I know I said in the last chapter there were two chapters left to this story but I decided to post everything now. So this is the last chapter.
I want to thank Suki59 for correcting my mistakes in this chapter and for running me through Las Vegas. I`m very grateful that you said yes to being my beta!
I was on the plane going home and I was exhausted. I had promised Eric that I wasn`t going home for good. That I would come back to him. But now that he wasn`t here – now that I wasn`t staring into his beautiful blue eyes – I wasn`t sure.
I had been living a fairly dull life before I`d met him. A life alone and then a life with Bill. It had been predictable and though I at times had wanted more, I had been content too.
When I met Eric, I met a love I`d never expected. I met a man who touched those inner emotions in a way no one had ever done before and I suspected no one would ever do again.
But I had also met a man who was moody, secretive, aggravating and who came with baggage the size of a truck. Baggage that had hurt me and brought me pain, mentally and physically.
And now I was so tired I just wanted to go home and sleep for weeks. Months.
The heat hit me when I landed in Shreveport. It was a kind of humid heat that I had almost forgotten while being in Oslo. When I`d lived in Louisiana, I hadn`t been bothered by it – it had felt natural, but now I started sweating like a pig. If pigs sweated.
So after 10 hours on a plane, a one hour wait in Amsterdam and a two hour wait in Atlanta, I was finally ready to be in Louisiana. Really be in Louisiana.
I walked out the doors, not expecting anyone to meet me, and was surprised by someone shouting my name.
I turned around and saw Jason running towards me. Jason, of all people. Yes, he knew I was coming but I had never expected him to come meet me. First of all because he was supposed to be at work but second of all because he was Jason. My brother was not an I`ll-pick-you-up-at-the-airport kind of person.
He pulled me into a deep hug and suddenly I realized how much I`d missed him. While away I had almost dismissed him from my mind, but here, with his arms around me, I felt at home. His smell, his warmth, his …. I began to cry.
“Shhh, Sis,” he mumbled. “You`ll be fine. I promise.”
That made me giggle. How was it that he always made promises he couldn`t keep?
“See?” he said and apparently I was wrong. I was fine already. Jason had his way with women. Even with me.
I gave him one more hug and pulled away. “Thank you, Jason.”
“Aaaw, Sooks. Don`t worry. Let`s get you to my car so we can get you home.”
The word “home” sounded wrong all of a sudden but then I figured it would be Jason`s home, not mine. He`d been living in my house these last couple of months. One of his girlfriends had more or less taken over his house and I had been fine with his staying in my house anyway since it needed someone to look after it.
Now I hoped he would make peace with the woman occupying his house. I wanted to be alone.
I looked out of the window of the car, watching familiar places go by and felt nothing but emptiness.
I had looked forward to going home. To be myself. To find myself, even. But it`s like that old joke – I went home to find myself, but I wasn`t there.
And I wasn`t. I was still in Oslo.
Jason parked outside my house and helped me with my bags. Then he gave me a hug. “I have to be back at work. I hope you`re fine on your own?”
I nodded though I was far from sure. I checked my watch and was amazed with how early it was. My body was still on Oslo time. I was dead tired and only wanted to go to bed but I knew it would be a mistake so I started cleaning instead.
Jason wasn`t exactly a slob but I still detected dust here and there so I vacuumed, mopped the floors, dusted every surface I could find and changed the sheets.
Then I took a good long shower and went to bed.
It was still early in the evening and it was as if my body had suddenly decided to change to Louisiana time – or maybe it was just trying to make things even harder for me – because sleep was nowhere to be found.
I started thinking about Eric and about Norway and that was when I got up. My brain`s circling around that big blond who aggravated me so much but also made my heart sing so loudly would be counterproductive if sleep were my goal.
I took a deep breath and then I called Sam, my old boss when I did PR work in Shreveport.
“Sookie?” he asked in a voice full of surprise. I had corresponded a bit with Sam on Twitter and Facebook but we hadn`t spoken for almost a year.
“Hi, Sam. How are you?”
