A/N: Hi, I know today's not my usual posting day, but real life is kinda throwing me for a loop right now. My husband may lose his job tomorrow and if he does it will mean we have to leave Germany ASAP. We have movers coming to our house tomorrow one way or the other to start packing us up and so by Wednesday I may no longer have an internet connection.
Since that's the case I wanted to post the last chapter of this story today and post the next chapter of my other story tomorrow, since after that I have no idea where I'll be or what my internet capabilities will be.
So that being said, here is the last chapter of 'She's Not There'.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who's followed this story and especially those who've reviewed. It made a thousand reviews, and I can't tell you how deeply touching that is. I sincerely cried that day, in a good way!
And I have to thank my beta Northman Maille. I can't put into words how much she means to me. 5 chapters into this story I found myself unexpectedly beta-less and she took me in off the metaphorical street and gave me the gift of not just her editing talent but her friendship. I love you Alison, so much!
Sorry for the oversentimentality. I'm gonna quit this ridiculously long author's note now and hope the last chapter is good for you guys!
Disclaimer: I own nothing….
Sookie woke the next night to find Bill sitting on her bed.
It was one of the less pleasant ways she'd awoken in the last decade, and in her opinion it ranked right up there with the time she'd had to sleep in the ground... next the corpse of one Alexei's victims she'd hastily buried in the woods.
At least she hadn't been forced to talk to her companion upon rising that night.
"Sookie, there isn't much time." Bill said, a guilty look painting his features.
"Much time for what, Bill?" Sookie responded, sitting up against the headboard, trying to put as much distance between herself and her first lover as possible.
"For us to talk. Sookie, you must listen to me. If you know anything…anything at all about Eric or Freyda tell Victor now! He believes you're a spy and if you don't give him something he will torture you. If you tell him even one thing, anything, I know I can convince him to spare you all of this. I only want to protect your Darlin'." Bill's face was filled with remorse and pain, but Sookie didn't feel even a twinge of need to comfort him.
"I don't have anything to tell you or Victor, Bill. And frankly, you'll forgive me if I find it a little hard to believe you have any power to intervene on my behalf. Victor made it pretty clear last night; the only thing you're good for is bait. He wanted me here, and you got me here. End of story. I'm surprised he hasn't ordered you to run along and play while the big Vamps are busy."
Bill bristled visibly at Sookie's words and puffed out his chest.
"You have very few options right now Sookie. I suggest you don't turn your nose up at an offer of help from anywhere. When Victor is done with you, you'll wish you'd accepted my aid."
Sookie's first response was to arch an eyebrow and smirk disdainfully at Bill's words.
"I seem to remember another time you offered to come to my aid against Victor's possible harm. I told you then I'd rather be tossed out by Eric than taken in by you any night. Ten years later the tune's a little different Bill, but the rhythm's exactly the same." With that Sookie rose from the bed, grabbing her suitcase and making her way into the bathroom.
She doubted they'd give her enough time for a shower, but she'd be damned if she was going to face Victor in nothing but a pink, cotton nightgown.
When Sookie emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later, wearing a simple pair of jeans and a red T-shirt, Bill was no longer alone. There were four guards standing behind him, armed with swords.
"Sookie Stackhouse, I hereby place you under arrest. You will come with me now or bear the consequences of your refusal."
Smiling, Sookie nodded her head and was flanked on all sides by the guards, but when she passed Bill, she paused just long enough to correct him.
"Northman, Bill. My name is Sookie Northman." With that she let the guards lead her away.
Sookie kept her face neutral as she was led through the halls of Victor's mansion and down into the cellar complex below. She knew when she saw Victor she would need to pretend to be frightened of him. Any Vampire as young as she was would be expected to be fearful, if not downright hysterical, when faced with their first torture. For the moment though, Sookie just let herself be led by Victor's goons, listening to the calm and comfort being sent to her and confident nothing truly bad would happen.
The guards finally stopped at the door to a smallish room. Opening it she was pushed inside, to find Victor standing before a large table, fitted with silver manacles at each of the corners. Next to him was a smaller table with silver instruments neatly laid out on its surface.
