Chapter 67 "The End...is inherent in the means." Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

The room blurred momentarily as I tore my gaze from Niall's quickly disintegrating body and focused instead on the Fairies hovering around me. Niall had been their prince, relative and elder for centuries so my nerves were brittle, waiting for some of them to change their minds and attack.

Long seconds passed and no one moved, but these were full-blooded Fairies and their eyes shone with the bloodlust they were just able to contain. They were dangerous in any situation, and every instinct I had warned me of the continuing threat. Finally, Brigid stepped out from behind Preston, signaling indisputably that the fight was over. None of these Fairies would risk her life and the life of her unborn child.

I allowed my guard to slip just enough that I could sense Eric again. The fairies weren't alone with their bloodlust; Eric was struggling with controlling his own needs. It was only his regular exposure to fairy blood that allowed him to keep a clear head. Fae—Fairies and Sera Fae... I needed to quickly and permanently cut all of them out of my life now that Niall was gone.

I took a step toward Brigid to address her, but my foot seemed to sink into a deep hole when I put weight on it, an odd melting sensation seeping through my body. I was aware that I'd only stumbled the tiniest bit but Eric's arms were suddenly wrapped around me giving me added stability.

I explored this novel sensation with an almost clinical detachment, intrigued that while my mind was completely alert and aware, my body was reacting as though I were moving through mud or fighting against increased gravity—I'd definitely never felt anything like it before. Usually when my body weakened, my mind was quick to follow, giving me a bit of relief, however ill-timed. Apparently vampires were not afforded any mental relief in times of mortal danger—at least not until the sun rose.

"You need blood," Eric explained in my ear as he applied gentle pressure on my hip to encourage me to turn away from the fairies.

"Wait," I breathed as I took another frustratingly effortful step; irritated that I could fight deftly only a few moments ago but now was showing weakness in front of the fairies.

Brigid moved even closer to me and the other fairies shifted as though magnetically drawn with her, but they made no moves to deter her. It took a moment for the realization to settle in my mind…they trusted me. I looked in their eyes and I could see the trust.

Well, that was their problem, because the feeling wasn't mutual. I wished them no ill will, but I sure didn't trust them in the least. They probably trusted me because they saw me as weak and sentimental. I was both, I could admit that, but they'd tapped me of every ounce of empathy I had to give them. I was done with the Fae.

"It's over. Leave us alone now," I said in as firm and commanding a voice as I could manage. "Leave all of my family and friends alone now."

Brigid seemed surprised at my demand, blinking her beautiful green eyes a few times before answering, "This is what you wish for?" she asked.

"That is what I want," I said, "I've done my part. I'm done."

"Yes, you have already helped us so much," she said, rubbing a hand over her swollen belly. "We have no wish to hurt you or yours."

Maybe I was jaded, but all I heard coming out of her mouth was more twisted Fairy-speak. Her words gave me no comfort. Niall hadn't wished to hurt me either, but he still did.

"Just stay away from us," I said and noticed that my tongue felt thicker than normal.

She nodded slowly. "We will not approach you until you are ready."

That would have to do. Eric's hand tensed around me again, urging me away but I shook my head. I wasn't done.

"Dermot?" I asked through lips that had suddenly begun to feel numb.

She frowned, looking confused. "He wants us to leave him alone too?"

"Where…is…he?" I asked, forcing the words out of my mouth with excessive emphasis.

She turned to look at the other fairies but received only shrugs.

"You ask of the part-Fairy in Hana?" an unfamiliar voice asked from behind me.

I turned with Eric's help and identified the speaker as the male Sera Fae. "Yes." Eric responded for me as we both felt fear begin to creep up into my chest. It didn't take much effort to imagine what the Sera Fae could have done to Dermot in his weakened state.

"He has recovered."

What? "How-?" I began, but Eric interjected. "He's safe. You'll learn more at a later time. Now you must feed. You've lost too much blood."

Pam rushed into the room escorting two large human men and the reaction to their arrival was instantaneous. The Sera Fae and Brigid, closely guarded by Preston, converged on the Ancient Pythoness. They spoke briefly and a moment later, most of the fairies disappeared and the rest cautiously followed the Sera Fae, the Ancient Pythoness and her handmaidens towards the door.

The AP gazed blindly in my direction, immediately drawing my attention before she left. "Join us when you have fed. There is much to discuss." Mr. Cataliades smiled at me and sped out the door, following closely in the wake of the odd party.

Ten minutes later, with my body humming with power, warmth and satisfaction, we approached the conference room where an historic meeting between Fairies, Sera Fae and one of the world's most influential Vampires was occurring. I would bet that the world had never seen a gathering quite like this before.