“I`m fine. But how are you? You`ve been all over the news.”
“Yeah, I know. It was quite a thing.” I paused. “You know, I`m in Louisiana now.”
“You are?” Sam sounded thrilled. “Would you like to meet? I mean, we could have lunch?”
“That would be great.” I had hoped Sam would suggest something like that. He was my mentor and the one who`d taught me most of what I knew and talking to him now, made me regret that I hadn`t called him earlier. From Norway. He would have been a voice of reason and I would have loved to have had his input on some of the stuff I had been struggling with. Not the personal stuff – Sam and I never had that kind of relationship – but the professional things. The things I`d been working on.
“Maybe … maybe you could come by the office too? I`m sure everyone would love to see you again. And you could probably teach us a thing or two. Give us an international perspective.”
I laughed. “Sure, Sam. I`d love to.”
After having agreed on when and where to meet for lunch, we hung up and I was in a much better mood. When I went to bed, I fell asleep immediately.
“Welcome home, Sookie,” Sam said. There was the word “home” again.
Sam looked as if he wanted to give me a hug but since we`d never been what you would call hugging friends, he gave me his hand instead – something that felt strange so I pulled him into the hug he was looking for.
“Thank you, Sam,” I said when I pulled back.
We sat down and ordered our food. I loved looking at the menu. All the familiar dishes. And the menu was in English – not a language I was a stranger to.
“So, Sookie. Are you back for good?”
“No, Sam,” I answered a little too quickly. I added a laugh. It came out fake. “Just a bit of R&R.”
“I can see why. Must have been a tough ordeal, that whole parade thing. You came through all right, though. How are the sales figures?”
Now my laughter was real. “That`s the Sam I know. Sales went up after the … parade. And I think our competition has been closed down.”
I didn`t just think that. I knew that. Felipe had been appalled by what he`d seen on the Spanish news – his own son ruining the 17th of May parade. Well, he`d been appalled when reporters had started calling him about it. Reporters who had gotten Felipe`s cell phone number from us.
“The rest of the office is looking so much forward to picking your brain afterwards.” Sam smiled that crooked smile of his.
We ate our food and I may have closed my eyes from time to time, enjoying the taste of home. I smiled at myself. My brother, my house or my former boss couldn`t make me feel at home, but the food could.
Back at the office, I met old colleagues and some new people that had been hired while I was gone. They all waited for Sam and me in the conference room. I hugged the ones I knew and gave the rest of them a handshake. It was nice to be back – even if I was now an outsider.
“Sookie has been so gracious to give us some more details on her new job at Viking Games and especially about the huge job she did this spring.”
Sam continued his introduction and when I was supposed to speak, the words came by themselves, and in a professional tone of voice I gave them an account of everything that had happened and the decisions we`d made. They asked me questions about those choices and also about working with PR in Europe compared to the U.S.
I was happy to oblige and it felt good to be on home turf talking about Norway as the strange country – and not be the stranger who was out of place.
When everyone had asked the questions they wanted to ask and thanked me for my input, Sam took me back to his office and asked me to sit down.
“You`ve learned a lot, Sookie,” he stated.
“I have.” I certainly had learned a lot and not just professionally.
He leaned back in his chair. “Now Sookie, I`m going to ask you for a favor and I don`t want you to take it the wrong way.”
“We have this new client and … to tell you the truth, none of us know the first thing about computer games and you know so much. I wanted to ask you if you would consider doing a little bit of consulting for us.”
“What would that mean? You know I still work for Viking Games and I can`t start helping out the competition.”
Sam held up his hands. “Oh, this is a game made for children and would certainly not be a competitor to Viking Games. It`s just … you know there`s this big game convention coming up next month in Las Vegas. They just need some help with the publicity there.”
“Next month.” I searched my brain. I`d known about the convention but had forgotten it again. I was supposed to have been there but it had seemed of little importance when we were planning our counterattack on Victor. “They`re a bit late if they haven`t planned anything yet.” And so was Viking Games. A wave of guilt hit me.
