Summary: Story 4 of the Gift Horse Series—Now that Eric has eliminated Freyda, can he reach Sookie before her child is born? And—is Pam really going to try to be a Lamaze partner for Sookie? What could possibly go wrong with that? (Must reads: “Gift Horse,” “Scrooged,” and “Black Christmas.”)
Beta: Kleannhouse agreed to—once again—be my eagle eyes for this series. And—because of her diligence—you are getting a much more polished work. Much more quickly too! Thanks, Kleannhouse! (P.S. All remaining errors are mine—probably b/c I always add stuff last minute.)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lines of dialogue, titles, etc., are the property of their respective owners. Only the original plot is the creation of the author; however, even that is derived from characters belonging to others. No profit has been made from this work. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of the source material. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in this story are based on The Southern Vampire Mystery series and True Blood. Thus, Charlaine Harris and HBO are responsible for the people and places that I play with in my story.
Banner: Thanks to Sephrenia for making the banner for this story! As always, your work is beautiful!
“You must take a cleansing breath,” Pam instructed, reading from the website she was looking at on her phone. “Wait—are you at the beginning of a contraction? The cleansing breath must be taken right at the beginning of a contraction.”
Sookie looked at the vampiress next to her with incredulous eyes even as she tried to endure the pain of her latest contraction. “What the fuck are you talking about, Pam?”
Pam breathed a long-suffering sigh—though she needed neither to breathe nor to sigh. “You know—I always thought you were a prude; however, during the last several hours, I have come to find out that you are fully capable of cursing like a sailor. And do I need to remind you—yet again—that you are in this situation only because you allowed the dog to impregnate you?”
As her contraction subsided, Sookie glared at Pam. “That so-called dog was a good man! He’s Sammy’s father, and he’s Matthew’s father! And he was a good friend to me!”
“Yes, but he has left you with children that smell of shifter,” Pam reasoned with another put-upon sigh.
“That’s it! Get the fuck out—right now!” Sookie screamed, even as Dr. Ludwig chuckled from the corner of the room where she was setting up several items that would be used to clean the baby once it was finally born.
“And you!” Sookie yelled in the diminutive doctor’s direction. “Stop laughing at me!”
“No,” Dr. Ludwig stated flatly. “I will stop laughing only when that child of yours stops his stubborn ways and allows himself to be born.”
Sookie let out an exasperated sigh. “Don’t you think I’m trying?”
“Perhaps if you communicated with him telepathically, he could be convinced,” Karin reasoned from a chair next to the door where she’d been watching the action almost silently since the doctor had insisted Sookie get into bed.
Sookie glared at her. “You suggested the same thing an hour ago! Don’t you think I’ve been trying that?”
Karin smirked, her expression eerily Eric-like. “Trying and doing are not the same things.”
“Wait! Another website calls it an organizing breath,” Pam said. The vampiress looked at Dr. Ludwig. “Is an organizing breath the same as a cleansing breath?”
“What the fuck is an ‘organizing’ breath?” Sookie asked.
Pam and Ludwig ignored her question.
“All of that is pure hogwash!” Ludwig said with a sneer, as she gestured toward Pam’s phone. “It’s all designed to fool women into thinking that they don’t want pain medicine when they are giving birth.”
“I’d take a little fucking pain medicine!” Sookie exclaimed.
“No,” Ludwig said evenly.
“But you just said that the breathing shit is hooey!” Sookie gritted out as another contraction hit.
“It is. However, I said that it was designed to fool women into thinking they didn’t want pain medicine. I didn’t say that one foolish thing should be replaced with another. Plus, if we gave you pain medicine, your stubborn male-child would likely absorb it like a sponge and use it as an aid to keep chilling out in your womb.”
Sookie grunted. “My son is not chilling out!”
“Listen to this, Sookie,” Pam said as she continued to read from her phone: “According to the Lamaze International website, ‘It may help you to have a visual focus to accompany your conscious breathing. You can recall an image with your eyes closed, focus on a picture or special object from home, keep your eyes on your partner, or simply stare at a spot on the wall.'” Pam looked up from her reading. “Can you recall an image—a special object?”
Sookie glared at her.
Pam rolled her eyes. “Fine—you may keep your eyes on me during your contractions if you wish, or,” she pointed, “the wall is right there.” She looked more closely. “Never mind, the wallpaper in here is so hideous that I’d hate for that to be what you were thinking about when you gave birth. It might damage the child.”
Karin snickered, even as she leafed through a magazine—Guns and Ammo.
Both Sookie and Pam glared at her for a moment—but for very different reasons.
“Sookie, you should look at me during your contractions. It will soothe you,” Pam said with certainly.
Sookie scoffed. “Trust me, Pam. The last thing that concentrating on you would do is soothe me!”
Pam gave Sookie a fangy grin. “Excellent! This is all very normal. The articles have all indicated that a woman in childbirth will often display animosity toward those around her.” Her lips turned downward in distaste. “And that is just one more reason why I am glad that I never had children.”
“Shut the fuck up, Pam!” Sookie cried out as her contraction peaked.
Pam sighed. “It is the father of the child to whom the birthing mother is supposed to be most acrimonious,” she reported, still reading. She looked up from her iPhone. “I am sorry the shifter is not here,” she said, suddenly sincere.
Sookie burst into tears.
“Pamela!” Karin yelled sharply. By the time the shouted name had stopped echoing in the small bedroom that Sookie was in, the older vampiress had crossed the room and was stationed on the other side of Sookie’s hospital-like bed from Pam.
The two vampiresses seemed to be having a staring contest over Sookie’s distended belly—while the telepath tried to glare at both of them at once, even as she was still crying.
“What?” Pam finally asked her sister. “What did I say?”
Karin sighed loudly and took Sookie’s hand, an uncharacteristically caring gesture on her part.
Sookie looked up at Karin with heart-broken eyes.
“I’m such a horrible person!” the telepath cried.
“No—you are not,” the older vampiress comforted before shooting Pam a look.
“What the fuck is going on?” Pam asked obliviously.
“If I had to guess,” came Dr. Ludwig’s unmelodic voice, “I’d say that you just hit Miss Stackhouse over the head with a reminder that the father of her child is dead. And I’d hazard that that sorrow has been coupled with the girl’s guilt over the fact that she longs for a very different man than the dead shifter to be by her bedside right now.”
Sookie began crying even louder.
“And those things,” the doctor continued clinically, as she seemingly ignored Sookie’s presence, “coupled with the pain of her contractions and the emotional experience of labor have overwhelmed her.”
“Oh,” Pam responded as if suddenly realizing that her words could have been to blame for Sookie’s outburst. “Well,” she looked down at the crying mostly-human woman, “that’s ridiculous!”
“What the fuck?” Sookie yelled, even as Karin gave her vampire sister the evil eye.
Pam sighed. “Listen. I am sorry to have upset you.”
Sookie looked at her skeptically.
“I am!” Pam insisted. “And I truly am sorry that the father of your child—your children—is dead. And I am especially sorry that I did not learn of Freyda’s plot to harm you so that I could have prevented the accident that killed the shifter and almost killed you as well. But you should feel no guilt for Sam Merlotte not being here or for wanting my maker by your side,” the vampiress said soothingly, her compassionate tone eliciting a surprised looked from all three of the other women in the room.
Sookie couldn’t be sure, but she also seemed to sense a spark of skepticism from her unborn infant’s brain as well.
“What?” Pam demanded as they all stared at her.
“You sounded almost,” Karin paused, “human.”
