Chapter 05: Magic
“Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, delight the heart. And they both take practice.”—Nora Roberts
Eric couldn’t stop glancing at all the machines and tubes in the room. The only other time he’d ever been in a hospital room had been the night that Gran had died, yet there were more machines in this room than there had been in Gran’s. There were several tubes in Sookie’s arms. And there were monitors everywhere.
He positioned his chair so that his face was as close to Sookie’s as possible—as if he could will the very oxygen from his body into hers. And his eyes moved from her beautiful, though pale, face; to the monitor showing her vital signs; to another monitor showing another set of vital signs.
Using his peripheral vision, Eric could see that the short doctor tending to Sookie had come back into the room. She was followed by a nurse carrying a bag of blood.
“Is this real?” Eric asked the doctor, as the nurse replaced a bag labeled “plasma” with the blood. His voice sounded far away, even to his own ears. “Is she really here? Is she really carrying my child?”
Dr. Ludwig POV
Dr. Ludwig couldn’t help but to note the disbelief in the young man’s face—and the absolute love. She’d seen a lot of reactions from men who had just found out that they were going to be fathers. And she’d seen a lot of reactions from people who were frightened that they might lose their loved ones. But this man looked different. There was gratefulness mixed with the fear on his face. There was resolve mixed with turmoil. In some ways it looked as if he were seeing a ghost. But, in other ways, his expression indicated that he was looking upon the origin of life itself.
Dr. Amy Ludwig was not what anyone might call “sweet” or sentimental, and no one had ever accused her of having a good bed-side manner. As a woman entering the medical field in the 1970s, she’d needed to be as tough as nails—so she’d resolved to be even tougher.
She was abrupt and no-nonsense; she was crass and rude. However, her patients loved her because she told them the truth and she did her best to keep them and their children alive.
And her best was the best that there was.
Before it had even been an established specialty, she had specialized in neo-natal care, focusing mostly on premature infants who didn’t give a fuck if she was nice to them or not. Indeed, her littlest patients were her favorites; they didn’t need explanations, and they didn’t undermine their own treatments by questioning her. All their energy was focused on one thing—staying alive.
Yes—Amy Ludwig had been a pioneer in the care of premature children. With Niall’s funding and support, she had developed much of the equipment that had helped to save the lives of countless infants since the 1980s. Of course, she’d lost a lot of children too—which was why she continued to push herself and her research forward. But, sometimes, a child entered the world before she could save him or her, despite Dr. Ludwig’s best efforts.
When she’d seen Ruby Jones on the floor of Niall’s home earlier that day, blood coating her thighs and blood pressure skyrocketing, she would have bet a lot of money that the child was already beyond her power to save. He was simply too young to survive outside of his mother’s womb. Frankly, the doctor had simply been hoping to save the mother at that point.
And—because of situations like that—she’d learned to distance her emotions from her patients a long time before Niall had asked her to take care of his pregnant “ward,” Ruby Jones.
Ruby had struck Dr. Ludwig as a quiet young woman—shy even—but Ruby had followed directions well, and Dr. Ludwig had appreciated that. In the early months of her pregnancy, Ruby hadn’t been gaining enough weight, but as soon as Dr. Ludwig had read her the riot act, she’d changed her ways. Still—it wasn’t as if the doctor’s heart had gone out to the young woman.
However, the young man who had walked into Ruby’s hospital room ninety minutes earlier had elicited the doctor’s compassion. He’d strode in with purpose and had picked up Ruby’s hand and sat next to her as if he were literally ready to allow all of her pain to flow right into his own body.
Yes—somehow he had managed to endear himself to Dr. Ludwig from the first moment she’d seen him. There was a sense of calm about him—not confidence so much, but steadiness. Dr. Ludwig recognized the man as a natural father and—though she was not one to pray much—she said a quick prayer that the man would get the chance to be a father to the child valiantly fighting to stay inside of the safety of his mother’s womb.
“She is carrying a son,” Dr. Ludwig volunteered, responding to the young man’s earlier words.
The man smiled. “Min son,” he whispered with an accent that sounded Scandinavian to the doctor.
“Will you tell me what all of these things are—what they do?” Eric asked, gesturing toward the tubes even though his eyes stayed on Sookie’s face.
“These two are giving her medicine,” Dr. Ludwig said, gesturing toward Sookie’s IV.
