Unable to control her excitement, Sookie tensed when Miranda’s phone buzzed. She’d been ready for more than an hour and had traded off periods of talking nervously to Jason and the boys without really listening to them, pacing the living room floor, and sitting uncomfortably in a comfortable leather chair, her legs shaking up and down.
Earlier, Lafayette and Sookie had argued about how to fix her hair, but she’d finally decided on a neat bun, gathered at the nape of her neck. Lafayette had somehow managed to make the up-do look both elegant and effortless, weaving some braided pieces in and out of the bun in a way that Sookie was certain she’d never be able to imitate. The effect was stunning and her neck and left shoulder would be fully open to Eric.
Lafayette had painted her fingernails and toenails to match her dress, and after another argument, Sookie had convinced her friend that she needed only minimal make-up. She had wanted just mascara, a little eyeliner and lipstick. When Lafayette had thrown a fit, she’d agreed to a compromise and had added a touch of eye shadow and a hint of blush.
When she’d put on the dress again, there’d been a minor emergency as the strapless bra kept showing due to the dip in the back of the dress. However, Lafayette had come prepared and had performed some kind of fashion magic with double-sided tape.
Lafayette had assured her that the sapphire drop earrings made a nice contrast to the red of the dress, and Sookie had completed the outfit by asking Lafayette to retie the leather strap that held her carved pendant so that it was more like a choker. He’d braided the excess leather to flow neatly down the back of her neck. The mix of jewelry was a bit unorthodox, with the rustic pendant and the elegant earrings, but Sookie could not imagine being without her pendant, especially on that day.
Her final look had been elegant―with just the right amount of sexiness and uniqueness thrown in―and both Lafayette and she had almost fallen into tears as she’d stood in front of the mirror fully ready. Lafayette had waved his hands in front of her eyes to dry her tears and had threatened her with witch juju if she let even one tear drop.
Sookie had zipped the silver shard into a pocket in the red purse that Pam had gotten to match the dress. Somehow it felt right to carry it for luck. She also put the dagger into the purse.
Now that the signal had come for them to leave, Sookie was thrumming with butterflies.
Bubba, who had been outside monitoring the area, walked back into the house at Miranda’s signal. When he saw Sookie, a huge grin spread across his face, “Miss Sookie, you sure do look pretty. Mister Eric is gonna be mighty happy when he sees ya.”
“Thanks, Bubba,” Sookie said, trying to hold back her tears yet again.
Bubba continued, “Mister Eric told me to make sure that you get to Fangtasia safe and sound tonight, so don’t you worry none.”
“Thank you, Bubba,” Sookie responded, giving the vampire a kiss on the cheek.
Miranda spoke up, “Sookie, Jarod and I will drop off Lafayette and Jesus, and then we’ll be taking up a perimeter position.” She handed Sookie a little device that looked like a car alarm button. “This is a panic button. If anything happens, push it, and we’ll come right in.”
“Thanks,” Sookie said nervously, putting the object into her purse.
“Don’t worry none, Miss Sookie,” Bubba said. “I will be with you the whole time.”
“So will we,” Jason said motioning to himself, Jesus and Lafayette.
Sookie smiled and took in a deep breath.
Miranda smiled warmly as well, an unusual look for the Werelioness. “There’s just one more thing.” She crossed into a small utility room next to the kitchen and returned with a modest-sized bouquet of blue hydrangeas. “He wanted you to have these right before you left.”
As Sookie took the beautiful bouquet, she had to try even harder to hold back her tears. The soft blue of the flowers looked amazing against her dress.
She followed behind as Miranda and Jarod led the way out, and then she got into a car with Bubba and Jason. She wondered briefly if Bubba was “all there” enough to drive, but quickly dismissed that thought. Bubba, though sweet and humble, was obviously no idiot. She smiled at the vampire sitting next to her; she knew for certain that Bubba would risk his life for her and protect her with a fierce devotion. That was all that mattered to her. However, in addition to that, Bubba had his own brand of intelligence and charm. Sookie pitied anyone who failed to take him seriously.
