My tattoo started burning again, and that was enough to tell me that I was going to wish I had that Beretta before this was over.
“Oh, come now,” he said, with a familiar southern accent, a twinkle in his eyes that I could see clearly even in the dim firelight. “There’s no need to abandon our manners now is there?”
I looked at him.
Were all the bad guys here stone fucking crazy?
“Allow me to introduce us. You are Sgt. Susan Stackhouse and I am Russell Edgington. Being new to these parts you might know me as The Wizard of Oz.”
The Rainbows End: If I Had A Heart (If I Had A Heart)
“This is the part where you say, ‘Nice to meet you.”
“Nice for me to meet you?” He laughed and I looked around wondering why the others weren’t awake by now, and where the hell was Hammerby? He could hear me fretting in my bedroll but he missed the crazy man belly laughing at me.
“They are otherwise engaged, Susan. It’s all right if I call you Susan, isn’t it?” He was oozing charm and evil in equal proportions. I was growing more and more certain I needed my Beretta and my tattoo was only reassuring me that this was headed down the highway to FUBAR.
“Sure, if I can call you Russell,” I said struggling for confident from my position on the ground, vulnerable with no weapon in sight. That’s it Sookie, poke the bear. Has this place made you crazy, too?
I knew a rhetorical question when I heard one.
“I’d be honored, Susan.” Well, here I was, nothing to do but go with it.
“So, what can I do for you, Russell?” He smiled again, and I thought for just a minute I saw the flash of fangs.
Yep, I knew the answer to that already. Crazy Sookie Stackhouse. Get a grip!
“Well,” he said, picking a piece of imaginary lint off his sleeve, “You can start by telling me what makes you think that you can defeat me.”
‘”I only think I can try. What happens after that, who could say?” He leaned forward.
“Oh, I can say, Susan.” He took a dramatic pause, his eyes drilling crazy into me. He didn’t know it was a wasted effort, seeing as how I was plainly all stocked up on it already. “You will die.”
“Your friends will die. All those who oppose me will die.”
“They are dead already if what I have been told is true.” He leaned back.
“And what have you been told, dear Susan?”
“That you plan to kill everyone and steal their power to unravel all of Creation.”
“Oh, my,” he said leaning back and resting on his hands behind him palm down in the grass. “You don’t know anything at all, do you, Susan.”
“What is it I got wrong?”
“No, the question is what they get wrong?”
“Yes, the ones who brought you here, the ones who told you nothing, the ones who chose such a pitiful little thing to fight their wars for them.” He leaned forward then. “They don’t know what happened, do they, Susan? They don’t know you couldn’t even save one, do they?”
“Oh, I know. I know what happened.” The air around us shimmered and I was back in Iraq, packing up from scoping the village. Gyl was radioing in that it was clear and we were Oscar Mike. “You failed, Susan,” Russell whispered in my ear from behind me. I turned, dropping my pack, but he wasn’t there.
Something was burning on my shoulder.
“Any minute now, those bombs are gonna rain down, because you failed, Susan.” His whisper echoed in my mind. I froze.
There was time, I could get on the squawk box and call them off. I moved but it was like I was fighting mud instead of dust filled air. Not fast enough. The first explosion pounded the ground and I was trying to get there, trying to save them.
Russell grabbed me by the shoulders and smiled in my face. “Look, Susan, look what happens when you try and save them!” Behind him I saw a small boy that we had seen playing just a few moments ago disappear in fire and dust.
Part of him landed on the ground by my feet.
I screamed and fought to get free.
“Oh, oh my dear,” he laughed. Another bomb dropped. Out of the sand storm came Toto running toward me. She saw me, was calling to me, and then she was gone, the fucking bomb had landed right on her tiny form, forever ending her run to reach me so I could save her.
I fought to get away and Russell still laughing let me go. I scrambled to get there, to stand between them and the tonnage explosions that rocked the ground beneath my feet.
“RUN! RUN LITTLE SOLIDER! RUN FAST! RUN TOWARD YOUR FAILURE AND EMBRACE IT!”
