A/N: I hate author's notes at the beginning of chapters, so I'll keep this brief. I'm SO SO SORRY for how long this chapter took to get out. But it's finally here. The last chapter of this story/saga.

Thanks for all your patience, understanding, and encouragement!

Chapter 31: If I Could Change the Future

I paced inside the large family room of our residence, my hands clenching and unclenching as I paced. If only I had been able to grab Emma and teleport away with her. This is all my fault!

I once more silently cursed that all three of my children seemed to have my own natural resistance to magic. I could teleport normal humans, and even most supernatural beings anywhere in the world, and summon them to me whenever I wanted to. But I could only transport my children if I could have my hands on them and teleported them along with myself. I'd never been able to summon them across distances like I could others.

"You'll wear holes in the hardwood floor," Robert dryly noted as he lounged sideways in a chair nearby.

But his casual manner didn't fool my eyes. He was trying to project calm and confidence in hopes of cooling my emotions, but I still saw the tenseness of his muscles—the weight of worry in his eyes.

He was just as concerned about Emma.

I gestured wildly around the open room—a room that held many comforting memories with our strange meshed family—but a room that currently seemed to mock me with its emptiness.

"What do you expect me to do?" I threw at the lounging vampire. "It's been over a week and they still haven't gotten my daughter back. We haven't even heard from them! How am I supposed to know something didn't happen to all of them?"

Astrid was perched on the edge of a couch nearby, her teeth worrying her lip as a hint of fang showed in her own agitated state. "You know Rune and Fader are alright, Moder. They said they could not be in constant contact as they hunted. But they'll find Emma. They will."

I stalked to the nearest window and leaned wearily against the antique sideboard in front of the view overlooking our spacious backyard. The pool with its crystalline dark waters drew my eyes, and I wondered if Emma would ever again lounge next to it, sunbathing just as I often did. Would she ever be returned to me?

I didn't share Astrid's youthful faith. I'd seen terrible things in the world. And experienced more than a few of them myself.

"Have faith in your Viking," Robert gently reminded, seeming to grasp where my thoughts were headed, no doubt shamelessly reading my swirling emotions through the thread of connection we still shared. Had I been more in control, or cared more about it, I might have closed his accesses to my emotions. But I couldn't muster the energy at the moment.

"I just want my baby back," I whispered as I turned around, wrapping my arms around myself as I sat on the sideboard and leaned back heavily against the cool glass.

An air of tense anticipation suddenly filled the air, and I opened my eyes to see Robert's and Astrid's gazes fixed towards the front entrance of our home. Both possessed far superior hearing to my own—even with all the vampire blood I'd ingested over the years—but I closed my eyes and reached out with my senses. Immediately I felt the closeness of my husband and son, and noted the apprehension and sorrow emanating from them. The wariness.

My knees almost buckled beneath me, but Astrid sped to my side, grasping my elbow as she tentatively whispered, "Rune says they have Emma. They found her."

I grasped my older daughter tight for a moment, thankful for her strength, and thanking God that all my children were back where they belonged.

Pulling away, I hurried from our family room and to the balustrade overlooking the main entrance on the floor below. As I watched, Rune opened the heavy, ornate French doors, and pushed them back as our other guards filed in behind him. Nearly running, I made my way down the stairs, Robert and Astrid following more sedately behind me.

I paused at the door to pull our son into my arms, my hands clasping his face to bring it down to my level, searching his eyes to see if he was all right. He held my gaze and silently assured me that he was fine. Still holding one of his hands, I turned to watch our guards file silently through the entrance.

A sense of foreboding filled me.

I still could not feel Emma.

And our guards seemed too quiet. Too contained. I knew well how these vampires enjoyed a good battle and celebrated boisterously afterwards. Even when injured so badly as to have lost limbs. Which I noted at least two of our guards had—and others seemed too pale and weak, even for vampires.

My grip tightened against Rune's hand. "Where's Emma?" I fearfully whispered. "Where's your father? What happened?"

"Moder…" he whispered, but trailed off. I glanced up at him, seeing his eyes locked steadfastly away from my own, sorrow and trepidation filling him.

Then I heard grunts as Jarl hobbled through the door, leaning heavily down on little Thalia's shoulders. It was the closest I'd seen the little vampire actually allow the scheming Jarl who was notorious for trying to bed the few vampiresses of our household. But I saw the same sorrow filling Jarl's normally laughing countenance, and Thalia's normally stoic one.

