**A/N: Ok, folks, this is the last official chapter. There will be an epilogue as Chapter 50 (only because I like “round” numbers…and someone might kill me if I don’t…), but yeah… So, do you think Andre has been, well, revealed?**
Emma clutched at the freely bleeding wound in her chest and tried not to fall out of her chair. So much was going on…too much movement everywhere to keep it all straight. She maintained a death grip on the strange dagger in her other hand as her dazed eyes tried to track the vicious blur that was her Andre.
The growls and snarls of fury…the war cries…the clashing of weapons and the weirdly sweet coppery stench of spilled blood mixed with the char of scorched living skin…so much chaos… She knew she was going into shock, how could she not be…
Her Andre, though…she kept him in her sights as best she could…he was her tether.
Now guarded on one side by the hyper-alert Rasul and on the other by Tracy in her lynx form, she had collapsed into one of the hastily vacated chairs against the wall at the entrance into the once ceremonial chamber.
The vampire was bleeding from his arm and calf but with obvious skill held his dripping sword at the ready, and the beautiful fur around the were-lynx’s snarling mouth and huge paws was soaked with shiny fresh blood.
With the back of her chair against the wall and her vampires’ frenzied slashing and dashing before her, she was as protected as possible…now.
Painfully, that had not been the story mere feet away and minutes ago.
Light from another fireball flung from Sookie’s hand invaded her peripheral vision and the bulky forms of the Broders as they advanced and parried with astonishing grace for their size flashed in and out of her visual field, but Andre remained the center of her world.
Unfortunately, shock was warring with throbbing pain as the gash on her chest hurt worse and worse, and seemed to be…burning?
The room tried to tilt on its axis and she prayed Andre could come to her soon but there were so many…
Andre’s sword, claws, and fangs violently warring with cold methodical grace that belied the rage burning as fire in his blood.
The satisfaction gained from ripping off and tossing yet another blond head was paltry in the face of having seen his Emma so gravely wounded.
After what seemed to be days and hours of lethal maneuvers, with a succinct and fatal series of slashes Andre coldly dispatched the last unmet assailant before finally…finally vamping to his Emma’s side.
The sight of her sitting in that chair, one hand protectively covering her wound, the other wielding an odd weapon as if ready to defend herself anew…her face pale, her breaths hitched and gasping…
The image of her bloody hand pressed over that fucking wound was yet another that would stay with him until his dying night.
And he’d thought scraped skin and a kidnapping were so horrible?
A bond check told him the obvious: she hurt, and hurt badly.
He tilted her face to peer into her eyes, and the hazy quality of her gaze…
Wordlessly, his own blooded face set in stone, he ripped into his wrist then held it to his beloved’s mouth. She slowly latched on while surveying his features as if for injuries, and he consciously attempted to halt the deadly growls still rising from his chest and calm the fuck down, but it was a no-go.
As much as he wished to soothe her, they were still in the midst of battle still raging in the center of the room.
He didn’t like how weakly she suckled but figured she was going into some sort of human shock. His research into matters affecting the human condition, research initiated some time ago after realizing that he would no longer wish to live should his Emma cease to exist, had covered far too many threats including this shock issue, and he knew it was a bad thing.
“Come on, Emma, you can do it. Come on, ma chérie, drink,” he ordered…begged…over and over, subconsciously slipping into an old French dialect as he alternated between rubbing her back and running his hand through his blood-wet hair.
Priorities…end the active threat…get to your mate…then check yourself for injuries.
He had gotten to her as soon as he possibly could but every second had felt like a lifetime.
Self-condemnations ran rampant through his mind regardless of logic. He had sprung into action the instant he had understood what was going on and in truth had eliminated the second bastard who had thought to end her life, but that first one had come far too close to succeeding.
The clanging noise of metal falling to the flooring startled a growl from the lynx at her side then he felt Emma’s now free hand on his wrist.
His love…she had been attacked so quickly that, even though it happened right in front of his eyes, he had been unable to stop it. The fucking bastards had popped in…literally popped in…out of the fucking blue, and had she not reacted so quickly, the bastard’s blade would have pierced her heart instead of ripping from the top of her breast up to her shoulder.
As it was, the front of her gown was soaked with her life’s blood, the red from her veins vying wetly with the crimson bits of cloth.
