I read for hours. Or rather, I tried to read for hours.
The book was a giant pain in the ass. The language was so antiquated that it almost slipped out of English and into Gibberish. Cometh this and thouest that, metaphors and bizarre parables all over the place. Christ, couldn’t the author have been a little more straightforward? How was anyone supposed to decipher this mess?
I closed my strained eyes to rest them. For the millionth time that day, I longed for Eric. Even if all this nonsense with Sophie Anne wasn’t going on, he could at least sit with me and help me unscramble it. He’d been around when people were actually speaking this noise. I made a promise to myself that when all of this was over and everyone involved was dead or in jail (except Hadley), I would take this book back to his home. We would study it properly, just him and me, and when we’d wrung it dry of all useful information about my fairy heritage, we’d shelve it in his fancy-ass library with the rest of his rare collections. I couldn’t think of a better place for it to reside.
Sighing, I opened my eyes again and reread the passage on Light.
It was confusing as hell. In one sentence, it was referred to simply as Light. In others, it changed to Sunn or Radia. It was clear that all Faes had this Light (or Sunn). It was also clear that we carried it around all the time, not just as a weapon, but as a state of being. Strangely, while it mentioned Radia occasionally, that word seemed to mean something slightly different. From what I could gather, Faes had Radia, but couldn’t use it like they could Light. It was a specialized kind of Light that operated through an intermediary. It didn’t elaborate on who or what this intermediary was, exactly, but whatever it was, it couldn’t do so without the Fae’s Consent. Damn, this was confusing.
No matter what section of the book I read, Consent made a constant appearance. Our enemies could kill Fae, eat Fae, torture Fae, enslave Fae, no problem, but if anyone wanted us for our abilities and not just our blood and deaths, then they needed our permission.
I could only imagine how irritating the queen must have found this information. Eric once mentioned that the queen had literally floored him when he’d upset her, threatening him despite his superior abilities. Since she didn’t have my Consent and never would, I imagined I was going to meet the same rough handling, eventually. Apparently she’d never heard about catching more flies with honey, preferring instead to chase them around the room with a meat cleaver.
I widened my knees and stretched myself backwards. My back hurt. My arms ached savagely. I tried rotating them in the confining sleeves, desperate for a bit more blood flow. A small rush moved through them, giving me a tiny but welcome relief. Damn, I was tired. I thought of the blood I’d given to Eric and the toll that constant fear took on people. I was probably due for a serious nap.
I took a deep breath and poured my attention back into the book. I could sleep when I’d worked out an escape route or when Eric rescued me. In fact, the second option sounded fantastic. Eric was perfectly welcome to swoop in and save me just as the sun broke, then he and I could fly somewhere far away from this stupid place and out of the were range, then curl up and sleep on the grass, just as we’d done earlier that day.
I caught myself. God, had it really only been earlier that day? My outdoor session with Eric and Claudine’s visit felt like years ago.
I remembered the feel of Eric’s head in my lap as we snuggled in a heap, just like a couple of lazybone dogs. I couldn’t think of a better way to fall asleep right now.
But no. Escape first. Sleep later. Time to study.
I blinked hard, making my eyes wake up. I leaned over the bed’s edge again, ready to delve back into more confusing prose, when my door burst open. I jumped at the sound.
“Find anything useful?” The queen smiled as she stood in the doorway. Her eyes flickered to her precious book laid out before me and narrowed. I opened my mouth to answer, but she just snapped her fingers to another vampire standing behind her.
“Bring her to the parlor.”
The hulking guard nodded and zipped into my room, scooping me up before I could so much as sputter in surprise. Upended like a potato sack over his shoulder, the two walked out and made their way downstairs, the book left wide open and ignored on the bed. I could only see behind us from my perch over his back as we moved through the house.
As we entered another room, I saw nothing but hallway, so when my bond to Eric flared spectacularly, I knew before the guard tossed me on the floor that he was in the room with me.
“Eric!” I leapt to my feet and looked frantically around. Another heavily-appointed room greeted me, complete with a fire place and several beautiful, uncomfortable looking fainting sofas. Four other vampires were already there, turned expectantly towards us. Two were guards, one restraining Bill with an ease that told me the guard was much older than my ex. The other was wearing leather gloves, lightly holding the end of a thick silver chain. The chain bore into a leash, which looped seven or eight times around the chest and bare arms of my beautiful, furious vampire. He was on his knees, grunting in suppressed pain and baring his fangs to the queen at my side.
I didn’t think.
I lunged across the room. I didn’t even wonder if anyone would try and stop me, but thankfully nobody did. I skidded to my knees, almost toppling into him. His t-shirt protected his chest, but I could hear the silver cooking into the skin of his biceps. His glare transferred and instantly softened as his attention switched from the queen to me. I didn’t let him talk. Without my arms, I simply fell forward into him, capturing his fanged mouth in my soft human kiss.