“Believe me – they know it. But they`re a tiny, new company and they`ve been focusing on making the product, more than on selling it,” Sam explained.
“Classic mistake,” I commented. I thought for a moment. “I guess I could help them out some but my main focus has to be Viking Games at that convention. After all, I`m in charge of their publicity there.” And I`m doing a terrible job, I wanted to add.
“I`m sure they`ll be happy with whatever you can assist them on. You know, if you help me out on this one, I`m sure I could add someone to help you with whatever you want to do with Viking Games. Scratching each other`s backs, so to speak.”
I smiled, envisioning Sam as an old dog being scratched behind the ears.
“Sure. How about I meet your client here and whoever is in charge of this account? Maybe this person will also work for me? Then we could both go to Las Vegas … ” I counted in my head. ” … around the end of next week and start working out the details locally. How does that sound?”
Sam and I agreed on details and I drove home.
When I got to my house, I called Bill on his cell phone, forgetting the time difference entirely.
“Hello?” Bill answered in a sleepy voice.
“I`m sorry, Bill. I didn`t mean to wake you up.”
I could hear noise and figured he either sat up in bed or got up. I had helped him get an apartment in Oslo and I figured that was where he was.
“The one and only. Look, Bill, it can wait until the morning.”
“No, it`s fine, Sookie. I`m awake now.”
“I was just wondering about that convention in Las Vegas. Who`s handling it?”
I felt bad for asking him that since I was supposed to have been the one doing it – or at least to have found someone to do it.
“I am, as a matter of fact.”
“Yes, Eric asked me to. I`m American, after all, and he figured it would be easier for me to find my way around over there.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“That`s great, Bill. I`m sure you`ll do a great job.”
“He also told me not to bother you.”
“Really?” I asked.
“I could do with some help, though,” he said. “Just don`t tell Eric I asked for it.”
I could hear him smiling through the phone.
I laughed. “I actually already made arrangements to go to Las Vegas next week. When are you going?”
“Whenever you are, Sookie. I`m looking forward to being home. I`m not really cut out for Scandinavia.”
“Then why did you move there?”
Bill sighed and I knew I shouldn`t press him on the issue.
We said our goodbyes and hung up.
You know how they say time flies when you`re having fun? Well, my week moved incredibly slowly. I talked to Bill every day but I didn`t hear a word from Eric. I knew he was in Estonia and probably busy trying to find a solution to having a child in another country and still wanting to be a father to that child. But I was pretty sure he could have found five minutes to talk to me if he had really wanted to.
I had some preliminary meetings with Sam`s clients and my new assistant, Octavia. She was probably close to three times my age, very sweet and even if she didn`t seem very efficient, she was. I bought tickets for Las Vegas and booked myself a room at the at Caesar`s Palace where the convention would be held. I`d also called reporters in Nevada and was pleased to see that Viking Games was still news. So I arranged for a few interviews with minor television stations and one newspaper. The trade magazines would be at the convention and I made a list of which ones I needed to talk to.
I was set to go.
Finally the day arrived. I packed my suitcase with the things I needed in Las Vegas and got into the car I`d rented. I was going to deliver it at the airport in Shreveport and rent a new one when I came back. Or maybe buy myself a car. I wasn`t sure. I hadn`t given “after Las Vegas” much thought.
It was early evening when I landed in Las Vegas and I was looking forward to room service dinner and reading in my romance novel. I`d taken up reading them again when I came back to Louisiana and I loved them even more than I had when I was younger. I`d also figured that Las Vegas wasn`t the kind of town where I would have wanted to go sightseeing alone in. I`d never been interested in gambling and from what I had gathered, that was pretty much all Las Vegas was about. Gambling and quickie weddings.
But when I stepped into the reception area of the lobby of the hotel I heard a voice calling out for me.
“Sookie!” It was that deep voice of Bill`s.
I turned around, happy to see him. Eating alone didn`t sound too appealing after all.
“Hi Bill! I didn`t think you`d be here yet?”
“I changed my ticket to come a bit earlier. How was your flight?”