Something was wrong.

Stepping forward, I released my son's hand as Pam came through the doorway with her arms wrapped around Emma.

A gasp escaped my throat as I happily exclaimed, "Emma!" and started towards my youngest.

Emma's head snapped up at my voice, but I came to a skidding halt a few feet from my daughter, my mind finally realizing what my eyes were seeing.

Finally registering the telltale glow of her skin.

"Emma," I whispered again, my voiced drowning in sorrow, and feeling my heart break a little at her wide and fearful eyes. Eyes that darted about the room in both a fearful, and a predatory fashion.

"Mamma," she whispered, her lips barely moving. But I saw what she tried to hide. Fangs peeking under her lips.

Before I knew it, I had stepped forward and wrapped my arms around my youngest, pressing her head to my shoulder as I'd always done when she was upset, and whispering over and over to her, "I'm so sorry, baby."

Her arms were still wrapped around herself as I rocked her in my arms, her body shuddering as I felt tears fall from my eyes for what had been forced on her.

But suddenly, her arms wrapped around my waist in a crushing grip, and before I could tell her to ease her hold, her head twisted towards me, and I heard the audible snap of her fangs as they sank roughly into my neck.

Before I could even cry out in shock or pain, I was shoved backwards roughly, falling backwards on my butt, my hands braced behind me as I stared up at my daughter's snarling, howling, and hissing form. Pam, Jarl, and Thalia were all cautiously trying to hold and contain her thrashing body, and Robert stood with his back to me, a warning hand held between him and Emma as they others tried to soothe her.

Rune knelt beside me, wordlessly pressing his bloody palm to my neck to heal the torn flesh there, and still stupefied, I passively let him.

"Want!" Emma screamed in a strange hiss, seeming incapable of forming more than one-word sentences as she interspaced her demands of "Now!" and "Need!" between her growls and snarls.

"My God," I whispered as Rune lifted me to my feet, holding me steady as I stared at the snarling thing that had once been my kind and gentle Emma.

"She still needs to learn control, Moder," Rune whispered in my ear.

I nodded absently, knowing he was right, but realizing that in all my years around vampires, I'd never actually been near a newly turned one. All of our guards and those who lived with us were centuries old at least.

My mind demanded answers. Needed to know what had happened and how my baby could have possibly been changed into a vampire.

And the one I needed those answers from was nowhere in sight. But our blood told me precisely where to find him.

Racing through the open door, I flew down the marble stairs, taking them two at a time as I closed in on Eric, finding him standing alone, leaning heavily against the giant stone fountain in the circular drive.

I shoved at him until he turned to face me. "What happened to her?!" I demanded. "What happened to my baby?!"

"She is vampire," he whispered in a low flat face.

His contained manner angered me, and with all my might, I pulled back my hand and slapped him. "How could you?!" I shouted, "How could you could you let someone turn our daughter?!"

My hands seemed to take on a life of their own, slapping his face and striking his chest, even as Eric knelt in front of me, his arms spread wide and his face turned up to mine as he bore my anger, small cuts and bits of blood pooling as the strength his blood gave me aided my wrath.

When I suddenly stopped, he roughly implored me, "Give me your anger. Give me your pain. I would bear it all for you if I could."

My knees gave way again, and I collapsed against the dew-stained grass, clutching Eric's shirt as he gathered me close in his arms, holding me steady as sobs racked my body.

"How?" I brokenly whispered.

But Eric understood the sobbed word. "Felipe de Castro," he answered, and I jerked back to stare up into his eyes. "It seemed," he quietly continued, "that he had never forgotten or forgiven that he had lost you to me. From what he told me, he paid many oracle and psychics to find a way to recapture you from me. But one psychic told him that Emma would be more valuable. As a vampire. That she would be powerful. So he arranged to have her stolen, and turned her himself."

I silently cursed the Nevada king then. His greed and ambition had again proven too strong. Though I was under contract to visit his kingdom once a year to work for him, it still appeared not to have been enough. He had never quite forgiven us for taking Louisiana and Arkansas from him. And now Emma had paid that price.

"Is he dead?" I viciously demanded.

Eric jerked his head once in a nod.

"Good." And now we seemed to have control of another kingdom I knew neither of us wanted.

Before either of us could say more, a loud commotion sounded inside our residence, accompanied by the screams and snarls of multiple vampires.

