LATE Chapter 072

Pish!

 

 

“MMMAAAA! MMMMMAA! MMA MMA!

Sookie had the baby in her arms before she was really even awake since he was lying right next to her.

“Hey, Pookie – how are you this morning?”

“MMA!” he patted her face and she smiled and kissed him on the lips, then she could tell he was wanting to feed because he was trying to wiggle down and opening his mouth.

“Ok, buddy, hold on…” she helped him get into position and he suckled happily, humming as he did. Sookie tried to sit up, half-asleep, but it was a struggle while she was holding the baby. She realized she didn’t have any clothes on so this would be a good time to show the baby where to bite and where not to. She sat cross-legged, her back against the black leather covered headboard and pulled the blankets across her lap then disengaged the baby and held him back while she reached over and turned the light on Eric’s nightstand on to be sure he could see, since she wasn’t sure he had Vampire vision yet. The clock said 8:44 AM.

She held him up facing her as he squirmed and tried to get back to her.

“Alex, look – see? Look at Mommy.” He reached for her and she guided his hand, “See, nothing up here? See this? That’s the nipple. That’s where you eat, OK?” She wasn’t sure if he really got it but once she showed him the right spot he latched on hard, fangs and all. She did notice though that as he was feeding from one, he was looking at the other and patting it with his hand, like he was trying to figure it out. He tried to grip the other nipple, and she said, “Nipple, Alex. That’s where you eat, OK?” He pulled back then leaned to the other side, clearly aiming for the nipple. “Yeah, that’s it. Good.” She noticed now he was looking at the other one and then he reached for that nipple. Sookie could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he was figuring out that there were two places the milk came from.

“Knock-knock! Sookie are you up?” Bobbie peeked in the door.

“Hey, Bobbie – what’s up?”

“I was checking on you and your little buddy. Eric gave Alicia the day off, so I’m your backup. I assume he’s going to need a clean diaper soon?”

“Yeah, as soon as he’s done. I’ve been trying to show him how they work. I think he’s got it figured out now, so maybe he won’t bite me in the wrong spot anymore.”

“Let’s hope. How are you feeling today?”

“Pretty good. Tired. I’m going to sleep a while longer.”

“You might as well – you don’t have any plans and you’ll be driving around with the real estate agent tomorrow. I guess the guys are going to turn this place upside down tonight – did you read your note from Eric?”

“No, did he leave me one?”

Bobbie walked over to the table between the side chairs and brought the note that was propped up there back to Sookie. It was in a pretty pink envelope with Eric’s lovely script on the front.

My beautiful wife, Sookie,

Bill, Bjorn and I are going to be going through this house tonight to search for things Victor might have had hidden here. Would you please talk to Octavia and Amelia and find out if there’s anything they can do to facilitate our search? I’ll take all the help I can get – a lot of people are depending on this. 

Rest well, eat well, and have fun with the baby.

I love you,

Your husband, Eric

“Huh – so he told you about this?”

“Bjorn did when I asked him what we were going to do tonight. Apparently Bjorn has some experience finding things no one wants found, and of course, I guess Eric is some kind of expert at it, too. Bill told me aone time that if there was a trail to be found for anything, no matter how faint, Eric could find it.”

“Yeah, his senses are very keen and he’s really intuitive which helps, too. If Eric doesn’t find it, it’s not here.”

“That good, huh?”

“Yep – the CIA should have such capabilities.”

“Bjorn said something like that – that he wished he had known Eric back when he was in Intel, because Eric could have saved a lot of grief and a lot of lives.”

“Eric has lived as long as he has because he stays out of things like that when he can. I know he’s had to do some things because of Vampire politics, but he’s a survivor, first and foremost.”

“I guess dealing with Vampires prepares you for almost anything.”

“Yep. OK, I think my buddy is done here.”

“OK, come on, Prince Alex, let’s get you a fresh nappy.” Bobbie took him into the bathroom and changed his diaper, chatting with him and tickling him, giving him a big kiss on his cheek as she brought him back to Sookie.

“Did Bobbie give you a new nappy? Huh?” Sookie teased him as she propped him up on Eric’s pillow.

“BA-ba!”

“Did he just…?” Bobbie couldn’t believe it.

“Yeah, I think he did – Alex – who is that?” Sookie pointed at Bobbie.

“BA-ba!” Alex pointed at Bobbie.

Sookie and Bobbie cracked up!

“He so smart!” Bobbie was thrilled.

“Ba-ba-ba-ba!” Alex sang into his fingers splayed against his lips, varying the tone up and down.

“Alex – who am I?” Sookie asked.

“Mma-ma!”

“And who is that?”

“BA-ba!”

“Wow – I wonder what he’d call Alicia?” Bobbie laughed.

“EESH!”

“Eesh? Is that Alicia?” Sookie said.

“Eesh!”

“You’ll have to surprise her tonight, Sookie, she’ll fall over.” Bobbie laughed.

“Yeah, she will. Bye-bye, Mama, Daddy, Bobbie and Alicia plus “om-ba” which seems to mean ‘yes’ – that’s quite a little repertoire for somebody less than a week old,” Sookie laughed.

“All that and he can turn over, too. I wonder what’s next?”

“I’m afraid to even think about it. I hope I can handle him, Bobbie. I’m really worried.”

“It’ll be fine, Sookie – you’ve got all of us to help you. We won’t let him get hurt and Eric will keep him in line. Just relax and love him. You should be overjoyed at all the stuff he can do already.”

“I’m just worried about people thinking he’s a devil baby.”

“Don’t let those narrow-minded bigots get to you, Sookie. The sooner he learns to talk, the better, you know – for his own safety. He needs to be able to tell you if something is wrong.”

“I just hope he doesn’t grow up too fast. I want him to be a baby while he can.”

“He’s still a baby, just a really smart baby.”

“Bee-bee.” Alex repeated.

“Yeah, Punkin’, we’re talking about you!” Bobbie teased the baby and he giggled and played with his toes.

“BA-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba, bee-bee, bee-bee, BA-bee. BA-bee!”

“Hey, Pookie, can you say Bobbie now?” Sookie was amazed watching him work out the sounds.

“BA-bee!”

“Alex – where’s Bobbie?”

“BA-bee!” He pointed at Bobbie and cracked up.

“He reminds me so much of Eric when he does that.”

“DA-da! VBEE!” Up went the little arm.

Both women cracked up.

“When he does what?”

“Laughs at himself that way – Eric does that. He loves his own jokes.”

“He does seem to be amusing himself.”

Just then Sookie let out a big yawn and the baby did, too.

“You guys need to sleep some more. Try to doze off, and when you get up, I’ll make you breakfast.”

“OK, Bobbie, thanks.”

“Bye-bye, Alex!” she waved at the baby.

“Ba-ba, BA-Bee!” The baby waved at her and giggled.

“Oh, you think you’re cute, huh?” Sookie teased him, amazed at her little baby.

“Om-ba!” He laughed and reached for Sookie, rolling over toward her. “Mma-ma!”

“OK, Pookie, here’s what we’re going to do,” she said as she settled down and pulled the baby toward her and put him on his back, “we’re going to put Daddy’s pillow there so you don’t roll off the bed, and you’re going to snuggle up right here by Mommy’s head and we’re going to get some more sleep, OK?”

“Om-ba, Mma-ma! Ba-ba-ba-ba-bee-bee.” He chattered as he rolled on his side facing her and patted her face.

She smiled at him softly, “I love you , Baby E.”

“BAH! Bababaa” he was singing up and down, still patting her face. She closed her eyes and soon they were both asleep, facing each other.

It was almost Noon when Sookie felt a soft pat on her face and opened her eyes to see big blue eyes looking back at her. “Ma-ma!”

“Hey, Pookie,” she raised her head and kissed him on his forehead. “Are you hungry? You want to eat?” she said as she noticed he was reaching down.

“EE!”

“OK, eat – here you go,” and she slid him down so he could latch on and he hummed happily as he fed. Sookie gently caressed his head and his back as she dozed lazily, looking at the clock and deciding to get up and get on with the day. She waited until the baby finished, then put a fresh diaper on him and threw on a little tank style nursing dress then headed downstairs barefoot with Alex in a brightly colored sling.

“Hey, sleepy head!” Bobbie greeted her. Jerry, Bobbie, Bjorn and Octavia were sitting around the table, drinking iced tea, eating peanut butter cookies Bobbie had baked and talking. “Want me to get you some breakfast?”

“Hey, y’all! Actually, a glass of tea and a cookie sounds pretty good.”

“You can start with that, but I’m going to get you a proper breakfast. Alicia would kick my ass if I let you skip a meal on my watch!” Bobbie was obviously in a good mood. Bjorn and Jerry stood as Sookie took her seat then sat back down. Bobbie came back with a glass and poured Sookie a glass of tea from the large pitcher, then took it back to refill it.

“So how you and the little one doin’ today?” Octavia asked her.

“Oh, we’re doing great. He’s dozing a little right now – he just ate and had a fresh diaper, so it’s naptime. I can’t believe he let me sleep so late!”

“Anything new come up since last night?”

“He can say more words today than he could yesterday.”

“He’s learning that fast?”

“Yep, you can practically watch the wheels in his head turning as he learns to make different sounds. It’s a little bit… freaky.”

“You don’t sound too happy about it.”

“I’m afraid of people thinking he’s a devil baby.”

“Screw ’em. You got a very special baby there and you need to embrace everything about him that is unique and special. The sooner he can communicate, the better. That’s as much a part of his natural defenses as his strength and speed will be.”

“Excuse us – we’re going to go check in with the other guards. I’ll see you a bit, Sookie,” Bjorn said.

“OK, thanks, guys.” She waited for the men to leave. “Octavia, can I ask you something kind of personal?”

“Sure you can. What’s up?”

“Eric said that a lot of my preconceived ideas about raising a kid aren’t going to apply here.”

“And you know that’s true, don’t you?”

“Yes, but some things… like yesterday, Eric was feeding on me, and the baby was in the room, and before I knew what was happening, Eric held the baby up to my neck and let him drink…”

“And that worries you because you think of it as sex play?”

“Right.”

“Well, there’s no harm in it. It’s a matter of personal taste. The main thing is not to make a big deal of it either way.”

