A/N: IT'S HERE!
Quickly, I'd like to thank all you readers, both the ones who have been with me from the start and the readers who started reading this story during its unofficial hiatus. This was my second attempt at a multi-chapter story and it grew out of a silly little idea I had while reading Dead To The World—I never knew that it would be part of my life for the 19 or so months it took to complete it, and I never knew it would be capable of impacting other people's lives, especially including mine. Thank you for accompanying me on this long, strange, bumpy ride. It took some time, but we're finally here!
Thank you to chiisai-kitty, who has read and edited every chapter of this story (in addition to almost everything I've ever posted). She's talked me through my uncertainty, corrected grammar mistakes I've made over and over again without being mean about it (by the way, "lay" and "lie," I hate you guys), and she has this amazing ability to respond to emails with story edits almost instantaneously. You didn't know what you were getting into when you agreed to be my beta, so thank you for taking a chance on me and my 59 chapters.
And thank you to Charlaine Harris, without whom none of this would have been possible. She created characters and plot lines that transcended their original content and purposes, and that's amazing.
For the last time … on with the show!
Eric was cooking me pasta in my kitchen when I woke up the next day after sunset. I was surprised he had woken up before me, since it was usually the other way around, but I guess all of the events from last night had tired me out.
"Look at you!" I exclaimed as I entered the kitchen.
Eric was standing by the stove watching the noodles cook, and he looked over his shoulder and smiled at me. "It'll be ready in a few minutes, I think."
I walked over to where he was and gave him a hug from behind, my arms going around my waist as I stood on tiptoe to rest my chin on his shoulder. His hair was damp from his shower and he was wearing a fresh pair of blue cotton boxers and a white undershirt. His ass looked fantastic. I kissed his cheek, and he turned his head so I could reach his lips.
"Thank you for dinner," I said when the kiss ended so Eric could check the noodles. He was so cute, making sure everything was okay.
"You think this is for you?" he deadpanned.
I laughed. "Very funny. What can I help you with?"
"For the tomato sauce, do you heat it up or do you eat it cold?" he asked, pointing to the jar on the counter.
"Hot. Here, I'll put it in the microwave—want a True Blood, while I'm over there?"
Once I had set the table and everything was ready, Eric set my bowl of hot marinara and pasta in front of me with a grand flourish. "Your dinner is served, madam," he said goofily, kissing the top of my head before taking the seat across from me where I had set his True Blood.
His eyes were on me as I took my first bite, waiting for my approval.
"Wow, Eric! This is really good!" I said, waiting until I swallowed to smile at him.
Sure, it was just pasta, which was generally pretty easy to make but it was even better now that he had cooked it for me, without even asking.
Noticeably relieved, he smiled demurely and took a sip of his True Blood. "I wasn't sure if you'd get another chance to eat tonight, since we have to leave by seven."
I frowned. That only gave me an hour to shower and do my hair and makeup.
Of course Eric noticed, and pushed calmness through the bond. "You'll have enough time. I was going to wake you after the noodles were finished. And I figured if you had the minimum amount of time to get ready, you wouldn't psych yourself out about the queen."
I reached over and rested my hand over his. "You know me so well." Not wanting to let go of the other's hand, we both ended up eating our dinner one-handed. I don't think either of us minded.
I insisted on doing dishes—since Eric had made a dinner he couldn't eat, he shouldn't have to clean up after it as well—while Eric changed into his suit and got his laptop and some paperwork from the car to do while I got ready.
It was totally unfair that he could get ready in like five minutes and look perfect, whereas I had to take so much longer than that because of makeup and hair and outfit try-ons.
But I was finally able to do it all. I was wearing a black suit-skirt combo (which felt a little strange to me since I had bought it on the queen's credit and now I would be modeling it for the first time I saw her) because I wanted to be taken professionally. That's also why I was wearing sturdy black pumps, pearl earrings, and a hair in a ballerina bun. I even considered wearing panty hose to complete the look, but in the end I figured my legs were tan enough.
"How do I look?" I asked, walking down the stairs to where Eric was seated in the dining room.
Eric picked his head up from the paperwork he was filling out and gave me a long head-to-toe scan that left me blushing. The fact that he said, "Like the kind of girl who should never have to ask that question," with his eyes burning into my skin made me blush even more.
"You clean up well too, you know. Fit for a queen," I said. He really did. Sometimes I wondered how I got so lucky.
