debbie had left. Bill could certainly say that the duo that was now looking down at him were experts in the art of torture. The pain that would have taken other people days to accomplish upon their victims was wrought upon Bill’s body in less than an hour.

Bill wasn’t surprised. They had a party to attend, after all.

“Do you want me to finish him off?” Appius asked, looking down at Bill.

Just then, there was a knock on the door.

Talbot.

“Oh, William,” the handsome brunette said somewhat sadly—as he looked down at the husk on the torture table. “You had such promise, and you offered many amusements. Oh well! C’est la vie!” he added with a shrug before looking at his lover. “Sophie-Anne is ready and your costume is prepared. I’ve taken care of the Weres that William was to see to this evening.”

“Thank you, darling,” Russell smiled, looking as if he were about to give his consort a kiss.

“Don’t you dare,” Talbot winked. “I’m already going to have to clean the blood off of my shoes! I don’t need blood on my outfit!”

Russell chuckled.

“Finish here soon,” Talbot ordered. “We need to leave in about half an hour.”

“Plenty of time,” Russell assured, sneaking a kiss on Talbot’s cheek.

The younger vampire left the room in a huff, mumbling about having to change his costume because it now had a spot of “Bill blood” on it.

Russell looked down at Bill and spoke the first words he’d said to him in a long while. “Do not worry. As you know, he brought at least five costumes to choose from—since he couldn’t make up his mind earlier.”

Appius chuckled. “Your Talbot and my Alexei have that in common. Too bad this one didn’t have more secrets for us to learn; Alexei needs practice extracting information.”

From Bill’s position, he could see Alexei in the corner of the room, licking his lips. The sick little bastard had “helped” earlier, but then had been instructed to study the masters.

“No,” Russell sighed. “No secrets left.”

Bill’s eyes must have managed to convey the confusion he felt in that moment.

Russell bent down over Bill. “You. Were. Played.”

“Whom do you think did it?” Appius asked Russell, even as Bill tried to process what Russell had told him.
“Oh—I’ve no doubt that it was Northman, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hallow was involved. The Viking is known to be seductive, after all, and the witch was not trustworthy. Her being out of the picture is a blessing in disguise, though I will miss her power tonight. Oh well. Talbot was right. C’est la vie!” Russell shrugged. “Her power was a luxury, not a need. Looks like Northman was done with her and wanted her out of the equation, too.”

Bill tried to speak.

“What’s that?” Russell asked, bending down.

“The address?” Bill managed to creak out.

“Yes. I knew as soon as you started speaking earlier that you had been manipulated. Either that—or you’d finally gone off the deep end—with your visions of Sookeh,” Russell chuckled, imitating Bill’s accent. “And, by the way, I would know it if Roman were in collusion with Northman.” He paused. “I am sorry about all this,” he said, gesturing toward Bill’s broken body. “Sincerely I am. But I had to let out a little anger after reading that address that you so proudly presented me with.”

“Why?” Bill squeaked.

“The number of the address 919—that was the year my Weres killed the Viking’s family. The street—Bardaga Road. ‘Bardaga’ is Swedish for battle. Northman used you to send me a message. He was acknowledging that I’d won a battle, but that he intends to win the war.” Russell snarled. “He’s also made clear that he can manipulate my own people—or turn them to his side.”

“What of the talk of the Ancient Pythoness?” Appius asked. “Could she know your plans?”

Russell considered for a moment. “I do not think so.”

“But the talismans of the witch—those must now be questioned,” Appius reminded.

“Everything and everyone must now be questioned!” Russell yelled out in rage—even as he yanked off the last finger on the hand Bill could see.

Still, there was no pain felt by the younger vampire—not yet, at least.

“Do not lose yourself to your anger, my friend,” Appius reasoned.

“I won’t. That’s why I have young William here,” Russell said, calming down.

“So you want to keep him alive?” Appius asked.

“For now,” Russell mused. “William, after all, did not mean to betray me. I might even keep being merciful to him,” he added ironically, as he looked at the mangled mess on the table. “You are still too tied to your fairy, Miss Stackhouse. And Eric was able to use the witch to make you believe that she still lived.”

“She did. She does,” Bill croaked out. “I smelled her. She is alive,” he said, using all of this remaining strength to try to convince his master.

Russell shook his head and looked down at Bill as if the younger vampire were trying to argue for the existence of Santa Claus. “Hallow managed to take on Sookie’s face. Do you not think that she could have found a way to mimic her scent as well?”

Bill gasped as realization struck. Sookie’s scent—it had been slightly different. Slightly muted. But it had still been “her.” He’d accounted for the change because of the presence of Northman’s blood in her. But what if Russell was right? What if Hallow had lied to him? What if Hallow had been able to take on Sookie’s scent?

A red tear slipped from his eye and the numbness began to leave Bill’s body. It was replaced by an uncomfortable tingling sensation that Bill knew would soon become pain again. But his true pain was in realizing that Sookie was, indeed, dead. It was in realizing that the hope he’d been given the night before was only an illusion.

He was glad he’d gotten a chance to kill Hallow, though he couldn’t understand why last night’s “Sookie” had told him to kill tonight’s “Hallow” if they were one in the same.

But—he figured Russell must be right. Hell—for all he knew Northman and Hallow were just toying with him and planned to kill him all along.

More tears fell.

“You see,” Russell remarked. “He realizes his folly now.”

The king called in his Alpha. “Dane, take Mr. Compton to the bathtub in his room. I’ll deal with him more tomorrow evening.

“Should he be wrapped in Silver?” Appius asked.

Russell looked at Bill almost lovingly and stroked the blood off of his cheek before putting it into his mouth. “No. He will not be able to heal without mass quantities of blood, and he can hardly move. No need to hurt him unnecessarily by placing him in silver.”

More tears fell from Bill’s eyes.

However, these were tears of gratefulness for his merciful master.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32: Perfect Storm

 

ERIC POV

Eric had been to many a party in his time, but few were more elaborately appointed as the Masquerade. The Viking had to hand it to the Weretiger, who was literally dressed like a fucking Genie! Personal fashion aside, however, the decorations were stunning. The ballroom looked like a set-piece from an elaborate production of The Arabian Nights. Rich tapestries hung on the walls and sheer, colored fabrics billowed from the ceiling in a variety of patterns. White lights placed on the ceiling complemented the gossamer material and created a web of diffuse colored patterns on the ballroom floor.

Cushions in various arrangements were found along the perimeter for those who cared to sit. The middle of the large room, however had been left bare.

Of course, Eric knew that Quinn had used some of the hotel staff for the “heavy lifting,” and Brady had been in control of that staff. Thus, there were swords placed strategically behind various tapestries, including the one depicting a caravan of elephants in a jungle. Behind that one, Eric knew that he would find his own longsword, though he had two smaller weapons and several stakes concealed in his costume.

The Viking used his bonds to pinpoint Sookie’s location since he couldn’t see her through the sea of bodies. However, Eric knew her to be safe, though nervous. They’d not arrived at the party together, believing that it would be best not to be seen as a twosome. They wanted neither to stick out nor to blend in too much, so they were each working the room, carefully avoiding those who might know them. Of course, Eric was wearing Octavia’s latest potion, which covered his scent. Luckily, in a room full of people, no one would notice this lack.

He moved toward his next scheduled “mingling appointment”: Klymene. The vampiress nodded at him and spoke in a low tone that no one else could hear. “My initial target is not with them,” she said.

Eric nodded, acknowledging Klymene’s message: Bill Compton hadn’t arrived at the party with Russell’s group, who’d been “fashionably late.” The Viking wasn’t surprised. None of their group had expected that Russell would trust Bill following the slaying of Hallow.

The Viking couldn’t help but to hope that Bill was dead—finally dead and out of the hair of the world. There had been a time when he would have craved for him to be alive—so that he could take off an inch of the idiot at a time.

But now? Now he had a bigger fish to fry, and he didn’t want to have to worry about a minnow.

SOOKIE POV

Sookie didn’t dare speak aloud, lest her voice be recognized. After all, she didn’t have the ability to talk at such a low volume that no vampire in the room could hear her. However, she was enjoying a lively conversation, nonetheless. Leonie had told her that fairies could communicate telepathically—by choice. Such a thing had—honestly—never occurred to Sookie, except with Barry the bellboy. (She really did have to find out if he had a proper last name.)

“Normal” fairies didn’t have shields, of course, for they didn’t need them; they didn’t get invaded by unwanted thoughts. No—those features were unique to the brand of telepathy that Sookie had.

But Sookie had come to terms with this. A lot of that had had to do with Eric, who’d convinced her—once and for all—that her telepathy was simply a tool. And it was also a part of her, and her Viking refused to let any part of her feel unloved and un-treasured.

And Sookie had embraced her gift, even learning to adapt it to communicate as fairies did. Leonie had been impressed by Sookie’s creativity in fostering the evolution of her gift.

Currently, she was “hanging out” with Leonie and Claude, both of whom had covered their scents—Leonie with her natural ability and Claude with a special version of the concealment potion created by Octavia.

As she looked at Leonie’s mask, which was dotted with sapphires, Sookie couldn’t help but to wonder how much it had cost.

Claude literally chuckled in her mind. “As if Leonie ever paid for jewels.”

“Indeed,” Leonie returned. “Jewels are not worth having when one must buy them.” Sookie heard Leonie’s giggle vibrating in her mind. It was an odd sensation to say the least.

“So—that is Russell’s consort,” Claude mused telepathically as he gave Talbot the once over.

“Mmm hmm,” Sookie returned.

“Too bad he’s going to have to go,” Claude remarked.

“Too bad he would drain you dry if he could,” Leonie returned.

Sookie had to hold in her “vocal” snicker.

“Have you noticed that there are two kinds of masks here today?” Claude asked.

“What do you mean?” Sookie returned.

“Those that conceal and those that reveal,” Claude responded.

“What do you mean?” Sookie repeated, still telepathically, as she discreetly looked around the room.

“Well—people like Talbot and me,” Claude indicated unapologetically, “use the mask only as a showcase. It is designed to augment our features. Mine, for example, sets off my perfect cheekbones.”

Sookie tilted her head to judge for herself. Her fairy cousin was right. His mask was cut right above his cheekbones, and it did make him look even more beautiful than he already was.

“Don’t give him a big head, my dear,” Leonie said, rejoining the telepathic discussion. “He already is too in love with himself.”

“I rarely find someone better than the man in the mirror,” Claude replied haughtily. “If I did, I would—I think—find humility, too.”

Sookie had to stifle an aloud laugh.

“Your vampire fits the bill,” Claude said. “Do you share?”

Leonie slapped her grandson’s arm, both in affection and with warning. And she spoke some words to him in the Fae language. Sookie didn’t know what they meant, but she could guess that Leonie was telling her fairy cousin to drop the idea of Sookie’s sharing—before Sookie dropped him with a bolt of light. She’d been known to be just a tad bit “possessive” of her Viking—especially since the Vampire bonding.

Brady, who literally flirted with everyone, including her Viking, had learned that the hard way with a blast to the chest several weeks before. Sookie was sorry for it, but the Were really should have known better. And now he did.

Sookie had been doing her very best to keep from looking at Russell Edgington all night, though the blue contacts that she’d used to complete her disguise—along with her mask and the masking of her scent—probably made that unneeded. She sighed as she thought about the brown contacts in her mate’s eyes. They had looked all wrong.

She glanced at the huge clock at the front of the room. It was almost midnight, which was when Roman planned to take the stage.

She steadied her nerves after feeling a blast of strength from Eric and glanced at Russell. He’d forgone a mask, a fact that didn’t surprise Sookie in the least. He did, however, have a headpiece with horns, and he was dressed in a costume that Leonie had said “screamed” Druid.

Inspiration for Russell’s costume
Eric had once told her that Russell had likely originated from a group of exiled Celtic Druids who lived in the Carpathian Mountains near what was now Romania. He certainly fit the bill that night.

Next to him was Talbot, dressed flamboyantly as if he were the Phantom of the Opera himself. Sophie-Anne was in cream-colored silk; her mask, which looked to be made up of priceless jewels, was the kind that was held, and it was away from her stunning face more often than not.

Sookie felt the energy in the room change about a second after the energy in her beloved changed, and she looked to the doors of the ballroom. There stood Roman. He was dressed in Centurion armor and wore a small black mask on his face. She could tell that his progress toward the front of the room was being followed by most of the attendees of the ball.

However, she turned her eyes back to Russell, who was looking at Roman gleefully.

PYTHIA POV

Like her child, Pythia had always been able to cover her scent, not that anyone other than Roman and her two closest handmaidens knew this. Those two were currently with Eric and Sookie, the stars of the night.

So used to concealing herself, Pythia had celebrated the idea of a Masquerade. She’d been old when she’d been turned; however, she did “play up” her wilted posture. In truth, she could stand as straight as the next person, and the grace that vampirism had afforded to her counteracted the frail condition that her human body had suffered at the time of her “making.”

Tall for a woman of her time, Pythia had been the most statuesque of the priestesses of Delphi. She’d been born a nymph, tied to the Cephissus River. She’d offered her services to the worthy Spartans, and her lineage had assured her a long life. But—as her river had been used more and more for trade, her powers had diminished. So she’d aged, though slowly. It was when she looked to be in her seventies—by human standards—that she’d been turned.

Contrary to the misperceptions about priestesses, Pythia had enjoyed an active sex life, though she’d had to keep her seven children a secret from most. Only the lineage of one of those children still survived. Adele Stackhouse had been her granddaughter—though with so many “greats” attached to the conveying of the relationship that it would have grated on the nerves to relay them all.

Still, Pythia had seen Adele and Sookie—even before the coil of her own “human” life had been pulled to completion.

Pythia would have likely gravitated toward Klymene and Leonie as handmaidens regardless, but their relationships with the Norseman and Fintan—so important in the lives of her descendants—were essential.

Fintan had always been meant for Adele.

And the Viking was the perfect mate for Sookie.

Oh—the “ancient” lady liked to pretend that she was indifferent. And she was indifferent most of the time; messing with the future was messy, after all. But she was not above taking action when called for. And she felt that the current last female of her line was worth it.

Oh—her line would go on with or without Sookie. Jason Stackhouse would have anywhere between three and seven children, depending on which future took place. In fact, he already had a child he did not know about—a boy-child who was the product of his “loose” ways.

But Sookie was special to Pythia, for she was the first of her lineage upon whom the earth had chosen to bestow her nymph gifts. Her paternal grandfather, Fintan, had been part Nymph as well, and Pythia had known the originator of that blood. She’d been the Nymph of the mighty Tigress River—an even more powerful being than Pythia herself. A descendent of hers had borne children with Niall, the fairy. And one of those children had been Fintan.

Sookie had been a “perfect storm” of supernatural material, as had her mate in many ways.

Pythia had had many lovers as a human—and as a vampire—but she’d never found a mate. And Pythia had spent a moment being jealous of her descendant when she’d first “seen” S ookie’s possible fate. But that jealousy had turned to pride and happiness approximately two thousand years before.

Pythia took a moment to adjust her sleeves. The lace of her costume obscured any wrinkles her body had been left with upon its changing. And her mask, a downright youthful-looking porcelain façade, was the perfect disguise for her face. Only her eyes still told the story of who she was; however, they fit in with the mask so much that she knew that no one would think anything of them. Plus, she was avoiding the eyes of all others as if they were a room-full of Medusas, ready to turn her into stone.

She’d always lamented the fact that she didn’t have her cousin’s handy gift; of course, Medi had died alone and embittered, despite what myth proclaimed. The putz, Pericles, had managed to find her, though the stories of him decapitating her were erroneous. In truth, she’d exchanged what he wanted for a night savoring his young body. Indeed, sadly, Medi had an even worse fate than her legendary one. Pythia knew this since she was a visitor of her relative right before her death; by then, Pythia had been a vampire. Unfortunately, Medi had lived way too long and had been driven mad.

The gods did not show her any favor.

The night in which Pythia was now living would decide if they intended to show her favor. Oh—Pythia already knew of her own fate. She would survive the night—as she had survived all her other nights. But she did not know about her human or her vampire descendants.

Sookie’s fate would be determined by timing and by the will of the gods that Pythia still believed in.

And Eric would die if his beloved was truly lost.

Roman’s chances seemed to become worse with every passing moment, and the only way Jacob might make it is if his maker did—indeed—die. One of them would be lost to her.

Her most beloved handmaidens each had only an even chance.

In many versions of the future, they would all be dead by the end of the night.

Except for Pythia.

Of course, that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to stack the deck by calling in a favor—though the old fool should have been there regardless!

The ancient nymph—turned vampire—looked at her companion, who was dressed in an impeccably-cut tuxedo. He wore a simple black mask, covering just enough to cover his identify from those who knew him. Of course, he was covering his scent too.

“Your appearance here is a welcome addition,” Pythia told him with a smirk.

“I was coerced,” Niall returned gruffly. “But I am not convinced. And I still do not like the outcome of things.”

Pythia chuckled. “One future outcome is better than the other,” Pythia conveyed telepathically.

Another of her many secret gifts.

Niall sighed. “I am not to certain,” he answered in the same way.

“The Viking is worthy,” Pythia returned. “Tell me—did Leonie tell you that he is her blood? The grandson of her ancestor, Ione?”

Niall’s surprise was clear despite his mask.

“I see that she did not. Perhaps that is because your heart has been cold toward your own kin, and she knew it would be no different with hers,” Pythia said, not hiding her judgment from the fairy in any way.

“That doesn’t change what he is,” he snarled into her head.

“No—the boy is my kind now,” Pythia returned with amusement. “And all the more worthy because of it.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” the fairy prince responded.

“Fact,” Pythia said firmly. “And here’s another. In the Norseman’s pocket currently resides the second authentic cluviel dor made from Ione’s undying plant. Tell me that the Fates are not on the side of Sookie and Eric, you old fool!”

Niall glared at her. “Why would the Fates be on the side of such a mixing?”

“Obviously, they are more progressive than you,” she responded, the amusement back in her tone.

Niall took a moment. “I am set in my ways.”

“And you came here only because I called in that favor?” she asked.

“You said Leonie would be here. I will try to protect her if I can.”

“Because you love her just enough to become involved.”

“Of course I have affection for my wife,” Niall said at a volume Pythia could barely hear, even in her head.