“What medicines?” Eric asked.
“There’s one to bring down her blood pressure and one to keep her sedated so that she can rest. And this, obviously, is blood,” she said as she pointed to another line going into Sookie vein. “We started off giving her some O-neg and then plasma, but now we are giving her type-specific blood. I usually try to limit transfusions for pregnant women, but—in this case—she needs it so that she can regain her strength as soon as possible.”
Eric nodded in acknowledgment, even as a deep frown of concern etched his features. “And the bandage on her head?” he asked.
“When she fell earlier, she obviously used her hands to protect the baby, so her head took quite a hit,” the doctor sighed. “Luckily, the abrasion on her head isn’t that deep, but she does have a minor concussion.”
“And her wrist?”
Ludwig glanced at Sookie’s right wrist. “Fractured in the fall. But it’s not too bad. As I said, from the position of her body when I found her, it seems that she was trying to prevent her fall from creating an impact on your child.”
Eric smiled a little and smoothed the hair from Sookie’s forehead. He couldn’t help but to notice that there was still a trace of blood in it. “She was born to be a mother,” he said softly.
The doctor didn’t speak for a moment as Eric reverently stroked Sookie’s cheek.
“And the other machines? What are they for, Doctor—uh . . . . Sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“I’m Dr. Amy Ludwig.”
“I’m Eric,” he said.
The doctor nodded and pointed to the little suction-cup devices on Sookie’s body. “All these are electrodes. They are helping us to monitor Ruby’s heart-rate. And this cuff,” she added, pointing to the blood pressure sleeve, “is keeping us abreast of her blood pressure at all times. This monitor is telling us all we need to know about her condition.”
Eric glanced up at the monitor. “And what is it telling you about Sookie?”
Dr. Ludwig POV
The doctor didn’t even bat an eyelash at the man using a different name than Ruby. She’d never been one to ask questions that were none of her business.
“It’s telling me that her blood pressure is now stable at 130 over 95. I’ll feel better when the lower number is below 85, but it’s better than it was when you walked in.”
“And her heart?”
“It’s good. No irregular beating now.”
Eric nodded and sighed with relief. “And my son?” he asked, the emotion clear in his voice.
Dr. Ludwig pointed to another monitor. “This is him.”
“And the number? The 117?”
“That’s his heart rate. It’s a bit slow, but it’s approaching normal again. It was quite a bit lower earlier, but since you got here, it’s stabilized and strengthened.”
Taking in the doctor’s information, Eric nodded.
Dr. Ludwig pointed to the strap around Ruby’s—or Sookie’s—stomach. “This is how we are monitoring him, but I have to do an ultrasound now to check on your son’s movement. Would you like to see him?”
Eric glanced at the doctor quickly and then back down at Sookie. “Yes. Please.” He took a breath. “Has Sookie seen him?”
Ludwig nodded. “Yes. She saw him just this morning when I told her that she was having a boy. She’s only at four and a half months, but your child is more the size of a five-month-old, so it was possible to tell the gender.”
“Was she happy about it being a boy?” Eric asked looking at Sookie with a sense of awe in his eyes.
“Yes. And she was even happier when I told her that he looked strong and healthy and that he had a strong heart. That heart is what pulled him through today. That and your coming,” the doctor added with certainty.
A tear fell down Eric’s cheek as he seemed to grasp Sookie’s hand more firmly.
“Would you like to hear your son’s heart?” Dr. Ludwig asked.
Unable to say anything, Eric nodded as the doctor turned on the sound from the fetal monitor.
More tears fell from Eric eyes as he heard the symphony of heartbeats that his son was producing.
“We’ll step out for a minute,” the doctor said, motioning to her nurse. She wanted nothing more than to leave the young man alone to enjoy the sound of his son’s steadying heartbeat.
Even as he listened to his son’s heart, Eric was running numbers in his head. He didn’t have a great deal of liquid assets, but if he sold his home and emptied his accounts, he could split the money between his team at work so that they would have something while they looked for other jobs if Appius really did dissolve his division as he’d threatened.
His new contract with Guo ensured that the company in China would be fine. There was even a new clause that said that they could back out of the deal without penalty if Eric wasn’t the point-man.
If Mormor sold the NP stock in her name, she would have enough money to live off of. However, she would be heartbroken to have to leave her home. Eric sighed deeply.