“See, that’s what worries me. I’m afraid I’m going to react, you know, like I was raised to react, and give him some kind of… complex.”

“It’s something to think about. It’s good that you’re aware of that tendency, but I think it will be less of a problem than you expect. He caught you by surprise that time and you hadn’t had a chance to establish any ground rules. You think about it a while and decide what you can live with and what you can’t, then you talk to Daddy about it and reach an agreement. He’ll do what you’re comfortable with unless there’s a good reason not to.”

“See, though, Eric is…”

“A Pagan?”

“Yeah, and I don’t know, maybe I am, too, but that’s not the way I was raised. Eric was saying he might start… having sex… when he’s like 13. That can’t be healthy can it?”

“That’s a reasonable question. For a human boy, in this culture, that would probably be too early. Am I to assume Eric started at 13?”

“Yes.”

“Different time and different place. When he was alive, that would not have been unusual.”

“Right, but now…”

“Well, there are several things you gotta consider. This is not a human boy. He’s a Vampire, and Vampires rarely separate blood and sex. Once he reaches puberty, this will probably be out of your control. You’ll have to let Eric handle that aspect of his life – it might be necessary to procure donors for him at that point that can provide both.”

“You mean like… prostitutes?”

“Maybe or adult volunteers. I’ve got a feeling women will line up for him when he gets bigger. We won’t know until he gets there. But if that’s what he needs, you gotta accept it without making him feel bad or self-conscious about it. He’s not going to be on the football team and he’s not going to go to a senior prom. He’ll be stronger and faster than any other boy he ever knows. He might be able to glamour girls from a young age and then you’ll have to make sure he’s never alone with someone he could abuse. That might be a problem in the day time, but I have a feeling that as he ages he’ll start sleeping more and more in the daytime and then Eric can handle him at night. He’ll be able to walk in the light, but I don’t think he’ll like to.”

“I was told that in the light of the moon he’d be able to see the future clearly, and that the most dangerous nights for him are nights of the dark moon.”

“Interesting. That’s a Fae thing – I was wondering when he’d show some Faerie traits. Who told you this?”

“I think his name was Loup-Garou or something like that.”

“The oldest living Were? You met him?”

“Yeah and some others, when we were in Las Vegas.”

“What others?” Octavia wanted to know everything she could about who was behind the birth of this baby.

“One was a Goddess but people call her the Virgin of Guadalupe…”

“Tonantzín?”

“Yes, and a beautiful Priestess named Penelope.”

“One of the Vestals. That’s some pretty impressive company. There should have been a fourth…”

“My Grandpa Niall.”

“The Faerie Prince – that’s Air…”

“Air? Like in the elements?”

“Right – the Goddess is Water, Vesta is Fire, the Wolf is Earth and Niall was Air.”

“So there are four of them, right, like the four directions?”

“There are actually five – the fifth element is Spirit – that’s the five points of a pentagram.”

“Was there supposed to be a fifth, then?”

“There was – the baby was the fifth – or you were. Hard to know yet which. You two are still one in many ways.”

“Tonantzín asked if he was Freyja’s and Eric said ‘yes.'”

“And that bothered you?”

“I wanted to say he was MINE, but I looked at him instead.”

“The problem with you, child, is that you still think there’s a difference. You’re jealous of yourself.”

“OK, let me ask you this – if I’m Freyja, does that mean I could never meet Freyja?”

“You could stand before Her and see Her and talk to Her – but you’d be seeing and talking to yourself.”

“I’d still like to do it. I need to see Her face to face and ask Her some questions. If She tells me I am, I’ll believe Her, but I need to hear it from Her.”

“Have you had any dreams about Her recently?”

“No – I don’t remember any dreams lately – I think because I’m so focused on the baby.”

“Well, that’s good – he should be your focus right now. She’ll be there when you need Her.”

“Yeah…”

“Mma-ma!” A little arm reached up for Sookie’s face.

“Hey, Pookie! Are you awake?” She lifted him up in the sling so he could see Octavia. “Look – there’s Octavia. Say ‘hi, Octavia!'”

“Ah, Ay-vbe!”

The women both cracked up.

“He’s trying,” Sookie said.

“Yes, he is. He knows what talking is and he seems to know what you’re saying to him. He just needs to learn to make the sounds.”

“Bee-bee-bee-bee-bee” he sang as he reached for Sookie’s glass of tea.

“Oops- no, no, Sweetie, that’s not for babies!”

“Nah-nah, bee-bee.”

“Are you thirsty, Sweetie?”

“Om-ba!” He nodded then leaned into Sookie with his arm around her neck.

“Awww- are you giving me a hug?”

“Om-ba, MAMA!”

She hugged him back and kissed his cheek. He looked at her, patting one cheek and leaning in to press his mouth on the other cheek.

“He’s trying to kiss you back,” Octavia said proudly.

“Yeah, he is!” Sookie was beside herself. “Are you giving Mommy some sugar?”

“Omba!” The baby sort of nodded with his whole body.

Bobbie came into the room with a plate for Sookie and a pitcher of iced tea, and the baby got excited. “Ah, Ba-bee!”

“Hi, Prince Alex! How about you come sit with me while Mommy eats?” She reached for him and he reached back, going to her happily.

“Eee, Mama!” he pointed at Sookie.

“OK, Pookie, I will.” Sookie laughed as she cut into her pork chop, which was accompanied by home fries and 2 eggs over easy.

Octavia was amazed at how well he could already communicate. She had expected him to be advanced but he was doing in days what most children would take months to learn. “He’s already communicating with you, too, huh?”

“Yeah, we’re buddies, aren’t we, Alex?” Bobbie tickled him and he cracked up. “You know, he’ll be ready for a high chair really soon. He can already hold himself up.”

“Yeah, I guess he will. It never occurred to me to bring the traveling one with us.”

“There was no way to know he’d get this strong this fast, or this advanced. We’re going to be here two more days – if you want, we can go buy one and leave it here. It wouldn’t hurt to get a playpen to leave down here, too. At this rate, he could be crawling by sundown.”

“True. This is Saturday, right?”

“Yep. We don’t have any plans today. There are some really fancy baby stores in town. I heard of one that BrAngelina went to one called Pippen Lane…”

“You know where I’d really like to go?”

“Where?”

“Is there a Target store around here?”

“A Target? I don’t know – there’s a phone book in the kitchen – I’ll go get it.”

“Can you get him a bottle of RM, too. He said he was thirsty.”

“OK, let’s go get you a bottle, ok, buddy?”

“OM-BA!”

Bobbie carried the baby into the kitchen with her and got a bottle that Alicia had already prepared for him and popped it into the warmer she had set up on the counter. When it was done she shook it up and tested the temperature on her arm.

“EE, Bah-bee! EE!”

“Ok, Darlin’, here we go.” She held the bottle up for him and latched on. She looked around the kitchen and found the phone book that Alicia had used earlier to decide where she needed to go. She was trying to figure out how to feed the baby and carry the phone book at the same time, when he surprised her and wrapped his hands around the bottle. “Can you hold onto that, Buddy?”

“Om-ba” he said and then continued sucking happily on the rubber nipple.

Bobbie took the phone book back into the dining room with her and the baby held onto the small bottle the whole way. “Hey, ladies, check this out!” Bobbie said as they walked back into the room, “he can already hold the bottle on his own!”

Octavia and Sookie were both shocked, but there he was, holding the bottle in his little hands, having a fine time sucking down the warm red liquid. Bobbie sat the phone book on the table and settled into her chair. She shuffled around the pages a few minutes. “Looks like there’s one in Harvey, which I think is not far from here. Want me to have Bjorn get directions?”

“Yeah, let’s do – I don’t want to sit around the house all afternoon doing nothing. I’d feel better knowing I had some baby stuff here – it’ll make it feel more like home. Here, I’m done – I can take him now.”

“OK, I’ll tell him.” Bobbie said as she handed the baby back to Sookie.

“Hey, Pookie, come to Mommy.”

“Mah-mee,” he giggled as he pulled the bottle away, then stuck it back in his mouth with a great flourish, showing off and amusing himself.

“Oh, you figured that one out, too, huh?” She laughed and he laughed even though he never let go of the nipple of the bottle.

“He’s got a sense of humor!” Octavia laughed at him. “Don’tcha boy?”

“Om-ba!” He giggled as he pulled the bottle away again and then stuck it back in his mouth.

“I’ve never heard a baby laugh so much – have you?” Sookie asked.

“Not this early, for sure, but nothin’ wrong with him bein’ happy. At least he doesn’t cry all the time like a lot of babies. Of course, that might change when his teeth start coming in.”

“When will that happen?”

“Usually after 7 months or so, but who knows with this one. His development is already all over the chart.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, his language is way ahead, but he’s only a little ahead physically. He’s put on some weight already, and he can roll over which is about 3 months early. He can just about hold himself up already. Sitting up by themselves is about a 6 month old thing. Has he tried that yet?”

“No, but he’s always in bed or in somebody’s arms.”

“You need some toys to test him and see what he can do. You need to be reading to him. You’re going to the store today?”

“Yeah – I was going to ask you if you want to go with us – where’s Amelia?”

“She’s taking care of some stuff at her house, seeing when we might be able to live there in case you decide to stay here. I could go with you if you want.”

“We could get some toys there along with the high chair and stuff. You’d get to spend some time with him in the car.”

“You don’t mind if I go along?”

“Of course I don’t mind – I’d love it! You know a lot more about his development than I do. And you could shop for you, too, if you want…”

“I don’t need anything at the moment, but I do want to spend some time with you and the boy. I’ll go if you don’t think I’ll slow you down.”

“We’re not in a hurry, we’re just going to get some baby stuff. We don’t even have to have it, it just seems like a good idea. Do you need to do anything to get ready?”

“Not really. My purse is in the living room because I thought I might take a walk.”

“Oh, good. Let’s see – I need some shoes and my purse. Will you hold him while I run upstairs?”

Octavia was tickled that Sookie would let her watch the baby, even for a few minutes. “Yeah, of course I will.”

“Here, Alex, stay with Octavia for a minute, OK? Mommy will be right back.” Sookie handed her the baby and ran up the stairs.

“Well, little Vampire, are you looking forward to going shopping?”

“Om-ba. Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba.” The baby chattered and giggled as Octavia talked to him. Alex smiled and studied her face as she spoke to him, and even gave her a hug at one point.