The ancient lady chuckled. “You have affection for your great-granddaughter too,” she said in just as low of a volume. “But you would never admit it now. ‘Tis a pity for all,” she challenged.

Niall sneered, but did not say anything else.

Pythia’s attention had turned to her vampire child’s presence in the room anyway. Roman had been a marvelous child—loyal, but also independent enough to remain interesting to her for many, many years. She’d wept many times as she’d witnessed—many times—the very real possibility of his true death.

Roman had been made to be a vampire, already political and ready to take “blood”—figuratively, of course—when necessary when he’d been a human. She’d offered him the choice of being turned, and he’d said yes in an unhesitating way that had stirred her.

Yes—there was much to be proud of where Roman was concerned. He strode onto the stage, and Pythia smiled behind her full-face mask. He was unafraid of his fate—not because he knew he’d survive, but simply because he was never one to be cowed by possibility—or even probability.

“Greetings!” his voice boomed.

Everyone in the room stilled. Rumors had been circulating for several nights. Pythia had made certain of that. The vampires in attendance already knew that Roman was the Guardian of the Authority; however, a big part of that Guardianship had been in protecting the identities of his Councilors. Now it was time to unveil them, and everyone in the room was waiting with eyes wide open—which was the equivalent of bated breath among vampires.

RUSSELL POV

Russell impatiently waited as Roman pontificated on and on about the merits of the Authority. Meanwhile, his allies converged to Russell’s positon, subtly making him the center of their circle.

The ancient tingled with anticipation, knowing that all of his desires and wishes were about to come true. No more would he bow to the vampire power structure. No! He would decimate it! And then he’d do the same in Europe with Appius by his side. He glanced at his brother in arms—his brother in his maker’s blood.

In addition to that allegiance, Russell had always liked the vampire. A few hundred years younger than he, Appius knew how to show deference. However, Russell had also learned to respect his younger sibling. Indeed, Russell would not begrudge Appius Europe. God knows he didn’t want to deal with that antiquated place!

No—indeed—Russell enjoyed the “free world.”

A world he was about to make “new” again.

And he’d soon be free to rule as he saw fit!

Appius looked at Russell sideways and spoke at an impossibly low volume. “I see that Roman is still an impossibly long-winded arrogant prat.”

Russell laughed—loudly—drawing the attention of some of those around him as well as Roman himself. The Guardian gave him a little glare—the insolent bastard.

He’d soon get his.

ROMAN POV

Roman, like most other vampires, had an impeccable sense of timing. He knew the timetable of the Northman’s plan backwards and forwards, and he wasn’t one to deviate. Still, he knew that it was time for him to wrap up his spiel.

“In conclusion,” he started, his voice booming in the large space. Roman did—indeed—enjoy the sound of his own voice.

He smirked as he took off his mask and threw it to the floor.

He had a flair for drama, too.

“It is time that those who have led you into this new time—into this new millennium—made themselves known! They are to be celebrated—revered for their hard work! And they are to step down.”

There was a collective gasp in the room.

“The Authority was never meant to be a dictatorship,” Roman said with an odd mixture of humility and triumph. “The vampires who took on the role of Councilors did so to be servants to us all. And I have only ever been a tie-breaker among them. They framed main-streaming. They put into place the rules that govern us all—that keep us safe from the humans and from those of our own kind who would take too much,” he added, glancing at Russell as he did. “But now it is time to move onward, and the current Councilors are ready to step down—to share the power with their brethren. I will stay on as Guardian; however, I will continue to have only one vote. It is time that we adopt more of a,” he paused, “Democracy. Thus, any vampire of a certain number of years may be nominated for a position on the Authority. The current Councilors will judge worthiness based upon standards that have been carefully set—based upon age, position, and power. Any vampire meeting these provisions is eligible for election by the entire population of kings and queens.”

Again, there was a gasp in the room.

“I would now like to introduce you to you current Councilors,” Roman continued. “Queen Agnes of California and King Edwin of Oregon and Washington!” his voice boomed.

Agnes and Edwin took the stage, took off their masks, turned to the audience, and bowed.

“Kibwe, King of Illinois,” Roman introduced—before the king took his place next to the other monarchs, taking off his elaborate mask as he did.

The Guardian continued by introducing Rosalyn Harris, successful businesswoman of Georgia; Dieter Braun, former king of Germany and brother to the Queen of New York; and Peter Threadgill, King of Arkansas. All of them took the stage and took off their masks.

Russell was chomping at the bit as he waited for the final two members to be announced.

Roman didn’t make him wait long.

“Isaiah, King of Kentucky,” he proclaimed as the king took the stage. “And, finally,” Roman said, “Queen Lena of Quebec.”

As the last Authority Council member took the stage, the rest of the room’s occupants stilled and quieted as they took in the vampires who had always remained shrouded in mystery.

Russell felt his fangs come down, though he kept his mouth shut to conceal them. Only Appius had heard them click downward. He smirked at his brother. “Patience,” he said quietly.

After a few more moments, the applause began, and the Councilors bowed deeply as most of the vampires in the room offered their respect. Of course, many were clapping only for show.

“My maker, Pythia—the Ancient Pythoness herself—will be coming soon to honor this group and to offer her support of our plans for the future! As I speak, ballot boxes for the ‘New Authority’ are being placed in the four corners of the room! In the meantime—as a treat,” Roman called out, “Bubba has agreed to sing a song in honor of the old regime being replaced peacefully by the new!”

ERIC POV

“Patience,” Duncan whispered to Eric.

The magister had come to flank his brother—his leader—as soon as Roman had begun speaking. Klymene was on Eric’s other side, and Pam had moved behind Duncan.

Their blood thrummed with the power of their lineage; between the four, the strength of bonds of blood and trust and friendship had existed for ages.

However, none of this sated the Viking until the hand of his bonded grasped his arm. She said nothing, but their bond spoke all.

I love you.

Be safe.

Survive.

Eric took his mate’s hand and held it as tightly as he dared. He could sense that Leonie—also of his blood—was nearby, and every part of his body was taut. Ready.

Roman’s announcement of the Ancient Pythoness’s upcoming arrival had been the first signal. The ballot boxes’ arrival afforded the presence of Maggie, Brady, Tray, and Henry in the room as they brought in the boxes as if they were dutiful hotel employees.

Eric heard Sookie take a breath and hold it. He counted.

Ten. Nine. Eight.

He saw that all of his allies were ready. Bubba took the stage, taking the attention of most of the vampires in the room. Brady was near the tapestry that concealed his sword; he was ready to get it and throw it to Eric.

Seven. Six. Five.

Eric took out the pin that would allow all others on his side to see him as an ally.

Four. Three.

He zeroed in on Russell, who was completely focused on Roman.

Two.

The first note of “Heartbreak Hotel” sounded in the room.

He prayed to gods he barely remembered to protect one life—his bonded’s life.

One.

He ripped off his mask right as he caught his sword.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33: The Dance

 

Sookie Northman had learned many things from her mate. One of them was that a battle should be likened to a dance.

So that is what she did.

She separated her mind from any horrors occurring around her, and she followed the steps that had been set for her. First, she ripped a piece of cloth from her bodice, exposing her pin to her allies. Then her impediments were dealt with: her elaborate skirt took no time at all to do away with, and her mask was discarded moments later.

She felt her magic rise within her like water at high-tide. It was ready and seemed limitless. She saw Leonie’s eyes glisten with pride. She felt her mate’s pride.

And in that moment, Sookie knew that she was right where she needed to be—right where she was destined to be.

Dances tended to begin somewhat slowly—with a “how-dee-do,” as Southerners might term it.

This dance began quickly. Mask off, Eric had yelled out a cry that bespoke of his Viking days, and all vampires—all beings—in the room turned toward him.

Eric, the Northman—Eirkr the Norseman—was not the oldest vampire in the room, but everyone feared him in that moment, save his bonded.

Sookie simply reveled in him, and she thanked God for him.

Even the air stood still after the first beat of Eric’s battle song. Bubba’s voice had been long forgotten.

“Northman!” Russell Edgington yelled, his Southern “genteel” accent gone and replaced by an accent so ancient that it sent a chill down Sookie’s spine.

Her reaction, however, was not to cower. It was to square her shoulders and stand next to her mate with as much strength as she had in her body.

There was but one thing she knew. She would be dying for Eric that night.

That—is what the Ancient Pythoness had told her would happen. Pythia had told her that the only way that Eric might live was if she died for him. She’d not had a moment of hesitation.

Her mate moved, and so did she—to complement him. The battle had begun.

Her final dance.

Russell was stunned by the sight of Eric Northman in the ballroom—and even more stunned by the sight of the lovely fairy by his side.

Sookie Stackhouse.

His fangs were already down, but they grew longer, drawing blood from his own lips. His distraction with Northman, however, necessitated Appius saving his life—as Roman flew at him, stake raised and ready.

Thankfully, Appius pushed Roman to the side at the last moment, or three thousand years would have been for naught. Russell nodded toward his brother only a moment before all hell broke loose in the room—and outside of it.

Eric and Sookie did not notice the various battles occurring around them, and, strangely, they didn’t have to try hard to avoid the other fighters. It was as if all the vampires in the large room intuited—even if they were not in “the know”—that the true battle of the night was between Russell Edgington and the Viking. And, of course, the woman by Eric’s side too.

In addition to “respecting the space” of the warriors, no one else would have wanted to fight the combatants. Russell Edgington was the oldest vampire in the room. Oh—there were many ancient vampires and vampiresses in the Pyramid of Gizeh; however, a vampire’s prowess grew exponentially as his years increased. Therefore, the difference in power between a vampire three thousand years old and one that was even 2,500 years old was similar to the difference between a lion and an alley cat. Of course, most of the vampires in the room were as kittens to the King of Mississippi and Louisiana.

In truth, Eric Northman—though he was a renowned warrior and strategist—should have been in the kitten category as far as Russell was concerned. And so he might have been had it not been for several variables that his foe could have never expected. The first was Eric’s Fae blood. Though he didn’t have the ability to shoot “light” from his hands and he lacked most other Fae gifts, his vampire bond with his mate had fully ignited the gift that he did have, which was an extra battery of sorts. His strength seemed doubled—still not quite up to Russell’s strength, but closer. His speed seemed impossibly faster and his body more fluid than ever before.

And these factors had thrown off the eldest combatant in the fray. However, what had thrown him off even more was Sookie Stackhouse’s presence. She was no longer a frightened redneck shooting off quaint little light bursts. No, indeed, her light now had potency—as had been discovered by the only vampire who had dared to enter their “personal” battle.

The overeager and insane Alexei had obviously heard the name Sookie Stackhouse from his maker, not surprising given the fact that Russell had once shared the knowledge of her with his trusted brother. Wanting the part-fairy with the senselessness of one who had lived an entitled life as both human and vampire, Alexei had launched himself toward her in the first moments of the battle.

Alexei’s recklessness had cost him his life. Even before the Viking could take Alexei’s head with his broadsword, Sookie had propelled light at the young vampire, sending him roughly into the wall. There, he’d been finished off quickly and unceremoniously by Northman’s child.

Having seen Sookie’s power and already knowing the battle prowess of the Viking and the ancient Carpathian, all others had given the three a wide berth. They’d soon “danced” to the center of the room. And—had the other vampires and Weres not had their own fights, they might have paused to witness the awful beauty of the clash of Titans in the heart of the dance floor.

The three foes were measuring each other, calculating the damage that would need to be inflicted to ensure victory. Of course, seeing Sookie’s increased powers had taught the eldest vampire in the room to avoid her light.

Sookie, like her mate, now had her sword—thanks to Duncan giving it to her right after she’d shot Alexei across the room. The sword, a Fae blade with a Fae name that Sookie couldn’t pronounce, was similar to a Katana and had been a gift from Leonie. Eric had not yet taught her all of the nuances of swordplay; there simply hadn’t been time. No, what they had focused upon was how to use their piercing weapons together—against a stronger foe.

Unsurprisingly, Russell quickly had his own sword, and the three weapons clashed—with Eric and Sookie both trying to attack the older, faster being. Of course, for every one clash made by Sookie’s sword onto Russell’s, Eric made multiple strikes—some too fast for Sookie’s eyes to catch. And Sookie had to work very hard to make sure that Russell’s weapon didn’t impact hers in such a way as to knock her down. However, she was no liability to her mate, for he had taught her well. Indeed, her strikes were all slashes—glances along Russell’s blade—all designed to distract him in order to keep him from getting the upper hand on her mate. Mainly, however, she was waiting for just the right time in the dance: the moment to use her light on Russell.

Her palms were already alit—and transferring some energy to her sword—a benefit that she and her mate hadn’t counted upon, but welcomed, nonetheless. But hitting Russell with a direct blow of her light had been impossible for Sookie as of yet. Thus, she was storing her force, for she knew that Russell was too quick for her to hit—for the time being. However, Sookie was, even then, learning the movement patterns of her and Eric’s foe—just as her mate had instructed her to do. And, soon, she would be able to anticipate him.

Meanwhile, Russell’s body was thrumming! The “boy” who’d tried to escape from him was now trying to out-duel him.

The insolence!

Though subduing the Viking was taking longer than he might have anticipated, Russell could have killed him three times already—at least. But he was too keen on toying with him, both in the “battle” and later in the torture room.

In fact, Russell did not want to kill Eric. No. He was planning to keep Eric alive for a long time. He couldn’t wait to inflict pain and anguish onto the Viking. He felt a little bad—now—that he’d doubted Compton about Sookie being alive. Oh—his minion would still receive more punishment for trying to think for himself and for being fooled. However, after William healed, Russell planned to let the Civil War “gent” fuck Sookie as much as he wanted—within sight of the Viking, of course. Hell, Russell might even fuck Eric at the same time—demeaning the mighty warrior even as he witnessed his mate being violated.

He licked his fangs, enjoying the taste of his own blood. Once more he had an opening to kill the Norseman, but he held back. Killing him too soon was the last thing the ancient vampire wanted to do.

EIGHTEEN NIGHTS EARLIER

“How do you fight a three-thousand-year-old vampire?” Eric asked. It had been the question the Viking had been puzzling over ever since he saw his father’s crown in Russell’s collection.

“Very carefully,” Duncan chuckled.

Eric glared at his brother. Duncan was in California again in order to see to a trial in Agnes’s territory. Given the many attempts on his life since he’d “come out” as Magister, the two-night stay with Eric and Sookie was a respite, one which had come at the suggestion of Klymene—after the Ancient Pythoness had informed her to make sure her mate was out of sight for a couple of nights.

Duncan was smart enough to do what his bonded told him to do in such matters.

“Seriously? You think I know how to defeat Russell? You’re supposed to be the smart one. I’m the better-looking one,” the Welshman added with a grin.

Eric rolled his eyes. “Come now—we both know that I’m both smarter and better looking.”

Duncan gave his brother an affectionate “pat,” which sent him backwards about twenty feet, and soon the brothers were wrestling on the ground. To anyone witnessing the fray, it likely looked as if the two were deadly foes, but the brothers had often enjoyed such battles.

“Do you remember the time we destroyed that sultan’s throne room?” Duncan asked as he launched himself at Eric.

“Of course,” the Norseman said, returning a blow offered by his brother. “I recall that I won the sultan’s harem that night. You should have never bet such stakes that you could beat me.”

Duncan chuckled. “Godric was so angry at us that night.”

Eric laughed as they continued their fray. At a certain point, he felt his bonded come outside. It was cold for her, of course, so he glanced over to see her—to make sure she was well. She was standing on the porch with their quilt from Slidell wrapped snuggly around her.

She had, most certainly, felt his merriment. Grinning as she shared in his delight, she sat on the porch and began munching from a bowl of popcorn she’d brought outside with her.

“It seems that we are to be your bonded’s entertainment for the night,” Duncan said, venturing a wink at Sookie.

“Hmm…Do you think yourself capable of giving me a good battle for once?” Eric teased. “I’d hate for her to become bored.”

“Oh—I’m up for the task if you are, Brother,” Duncan returned.

The two brothers continued their sparring for almost half an hour, eventually utilizing rocks and the pair of training swords that Eric and Sookie had practiced with earlier that night.

It hadn’t taken Sookie long to inhale her popcorn as she watched the entertaining match between the two brothers. They gave the term “eye-candy” new meaning. But she had eyes only for her mate.

Of course, Eric had felt her increasing lust as she fantasized about other supple movements his body could be making. Her temperature increased a little—despite the cold.

“My woman is anxious for the battle to be over,” Eric said quietly, not wanting to embarrass Sookie, who was still quick to blush when sex was the topic.

“You could always surrender,” Duncan taunted.

“Or I could stop playing around,” Eric returned. In truth, the Viking had been holding back. He always did with his younger brother. Of course, Duncan knew that, but the two still enjoyed sparring, and the Welshman would never stop trying to get the upper hand on the Viking during their “friendly” duels.

Like human brothers, they were loyal to one another—but they were also highly competitive.

“Wait!” the Viking said, even as he pinned Duncan to the earth and used his superior strength to hold him there.

Duncan stilled, knowing from Eric’s tone that he’d had an idea. Sookie had risen to standing, and her lust was quickly replaced by curiosity as she sensed Eric’s triumph in the bond.

“What is it?” Duncan asked as Eric stood and offered a hand to his brother.

“How could I have not thought of it before?” Eric asked.

“Thought of what?” Sookie asked.

“Russell! He will not be trying to kill us, min älskade!” Eric said in revelation. “HE will be holding back in battle, for he will want to capture us.”

Duncan nodded in understanding and agreement. “He will want to keep you alive in order to torture you.”

“Well isn’t that good news,” Sookie intoned sarcastically.

“It is good news,” Eric grinned. “Because he will hold back, we won’t have to worry about defending against death blows! We will train only to stop him from subduing us—capturing us.”

“But if he’s already riled up about the Bill thing—and about you being there—won’t he eventually lose patience?” Sookie asked.

“Yes,” Eric relented. “Let’s just hope that he doesn’t do so before you subdue him.”

“Me?” Sookie asked.

Eric nodded. “You, min älskade.”

BACK TO THE NIGHT OF THE BATTLE

MUSTAPHA POV

Mustapha Khan had not been “born” to be an Alpha, nor had he ever wanted the job. It was his lack of ambition, contrasted with his keen organizational skills, which had prompted Thalia to ask him to serve as the leader of her Weres, and—not one to half-ass things—he’d trained to be an even better fighter after that. He and the few who had been chosen as the best warriors in the Were groups had been tasked with eliminating Russell’s secondary Were group—the mercenaries pretending to be bomb squad members. Strong Weres, Brady, Maggie, Henry, and Tray, were to control the four entrances of the ballroom, but he was aligned with strong allies outside of them.