Her mouth now firmly attached to his wrist as he willed her to heal…to get better…to stop with the fucking pain and bleeding…
A furious snarl drew his attention to the battle raging on outside his periphery and he glared around angrily as if daring yet another enemy to charge.
With the way the second portion of the evening had gone, it would not surprise him.
The formerly dignified ballroom-turned-ceremonial-chamber was now in shambles. Chairs were scattered and broken, and blood seemed to be everywhere – mixing with piles of sparkling dust and sprayed on walls, fabrics, running in rivulets on the floor…but thankfully there weren’t any vampire body parts lying around.
His forces had performed quite well given the circumstances, he had to admit. And as usual his ‘family’ hid risen powerfully to the occasion.
But his Emma…
Sending a fuck-ton of reassurance and strength through the bond as he ran a shaking hand over her hair, he willed his bite to remain open.
Godric’s cover had been more than blown by this point, of course. His blood-soaked Officiant’s robe now lay in a crumpled heap somewhere near a pile of crystalline dust.
His ubiquitous tunic and nondescript trousers likewise soaked, with great snarls and blood dripping from his lethal fangs and down his chin, he weaved over the corpse quickly turning to dust before him.
Others, he instantly noted, were also in the final throes of ending their own prey, including a surprising number of guest monarchs. He didn’t bother noting which – surveillance video would tell all.
Even then proof of engagement wouldn’t negate the possibility of using involvement to hide subterfuge or of a double-cross.
As he whipped his gaze back to his Emma, he decided to let Eric approach the righteously enraged ancient one still emitting those loud, eerie snarls. Maybe the Northman could calm the elder’s ass down, although he was by far more than entitled to his rage. He had truly helped save the night, and his contribution to his Emma’s survival would be well rewarded.
While checking her eyes and pulse and lightly running his thumb down the side of her throat, he wondered how long it would take the rest of them to wrap this shit up so he could get his woman safely home.
Come what may, he would not be leaving her side again.
Moments later, an odd silence suddenly descended upon the wrecked room as the final enemies were dispatched. A brief scan of the scene showed Eric, gloriously clad in the blood of his enemies and with fangs and growls also highly evident, now holding his Sookie safely in his arms. He, too, surveyed the scene one last time before finally allowing himself to check his beloved for injuries.
Priorities…kill the active threat to protect your mate’s life, then at the first possible instant, grab that mate and never, ever let her go…never let her go…
The last scan of the room had proven that no current foe now lived, so for the moment Eric could deal with the scene and his Maker.
Gaze inescapably drawn back to his Emma’s too-pale face, he assessed the distressing lack of improvement before focusing on her wound.
That fucking wound…
With his free hand Andre widened the opening in the ruined cloth and loosened it from that damned jagged cut. He was pleased to see the flow of blood slowing but it wasn’t enough.
Her flesh should never have been touched, much less pierced, by the enemy’s blade in the first place!
All his men…the place surrounded both inside and out…this should not have been possible!
She was healing too slowly…too fucking slowly…and it smelled wrong…
He bit his wrist again and placed it back to her lips.
With the age of his blood and the amount she had ingested during these past minutes, not to mention the amount he had feed her earlier that afternoon, by now all bleeding should have stopped and the edges of the ripped skin should have at least begun closing.
To the tune of a deeper growl he sliced open the pad of his thumb and smeared the freely flowing blood over the deeply jagged cut that stretched from the top of her sweet breast up toward her shoulder.
As he tended to her wound, he suppressed what would have been a roar.
He had fucking known they would be attacked – his gut had told him so.
Every preparation and protection possible had been made from having the structure surrounded inside and out with the most highly skilled guards at his disposal…but it had not been enough.
And his Emma had paid the price for his failure.
No one had expected the attack to come from fucking fairies.
Despite the lack of that signature intoxicating scent, all other evidence indicated that it had to have been fairies.
It had to have been.
No other species could teleport, and no other species turned to sparkling dust when ended.
What made no sense was the lack of that unique scent. Their blood was everywhere – by rights, he and his kind should have been feasting, but as best he could tell, not one of his family or the fighters was the least bit drawn.
And most of the vampires had blooded fangs.