Growling in loud relief, he returned it. I shoved my tongue between his teeth, heedless of everyone else in the room. I slashed it against his fangs, using my blood to communicate my joy. His growl deepened and he reciprocated, cutting his own tongue and laving it firmly in my mouth. Our mixed blood crossed over and we groaned in pleasure as our bond ignited, sealing us together by nearly blasting us apart with its intensity.
The queen may have chuckled and Bill may have groaned in disappointment. I don’t know.
The room went black. There was no one there but us.
I shoved against my straight jacket and cursed loudly. Thanks to it and his chains, we couldn’t hold each other.
He pulled his mouth away from mine and looked down at me, fuming. “Have they violated you?”
I couldn’t tell if he meant rape or drinking my blood. I shook my head violently. “No. I’m okay.”
He dropped back on his heels and hunched low, his head connecting to my belly, dragging the side of his face over the crisscross of my trapped arms and up to my throat, sniffing out the truth of my words. I tilted into his search and murmured reassurances. Our bond was filled with his rage at the mere possibility that someone had tasted or taken me. When his lips neared mine, I whispered, “Are you hurt?”
He gave me a tight smile through his obvious pain and shook his head. “Forgive me, lover. I have failed you.”
“Shut up,” I muttered, pressing my lips into his throat and moving lower. I kissed the thick chains over his chest, as if my sweetness would convince them to stop burning my poor vampire.
I rubbed myself along his front, desperate for contact. Even with everything that had happened between us, I still wanted to reassure him that nothing – nothing – would ever break my connection with him. I murmured softly, “I do not consent to her. I’m yours.”
He looked at me inscrutably, weighing my words. It was impossible for him to know about the tome or the significance of what I’d said, but that didn’t stop him from agreeing one hundred percent. “I do not consent to this. You are mine,” he whispered back. I smiled wanly. Of course I was.
Suddenly I was yanked to my feet. Eric tried to follow, only to be tugged back by the guard holding his chain. He hissed in frustration as the chain bit deeper.
Sophie Anne was all business, pulling me back towards the other side of the room. Bill struggled angrily in my direction, but his captor merely squeezed him harder in response. I heard one of his arm bones crack under the pressure. Bill hissed as well, enraged at the pain. His restraint worried me. Whatever this bitch had planned, Bill clearly wasn’t on board with it. That was bad for me. Very bad.
The tome’s words were seared in my mind. I still didn’t understand them, or if it was possible to use them in any way to protect us. I only had some half-baked theories and a lot of presumptions. Still. They were all I had. Staring unflinchingly at Eric, my lips wouldn’t stop moving, their words becoming a chant. “I do not consent to her I’m yours I do not consent to her I’m yours,” over and over.
Consent. That seemed to be the word of the day. I threw it out like a verbal shield. I was a Fae, goddammit. And I wasn’t okay with this woman trying to usurp my powers. I did not fucking Consent.
The queen must have grown bored with my words. With my back against her front, she clapped her hand over my mouth.
Eric hissed his bloody mouth at her again, the evidence of our reinforced bond covering his lips and teeth. “Just what the fuck do you plan to do now, Majesty?” His sarcasm dripped down the last word. “You’ve kidnapped a bonded human. My bonded human. Do you imagine you can override my possession of her?”
She snorted behind me and tugged my head to one side, exposing my throat to her waiting fangs.
Both Eric and Bill fought savagely at her move.
“No!” Bill gritted.
“Drink her and I’ll fucking destroy you,” Eric swore.
I was so scared that I almost didn’t hear the queen chuckle at them. “Drink her, Northman? You really think I’m interested in her blood?” She spat the word like my blood was the cheapest brand of hooch. I exhaled sharply at her insidious tone. If not my blood, then what?
I felt her finger dance down the column of my throat, provoking Eric with her intimate touch on skin that belonged to him. “It’s daylight I crave, you asshole. I don’t give a fuck if she tastes like cherry pie. I’m sick of darkness. I’m sick of simulated UV lightbulbs. I’m sick of smelling the sun in my humans’ hair. I was a creature of light before I was turned. Now I’m taking back what’s mine, one way or another.”
I do not Consent. I do not Consent. I do not Consent. I do not Consent. I pushed my silent statement into the universe.
“Impossible,” Eric said. “It’s not hers to give. It’s not yours to take. Let her go, Sophie Anne. Her blood will not inoculate you and her bond is mine.”
“Yes,” she crooned at him. “You’ve thrown a wrench in the plan, that’s for sure. I have little choice now.”