Bobbie came back in and said she was going to get her purse as she ran upstairs, and Bjorn came in to the table.

“You’re going with us, Octavia?”

“If it’s alright – I don’t want to be a bother.”

“No bother at all. I’ll drive Sookie’s car with you, Bobbie and her and I’ll have a car of guards follow us. I’m just making sure I’ve got men I trust here with Eric and Bill and then we’ll go.”

“I didn’t think about that – you think it will be safe to leave the King?”

“Yes, I’m going to put Kerik here in the house and I know him well. Everybody else will be guarding the perimeter and I’m going to set an alarm and a lock on Sookie’s door. I’m also bringing extra men from the New Orleans office. The ones that go with us will be some of ours and some of theirs. I’m going to make damned sure we’re back before Eric wakes, too, so he doesn’t worry about Sookie and the baby.”

“Are we going to have room for what she buys? I’ve got a feeling there will be a load,” Octavia laughed.

“Yeah, I’ve been shopping with Sookie before,” Bjorn laughed. “The other guards are traveling in a big van that will have plenty of room for whatever she buys.”

“Are you all talking about me?” Sookie came bouncing back down the stairs with a tote bag and a diaper bag.

“We’re just talking logistics, ma’am.”

“Don’t you start with that ma’am stuff, Bjorn – I’m Sookie when we’re around family. Thank you, Octavia.” She took the baby from her and hugged him, kissing him three times quick on the cheek.

“Ma-ma” he giggled and patted her face then laid his head on her shoulder with his arm around her neck.

“Alright, Sookie. Where’s Bobbie?”

“She said she’d be right down – she wanted to change clothes real quick.

Kerik came in with the special lock/alarm for the bedroom door and he and Bjorn went up to install it, then Kerik got a chair and took a post outside the room. Bobbie came out of her and Bjorn’s room and said she’d meet him downstairs.

“Hey, Sookie, should we call Alicia and ask her if we need anything? Just in case?”

“Maybe, yeah – I’m used to having her with me when I shop.”

“OK, I’ll ring her.” Bobbie called Alicia and she suggested buying more cloth diapers, and some small glass baby bottles if they had them there.

Bjorn finally came down and got everyone herded into the car and the van of soldiers was already waiting for them. They led the way since they had a local driver and Bjorn followed them. Bobbie sat in the front of the car with Bjorn and Octavia sat in the back with Sookie and the baby.

“Are you going to be comfortable back here, Octavia?” Sookie didn’t want her to be cramped or anything.

“I’ll be fine. I get to sit with the little Prince this way.”

Sookie was fastening the straps on Alex’s car seat. “Alex – who is that?” She pointed to Octavia.

“Ay-vbe!”

“He’s trying,” Sookie laughed.

“Oh, he’s doin’ fine. I can’t believe he can get that close to it or remember that much.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe it, either. Just a few days ago he was inside me,” Sookie was stroking his cheek as he chattered away, looking at him with such love in her eyes and he was looking back at her with those eyes that looked just like Eric’s, smiling and singing and then he got hold of her finger and held on until the movement of the car lulled him to sleep.

While the baby slept, Sookie explained what Eric needed and Octavia pulled a deck of Tarot cards out of her purse.

“Oh, those are pretty…”

“They make our work a lot easier. I’ll be getting you a pack soon and teach you how to read. You can do everything without them that you can do with them, but they make the work easier. They’re like training wheels or a life vest – you don’t have to expend so much of your own energy to do something. They do part of the work for you. What I want you to do right now is lean back and close your eyes, and picture Eric looking through the house. Put your hand over the baby’s tummy, and just get a clear picture in your mind while I see what I can see.”

Sookie did as Octavia asked, and managed not to fall asleep while she did. She was seeing Eric very clearly in the spa room on the lower floor of the house, and told Octavia so. Octavia shuffled and flipped cards, shuffled again and flipped a few more, then a few more. She didn’t tell Sookie what she saw because they arrived at the store so she wrapped them back in their protective scarf and put them in her bag.

The baby was sleeping so soundly that he didn’t wake up when Sookie took him out of the seat and snuggled him into the sling she brought with her. Two of the guards stayed with the van to watch for potential problems and two followed Sookie’s party at a distance. Bobbie got a shopping cart and Bjorn stayed right next to Sookie and the baby.

“Fourth of July sale? What day is this?” Sookie asked.

“It’s the fourth of July, Sookie.” Bjorn told her.

“You’re kidding me? Why did I have no idea?”

“You’ve been really busy,” Bobbie told her.

“Wow – this summer is just disappearing!”

Sookie was thrilled with some of the stuff they had there. She found a pretty blue high chair that would convert to a play table later on that she liked much more than others she had looked at. Octavia picked out a Baby Einstein Animal Exploration Tunnel that was a play mat, a little contained area and had some brightly colored toys and teethers that hung from it. She particularly wanted to see if they could get the baby to crawl through the tunnel, because she had a feeling he was very close to being mobile.

They bought a little shape sorter made like a house that had holes in the roof for triangles, circles and such because Octavia wanted to see how long it was before he could distinguish shapes. They got some stacking blocks that had letters and numbers on them that they could use for colors and numbers and later on for reading. They also chose a thing called a “Bounce Bounce Activity Zone” which was a little toy the baby could actually sit or stand in and turn around to different toys on the periphery of it. Octavia thought it would not only be stimulating, but it would be a great way to get the baby to stay put when he started crawling around. He could stay in there and bounce around as he played and it would be something for him to do that would keep Sookie from needing to run after him every minute. Octavia had a feeling this baby was going to be hard for Sookie to keep up with, so anything that would keep him in a contained area would help if they could get him not to teleport in and out of it. Sookie picked a purple elephant that had some brightly colored toys attached to it, and she fell in love with a little stuffed giraffe that had pink polka dots on it, though Bjorn smiled to himself when she picked it because he knew that was more for Sookie than for the baby. She got him a blue teddy bear that played womb sounds, music and bird songs and two toys that attached to the side of the crib for bedtime, and some little teethers and water toys.

Sookie rounded up her trip in the baby clothes and she was tickled by some little creepers that had cool sayings on them. One said “chicks dig me,” one said “hey dude, your wife is checking me out,” another one “too cute for words” and “future rock star” plus one that said “party in my crib, 10 pm, BYOB.” Her very favorite, though, had a skull and wings on it and said “my dad rocks,” and she put it on the baby before they left the parking lot as she changed his diaper in case Eric was already up when they got home. She knew it was probably more for someone who played in the band, but Alex’s daddy rocked other ways and she thought he’d get a kick out of it. She bought some other little gowns and socks and little jumpers and a cute outfit for when he was a little older that had pants and a top and a hoodie and had a big yellow armadillo on it and one more onesie that had Horton Hears a Who on it.

Sookie’s phone rang while she was in the baby clothes section and it was the real estate agent who wanted to get together at 1 pm the next day. They agreed on the time and Sookie finished filling her basket with baby clothes.

Bjorn tried not to laugh as they rung it all up:

Jack and Lily shoes, black skull / black – 0-6 mo $29.99

Me in Mind Boys’ Infant Slip On Shoes – Skulls – 3-6 Months $25.99

LA BABY Chicks Dig Me – Small (0-6 Months) 14.99

LA BABY Too Cute for Words – Medium (6-12 Months) 14.99

LA BABY Future Rock Star – Small (0-6 Months) $14.99

LA BABY Party My Crib- Small (0-6 Months) $14.99

LA BABY Hey Dude – Medium (6-12 Months) $14.99

GENUINE KIDS Blue NBB Denim Short – 3M $5.59

Kissu Kissu Blue Dad Rocks Fleur De Lys – 0-3 Months $15.99

Gerber 2pk Infant Gowns in Blue – 0 – 6 Months $9.99

Gerber Bib and Socks 6 Piece Boy Set- Blue $10.99

Newborn Boys’ Circo® Ride Stripe Tank Romper – Green 3M $5.99

SlickSugar Navy Rock Bodysuit – 6m $12.99

Bumkins Horton Hears a Who Bodysuit- Turq – 3M $17.99

Circo Blue New Born Boys’ Solid Tank Romper – 3M $4.18

DWELL STUDIO TEE PANT SET DWSTUDIO HENLEBOY – 3-6M $13.99

DWELL STUDIO HOODIE DWSTUDIO BOY – 3-6M $8.99

DWELL STUDIO WEARABLE BLANKET BOY 0-3M – 0-3 $9.99

Small Roar white Mom Tattoo S/S Bodysuit – 3/6M $14.99

Infantino Discovery Elephant- Infantino; $14.99

Baby Ride and Read Toy- Edushape; $19.99

Elmo Rattles, Teethers and Link Set $23.99

K’s Kids Deluxe Patrick Shape Sorting House $29.99

Nesting Stacking Blocks- The Original Toy Company; $23.99

Deluxe Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks- Lights, Camera, Interaction!; $11.99

Baby Einstein Lights and Melodies Mirror $29.99

Tiddliwinks Pink Dot Plush Giraffe $8.99

Summer Mommies Melodies Bear – Blue $19.99

Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Lullaby Soother $39.99

Elmo Rattles and Teethers Set $23.99

Bright Starts Bounce Bounce Baby Activity Zone- Kids II; $44.59

Baby Einstein Tunnel- Kids II; $39.99

Munchkin Tower of Squirters Bath Toys $9.99

Badger Basket Baby High Chair with Playtable Conversion $149.99

Fisher-Price Precious Planet Portable High Chair Cover, Blue $9.99

765.04 before tax.

The guards loaded it all up and they got home about an hour before sundown so when Eric got up the living room was full of boxes and Bjorn had assembled the high chair and was working on the Baby Einstein Tunnel. Sookie, Bobbie and Octavia were sitting around the table, Baby E in his new high chair, though not quite upright, and they were looking at toys and talking about what they could do with them.

“Hello, ladies.” Eric bent to kiss Sookie then turned to the baby. “Well, my son, you have new chair I see.”

“OM-ba, Dada!” he nodded and giggled, then up went the arm “VBEE!”

“Eric, look at his shirt.” Sookie had been jumping in her seat just waiting for him to see it.

