A/N: Squee! Here we are again. I went and finished a thing! Thank you so very much for reading and reviewing and all of that kind of stuff. I appreciate the hell out of it. A very special thank you to my awesome beta, ilovemysteries, and to LeaveSookieAlone for always being being a huge help.
There had been a couple of grainy cell phone videos that had caught the moment that Salome had fallen from the sky. The cameras and all of the eyewitnesses had followed the path of the large burning object and had completely missed the projectile above. She was far enough up that she looked no bigger than a large bird flying at a slightly lower altitude.
The video camera that had been recording in Salome's bedroom had caught the whole thing. The authorities (both on the human side and the vampire side) all agreed that either both vampires had fused together before they had fallen from the sky and then flaked apart, or one had landed on the highway and the other had fallen into the woods or the Mississippi River, and nobody would ever find the ashes. But, regardless, they were both definitely finally dead.
That night, with Pam healed and in her rest beside him, just as he'd felt the sun rising, he'd been overcome by Sookie's agony. It had been all-consuming — like when she had met the sun their first night in New Orleans, only so much worse — and he'd writhed, screaming on the bed for what felt like forever. As suddenly as it had hit him, it had winked away to nothing. So had she. His connection to her was gone. And he'd been stuck in his fucking room until sunset. He'd had no choice but to lie there and wait, staining the pillowcase with his tears. He'd screamed again, this time in frustration and anger and grief instead of pain, until he'd let the sun carry him away.
After he rose, he tried to piece together what had happened the night before, but it didn't make any sense. When he realized that he hadn't thought about Sookie from the time he'd seen Pam until he had felt Sookie's final death, he knew exactly what had happened. Gods, he was proud of her, but he wanted to wring her fucking neck for glamouring him to let her go. And now it was too late.
He looked over at Pam and caressed her hair and smiled sadly. He blinked back tears. He had seen how many of Salome's vampires had been outside, prepared and ready to go. How injured Pam had been. He wouldn't have stood a chance. They would have been ended, and Sookie would have been taken regardless. Sookie had sacrificed herself to save them. She had given him one hell of a gift, and he didn't know if he would ever forgive her for it, or forgive himself for taking it.
He was anxious and antsy and couldn't sit still. He showered and dressed and sat at his desk and checked the news on his computer. Headline after headline about the burning vampires in Baton Rouge, falling from the sky at dawn. There were pictures of the casino, the crumpled car, the charred bits of vampire remains, and one of Salome herself before her final death, looking beautiful and elegant and deadly. There were grainy pictures of the flaming mass falling to earth, the car's driver — who had been miraculously uninjured — and a school picture of Sookie taken a couple of months before she'd been turned. She was wearing a graduation gown that she'd never gotten the chance to walk in. He wondered if Sookie had been the one who'd landed on the car or the one who'd landed somewhere secret. He hoped that it was the last one; he knew that she would have preferred some privacy.
As soon as the sun set, he flew to Baton Rouge. He left Pam back at the house to rest. He broke the lock on the penthouse door at the Seven Veils with a quick punch and walked in, ignoring the yellow crime scene tape. He was the only one there so soon. Gervaise, Area Four's sheriff, walked in a minute or so later.
"Eric, you can't just-"
"Fuck off, Gervaise. I need to know everything. What happened?"
Gervaise sighed. "Salome taped the whole thing. It's already in evidence, but I have a copy. Come on in and we can play it on the camera."
Eric followed him to the door. He could smell Sookie's scent and he didn't want to think about the fact that she was gone. He just wanted to concentrate on the how and why. Gervaise didn't stop talking, but Eric didn't mind the diversion.
"The human cops already secured the scene and took pictures and all of that shit, and everything is pretty much as it was. We wanted to have a look before everything got carted off to evidence. Thank fuck the police got here before Salome's people could play cover their ass. The spectacle of it all helped. The Seven Veils security guys were just as fucked up about it as everyone else. I think the BRPD had a couple of detectives here in less than ten."