Eric rushed inside, and I quickly followed behind him, stopping at the sight of Emma standing in the middle of a circle of vampires, several of which seemed more bloodied than when I'd left.

Eric had just stepped inside the circle of vampires, but cautiously held his hands out towards Emma, not stepping any closer to our snarling daughter.

"Emma," he quietly called to her. She whipped around in a crouch and snarled at her father as he continued, "you must calm yourself. Calm your emotions. You do not wish to harm any of us. We are you family. Listen to me, Emma."

But she only snarled in return.

Eric carefully stepped closer towards Emma, but she suddenly brought her hands up, and thrust them towards her father, seeming to throw some invisible force at him as he was hurtled backwards through the circle of vampires, crashing into a marble pillar, the stone crumbling beneath him.

Robert and Pam suddenly appeared in front of me, pushing me back in attempts to protect me, even as I tried to push between them at the sight of Astrid and Rune easing closer to Emma.

"Enough!" the familiar wizened voice of the Pythoness called out.

Pam and Robert froze in surprise, finally allowing me to push between them as I watched the Pythoness stand before Emma, her hand clapping down on my daughter's shoulder as Emma fell to her knees.

"Be at ease, child," the Pythoness whispered to her.

"It hurts," Emma whispered, her voice coming out hoarse as pink tears streamed down her cheeks. "It hurts so much! I'm so hungry!"

I continued pushing past vampires until I stood beside the old vampire I'd once considered my friend.

"How could you let it come to this?" I demanded of her. "How could you let Felipe do this to my child?"

She turned her sightless eyes on me. "Fate is a strange thing. It's unknowable sometimes. But unstoppable all the same. This is Emma's fate."

I looked down at my daughter, seeing her eyes fixed on my throat, her eyes dilated and her fangs visible.

"She can't stay here," the Pythoness suddenly declared, my attention snapping back to her. "The fairy in your blood and the blood of your other children is too strong for the child."

Knowing her intentions immediately, I stepped closer to the old vampire. "You're not taking my baby anywhere," I growled, the threat evident in my voice.

But then, the room was filled with vampires. More guards than I'd ever known the Pythoness possessed, all bent on restraining Eric and all of his guards, one even wrapping his arms around me. My emotions were a wreck, but I immediately began trying to focus my fae magic, my body glowing as I called on the element of fire and tried to burn the vampire holding me so I could escape his grip. He grunted in pain, but wouldn't release me.

"Enough of that, child," the Pythoness snapped at me. "You're just making Emma hungrier using that fae magic so recklessly. I won't hurt her. But she can't stay here like this—uncontrollable. I can stop her, and I will train her to control herself."

"Why?" I demanded, my voice sounding broken as I listened to Eric and his guards continue to futilely to fight against the greater number of guards the Pythoness had brought.

"So that she will become what she was meant to be," the Pythoness declared. "She will become a great and powerful vampire. One day. One day, you'll understand."

And with that declaration, the Pythoness lead Emma from our home, her hand still tightly grasping my daughter's shoulder.

The vampire holding me suddenly pushed me forward, and, unsteady, I fell to my hands and knees. I could sense the other vampires leave as well, until it was only our family and guards left.

Our family except for Emma.

Standing, I looked up to see Eric silhouetted in the open entryway, staring in the direction the Pythoness had disappeared with our youngest. He turned to look at me, and I could see the torn emotion there. He wanted Emma back as badly as I did—but to fight the Pythoness herself?

"We can't," Astrid announced.

Eric and I turned to stare incredulously at our remaining daughter.

"We can't fight the Pythoness. We can't take Emma back from her. Emma is where she needs to be," Astrid continued as she moved to the center of the foyer. All around her, vampires struggled to their feet, staring at her in shock and apprehension.

"I won't abandon one of my babies," I whispered, still caught in the grips of shock.

"Emma isn't a baby anymore, Moder. And she isn't human, either. Not anymore. She's a vampire, and we can't help her. Only the Ancient One is old enough and strong enough to help Emma," Astrid insisted as Rune stepped to her side. He stared silently down into his sister's eyes, and something passed between them before he nodded and turned to face us as well, silently supporting his twin.

"I want my child back," I whispered again as my arms wrapped around my stomach. I felt Eric step closer and wrap me in his arms, the sorrow and grief he felt washing over me and blending with my own.

"She will come back to us," Astrid continued, "when she's finally ready."