So…either the bastards were fairy hybrids, in which case how the fuck had they been able to teleport, or they were pure, in which case how the hell were they masking their scent even after mortal injury?
Thank fuck not much could continue living after its head rolled upon the floor.
Thank double fuck the telepath didn’t seem to mind flinging her deadly balls of light at those likely of her own species.
Sookie…Sookie had fought valiantly.
All his people, his vampire family and…friends – hell, even some of the Kings and all of the Queens – had fought well, he reviewed disjointedly as he stared into his Emma’s eyes willing her to recover.
The Twins had immediately gone into full war mode as had his own Maker. A split-second memory of her fighting with a beautifully vicious smile came to mind. The Northman had instantly become the Viking warrior of legend and had abundantly proven that his “ceremonial” sword was no more “ceremonial” than the Twins’ or his Queen’s.
Or his own.
And the telepath – her many blasts of light had incinerated at least two of the bastards that he knew of. No wonder she now appeared exhausted as she wilted into her Viking’s arms.
Even his Emma, his glorious too-mortal Emma, had engaged as best she could, especially given the depth of that fucking cut.
The second set of punctures in his wrist healed and he used his arm to circle her waist.
“It burns,” she said faintly once her mouth was free. “It’s burning worse, too.”
He could feel the curious stare of the remaining monarchs gathered on the other side of the room ostensibly to grant them privacy, but ignored them. Rasul and Tracy, still in her were form, remained at guard to each side and he sensed that they had been joined by the Twins and his Maker once their prey had disintegrated.
When the light around them shifted, he figured the Northman, probably with Sookie and Godric, were completing a circle of protection around himself and his fallen mate.
A deeper sniff proved his theory, their scents finally superseding the stench of dead and burned…whatever the fuck the bastards were.
“How does she heal?”
The mostly growled demand jerked his head up to meet the darkened eyes of the oldest being in most of the country. His face was still vibrantly bloody but he appeared calmly serious despite the rage.
“Too slowly,” he ground out, his eyes growing wilder with rising fear. “By now her skin should be closed. She said that it burns yet I dare not give her more of my own blood.”
He heard several gasps, and barely withheld a growl as Godric lowered his head to investigate the wound.
The ancient vampire sniffed.
Then sniffed again.
“What?” The demand slipped out before he might have bothered to stop it.
“Later. For now, I would offer her my vein. The burning is not a good sign. My blood is far more than twice the age of yours and my healing power is…vast.” The words were strident while the volume was not.
For a mere instant Andre’s instincts howled in fury against the idea of another vampire’s blood infiltrating his Emma’s veins before common sense and more than a small bit of awe took over.
Vampires did not offer their blood to all and sundry, and Godric in particular was never known to do so. The Blood was considered sacred to the elder.
In his periphery the shock on Eric’s face hit home.
Truly this was an honor for his Emma.
Plus, the blood of a different vampire would be much safer for her to ingest without fear of an accidental turning. She needed to heal and this was by far the best option.
“Will you accept his blood?” He was already preparing to move away to give the other vampire room.
The green of his eyes begged her to accept the extraordinary gift. And, given how very badly the wound was burning now, she had no intention of denying it.
She nodded, or at least tried to. Even she could sense that things weren’t quite right.
The thought of drinking from someone who wasn’t her Andre, or at least a part of her vampire family, wasn’t one she relished, but the gravity in the young-looking guy’s face scared her. Looking around, she realized that they all seemed to share the same fear.
Her natural and usually ill-timed need to diffuse a stressful situation rose to the surface.
“Hi, I’m Emma. You must be Godric,” she said with a wobbly, broken smile, then whimpered when she moved in an attempt to ease the pain shooting through her upper chest. Andre immediately knelt by her other side to hold and support her.
He looked way too pale.
“Enough,” the ancient boy ordered gently as he sat in Andre’s former seat. “Drink.”
He bit his wrist with his enormous fangs and within a moment she could not only taste but feel the difference in their life forces.
From what she understood, Andre’s blood was very strong because of his age but this…Godric’s blood was in an entirely different class.
It even tasted…tasted like eons gone by…
She latched on more securely.