Eric turned the baby’s chair to face him and pulled the little onesie so that he could read it. “My dad rocks?” He smiled from ear to ear.

“Dada!” Alex reached up and patted his cheek and Sookie could see a little tear of blood in the corner of Eric’s eye. Eric lifted him out of the seat and snuggled him to his chest, kissing his forehead and whispering in his ear, “I love you, Eric Alexander,”

“Eric – do you want an RM?” Bobbie asked, “We’ve got dinner in the oven, but if you don’t want to wait…”

“I’ll wait until everyone is served, thank you,” he said as he sat next to Sookie, still holding the baby. “So I take it you went shopping today, my lovely wife?”

“Yeah, we got to thinking that he was almost ready for a high chair so we bought one we’ll leave here and some toys Octavia wants to use to get an idea of what he can do. He’s learning really fast.”

“Octavia, do you think he is advanced for his age?” Eric really cared about her opinion.

“Oh, he’s advanced, alright. You heard the way he strung those two words together? “Om-ba, Dada” and earlier today he told Sookie “ee, Mama” – that he can speak at all is amazing, but stringing words together that way is extremely advanced. An average one year old would be lucky to manage as much.”

“What did he tell Sookie?”

“”Ee, Mama” – Bobbie took him so I could eat,” Sookie explained, “and he pointed to me and told me to eat.”

“Really? Is he advanced in other ways?” Eric wanted to know everything possible.

“That’s what we’re going to find out. We know his speech capabilities are advanced, but we don’t know much about his physical abilities yet. Playing with these toys we can see if he can recognize colors or shapes, if he can crawl or sit up, if he can hold objects, move them from one hand to another, throw them, or if he has any sense of object permanence yet. All we know so far is that he can roll over – which is early – and he can hold his own bottle, which is also advanced.”

The baby wiggled in Eric’s arms and was obviously trying to turn around. Eric helped him turn to face him, and the baby leaned forward and pressed his mouth to Eric’s cheek and hugged his thick neck with his little arm. Eric was shocked.

“Aww – he’s giving Daddy sugar!” Sookie said.

“What?” Eric couldn’t believe what just happened.

“He gave you a kiss and hugged you. He started doing that today, too.” Sookie explained.

Before Eric could react Alicia came in the front door with packages.

“EESH!” The baby was excited and almost jumping in Eric’s arms.

“Hello, everyone!”

“Hey, Alicia – your buddy here must have missed you.” Sookie laughed.

“What do you mean?”

“Watch – Alex – who is that?”

“Eesh!” He bounced and pointed at her.

“That’s him saying ‘Alicia.’ We found out he could say it today.”

“Well, hello, Prince Alex!” Alicia just beamed at the baby and he squealed and giggled and hid his face in Eric’s neck, being silly. “Is Bobbie getting dinner? I’ll drop my packages in my room and help her.” She was still beaming when she left the room.

“He’s a charmer, that one is,” Octavia laughed. “People better lock up their daughters when they see him comin’.”

Octavia and Sookie were both watching Eric play with the baby, who was face to face with him and had a hand on each side of his face, really looking at him and chattering, occasionally leaning his forehead against Eric’s and giggling. Neither of them could believe how patient this big old Vampire was being with a baby, even if it was his baby. Eric seemed perfectly content to let the baby do whatever he wanted as he held him, rubbing his little back.

The baby leaned forward and Eric kissed his lips, the baby patting his right cheek and saying “Da-da.” Sookie was sure she was going to be a puddle on the floor if this went on much longer. Daddy and baby were obviously just crazy about each other, and it was the sexiest thing Sookie ever saw. She was beginning to feel it between her legs when Eric looked at her briefly, knowing what she was feeling and his gaze practically melted her. Sookie began to hope that it wasn’t going to take him all night to go through the house, because she wanted some quality time with Eric once the baby was asleep.

Almost as if he could read her mind, Eric spoke to Octavia, “Did Sookie ask you about our project tonight? Is there anything you can do to help?”

“Yes, as I understand it, you need to find some things hidden in the house. What I thought I would do is after dinner, Sookie, Bobbie, the baby and I, plus Amelia if she gets home in time, will sit at this table and sort of amplify the energy of anything hidden. It will make the trail more obvious to you – enhance any scents, make secret compartments visible, even enhance your natural intuition so you know where to look. It shouldn’t take that long – I’m pretty sure you’re only looking for three things.”

“Why three?”

“I’ve been studying on it and looked at some cards. I saw three hiding places and two of them are below ground – that means this floor or under the house. The third one is going to be a problem because I saw a woman finding it.”

“A woman?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure and it won’t happen tonight. It will be an accident, and it will happen when you least expect it, in perfect time. Also, based on what your wife told me today, she thinks you need to start in the spa room on this floor.”

“Is this true, Sookie?”

“Yeah, I guess – she had me picturing you searching while she was reading and I kept seeing you very clearly in that room. It’s as good a place as any to start, right?”

Eric nodded, processing what Octavia had told him. Three hiding places. One would be found by a woman, by accident, and not tonight. He’d still look for three but he was sure Octavia would be right about this. He also liked that the two places they would find were below ground. That meant there was a good chance of his catching a scent or seeing something. The closer to ground the better as far as Eric’s senses were concerned. Dirt and mold had a way of telling on people if you had a keen sense of smell.

Alicia and Bobbie came back with chicken baked in some sort of sauce, noodles and broccoli. Bobbie handed out plates and then she and Alicia got drinks for everyone. Kerik and Bjorn came to join them at the table and Amelia got home about 10 minutes into the meal. Octavia filled her in as Alicia got her a plate.

Eric drank an RM and the baby reached for it “Eee, Dada!” and before he could say anything Alicia was up getting the baby a small bottle of RM. She came back with it and Eric said “Thank you, Alicia,” and the baby giggled “Eesh!” as he grabbed the little bottle with both hands. Octavia took note of the fact that the baby was closely watching Eric tip his bottle up to drink and mimicking his motions with his own little bottle. Yes sir-ee, that was one smart little monkey to be able to do that already.

Bill came down the stairs toward the end of the meal. “Bill, you are well?” Eric asked, though he had a feeling Bill was avoiding Bjorn and Bobbie.

“Yes, I had some paperwork and some reading I wanted to get done before I came down. When do we start our search?”

“As soon as the dishes are cleared. Our little family Coven is going to assist us in some way so they’ll be gathered here while you, Bjorn and I do our search. Octavia believes there are three hiding places and two of them are below ground. The third she believes will be found at a different time. We’re still going to look thoroughly, of course, but we’ll concentrate our efforts down here. I believe they want us to start in the spa room.”

“The spa room? That’s the worst possible place to hide anything – the dampness could ruin any paper or money there.”

“Which is exactly why Madden would choose it.”

“True.”

Bobbie and Alicia cleared the table and Bobbie helped Alicia get started with the dishes. The women gathered at the end of the table, setting the baby’s high chair at the head of the table with two women on either side. Sookie sat next to him and Amelia next to her. Across the table, Bobbie sat next to the baby and Octavia next to her so that she was opposite Amelia. “All right, ladies and Prince, join hands and picture these men finding things.” Sookie and Bobbie each took one of the baby’s hands as Sookie and Amelia, Octavia and Bobbie joined hands and Amelia and Octavia reached across the table to join hands. The baby was very aware and intent on what was happening and Sookie noticed he was sort of sitting up and leaning forward. She could feel from him that he liked this a lot – this was his kind of project, though how he knew what they were doing she didn’t understand. When their hands were joined, Octavia said, “OK, Vampire – you do your thing, and we’ll do ours.”

Eric, Bjorn and Bill started back to the spa room and Octavia led the ladies to maintain a continuous hum, and even the baby participated since he could make an “mmmmmm” sound and seemed to instinctively know what to do. Everything in the room seemed to vibrate with the sounds that they made, the hum never dying though each of them took breaths as they needed to then continued the hum. Bjorn, Eric and Bill looked the room over carefully, looking at the columns, the huge tub, the tiles and stone in the room. They inspected every place a seam might be found or a hidden compartment might lie. Bill and Bjorn were crawling around when they noticed Eric standing staring at the tub, or rather the stones around the tub. Eric produced a knife from his pocket and popped a thin layer of marble off the edge of the tub to expose what looked like black stone. Eric ran his finger over it, then scratched it with the knife.

“Gold.”

“What?” Bill and Bjorn both replied.

“Gold. This marble is a façade. This block has been painted with a heavy oil based paint to look like it’s just stone, but if you scratch it off, it’s gold. We have to check under all of the marble in this room. He didn’t have to worry about moisture because the money is in the form of gold blocks.”

“Wow – that’s really… paranoid.” Bjorn laughed.

“Hard to move, too. What if he had to flee?” Bill said.

“This will only be part of it and he could always come back for it. No one was going to tear up this marble and if they did, they’d think this was just black stone. No one would look at it twice, even if they remodeled this room. This block is small – 6 inches by 6 inches, and it’s only about 2 inches thick. It’s heavy but not so much so that you couldn’t smuggle a few out of here with no one noticing. We’ll need knives and chisels.”

“There are some boxes of tools in the garage – I’ll see what I can find.” Bjorn said and went out the door.

“Where would he get gold blocks?” Bill asked.

“I’d say he poured them himself. It’s not hard to buy bits of gold, melt it down and pour it into a mold. I’ll bet we’ll find the molds around here somewhere. He was probably converting a part of what he embezzled into gold, melting it down and hiding it in here a block at a time. This house is a sort of landmark – no one would suspect the structure was being altered. Done on a small enough scale, not even the servants would know anything was being changed.”

“Knock, knock,” Sookie was at the door.

“Yes, my Angel?”

“Octavia sent me back to ask what you found – she knows you found something.”

“Yes, we did. Gold blocks painted and hidden under the marble.”

“Are you going to have to destroy this room?” Sookie hated to see her beautiful house destroyed.

“We won’t destroy it. We’ll just look for these thin marble facings. We should be able to put it back without too much trouble, shouldn’t we, Bill?”

“Yes, I’d say so. We can always hire a stonemason to fix it if you aren’t happy with it, but I suspect there won’t be many of these. Madden didn’t live here that long.”

“Good point.” Eric said as Bjorn came back in which a wooden box. Sookie could see some chisels, awls, a hammer and a couple of knives.