I felt Eric's arms wrap around me from behind as I stood at the bathroom sink, staring into the lighted-mirror.

"What are you doing?" he questioned as his arms tightened around my midsection.

Shrugging, I tried to blow his inquiry off. "Nothing."

His arms tightened momentarily. "You were concentrating awfully hard as you stared into the mirror. Were you hoping the mirror would answer who was the fairest of them all?" he chuckled. "I would gladly remind you daily that you are still the fairest if you forget."

A pang of annoyance and bitterness swept across me at his teases. "You know that's not true," I grumbled, my eyes drawn to the ever-deepening lines around my mouth and the crows-feet at the corners of my eyes. "I'm getting older every day."

"You still look no older than a woman just into the years of her thirties, not a woman nearly twice that age. You're still beautiful, lover, even after all these years."

I ignored the comment as I continued past, knowing that I'd aged more in the past fifteen years than I had in all the years of hardships before this last hardship. The worst of them.

Eric spun me around in his arms, pushing back on my shoulders as he stared down at me with a slight frown. "Where is this coming from, Sookie?"

Stepping out of his arms, I continued past him and walked into our room, pausing in my closet to pull on one of my suits.

"Where are you going?" Eric asked as he leaned sideways against doorjamb, his arms crossed over his chest.

Pulling my long hair out from under the pale blue jacket I'd pulled on, I testily replied, "The Pythoness has requested that we start arbitrations a day early since so many have backed up in the past year." I couldn't help but snarl the word. It had taken me fifteen years to finally even be able to say her name. "The king of Illinois is demanding we preside over negotiations of his marriage now."

Chuckling, Eric answered, "I still can't believe that old vampire is negotiating a marriage alliance with a werewolf pack leader."

"Times are changing. He's smart enough to see the benefit in closely aligning himself with those he hires to guard his palace in the daytime. And O'Malley is crafty enough to see the advantage in aligning herself with the muscle and financial support of vampires against the hate and protest groups," I replied.

"I don't argue that the wolf is cunning. And innovative."

"She should be. It's quite the feat that Mary has become the first female pack leader. And in a tough pack, too. I do enjoy Mary O, and always enjoy visiting with that tough little thing, but I can't believe everything that's piled up to force us into holding arbitrations and negotiations for two goddamned days."

"You could go back to having these arbitration councils quarterly instead of only annually or semi-annually," Eric offered, visibly steeling himself for my reaction.

Stalking closer, I gave him the response he'd anticipated and so obviously braced for. "I don't want to be near that damn woman any more than I have to. If I hadn't promised years ago to fulfill this position, and if it weren't important to the Supe world as a whole to still have these arbitrations and someone to facilitate negotiations, I would have told her to go sit on a beach at dawn years ago!"

I shoved past him once more, stepping into our room as I angrily shoved my feet into a pair of heels.

Eric's hand shot out to grab my elbow as I balanced on one heel; my other foot suspended in the air, about to slip my other shoe on before he'd stopped me.

"Do not pretend you are the only one in pain, Sookie," he growled in my ear, bending over me from behind. "It pains me as much as it pains you to deal with the Ancient One and pretend that all is well. I would give my life to have Emma back with us where she belongs, but we cannot take her from the Old One. She is too strong, her dominion too vast. We would lose all of our people trying to take her by force. Along with our other two children. We have already had Emma taken from us. I will not lose Rune and Astrid as well. The risks are higher than I am willing to pay."

My foot slipped into the heel as Eric shoved at my elbow, spinning me to face him once more as he lowered his face close to mine, his fangs run out in anger. "I know you yearn to have Emma returned and are angry at the thought of having to sit next to the Old One through these arbitrations again, but do not pick fights with me when you are angry with her," he whispered, his low voice more threatening than if he'd shouted. "And do not continue to push your family away because you think you are the only one in pain. I am the one who failed to save her. Who let her get turned."

In the blink of an eye, he disappeared from our bedroom. Leaving me to drop my head in guilt as I leaned back to brace myself against the wall. I felt the sob start to well up in my chest, but shoved it back down, refusing to let myself fall into the pit of grief again.

But guilt was almost as powerful as wallowing in grief had been.