The Ancient Pythoness' handmaidens were outside one of our smaller conference rooms, guarding the doorway and Thalia stood off to the side, a familiar frown etched deeply into her forehead. I stopped abruptly, strangely disconcerted that the handmaidens weren't inside with the AP while she met with such long-warring factions.

Instinctively, I reached out to explore the situation and found that there wasn't a single mind I could read in the room behind the doorway. All I could do was identify that one was Mr. Cataliades, another was a Vampire, three were Fairies and the two others were Sera Fae. That mix of individuals could combust violently at any moment and I didn't like it one bit.

"She is safe," Thalia assured me quietly, but she didn't explain any further.

I glanced up at Eric, hating that I was drawn to protect her, but found comfort in his understanding and sympathetic gaze. He had once been driven to protect his Maker, twisted bastard that Appius had been.

I sensed Mr. Cataliades and one of the Sera Fae moving towards us as the three Fairy minds disappeared. Eric squeezed my hand and I took a deep breath to steady myself. It was time to learn our fate.

The door opened and the doorway was filled by Mr. Cataliades' large frame. He stepped aside, holding the door open and the scent that wafted out of the room made my body hum and gums tingle. Power, age and tension were ripe in the air. It was intense enough that my new instincts would have warned me away from this spot had I come upon it by accident.

The male Sera Fae had left his position behind the seat of the female and exited through the open door. He winked at me as he passed, his big brown eyes warm with humor and welcome and then he gave Eric a long, measuring look, which Eric returned steadily. The contrast between the two men was striking-pale hair and skin compared with rich reddish-brown skin and straight black hair. I held my breath, ready to intervene if needed but eventually, the Sera Fae's lips quirked into a minuscule half-smile and Eric returned the gesture with a slight nod a few seconds later. This small concession was certainly a huge improvement from when Eric had met with Kane and it gave me a flash of hope that we might not have to worry about the Sera Fae anymore.

I glanced back into the room wondering about his female counterpart, but she was still sitting next to the Ancient Pythoness at the small rectangular table, deep in conversation.

I looked back at the male, cautiously curious about him. I wasn't able to read his mind, but he might have been reading mine because he looked back at me and said, "I am Yahuar. 'Eleu calls me Yar. You may do the same." I nodded in response and then he stepped aside and met Thalia's eyes. Whatever passed between them, I felt it in my bones. Eric felt it and in the room behind us, the AP and the Sera Fae's minds focused momentarily on Thalia, showing that they had been affected as well. Although Thalia's expression remained absolutely impassive, her emotions roiled through the air like a shockwave. It was all I could do to keep from cringing. She must have known him when she was Sera Fae; there was no other explanation.

For almost a full minute, they gazed at one another from across the wide hallway and both Eric and I took a step back to give them the privacy the emotions coursing between them deserved. Eventually, Yar took a few slow steps towards Thalia and then turned to lean against the wall next to her, standing closer to her than most people dared. They didn't make eye contact again but the emotional upheaval between them slowly faded into a comfortable silence. The only thing that was different about Thalia now was that her ever-present frown was gone.

I blinked away the slight wetness that had accumulated in my eyes as a gentle change in air pressure drew my attention back to the doorway. Mr. Cataliades had opened it further and was beckoning me inside. Eric and I walked towards him, but the AP's handmaidens stopped us with only a look.

Eric froze and I felt him quickly tamp down a sudden blaze of concern and fury. Forced calm and confidence swam through the bond as he squeezed my hand. His words brushed my mind, "Keep the bond open so I can help you with your emotions but focus your mind on Her and on your goals. You must not be distracted."

This was one scenario we hadn't thought about. We'd expected that we would both meet with her. I wasn't prepared to do this on my own.

"Remember who you are," he encouraged fervently and I suddenly understood that he had long battled for his own identity against his own Maker. His words took on a greater weight in light of this knowledge. There was still so much I longed to learn about this man. I just needed the time. I took a calming breath, fortified myself and shored up my shields. I wanted to argue, but trusted that this was the best strategic pathway for us. So long as I kept my cool and remembered what and who really mattered, I would do this. I would not lose myself as happened with so many new vampires.

Eric squeezed my hand and mentally nudged me onward.

I squared my shoulders and gave Mr. Cataliades a brittle smile as he ushered me into the room with a wide sweep of his arm, a gesture that didn't look foolishly overdone only because it fit his genial personality so perfectly.

As I expected, the room was heavy with the heady scents of the old and powerful beings who had been meeting here. It altered the atmosphere, charging it with the significance of what had happened in here and what might happen in here still. Anything tied to these scents demanded attention and it definitely had mine. The last few minutes in here may have changed the future of the Fae and the next few minutes would draw the map for the rest of my existence.