It took five minutes to drive to Fangtasia, and Sookie spent that time actively trying to be calm. She went over the plan in her head one last time. Pam was going to meet them at the door and lead them in, and Eric would be standing near the bar. If things were going according to plan, the others―including Bill―would be further toward the rear of the club and might be feeding from donors. She steeled herself to that thought. Bubba had assured her that as soon as she was safe in Eric’s hands, he would take care of Jason, Jesus and Lafayette to make sure they weren’t mistaken for donors themselves.
Sookie was supposed to walk in and go directly to Eric. Her presence would not go unnoticed given her scent, so by the time she reached Eric, she could expect everyone to be watching. Isabel was the only one who had been told about the pledging, and she would block Bill if he recognized what was happening and tried to intercept Sookie. Meanwhile, Pam would make sure that Lillith couldn’t get in the way. And Bubba would be there to make sure that Sookie got to Eric. They knew that they could count on Chow, Thalia, and Rasul to step in if things got ugly.
Eric anticipated no problems, but Sookie could definitely appreciate the fact that her vampire was covering all his bases. She knew that he always planned for any outcome, and she felt much safer knowing that he had plans A through Z thought-out and ready. “Heck,” Sookie thought, “my vampire probably has plans for every alphabet he’s ever learned going through that beautiful brain of his.” She smiled at that thought.
Their car pulled up to Fangtasia right after Miranda’s, and by the time she was ready to step out, Jarod was at the car door and helping her. “Good luck, Sookie,” he said with a wink and a grin.
As expected, Pam was outside the door waiting for them. She took in Sookie’s appearance with a huge smirk on her face. “I somehow knew you’d wear that one. He’s going to love it, you know.”
“Red’s his favorite,” Sookie said.
“Oh yes,” Pam confirmed, “and even if it wasn’t, you in this dress would convert him.”
Sookie smiled at the unexpected compliment from Pam. “Thanks, Pam. I know that you haven’t always been my greatest fan, but . . .”
Pam interrupted, “Past is just that, Sookie―past. My maker is happy with you; that’s what matters.”
Sookie smiled appreciatively.
“Ready?” Pam asked, putting her hand on the door.
Sookie spoke up, “Just a sec.” She unzipped her purse and pulled out the velvet satchel.
“Here, I’ll take that from you,” Pam said, motioning toward Sookie’s purse.
“Thanks,” Sookie said, handing Pam the purse and then tucking the velvet clad dagger in under her flowers.
“Okay,” Pam said. “I’ll be walking in front of you and to the left. Bubba, you will follow. You three,” she said gesturing toward Jason, Lafayette and Jesus, “will follow Bubba and remain silent until Eric has accepted the dagger. Then,” she winked at Jason, “the party will really get started.”
Sookie nodded again as Pam opened the door.
For a vampire, time is an odd thing―in many ways―irrelevant.
But Eric had found that he enjoyed the passage of time very much and had always been drawn towards moments of immense change. He’d watched the fall of great cities and the rise of others. He’d traveled to Asia with Godric to learn about the mysteries of the East. He’d emigrated with the Renaissance itself―following it from Florence, to Paris, to the Netherlands, to Germany, and finally to London. As soon as ships could be secured enough for long voyages for his kind, he’d traveled to the New World―though he enjoyed reminding Pam that Vikings had discovered North America well before any other Europeans. He’d explored Central and South America for decades before he settled in North America. He’d traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the first night space shuttle launch in 1983. As he had watched the human machine jet into space, he had been humbled by the potential number of beings in the universe. He wondered when his kind would achieve travel in the stars.
Every culture he had come across in his long life had a different perception of time, and all of them saw themselves differently in relationship to the history of the world at large.
