It had been precisely five years since the day that Eric and Sookie had pledged in Fangtasia with one half of the set of daggers that had bound the A.P. to her mate—Britomart to her Artegal.
Finally Eric had learned the name of his maker’s maker—but only because Hunter had let it slip. He chuckled and shook his head. After the cat was out of the bag regarding her name, the A.P.—Eric still didn’t dare call her Britomart to her face—relayed that she’d told pieces of her story to Edmund Spenser in the late 1500’s when she’d been in England.
Sookie and he had laughed their asses off when the A.P. told them that she’d left London confident that Spenser would do her story justice, but returned in 1601 to read that he had turned her into some kind of personification of Chastity! Eric had gotten to enjoy one of Sookie’s deep blushes when the A.P. elaborated that, though she might not choose to take lovers anymore, she and Artegal had been the opposite of chaste from the first night they’d met.
For the A.P., the most disappointing aspect of what she called “The Faerie Queene fiasco” was the fact that Edmund Spenser had already died by the time she returned to London, so she wasn’t even able to drain him herself. Eric had read Spenser’s masterpiece several times, and now that he thought about it, he could see some of the A.P. and her mate’s story in the tale. And he could certainly empathize with the literary character’s long separation from her mate. He could not, however, imagine the suffering that had been felt by the source of that story.
Eric sighed as he looked up to the balcony where he saw that the A.P. had been joined by Niall. The real Britomart’s separation from the real Artegal had been going on for millennia. The Viking could not fathom such a long separation from his mate. He’d been without Sookie for less than three years, counting all of her time in Faerie, and the separation had been worse than anything he’d ever experienced—certainly worse than anything an enemy had ever put him through.
Though Eric had found much happiness and fulfillment with Hunter during Sookie’s absence, he’d still felt like there was a vise upon his heart. And there had been pain all the time. As he gave the A.P. the tiniest of nods, he knew that she felt such pain even then, yet she’d found a way to go on and to live a life she found joy in. Eric shook his head a little. Since he’d learned of the A.P.’s background, his respect for her had grown tenfold.
Even as his mind recalled the story of his maker’s maker, the Viking was checking to make sure that his security was in place. He was also taking in the beauty of the space in which his bride and he would exchange vows that would link them in the human world. He inhaled, taking in the fragrances of the flowers and candles. His supple mind recorded the moment. And he paused to simply enjoy it, though he was more than ready to see his Sookie walking down the aisle to him.
Eric no longer needed to “check” his bond with his mate. During the years since she’d returned to him—years that had been filled with mostly peace and bliss for them—their bond had grown. And his wife’s emotional wellbeing and state were an ever-fixéd part of his own wellbeing and state. It was not that they influenced each other’s emotions or that they shared the same feelings all the time. It was more like he was simply always aware of her. There was no need to actively “check”; he just knew. They just knew.
At that moment, Sookie was excited and nervous—feelings that he could definitely empathize with since he felt the same way. They were about to get married, after all. All of the literature that Pam had made him read leading up to the ceremony had reported that “wedding jitters” were common. But Eric knew he would not get what humans described as “cold feet”; he didn’t have a single doubt about getting married to his bonded one. After all, in their minds, they were already married. That part was easy. It was the waiting for her that was difficult.
For the third time since he’d arrived at the front of the auditorium, he felt himself shift on his feet.
Eric tried to calm himself by looking out over the crowd that had gathered to watch him marry his bonded, his pledged, and—yes—his soul mate in a human ceremony. It had been a long time coming. They’d spent much time since Sookie’s return fighting for the passage of the marriage legislation. And—after several disappointments, several trips to testify in front of state congressional committees, and a lot of interviews arranged by the AVL—the legislation had passed. Finally. However, not as they’d expected.
It had been the citizens of Louisiana—not the Congress—who had finally passed the bill. Tara got the idea to introduce a ballot initiative, and she and Miranda had done most of the leg-work to collect the necessary signatures for the petition. They’d even managed to get the bill on the ballot in time for it to be voted on during a special election the previous spring. It had passed by 51%—just enough. By then, the initiative had also held a provision that any qualified parent—no matter his or her “species,” creed, or sexual orientation—could adopt a child.