I hesitated for a moment before sitting in the seat Mr. Cataliades pulled out for me, overcome by the sheer anxiety about what the Ancient Pythoness would say. I finally sat down, keeping enough distance from the table in case I needed to make a hasty exit. Mr. C gave me another smile and my heart sank when he quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

I glanced at the female Sera Fae who was sitting at the far end of the six-top rectangular table. She was leaning to the left, across the corner of the table, speaking so quietly into the AP's ear that all I could hear was a slight indecipherable whispering. Her left hand rested lightly on the vampire's forearm in a casual and intimate manner as they spoke. This was so strange to see; vampires rarely allow others to touch them without having a very good reason. After a moment, the ancient vampire nodded and the Sera Fae sat back in her chair and her dark eyes focused on me.

A chill ran up my back. There was something eerily familiar about her but I still couldn't figure out what it was. Who was she, what was her relationship to the AP and why was she here with us now when everyone else had departed?

A slight tug in my blood had me gazing directly into the clouded eyes of the Ancient Pythoness. That slight manipulation of her blood within me confirmed conclusively that I was truly looking at my Maker. The fearful realization stole my breath away and a long moment passed during which the AP appeared to be deep in thought so I calmed down by allowing myself to gaze at her for longer than was usually comfortable or acceptable.

Her wrinkled skin was similar in color that of most vampires but so deeply wrinkled that it resembled bark from an old and gnarled tree. The crevices lining her face were darker than the rest of her skin, making them appear to be deeper than they actually were and creating a map that seemed to hold the secrets of the human life she had lived so long ago. The tip of her nose was the only part of her face without wrinkles and when she tilted her head slightly to the left I saw a hole in her right nostril where she must have once worn a nose ring. There were also darker patches on her forehead and chin that I suspected were ceremonial tattoos that had faded as she aged.

While her skin promised to tell a mesmerizing story of the ages, it was her eyes that demanded my attention. Deep set and ringed with pink, they had a thick white film covering her pupils, making them appear to have a light-blue hue to them. I swear I could feel her staring at me, into me and I squirmed uncomfortably. The Ancient Pythoness didn't see in the traditional sense, but she was still assessing and appraising me. She saw plenty—just not in the traditional sense.

I was so engrossed in my study that I startled when she spoke.

"The course of your life changed the moment you interrupted my courtroom in Rhodes." All the air left my lungs at this abrupt pronouncement. "You demanded my attention that night and you received it," she said with an almost chastising smirk that tilted up one corner of her lips.

"The potential I saw in your future proved to be too tempting to ignore and I left Rhodes that same night to discuss what I had seen with…others." She tilted her head towards the Sera Fae and received a conspiratorial grin in return. My skin began to crawl but I held my tongue so as not to risk interrupting her. The last time I did that, it apparently changed my life.

The silence that followed was so thick I could taste it. Finally she spoke again.

"You have walked the line between worlds and supernatural communities most of your life but when our paths crossed in Rhodes, you had not yet learned of your connection to the Fae. Niall had been watching over you for a while at that point but he was unaware of your Sera Fae potential and time was quickly running out for you in the vampire world." She scratched her chin for a few moments and then nodded to herself, confirming some thought before speaking again. "I encouraged Niall to introduce himself to you and then I informed him of what you could do for his people."

My mouth dropped open.

What?

She told Niall that I could be Sera Fae? She told him that my blood could heal the fairies?

The room spun around me as details were reorganized and reformed, altering my perceptions of one of the most influential and damaging relationships in my life.

Before she intervened, Niall had simply been watching over me. He had actually cared about me as his kin. He might have even loved me without any ulterior motives. I felt nauseous as I recalled the affection I'd felt for and from him on the night we met.

It had been real…

I dropped my head into my hands as grief and horror threatened to strangle me.

He had cared for me and I-I had just forced him to end his own life!

I still had his blood on me!

A strangled moan escaped my lips. He'd been acting like a great-grandfather, a distant and distinctly Fae great-grandfather but he'd been there for me because he wanted to be. He'd been mine until she intervened…changing our lives forever.

What could we have had together if she hadn't…oh my god…if I hadn't opened my stupid mouth in Rhodes?

Violent fury boiled in my blood and I gripped my hair to keep my head down as Eric's desperate attempts to calm me evaporated before they could have any impact. I flexed my fingers even tighter; I couldn't let myself look at her or I would leap across the table and-

"Calm yourself," she commanded, and her words rang through my mind and then settled throughout my body, forcing her calming influence upon me. The sensation was nothing like Eric through the bond, this was similar to being immersed in ice water but instead of being in the icy water, it was in me. I fought the disabling sensation but my fingers slowly relaxed and my hands fell to the table with a dull thump, leaving my chin resting on my chest as the numbing force smothered me into submission.