Our light conversation continued while I checked into the hotel and when I went to find my room we arranged to meet in the lobby for dinner. I was happy Bill was in Las Vegas with me.
I quickly changed my clothes, added some mascara and brushed my hair and went down to Bill. He had his back to me when I came out to the lobby where he was waiting and I couldn`t help noticing the looks he got from women who passed him. Yes, Bill was a very handsome man.
“Hungry?” I asked when I came up to him.
“Starving. I hate traveling across time zones.”
Bill had reserved a table at Restaurant Guy Savoy which claimed to be “the ultimate experience in refined dining.” I wasn`t sure I was up for refined dining and Bill looked pretty tired, but the restaurant was his choice and I wasn`t about to complain.
The little I`d seen of Las Vegas hadn`t exactly made it my new favorite town. The town sure wasn`t good for your blood pressure, what with the hectic atmosphere and the gambling and one-armed bandits that were everywhere. Going from the elevators – that were cleverly situated to tempt people to gamble a little going to and from their rooms – to the lobby and watching all the people hunched over the various machines they were putting their hard earned money into, made me think of two words. Hope and desperation.
The restaurant was something else, though. I felt calm the moment I walked in and I drew a deep breath.
I looked around and then I looked at Bill. It was a lovely table at a lovely restaurant – and I was there with a very lovely man. There was still something missing.
Bill picked up on it when we were almost done with the first course out of the four we`d ordered (Bill had wanted to go for the ten course menu, but I`d vetoed it).
“Do you miss … Oslo?” he asked.
I looked at him and knew what he meant. I also knew why he asked.
“I`ve tried not to,” I said. “I wish … ” I wasn`t sure what I wished so I stopped talking.
Bill gave my hand a squeeze over the table.
“I know the feeling of wanting someone when you`re trying not to.”
I looked at him. “You`re a good friend, Bill,” I said. I saw he caught both meanings of what I said.
“I`m glad. I want to be your friend, Sookie. You know you mean a lot to me. I was stupid not to see it before but that was my mistake and I can`t undo it. Now I just wish you happiness.”
That brought tears to my eyes. I coughed a little to make them go away.
“Oh, Bill,” I said because that was all I really could say.
“Now, if you find you`re tired of blonds and want to go back to someone tall, dark and handsome – then I`m your man.” He laughed and I couldn`t help laughing too.
“You would be my first choice, Bill.”
Why was it that Bill was a so much better man now that I wasn`t dating him than he ever was when I did? I shrugged to myself. I knew it would never be Bill and me. I did not have those kinds of feelings for him and there would always be the … what had happened between us.
Bill, Octavia – who came to Las Vegas the day after Bill and I – and I worked hard at designing the area we had at the convention, making sure we were invited to conferences, calling reporters, inviting guests and sorting through all the little details that can make a big difference. Octavia and I also helped Sam`s client.
On the third evening I had an idea I should have had weeks or months earlier.
“We should have had someone in a Viking costume here, Bill.”
“Like Victor did in Oslo?” Bill teased.
I rolled my eyes at him. Then I looked at him. Really looked at him. “I don`t suppose you would … ”
“Dress up as a Viking?” he asked.
“Yes. I mean, you`re used to dressing up for your employer, aren`t you … Rhett?”
“I hate to burst your bubble, Sookie, but I don`t think Vikings had black hair.” Bill smiled. “Or had mah refined Southern looks,” he drawled.
I knew Bill was right, but I still thought I had a good idea.
“But this is Las Vegas, Sookie. There are all kinds of performers here. I`m sure you can find someone who looks like a Viking. And a Viking costume shouldn`t be too hard to find here either. I can look into it.”
“Would you?” I asked.
“Sure. I`ll get you horned helmets and all.”
I laughed. “No horns. Bill, you`ve lived in Norway – you know Vikings didn`t have horns on their helmets.”
“Just testing how much Norway had rubbed off on you, sweetheart,” he said, grinning. “And I would say it has. A lot.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said in a tone that told him this was not a topic for conversation. “Get me a Viking and I`ll be happy.”