Pam rolled her eyes. “Anyway,” she said, looking back at Sookie, “you and Eric never had a fair shot.” She scoffed. “That was partly your own damn faults—of course.”
“Pam!” Karin said warningly as another contraction started for Sookie.
“What?” Pam asked. “It was both of their faults! I watched Eric mope around for months at a time—wanting to visit her, denying himself fresh blood, and refusing to fuck even the choice fangbangers I found for him.”
“Pam!” Karin yelled again.
“Wait!” Sookie cried, even as she tried to take deep breaths. She looked up at Pam. “What are you talkin’ about?”
Pam shook her head disapprovingly. “I’m talking about stubbornness—both yours and his! He wanted you—wanted you more than he’s ever wanted anything. But he convinced himself that you didn’t want him—that even if you loved him, you hated that he was a vampire!”
Sookie shook her head and slumped a little as her physical pain receded for the moment.
“Pam! Let’s not rehash all this now,” Karin said warningly.
“No—she’s right,” Sookie said as if defeated. She continued in a long ramble, pausing only long enough between sentences to sob, sniffle, or cringe in discomfort as her emotions spilled over. “I was so stubborn! I never told Eric how much I hated it that he’d stay away for long periods of time. I never picked up the phone to tell him that I missed him. And—like a fool—I pushed him away every time I should have asked him to come closer: like after the witch’s curse or after I learned of Bill’s initial mission or after we’d been forced to bond or after the takeover when he remembered our time together or after he tricked me into pledging with him or after Appius had been killed or after I learned about his impending marriage to Freyda.” She shook her head as she placed her hands over her swollen belly. “There were thousands of times when I wanted him to be with me, but I would always talk myself out of asking him to come. And why?” she asked, her tone now showing self-directed anger. “Why? So I could have a normal life? Because I wanted to be independent? Because I didn’t want to be in danger?” She laughed ruefully. “Eric was the one who always tried to ensure I had as much normalcy and independence as possible! He tried to protect me from danger!” She looked at Karin. “He ordered you to look out for me for a year—when you didn’t even know me! And he sold an extra hundred years of his life—for me,” she ended in a half-whimper and half-sob.
Everyone in the room was surprised when Pam patted Sookie’s back. “So—you were both pains in the ass,” she said somewhat flippantly, though she was obviously trying to make Sookie feel better. “Tell me—would you do things differently? If you could do everything again—would you change anything?”
Sookie looked down at her belly and shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “I couldn’t.”
Pam smiled at her. “Eric wouldn’t either. As soon as he learned of your child—your children—I felt two things from him. Do you know what they were?”
Sookie shook her head again.
“He felt longing—as if he wished he could have been the one to give you your children. And he felt happiness—for you, Sookie!”
“I didn’t think I’d ever have a reason to say this, but Pam is right—about Eric,” Karin qualified. “I felt the same things from him when he learned of your children.”
“Fate decided that you and Eric would have to be dragged through a shit-storm, and it gave you one hell of one! But now that storm is over, Sookie. And you should feel no guilt in celebrating being out of the shit,” Pam said.
“Surprisingly—I agree with Pam again,” Karin added.
“And I’ll agree with anything that keeps you calm and relaxed, little girl,” Dr. Ludwig piped in. “So relax—for the sake of that stubborn son of yours!” she added sternly.
Sookie took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll try.”
Eric had had eight children—six human and two vampire.
He had been seventeen years old—young by modern human standards, but slightly old by the standards of his own time—when his first child had been born. Eric had been married to Aude, his brother’s widow, a little more than six months when that child was born. The child had been his brother’s by biology, but in his mind—and in the minds of those in his village—the babe had been his as soon as he’d wed Aude.
He’d never seen the child, a girl named Freygerd. She’d died only two days after her birth; he’d been on a raid at the time.
He’d been present for the births of his next two children: Leif, a boy named after Eric’s brother, and Æstrid, a girl named for Aude’s mother. Both children had been born healthy and had stayed that way.
However, their next child, a little girl who’d never received a name, was stillborn. As with his first child, Eric had not been present for the birth of his fourth. Again, he’d been on a raid and had returned to the bad news. Aude had been inconsolable for a time, not even accepting him into her bed for two years for fear that she would become pregnant and—once again—lose a child. Eric had learned very little about his stillborn daughter—only that she’d had dark hair like Aude. Sometimes he would still wonder what the color of her eyes had been. But no one had known, for the child had never opened her eyes.
His next child, a boy that he’d named Tormod, in honor of Thor, was born healthy—much to both Eric and Aude’s relief. Eric had been present for that birth too. Of course, by then, Aude had begun to believe that it was Eric’s presence that ensured the healthy births of their children. And she’d convinced Eric of this too. After all, all three of their living children had been placed into their father’s arms within minutes of their births.
In the Viking world, such superstitions were not uncommon as people scrambled to explain the unexplainable, the irreconcilable, and the “unlivable” parts of life.
Thus, it had been with heavy heart that Eric had left Aude, already heavy with their sixth child. He’d not wanted to go. But, by then, he was the chieftain of his village, and an enemy had been pillaging the outlying farming settlements under Eric’s protection.
He’d left when Aude was six months pregnant and returned two weeks before the wise women in his village had predicted she’d give birth. However, he’d found sorrow in his home when he hurried to it; both the child, a boy, and Aude were gone.
He’d never loved Aude—not in the way he loved Sookie—but she’d been a good partner to him. And, given the time and the way marriages were arranged in his human culture, he’d been lucky to have a steady and intelligent wife as his helpmeet for fifteen years. She’d kept his home throughout the great majority of his adulthood—from the time that they married, when he was sixteen, to the time she passed away with their stillborn son in her arms.
That child, too, had not been given a name. But Eric had pried open the dead infant’s eyes in the dead of the night the day before he’d seen to his wife and child’s interment. The boy’s eyes had been blue—the same shade as Eric’s.
Eric had been turned vampire not long after Aude’s death, and Appius had—in one of his more humane moves—forbidden Eric from trying to see his remaining family—especially his three living children. But Appius could not forbid Eric from thinking about them.
A thousand years was a long time to think. And—during his lowest times—Eric thought about the three children who had died before they’d had a chance to live. And he’d always wondered—if he’d been there when they were born, would they have lived? Would Aude have lived? Would he have been made vampire? Could his little family have simply thrived in their little corner of the world before he met a natural end?
His own father had lived to an “old” age for the time—forty-seven winters. Had Eric lived another sixteen years, he would have matched that age. Perhaps he would have had more children or—at least—seen the ones he had grow into adulthood and have children of their own.
Appius would have passed through the area without ever spotting a drunken man on a lonely road—mourning the loss of another child and a wife. Appius would have never found him. Hundreds of years of Appius’s fucked up version of “care” would have never happened for Eric. He would have never made his own vampire children—Karin and Pam.
Like him, they too would have died after living out their human lives.
He wondered about Sookie Stackhouse—wondered what her life would have been like if he’d never been in it. Who would have been the sheriff of Area 5 when Bill Compton returned to Bon Temps to begin his pursuit of Sookie? Eric had done the telepath both a favor and a disservice when he’d “outsourced” her to the Dallas vampires. He’d ensured that Sophie-Anne couldn’t simply “have” her without others—important and well-connected others—knowing about Sookie’s gift. But he’d also acted in a way that had led her to be on a lot more radars than she would have been otherwise.
Where would Sookie be now if Eric had never been made vampire?
