Eric woke up in the travel coffin he’d gone to rest in. He knew that it was still thirty two minutes before sundown, but he also felt completely safe from the sun. He opened the inside lock of the travel coffin and climbed out.
His coffin had been placed next to his bed. Eric hurriedly stowed his sword on the top shelf of the old closet and ran his fingers along the perfectly cut and fashioned piece of furniture. He smiled, thinking about Sookie’s grandfather being taught how to shape and mold furnishings like this one from his own father, Niall.
Eric grabbed the piece of wood given to him by the fairy and hurried downstairs and outside to the pool. He hardly noticed the waning sun; instead, he focused only on his own son, who was happily playing the water game, Marco Polo, with his Uncle Jason, his Uncle Lala, Jesus, Amelia, and Tara. Miranda was simply taking in the sight from her perch on the pool’s steps. Only her stomach and her head were poking out of the cool water.
Jarod was sitting on a lounge chair, alert and watching over the group. He gave Eric a slightly surprised look and then nodded.
Eric strode over to the pool, but the others were so busy with their play that they didn’t notice him. He watched for a minute or so and then said quietly, “Hunter.”
The boy whipped his head around to face Eric and let out a little cry. He swam as quickly as his little arms and legs would move him over to the edge, where Eric was bent down and waiting to pick him up. As soon as he was out of the pool, Hunter wrapped himself up in Eric’s arms. It had been less than twenty-four hour since they’d said goodbye, but they both felt like the time had been much longer. And they were both grateful to be together again.
Not minding the fact that Hunter was making his clothing wet, Eric swung the boy around as always. Hunter giggled and Odin barked happily at their feet.
“Well I’ll be,” Tara stopped herself to censor her words, “gosh frickin’ darned.” She shook her head as she looked on at the vampire and the boy―more surprised by the obvious love that Eric had for the child than by the fact that the vampire was outside before the sun had gone down.
It was Hunter who finally commented on this fact, “Uncle Eric, what are you doing up? You can’t be up in the daytime, can you?”
Eric smiled at the boy and ruffled his wet bangs before sitting them down on a lounge chair. “Did Jarod or your Uncle Jason tell you I visited the fairy world—or at least the border of it?”
Hunter nodded. “Yeah―they said you didn’t see Mommy or Aunt Sookie ‘cause you couldn’t go to where they were, right?”
Eric answered, “That’s right. But I got to feel your Aunt Sookie through the bond we have.”
Hunter smiled. “Cool.”
Eric continued, “And when I was there, I was so close to your Aunt Sookie that she made me stronger, so I can be in the sun with you a little―but probably only for today, okay Hunter?”
“Cool,” Hunter said again, not really caring about when Eric was there, but only that he was there. Hunter gave Eric another big hug. “Hey, Uncle Eric, I made two new friends today!”
Eric smiled at Hunter and again ruffled his unruly bangs. “Who?”
“Well―I met,” Hunter paused so that he could work the difficult name through his six-year-old mouth, “‘Melia and Tara. Did you know that Tara is Aunt Sookie’s friend?”
Eric chuckled. “I did know that, smár rekkr. Did you know that both Amelia and Tara are witches?” he asked in a conspiratorial voice.
Hunter nodded, “Jesus said so! Did you know that Tara is Uncle Lala’s cousin, just like Jessica is my cousin?”
Eric chuckled again, “I did know that.”
“Wanna swim too, Uncle Eric?” Hunter asked.
“Not right now, Hunter,” Eric said. “I need to talk to Jarod while you finish swimming, and then I want to show you something that I got in the fairy world and tell you all about your great-great grandfather.”
Hunter tilted his head a bit to the side, “Do I have one of those?”
Eric ruffled his bangs, “Yep―I met him.”
“Cool,” Hunter said once again. Eric walked Hunter over to the side of the pool and gently put him into the water, where Jason was waiting to make sure the boy was well-established in the water before he let go. Hunter went splashing over toward his Uncle Lala and Jesus while Eric and Jason exchanged a look.
Eric spoke in a low voice, “I’m sorry I did not bring her back with me.”
Jason nodded, “Me too. You did all you could, right?”
Eric nodded, “I could go no farther than I did.”
Jason nodded again, “Then you did all you could. I’d like to hear about my great-granddad too―if that’s okay.”
Eric nodded as Jason turned to rejoin the group. The vampire spent a few minutes watching his boy as he played gleefully in the pool and splashed Lafayette and Tara. A serene look settled onto his face.
After a while, Eric joined Jarod off to the side. “Jesus told you we have a threat?”