I hated it. I hated her—for so many reasons. Fighting against her, I risked using the image of a fire within my chest, and willed it to melt through the bonds of her influence. Fire was something I used to depend upon but hadn't trusted in the short time I'd been a vampire but it was the only defense I could use while the rest of my body was under her control. I would rather risk the small chance of bursting into flames than live a half-life as her slave.

"You will succeed in time," the Sera Fae directed calmly, "but you must first develop your connection with the earth again."

I understood and I dialed back the heat. Instead, I utilized only the image of the light of the fire and brute mental force to push my way through. It took a few moments, but I finally managed to break free and it was a few more seconds until I was able to gather enough strength and control to raise my head so that I could look straight at my Maker. I couldn't stop the defiant growl that rumbled in my chest nor the spiteful smile that twisted my mouth, partially baring my fangs.

She couldn't control me for long.

She nodded in response as though my eventual resistance to her command was expected and then she slowly and deliberately turned her face towards the door. Startled, my attention immediately focused on Eric. He was so close; he was probably touching the door.

Was she threatening him?

"Fangs away," she instructed calmly. This time, she didn't use a command but her words carried even more weight since I knew her handmaidens were just behind that door with Eric. I fumbled for a moment, trying to coax my fangs back into my gums but finally figured it out. She nodded again and braced her fingers under her chin, studying me with whatever senses she used most.

"Do not be so quick to absolve Niall, Sookie," she chided. "He made his own choices as to what he would do with the information I divulged. His initial reluctance to sacrifice you resolved by the time the sun rose the next day and he never looked back."

My gums itched again but I kept my fangs sheathed. Did she think I was a complete fool? She knew exactly what he would do and she still chose to tell him. "He wouldn't have done anything if you hadn't interfered," I hissed, pressing my luck.

"Which is exactly why I did," she responded as though she was explaining something simple to a small child.

I fisted my hands and quickly looked away from her, staring instead at the striations on the bamboo table, feeling too much to trust myself to talk anymore. If I opened my mouth I knew I wouldn't be able to control my anger.

She sighed and it sounded sad and tired. "You have been in the simoom for much of your life. Your view of the horizon has been obstructed. You still cannot see."

If by simoom, she meant that I had been in the middle of a giant shitstorm, then she was right—I'd been too busy trying to survive and keeping as many of my friends and family alive as I could to see what she was getting at-and apparently it had all been her fault.

"Think, Sookie. Seek the bigger picture." I looked back up at her and when I just stared at her, completely unsure about what she was getting at, she shook her head with frustration. "It is done. The Fae no longer pose a threat to you. Calm your mind and think," she demanded and then sat back in her chair to wait for me to respond. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't find the answer. She finally leaned forward again and her white eyebrows pulled together, "Can you truly not see why I took the steps I did even now? When you sit in this very room?"

I hunched my shoulders slightly; I knew very well how Niall justified his actions for his warped version of the 'greater good' and now it was confirmed that she was willing to do the same thing—big surprise. I bit the sides of my tongue to control myself and hissed, "It didn't have to happen this way. I loved Niall and Claudine back then. I would have helped them if someone had asked. I could have used the cluvel dor back then if I had know it existed."

"It did have to happen this way. You would never have become Sera Fae without Niall's intervention. Too much depended on you fulfilling your potential. Besides, you never would have broken free from the influence of your hometown and the Amun vampires otherwise. You already belonged to Northman heart, mind and body before you left Rhodes and you nearly not only almost ruined everything but you almost lost your freedom when you waited so long to leave Louisiana."

I knew now that my life was better for having left Louisiana and becoming Sera Fae, I wasn't arguing that it wasn't; I was bitter about the means Niall used to get me to leave.

"You could have run me out of town just as easily as Niall did, why did you involve him?" I asked, just barely controlling my anger.

"At least you are now asking the right questions even if you are still not seeing clearly. However, you must seek the answers to that question elsewhere," she said as she turned towards the Sera Fae again.

I did the same, and as our eyes met, something imperceptible shifted around her and I gasped as I recognized her. I'd seen her portrait on Pua's wall too many times to count.

"Pele?" I whispered as my anger melted away at the shock of seeing her reveal herself.

She nodded and her eyes flashed with power that she had been repressing until this point. I knew those eyes. Old Hawaiian stories spoke of Pele in the form of the old woman I'd met years ago and also in the form of this beautiful young woman. I should have made the connection.

"You knew one another?" I asked, my gaze switching back and forth between the two powerful women. They both nodded. "But you weren't Sera Fae, were you?" I asked the ancient vampire who responded with a slight shake of her head. She hadn't been Sera Fae, but many of her people had been. Thalia had told us that Kane had visited the Oasis where they lived and it now appeared that Pele had done so as well, explaining the close relationship between these two women.

