NOTE: And so this story wraps up. I hope you drop me a line and let me know how you liked it. As you know, I will be picking up the storyline and continuing under a new title, The Far Reach. I will be posting a first chapter in the next week or two. Thank you in advance for all your support. And thank you to Breathesgirl, my amazing beta who has been kind, courteous and giving. I hope you see the amazing art that AmericanAndroid has created to give a vision to this work. It is on my wordpress site as well as TWCS.
Hope to see you all back in Jackson.
Sookie came to herself with Maxwell Lee holding her hand. Her neck hurt. Her head pounded. In an instant she found tears springing to her eyes; angry, hot tears. “Oh shit,” she said, but it came out raspy and soft.
Sookie looked up to see Eric rushing toward her his fangs extended and hissing with frustration. She held her hand up to stop him. “I’m fine, Eric,” she said. He could feel her anger and it slowed him. He allowed Maxwell to step aside so he could take the seat across from her.
“What happened, Sookie,” he said. His voice was strained and Sookie could see the muscles in his neck standing out in sharp relief. Every part of him looked tense and she was sure if she dropped a pin on him it would bounce.
“It was Sam,” Sookie told him. Then she squeezed his hand, trying to keep him with her. “He’s gone,” she called after him, but Eric pulled from her and towered over Maxwell.
“Where?” he demanded.
Sookie called to Eric but he was ignoring her. He looked in the direction Maxwell gave him and moved to leave. So Sookie Stackhouse did what she needed to do; she found her fear and she allowed it to overwhelm her. It was a dirty trick but it was the only way she could think of to get the Viking’s full attention. The minute she allowed her terror to take hold of her, Eric’s head snapped towards her again. His eyes narrowed as he realized what she had done.
Sookie kept her own eyes soft and then she opened her arms to him. She could see him battling with his instincts. Every part of the warrior within him wanted to find the shifter and rend him limb from limb. It was at war with the protector who didn’t want to leave his lover unguarded. Finally the protector won and he came to her and lifted her to him. Sookie laid her hand against his chest. “Room,” she sighed.
Pam glided to a stop beside them, her face worried. “Get the key,” Eric told her. Pam reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the room keys and then turned to precede them. She had the elevator waiting when they made the lobby.
There were faces turned their way; some familiar and some not. Sookie saw Maude’s face and Isaiah’s. She buried her face further into Eric’s chest; her hand grabbing the front of his shirt and holding on. When the elevator doors opened Eric carried her steadily forward. They were in their room and he deposited her on the end of the bed and kneeled before her. His face was close and he stroked her face with his long fingers. It was a gentling motion and it reminded Sookie of a time in Bon Temps she had seen a man handle a skittish horse.
Eric’s fingers ghosted down to rest on her neck. She knew he could see the bite mark and bruising. Eric lifted his wrist to his mouth and bit. He held her eyes as he placed the bleeding wound to her lips. Sookie let the anger roll forward then. She took Eric’s wrist and sucked hard. His eyes widened and she saw his nostrils flare. Sookie could feel Eric’s blood as it moved in her like a living thing. She felt it coming alive in her stomach and felt it bloom and vine throughout her. She knew there was some element of magic involved; that the new blood somehow acted to reinvigorate the blood that remained within her. When she felt the magic trail along her neck she raised her lips from his wrist. It was as if she could see herself as he saw her; eyes wild and lips bloody. “Kiss me, Eric,” she demanded. When he hesitated she surged forward and claimed his lips herself.
He fell backwards and she followed him to the floor. Sookie molded herself to him, knowing that her drinking from him had triggered his need for sex. She could feel him hard beneath her and she shifted to rub herself against him. Sookie used one arm to push her upper body away from him, arching her back. She sat up, bringing her legs to either side of her Viking’s hips, making sure that her core was hard against him. She held his eyes as she lifted her hands to her own breasts squeezing them through the material of her shirt. Eric bucked beneath her. He reached up and ripped her blouse in one swift tug. He ran his hand to the waistband of her skirt and ripped that as well.
Somewhere in the back of Sookie’s head she was giggling hysterically. ‘Sure looks like business,’ she was thinking as he flipped her over, his eyes dark and his fangs fully extended. Then she found she didn’t want to think at all. She wanted to be claimed and to claim. She wanted every moment that Sam had ever touched her; ever kissed her; ever tried to make her his own burned from her. She wanted to scrub him from her flesh and replace him with the one who should have always been the only one.
