A/N: And this very nearly wraps it all up. Just an epilogue to go, likely next week. Thank you so much for tagging along with me. :) I hope you liked it.
"Fuck!" Pam's bond slowly opened up again, and she was in an enormous amount of pain. He thought that she'd likely been unconscious and was now awake. He had to dull the connection so that he had a chance for all of them to come out of this not finally dead.
He got out of bed and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He wanted something that would be comfortable for a fight. He wasn't going to let on to Sookie how concerned he was, but Salome was much older than he was, and she had Pam. And he knew that Sookie would be a distraction.
Sookie slid out of bed, too, and quietly got dressed. She wrapped her arms around her middle, trying to sooth herself. There was a human outside, watching the whole thing, so Sookie could watch it, too. Pam was hurt really badly, and Salome was holding a stake to her chest. There were others outside. She could sense seven more voids. No, eight.
All three of them would die, if she was lucky. More likely, Eric and Pam would, and she would belong to Salome anyway. Besides, part of her had always known that this would happen. And part of her thought that she deserved it.
She was trembling. She was so terrified. Walking into the conference room during the battle to find him had been the hardest thing she'd ever done, but that had been walking towards him. This was walking away. She didn't know how she was going to stand it.
Eric was sitting in his straight-backed chair in the corner, looking down and tying his boots. "Sookie, I need to go out there and fight. I need to get Pam. She is injured. You must stay here. I will keep you safe."
She took a deep breath. Her voice was very soft. "Eric?"
He looked up at her, and it broke her heart. He was so brave, ready to go out there and fight and die for his women. And he would, in a human's heartbeat. She couldn't let that happen. She couldn't let them die for her. She kissed his lips and touched his face. "I love you."
Her brain started to tingle, and her heart broke a little more.
"Don't try to follow me, Eric. You have to stay here and take care of Pam. She is hurt real bad and is going to need your blood. You need to get her when it's time, heal her, and then stay put the rest of the night."
And after that? She had no idea.
She let go of his mind and he kissed her. "I love you, too."
She smiled sadly and then stepped between his legs. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he pulled her into him and held her tight. They didn't have much time, but she needed to be able to take comfort from him like this for just a few seconds longer. She somehow managed to blink back her tears and then pulled away. She couldn't draw this out any longer.
"Eric, I have to go. You take care of Pam, ok? I love you both and couldn't stand to see you hurt."
He was still in his chair, his boots long since tied. He looked confused. She took a deep, shaky breath and walked out to the front door. She had to take another before she could open it and step outside. Eric was following behind her. He looked… bewildered. She should have glamoured him to forget he even knew she existed, but she hadn't been able to. She had meant to glamour him to stay away from her forever, but she hoped that she could glamour Salome, too, and would maybe be able to get away tonight. Then, the next evening, they could run.
Sookie took a third breath, and then had to go for a fourth before she could speak. She looked at Pam, who was looking right back at her, the pain stark on her face. Then Sookie looked at Salome.
"If you promise that you will give Pam to Eric and then leave them alone, I will go with you willingly."
Salome was beautiful — small with dark hair and dark eyes and pale skin that had an almost bronzy glow — but her grin was terrifying.
"Why don't I just kill them and take you anyway? I am owed a child. You."
Sookie shrugged with one shoulder. "Because of the queen."
Salome laughed again, and Sookie got another cold chill. She recognized the crazy in Salome's eyes. She had passed them along to her child. Unfortunately, Salome was too far away for Sookie to feel a tingle.
Salome said, "The queen is a fool. And we will be flying overseas on Anubis tomorrow. She will no longer be my concern."
Sookie shrugged again. "Well, then, because I'll cooperate. You can't command me. I've already been tortured just about every way a vampire can be tortured. I've been taking it for way more than half of my existence. Been there, done that. Stood it for hours. I can hold out if I have to."
Salome narrowed her eyes. "You'll break. Everyone breaks eventually."
Sookie nodded. "Yeah. I will. But, when I do, I'll just shut down. Go limp. Send my mind away. Hide. And you can't command me to stop. But, if you let them go, I will do everything you say."
"How do I know you'll comply?"
Sookie's eyes welled up and then spilled over. She took a shaky breath. Her voice was no more than a whisper. "Because I'm a good girl."
Salome's laugh was almost maniacal. She sounded like the evil villain that she was in Sookie's head. It looked like Mickey had come by his sadism and madness honestly, and she was starting to think that maybe she had gone from the frying pan into the fire. But at least she'd always have what had happened in between.