“OK, I’m going back out there and I’m not going to think about what you’re going to do to my spa that I haven’t even had a chance to try yet.”

“Don’t worry, Sookie, it will still be fit to use – You and I can try it out tomorrow night, alright?”

“Promise?”

“Yes, I promise.” He smiled at her softly.

“OK, we’re going to focus on helping you find these… what are you looking for?”

“Gold blocks.”

“Gold blocks without destroying my spa.”

“You do that and we’ll let you know when we’re done in here.”

The men worked in the room for another hour. All the blocks turned out to be in one section by the tub and they found an even dozen of them. They were able to slip the marble back into place, though it needed something under it to lie flat again.

“Alright, Sookie, we are out of your spa now.” Eric laughed as he, Bill and Bjorn piled the gold blocks on the dining room table.

“Is it horrible?”

“No, it’s not, and I’ll have it fixed better than new. We’re going to go over the kitchen then this room then the living room. It shouldn’t take long. Can you keep up your work or do you need a break?”

“You won’t find anything in the kitchen, I guarantee that – too many servants in and out of there. Your energy is best spent around the base of the house on the outside.” Octavia said.

“You’re sure about that?” Eric wasn’t sure about this.

“Very. Go around the edge of the house and use your nose. Just try for half an hour and if I’m wrong, come back in and continue.”

“Alright, Bill and Bjorn, get some flashlights and join me out there. I’m going to hover around the base of the house and see if I find anything.”

The women and baby continued their humming and Eric flew around the base of the house, keeping low to the ground, and picked up a scent toward the back near the garage. He went into the garage, hitting the lights, and hovered over the floor, picking up the distinct scent of money – the grime from people’s fingers, the hint of leather, the acrid aura of cocaine most bills had on them these days. He followed the scent to a workbench at the back of the garage. He ran his hand under the workbench and felt a seam in the floor. He was moving heavy items off of it when Bjorn and Bill found him.

“Need help, Eric?” Bjorn asked.

“Yes, there’s money hidden here.”

“How do you know?” Bjorn couldn’t see how he could know that.

“I smell it. There’s a crack in the cement under this bench. We need to pull this out of here to get to it.”

It took them half an hour to get things arranged so that they could pull the bench away from the wall. They didn’t have a lot of room to work, but they were able to see a block of stone cut on four sides in the floor about the size of a small footlocker. Eric flew up and over behind the bench, as Bjorn watched in amazement. He had been told Eric could fly, but you really don’t believe a thing like that until you see it.

“Shit,” Eric said, “this block is almost completely flush with the rest of the floor. That paranoid motherfucker had to make this this hard? I’m glad I cut his fucking head off,” Eric laughed.

“Here, Eric, try this crowbar – the edge is pretty thin. Maybe you can get it to budge a little.” Bjorn handed the iron bar across the bench,

“OK, this is working a little bit. I can lift it out of here if I can get a little bit of edge to grab onto. Hang on…” Eric was able to lift the block, which Bjorn figured had to weigh at least a hundred pounds, like it was nothing once he got a hold of it. He set it to the side and pulled out two garbage bags. “Don’t worry – it’s not bodies.” Eric laughed. Each bag had a duffle bag that a man might take as carryon luggage on a plane. Eric shined a flashlight around the hole and once he was satisfied there was nothing else to find, he put the slab back in place and moved the bench back to its original position.

Once they got the bags into the house and counted the money, each one contained $200,000 in cash – 100 bundles of twenty $100.00 bills. “That hardly seems worth all that trouble.” Eric said. “I know there’s more.”

“There’s more, but you ain’t gonna find it tonight.” Octavia said. “Go ahead and comb the upstairs, though, so you can rest.”

Eric, Bjorn and Bill went through the den and all the bedrooms, but found nothing else hidden, though there was a false bottom to the closet in Bill’s room but nothing was in there.

While the search continued, the women moved into the living room. Alicia served coffee to Bobbie, Octavia, Amelia and herself and they sat on the couches and chairs talking while Sookie changed the baby’s diaper then played on the floor with him. Sookie put the baby on the colorful mat of the Baby Einstein Animal Exploration Tunnel and lay on the floor next to it, showing him the little toys hanging from it. He was especially fond of the yellow and orange sun that had a rattle in it. He liked the noise that it made and kept reaching for it so Octavia told her to put him on his tummy and see if he could raise his head to follow the noise. He not only raised his head, he pushed up on his hands to see where it went when she moved it out of his range.

“That’s a big deal, right there.” Octavia said.

“That he pushed up like that?”

“That, too, but I meant that he looked for that toy when he didn’t see it or hear it. The concept of object permanence develops much later in most babies.”

“Object permanence?” Sookie had never heard the phrase.

“The idea that something exists when he’s not looking at it. Babies under 8 months old are usually “out of sight, out of mind” – if they don’t see or hear a thing or a person, they don’t know it exists. Here, lay that little sun in front of him and cover it with this blanket,” Octavia threw her a little blue blanket that was laying on top of the diaper bag beside the couch.

Sookie laid the little rattle in front of the baby and he reached for it, but then she put the blanket over it and waited to see what he would do.

“Nah-nah, Mama,” the baby said and grabbed the blanket pulling it toward him until he uncovered the toy, “OM-BA! Mama,” he grabbed the toy and showed it to Sookie. Alicia, Bobbie and Amelia applauded and the baby loved it, laughing big as he put his head down on his hand for a minute, then he pushed up on all fours for the first time.

“Did you find it? Huh? Did you find that rattle?” She was cooing to him and he was trying to balance on his hands and knees and laughing when Eric came down stairs.

“Look, Sweetie!” Sookie called to Eric, “He’s up on all fours! He’s learning to crawl.”

“Sookie, turn the baby facing into the tunnel.” Octavia suggested. “Vampire – kneel at the other end there and let’s see if he can creep or crawl yet.”

Eric knelt at the other end of the tunnel as Sookie picked the baby up and put him back down facing into the tunnel.

“Call him,” Octavia urged.

Eric sprawled out a bit on the floor and looked into the tunnel. “Eric Alexander – come to Daddy.”

The baby looked up, hesitated a few seconds then was instantly at the end of the tunnel near Eric, saying “Da-da!” and reaching up to pat his face.

“That’s Daddy’s good boy!” Eric was thrilled. “Did you see that speed, ladies? My little Vampire can move when he wants to.” Eric picked the baby up and rolled on his back, holding the baby up over his head. “That’s Daddy’s little Vampire. I’ll bet you can fly before we know it!” He laughed and moved the baby through the air as if he were flying, making “whooshing” flying noises. The baby squealed and laughed, drooling a little but Eric didn’t care. He “flew” him around a little more, both of them laughing, then brought him back down to his face and kissed him, sitting up and putting the baby back at the entrance of the tunnel. “Eric Alexander – go to Mommy.”

ZIP! He was instantly back at the other end with Sookie, who was half amazed and half scared. “That’s baby Vampire speed, right? He’s already got Vampire speed?”

Bill and Bjorn had both just come downstairs when the baby zipped back over to Sookie.

“Holy hell!” Bjorn laughed, “did you see that kid move?”

“I’ve said all along, my boy is every bit a Vampire.” Eric was bursting.

The baby patted Sookie’s hand because she had the rattle. “You want this, Pookie?”

The baby reached his hand up and grabbed the plastic chain link that was used to hang it from the wall of the tunnel, then he crawled completely out of the tunnel, turned around and crawled at normal baby speed back to Eric as everyone watched in amazement. “Dada!” he called and swung the rattle toward Eric and tried to shake his hand back and forth to make the rattle sound.

“He’s so smart!” Amelia was amazed he figured the tunnel out that quickly.

“He’s showing you his new toy, Daddy.” Sookie told Eric, “It’s a rattle.”

“A rattle?”

“Shake it – he likes the noise it makes.”

Eric took the rattle from the baby and shook it in front of him and the baby squealed and laughed. “OMBA, dada!” the baby patted his hand wanting him to shake it again. Eric shook the rattle again and the baby squealed again. He patted Eric’s hand again and squealed when Eric shook the toy. The baby fell to the side a little from his crawling position and tried to sit up. Eric helped him find his balance and he was sitting facing Eric, then patted his hand again and Eric entertained him that way for a few minutes. Sookie unattached a little soft red bird from the tunnel and threw it to Eric.

“Squeeze its tummy and it will sing,” Sookie explained.

Eric held the little bird up to the baby and pressed its tummy and the bird played a chirping sound.

“Ahhhh!:” the baby made a sound of obvious pleasure and Eric stroked his little cheek with the soft toy and he closed his eyes to concentrate on the sensation. Sookie couldn’t believe what patience Eric had with him. The picture of that huge Vampire playing with a tiny baby was just adorable. Alicia apparently thought so, too, because she snapped a picture of them with her phone. Sookie felt like she had an actual fire in her panties.

At one point, Bill’s phone rang and he announced that he was needed in the King’s offices and would be back before dawn. He took a guard/driver with him and headed out as Bjorn joined the women sitting in the living room watching the Eric and Eric Alexander show.

“Vampire – teach him to stand up.” Octavia said, “Take his hands and say stand up, then pull him upright for a few seconds then let him sit back down. See if he’s strong enough to pull himself up.”

Eric sat up cross-legged opposite the baby and took a little hand in each one of his. “OK, my son, let’s stand up,” and he pulled him up by his little arms and held him up a few seconds, then let him gently back down on his bottom. Eric held his hands up and let the baby get hold of a finger on each hand and said, “Stand up, Alex,” and Eric could feel the baby pulling to raise himself up, only needing a little help from him. “Very good, my boy! He can almost do it!” he said to the others, letting him sit, then helping him stand again.

“Now see if he can pull himself up without help from you – just let him hold onto your fingers and see if he can pull up on his own.” Octavia suggested.

“Stand up, Alex,” Eric said and just held his hands in place so the baby could brace on them. It took him a little effort, but he made it up with a big smile. “Omba, Dada!” then fell on his butt as everyone applauded. The baby laughed and smacked his hands together, imitating the others. Eric was delighted. “Very good, my son. That’s my very good boy!” Eric leaned forward and picked the baby up, pulling him into a hug and saying, “Daddy is very proud of you, Alex,” and kissing him on the cheek. The baby put his arms around Eric’s neck and hugged him as Eric patted his back.