“Yeah,” the shifter said. “I’ve arranged to have everyone stay here―on the property―for the time being, except for Jason, who will be here when he’s not working. Pam, Jessica, and Bubba were already asleep when Jesus called, but Pam is in the cubby and Jessica was staying with Jason in the ground-floor room, so she’s okay. Bubba is with Thalia, as always. I sent text messages to both of them.”
“Good,” Eric said. “I don’t know what the threat is or when it is coming.”
Jarod sighed, “Miranda told me to tell you that you could go screw yourself for that one, Northman.”
Eric looked at the shifter with a smirk.
“She’s hormonal, and she’s―well―Miranda,” Jarod laughed. “I’m just glad that she has you to be frustrated with for a while―instead of me.”
“When is she due again?” Eric chuckled.
“Not until August 7,” Jarod shuddered.
Miranda, hearing everything they had said from her station in the pool, gave them both a death glare.
Eric chuckled a little louder. “Perhaps your son will come early?”
Jarod shook his head, “I hope so, but I was two weeks late according to my mother.”
Miranda’s stare turned even more deadly.
Eric spoke to Jarod even while he looked at Miranda. “I do not know what is coming for us this time, so if you wish to take your mate to one of my safe houses to await your child . . .”
Jarod interrupted Eric, “She has already told me to tell you to shelve that kind of talk. She told me to tell you to go fuck yourself.”
Eric chuckled again. “You have an excellent mate, Jarod.”
The shifter laughed, “I know.”
Miranda rolled her eyes at both of them, even as a slight smile graced her mouth. She rubbed her belly lovingly and then looked at Jarod the same way.
With a bit of caution, Eric walked over to where Miranda was sitting in the pool. He squatted down next to her. “You have everything you require?”
The Werelioness looked up at him like she was ready to snap, but seeing the sincerity in Eric’s eyes, she spared a little smile for the vampire.
“Pam was teasing me about my size last night,” she paused and lowered her voice as she looked at Hunter playing, “to cheer him up after you left. And she said something about needing a forklift to move me around. At the time, her remark angered me, but now, I’m thinking that might not be such a bad idea.”
Eric chuckled and tilted his head when he saw that Miranda seemed serious, “You are joking?”
Miranda rolled her eyes, “Yes―I would never live that down with Pam, as tempting as it might be. A few more weeks of hauling around this,” she patted her stomach, “bowling ball is nothing compared to her eternal badgering.”
Eric smiled, “I could order her not to do it.”
“Do not think that I haven’t thought about that, vampire. But then Pam wouldn’t be,” Miranda paused, “Pam, and we do have fun―occasionally.”
“Occasionally,” Eric smirked in agreement.
“What she needs is a distraction―a new love interest, perhaps? What about this Tara person?”
Eric let out a loud half-laugh/half-snort.
Lafayette, Jesus, and Jason looked up at Eric accusingly. The vampire spoke to them in a calm voice. “I did not snort.”
All three of the men in the pool rolled their eyes as Tara and Amelia looked at them in question.
Hunter giggled. The topic of whether or not his Uncle Eric snorted when he laughed was a common one in the household—one that made everyone’s mind whir with happiness.
“Uncle Eric, what’s so funny?” Hunter asked.
“Miranda just told me a funny joke,” Eric answered. He chuckled and then added, “about Aunt Pammy.”
Accepting that answer with another giggle, Hunter went back to his game of Marco Polo.
Miranda looked up at Eric in question, as she rubbed her own back. “What’s so funny?”
Eric sat down fully next to the pool, “Pam and Tara do not get along so well. When the necromancer, Marnie, was active, Pam was cursed with a spell that caused her flesh to,” Eric paused, “rot.”
Miranda scooted closer to him, though she made sure to stay mostly submerged in the cool water. Looking for ammunition to use against Pam, she probed, “Do tell me―and tell everything.”
Eric chuckled, “Well, let’s just say that Pam didn’t look pretty, and she smelled even worse.”
Miranda looked over her shoulder, “What did this Tara have to do with it?”
“She was there when Marnie set the spell, so, of course,” Eric began.
“Of course, Pam wanted to kill her too,” Miranda chuckled. “No―maybe Tara will not do. Too bad,” Miranda said contemplatively.
Eric lowered his voice, “I know that Pam cannot harm Tara because I have ordered her not to; I just hope that Tara doesn’t stake Pam. It is a fucking miracle that Tara is even here right now. Until last night, she hated me as much as she hated Pam―maybe even more.”