Though Eric and Sookie had chosen to wait a while to marry, they filed the paperwork to officially and legally make Hunter their son the very day that the legislation had passed.
Eric smirked as Henry caught his eye from his station at the back of the auditorium. The Werewolf—in addition to becoming Ludwig’s right-hand man—was also one of the best security consultants that Eric had ever worked with and had quickly become an integral member of Tray’s pack. Sookie had been right about his meticulous planning and attention to details, and his military background and loyalty made him a tremendous asset.
As Henry nodded to him in assurance that all was well, Eric recalled the weekend that Tara had enlisted the Were’s help to collect signatures in New Orleans for the ballot initiative. On that Sunday evening—about an hour before first dark, which was when he generally rose thanks to his regular intake of his wife’s blood—Eric had gotten a frantic call from Tara on his cell. Before that, she’d left eleven messages and texts.
He smiled a little as he remembered the surreal nature of that call. Tara had apparently locked herself in the bathroom of her hotel room after having an “encounter” with Henry. And she’d apparently been in there for hours—waiting for Eric to, in her words, “wake the fuck up.” Why Tara hadn’t called Lafayette, Jesus, or Sookie had mystified Eric at the time. Later, he realized that Tara had called him because, before he met Sookie, he’d spent a lot of time disconnecting himself from his emotions and intimacy. And he’d had to face the growing pains that were associated with changing into a good mate once he had met Sookie.
In simple terms, Tara needed advice, and she wanted Eric’s. She’d been experiencing her own version of growing pains that day and intuited that Eric would tell her to get the fuck over herself. She knew that, of all people, Eric would understand the benefits of allowing oneself to change for love. But Tara was having a hard time making the leap and needed for Eric to talk her into it.
When he’d answered Tara’s phone call—which was initially laced with curses and incoherent rants—Eric feared that Tara might be in trouble or that Henry had somehow hurt her. Eric was about to contact Rasul to take Henry out—asset or not—when Tara told him to “shut the fuck up and listen!” She assured him that the “last fucking thing” Henry had done was hurt her. He’d been—in Tara’s words—“fucking great for a pasty white guy.” Apparently, the problem was that he’d been “too fucking great!”
Tara had been attracted to Henry for quite a while; in fact, Eric had noticed their shared looks and shy conversations at family gatherings for months before Tara’s Sunday evening call to him. However, Tara had never let things go farther with Henry than furtive glances and mild flirtation. Asking Henry to help her in New Orleans was to be Tara’s opportunity to see if he was interested in dating her. It seemed that he was very interested. In fact, according to Tara, they’d “gotten to know each other faster than she’d fucking intended” by landing in bed before their second date.
The surrealty of the call had doubled when Sookie walked in the bedroom holding out her cell phone. She’d been talking to a distraught Henry, who was afraid that he’d somehow injured Tara. It seemed that the night before the “incident,” Tara had told him a little about her history with Franklin Mott. Together, they’d decided to try casual dating—something more like a friendship at first. They’d agreed to take things really slowly and hold off on physical intimacy until Tara felt ready. However, when they’d had breakfast in her room on Sunday so that they could organize the signatures they’d gotten, the plan had gone out the window, and they’d landed right into bed—with Tara, apparently, being the aggressor and insisting that she was “mother-fuckin’ ready.”
Henry said that everything seemed to be okay—a couple of times—until Tara freaked out, ran into the bathroom, and locked the door. The Were had dressed and sat outside of her bathroom door for hours, pleading with her to talk to him. However, the only response he’d gotten was, “Shut the fuck up until after dark.” Henry had waited until he couldn’t wait anymore. And then he’d called Sookie.
The soap opera-like drama came to a crescendo as Sookie and Eric were forced to relay messages back and forth between Tara and Henry. She was frightened because she already found herself in love with him, but she didn’t think she was worthy of him. He was frightened because he loved her too and had thought that he’d ruined his chances by sleeping with her too soon since—just the day before—they’d agreed to simply date and take things slowly.
Eric still groaned inwardly thinking about how Sookie and he had eventually held their cell phones together so that the two of them could talk—even though they were literally in the same goddamned hotel room together at the time.
And then Henry and Tara had both hung up without even a fucking thank you!