Eric’s best guess was that Sookie would be in New Orleans with a still-alive Sophie-Anne. Bill would have—very likely—accomplished his mission. Sookie would have been ensconced into Sophie-Anne’s court, where she would have likely overheard something of Peter Threadgill’s plot before Sophie-Anne was compelled to kill him. Sophie-Anne would have, therefore, had no reason to go to Rhodes. Felipe de Castro would have had no opportunity to take over Louisiana.
Sookie’s status in Sophie-Anne’s court would have been the variable. It all depended on whether she was bonded with Compton or forced to bond with Andre. The first option would have given Sookie at least the illusion of some agency over her own life. The second would have led her into an existence against all that she held dear.
“Do you need any blood? We have some donors on board,” Betty Joe said, interrupting Eric’s thoughts.
Eric shook his head. “Is there bottled?” he asked, looking over at Russell’s second who was sitting on the couch opposite the one he’d taken on the monarch’s private jet.
Betty Joe nodded and signaled the steward to bring Eric a TrueBlood.
Eric closed his eyes for a moment—wishing for the millionth time that he could still feel Sookie. Traveling by plane was always slightly disconcerting for a vampire, especially when traveling east—toward the sunrise. There was still quite a bit of night left, and for that Eric was thankful; however, sitting on a plane had never been something he’d enjoyed.
He was a man of action, not of sitting. And he was worried.
He’d contemplated taking off into the night air and flying himself to Mississippi—to Sookie—as soon as he’d learned that she was in labor.
It had been when he’d been hung up on by Dr. Ludwig that an old feeling had taken hold of him. What if Aude had been right all those years ago? Obviously, Matthew had somehow bonded with him—somehow connected to Eric’s “void” in a way that the vampire might never understand. And, while the thought of that connection had warmed Eric—given him an odd sense of hope—when he’d learned about it, he now feared that his connection to Matthew might keep the child from coming into the world safely.
More than a thousand years before, he’d left his wife and unborn child to secure his people—to try to make them and, by extension, his family safe. And he’d come back to find his wife and youngest human child dead—gone.
He had left Sookie and her unborn child in order to secure them—and free himself so that he could continue to keep them safe. The child she carried was not his biologically—or logically—but Eric already felt a strong paternal connection to the boy nonetheless. The woman he had left was no longer his wife—no matter what his heart told him was the truth. But—still—both mother and child felt like they were his. So did Samantha, for that matter.
Eric tried to keep his fear from taking him over, but the same question echoed in his mind—again and again. What if Sookie and Matthew died because he was not there?
Yes—he’d contemplated taking to the air and flying toward Sookie at his top speed, but he knew that was folly. He was fast, but not as fast as a plane. And he certainly wouldn’t have been able to sustain his speed. So he’d done the smart thing: he’d gotten onto Russell’s private plane with Betty Joe.
The flight from Oklahoma City to Jackson, Mississippi was only 85 minutes—from wheels up to wheels down. However, getting to the airport from Freyda’s palace had taken another twenty minutes. And getting from the private airfield in Jackson to Eric’s safe house in Brookhaven, Mississippi, which was about 55 miles from Jackson, would take even more time.
But—that part—Eric did intend to fly himself. At his top velocity, he would be able to travel from Jackson to Brookhaven in 32 to 34 minutes, depending on how fast he could extricate himself from the fucking plane that would be holding him captive for another 65 minutes.
Karin Slaughter—known as “the Slaughterer” by many—had never backed down from a fight. The night she’d been turned into a vampire, she’d been fighting to keep wild dogs from desecrating the body of her stillborn child—a son. That son had been fathered by the lord of the manor who ruled over the land where her parents were serfs. After they’d found out that she was with child, they’d turned her out of their home.
Practical and resourceful, Karin had found a way to take care of herself, but giving birth alone—in a cave—hadn’t gone as she’d prayed it would. The child had not survived, and she had bled a great deal and had been well on her way to joining her son when Eric showed up in the mouth of her cave.
Almost before she could blink, the wild dogs were dead.
And so was she.
She’d awoken to a new life—one where she could be the one with the power. However, she’d both hated and loved her vampire life. On the one hand, she’d wished that Eric had never found her so that she could have gone into the afterlife with her infant child. She often wondered who was taking care of her tiny, tiny babe in the world beyond the one she had been left in. She wondered if he’d had a chance to grow into a man in some version of heaven or her maker’s Valhalla. Or had his spirit been reborn? With that as a possibility, she’d spent hundreds of years looking into the eyes and hearts of the people she’d encountered, wondering if she’d recognize her beloved boy’s spirit if she ever encountered him.
On the other hand, how could she begrudge the vampire who had saved her life and given her another one? With that life, she had gone from being Karin, a girl with no last name; to Karin the Slaughterer, known for killing humans and vampires alike when they took women against their will; to—much more recently—Karin Slaughter, enforcer for the vampire King of France.
Karin had left her maker’s side only thirty years after she’d been made a vampire. But it hadn’t been by choice.
Eric had sent her away when he’d been “called” by Appius Livius Ocella, his own maker. Eric had given Karin every cent of the money he had, and he’d freed her so that he couldn’t be forced to call her when he was with Ocella. Karin hadn’t been ready to be on her own, and she’d spent a long time being bitter at Eric, who had left in the night with barely ten words to her.
“As your maker, I release you,” he’d said as soon as she’d woken up one winter’s night when they’d been in Ireland. “It’s for the best,” he’d added before pointing to the satchel of money and goods they’d accumulated. And then he’d zipped out of the house they’d been staying in as if he’d become a bolt of lightning.
Karin had been forced to make her own way after that, and her un-life had been difficult for a long time—as she’d learned to control her urges by herself. Finally, she’d settled in Tuscany for a while, living with a witch/midwife, who taught her much about childbirth. Karin had used her situation mostly as a convenient means of finding out who had gotten the poorer girls—who were often compelled to seek the witch’s help because they’d been raped—with child.
She’d killed many a rat bastard in Tuscany before being forced to move on.
But move she had, always looking for similar situations. A hundred years after Eric had freed her, she’d begun to understand why he did so. In Morocco, she’d come across Ocella, who had immediately sniffed her out as being of his lineage. Luckily, she’d been working for the Moroccan queen at the time, and the queen had no love-loss for Ocella. Thus, Karin had been afforded some protection from her “grand-maker.”
Ocella, being the cruel bastard that he was, had called Eric to his side once more. It took Eric two weeks to reach Morocco, and when he did, he looked haggard from the relentless summoning of his maker. Eric had been in Japan when he was called, but—of course—Ocella hadn’t simply called once. No. He’d tortured his progeny by continuing his calling night after night until Eric appeared.
It was then that Karin finally understood. Eric had greeted her with a pained look and then Ocella had raped him in a side room to her majesty’s throne room. Oh—Eric had taken Ocella’s “attentions” stoically, but his eyes had been empty when Ocella was through with him. The same night he’d appeared, Ocella had ordered Eric away, not even allowing him five minutes with his child.
It had been many more years before Eric had contacted her—this time of his own choice.
By the time Eric had felt brave enough to make a second child, Appius hadn’t shown him any interest in many years, and Karin had always envied Pam because she had been able to stay with their maker.
“Karin?” came Sookie’s exhausted voice. She’d been napping for several minutes. Ludwig hadn’t seemed to have worried about Sookie’s going to sleep; thus, Karin hadn’t either, though she’d kept a wary eye.
“Yes?” the vampiress answered her maker’s beloved, the woman who had been ultimately responsible for Ocella’s death. For that alone, Karin knew she would always be in Sookie Stackhouse’s debt.