Werebears from New Mexico—Kuruk, Elina, and Onawa—flanked him. Other Weres from Henry’s group were also with them.

The battle was not neat, for the Weres serving Russell Edgington were clearly “enhanced” with V. However, there was something to be said for sober discipline over “enhanced” frenzy. And soon, only two of Russell’s advanced team were left—a bitch, so high on V that she felt no pain, and Russell’s Alpha.

MAGGIE POV

Maggie had been aching for a “proper” fight since she’d defeated cancer—at least for the short-term. Oh—that disease had been her worst foe, and she would battle it to her dying breath. But there was something almost comforting in fighting an enemy she could see and touch.

Especially since she’d learned—only the week before—that the cancer was back.

Not that she’d told anyone about it yet. She would allow herself to be irradiated the next week; she’d already set up the appointment. But for now—she wanted to shift and to fight. It might be her last time feeling strong—after all.

In fact, she’d shifted as soon as Bubba had crooned his first lovely note. And she’s already killed three vampires, though all were relatively young. But they had begun to sate her bloodlust. And her pride had been bolstered. Cancer or not, she was still a fucking badass! And she planned to carry that thought with her no matter what!

Hell! Any vampire should have been a challenge for a Werewolf—even one with her experience. Yet she was working on number four! Her “best” kill thus far had been Sandy Sechrest, a high-ranking official in Felipe de Castro’s court. The vampiress had proven herself more bureaucrat than warrior, however. And Maggie’s sharp claws had ripped her fucking throat out!

Before Brady had called to ask for her help, Maggie Jones had felt the weighty number of her days—for a while. Her mate, Brady’s father, had died twenty years before. And Maggie had been ready to join him since them—ready, but stubborn for life.

When she saw the Were-bitch, Debbie Pelt, Maggie knew immediately that she was the Were’s superior—if all things were equal. But Pelt had been plied with vampire blood—a lot of it.

Always wise, the elder Werewolf knew as soon as the younger engaged that she would not survive the battle. But she aimed to take her foe with her.

Maggie swept a set of claws with deadly accuracy, just as Debbie swiped a haphazard, but lethal blow.

Moments later, Debbie Pelt was dead, but Maggie was bleeding out. Unable to hold onto her Were form, she shifted. After she did, there was a face hovering over hers that was not expected.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34: Losses & Gains, Part 1

 

PYTHIA POV

“You are a strong woman,” Pythia said to the she-wolf.

“Yes,” Maggie returned.

“Are you strong enough to ask to be a vampire?” the Ancient Pythoness asked, even as she dragged Maggie’s body out of the fray and into a supply closet.

The vampiress said nothing as the Were rattled agonized breaths.

“What do you see?” Maggie asked wearily.

“I good future for you—either way,” Pythia stated softly. “The afterlife would welcome you. And—so would I. If you allow me to make you my child.”

Maggie sighed, feeling a little stronger suddenly. Or maybe it was just hope she was feeling. “Does my husband await me? In the afterlife?”

“He does,” Pythia said. “He is,” she paused, “eager for you.”

The Werewolf breathed a shaky sigh. “Will Brady live through this?”

“He will go on,” Pythia responded somewhat enigmatically. “He was always meant to stay on this plain. You and your mate raised a strong young man.”

Maggie sighed again, and this time blood came forth from her mouth.

“I think that I am ready to go to Brady’s father,” she said.

Pythia looked at the woman and smiled a little. “I figured you would choose your mate—though I’ve now had two denials of offered immortality in less than a week.”

Maggie smiled through bloody lips. “Sorry.”

“I am not,” Pythia said, her back straightening. “Why would I be sorry to be with such a formidable lady as she passes from this world to the next?”

Maggie gripped the hand of the vampire who was now holding hers.

“Thank you for your offer, milady,” she whispered.

“You are most welcome. Enjoy reuniting with your mate,” Pythia said, even as the life of the Werewolf dwindled and was lost.

In truth, Pythia had always known what the woman’s answer would be—but, even amidst battle, some pauses were owed, and Pythia had always appreciated female warriors of Maggie’s strength. Even when her strong mate had been alive, Maggie had not been one to stay behind her husband.

Pythia closed the Were’s eyes and waited. Soon she knew that the one who she was really meant to make her child would come to her.

 

XXXXXXXXXX

TALBOT POV

Neutral vampires or cowards had quickly left the ballroom as soon as all hell broke loose; the more generous of them had taken the human donors or pets out of the room with them.

Talbot was one of those exiting vampires. Of course, his King and lover had ordered him to leave as soon as the fighting began. However, Talbot hadn’t expected things to start so abruptly, nor had he expected that the harbinger of the battle would be a war-cry from Eric Northman.

Talbot licked a fang, even as he dragged Hadley with him into the elevator. Sophie-Anne was supposed to have left the ballroom with him, but she’d been engaged in battle before they could get out, and she’d pushed her pet at him to babysit. He sighed at the “duty,” though he agreed that it would be a pity to waste a tasty morsel.

“Sophie!” Hadley cried out, trying to struggle from his grip.

Talbot rolled his eyes. What did the idiotic human think—that she could “save” a vampire in the middle of a vampire battle?

“Shut up—or I’ll let you go,” the vampire warned gruffly, even as he thought about Russell’s amazing costume and how angry he’d be if it became spoiled. He was keen to have his lover take him in that outfit. Moreover, Talbot had spent hours working with a clothing designer to get things just right.

“I should have had the tailor make a spare,” the vampire muttered as the elevator doors opened to his suite with Russell. He would glamour Hadley to be quiet and wait for Sophie-Anne in their room. And then he’d engage the locks to his own and “hunker down” as Russell had instructed him to do. Only a single Were was guarding the door to the suite, though he was quick and efficient about letting Talbot and Hadley inside.

Soon, Talbot had followed through with his plans for Hadley, and she was—thankfully—silent as a church mouse. He truly hoped that Sophie-Anne survived; she was an amusing companion. Of course, he planned to keep the pet for culinary reasons if she didn’t, however.

Talbot went to the main room of the suite to get a few bottles of Royalty blended. And then he retired to his and Russell’s bedroom and engaged the locks.

Talbot never had a doubt that his lover would come to him soon, so he went about preparing himself so that he could best enjoy the fruits of Russell’s bloodlust—without the loss of his own costume.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXX

 

PETER POV

Peter Threadgill had—unfortunately—given Jade Flower too quick of a death, though their battle had taken several minutes. It turned out that they were evenly matched—until the King of Arkansas used his Bowie knife to gut her. He’d finished her off with a stake to the heart as he’d spat in her face.

Happily, he’d been in time to join the Viking’s child in “battling” Sophie-Anne. The Queen of Louisiana relented quickly, like the coward she was.

 

XXXXXXXXXXX

 

ISABEL POV

“For our maker!” Isabel and Miguelito yelled as one—as they plowed a stake into Felipe de Castro’s chest.

Eric had kept his promise to let them see to the be-caped king who had orchestrated their maker’s death. Felipe was older and stronger than either Isabel or Miguelito. But they worked together well—beautifully in sync with one another.

Before their victory, Miguelito had suffered a deep gash to his side from Felipe’s sword, but he was already healing. Isabel had not been wounded, so—after making sure her brother was well enough to go on—she turned her attention to one of the many vampire soldiers that was fighting for Russell’s side.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ROMAN POV

Roman had become frustrated as minion after minion engaged him, obviously hoping to kill him and gain Russell’s favor.

Still, fighting such younger vampires was a relatively easy chore, so he was able to survey the battle.

The Viking and his mate were still engaged with Edgington in the center of the dance floor. Roman just hoped that the Norseman knew what he was doing, for it seemed as if Russell was merely toying with his prey.

The Guardian had seen two of his Councilors fall in battle. Rosalyn had not been up to the task of taking on the Georgia Queen, Lilah, despite the fact that Queen Lena had moved in to try to help her. Sadly, it had been too late, but Lena had quickly avenged her compatriot, and Georgia was now without monarch.

Isaiah, too, had met his final death. In fact, other than Alexei, he’d been the first one killed by Roman’s reckoning. King Barlett Crowe of Indiana had worked with King Sampson of Arizona to ensure that happened.

However, most of the Councilors had held their own. Peter succeeded in killing Jade Flower relatively quickly. Kibwe had taken out King Johnathan of Alabama—after a fierce battle—and though Kibwe had been hurt, he’d been dragged from the fray by one of the Werebears.

King Edwin and Queen Agnes had killed Barlett Crowe and King Sampson soon after the maker and child had killed Isaiah. Edwin and Agnes had certainly been helped by the fact that both of their enemies suffered the pain of losing a blood connection almost simultaneously as Felipe and Jade met their ends.

Dieter, like Roman, seemed stuck taking on one peon after another.

Roman sighed as he took out another of Russell’s people. The room had quickly flooded with the followers of kings and queens as soon as the melee had started, though most of the Were fighting seemed to be occurring in the corridors outside.

The Guardian did have something to smile about, however, when he saw Mirabel fighting nearby. Finally, she had shown her true stripes and was taking on one of the Authority guards, who was trying to aid Roman. She managed to deal a death blow to the guard just as Roman made his way through one of de Castro’s minions.

Mirabel spun around to face him, even as he swung his own sword. Her head was lopped off and landed on the floor with a satisfying plop.

Roman grinned as he turned to engage another foe. He couldn’t help but to wonder at the light show being put on by the fairies and the demons at the other end of the large room. Illuminated by a blast, he saw Nan Flanagan and licked his lips. He very much wanted to get to her. He called his child to his side, and Jacob appeared quickly.

“Help me get through this mess so that we can get to that mess,” Roman instructed, gesturing to the sea of nameless vampires that stood between him and his goal before pointing out Nan.

Jacob smiled and the two began to cut their way through enemies toward Nan.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXX

ALCIDE POV

As soon as Alcide had been given the potion to cover up his scent by Sookie, Henry and Tray had given him a larger role in the operation. He was heading the portion of Henry’s pack which aimed to take out Russell’s original pack.

Using the intelligence that Sookie had gathered, Alcide’s group was able to ambush their targets. Of course, as expected, Russell’s Weres were hyped up from fresh infusions of V. However, to help to counteract that, Eric had assigned two vampires, Chow and Rasul, to Alcide’s command. From what Alcide had picked up, both had been feigning loyalty to Russell, so neither wished to be part of the main fight in the ballroom—mostly for their own safety.

After all, friendly “fire” could be a bitch in battle—even if they were wearing the pins that everyone else on their side had on. Still, very few had known that Rasul had been Eric’s spy, and—in the heat of battle—someone might strike him before noticing the small pin. And Chow was a bit of a putz, so some random vampire might decide to take him out “just because.” However, both were helpful additions against the V-pack.

Alcide knew that his part of the battle was winding down even as he tore into the throat of the strongest wolf that was left in the corridor that he was fighting in. He let out a howl.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

LEONIE POV

Pythia had not told Leonie why she wouldn’t be able to help Sookie by zapping Russell while he was busy fighting Eric. She’d said only that it would be impossible. Still, Leonie had tried once, but hadn’t succeeded in hitting the mark.

However, there was an impressive black mark on the wall at the far end of the room.

Indeed, Leonie had soon become way too busy to keep an eye upon Sookie as Russell’s army was joined by unexpected allies—a family of Dae who had been exiled to the human realm following an attempt on the life of Dae King’s son by the family’s patriarch. These demons, the Christopoulos clan, had settled in Europe and had worked for several of the vampire kings and queens there; however, instead of taking on law professions as many demons did, they were freelance assassins.

Apparently, Russell had paid for their allegiance.

Similar to fairies, many demons were telepaths, though—like fairies—they used the gift for communication rather than infiltration. Also similar to fairies was the fact that many demons could produce a “light” weapon from their hands—though theirs was based in fire. The fairies in the room—including Niall, whose presence greatly surprised her—soon joined with Desmond Cataliades in order to take on the demons in order to prevent them from lighting the “friendly” vampires on fire.

“We have not battled together for three centuries, my wife,” Niall said from next to Leonie.

It was at times like these when Leonie was reminded of how much she respected her husband.

“It is a welcome occurrence,” she said with a grin and a leer. In that moment, she might have even considered fucking him for old time’s sake—if her romantic attentions were not firmly focused upon Brady. Perhaps, the Were might consider a three-way?

Claude was proving himself strong and brave, and he’d already taken out one of the demons of the group—though the youngest of them. Leonie could sense the pride from her husband, and she felt pride of her grandson too. He reminded her of Dermot in many ways: he always undersold himself—but when push came to shove, he was a formidable battler.

Leonie finally understood why Pythia had insisted that she get Claude’s help that night. Only fairies would have been able to match up against the demons. And Russell had secured all ten remaining members of the Christopoulos clan. Their patriarch, Anatoli, was especially powerful.

And she and her comrades were still outnumbered: Nine to four.

Fire clashed with light, sending sparks toward the high ceiling as one of Leonie’s balls of energy hit one of Anatoli’s. She charged at him, sword raised, ready to defeat her enemy.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

JASPER POV

Though every muscle in his body was taunt and he longed for battle, Jasper Fant had one purpose only: to protect his wife and Amelia during the melee. Thus, he squelched his urge to join Desmond and the fairies in their fight against the Christopoulos clan.

He had positioned the witches in the northwest corner of the ballroom. Their goal? To produce a spell designed to bolster the strength of Sookie and Eric’s bonds—so that they could act even more as one.

Octavia had welcomed it, for she held a soft spot for both the Viking and the young fairy hybrid. Still, she’d found her assignment to be delightfully ironic. Once upon a time, Eric had hated the Fae bond, and now he was doing everything possible to strengthen it.

The trick was that the spell needed to be performed at just the “right” moment. Russell needed to become “used to” the strength of the bonded pair. The added oomph of the booster spell would then—hopefully—surprise him.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TWENTY NIGHTS EARLIER

“Will I get addicted to you?” Sookie asked dreamily.

Eric had just pleasured her in ways that she’d never imagined. And she’d lost count of her orgasms when he’d caused her to lose the ability to count.

He chuckled. “That’s the plan, min älskade.”

“Mmm. Good plan,” she returned, pressing herself upward just enough so that she could see her mate’s face and the smile on his lips.

“Seriously though,” she said. “Will I get addicted to your blood?”

She still tasted the sweet aftertaste of it on her tongue.

“Not in the same way as a V addict, but I would say that you already are addicted to it,” Eric responded, his tone contemplative. “Of course, I am addicted to your blood too. And I am compelled to exchange with you often.”

“I want that too,” Sookie whispered. “Every time we do, I think the bonds get stronger.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “and they seem to becoming more one than two now—though I can still tell which is which.” He chuckled. “I’m not sure that makes any sense.”

“No. I get it. I feel that too,” she agreed.

“So—tell me what you did today,” the vampire requested.

“Woke up late,” Sookie giggled. “Someone wore me out last night—between the training and the sex.”

Eric chuckled. “You must have eaten. Your stomach makes different noises when you haven’t.”

“It must be gross to hear all the parts of my digestion process,” Sookie commented with a blush.

“Not gross,” Eric returned. “Just a part of you. So did you do anything else other than eat?”

“I read The Art of War again,” she stated.

She’d read it many times during the last several days.

Having memorized the text long ago, Eric recited a quote from it: “The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

“Do you think Russell is going to provide us with the opportunity to defeat him? I mean—he must know The Art of War too.”

The vampire contemplated for a moment. “Russell will be preparing for a different battle than the one he will get. Assuredly, there will be times when our forces will have to,” he paused, “improvise. That occurs in all battles, and I’m sure that Russell will leave nothing to chance and will make sure all of his allies are with him. But we will still have the better preparations. We can only hope that Sun Tzu was right about the general with the most preparations defeating his enemy. As for Russell giving us an opportunity to defeat him? I think he will underestimate us—what we are together—and that will be the moment we will win.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 35: Losses & Gains, Part 2

 

BACK TO THE BATTLE

APPIUS POV

Appius Livius Ocella had suffered the loss of children before. Sometimes, he’d killed them himself if they were too “unwilling” to fulfill his desires. He hated ungratefulness more than anything else.

However, Alexei had pleased Appius during their time together. Oh—the child could be a brat, and he certainly had the tendency to take what he wanted—consequences be damned. However, Appius actually thought that was an under-appreciated trait in vampires in the “civilized” era they were living in.

The ancient vampire had recognized Northman immediately. And he’d also understood the new situation—even before the Viking’s battle cry had ended. The game pieces had changed.

Immediately, Appius had known that his main goal needed to be to take out Eric’s strongest allies—not Roman’s—and that suited him just fine. Of course, some of them were the same. For example, he’d always wanted to eliminate Duncan—Eric’s brother and Roman’s lackey. And, as soon as the masks had come off, he’d recognized Klymene, too.

Godric’s maker.

He’d thought that she was dead; however, she was obviously very much alive.

Appius had smiled with anticipation. She was as old as he.

Never one to fight “fair” when a sudden strike could be achieved, however, Appius had taken one of his specially-made “throwing stakes” from his inside jacket pocket. However, just as he was aiming the stake at Klymene’s chest, his own child had launched himself at the woman next to Northman—obviously Sookie Stackhouse.

Without hesitation, Sookie had shot a ball of energy at his child, and—through his bond with his child—Appius had felt a strong bolt of pain. However, not one to be stopped, he’d raised this stake again. But in trying to kill Klymene, he hadn’t noticed that Northman’s child had rushed to kill Alexei.

The pain from the loss of the bond had caused Appius’s stake to miss. And it had also caused him to be less effective as the battle began. But he’d been strong enough to protect himself from the younger vampires who’d initially tried to take him down.

Insolent infants!

Now recovered from the loss of the bond, he—again—targeted Klymene and Duncan. There would be time later to deal with the Norseman’s child—if she lived.

He took the sword he’d concealed in his costume and launched over the crowd of fighters to get to his prey.

“Appius,” Duncan said in his annoying Welsh accent, “how lovely of you to come.”