Eric’s hand moved between them, his thumb to her clit as he slid two fingers into her. Sookie reached down and unzipped his pants. He sprang forward and into her hand. ‘You sure love commando,’ she thought, ‘And boy howdy am I thankful.’ She stroked him firmly, her thumb running over his head on the upstroke, feeling the moisture starting to leak from him. She freed him long enough to bring her fingers to her own mouth and she tasted the saltiness of him. He watched her as she brought those fingers from her mouth to his. She rubbed his fangs and then she spit into her own hand and reached again for his cock, using her saliva to lubricate her motion. She timed her strokes to his own, arching into him, pushing his fingers deeper. Sookie’s walls fluttered and then clenched. “Oh god, Oh god, Oh god,” she heard herself crying out. And Eric’s fingers were gone and he was there. His hand smoothed her hair back and his eyes held hers and he pushed himself into her. He found her clit again and circled it as he pumped within her.
“Come for me Sookie,” he growled. “Come for me,” and she did. She felt so tight that the drag of him within her was almost painful. She could feel him swell and twitch. He pulled her head to his chest, wrapping his arms around her hips so he could push himself deeper within her. “This is best,” he chanted. “This is best.” And then she felt him release; streams of cool essence timed to a heartbeat that no longer existed. Her walls hugged him and milked him and she felt that they were no longer two people; just different parts of one organism. She gulped deep breaths and she smelled his fine scent; like sawgrass on a sandy dune.
He let her head fall back then, cradled in one large hand. “I love you, Sookie Stackhouse,” he told her. He pumped again deep into her. “I love you.”
Sookie reached up to touch his face. “I love you too. Never doubt it.” And she smiled for the one that was now her whole life.
Eric was still semi-hard as he pulled from her. He picked her up from the floor and started to carry her to the couch. Sookie stiffened. “No. The chair,” she said. Eric didn’t question. He placed her hands on the back of the chair and bent her over. Then he leaned over her, his chest to her back and pushed himself back within her. He put his hand over hers, holding her in place and used the other to hold her hip. Sookie slipped one hand down to rub herself. Eric was talking quickly in a language she didn’t understand. He seemed to be having an entire conversation, punctuating his argument from time to time by speeding up or changing the angle. At one point he took her leg and lifted it so her knee was on the seat. It allowed him to go deeper and then he hit that one spot and she felt herself cry out. Eric grabbed her hip tighter then and started a fast rhythm that had her crying out in wild abandon. The sensations became so overwhelming she lost her rhythm. Then Eric was there, his fingers flying over her and Sookie was flying. She heard herself begging him and praising him and crying out and she was floating. She came back to herself in his arms as he bundled her into bed.
“I have you lover,” he said to her, his hand stroking her hair and he held her close.
“You’re wrong, you know,” she told him. “I’m the one who has you.”
“What were you saying to me?” Sookie asked him. Eric’s head was cradled between her breasts and his long legs were bent at the knee so he would fit in the tub. He purred a bit and turned his head to kiss the top of her knee.
“When?” he asked. Sookie noticed that he was speaking with an accent.
Sookie squeezed the wash cloth full of warm water over his chest and then scrubbed lazily along his collarbones. “You know. When you were pounding me into the chair.”
Eric looked up and she could see the smirk on his face. “I was scolding you,” he told her.
“Scolding me? What were you saying?”
Eric grabbed her arm and kissed the soft skin between her wrist and elbow. He brought her palm to his mouth and talked into it. “I told you to stop being so reckless. I told you that if you continue to be so disobedient I will have to find a way to punish you, like I punished Pam when she was young and too headstrong.” Eric wrapped her arm around his neck then and looked ahead. “I begged you to stop risking yourself because I know that I will never survive you and I want to live for a little longer.”
“Well,” Sookie sat up, “If we’re going to talk scolding I have one for you. Why didn’t you tell me Sam was here? Why did you think it was okay to let me find out from someone else?”
She could feel Eric’s shoulders tense against her stomach. “I didn’t know he would be here.”
“Oh, and would you have told me it you knew? Or would you have just doubled down on guards and steered me clear?” Eric sat up and looked over his shoulder. He looked uncomfortable and Sookie leaned forward, “So, I’m right. It’s protect poor little Sookie from the big bad world. She’s not strong enough to take care of herself so captain badass vampire will just have to smooth the way. I don’t care what happened today, Eric Northman! I am plenty strong and don’t you be judging me based on one stupid thing!”
Eric leaned away from her and started to stand up, “I told you I didn’t know he was here. I would have told you. You assume too much,” he hissed.
Sookie looked at his angry face and she checked herself. She couldn’t believe how fast she had rocketed from cuddly to pissed off. “Eric, stop,” she said. She grabbed his hand and tugged him back into the tub. “I am sorry, Eric,” she said. “This all just took me by surprise. I thought I knew what I’d do when I saw him next and I totally failed. I’m really angry with myself and it’s coming out all wrong.”
Eric turned slightly so he could see her face. “And what did you think you would do to Sam, lover?”
“Kill him,” she said without hesitation.
“That is good,” Eric told her. “Because that is what we are going to do.”