“Where’s Pam?” Sookie asked.
“I was on the phone,” Pam said, perturbed—as she reentered the room.
“With Eric?” Sookie asked, perking up.
“No,” Pam responded, “with my fuckin’ king.”
“Felipe,” Sookie murmured, the fear thick in her tone.
“Don’t worry, princess,” Pam said, “Felipe has no idea what’s gone on regarding you—though he does know about Freyda’s death. He has asked me to check in at Compton’s house before sunrise. Apparently, Bill is ‘missing,'” she smirked. “And I’m to meet with Area 5’s assistant investigator to,” she paused dramatically, “investigate.”
“But Bill’s dead! What if Felipe knows that and knows we’re involved?” Sookie gasped, suddenly feeling more worried about her vampire friend—no matter how annoying Pam could be—than her own pain, despite the fact that another contraction had just begun.
“I said don’t worry,” Pam ordered sharply. “Thalia and I both have alibis for last night, when Bill was meeting his end, and—according to Thalia—the Compton mess had been cleaned up for good.”
Sookie cringed even as Pam rolled her eyes.
“But—that doesn’t prevent the fact that I need to leave and get to Area 5 before dawn,” Pam sighed. “The assistant investigator is Felipe’s spy.”
“His spy!” Sookie cried out.
“Yep—rather one of his spies in the area,” Pam informed. “But—again—not to worry. I can handle Malcolm. He’s a tool.”
“Pam,” Sookie whimpered. “The baby. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Hey,” the vampiress said, even as she brushed some hair from Sookie’s sweaty brow, “I thought I was annoying you.”
“You were,” Sookie responded. “But—uh—if he can’t be here—then I . . . .” Her voice trailed off. “I’m scared, Pam.”
“Don’t be,” Pam soothed, bending down to kiss Sookie’s damp hair with a tenderness she likely wouldn’t have shown to anyone else. “You are strong, Sookie Stackhouse. And your child is showing his strength through his stubbornness. Plus, my maker is on his way. It won’t be long now,” she assured.
Karin arched a brow in surprise as she watched her vampire sister again behaving tenderly toward a human—toward anyone!
“Don’t look at me like that,” Pam snarked. “You’re colder than I have ever thought about being, Ms. Slaughter.” She looked back at Sookie. “Remember—you will be fine.”
Sookie bit her lip and nodded, even as Pam gave her a nod in return and then zipped out of the room.
Karin sighed. It seemed that now she would have to play main nursemaid to her maker’s beloved.
“You’re pacing,” Bartlett Crowe said to his beloved husband.
“I don’t pace,” Russell returned irritably.
“You are pacing like you are the expectant father,” Bartlett returned.
“They will not be landing for almost an hour, and Ludwig was concerned about the child,” Russell fretted.
“She said that things had stabilized,” Bartlett reminded in order to try to sooth the frazzled nerves of his husband.
Russell was having none of it. “I owe Sookie Stackhouse.”
Bartlett nodded in agreement as he thought about Rhodes. Because Sookie had found out about the bombing slightly before it happened, alarms had been pulled, and Russell and Bartlett’s day people had acted very quickly to get them out of harm’s way. It had helped that they’d already been in the basement of the hotel, already loaded for transport to their Anubis jet, which had been chartered for their honeymoon.
So thankful for that aircraft, which had ended up taking them as well as several others to safety that day, Russell had bought it. And it was now speeding toward them from Oklahoma.
Bartlett’s phone rang. The monarch answered it with a curt, “This is Bartlett.”
There was a pause.
“No. You can’t leave her.”
Russell looked at him curiously because the person speaking to Bartlett was speaking very quickly and at an extremely low volume.
“Goddammit, Ludwig!” Bartlett yelled as he hung up.
“What?” Russell yelled as his husband looked at him with trepidation.
“Ludwig says she has been summoned by Nevada—something about consulting for a ‘delicate case’ that will soon be coming Felipe’s way.”
“Sookie,” Russell snarled.
“That’d be my guess. Of course, Ludwig is presumed to be impartial—and freelance. Plus, she’s the best,” Bartlett said.
“So, of course, Felipe would want her on stand-by for the birth of Sookie’s baby,” Russell sighed.
“Yes, and he has no idea that she’s already in labor,” Bartlett said.
“And if Ludwig doesn’t go to him immediately . . . .”
“He might get suspicious,” Bartlett finished for his husband.
“So she’s going,” Russell sighed in resignation.
“Yes,” Bartlett said, “but she assures me that Sookie is in good hands. Northman’s eldest, Karin, used to be a midwife.”
Russell pinched the bridge of his nose. “Call Pam. Obviously, Freyda’s death has spurred Felipe into action. If he expects Sookie soon, then he’s likely sent Luther or one of his other flunkies to collect her, and Luther knows Eric’s scent, so he would be able to tell that he’s been to her home recently.”
Bartlett nodded and dialed as Russell went back to his pacing.
“You can’t fuckin’ leave!” Sookie yelled.
“I can stay and risk giving away the fact that I’m helping you, or I can go and placate the cape-wearer,” Ludwig intoned. “Right now, I’m not much use here anyway,” the doctor said. “Your child is holding his own, even though he’s stubborn about getting here, and the Norseman will be here within 90 minutes. Hell—my meeting with de Castro shouldn’t take long at all, so I might even get back here by then—if I go now.”
“But . . . ,” Sookie started.
“I will certainly return before daylight,” the doctor said in Karin’s direction.
“Make sure Sookie’s scent is not detected on you,” the vampiress snarled at the doctor.
Ludwig rolled her eyes. “This isn’t my first rodeo, sweetheart,” she snarked before popping away.
Sookie hissed in pain and looked at Karin doubtfully.
“Were you really a midwife?” she asked with trepidation.
Karin shrugged. “In a manner of speaking.”
“What? In a manner of speaking!?”
“Many witches tended to be midwives. And they and I would often find common,” Karin paused, “goals; thus, I observed them at work many, many times. And I have an excellent memory—perfect, in fact.”
Sookie closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. “When? When did you last associate with a midwife?”
“Three hundred years ago—give or take,” Karin informed. “But, as I said, I have perfect recall, and I’m sure that vaginas haven’t changed much since then—though I’m not as careful a study of those as Pamela is.”
Sookie let out a little snort.
“It’s okay, Sookie,” Karin comforted. “Ludwig will be back as soon as possible; as she said, she might even be back before Eric arrives. I’m sure that de Castro is just wishing to retain her services by offering her a contract, and she must play along. She will read it, sign on the dotted line, and then pop right back.”
“Retain her services to steal my baby,” Sookie growled.
“Mommy?” Samantha called from the doorway. “What’s goin’ on?” she asked, rubbing her eyes.
Another contraction chose to hit Sookie at that moment, but she tried to hold it together enough to speak to her little girl without showing too much of her pain—or cursing.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Sookie said through gritted teeth. “I’m just a little crampy because of your brother.”
Samantha looked skeptical.
“Why are you awake, sweetie?” Sookie asked her daughter.
“I’m thirsty,” came Samantha’s response. “And I didn’t getta story tonight ’cause I fell asleep too fast,” she pouted.
Sookie looked at Karin pleadingly. “Karin will get you some water and read to you, Sammy,” she said.
Karin gave her a look of warning.
“I’ll call out for you if anything changes,” Sookie whispered. “Please?” she asked, glancing over at Samantha. “I don’t want her to see me in pain.”
Karin looked at the child almost suspiciously.