“I do not remember giving you permission to call me that,” Appius responded, his tone cold steel. He looked at the vampiress next to Duncan. Like Duncan, she also had a sword in hand. “Klymene, I thought that you’d died years ago. I’m disappointed that so many of your bloodline are still living—though I was very glad to hear about Godric’s suicide.”

Klymene and Duncan both growled at that.

“Of course, with you as my mommy, I might have killed myself too,” Appius laughed.

Those words elicited the response that Appius had wanted as Duncan attacked him haphazardly. Appius sliced through the younger vampire’s side, creating a large wound.

Duncan cried out in pain, and Klymene looked at him with concern; however, like the ancient she was, she did not allow her emotions to rule her own response.

“Go!” she yelled to Duncan even as she stepped between him and Appius.

Appius grinned maniacally. It was clear that there was love between the two of them—affection that went beyond bloodline affiliation—which would make it so much more rewarding to kill them.

“No!” Duncan snarled out, though obviously in pain.

Klymene kept her eyes on Appius. “My love, if you don’t stop distracting me and get your pretty ass somewhere to heal, I will be very angry with you.”

Rethinking his previous course, Duncan relented, “Well—we couldn’t have that.”

“Elina!” Klymene yelled over her shoulder, though she kept her stance strong. Otherwise, Appius would have taken advantage.

A black Werebear almost immediately came up behind Duncan and practically dragged him away.

“I must say that this room is turning into quite the collection of Supernaturals,” Appius smirked as he began to circle his prey. She moved to counter his own movements.

As the demons and fairies seemed to create lightning at the other side of the room, she nodded in agreement. “Indeed.”

“Ah, Anatoli and his kin are quite handy in a fight,” Appius smiled. “Their service was a surprise gift for Russell.”

“Mercenaries for hire,” Klymene said with derision.

“Actually—no—Anatoli owed me a favor.”

“Then once I kill you, they will have no reason to fight,” Klymene grinned.

Ready to get things going, Appius lunged, and she met his blow with her sword before turning in a tight circle and lunging back.

Appius licked his lips. “You are strong. It will be a pleasure to kill you,” he taunted. “Then I will finish off your beloved.”

Klymene would not be bated to anger, however, and each of Appius’s thrusts was met and countered. Indeed, she was very skilled.

And she’d been itching to fight Russell, though her mistress had convinced her that it would be folly. Appius would be a good substitute, however.

As happens in war, other skirmishers tried to interrupt their duel, and—at times—they were forced to fight others. But they always found their way back to their own duel—wanting very much to finish it by finishing the other off.

At least they could agree about that.

 

XXXXXXXXXXX

DUNCAN POV

Duncan was pissed off—embarrassed even. Letting his emotions drive him, he’d made a newborn mistake, and if his bonded had not been with him, Appius would have easily killed him.

Klymene had been correct in her assessment that he needed to get off the battlefield—before he cost his allies their lives. Having dragged him to the corridor, Elina gave him a look that seemed to communicate that he should wait a moment.

He knew what that look was about as soon as the pack of wolves who’d been pretending to be bomb squad members charged. Duncan smiled.

“Fresh blood,” he grinned, knowing that he would soon be drinking deeply. He saw that Henry, Tray, Mustapha, Kuruk, and Onawa were behind Elina. They had all shifted as well, and—as one—they charged the pack.

Yes. Duncan planned to drink deeply of a few Weres and then rejoin his mate.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

BRADY POV

Brady had howled as he saw his mother fall. He knew that she was hurt badly, for he could smell her blood—even from across the room. He had tried to get to her, but he had been headed off by Russell’s Alpha, Dane.

Brady had seen a vampiress—the Ancient Pythoness herself—collect his mother into her arms and zip out of the room. Knowing that he couldn’t be distracted if he was going to defeat the larger wolf who had made him his quarry, Brady had turned his focus completely onto Dane.

The wolves had lunged at each other several times—trying to land blows with their deadly claws. However, while Dane was stronger, Brady was faster and was able to avoid all but a few superficial blows.

The battle had lasted for a while, but Brady finally had an opportunity to scratch at his opponent’s throat. Dane cried out, and without mercy, Brady followed his claws with his fangs, tearing a huge hole into his opponent’s neck. Not giving up, despite the fact that he was lost, Dane slashed at Brady’s side—right before the smaller Were ripped out his throat.

Bleeding badly and in intense pain, Brady felt the magic that was keeping him a wolf draining from him. But he didn’t let go of it. He limped off in the direction that his mother had been taken.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

DILLON ROTH POV

Dillon Roth had been orphaned, and—like many Weres in his position—his first shift had been unexpected and troubling. Luckily for him, it had not occurred where it could be witnessed by his foster parents.

Always incredibly clever, Dillon had soon figured out that he needed to shift at the full moon, but he didn’t know that there were others like him until he was eighteen and joined the army. One of the recruiters had given him a knowing look and had made sure that he was in a unit “well-suited” to his skill-set. That unit had turned out to be made up entirely of Weres.

And from them, Dillon learned about his kind and the other Supernaturals of the world.

After ten years in the Army, Dillon had decided to pursue more lucrative employment, becoming a private soldier—a mercenary. For the greater part of a decade, various agencies and individuals overseas had paid him very well to protect their interests without asking questions or “developing scruples.”

Dillon had had absolutely no problems with performing his duties.

What he had problems with was the listlessness he’d faced after returning to the States two years before. He’d formed lose ties with other unaffiliated Weres in Arizona. And he’d even done a little private security work for the Vampire King of that state, but Dillon didn’t feel as though he had a home.

And he could not find a pack that would accept him.

It was from a couple of King Sampson’s full-time Were guards that he heard about Russell Edgington’s pack. The Weres, though loyal to Sampson, had criticized Russell’s Weres for being too tied to their vampire king.

But—the more Dillon had heard about the pack—the more he’d liked what he heard. Russell’s pack was tight-knit. And it didn’t require a shared history with the pack to become a member; hell—Dillon had been denied membership into several packs throughout his life because of two main reasons. First of all, the packs didn’t generally take “outsiders.” And, secondly, even if they did, the Alphas of the packs were worried that Dillon would challenge them.

Truth be known, Dillon didn’t want to be a fucking Alpha! He was a soldier and a good one. And he didn’t mind taking and following orders. What he wanted was to put down some roots—and maybe even start a family.

The one thing that he didn’t like regarding Russell’s pack was the rumors of excess V-usage. However, after he spoke to Russell for the first time, his fears were allayed. After that, Dillon had contacted many of the lone wolves that he knew. Being in the military and—especially—being a mercenary for hire had helped him to meet quite a few. The promise of money, security, and a place to settle down—not to mention a pack to join—had enticed many of them to form ranks around Dillon. Best of all, the Alpha of Russell’s pack, Dane, hadn’t been intimated by their joining. On the contrary, he seemed to appreciate the fact that strong Weres would be added to his pack. And he’d made clear the day before that if anyone in Dillon’s group wanted to challenge him for Alpha after Russell’s battle was won, he’d welcome the fucking contest!

Dillon had liked Dane immediately. Respected him immediately.

But Dillon wondered, now, about some of his choices. Though his hand-picked crew were all strong and well-trained, the ones they faced in battle were not as Russell had indicated they would be. Russell had made clear that his main pack would provide the fucking cannon fodder and that Dillon’s group would provide only the finishing touches. However, Russell’s main pack had been stopped by another group of Weres before they could even get near the fucking ballroom!

Meanwhile, Dillon’s group was left to face quite a few strong Weres.

And several fucking Werebears!

Oh—and a strong motherfucking vampire too!

Though he’d fought well, Dillon had watched as his group was slain one by one, many of them feeding the thirsts of the vampire. However, it was a Werebear that he faced off against for his own final battle.

Dillon yelled as the beast got the upper hand, put him on his back, and ripped a gash along his sternum. And then—after staring at him for a moment as if to taunt him—the Werebear pushed a claw into his heart. And Dillon left the world without ever finding the home he craved.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

BRADY POV

Unable to help it any longer, Brady turned back into his human form right before he reached the door where his mother’s scent had led him.

The smell of her blood was overpowering. But—then again—so was the scent of his own blood.

He opened to door to see the Ancient Pythoness kneeling beside his mother’s dead body. Brady fell to his knees on the other side of her, weeping.

“I was always going to be gifted with a new child on this day. I offered your mother that gift, but she sought out your father instead. And Sookie turned me down as well.”

“What?” Brady asked, looking up into the glossy eyes of the ancient vampiress. However, clearly overwrought from both grief and pain, the Were had a difficult time focusing on her.

“Your body is in shock, and your wounds are mortal,” she said bluntly. “Not even my blood will heal you—unless I take the rest of yours first and make you my child,” she added.

“What?” Brady asked again, obviously having a hard time following her words as more blood flowed from his deep wounds.

“Russell only needed the promise of my attendance to hold off his attack. And that gave Eric’s force the chance to strike first and control the battle. And control it—they are,” she said with a smirk. “I came here this night not to help anyone in that ballroom, for my help would have become hindrance,” she said knowingly. “That is a fact that I saw every time the future presented itself to me.”

Brady slumped onto his mother’s body.

“She was fierce in battle—just as you were. She killed many before she—herself—was mortally wounded. She would have been a worthy child, but she wished to join her beloved.”

Brady sobbed, blood coming from his mouth.

“I came to this place tonight to make a child,” she smiled a little. “I’m glad it will be you. We will have fun together. I have seen this. But—of course—the ultimate choice is yours.”

Brady gasped even as realization hit him.

His mother was dead.

He was dying.

The most revered vampire on the planet was offering to be his maker.

“Leonie will be pleased if you have a longer life,” the vampiress said knowingly. “But make up your mind for yourself.”

“But I’m a Were,” he choked out.

“You will face prejudice from some, but from no one that matters,” Pythia said. “And your gift will be that you will still shift, though only on the nights of the full moon. It is more than most transformed Weres get,” she added with sadness in her tone.

Brady coughed, more blood coming from his lips.

“You must decide,” Pythia said gently. “Soon.”

“You want this?” he coughed.

“Yes,” the vampiress said quickly.

“Then my answer is yes,” Brady said.

Immediately, Pythia’s fangs snapped down, and she moved to take the young man’s blood. There was not a lot of it left to take. As soon as she knew that his body was almost empty—ready to be filled with her own blood and magic—she bit into her wrist.

Her child swallowed without hesitation or instruction—always a good sign. He would cling to his new life and would live a long one.

Yes—she was glad for him.

She felt the spark of her new bond with her new child just as she felt a sharp stab of pain.

Tears of blood fell from her eyes. Roman had fallen.

As one child-maker bond grew and flourished, the other died and withered away.

Her pain was excruciating.

Her joy was profound.

This moment, like so many others in her life, was a paradox. She’d seen this possible future centuries before, but she was still unready for it in many ways. She could have tried to save Roman, but she would have failed, ultimately buying him only a few more minutes of life before another foe cut him down. Her continued presence would have also caused the Viking’s cause to fail.

Still—the choice had been a difficult one. The mother could have been by Roman’s side as he’d been slain, and she could have avenged his killer. But she would have lost the chance to make her new child, whom she knew would be a tremendous vampire.

And Jacob would have been lost too—not something Roman would have wanted.

“You are not a replacement for Roman,” she said sadly, though she knew her child couldn’t yet hear her. “No one could be. Just as I cannot replace your loss,” she added, glancing down at Maggie’s corpse. Pythia covered the female Were’s body with a blanket; she did the same with her new child.

She sighed and picked him up before quickly moving out of the room and down a corridor that had been ravaged with fighting. No foes were left alive in it, however. She progressed to an entrance that she knew would be open to her and into a car that she knew would be waiting for her.

The fight in the ballroom was not over, but her role in the situation was—mostly. She said a prayer to gods even more ancient than herself that the Viking would prevail, but she could give him no more aid—at least not directly.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

FIVE MINUTES EARLIER

If Roman Zimojic had one flaw during battle, it was that he tended to get a little myopic, and once he’d decided that Nan was going to die by his sword, he was not to be swayed.

She’d betrayed him, after all, and that betrayal couldn’t go unpunished. With his child by his side, Roman made it to within five feet of her. He was within seconds of raising his sword to take her head.

However, seconds in a battle often meant life and death.

Only sixty seconds before, a stray blast from a demon had, ironically enough, hit Appius, causing him to be hurtled into a wall well away from Klymene. Instead of being able to pursue him, however, the elder vampiress had been engaged by the Weretiger, Quinn.

It took Appius forty seconds to rise and find another target: King Mitchell, who had proven turn-coat. However, unfortunately, the king zipped out of Appius’s line of sight in pursuit of Freyda, who had just badly injured Queen Dulcina of Texas.

Appius needed only five more seconds, however, to locate an even better target.

He reached into his now somewhat tattered jacket and pulled out a stake.

It made impact with Roman’s heart not a second later.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

NAN POV

There was a lull in the battle around her, and Nan was able to take a look around. Her maker’s allies had suffered more casualties than their enemies. Some strong allies, including Appius remained, but most of the monarchs that had given their allegiance to Russell were gone.

And her maker was still fighting Northman and his little Tinker Bell! Nan was a realist. She knew that if Russell didn’t finish off his current foes quickly—and start taking out the others—then he would have no minions left to oversee. Of course, it was also likely that Russell was hoping to capture the Viking and his fairy, which was why he’d yet to kill them. In either case, she wondered how she might help him. She glanced toward the corner of the room closest to where she was.

She smiled at her luck.

“Perfect,” she muttered, seeing the Northman’s annoying child taunting Sophie-Anne. Nan knew that if she could kill the brat, Northman would be at least momentarily affected by the pain. Then her maker could do as he needed to do.

Chapter Text

Chapter 36: Then

 

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”-Mahatma Gandhi

 

Russell was incredibly angry. Where had his plans gone so horribly wrong?! His allies were losing the fucking battle! Of that he was certain! Even as he’d been fighting Northman and his fairy, he’d been able to follow all the events in the room. Felipe de Castro and Bartlett Crowe had proven useless, falling quite quickly. The demons hadn’t been able to help any of his vampires because they were too busy fighting more fucking fairies! And Appius had been focused mostly on a very powerful vampire, whom Russell thought he recognized as Godric’s maker.

Roman was dead—at least. Thus, there was still a chance for Russell to take control of the situation. And he had several kings and queens “in reserve” so to speak. They were safe and sound in their own territories, waiting for his orders.

But there was a choice to be made, and he had to make it immediately. He could either continue his little cat-and-mouse fight with the remarkably “slippery” duo—and, perhaps, lose his chance to turn the tide of the battle—or just kill Northman immediately and then tear through his enemies like locusts through a field. He had already catalogued all of his foes in the room. And he was much more powerful than them all—put together!

However, he didn’t want to give up the opportunity of torturing Northman—or breaking him!

And his “not-dead” fairy.

But how much more work would he have installing himself as emperor if his didn’t “clean up” the current situation?

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Eric could feel Sookie’s triumph in the bond, and he knew that she’d begun to anticipate Russell’s moves. As soon as it was her “turn” to take one of Russell’s blows, he gave the signal.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Now!” Jasper called out when he saw the signal from Northman. Amelia and Octavia began to chant.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Nan took a stake from Roman’s sludgy remains and moved to kill Pam, who was distracted—along with the King of Arkansas, Peter Threadgill—as they toyed with their captive, Sophie-Anne.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Thalia and Bubba had killed many, but their main goal during the fight was to keep Pam safe, for they all knew that if she fell, then Eric would be momentarily incapacitated.

And Nan Flanagan was anything but subtle.

Thalia raised her sword.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Victor Madden had been vigilantly avoiding death since the battle had started—just as he’d been avoiding it for all of his years as a vampire.

He knew that—since Felipe was now dead—Russell would make him the King of Nevada.

Oh, he’d already avenged his king. After all, it would have been bad form not to. He’d killed both Isabel and her annoying brother, Miguel. “Miguelito,” he muttered with derision.

But, other than Isabel, he’d avoided fighting any vampire who was any kind of match for him.

Instead, he had fought weaker vampires and the Weres that “belonged” to Northman. He’d managed to kill many, and he’d taken the arm of a female Werebear. His “fight” had been satisfying and “safe.” Of course, he’d also been keeping track of Russell in the center of the room. It seemed as if he was about to take down his prey.

Victor readied himself to go to his “emperor” and offer his services as soon as he was required. Perhaps Russell might even want him to secure the girl once he’d killed Northman. It was obvious that she had been weakened, for she’d not been able to produce any of her light weapons after the one she’d used to kill Alexei.

Victor licked a fang. He would knock Miss Stackhouse unconscious and then taste her—as he “kept her safe” for his master.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

FIVE NIGHTS EARLIER

Sookie sighed as she leaned back into her mate’s arms. They’d been in the natural hot springs long enough for her skin to wrinkle, but she wasn’t anxious to leave the bath. The next day they would travel to Rhodes, and she wanted to enjoy their final moments at Mammoth Lakes—at least as much as she could.

She was nervous, and—though Eric had begun sending her more and more calm and comfort during the previous days—she’d had a difficult time getting control of her nerves.

“You will do well,” Eric whispered in her ear. “Leave your nerves here,” he added, rubbing her back.

She sighed. “I’m afraid.”

“So am I.”

“What if I fuck up?”

“You won’t,” he assured.

“But what if I do?”

“Then we die,” he returned, “but we go on together nonetheless.”

She sighed and turned in his arms. “I believe that too.”

He gave her a little smile. “Good. All that we can do is our best, min kära. And that is what we will do. In battle, we may be defeated, but we will not lose. We will not waver.”

“Until it’s time to waver,” she said.

He nodded. “Yes. Until it is time for you to play opossum—as you put it.”

She chuckled. “How did Sun Tzu say it?”

“Pretend inferiority and encourage [your enemy’s] arrogance,” the vampire smirked.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

PRESENT

Sookie felt the increase in power from the witches right when she knew she would. Russell struck her sword, and she purposely let it fall before falling to her knees. Her husband made a move to keep Russell from striking at her now “defenseless” body. But she was not defenseless, nor were she and Eric on the defensive.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Appius smiled as he heard the fairy’s sword drop. “About time,” he muttered to himself. In his opinion, Russell had spent too long playing with Northman and his woman. He looked toward his brother, ready to witness him taking down the pair.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Duncan was finally healed enough to return to the main battle. As a bonus, all of Russell’s Weres were dead. He reentered the ballroom just in time to see his bonded kill the Were-tiger and look around the room—probably for Appius. The Welshman didn’t see him, but he did see Victor Madden keeping himself back from the main fight like the cowardly worm he was. Duncan moved towards his new target with glee.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Amelia and Octavia continued their chant, mustering all of their power.