Somehow his blood was thick with power and age as well as substance. As with Andre’s she could feel the surge of health growing in her body, but now…now she would swear that she could feel Godric’s blood separating even in her veins – some of the individual molecules going on an honest-to-God search and destroy mission while the rest sped to encircle the now-searing wound.
It was as though she was being cloaked, gently but surely cloaked, inside and out by a violently healing inferno.
Godric glared at the lethally sharp dagger resting carelessly on the floor near her feet.
“Their weapons were likely poisoned,” the ancient vampire said before turning his gaze to her weeping injury with a curious ferocity.
Her head felt oddly light now, and she imagined his intense expression meant that he was ordering his blood to work.
Maybe he was.
As her eyes lightly scanned the room, it seems that everyone was holding their breath – no one moved, not even the Kings and Queens she knew were staring silently from the other side of the room.
The fear and desperate hope in her Andre’s face was strangely mirrored…Sigebert and Wybert…Sophie-Anne, Sookie…even Eric…
A minute later he bit his wrist again, and with eyes that ordered her to drink more he placed it to her lips.
Wow…it really was like liquid power flowing down her throat…
As she let her thoughts fly free, she mourned the destruction of her beautiful Pledging gown and the spectacle she must surely be making to the collected snobbery she couldn’t actually see as they undoubtedly judged her and found her mortality lacking…but mostly, mostly she was pissed off that her Pledging ceremony had been disrupted.
All that planning, all that effort…
She wanted to marry or Pledge or what the hell ever to her Andre.
Her poor vampire had worked so hard for all this.
They all had.
At least he was King now, finally.
If she died, what would he do?
Would he ever smile again?
Wait…had someone said something about fairies?
They hadn’t looked like fairies, but then, from what she knew Sookie didn’t look like one, either.
What did fairies really look like, anyway?
Did they really have pointy ears and wear weird clothes?
Whatever …they made pretty dust…
She blinked and tried to concentrate as someone spoke softly.
“…hybrids…couldn’t have been full-blooded or we would all be full…” she heard someone else, maybe Sophie-Anne, saying with an angry growl as the air fell dark.
She woke on a sofa surrounded by known and beloved faces with Andre on his knees by her side.
“How the hell…able to teleport,” Eric was snarling…
“Welcome back,” Andre said quietly and the voices stopped. “How do you feel?”
Her color was vastly improved and the wound had, indeed, sealed and healed, but…
As she gazed into his worried face, a systems check told her she felt fine, better, in fact, than she could have expected. She sat up and glanced around at the concerned faces staring back at her.
Oh, she was in the changing room…
Rasul stood at the foot of the sofa with his arms around Tracy. She was back to her human form and wearing his bloodied shirt. After she saw with her own eyes that the other most important people in her life now were present and seemed to be ok, she threw her arms around her beloved vampire’s neck with a heartfelt exhale.
Andre barely stopped himself from rolling over backwards with the surprise of her relieved attack.
All in the room remained silent as their undivided attention centered on the embracing couple. The sound Andre was making, something between a growl and a purr, was soothing music to her ear.
She laughed briefly, and the rush of relief he felt was almost painful in its intensity.
“I feel fine – it’s like the stabbing never happened,” she reassured him before leaning back to look at his face, her slight smile fading. “You never told me how you were doing, though.”
With a husky noise that vaguely resembled a laugh, he replied, “Now that you have healed, I am well.”
He promptly rested his face in the crook of her neck.
As she ran her hands over his broad back, she asked in part because she cared but mostly to give him a chance to recover, “Is everyone else ok?”
A nod served to answer her question but it was a long minute before he lifted his head.
He held her as close as he could given the circumstances but it wasn’t nearly close enough.
And it never would be, not after this.
Earlier, after he had placed her on the couch, everyone had politely turned their back to give him privacy to check her for additional wounds. Just because he hadn’t found any in no way negated his need to check much more thoroughly – in their own quarters – as soon as fucking possible.
Sometimes fifteen minutes – the length of time she had been unresponsive – was the same as a vampire’s lifetime.
When he finally leaned back to gaze down into his beloved face, his features were hard as stone although his eyes blazed.
The bond told her little more than that he lived and wasn’t injured. The violence coursing through his system…the relief…everything…too much chaos for her to even try to decipher.
He repositioned his arms around her cherished figure and lifted her as he rose. Once sitting on the sofa with her in his lap, he called for the basket of foods and drinks.