"I was not to become Sera Fae; my future was with the Vampires," the AP explained. "I saw what I would become when I was but a small child. It was not what I wanted but that was of no consequence, just as it did not matter that you did not want to begin upon your own journey."

Pele took the Ancient Pythoness's hand in her own and held it tightly, her voice sincere as she addressed her old friend. "It has taken more generations than could be counted, but you did what you knew had to be done and because of you, the Fae will thrive once more." Pele's dark eyes sparkled with gratitude and the AP harrumphed with what seemed to be embarrassment as she pulled her hand away. Pele gave her a quick smile and then looked up at me, her eyes shining brightly now.

The 'big picture' was suddenly crystal clear and although I was disappointed to confirm that Pele saw me as a tool of my Maker's plans, that's what I had been, I'd be a fool to deny it. Pele's hopeful eyes locked on mine and a gentle smile graced her face. I was witnessing something many Hawaiians could only dream about and I could easily imagine Pua celebrating the circle of life that had occurred here. Long ago, Pele had caused the rift between her family, the future Fae, and now her old friend had helped to heal the wounds. Pua had reminded me time and again that Pele was known not only for the destruction she caused but also for the creation of new lands and new life.

These women had certainly brought plenty of both creation and destruction to my own life.

Understanding this tiny piece of their motivation helped to ease my anger, but I wouldn't ever be able to fully forget or forgive the price so many had to pay because of them.

When Pele spoke again, she retook the AP's hand. "Together, we have guided you to this end and now you will witness the Fae becoming what they were always meant to be," she pronounced regally. Power swirled within and around her, causing my senses to crackle with tension.

"I don't think so," I said before my brain caught up with my mouth. "I mean-"

Pele looked thoughtful, "'Eleu was afraid you would refuse us now."

Well, she was right. Why would I want anything to do with the Sera Fae after they betrayed me by cutting me out of the circle of life energy we all shared? Now that I understood the big picture, I was more confused than ever about the Sera Fae's reaction. Pele had wanted me to help the Fairies by giving them my blood, that step was essential in healing the rift between the Fae, so why would the Sera Fae have punished me for doing exactly what they wanted? I took a breath to question her but the Ancient Pythoness interrupted before I could get a word out.

"Niall would not have let you go if you proved to be an unending font of life blood for his people. Halting your healing was the only way to preserve your freedom, get you out of Faery and back to where you need to be."

Whoa. The Sera Fae saved me by nearly killing me?

I closed my eyes and shook my head but I believed her. It all made sense and it was crystal clear in that moment that I was so far out of my depth with this master manipulator. At least I now had my answer as to why all vampires admired, feared and obeyed her. No wonder Eric couldn't explain it to me, something like this had to be experienced first hand to be truly understood.

Pele must have been reading my mind because she gave me a sad smile. "You know that it was the only solution, Sookie and you must believe that 'Eleu fought against our plan most bitterly from the very beginning." The AP agreed with her with an audible and irritated growl. "It was very difficult for her to keep you at a distance longer than necessary but you needed to be as free from our influence as possible for this end to come about. It has pained us all to mislead you and endure your suffering, but none more than 'Eleu."

I frowned and Pele put her hand on the table. The scent of burned wood filled the air and when she slid her hand closer to me, a black handprint became visible on the surface of the table. Her voice was harder when she spoke, "Do not belittle 'Eleu's suffering. She made a great sacrifice at my request. We were forced to physically confine her for the last many months to keep her from intervening." I looked from her hand to her eyes and saw pain and sincerity in them. "We are connected and we all suffered with you." I stared back at her with my own pain, remembering how I'd desperately hoped 'Eleu would come help us when the Fairies attacked.

"She would have lost her life if she had tried to intervene," the Ancient Pythoness said, breaking the connection between us, "and her sacrifice would have had no impact on the outcome of the battle." My shoulders slumped a little at her pronouncement. I didn't trust the Sera Fae as a whole for many reasons, but I still adored 'Eleu.

"You have always been precious to us," Pele said seriously.

I scoffed silently, but I'm sure cynicism was plain on my face; Kane had made his feeling crystal clear on many levels. Pele understood and continued, "Kane is very protective of his 'Eleu and I did not divulge more to my children than was absolutely necessary for our long term plans until I had to." I remembered when Kane's attitude had seemed to change and realized that it had been paired with an uneasiness in 'Eleu that I hadn't understood at the time. She'd been very distressed the last time we met and now I could understand why. Pele nodded. "It was a difficult balance to achieve. We needed to keep a distance from you yet we didn't want to lose you the way we did Thalia—"

"So you told Eric that I'd need my own blood some day…" understanding dawning on me as I glanced at my Maker.

