Author’s Note: I spent some fair time thinking about what Eric would choose for Sookie as a pledging gift. There would be what was expected, but Eric would know how she felt about expensive things. I hope you approve the compromise. And as for Eric? Really? Like there was any choice!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“You will be standing here,” Mr. Cataliades pointed at the place marked with tape on the stage of the main ballroom. “The light will be positioned just there,” and he pointed above them, “so that everyone will be able to observe Branna’s crown and the jewel you wear. You should expect there will be some in the audience who will recognize the jewels and what they signify, so there may be whispering. It’s important you not acknowledge nor appear to notice any noise or commentary.” He paused and waited until Sookie nodded. Giving her a stern look he continued, “The Nebraska King, Finn, is representing your Great Grandfather. He will be standing there,” and the attorney pointed at a place upstage and nearer the curtains that hung along the back. “He will have the Prince’s sword and will hold it with the blade up and the hilt in both hands, symbolizing the vigilance of your House.”
“It sure seems more complicated than before,” Sookie sighed.
“In what way?” the demon‘s tone clearly questioning her.
Sookie shrugged, “I mean last time it was all pretty simple. I handed the knife over, he kissed it, and done. I‘ve seen a couple of these vampires’ marriages… I mean pledgings. It was all over in ten minutes. This just seems like… I don’t know… more.”
Mr. Cataliades leveled a stare, “Did you really think it would be like that shabby affair in Northman’s back office? That was infamous! That a Great Granddaughter of the Prince of the Sky Fae be joined in that way! If I can be perfectly blunt, Miss Stackhouse, I was surprised the Prince didn’t demand retribution from your Viking when I first heard of it. Had Niall understood the nature of your relationship, or your lack of consent, I believe things would have gone very differently for both of you.” Sookie found herself wondering if the Prince’s intervention would have forced her and Eric to talk about things sooner, if his interference would have bought them some time and peace from Victor Madden to work things through. Her thoughts were interrupted by the attorney, “In my opinion, it is because of that first flimsy effort that the Prince has taken this degree of interest. There will be no doubt as to your status or the permanence of the arrangement.” As if he was the one needing to be convinced, Mr. Cataliades nodded his head twice before turning back to meet Sookie’s eyes.
“Is that where you were?” she asked. “Visiting with Grandfather?”
For a minute, the attorney looked apologetic, but the look passed and he smiled easily, “I suppose this must seem strange to you. I have been to human weddings and they are more informal affairs.” Sookie thought of the long lines of bridal attendants in fancy dresses and the posed photographs. She recalled the time-honored words and she marveled that anyone would consider that kind of ritual informal, but as Mr. Cataliades drilled her over and over again on the correct depth of her bow, she started to reconsider.
“Once more,” he gestured with his hand, “From the waist, but your chest should not be lower than the midpoint between your chest and your navel, and do not dip your chin. You are an heir of the House Brigant. You bow your head to no one. Maintain eye contact. That will help you avoid giving more courtesy than is due.” Sookie bowed another dozen times before the demon was satisfied.
“Now, we should talk about the blood part of the ceremony,” Mr. Cataliades gave her a stern look. “The Ancient Pythoness will reach for your hand first. You must pull your hand back and you will need to be quick.”
“Faster than a vampire?” Sookie’s look said it all. The Pythoness might look old, but she was as quick as the snake that gave her its name, so outrunning her was unlikely.
“She will be expecting it,” the attorney assured her. “Instead, you will turn your head to Finn. He will advance and hold the sword out to you.” The attorney walked over to the table on the stage and lifted a sword that was lying there. It wasn’t one Sookie had seen before. “Hold your hands flat to receive it,” He laid the blade across her hands. “Good, now lift the blade to your lips and kiss it.” Sookie looked down at the metal for a minute, wondering if she was expected to wrap her fingers around the edge of the blade. She slid one hand further to the side and grasped the hilt like she would any knife, then using her other hand to steady the blade, lifted, kissed, and handed the sword hilt-first back to the demon.
“Nicely done,” the attorney nodded. “Not surprising that a daughter of the Fae would have a sure hand with a blade.” His smile bright as he continued, “You will use that same maneuver to hand the Pythoness the sword. Your blood will be spilled into the goblet using that blade and not the vampire dagger.”
Sookie’s lip curled, “Should I wear an apron or something? I mean if her hand is shaky I could end up covered in blood spray for the rest of the night! My dress looks like silk. It’ll stain like a son of a bitch!”
Mr. Cataliades eyes widened in shock before narrowing in annoyance, “You may think that being disrespectful about the Great Lady is humorous, but I assure you it is not. Her hand will be steady.” When he saw she was properly chastened, he instructed, “Once the blood is collected, you nod to Finn. He will take the blade back from the Pythoness’ hands.”
“So, who’s going to stop my bleeding?” Sookie persisted. “It won’t happen on its own.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded, “While the sword is being handed back, you should offer your wrist to Northman. Your blood is his. He’ll heal you before it’s his turn.”
“Okay,” Sookie felt tired. “So then Eric gets cut, we both drink, and we’re done, right?”
“More or less,” the demon shrugged. Sookie could see that there was something else, and she wished, not for the first time, that she could read the attorney’s mind as easily as he read hers.