Niall hit Anatoli with a fierce burst of energy, giving Leonie the chance to take the demon’s head.

Thalia swung her blade just before Nan reached Pam.

Two severed heads hit the floor almost simultaneously.

Sookie channeled every ounce of power and magic that was inside of her.

Russell cringed from the pain of his lost bond with his child.

Eric dropped his sword and flew straight upward.

From her knees, Sookie shot her light at Russell, hitting him square in the chest.

Eric landed behind Russell, having already pulled a stake from his breastplate.

Sookie’s light flung Russell right into Eric—right into the perfectly-angled stake in his hands.

The ancient vampire and would-be emperor burst into pieces of sludge.

Victor Madden grabbed at a clearly spent Sookie from behind, distracting Eric’s attention.

Duncan staked Victor from behind.

Letting out a wail of grief for his brother, Appius raised a stake and rushed at Eric, who had no sword for defense.

But the Viking didn’t need one.

He had his mate.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The first time Sookie had ever teleported had been when she thought Eric was in danger.

As she watched the situation in the middle of the ballroom unfold as if it were happening in slow motion, Leonie could already sense what was coming even before it did.

But she could do nothing to get to Sookie or to Eric in order to prevent it.

From their weeks of training, Leonie knew that Sookie’s teleportation gift was the one she was least accomplished at, especially after she’d been working with her light and was weakened. And—certainly—Sookie was weakened in that moment.

But that didn’t matter. Nothing would have.

There was no hesitation—no weakness shown—as Sookie “popped” between Eric and Appius.

Leonie had never been more proud of a being, and she immediately began to pray to her ancestors—especially to Ione—that the power of love would be enough to save Sookie.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sookie thought of two things as she “popped” between her mate and the stake that would have killed him.

That would kill her.

“For him to live, you will have to die,” Pythia had said.

“I love you,” was her other thought as she sent that emotion to her mate.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Appius was able to adjust the position of the wood in his hands the moment before it stuck the fairy’s heart. He pulled it out even before the girl could fall, aiming to kill Eric with the same projectile.

The Viking screamed as Sookie dropped to the ground. Immediately, he fell to the ground next to her, writhing in agony.

Completely vulnerable.

A ball of fairy light whizzed across the room as Niall shot Appius before he could finish off Eric.

Klymene “met” Appius’s hurled body—specifically the spot between his head and his shoulders—with her sword raised like a baseball bat, and the cruel ancient was no more.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sookie’s eyes were wide open and full of love. The expression was fixed. She had been dead from the moment the stake decimated her heart.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The witches were chanting again—this time, however, with different words. Words that they didn’t understand but chanted nonetheless. After all, one didn’t deny the Ancient Pythoness.

In a car across town, that ancient vampiress smiled a little.

“Well, maybe I can give them a little more help—and time.”

In the ballroom, Pam, Klymene, and Duncan all fell to their knees—yelling out in pain.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The Viking couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The bonds inside of him were being torn apart and so was he.

He was dying.

And then suddenly the pain was just a little less. It was still killing him, but a coherent thought registered in his mind.

The wedding ring on his finger warmed, and—in a flash—he saw a glimpse the future. A gift from the Ancient Pythoness herself.

And the hope that that glimpse offered gave him the strength he’d been lacking.

He moved his fingers to Sookie’s grandfather’s pocket watch—the cluviel dor—which he’d concealed in his costume.

The inscription in the watch filled his mind: Always remember—if I could love you for all time, I would.

The rest of the Viking’s energy was used to break the object over his mate’s bloody chest.

His body collapsed, his head falling onto his mate’s chest.

His eyes locked onto the cluviel dor.

The blood from his tears mixed with the blood of the wound that had killed his mate.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Even for supernaturals, the kind of magic unleashed by the cluviel dor was enough to make everyone stop what they’d been doing.

Weres, shifters, witches, demons, and fairies held their breaths as all looked at the Viking and his fallen beloved.

The vampires were completely still—as if their day-deaths had already taken them.

Pam, Duncan, and Klymene had recovered and were also unmoving—looking at Eric and Sookie with awe.

Not a single noise could be heard, except for a single word from the Viking.

“Please.”

A single word—a request made for pure love—ignited the magic that had gathered in the room. And no one was left on his or her feet as all of the air in the room seemed to rush to the center, impacting the pocket watch.

The cluviel dor.

Adele’s legacy to her part-Fae granddaughter.

Ione’s legacy to her Viking great-grandson.

A legacy which had waited generations to be fulfilled.

Now too weak to hold onto Sookie, Eric fell away from his wife’s body as she was taken up into the air, raised higher and higher toward the ceiling. From his back, the Viking kept his eyes on his beloved as sparks began to emanate from her. Blue and gold flashes—like colored lightning—struck her from all sides, igniting the sparks.

He gasped as she was seemingly encased within a fire that didn’t burn her.

The agony he’d felt only moments before stopped, and the vampire could feel his bonds with his beloved healing even as his wife’s body was hit with more colored light.

And then, suddenly, the fire and the light stopped and Sookie was no longer in the air. She was lying next to him. Her red bodice was still stained with even darker red blood, but there was no gaping hole inside of her perfect heart. It was beating, and her eyes were closed.

She was breathing. She was asleep.

The vampire sighed.

He smiled.

And he slept, too.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37: After

 

“Drink this,” Elina ordered, prompting Eric to open his eyes.

The Viking was disoriented for a few moments—until his internal clock reset itself. He’d been unconscious for only five minutes or so.

The Werebear was back in her human form and was wearing a long plain housedress.

“I can’t,” Eric said as he sat up. His eyes had already found Sookie, and she was still asleep. Her fingers were interlocked with his, but he didn’t know how they’d gotten that way.

Leonie was hovering over her, tears still in her eyes.

“It worked?” he asked the fairy.

She nodded and smiled through her tears. “Yes. She is alive, and there are no signs of her wounds. She is simply sleeping. Resting.”

“Drink,” Elina ordered again.

Eric shook his head. “I can have no other blood than my bonded’s.”

“Yes you can!” Octavia said insistently from behind Elina. “But just synthetic. It will taste like shit, but you need it. You were quite taxed, vampire,” she said.

“And Sookie will need some of yours when she wakes up, Brother,” Duncan said, his words immediately breaking through his stubbornness.

Eric sighed, but nodded. “Fine.” He took the blood and drank it like medicine.

Another bottle seemed to appear out of thin air, but Eric drank that one without protest—at least of the verbal variety.

“No more,” he said when a third bottle appeared. “I couldn’t choke it down even if I wanted to,” he added—when it seemed as if Elina and Octavia would continue in their roles as mother hens.

He looked around at the destruction in the ballroom even as he pulled Sookie into his arms. In her sleep, she snuggled against him.

It was the best feeling in the world to know that she was moving—to feel that she was resting.

To feel that their bonds were alive and intact.

That she was alive.

And intact.

“Report,” Eric said to Duncan.

“We have won,” his brother said matter-of-factly, “but the cost has been high.”

“Who did we lose?”

“Roman,” Duncan said, his eyes full of pain. Eric knew that Duncan and Roman had been near brotherhood in their friendship.

Eric acknowledged his brother’s loss with a deep nod. “Who else?”

Duncan straightened his shoulders. “Other vampire losses include King Isaiah of Kentucky, Rosalyn Harris, Isabel, Miguelito, and Chow. Jacob was very badly wounded when he tried to avenge his maker’s death. But he will regrow his limbs—in time,” he added darkly. “Queen Dulcina was also hurt badly; she lost both her legs, but she is already with Ludwig, as is Jacob.”

“Ludwig?” Eric asked.

“She was on stand-by,” Duncan informed. “She’d been called in by the Ancient Pythoness herself—last week.”

“Figures,” Eric muttered. That elder vampiress frustrated him to no end, but he figured she’d had her fingers in a lot of pots that night—despite her claims that she would stay out of things.

“The others?” the Viking asked.

“Maggie is dead,” Duncan sighed. “And we cannot find Brady, though a lot of his blood was found near his mother’s body. He is presumed lost as well.”

Eric heard a sob from Leonie. He, too, felt the loss of his friend greatly.

Klymene spoke up from behind Duncan. “Brady is not lost,” she said, holding up her phone. “He was mortally injured, however. Pythia has turned him.”

Leonie gasped. “Really?”

Klymene nodded. “That is what this text from Batanya says.”

“Who’s Batanya?” Duncan asked.

“One of Pythia’s chief guards—a Britlingen,” Klymene responded.

“He will live!” Leonie said with a smile.

Klymene nodded. “Yes. He will live for a long time now.”

“Good,” Eric said. “Another finger, another pot,” he added to himself.

Duncan went on. “Twelve of Henry’s pack members have been lost, but he wanted me to make sure Sookie knew that Alcide Herveaux was alive. Tray Dawson has lost a leg, and Onawa, the Werebear, has lost an arm, but those wounds were done by sword and are clean; the limbs have been found. Niall was able to enliven the nerves, and Tray and Onawa were taken to the hospital. Rasul and Queen Lena of Quebec went with them and will make sure the doctors are glamoured to perform reattachment procedures immediately. Then they have agreed to give them both their blood to hurry the healing.”

“Niall?” Eric asked with disbelief.

“Yes,” the fairy elder said, stepping forward.

“Why are you here?” the Viking asked.

“I came to help. The Ancient Pythoness called in a favor,” he said, looking at Leonie. “I still dislike you very much,” the fairy added, glaring at Eric. “But I have learned of your,” he paused, “association with my wife.”

Eric nodded. Clearly Pythia had told Niall that Eric was the great-grandson of Ione, Leonie’s own relative. But that didn’t make the vampire any less embittered toward the fairy for his treatment of Sookie.

“I can see that you still don’t like me much either,” Niall smirked. “But I did blast the vampire who stabbed my great-granddaughter—before he could do the same to you.”

“That is a start,” Eric said through clenched teeth.

Niall chuckled. “Perhaps I will like you more in the future, but for now, I have other things to attend to,” he added before popping away without so much as a goodbye.

Leonie rolled her eyes. “And that is why I take lovers!”

Those in the room laughed collectively. They needed it.

“Any more casualties?” Eric asked after a few moments.

“Desmond Cataliades was also wounded, but he will survive. The kings and queens who allied with us lost many people altogether. These numbers are not yet known.”

“Our remaining enemies?” Eric asked his brother.

“Our remaining demon enemies fled after the patriarch of their clan fell. All the Weres and the Weretiger, Quinn, were killed during the battle. Queen Freyda yet lives, but she was captured by King Mitchell, who is likely already torturing her somewhere because Freyda was the one who injured Queen Dulcina. And Sophie-Anne yet lives,” Duncan informed.

“Kill her,” Eric said in a flat tone.

“Happy to,” Peter Threadgill said from the other side of the room before thrusting a Bowie-knife-shaped stake into her heart.

The redhead hadn’t even had time to mutter a protest.

“Dammit, Peter. You are gonna owe me for that,” Pam pouted.

“I will gladly pay,” Peter smirked.

“Are our other enemies dead?” Eric asked, ignoring the banter between his child and the king.

“Talbot fled at the first sign of battle—with Hadley. They are holed up in Russell’s suite.”

“Bill?” came Sookie’s voice as her eyes fluttered open.

Eric didn’t much care for the first word out of her still-alive mouth, but he was glad she was awake.

“He’d better be dead too,” Sookie clarified.

Eric smiled. There was his warrior.

“He hasn’t left Russell’s suite since he returned after killing Hallow,” came Kuruk’s voice. He was clicking away at a laptop.

“Kuruk?” Elina said as a question.

“When I told Brady I liked computers, he showed me some stuff,” the young Werebear explained.

His grandmother nodded and looked at Kuruk with pride.

“You should be with Onawa,” Sookie said, her voice scratchy. Obviously, she’d heard at least some of Duncan’s report.

Elina smiled at the young woman and offered her some water. “My place is here. My daughter will be well, and my medicine couldn’t help her anyway.”

Sookie took the water and nodded.

When she was done drinking, she looked up to see that everyone was looking at her.

She turned to her Viking.

“I died?” she asked.

He nodded.

“How am I here?”

“A piece of magic locked up inside of the watch you gave to me,” Eric responded.

“Fintan’s watch?” Sookie asked, looking at Leonie.

The fairy nodded in confirmation.

Sookie took a deep breath and looked at her bloodied and torn dress before looking at her mate.

“Are you okay?”

“The magic healed me too,” he said caressing her cheek gently.

“Okay,” Sookie said after a minute, during which the others in the room allowed for the couple to reunite with as much privacy as possible. “What now?”

Eric kissed her forehead. “My warrior,” he whispered.

“Now we get the fuck out of here—right?” Kuruk spoke up.

Elina turned to glare at him.

“I learned that word from you, Gran,” he returned. “And I’m eighteen now. And I killed the leader of that bomb squad group. That’s gotta entitle me to saying ‘fuck!'”

The elder Werebear rolled her eyes. “No. It does not.”

Kuruk frowned.

Eric chuckled, feeling lighter than he had in . . . .

Lighter than he had forever.

“We need to get out of here. What’s the status of the staff?”

Henry stepped forward. “After the fight broke out, the staff followed protocol and moved to their safe-room. Only a few donors were lost in the melee, killed mostly by fleeing vampires.”

Eric could feel his mate’s regret over their lives, but there was no time to pause for grief over people they didn’t know. Grief would come later—for Maggie, for Roman. Now there was practicality to consider.

“Tell the Were staff that we will be moving all the bodies to this room and that we will seal it,” Eric ordered. “Tell them that we will take care of it tomorrow night.”

He looked around at his allies in the room. “This hotel is going to be blowing up tomorrow. Fellowship members have already set bombs in place. We need to quietly inform any remaining neutral vampires to leave here—without saying why they need to do so. I’m sure that if they thought Russell or Appius was still running amuck, they would run too.”

The Viking turned toward Henry. “Place Russell’s dead Weres in here, and take the bodies of your people and get out of the area. There will be restitution for them.”

“They died in duty,” Henry said. “There is no need.”

“I know,” Eric said gratefully. “But I will do the right thing by them, nonetheless.”

The Were Alpha nodded respectfully.

“After the room is sealed, Amelia and I will do a spell to make sure it stays that way until the hotel is brought down,” Octavia said.

Eric nodded. He looked at Kuruk. “I will need you to continue doing what you are doing until the hotel goes down. Can you do that remotely?” he asked, pointing at the computer on Kuruk’s lap.

“Sure,” the young Werebear answered with a proud smile.

“Make sure that Talbot and Bill do not come out.”

“A human woman is also in Russell’s suite,” Kuruk informed.

“Hadley,” Sookie whispered.

Eric looked down at her.

“She made her bed, Eric,” Sookie said sadly.

“Yes. She did,” he responded.

“What of the Authority?” Queen Agnes asked, stepping forward. “With Roman gone, stability will be needed.”

“You are the oldest Councilor,” Dieter Braun said from the side of the room. “By the rules we decided upon ourselves, you are automatically nominated as the new Guardian. And I would like to second that nomination.”

“All in favor?” came Edwin’s voice.

“Aye,” Peter said.

“Aye,” Kibwe echoed.

“Aye,” Dieter and Edwin said at the same time.

“And I’m certain that Lena will confer,” Duncan said. “Do you accept?”

Agnes looked at Edwin and then at Duncan. “Yes.”

“Then by my authority as Magister, I confer upon you the status as Guardian—yadda, yadda, yadda—and for your first act, I ask that you release me from your service,” Duncan added.

“In a fortnight,” Agnes responded. “We’ll need muscle for a bit.

Duncan growled but nodded in agreement.

“Okay, let’s move,” Eric said, as he rose with his mate still in his arms. She seemed happy to be held, and he was certainly happy to be holding her. “Oh,” he said, looking again at Kuruk, “did Brady tell you about Scenario 1?”

“Yes,” Kuruk responded. “The emails are all ready and I’ve activated them so that they will be sent at the times specified.”

The Viking nodded, feeling his bonded’s relief that the warnings Brady had previously set up to go out to the human and Were staff of the hotel would be distributed as planned.

Chapter Text

Chapter 38: Relief

 

ONE HOUR EARLIER

Given the carnage, the hotel staff had proven as discreet as could be hoped. And Duncan had dealt with the situation in his role as Magister.

It didn’t hurt that most of the night-time employees at the Pyramid of Gizeh were Weres and vampires.

The hotel’s owner, Lance Johnston, of course, was aware that a large fight had occurred, but Maggie and Brady had previously insured that no cameras would pick up anything after the action started. Thus, Lance had no idea of what had happened beyond what Duncan told him—which was that a large group of V-influenced Weres had attacked the vampire Masquerade, but had been subdued. Lance was also told that the bomb squad team was a hoax—and a part of the V-pack.

As a Were himself, Lance was disgusted by the idea of V-addicted Weres. He was also apologetic that he’d not confirmed the credentials of the bomb squad team personally.

Lance was also informed that two members of his own staff had been killed in the fray, Brady Johnson and Maggie Smith. The owner looked slightly disappointed, but then recalled that both Weres were relatively new to his establishment and had no pack affiliation. And since they’d been required to sign the liability wavers that were standard for any Were who was employed at the Pyramid of Gizeh, Lance had felt that he’d gotten off lucky—all things considered.

Of course, the hotel owner’s thoughts were telepath-confirmed. Sookie had insisted. And Eric could deny neither her pragmatism nor—well—actually, he couldn’t deny his newly resurrected wife anything.

Finally, Lance had been told—quite firmly—that while his people could “clean up” certain areas, the vampires would be in charge of removing all the dead and “cleaning” the ballroom and the corridors around it. In fact, Duncan informed the owner that he’d called in two “cleaners” to do the job and that they’d be on site the next night.

Of course, the Were had heard of such people before, and he knew enough to be scared of them. He promised that his people would stay out of the area of the hotel where the main battle had taken place, and Duncan assured that his own people would be guarding the area to insure that the staff did just that.

Lance was smart enough not to fuck with the Magister.