The sale of the old Stackhouse property had gone through and could maintain Remy Savoy if he lost his job, and Eric knew that Remy didn’t have many expenses since he was using experimental medicines. Eric somehow knew that Appius would threaten Remy’s place in the clinical trial he was in, but he prayed that Niall might be able to help with that. Hadley had actually had a bit of life insurance too—from a policy that had been bought by her mother, so Hunter and Remy would be okay, at least until Eric could figure out something else.
He knew that Pam would be difficult to protect, but maybe Russell would hire her at Vibrant, and maybe Bobby could defend her if Appius actually tried to have her arrested.
Eric thought for a moment. “I will take the blame for anything that Pam is accused of,” he said quietly to himself. He nodded in resolution. “I’ll simply say that I manipulated Pam into doing wrong without her knowing it. And I’ll say the same if Sookie is accused,” he added with another nod of his head.
Eric sighed, wondering if Appius had more ammunition to hold over his head. Michelle Stackhouse would certainly publish her book. And his mother’s name would be dragged through the mud. Eric had no doubt that his father would continue to try to harm everyone he cared about, but Eric couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving Sookie’s side now. He couldn’t marry another—not even Isabel. He couldn’t keep going through his life as if he were the undead—not when Sookie had literally brought life into his world through his son.
He moved his hand gently over the bump on Sookie’s belly.
“Min son,” he said softly. “I will do everything I can to protect you and your mother—even if that means I have to be in prison for a long time.”
Eric closed his eyes. He was determined. He would take anything that Appius dished out. He would admit to all illegalities. He would insist that Pam—and even Sookie—testify against him. He would admit to being the mastermind behind anything illegal that Appius could drum up—so that he was the only one who would be imprisoned.
He would lose his home. He would lose his job and his profession. He would lose his freedom. He would probably lose the respect of all of his colleagues—and his employees when he failed to protect their jobs. His family—Pam, Mormor, and Alexei—might turn their backs on him once they found out that he had failed to shield them from harm. Eric knew that Appius would drag him and everyone around him through hell. But he was prepared to take on the guilt of the others’ suffering.
But he couldn’t lose the woman and the child in the bed in front of him.
He had no idea how he would financially support the two people he loved the most after he gave away all he had in order to try to help the other people whom Appius was bound to hurt. But even if he had to work at a McDonald’s eighty hours a week, he would find a way to take care of Sookie and his son.
And—if he were in prison—he would ask Bobby to look after Sookie. And—somehow, someday—he would find a way to pay Bobby back.
Yes—he would exchange the prison of his father’s cruelty for a prison of steel bars. But he would also claim his beloved and their child as he own—even if it meant losing everything else!
How could he do otherwise?
And it wasn’t even just because of the baby, though the child was a huge part of why Eric wouldn’t let himself give his family up again. No—it was because Sookie had stayed behind to help him.
To try to rescue him.
The emotion that gesture caused in Eric was too much for him to deal with in that moment. It was too much for him to believe.
“Are you ready to see your son now?” Dr. Ludwig asked, interrupting Eric’s thoughts. She was trailed into the room by the same nurse as before, who immediately checked the dripping of the various fluids going into Sookie’s body.
Eric nodded as the nurse readied a machine. Dr. Ludwig pulled a stool from under the bed and climbed onto it. She did it so quickly that Eric had barely noticed her doing it.
“I suppose there must be drawbacks to being so tall too,” the doctor said with a smirk as she saw Eric eyeing her stool.
“Yeah,” he answered without hesitation. “From the time I was fourteen to the time I was twenty-five, I never slept in a bed that was long enough.” He chuckled as he looked back at Sookie. “I always woke up with something hanging off the bed or something sore.”
“Never had that problem myself,” Dr. Ludwig remarked as she began to prepare Sookie’s belly for the ultrasound. “In fact, being this short has a lot of benefits.”
“Like what?” Eric asked his voice indicating his sincere curiosity.
The doctor winked at him. “I am usually in a room well before others realize it,” she chuckled. “And—trust me—that can come in handy.”
Eric nodded. “I can believe it.” His own height made him much more conspicuous than he’d like to be most of the time.
“We’re ready, Dr. Ludwig,” the nurse said pleasantly. Eric noticed that she had an Indian accent.