Guilt, because I knew how absolutely right Eric was. I hated having to sit next to that vampire during these meetings. Hated having to beg her to see my daughter, beg to know where she was, beg to have her returned to us, only to be met each time with absolute refusal. The only answers the Pythoness had been willing to give us, was that Emma was fine, and learning to leash the powers and magics that had combined with her fae and vampire bloods. And because I hated not know more about the fate of my daughter with such ferocity and couldn't handle it, I picked fights with Eric.

Shame quickly followed the guilt. He was just as right that I had pushed him away—pushed our remaining children away. Rune still lived in the residence, but I hadn't spoken to him in weeks. And that had become typical over the last ten years. He was wrapped up in his own life, and I realized I barely knew what his life now entailed. He was just one of his father's vampires.

Worse, I could not remember when the last time was I had visited Astrid at her apartment in the Garden District. I wasn't even sure if she still was dating the were-lion I'd met last fall. I wasn't even around to help her harness the fae magic that had slowly begun to manifest itself in her in the past five years.

And Dermot was rarely around to be of any help to Astrid, either. Claude had always been unreliable and flitted in and out of our lives. But Dermot had begun to reconcile with his father in the years since Niall had reopened one of the portals—something that had been a surprise to me, but Dermot had merely shrugged, saying it wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last time Niall closed the portals.

I wanted to crumple to the floor and wallow in my grief and pity once more. I'd been so hate consumed over the past fifteen years, I wasn't certain I knew how to let that anger go. But I resolutely pushed away from the wall and stepped out of our bedroom, looking up to see Eric standing at the large bay window across the way, staring into the darkness of our backyard.

Standing in the middle of the family room, I tried to muster the courage to tell Eric that I was sorry. To ask him to forgive me for the years that he had had to endure my harsh accusations, my erratic temper, and even my distance.

But I couldn't bring myself to tell him that I was sorry. That it wasn't his fault. Because if I wasn't able to blame him, I'd have to admit my own fault.

My head had dipped down with my thoughts, but jerked back up as I felt Eric zip across the room to stand in front of me. The anger had fled from his eyes as his fingers tenderly lifted my chin and brought my gaze to his. He had no doubt caught the tenor of my thoughts from my emotions.

"If I thought for a minute that it would help you, I would continue to allow you to blame me. I would take all of your blame. All of your hate," he quietly insisted, his forehead dipping down to press against mine. "But it cannot help you. It does not help you. Nor more than it would help you to blame yourself. You and I are constantly at odds these days, and our other children suffer as well. They miss their mother. Astrid needs her mother especially. I try to give her advice, but what do I know of what she should say after a fight with her lion or other things a daughter needs her mother for? What do I know of fae magics or how to wield them? I only know of the things you can do. Not how you do them."

I gave a watery smile. "His name is Shawn, Eric. You know that."

Eric grunted in return. "He's a were. What does it matter?"

"I'm sure it matters to Astrid."

His hand slid to the back of my neck. "See? Your daughter needs her mother."

"I want all my children back," I whispered in return.

My husband sighed and pulled me flush against his body. "As do I. But we cannot go against the Ancient Pythoness. We would not survive. We have no choice but to trust that Emma will be returned to us. That the Ancient One is able to help her learn control. Perhaps it was for the best, Sookie." Seeing that I was going to argue, Eric continued, "You saw Emma, lover. She was out of control, and her power was beyond anything I have seen in a newborn vampire. Or nearly any vampire. None of us could control her. And the Old One was right; your fae scent is delectable, but too overwhelming to a newborn. Even the twins would smell too enticing to her. We must trust and pray that the Old One truly has Emma's best interests at heart."

I nodded but looked away, hating the thought that even if the Pythoness was the only one who could control her, that it still felt like we had abandoned her when she most needed us.

Glancing at my wristwatch, I told Eric, "I've got to go. I'll be back later. But it'll probably be close to dawn. It'll be a long night."

I started to step away, but Eric reached out to grab my hand, stopping me. "Things will get better, Sookie. We will get Emma back, and our family will be whole again."

"I hope so."

I started to pull away again, but Eric still held my hand. "I love you, Sookie."

He seemed to brace himself, and I wondered for what as I stared up at him. "You know I do, too."

Unease. Uncertainty. That was what I was seeing in my husband's eyes, though he tried to hide it. "Of course I love you, Eric. I'm just so tired. I just want my baby back."

Eric relaxed ever so slightly, and released my hand, allowing me to turn and leave for my duty to help the Pythoness arbitrate disputes and negotiations.