“That`s what all the women say. No one wants the handsome Southerner.”
“Look around, Bill. Women are staring at you.” I smiled at him.
Bill turned his head around. “Who, who?” he asked in a playful tone.
The day before the convention opened, we had everything ready apart from the Viking.
“When will the Viking come?” I asked Bill when we admired our design.
“Actually I thought you could dress up as one,” Bill deadpanned.
“What? No way I`m standing there in a Viking costume.”
“The new game has a shield maiden as one of the main characters,” Bill said.
“I`m not going to be a shield maiden.”
“Sure you are.”
“I thought you would hire someone. An actor?”
“Well, I haven`t found an actor so you`re it.” Bill looked dead serious.
“You have to be kidding?”
“No, I`m not.” Then he gave me a bag he`d been carrying. “Why don`t you go to your room and try it on? I have the shield and the sword in my room and will bring it down.”
“What? … ”
Bill pushed at me. “Just try it on. If it`s something you absolutely can`t wear, we`ll find an actress. But just try, Sookie. I think it would give us a lot of publicity.”
I huffed. Publicity was important but me in a Viking costume?
“I hope this is not some kind of porn costume or something.”
“Yeah, like I`m going to let you stand half naked at a convention where 90% of the visitors are men.” Then he paused. “That wouldn`t be a half bad idea, actually.” He laughed at his own joke but stopped when he noticed I wasn`t laughing with him. “Go and change, Sookie. I`ll be up in thirty minutes.”
I cursed Bill to an early grave and turned and headed back through the convention area to the casino and the elevators.
When I came to my room, I pulled the costume out of the bag Bill had given me. It did look fairly tasteful and even historically correct. No boobs or butts showing. A little too much thigh, but I could live with that.
I put the costume on and looked at myself in the mirror. Apart from the embarrassment of being in a costume in general, there was nothing wrong with this one. I looked good. And with my blonde hair I could even pull off a Viking look.
I growled at the mirror. I was supposed to be a fierce warrior, after all.
There was a knock on the door and I went to open it.
“The costume isn`t half bad, Bill, but … ”
That was as far as I got because it wasn`t Bill who was outside my room. It was another Viking. A male Viking. And he had long blond hair.
“Eric?” I asked. It was Eric but my brain couldn`t make the connection. He was supposed to be in Estonia.
“Eric Bloodaxe at your service, my fair maiden,” he said, grinning.
“What are you doing here?”
“Pillaging you, I hope.”
I pulled him into the room and closed the door. “Be serious. What are you doing here?”
“Bill called me and said you needed a Viking.”
“Bill did?” I asked.
“Yes. He also seemed to think you needed me.”
“Bill did?” I said again. I should try and learn new ways of asking the same question.
“I think he mentioned that you pined for me.” Eric winked.
“Now I know you`re lying. Bill would never say that.”
“The last part may have been my imagination.” Eric shrugged.
“Or in your dreams,” I said.
“Or in my dreams,” he confirmed. “I hoped that you would be pining for me.”
“Eric … ” I wasn`t sure what to say. “You can`t just show up here … ” all gorgeous and edible “and expect me to jump in your arms.”
Eric sat down on the bed. “Why not, Sookie?” There was no accusation or mocking in his tone. He wanted to know why I wouldn`t just jump into his arms.
“Well … everything.”
“Everything? What are you saying? You didn`t miss me?”
“Let me ask you first. Did you miss me?” I asked.
“Of course I missed you, Sookie. Estonia was terrible. Freyda is an awful person who expects her son to take over Northman Enterprises one day. But it doesn`t matter. All I could think of when I was there was how much I missed you.”
Eric held out his hand and I took it. I sat down next to him.
“It does matter. What happened in Estonia?”
“When I told Freyda I was going to let Felipe stay in charge of Northman Enterprises, she went ballistic. She`d expected me to fight for a takeover and that her son would be my heir. It was what Appius had promised her.” Eric`s thumb caressed the top of my hand.