According to her expression, the tepid water she quickly gulped from the bottle he handed her had never tasted so good.
“All is well I see,” said Godric as he approached the sofa a minute later, his normally benign expression almost restored. There was no mistaking the banked rage subtly gleaming in his eyes, however.
Emma nodded as she drained the rest of the water then recapped the empty bottle…and remembered some of her lessons in vampire etiquette.
“Thank you, Godric. I very much appreciate the healing. You honor me, and I will not forget it.”
He nodded his head in unassuming acknowledgement as though using his precious blood to save the lives of future queens was an every-night occurrence.
Emma thought for a moment then stated more than asked of the group at large, “They were coming specifically for me, weren’t they. When they magically appeared, and how the hell they did that I’d love to know, it seemed like they had timed it so that that one blond guy would pop in right in front of me.”
A scan of the room showed several grim nods and more than one set of fangs.
Andre resumed that deep, spine tingling growl of his, and when she glanced up at him, she saw that his fangs, which hadn’t fully retracted, were once again at their fullest length. Thankfully his hands about her waist hadn’t clawed, but those big arms of his were definitely holding her even closer.
The dried blood on his face and neck would have lent him a horrifyingly sinister cast if she hadn’t known him so well. She glanced around and decided the same would apply to them all.
“And somehow they appeared right in front of both Wybert and Sigebert, at the same time, so that they couldn’t help me.”
Another group nod…this one accompanied by various growls that even she could hear.
Godric’s expression became speculative and not in a good way.
The truly frightening glower marring his boyish features did not bode well as he examined his memories.
The extraordinarily well-timed appearance of the enemy was disturbing on too many levels.
Obviously the attack had somehow been coordinated from the inside, as it were. That was bad enough.
That the enemy now included what appeared to be a subset of yet another race was even worse.
Vampires and Demons…and now some sort of Fairies?
Too coincidental – and he was not one to believe in…coincidences.
Barely an hour before he had been standing on the dais as per his role as Officiant and so had been in position to witness the assault.
Andre had been in place at the bottom of the steps ready to escort his Emma up to the platform once she and her escort reached his side.
Mere moments after she passed through the doors into the chamber, all hell had broken loose.
Although she had been squired by both Sigebert and Wybert – a thing Godric had thought strange but guessed neither would step aside in favor of the other – the enemy had managed to appear in too perfect a formation for them to provide her with adequate protection.
Not even the hulking, battle-ready figures by her side could have been prepared for a trio of foes appearing directly before her…and them. In perfect synchronicity, each assailant had immediately attacked their chosen target thus rendering the giant males incapable of defending the small woman between them.
The brothers had been infuriated on a scale he would not soon forget.
Yes, oddly strategic how the now dead had materialized in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time with those strangely shaped daggers at the ready…
In the slow motion of memory, he once again saw the Torturer’s woman being stabbed almost the very instant those wielding the daggers had appeared. Had she not moved as she did, she would have been killed in the blink of an eye. By apparent instinct she had ducked, however, which had saved her life but unfortunately had allowed the tainted blade to enter into her flesh and slice upward.
Instead of running or collapsing from the pain and shock of the injury as any normal mortal should have done, she had chosen to stand and fight. With a weird quirk of luck that seemed to be a possible family trait, she had grabbed the hybrid’s dagger and with weak but effective twisting and dancing motions had managed to acquire the weapon for herself.
Had she acted as a normal mortal, she would not have survived the encounter. His gut was sure of it.
Godric glanced to the side table where the strangely fashioned weapon now rested as he remembered the sight of it discarded at her feet.
His last image of the woman before he joined the fight was of her thrusting it into the assailant’s own bowels.
All after that was a blur of blood, lights, sweet victory, and shining dust.
As his gaze refocused on the future queen before him, he surveyed her face and found the familiarity he subconsciously sought in her features but had already scented in her blood.
With a nod, he turned to Andre still growling intermittently with his Emma securely ensconced on his lap. The younger male had prepared and fought most capably but he feared it would be an impressively long time before he allowed the woman out of his literal sight.
Who could blame the child?
“Nothing more could you have done given the information available. Hindsight, as humans say, may be 20/20, but you will not hold yourself accountable for this breach.”