Eric settled back into the tub. Sookie wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him back against her again. The telepath exhaled and laid her head alongside his. “Eric? Can I ask you something else?” When his chin dropped she asked, “Why didn’t you let me come with you earlier to the tribunal?”
Eric stilled beneath her. “There was nothing to be gained by your presence today.”
Sookie felt anger creep forward again, but she took a deep breath. “I heard that you were successful; you are now part of Mississippi. Like me.”
Eric picked at Sookie’s fingers. He turned his head and kissed her fingertips. “Yes, that is true.” Eric could feel Sookie’s swift shift and he sighed. “Perhaps this action was as you say, high handed. If things had not gone well you would have been worried. I would have found another way; any worry you might have suffered would have been unnecessary. But as things stand all has gone well.”
“Eric? Are you ashamed of me?” Sookie almost wished she hadn’t said the words out loud, although she had thought them from time to time. When he stilled again she pressed on, “I think it must be hard to have people think you follow some silly human around. I worry that my being with you makes it look like folks can challenge you; that people think I make you weak.”
Eric turned so quickly that water sloshed from the tub. “You will never say that again,” he said. He looked angry. “I will not have anyone think badly of you, not even you. You are my mate in all things. I wished to spare you today, not hide you.” Eric looked into her eyes and then leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers. “You are tired dearest one. I can feel it. Come. I will dry you and we will go to bed. It is late.”
Eric lifted her from the tub. He handed her a towel and they rubbed each other dry in a way that led to teasing and falling together onto the bed and it was still some time before Sookie was falling fast asleep tangled around Eric’s leg.
The Viking absently stroked her head and then kissed her forehead. Sookie had a tendency to bounce between emotions rapidly but this felt different; more erratic. Eric sighed. Perhaps killing the shifter would provide this closure that Pam had mentioned. He sat up on his side of the bed and reached for his phone. Once he found Pam’s name his fingers moved swiftly over the keys.
E: ‘Where is the shifter?’
P: ‘Gone. Karin ended him’
Eric looked at the sleeping woman beside him. He felt a sharp disappointment that he wouldn’t have some close and personal time with the shifter, preferably with several sharp implements at hand. He thought of Sookie and how she might find some peace in torturing Merlotte as well.
E: ‘Where is Karin?’
Eric closed the phone and looked back at Sookie. He found himself thinking of his lover’s kind heart and her willingness to consider the good in others. She was fierce when she needed to be but there was a strong core that ran through her; a core that had never lived easily with the knowledge that she had knowingly inflicted pain on another, no matter how well deserved. It was that duality; her ability to kill and her capacity for love that seemed to attract him in a way he couldn’t ignore. Killing Merlotte may have brought his lover some satisfaction but he worried that what followed may have haunted her in ways that would make the shifter impossible to forget. He thought of himself; of Appius. He was forever grateful that his had not been the hand that had ended his maker. He could have never forgiven himself, although he thanked his gods every day that the vampire that made him was gone.
Eric picked up the phone again and texted Karin. ‘I owe you a great debt my child. I am most grateful’
He watched the screen but received no message in reply.
That evening Sookie lay in bed awaiting the moment when the blood would start to flow in her lover again. It always seemed like such a miracle. One minute there was nothing; cold, inanimate flesh. And then there would be a soft flush that would flow over his cold features followed by a slight softening of his limbs. She could almost hear the blood sweep gently through his veins and then his blue eyes would open. She watched as he turned his head, a slight smile on his face. “Good evening to you, my lover.”
“Good evening to you, Mr. Northman,” she answered. Sookie leaned over and kissed him and Eric reached up, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“What is it, lover? I can feel you thinking about something.”
Sookie nibbled her lower lip. “Well, I was thinking that you might be hungry.” Eric looked at her speculatively. While Sookie and he had shared blood a number of times the telepath had never been one to volunteer. Their exchanges had been almost exclusively as a result of their sexual activities; rarely outside of sex and seldom as something that initiated their coupling.
“Are you offering?” he asked. Eric wanted to make sure that he was hearing all this correctly.
“Yes,” Sookie smiled shyly. “Eric, I don’t know if it’s possible, but I want to be the only one who gives you blood.”
The vampire sat up then and leaned against the headboard. His look turned serious. “At my age, älskare, I do not need to feed often. If I feed a little every day I don’t take much blood at all. I can supplement with synthetic or bottled blood and be sated. But if I do not feed every day; if I skip a day or more then I require more blood. I do not require more than one person can safely provide at those times, but it does tire them.”
Sookie reached up to touch his face. “I’d still like to try.”
“And what about those times you travel for your work? What then?”
Sookie bit her lip. “I guess you’re thinking that you would like to keep donors then.” Sookie turned her face, surprised at how hurt she felt.