Sookie glanced over at Eric, whose eyes never left Pam. She wanted to kiss him and hold him and tell him that she loved him and that she was sorry. She looked at Pam and thought that she was maybe unconscious again, but she could still sense Pam's brain, so at least there was that. She hadn't even gotten a chance to say goodbye to her, but she thought that Pam would understand.
She wished that she didn't have to go. She wished that she had more time. She wished that she could go back and glamour him to stay away forever. She knew that he would follow her, but she had been so weak.
Sookie looked back at Salome, who looked almost wistful. She smiled at Sookie. "For a time, I thought that Mickey was a mistake. He didn't take direction well, and he had to be taught, over and over again, to obey. But it looks like maybe he learned from my mistakes. Pick a nice, pretty young thing and train her up right. Teach her respect for her elders and how to behave. It was like he made you just for me. Very well. Come. I will leave them alone, and you will be mine, in any way I choose."
Sookie nodded. Salome tossed Pam onto the ground, and she moaned in pain. Sookie was glad when Eric picked her up and carried her inside.
Sookie looked at Salome. "You'll leave them be?"
"Yes, of course. I'll even let you call him tomorrow, while we're in the air. Just to prove that I'm a vampire of my word."
Sookie recognized the love me hate me, push me pull me, beat me caress me manipulation a million miles away. The mind games were back. The torture, too, she was sure. But she thought that Salome's style was going to be much more refined. A sledgehammer can often get the job done, but it was clumsy. Messy. You could do just as much damage with something much more neat and precise. Maybe even more. She guessed that artistry would be important to Salome, and she'd had millenia to hone her skills.
Sookie just closed her eyes for a moment. She was trembling hard now, and fighting the urge to hide. She was afraid that Salome would have already killed them if Sookie hadn't been there to watch.
She managed to get herself under control again, at least a little. It was time. "Please send the others away and leave them alone. Eric needs to give Pam his blood."
Salome rolled her eyes and flicked her hand in a shooing gesture. The other vampires all melted into the shadows. Sookie followed their voids away and was satisfied when they all left the area.
Everyone was gone except for Sookie, Salome, and the human. Salome looked around and brushed off her hands and told the human to leave. She looked at Sookie. "Come now before I change my mind."
Sookie put her head down in submission and followed Salome to her town car parked down the street. The driver opened the rear door when they approached, and Sookie slid in first. She looked at the house one last time through her window as they drove away.
On the way to Baton Rouge, Salome was on her phone discussing business, but she stroked Sookie's hair and caressed her thigh and rubbed soft circles on her back while she did. She was acting the part of the caring, concerned, and loving maker, but Sookie knew better. This was just the mindfuck before the storm.
They pulled up in front of the Seven Veils Casino in just under forty-five minutes. Sookie followed Salome through the lobby and stood obediently beside her on the elevator ride up to the penthouse. When they got inside, Salome peeled off her coat and draped it over the back of an armchair. She was incredibly graceful and seemed to glide to the refrigerator to pour herself a glass of blood.
"Would you like some, child?"
She did, but Sookie said, "No, Mistress."
Salome smiled at her, but there was an edge there. She wanted Sookie to make a mistake. That was part of the fun. And it was getting close to sunrise. She didn't want to wait until the following evening.
"You are a good girl, aren't you? Very well, then. The sun will rise soon. Can you stay awake an hour past dawn? We don't have much time.
Sookie nodded. "Yes, Mistress."
"Good. The bedroom is at the end of the hall. Take off your clothes and stand in the middle of the room. You'll know the place. Wait for me there."
Sookie nodded again and followed the hallway to the bedroom. When she got inside, she froze, her gorge rising. It felt like it was choking her and burning her throat. There were pictures of her. Everywhere. Hundreds of them. They were lining the walls, covering the bed, even framed and arranged artfully on the fireplace mantle. A poster-sized one hung over the bed. From age twelve, all the way up to the tenth time she'd turned eighteen. Naked. Beaten. Flayed. Broken. Bloody. Drained. Having things done to her and doing things to him. Even of her hanging from the chain and shackled to the bed in that cottage. Sookie didn't even know how that was possible.
Salome came in behind her and placed her hands on Sookie's shoulders. She sighed, happily.
"Aren't they wonderful? I found them hidden in a safe in Mickey's room a few days after his final death. Well, except for these." She caressed a picture of Sookie from behind. She was hanging from her wrists and her back was striped with welts and cuts from her master's whip. "These arrived the evening after he was ended, in a manilla envelope addressed to him. I was curious to see what I would find inside, and what a surprise it was! I had never seen anything so tantalizing. I made sure to check his safe myself, right that very moment, and I hit the jackpot in my own casino!"