Samantha looked back at the vampiress the same way. Though Karin had become Sookie’s friend of sorts during the year that she knew the vampiress was protecting her, Samantha hadn’t known Karin before she and Pam knocked on Sookie’s door to take them from Bon Temps less than twenty-four hours before.
“Karin is good at reading stories,” Sookie said, managing a fake smile amidst her pain.
“Is she really Eric’s daughter?” Samantha asked doubtfully.
“Yes,” Sookie responded.
Samantha gave Karin another appraising look before nodding. “Okay—you can read to me, Aunt Karin.”
“Aunt Karin?” the vampiress asked in surprise, almost stuttering out the words—which was quite humorous considering the fact that she was usually so cool and calm.
“Well—your daddy loves my mommy. But when I asked Mommy when her and Eric were gonna get married at breakfast time, she said she didn’t know. But then she said we were gonna all go to someplace called Sweederland together.”
“Sweden,” Karin corrected.
“That’s right,” Samantha said. “Sweden. Anyway, Mommy said that she thought you were comin’ too. Are you?”
Karin nodded. “Yes.”
Samantha nodded. “So—if Mommy marries Eric, you’d be my sister. But you’re too old to be my sister, so you’re my aunt,” she said as if her pronouncement made her reasoning accurate.
Sookie let out a little chuckle, both from her daughter’s assessment of the situation and the look on Karin’s face. Her daughter had managed to leave her speechless that morning when she’d questioned her about marrying Eric. And Sookie was just glad that she wasn’t the only one Sammy could discombobulate with her questions and conclusions.
Samantha seemed to be waiting for Karin to agree with her, which—to Sookie’s surprise—the vampiress did.
“Yes, you may call me Aunt Karin,” she said as she rose from her seat next to Sookie and walked toward Sammy, who was still leaning against the doorway in the room. Sammy reached out her hand to the vampiress, who took it with surprisingly little hesitation.
Karin looked over her shoulder at Sookie. “All you need to do is call me. I will hear you. Call if there is anything amiss—anything at all.”
Sookie wanted to roll her eyes. “Don’t you mean anything else amiss?” she asked, looking down at her belly, which her son was refusing to exit—all because he seemed to be waiting for a vampire, whom he’d somehow mentally connected with from the womb.
Karin smirked. “Yes—that is exactly what I meant,” she intoned as she left the bedroom with Samantha.
“Climb on,” Russell said as soon as Eric had exited the aircraft.
The Viking looked at the king in confusion.
“Huh?” Eric asked inelegantly.
“Your fastest speed would have you to Sookie in what? Thirty minutes?”
“Thirty two,” Eric responded.
“I’ll have you there in less than twenty,” Russell grinned, signaling for Eric to jump onto his back.
It took the Viking two seconds to get over his surprise and his pride, and—before Bartlett even had a chance to blink—Eric was on Russell’s back, and Russell was taking off into the sky.
Bartlett chuckled as he noticed that the vampiress next to him had recorded her maker jumping up onto Russell’s back. Pam had just been getting ready to leave Brookhaven when Bartlett had called her. After a short conversation, they’d decided that it would be best if Pam took Russell’s jet to Shreveport—so that she could be in Bon Temps well before her planned meeting time with Malcolm, whom they fully expected would meet up with Luther or others sent by Felipe to abduct Sookie.
Likely, Pam had been called to Compton’s by her king simply as an excuse to get her isolated and alone—so that she could be eliminated by his spy. Now that Eric was a “free agent,” so to speak, taking out his children would be a wise move for Felipe.
Bartlett had been happy to volunteer his services to make sure that Pam had backup. After all, he, too, had a past score to settle with Luther, who had been involved in his own maker’s demise many years before.
Thalia was already at Sookie’s home in Bon Temps, ready to capture Luther and/or Malcolm if the opportunity presented itself. Alternatively, she would track them or any others sent by Felipe if she couldn’t gain an advantage over them. Luckily, the ferocious vampiress had a standing invitation to Sookie’s house, put in place seven years before—soon after Eric had left the area.
“Did you get what you needed?” Bartlett asked, amused.
“Oh yes,” Pam grinned evilly, even as she replayed her footage.
The king of Indiana motioned toward the private jet. “Then your chariot awaits, mademoiselle.”
Pam’s smile widened. “I have always enjoyed travelin’ in style.”
Bartlett crooked his arm and escorted Pam to the plane—in style, of course.
It had taken Karin eighteen minutes to get the child a drink of water and to get her back to sleep. She might have used a touch of glamour—along with her story. But she felt certain that the involved parties would understand—just this once. In truth, the child had been too enthusiastic about the vampire’s reading; thus, the glamour had been necessary.
When the vampiress arrived back in Sookie’s room, the telepath was panting her way through a contraction. Immediately, Karin could tell that something had changed.
“What is it?” she demanded of her maker’s chosen one.
“It just hurts,” Sookie said.
“Like before?” Karin asked, touching Sookie’s lower belly.
“No,” Sookie admitted. “I was about to call you.”
“Fuck!” Karin said as she sensed that the child’s heartbeat had changed positions. It seemed that he was making his way down into the birth canal. “Do you feel the desire to push?”
Sookie thought for a moment and then bit her lip as another pain hit her. “No!” she yelled out.
“Fuck!” Karin repeated.
“What?” Sookie asked with fear.
“You should be wanting to push, given the position of the baby,” the vampiress said evenly.
“I will need to try to help him come,” Karin said anxiously.
The fear in Sookie’s eyes seemed too familiar to the vampiress. She was certain that—if she’d had a mirror—that same fear would have been in her eyes in that cave so long ago.
Karin had carried her own child to term—despite no longer having a home with her parents. She had always been self-sufficient—independent. In the cave, she’d made herself a new home; she had constructed a makeshift chicken coup and then had stolen a few chickens from the more well-off villagers who wouldn’t really miss them. Also, she had taken a handful of seeds when she’d hurriedly gathered her meager belongings when her parents expelled her from their home. And her sister, who was the only one who knew of her location, had snuck her bread or cheese when it was possible.
Growing up, Karin had learned how the land could sustain her. She’d learned which berries and plants were edible. The cave had a natural spring for water and good ventilation so she could start fires to keep herself warm. The soil nearby was rich enough to sustain her little garden.
In a lot of ways, her isolated life had been ideal. She no longer had to work the land for someone she despised, always afraid that the disgusting manor lord or his even more disgusting son would take her against her will. She was responsible to only herself and the child growing within her, though she often tried to convince her sister, who would likely soon draw the wrong kind of attention, to run away and join her.
Karin went into labor in the middle of a cool spring night. She’d done all she could to prepare herself. Clean linens were ready to wrap up the child. There was a store of wood to keep the fire going. Pots held water that could be warmed to clean the newborn.
Prayers had been spoken. Wishes had been made. The desire to protect had already grown inside of the young woman.
The sun had risen to its zenith by the time Karin knew without a doubt that something had gone horribly wrong. For lack of a better term, her child seemed “stuck” inside of her.
After hours of agony, Karin was able to pull her own son from her body, but it was too late to save him. It had been too late for a while. The umbilical cord had been wrapped around the child’s neck, choking him even as he’d sought to breathe for the first time.
When the child was finally out, more things had come out of Karin—what she’d later learned was the afterbirth. But her bleeding hadn’t stopped, and that had been what had drawn the wild dogs.
“Karin?” Sookie said shakily and uncertainly.
Pulled from her memories of that long-ago day, the vampiress straightened her posture. “It will be okay, Sookie,” she said firmly. She quickly dialed Dr. Ludwig’s answering service, knowing she couldn’t risk calling the doctor directly.
