A/N: So here we are faithful readers, at the end of our tale. It's hard to find the words to express just how amazing it has been to have you all on this journey with me. To begin, thank you. Your words of encouragement and your thoughts each chapter helped me to better define where I was strong, and where I needed to work. I feel confident I improved along the way, and that's in large part due to all of you, and of course, to my very talented Beta IWishIHadARiver. Love you K! You're the best, and I love having shared this experience with you. It made it more fun.
Thank you to Wylis and ReannaCullen for giving me a pre-read and their blessing on this final chapter.
And how could I not thank Charlaine Harris, who owns these characters, and Alan Ball too.
On with the final act…
Monarchs and sheriffs and pack leaders from across the country converged on the stage, demanding to be heard. We were going to be here all night, and while the Oracle was convincing, even to me, there were a lot of questions. As I scanned the crowd it occurred to me that there was one question nobody had thought to ask.
Where the hell was Sophie-Anne?
Whatever I was fated for, it certainly wasn't to wear that champagne dress from Long Lasses. The ball had been cancelled. I sighed. It was like the pie all over again…so close and yet….
The vote on my new role was held over until tomorrow, which I thought was a good thing. We needed some time to absorb, but we really needed all available hands to form search parties and hunt down Sophie-Anne. How she had eluded the bailiffs during the melee was anybody's guess.
Needless to say, Dahlia Brinks from the AWSA was madder than a mad dog at the prospect of not getting to push Sophie-Anne out into the December sun. I wouldn't be surprised if she was the one to bring her in. There's nothing like a woman on a mission.
Eric and I were escorted back to our suite by one of the Britlingen warriors. No sooner had the door closed than I was on him like a bayou leech, Bill gore and all. It would have taken a jumbo box of matches and a truckload of salt to peel me off.
"My sweet fae," he rasped, actually stumbling in his haste to get me to the bed.
"I thought I lost you, Eric," I sobbed and laughed through my kisses that were devouring every inch of him.
Eric hovered over the bed where we broke off for a moment and contemplated the fine linens. "The shower," we said in unison. I'm sure it was a very mucky shower, but we didn't notice, too intent on what we were feeling, slick hands sliding on slick skin, lips capturing lips, and dull teeth gripping firm flesh. When our movements became frantic and we realized that we had been clean for a while, Eric scooped me up, knocked the shower door shut with his foot, and vaulted us onto the bed soaking wet. I was on him in a flash.
"Sookie, slow down, look at me, lover," he brought his hand up to my throat as I straddled him, and he stroked its length from my chin to the hollow between my collarbones as I caught my breath. His hand then continued its tender path down my chest, and his eyes looked almost pained. "Sookie, there are no words that would not cheapen what I wish to say. Come into my mind."
I did, and what I felt there was a well so deep it knew no bottom, and in it were the raw ingredients of every love story ever written and every tender word ever spoken. It was a well of pure love.
I gasped and tears sprung to my eyes as I covered his body with my own, kissing every ounce of my own pure love into him. Our bonds and minds were fully open, mingling, allowing the feelings to flow back and forth. Of all of the deeply emotional events we had shared in our short courtship, this was the most beautiful and meaningful. Now we had both had the experience of almost losing the other to death. The relief was overwhelming.
My breasts were perched perfectly for his questing hands as he pressed his urgent need against my own, slip sliding against the evidence of my excitement. He found his way into me almost by accident, our bodies having minds of their own. Our lips never left one another, even though we had stopped the fevered kissing of the beginning, they still brushed against each other gently, as if attached by some magnetic force. We took our time, entwined in such ways that it was hard to tell where he began and I ended. This was what love felt like. This was what fate felt like – a deep certainty, a rightness.
As we lay in each other's arms, enjoying the stillness of the pre-dawn, Eric brushed my hair from my face and ventured, "Lover, you are not happy with your fate?" His face was pensive, concerned.