Eric was more than twice the age of the country he resided in. It had been 123 years since he had painted with Van Gogh. It had been 403 years since he had talked about the theatre with William Shakespeare in a London tavern. It had been 699 years since he’d screwed Dante’s supposedly virginal muse Beatrice up against a wall in Florence. It had been more than 800 years since Eric’s own people and culture had sunk into the background of history. And it had been 932 years, 3 months, and 17 days since Godric had made him vampire.
In many ways, time was arbitrary to a vampire, yet it was also the most important thing. A vampire’s body intuited the sun’s progress through the sky. It always knew the day from the night―right down to the second. But the lifespans of mortal men had meant little to Eric until he had begun to consider Sookie Stackhouse and the fact that―if she did not become vampire―he would eventually be without her. He had also been forced to consider the finiteness of time when he felt the bond he had with Godric break after almost a thousand years of its being his constant companion.
These things made him feel more vulnerable―more mortal―than he’d ever felt before; even when he was human, his father had taught him to buck against the possibility of death. He knew now that his own lifespan was unequivocally tied to Sookie’s. The only secret that he’d determined to keep from his bonded was that the day of her final death would be the day of his as well. It was impossible for him to imagine an existence without her anymore. He was certain also that if he should die first, Sookie would carry on living, and he was proud of this knowledge of her tenacity. A thousand years of moving through time like a boat on a wave had stopped for Eric when he fell in love with Sookie; she had literally anchored him to time itself. That―more than any other gift she could give him―was the most precious.
All of these thoughts poured through Eric’s head almost simultaneously, even as another new experience flooded his senses: the feeling that time had completely stopped around him.
That was the phenomenon he faced when he saw Sookie walk into the door of Fangtasia. The world around them meant nothing, and the physical space between them meant even less. The blood and magic that connected them was everything. He felt an immediate pull to be next to her, one that was echoed in her. And as she began walking to him, he could not help but to start moving to her, despite the fact that this was not part of the plan.
It had been three hours and fifty four minutes since he’d seen her, according to the eternal clock within him that always kept track of his relationship to the sun. She’d been gone to fairy for 381 days, 6 hours, and 21 minutes. He’d seen her for the first time at 11:57 p.m. on a Tuesday night. It was early that Wednesday morning―12:18 a.m.―that he’d summoned her and Bill to him. And it was 12:19 when he heard her voice speaking to him for the first time.
But if someone had asked him the time at that moment or had needed to know when the sun was going to rise, he would not have been able to answer. He wouldn’t have known the answer.
What he did know was that Sookie was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She seemed to have dressed with only him in mind, her one-shoulder red dress making her look like a goddess. Her blond hair was gathered into a bun, and her shoulder and neck seemed to be aching for his touch. She wore the ring he had picked out for her on the finger reserved for human engagement and wedding rings. She wore the earrings he had designed himself to match the ring, and on her neck was the pendant he had carved in order to symbolically show the connection he felt with her even while she was in another realm. He’d made it with a prayer to his long-forgotten gods from his long-dead heart, and the answer to that plea was standing in front of him, her eyes shining with love―love only for him.
Time had stopped for both of them, and suddenly they were less than three feet apart in the middle of the dance floor. Their eyes were locked into each other’s. Nothing else existed.
Meanwhile, in the world around them, time did not stop―at least not right away. As soon as Sookie walked in, the other vampires in the room caught the aroma of Eric and her shared blood, and Bill had tensed and stopped drinking from his donor, the poor imitation of Sookie who was sitting on his lap. Within moments, all the vampires in the room that had been seated were standing, and Isabel, Pam, and Bubba were poised for a possible fight. Lafayette and Jesus each felt their bodies humming with the magic that seemed to emanate from Eric and Sookie.
But there was no fight, and after a tense thirty seconds during which everyone else in the room seemed to be ready to act or react, there was no movement from them either. Everyone, including Bill, seemed to freeze. Even Jason felt the overwhelming desire to be silent and still as if he knew he were witnessing something profound.