The Were owner also clearly wanted the situation to “go away” as quickly as possible. Plus, he understood that it was best not to ask questions of his vampire patrons, even when a story was full of holes. Luckily, he always kept about a dozen vampires on staff, and it was hotel policy for the human employees, donors, and guests to be glamoured to make them forget—carte blanche—an entire night that included “trouble.” It was one of the reasons why the hotel was so popular with vampires.

As Eric parked his car in the garage of his safe house on the outskirts of Rhodes, he had a moment of regret as he thought about the Pyramid of Gizeh being blown to bits, but he knew that Lance Johnston would have the hotel heavily insured, and he also knew that the Were would likely rebuild it even bigger—claiming defiance against “hate groups.” Such was the way of businessmen.

In the passenger seat, Sookie let out a long sigh of relief as the garage door closed behind them. Though the threat of Russell was over, the situation was ongoing. And it would be until the hotel fell to the ground, hiding the evidence. All the vampire soldiers who’d fought on Eric’s side had been sworn to secrecy, as had the surviving Weres. And there was not much left of the enemy—except for the few remaining in Russell’s suite, but they wouldn’t be allowed to escape.

Luckily, most of those fighting had done so thinking that they were fighting for Roman. And the story was already being spun with a mixture of truth and fiction.

The truth? That Russell had been attempting a coup against the Authority.

The fiction? The “fact” that Eric had been an enforcer for the Guardian all along and that the previous Magister had been “bought” by Russell.

The gossip would soon include the idea that Roman had been hiding Eric after he ordered him to execute the previous Magister in the name of the Authority. Eric would become just another “soldier” in the story—though he would be noted as the one who brought down Russell Edgington.

And the fairies? Well, their presence would be explained by the demons. It would be confirmed that Appius, who had the reputation of being a mercenary himself, had been hired by Russell and had brought along the demons as extra muscle. Agnes would also be putting into her “official report” that the fairy, Niall Brigant, approached Roman because of an old secret alliance they’d had. The details would remain murky, but most would assume that the fairies had been keeping their eye on the Christopoulos clan.

Eric didn’t care too much about the details, just as long as his mate was kept out of them and his own role in the fray was limited to “participant.” He didn’t mind being known as Russell’s killer, however.

Reputation was useful since it meant no one would want to fuck with him—or his mate.

“So—are we getting out or what?” Kuruk asked, interrupting Eric’s thoughts.

The young man and Leonie had come with him and Sookie—both to add to the daytime security of the safe house and because Eric wanted to have Kuruk nearby as he monitored the happenings at the hotel via Brady’s computer set-up.

The bombing would occur during the daytime—though Eric intended to “stay up” until the hotel was razed.

“Just checking the area for any dangerous minds,” Sookie told Kuruk, having obviously been interrupted from her own thoughts as well. Eric could tell that she was feeling an odd mixture of pensiveness and relief.

He was feeling the same.

“All clear,” Sookie said with a wink in Eric’s direction. Before she could even open her car door, however, Eric was at the other side of the car and taking her hand to help her out.

She, of course, didn’t need any help, but it was clear that she understood her mate’s current overprotectiveness. She had died, after all.

The safe house that Eric had brought them to was a new one added to his fleet of homes. Brady had been the one to secure it, and the Were had outfitted it with all that would be needed for their short stay, including its own advanced computer network.

The Viking sighed, wondering when he’d see his friend again. His new vampire friend. Of course, it was to be Brady who performed the role that Kuruk would now fulfill, but Eric trusted that the boy would be able to do it. And, if not, Eric knew how to accomplish the rest of the plan since Brady had set everything up and walked the Viking through it all the previous night.

Indeed, Eric was—in part—testing the young Werebear, wondering if he might be able to take over the role that Brady had once served for him, at least as his pack duties allowed.

Either way, Kuruk’s role in the battle and its aftermath was clearly giving the boy a boost in confidence. And, in Eric’s opinion, the young man deserved his chance to shine. Elina had beamed when Eric asked Kuruk to accompany him. As heir to a strong Werebear den, the young man would only be helped by his experiences in Rhodes—and the reputation those experiences would help him to build.

After Kuruk set up his equipment and confirmed that the penthouse floor remained locked down and that no one had tried to exit, Eric felt Sookie relax a little more. As much as he hated not killing Bill Compton personally, there was something poetic in the fact that he would be blown up. And he knew that his bonded was relieved that he was not going to be the one to slay Bill.

Though she had become a warrior in her own right, Sookie didn’t like the idea of torture. Thus, Eric had not told her that he suspected that Russell had tortured Bill, following his slaying of the witch. Of course, the thought of what Russell could have done to Bill appealed to the vampire’s thirst for this enemy’s pain and blood. But there was no need to let his bonded know just how much he hoped Bill had suffered.

To allay Sookie’s fears and cater to her sensibilities, Eric had even once agreed, though reluctantly, that he would kill Bill quickly—if he was ever given the chance to kill him. Yes—dying in the bombing would be too quick, but Eric held out hope that Bill would not die in the bombing itself, but—instead—would feel himself being burned in the sun in the ruins of the mangled hotel.

Yes—that was a happy thought to the Viking!

While Leonie went to the kitchen to fix a snack, Eric and Sookie took their things to the light-tight bedroom they were to share. They’d taken quick showers before leaving the Pyramid of Gizeh, leaving their bloody costumes behind to be consumed in the explosions. In fact, to make sure of that, an accelerant had been put on all the evidence to ensure it lit up with flame and was destroyed. The ballroom had been absolutely saturated with it!

The Viking closed his eyes as he sat onto the bed. There were only two things left to do. First—to simply wait for the Fellowship’s plan to come to fruition, thereby completing his own plan.

Second—and more importantly—to take care of his bonded.

To treasure her.

To love her.

As long as they lived.

He smiled softly at the thought.

“Are you hungry, min älskade?” Eric asked softly.

“No,” she returned with a loud sigh. “Tired.”

“Why don’t we rest until it is closer to time? Or you may sleep through it if you wish.”

“No, I couldn’t do that,” she responded.

He nodded. “Do not worry. The humans and Weres will get the warning in time to get out, and given the fact that we will tip off the exact time of the bombing, the human bomb squad will not attempt to go in. They will set up a perimeter and wait.”

Sookie nodded. “Still—I need to see. But a little rest sounds good right now—even if I don’t fall asleep.”

“I agree,” Eric said as he began taking off his clothing. Sookie was quick to follow suit. The vampire kept his fangs from snapping down at the enticing body of his beloved only because he knew that sex was not what she needed in that moment. She needed intimacy and closeness. She needed assurance that they’d both survived and were whole.

She needed him.

And he needed her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 39: Razed

 

Unsurprisingly, the media outlets had gotten wind of the bomb threat by the Fellowship as soon as the hotel began to be evacuated. The anonymous email warning Lance Johnston of the bombs and explaining where one of the many explosive devices could be found for confirmation would be traced to the account of a Fellowship member—thanks to Brady’s ingenuity and a little vampire glamour.

So the Fellowship would blame one of their most prominent members for being a turncoat. Sookie and her mate had both agreed that a little dissention in that group of fanatics would be a good thing.

The whole safe house had been equipped with light-tight shutters; thus, Eric was able to safely watch the television footage in the living room—where Kuruk was monitoring the computer feeds from inside the hotel.

Sookie and Eric were on the couch, the vampire sitting back on the piece of furniture in seeming comfort and the fairy-human hybrid sitting forward nervously. Every once in a while, Eric would send his mate a little comfort and strength through the bond, and she accepted it when she could.

Leonie, who was sitting on the other side of Sookie, was uncharacteristically quiet. She’d hugged Sookie about a dozen times since she and Eric had gotten up from their rest. And Eric had even allowed the affectionate fairy to hug him once—after Sookie had admonished him with a single mouthed word: “family.”

In truth, the Viking didn’t mind having Leonie as “family.” He knew that his developing Fae gift had helped to keep his bonded and him strong the night before. And he also knew that it had been partially responsible for keeping him alive long enough for him to use the cluviel dor, which was—itself—a part of his heritage. And Sookie’s.

Plus, because of the magic instilled in his wedding ring by the Ancient Pythoness, he’d seen a glimpse of the future—a future with Sookie in it. The hope which that glimpse had afforded had saved him from succumbing to despair.

Moreover, Eric had learned that the witches had been instructed by the Ancient Pythoness to conduct a spell if Sookie were to fall in the battle. To Octavia’s credit, she’d not questioned the seer and had prompted the spell at the sound of Eric’s anguished roar following his mate’s death. The effect had been to transfer a fraction of Eric’s pain to all remaining members of his bloodline, which was why Duncan, Klymene, and Pam had fallen down with pain.

That slight alleviation had been invaluable.

Leonie sighed and took hold of one of Sookie’s hands. It was clear that the elder fairy was also still shaken by the initial report that Brady was dead. Moreover, it was also clear that she was considering what Brady’s new status as a vampire—the Ancient Pythoness’s child, no less—would do to their relationship. Clearly, Leonie cared for Brady more than she might have been willing to admit—before.

Sookie gave Eric a worried look as he wiped blood from his ears. The bleeds had started about an hour before, but there was no pain involved. Still, it was clear that his mate didn’t like watching him bleed, so she turned back toward the television. He’d tried to offer his blood to her, for her body was still tired, but she’d refused to take the blood that was spilling out of him—because he was “sick.”

The Viking had been wise enough not to push the issue. He’d learned to pick his battles with her already, and she had fed from him right after their shower anyway—though she’d insisted that he take a drop from her too. Again, he picked his battles.

“How long?” Sookie asked nervously, glancing over her shoulder at Kuruk, who was monitoring the computer, even as he also watched the broadcast.

“Two minutes,” the Werebear reported. “And according to the feeds from inside the hotel, everywhere but the vampire floors have been evacuated. The owner just left the building. He was beside himself that the system locked down so that no vampires could be evacuated, but his staff got him to leave.”

“And Russell’s suite?” Eric asked.

“The Were guard left the suite and tried to get out, but he couldn’t get beyond the steel doors. Otherwise, there hasn’t been a peep from the suite. I assume that any vampires are asleep.”

“And there have been no calls from in there?”

“No,” Kuruk confirmed. “Brady’s program to shut down the hotel phones and to jam cell signals from the upper floors worked like a charm.”

“Brady,” Leonie sighed to herself.

Sookie squeezed her hand. “He’s alright. I’m sure we’ll get news from Pythia after he wakes up.”

“He’d better call me himself,” Leonie said forcefully. “Of course, as soon as Pythia is in her nest, I’ll teleport there, but it’s best that I’m not nearby right when he awakens,” she sighed.

“Yes,” Eric agreed. “He’ll need some control before he can be around you.”

Leonie nodded. “I know. Even if he cannot smell me—if he gets a taste of my blood, it’ll be all over for one of us.”

“You’ll work it out,” Sookie said confidently.

“Yes,” Leonie agreed. “And we have time now—much more time—to figure things out.”

The conversation halted as the video showed the first of the explosions. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the broadcast as explosion after explosion was seen. The Fellowship had been thorough.

In all, Eric heard thirty bomb blasts, though that included the ones that Brady had added to make sure that Russell’s floors would be obliterated.

Sookie gasped as the hotel literally collapsed upon itself, flattening like a pancake.

“Cool!” Kuruk said from behind them.

Eric could feel Sookie’s sadness.

“I wonder how many died in there?” she asked.

“Given Agnes’s thoroughness, I imagine only a few vampires did not heed the warnings to leave,” Eric comforted.

“So only they and maybe some humans that were with them would have been killed,” Sookie sighed, regret still in her voice.

Eric nodded. “Yes.”

“And Hadley.”

Eric pulled his mate’s body against his and kissed her temple while sending her comfort through their bonds. She accepted the gift and the closeness with gratefulness.

Sookie shivered as the smoke from the building’s collapse became thicker.

“It reminds me of September 11,” she said softly, a tear drifting from her eye.

“Whether they are domestic or foreign, human terrorists are the worst I’ve ever seen,” Leonie said evenly. “Of course, humans also have the greatest capacity for doing unselfish good,” she added with a sigh.

“You are the one who learned of the bombs in that hotel, min älskade,” Eric reminded gently. “Think of the lives you’ve saved today.”

“But all the ones taken last night,” Sookie sighed. “Maggie,” she added with a sniffle, “she was kind to me—and too full of life to lose hers.”

“I know,” Eric agreed, pulling her tighter and sending her comfort.

They were silent for a while after that, all beings in the room watching the television. Much of the fire literally blew itself out as the building collapsed, but some small fires remained, and fire engines soon surrounded the rubble and begin dousing it with water.

Half an hour after the explosion, Sookie insisted that Eric go to bed, but she stayed up to watch the mesmerizing footage for several more hours until she went to take a nap with her mate. She needed his closeness, especially after it was confirmed that there were six humans unaccounted for. Ninety-nine vampires were thought to have been in the hotel at the time of the explosion; of course, most of them were already dead long before the blasts. But no one would be able to distinguish one set of vampire remains from another, nor would they be able to tell that almost all of them had been in the ballroom when killed.

The vampires who were awake around the world were already vowing the assistance of their kind to recover the remains of any of their kind and to help with any recovery efforts for the other victims. Agnes would do the same as soon as the sun set.

By the time Eric rose, Sookie was awake again, and Leonie had “made her” eat.

Leonie seemed happy—and somewhat comforted—that “Anderson” had made it to the scene. Eric tilted his head as he looked at the television screen. He didn’t really understand the attraction that so many had for the silver-haired news anchor. Plus, it was well-known that Anderson Cooper was gay and wouldn’t have preferred either of the women who were currently “crushing” on him.

Indeed, Eric couldn’t really be jealous of the man. He knew his woman’s heart and also knew who owned it: himself. Plus, he agreed that Mr. Cooper was better than many of the newsmen on television nowadays. But he did miss Koppel, despite—or maybe because of—his extremely odd hair.

“What did I miss?” Eric asked.

“They’ve determined there are no survivors from the blast,” Sookie said gravely.

“That’s probably because of the extra charges Brady set,” Kuruk added, looking at the computer. “I’m following the police and firemen chatter, and they think that the bombs on the highest floors caused the most heat. Because of that—when the hotel fell—it was catastrophic,” the young man said, his tone full of hero worship for the Were turned vampire.

Eric couldn’t help but to concur.

“They’re sending in salvage teams tonight,” Leonie added. “The human authorities are going to take advantage of the vampires who are volunteering.

“Oh—and Agnes is addressing the media in half an hour,” Sookie said.

Queen Agnes—now also Guardian—had flown to New York, instead of to California, after the battle had been fought. Fortuitously, her trip there—with Edwin—following the Rhodes summit had already been planned; thus, no one would be suspicious.

Agnes had wanted to be on the East Coast—so that she could awaken earlier than the vampires in the Rhodes area and get on the air as soon as possible.

The Viking nodded. In his opinion, Agnes was a good choice to lead the Authority—in ways that even Roman wasn’t. Roman was bold and brash. He was also a little egotistical—not that that trait had ever bothered Eric. However, Roman had been interested in personal glory—at least to a certain extent. Agnes didn’t have that trait.

Eric took his spot on the couch and drew his bonded near. He had missed her by his side when he’d woken up, but he understood her need to know what was happening and her need to be a good hostess. These were just two of the traits that he loved about her. And there would be many nights that he would wake up with her warm body wrapped up with his cool one.

Yes many nights.

She curled into him now, though her eyes stayed glued onto the screen. “Anderson” was speaking with the fire chief about the cosmetic damage to the surrounding buildings; thus, Eric knew that the news cycle had run its course, and it was filling its 24 hours with any new scrap it might find.

Leonie was eating popcorn.

Eric’s phone rang—the phone that was supposed to only accept calls from Sookie.

And that could mean only one thing.

“Brady,” Eric said as he answered the phone.

“Yes,” his friend answered, though his tone had slightly more timbre.

“So—you took only one day to bake,” Eric commented. Vampires could take anywhere from one to three days to rise. Pam had taken three, but—then again—she’d always been obstinate.

“Yes. My maker called me eager.”

Eric chuckled as he looked at the eager faces in the room.

“You already have fans,” Eric smirked. “I am here with Sookie and Leonie. And Kuruk is fulfilling your duties—since you couldn’t be bothered,” the vampire teased. “The young Werebear is a prodigious disciple of yours—I think.”

“I figured he would be,” Brady said, his pride and confidence in the young man evident.

“So—you are like me now,” Eric said, even as the women in the room bounced with excitement.

“No,” Brady deadpanned, “I am apparently better. I can still shift, according to my maker, but just once a month.”

Eric sighed and closed his eyes, knowing what that piece of news must have meant to his friend. “That is very good news indeed. And have you fed?”

“Yes—generously,” Brady responded. “But with some control. My maker is pleased; she only had to command me to stop once—the first time.”

Eric smiled. “I am sure that you will prove formidable.”

“Eric,” Brady said, his tone turning serious, “my mother.”

“Her body was removed from the hotel by the Canada pack. It is being prepared for funeral rites. She will be honored,” the Viking responded soberly.

Brady let out a breath that was likely more habit than anything else. “Thank you.”

“She killed several Weres, including Debbie Pelt. She also eliminated a vampire before she was wounded,” Eric relayed, having heard of the valor of the Werewolf from Klymene.

“My maker says that I am not ready to be out in the public. Promise me that you will see to things—for her,” Brady requested.

“She will be placed next to your father,” Eric said. “Arrangements are already being made. She will be honored, and—when you are ready—we will honor her again,” he swore.

The Viking noted the tears falling from his mate’s eyes—and from Leonie’s.

“You fairy mistress misses you,” he said after a moment’s silence.

“I miss her too,” Brady admitted.

“A vampire and a fairy,” Eric said, winking at Sookie. “I can’t imagine that that would ever work.”

“A newborn vampire,” Brady reminded.

“And a full-blooded fairy,” Leonie added.

Eric knew that every supernatural in the room could hear both ends of the conversation. And Sookie could likely hear too, given the amount of his blood that she’d had since their vampire bonding.

“You have always been,” Eric reminded the newly-turned vampire on the phone, “creative.”

“I am—indeed,” Brady said with a chuckle. “Now hand the fuckin’ phone to her, Viking. You are boring me,” he added, sounding every bit the vampire—if Pam was his model, that is.

Eric chuckled as Leonie ripped the phone from his hands. He had no idea where she teleported, but it was far enough away for him not to be able to hear.

He shrugged and reached out to embrace his bonded again.

