THE NEXT NIGHT
“If Eric had told me how beautiful you were, I would have shown up sooner,” Brady said with a rakish grin.
Sookie giggled as she handed Brady another beer.
The Were had arrived earlier that day, delivering a new vampire-safe vehicle, as well as the pledging knife that she and Eric intended to use later that night. Sookie had been anxious when there had been a void accompanying Brady, but she’d calmed down when the Were had told her that the vampire was Duncan, who had come to pass along some information to Eric.
Sookie was anxious to meet Eric’s “brother,” and she was happy that he was there—happy that he’d have family at their pledging/fairy wedding.
When they left the next night, Brady and Duncan would be taking the other vehicle Sookie and Eric had been using. Sookie glanced at the clock and saw that it was still about fifty minutes before sundown. She sat down across from Brady and picked back up the beer she’d been drinking.
“You should ditch the vampire and run away with me instead,” Brady winked.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m pretty sure that the whole Fae bond thing would complicate things,” she grinned.
Brady looked at Sookie more seriously. “And if the Fae bond wasn’t there?”
“My life would be so different,” she sighed, taking a drink.
“How?” he asked, genuinely curious. It hadn’t taken Sookie long to genuinely like and trust the amiable Were who’d been such a help to Eric over the years. Of course, she was also keeping a close “ear” on his thoughts—just to make sure. So far, they exactly matched his words and actions.
She shook her head and smiled ruefully. “Imagining what my life would be like if I’d never formed the Fae bond with Eric has made me truly grateful for it.”
“How so?” Brady asked.
“Did Eric tell you when the bond was formed?” Sookie asked.
Brady shook his head. “No.”
“It was the morning Godric met the sun—less than five minutes before Godric died.”
“Oh,” the Were said soberly.
“Lots of things happened around that time,” Sookie explained. “It felt like I was trapped in a whirlwind. I’d found out—just a couple of days before—that Bill was forced to turn someone into a vampire.” She sighed. “Of course, I never judged him for that—even though it was clear that he judged himself. After all, turning someone was his sentence for saving my life, but he tried to hide Jessica—that’s his progeny—from me. He tried to foist her upon Eric—like she was some kind of disposable goods. And then when I tried to help her, he became enraged—at the both of us. I’d never seen that side of him before; it scared me.”
Brady sat forward. “So you broke up with him?”
“I intended to. I got out of his car on a lonely country road because I just couldn’t stomach being in the same space that he was anymore. But then a maenad attacked me.”
Brady snorted out a laugh.
“Hey!” Sookie cried out. “Not funny!”
“No,” Brady chortled. “It’s just that Eric said you had a tendency to attract trouble. Only a trouble magnet would find a maenad in the woods.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Whatever. That maenad almost killed me. But—by the end of the night—I’d had more of Bill’s blood, and somehow I’d managed to forgive him for everything.” She sighed and shook her head.
“His blood,” Brady commented. “He was using it to influence you.”
Sookie nodded in agreement. “Yeah—as much as he could. Then, the next thing I knew, we were in Dallas—looking for a vampire, who turned out to be Godric, in the Fellowship of the Sun church. And then there was the bomb in Godric’s nest. And then Godric met the sun. And then Bill and I went back to Bon Temps, and there was the whole maenad thing to clean up.”
She paused for a moment and took a long drink of her beer. “I was so pissed off at Eric for tricking me into taking his blood after the bomb went off, but that’s what activated my fairy powers, and—without those—I’m pretty sure that the maenad would have killed me. And—without Eric’s blood and the Fae bond—I probably wouldn’t have been questioning my and Bill’s relationship, as I’d begun doing. I would have said yes immediately when Bill asked me to marry him. And, had I been with Bill when he was kidnapped by Russell’s Weres, who knows what would have happened to me!? But I do know that I wouldn’t have had Eric’s help through any of it.” She shook her head. “And that would not have been good. Russell, Sophie-Anne, Lorena, or Bill—” Sookie paused and let out a long breath, “whichever one of them ended up with me—it would have been bad. At best, I could have looked forward to continual manipulation by Bill. At worst—well—the term ‘enslavement’ comes to mind. I would have been used for my telepathy and my blood—until I prayed for death. Then I would have been turned and controlled forever,” she finished in barely a whisper.
Brady sighed heavily. “Yeah—that’s probably an accurate supposition.”
Sookie managed to smile a little. “But none of that happened. And Eric’s not going to allow it to happen either. So—yeah—I’ve learned to be grateful for the Fae bond. Very grateful. I just wish that . . . .” She stopped midsentence.