Surprisingly, there was still two hours left until dawn when arbitrations were through. We still had a handful more, but those were pushed off until the next day. Over the last fifteen years, I hadn't been known to be forgiving or understanding in my rulings. And the Pythoness had never been known to be such either.

Word seemed to spread, and after some particularly harsh ruling handed down over the last several arbitrations, word had finally reached enough ears, and only the most serious cases had been brought to us this year.

I wasn't complaining. If we were able to cut down to one or two arbitrations a year for good, I'd be more than happy.

"I'm told the gardens are still beautiful in the sunlight. It's hard to remember, but sometimes I can still see what this part of the city looked like in the daytime."

My gaze tore from the elaborate gardens in front of the hotel, to lock onto the familiar sight of my daughter. She stood only five feet behind me with her arms grasped behind her back, dressed in a plainly cut black suit. Her head was fixed downwards on the toe of her black shoes as she shuffled her feet and then brought her hands forward to smooth the front of her slacks.

It was such an achingly familiar nervous gesture of my Emma's. Fifteen years later, and she still looked exactly like my little girl, trying to play dress-up.

As I took an unconscious step towards her, her head finally came up as she grasped her arms behind her back once more, rolling her shoulders back as she stood up straighter.

And I stopped at the sight.

She still looked exactly the same as the sixteen-year-old girl that had been taken from me.

Except for her eyes.

They held such weight.

Such depth.

My hand pressed to my lips without my notice as I stared at my baby girl. I had known quite well how many years had passed since she'd been stolen away. Even how many months, days, and hours.

But I hadn't really accepted that she would have aged by that much. Hadn't truly understood what all those years would mean.

She looked no older in appearance. But her eyes belied that youthful appearance. They showed the weight of a girl who had already spent nearly half her life as a vampire.

The calmness and contained expression in her eyes also told me that she wasn't a girl anymore. In more ways than one. She wasn't the human girl I'd held in my arms. But she also wasn't the newborn vampire still in the throes of bloodlust, either.

"Hello, Mother," Emma quietly offered with a tilt of her head, the action so vampiric. Her tone was as cool and contained as the manner she now projected.

"Emma," I managed to whisper, my feet rooted in place.

Emma finally stepped forward on her own, moving just past me to stand at the stone wall looking into the same section of the garden I had been staring at.

"I remember playing here as a child," Emma gently spoke, her voice warming slightly at the reminiscent.

Finally, I managed to unstick my feet and step back cautiously beside my daughter, glancing out at the garden again before my gaze locked back on the vampire next to me.

"I remember bringing you to play here, too. You loved to run through this garden. Loved trying to make your way through the maze on your own. And you were always so determined to do it by yourself, to prove you were a 'big girl.' But I'd follow you through it so that the second you started feeling lost and scared, I could scoop you up before your tears could even fall."

My youngest daughter's face finally cracked as a small smile formed. "I never knew you were following me," she whispered. "I remember getting so scared when I'd get lost in the maze, but always knowing you'd come to rescue me."

Tears broke past my resolve as I reached out to place a hand on Emma's arm. "I'm so sorry," I whispered.

She looked over to meet my eyes, her smile tightening ever so subtly as she laid a cool hand over my own. "It's not your fault, Mamma," she told me, my tears falling faster to hear the familiar lilt in her voice as she called me mamma. "You couldn't have stopped it, and neither you nor Dad could have helped me afterwards. This is what I had to become."

I reached across to cup her cheek. "This never should have been forced on you at the age of sixteen."

She shrugged. "Destiny chooses our roles and names our parts in life, even when we don't comprehend what we're seeing at the time."

"What? I don't understand."

She turned to fully face me, looking up into my eyes. "I didn't either, Mamma. Not for a long time. I had dreams of blood and thirst unlike anything I could image. Dreams of power I didn't know was possible. They confused and scared me for a lot of years. Until I finally became a vampire and understood them."

I fell back a step in shock. "You're saying you had visions of becoming a vampire? You had visions? Why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you tell us?"

Emma continued to hold my eyes. "I didn't understand them then. I was young and frightened by what I saw, but I just thought they were strange dreams." She glanced into the garden again, seeming to catch some image there that I didn't see. "I know better now."

Without a second thought, I stepped forward and wrapped my daughter in my arms, my tears falling faster as I held her where only a mother's heart can comprehend her daughter should be. Feeling the rightness and completion of it.