“Sookie, if you don’t need me anymore tonight, I think I’ll turn in.” Alicia said.

“That’s fine, Alicia, thanks for everything!”

“Ba-ba, Eesh!” The baby waved at her.

“Bye-bye, Alex!” Alicia said to him as the others called good night to her.

“Actually, I could use some sleep myself. Watching that boy work wore me out,” Octavia laughed as she gathered up her purse. “We can do some more with him tomorrow.”

“I’ll go up with you, Octavia.” Amelia said. “Good night, everybody!”

Bobbie and Bjorn were on the couch together drinking coffee as Eric kept the baby in his arms and lay on his back with the baby lying on his big chest. He lifted the baby up over him again and flew him around, evoking more squeals and laughter.

“I know he’s having a good time, Sweetie, but I hope you aren’t giving him any ideas.” Sookie was only about half kidding.

“Of course, I’m giving him ideas! I’m hoping he can fly just like Daddy. If he can, I can take him out at night and teach him to hunt the way we did in the old days.”

“Not until he’s old enough to know right from wrong, I hope.”

“Of course not, Sookie, but he needs to learn old ways as well as new ones, don’t you my boy?” He brought the baby down quickly, almost like dropping him, and kissed him, put him back up in the air, brought him down and kissed him again, then back in the air. He did it several times and the baby loved it, especially the falling part.

“He’s going to throw up on you, Eric.” Bjorn laughed.

“It will wash off if he does, but he doesn’t seem green – he’s having fun. I can feel what he feels.”

“Yeah,” Sookie agreed, “he’s loving that.”

Eric lifted the baby back up and then floated them both up off the floor. The baby let out a high-pitched “Haaaaahhh!” sound, loving the sensation of being in the air. Eric brought him back to his chest, then turned over in the air so he was facing down. He turned the baby’s back to him so the baby was looking down and then Eric stretched out his arms, holding the baby from above so he could really feel like flying. He moved the baby around, letting him really feel the air under him.

“Sookie, lie on your back so he can fly over you.” Eric said.

Sookie started to object, but then she said, “oh, alright,” and stretched out on her back. Eric flew over her with the baby. “Alex, say “hi, Mommy!”

“Ah, Ma-mee!” The baby giggled and he waved because Sookie waved at him.

“Hi, Sweetie. Are you flying with Daddy?”

“Omba, Da-dee!” He giggled and waved his arms and legs about. “Ee, Ma-mee, ee!”

“Eric, I think he wants to be fed.”

“Yes, I think you’re right. Stay there.” Eric slowly floated them down so Sookie could take him to her breast and he suckled eagerly as she opened the top of her dress for him.

“That’s what I always like to do after a long flight, too.”

“Feed?” Bjorn said.

“No, but it does involve a pair of warm breasts,” Eric laughed as he floated up to land on his feet.

Bjorn and Bobbie both laughed and Sookie said “Daddy’s being naughty, Alex!” as she sat up with him. Eric offered her his hand and helped her stand up so she could take the baby over to a chair.

“What’s all this other stuff, Sookie?” Eric motioned to the pile of toys and clothes covering the pool table.

“Other stuff for him. Look at that blue teddy bear. It plays sounds like a baby hears in the womb. It’s supposed to help him sleep.”

“Alright – and the little purple… elephant?”

“Those are teething toys attached to it. When his teeth start coming in, which won’t be long, he’s going to want to chew on anything he can get his hands on. There are some other little teething toys and things there, too, and there’s one attached to the tunnel.”

“At the risk of sounding non-Progressive, why did you buy my son a giraffe covered with pink polka dots?”

“I think she bought that for her,” Bjorn laughed.

“Ah!” Sookie was indignant, “it was just so cute – it won’t hurt him to have a toy with some pink in it. It’s so sweet and soft…”

“Like I said, I think the giraffe is for Sookie,” Bjorn cracked up and so did Bobbie and Eric.

Sookie pretended that she was upset. “Why are you all picking on me?”

“We’re just teasing you, my Angel. I don’t mind if you bought it for him- I don’t mind if you bought it for you, either. After all, you’ll be playing with the toys with him, so you might as well love them, too.”

Sookie let out a huge yawn. “Excuse me!” she said, surprised at herself.

Eric knelt next to Sookie’s chair and stroked her cheek. “We should go to bed, Dear One. You have a long day tomorrow and I’d like to have you to myself for a while before you sleep.”

“Sounds good to me.” Sookie agreed.

“Eric, Bobbie and I were talking about going out for a while if you don’t need me here. It should be pretty wild in the Quarter tonight.”

“Oh, yes – the holiday – enjoy yourself. Just make sure you get enough sleep to drive my family around safely tomorrow.”

“I will, don’t worry.”

“Alright then, we’re going up. Lock the door as you go out and don’t forget your key. You can tell the guard we’re in for the night.” Eric pulled Sookie to her feet, and the three of them headed for the bedroom.

Sookie jumped on the bed with the baby still in her arms, bouncing up and down on the edge of it. “Yay!”

Eric laughed as he pulled his shirt off. “Happy, Angel?”

“Yes – this is my favorite part of the day. Just me and my two boys,” she laughed.

“We like this part of the day, too, don’t we, Alex?” Eric smiled at the two of them.

The baby hummed a little as if in agreement, but he didn’t stop eating. Eric walked over in front of Sookie and bent down over her, raising her chin to him so he could kiss her lips softly, his hands cradling her head, fingers entwined in her hair from underneath, massaging her scalp gently as his lips and tongue gently caressed hers.

“What would you like to do, my Angel? We can soak in the tub or we can go straight to bed – whichever you prefer.” He kicked off his boots and dropped his jeans.

“I just want to get naked and get in bed. My motor’s been running ever since I was watching you play with the baby at the dinner table.”

“Yes, I know that – and it only got worse when I was playing with him on the living room floor. I half expected you to jump me right there,” he teased her.

“I plan to do exactly that as soon as my little buddy here goes to sleep.”

“He’ll fall asleep soon, I’m sure – he’s got to be tired after all that playing.”

“It was so cool watching you with him. That’s the first time you were able to do that. He’s already getting to the fun part where we get to watch him learn to talk and walk and all those things. You even got to fly, didn’t you, Pookie.”

The baby kept eating, but his eyes twinkled.

Eric sat next to Sookie, wrapping his arm around her and stroking the baby’s back and head as he suckled. “I had fun with him. I was so proud, seeing what he could do. I knew all along he would be exceptional, but to see him grow and talk and laugh – I never dreamed of such happiness.”

“Aw – Sweetie!” Sookie said and looked up at him then kissed him. The baby hummed and reached for their faces as they kissed. Eric took his little hand and kissed it then held it to Sookie’s lips and she kissed it, too. The baby let go of Sookie to chatter at Eric and she said “Here, take him for a minute so I can get out of this dress.

“With pleasure – I’m always happy to help you get out of your clothes, my Lover.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her as he took the baby, and held him up for a kiss. The baby tried to imitate Eric by putting a little hand on each of his cheeks and pressing his mouth to Eric’s.

“Aw – are you giving Daddy sugar, Alex?” Sookie teased him as she wiggled out of the dress and her panties, then climbed on the bottom of the bed up to her side, getting a little swat of appreciation on her bottom as she passed Eric, who was pulling down the covers with one hand and holding the baby with the other. Sookie squealed a little when Eric’s hand smacked her bottom and the baby cracked up.

“Oh, you think that’s funny, huh, Pookie?” Sookie laughed and Eric handed her the baby as he slid into bed next to her. Eric settled on his side, his head propped up from his elbow. Sookie put the baby on his back between them and turned on her side toward Eric. “Here, Alex, let’s get you out of this little suit,” Sookie said as she unsnapped his little “my daddy rocks” creeper and threw it over where her dress was piled up. Sookie blew raspberries on the baby’s belly and he squealed with laughter. Eric couldn’t remember seeing anyone do that before and he was fascinated by the baby’s reaction.

“He loves that, Sookie.”

“Yes, he does! Yes, he does!” She was teasing the baby. “I’m being a bad mommy – I should be trying to get him to calm down and go to sleep, but he’s just too much fun! Aren’t you, Pookie?”

The baby was giggling, kicking and reaching for Sookie’s face and she blew on his tummy again. The baby squealed and giggled, but then let out a big yawn.

“Oops! OK, that’s Mommy’s signal to settle down,” Sookie said.

“Ee, Ma-mee.”

“OK, eat a little more and then it’s night-night.” Sookie helped him get into position and got comfortable, she and Eric lying face to face as the baby suckled. Eric stroked her face gently and ran his hand down her arm.

“I think you’ll be asleep before the baby, my Angel.”

“No way. He’s going to go to sleep and then you are mine.”

“I’m always yours, Sookie, no matter what we are doing.”

“I know but I need time with you like this, like right now, and… you know…”

“I know. I need time with you, too, sweetheart. Are you feeling neglected?”

“Not neglected but… I don’t know what the word is. Busy, maybe, or overwhelmed? Just not enough quiet time with you. We used to be alone together a lot, and then everything changed in so many ways – and they’re wonderful – but I miss our time together. Everything with the baby is happening so fast – even his development is accelerated. Then you were supposed to do something that would take 10 years and it barely took 10 days…”

Eric laughed at that.

“…and all of a sudden there are fancy dress balls and coups and movie stars and my baby can already crawl at Vampire speed, and I love this house and our other house and our whole big new family but I’m… tired.”

“Hence, your need for sleep.”

“No, I don’t need sleep, I need you. I can’t explain it any better than that. You know I didn’t even realize today was Independence Day? There’s so much going on and I feel like I never see you alone. You’re only available at night and I want more of it for me…. and for the baby, but mostly for me. I sound selfish, don’t I…?” Sookie sounded defeated and it made Eric a little sad.

“No, Sookie, you don’t sound selfish. You do sound overwhelmed and that happens a lot lately, but it’s understandable. You’ve been through a lot of changes and we’ve been very busy. I was looking at our calendar last night. If you had two weeks to do anything you wanted – literally anything – what would you do?”

“I just told you – I’d spend it with you and the baby. I want to be boring. I’d stay home, I’d play in the pool, I’d play with the baby, we’d stay home and watch some movies and we’d go to Fangtasia a few times for some really kinky sex.”