Eric stopped dead when he entered the room. His teeth ground together. He couldn't help but quickly study each photograph of her, his rage building. All eight hundred and twenty-seven of them. It took no more than a minute, but he knew that he would remember every single one for the remainder of his existence. He resolved to pack the memory away and hide it deep in his mind. At least for as long as he could.
Gervaise looked back at Eric when he hadn't followed any further. "Oh, yeah. I guess I could have mentioned those. Some of them are pretty fucking hot, eh? I'm not really into the bruises and shit, but damn. What a body on her. You knew her, right? Was she good in bed?"
Eric closed his eyes and squeezed his fist until his knuckles turned even whiter than they usually were. He managed not to use it to hit Gervaise. He didn't answer, and just went on with the business at hand.
"Where is the video?"
Gervaise sighed. "Hold your horses." He popped the tape in the video camera on a tripod in the corner, and waved him over. Eric watched the whole thing through once on the viewfinder, and then watched it twice more. He rewound and watched the ending a dozen times, at least. The angle was just right to see Sookie's face change from hopeless to determined. And when she grabbed Salome and shot them both straight through the ceiling and into the sky, he couldn't help but be moved by the beauty of her strength and sacrifice. But he was so fucking angry at her for dying.
When Eric had watched it enough, he looked around the room again, burning each picture into his head as a kind of penance for failing her one final time. He saw the bed and the shackles and the tools of torture lined up in a neat little row. He looked up and could see the night stars through the hole in the roof. He looked at Gervaise.
"I want a copy of that tape."
Gervaise shrugged. "Fine by me. Do you want copies of the pictures, too?" He did not waggle his eyebrows or wink or leer, although he would have under different circumstances.
Eric clenched his jaw harder. "No."
He flew out through the hole that Sookie had made.
He went back to the house in New Orleans and stayed there with Pam for the rest of the evening. They were quiet and said little. They both grieved. They went to their rests early, eager for the sun to rise.
Eric ignored the calls from the palace and Fangtasia and everyone else the following evening. As soon as Pam rose, they packed the few things that would fit in the Corvette and headed back to Shreveport. He would have the rest sent. He never wanted to see the inside of that house again.
They went straight to the bar when they arrived and spent the rest of the evening there, sitting in a booth in the corner. He was mostly trying not to lose his temper. He considered taking his needs out on a woman, but the thought turned his stomach. Doing it with a man was no better. Pam was quiet beside him, and her face looked drawn, even though she had been quickly healed by her maker's blood.
As soon as last call was announced, he and Pam went back to his home. He was glad to be there after weeks of being away. He was surprised and grief-stricken and relieved when he could still smell Sookie's scent inside. Even though it was early, he went downstairs to his room and lay in his bed. The sheets hadn't been changed, and her scent was strongest there. He took Sookie's pillow and laid his head on it and closed his eyes. Pam lay down facing him. She reached over and combed his hair with her fingers, smoothing it back away from his face. She cupped his cheek. He leaned over and kissed her forehead and pulled her tight against him. He considered making love to her, but they hadn't been intimate in decades. Still, he filed the idea away. Maybe he would need her in a few more days. He knew that Pam would be happy to, even though she did prefer having sex with human women. A few months before, he would have said the same.
The sun had broken over the horizon and Eric was just about to die for the day when he felt a strange sensation in the centre of his chest. It was very weak, and seemed to swell and recede — just once — but he couldn't tell what 'it' was. It wasn't a pressure or a pain. it just was. It felt almost like the physical representation of a pulsating light, although that made little sense.
Eric worried a little that it had something to do with his master, but he didn't think so. The bonds that connected him to his maker and to Pam and to Karin felt like physical connections. Like two-way cables stretching great distances, joining him to each. Focused. This strange pulse was amorphous, and seemed to fill his entire chest cavity before it tapered away to nothing.
He felt it again before he fell into his rest, so faint that he wondered if it wasn't his imagination. But it was too late to worry about then. He closed his eyes and slipped away.
He rose late the following afternoon to another pulse. It was stronger than it had been near sunrise, and the next was almost right behind it, no more than two minutes later.