"Yes. And now you have retained some of your Sera Fae nature."

Dread bloomed in me as I realized that having some Sera Fae blood was probably for her benefit more than it was mine. Of course it was, she didn't take my feelings into consideration. "But I don't feel the Sera Fae anymore," I responded, barely trying to keep the triumph out of my voice.

Pele tilted her head to the side, studying me and then held her hand out so her palm was facing me. I leaned back a little, looking into her dark eyes while I contemplated the meaning of her gesture for a long while. I didn't sense any danger, but I couldn't force myself to respond.

Pele gave a small sigh, keeping her hand outstretched. "The choice is yours. I only wish to share a gift with you. The effect will be only temporary."

I knew instantly what she meant to do and so slowly, and with only a little bit of trepidation, I raised my hand in a similar manner. She moved hers forward until our palms touched. . . Familiar energy that I no longer needed, but desired all the same flowed through my arm into my core, warming me with an internal embrace. I could feel the fire running through my blood and identify an intensified sense of unity with the earth far below me.

"Even though we are no longer connected," Pele spoke quietly, "you still have our blood and so you will always be a part of our family. All of my children will want to meet you and 'Eleu needs to see you again."

With regret, I lowered my now trembling hand onto the table and sat back on my seat, closing my eyes. Sharing Pele's energy left an aching need for the earth and the Sera Fae who lived within it. There was no denying that I was still drawn to them. Squeezing my eyes shut, I rejected those desires and felt them melt away until I was only aware of them when I sought them out. Pele was right, the Sera Fae was a part of me whether I wanted them to be or not.

This was all too much. I felt torn—my devotion divided between the sources of my blood…my Maker, the Sera Fae, and the family of my heart. Everything was so new to me; so much had happened in the last few hours that I didn't have a foundation to stand upon that was stable enough to help me stay strong. I was beyond overwhelmed and even though I knew he was only a few feet away, I ached to have Eric by my side. He was my rock and I needed him to help me resist the formidable influences of these powerful women.

As if in response to my silent plea, the door opened from the outside and Eric walked in, looking calm and collected although I knew better. He strode across the room and squeezed my shoulders firmly. I leaned into his touch and as I was sure it would, his presence calmed and grounded me. My head was still swimming with all that I'd just learned, but as he sat next to me, I saw in his eyes all that really mattered. I drew in a few deep breaths of his scent and compartmentalized my feelings the way he'd taught me. What's done is done. What the Fairies and the Sera Fae wanted didn't matter to me anymore. What mattered now was my future with Eric and the people I chose to call my family.

Mr. Cataliades followed Eric in and sat lightly in the seat across from him. He removed a pure white folder and a black pen out of a gray messenger bag and placed them on the table. He then clasped his fingers together in front of him and sat without making another sound.

A moment later, the Ancient Pythoness stood in a smooth and sudden motion causing Eric to get to his feet too. I followed him so we stood facing her with the table between us. She had all of our attention.

"Sookie Stackhouse Northman," she said in a firm voice and I almost trembled in reaction to the sudden explosion of hopeful emotion coming from Eric. "I drained you of your prior life's blood and gave you My blood in exchange. You are My Vampire Child." My fingers met Eric's and I braced myself for more. "You will obey me. You will honor me. You will come to my side when I call you and you will stay with me until I give you leave again."

A shiver ran down my back at her words but I felt Eric relax through the bond.

"When Sookie comes to you, I will be at her side," Eric stated without heat. He was simply stating a fact.

"I expect no less from you," she responded slowly as she seemed to stare blindly at some nebulous point over my right shoulder. She pursed her lips and gave a long unnecessary and soundless sigh. I glanced at Eric, unsure of what to do but he gently squeezed my hand and so we waited. After about two minutes, she spoke again. "Had I not tied you to me, you both would have been finally dead within five years. Together, and with all of the Fae at your side, you will upset the balance of power that exists now. Unlike what I have done with my other children, I will publicly announce that I am your Maker. That knowledge alone will hold off most of the jackals."

I couldn't have been more stunned if she'd started to tap dance. She saved us by becoming my maker. That's what she said anyway. I didn't trust her to tell us the truth, but it did make some sense. Either way, it seemed like she was promising to give me some freedom and allow Eric and I to be together. Eric pressed my hand tightly, not to guide me but to stop both of us from making any response. Our bond was swirling with emotions I couldn't pin down.

"Your lives will change drastically in the coming years," she said as she gestured directly at me. "The direction you walk will, for the most part, be your choice. You will, however, need to be seen at my side at least once a year and in just under seven years I will need you with me in South America for an extended period of time. Plan accordingly."