Salome squeezed Sookie's shoulders hard enough that it made her groan. "Now, do I want you silvered to the bed or cuffed and hanging? I think hanging to start. And I told you to take off your clothes." She squeezed harder, and Sookie's collarbones snapped. "You had better obey me, child."
Sookie's mind kept trying to fade to black. She fought against it, even though her conscious mind was begging to be let go for a little while. Her bones were knitting, but she still needed to get undressed. She managed to unbutton her jeans and shimmy out of them, which gave her bones a little more time to heal. She really wished that she'd taken that glass of blood after all.
She was able to get undressed without much trouble, but it was quite painful. And what Salome had said finally penetrated. When she looked around the room, she realized that it was laid out exactly like the living area of that little cottage where her maker had hurt her for the last time. The bed with silver manacles. The self-tightening silver cuffs, hanging from a chain. There wasn't a kitchen, but there was a dresser with all of the silver tools lined up in a row. All of it carefully arranged to match the photographs. The silver dildo was off to the side with the protective gloves lying on top. Ready. Sookie shuddered. How could she take this again?
She closed her eyes. She was going to be tortured, regardless. No matter what happened. She spun around and caught Salome's eyes and locked them with hers.
And nothing happened.
Salome laughed and then slapped Sookie across the face. She flew across the room and crashed into the wall. Salome was very old, and Sookie could feel the bones in her cheek and jaw healing after they'd been broken by the force of the blow.
"Well, wouldn't that be a lovely trick? Unfortunately, Sookie Dear, I couldn't be glamoured when I was human, either. It's what led to me becoming Vampire, and I guess it still holds true. So, I'm afraid that you are out of luck. And I'm very sad to say that you are actually a very bad girl, and bad girls need to be punished. But first, a kiss. Come here."
This wasn't ever going to end. Salome would never give her up. And wherever Sookie went, Eric could just follow the bond, and then Pam would follow him, and they would both be ended. And Salome would never give up on killing Eric, no matter whether he followed them or not. Salome wasn't going to wait for him to attack first. And, goddammit, Sookie was just so damn sick and tired of being abused.
She thought about how much it was going to hurt her shoulders to hang from her wrists like that. How much everything would hurt soon. She looked over at the cruel and barbarous silver toys again, and remembered the agony of that night. She turned to her new mistress, who looked ravenous, and Sookie felt like a little mouse amongst the boxes and boxes of paper in a vampire queen's closet.
Salome's eyes were starting to glow red and her voice was ice cold. "I thought we made a deal. You would be good, and they could live."
She almost seemed to transform into someone else. She stuck out her bottom lip in an exaggerated pout, and her voice was a clumsy caricature of regret. "I guess you just don't love them as much as you said you did."
She looked like herself again. "Too bad. I'll guess I'll just have to make sure they're taken care of after all. Now, come here, child, and give your mistress a kiss. And then we can do our formal blood exchange and then have a little fun before your rest. I think I'll just leave you hanging until tonight so we can get right back to it as soon as I rise."
It took Sookie a couple of tries before she could make her feet go, but then she walked towards Salome and tentatively put her arms around her middle. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes and then blew it out again. It was the only way. She grabbed hold of Salome as tight as she could and shot through the penthouse ceiling and then the casino roof.
The sun had just broken over the horizon, and Salome immediately burst into flames. She was screaming, endlessly screaming, and Sookie thought that it was going to go on forever. She dropped the ancient vampire, and Salome fell to earth like a blazing meteorite. The crater she made on impact was through the roof of a commuter's Ford Focus on the I-10.
The screaming went on, and Sookie couldn't understand why she could still hear it, until she realized that it was her. She was the one who was screaming and screaming and screaming and couldn't stop.
Her skin was blackening and smouldering and was starting to split in places. It was like flames were licking at her skin, but it just wouldn't quite light. But the pain. The terrible ungodly pain that went on and on and on. She was hurtling through the sky — unable to see, let alone steer — and couldn't even think well enough to worry where she would end up. Why wasn't she finally dead? She hoped to God she'd finally burn into nothing to escape the torture soon.
Ninety seconds of agony later, she landed in the middle of the Atchafalaya River. The water immediately soothed the pain before it shot right through her again. She kept screaming under water until she ran out of air, and then sank down until she hit the bottom. She burrowed under the silt and mud and sediment of the riverbed until she was completely covered. Black flecks of burned skin floated up to the surface and then were carried downstream.
The cool wet dirt eased her burns for just a moment before she was pulled into her daytime rest. She was still there when they found her three nights later.