Of course, the fact that Sookie and Eric left the phones on the bathroom counter and jumped into the shower to “clean” each other may have had something to do with that. Henry had Were hearing, after all, and Eric and Sookie were in the shower for quite a while to ensure that they both came out “squeaky” clean.
Not two weeks later, Tara, Henry, Jesus, Lafayette, Hunter, Batanya, Duncan, Sookie and Eric were on a plane heading to Las Vegas. The deciding factor for Tara—so she said—was the fact that she and Henry happened to have the same last name already, so getting married was no big deal. Eric had not argued with her logic. The elopement had been—after all—a good excuse for him to take a little vacation with Hunter and Sookie. And since Nevada was Thalia’s state, it was safe for his family to go there.
Eric had even stumbled across another child of Thalia’s while they were in Vegas. He was delivering a few items to Sandy Seacrest, who was working out well as Thalia’s regent, when he met Mei. The petite vampiress was unassuming, but Eric could tell immediately that she would be formidable in battle, and she smelled of Thalia in the same way that Molly and Kibwe did. Eric had simply given the vampiress a knowing nod and left it at that.
Tara had asked Eric to walk her down the short aisle of the little chapel she and Henry got married in. Henry had asked Sookie to stand with him, and Lafayette acted as Tara’s attendant. In his position as “father of the bride,” the Viking did his due diligence before the ceremony by threatening to drain Henry if he ever hurt Tara. He even brought out the ol’ fangs so that Henry could have a good look at what would be waiting for him if he did harm Tara. Funnily enough, Henry had called Eric by his first name before that conversation, but since then, he’d called him “Sir” as if the vampire were indeed Tara’s father. Eric chuckled at that thought as he saw Henry ushering in the late-arriving Bellefleurs, who looked slightly frazzled as they wrangled their children into their seats. Henry gave Eric a respectful nod, which the vampire returned. Yes—he was content to stay “Sir” as long as Tara remained happy.
After the elopement, Henry had moved in with Tara into her house on the ætt land. In the almost nine months since their marriage, they had seemed content—though there had been a few minor dust-ups. Henry’s calm demeanor complemented Tara’s “not-so-calm” demeanor. She had forgiven him for being a “pasty white boy,” and he seemed content to take any abuse she dished out with the patience of a saint. They were currently in “negotiations” for children, but Tara was busy preparing to take the Bar, and Henry was often “on call” with Ludwig. Still—despite the demands of their work, Eric thought that they were one of the most oddly compatible couples that he’d ever run across.
The Viking shifted on his feet again as he continued to wait in front of the almost-full auditorium. Many of the people there were not close friends of his bonded or himself; they’d been invited because of their political support or their positions of power within the AVL or the human community. There were a lot of Were guests too—many doing double-duty as guards. Eric was grateful that the small protest outside the church had been easily dealt with by Jessica, who had subtly glamoured the apparent leader of the group to keep the protest peaceful.
Right after the Fair Marriage Act had passed, protests by groups like the Fellowship of the Sun had been quite large. Most vampires who wished to get married to humans had opted for civil ceremonies, but for the handful that had decided on more traditional ceremonies, Eric had made sure that tight security was in place. Quinn had become invaluable in that task—as he was both an event planner and qualified to lead a security team. For higher profile events, Henry had also consulted, and, thankfully, there had been no problems.
Sookie and Eric had begun planning their wedding the day after the legislation was passed by the people of Louisiana, but they felt no need to hurry or to be first. It felt more “right” to have their human ceremony on the anniversary of their original pledging. And that had given them half a year to plan.
Lafayette and Jesus had gotten married in Massachusetts almost three years before, but they still high-tailed it down to the local courthouse the night after the new law had been put into effect in order to make their union official in Louisiana. Eric and Sookie had gone as witnesses.
The Viking shifted nervously on his feet again and noticed that Sam was chuckling at his action. Eric rolled his eyes at Sam and nodded to Luna, who was holding their most recent child, a boy that they’d named Tommy after Sam’s deceased brother. They’d had another girl, Samantha, two years before, and Sam was holding her protectively and looking at Eric as if the vampire had another son waiting in the wings to sweep his younger daughter off her feet as well.