“You think Eric doesn’t feel the same?” Brady asked.
Sookie sighed. “Eric has accepted the Fae bond. No—that’s not quite true. He’s embraced it now. And I know he loves me.” She smiled a little wider than before. “And I also know that his love for me goes beyond the Fae bond.”
“But you worry that Eric’s acceptance of the Fae bond stemmed from his pragmatism?” Brady discerned.
“I know it did,’ Sookie responded. “And that’s okay; after all, being logical is one of Eric’s traits that I appreciate most.”
“But you still wonder if he will come to the same conclusion that you have—that the Fae bond has made your life better,” Brady commented perceptively.
Sookie sighed. “When I look at my life pre-bond and post-bond, I know without a shadow of a doubt which one is better. But I wonder about Eric. If it wasn’t for the Fae bond forming, would he just be running Fangtasia? Safe and sound?”
“From what Eric’s told me, his trouble with the Magister and the queen would have come to a head even without your involvement,” Brady reasoned.
“Maybe,” Sookie mused. “But Eric spent a lot of time and a lot of energy helping me out during the nights following Bill’s disappearance. He arranged for Alcide Herveaux to escort me to Jackson. And he spent hours with me the night before I left in order to protect me—and to explain the dangers of the tattooed Weres to me. If I’d not formed the Fae bond with him, I would have been taken with Bill. I would have never involved Eric in the Were mess or the Russell mess. He would have been concentrating on the threat from the queen. And—if he had been—he probably could have avoided her attempt to entrap him by planting V in Fangtasia. So—arguably—without the Fae bond, he would have been better off.”
“No, Sookie,” came Eric’s voice from the entrance to the living room. The special shutters in the house eliminated most of the light that could still harm him, so Sookie didn’t worry about his being exposed to the sun.
However, clearly, she was worried about her remaining fears being exposed to him.
“I may have managed to outmaneuver the queen—as you said. But I wouldn’t have been better off,” Eric promised. “I would have remained in the dark about who killed my family. I would be suffering much more acute grief because of losing my maker. And I would not have found that which I no longer wish to exist without,” he said intensely. “You!”
“Well—I think I’ll go check on Duncan,” Brady said, obviously in tune with the fact that the couple needed some time alone. “The sun’s not quite down yet, but he’ll be emerging from the car soon.”
“Duncan’s here?” Eric asked with surprise.
“Yep. He’s got some information for you,” Brady responded as he moved to leave the room. “But that will keep until you and Sookie have finished your discussion.”
Eric nodded in acknowledgment and turned his gaze once more to Sookie.
“We were—uh—just talking about the Fae bond,” Sookie said quietly.
“And you have come to the conclusion that I would be better off if it had never been formed?”
“Wouldn’t you be?” she asked.
He zipped in front of her and got down onto his knees before where she sat, taking her hands into his much larger ones. “Sookie, I want you to understand something very important—before we pledge to each other and complete our bond.”
“Okay,” she said, trying to sound calm, even though her heart was beating rapidly due to the passion in Eric’s gaze.
“If I could go back to that Dallas rooftop—back to the moment when you touched me and we formed the bond—I would change only two things.”
“What would you change?” she squeaked out.
“First—our knowledge of the bond, so that we both could have made a conscious choice to make it,” he said fervently.
“What’s the second thing you would change?” she asked shakily.
“I would have reached out for your hand—just as you were reaching out for mine when we touched.”
“You would have?”
He nodded. “Yes—if I could go back to that moment, I wouldn’t change the fact that we formed the Fae bond. It is the second best thing in my life.”
“And the first?” she asked breathlessly.
“The best is the woman who formed it with me,” he responded, leaning forward to kiss her.
Sookie closed her eyes and felt her body relax against Eric’s completely. In that moment, the last inkling of doubt she had about her, Eric, and the Fae bond dissipated. And she felt the Fae bond surge with power and love—as she realized that Eric was offering her surety through the bond. She accepted his comfort.
She also recognized that—like him—she would want the bond no matter what. A retroactive choice.
Even if she could go back in time to prevent Hadley from speaking about her to the queen, Sookie realized that she wouldn’t. Horrible things had followed Hadley’s misguided attempts to endear herself to Queen Sophie-Anne—the most tragic being Gran’s death—but life had worked the way it had for a reason. And as Eric’s lips moved gently against hers, she finally felt truly happy and comfortable with herself. And him.
Eric pulled away and looked at her with intense love. “What are you thinking?” he asked, his eyes bright. “I’ve never felt such joy or contentment from you,” he added softly, as if afraid to break the spell created by her feelings.