Eric grabbed her chin and turned her face towards him. “You are serious about this?”
Sookie looked at Eric; her Eric. She pulled her hair from her neck and leaned toward him. She heard his fangs slide forward. He brought her across his lap and nuzzled her neck just below her ear. As he licked a line along her artery he slipped his fingers between her legs. Sookie felt herself warming and she let her legs fall apart. She felt his fingers pressing into her as his fangs found their mark.
Sookie took her place behind Russell Edgington, her gown whispering around her legs. She had chosen an ice blue layered chiffon gown with a slight train that reminded her of that dress she had worn so long ago at Rhodes. It was elegant and strapless. Pam had assured her that the tight strapping would keep everything in place. Still, Sookie was afraid to lean forward for fear she might flop out and embarrass herself. As a finishing touch Pam had given her a length of pearls that she wore around her neck with a knot tied to the back that fell just between her shoulder blades. Her hair was upswept in a French knot. When Sookie had seen herself in the mirror she felt that all she was missing was a tiara and a fairy wand, she looked so pretty.
Pam was wearing a black designer gown with cut outs in strategic places. She was escorted by Maxwell Lee and they stood near King Robert of California. It occurred to Sookie that the three of them were pretty much all that remained of the Narayana contingent at this Summit.
The warning sounded and the parade of Clans began. Amun proceeded into the ballroom first. Bartlett Crowe, as Clan Chief led the way with the Indiana vampires following in rows behind him. Phoebe Golden, as the chief designee followed next with her retinue. Then Russell stepped forward and it was Mississippi’s turn. Sookie kept her eyes forward, careful not to tread on those in front of her or to trip over her own feet. As they came to the seats set aside, Sookie started to walk over to a middle seat, but a hand on her arm stopped her. Others filed in and she was placed in a seat closer to the aisle. Eric sat beside her and took her hand in his.
“Are you feeling alright?” he asked. Sookie smiled and nodded. Her volunteering to feed her Viking had triggered a round of lovemaking that had left her sore and breathless. Eric had ended up giving her another sip of his own blood so that she wouldn’t be suffering the after affects. Sookie remembered how at one point when she had been drinking a lot of Bill’s blood she had started to glow, like a vampire. She wondered what would happen if someone turned the lights off now; if she would look like a firefly. She also wondered at what point she and Eric would find themselves truly bonded again. With the way they were nipping and sipping at each other she figured it could happen any time. Eric didn’t seem overly concerned, but she was finding herself more than a little anxious.
Phoebe Golden, the Queen of Iowa, had walked up onto the dais and stood in front of a large throne. There was a sword that lay across the arms. She turned and waited as the representatives of the other Clans came forward to take their places.
The dress tonight was decidedly more formal. There were dark robes and long gowns. Jewelry sparkled. Large earrings and heavy collars crusted with stones seemed to be favored. Sookie figured that since vampires had higher pain thresholds it probably didn’t bother them to carry the weight the same way it would a human.
Pam and Maxwell were seated across the aisle. When Sookie glanced over she found her eyes traveling to the line of cameras and reporters that lined the far wall. It was the first time that humans and other reporters from the non-vampire world had ever been allowed to view a vampire proceeding. Sookie recognized the tall woman who was Pam’s friend. She had heard that this person, Twy, had played a part in her trial in Los Angeles. Sookie figured she would have the opportunity to meet her at the ball that would follow tonight’s official proceedings.
Sookie smiled as she saw Sandy Seacrest slide into a seat with the Zeus contingent. Sandy looked up and smiled directly at her. Sookie felt herself beam. There was a murmur behind her and Sookie found herself turning to see Maude and Isaiah speaking with Rasul. Sookie had wondered if the new head of Michigan would be appearing and she grinned broadly to see the friendly vampire that she had known so long ago. As if sensing her, Rasul’s head lifted and he smiled back at her, inclining his head. Isaiah looked up as well. His face was a cipher. He didn’t smile but didn’t look angry. Instead Sookie felt that he was looking straight through to her soul and she found she didn’t mind it.
Sookie realized with a start that some small part of her had been looking for Sam. Eric had told her that the shifter was dead; that Karin had ended him. Sookie had told him that she was happy about it; her voice had been so fierce, surprising even herself. Yet it seemed unreal; like a dream that was not over. She wondered if some small part of her was missing him.
Eric shifted then and Sookie turned around and settled herself. “What are you thinking?” he asked. “You are feeling guilty.” Sookie felt a wave of heat rush over her face.
“Never you mind,” she told Eric, making herself smile. “I don’t need you teasing me and having me blushing all night.” Eric grinned and secured her hand in his as he crossed his legs and sat back. Sookie had a twinge knowing she had not been entirely honest with Eric, but there were too many things happening in and around her to make any sense. ‘Tomorrow is another day,’ she thought to herself. ‘Tomorrow I will sort this all out.’