The door swung open and the two powerful handmaidens glided to her side. "As you will both be of my blood by the end of this night, you may call me Nakhti." Eric froze, just like the blood in my veins. I clenched my his hand in mine and leaned slightly so that my shoulder was in front of his. Was she going to make him drink her blood? Would we fight her if she tried?

Neither of us moved another inch as she made her way to the door, waiting to see if she was going to approach Eric. She was almost out the door when she turned back towards us. There was an almost approachable and mischievous smile on her face and her voice was laced with suppressed laughter. "That is unless you think you can resist drinking from her ever again."

I did my best to keep my reaction in check, but it was impossible. Eric had explained long ago that vampires were very careful about drinking other vampire's blood because it connected them on some deep level. Holy shit! He wasn't going to get her ancient and powerful blood from her but from me! My mind revolted at the thought of tying him to her in any way when he had so recently been freed from his own Maker.

Pele stood and moved to take my Maker's hand in hers and I was surprised to see that she was almost as tall as Eric. "Come home tomorrow with your Vampire. You will both be welcomed."

I shook my head. I wasn't ready to go yet. Maybe someday, but I needed time.

Pele nodded. "The earth will accept you now that you are no longer part Sky Fairy. Come when you are ready."

I barely had the chance to register that she had confirmed that I could terraport like Hunter and take Eric with me before the powerful women exited the room and moved smoothly down the hallway together.

A moment after the door closed behind them, I turned to look at Eric and was engulfed in his arms with the side of my face pressed to his chest. I wound my arms around his waist and held on, trying to make sense of his emotions since I couldn't begin to make sense of my own.

Slowly, we released one another and when I met his gaze, I was greeted by his wide smile as happy relief pulsed through our bond. "That was as good as it was going to get," he said as he stroked my cheek with the pad of his thumb. A deep chuckle rumbled in his chest as he shook his head disbelievingly, "In fact, that was infinitely better than I expected."

I frowned, studying his face and emotions for any sign that he was hiding anything. How could we really trust her when we knew that she manipulated every single situation to fit her own eventual goals? And how could he be happy about this? He should be free, not tied to her. I'd been worried about my own freedom, not his as well. "But…you can't…we can't let her-"

Mr. Cataliades cleared his throat quietly and we both turned to look at him. "Perhaps I can bring some perspective to the situation." Eric made a gesture and we both sat down in our seats again. "First, allow me to say that I have never seen the Ancient Pythoness be so forthcoming and flexible."

Forthcoming and flexible? I gaped at him. Flexible was not a word I would ever think of using to describe her.

"Yes," he responded with a jovial smile, "she provided you with more information than I have ever seen her do and she even gave you advance knowledge as to when she would be calling you to her in the future. She doesn't do that. She calls and others come whether they are of her blood or not."

With smooth movements of his hand, Mr. Cataliades took a paper from the folder he had in front of him and slid it over to us, and then sat back, giving us time to look it over. When I looked up, he smiled at me again and nodded. "As you can see, she had me condense and modify two standard contracts into one." Eric nodded. I remembered seeing contracts like this on Eric's desk when he was deciding if he would allow a vampire to reside in the kingdom or make a child.

I read more and clenched my teeth as I saw the phrase, "voluntarily entered the child-maker relationship" after my name, meaning that I had been given the choice of being turned by her rather than being forced into it. Forced turnings were frowned upon in most kingdoms these days and for good reason. I took a breath to make a comment about it, but Eric shook his head so I held my tongue.

Looking back down at the paper again, I focused in on the last section that stated that 'All rights and responsibilities of child/maker and bonded husband/wife are assumed and retained'. "What does this mean?" I asked, pointing to the sentence.

Mr. Cataliades grinned wider still and his eyes sparkled with mirth. "First, please note that this contract by its nature gives you full rights and responsibilities as a Vampire despite your mixed blood. That will ensure that there is less confusion as to your role and position when you are publically introduced."

Eric and I both appreciated that. We'd grown tired of defending my status and our mixed marriage.

"Now the more interesting point." Mr. C continued, pointing with the tip of his coal black pen to the sentence I had asked about. "Generally, the connection between Child and Maker supersedes all other relationships including that of a bonded and married couple. I have never seen anything like it from her before, but with this sentence, she is effectively promising that she will honor your bond and marriage so long as you never defy her."

Hope flared in my chest and the feeling reminded me of the burst of hope coming from Eric while Nakhti was speaking. Looking back on the conversation, I realized that it coincided with when she said my full, married name. Sookie Stackhouse Northman. He'd known from those three words that she was going to honor our marriage. I shook my head, amazed again at how much I still missed that Eric easily identified as significant. But still, she'd only honor our bond so long as we never defy her. Through my budding hope, I could feel the ropes slithering around us, binding us to her tighter than before.