“But you never wanted to manage more than Viking Games,” I said.
“I never did but it seems no one believed me. I mean, I never did like the way Felipe does business but I had a long talk with him and he agreed to take my opinions into consideration. There are going to be a few changes and I`ll be on the board of Northman Enterprises.”
“But you won`t run it?”
“How could I? My father spent most of his time running it and then my mother did. I have other priorities.”
“Do I have to spell it out for you? I want you to come back with me and I want us to be … like we were.”
I laughed but it sounded hollow. “Like we were when? When I rejected you? When your former lover attacked me? When terrorists attacked you? Or when … ” I couldn`t bring myself to address what had happened in London. It was still too raw. “We`ve never been one of those quiet couples who can just enjoy each other`s company. There will always be something new to worry about.”
Eric stared at his feet. “I know,” he said with a sigh.
“And I can live with that, Eric.”
He looked at me.
“As long as you tell me what`s going on. I`m not going to leave you because you were tricked into having a child you didn`t know about but I am going to leave you if you keep thinking I`ll never know about what you do. That you shouldn`t keep me informed.”
He took my other hand as well.
“To answer your question, Eric. Yes, I`ve missed you. I love you and there`s nothing I can do about it. But I can`t live with you if you don`t look at me as your partner.”
I was going to say something else but it drowned in the kiss Eric gave me.
“I`m not used to telling anyone everything,” he whispered between kisses.
“Well, then get used to it. No more hiding things from me.”
“Aaawl right, pardner,” Eric drawled in a fake cowboy accent.
“Wrong accent for the costume, Viking-boy,” I said with a grin.
“I guess it`s back to the pillaging then,” he said and pushed be back on the bed.
If true shield maidens were supposed to be maidens, then I was in trouble. Eric made sure there wasn`t much maiden left in the room that night.
But there was plenty of pillaging.
I started posting this story in August 2009 so it`s been a while. I want to thank everyone who`s followed this story all these 50 chapters – whether you started out reading 2 ½ years ago or yesterday. It`s been fun writing this and I`ve come realize a thing or two about the SVM series while checking the books for details.
The greatest revelation for me was that Eric definitely isn`t perfect. I suppose I started out being smitten by his Vikingness and ended up feeling sorry for Sookie. I`m still smitten by Eric but I thank all the stars I don`t have to deal with him on a daily basis (though I probably wouldn`t have rescinded his invitation had he stopped by).
Why did I choose to end Work Permit like this?
1, I did not have the stamina to include the last books to my tale. It`s hard to change the storyline when a new book comes along and I just couldn`t face doing it again. That means that my story ends a bit more abruptly than the SVM will. Eric and Sookie will have to go through so much more than I put them through here.
2, I think Eric and Sookie will have a relatively HEA in the SVM but I don`t think it`ll be a HEA where everything is solved – which was why I gave them the same in this tale. I don`t think there will be any church weddings, children or Sookie being turned – and I also don`t think all the problems with the vampire and fae worlds will be solved. I think Eric and Sookie will grow closer and find that they love each other even if their love has a price. No roses without thorns and all that. So this was what I chose to do. Let them be together at the end – resolved in knowing that they belong together – but without all their problems being magically fixed. People don`t change personalities overnight and Eric and Sookie won`t either.
I would love to hear your comments on how you think the Charlaine Harris will end the Southern Vampire Mysteries.
It`s weird not having this story to write on anymore but I have written quite a lot on two multi-chapter stories: One about Sookie the Shieldmaiden (yes, we`re back in the Viking age) and one about Eric being cursed – only he and all the other vampires are still in the coffin and Sookie doesn`t know about their existence. I`ve also finished a couple of one-shots and will hopefully post them soon.
And now my A/N is growing longer than the chapter, which is fairly typical of me *blushes*. So I`ll part with a song. This is the Norwegian singer Maria Mena singing an amazing version of Kizz` “I was made for loving you”: www . youtube watch ? v = 1WBVqy9QGIo (remove spaces).