Once all the Clan representatives were assembled on the dais, they raised the swords that lay across their chairs almost in unison. With the swords at their sides they turned, sat and they rested the swords point down to the floor. It was tradition to rest one’s hands on the hilts signifying readiness for battle. Only Robert failed to sit in that position. Instead he leaned back, the sword tilted to have its hilt run across his right palm.
There was a call to order and Robert, as senior of those assembled, asked if there was business to bring before the Tribunal Board.
Mr. Cataliades stood, and walked forward. Sookie realized she hadn’t seen him when she scanned the room before. He must have been near the cameras.
“On behalf of Clan Amun I would beg to bring a matter before the Tribunal,” he called clearly.
Robert nodded. “Mr. Cataliades, it would appear you are the favored counsel to Amun in these matters.”
“I do have the privilege of being first on their call list,” the attorney inclined his head in a slight bow.
Robert nodded in return. “As the senior here I give you leave to continue.”
Mr. Cataliades pulled himself to his full height. He looked carefully at each of the monarchs arrayed before him. “I speak for Amun Clan. It has always been the way of the vampire world to rule by strength,” he started. “Ours is a code that favors the strong. It has been this way since the origin of our kind. When we were new, that meant strength of arm and a will to win in combat. As we aged with the world around us we found that brute strength was second to a keen mind. Those that were most crafty rose to power. And now, as the world has changed from agriculture to industry it is those who are best able to manage their holdings, including the holdings of those who owe them allegiance, that marks a great leader among us.” The demon lawyer paused and looked over the audience. Sookie found that she was leaning forward to hear what he would say next and she noticed the same of the vampires around her. The only sound was the occasional whir of the cameras taking pictures.
“SInce we chose to make ourselves known to the larger world; the human world, our ability to reward and to punish those who led us has changed. In our past there were those who rose to power for the wrong reasons, but because of our secrecy, there was little we could do to correct the course. But more often there were those that rose to power too quickly; those who were among the best of us who found themselves facing challenges for which they were ill prepared. They stumbled not because they were unfit for leadership but because our system could not help them. Our system has been brutal. Succeed or face the final consequence. Our traditional system needs to change.”
Sookie felt uncomfortable. Mr. Cataliades wasn’t exactly saying that vampires killed each other but it was pretty close. She wondered what humans would think of what they were hearing. She wondered if it would be taken as a license to kill vampires since it sounded like vampires didn’t care about life. Sensing her unrest, Eric shifted, bringing her hand to his lips. He cut his eyes at her and flashed her a smile.
“We face such a crossroads now. We have a king, a good king who risked an expansion to his territory. He struggles now, the resources and challenges that anyone would face in integrating such diverse areas threatening to sink his new territory as well as his home ground into financial ruin. Do we stand by and watch all his ventures turn to dust? Do we allow all that he has built and the jobs that those ventures have provided to vampires and others disappear? Or do we step in, as the guardians; the advisors to our kind and make the necessary adjustments that will ensure the survival of what has been built?”
Mr. Cataliades again paused before speaking. Sookie knew this was to draw attention to his final points. “The area of Nevada has rapidly annexed Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. These were kingdoms that were self-supporting, attracting vampires and others alike. Now they teeter on the brink of financial ruin. The problems faced in integrating these territories are many. This vast territory stretches across three Clans, creating tension by its very existence. In the beginning when the Clans were formed our elders were clear that there would be no one king among us. Yet this king holds more than any other. We have ever sought to deal fairly with each other through negotiation, yet this king has seen the defection of two key vassals in the last day. I look around this tribunal and do not see him nor his second. He is alone with even those closest abandoning him. What more sign do we need to take this burden from him and return those annexed territories to their rightful Clans?” The lawyer turned back to the audience. “It was an experiment, but it has failed. Time to return to what worked.”
Mr. Cataliades pulled himself straight again, bowed to the audience, and then turned and bowed to the monarchs. Sookie could see his brief smile as he returned to his seat.
Sookie looked at the monarchs. Ralph and Nabila looked uncomfortable. Phoebe looked approving. She wasn’t sure what Robert was thinking but his eyes were fixed on the demon.
Once Mr. Cataliades was settled, Robert asked, “And is there anyone here who would present another argument in this matter?”
A second attorney stood up. Sookie was sure she recognized his face. “Ah, Mr. Maimonides,” Robert greeted him. “It has been many years.”