"I would encourage," Mr. Cataliades continued, eyeing me carefully, "you to look at this contract as her way of putting you both on retainer so she can call on you as needed. Her blood offers her a little more power in the equation, but not much, and she's aware of that. As your relationship with her will drive you into the spotlight even more than you are now, she's provided you with some more incentives," he said, removing another paper from the folder and sliding it across the table.

Eric's eyebrows rose slightly as he scanned the page. She was giving us the right to reside in or visit any kingdom whether Eric chose to retain his position as King or not. All we had to do was present the monarch with that paper signed with her blood and we could live or visit there without providing any fees, services or loyalties.

That was unheard of in the vampire world and I was nearly bowled over by the restrained excitement coming from Eric. We'd gained a new master in Nakhti but with her help, we could be free from others and from the demands of running and protecting a kingdom.

"I strongly recommend you sign the contract," Mr. C said enthusiastically as he placed his pen within my reach.

All of this was incredible and it was almost enough to make me ignore the voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I was just a pawn in her convoluted game, but something just didn't make sense.

"But, why…?" I breathed. "Why is she willing to give us so much when most of the vampire world does what she wants anyway?"

"I believe she knew that her hold on you, my dear, would be tenuous at best and rather then engaging in constant battles with you, she chose a situation in which she could have both of you tied to her through blood. Forgive me if I say that you are more predictable with Eric by your side." I glanced at Eric with narrowed eyes as his humor rolled through our bond, but Mr. C shook his head. "This is a good thing, my dear. You are now a Child of the Ancient Pythoness and your husband will carry hints of her blood within him as well. It is as much a means of protecting you as it is an assurance that you will stand by her side." Mr. Cataliades said tapping a large finger on the contract in front of me. "And make no mistake, there will be many who will wish to challenge such a powerful couple as yourselves."

"She won't be able to control me, Sookie," Eric added while running his fingers through my hair and cupping my head in his palm. I looked up into his deep blue eyes. "I will at most feel some desire to protect her and she will always be able to locate me as I will her but as you already have that connection with her, it hardly matters if I have it too. We are paying a very small price and will receive immeasurable protection from her name being attached to ours."

"I still don't understand why she did this in the first place. Thalia is a telepath, why does she care of we live or die?"

Mr. C swept a hand around the room, "She does nothing without a greater purpose. My guess is that it will have some connection to the Fae. I also find myself wondering if she will need not just you, Sookie, but also Eric to achieve something in the future."

Yes, that made more sense. Everything she did was simply a means to an end.

"Look at me, Sookie." I turned again to look at Eric and found for the first time in what felt like months if not years, the sparkle of anticipation lighting up his beautiful face. "We have at least six years before she sees anything interrupting our lives significantly. That's good enough for me." His lips gently caressed my temple, "How about you?"

Six years. Six years of potential quiet. Six years with Eric. Just a little while ago, I didn't think I'd have one more day—one more second with him and I was having trouble believing that it would work out given our track record, but the possibility of having more time with him was…

I pressed my forehead to his and felt my heart begin to beat faster as I was overcome with hope and excitement. Perhaps I could use this tie with Nakhti my own advantage to make us stronger and less vulnerable. For the first time, I wasn't thinking of the ancient blood running in my veins as a poisonous burden but as a gift that I could use to protect my family.

There were certainly a multitude of reasons to be wary of Nakhti, and I was probably a fool to think I could bend even the tiniest branch of one of her plans to meet my own goals, but for now at least, the positives clearly outweighed the negatives. Only time would tell what our future with Nakhti would hold, but for now…for now, I would let myself be hopeful.

I picked up the heavy pen and signed the contract next to Nakhti's black signature. The paper sizzled as the ink burned into the fibers, indelibly and legally binding myself and my love to my Maker, the Ancient Pythoness.

With a smile of thanks for Mr. Cataliades, I stood and taking Eric's hand in mine, I urged him quickly towards the door.

There were never promises in life, how very well I knew that, but for now, we had been given the blessing of time and I was going to make the most of every second of it.

Fin

A/N: This story is dedicated to Jamie-my Macey. I wasn't able to save you Jamie, sister of my heart, but you live on in every breath I take.

Thank you to everyone who stuck around for this four-year (gulp) long journey with me. This story began as a way for me to express and understand some deep grief I had been carrying for years and turned into a hobby I never imagined I would explore. I'm sad to close this chapter of my life, but I'm a richer person for having shared conversations with some of you. Thank you to everyone who gave me pointers, shared life stories and supported me when I stumbled (or hibernated for a while as I've been doing for the last nine months). It sure has been a fun ride.