“So, what’s the less part?” Sookie challenged him.
“It’s something the Prince discussed with Finn. I can’t tell you.” When Sookie started to look worried he rushed to assure her, “It’s nothing bad! Trust your Grandfather has your best interest at heart!” The attorney took her hand between his and then patted it, “There’s nothing to worry about. Your pledging will be official, and all vampires will recognize it. Then it’s on to Bon Temps. I understand that your house will be finished in time and your Grandfather hopes you will consider staying there as part of your bridal gift.”
“I don’t trust him,” Sookie said sadly.
“The vampire?” Mr. Cataliades asked, his look all innocence.
Sookie screwed her face up, “Very funny! I don’t trust Grandfather. I know you can’t say much, but all this extra stuff? It’s making me worry. I think he wants what he wants and he doesn’t care if he hurts Eric or me along the way.”
Mr. Cataliades took her arm gently and led the telepath from the stage. He walked to a row of chairs and pulled her to sit beside him. “The Prince does care about what becomes of you and because your life is tied to Eric Northman’s, he is, reluctantly I’ll grant you, coming to care about the Viking as well. What’s done here is a public acknowledgement of the formal alliance forged through blood. It will tie the Fae to Mr. Northman and signal an accord between the races.”
“Aren’t alliances good?” Sookie asked. “I’ll be working with the Weres to help them organize. That makes them my allies.”
“Alliances between the races are good, my dear Sookie, but rare. It may make some nervous. It may make others determined to bring Mr. Northman to their side. Of one thing I am certain. Your lives will not be dull,” and he smiled in a way that was supposed to be reassuring.
Sookie was thinking of another question when her brother walked into the ballroom, “Well, hey, Sookie!” his voice was a little hoarse.
“Hey, back!” Sookie called more loudly and she could see her brother’s eyes register the volume. ‘Hung,’ she thought. “I didn’t see you much last night. Eric told me you headed out with his Sheriffs.”
Jason nodded and said, “Morning,” to Mr. Cataliades before sitting down heavily in the seat beside her. He was pulling on a Starbucks coffee.
“How’s your head?” the telepath asked.
“Been worse,” Jason acknowledged. “Course it would have felt a lot worse if I’d taken them up on the rest of the night.” Sookie’s eyebrows raised, “They’re pretty liberal in their ideas about some things, but I’m a married man now, and frankly? I don’t know that I’d have the stamina for it,” and Jason smirked at his sister and winked an eye.
Sookie’s stomach chose that moment to growl and Mr. Cataliades took it as his signal to leave. He bowed formally first to Jason, and then to her. Reaching down, he took Sookie’s hand and then kissed it. “Don’t worry about anything, Princess,” he said. “It will be beautiful, a night you will long remember!”.
Jason watched the demon exit the ballroom, “You sure do make things interesting, sis,” he said, shoulder-bumping her. “Well, you better come along,” he stood slowly, “I can hear your stomach shredding compost from here. Let’s go find us some food!”
Like most vampire hotels, there was a restaurant that catered to human companions, but it was small. As soon as they walked in they saw Devrah seated at a table near the darkened glass. The housekeeper motioned that they should join her. When they had settled and the waiter had come and left with their orders, the housekeeper turned her eye toward Jason, “And how is your head this morning?”
“Boy, folks around here sure pay attention to other folks’ business,” he replied. “I’m feeling tolerable, and yourself?”
“I’m feeling just fine,” Devrah smiled like a happy cat, “but I didn’t race the sun to come in this morning.” Sookie looked over at her brother, her eyebrows raised. “I need my beauty sleep!”
“Well, you can just tattle on someone else,” Jason told her, exhaling a long, satisfied breath through his nose. He settled back and took another long sip from his coffee. He turned to Sookie and said, “Did you know those good ol’ boys hunt? They learned the real way, stalking and all.”
“Vampires hunt by instinct,” Sookie shrugged, “It’s what they do.”
“No! No, before they were made vampire. Thierry and Thomas were both hunters wherever they came from, somewhere overseas. They can read a trail. We were talking about putting together a hunt for before the wedding in Bon Temps. You know, a guy’s’ thing.”
Devrah cut her eyes toward Sookie’s brother, “You talking about some kind of stag party?” she asked. Sookie’s eyes went wide. It hadn’t occurred to her that her brother would think about doing something like this for Eric and she wasn’t really sure her vampire would appreciate it.
Jason laughed, but it was funny to watch. He’d laugh, but there was something about it that caused him pain, so he’d wince and stop, but then he’d snort laugh again. “Well,” he drawled, “I don’t think you could rightly call it a stag…”
“Jason,” Sookie said carefully, “I’m not sure about this.”
“Oh hell, Sookie, don’t you go running interference on this one! I know you both think he was sly, making JC his best man, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to do some good, old fashioned male bonding before he officially hands over his freedom. Besides, Pam said he’d love it. She has all kinds of ideas!”