"Thanks. Are you ready?"
"I just have to get my purse, and then we can go."
Eric started cleaning up after himself, and once I found my purse we were good.
"Do you think I'll be able to see Hadley?" I asked once Eric was out of the driveway.
Sometimes I forgot Hadley was alive and in New Orleans, because I'd been so used to thinking of her as dead to the world. I was anxious to see her and make sure she was okay, but on the other hand I was a little peeved she kind of sold me out like she did. Sure, she didn't know any better and probably didn't know how the queen did her business, but still.
"Probably. If not, I'm sure we could ask," Eric said very encouragingly.
Suddenly, he veered off the road to the side of the dirt path, the one we had first met on.
"Everything okay?" I asked.
Eric just looked at me for a second and then took a deep breath. For what, I had no idea.
"I've been thinking about this for some time now, Sookie, but I was having problems deciding when to bring it up, or where. And I've decided to do it now, in the spot where we first met."
Confused, I watched him take his hand off the steering wheel and into the breast pocket of his suit.
Eric pulled out a small knife and held it out to me. I stared at it. Um, what?
He passionately said, "I know, it's not a ring yet, because this is how you are married in the supernatural world and so far that's the only community that would recognize our marriage, Sookie, but will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
In that moment he looked so young, so eager. So beautiful. So mine.
"Yes, yes, of course!" I said, tears gathering in my eyes. "Eric Northman, I would marry you even if you gave me some sacred dead koala bear of matrimony instead of a ring."
He laughed, and I did too. While the tears in my eyes were clear and salty and the tears in his eyes were red and bloody, they both belied the true happiness, not sorrow, that we were feeling in that moment.
Eric lifted my chin and brushed my tears away with his finger. "You've said before that you're not sure what to call me or our relationship, but now you can call me your husband, because we will be a married couple."
He waited a moment to let his statement sink in before adding, "Think about it, Sookie: every marriage that doesn't end in divorce ends in death. Ours doesn't have to end in either."
"No, it doesn't." I smiled at him, so much it hurt, but I didn't care at all.
"I love you," he said, placing the knife in his cup holder so he could bring my face closer to his.
"I love you too," I replied before kissing him. The only man I'd be kissing for the rest of my life. Lifes?
We were interrupted by the sound of Eric's phone ringing.
"It's Pam," he said, drawing back. "Ever the cockblock."
I laughed appreciatively. Pam did have that going for her.
"Yes?" he said, answering the phone. He chuckled at something Pam said before replying, "Hold on, I'll put you on speakerphone."
"I knew something was up; I'd never felt him so happy before. Well, sometime late last night could have given it a run for its money, but never like this. I was in the middle of scolding Ginger and all of a sudden I started giggling. It's making me look bad, so just stop," I heard Pam drawl in the next moment.
I looked at Eric. We usually kept our sides of the bonds closed other out of courtesy, except for moments where we needed it, but I guess he didn't have that option with Pam? So that meant last night, when he felt so happy, must have been when I told him I wanted him to turn me in the near future. He nodded, seemingly knowing what I was thinking, and smiled softly. I grinned back at him.
"Thanks so much, step-daughter," I sniggered, Eric joining in too.
Pam was not amused. "Eric!" she whined. Daaaaaad!
"Come on, Pam, if you had just congratulated us like a normal person she wouldn't have had to pull that out on you," he chided.
She huffed. "All right. Congratulations, Sookie and Eric. I will be sure to decorate Fangtasia when you come in for your reception."
I looked at Eric. "Our reception? Why not our actual wedding?"
Eric's eyes widened. "Pam, I'll call you when we're leaving New Orleans. Good night," he said, and hung up the phone.
He looked a little sheepish, and that scared me. "I was going to explain … to get officially married, one part of the couple must present this sacred ceremonial knife to the other part in front of an important member of the vampire hierarchy. I am licensed to marry vampires and officiate ceremonies, but if I were to license or officiate my own I need a member of the vampire hierarchy to witness it. I was thinking that that tonight you could officially give me this knife in front of Sophie-Anne, to further show how bonded we are."
I stared at him. "Is this why you're proposing to me, tonight?"
He stared back at me. "I have been thinking about the best way to do this for a while now, and thought this was my best chance for you to say yes. But I must say, I felt I could do it now since you were the one to bring up turning you last night. After you fell asleep I went to my house in Shreveport and got the knife out of storage to bring it back with me and propose to you."