In fact, another full thirty seconds passed when no one moved a muscle as Eric and Sookie drank each other in with their eyes.
The first major movement in the room came from Sookie. With a soft smile meant for Eric―and Eric only―she pulled the velvet case from under the flowers and held it up for her vampire.
Returning the secret smile, Eric took the bundle, opened it, and pulled out the dagger. As a very audible gasp emanated from Bill from across the room, Eric raised the dagger to his lips and kissed it, effectively sealing the pledge between them. He said in a voice that was both loud enough for all present to hear yet somehow intimate and for Sookie only, “Beloved, by this dagger and the blood we share, we are now one, pledged before these witnesses.”
Sookie’s smile grew wider. She whispered, “Min bóndi, I love you.”
“Min kván,” Eric responded in an equally low voice, “as I love you.”
Reverently, Eric put the dagger back into the velvet satchel and then into the inside pocket of his jacket. As soon as it was put away, their hands found one another’s, and they both sighed in relief. Eric moved forward and bent down. He kissed Sookie lightly on the lips and then trailed his nose slowly from her ear, to her exposed neck, to her bare shoulder. “You are the most beautiful thing I have seen in all my long life, min kván. I will be yours always.”
Sookie brought her arms around Eric’s neck and spoke in a clear, feverous voice that could easily be heard by the other vampires in the room, “I am yours―your bonded, your pledged, your mate, your wife―and I will remain so for the rest of my life.”
As Eric brought a hand to Sookie’s cheek to brush away a tear that had emerged in her fervor, he felt that time had once again started.
The magic that had seemed to hold everyone in place dissipated. And in the next second, Eric felt in his blood―as much as he noticed with his senses―that a movement was being made toward his pledged, his wife. He had turned his body around to block Sookie from any kind of danger well before Bill was in front of them.
In between the newly pledged couple and the king stood Bubba and Thalia; both vampires looked ready to kill.
Thalia was growling at a low pitch, and though her frame was petite, no one in the room missed the power that flowed from her. Bubba stood almost as fiercely as the ancient vampiress by his side and was leveling Bill with a blistering glare.
Across the room, Lillith had tensed, and Pam was keeping close watch on her. The human guards seemed clueless about what had or what was taking place.
Surprising Eric immensely, it was Thalia who spoke up, “I am certain―certain―that your aggression toward this pledged couple is an error on your part. The pledge is to be protected by all vampires present; it is sacred among our kind. That is the way that things have always been. There are none who can interfere.” Her voice grew even more dangerous and low. “Any who threaten this pledge in my presence will meet the true death―king or no king!”
Bill responded with a low growl.
Bubba was next to speak, “I don’t appreciate you makin’ that kinda noise toward this here fine lady or around Miss Sookie. Miss Sookie is Mister Eric’s girl, and you’re gonna need to keep your distance.”
Bill took a minute to calm himself as he studied the vampires in front of him. If he tried to hurt Bubba, the kings and queens of at least fifteen states would stand in line to exact punishment from him. If he moved against Thalia, he knew that he’d be dead in seconds, another notch on the she-devil’s sword.
Bill looked beyond the pair in front of him to the pair behind. Eric stood slightly in front of Sookie, and his posture and cold-steel eyes indicated that even if Bill could somehow survive long enough to get past Bubba and Thalia, he’d be dead in the next moment. Sookie was right behind Eric, staring at him with eyes just as fierce. He’d seen those same eyes when she’d used her fairy powers on Maryann.
Bill steeled himself and calmed down. “I wish only to speak to Eric and Sookie,” he said to the two vampires forming the blockade that was preventing him from doing just that.
“Eric?” Thalia asked, even as she still faced Bill.
“It’s fine,” Eric said, the confidence clear in his voice.
With that, Thalia reached out and took Bubba’s hand in hers, pulling him off to the side. However, it was clear that she was still on high alert, as was her unlikely partner.