Devrah started to laugh. “You doing what Miss Pam told you?” Jason nodded and Devrah started to laugh again. Sookie could see that Jason was completely on board. Sookie could see Jason knew exactly what he was doing and she hoped her brother and his new found friends didn’t turn their attention her way, so instead of protesting, Sookie just shrugged. “Well, Jase, I sure hope there’s enough left of you to walk me down the aisle. Eric can get pretty angry. It would be too bad if he broke shit on you because you were being stupid.”
“Hurt the father of his godchild?” Jason smirked, “He wouldn’t! Especially after he hears we’re going to use his name for our boy.”
Sookie went still, “You’re going to name your son after Eric?” She hadn’t expected it, the feeling of warmth that came over her. It was one thing to see Michele kissing her Viking’s cheek and him allowing it. Having a baby named for him was a whole new level of acceptance by her family, and she felt tears spring to her eyes.
“Well, hey there!” Jason took her hand, “Don’t get all worked up! Michele and I talked about it. We’re naming him Michael Eric. Michael for our mom, Michelle, and Eric for… well, for Eric.”
“That’s real nice,” Sookie sniffed. “I know Eric will be real touched.”
“Sure hope so,” Jason beamed, “cause I figure the threat of having any of my rugrats moving in with you all will keep him from turning me into a greasy spot,” and he took another pull on his coffee cup.
“Michele tell you Bit wants to move in?” Sookie asked. Devrah’s eyebrows raised and Sookie nodded. “Yup, Jason’s second son thinks Eric hangs the moon. Can’t wait to grab hold of him any time he sees him.”
“JC, my oldest, he talks about Uncle Eric all the time,” Jason confirmed.
Devrah shook her head, “Well, kids know things,” she said slowly. “Kids and dogs. They know who to trust and who is good people.” She looked at Sookie in a way that let Sookie know she had heard the other rumors. Sookie thought about it and then turned to Jason.
“Jase, you may hear something about Eric and me,” She looked down; suddenly shy about saying it out loud. ‘Don’t be silly,’ she thought, ‘everyone else is talking about it,’ so she took a deep breath and started. “It may come to nothing, but Niall has a way that Eric and I might be able to have children.”
Her brother’s eyes lost their humor, “For real?” he asked. He looked down at his coffee cup. He was quieter than Sookie anticipated and she bit her lip while she waited for him to say something else. Finally he looked up, “Do you trust him?” he asked. “You sure this isn’t some kind of trick that’s just going to hurt you?”
“I don’t think so,” Sookie told him, “at least, I hope not.” Jason and Niall didn’t really get along. Jason lacked the essential spark, that thing that made him more Fae. Because of that lack, Niall treated Jason differently; less. Sookie understood her brother’s skepticism. Truth be told, if it had been any other promise Sookie would have been just as skeptical. The telepath had to admit that she was willing to suspend a lot of suspicion for this one.
“How does Eric feel about it?” Jason glanced at Devrah and the housekeeper rose, excusing herself to find the ‘little lady’s room.’
Sookie watched Devrah walk away before she turned back, “He’s good with it,” she told Jason. “We’re going to wait a year, though. Eric’s building his business, getting the kingdom back in a good place. When he was handed everything? It wasn’t good, Jase. We were pretty well bankrupt. Now, he has an energy operation he’s working on between us and Texas. Oklahoma’s involved, too. Of course, I’ll be busy. I agreed to help the Weres organize themselves like the vampires have.” Jason nodded. He’d heard about it from Calvin. His Packmaster generally endorsed the idea, but he had told Jason he didn’t think the idea had a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding. Weres fought. It was their nature. “We figure in a year things will be settled enough to try.”
Sookie was tempted to reach into her brother’s head. She saw he was struggling with something he wanted to say, but finally he just smiled at her brightly, “Well, I’m real happy for you, Sook. I hope it all turns out the way you want,” He cocked his head a little, “It would be good to have cousins for the boys to play with.” Sookie wanted to ask what it was he wasn’t telling her, but instead they both watched the waiter arrive with their breakfast.
When Devrah sat back down Sookie could see she wasn’t happy about something. “What is it?” Sookie asked.
Devrah huffed, “That Sonder is hanging around outside the restaurant,” she said sourly. “Now, I don’t mean to speak ill of people who can’t help their circumstances, but she is one sour peach, that girl. I traveled down here with Miss Karin, Mr. Thomas, and her. She really needs to find another job working for other people.” When Sookie looked puzzled, Devrah explained, “She is no fan of either her boss or vampires in general. Far be it for me to lose a person their job, but I’m of half a mind to tell Twy myself.”
“Huh,” Jason mumbled through toast, “Wouldn’t have thought that from what I saw last night. She was all chummy with Vampire Bill. She even danced with him before her boss woman called her back to work.”
Sookie shrugged, “Maybe she was just having an off day. Travel can make me a little sharper than usual. Sonder seemed happy enough in New Orleans. Could be she just doesn’t want to work for Twy.” Sookie shook her head, “I mean, frankly, who would?” Devrah shook her head, but as Sookie sipped her coffee she couldn’t escape the nagging in the back of her head. “Maybe I should do another sweep of our staff when I get home,” she suggested to the housekeeper. “I haven’t done a full screening since that first time and it has been a while.” Sookie remembered how the first screening had been conducted shortly after the staff had been glamoured, the time after the donors.