Two of her fingers walked flirtingly along my throat now. I couldn’t see it, but I felt the cruel twist of her smile. “If I can’t bond with her, then I’ll just have to turn her.”
I went rigid in her arms and thrashed frantically. “No!” I screamed behind her hand. “Noooo!”
Eric exploded to his feet, a miracle of strength under the debilitating weight of silver, and tried to charge us. His chain ripped him back, but he fought it like a rabid bear. “NO!” His deafening roar filled the tiny room. “Fucking bitch, I’ll kill you! She cannot be turned! SHE IS MINE!”
“Oh, but I can,” she argued lightly, watching him struggle. “Her bond may be spoken for, but as her maker, she will answer only to me. As a fairy, she will have the power, and as my child, she will grant me what I wish. My command will leave her no choice.”
I bit hard into her fingers across my mouth. She grunted in pain, but didn’t move them. My arms were about ready to dislocate in their frenzy to escape the jacket. She was insane, this woman. Turning me? What the hell would that achieve?
Bill spoke up as he wrestled his own match. “And what then, Majesty? What happens when she loses her own ability to day walk? How is she supposed to reinstate yours? Who’s to say she won’t lose everything, including her telepathy and her Light? Would you foster so mundane a child?”
I wasn’t happy about the source, but I was glad someone had the brains to think quickly. Bill made a very good point.
But the queen just shrugged. “Then I will have lost nothing. If Sookie’s powers do not transfer as a vampire, I will end her.”
Bill roared in fury, but the sound was nothing compared to Eric’s thunderous howl. His eyes were nothing but coals as he staggered wholeheartedly against his tether. “You would kill your own child? For no reason? You would not simply release her?”
“You needn’t worry, Sheriff. You’ll be staked long before she rises. She will never be yours, regardless of whether she stays gifted.” She paused, twirling a piece of my hair. “If she doesn’t, then she can join you in the true death.”
I moaned pitifully, the sound smothered. Fear spiked hard in my mind and body, but it was overshadowed by Eric’s suffering. The man was a mess of despair and physical pain.
She lowered her lips to my jugular. My human resistance meant nothing to her steely strength. She held me with ease. Tears leaked freely from the corners of my eyes as I watched Eric fight valiantly…and lose.
Suddenly her hand was gone from my mouth. “Say your goodbyes.”
The guard kicked Eric’s legs out from under him. Shouting in rage, he collapsed to his knees, torment filling his expression. “No,” he rasped. “You cannot take her from me. I do not consent.”
Fear boiled hotly between us. I was choking on it. But if this was the end, I needed him to understand. I pushed as much of it aside as possible and filled the empty space with my love. All of it. Eric gasped raggedly as I let myself go into his head.
“I love you,” I said. “Remember that.”
Once again, nothing else existed. No fancy room, no vampires, no exes and no queens. Just him. I closed my eyes as his love moved across the space and collided with mine.
“I love you,” he whispered. “Even turned, you’ll still be mine, Sookie.”
I nodded and the queen clucked her tongue in reprimand at his silly declaration. “Enjoy the show, gentlemen,” she offered Eric and Bill.
With that, her fangs descended. She sealed her mouth to my throat and bit down hard. I slammed my eyes shut and started screaming.
Oh, my God. So much screaming. I hadn’t realized my voice could reach such panicked heights. It shattered the air around us, attacking my ear drums. I didn’t feel any pain. I was too afraid to let it register. It was only when I stopped screaming to inhale and start again that I realized my scream was not the one ringing out at such ferocious volume.
A void filled the space behind my back. I spun around. The queen wasn’t behind me. She was on the floor at my feet, screeching in agony, her hands clapped hard over her mouth as blood gushed alarmingly over her fingers. My blood? God, had she taken that much of it already?
The woman thrashed wildly and spat a mouthful of it. More filled her mouth in a flash. I realized then it wasn’t my blood at all. It couldn’t be. It was hers. She was bleeding profusely. She moved her hands to spit again and that’s when I saw it.
They were gone.
I staggered back, terrified. What the fuck was going on? My foot came into contact with the now slippery floor and I fell. Without my arms, I landed hard on my side and let out a startled woof of air. Amid the red mess near my face, I could make out the tiniest white splinters.
The queen’s teeth. They weren’t gone at all. They had shattered.
Eric’s voice had me rolling to my side instantly.
“Eric, she -,”
I stopped dead when I caught a glimpse of the scene before me.
His guard had dropped his leash and was edging away slowly. Bill and his captor were staring in horror between Eric and the queen. I only had eyes for Eric. I watched in amazement as my vampire writhed on his knees, his face contorting with pain as his skin began to shine with unnaturally bright light.