Twenty minutes later, Leonie reappeared, a bright smile on her face.

“One month,” she said triumphantly.

“A month?” Sookie asked.

“He’ll be enough in control then to see me according to Pythia, and she will order him not to ever bite me! So problem solved. Until then, I’ve told him to fuck anything he needs to!”

Sookie chuckled and shook her head, somewhat relieved that she would never understand everything about fairies.

Eric rolled his eyes as the fairy plopped down on the couch and picked back up her bowl of popcorn.

“What did I miss?” Leonie asked.

Even as Sookie began filling her in about the “filler” that had been on the news, Eric’s other phone rang—the one that he had been using for war business. The caller was not unexpected.

“Northman,” the new Guardian and Queen of California greeted.

“Agnes,” Eric said back.

“I trust everything went as planned?” she asked.

“Better than planned—actually.”

“Well—you always were a good general. Speaking of that, there are many states without monarchs tonight. Anyone that you want is available to you.”

“The offer is generous, but I’m going to turn you down.”

“I thought you would,” Agnes said with a smirk in her tone. “But I had to try.”

“I would ask a favor, however.”

“Yes?”

“My child. I would like for her to have the position as Sheriff of Louisiana’s Area 1. She’s always loved New Orleans, and I believe she’d thrive there. I’d also like to suggest Peter to be King of Louisiana. He is wise and strong beyond his years—and deserving of more territory.”

Plus, watching Pam interact with her new king would be amusing.

“Do you wish to retake your job as Sheriff of Area 5?”

“No,” Eric said firmly.

“May I ask what you will do?” Agnes inquired.

Eric looked at Sookie, who was clearly listening in.

“That has yet to be determined.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 40: The Guardian

 

Agnes had been a vampire for almost 950 years.

She’d been turned in England, and her maker had been kind and helpful—rather than a wrathful bastard like her husband’s maker. Edwin had been made in England around the same time as she. And their makers had been rivals.

Edwin had been quite grateful when Agnes’s maker had slain his own.

Agnes and Edwin had been two of the first vampires to touch American soil. They were explorers by nature; thus, they’d not stayed put on the East Coast. Salem was disturbing, after all.

They’d plunged westward before Lewis and Clark had even been born.

They’d found food from the native peoples who’d once flourished on the land. And they’d been revered by them for a time—until all people with white skin had become suspected of treachery. Having the whitest skin of all, Edwin and Agnes had needed to tread carefully among the native peoples after the 1800s or so.

Not surprisingly, Agnes and Edwin had been the first vampires on the West Coast, and they’d worked tirelessly to make sure the territories they’d claimed had prospered—despite the conflicts of culture there. Hell—they’d worked behind the scenes to ensure that California was the most multi-cultural state in the union, both among humans and vampires. Things were more interesting that way.

When Roman Zimojic had come to them centuries before—when the Vampire Authority in the Americas was formed—Agnes had been reticent about joining the ambitious vampire. But he’d convinced her that all members would have as much say as he did.

She looked down at the speech that she’d just written. As a vampire, she’d already memorized the words, but she liked reading them on the page nonetheless. In her opinion, words always seemed more real when they were written down.

“You are nervous,” Edwin commented.

Agnes smiled up at her best friend and long-term mate. They’d been pledged for almost three hundred years and would soon be renewing their pledge for another hundred—which was the longest a monarch would promise another through a pledge. Of course, if they’d been able, they would be pledged for life.

But a once-a-century celebration wasn’t a bad thing.

More than any other, Edwin “knew” her. They were seemingly the rulers of two different kingdoms: the states of California and the states of Washington and Oregon. However, they ruled all three territories together and rotated their residence.

They had done this from their first arrival in the West.

“This will all mean more work for you, too,” she told him.

“And less,” he commented. “Without Felipe around, we will not have to be forever guarding every inch of the border with Nevada.”

“That is true,” Agnes chuckled a little.

“You’ll go on with Roman’s plan? To rotate the Councillorships.”

“You should check your email, Your Highness,” she smirked.

“And would I have one from you?” he smirked back.

“Indeed.”

He took her into his arms and kissed her long and passionately; both were glad that breath wasn’t needed by vampires.

“So—what would my email from you say?” he chuckled.

“Too lazy to read it for yourself?”

“Too anxious to keep both of my hands on you,” he grinned.

She chuckled. “It confirms the rumor that I am now Guardian. And it calls upon all vampire monarchs to nominate anyone they feel is worthy to be one of the next Councilors. You should check these things,” she teased.

“I seem to remember you asking me to make about a dozen phone calls for you,” Edwin teased back.

“Can’t you do more than one thing at a time? You are a vampire after all,” she whispered, even as she nibbled on his ear.

“You are a demanding mistress,” he growled, though certainly not in anger. She’d had centuries to learn how to push all his buttons—just right.

“Too bad the press conference is in ten minutes—or I’d have some demands for you right now,” she said coyly.

“I’d be quite willing to answer your demands as soon as it is over—or even on live television if you asked,” he responded rakishly.

Agnes giggled and pulled away from him, giving him a wink as she did.

He chuckled.

“You know you have no reason to worry,” he said after a moment. “You know that the camera loves you.”

She smiled. “How did your phone calls go?”

“Dieter has agreed to take Nevada. God knows it will need someone strong after all of Felipe’s nonsense.”

“Mmm,” Agnes sounded in agreement. “And Arizona?”

“King Sampson and his second were both killed last night.”

“You mean in the blast this morning,” Agnes corrected.

“Of course,” Edwin smirked. “And it was not I who skewered Sampson’s second either.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Agnes winked.

Edwin went on, “Anyway, I phoned the oldest sheriff in the state, Allister, as instructed,” he added with a little bow of his head. “I confirmed the horrible news that Sampson was lost in the explosion. He didn’t seem too upset—to tell you the truth.”

“A mark in his favor,” Agnes commented.

“Indeed. I get the impression that most of the unsavory types in Sampson’s court were in the fight last night and that those left behind will enjoy the regime change.”

“Sampson was king only because Felipe was his maker. I think there are decent vampires left behind in all the states of the fallen rulers, except for Mississippi,” Agnes commented sourly. “All of those vampires were rotten to the core.”

“Yes,” Edwin agreed. “But most were killed last night.”

“Did Allister accept the role as provisional king?” she asked.

“Yes. Similarly Meegan is taking Indiana.”

“Mmm,” Agnes sounded. “She is the best left in that state, but I’m not sure she’d want to stay queen beyond a few months.”

Edwin nodded in agreement. “King Isaiah was a great loss, but his child is ready to take over Kentucky and will be just as good of a king, I think.”

“And friend,” Agnes said sadly.

“Yes.”

“Oklahoma?” Agnes asked, getting them back to business, even as they began the short trek down to the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, which was where the press had set up for the conference.

“The Magister filed the paperwork right after the wedding. Since Freyda and Mitchell were officially man and wife, the state is his.”

“He and Dulcina deserve it after their role in all of this.”

“Do we know anything about her condition?” Edwin asked.

“She lost both legs during the fight, but she is strong and will make it. King Mitchell will help to shore up her state until she has recovered, but she has strong sheriffs in place and a strong second.”

Edwin nodded. “That leaves just the Deep South to worry about.”

Agnes smirked. “Unlike some, I can multi-task. Alabama and Georgia will both be taken over by their respective seconds—on a provisional basis, of course. And—as for Louisiana and Mississippi? Rasul is taking Mississippi, and Louisiana is being taken by Peter. It was Northman’s idea, but we both know that Peter deserves more territory than Arkansas, and he will do well with it, I think.”

“You have been busy,” Edwin chuckled. “But I would have thought you would try to get the Viking to take Louisiana.”

“Who says I didn’t?” Agnes grinned. “Actually, I offered him any of the vacant kingships he wanted. He turned me down flat.”

Edwin sighed. “That is too bad.”

“Yes, but not a surprise.”

They got off the private elevator to their penthouse and were met by their guards—a mixture of Weres and vampires. After a few instructions were given to them, the monarchs continued to the lobby to meet the press.

“Wow! She’s really hot!” Kuruk observed as Queen Agnes took the dais. The young Werebear moved a step toward the television.

“She’s taken,” Eric said with a smirk.

“So?” Kuruk said brashly. “Maybe she is looking to trade up.”

Everyone in the room chuckled. Following the phone call with Brady, Leonie’s mood had brightened, and she’d even flirted with the young man—though it was clear that she wasn’t serious about following through. Still, Kuruk had had his ego boosted by the attention.

“See that vampire right behind her?” Eric asked.

“The redheaded guy?”

“That’s Edwin. King of Washington and Oregon and Agnes’s pledged. He might not be willing to share.”

Kuruk shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Again, everyone chuckled, but they quieted down as Agnes began to speak.

My fellow Americans, humans and vampires alike:

I have been selected by my kind to speak in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in Rhodes this morning, for our usual spokeswoman, Nan Flanagan is feared to be among the dead. It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you, for Nan was not the only friend lost in this shocking tragedy. In fact, if not for the grace of God, I would have been in the Pyramid of Gizeh this morning, for I was in Rhodes last night. It is lucky that so many left after the Masquerade ball, which marked the close of the vampire summit. Otherwise, the loss to vampire life would have tripled the already catastrophic number taken from this world too early. As it is, almost one hundred vampires are feared gone because the steel doors designed to protect us in the hotel malfunctioned and worked instead to prevent authorities from trying to rescue the sleeping vampires and their human companions.

Thankfully, all others were able to evacuate the hotel. Vampires are ready to help any families of the humans lost, and we are also ready, willing, and able to aid in the recovery and clean-up of the collapsed hotel. Even now, a group of twenty highly-trained vampires are on their way to Rhodes to check in with authorities there. We will notify the human authorities of the names of all lost vampires as soon as we have confirmed that they are, indeed, truly gone.

We were extremely disheartened to learn that the Fellowship of the Sun, a hate group which we know most humans disavow, has claimed responsibility for this terrorist act. Vampires ask only that the responsible members of this group are apprehended and tried in court for their evil actions.

However, we vow that no vampire will seek revenge for the cowardly acts of so few. As citizens of this nation, we believe in justice. And that is all we seek.

As I said before, vampires understand that the great majority of humans wish to live in peace—just as the majority of vampires wish to do. We will not allow terrorists to jade us or to destroy the good relations that have been created between vampires and humans in this great nation.

Our prayers go out to the families and friends of all humans and vampires lost in this tragedy.

Good night. And may God bless all the peaceful members of all of our races.

“She’s good,” Sookie commented as the graceful and eloquent queen left the podium, ignoring the questions from the press.

“Yes,” Eric said. “She will make a good Guardian. And she and Edwin have enough strength and support to ensure that mainstreaming thrives. It will take a while, but things will settle down in the states which lost monarchs, and now that Russell and his cohort are mostly gone, there should be peace—for a while.”

Sookie sighed and yawned.

“Come. You should sleep. And I must take Kuruk to his grandmother,” Eric said softly.

Sookie didn’t protest as he lifted her into his arms. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Her mate covered her with their quilt and returned to the living room where Kuruk was packing up the laptop he’d been using.

“Brady told Leonie I could keep it!” he said excitedly.

Eric chuckled and turned to the fairy. “Guard her until I return.”

“Of course,” the fairy nodded.

“Call me if I am needed,” he instructed.

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 41: Passed Tests

 

Leaving the safe house and driving forty minutes away was a test of sorts. Eric wanted—maybe even needed—to know what the effect on the bonds would be if he were not so close to Sookie. And he knew that the distance and the time away from Sookie would not be too great. Meanwhile, with Sookie asleep, he hoped that any discomfort she might have felt would be limited. And Leonie was present if the distance began to hurt his bonded in ways it didn’t hurt him.

It took only an hour to get Kuruk to the hospital, where Onawa and Tray were recovering and where Elina was waiting for him with a report.

Both Onawa and Tray were due to be released the following day, and the doctors had been glamoured not to question their amazing recovery rates. Between the fairy’s magic promoting quick healing and the vampire blood they’d been given, as well as their own capacity as two-natured beings to heal quickly, both Onawa and Tray would be fully functional again by the next full moon in two weeks’ time.

Eric didn’t bother to stay to socialize. Elina and Onawa would understand, and he barely knew Tray, though the Were had proven his worth.

In truth, Eric was already very anxious to get back to his bonded. It was clear that their bonds did allow for them to be apart from each other, for neither of them had been “physically pulling” at him to get back to her. Still, he missed her.

The Viking realized that he’d grown quite used to being with her—sharing all aspects of his life with her—and he honestly didn’t think that would be changing anytime soon. Or ever. But it was nice to know that they could have a certain amount of independence without the bonds causing them physical pain. He was hoping that neither Sookie nor he would ever think of the bonds as “limiting.”

Oh, they would clearly have to spend much time together, and they’d have to live together—both things they would have done anyway because of the love they felt for one another. But a little distance at times would help them maintain a healthy relationship, given their personalities. His bonded could visit friends and go places of reasonable distances from him during the daytime; in other words, she could function as a “normal” human. And he could sometimes leave her at home if he was faced with “bloody” nighttime tasks—not that Sookie was any shrinking violet.

Still, she hated gratuitous violence. And Eric had no doubt that there would be times when he’d have to deal out a bit of it in order to keep his family and friends safe. Sookie accepted that violence was a part of the supernatural world and would obviously participate in that violence—when needed. But Eric intended to try to balance honesty about any threats they faced with acknowledgement of her feelings. Of course, she would have to—in turn—try to understand his vampiric instinct to protect her, made even stronger because of their bonds. In truth, he did not believe that she would deny his bloodlust when it was warranted, such as when it had been in the Phoenix parking garage with the damnable Weres. After that incident, he’d felt her acceptance, not her judgment.

And he knew that he’d feel her continued acceptance of him, though he didn’t expect her “enthusiasm” when it came to his “darker” actions. And he was fine with that. He wasn’t expecting for her to suddenly transform into a blood-thirsty Viking either—though he did still plan to continue training her to be a warrior when need be.

As he pulled into the safe house garage, he assessed his surroundings. There were no suspicious scents. He could tell that the fairy was in the living room, likely eating even more popping corn. He could hear the steady heartbeat of his bonded. She was still asleep, and—if the bonds were any indication—she’d been that way since he left.

He sighed. They would leave that safe house the next night, but it didn’t matter. He was home.

“Will you come back at daybreak?” Eric asked the fairy, his kin.

Leonie smiled and nodded. “Of course. But, for now, I will visit Claude. I believe Niall will be with him.”

“I’d tell you to offer him my appreciation, but . . . ,” Eric started.

“But he was too much of an asshole last night,” she finished. “I know. But that was actually him coming around. He may do better in the future.”

“My bonded has a soft heart,” the vampire said. “She will forgive him and will want him in her life—but she will not allow him there if he cannot accept us and our bonds.”

“Yes. I think you are right. And I think that’s an improvement in her,” Leonie commented.

Eric looked at her in question.

“In the past, Sookie wanted so much to be loved that she would accept people into her life that didn’t accept her fully. In the past, she would have tried with Niall even if he critiqued her and the bonds at every turn. Now—because of your love and the confidence that she has built within herself—she won’t stand for such half-love. Such half-acceptance.” Leonie smiled. “I am proud of her for these things. And proud of you for bringing them out in her—for giving her the room she needed to find herself.”

“She has shown me that there is more to me, too,” Eric commented honestly. He’d come to trust the fairy—his relative and a woman who had become like a mother to his bonded. He marveled at the turnings of fate, for it continued to teach him lessons. He’d just gone through his darkest time in many ways, but he’d found that—when he’d called—he’d had allies aplenty.

Good allies—strong and true.

In that moment, he knew that he’d spent his life well, having lived honorably enough to earn those friends and the woman in his bed. He meant to continue earning her.

Leonie gave his arm an affectionate pat and then “popped” away.

Eric slipped into the bed behind his lover and practically purred as she moved automatically to mold herself into him.

“We are one,” he whispered.

Not wanting to wake her, he went into down-time for a few hours, just basking in her scent, her closeness.

And in their freedom.

“What has you so happy?” she asked groggily.

“It is a long list,” he sighed, coming out of down-time.

She turned to look at him. He’d left on the light in the hallway behind her, so she could see his features quite well.

“I have a long list too,” she shared.

“We are free, min älskade—free to do as we will.”

“And what would you like to do?” she asked, biting her lower lip somewhat nervously.

“Our winning doesn’t change that we are together, my love,” Eric reassured.

She chuckled. “I know. It just feels weird. I hardly let myself think about what would happen after Russell was gone—after we didn’t have to run anymore.”

“I know,” Eric responded. “It will take some,” he paused, “getting used to.”

“So what do you want to do?” she asked.

“Honestly?”

“Of course.”

“Hide out from the world for a while.”

She giggled. “That’s what we’ve been doing.”

“I know,” I chuckled but then sighed.

“Agnes offered you a kingship. And she offered you Area 5 back,” Sookie observed.

“Fangtasia was burned down. I’m sure most of my other businesses were too. There is insurance to be claimed, but I’m sure Desmond is on that—ready to file the paperwork as soon as the war was fought.”

“How is he? I didn’t see him after the fight,” Sookie commented.

“I don’t know if you noticed the group of demons that crashed the party last night,” Eric said, “the ones that kept our fairy kin busy.”

“They were the ones with the fire bombs,” Sookie commented.

“Yes. Anyway, once the battle was over and won, Jasper Fant and Desmond went after what was left of the clan. I believe there was a fight in an alley about a mile from the hotel.”

“What happened?” Sookie asked.

“The strongest of the clan was killed during the battle—as were several other members. Duncan told me that the remaining three were killed rather quickly. Apparently Jasper had been teeming for battle, though he’d stayed at his post protecting the witches.”

“Good thing too,” Sookie sighed.

“Mmm,” Eric voiced his agreement. “But Desmond suffered some minor injuries. He will be fine, however.”

“Okay.”

They were silent for a moment.

“I do want to go to Bon Temps—check on Gran’s house and see Jason. And Sam. And Tara—if she and Alcide go back to that area, though I have a feeling they might permanently settle in Canada with Henry’s group,” Sookie added.

“We can do that,” Eric said. “I have a couple of safe houses in the area that even Russell’s people shouldn’t have been able to find. There are,” he paused, “things in them that I would like to ensure are secure, but beyond that, I’ve no more interest in Area 5—not unless you want to live there.”