Miranda smiled, “You do have a way of bringing that out in people, Northman. I think it’s the fangs or the fact that you always wear black.”
“I thought it was my charming disposition,” Eric deadpanned.
The two chuckled. And then Miranda moved uncomfortably, rubbing her back again.
“Is there any movement with your special project?” Eric asked as Miranda found a comfortable spot.
Miranda nodded. “The legislation is written, and I have two state senators and five representatives willing to sponsor it during the next session of the state congress.”
“Excellent,” Eric said.
Miranda agreed, “Yes―it will be heard—at the very least. But in this state, it will not pass.
“You question our state legislature’s adherence to Civil Rights, Miranda?”
“Every fucking day,” Miranda said a bit sadly.
Eric nodded, “There are some who will never accept others as equal because ‘otherness’ threatens them. Some fear that allowing something different than their lives to be acceptable will be somehow destructive to them.”
Eric chuckled, “I agree with you. It is a weak attitude, spawned by fear or hate or both. The wisest being I ever met once told me that the bravest thing anyone could do was to listen to the views of others without fear. If your own opinions are sound, then they will stay in place and will not be threatened by what anyone else has to say. And if that happens, then others will listen well as you speak too. It is only when the views are weak that they will crumble.”
“Godric?” Miranda asked, once again shifting in the pool.
“No―but it sounds like him,” Eric agreed. “This was told to me by someone even older.”
Eric looked at Lafayette and Jesus, who had momentarily stopped playing and were speaking tenderly to each other.
“It is like them,” Eric said, gesturing toward the couple. “For many years, homosexuality has been treated as a plague by many people. And I have heard arguments from some that if people like Jesus and Lafayette are allowed to have a life together, then they will corrupt everything around them.” Eric grunted. “A ridiculous notion. By their logic, I ought not to allow Hunter around them for fear that homosexuality will somehow ‘rub off’ on him if he thinks it is okay to be gay.” Eric shrugged. “Hunter will one day decide upon his sexual preference by himself and will act upon what he feels. He will be what he is, and I will support him regardless.” Eric paused. “I have lived long enough to know that suppression will not stop a person’s inner feelings, and I have learned recently that denial of one’s feelings leads only to the destruction of the self.”
Miranda looked up at him, “As soon as Weres announce themselves publicly as vampires have, we will face the same thing. Suddenly it will be taboo to be married to someone of Were blood, but many people already are and have no idea. By my reckoning, about 10% of the population is at least part Were; of course, most do not shift and do not know of their lineage, but the blood is there.”
Eric agreed, “At least 10%―if my nose is trustworthy.” He paused, “So―the draft you wrote for the bill was accepted by these seven people you mentioned?”
Miranda shifted and―under her breath―cursed her discomfort. “Yes, it is as we discussed before. The bill presents the issue of marriage as a Civil Rights issue―beyond notions of personal beliefs or religion. It holds that repressing any consenting adult’s right to marriage is tantamount to withholding the fundamental Civil Rights found in the “Declaration of Independence” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“Making it about Civil Rights was very clever, Miranda, and framing it in terms of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ was even better.”
“Yes,” Miranda said, “it was―if I do say so myself. But, Eric, it still won’t work.”
Eric looked at her confidently. “I have contributed to many campaigns over the years, Miranda, and I am owed many favors. And I definitely know how to make a public service announcement to help gain public support for vampire/human marriage. We will also have the Were community on our side because the law would eventually apply to them too. The gay community would also be benefitted, of course. And there are many people in this state who strongly believe in fundamental rights for all.”
“Yes―but the loudest people tend to be the ones screaming about gay people and vampires being abominations, and I think someone would notice if you did wide-scale glamouring. I don’t think that would help our cause; it would just garner more fear.”
“True,” Eric said with a smile, “but I have glamoured many skeletons out of many closets. And most of the loudest decriers against people whom they consider ‘other’ have many, many skeletons.”
“So you will make these skeletons public?” Miranda rubbed her back yet again.
“Yes―some. And then the authority of these loud voices will be questioned or delegitimized.”
“And those who have no skeletons? Will you arrange for them to be glamoured?”
“No,” Eric said firmly. “Those who are legitimately passionate in their beliefs have just as much right to them as I have to mine. Now―that is something Godric taught me. Time will work to evolve cultural beliefs eventually. It is never fair for those who receive the prejudice to have to wait, but that is the way the world has worked for all of my thousand years. I’m just hoping that there are enough people in this state that realize that their own ways of life will not be threatened if they allow others the same liberties they enjoy.”
“And, what will you do if that doesn’t happen?”