Devrah nodded, “I know it’s a busy time, but if you would, I think we’d all sleep better.” For some reason they all glanced toward the door and they saw Sonder being called by Twy. The New Yorker was talking in an animated way, punctuating her points with quick, jabbing motions. She looked into the restaurant and her eyes narrowed as she saw the party eating breakfast. “Oh my good Lord,” Devrah sighed, as Twy started stalking toward them on her long, stork-like legs.
“This is where you are!” Twy sighed. “I take it Sonder didn’t tell you the Hotel Concierge is looking for you?” and she looked directly at Sookie.
Sookie shook her head, “No, she didn’t say a word.”
Twy narrowed her eyes and looked back at the area outside the restaurant. Sookie didn’t need to read minds to know that the next event Twy planned, she would have a different assistant. “Well, I found you,” she said evenly. “With everything that’s happening between now and tomorrow night, you might want to unmute your cell phone.” She looked expectantly and waited until Sookie took her phone out of her purse and dutifully unmuted it. She read the message, and then grinned at Jason.
“Eric’s pledging gift is here! You want to see it?” She turned her head to include Devrah and they stood up and walked as a group to the lobby. Twy motioned for the Concierge, and turning to Sookie said, “I have taken the suite across from your current room. It will be set up tomorrow afternoon for hair, nails and makeup. I understand you have a private party this evening on the roof. Please try to get enough sleep. There are official photographs and if you are too tired, all the makeup in the world won’t help.” Devrah excused herself and she and Twy walked back through the lobby before turning in opposite directions.
Sookie and Jason followed the Concierge. He took them on the elevator down to the first level of the parking garage. When they walked out, there, on a royal blue carpet, sat a brand new, fire engine red Stingray Corvette. “Holy shit!” Jason exclaimed and he ran forward to half-walk, half-dance around the car. “You got this for Eric?”
Sookie walked forward as well. She ran her hand over the curve of the roof. There were intakes on both sides of the body just behind the front wheels. The back was almost even with the roof. She could almost imagine how she would look splayed out on the front hood under a night sky and she could feel her lady parts twitch.
The representative from the Kentucky plant who accompanied the vehicle to Indiana walked up and shook her hand, “Miss Stackhouse? It’s all ready for you.” There were a few papers she needed to sign, and then he took his time walking her through all the features of the vehicle. “Of course, you really can’t appreciate it unless you take it out for a test drive,” he concluded.
“Is that arranged for later?” Sookie asked.
The representative nodded, “It is indeed. There’s a track right outside town that will be open for you and your guests after ten tonight. The directions have already been programmed into the car’s guidance program.” There was a noise from behind the car as another mechanic finished installing the vanity plate.
Jason had walked around to see what was going on. He looked up with a lopsided smile. “Cute,” he told her. Sookie already knew that it read, KNGVMP.
“There is one more thing,” the representative said as he handed her the key fob. He opened the door again and pointed to a nameplate that had been installed on the dashboard. ‘Property of Eric Northman’ the plate read.
“It’s perfect,” Sookie sighed. She couldn’t wait to see Eric’s face.
Sookie was still in the bathroom. Eric glanced at the closed door before reaching into his suitcase and removing the long box. He flipped it open and looked one more time at the intricate necklace. It would hug close to her neck, the rows of square cut diamonds meeting at larger square cut canary diamonds. From the first row, a second tier of teardrop diamonds looped gracefully, tied at regular points with canary diamond teardrops. The overall effect was a bright collar that made clear the owner was wearing a fortune. There were smaller earrings that matched. Eric sighed. It wasn’t really his style, but this was an acceptable pledging gift, and by ‘acceptable’ he meant acceptable to Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae.
He was sure Sookie would be stunned and then reluctant to wear it beyond tonight.
He closed the box and tucked it into his suit jacket pocket. He reached back into the suitcase and found the second, smaller box. When he flipped open the lid on this one it revealed two plain gold bands. There was nothing fancy or special about them. They were slightly rounded and made of red gold, and when you held them in your hand they were surprisingly heavy. He pulled out the smaller of the two and held it to the light so he could read the inscription that had been engraved on the inside of the band, ‘Älskade.’ ”Beloved,” Eric translated out loud. He glanced again at the closed door. Pulling his phone from his pocket, Eric texted his Intended that he would see her downstairs. Eric headed out to leave his gifts with the Ancient Pythoness. She was attending the party tonight to bear witness to the gift exchange. He still didn’t know what Sookie had procured for him, and he found himself strangely curious. He supposed he was feeling her anticipation. It all boded well.
Charles fell in step behind him while James and Owen remained on the door. Sookie had resisted his suggestion to replace the Were guard, Shari Decker. Eric hadn’t pushed hard because he couldn’t fault the telepath’s logic. The Viking fully expected they would return from Nebraska with a new guard, courtesy of Sookie’s Great Grandfather. Eric demanded prior approval of any guard before they would accept that person into their home. They had received word through Mr. Cataliades that the Prince agreed. As Eric walked to the elevator, he shook his head. Who knew what, or who the Prince would select. Eric suspected it would be one of those legendary fighters from another dimension, a Britlingen. If that guard was loyal to Sookie, that could be for the good, but if the guard proved to be loyal to the Prince, that would be a problem.