“Yes, majesty. Many years indeed.” The dark haired man bowed to the monarchs and then bowed to the audience. “I speak on behalf of King Felipe de Castro,” he began. “You would hear a suggestion that we abandon our rights as individuals to a benign collective. It sounds so appealing; a ruler under difficulty; helpless followers who stand to lose much. Fine melodrama. But what is not being said is that if we follow the road suggested we have handed over our fundamental right to rise and fall by our own initiative.” The attorney pulled at the vest that he wore and threw his head back a little as he worked into his argument. “Who among us does not value the principal that with strong performance there are rewards? Who would rather have some group,” and Mr. Maimonides bowed slightly toward the monarchs, “no matter how well-intentioned, decide their fate rather than having the freedom to make their own destiny? Ours is a proud heritage. There are giants among us because they have made themselves so. “
“Would we abandon the selection of those we choose as our progeny to some committee? Would we expect that the lessons of a maker should be subject to the review of some group? And who will set the parameters of this oversight authority? Monarchs already seated in power? Where is their incentive to allow those who are the best among us to come forward? Why would those in power step aside to allow those who are more deserving to take their place?” Mr. Maimonides bowed once more toward the dais.
“It is difficult to know what lies ahead for all of us. In this instance it may seem right to intervene. But to take such a step is a slippery slope that leads from one thing to the next. Change is a part of our long existences. We have watched this world evolve from stone axes to drone warfare. But some things should not change. It should remain the right of the fittest to rule and it should remain the right of those who fail to suffer the consequences on their own and not by the decision of some committee.”
The formal demon attorney bowed to the audience and then to the monarchs. He then walked to the side and sat next to Mr. Cataliades.
“What happens now?” Sookie whispered to Eric.
“The monarchs leave to deliberate. If they can’t come to consensus within 20 minutes the matter is continued to the next Tribunal. That will be at the Zeus Summit in San Antonio.”
As Sookie watched the monarchs stood and walked toward a door that was located behind the dais. Eric stood then and placed his hand on Sookie’s shoulder. Both Pam and Maxwell walked over to join them.
“How are you, Sookie?” Max asked. “I was most concerned. I blame myself. I should have walked with you.”
“I’m fine, Max and you have nothing to feel bad about. I don’t mind telling you I feel pretty foolish. I can’t believe I came apart that way.”
Maxwell shook his head slightly, “It is to be expected. It was sudden. You were not prepared.”
“Still, my Gran didn’t raise me to lose my head in a crisis. In the old days he would have just stumbled on my knife or fallen on my stake. I thought my practice with Thalia was sharpening my skills but I seem to be getting worse.” Sookie giggled a little. Eric was looking at her, his eyes narrowing. Sookie looked up at him and smiled her Crazy Sookie smile. “Don’t look at me that way. I know I screwed up. I’ll do better next time.”
Pam stepped forward and hugged the telepath. “Of course you will. But what’s important is that that particular road stain is history.”
Sookie nodded, “I owe Karin a lot. She really took off?”
Pam squeezed her arm and told her, “She has returned to her life in Europe. It’s best for her. I’m sure we’ll see her again.” Eric met Pam’s eyes over Sookie’s head. Pam could feel his concern. Eric was worried and the reason was this too happy Sookie. Pam shrugged. Sookie was acting much as she had before all the crap happened; before Oklahoma and Felipe de Castro and Sam Merlotte; a little crazy and headstrong. Pam shot a look at Eric, letting him know she thought he was overreacting.
Sookie kept smiling and said, “Pam, I hope we will. I know you will miss her. I never had a sister but I could see that you were close.”
Pam nodded. “Yes, we had found each other again. I hope we will stay in touch more now.” Pam was surprised when Sookie hugged her.
“Maybe we can be more like sisters now, “Sookie whispered. Pam looked at Eric again with some satisfaction. She could feel his worry stepping down a notch.
“More than sisters, Sookie. More than friends,” Pam told her.
Eric nodded to them and then dropped his hand to Sookie’s waist. He steered her out of the room and into the lobby. When they were away from most of the crowd he said, “You are starting to concern me, lover. Your emotions are moving too quickly. You bounce from one thing to the next.”
Sookie looked up at him, her smile firmly in place, “I’m fine, really.”
“No,” Eric told her. “You are not.” He ran his thumb along her cheek and saw her lip tremble. “We need to stay for the tribunal. We will leave as soon as it is over and go to our room. I promise you, no more demands. We can watch television and snuggle.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “If I could I would build us a fire and we would wrap ourselves in a blanket together.”
Sookie felt her anger recede a notch and her heart did a little happy dance. She suddenly saw the Eric she had known so long ago; that Eric with no memory who didn’t need politics; who only needed her. Sookie took a deep breath and felt something within her find solid ground again. “I don’t think that we’ll really get the chance to get away before the ball is over, Eric. But I sure thank you for thinking of it.”
Eric nodded, his eyes sad. “You are probably right, my Sookie. But I promise you that we will find that time. I can feel how tired you are; how worn.” He pulled her into him and spoke to the air above her, “Trust me, älskare. I will keep you safe.”