Emma stiffened slightly in my arms, but cautiously wrapped her own around me, her hands clutching into fists at my back as we stood together for several minutes.

Finally, Emma whispered, "Aren't you afraid of me?"

I pushed back to stare down into her face. "No! Why on earth would you think that?"

She glanced away, biting her lower lip in another familiar nervous habit. "I was afraid you'd be scared of me after what happened that night. That you'd be afraid I'd try to hurt you again," she whispered as two pink tears trailed down her pale cheek.

Gently wiping them away, I lovingly held her cheeks between my palms as I told her, "It was my fault I got that close to you when you were so unsteady and unnerved by your ordeal. But I would never fear you, Emma. I love you with all my heart, and I'd rather let you tear into my throat a hundred times than have to have you torn from my heart again."

"I hurt Uncle Jarl, too, that night," she whispered.

"Baby, Jarl told me what happened that night when they found you. He said it was his fault and that he scared you when they found you and he grabbed you so suddenly. You were just reacting with fear and not even truly understanding whatever your powers were. He knew you didn't really mean to hurt him," I explained. In truth, Jarl had felt such guilt for setting her off and scaring her. Even now with the responsibilities of running his own kingdom of Nevada—a gift from Eric and me for his years of loyal service—he still managed to call either Eric or I as often as he could to inquire about whether or not we'd heard from Emma. And even little Thalia—who had shocked us all by not only announcing she was sleeping with Eric's brother, but had also decided she wanted to stay in Nevada with Jarl—would call and ask after Emma. The vampire who cared so little for almost anyone, had come to love our little Emma. Just like our entire household had.

Fresh tears flowed down Emma's face, and I pulled her back into my arms, gently rocking and shushing her as she regained her composure.

After a few minutes, Emma finally pulled away.

"Your father will be so happy to see you when I finally bring you home," I happily told her.

Emma looked away, not meeting my eyes as her feet began nervously shuffling again.

And I felt like my heart might shatter all over again.

"I'd like to see Dad, too. But I can't come back. Not to stay. It isn't my home anymore. I still have more to learn from the Pythoness. Still more I have to master."

I shook my head in confusion. "What? What else do you need to learn? What more do you have to master that you can't do from home? It's been fifteen years! Why can't you come home?" I pleaded.

Meeting my eyes once more, I almost swore I saw a kind sort of pity flash in her gaze. A sageness I'd never witnessed before in my daughter.

"The Pythoness still has much to teach me. There is still so much I have to learn about the vampire world, but specifically, the things I'll need to know for my role in it."

"I don't understand," I repeated. "What role? Why does the Pythoness have to teach you?"

Emma smiled kindly then, even motherly. "Only she can teach me to one day fulfill her place in the vampire world."

"Her place? Why? Why do you have to take her place?"

She turned back to the stone wall again, leaning down on her forearms as she gazed across the garden. That weight had returned to her eyes. An understanding and knowledge too great for her fifteen short years as a vampire. Far too great for even a hundred or a thousand times that long.

"Nothing is truly immortal, Momma," she gently explained, her eyes narrowing as though she were looking across the distance and into the future. "Even the Pythoness knows she won't be around forever. She's been around longer than most, be she knows someday she'll die, too. Just as all immortals will. Nothing is meant to be unending." Her eyes flicked back up to mine as I came to lean down next to her, unable to stop myself, and feeling almost hypnotized by her sagacity. "The Pythoness has lived longer than any other vampire. Long outlived those she once served. But she knows her time will come. Just as it did for them. But it'll come sooner than she realizes, and I've got to be ready to take her place and restore order when it does."

My throat felt rough and dry as I nervously swallowed. "So you'll take her place one day in ruling on vampire matters and in arbitrating Supernatural disputes?"

"Yes," she gently agreed, her cool hand reaching up to cup my face, offering me the same comfort I'd given her. But now seeming so far removed from the nervous girl that had stood before me when she first appeared. "You and I will rule on disputes and negotiations and keep order as best we can together for a time to come. And after your days are done, Astrid will finally take your place. Her place. And together we'll negotiate wars, battles, and disputes for ages. Sisters taking their mantle to ensure peace in the lands." Her eyes drifted away from mine, almost seeming to become unfocused as she continued. "And Rune will lead his own vampires when Father goes to join you. And we'll all play our parts in the changes and future and destinies of the races. Things will become more and more tenuous as the worlds of human, vampire, fairy, and two-natured blend and change more and more. The balance will teeter dangerously as the world seeks order of the chaos." Her eyes suddenly focused again and snapped back to mine as she smiled sadly and continued, "Until our time is past as well. And new players take up their roles for destiny. Such is the way of the world. Such is the way of change. It's never-ending."