I slowly nodded in response. He did have a point. And if marrying him gave me extra protection against the queen and any other vampire, then so be it. If I could marry him in the human community we'd need a witness; it just so happened that my witness would be the queen.
He smiled hesitantly, obviously wondering if I was going to blow up at him.
"Does this mean I have to change into my spare wedding dress?" I joked finally.
Relieved, Eric laughed a little. "No. You're perfect how you are now. But we will have to exchange blood using the knife, in front of the queen. I've brought a goblet that we can let our blood drip into, and then we'll both drink from it."
Well, that was better than exchanging blood during sex in front of a crowd.
Crisis averted, we smiled at each other. Eric started the car again and drove at his Fast and Furious speed of choice, his hand holding mine the whole ride to New Orleans.
I wish I could say that we were at the queen's palace in no time, but we really weren't. Eric said it'd only take half as long if we flew, but it was raining tonight so that was out of the question. Of course I didn't mind the extra time spent with Eric, but I hardly made a good road trip buddy because I was quiet and looked out the window, too nervous to carry on good conversation.
Eric didn't seem to mind. I knew he preferred being silent than talking to most people, so he let me have my space.
He did give me a kind of Sophie-Anne 101 course once the signs announcing exits for New Orleans became more and more frequent.
Apparently she was turned when she was just a teenage girl, and she was much younger than Eric. She had turned three people that accompanied her anywhere she went: Andre, her kind of second-in-command, and Sigebert and Wybert, two Saxon twins who acted as her bodyguards. Eric seemed more respectful to the twins than Andre; he called Andre sneaky and untrustworthy, whereas he mostly just talked about the twin's extraordinary fighting capabilities. When I asked if Andre was all brains and the twins were all brawn, he agreed with me instantly.
The talks stopped once we entered the city. I was getting too distracted by the sights.
New Orleans is like no other place in America, both before the vampire influx and after it. A lot of people in Louisiana had started calling it the "Southern city that never sleeps," and now I could see why—it was late on a Sunday night but you'd never know based on the amount of people on the streets and the amount of light radiating from open shops and bars and restaurants.
Though the general public didn't know Sophie-Anne Leclerq was a queen, they knew she was a very wealthy vampire who owned a hell of a lot of real estate and spent lots of money in the community. Eric said she owned a block of buildings right on the outskirts of the French Quarter, and her palace was nearby. This meant her office building/living quarters were on the tourist list of things to see, especially at night. This block would be a natural target for Fellowship of the Sun bombers. A few vampire-owned businesses in other cities had been attacked, and the queen was not about to lose her life-after-death in such a way.
Plus, the queen had her own vampire SWAT team. Though vampires were simply lethal all on their own, since she had found that humans paid more attention if they found the silhouettes recognizable. Not only were the guards heavily armed, but they wore black bulletproof armor over black uniforms and had gotten special permits to carry arms in the city limits. It was lethal-killer chic. Actually, they were kind of like the New Orleans version of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican, although the Pope probably wouldn't agree with me.
We passed group after group of tourists and their tour guides, some coming from buses parked a block away that advertised special New Orleans vampire tours. I rolled my eyes; at least I hadn't seen a single Dracula anywhere. People were treating this like Vampire Disneyland, and once Eric pulled up to the entrance of the queen's compound I instantly understood why.
From what I could see on the street, the queen's palace was massive. It looked like the type of stone castles from fairy tales, with high towers for Rapunzel (or, in the queen's case, her own snipers, which was what Eric told me when I said the Rapunzel thing). It truly was a palace fit for a queen.
Once Eric got us cleared from security he started driving up the long driveway, which was ornately decorated with beautiful trees and shrubbery. There were fountains and gazebos everywhere; the landscaping was very pleasing to the eye. The only thing this fancy castle was missing was a moat with alligators in it.
We were stopped another two times for security, but finally Eric pulled up to the parking garage attached to this castle, the only sign that this castle was built during the 20th century and not, say, the Middle Ages.
Eric put the marriage knife in a small velour drawstring bag that he had left on the backseat, and then he handed me the bag. "Put this in your purse, and bring it out when I tell you to," he instructed me.