“Come as soon as you can,” Karin said before hanging up.
The vampiress looked at the telepath. “Whether you feel the need to push or not—on the next contraction, I want you to do just that. Do you understand?”
Sookie bit her lip in fear, but nodded. “Okay.”
To anyone with eyes quick enough to see the two vampires flying through the late-night sky, the sight would have seemed strange—to say the least.
Russell Edgington was not a tall vampire, after all. And Eric Northman was very tall. Russell had also been turned when he was in his early forties, so he had carried quite a few lines of age into his immortal existence. On the contrary, though Eric had been only a decade or so younger at his own turning—and though he’d had what modern humans would think of as a hard life at both land and sea—his handsome face was marred by very few age lines, and what was there showed mostly when he laughed, which wasn’t seen in most company.
Thus, the sight of a shorter, older-looking man zipping through the air with an enormous young man holding onto him “piggyback” style would have been enough to elicit laughter from most beings.
But neither vampire had considered such things as they’d made their way from Jackson to Brookhaven.
In fact, Eric had mostly concentrated on holding on. He had been worried several times that he would lose his grip on the older vampire as they’d jetted through the air. When Russell had claimed to be fast, he’d not been exaggerating, and nineteen minutes after they’d left the airport, Russell was landing them at the safe house.
Eric zipped to where he smelled Sookie. The sight he was met with made his blood turn even colder than usual; she was obviously in distress.
Her eyes linked with his as soon as he was in the doorway.
“Eric,” Sookie sighed with relief, even though the pain in her eyes was clear.
“Good! You’re finally here!” Ludwig said, pushing past Eric in the doorway and then hurrying over to where Karin was positioned between Sookie’s legs.
“Status!” the doctor ordered.
“The baby has moved into the birthing canal, but no further,” Karin said.
“How long?” Ludwig asked.
“Approximately fifteen minutes,” Karin responded. “I’ve been trying to get her to push. So far, the baby’s heartbeat is within the normal range, but . . . .”
“But?” the doctor asked.
“It’s moving toward the lower end of that range,” Karin said quietly.
“We might have to take him through a cesarean section,” Ludwig said, “but first—get over here!”
For a moment no one moved.
The doctor looked over her shoulder.
“I’m talking to you, Viking!” her raspy voice commanded. “Come and stand next to Sookie. No—better yet—come stand next to me. If this boy-child has truly been waiting for you to get here in order to be born, he’ll likely come faster if he knows you’re waiting to catch him,” she chortled.
“Sookie?” Eric said in question.
In obvious agony, she nodded for him to obey the doctor.
Once Eric was where Ludwig wanted him, he reached forward, just as Sookie reached downward. Their hands locked together.
“You’re developing quite a grip,” Eric said, trying to joke.
Sookie half-laughed and half-sobbed, but her face spoke of only relief.
Meanwhile, Karin had gone to take Sookie’s other hand.
“Well?” the doctor said, looking up at Eric expectantly; of course, “up” in her case was a very long way.
“Well—what?” Eric asked, even as Russell walked into the room, paused for half a second, and then turned around and walked straight back out.
Ludwig scoffed, though it wasn’t clear which of the male vampires the sound was intended for.
As Ludwig looked at Eric impatiently, it was Sookie’s voice that told him what was needed.
“Talk to Matthew, Eric,” the telepath coaxed. “Make sure he knows you’re here.”
Eric looked at her in question.
“Talk to your little boy,” Sookie gritted, her tone suddenly more caustic as a wave of pain hit her again, “so he’ll get the fuck out of his mother!”
As Sookie squeezed the hands of the two vampires as hard as she could, thankful that she couldn’t break them permanently, Eric leaned down and placed his freehand on Sookie’s lower belly.
“Matthew, I am here,” the Viking began. “I am not sure why you wished to wait for me, but I am honored to be chosen by you. One day, I will sing you the songs of my mother so that you can be lulled to your sleep, but now is not the time to sleep, little one. One day, I will tell you stories of my human days and my human children, though I am certain that you will feel no less like my flesh and blood than they. One day, I will teach you all I know of fighting, though I have a feeling you have already inherited your ‘fight’ from your mother. And that is a good thing.” He bent over further, speaking directly over Sookie’s belly. “But now, it is time to come out. It is time for you to meet your beautiful mother, min son,” he whispered.
For a moment, all was quiet in the room.
Eric looked up to see tears streaming down Sookie’s cheeks. Even Karin turned to wipe away a red tear before anyone else noticed.
But the quiet was breeched when Sookie groaned in pain.
“Oh my God!” she yelled. “I think he’s coming!”
“Yes—and fast,” the doctor confirmed. She roughly moved Eric again, and his stretch to Sookie’s hand reached its limit.
“Let her go for a moment so that you can catch your boy,” Ludwig ordered.
Eric looked torn.
“It’s okay,” Sookie said, even as she leaned forward to bear down.
Eric let go of Sookie’s hand and placed his own near to the part of her that he’d once enjoyed for mere pleasure. Now that he saw the top of Matthew’s head, however, he could appreciate both the beauty and the pain of Sookie’s struggle to bring her child into the world.
“Push!” Ludwig demanded.
“I am pushing, you troll!” Sookie growled, even as something in the room snapped. It sounded like bones cracking.
Karin looked down at her hand nonchalantly. “It will heal,” she said to Sookie. “Squeeze as hard as you need.”
Sookie cried out a thank you to Karin.
“I’m only a quarter troll,” Ludwig said casually. “Now push again!”
Sookie yelled out as she glared at the doctor and pushed.
“Wait! Don’t push for a minute,” Ludwig said, even as she guided Eric to help the child’s shoulders emerge from Sookie’s body.
“Wait!?!?” Sookie panted. “You must be fucking kidding me! I need to push!”
“I don’t kid,” Ludwig intoned, “especially not for an audience that wouldn’t appreciate my humor anyway.”
Forty excruciating seconds later, Ludwig looked back at Sookie. “Okay—push again!”
Eric listened helplessly as Sookie wailed and cried, but she also pushed like a fucking champion.
Fifty-three seconds later, a new life made its first noise in its new world—a loud, purposeful cry, as if he were announcing himself. New eyes opened—eyes that were a copy of his mother’s and just as captivating to the vampire who held him.
“Hello, Matthew,” Eric whispered in awe, even as the doctor moved to take him from the vampire’s arms.
As if aware that he was about to change hands, Matthew turned his head and let out a very different-sounding cry as the doctor took him. The newborn was clearly displeased.
Ludwig gestured toward a pair of surgical scissors on a tray and then looked up to Eric. “Care to cut the cord?”
Wide-eyed, Eric followed the doctor’s instructions and did just that, even as tears continued to stream down Sookie’s face—though no longer from pain—as she took in the awe in Eric’s eyes.
As soon as the cord had been cut, the child seemed to reach for Eric, his tiny fists flexing.
“Patience, stubborn boy-child. I will have you back with your parents soon,” the doctor chuckled. True to her word, she quickly looked over the child, made sure his air passage was clear, cleaned him off a bit, and then placed him onto Sookie’s chest.
As if drawn by a magnet, Eric moved with the child, and as soon as Matthew was lying on his mother, Eric placed one of his large hands onto Matthew’s back even as he took one of Sookie’s hands into his other.
His eyes moved from the child’s face to Sookie’s.
“I have never seen a more beautiful sight,” he whispered, as he bent down to kiss Sookie’s forehead and then moved to kiss Matthew’s.