Eric glanced at Charles as he raised his hand to knock on the Ancient’s door. “Stay here,” he instructed him. Before his hand fell, the door opened to Diantha, the demon attorney’s niece.
“Shesexpectingya,” the slight woman said, her words running together in that lispy, wispy way that was uniquely hers. She stepped back and opened the door wider. Eric’s eyes registered the darkened state of the room. It didn’t bother him. He saw perfectly well in light or darkness and he immediately spotted the Pythoness seated near the window, her sightless eyes turned toward him.
“Eric the North Man,” the old voice sounded raspy. “Here you stand, more a road than a doorway.” Eric’s eyes narrowed, but he sat when the old one gestured to the chair positioned near her. He reached into his jacket and retrieved the jewelry boxes. He readily set the box holding the necklace on the table next to the crone, but the box with the rings he kept in his hand.
“You would mark her as your own in a way that is acceptable in her world,” the Pythoness stated. Eric glanced up to see the old vampire’s eyes drilling into him. He glanced again at the box. “And you would have yourself marked too,” she said and then laughed in her dry way.
“You have a talent for speaking in riddles,” Eric kept his tone polite.
“It has been my coin,” the seeress agreed. She cocked her head a little, “You are growing up,” she observed, “not quite where you need to be, but progressing.”
“When would you consider me fully grown, My Lady?” the Viking asked.
“Better you ask yourself that question,” she replied.
Eric smiled more at himself than anything else. ‘Serves me right for asking her a direct question,’ he thought. He pressed his fingers around the box one more time and then set it on the table next to the other box. “I thank you for performing this favor on our behalf,” he said formally and then rose to leave.
“Perhaps you have learned new tricks, Viking,” the Pythoness’ smile was not kind. “You have learned to curb your curiosity.” She sharpened her gaze and for a minute, Eric found himself reminded of Thalia. “I know the thing that haunts you, North Man. Would you have me ease your mind?”
Eric couldn’t escape the feeling that this was a test. ‘A road indeed,’ he thought. ‘She places turns and twists before me with no map to guide the way.’ He bowed a little, acknowledging her as his superior, “I would be happy to hear any wisdom you would choose to share,” he said formally.
“Very good, Eric!” she cackled, “You play your part well. You are ready for your destiny, and that is good because it races to find you. Don’t rely too much on your Fae allies. They will be there when you most need them, but they are few now and their protection wanes. Encourage your mate to learn their skills so that they are not lost.” The Pythoness laughed again, her voice changed, sounding like a young girl instead of an ancient crone, “And tell your Sookie to learn to mask her scent. It will all come to nothing if you drain her.” The Pythoness’ eyes drifted, shifting toward the window and the faint lights of the neighboring building beyond.
Eric recognized her movement as a dismissal and he bowed, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. He was halfway to the door when he heard her say, “They will be children like any other children, Northman.”
He was tempted to turn and ask more, but instead he continued through the door that Diantha opened for him. ‘They?’ he thought.
The evening sky was perfect. It was a little cool for some, but most were vampire and didn’t notice the chill in the air. The band was in full swing by the time Sookie and Eric arrived. They were playing cover songs from the 70’s and 80’s. Sookie’s eyes swept over the couples undulating in the central area and around the backlit pool and found herself singing along with Phil Collins’ sentiments. There was something in the air tonight, and as she glanced up at Eric she was pretty sure she knew what it was.
She was wearing her hair down the way he liked it. Frankly, she liked it better this way too, curling gently over her shoulders, and she wondered if anyone could tell she was wearing a layer of Under Armor next to her skin. Her pants were flannel and the sweater was cashmere, but she was used to warm, humid nights and she found her blood too thin to be comfortable in this kind of weather for long.
Rasul, their host for the evening, came to greet them at full speed, which meant that he looked like Houdini. One minute he was at the other side of the roof, the next he was standing right in front of them, bowing, and kissing Sookie’s hand. ‘Now you see him, now you don’t’ Sookie giggled to herself. She glanced up to see Eric grinning back, broadcasting his good humor.
“Now you are here, the party can really begin,” Rasul was being his most charming. He pulled Sookie’s hand carefully and linked it through his elbow, escorting her to a bar that was set up in the corner. Max was standing nearby, laughing at something Pam said. The two of them nodded, and Sookie thought they looked mildly guilty. As Eric ordered her drink, she glanced around the roof, noticing all the familiar faces. Finn was easy to spot, towering above those around him, talking with Mr. Cataliades. She saw Russell and Bartlett holding hands near the edge of the roof and looking out across the city. Maude was dancing with a vampire Sookie didn’t recognize. As Sookie turned her head she saw Isaiah leaning against the wall, his eyes on hers. They automatically smiled and nodded and Sookie looked away to find Felipe de Castro. He was standing with Thomas and Karin. Sookie found herself wondering what in the world that grouping would find to discuss. Eric handed her the drink and Rasul recovered her hand. Together they walked toward Mississippi and Indiana.
‘Northman,” Russell formally bowed.
“Congratulations, Princess!” Bartlett said warmly and he bowed to them both, “It’s a perfect night, but even the weather wouldn’t have dared to spoil this evening.”