With some difficulty, Eric held in his own chuckle.
On Emma’s birthday the year before, when Emma had turned eleven to Hunter’s almost-ten, she’d laid a huge kiss onto Hunter’s lips. The smile had lasted on his son’s mouth for days after that, and pretty much everyone in their family circle―which now “formally” included the Merlottes―was certain that as soon as Hunter turned eighteen, he’d be on one knee in front of Emma with a ring in his hand. That thought pleased Eric more and more each day because little Emma was blossoming into a beautiful, intelligent, and feisty young lady—just the kind of girl Eric hoped for when he thought of Hunter’s future. And, of course, Hunter was in love with her. And that was the most important thing. Oh—Eric knew that Hunter didn’t completely understand romantic love yet, but his son still felt strongly that Emma was meant to me his. In fact, instead of calling her “Emma,” Hunter always referred to her as “my Emma.” Not to be outdone, Emma used similar ownership words with her Hunter.
Truth be told, Eric envied the amount of certainty Hunter had about Emma—despite his young age. It had taken him a thousand years to find his own mate.
Eric smiled with paternal pride at the thought of his son. He’d helped Hunter tie his first bow tie about half an hour before. And Hunter looked very handsome in his tuxedo. He’d even asked for a little hair gel to keep his bangs from falling into his face. Of course, that idea had come from Emma, who was functioning as what Sookie called her flower girl. Eric was still not certain what that was, but Sookie liked the idea of giving Emma a role in the wedding party since she was so often at the ætt land. And the vampire had to admit that seeing Hunter dressed sharply next to the lovely little girl—who was, herself, dressed up for her role in the wedding—was quite “sweet,” as Sookie might put it. Hunter had insisted that many pictures be taken of them together.
Hunter had grown so much in three years. Of course, he had gotten taller. He seemed to be chasing Eric more and more in that way. When Eric recalled Remy Savoy’s average height, he wondered if Hunter was even his biological child. In truth, it didn’t matter. Hunter was his now—his and Sookie’s. And their son was flourishing. He continued to love woodwork and his sword work was improving every day as his little boy’s body gained strength.
But Hunter’s interests had grown as well. Sookie bought a piano for the new large family room Scott’s crew had built for them―a room which Hunter had taken to calling their “mead-hall” after Eric had told him a story of his human days. That name stuck to the room. Sookie and Hunter were taking piano lessons from Bubba of all people. But they both enjoyed playing very much.
Hunter’s current great passions, however, were photography and horses. Over the last years, he’d learned a lot about the horses from Maria-Star. In fact, he’d “announced” himself to be “in charge” of their care after Maria-Star had been confined to bed-rest during her second pregnancy. She and Alcide had lost their first child in the fifth month of Maria-Star’s pregnancy, and at the first sign of trouble during her second pregnancy, Henry had made her promise to stay off her feet. Hunter had proven to be up for the task of caring for his animals—though he’d enlisted Jarod’s and Duncan’s help too.
The bouncy little girl on Maria-Star’s lap was evidence enough that the caution had been worthwhile and warranted. Eric shared a respectful nod with his Were friend, Alcide. It was odd that they’d become friends at all, but they had. Maria-Star had almost died the night that little Mia was born a month premature. Alcide had called Eric to ask for some of his blood to help his mate get out of danger. He could have called Molly or Jessica or Duncan or even Pam. But Alcide had chosen to call him. On the way to Ludwig’s clinic, Sookie and he had decided that instead of using his blood, she would try to use her fairy magic to heal Maria-Star. Thankfully, it had worked. The thought of forming even a fleeting tie with anyone other than his Sookie had made Eric cringe and their bond cry out in discontent.
Alcide and Maria-Star had been grateful, and he and his wife had gotten a new goddaughter out of the deal. Eric chuckled. They seemed to be collecting godchildren; she’d been their sixth.
A few days after little Mia’s birth, Alcide had told Eric in confidence that he and Maria-Star were not going to try for any more children. After the miscarriage and Maria-Star’s problems carrying Mia, they’d decided not to push their luck. Eric couldn’t blame them.