In the end it took less than fifteen minutes for the warning to be sounded. The vampires filed back to their seats and almost as one fell silent. The cameras whirred softly as the four monarchs stepped forward and resumed their seats, swords in hand.
It was Bartlett who stepped forward to accept the decision from Robert’s hand. He read the paper slowly, allowing all present to savor the anticipation. He turned to Robert. “So say you all?” he asked.
“We are of one mind,” Robert responded. Bartlett nodded formally and then turned to the audience.
“The states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma will be returned to their Clans. It will fall on the Clan Chiefs to ascertain that they remain strong. This decision may not be appealed except by She Who Knows All.”
The Master at Arms banged again twice and the vampires began talking and moving in their seats. The monarchs stepped down from their thrones and mingled with friends.
“That’s it?” Twy couldn’t keep the frustration from her voice. “All that wind up and no explanation? Just a decision?”
Pam shrugged. “Politics.” She turned to look for Eric. “Of course the real show happens at the ball. People talking about the verdict. People jockeying for position. And the announcement about Eric.” Twy fixed the blond vampire with a stern eye.
“And what announcement would that be, Pam?”
“Why the king announcement, of course,” Pam smiled.
Felipe de Castro could not relax. He would sit back and try to let the sound of the water and the scent of the flowers lull him, but he couldn’t escape the anger that would come over him in great waves. He reached to a nearby Casablanca lily. A dozen had arrived shortly after the Oklahoma takeover; a gift from the now dead queen as a thank you for helping to organize her themed ball; her last ball. Felipe grabbed a blossom and ripped it from the stalk. He systematically shredded it, watching the long, tattered strips of white flutter to the ground.
“You might consider that he did you a favor in the end,” Angie said beside him. Unlike her maker she looked supremely relaxed, stretched out on the suede lounger with cucumber slices over her eyes. Felipe had been like a raging lion when he received the text last night from Horst. Merlotte dead. Sandy and Northman defected. Horst himself defying orders and heading to Europe to try his hand at professional assassin. Ever since Los Angeles it had been a series of blows that had left the king wondering where his luck had fled.
Angie rolled over, the slices falling from her eyes. She looked lazy; somnolent, but Felipe wasn’t fooled. He had taken heart when she returned. Her work beside him and for him had involved long hours and a deft touch. Single-handedly she had brought the banks back to some semblance of obedience. The unions had agreed to hold off any serious action. Last night she had picked up the phone and convinced Quinn to step in as the head of Flying Tigers and for better terms than had been given Merlotte. Things were still a general cluster fuck but Felipe wasn’t asking himself whether he should take a trip to the casino roof for some sunbathing anymore.
“Horst was never clever; not in the way Victor was clever. He was really only talented at one thing and how many people can you kill in any one year? Frankly, I think you are better off with his being where he is and doing what he does. Show leniency now and you have a skilled assassin at your beck and call whenever you need him.” Angie shrugged. “That could be handy.”
Felipe nodded reluctantly. “He did return all that material Merlotte was holding. That’s one piece of shit I won’t miss. What a bastard.”
Angie stretched a little. “Absolutely. Bad rubbish and good riddance. From what I hear your female employees will be happy to know he’s not returning. Was there anyone he didn’t piss off?”
“The venue in the casino is doing well,” Felipe said.
“And now without shifter boy shagging the waitresses and pissing on the unions it will do even better.” Angie shifted to sit up. She could feel her maker calming down. It was what she had been awaiting. She reached for a towel and rubbed her skin. Angie didn’t sweat; no vampire did, but the sensation of warmed terry cloth over her skin was sensual. “We are low on talent. Jonathon and Victor left big holes. Sandy Seacrest leaving is close to disaster. We need a retinue who will be loyal and who bring skills; the right skills.”
Felipe looked at her. “So, what? We contact a headhunter?”
Angie shrugged. “Something like that. I am your only child. It does assure a certain loyalty.” Felipe nodded. “And if I were to create progeny they would likewise be bound to you.”
Felipe’s eyes became considering. “If we were to request permission to create a large number of vampires it would attract attention.”
Angie nodded. “You are right so this will take some time. We will need to start with a combination of those who are attracted by money or power and those few we will turn. It will need to be the right balance to not excite too much interest.” Angie stood and stretched. She leaned down and started to pick up the pieces of flower scattered around Felipe’s feet. “Normally I would suggest a strategic alliance but with the pressures you have faced I think it would be more hindrance than help.”
Felipe thought of the Oregon queen, Portia’s gloating face and nodded. “There was a time that I could have the best minds clamoring for a place with me with a snap of my fingers. But now? I face scorn from my own Clan. How can I expect to find the right talent?”
Angie smiled. “We need to fix your reputation. What you need, my maker, is a publicist.” Angie was interrupted by the sound of her phone. She glanced at the caller ID. “California,” she said and opened the line.