Sookie looked up at the sky. It was hard to tell if it was cloudy with the light pollution of the city, but the weatherman had promised clear skies. “Sure is!” she agreed. She looked at Rasul and winked, “and I do think it will just get better.” Sookie saw Eric caught the gesture and she could feel his quick interest tinged with jealousy. She leaned into him to put his mind at ease, but they were interrupted when Pam cleared her throat. Sookie turned to find her sister was standing right beside her.
Pam was dressed in a cream pantsuit that was accented with a perfect pair of pink and cream shoes. Her necklace was a combination of platinum and some pink-toned jewel that caught the light like rows of tiny crystals against Pam’s pale skin. “I bought this for you,” Pam extended a pale blue box. “We will be sisters, now.” Pam’s lips twitched. “That sounds better than your daughter, doesn’t it?”
Bartlett laughed. “Certainly easier to explain,” he agreed.
Sookie took the box, but she didn’t look at it. She looked at Pam. They hadn’t always been best of friends, but they had come to like each other. If Sookie was being perfectly honest, she loved Pam. It was hard to say that all the time. Pam was a more traditional vampire than Eric. She was easy to be around, but difficult to get to know. Sookie had seen her heart truly engaged only once, and that had been Miriam. Miriam was dead now, and Pam seemed to live for business, fighting, and pranks. Sookie let her eyes slip to the box that she held in her hand and she set aside all the things she heard Pam say. She thought about Pam’s actions. There were the funny things, the Velcro man and the silly texts. There were the thoughtful things, the way she supported Sookie and had Eric’s back. Then there were the loyal things. Sookie had a flashback to that horrible time she was in Dr. Ludwig’s hospital, the time she almost died. Pam had come to see her. The vampire sat with her through many long hours, even when Sookie hadn’t been able to respond. Dr. Ludwig told Sookie it was Pam who had found her, alone and starving in the house on Hummingbird Road. It was Pam who had saved her life. Sookie looked up and into her sister’s eyes, “I love you too, Pam,” she said and she pushed her love with everything she had. She felt Eric still beside her, and she saw Pam’s eyes widen. Sookie figured the bond they had kind of worked that way, and she smiled when she saw the confirmation.
She opened the box to reveal a tennis bracelet. The diamonds winked pink. “Oh!” Sookie breathed.
“It is my signature color,” Pam told her. “That way when you wear it, you will think of me.” Sookie brushed a quick tear from her eye, then lifted the bracelet from the box and extended it to Eric. With deft fingers he fastened it around her wrist.
“Thank you,” Sookie breathed, “Thank…” and then she didn’t care about protocol or the dignity of vampires. She moved forward and wrapped Pam in a hug. “I love it,” she told her.
Pam hugged her back a little awkwardly, “Well, you are my favorite breather!” but Sookie could feel she was pleased.
The telepath looked aside; suddenly shy of her burst of emotion and hoping she wasn’t embarrassing Eric in front of his peers when she caught sight of Karin. Karin was watching them from some distance away. Thomas stood beside her and anyone who saw them could see that they were now a team. It was something in how they seemed to lean just a little toward each other, angled to protect each other’s flank.
‘Well, might as well make sure everyone is in this party,’ Sookie thought. She dabbed her moist eye one more time and walked directly toward Karin. She couldn’t miss the way Thomas moved forward, looking ready to intervene. ‘That is so sweet,’ the words ran through the telepath’s mind. “I wanted to thank you again,” Sookie said out loud to Karin once she stood in front of the couple. “I owe you a great deal. I never thanked you for the year you guarded me. You put yourself at risk on my behalf. I owe you for tonight, too. I never said it, but I’m proud to be able to call you my sister, too.”
Karin looked surprised, but as Eric came to stand beside her, she relaxed. “You look beautiful,” the Viking told his daughter, and then he glanced at Thomas. It was a small gesture, but it acknowledged to all present his acceptance and approval of the Sheriff’s place with his progeny. “I am pleased you will now act at Pam’s Second,” he told Thomas. “Your loyalty and place with my family recommends you.” Karin’s eyes were glowing and Sookie had the impression that this had been important.
“Don’t think you’re getting away from my human side!” Sookie said out loud and stepping forward she hugged Karin, her arms wrapping around and squeezing enough that there was polite laughter around them. When she released the vampire she told her, “I am so happy you’re here.” Her voice was sincere and she pushed her feelings again. Karin didn’t respond, but Sookie was pretty sure she was getting the message.
Karin inclined her head, “Mistress,” she murmured.
“Nope,” Sookie said, “Sister or nothing!”
Karin’s smile was lopsided; “Sister, then,” and Sookie felt that they may have turned a page. The telepath turned to Pam who was standing next to her and Sookie took her hand, “I’m sorry I missed the presentations tonight. Tell me about Fangtasia Ltd.”
Pam spent the next hour telling her about the expansion plans. Max drifted over and soon they were chatting about Asia and the South America offering. Eric was chatting with Russell and Sookie noticed their faces looked serious. She was reaching the end of her second drink when there was a banging at the entrance.