I glanced over at him before reaching out and taking it. Yeah, sure, give the wanted girl a knife to bring into the most fortified compound in the country, including the White House. But I trusted Eric; maybe they wouldn't search my bag if I was coming in with him.
He then gave his keys to the vampire valet and exited the car, speeding around the front to help me out.
Security guards directed us to an elevator to take to the lobby of the queen's official quarters, and we went in, holding hands. I felt like I was walking in a museum; everything here was so fancy-smanchy and expensive-looking, with painting after painting on the wall and a big mural painted to look like sky on the ceiling. I expected more humans—fangbangers, to be honest—but maybe the queen's official quarters were too fancy for them. The few humans here were either in uniform—maids and butlers walking down the hall—or in evening attire.
There was a front desk, strangely enough, and that's where we went. The vampire standing there—a Middle Eastern man with oddly friendly features for a vampire—recognized Eric and greeted him accordingly, calling him Sheriff Northman. I was surprised when I got a greeting of my own: "Telepath Sookie Stackhouse."
I smiled and said how-de-do. I wasn't really sure what the protocol was here.
"Rasul," Eric said, nodding his head.
"The queen is expecting you two. Please, follow me. And if I may, Miss Stackhouse, you look lovely this evening," he said cordially, coming out from behind the desk.
He motioned for another vampire—an middle-aged woman with black hair—to take his spot, and then he started walking with us. Like most of the male vampires here, he was wearing a plain black suit; the women were in black dresses.
"Thank you, Rasul," I replied as we followed him down the hallway. There were lots of doors on either side, and each one had its own vampire security guard. The set of double doors that Rasul led us to, at the very end of the hallway, had two.
These must have been Siegebert and Wybert; they looked identical. They also looked massive and out of place in the clean, pristine room. They were as tall as Eric but twice his width, and they looked like prime meat for the pro wrestling circuit. One had a huge scar across his face, acquired before death, of course. The other had had some skin disease in his original life. They weren't just display items—they were absolutely lethal.
"Bert, Bert, you remember Sheriff Northman," Rasul explained, nodding his head at each one. "This is the telepath, Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie, this is Siegebert and his brother Wybert."
They grunted and nodded at me and Eric. Eric nodded back too, but I smiled and said hello.
"They are here to meet with the queen," Rasul said to the Berts. They didn't acknowledge it, but Rasul didn't seem to care.
He turned back to me and Eric. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my work here is done," he said with a polite smile, and then he started walking back down the hallway.
Eric and I looked at each other, and then at the Berts.
"The queen is… busy," Wybert said suddenly. His voice was heavily accented, but with what, I couldn't tell. "When she wants you in her room, the light, it will shine." He indicated a round light set in the wall to the right of the door that I hadn't noticed.
"Thank you, Wybert," Eric replied. "That's an impressive sword you've got there; is it the molten one you were telling me about last time I was here?"
Trust Eric to start making small talk about weaponry with big vampire soldiers.
Wybert said it was, and then he and his brother started talking very enthusiastically to Eric about all of their weaponry. Their English was stunted, even though they'd had more than enough time to learn it, but once Eric started in some language they switched over, and conversation moved much more quickly.
As for me? I just stared at the light and wished it'd light up so I could just this over with.
Finally it lit up, and Eric and the Berts stopped talking. The security guards each opened a door, and we walked into a room that was so light I thought for a second we were outside. There was stimulated sunlight coming down from the stimulated sky in the ceiling. Sophie-Anne must have really missed the sun, like all vampires did, probably. The room was small, and through the large row of windows to the side I could see that it was next to some sort of indoor pool and patio area. I could see pretty humans swimming in the pool, dressed in the skimpiest bikinis and Speedos.
In the middle of the room sat a young, beautiful teenage vampire wearing a gorgeous cream silk evening gown with intricate beading. Her red hair was carefully done in some sort of retro curls updo, and her makeup was similarly retro and stunning. She was sitting in a chair at the head of a small rectangular granite table that had some papers and pens on it. On her right side was a blond, young-looking vampire with almost too-pale eyes sitting beside her, equally regal in a black tuxedo that probably cost as much as my cable bill for the whole year.
Hello, Sophie-Anne and Andre.
Eric and I walked up to the chairs in front of them, but the two vampires didn't stand up.
"Sophie-Anne," Eric murmured as he bowed. I did a curtsy, like he had told me to earlier during my Sophie-Anne 101. He should have told me how young she looked; this whole time I had been imagining this frightening matronly vampire who was ready to bite me as soon as look at me.