“I will keep fighting. And if Sookie wishes, we will elope to Vermont or―now―Maine.”
Miranda shifted in the pool uncomfortably. “Fuck,” she whispered.
“You okay?” Eric asked.
“No―I’ve been having pains in my back all day, and it’s getting worse. I will be happy when this baby finally decides to move out!” Miranda exclaimed with a forced chuckle.
“What?” Eric said standing up, once again getting everyone’s attention. “You have been having pains all day, and they are getting stronger?”
“Yes,” Miranda answered, keeping her voice low, “but it’s not like I’m in labor or anything. I have pain every day.”
Eric rolled his eyes, “Are the pains you are having occurring at regular intervals?”
Miranda thought about it, “Maybe.”
Eric groaned as Jarod came over, a worried expression on his face.
Eric continued, “So these pains are at regular intervals and they are getting stronger. Are they getting closer together?”
Miranda said defensively, “Yes―but that doesn’t mean I’m in labor. I would know if I were in labor.” Her voice was insistent as she once again grabbed her back in pain.
Eric bent down and felt Miranda’s abdomen. He rose and took out his phone.
“Hey!” Miranda growled angrily. “I did not give you permission to touch me.”
Eric rolled his eyes again and punched in a number. “Ludwig,” he said into the phone.
There was a pause. “No―I have not caused anyone to be injured,” Eric said cheekily, “at least not yet. It is Miranda. She is in labor.”
There was another pause.
“How long have you been feeling these pains?” Eric asked Miranda.
“I’m not in labor!” The Werelioness maintained. By this time, Jesus had swum over, and he put his hand on Miranda’s abdomen too.
“How long, Miranda?” Jesus asked gently.
She looked at him, and her eyes widened. “Oh fuck,” she whispered. “Since around noon?”
Eric chuckled and spoke into the receiver, “About eight hours.”
Miranda grabbed her back again.
Eric spoke, “A little less than three minutes apart.”
There was another pause as Eric presumably listened to Ludwig, “Has your water broken, Miranda?”
She shook her head and looked at the pool water around her, “I don’t think so.”
“She does not know,” Eric said. “Her abdomen is hard during her contractions, however.” He hung up. “Ludwig will be here in a few minutes.”
Miranda looked at Eric incredulously, “How would you know what happens when women give birth?”
Eric rolled his eyes yet again. “In a thousand years you hear things, and,” he paused, “the hardness was similar with the cows and goats my human family raised.” He paused again and looked at Odin, “and the dogs.”
Miranda growled and tried to launch herself at him from the pool. By this time, Jarod was kneeling beside her. He said comfortingly, “I’m sure Eric didn’t mean anything by that comment―did you, Eric?” The shifter gave the vampire a warning glance.
Eric looked innocent―or at least he tried to. “Of course, I didn’t.”
Jarod looked back at him, “You are not helping, Northman.” The shifter looked around uncertainly, “Should we get her out of the pool?”
Jesus shook his head, “No―labor is actually easier in the water, which is probably why Miranda didn’t realize it was happening. We’ll wait for Dr. Ludwig to get here as long as the contractions are not two minutes or closer together, but I suggest that the others get out of the pool—in case her water does break.”
Miranda was hit with a particularly strong pain in that moment, “Son of a,” she stopped herself, “Hunter! Hunter, you should go inside now and—uh—get your snack. Lafayette and your new witch friends can go with you,” she groaned.
Lafayette laughed, “I don’t wanna be in no nasty my-water-may-have-broken pool anyhow.”
Eric went over to the other side of the pool, and since there was no ladder there, he lent a hand to help everyone out, beginning with Hunter.
Tara spoke up as he helped her out, “This place ain’t what I was expectin’.”
“Me neither,” Eric chuckled. He turned and bent down to speak to Hunter. “You go on in. I’ll stay here with Miranda to make sure she and her baby are okay.” He ruffled the boy’s bangs.
Miranda yelled from across the pool, “Hunter, tell your Aunt Pammy that she is not to come outside when she wakes up. She will listen to you.”
Eric chuckled, “Tell her that you want to watch The Lion King with her again. And tell her that I want her to stay inside too. Make her sing the songs with you.” Eric winked at Hunter.
Hunter giggled and started skipping after Lafayette, “Okay, Uncle Eric.”
Jason said somewhat awkwardly, “You need any help out here? On the force, they teach you how to handle emergencies like―um―birthing situations.”
“No!” yelled Miranda from across the pool.
“Alrighty then,” Jason said with relief as he hurried toward the house with Tara and Amelia in tow.