Sensing she only had to stall for a few minutes more, Sookie began to struggle, grunting and snarling as the guards dragged her across the room.
"Now, now Ms. Stackhouse," Victor began when the guards had again subdued her, "none of this would be necessary if you'd just tell me what I want to know."
"I already told you Victor, I don't have any information. I haven't come here to spy on you. You can hurt me all you like but it won't change the truth!" Sookie's voice took on a pleading tone as Victor's fangs shot down.
He of course thought she was lying, and she could tell he was looking forward to the opportunity to break his enemy's beloved child. Sookie would bet that even if she gave him nothing, he would still enjoy hurting her merely for the fact it would enrage Eric.
"How predictable of you. They all say that at the beginning Ms. Stackhouse. I think you'll be surprised by how quickly you change your story." Turning to her guards, he smiled malevolently. "Strap her to the table."
One of her guards laughed under his breath at Victor's orders and Sookie felt slightly nauseous when she realized all five of the men in the room were beyond aroused by the prospect of hurting her. If it had gone on even a moment more she might truly have begun to be frightened, but suddenly, as though he were answering her unspoken prayers, Rasul appeared in the doorway.
"Victor, his Majesty has just arrived, he's upstairs waiting for you in your receiving chamber."
Victor gave his unexpected intruder an unhappy look, before turning to the thugs who were still trying to wrangle her onto the table.
"His Majesty is most prompt." Victor said, sounding somewhat puzzled. "I had hoped to extract a confession from you before he arrived, but no matter." Addressing her guards again, he continued. "Bring her."
Just as suddenly as she'd been thrown onto the hard table, Sookie was dragged back off and was again being led through the mansion.
They ended up back in the same room Bill had brought her to when she'd checked in four nights ago. The large fireplace stood empty this time and instead of being causally inhabited by a few of Victor's hangers-on, the room was positively teeming with royal guards, all wearing Felipe's colors.
In the middle of the mass of deadly looking Vampires stood Felipe, in his best cape, flanked by Eric and Pam.
"Majesty," Victor said, bowing deeply to his King as they came to a standstill. "I was not expecting you until tomorrow at the earliest. I have not yet had time to interrogate Northman's spy." If Victor was in anyway unsettled to see Eric and Pam with Felipe, he gave no indication.
"Sandy made me aware of your request I come to Louisiana earlier in the evening Victor. As luck would have it I was already on my way here, on another matter. Happily, it now appears I can resolve both problems at once." Turning to her ever ready guards, the King gave them an imperiously displeased look. "Release the Prince's child at once." He barked.
The guards parted for her without a second's hesitation, but before Sookie could make it to Eric's side she was unceremoniously grabbed by Victor.
Sookie could feel the absolute rage radiating off both Eric and Pam at the sight of Victor manhandling her, but it was only Pam who gave any physical indication of her rage: snarling at Sookie's captor and baring her fangs.
"Your Majesty I must protest. She was sent here, by Northman, to spy on me. She must be punished. They must both be punished!" Victor's voice had gone up just a little as he suddenly seemed to realize he had no idea what was going on around him.
"It is no crime to spy on a traitor Victor. Far from punishing her, if it is true, I intend to reward both Ms. Stackhouse and Prince Northman handsomely." With an evil glint in his eye, Felipe turned his attention on her then. "How would you like to be a duchess Sookie?"
Anger burst through her white and hot then, and Sookie knew it wasn't just her who was hanging on hard to control at the offer Felipe had just made. He was an opportunist of the highest order, perhaps even more cunning than Eric, since she was under no delusion he was attempting to pass off his sale of her to the Doge as some kind of reward for faithful service. Sookie knew she wouldn't have to wait long to give him a very definite answer, but in the meantime she was all too happy to let Victor interrupt her.
"Traitor? Felipe, I have no idea what you mean! I have always been your most faithful servant. I am no traitor." Before the King could respond, as though it had all been planned out for the maximum amount of dramatic effect, another voice rang out through the room.