"Northman," she said, looking Eric up and down.
Then she turned her attention to me. "Sookie Stackhouse. I bet you were a sight to see in any one of the $75 La Perla lingerie sets you bought on my credit … especially the red one," the vampire queen of Louisiana greeted me finally.
Right now I was sure my face was as red as that damned lingerie. That sure was a helluva opening.
As I gazed at Sophie-Anne's perfectly made-up face, I remembered what Eric had said about Bill having the option to change his human accent and mannerisms after outliving them for so long. But in the queen's case, it seemed as though she was stuck in the 1940s and not whatever time period she had actually lived in, if her bright red lipstick was any indication.
"Yes, your majesty," I said simply, trying my best to make my Crazy Sookie smile a little less Crazy.
Sophie-Anne just laughed. It sounded shrill to my ears, and I'm sure it was worse to Eric's, with his vampire hearing.
"Please, sit," she said hospitably, waving her small white hands with perfectly manicured red nails at the seats across from her. Eric sat down first, across from Andre, and I next to him. Sophie-Anne was even more beautiful up close, as was Andre. He'd yet to say anything.
"Sookie, this is my child, Andre," she said.
I smiled at him. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Andre," I said pleasantly enough.
A corner of his mouth went up as he tipped his head slightly, and then it was back to the stony poker face I was used to. In that moment he looked like a child in his father's work clothes, but I was sure he was much more threatening than that.
"Likewise," he managed to say. But then again, he just nodded at Eric, so maybe he wasn't big on words. Maybe that's how the queen liked her children.
The door that we'd just come from opened then, and a short, balding middle-aged man walked through them. He was wearing a very nice suit, but he just looked different from the vampires; his skin wasn't glowing. When I tried to read his mind, it was like he had his own shields up, because his brain wasn't hazy like a Were or empty like a vampire.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Your Majesty," he said hastily, taking the seat next to Andre. Brave man.
She just looked at him, so Andre just looked at him too.
"I'm Mr. Cataliades, the queen's official lawyer. You must be Sookie Stackhouse," he said, extending a hand to me. Okay, so he definitely wasn't a vampire.
"Hi. Nice to meet you," I said, smiling for real this time.
"Eric, good to see you again," he said after he let go of my hand.
"Yes, and you as well," Eric replied.
It was quiet for a moment after that. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the queen—and Andre—hadn't stopped staring at me this whole time.
"Right, so let me get the paperwork then," Mr. Cataliades said, opening his briefcase.
"Before we do that, Sookie and I have something we want to say," Eric said quickly. Mr. Cataliades stopped what he was doing and gazed at Eric, as did everyone else at the table.
"Sookie," Eric prompted, raising an eyebrow at me. Well, guess this is the part where I gave him the knife and married him.
Too bad a bouquet and veil couldn't fit in the same drawstring pouch as the knife.
I took the bundle out of my purse, handed it to Eric, and then inclined my own head in what I hoped was a ceremonious manner.
With a certain sense of theater, Eric untied the golden cord and silently unfolded the velvet. Sparkling like a jewel on the dark material was the ceremonial knife and a little goblet with rubies on it. Now Eric set the cup upright and lifted the shining blade to his lips, kissing it.
After the queen recognized the knife, her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. She and Eric regarded each other steadily.
"I believe my congratulations are in order, then," Sophie-Anne said finally. She didn't sound upset, but she also didn't sound thrilled. It was just neutral, like her statement. "You two certainly make a beautiful couple."
Mr. Cataliades congratulated us too, seeming more genuine than the queen. Andre, of course, said nothing, but he looked pissed.
Eric cut his wrist and held it over the goblet, squeezing hard. It only took about thirty seconds for the cup to be filled halfway. Then Eric motioned for me to hold out my wrist and he cut it too; it hurt more than his bites, but that's how it was to be done. I tried my best not to cry out in shock when he did it, and I knew once I had sipped from the cup it would be better.
Eric swirled around the goblet before holding it out for me to drink from. I rested my mouth on it and placed my hand on his to tip it back. After two swallows I stopped, and gestured for Eric to drink from it. He drank the rest of the blood, and leaned forward and kissed me as soon as I'd moved the cup away from his mouth.
"I do," he whispered into my mouth.