As soon as they were out of the way, Bill stepped forward. “What is the meaning of this, Eric?” he demanded. “What have you done?”
“Is that not clear, my liege,” Eric answered carefully; the last thing he wanted for Sookie on this night was to have to deal with the emotions that would inevitably come to the surface if he had to kill Bill. “My bonded and I have pledged.”
“Bonded?” Bill asked in a low, shocked voice. “Surely you did not . . .” his words trailed off.
“We did,” Sookie said firmly but politely, just like Gran spoke when she wanted to make a point but not cause trouble. Sookie slowly moved forward until she was at Eric’s side rather than slightly behind him. She entwined her arm with his and leaned into his body. She was ready, however, to give Bill a very unhealthy dose of fairy power if he made one move at her husband.
Eric added in confirmation, “We have exchanged blood three times. Sookie is my bonded and now my mate by the knife.”
Bill was obviously fuming internally, but was still speechless.
Sookie spoke up, “Bill, I am sorry if you are unhappy, but Eric is my husband now. We both hope to remain assets to your kingdom.” She bowed a bit and Eric followed suit, surprised and pleased by his wife’s clear grasp of the tenuousness of Bill’s state as well as the need to give the king a chance to save face.
“Well,” Bill said, outwardly recovering a bit. “What is done is done. This kingship recognizes the pledging we have seen today. It seems there is another reason to celebrate now, Northman.” Bill’s look at Eric as he spoke was even and cool, except for a less-than-one-second slip, which most would have missed completely. But Eric was not most, and his one thousand years of life had taught him the need to see the almost-unseeable. Into Bill’s eyes had slipped the same thirst that Eric knew must have stolen into his own when he first learned that Russell had been the one who killed his family: the overpowering desire for revenge. Luckily for him, it was Talbot who had been with him at that moment and not the cunning king of Mississippi.
Eric now knew that he’d eventually have to kill Compton, but as he grasped Sookie’s hand tighter, he hoped that he could wait long enough for one of the other sheriffs to become established enough to be king or queen of the state. For now, he would have to be vigilant and hope that Bill stuck to his timeline. But Eric was certain―absolutely fucking certain―that Bill would continue seeking his death. Eric was also determined to make sure that Sookie did not get hurt in the crossfire, as she’d been when his own obsession for vengeance with Russell had endangered them all.
Sookie felt Eric’s recognition and resolution through the bond but had not seen the flicker in Bill’s eyes with her human ones. However, she conveyed her support to her bonded by tightening her grip on his hand and sending it through their bond.
Eric bowed more fully to his king, “You honor us, your majesty.”
Without another word, Bill turned and walked back to his former position at human speed. As he sat, he derisively waved off the donor who approached him.
After Bill had moved away, Jason came forward and nodded to Eric, who―surprising pretty much everyone in the room―dropped Sookie’s hand and reached out for her brother’s. Jason smiled, nodded. and took Eric’s proffered hand firmly in his. As soon as they were done with their male gesture of bonding, Jason said, “You’re getting better, man, but it’s still a little firm.” He grimaced a bit as he flexed his hand.
Sookie laughed, launched herself into her brother’s arms, and gave him a big hug. “I love you, big brother,” she said.
“I’m happy for ya, sis,” Jason responded.
After hugs for Sookie and congratulations for Eric from Lafayette and Jesus, Eric and Sookie re-found each other’s hands and once again leaned into each other. Eric chuckled a bit at the unconscious way their bodies were drawn to each other. “Magnets,” he said under his breath.
Sookie tightened her grip on his, “Yes, magnets.”
Eric moved Sookie to the bar. Her favorite drink, a gin and tonic, was waiting for her. Sookie took an appreciative sip of it in order to calm her nerves after the confrontation with Bill.