Dr. Ludwig glared at her a little, though the nurse just smiled wider as she handed the doctor the ultrasound wand. Immediately, Eric’s eyes were drawn toward the 3-D image of his child on the monitor as the doctor moved the wand into position.
“Oh my God!” Eric gasped as he saw the detailed figure of his son come into view.
Dr. Ludwig’s face relaxed a little. “He’s still where we want him to be in the uterus.” She pointed to the image as she moved the wand a little. “And the placenta is looking healthy.” She nodded and spoke with some certainly, “The medicine has worked to stop Ruby’s labor, and the baby is stable. We’ll do another ultrasound in a few hours, but Ruby and your son are okay—for now.”
Eric looked at the doctor with concern in his eyes. “For now?”
“Yes,” Dr. Ludwig said. “If everything goes well, we’ll keep her here for several more days; then, we’ll get her started on some medicine to help keep her blood pressure controlled for the duration of her pregnancy. She has preeclampsia, which is not uncommon, especially for a woman’s first pregnancy, but we’ll need to keep an eye on it.”
“Will they be okay?” Eric asked.
“That depends,” Dr. Ludwig responded.
“I think it depends on you,” the doctor said honestly.
Eric looked at her in question. “I’ll do anything.”
Dr. Ludwig half-smirked and half-smiled. “I imagine you would.”
“What do I need to do?” Eric asked, his voice begging.
Dr. Ludwig glanced at the nurse, whose nametag read Indira, and then back at Eric.
“I specialize in the treatment of premature babies,” the doctor said, “and I have dealt with many cases where a child or a mother’s life was balanced on the tip of a sword. In times like that, I use all my knowledge and all my skill to save everyone I can, but I find that I am not the difference in those cases.” She looked at the image of the child on the screen. “It is the inherent strength within the child or the mother that determines most of the outcomes. But sometimes, there is something more.”
Indira smiled. “जादू,” she said in Hindi. [Author’s note: From what I can tell from one of my friends, who speaks Hindi, this word sounds like this: “jaadu.” Sorry if I’m wrong. I don’t know anything about this language—other than that it’s beautiful to listen to.]
Eric looked at the nurse in question.
“Magic,” Indira translated. “It is determined by magic.”
Dr. Ludwig didn’t glare at her nurse when she looked at her this time. “Damned right, it’s magic,” she agreed. The diminutive doctor looked back at Eric. “And it seems that in this case, your presence was all the magic that was needed to help Ruby and the baby. Before you got here, her blood pressure wouldn’t stabilize and the medicine wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped. The baby was barely hanging in there, and I was afraid that his placenta would rupture and that we’d lose him.”
Eric’s eyes filled with fear.
Dr. Ludwig put her hand on his arm comfortingly. “But none of that is happening any longer. You walked into this room, and this girl somehow knew you were here. You walked into this room, and both she and your son found the extra bit of fight they needed.”
“That is the magic,” Indira said almost triumphantly.
Dr. Ludwig nodded. “Yes. I have studied medicine for a long time, and I am the best at what I do,” she added without arrogance. “Moreover, my own mother and grandmother were midwives, so I started my education that way. But—in the end—many things are still beyond my power and my knowledge.” She chuckled. “And I’m glad of that too!”
“Glad?” Eric asked.
“Less pressure,” Indira said with a smirk that was met with the doctor’s glare.
Eric smiled a little. “It must be nice to know you have help sometimes,” he directed at the doctor.
Dr. Ludwig looked at Eric sincerely. “It is.” She sighed. “I sense that you and this young woman have a strong connection, and she needs that right now in order to take care of your child. I also know that you have not been with her when I have examined her at Niall’s home. Seeing you here, I intuit that being separated was not something either of you chose, and I hope—for the sake of you all—that you will not have to be separated again,” she added seriously.
“We won’t be,” Eric vowed firmly, looking at his son and then his beloved. “I won’t let us be—not like we have been. No matter what,” he finished quietly.
Dr. Ludwig nodded at the young man’s resolve. “Good. Ruby’s pregnancy . . . ,” she started.
Eric interrupted her. “Are you bound by confidentiality?” he asked both the doctor and nurse.
Dr. Ludwig raised her eyebrow. “Well—we make exceptions, such as the fact that you are in here and learning of her condition even though I had to take Niall’s word that you were indeed the father of this child.” She chuckled. “So I would say that we are bound by our patients’ needs more than anything else.”