“You should sleep,” Sookie whispered to Eric, who was sitting next to her—though his head was down and resting against the bed, right next to Sookie’s arm. For the past hour, he’d simply been staring at the child sleeping against her bosom.
Unlike Sammy, Matty had latched onto Sookie’s breast as soon as it had been presented to him, eating his fill and then collapsing into a sleep that would likely rival the day-death of the vampire whom he’d decided to make his father.
“I can’t stop looking at him,” Eric admitted as he wiped blood from his nose. The bleeds had started half an hour before. The sun had been up for ninety minutes.
“I can’t stop either,” Sookie confessed. One of her hands was on her son’s back, and the other was laced in Eric’s hair.
Eric tore his eyes from Matthew and looked up at Sookie. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here. If I would have lost you . . . ,” he started.
Sookie shook her head. “Don’t talk about things that didn’t happen,” she soothed. She took a deep breath. “Tell me what’s happening and what’s going to happen now. I know that you and Karin talked right before dawn.”
Eric sighed, but nodded. “Pam and Russell’s husband, Bartlett Crowe, flew to Shreveport tonight, using the same plane I used to get here from Oklahoma. Working with Thalia, they captured Malcolm, one of Felipe’s spies, as he was . . . .” Eric stopped midsentence.
“As he was what?” Sookie asked.
Eric sighed. “He went for Jason and his family, but King Bartlett has already moved them. He has extended his protection over them, and they have agreed to move to Indiana.”
“What? Indiana?” Sookie asked, the fear in her voice causing Matthew to stir.
Immediately, Eric began rubbing the infant’s back, causing him to settle down right away.
“Your brother, his wife, and their children are safe,” Eric assured. “Pam gave Michelle and Jason the short version of what Felipe, Freyda, and Bill intended for you and Matthew. She also gave them some hard truths. Obviously, Felipe has no honor,” Eric sighed. “If he did, he would leave your family alone. Given the fact that he sent one of his people for them tonight says much about the lengths he would go to in order to control you. However, according to Pam, your brother and sister-in-law quickly understood the gravity of the situation and have accepted King Bartlett’s invitation to settle in Indiana. The king will ensure that they have adequate resources until they get settled in his state, and Felipe will not be the wiser about their new location. It will also be safer for them to visit you—if their travels originate outside of Felipe’s territory. King Bartlett will also make sure that they have a guard.”
“Why would King Bartlett help me?” Sookie asked.
Eric shook his head. “You have always woefully underestimated your worth.”
“It balances out your overestimation,” she challenged.
“It would be impossible to overestimate your importance to me, to Sammy, and to Matthew,” Eric whispered, his eyes drilling into Sookie’s.
She hadn’t the words to contradict him when he looked at her like that.
“So Jason’s safe?” she asked after a few moments.
“Yes—and given the fact that she no longer needs to watch over your brother, Pam will be tendering her resignation to Felipe via email—after she’s closed her accounts and left the state,” Eric chuckled. “Meanwhile, Thalia and she are sticking around Bon Temps to see if they can catch Luther.”
“Luther? Freyda’s second in command?” Sookie asked.
“Yes—it is possible that Felipe sent him to collect you in Bon Temps. Pam wants to take him out of the equation immediately—if possible.”
“They’ll be okay? Thalia and Pam?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “Yes.”
Matthew chose that moment to open his eyes and look at Eric. His little hand flexed several times as Sookie softly chuckled.
“He’s already a daddy’s boy—you know,” she said. “I really should feel guilty, but . . . .” She stopped midsentence.
“Because of Sam?” Eric asked, even as he reached out to take Matthew into his arms.
“Yeah. Sammy will—at least—have a few memories of Sam. But I’m pretty sure she’ll soon see you as her daddy too. And I’m glad about that. I just feel,” she paused, “bad—like I’m dishonoring Sam or something.”
Eric sighed. “When my brother died, Aude was already pregnant. Did I ever tell you that?”
Sookie shook her head.
“I was on a raid when Aude had the child—a girl she named Freygerd. Freygerd died when she was only two days old. By the time I returned, she’d already been buried.”
“Oh Eric,” Sookie sighed.
“I loved the child though,” the vampire said. “I mourned Freygerd. And when I think of my children, I always think of her first. I know very little about her though. Green eyes—like my bror. Brown hair like Aude. But when I was human, I used to dream about her—running in the fields with my other children, making flower crowns, driving me crazy when she came of age and I had to beat away the village boys with sticks.” He chuckled. “She was never less mine or less loved because I never saw her. And—if she had lived—I would have made sure she knew of my brother. I had many stories to tell her, many memories to share.”
Sookie was silent as she watched the strong Viking rock the tiny child in his arms.
“This one will never know his blood father,” Eric said. “But you will tell him stories. And I will make sure that he knows that he can embrace those stories without hurting me. Therefore, he will have Sam as his father too. Just as a father can have many sons and many daughters, perhaps a child can have more than one father.”
Matthew looked up at Eric, his large blue eyes shining.
Eric chuckled. “But for now—I believe min son is hungry again.” The vampire positioned Matthew so that he could suckle from his mother again and then watched the breathtaking sight.
“Go to sleep,” Sookie whispered, when she saw blood begin to fall from Eric’s nose. “Stay where you are if you want, but sleep. We will be here when you wake up.”
Eric nodded and then lay his head down again. The last sight that met his eyes before he fell into his day-rest was the eyes of the son who had chosen him, cradled in the arms of the woman for whom he’d been longing for a thousand years.
“You feeling okay, little girl?” Dr. Ludwig asked in her acerbic tone.
Sookie nodded and smiled. “A little sore, but okay.”
“You didn’t take his blood before he fell dead?” the doctor asked bluntly.
“Um—no,” Sookie said.
Ludwig rolled her eyes. “Don’t you intend to re-bond with him?”
Sookie flushed red but nodded in affirmation.
“Then take his blood when he wakes up,” Ludwig ordered. “Otherwise, it’ll take you weeks to heal.”
“But it’s so soon,” Sookie started.
“Seven years is too soon?” Ludwig asked sarcastically. She rolled her eyes. “Grow up. And don’t be a dumbass. Save yourself some trouble and just admit that you want his blood—and for reasons unrelated to healing. I’m sure he’d have his wrist open and in your mouth before you even finished your request.”
“But I hurt him,” Sookie said softly as she looked at the resting vampire. “I didn’t trust him like I should have. And I didn’t protect him from Freyda.”
Ludwig snorted. “Take it from a doctor: the past doesn’t matter—because it can’t be changed. Change your present, little girl,” she said astringently, even as Matthew stirred on his mother’s chest.
The doctor graced the infant with a quick smile that Sookie almost missed. “Since you’re up, I’ll check you out—and change your diaper.”
Dr. Ludwig picked up a skeptical-looking Matthew and lowered him into a small portable bassinet. The infant immediately looked toward Eric and Sookie as if to make sure they were there. And Sookie felt his mind “touching” hers as he turned back to look at the doctor.
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Wow?” Ludwig looked at her in question.
“I can feel Matty keeping track of me with his telepathy—and Eric too, I think.”
Ludwig nodded. “I’m not surprised. It’s a benefit of having a telepath for a child—or, rather, since you’re a telepath too, it will be a benefit. He’ll let you know when he wants something.”
Sookie nodded. “I already experienced something like that with him. Like most pregnant women, I had cravings when I was carrying Sammy, but Matty took that to a whole new level,” she chuckled. “There was even a particular way that he liked me to rub my belly when I was sitting down.”