Eric cracked up. “You had me worried until that last part.”

“I’m not kidding, Eric.”

“I know you’re not, Sookie. As I was saying, I was looking at our schedule. I’m going to postpone going back to Las Vegas. We don’t really have anything we have to do until the baby’s Wiccaning on August 1st. Once the end of September gets here, we’ll have a lot of social obligations right up through the holidays. This month, though, we have about 3 ½ weeks where we could do anything we want. If you want to stay here, I’ll have our personal things moved here. I have projects here and in Las Vegas, but Sandy and Bill will handle most of that and I can work at night when you sleep. I might need to attend some property settlements but I can arrange that for the fall or we can just spend the night wherever and come right back if you want. Or I can travel alone…”

“Absolutely not – we’re a unit. The baby and I go where you go – that’s not negotiable.”

“Good, I was hoping you would feel that way. We should be together no matter what. You’re both much safer with me.”

“Safe or not – we want to be with you. That comes before anything else.”

Eric kissed her deeply and looked down at the baby at her breast. He whispered “he’s asleep,” and picked him up gently, taking him around the bed and settling him in his little crib. As he came back to bed he said, “don’t worry – I’ll put him in bed with you before I rest.”

“Good. Now, let’s talk about this 3 ½ weeks. Won’t we need to move in that time?”

“Well, we can, but only if you want to. If you want to go home and do nothing for two weeks, we’ll do that. If you find a property here you want to move into, or if you’d like me to send a moving van for our things and bring them here, then we will.”

“You know I haven’t even been in the pool here. I don’t know if I’d like it, but it’s gorgeous out there so I bet I would. I should have done that today.”

“Do you want to cancel the real estate lady for tomorrow and play in the pool? I won’t mind at all if you do.”

“There are a dozen really important reasons why we need a different place but if I’m going be in New Orleans I want to be here.”

“Then I’ll have Alicia call and cancel your appointment tomorrow and you can sleep late, and play in the pool, and enjoy your new house.” He kissed her forehead gently and she snuggled up tightly against him. “Do you still want to go home Tuesday or should we have things brought here?”

“Good question. I think I want to go home, I want Alicia and Margaret to get ready to move here with us, and then we come back here after the baby’s…. what is it again?”

“A Wiccaning. You should ask your Witches what that entails. It’s like a blessing or a Christening, but it’s done by Witches. Every Supe in the area will probably be invited.”

“Really? It’s that big of a deal?”

“Oh, yes, my Angel. I don’t know all the details but Bill was told to expect several members of the Council and the Living Pantheon, local Covens and Solitaries, Vampires, your Were packs and Niall notified Bill that there will be a huge Fae presence that night as well. Fae apparently take these things very seriously.”

“Will Freyja be there!” Sookie was really excited about that prospect.

“It’s very likely, since he’s Hers and that is well known. She may want to bless him personally and that would be a very big deal, indeed.”

“I’d really like to talk to Her. I have questions only She can answer.”

“And I need to make an offering to Her – I need to figure out what to give Her.”

“Is that something that’s expected?”

“There’s no specific obligation, but I want to thank Her for all of Her blessings to our family. I just haven’t figured out what to give Her yet. Modern Witches are anti-animal sacrifice so I have to figure out what She might want.”

“Did they used to be pro-animal sacrifice?”

“Not Witches, but many Pagan cultures would sacrifice animals to the gods that were later served at a feast in their honor. Modern African-Native American groups like Vodun, Candomble and Santeria still do things like that which scares most white people even though those groups use a lot of Catholic imagery in their rites. There’s nothing sinister about it but Wiccans tend to err toward the PC when they can, maybe even to their own detriment.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever heard the term “fluffy bunny?””

“Maybe – what’s that?”

“That’s what some people call Wiccans who are way too PC and New Age-y. Most real Witches can’t stand them, but they’re the ones that are most obvious about who they are so they tend to get the most attention.”

“Why don’t real Witches like them?”

“They’re like hippies, or starry-eyed little girls, emo kids. They’re harmless in most cases, but they feed the dominant culture’s desire to dismiss magick as nonsense. Real Witches are like Octavia – no-nonsense, smart, pragmatic. They don’t play at it – they know real power and they know how to wield it. The Goddess is very real to them and they don’t take shit off of people. They aren’t afraid to express an opinion and they scare the New Age types because they embrace darkness – they aren’t all sweetness and light. The Matriarchists really scare people because they want society to go back to being more egalitarian. They’d completely topple the patriarchy if they could – and might still. They’re coming back in a big way.”

“Matriarchists? I think that’s what Octavia is.”

“My guess would be that she is. Has she ever talked about patriarchy?”

“Yeah, and so have Bobbie and Amelia. I’ll have to ask them more about it.”

“You should – there is much for you to learn.”

“Are you a Matriarchist?”

“My culture was often blamed for the spread of patriarchy but yes, I’d say I’m a Matriarchist. I think society was better off when we were organized around the mother’s line.”

“Supes are patriarchal though, right?”

“Yes, extremely so. Some people confuse sexual domination with matriarchy, too, but they are opposite things.”

“OK, when we do those games, is that patriarchal?”

“It’s neither – it’s not political at all, it’s sexual. Some people have a taste for dominating, some for being dominated, but that behavior is for private sexuality, not for trying to conduct a civilization. Civilization works best when it begins with the mothers and treats people as equals.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I’ve seen what the shift to patriarchy did to the world – violence, greed, exploitation, slavery, war. Even though I am a warrior, I know it should be a last resort. In patriarchy it is usually the goal.”

“Patriarchy wants war all the time?”

“Yes – a few people amass great wealth and power by keeping war going constantly. It doesn’t even matter in most cases who wins the war, just that war continues.”

“I don’t understand that…”

“Let’s say a defense contractor builds helicopters. They are probably used by both sides of a conflict – if one gets shot down, they sell another helicopter. It doesn’t matter who shot it down and probably doesn’t matter which side it belongs to. A sale is a sale. The same companies that made money in Vietnam are making money in Iraq, and they make their money whether they do the work or not. Soldiers are electrocuted by shoddy wiring and the company who did it gets a bonus from the government. You’ve heard the term “military-industrial complex?”

“Yeah, but I never really understood what it meant.”

“It means that there are people who make money from war and have a financial interest in keeping war going in spite of the human costs, and their tentacles reach into the military and the government.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Some form of that machine has been moving through the world for 6,000 years. I keep hoping some day people become educated enough to change things, but change is slow in coming. People today know many more things than they did when I was human, but they know very little fact. Most of what is taught in American schools is not true.”

“You mean that most of what I learned in school was a lie?”

“The history and politics, yes. It’s all propaganda that has almost nothing to do with what actually happened in the past or what is happening now.”

“Things are getting better though, right?”

“Better is a relative term, my Angel. Things are changing, and technology advances, but most people still live sad and difficult lives and most people are not happy. Even during times of famine, I have seen people in ancient cultures be happier than they are today. Times change but people do not if the same bad ideas get passed down from generation to generation. When those bad ideas are spread by violence, and the ones who oppose them are killed, eventually, no one remembers that a different way is possible. The bad ideas become the only ideas.”

“So you remember the world when there were other ways?”

“Yes, and there are still cultures that remember. The American Indians still have functioning matriarchies – Octavia probably knows about them. They lived in relative peace until the genocide of the European settlers. My people visited what is now called Canada, but we never tried to colonize these lands to any extent. When the Spanish and the Italians discovered the gold some of the Indians had, they began to establish colonies and then the English came in and destroyed nearly everything they found.”

“Were you here then?”

“I traveled here a few times on ships in various capacities. Travel was hard in those days, but it was possible. I didn’t come here to stay until the 1900s.”

“What made you come here?”

“I needed to get Pam out of England – she was spotted in London by a relative and we had to flee before they found us. Her family had buried her. If they had ever confirmed that it was she that they saw, and not just a girl who looked like her – it would have been disastrous.”

“Did Pam want to be a Vampire?”

“Yes, she did – though she wouldn’t have known what a Vampire was.”

“And you killed her?”

“I transformed her – but I followed her, I seduced her, and at last I gave her a choice before I turned her.”

“Did she understand what she was agreeing to?”

“Not completely, but she was happy once it was done. She embraced it and never looked back.”

“Lucky you picked the right girl.”

“I searched for the right girl for months – maybe years – before I found her.”

“She was what you were looking for? At the time, I mean?”

“You must understand that I was a very old Vampire and I had no expectation of ever having love in my life. I wanted a companion who didn’t want to be constrained by Victorian society, but I wanted a very pretty, European girl. I wanted an eager sex partner and I wanted someone who would embrace living on the fringes of society. I had money, I was handsome, I could offer her anything she wanted. If not for me, she’d have been forced into a loveless marriage and an unhappy, oppressive life. I was a dream come true for Pam in many ways.”

“Did she always like girls?”

“From the very beginning. The first meal I arranged for her was a very pretty whore from a nearby brothel and she liked her very much, indeed. We had an arrangement that I would share girls with her if I was her only male Lover and she was quite content with that arrangement. She was very eager to learn and I trained her to be my ideal Lover. We were very happy with each other and still are in many ways.”

“How did she feel about me when she realized you were interested in me?”

“She didn’t take it seriously at first until she saw me taking stupid risks where you were concerned and indulging you in ways I would not normally. When she realized how serious I was about you, she agreed that she found you attractive but felt I was not strict enough with you.”

“She thinks you spoil me, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, and she’s right. I do indulge you in ways I would not indulge anyone else and we have both suffered because of it – but we are past that now.”

“Like with Quinn, you mean? What should you have done?”

“I should have killed him and whipped you severely so that you never dared consider defying me again.”

Sookie swallowed hard at that. “Is that what you would have done to someone else?”

“If she were my human, let alone my bonded, yes, I would have.”

“Have you ever done that with Pam?”

“Yes, a few times when I felt it was necessary. The first one was the worst, of course and she quickly learned not to push me that far again. Plus, she’s a Vampire, so her beatings are far more severe than a human could survive.”

“I can’t imagine you hurting Pam…”

“I didn’t hurt her, I improved her. I am her master – it’s my duty to train her.”

“Like, sexually or as a Vampire or what?”