"That is a lie." All heads turned to see Jonathan, standing in the doorway, a little black ledger clutched tightly in his hand. "I have the evidence I spoke to you about here, my King." Sookie hadn't seen Jonathan since the night he'd snuck up on her after the Bellefleur sibling's double wedding. He hadn't changed much, except she could tell just by looking at him that he was pleased beyond belief to be helping get rid of Victor.
"What is going on here?" Victor demanded, his voice taking on the first real strains of fright, as he watched his underling hand over the ledger.
Felipe ignored his Lieutenant in favor of opening the small book and examining its contents. By the time he got to the end, his fangs where clearly visible as they pressed up against his lower lip.
"How long, Victor? How long have you been going behind my back, siphoning funds for your treachery? Is there another one of these hidden somewhere? Has it been from the very beginning?
Of course Victor was still completely in the dark about what was happening around him, but at the mere mention of 'siphoning funds' his face went impossibly paler and he began to stutter and stumble over his denials. It was all the proof of his treason Felipe required and taking a long wooden stake, tipped in silver, from one of his guards, the King walked leisurely over to his former Lieutenant. As he did, the guards who had once been there to restrain Sookie took him by the arms instead.
"Victor Madden, I strip you of your title of Lieutenant of Louisiana, and condemn you to final death for your treasonous conspiracy with the Monarch of another territory to steal funds in order to aid in my overthrow."
Victor barely had a moment to cower before Felipe sunk the stake deep into his chest and Victor's body crumbled to pieces before them. In the excitement of watching Louisiana's most powerful Vampire fall from grace and meet the final death all in the space of a few minutes, no one had been paying any attention to Sookie, Eric or Pam. So when she'd made her way to stand on Eric's other side, it took very little artifice to hand her two long, sharp knives, her weapon of choice, also coated at the ends in silver.
Victor's staking was the signal, and Felipe had just pushed the wood through Victor's chest when Rasul, who had been standing with several more guards at the doors, set off the Mansion's alarm system and slammed the double doors closed, locking them from the inside.
Within seconds, half the guards had ripped off Felipe's livery to reveal they wore Freyda's colors underneath and a pitched battle began.
Felipe, realizing what was going on around him, turned and set his sights on Eric. With a deadly, fang filled smile Eric threw off his expensive looking, three quarter length, wool coat to reveal the ancient broadsword strapped to his back. As he unsheathed it, the sound of the metal sliding out from the scabbard was audible even over the din of shouting, and the clanging of weapons.
Pam was only too happy to take on all comers and she was already engaging two of Felipe's men at once when Sookie stabbed her initial opponent through the stomach. Turning him around like a ragdoll, she pressed his back against her front, bringing the sharp side of her knife blade to his throat. She used her heightened strength to cut his head away from his neck, before dropping the flaking corpse at her feet and turning to find the one person she wanted most.
She'd vowed on the night of Victor's Halloween party, years ago, that Bill would leave this world by her hand and hers alone, and it was time.
Bill was there in the corner, fighting two of Freyda's men. Smiling she began making her way to him just as he got the upper hand on one of his adversaries and staked him with a broken chair leg.
Bending low Sookie avoided the sword of one of Victor's Vampires and turned fractionally, stabbing him in the side as she came back up. Yelling to the guard Bill was still fighting, she instructed him to take care of the Vampire she'd just wounded. He looked confused for all of a second before shoving Bill into a wall and doing as he'd been bid.
When Sookie finally reached Bill he was picking himself up off the floor, a look of total bloodlust in his eyes. She smiled at him maliciously; he'd always been horrible at controlling his urges. She was over a hundred years his junior yet, she knew she was still in better control of herself right now than he was.
As much as Sookie wanted to finish him off then and there, she wouldn't stoop to preying on someone at a disadvantage, the way Bill always liked to. So with a nasty smirk she threw him one of her knives.
Bill looked down at the knife, startled, and for a moment it seemed as though he thought Sookie was trying to help him, but when she crouched down into a defensive position everything clicked into place for him.