Oh, how I loved him at that moment. We were doing the supernatural way of exchanging vows—blood, really, but whatever—but he was acquiescing to my standard, traditional human way too. That was so thoughtful of him.
"I do," I replied, kissing him afterwards.
When we straightened up and resumed our seating positions, no one said anything. The queen just looked amused, and Mr. Cataliades was smiling. Andre, of course, still looked pissed.
Our bond felt stronger now, more pulsing and alive. I could feel that Eric was happy and pleased, but I wasn't sure if he had opened the bond or if I'd be able to feel him at all times now.
"Obviously, there are certain things in the contracts Mr. Cataliades set up that will need to be fixed, befitting our new relationship. I've taken the liberty of rewriting them, if you'd like to take a look at them," Eric said, very calmly, as he took the papers out of his suit jacket.
I glanced over at him, the sly dog. He knew I would say yes! I mean, I didn't blame him, but still! He'd gotten the paperwork all figured out to boot!
Eric had folded them to fit in the pocket, but when he took them out they didn't have a single crease line. He handed them out to everyone at the table, and they quickly started reading through the papers with their speed-reading supernatural skills.
I still couldn't get over the paper. Was it magic stationary? Maybe you can only use supernatural paper to write supernatural contracts? I'd have to ask once we got home.
With their speed reading, everyone finished their respective packets within a matter of seconds.
"This seems most agreeable, from a legal standpoint," Mr. Cataliades said.
Eric slid over a packet to me too. There was a lot of legal jargon, but I got the gist of what he was saying. I had a rate of $150 an hour—tax free, of course, since there was no way the queen wanted the government to know she had a telepath on staff—for periods of no more than six hours at a time, and no more than twenty hours a week. Trips or any other type of long-term engagements could not last longer than a week, and salary would be decided upon for each engagement and paid beforehand. All of my travel fees would be paid for as well. If I was required to leave the state, additional fees would be added. If I was injured or sustained bodily harm, additional fees would apply, with the option to cut association altogether. And as stated before, the association was to last four years, with the option to create a new contract when this one ended.
But what I really liked that Eric included that any humans revealed to be doing unlawful acts through my work must go through due-process where applicable.
I also liked his stipulations about himself—that he'd be in the room with me at all times, that he would kill anyone who touched his pledged and bonded without fear of consequence from the vampire government or payment to their maker, and that he would go through all of my assignments before informing me of them so no one would be able to contact me without getting by him. He didn't get paid at all, but I knew he wouldn't care about that. If he sustained any injuries, I wouldn't work until he was healthy; if he died, I wouldn't work without him at all.
As I read this, the queen questioned Eric about certain parts of the contract, but I tuned them out, confident Eric would take care of me. Maybe someday I'd be so familiar with the supernatural world I could write my own contracts.
"Let's sign then, shall we?" Mr. Cataliades said, jolting me out of my reading.
I looked over at Eric, and he picked up the pen and signed on the line. He dated it too, and then handed me the pen. I signed where it told me to sign and everything, and then slid it over to Mr. Cataliades. He gave the paper to Sophie-Anne, who signed, and then signed his own name too.
I smugly noticed Andre didn't sign a damn thing.
Mr. Cataliades took the paper once everyone was finished and put it in his briefcase. "I'll go submit this now," he said out loud.
That was it. That was really it. Eric and I shared a smile. We did it! It felt strangely anti-climactic, but that was a good thing.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Mr. Cataliades said, excusing himself from the room. "Sookie, it was nice to meet you. I look forward to working with you, as I do with you, Eric. Well, until next time."
"Goodbye," I said, and Eric said the same. Sophie-Anne and Andre were silent.
"Andre, I believe now is the time for you to do me that errand," Sophie-Anne said suddenly, turning to look at him. He got up and left the room without saying a word. That and the vagueness of the statement made Eric tense a little.
The queen then gazed at me. "Welcome to my retinue, Sookie. I really am glad that you're here. True, it's not the way I originally envisioned it, but the end result is almost the same. You've picked a very persuasive husband," she said, smiling at the end.
"Don't I know it, your majesty," I said, smiling at her. I didn't know if that was formal enough for a queen—I was American, after all. But she didn't seem to mind.
"I want you to know, I'm not as evil as you probably think I am. I'm fair when it's right to be. I hope you'll see that through working for and with me, and in time I want our relationship to strengthen into something resembling partnership," she replied.