“It is done,” Robert’s voice told them. “You have Nevada but the other kingdoms have been returned to their Clans.”
Even knowing this was coming, Felipe found it fell like a blow. He turned his head, not trusting that his voice would be calm. “Thank you Robert,” Angie said. “It was kind of you to tell us ahead of the gossip.”
“Of course,” the voice said. “How could I do less?” Angie closed the line and looked at De Castro.
“And so the grand experiment is done,” he said.
“Yes,” Angie agreed. “It was always a chancy proposition; the idea that you would steal from the other Clans. I always believed that the only reason Victor pushed on Louisiana was so he could have his own shot at a kingdom far away from you. I never believed he would stay loyal. This was the outcome he wished only he wanted to be the one wearing the crown.”
Felipe nodded. “He was a sneaky bastard. And ambitious. It was hard not to admire that. I saw much of myself in him.” Now that it was done Felipe found that some tension started to drop from him. He turned to recline on his chair and he took a deep breath holding the scent of water and flowers deep within him. On the exhale he said, “You know, maybe the idea of crossing the Clans was the problem. Maybe it would have been smarter to stay within our own Clan boundaries.”
Beside him Angie smiled. “That is an interesting thought,” she said.
Twy found her head turning this way and that as the vampires moved around the dance floor. It was like stepping back into an old Hollywood movie. The couples moved with grace, their knowledge of dance steps impeccable. “It’s beautiful,” she said to Pam. Beside her Pam Ravenscroft nodded. “We forget nothing; not our history or the conversations we have or the dance steps we learn. It all becomes one long stream that flows with us from making to final end.”
Twy nudged her friend, “You becoming sentimental?”
Pam smiled, “Maybe. This night will be the culmination of so many years of work.” She turned her bright smile to her friend. “King Eric Northman! Of course tonight will just be the announcement. The formal coronation will be later.”
As if in answer to her thoughts King Bartlett Crowe walked up to the microphone in front of the orchestra. The music stopped and the dancers stepped apart to listen to the words of the Clan Chief. The Amun monarchs assembled beside him. Then Eric Northman walked forward to stand beside the Indiana king.
“It is my great pleasure to announce that Amun has named a new king. I present Eric the North Man who will be king of Louisiana and Arkansas.” The monarchs applauded and the vampires in the room exploded into cheers. Twy looked at Pam who smiled broadly and then laughed out loud.
On the raised band platform Eric Northman stepped forward to the microphone. He bowed briefly to the audience and then bowed more deeply to Bartlett. His eyes found Pam’s and his smile broadened for a second, and then he spoke.
“I thank you for the honor you do me, Amun. I have ever sought to serve as best I might and now you have selected me to do this most important of duties. I pledge to you who are my Clan and to those who are my vassals that I will be a fair king and I will ever shield those under my protection.”
There was applause. Near them they could hear a couple speculating about who the Viking would marry next. “It would be best if he would consolidate within the Clan. Phoebe Golden would be a good choice. Or Maude of Minnesota. Either would solidify his standing and give him some cover while he builds his retinue.”
Twy turned to Pam. “Will he do that? Marry one of the queens?”
Pam shook her head. “Not in this lifetime. Eric has waited his whole existence for Sookie Stackhouse. He isn’t going to screw that up for anything; not even an easier road to assuming power.”
Eric stepped down from the stage and walked over to where Sookie waited for him. He took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. “Well, Miss Stackhouse. Do you think you could spare a king a dance?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she sassed. “My dance card is pretty full.”
Eric smiled down at her, “Well, what if I knelt before you and begged. Do you think you could find a soft spot in your heart for me then? Because, Miss Stackhouse,” and he leaned down to speak in her ear, “you alone command me. I love you Sookie.”
Sookie felt her heart melting. “You are a sweet talker, Eric Northman. And I think I will have to give you that dance. But don’t think that all of this makes you any more special. I don’t care what you call yourself, you’re still that same old bullshit artist to me.”
Eric grinned and led her out onto the dance floor. The band struck up a waltz that reminded Sookie of nights under the Louisiana stars swirling with partners on a wood dance floor set out on the front lawn. It was sweet and slow and Eric turned her until the only fixed mark in the room was his beautiful face.
In the days that would follow they would find themselves facing challenges great and small but this one night all was as it should be for the fairy princess and her Viking king.
NOTE: If you are interested I will be picking up the story from this point in a new story called The Far Reach. Eric and Sookie have conquered all the obstacles arrayed against them and have achieved everything they desired. What follows are the challenges that people face when they realize that the biggest challenges are those that they face within themselves.
I will be posting a teaser from the new story by the end of April 2015. Thank you for all your interest and encouragement. It means a great deal to me.