Ludwig made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a chuckle as she stripped the child and checked his reflexes. Sookie noticed that the diminutive doctor seemed to be on some kind of stool as she bent over Matty and sniffed his palm and then neck.
“His fairy scent is masked by the shifter blood in him—but not to the extent that it is masked in your daughter.” She looked up at Sookie. “You know your daughter will be able to shift—don’t you?”
“Sam wasn’t sure,” Sookie replied. “His instincts told him she would, but he’d never heard of someone half human shifting before.”
Ludwig rolled her eyes. “Well—your daughter isn’t half-human. Is she? No—the fairy magic in her has worked to strengthen her shifter tendencies. By contrast, your son’s father’s inherent magic seems to have strengthened his fairy spark and his telepathy. I would expect that he will be at least as strong as you in that regard—if not stronger.”
Sookie nodded in understanding even as she felt a tear slip from her eye.
“The thought of him being a telepath upsets you?” the doctor asked, as she put a fresh diaper on Matthew.
“No,” Sookie responded, wiping away her tear. “I used to worry about passing on my ability, but I got over that as soon as I realized Matthew was a telepath.” She smiled sadly. “How could I not love him exactly as he is? No—I’m just sad because Mr. Cataliades had been planning to help Matty with his shields when he got older. And—now he’s gone because he helped me.”
Ludwig nodded. “Yes. The loss of the demon is unfortunate,” she said, her voice full of respect.
“He was gonna be Matty’s godfather,” Sookie whispered.
Ludwig finished up with Matthew and placed him into his mother’s arms. The infant immediately signaled his desire to feed—both telepathically and vocally.
Ludwig watched at the child latched on.
“Your son is healthy and strong—already sure of himself.” She chuckled a little. “Given his choice of fathers,” she said, gesturing toward the dead-for-the-day vampire, “he will be a handful.” She sighed. “But do not worry about teaching him to control his telepathy. The demon arranged for both me and his niece, Diantha, to aid the child when it is time.”
“Really?” Sookie asked.
The doctor nodded. “I received his call yesterday morning—before he traveled to Oklahoma.”
Sookie wiped away another tear. “Desmond was a good man. He sacrificed himself for me.”
“He was your godfather,” Dr. Ludwig said almost compassionately. “He would have done anything to see you happy. And—from what I have heard—he died a warrior.”
Her emotions overwhelming her, Sookie could only nod.
“Honor him by going on,” Ludwig said before leaving the room.
Sookie looked at Matthew and then Eric.
“I will,” she whispered. “I promise.”
Eric woke up to the sound of giggling. Sammy was standing by the bed on the stool the doctor had been using and was laughing at Matthew, who was blowing spit bubbles.
“Hi,” Sookie said with a smile in her voice. “You slept in. Karin’s already up.”
Eric sat upright and grinned when Matthew’s eyes lit up and the infant tried to turn his head to see the vampire. Sookie helped her son to turn over.
“It seems he knows he was born on Boxing Day,” Eric grinned as he looked at Matthew’s fists flexing, which was a signal of his desire for Eric to pick him up. The vampire immediately took the child into his arms as he continued to work his little hands into fists.
“Look who’s showing off,” Sookie giggled.
“He’s been waitin’ for you for hours, sleepy-head!” Sammy chided cutely. “But don’t worry! I told him all about vampires while you were sleepin’.”
“All about vampires—eh?” Eric asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Uh-huh,” Sammy responded. “I told him y’all gotta sleep during the daytime and that y’all eat blood and don’t like candy,” she said seriously.
“Thank you for covering the important things,” Eric winked at the little girl, even as Sookie held in her giggle.
Sammy jumped off the stool and ran over to the corner of the room, where a little table had been set up for her. She skipped back to Eric and handed him a picture. “I drew this for you!”
Eric took the picture with his free hand and chuckled. Sammy’s artistic abilities left something to be desired, but her subject pleased the vampire in a way that he couldn’t quite name. Sookie’s daughter had drawn four stick figures, the tallest of which had fangs.
“Is this me?” he asked the little girl.
“Yep,” Sammy said, popping her ‘p.’ “I was gonna put in Aunt Karin, but I ran outta room,” she frowned. “But I drew her one of her own—with just her and me,” Sammy said proudly. “And she liked it.”
“Aunt Karin?” Eric asked Sookie in a whisper.
Sookie grinned and nodded.
“She’s way too old to be my sister!” Sammy remarked as if the point should be obvious.
“That is quite true,” Karin said from the doorway. “Come, Sammy. I have your dinner prepared for you.”
“What’d you make?” Sammy asked. “I’m not gonna have to eat blood like a vampire—am I?” she added, her face screwing into a skeptical look.
“I made something called macaroni and cheese from a box,” Karin informed. “It required four steps; however, I believe the finished product looks similar to the picture on the box,” she explained clinically.
“Yummy! Mac-n-cheese!” Sammy exclaimed as she ran to Karin and took her hand. The vampiress and the little girl left the room together.
“Aunt Karin?” Eric asked again—this time a little louder.
“Yep,” Sookie said, also popping her ‘p.’ “Last night, when I was in labor, Karin helped to distract Sammy by reading to her. Apparently, Sammy’s decided that Karin is a much better reader than I am because she does different voices.”
“Different voices?” Eric asked in disbelief as he thought about his extremely guarded vampire child.
“Yep. According to Sammy’s mind, Karin is her new favorite person, but she didn’t want to make me feel bad by saying that out loud,” Sookie chuckled.
“Karin’s warming up to a human?” Eric shook his head. “Miracles never cease around you, min kära,” he grinned.
Sookie’s look became more serious. “Eric—would you give me some blood?”
Immediately—uncontrollably—Eric’s fangs came down, and Matthew looked at him—and his fangs—curiously.
“I never imagined I’d hear that question from you,” Eric said honestly. “I thought I’d have to work to convince you to take my blood to heal you. I also figured my chances were slim and that you’d want to heal naturally.”
“Nah—I’m not that stubborn,” Sookie said, eliciting another look of disbelief from Eric.
He went to speak.
“Don’t say whatever it is you’re plannin’ to say, Mister,” Sookie said teasingly.
Eric just shook his head and looked at Matthew. “Your mother is the least stubborn creature I know,” he said to the infant sarcastically. Matthew rewarded him with a spit bubble.
“Hey—I don’t want to spend weeks being sore this time,” Sookie said with a little pout.
They were silent for a moment as the vampire bounced Matthew lightly in his arms.
“I also want you to take some of my blood,” Sookie said.
Eric was speechless for a moment. “But you are weakened! I can’t . . . ,” he protested.
“You don’t have to take much,” Sookie interrupted. “I want to restart our bond.”
“You are sure?” Eric asked hopefully.
Sookie looked at Eric and Matthew with tears in her eyes. “I’ve never been surer of anything in my whole life.”
The End of “Boxing Day”
A/N: Well—finally—Sookie got to have her baby! Sephrenia has been reminding me that I’ve been torturing poor Sookie for months now! Sorry that I didn’t get this to you sooner. As you know, I generally focus on my “big-ass” stories—and put out other shorter things “in-between.” When my head decided to explode several months ago, this series got put onto the back burner as I tried to continue getting you all chapters of my on-going works.
That said, I hope you liked this installment. I’ve never had a kid (the hubby insists cats don’t count—ridiculous man), so I had a hard time properly conveying labor without it seeming too unreal or cliché. I know that there are lots of mothers in my audience too. I hope I did this part okay.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you will share a comment if you’re inspired to do so.
Check out the next installment!