She smiled. “I’ve known I loved you for a while. I’ve known that I was right where I wanted to be for a while. I’ve known that I was happy to be with you for a while. But I just realized that I’m happy to be myself—that I’m not just worthy of being loved by others, but that I love myself, too.”
He sighed and rested his forehead against hers. The wisps of energy she felt coming from him into the Fae bond spoke—better than words could—of how happy he was for her. She could also sense his relief as if it were a palpable thing. She knew that he was thankful that she’d finally healed from all of the emotional pain she’d endured throughout her life. During the severing spell, he’d told her that she would one day stop blaming herself for all the bad in her life. And—with his actions—he’d shown her something more: that he found her too valuable to lose. He’d been strong for her that day—and all days following—while giving her the opportunity to mend and to accept her own worth.
“Thank you,” she said softly as she caressed his cheeks. “Thank you for believing in me until I learned to do it myself.”
“It was an honor,” he said with a sincere smile. “I love you, Sookie.”
“I love me, too.”
She giggled as he tickled her.
“I think you are supposed to tell me that you love me, too,” he smirked.
She smiled, and using all of her focus, she let him feel her love. “I love you like crazy, Eric Northman,” she averred, even as he gasped from the feelings she was sending to him.
He returned her smile and then stood up, helping her rise along the way. “Would you like to meet my brother, min kära?”
Sookie nodded. “I’d love to.”
Sookie inhaled sharply as she watched Eric and his vampire brother clasp arms as if they were warriors of old.
Of course, that’s exactly what they were. And seeing two such magnificent men made her heart quicken.
“Are you okay, Sookie?” Brady asked, whispering into her ear, though he obviously knew that Eric and Duncan could hear his words perfectly well. “You seem a bit flushed.”
Sookie immediately blushed deeply. Indeed, Brady had “caught” her ogling at her bonded—and soon to be husband in the Supe world’s eyes—as well as his vampire brother. And—come to think of it—Brady wasn’t hard on the eyes either.
Duncan turned to her and winked as he approached.
“Mae hi’n brydferth, brawd,” the dashing vampire said in Welsh as he kissed Sookie’s hand. [“She is beautiful, Brother.”]
“That she is,” Eric said, refraining from his primal urge to rip his brother’s head off for touching—let alone kissing—his mate, even if it was just her hand.
Duncan looked at Eric knowingly. “Rwy’n addo na fyddaf yn ceisio ei ddwyn oddi wrthych.” [“I promise I will not try to steal her from you.”]
“Da. Yna ni fydd yn rhaid i mi ladd chi, brawd.” [“Good. Then I will not have to kill you, brother.”]
“Alright. Enough!” Sookie chided, looking at Eric through narrowed eyes. “No talking in languages I don’t understand—unless I’m being taught.”
“I like her,” Duncan announced, looking at the placement of Sookie’s hands on her hips with appreciation. “She’s feisty.”
“And Leonie was right about you,” Sookie said with a smile.
“Ah—my mate’s dear fairy friend. Whatever did she say about me? All good—I’d suspect,” he grinned.
“She said you were a rake,” Sookie reported.
“Well—fairies are known for being truthful,” Duncan grinned widely.
“Indeed we are,” Leonie said—even as a popping noise echoed in the air. By instinct, the vampires turned to her with fangs “drawn”; similarly, Brady’s form shimmered as if he was about ready to shift.
“Oh my! Sookie! It seems like you have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to protectors—handsome ones,” she giggled as the men relaxed. Leonie’s eyes settled on the handsome Were.
“Did you bring it?” Sookie asked with a smile.
Leonie nodded. “Yes.” She lifted up the bag in her hand.
“Thank you,” Sookie said.
Eric looked at Sookie. “Bring what?”
“A surprise for you,” Sookie grinned. “Just a,” she paused, “pretty dress and a few other things. I know this isn’t going to be fancy tonight, but I still . . . .”
“Wanted for it to be special,” Eric finished.
Sookie nodded as Eric moved to place a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“On behalf of Sookie’s family, I am honored to officiate your Fae joining,” Leonie said, almost formally.
“And I will stand for Eric’s family,” Duncan said with a wide smile. And—as a representative of the Authority—I will also sanction your pledging.” He chuckled. “Of course, I won’t submit the paperwork until after Russell is no more, but—once he is—you two will be official in the vampire community.”
“But as Roman’s enforcer, you don’t have that kind of authority,” Eric commented.