Vic grabbed me from behind and hit me, taking me down, but this time I stayed awake as she covered my body with her own. Russell leaned down over her and looked at me.
“See, Susan. You don’t know anything at all.” I was still fighting. “Say it, Susan! Admit it that you don’t know anything! Admit that you can’t save even one of them. Admit it! Tell me, Susan, tell me that you are a complete and total failure. A complete and total nutcase. You never even made it out of Iraq did you? TELL ME! TELL ME!”
I was struggling less now, his words sapping my will to fight. My shoulder was burning and Vic on top of me made it hard to breathe. Maybe he was right. If they knew what I really was they would never follow me.
I saw Toto in my mind, her fierce little face and her dagger at the ready.
“She died because of you, Susan. She died because you were pretending to be something you aren’t!”
I saw Colbert then, deathly white running through the flying sand. His eyes were wide with terror and slobber ran from his muzzle. No matter how fast he ran, he could not escape the hell falling down around him. I reached out a hand toward him from underneath Vic.
“You can’t save him, Stackhouse,” she said looking down at me, her eyes black. “You can never save them.”
“You can’t save them, Susan,” Russell whispered again.
“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell followed with him,” Vic said, her black eyes filled with murder and glee. She threw her head back and screeched like all the demons of hell were inside her, and then they were inside me. Echoing in my brain.
The screams of thousands of dead. Thousands already there, thousands yet to come. My hand fell limp to the dirt, and I saw a puff of dust rise up, taking the last of my will to fight with it.
My shoulder stopped burning. The bombs kept exploding. My last thought was that I could hear Russell laughing underneath it all, as though he had been there from the beginning, reassuring me that he had would be there until the end.
It was over.
I had lost.
I let the dust and the death take me.
It had been happening forever. It would be happening forever. The bombs falling, the screams of the dying and all I could do was sit in the dust of their ashes and rock myself.
Failed. I failed. I’m so sorry. So sorry….
Through my tears in the dim sunlight I saw a spark. I closed my eyes. No more. PLEASE NO MORE!
There it was again, coming closer. Shining like salvation.
No! I don’t deserve it! I failed and they all died.
“NO!” I screamed struggling to stand, struggling to run away. “NO!” I turned ready to flee when a hand caught mine, hard as steel. I pulled and jerked but it refused to let me go. “NO!” I screamed again, turning with my fist balled into a knot ready to strike at whoever was holding me back.
“Sookie,” his voice was but a whisper, but I heard him like he was in my head. “Stop, Sookie. It’s all right.”
“NO! NOTHING WILL EVER BE ALL RIGHT! THEY ARE DEAD. YOU’RE DEAD AND IT’S ALL MY FAULT! ALL MY FUCKING FAULT! THEY FUCKED UP WHEN THEY PICKED ME! I COULDN’T SAVE THEM! I COULDN’T SAVE ERIC! I COULDN’T SAVE YOU!” I jerked again, but he held me tighter.
“Stop, Sookie. I have you, and it’s all right. Look at me.” I closed my eyes. No more ghosts! “Look at me,” he said, but his voice was different. He sounded like…
“Eric?” I opened my eyes and the Tin Man was gone. Before me stood the man I had met in Phuket. The man who had loved me and promised me that he would find me again. The man I had loved from the moment I saw him.
“I did find you, Sookie. I kept my promise. I have always been with you. I will always be with you.”
The bombs stopped falling and the screams faded away as I looked into his blue eyes. His perfect blue eyes, swirling with emotion. I blinked and Eric was gone, and before me stood Hammerby, with the same blue eyes, swirling with the same emotion.
“Hammerby?” He nodded.
“And Eric,” he said in my head again. Something moved inside me. I had been on the edge of that when Russell had appeared in camp. My chest seized and I gasped for air.
Russell?! I looked around, but there was just Hammerby and I there, in the vast emptiness. “The Wizard was here!” I told him stepping closer to his hard metal exterior. His arms came up around me and he kissed the top of my head.
“Is that what happened, Sookie? The Wizard?”
“Yes,” I sobbed into his chest, holding him tighter to me.