Arkansas was not his progeny nor was he in any way especially close to the kingling, but the male’s dedication to his as yet unPledged mate struck a strong chord.
Eric, too, was a fine judge of character and had chosen to become personally involved in this situation, plus…
A noise from the remaining monarchs still milling about in the other room annoyed him and he briefly sneered in their direction.
“Now would be a good time to leave,” he understated to the couple before him.
Emma appeared confused. “Are all those Kings and Queens still here?”
Godric and Andre both nodded, and Sophie-Anne approached the sofa. Her gown in bloody tatters, the styling of her softly red hair in ruins, she appeared to Emma’s eyes more ‘alive’ than ever.
“Most of them are. Of course the cowards have fled but the nosier ones have notes to compare and gossip to hone before returning to their own courts.” Her disgust was obvious as she flicked her fingers. Then she shrugged. “Some of them fought well, though, and likely want to know what the hell was going on.”
“So do I,” Emma couldn’t help but pout. This was supposed to have been her Pledging night. Granted the vampire lifestyle wasn’t actually her own and their customs and ceremonies and yadda-blah weren’t hers, either, but damn it…
“Come now, let me see you home. We can Pledge another night,” Andre suggested. Although she appeared completely healed, he wasn’t taking any chances.
Her color had returned and the sounds of her heartbeat and breath were normal…but she was still bathed in her own spilled blood.
He would not rest until he could clean her and affirm with his own hands and eyes that the forsaken injury really had healed and that there truly were no others.
Plus she carried the scent of the ancient vampire and the urge, the instinct, to mark her as his own was well nigh overwhelming.
He needed to fuck the hell out of his woman.
Emma’s reply to Andre’s “we should delay the Pledging” suggestion would ring in his ears for a very long time, however.
“Fuck no – we’re Pledging and we’re Pledging right now.”
The Twin’s gutteral versions of “dat’s my gurrrl” floated to her ears even as she could see Andre gathering breath to spring forth with his denials.
“See, here’s my thinking,” she quickly started. “Someone in there does not want us to Pledge. Apparently they didn’t have a problem with you becoming king, right, but the sudden appearance of…whoever the hell they were, well, their timing was just a little too perfect.” She glared off into the middle distance, her expression darkening with a need for some vengeance of her own.
That shit had hurt!
“Fuck that. And fuck them, too,” she added with a nod toward the remaining royalty in the wrecked ballroom. “I’m tired and my dress is ruined, and that room looks like a slaughterhouse, but they want a show, so I say let’s give it to them.”
She reached into the nearby basket and withdrew a bottle of lukewarm but super-sweet soda. Blood loss was a thirsty business and there wasn’t any warm coffee left.
Although her hands still shook subtly, the expression on her Andre’s face and the couple of now identifiable feelings coming through the bond amused her even if she would never actually tell him so. Torn between worry for her health, shock and pride in her attitude, and the instinctive need to check for himself that she was fine…
She was entirely on board with that last train of thought but damn it, this was her Pledging night. The show must go on and so on and so forth. Besides, everyone she would want to attend and those nosy monarchs were already gathered, and it wasn’t as if she had family of her own to worry about inviting to a different ceremony.
“Thanks to the grace of Godric I’m healed, but being the objective in a murder plot has made me a little cranky. Frankly, I’m tired of this shit. It’s going to be a couple hours before my mind settles enough to crash, anyway. So, really, if those people out there want a show, let’s give them one. And, well, some of them did fight on our behalf, so letting them see the ceremony would be a weird kind of reward for them, right?” She shook her head at the strangeness of the vampire world, then sighed.
“Later, when we’re both rested and happy, we can do this all again in private just for all of us if we want, but for right now, let’s foil all the murder plots and give a giant flip-off to any snippy little attitudes. Anyway, let’s get the cuts and the words and the swallows over with so we can go home and not have to deal with this kind of ceremonial crap anymore. It’s taken up too much of our time as it is.”
The entire room seemed to hold its collective breath as everyone waited for Andre’s reply.
Emma’s weary but determined expression grew concerned.
“So far this has all been about me, though. What about you? Do you still want to Pledge with me? Is it…is it still worth the hassle?”
**A/N: So…what’d ja think?**