"The book, you planted it didn't you? That's what you came here for." Bill snarled around his fangs.
Crouching low, to match Sookie's stance, he finally understood just who and what she really was, and how badly he'd misjudged and underestimated her.
Sookie only nodded. She had no intention of being pulled into a conversation that would distract her from her goal.
"Why? Sookie, all I've ever done was love you! I know things haven't always been well between us, but you have to know how much I love you!"
Sookie only snorted at Bill's words. Was he so delusional he actually believed what he felt for her was real love? If so he was far crazier than she'd ever realized.
"Yes, Bill, I felt so loved by you, when you began ignoring me after you felt you'd secured my affections. I felt even more love when you left me for your Maker and all but sold me to Eric to ease your conscience. Or maybe I should have been feeling your love when you raped me and nearly drained me. How bout when Eric forced you to admit your real reasons for returning to Bon Temps? Or maybe when you used poor Sam's fears to try and take me away from Eric? When you tried to get me to betray him? Or maybe just a few days ago when your lured me here to squeeze information out of me?"
Sookie and Bill circled each other as she wrapped off the list of his most atrocious betrayals.
"What about when I offered to die for you the night of the takeover, or when I saved you from the Fairies." Bill countered, the list of his few moments of goodness far shorter than that of his grievances.
"Do you think ANYTHING you've ever done could make up for lying to me to get me to fall in love with you, or RAPING me? Stop pleading for my forgiveness and start trying to save yourself Bill!" Sookie said, cutting him off with the first thrust of her knife.
Bill dodged the knife's edge, but he underestimated Sookie yet again because even as she lunged past him, she brought her foot out behind her and hooked it around his leg. Using her momentum she sent him hurtling to the ground on his stomach. Turning she vaulted up right quickly and dove for him. Bill tried to duck out of the way, but there was no room for him to move anywhere as he'd fallen between two other groups of fighters.
Landing on top of him, Sookie pulled back the hand that wasn't holding her knife. With every ounce of strength she possessed, Sookie punched through Bill's chest until her fist met the floor, before pulling his head up by his hair and holding her knife to his throat.
"Just so we're clear here Bill, I never have and never will forgive you." With that Sookie sent her blade through his throat until she was left holding nothing but his head in her hands.
Scanning the room quickly Sookie saw Eric bring Felipe to his knees and in one arching swing, take the King's head off. To Eric's side, Sookie saw Pam fighting two more Vampires. One of them she had a good handle on but the other was getting ready to run her through the side.
Deciding Bill could finally be a help instead of a hindrance, Sookie stood and brought the arm holding Bill's head back. With a pitch she silently thanked Jason for having taught her as a child, she managed to hit Pam's second enemy square in the face with Bill's head, sending him backwards, into the empty fireplace where Eric was only too happy run him through and take his head as well.
When the dust cleared, they'd only lost a few of Freyda's guardsmen, but all of Victor and Felipe's men were either dead or had willingly surrendered. There were still the sounds of fighting outside, but in another minute they died down as well, and there was a coded knock at the door.
Rasul turned the lock and threw open the door as four of Freyda's personal bodyguards strode in with the Queen herself at the center and the two Sheriffs who'd changed sides behind them. From their places around the room, Freyda's fighters and Eric's all went down on one knee, taking the few loyal to Felipe with them forcibly.
Seeing all was safe, Freyda's guards parted. The Queen walked through the room with a regal grace, stopping in front of Eric, who stood to his full height, handing her what remained of Felipe's head as a prize.
Freyda laughed musically as she took it.
"Do you think if I have it bronzed right away it will retain its shape? I'd like to use it as paperweight." Handing it off to one of her men she looked at Eric as he bowed low before her.
"The King has met his final death." Eric's voice rang loudly through the room. "Long live the Queen." The other's around them rose to their feet and began to cheer, chanting 'long live the Queen' over and over again.
When they were again silent, Freyda nodded her head in thanks to them all before turning to Eric once again. Her voice was low and soft, but not quiet enough that Sookie couldn't hear from her position halfway across the room.