Astrid had known something, I thought to myself as Emma spoke. Those fifteen years ago when she had told us that Emma was where she needed to be. When she had been so sure that Emma would one day come back.

"Astrid saw glimpses of what was to come. But she doesn't see as clearly as I do. Her gifts and talents lie elsewhere," Emma smiled.

I could only stare at my daughter. Shocked by the realization that no matter how identical she seemed on the outside... on the inside, she had grown up into something not even I could comprehend. She had such depth and understanding of the world. It was startling for a mother to realize her daughter saw her place in the world more clearly, and accepted her place and fate in the world more wholly than she did. Than she could.

Emma smiled as though she knew my thoughts. "Fate brings us all where we need to be. It has melded the blood of human, fairy, and vampire for the changes and the path that lies ahead."

"And what is that path? What changes?" I found myself whispering.

"That," Emma quietly said, "is for the future."

A/N: Wow. It's really over. Yup. That's it folks. That's the end of this story or saga, or whatever it is. There will be NO MORE parts to this story. It's really over.

I know it leaves so much open and possible for the Northman kids, but that's the way I wanted it to end. With the readers able to imagine where and what the "future" generation of the family does. The sky's the limit for what those three kids might accomplish ;)

And again, I'm SO SORRY for how incredibly, disgustingly, long it took me to get this chapter out. I think I had some ideas for where I wanted this chapter to go, but had never truly decided everything, so I just kept putting off even thinking about it. And it didn't help that I just haven't been into the SVM world/series in a long time now. I haven't read anything since Dead in the Family and I wasn't altogether impressed with the last several books anyway or where it seems Harris is heading with the series. I guess I'm putting off whether or not to even read the last several books until they're all out and I hear what she did with Sookie in the end. (I know, I should just read and find out, but I find myself not wanting to read them if she's going to just cast Eric away after building their relationship for so many books—and then spending several tearing it down—so I've kinda lost interest with her indecisiveness)

Anymore, I think the SVM series is just becoming too much like the TV series Buffy became. The fans fell in love with Spike, and saw something in the character that Whedon didn't even want to see, and didn't like himself, so did everything in his power to try and destroy what he had created because he didn't understand or like what the fans saw. I feel like Harris has done (or is trying to do) the same thing with Eric. She didn't intended for the readers to love him as much as they did, so after several books, has been trying to rewrite things and make sure the fans don't love him anymore. And that's fine, I understand a writer being baffled by the fact that readers start to love a character that you didn't intend for them to love, but recognize that they do, and that something in your writing of the character caught your readers' interest. Anyway, off my soapbox and enough of my rant. (But don't get me started on True Blood! I haven't even watched that since somewhere in season 3 or 4, I think)

Anyway, I haven't actually been totally away from the fanfiction community for the past year since I wrote in this story. I was writing a series for Lord of the Rings (yes, I'm a closet geek. I can't help it! I adore Tolkien) under another pen name since so many of my followers here are pretty exclusively SVM or True Blood fans. I didn't want you guys to keep getting bothered with author alerts for a story you didn't want to read. But if you are interested, my LotR series is finished, although I might come back to do a sequel to it one day. Just look under the author name: Lasarina. Or you can find it all at my blog. The link to my webpage is in my author page here, too. Or, just go to www . sarifina85 . wordpress . com (just take out the pesky spaces)

I'm also currently working on a new fic for the TV series Supernatural. So if you have any interest in that, the story is under my Lasarina pen name, or on my blog as well.

Truthfully, I feel like some of that stuff is SO much better than my original SVM stuff was. In the past year especially, I feel like I've come a long ways and learned a lot more about writing fiction. But it's fun to look back at my early SVM stuff and laugh at all the typos and grammar mistakes that are there. (I was really horrible at catching my own mistakes! And maybe I'll go back some day and fix them) But I think I've gotten better.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this story, and kept encouraging me, or even outright kicking me in the butt to finish this story. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to finish my other ones for SVM, but I knew I had to finish this one at least for all you loyal readers.

Thanks a million times for all the encouragement and wonderful words and reviews you gave me! Check out my Supernatural fic if you're interested!