He showered and dressed and lay back down next to Pam. When she rose, he held her again until the sun set.
He went upstairs and drank some blood and noticed that the pulsing was even stronger. It felt more like a deep inhale and exhale than a heartbeat, although that wasn't right, either. Expand and contract. Swell and release. Fade in, fade out.
He went into the living room and sat on the couch and tried not to remember her sitting there next to him, smiling shyly while he teased her. It didn't work, and he got up and moved across to his chair. Pam sat down in the spot he'd just vacated with her own glass of blood in hand.
Eric put his elbows on his knees and his fingers in his hair and just sat there for a time. He sighed and looked up at his child. They had spoken little since Salome had come to the house in New Orleans.
He opened his mouth to speak when the next pulse hit. This time, there was also a tugging in his chest that disappeared as soon as the feeling did. He froze. A minute or so later, it happened again.
He closed his mouth and his eyes and waited. It happened again, and then again, and he was quite sure that he could follow it if it kept up like this.
It was definitely nothing like a maker's call, which was like a tugging (and then, eventually, a yanking) on the bond, pulling you closer. You could resist for a time, but eventually, it just became too strong and you had no choice but to be dragged back. Or, as a maker, you could just follow the line back to your child.
This was a different kind of call. It was beckoning him, and he could choose to follow or not follow. But he very much wanted to, and he wasn't really sure that the drive to do so was all him.
He stood up. "I… I must go."
Pam looked up at him. "Where are you going?"
He shrugged. "I really have no idea, but I must leave now."
She stood up, too. "Well, you just can't leave me here. I can't stand to do nothing but listen to my thoughts for another night. I'm coming with you."
He'd planned to fly, but he had no idea what was to come. Maybe driving would be best.
They drove silently. He didn't expand on why they were leaving, and he still had no idea where he was going, besides Southeast. If they kept going straight through Alexandria they would end up in Baton Rouge, and then New Orleans.
He was driving fast, and a couple of hours after they'd left, he was drawn to take the exit to Krotz Springs. He was surprised; it was still forty miles or so to Baton Rouge.
They crossed the Atchafalaya River and turned south, following the highway that skirted the National Wildlife Refuge with the river running on their right hand side.
Several minutes later, he pulled over and got out. Pam followed, even though she had no idea what Eric was thinking of or what they were looking for. But she would follow her maker anywhere. He stopped walking when he reached the river's edge.
Whatever it was was right there. The feeling in his chest still wasn't painful, or even uncomfortable, but it was strong, and persistent. Calling to him. Pulsing faster. Like a… like a homing beacon.
He untied his boots and kicked them off, and then undressed, throwing his clothes onto the ground. Pam wanted to ask why, but she just stood beside him, waiting.
He made sure that his lungs were empty. The river wasn't deep — only twelve feet — and he dove from the bank and landed square in the middle, without making a splash.
He closed his eyes and followed his chest. This was much more delicate than just heading in a general direction. He swam, skimming the riverbed until he found the place. The pulse, or whatever it was, was coming from directly below him. It seemed to be almost singing to him. He saw nothing, but he started to dig.
Pam stood on the bank wringing her hands. Eric had been down there for several minutes, and she wished that she had some idea what in the hell was going on. She wanted to dive in after him, but she would only be in his way.
A few seconds later, Eric shot out of the water and landed next to her. His eyes were wild. He had something clutched in his arms, and it took her a moment to realize what — or who — it was. He looked at her.
"Meet me at the house in New Orleans. As fast as you can. Have Ludwig meet us there."
He shot up into the sky and flew Southeast at great speed. Pam grabbed his clothes and ran as fast she could to the Corvette. She fished his keys out of his jeans pocket and headed for NOLA. She called Dr. Ludwig as soon as she shifted into fourth gear.
Eric had Sookie cradled in his arms. He had torn a hole in his carotid with his thumbnail and was holding her mouth to the wound as best he could as he flew. She wasn't swallowing, but the position allowed some blood to slide down the back of her throat. She was still under, deep in her hiding place, and he couldn't feel the bond. The pulsing had stopped, too, as soon as he'd touched her, but he thought that he could still feel something there. The connection where she'd sent her signal and he'd received it.