From across the way, Russell looked around Eric and said, “Aah, and the Great Lady arrives.” His eyes narrowed, “Isn’t that your Sheriff walking with her, Northman?” Eric turned around as well. Jane was walking beside the Ancient Pythoness and as they made their way forward, the Sheriff broke away to join Thierry. Although she was to leave his service soon, Jane was still under his rule, and Eric resolved to ask her for a full explanation later.
The band stopped playing and the crowd drifted toward the Pythoness, their anticipation palpable in the evening air. Diantha stood slightly behind the ancient vampire, holding a tray and Eric recognized the two boxes he had delivered to the Pythoness. There was also a third box that he assumed was his pledging gift from Sookie.
The telepath was also staring at the Pythoness and she couldn’t conceal her nervousness. Eric reached for her hand and squeezed it until she looked up at him and then he smiled for her. It was their smile, the one that he felt all the way to his heart and he saw her eyes widen and then warm for him. He turned back then, confident that with his krigare kvinna beside him, all was possible. He tucked her hand into the crook in his elbow and together they walked forward to stand before the Pythoness.
“Here you are again, as you should be,” the crone said pleasantly, “no artifice or attempt to deceive.” She lifted her chin and her sightless eyes shifted. “Hello, Finn,” she said dryly. “It has been many years since I stood so close to a minion of the Fae.” Sookie was surprised to realize the Nebraska King now stood directly behind her.
“Minion is a strong word,” Finn drawled, his brogue on full display.
“One might assume you were Brigant’s natural son, you lick at his steps so willingly,” the Pythoness didn’t bother to hide the sneer in her voice. “This one has no choice,” and the Pythoness half-lifted her hand to gesture at Sookie, “but to see a vampire so easily dance and frolic to their tune,” and she left the words to dangle in the air.
Behind her Finn laughed aloud, “Well, there you have it!” he acknowledged, “I come from a long line of dancers and frolickers. It is what comes naturally. My loyalty to the Prince is for the courtesy he shows me and the care he gave me that my Maker would not.” There was some hissing around them, but the Pythoness stopped it with a lift of her hand.
“I would not have it said that there was any discourtesy toward the Prince meant at this pledging of his Great Granddaughter. It is a new era for us all. I trust those are the words you will shuttle back to him.” If Finn agreed, Sookie didn’t see it because the Pythoness moved to the items on the tray. She picked up the long box first.
“As a symbol of your willing accord with this arrangement, the King of the combined kingdoms of Louisiana and Arkansas wishes to present you this gift of pledging,” The Pythoness extended the box to Diantha who opened it to reveal the collar of clear and canary diamonds. Sookie found herself taking in a sharp breath.
Eric lifted the necklace from its box. “May I?” he asked her. Sookie gathered her hair up in one hand as he stepped behind her. When she felt the weight of it against her neck she held it in place so he could maneuver his own hands around her hair. When the clasp was secure, he laid his hands on her shoulders and Sookie found her eyes rising to look into the Pythoness’ blind ones.
“A gift worthy of a Queen,” the Pythoness said aloud as if stating fact and not conjectures. Sookie could hear some more hissing, but it stilled when the crone reached for the second, smaller box. “This is not traditional, but then, neither is this pairing,” She handed the box to Diantha as she had the first. The demon opened it and Sookie found herself looking at two wedding rings, identical except for size.
Eric moved to stand beside her, and then turned her to face him, “Tomorrow I will pledge to you before witnesses. I have told you before that this is the joining that has meaning for me, and that is true. I will also join with you in the ceremony of your people and hope that with these ceremonies your head will accept that we are one. But I know how hard that head is, Miss Stackhouse, and so I will also present you this tomorrow,” and he nodded toward the rings. “It will sit on your hand in the way of your people so that when you doubt who you belong to, you need only look down.” When he saw the telepath’s lip start to lift he continued, “And you, my stubborn one, you will present me the other so that when all others see me, they will know that I belong only to you. It is a chain I will wear most willingly,” and Eric lifted her hand to his lips.
Sookie felt her heart grow big in her chest, almost bursting, and she found she couldn’t stop tears from spilling down her cheeks. Eric released her hands to capture those tears and he brought them to his mouth and smiled.
“So, now we have your pledging gift, Miss Stackhouse,” the Pythoness interrupted. The Pythoness handed over the box to Diantha and the demon opened it, revealing the key fob.
Sookie turned to Eric, “I don’t expect you to keep this exact gift forever, but I hope you’ll keep the sentiment,” and she lifted the fob from the box and dropped it into his outstretched hand. “Well, come on!” she said, and she led the way to the elevator. While they waited, others started down the stairs. The hotel had only six floors so racing the stairs was no hardship. After Rhodes, most vampire hotels did not extend any further than local fire departments could reach with their ladders, another lingering reminder of the tragedy. Pam crowded into the elevator with them, as did Finn. Sookie couldn’t help grinning. The doors opened to a line of hotel staff pointing them to the back door of the hotel. The doors opened, and there on the sidewalk was the car.
“Lover,” Eric sighed. Sookie wondered for a moment if he meant her or the Corvette sitting in front of him, but he brought her into his arms with a rush and kissed her like a house on fire, settling any debate.