“When we woke you were sitting in your bed roll and refused to speak. Your eyes were empty and you were just rocking back and forth. I was so scared that I made the Lion get Claudine.” I looked up at him. He shifted in my vision.
Hammerby. Eric. Hammerby.
“She said that you were under some kind of spell and that someone needed to try and break it. I volunteered because I was the only who could touch you without sending you into a mindless fit.”
“I figured it out just when Russell came, about who you really were.”
“I did not know until I entered your mind. I was Hammerby the Tin Man, it was all I had known, that and my love for you. It was when I saw the truth in your eyes that the rest came back to me.”
“They told me you were dead.”
“In most ways I am.”
“No!” I said, holding him tighter. “What really happened, Eric?” He hesitated, struggling to either remember or speak.
“They came in the night. I fought them, but I was badly wounded. My personal guard either turned against me or were murdered. I remember the Wicked Witch of the West, Freyda, took me. She told Russell she would kill me, but she had wanted me too long and too much to let me go so easily.
“She hid me from The Wizard, and when I refused her enough times, when I told her that my heart would never be hers because it was yours, she removed it from my chest and cast me in this horrible metal form.
“She said that if she couldn’t have me then no one would.
“I wandered, empty and purposeless until you found me and set me free, again.”
“Oh, Eric!” I held him tighter.
“No, not Eric. Never Eric with no heart. Only Hammerby, the empty Tin Man. That is all I am now, Sookie, but I have pledged this wretched form to you, and now it is yours. All that I have left is yours.”
Reaching deep into myself I opened the memory of our night in Phuket. It was almost pristine from my care. It had been tucked away all that time, safe from the nightmare I had been in then and had been trapped in reliving now. He gasped when he felt it from me, through me.
“Sookie? W-what are you doing?”
“Showing you what you meant to me that night, and what you mean to me now. In this place of death of darkness you were my light. Now I will be yours. Your face, your form they matter not. You are my Eric. Forever.”
He moaned in fear and something else as he held me tight let the memory come in waves, in oceans to take us both away.
He came up beside me and leaned against the bar. He was a god. Well over six feet tall, blond hair and when he turned to look at me with his eyes of sky the bombs in my head stopped going off. I didn’t want another drink, and I didn’t want to fight away the pain.
I remember that he looked at my tattoo and smiled. His smile made angels fall from the sky, and devils like me long to climb up there just to be near him. I think he said, “A lady should always be prepared,” which is what Dish had said, but I am not sure I didn’t just make that up. I think that is what he said, but it wouldn’t make sense for a perfect random stranger to tell me what The Man in Black had said.
But he must have said that because I know for sure what I said next was what Dish had said next, “Karma. Is somebody getting fucked now?”
“Always.” Then I was in his arms, and his lips were on mine. He kissed me in the perfect way that no man ever had before. Just the right amount of pressure, just the right amount of tongue. He had been made to kiss me.
“I want to take you to my room,” he whispered as he kissed my neck and I nodded my agreement, tossing money on the bar and walking him out the door. His room was around the corner and we kissed and caressed each other all the way there. When the door closed he stopped, leaned back against it and looked at me.
I expected him to undress me with his eyes, and while it was evident from his gaze and his body that he wanted nothing more than to be inside me, what surprised me was the love.
I saw love for me in his eyes. He licked his lips.
“I need you so much right now, little Sookie, I’ve waited so long for you, but first I have a story to tell you.” I was aching for him, too. I wanted him just as much as his swollen cock told me he wanted me, but I was enchanted by his words.
“Tell me,” I said, keeping my eyes on his while I began to slowly remove my clothes. It felt like we had forever to get this right.
“When I was a boy, a traveler came to my home. We often sheltered visitors for the night. He was a strange man, dressed in all black, and he had the most piercing green eyes I have ever seen.
“When everyone else was asleep,” I dropped my tank top on the floor and reached back to undo my bra. He licked his lips, but went on, “He found me by the fireplace and told me of a woman I would someday meet.” My bra fell to the floor, but still he held his eyes on mine, though I could feel how badly he wanted to see, and to taste my hard nipples that were begging for his touch.