"Oh, I'm happy with this part of my fate," I reassured, gently stroking his face, "as for the rest, it's not what I expected, and it's not what I asked for, but that's kinda the theme of my life isn't it? I think I'm getting used to it. So much of my life has been spent being forced to face things I didn't ask for, good or bad: my telepathy, the death of my parents, vampires entering my life, Gran's murder, having to kill, facing death…repeatedly. But there is something to what the Oracle and Dr. Ludwig said to us, and what the Oracle said to everyone. Supernaturals are drawn to me. And I am four-natured. And I do understand them. I might not agree with a lot of it, but I get it. I've lived it. And I suppose if I don't see what I've been given as a gift, then it will only feel like a burden to me, and I've tried my hardest to endure in life, to make the most of what I have. If this is my fate, then I think I should meet it. And I think I should do the best job I can.
"I couldn't feel more proud of you than if you had just built your first longship," said my Viking.
I woke an hour before sunset and set about once again ordering everything on the menu. I needed it after our very full night last night. I was ravenous. As I waited for the room service to arrive, I sank into the fairy tub and painted my nails with a delightful color called Bubble Bath, I figured it fit the occasion.
Eric was stretched out like a lion in our bed, his face peaceful, his hair rumpled and very un-sheriff-like. I loved that there was an Eric only I knew.
I was moaning through a mouthful of mashed potatoes when his leering face peered through the doorway.
"I will never get enough of that sound, lover. I just regret that I elicit the same noises from you as a smashed tuber."
I shook my head and returned to my lovemaking, licking my fingers with a little extra attention and enthusiasm. He looked stunned into immobility. It was cute.
"You slay me, Sookie," he groaned.
"What?" I asked innocently. "I have bbq sauce all over my fingers."
"Yes, you do," he growled, advancing quickly.
"What are you doing? Don't we have to be down at the summit soon?" I asked, fending him off while simultaneously trying to get more of my dinner in my mouth.
"No, lover, in fact, I received a text from the Britlingens that the Pythoness would prefer you not be present at the vote. I propose we go for a walk – enjoy this fine city. As soon as I have…" and with that we were off to the races. The only problem was, my stomach was so full. But you wouldn't say no to the Queen of England if she asked you to carry her scepter on a day you'd just overdone your workout, so I wasn't about to say 'no' to the ministrations of my champion-level vampire sex god.
When we were both sated, my belly included, we threw on jeans and jackets and stepped out into the Chicago night. A walk with my Viking, I had never done such a thing. It had only been weeks but I felt in some ways as if I had always been with him, so it was strange to encounter such mundane activities that we had simply never enjoyed together, or thought to.
As we exited the hotel and stepped out onto Monroe Street, he pulled me into an Eric-sized hug. I inhaled the scent of his new leather jacket before pulling back to smile up at him. My eyes wandered from his lips to his eyes, and up over his head to the impressive hotel behind him. He turned to face it, sliding his arm around my shoulders.
"It is grand, is it not?" he said, more of a statement than a question.
"It is! I love staying here. I feel like I'm living in a mansion. You know, there are some fun tours I read about the first night." As I recounted the ball and the haunted walking tour it turned out that he already knew all about them.
"Oh yes, lover. We will have to return next Halloween for the Haunted Hotel Ball. It is legendary amongst vampires. And a walking tour would be interesting from not only a supernatural but also an historical context. I would love to go with you."
Well look at us! We were talking about our future, making plans.
We started down Monroe towards Wabash. Eric's arm was still wrapped around my shoulder, making me lean into him instinctively. We were just two people, a couple, taking a walk in Chicago. We could be on our way to anywhere. I kept trying to tell my brain that, but we weren't just two people. He was a thousand year old Viking vampire who was probably about to put his hat in the ring to become King of Louisiana, and I was a four-natured hybrid who was destined to become some sort of supernatural referee. My heart started to race and I took in a deep breath of crisp air to calm myself.
"Do you plan to make a bid for King, Eric?" I asked. "I think you would make a wonderful King."
"Why do you think I would make a wonderful King, Sookie?" he replied, looking at me with genuine curiosity.
"Because you are tough but fair, and sure some people hate you or fear you, but most people respect you. And I'm sure it's a respect you have earned. I don't know what our lives would be like, but I would stand by you, if that was what you wanted." I said.