Sookie shook her head. “No. I’d like good enough relationships with my brother and friends to be able to visit, but I don’t think I’d feel at home there anymore. And I don’t think they’d accept you like they should. And that’s a deal-breaker.”

Eric leaned in and kissed her gently. “Thank you, my love.”

“So Pam’s going to be the Sheriff of Area 1?” Sookie asked after a moment.

“Yes. I think that she will accept it.”

“That includes Slidell—doesn’t it?” she asked.

“Why yes it does. Should we move there? Stay in that house and make it our nest?”

“What would we do?” she asked.

“You mean for a living?”

“Yes—silly,” she said, lightly hitting his chest.

He rumbled with a chuckle. “Whatever we want. You could go to school—either online or at one of the college campuses in the area. We could open a business.”

“What kind?” she asked.

“Any kind.” He smiled. “We both have bar experience.”

“A vampire bar like Fangtasia?”

“Hmm. Maybe something a little tamer—since I’m a married man now,” he chuckled. “But we could cater to Supernaturals if we liked.”

“I’d be a barmaid again?” she asked.

“You were never just that,” he commented. “We’d run the place together. Our roles could be whatever we wanted. Or we could open any other kind of business. It is fun to learn new ones, and I’ve already had experience with many kinds.”

“And you’ve got lots of dough,” she commented.

“Yes—you did marry into money,” he returned with a grin.

She shook her head. She had been slowly learning to accept that Eric had more money that he would ever know what to do with—even with Pam as a child. He had houses all over the world. He had investments in banks in Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, North America, and Europe. And he claimed that he would have one in Antarctica if there were a bank there. Currently, there was only a single ATM—Wells Fargo. But Eric was a visionary, and she knew it would be only a matter of time. Hell—to find more night, he might figure out how to settle them on the icy continent for half the year. She shivered and decided never to even mention that as a joke. After all, he might take her seriously.

“There is mischief in the bond, my lover,” Eric grinned.

“Hmmm,” she returned. “Maybe.”

He chuckled and leaned in to kiss her again.

“Of course, we’ve got to plan a human wedding now,” Eric said after he’d pulled away to let her catch her breath. That statement was enough to make her catch it again.

She glanced down at the ring Eric had gotten for her for her engagement ring. “What states allow vampire/human marriage again?” she asked after she’d caught her breath.

“Vermont . . . ,” Eric started.

“Not there!” Sookie said.

The Viking chuckled. “Fair enough. Massachusetts and California have ballot initiatives. We’ll know in the next week if they pass,” he commented.

“It’s November,” Sookie sighed. She brightened. “We could have a Thanksgiving gathering—for Leonie and Klymene and Duncan and Pam. And maybe Claude if he can get some more scent cover-up. Oh! And Amelia and Octavia.”

Eric interrupted her with a chuckle. “I think we’re going to need to rent a restaurant.”

“Or build one,” Sookie countered with a grin.

“Thanksgiving gathering next year then,” Eric grinned.

Sookie nodded. “Okay. Brady can come then. And we have to wait to get married till he can be there, too.”

“Why?” Eric asked.

Sookie rolled her eyes. “‘Cause I am going to have three bridesmaids: Leonie, Tara, and Amelia.”

“So?”

She rolled her eyes again. “That means you need three people to stand up with you.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t you know anything about human weddings?”

“Very little,” the Viking admitted with a chuckle.

Sookie sighed. “Duncan—obviously. And Pam. And Brady. Your groomsmen.”

“You think you know me so well,” he said flirtingly.

“Yeah,” she answered sincerely. “Just like you know me.”

“That we do, min älskade,” Eric said just as sincerely.

“So—visiting our old haunts, starting a life in Pam’s territory, and getting married,” Sookie listed. “What should we do first?”

“Hmm. How about a vacation?”

They both laughed.

“Up for a road trip?” he asked.

She giggled and suggested they start in Fort Stockton—right before she rode him like the stallion he was.

Chapter Text

Chapter 42: Part of the Rubble

 

11:00 P.M., THE NIGHT BEFORE

Dane wanted to stake the vampire he was being forced to carry to his tub.

The fucker!

Oh—Dane had nothing against the vampires in his master’s retinue, but he did have something against the murderer of Hallow, his beloved.

No one knew of Dane’s relationship with the witch. No one knew that he intended to mate with her—to father a pup with her. The way Dane looked at it, Compton had stolen his family!

The only thing that had been holding him back from getting Hallow pregnant before had been his loyalty to Russell. As Alpha, he needed his master’s permission in order to father a Were for the pack. He figured that after the battle—after Hallow had proved her worth yet again—he would be in the position to ask.

Of course, the Were knew that Hallow had been having affairs with others. But it did not bother him so much. He was not of a jealous nature. And she was a sexual being. However, Dane knew where her love lay, and it was with him.

“Fucking vampire,” he muttered as he took Compton to his room and threw him into the tub. But then he paused as he remembered that Russell always traveled with what he called a torture coffin. Almost impenetrable from the outside without a key, the coffin was made mainly of reinforced steel, but was inlaid with silver. And Dane had a key to it.

He looked down at Compton. “I am going to ask my master if I might place you in a special coffin for the night,” Dane smiled, hoping Russell would agree.

Bill choked out a sob. “I deserve no less.”

8:00 P.M., THE NEXT NIGHT

Jennifer Rigans sat looking at the fallen building in stunned silence. She’d been there all day, having been in the process of returning to the hotel after running a special errand for her master that morning. The day before, Russell had asked her to pick up a present he’d ordered for his consort, for—in addition to it being Russell’s day of ascension—it was also his anniversary with Talbot.

As a human in the retinue, Jennifer had been assigned a room on one of the lower floors of the hotel and had left at 7:30 a.m. to meet the plane that was bringing the gift.

By the time she’d gotten back, it was too late for her to do anything.

“Ms. Rigans?” said the policeman, who’d had to literally hold her back from trying to enter the building right after the first blast had gone off.

“Yes?”

“Um—a coffin’s been found. Uh—almost intact.”

“What?” Jennifer asked rising to her feet.

“Um—it has the initials R.E. etched onto it.”

Jennifer gasped. “Show me!’

7:00 A.M., THE PREVIOUS MORNING

Even from his coffin, Bill could hear the Were guard trying to get off the floor of their suite. But the Were failed.

Of course, Talbot was asleep for the day; however, the silver had prevented Bill’s sleep.

Though Bill’s room was not locked, the Were had not bothered to rouse him—not that he would have had any advice or help to give. In truth, Bill was still incredibly weak from being tortured. And he was weaker still from feeling his blood tie with Russell die in his chest.

Both he and Talbot had cried out in agony at the same time.

An hour after that, Bill was still in pain, but Talbot had recovered enough to start trying to enact what he called “Plan B.” However, apparently, Plan B had required a phone and Talbot couldn’t access one.

Talbot hadn’t dared leave the suite, and he had fallen into his day sleep after feeding from Hadley and locking himself into his room.

8:15 P.M. THAT NIGHT

“Yes. This coffin may hold my employer,” Jennifer said. “I’ll take custody of it.”

The officer paused but then agreed.

“Okay, but you will need to catalogue the name if there is a survivor in there,” he added, handing Jennifer a scrap of paper with a phone number on it. Call this number if you have any luck.

“Likely the vampire was incinerated,” Jennifer returned sadly, “but I will log it.”

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER

Jennifer knew protocol. She also knew that the coffin likely held a prisoner—unless Russell had learned of the impending bomb and gotten into the one container that might protect him, despite its original purpose.

She prayed that he was inside of the metal box—inside and intact.

No matter what, however, any vampire inside the box would need to feed. And that was why she was secure behind silver bars in one of Russell’s secret lairs in Michigan. She’d paid two random people very well to open the box as she watched.

They did so cautiously.

But they were met by the teeth of a hungry vampire—though not the one Jennifer had wanted to see.

Chapter Text

Epilogue: Giving Thanks

 

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”-Henry David Thoreau

THANKSGIVING, 12 MONTHS AND 3 WEEKS LATER

ERIC POV

“You got that?” Eric asked his wife and bonded as she took some bread out of the oven.

“Yep,” she said as he turned his attention back to the blood fountain he was assembling.

But not without glancing at his wife’s left hand.

There was now an extra ring next to Sookie’s engagement ring, marking their human wedding. He was pretty sure that no one else in the wide world was bonded in two ways, plus married in two ways, plus pledged.

Her baked item dealt with, Sookie smiled and leaned upward to kiss her mate’s cheek.

During the year since Russell had been out of their lives, Eric’s and Sookie’s lives had calmed. After a quick stop in Bon Temps, they had taken a vacation to Fort Stockton and then to Sweden. But they’d returned to Louisiana soil the previous February. They’d settled in their home in Slidell, the place where “they” had begun in so many significant ways. It was nothing fancy, but it suited Sookie well, and Eric was mostly ambivalent about where they settled—just as long as it had a large bathtub.

The quilt that Sookie had taken from Slidell so many months before—the one that had traveled with them throughout their time evading Russell and their “vacation” after that—had re-found its home.

It looked “right” on their bed in the Slidell house. And the couple felt “right” settling in the New Orleans suburb—at least for the time being.

Pam had—indeed—taken the position as the Sheriff of Area 1, and she’d thrived in it and in her business life, opening “her” version of Fangtasia on the Mississippi River. Needless to say—there was gambling, fangbangers, and sex aplenty.

Eric and Sookie had been there only once.

They didn’t feel the need to gamble after all they’d been through. Fangbangers were unwelcome. And they got plenty of sex at home.

Peter Threadgill had proven to be a good king thus far. Moreover, he was quite crafty at inspiring affection from Pam.

Sookie suspected that it was because Peter let Pam participate anytime he had a foe to torture. But she knew better than to confirm that.

“What’s up, pussycat?” Brady asked as he walked into the restaurant, carrying a large box.

“Nothing much,” Sookie returned with a smile. “What’s that?”

Brady rolled his eyes. “Leonie has confused Christmas and Thanksgiving again,” he said, showing Sookie that the huge box was full of gifts.

Leonie slugged his shoulder as she walked in behind him. “Of course I didn’t. I just might not see you for Christmas this year, so I wanted to bring our gifts early.”

“Our,” Brady muttered. “As if I had a hand in them.”

“Don’t make me spank you, vampire,” Leonie warned, even as the new vamp’s fangs came down.

Leonie and Brady looked at each other as if they were about to attack or fuck—or both.

It was a common look between the two.

“I don’t need to see this, Mom!” Sookie yelled, using the title she’d been calling Leonie for many months. The two were closer than many mothers and daughters that Eric knew of, so he wasn’t about to discourage the relationship. On the contrary, he’d known that Sookie craved family, especially since her own brother was still “lukewarm” when it came to accepting him, which was why Sookie hadn’t given him an invitation to the first annual Thanksgiving gathering at Seguro, a restaurant by day and a club by night that Eric and Sookie had opened in New Orleans.

Eric knew that Jason would be missed by his bonded. But there were plenty of others on the guest list.

“Brother! Sister!” Duncan’s voice boomed as he entered the establishment. He had a case of Royalty blended on his shoulder, which was to fill the fountain for the vampires.

Eric smiled and went to greet his bror. “Well met,” the Viking said even as Klymene entered the room.

The vampiress and elder fairy quickly embraced.

“So—how is the job as Magister?” Leonie asked.

Klymene grinned. Agnes had asked her to be Magister even before Duncan’s two weeks had been up, but—unlike him—she actually wanted the position, so she’d said yes.

“Don’t get me started!” Duncan said crankily, though fondly. He pointed to his mate. “This one loves to be judge, jury, and executioner. And I’m back to being an enforcer—guarding the Magister.” He rolled his eyes. “I’ll give Agnes some credit. She managed to find a way to keep me around,” he growled, though no one thought he was truly perturbed.

Next to arrive were Tara and Alcide, who had decided to move back South to help to reestablish the Were population in Mississippi. The two had married a month after Eric and Sookie had exchanged human vows in California. They’d settled in Jackson and were expecting a child the next year, though no one was “supposed” to know. Supernatural scenting had taken away the mystery, but Sookie had been stern in making sure that no one would say a thing. Of course, the telepath knew that her friend was anxious and wanted to wait until after her first trimester before telling anyone else.

Alcide had indulged his wife’s request.

And he hadn’t told her that everyone would already know based upon her scent.

Alcide had certainly learned how to “handle” the fiery woman!

Also on the guest list were Pam and King Peter, though he was “incognito” for the night—meaning that he was there as a friend and not a king. Octavio and Jasper Fant had sent their regrets, as they had other family responsibilities. But Amelia would be joining them.

“Hunter!” Sookie exclaimed, seeing her cousin running into the room with his father and his demon nanny. Sookie had celebrated getting to know the young boy, and Eric didn’t mind him either. Since his telepathy was “fairy” in nature, Hunter was quite well-adjusted. And he seemed quite happy to have family around. Plus, Remy was tolerant of those of other races, so that made things easier.

“Let me get that,” Eric said of the large cooked bird, which Sookie was about to take out of the oven. “Go see Hunter,” he added with a wink.

She did just that, as he secured the fowl from the cooking device.

“Domesticated, I see,” Duncan taunted.

“Shall I show you how much?” Eric returned asked with a mixture of playfulness and threat in his tone.

“Uncle Eric! Uncle Duncan! Can I fights too?” Hunter asked cutely. He’d seen the two brothers spar before—during the previous Fourth of July party—and was brimming with excitement that there might be another “show.”

“Of course, little warrior,” Duncan grinned, picking up the boy and spinning him in a quick, tight circle.

“Who are we missing?” Sookie asked, looking around.

“Us,” Amelia said, entering with Sam. The two had hit it off at Sookie and Eric’s wedding.

“And us,” Pam echoed, waltzing in with the King on her arm as if she owned the place—and the king. He didn’t seem to mind.

“Northman,” Peter said.

“Peter,” Eric returned with a slight bow.

“Hey, where’s Pythia?” Sookie asked.

“She said she’d be here at the right time,” Brady intoned, rolling his eyes.

“Of course she did,” everyone else said together.

BILL POV

Bill Compton had been waiting for this night—the night that he’d be fully healed, the night that he would finally kill Eric Northman, avenge his master’s death, and take back his property, for Sookie Stackhouse was truly his.

It didn’t matter that she called herself Sookie Northman now.

Not in the fucking least!

He would break her of that nonsense. And then he would turn her.

It had taken a long time for Bill to heal from his master’s punishment, but Jennifer Rigans had helped.

Glamouring had always been his special gift, and—even tortured to within an inch of his life—it had not let him down. Jennifer had arranged for the coffin that she’d hoped their master had survived in to be opened. But Bill had had Russell’s blood, and Russell had had his; Bill knew that his king had not lived through the night.

He’d certainly not died in the Rhodes blast, which had taken Talbot!

Bill closed his eyes and regained his control. He would need it.

After he’d glamoured Jennifer, she’d proven to be a very loyal human, making sure he had what he need and that his continued life had gone unrecorded.

He’d planned carefully, even ransacking Hallow’s lair to find potions that would conceal his scent. He had one on now as he exited the delivery truck, his face concealed behind a huge bouquet.

Eric had ordered a surprise for his “wife”—a lovely and large arrangement of orange, red, and yellow flowers.

Bill scoffed.

He’d read the card: All that I am thankful for leads my thoughts back to one thing. You.

It had been signed as “your bonded, pledging, and devoted husband.”

Bill had been sickened by the note, but he had relished in the opportunity the flowers provided. A stake was concealed in the flowers, and the delivery boy had very particular instructions—to bring the flowers to the back door to give to Eric Northman at exactly 8:00 p.m.

Clearly, the bastard wanted to present the gift to his “wife” himself.

Bill was determined that he’d never get the chance.

PYTHIA

I was old, and the world had placed its weight onto me in a way that it had never burdened another—as far as I knew.

But I’d grown used to seeing the future—though I doubted that a vampire should ever have had such a gift. But I was still in the world—many long years after I’d been turned. Thus, clearly, there was still a use for me in it.

A place.

I closed my eyes and waited. Knowing the future was often a curse. And, except on very rare occasions, I’d stayed out of the affairs of humans and Supernaturals alike. But—on occasion—I let myself have a smidgen of “fun” when I was positive my involvement would have no repercussions for those whom I cared about.

And—though I might have seemed distant at times—I did care. All the women that I’d chosen as handmaidens were dear to me. My child, Roman, had held my dead heart for many years. And my new child, Brady, amused me daily. My descendent and her mate were also among those for whom I cared—though I’d not told Sookie that she had my “human” blood tracing through her veins. It was not a fact she needed to have, and she and I were already friends.

When I experienced “well enough,” I knew to leave it alone.

However, some things were unacceptable. Oh, the whelp, Bill Compton, failed to kill Eric in all versions of the future I had seen when Bill had actually gotten to make his delivery. And Eric had always ripped his head off, too.

“Too fast,” I said to the prone vampire, whom I’d placed on the torture table I’d set up. “Way too easy of an end for you.”

I’d grabbed Bill up when he’d been at his most celebratory—right when he’d been visualizing his success.

“Really? One such as you doesn’t deserve to polish the boots of the Viking—let alone slay him,” I scoffed as I took another of Bill’s dead organs from his body. I’d already taken the obvious things: fingers, hands, toes, feet, dick, balls, tongue, eyes, ears, nose—anything that stuck out, actually.

The world had shown me how to be cruel, and I felt it owed me a little revenge. Killing Bill was the closest I would get to avenging Roman’s death. And the death of my new child’s mother. And I’d wanted so badly to fight against Russell, but I’d been side-lined by my visions.

“Not this time,” I smiled, pulling out intestines.

My phone rang, and I motioned to Batanya for a towel so that I could wipe my hands before I answered.

Bill was beyond noise—and, likely, beyond pain. But I was not quite done with him.

“Child,” I answered, knowing it was Brady.

“Mistress,” he said respectfully, “I can tell you are having fun, but you are greatly missed by your family.”

I smiled and sighed. “I shall be there soon, child.” I hung up the phone and looked at Compton.

His body was losing hold of its magic. I put my phone away and then thrust my hand through his chest, crushing his heart as I did.

I closed my eyes and smiled again. The future was a good one for those I cared about. And it was good for me too.

A time of peace had come.

It was deserved.

THE END OF THE UN-IVERSE SERIES
A/N: I hope you enjoyed it!