His hand ghosted down to the large hard bulge that was pressing against the back of his zipper. I held his gaze and like him, licked my lips in anticipation of tasting him.
“She would have hair like the sun, and eyes of the sky. She would be a great warrior for her people, and she would have a pair of Ruby Slippers.” I had been sliding my pants down when he said this, and I hesitated for a moment, but my eyes had never left his and I could see the truth in them.
I could feel it.
I came back up and got my panties removing everything at once to stand before him totally bare, except for the Ruby Slippers he had just spoken of a moment before.
Now his eyes left mine, and locked onto that tattoo.
“She would be mine, he said.” I moved to him and started unbuttoning his shirt with careful tenderness, like I wasn’t throbbing now to have him inside me, like his words hadn’t just made me nearly come, standing several feet away from him.
“And we would be together forever, nothing able to separate us. Her soul would be on with mine and we would set the stars ablaze with our love.” His shirt fell to the floor and I reached for his pants, popping the button while I looked into his eyes.
“He said her name would be Sookie, and I would know her when I saw her, feel her in my very bones, the vibration of her feminine magic.” I slid his pants down, freeing his large erection to bob in my face. Seeing it there red and hard made the moisture slip down my inner thighs and my mouth water.
“And here you are,” he finished as he stepped out of his clothes, his hands coming to rest on my hips when I stood before him.
“Here I am,” I echoed, reaching up to slide my arms around his neck, and press my body to his, loving the feel of his cock resting against my belly, throbbing in time with the heat between my thighs.
“Here you are,” he whispered before he kissed me again, his arms around me holding me tighter to him. A moment later his hand moved down to rub me between my legs, and finding my body more than ready for him he turned, still kissing me and walked us back to the bed. He sat down and pulled me into his lap, my knees on either side of his hips.
He lined himself up with me and I lowered down onto his huge head, feeling my body stretch to take him. I whimpered against his lips, feeling the most intense pleasure I had ever experienced. He moaned, holding back his thrusts, wanting me to take him at my own pace.
Despite the girth of him I was so ready that it took only rocking my hips a few times to seat him fully inside me. My body stretched to the limits encased him like he was made to fit me, hitting all my secret places to perfection. I shuddered in his arms and felt my walls flutter around him. I was on the edge of orgasm and he had yet to move.
He was beautiful, of that there was no doubt, but it was the peace he conjured in my soul and the completion he brought to my body that made me his, completely. When he lifted me on his shaft and thrust up when I came down I came in his arms, my body floating in pleasure as I felt him keep moving inside me.
I saw him, face in ecstasy while he moved me on him.
“I can’t believe you are really here,” he whispered.
I saw him looking at me in the exact way a woman wants to be looked at, as if she is the only woman in the world.
“You are all I have dreamed of since that night by the fire, when I was but a boy and knew nothing of women and love.”
I saw him looking at where he was joined with me, and I wanted to keep that look on his beautiful face forever.
“At first in my dreams we played as children play, but as I grew to be a man, you grew to be a woman with me.”
I saw him, his face a perfect capture of orgasmic pleasure and I felt him come inside me as I had the best orgasm of my life.
“I am yours, Sookie,” he whispered in my neck, holding me close as his cock twitched inside me. He had fallen back then, and rolled us so that he was above me. He kissed my tattoo and asked me what I was doing in Phuket. I told him of my leave that was nearly over, and he promised that he would find me again. That he would never let me go.
I told him that when my tour was over I would go home to Bon Temps and wait for him there.
I will find you again….
I opened my eyes to see the Tin Man crying. I was crying, too. It was my most cherished memory.
“She couldn’t have taken your heart, my love. You gave it to a lovely stranger in a strange land, and she kept it safe for you until she could return it.”
I kissed him then, as he had kissed me that night, in the secret language of lovers and true love.
In the Land of Oz I opened my eyes and sat up.
Beside me, my one true love, The Great King Eric, sat up and looked around at our companions, love and light shining in his beautiful blue eyes.
He was home at last.