"I have never wanted to be King, Sookie." The easy way in which the answer sprung from him gave me confidence that it was true. "Sheriff gives me a measure of control over my life that I enjoy, and running a business as a vampire in the open is exciting for me. I have my freedom as Sheriff. Monarchs tend to lose their lives. There are some politics that are best avoided. I would say that I like my life just fine, as long as you are by my side. And we will be busy enough with your new role."
"Really?" I asked, believing him, but wanting to be sure.
"Yes, fated. In fact, now that you are by my side, being King is even less appealing to me. Even if I wanted to be king with all of my heart, which I do not, it would be most unwise. As my mate you will already have to answer to those who question your partiality. As a vampire Queen, your credibility would be suspect. And you would be in more danger, we both would."
"Are you sure you're not giving up this chance because of my new position?" Maybe we were like any other couple. This seemed like a pretty standard couple discussion about balancing careers, as long as you didn't focus on what those careers were.
"Sookie, if I had wanted to be King, I am certain I could have been long ago. Sophie-Anne is a silly girl, younger and less experienced than I, with a wasteful passion for shoes that is only rivaled by her passion for Yahtzee. Had there been a better candidate they would have made a different choice."
My six and a half feet of vampire turned to me and stood there for a moment, looking incredible in his new standard issue black leather jacket, black T-shirt and black jeans. He noticed me noticing him, and instead of his typical smirk, he eyed me back and smiled. Holding my gaze, he reached out both hands to me, and when I grasped them, he pulled me up to him, circling my arms around his waist. His eyes bored into mine and he kissed me softly but lingeringly. "I am so honored to have you by my side," he said in a low tone, sweeping a stray lock from my forehead and tucking it behind my ear.
I sighed and poured my love into our bond. "I love you, Eric," I spoke to him so only we could hear.
"Come, it is time for us to return to the summit." Eric released me from our embrace and took my hand to walk back to the hotel.
We walked hand-in-hand through the streets of Chicago, enjoying the crisp air that held the scent of cars, cold water, and a hint of wood smoke. I felt a million miles from Bon Temps, but perfectly at home there by his side.
Finally. I went to pull the champagne dress from the closet. I couldn't wait to wear it.
"The cream one, Sookie," he said, gently taking the liquid metal dress from my hands and handing me the chiffon. "I wish to see you in this one."
I quelled my disappointment, because let's face it, that was just so romantic. And it was a hell of a dress.
I slipped into the chiffon that hugged and draped in all the right ways. I blushed at Eric's fangy stare and had a little prance in my step as I took to the bathroom to fix my hair and make-up. I stood in front of the vanity mirror, blending my powder and bronzer in my palm with my wooden sable-hair brush and lifted my chin to swipe it on when I noticed the shower door was open. I could have sworn Eric had kicked it closed. Shrugging, I turned my face to the mirror again and my eyes were assaulted by a shock of red. Sophie-Anne was standing right behind me, fangs bared with a look of rage on her face.
"So, you think you're the belle of the ball, do you? I'm the belle of the ball! This is always my party! Mine!" She was practically stamping her little foot. It was pathetic.
I started to spindle my light inside my chest as I turned with saucy indifference to continue applying my powder in light strokes.
"First you, then your Viking," she hissed.
I turned around with vampiric speed, which took her by surprise, and plunged my wooden make-up brush into her chest. As I did so, it occurred to me that it wouldn't do to have a vampire explode on this dress that Eric had chosen for me. I wasn't letting yet another bitchy woman ruin a favorite dress. I zapped her with a super jolt of my fae electricity at the same time and she vaporized into embers instead of a goopy mess. As the embers dropped to the floor in a greasy pile, I whipped up a little spout of wind and tornadoed the ash over to the toilet and dropped her in.
Eric walked in at that moment. "Did I hear someone, lover?" He was sniffing the air, inspecting the bathroom, "what is in the toilet?" he said with curiosity.
"Oh, Sophie-Anne," I said, continuing to apply the make-up with a different brush. "I guess we should tell the bailiffs we got her."
Eric raised both of his eyebrows.
Now there's a new look for him.
That's more like it.