"I look forward to working with you as well," I said. But I didn't say it meanly or anything; she was right, she wasn't the big bad vampire I had originally envisioned. That didn't mean she couldn't be a sheep in Rita Hayworth's clothing.
She cleared her throat. "In terms of business, I'd first like for you to read my human staff and also the fangbangers. Safety precautions, you see. I'll organize the when and where later, but I think it'll be good to start you out slow and give you some time to adjust."
"Thank you," I replied.
"I won't have you sneaking into Fellowship churches for sure, and you can trust me on that. Although perhaps that's why Dallas was so eager to have you." She looked at Eric when she said that, and he just smiled politely at her.
I saw a girl wearing a short red cocktail dress and matching stilettos approaching the glass window—or glass door, rather—on the side of the room, and I watched her walk up to it. She was curvy and blonde and … oh my goodness, she was Hadley!
She opened the door, and smiled when all three faces stared at her.
"Come in, Hadley. Sookie's here," the queen greeted her.
"It's so good to see you, Sookie," she said, walking over to me. She had caressed the queen's shoulder as she passed her, and I stood up from my chair and met her halfway to envelop her into a hug.
"You too," I mumbled into her shoulder. She'd filled out since I'd last seen her, but maybe that's because she was taking a different type of drug now, one that improved your body instead of destroying it. She looked really good with the blood, but her face and her smile looked happy, and that was something that came from within.
I pulled back but kept my arms around her shoulders so I could get a better look at her. She didn't look like any of the slutty fangbangers that came into Fangtasia; her makeup was neutral and her hair was brushed and shiny. Hadley was staring at me just as eagerly, taking me in.
"I don't think you've seen my day room since its remodeling, Northman. Come, let me show you the courtyard," the queen said, rising out of her chair.
She winked at me before turning towards the door. Eric looked at me for a second and nodded before zooming out of his chair and opening the door for his queen. He closed the door behind him afterwards, and I could see him following Sophie-Anne as she gestured to various places in the day room.
"That was surprisingly nice of her," I said, nodding my heads towards the door. I never would have guessed she'd give me and Hadley some alone time to catch up. That earned her big brownie points in my book. Sure, there were probably was a camera in each corner of the room and at least two vampires with perfect hearing outside, but I appreciated it all the same.
"She really isn't all that bad, for a vampire. There are worse ones in the palace," Hadley said, looking at her receding figure.
"All right, so let's catch up. How did you meet her?" I asked, pulling her into Eric's seat and sitting beside her.
She told me about how before the Great Reveal she was at a club—one that was owned by one of the Sophie-Anne's associates, though she didn't say which one—and met Sophie-Anne there. They spent the night together, and then the next night, and then the next night. Sophie-Anne revealed she was a vampire a couple months before the Great Reveal and invited Hadley to live at her palace as her companion. Since she was staying in a shitty apartment in a bad part of town, Hadley agreed, and she'd been there ever since.
"If everything was so great, why did you feel like you had to boast about your psychic cousin to the queen?" I asked after a moment.
Hadley shook her head. "I was jealous. At the beginning of our relationship I was monogamous, but Sophie-Anne wasn't, in terms of blood and sex. I wanted her to pay more attention to me. But I didn't think she'd actually follow up on you or send a vampire after you or nothing! Sookie, I swear! I'm so sorry."
She'd started crying a little, and I reached over and covered her hand with mine. "Hadley, listen to me. Hadley! I forgive you. You didn't know any better, sweetie, and it wasn't your fault. And to be honest, you kind of pitted me and Eric together against the queen and Bill Compton, and that made our relationship so much stronger. And it all worked out in the end, didn't it? Now I can see you more often, after not seeing you for so long."
Hadley picked her head up to look at me, wiping mascara from her eyes. "You really mean that, Sookie? You forgive me for what I've done?"
I smiled softly. "Yes, I do."
"Oh Sookie!" she cried, and leaned over for a hug. She stopped crying after a while, but she never let go.
When she finally did, it was my turn to talk about what had been going on in my life. Hadley cried again when she heard Gran had died, but laughed when I told her about Jason's various exploits. She congratulated me more than once on Eric, saying he was a "hottie" and used to always treat the donors fairly—which I cringed internally at upon hearing, but not when I heard that this past month he'd refused fangbangers during his visit—and, most of all, that I was lucky to have him.