Eric nodded at the physician. “She’s been in hiding, but her name’s not Ruby. It’s Sookie. Can you call her that when no one else is around?”
The doctor nodded and then picked up her previous thought without missing a beat. “Based on the last time Sookie had her period, which was in early January, her pregnancy is at about 20 weeks.”
Eric thought back. “Yeah,” he confirmed.
Dr. Ludwig nodded. “Your son is larger than usual, but seeing you, I’m not surprised. Do you know how big you were when you were born?”
“My grandmother once told me that I was almost ten pounds.”
“Good,” Dr. Ludwig said. “Hopefully, this one will take after you and develop quickly. Normal pregnancies last around 40 weeks.”
Eric looked down at Sookie with concern in his eyes. “Only half way there. Will they make it?” he asked in barely a whisper.
Ludwig patted his arm again. “Since you have me, they won’t need to get that far. At 25 weeks, there’s a 50% survival rate. And things keep getting better from there. If Sookie and the baby can get through the next ten hours or so, and if we can keep her blood pressure stable for the next month or two, then we can all breathe easier. After that, we’ll keep this little one inside of her for as long as possible—ideally until he’s about 35 to 37 weeks old. After that, we can perform a cesarean to limit the chance of trauma for either of them.”
Eric nodded, though concern still clouded his eyes.
“Would you like some pictures before I turn off the image?” Dr. Ludwig asked.
“Please,” Eric said, his emotion clear. “Thank you, Dr. Ludwig.”
“Amy,” the doctor said, surprising everyone in the room. “You can call me Amy.”
Eric nodded. “Okay, Amy. Thank you.”
The doctor nodded and smiled, though her expression changed as she looked over at Indira. “I’m still Doctor Ludwig to you.”
Indira chuckled and then looked at Eric. “I’ll have two copies made since I don’t think Sookie had a chance to see a 3D image like this.”
“Good,” Dr. Ludwig said, snapping several pictures and then handing the wand to Indira. She looked at her nurse. “You’re on a 12-hour shift—correct?”
Indira nodded. “Yes. I’ll be on until 2:00 a.m.”
“I want you to be Sookie’s primary nurse while she’s here. Who are you rotating with?”
“For the next three days, Chow and I will be rotating our patients,” Indira responded.
Ludwig nodded with satisfaction and looked at Eric. “Chow is somewhat crabby, but he’s good. Indira will make sure that he understands that we are to call the patient Sookie in private and Ruby if there are orderlies or lab techs present. And my resident, Mindy, will be informed as well. Mindy is the fiancé of one of Niall’s security officers, so she will keep your confidence as well.”
“Thank you,” Eric said sincerely.
“And,” Dr. Ludwig said, “Indira will also make it clear to everyone that you will be allowed to stay with Sookie at all times possible.”
Indira smiled. “Hospital visiting hours are usually ending about now, but we make exceptions in the neonatal ward. I’ll have a bed brought in for you—if you want.”
Eric shook his head. “No—I want to stay right next to her.”
Indira grinned. “That’s what a lot of the dads say.”
Ludwig winked at Eric. “If she remains stable, Indira can bring in an extra hospital bed and put it right next to Sookie’s bed for you.”
The Indian nurse giggled, “I’ll even lower the rails in the middle so that it’s more like one bed.”
“Thanks,” Eric said.
“Just warning you now, though,” Dr. Ludwig said with a twinkle in her eye, “the bed’s going to be too short.”
A/N: I hope there aren’t typos in this one. I edited quickly and changed quite a bit, but I have a report to finish for meetings tomorrow at work, and I knew that if I didn’t get this to you now, it would be Friday before I got to it.
I hope you liked this chapter. I wanted to convey that—even though Sookie is still in trouble—Eric seems to understand inherently that she’s going to be okay, now that he’s there. Although this is a non-supernatural fic, I have always had a feeling that there was a kind of magic between Sookie and Eric. And I hope I conveyed that here.
I’ll be moving to Uncharted for a bit—at least as soon as my report and meetings are done tomorrow. I’ll see you w/ more of this story soon.
P.S. I have to say that I love this Dr. Ludwig and Indira. If you are a Chopped fan, you might recognize the person I chose to be Indira. She’s not an actress, but a judge on the cooking program, but when I was writing, it was her I saw. And she’s my favorite Chopped judge, so I just went w/ it. LOL.