He swore in another tongue, shaking his head with a broad smile on his face. "We do not need to tell anyone, lover. We do not need any more enemies. And perhaps thinking Sophie-Anne is at large will keep people on their toes for a while. Let them focus their attention on finding her. It will also keep her rotten court from finding a new master and seeking new trouble. The last thing we need is André getting delusions of greatness."
I turned back to the mirror to apply a little bit of light nude gloss on my lips but was intercepted by a very fast Eric.
"No gloss, lover. I want to be able to kiss you at will." He held me at arms length and inspected me in my dress. "Perfect," he said. "Beautiful."
We arrived at the Red Lacquer Room to find the set-up entirely different. The stage was the same, but the chairs were set theatre-style in rows without tables, almost like a…wedding.
My heart jolted and Eric looked over at me with a tender smile. He took my arm in his, and walked me down the aisle, and up the steps to the stage.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!
When we reached the top and stepped onto the stage, he led me to the Oracle and then turned me to face him.
My breath was coming pretty fast, I had not been expecting this. Was I right? Was this what I thought it was?
"Sookie Stackhouse," began the Oracle. "We are gathered here to officially pronounce you the Interspecies Authority."
Oh. I had to admit, I was a little disappointed. I had thought…
"All here have voted and after much debate and discussion have unanimously appointed you to the position of Interspecies Authority for a period of one year, after which time we will meet again to discuss the efficacy of the role and future terms. Do you agree to accept this responsibility?"
"I do," I said. Not the 'I do' I was hoping for.
With that, representatives from each division in the country approached the stage and each in turn made a solemn vow to respect and protect my office for the greater good.
It was a singular moment in my life and I tried to take it all in and vowed to do my very best to earn their trust.
As they left the stage I prepared to leave too, when Eric grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him.
"Not so fast, my glorious fae," he whispered. He turned me to face him and captured my gaze with his eyes. He reached into his jacket and, in a move that paralleled Bill yesterday but elicited a completely different response from me, he pulled a dagger from his inside pocket.
I gasped, a smile lighting my face. Eric presented the dagger to me. "Sookie Stackhouse, will you do me the honor of being my pledged, and being one with me, for as long as we walk in our destinies together?"
"I do," I breathed, taking the dagger he offered.
"Then," said the Oracle, "present the knife back to your bonded so that you may be pledged."
I did as instructed and Eric's eyes flooded with emotion. He did his best to hold it together. I didn't do so well. My eyes welled with tears as I turned to the audience to share this moment with our friends, but I didn't see a single one of them. How could this be? How disappointing. I couldn't imagine what would keep them from such a special event. Even if the pledging was a secret, they should still be at the conference. Maybe they were out looking for Sophie-Anne. I regretted not telling at least them about the Queen's death. Oh, to have been able to share this moment with them. I had always wanted to have a wedding in front of my friends and family, and I was thrilled to be pledged, but now it also made me feel sad. I tried to hide it but Eric felt my disappointment through the bond and squeezed my hand.
It was all over. We walked down the stairs and Eric led me past the politely applauding audience out the doors of the Red Lacquer room and through the foyer. He drew us to a halt and leaning against the door of the State Ballroom, pulled me into a silent embrace. His happiness, pride and comfort washed over me as he kissed me gently and then rasped, "Lover, come in here with me. I must be alone with you."
I almost hesitated. I wasn't entirely in the mood, as wonderful as I felt. But how could I deny the man who had just pledged his life to me? I swallowed my sad heart and let him pull me into the room.
I got that odd feeling that comes over you when you walk into a familiar space that has been renovated to such an extent that it is unrecognizable and you feel like you walked through a door and were transported to an utterly different location. The State Ballroom had been walled off to create an intimate space, and in that space two rows of trees set with twinkling lights flanked two sections of white chairs tied with linen. Flower petals covered the floor and the room was filled to bursting with white flowers and greenery of every description. It was also filled to bursting with our friends. Tears fell down my cheeks as I saw Jason, Tara, Sam, Dr. Ludwig and Lafayette on one side, and Pam, Alcide, Maria-Star, Colonel Flood, Clancy, and Thalia on the other. Bobby Burnham appeared to be the wedding planner, and I resolved to try to find a rapport with him, because this…this was beautiful. Having feasted my eyes long enough, I actually jumped into Eric's arms with a little squee and he carried me to the front of the room. As he did, I spotted the Oracle slipping in the back with her Britlingens.