When they were nearly to New Orleans, he felt her rouse, and the bond came to life. He nearly fell from the sky from the weight of her pain. She screamed and writhed, and he slammed the bond closed and sliced open his carotid again and held her mouth against it, as much to silence her as heal her. He hoped that she would slip away again, and she did after only a few seconds.
He was relieved. That she was out of pain again, but so much more so for the proof that she really wasn't finally dead. He had known, but now he knew for certain.
He landed on the front lawn of the house he'd sworn he'd never visit again just the night before. He took her inside and laid her gently down on the bed. The top and back of her skull were exposed, and the rest of her was devoid of skin and fat. The muscle looked to be a healthy pink, at least. She looked alarmingly like an anatomy illustration of the musculoskeletal system.
He was glad that there was still fresh blood in the refrigerator, and he warmed up three bags and drank them standing at the sink. He went back to the bedroom and lay down behind her. He bit into his wrist and held it to her mouth and closed his eyes, waiting for Pam and the doctor to come.
He had just opened his wrist for the third time when he heard the front door open.
Dr. Ludwig walked over to the bed and tutted. "This one again. She's always getting into trouble."
Eric sighed. "Through no fault of her own."
"True enough. Now, shoo. I need to take a look at her."
He considered refusing, but he slid away from Sookie to give the doctor the space to work. Pam came in and stood beside him during the examination. When the doctor was finished, she gestured back at Sookie and Eric lay down behind her again and bit into his wrist to give her more of his blood.
Dr. Ludwig started packing her tools back in her medical kit. "Pam told me what she knew. Fill in the rest."
Eric told her everything. When he was finished she nodded.
"Sookie was able to survive exposure to fire and sunlight. She was nude, yes? Fully exposed? How long was she outside?"
"It happened just past dawn. I… I felt her. The pain was excruciating. It was close to five minutes, I would say. I found her more than thirty miles west of Baton Rouge."
Dr. Ludwig shook her head. "Either she's already regenerated her organs and all but the outer layer of muscle, or they were never really injured in the first place. The damage seemed to go so far and then just stop. Look, she has no eyelids, but her eyes seem fine. I doubt she healed much underwater. Has she since you found her?"
"It has begun. There is some muscle regeneration, but there has been little change so far."
"Of course not. It's too soon for this level of damage. But knowing her? Keep giving her your blood and she'll be good as new inside a week. Maybe even seventy-two hours."
Eric closed his eyes in relief, but he also worried about what these last few days had done to her psyche. Still. "It is incredible that she survived."
The doctor shrugged. "Maybe she would have been ended if she'd been out there for longer, but I'm not really sure. The depths and degrees of the burns are just too uniform."
Eric laughed, and the doctor raised an eyebrow.
"Something funny, vampire?"
"Strangely enough, yes. You think she's invincible."
Dr. Ludwig put up her hands with her palms out. "Now, I wouldn't go that far. She is obviously impervious to a final death by fire or sunlight, at least for a time. We know that she can survive being drained and allowed to waste for an extended period, and can survive prolonged silver poisoning, as well. I have no idea what might happen if she were to be beheaded or staked or left in the sun for a full day, and I think we'd all like to leave it that way for as long as possible. But I sure wouldn't bet against her in a fight to the death."
He closed his eyes in both relief and wonder, shaking his head.
"Gods, Sookie. What can't you do?"
Five years later
Eric sat in his favourite booth at Fangtasia. It was kind of busy for a Wednesday, and he was greatly enjoying himself, watching his girls together on the dance floor.
Sookie still wasn't comfortable in big crowds, or around vampires she didn't know, but she was steadily improving, thanks to slow nights at the bar. And she seemed to almost forget all about her anxieties when she danced. She was relatively comfortable with all of the local vampires, and they all knew to watch themselves around her. When anyone was in from out of town, she stuck close to Eric or Pam, and they would often take her back to the house as quickly as possible.