Alcide was holding TJ, Tray and Amelia’s not quite three-year-old boy, who looked like a hulk next to Mia. TJ had been his and Sookie’s fourth godchild—arriving after Miranda and Jarod’s twins. Given that Godric had been born while Sookie was gone, he officially became Sookie and Eric’s first godchild the same day that little Jim and Maggie became their second and third.
Eric chuckled as TJ hit Alcide’s arm; Eric could tell that the strike was in play, but it was still a hard blow for a child TJ’s age. Eric knew firsthand from receiving quite a few of them himself. TJ was an Alpha wolf just waiting to happen, and Tray could not have been prouder of his son. Dr. Ludwig had pronounced the child a Werewolf the first time she’d examined Amelia on the night of the war with Russell’s Weres. Because of Amelia’s high level of innate magic, the Were gene had been carried on in their child. Given TJ’s size and temperament, Eric was pretty certain that Tray was raising his replacement pack leader.
“Hunter looks so handsome in his tux!” came Sookie’s voice through their bond.
“I know,” Eric answered his wife in the same way. “He helped to tie his own tie. Did he tell you?” Eric couldn’t help but to wish that he was standing next to his family right then, instead of waiting for them at the end of the currently empty aisle.
He felt Sookie giggling through their bond. He still loved that feeling, and no matter how often it happened, it always tickled a little.
Since Sookie had returned from Faerie, Hunter and she had grown extremely close—as Eric had known they would. Eric wasn’t sure if it was because they both had telepathy or because of their similar sweet, yet stubborn dispositions, but the two were obviously kindred spirits. In the months after Sookie’s returned, she and Hunter worked to perfect his shields together. Hunter was now able to control his telepathy easily, and Sookie often told Eric that their son was an even stronger telepath than she was. Of course, one of the things that Hunter’s control ensured was that others outside of their circle would have no clue that he had any telepathic ability whatsoever. And that—Eric knew—would help to keep him safe.
Arlene and Terry’s youngest daughter, Rosemary—who’d been godchild number five—let out a little squeal, and Eric turned to acknowledge the Iraqi veteran. Over the years, Eric had enjoyed his company more and more, and since Eric kept the small lake and rivulet on the ætt land well-stocked, they shared frequent fishing trips with their sons.
Hearing an interesting comment from the A.P., Eric looked up at the balcony where Niall and his maker’s maker had been having a deep conversation. Eric had tried to keep his “ears to himself” for the most part so that the siblings could have their privacy, but picking up what he realized was confirmation that many of his gifts had indeed come from her as he’d suspected, he couldn’t help but to smirk a little.
The Viking was glad that Niall had chosen to sit with the A.P., who’d refused to draw attention to herself by sitting in the auditorium with the rest of the guests. Sookie had laughed, claiming that the A.P. was just like her Gran in that way—not wanting to make a fuss. Eric wasn’t so sure about that. But he had been pleased when the A.P. had decided to visit the ætt land quite a bit over the last few years, even staying for extended periods at times. Mostly, she stayed in Niall and Claude’s little cottage, which they’d modified to include a light-tight room for her. But Hunter enjoyed visiting with her, and his son seemed to have the ability to melt the ol’ biddy’s heart.
Niall gave him a little smile, and Eric couldn’t help but to return the expression. Not much could surprise a thousand-year-old vampire, but the fact that Eric had come to think of Niall similarly to how he’d thought of Godric or his own human father had surprised the Viking. Sookie had contemplated having Niall walk her down the aisle, but that job eventually went to someone else.
“Wait!” Sookie exclaimed into the bond, interrupting Eric’s reverie. For a split second, her word choice concerned him, but then she continued speaking. “Have I told you today that I love you?”
“I have felt it, min kära,” he said into their bond. “I always feel it.”
“Not the same,” came her voice.
“Then tell me,” he said, “because I mother fuckin’ love you, Sookie Stackhouse!”
“Stackhouse-Northman,” she corrected and then chastised, “and don’t cuss in church.”
He hid his smile from those gathered, knowing that it would not do well for anyone beyond the “family” to know how tightly Sookie and he were bound. “I love you, Sookie Stackhouse-Northman,” he revised.
“I love you, Eric Northman,” came her voice again. “Always.”
“Always,” he agreed.
“Ready?” she asked into the bond.