“Oh—you haven’t heard. Guess who Roman made the new Magister?” Duncan said with a roll of his eyes. “Of course, my new role isn’t widely known yet. Roman thought that Rhodes would be a good place to officially announce it to everyone, though I’ll be holding some sessions before then so rumor will likely travel.”
“It seems that many things will be happening in Rhodes,” Eric said cautiously.
“More than even you know, brother, though I would suggest that we speak of those things tomorrow night.”
“I figured you would leave tonight—after the pledging,” Eric commented.
Duncan looked at Brady and then at Leonie before looking at Eric again. “You are well-secured here, brother, but on this night—the night of your joining with your mate—I would ask that you allow me the honor of guarding you. Tomorrow—during the day—Brady and Leonie will be here to serve as guards. Then, tomorrow night, we can brainstorm for Rhodes. It is safer that way.”
“Safer?” Eric asked.
“My own mate—guided by her mistress—has suggested this timeframe to me. I am not one to deny her,” Duncan said.
“Her mistress?” Sookie asked.
“The Ancient Pythoness,” Leonie reported. “Klymene and I have been handmaidens and guards to her for many years—though our role in her security is little known.” She winked at Sookie. “Even your great-grandfather doesn’t know how entwined I am within this realm—though my promised term of service to Pythia, like Klymene’s, has almost reached its end.”
“You knew this?” Eric asked Duncan.
He shrugged. “My mate keeps no secrets from me.”
“But you have secrets from me,” Eric said through narrowed eyes. “Why did you never tell me that you and Klymene were together? That you were pledged?”
Duncan shrugged. “You never needed to know before,” he responded simply. “And Klymene and I haven’t exactly advertised our relationship—though it is my hope that we will soon be living together openly.”
“Openly?” Eric asked.
Duncan nodded. “In fact, the whole of the Authority wishes to become more visible.”
“But other than Roman, the Authority members’ identities have never been known,” Eric commented.
“Times change,” Duncan responded. “Now that the nature of vampires is no longer a secret from humans, Roman believes it would be best to unveil the mystery of the Authority members to other vampires. He believes that—if vampires knew who the members of the Authority were—they would understand better why they deserve their respect. Plus, the current Councilors are ready to share the power. There are to be elections in the future.”
“If someone like Russell knew of their identities, though . . . ,” Eric began.
“Yes. That would be problematic,” Duncan admitted. “However, let us speak of such things tomorrow. Tonight should be about your pledging with your mate, my brother.”
Eric seemed reluctant to leave the subject, but nodded nonetheless.
“Well,” Leonie said brightly, “why don’t we get you ready, Sookie?”
“And I have a suit for you in the car,” Brady told Eric.
“A suit?” the Viking asked.
Duncan rolled his eyes. “You cannot get married in a pair of lounge pants, brother.” He gestured at Eric’s current attire. “Come. I will try to make you presentable as Leonie readies your mate.”
A/N: I hope that you enjoyed the chapter! This one was really fun to write. So you’re starting to get to know the “gang” that will be fighting w/ Eric and Sookie against Russell’s people. I hope you like Brady. As I wrote, he quickly moved up the ladder to become one of my favorite characters in the story. Did you like the interactions between the “brothers?” (Yes, Duncan and Eric are both Godric’s children in this story, but I’m counting Brady in there too.) It was “entertaining” for me to imagine a scene with three such handsome men.
P.S. You know that saying when it rains it pours? Well—that’s how I’ve felt for the last few days. First, I found out that I’ve been nominated for eleven You Want Blood Awards! And the UN-iverse received several of those noms. Uncharted got two noms; it was nominated for Best Angst and Best Drama. This story was nominated for the Pins and Needles Award (as if I’d ever leave you with a cliffie insert innocent face here). And the whole UN-iverse got a nod for Best Romance! To make this even better, I got a nomination for Favorite Author! And I know where my bread is buttered. It’s because of you, my wonderful readers, that my work was recognized. Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate me. Of course, there are a lot of amazing stories and people being recognized—including Sephrenia (who’s up for best artist and who does the majority of artwork on my WordPress site) and Kleannhouse (whose keen eyes help to limit the mistakes in my work and whose keen wit encourages me to develop certain passages). The contest creators even have links to all the nominees so that you can easily find the stories you haven’t read but wanna check out here!
Now for the pouring part! Yesterday, I found out that I’d won American Android’s Historical Fiction Contest for my story The Marks Within! I want to congratulate all the wonderful authors of the contest.
Again, thank you / thank you / thank you / thank you for your support!