"Are you sure?" She asked, placing her hand over Eric's where it rested against the hilt of his sword. "I would make you King… of all of it." There was a moment when Sookie was sure, if it could still beat, her heart would have pounded through her chest. She knew exactly what Freyda was asking her lover! But just as his face remained a mask of calm indifference, his emotions never once waivered.
"I'm sure." Was his answer.
Freyda nodded her head and Sookie could see a single red tear making its way down her cheek.
"Very well. I always keep my promises." Raising her voice to match the strength of Eric's, Freyda completed the terms of their bargain. "Before these loyal and noble Vampires gathered, I, Freyda, Queen of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Nevada absolve you, Eric Northman, of our vows and renounce my right to you as wife. Let all bear witness that you are free." Freyda finished her words with a defiant jut of her chin. Choosing to look out at the assembled crowd and dare any to contradict her decision, rather than show her pain and invite humiliation.
"You have been, in this as in everything else, honorable, upright and just. My sword is yours whenever you should have need of it." With that Eric kissed his former wife's hand and walked passed her, striding with determination to Sookie's side.
Seeing him coming to her, victorious and covered in the blood of their enemies after having chosen her over the right to rule four kingdoms, Sookie felt herself tremble with both need and love. They had just reached each other, the same glint of soul deep desire, twinkling in Eric's eyes when Freyda's voice interrupted them.
"Sheriff Northman." She called, causing Eric to turn, even as he pulled Sookie in close, melding her to his side.
"My Queen." He said, inclining his head.
"As you are a Vampire of your word, I am holding you to it right away. I have given you your freedom before witnesses, but I have not dismissed you from my service. I appoint you here and now as Lieutenant of Louisiana."
Eric had the good sense not to appear as dumbstruck as he actually felt and instead bowed low to his new Queen… and boss.
As with any battlefield promotion, duties began right away. Instead of sneaking off to celebrate their victory in a soft bed, Eric and Sookie, along with Pam and the rest of Area Five's Vampires, spent the next two weeks consolidating their coup. Warrants were dispatched for those who needed to be brought to heel, and the herd was culled of those who would not transfer their fealty to the new Monarch.
Freyda left Louisiana in Eric's capable hands the night of the takeover, while dispatching a contingent of her men to Arkansas and taking off herself to secure her right to Nevada. It was unlikely anyone would challenge her, but she was smart enough to know any resistance to the new order of things would likely come from there.
In truth things went far more smoothly than any of them could have imagined. The Vampires of Louisiana were beyond thrilled to have Victor gone and there was almost no resistance to Freyda's elevation or to Eric's immediate control, the same went for Arkansas and even Nevada. Freyda's reputation as a just and honorable ruler had preceded her. After only one small and easily put down uprising in Las Vegas, she was readily accepted as Queen.
It was still another three and half weeks before things were settled enough for Eric to transfer the seat of power in the state from New Orleans to Shreveport, but five weeks after the coup they were finally home.
Pulling the 'Vette' up in front of the old farmhouse, Eric tried to get a hold of the nervousness that had been swirling inside him all night. It had caused Sookie to ask if he was alright more than once, but he'd only put her off with noncommittal answers and kept his eyes and his mind on the road.
Now as he opened the car door for her, he was met with a familiar raised eyebrow. He knew she wanted to question why he'd chosen to park the car in front of the house when it was still Stackhouse tradition to go in from the kitchen.
"That expression is far sexier on you than it ever was on Ocella." Eric laughed softly, bending to kiss the eyebrow she'd raised at him for the umpteenth time tonight.
"Eric, what in heck is going on with you tonight? You're starting to worry me." Instead of answering her, Eric made his way up the front porch steps. Opening the door, he ushered her inside, where her answer was waiting.
It was dark in the house except for the light coming from the fire which roared in the living room grate. To a Human it might not have been enough light, but it was more than Sookie needed to see Pam and Miriam standing on either side of it, bright smiles on their faces.
Before she could turn to Eric and question him one more time, he was beside her, his hand on the small of her back guiding her into the room.
"Eric…." Sookie pulled out his name, even as she pegged him with another questioning look.