"I am supposed to carry you afterwards, lover, but if it means I get you up there to make you marry me, then so be it."
I giggled into his neck, and savored his wonderful Eric scent.
He set me down in front of a friendly-looking Minister. "I spoke to the Minister in Bon Temps, Sookie, but unfortunately…"
He did? "I know, Eric. It's ok, this is, this is…" I shook my head in amazement.
"This is right," he said.
I bobbed my head up and down. Yes.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the Minister began, "we are gathered here today, to support our beloved friends Sookie Stackhouse and Eric Northman as they join their lives in marriage."
From there it all proceeded as weddings do…until we got to the vows and I realized I had none prepared, of course. Thankfully Eric went first.
"Sookie, I promise to honor you, protect you, consult with you, not provoke you," he whispered that last one, "and love you, with all that I have, all the days that I walk the earth, and in whatever may lie beyond for us."
It could have been florid. It could have been dripping with compliments. It could have been full of statements like 'glorious fae' and 'in my thousand years,' but it wasn't. It was simple. It was from the heart. It was honest and true. It was perfect.
"Eric, I promise to honor you, protect you, take fewer risks," I whispered back, "consult with you, seek always to understand you, and love you, with my whole heart and soul, for all of my days, here and in the hereafter."
"Can I please have the rings?" asked the Minister.
Jason approached the front, holding a small carved wooden box in his hand. He opened it to reveal two simple gold bands. The Minister took them and held them up. "May these rings be a symbol of your eternal love," he said, before giving them to us.
"Sookie, will you be my wife?" Eric asked, his ice blue eyes impossibly warm.
"I will," I replied, tears clouding my vision.
"Eric, will you be my husband," I asked.
"I will, gladly," he replied, red rimming his eyes.
"Then by the power vested in me by the powers that be, I now pronounce you 'Husband and Wife'. You may now kiss the bride."
Eric cupped my face in his large cool hands and kissed me with a tenderness and love that I was happy to share with the world. The crowd erupted and in a week filled with erupting crowds, I was happy that this one was descending into happy chaos.
As we made our way back to our honeymoon suite (and I couldn't believe I hadn't caught on to that one) I leaned into my husband and sighed, "What a couple of days we've had, Mr. Northman."
"Agreed, Mrs. Northman. Well, now we can relax. I have this room for the week so we can take our time adjusting to married life and enjoy a little quiet in the city….with our friends."
I spun to look at him, surprised.
"I paid for everyone attending the wedding to spend the week here too. I thought we all deserved a vacation," he smiled.
"This will be quite the honeymoon, Eric," I said, amazed.
"Oh, this isn't our honeymoon. That will be your choice Mrs. Northman. Anywhere in the world you would like to go, we will go."
"Try me," he said.
I didn't even have to think about it. "I want to see where you were born," I said.
Eric leveled me with a shocked look. "You have never been to a city bigger than Chicago, yet faced with all of the wonders of the world, the place you would most want to go on our honeymoon is my birthplace?"
"Yes," I said simply.
Eric shook his head. "You are a wonder."
As I cuddled in his arms, I couldn't help but think about the changes I'd been through. I spoke them out loud, wanting him to know. "I came to the big city a former waitress from Bon Temps, and I am leaving as a wife, and as an Authority. What else could our lives possibly hold? The Oracle won't tell us and I don't want to know. All I needed to know is that I was meant to be with you."
"Did we need someone to tell us that, lover?" smiled Eric.
No, I suppose we didn't.
How long would we walk this earth together? Forever? Perhaps. The unknown ahead of us, magical fae blood at the ready, we settled in to watch the sun rise.
A/N: How was that for an ending? There are so many of you who I've never heard from, and now that this fic is complete, I'd love to know what you thought of it : )
PS – If you liked Dead Rising, then check out my new fic, which I posted today. It's my first kick at an AH (All Human) story, and is called True Love. It's going to be a citrusy little tale about a love triangle of actors who work together on a show about vampires.