A little more than two hours later, everyone―except Jarod, Miranda, and Jesus―was gathered in the living room. After Ludwig had arrived, she’d had Eric carry the Werelioness to the guesthouse. Initially, Miranda had fought the idea of being carried, but when she’d had a particularly bad labor pain about midway to the guesthouse, she was silently grateful to be in Eric’s strong grasp.
Eric flexed his shoulder, remembering Miranda’s firm grip on him as she’d had her contraction.
Inexplicably, Pam had been pacing nervously. Eric chuckled, “Miranda will be fine.” It had not escaped Eric’s attention that Pam had been trying to stifle many emotions as the new cub had been born at the end of The Lion King. He chuckled again as he and Hunter rocked.
“Who’s worried about her?” Pam asked defensively. “I just don’t like waiting around and doing nothing. Miranda choosing to be in labor right now is incredibly disagreeable. I was going to get a manicure later tonight, and now since you’re back,” she gestured toward Eric, “I could be at Fangtasia overseeing the new bartender, Felicia. Now―I’m stuck here.”
“No one’s keeping you here,” Eric said with a smile. “Go to Fangtasia if you like.”
Pam shook her head. “No―we have your little,” she looked at Hunter, “matter to deal with as well.”
Eric nodded. He’d not yet told Hunter that another threat seemed to be looming over their heads, and the vagueness of that threat made him wonder if he should even worry the boy. Looking around at the full room, he was glad that he’d kept the trailer home in place for the times Jason decided to sleep over. Amelia and Tara could share it until he could get Amelia an adequate apartment in town, or they might wish to stay on the property. Lafayette and Jesus had a room in the guesthouse, which also had an additional bedroom that was already outfitted as the baby’s new nursery. That would leave Jessica and Jason in the downstairs room and Pam in the cubby.
Eric shook his head. For a thousand years, he’d been solitary, living with only Godric and Pam sporadically during that time. In fact, he had kept a separate residence from his vampire child for almost a hundred years. Now he had a whole household under his care.
Luckily for everyone, Pam and Tara had reached a tepid understanding with each other. And even luckier for Eric, he’d still been outside when they’d negotiated it. Apparently, Pam had agreed not to threaten to harm Tara all the time, and Tara had agreed not to put anything wooden into Pam’s heart, including bullets or stakes. All in all―Eric thought―it seemed to have been a successful negotiation, though the two women glared at each other from time to time.
Eric looked down at his child. Hunter was still holding the wood that his great-great grandfather had sent back from the fairy realm. Everyone―especially Hunter, Jason, and Amelia―had listened with rapt attention as Eric told them about much of his experience with Niall, though Eric had kept some of the more personal moments to himself.
Eric smiled as his ears picked up the cries of the newborn child from the guesthouse. Except for Pam, no one else in the room knew that his hearing and sense of smell were as good as they were, so he kept the moment of the birth to himself; he’d leave the announcement to the child’s father, as it should be.
About ten minutes later, an excited and proud-looking Jarod rushed through the door and into the living room. Expectant faces turned up to him.
“It’s a boy!” Jarod exclaimed.
“We knew that already,” Pam deadpanned. “Tell us something important―is he a Were or a shifter?”
For months, Pam had been teasing Miranda that the child would be a shifter and not a Were, and though Miranda could love a shifter―as was evidenced by her deep devotion to Jarod―everyone knew that she was secretly hoping that the child would be a Werelion. It had frustrated her immensely when Ludwig had said that she would be unable to tell for sure until the child was born.
Jarod smiled, “He’s a Werelion—and a very strong one at that! Miranda is very happy.”
“And you?” Eric asked.
“He has ten fingers and ten toes and Miranda’s eyes. I couldn’t be happier.”
“When can I meet him?” Hunter asked excitedly.
Jarod smiled, “The doctor said he and Miranda can start having visits tomorrow, Hunt. Well―I better get back.”
Lafayette stopped him, “Oh no―not so fast, sugar.”
Eric chuckled, thinking about how Lafayette’s choruses of hookers and bitches and motha fuckas had all been replaced by ‘sugar’ when Hunter was around.
Lafayette continued, “What did y’all name him? I’s been waitin’ for months to find out.”
Jarod turned around but looked at Eric when he spoke, “We’ve named him Godric―Godric David Campbell.”
Eric’s lip turned up into a smile as Jarod turned to leave again.
Of course, that was the moment when fate once again decided to rain on their parade. Eric suddenly sat up stiffly and looked around the room. “I smell fairies.”