"Lover." He answered, turning to her once they were standing in the middle of the room.
"Eric, I'm not gonna ask you again. What's going on here?" Sookie's hands went to her hips as she felt the last of her patience slipping away.
In response, Eric took her face between his hands and bent low, laying the mother of all kisses on her. It went on for long minutes, Eric's lips sliding against hers, his tongue playfully coaxing her fangs from her gums and then softly caressing them, all as his hands roamed her body, lighting a fire inside her that burned brighter than the one in the fireplace.
Eric finally pulled back when Sookie was at the point where all of his strange behavior during the night, along with their audience, seemed to fade into the background. She was still a little weak in the knees and her eyesight a little hazy when he pulled a knife she hadn't seen in almost twelve years from his pocket.
Taking a deep, unnecessary breath, Sookie looked around and suddenly understood what was happening. Before she could say anything though, Eric seized the moment.
"Lover, I know the first time I gave this to you, it was not under the best of circumstances and I know you were angered by my deception for a very long time. Yet still, when all was said and done you chose me. I have never before felt joy in such amounts as I did the night you let me turn you and became mine completely. Nor have I ever felt sorrow in such amounts as the night you rose without your memories, or the night Ocella forced us to end our marriage.
Through all of it though, I have loved you and no other and I know you have loved me in exactly the same way. I am hoping that love will allow you to agree to be my wife once more.
Be mine, Sookie, completely, as I am already yours."
At first Sookie couldn't make her mouth form words. There was too much emotion inside of her swirling around like a tornado, but the second she took her eyes off the knife and looked up into Eric's waiting gaze, everything became calm and peaceful once more.
He loved her truly. Of that she'd never had any doubt, but it felt almost as though her heart were beating all over again, to hear him ask her to be his wife. She was already his child and his bonded, the truth of the matter was he had no need this time to bind her to him in such a way. He wanted it simply because he loved her and desired her to be his wife. And he was giving her the choice to accept or reject him.
Sookie felt overwhelmed by a rush of love as she looked past him to Pam and Miriam, both of whom were smiling in anticipation, and couldn't help but smile back. Eric really was the man she'd always been meant to love. Only he would understand that what had truly upset her the last time was not that she'd been cheated out of some big, formal affair, or robbed of her chance to wear a fancy dress, but that she'd been robbed of the choice. And he knew now all she would want was the chance to make the decision for herself and to do it in front of the two people who mattered most to them.
Without a word, Sookie took the knife gently from Eric's hand, and as she locked her gaze with his, she brought the blade to her lips and kissed it reverently, before putting it down gently on the coffee table.
"I have always been yours, even when I was too stubborn and blind to see it and I always will be. I love you, my husband." With that Sookie wound her arms around Eric's neck and pulled him into a gentle kiss filled with promises.
When they parted again they were both seeing stars. Eric smiled down at her, a look of total bliss painting his features for a second before sobering slightly and turning serious.
"I didn't know Freyda would appoint me Lieutenant." He began, his face taking on a dark expression. "I had hoped that after all this was over, we could come back here and spend a few decades simply loving each other. Now those plans are ruined."
Sookie rose up on her toes once more to give him another soft kiss.
"Not ruined, just… on hold. I guess it's a good thing we have forever, huh?" Her words seemed to bring the joy back into Eric's face and he kissed her over and over again adoringly.
"Forever with my wife." He breathed as he laid a final kiss in Sookie's hair. "That sounds… amazing."
"Forever with my husband, it's more than I ever dreamed was possible."
Eric laughed softly as he felt impatience coming from behind him.
"Than what do you say we appease Pam with a little celebration and then come back here and start making our ever after as happy as possible?"
Sookie could only laugh as she heard Pam snort from behind them. Looking at her little family she wondered how she'd ever thought forever would be lonely. Her eyes swept her sister and her sister's child before returning to Eric.
No, forever would never be lonely, not with Eric beside her. But forever might be just enough time to show him how much she truly, deeply and irrevocably loved him and the life she'd chosen at his side.