"I really am," I repeated, and when I looked out the glass door I saw Eric and Sophie-Anne walking back towards the room, Eric towering over the tiny queen.
When I pointed this out to Hadley, she quickly asked me if her face was clean, and by the time I wiped some mascara boogies away and proclaimed her face to be okay, our vampires were approaching the door.
Hadley stood up when the queen entered the room, so I did too. I figured she knew more about how to act around vampire royalty than I did.
"I see you two have caught up a little," Sophie-Anne said, walking through the door that Eric had opened for her.
"Yes, Sophie-Anne," Hadley replied. I just smiled warmly at the queen.
She looked directly at me when she said, "That's lovely. Hadley lives here with me, Sookie, so anytime you visit the palace you are more than welcome to spend time with her, both day and night."
Was she offering Hadley as some sort of a bribe?
"I look forward to seeing a lot more of both of you in the near future," I replied as diplomatically as I could.
"And I as well. Unfortunately, your majesty, it is late and Sookie and I must be back in Area 5 before dawn," Eric said.
"Shame. And I was prepared to offer you my finest suite—it has its own panoramic faux beach view, you know. Perhaps next time you will be able to see it," she said.
"Perhaps. Goodbye, your majesty, Hadley," Eric said, walking over to me.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, your majesty," I said to her, and the queen just nodded her head. I gave Hadley one last hug, and with that Eric and I left the room.
Aware of the vampires and security, Eric and I didn't say anything until we were driving away from the palace. And once we were down the street, my mouth was off and running about Hadley and what she'd been up to and how happy she seemed with Sophie-Anne and how excited I was to see her on a somewhat regular basis now. Eric just held my hand and nodded and asked questions at the right times and generally just let me prattle on, which was what I needed.
He always seemed to know what I needed before I even did.
Before we got on the highway we had to stop for gas, and I used the restroom while we were there. When I came back outside, I saw Eric had moved the car away from the pumps to the side of the parking lot and was leaning against the hood with two bottles in his hand. When I got closer to him I saw he was holding a True Blood and a V8.
"I thought a toast might be in order," he said when I stopped next to him, leaning against the car with my hip bumping his.
"And what are we toasting?" I asked, taking my juice.
It didn't escape me that he'd picked the drink that was the closest color to his drink—blood red.
"The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one."
"May we be able to handle the new one as well as we did the last," I added, clinking my bottle with his.
"Better. With no amnesia, preferably."
"But the amnesia brought us together!" I protested.
He shrugged his shoulders as he replied, "Before bringing us apart and then finally together."
"Well, as long as we're nearby I guess we can work through it," I said.
"Oh, I plan on keeping you nearby," he murmured, bumping my hip with his.
"That's funny. I plan on keeping you nearby," I replied, bumping his hip this time.
He looked up at the stars for a moment before looking down at me. "I can't wait for it."
I smiled up at him. "Me neither."
A/N: That's it! It took a little more than 1 and a half years and 59 chapters, but that's it!
In terms of business … if, for whatever reason, you're scared you'll have to go through an afalcone10 withdrawal (and I absolutely adore you if you actually are worried about that) it might be a good idea to put me on author alert or keep an eye on the newest stories, since I've been writing a lot.
I've started the first chapter of the Eric POV companion piece to this, "Dead To Your World." It's not going to be another epic 50+ chapter story like "Dead To My World," but it will cover the events from this fic as Eric sees them, including certain parts of the story Sookie wasn't there for (like Eric's first night after waking up from the curse or his mysterious visits with the queen). And of course if there is any scene you'd like to read from Eric's POV drop me a PM or review!
I've also finished a one-shot I started ages ago to mix things up a bit—it's angsty and is told in the third person POV, both of which are uncharacteristic of me. But I'm pleased with the result, even though it made me cry. The title of the story is "Mine" and you can see it on my author profile. It's my angsty one-shot interpretation of Eric always telling Sookie she is his. AH, with Sookie and Eric being two star-crossed college-bound kids. I cried while writing it and reading it (even rereading it and making edits) and my beta cried while going over it. You have been warned, all of you.
Lastly, I haven't forgotten about "Behind the Music." I'm almost done with the next chapter of that and I expect it to go up soon. "Score!" will not be worked on because, in all honesty, that story embarrasses me.