Eric, however, waved off the bottle of blood Chow offered him. He gave Sookie a devilish grin and gently caressed her bare shoulder and collarbone. Sookie smiled up at him just as devilishly and whispered, “You’re gonna have to wait a while for your drink, Viking.”
A few minutes later, Bill rose and took his leave after a series of rushed goodbyes to all of the sheriffs present except for Eric. About five minutes after that, Lillith received a text message and made her excuses as well, after promising to begin work on Tuesday night.
With them both gone, Sookie sighed with relief, and Eric looked at her with a grin.
Eric sent a text to Miranda and moments later he received a reply, confirming that the king and his spy had left the area. Since Isabel and he both had vampires outside, he invited Miranda and Jarod to join the party, an act that made Sookie smile up at him. Quickly thereafter, Eric signaled for Pam to shoo out the human donors, leaving just his and Sookie’s close circle behind.
A few minutes later, Bubba came up to the couple. “I’m real happy for you two,” he said with a little bow. He looked shyly at Sookie. “I’d like to sing y’all a song if that’s okay, Miss Sookie. I don’t feel like singin’ too much, but I was wonderin’ if you might like for me to sing tonight.”
Sookie beamed. “Oh Bubba, that’d be so nice. Eric and I would both love that so much!” she gushed.
Bubba smiled widely as Eric called Pam over. “Pam, Bubba is going to gift us with a song this evening. Will you get him set up with what he needs?”
Pam smiled. It was the first genuine smile that Sookie had ever seen grace her lips, and Sookie chuckled a bit, which earned her a glare from Pam as the vampiress led Bubba to the stage.
“May I have this dance?” Eric bowed, his eyes sparkling.
“I’m sorry,” Sookie teased. “I have reserved this dance for my husband.”
“What a pity,” Eric paused, “for me.”
Sookie laughed as Eric took her in his arms.
By this time, Pam had found Bubba a guitar, and he was standing shyly on stage. A hush fell over the dozen or so vampires and humans left in the club as the familiar timbres of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” began.
Both Eric and Sookie chuckled lightly as they began to sway to the music. “Perfect choice,” Eric whispered to Sookie as he pulled her even closer to him. “And he’s right, you know. I can’t help it; I never could.”
She smiled as she sank into his chest, enjoying to gentle rhythm of the song, the privilege of having it sung for her by the King himself, and the joy pulsating through her bond with Eric. In that moment, she was able to forget about every threat and ever problem that she and Eric might face. She closed her eyes and matched her beloved’s graceful movements, their bodies moving together in complete sync.
The rest of the people in the room had their eyes on Bubba, who was still clearly able to hypnotically pull people into his songs with him. As soon as the song had ended, the room broke out into applause. As Sookie looked at Bubba, she couldn’t help her wide smile. She was certain that Bubba would have been blushing if he could.
As he said, “Thank you, thank you very much,” in his familiar cadence, she saw Lafayette swoon, and she got a bit weak in the knees herself, truth be told.
Bubba began strumming again, and soon the sounds of “Love Me Tender” were filling the club. This time several couples joined in with Sookie and Eric.
As Eric began to move them again, Sookie looked around the room. There were only friends and family left in the club. Pam and her brother were dancing, a fact that disconcerted Sookie to some extent. Jesus and Lafayette were also dancing, slow and close; Sookie smiled when she saw Jesus lean in to kiss his beloved tenderly. Miranda and Jarod were swaying closely together, looking at each other with love-filled eyes. Isabel and Rasul were dancing cordially. Even Chow looked content as he swayed behind the bar.
“Look at that,” Eric whispered, gesturing to the area to the left of the stage.
Sookie followed his gaze and saw Thalia, staring at Bubba, seemingly enthralled. Sookie gasped again as she noticed that Bubba now seemed to be singing only to the ancient vampiress. She looked up at Eric, “Do you see what I see?”
Eric chuckled. “Yep.” He pulled Sookie in close again as they continued to dance to Bubba’s impromptu concert.