Sookie appreciated how vampires loved fast cars. There had been some notable exceptions. Bill Compton, who was conspicuously absent tonight came to mind. Pam also did not seem drawn to the siren song of fast engines and nimble handling, preferring vehicles with cargo space. But for the rest? With their ability to move at great speed and their near indestructible nature, Sookie understood the allure that sports cars held for vampires.
She glanced at Pam, “Everything ready?”
“Of course,” Pam looked at her like she was insulted Sookie even asked. Uniformed people were moving among the crowd distributing paper. Pam turned and said in a clear voice, “You are invited to continue the celebration at a local racetrack. If you choose to bring your own vehicles, the directions are being distributed. If you prefer, there are buses at the front entrance that will allow you to continue the evening in comfort. We have arranged for a local racing school to provide both cars and suitable attire. The trip should take about twenty minutes… if you are obeying the local ordinances.” There was general laughter as the guests began making choices.
Sookie tugged Eric’s hand, “Well, what do you say? Want to take your new baby for a test drive?”
Eric raced around to open Sookie’s door. Once she was inside he vamped to the other side and was in sitting behind the wheel within seconds. He adjusted the seat a little and then adjusted the mirrors. He placed the fob in its place and the car roared to life. Eric’s eyes widened and a boyish smile lit his lips. When he looked at her, his face looked more like a teenager than a thousand-year-old King. “She is beautiful!” he sighed. He saw the nameplate and ran his finger over it. “I have missed this. I haven’t had a Corvette since… since…”
“Oklahoma,” Sookie supplied, her heart hurting just a bit for this man that she loved.
“Since then,” he acknowledged. He looked at the new computerized panel in the dash and pressed a few buttons. The navigation system kicked in and the voice gave directions. Eric carefully eased the car into its first gear and they glided forward, transitioning easily down the graduated curbing to the road, and then into city traffic to make their way to the race track.
The local track was ready for their party. The band from the hotel had reappeared and was set up and playing in the pits. There was a line of sports cars as well as formula racers and there were already several cars on the tracks, taking the turns at high speed. Guests were milling with bottles of blood in hand. Most were wearing white jumpsuits. Eric helped Sookie from the car and together they walked forward. Sookie had no doubt her vampire would be taking his new prize out on the track to play more than a few times this evening. He had barely said a word the whole drive, his eyes lighting on first one feature, and then another. She could feel how pleased he was and it made her heart happy.
“Eric!” the voice carried, and they both turned to see Stan advancing toward them. Sookie felt some annoyance seeing the Texas King again. The last time they had been together, Stan tried to take advantage of Eric’s vulnerable position to cheat a kingdom from him. Sookie was halfway to giving the monarch a piece of her mind when she felt caution running over her and she turned to see Eric slightly shaking his head.
Instead, the Viking turned to the Texas King, a large smile on his face, “Your Majesty!” he called heartily.
“Wow, great turn out! What a wonderful idea. I hope when the time comes that I can think of something half as cool to do for a pledging party. Much better than the usual fancy dance,” The Texas monarch turned to Sookie, “Wow, you look great!” he said smoothly, “Great necklace!” Sookie’s hand flew to her neck.
She almost forgot the small fortune hanging around her neck and she squeaked, “Thanks!” Eric’s smirk was knowing and she blushed. It was a beautiful piece, but embarrassing all at the same time nothing she would wear for every day. She was almost tempted to apologize to Eric when she saw someone near the cars she knew, “Bubba!”
Bubba was wearing a white racing suit as well. The grin on his face was so lopsided and sincere that Sookie felt happy just to see his happiness. “Miss Sookie!” he called in return. “Mr. Stan brought me to your engagement party. You don’t mind, do you?”
Sookie wrapped her friend in a tight hug, “Mind? It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Bubba’s look turned tentative, his head cocked a little to the side, “You know I always kind of thought of you as Mister Bill’s girl, but I think maybe I got it wrong. You belong with Mister Eric. You sure do.” A look crossed Bubba’s face, “I get mixed up sometimes. I hope you won’t hold that against me none.”
“Nothing to be sorry about there,” Sookie said gently. “Time was I thought I was Mister Bill’s girl too. Guess we were both wrong. Good thing we both figured it out.”
Bubba’s familiar smile curled up and his blue eyes twinkled, “Good thing!” he agreed. He turned his head to look at the line of cars, “You know much about these fancy wheels?” he asked. When Sookie told him she really didn’t, he took her hand and led her down the line, and for the next hour he talked about specifications and features in a way that let Sookie know that once upon a time, in another life, these machines had been important to him.
The evening whiled away. Sookie danced with Eric and then with Jason, who was waiting at the track taking a private lesson instead of attending the vampire only event at the hotel. She stood by the rail and watched Eric put his car through its paces. After a fair amount of prodding, Sookie took a Porsche out for a drive and then tolerated the hoots and hisses she received at her ‘timid’ performance behind the wheel.
When Bubba got up and sang a song he made immortal in one of the many racing car movie musicals, Sookie found herself dancing with Pam and Karin. They were all blond and blue-eyed alike, all Eric Northman’s women. When the song ended, Sookie looped her arms around the two of them and they found themselves laughing. Someone took a picture. It was an image that would grace the walls of their homes for many years to come.