He saw her whisper something in Pam's ear, and they both laughed and then looked at him. He raised an eyebrow and she laughed again and blew him a kiss.
The hardcore fangbangers didn't know what to think of her. They had all heard rumours about how powerful she was, but she was warm and friendly with the humans — as much as Pam had encouraged her not to be — and she treated them like equals. She looked and acted almost like one herself. They tended not to respect that.
A lot of them were jealous, too. Not only did she not use the donors herself, Eric had stopped using them as well. It was a big loss. And they also hated the way he looked at her. But they had all learned not to disrespect her out loud. Pam and Eric were both very protective, and had no illusions about the humans' place in the world.
She was very popular with college guys, though, and the fangbanger-lites adored her. They often came during the week, just to see if she would show up. When she did, they acted like lovesick fools, but they generally didn't touch. They had all learned that lesson from Pam and Eric as well.
A slow song came on KDED, and Sookie looked back at him and crooked her finger. He smiled and got up and stretched before he joined her. Most of the humans stopped to watch. Sookie did, too. He took her in his arms and they danced.
She sighed happily. He was a wonderful dancer, and he always felt so right pressed up against her. She rested her head on his chest and followed his lead.
When the song was almost over, she looked up at him. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
He smiled. "Once or twice. I love you, too."
"Good." She bit her lip. "Let's get out of here."
She took his hand and dragged him to the exit, kissing Pam's cheek on the way by. They got into the Corvette, and he smiled a little when she put her seatbelt on. He still found her adorable.
He took her hand and kissed it when they were at a stoplight. She smiled up at him. She still got butterflies sometimes when he looked at her. Or when he touched her.
When they got to the house, she couldn't help but push him against the wall on the way to the bedroom. She kissed him hard. They barely made it to the bottom of the stairs before she had to kiss him again. They had their clothes off by the time they made it to the bed.
They made love for hours, sometimes slow and sweet, and sometimes hard and fast. After, when it was close to dawn, she lay boneless, nestled in his arms. She felt so safe with him. So loved. She still couldn't believe how happy she was.
"I had fun tonight."
He laughed. "I will take that as a compliment."
She laughed, too. "I meant earlier. Of course sex with you was fun. It always is, even when it's serious. But tonight… Tonight was incredible."
He kissed her head. "I'm glad. And I am glad that you can enjoy yourself at the bar. What were you two whispering about?"
"Oh, I told her that I was really horny and that I was going to make you take me home so we could have sex for the rest of the night."
He laughed again. "It was an excellent plan."
"Thank you. I thought so, too."
He leaned down and kissed her.
A minute or two later, she said, "Pam said that Andre will be thawed out soon."
He sighed. "Yes. Next week, I believe. But he will not harm you, Sookie. Sophie-Anne has given her word. He will be compelled to leave us alone, and he wouldn't dare go against his maker again. She would end him. She wouldn't have a choice. Her enemies would take it as too big of a weakness if she didn't."
Eric hated that he had to leave Andre alone, at least for the time being. Fortunately, he knew that the queen would be keeping him on a very short leash for a very long while. And he could bide his time.
"It's ok, Eric. I'm afraid of him, of course, but I'm fine. I know I'm safe here with you." She smiled at him, and he was pleased to feel that she mostly believed it.
She kissed his chest and snuggled back down against him. "And they still haven't found Chester?"
He snorted. "No. The prevailing theory is that he just kept walking after you told him to go away. Maybe into a swamp, maybe into the Gulf of Mexico, maybe into the sunlight." He shrugged.
She squirmed a little. "I hate the idea that I ended two vampires."
He pulled her tight against him and kissed the top of her head. "Don't ever be sorry, Sookie. You did what you had to do to save yourself and the ones you love."
She sighed against his chest and closed her eyes. She sounded almost sleepy. "You forgot to close the door."
He laughed. "Well, my lover, you seemed to be in too much of a hurry to take off my pants for me to worry about such a thing at the time."
He was about to get out of bed when the door closed on its own. She snuggled against him a little closer.
After a pause, he snorted again. "Showoff."