“Stay back,” he snarled. The light intensified. It filled his face and blasted sharply from his eyes. It radiated from every inch of his arms. It became so brilliant that the weave of his clothes couldn’t dampen it and it exploded in a dazzling beam that filled the room just as overwhelmingly as the queen’s screams.
The light fell across the five other vampires in the room. More ear-splitting screams joined Sophie Anne’s.
Eric roared loudly, still fighting his chains as he became so shiny that I couldn’t make out his features. The silver chain detonated, sending lethal shrapnel across the room. I heard more shouts of agony as the metals shards embedded themselves in the others. Not a single piece found me.
“Eric. Baby, what’s happeni -,”
His light erupted and suddenly the rest of us were sharing a parlor with a dwarf star. I whimpered and slammed my eyes shut against the white glare. The screaming around me spiked as one by one, I heard their owners liquefy; their squishy, now silent remains pelting the hardwood floor.
Oh, sweet Jesus in heaven. The noise. The metallic stench of too much blood. The sunburst that was eating my lover from the inside out.
I cried like a child. Everyone was dead. Six vampires were nothing but sludge, oozing around me like some kind of macabre swimming pool. I pulled my knees into my face. I didn’t want to see. I already knew by my solitary cries that all of the others were gone.
A small piece of grief was spared for Bill. My first love, he hadn’t deserved whatever horrible fate had just met him.
But it was hardly noticed and quickly forgotten. It didn’t have a chance under the deluge of grief that now beset me for Eric. I howled as my heart wrenched violently in half.
Take me! I screamed silently at the murderous light around me. Kill me and let me be with him! I won’t live without him! You can’t make me, goddammit! You can’t make –
My fetal ball was being pried apart by a force much stronger than myself.
“Open your eyes, lover. Look at me.”
Moaning, I shut them tighter. “No,” I groaned hotly. “Just take me. Let me go to him.”
The buckles of my jacket were loosened. My arms were straightened and the sleeves fell away from me. The second my arms were free, they were captured again by two warm, insistent hands. They forced me to grab hold of two achingly familiar shoulders as I was lifted up from the massacre seeping around me.
“Sookie,” the dark voice rasped. “Damn you, girl. You will look at me!”
I cracked my eyes open and found two beautiful blue ones staring down at me anxiously. Oh, thank Christ. It was over. I was dead.
“It worked,” I mumbled in relief, letting myself relax. “God let me die.”
He shook me. “Look at me!” he snapped. “You aren’t dead, my love. Tell me you are uninjured. Now!”
My eyes fluttered at his anger. Strange. I wouldn’t have thought Heaven would be this hostile. I rotated my legs over his arms and craned my neck, searching for pain since it was such a big, damn deal to him. I felt nothing but the hours-old ache from the jacket. I sat up a little straighter, pulling his neck so I could adjust.
The softness of his hair at his nape made me smile. I craned to the side and open my eyes clearly. The square set of his jaw was the first thing I noticed. Its muscles were clenched and sawing with worry. The dip in his chin was dusted with heavier stubble than normal.
The idea that Eric still needed to shave brought me out of my stupor completely. Who would ever shave in Heaven if they didn’t have to?
“Eric,” I said slowly. His earthly name. Not his angelic one.
He relaxed fractionally, his chest deflating as the tension escaped. “Sookie,” he responded, dropping his forehead to mine. “Are you injured?”
I shook my head slowly against his. “No,” I answered. “I don’t think so.”
He huffed and resettled me in his arms, enfolding me further into them.
“What happened?” I asked.
He shook his head, pivoting on his heels, surveying the carnage. “I don’t know.”
I hazarded a peek over the cradle of my body. Red tissue and pulp spattered what was once a genteel suite. One puddle was the queen, destroyed where she lay screeching over her splintered fangs. Another near the door had been my guard. One near where Eric had stood was his guard and the final two, I dreaded to acknowledge, had been Bill and his jailer.
Only Eric had been spared.
I clutched him like a drowning victim and buried my face in his chest. The same chest where my Light resided. The same Light that had risen up in almighty retribution, smiting those who would rend us apart.
I understood now.
I held Eric tightly; my intermediary hugged me back, returning my relief and reassurance. My Radia, unwieldable by me, slept soundly alongside his heart, ready to rise again if our bond was threatened.
I held up a single finger between us.
It looked normal. Frail and easily punctured. But now, only for one. My skin had turned to steel under the queen’s unauthorized bite.
I placed my fingertip against one of his fangs and pressed gently.
It pricked as sweetly as a grape. A bead of blood pooled as I settled my finger against his tongue. He closed his lips around it, sucking gently.
I sighed. He moaned softly, his head tipping forward as he luxuriated in the proof our unbreakable connection.
“My husband,” I murmured, my eyes slipping closed.
He opened his mouth, his tongue sliding deliciously over my skin. “My darling wife.”