“As a Vampire, certainly, and in any other way I choose. She’s mine to do with as I please.”

“Would that be true of me if you turned me?”

“It’s true of you now, Sookie.”

Those words shocked Sookie. On some level she knew they were true, but she never thought about it in those terms before. She knew she had a question somewhere but she couldn’t find words for it.

“Sookie – you are very quiet.”

“I don’t know what to say…”

“Surely you are not surprised by a simple statement of fact?”

“Is it a fact or a choice or…? I don’t know how to ask this…”

“It’s a fact, Sookie. You are my bonded. You are my wife, too, but that is secondary to our bond. It is my responsibility to love you, to support you, to keep you safe, and to do whatever else I believe will create a better life for you.”

“Like training me?”

“Sookie, if you recall, you asked me to train you.”

“Yes, but that’s sex, right – that’s not about anything else?”

“It’s about survival, too. It’s unlikely I’d ever need to really punish you, but if you’ll recall, I should have punished you our first time in Vegas, I did punish you once and if you ever do something to endanger us, I’ll do it again.”

“So, if I ever…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know what I want to ask, but I know I want to ask something.”

“You want to know what it would take for me to whip you.”

“Yeah – I guess that’s what I want to know.”

“If you ever put us in danger, or break your vows to me, then yes, I will punish you. You are very unlikely ever to do anything to make that necessary, are you not?”

“Yeah, I’m just trying to get a clear picture. If I ever… cheated on you…”

“I’d kill him and whip you so you never did it again. Why is this a surprise to you?”

“If I got mad and left you…”

“You won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you love me and you took a vow to be faithful. You are the mother of my child. You have made your choices – now you must live with them.”

“What if you stop loving me?”

“That cannot happen.”

“What if I stop loving you?”

“Our bond would probably keep that from happening, but if it did, it would not matter. We are forever. You know that.”

“Would you ever kill me?”

“No, but when you are ready, I will turn you.”

“What if I’m never ready?”

“You will be.”

“But if I’m not.”

“I won’t force it on you, if that’s what you mean, but I won’t have to. You’ll want to come over so you can be with our son and so you can be with me forever. You know that, too.”

“Yeah, I guess I do…”

“I can feel that you are confused, Sookie. What is troubling you about what I said?”

“I guess I just thought I had more choices…”

“I give you many choices because I want you to be happy.”

“What if you didn’t care if I was happy?”

“I would still support you and be honest with you and keep you safe.”

“So – do you spend money on me because I’m your bonded or because you want to?”

“Because I want to.”

“So being bonded entitles me to…”

“Support and protection, but not luxury or wealth. Those I give to you because I love you and want you to be happy.”

“Legally I’m entitled to half of everything….”

“Yes, but that means nothing to us. If I die, you will have everything that is mine. If I live, you will have everything that is mine. Your future is assured and so is our son’s.”

“But…”

“Sookie – you are looking for a reason to be upset because I said I should have whipped you. I should have, but I didn’t. Doesn’t the fact that I didn’t tell you something?”

“According to you it means that I’m spoiled.”

“You are. I take great pleasure in spoiling you.”

“I don’t want to be spoiled, I want to be loved.”

“I do love you, Sookie, more than I have ever loved anyone or anything. I can’t tell if you are upset because I didn’t whip you or if you’re upset by the idea that I should have.”

“Neither can I,” she said softly.

Eric tried very hard not to laugh because he didn’t know how she would take it but inside, he was cracking up – she was mad and didn’t know why.

“Sookie, my love, are you happy with me?”

“I’m ecstatic with you.”

“Is there anything I can do to make you happier?”

“No – no, there’s nothing I want that I don’t have. I know I can have or do anything I could think of. My life is perfect. Busy, but perfect.”

“Alright, now, what are you really upset about?”

“Part of me is scared of being whipped and another part of me wants to know what it feels like.”

“Have you forgotten those three stripes you had recently.”

“No, but those were with a big whip. What does a smaller one feel like?”

“I think I’m beginning to understand now – when I said I should have killed Quinn and whipped you, that turned you on, didn’t it?”

“Uh…” she didn’t know what to say.

“Not the Quinn part, of course, but the idea of me whipping you – the idea of me controlling you with force – that turned you on.”

Sookie didn’t say anything because she was trying to decide if it was true or not. Eric turned off the light on his nightstand, then turned back to Sookie and without a word slipped his hand between her legs, causing her to gasp.

“Very wet, Sookie,” Eric said softly as he put his arm under her head and moved over her, “a part of you wants to be dominated very severely but another part of you is afraid of that. What would you do about that if you were me?” His fingers were probing her now. Why did she feel dizzy? Why couldn’t she answer him?

“I think it’s good that we’ll be home in a few days, Sookie. I think you need to spend some time in the basement at Fangtasia. You’ve only had a small taste of what the basement has to offer. I think we need to expand your horizons.” As he said “expand” he pushed all four fingers into her and kissed her as she cried out and he continued to push her by curling his fingers under and making her pant to keep from crying out as his big hand stretched her. She was feeling something akin to the panic she always felt when he pushed into her other entrance and she tried to relax and open herself wide to his fist. He was really pushing her, the word “merciless” flashing through her mind as she writhed and he began to whisper in her ear:

“I’m going to strip you and hang you from the rafters in the basement, Sookie, and I’m going to kiss you, and bite you and pinch you,” punctuating each item with a thrust of his fist, “and I’m going to whip you, Sookie, with a thin little whip that will hurt so much you won’t believe it, but won’t leave a mark unless I want it to. I can keep you there for hours, Sookie, doing whatever I want to you and you won’t be able to get away from me. You can scream or cry and no one will hear you. I’ll own you, Sookie, every little bit of you and you won’t be able to say no. Once I get you down there, you’re mine and I’ll do anything to you that I damned well please.”

Sookie was moving very rhythmically now and Eric could tell from the sounds that she was trying not to make that she was close to coming. “Is that what you want, Sookie? Do you want to be my toy? My bad little girl that I have to punish? You want to see how far I can push you? You want me to make you come until you cry?”

Sookie was wild now, riding his hand and he sucked her nipple into his mouth, tasting her sweet milk and biting her nipple hard in away that was like nothing she ever felt before. Her whole body convulsed and she arched her back, Eric pushing her, and pushing her, even after she came, and she was shaking her head, not to try to get him to stop, but just to try to take it without screaming. At just the right moment, Eric let her rest and she lay there shaking.

“Did you like that, Sookie?” he laughed softly.

‘Y-YES!”

“Mmm- my little masochist. You want a little more or a lot more?”

“A lot more.”

“That’s my girl, Sookie, You want to show me how much you can take without waking up the baby?”

“Yes – anything.”

Eric raised an eyebrow. “Anything? What if you don’t like it? What if it hurts?”

“Do anything you want – just promise me you’ll give me your blood during.”

“That is a promise, my pretty girl. This is your last chance to say no. You can go to sleep or you can get face down on your stomach and say nothing until I allow you to speak.”

Sookie rolled over onto her stomach.

Eric went to his suitcase and opened a little bag that had four stockings in it. He pulled Sookie down to the center of the bed by her ankles. Sookie felt something being wrapped around her ankle and it was pulled to the side and, she surmised, tied to the bed frame. Her other leg was pulled in the other direction and tied. Sookie tested the bonds – there was no way for her to close her legs. Why did she love this so much?

Eric pulled Sookie’s arm back so her wrist was at the small of her back, then pulled the other to meet it and tied them together. He looped the fourth stocking around her wrists and pulled them toward her shoulders, then pulled the stocking under each arm and pulled the ends back to the middle to tie so that her wrists were pulled up to her waist and pretty much immobile. Eric pulled her pillow down under her body and under her hips. Sookie was pretty sure she knew what was coming, but she didn’t know it was coming slowly and without lube.

Eric moved so slowly Sookie thought she would scream. She panted and tried to relax as he pushed into her, millimeter by excruciating millimeter, her legs trying desperately to move. She realized that this was all about making her feel the stretching as intensely as possible. It would have been much easier to take if he’d just done it quickly, but that wasn’t the point and she knew it. This was about her enduring it for him no matter how much it hurt, and it did hurt – she realized that he wanted it to hurt and she was surprised that she did, too. She loved this – loved not being able to pull her legs together though she was involuntarily trying hard to, loved being under him, under his complete control, his huge body covering and controlling her completely. She loved the way he grabbed a handful of her hair to turn her head so he could whisper into her ear, and she loved those familiar words “who do you belong to, Sookie?”

“You, Eric, I’m completely yours. Do whatever you want to me.”

“I’m going to remind you that you said that when I get you to Fangtasia. We’re a little bit limited in what I can do here tonight, but there won’t be any limitations there. I’m going to push you hard and we’ll find out how much you can take. Is that what you want, Sookie?”

“Yes.”

“Does it hurt, Sookie?”

“Yes,”

“You haven’t asked me to stop.”

“I don’t – I don’t want you to stop.” Sookie was beginning to shake all over and she was sweating.

Eric clamped his hand over her mouth, pulled almost all the way out of her and plunged back in hard and to the hilt, inducing what would have been a scream if it hadn’t been muffled by his huge hand. Sookie was grateful for his hand over her mouth for what seemed like hours as he rode her as hard as he ever had. Tears were running down her face and over his fingers. She felt as if her body was being split in half right down to the depths of her soul and she was more than happy to give herself over to his will, even if there was nothing left when he finished with her.

The hand stayed tight over her mouth as the other hand slipped under her body and squeezed her breast hard. Before she could even react to that he drove his fangs viciously into her shoulder and she was coming so hard she felt as if she left her body, the sensations crashing down on her too fast to process. Before she knew it, the hand left her breast and he ripped the wrist open, quickly replacing the hand over her mouth with his bleeding wrist as he returned to sucking on the wound on her shoulder. “Orgasm” didn’t begin to describe what happened to Sookie next – even her fingernails throbbed and for a good long while she simply melted into the infinite and when she came back down, every cell in her body was vibrating. She tingled all over, struggling to breathe, completely limp as Eric untied her. She heard him laughing to himself as he cleaned himself up, then cleaned her. He threw the cloth into the bathroom and came back, moving her limp body back up to her side of the bed.

Eric was smiling in that wicked way that made her hot and cold at the same time, exploring her with his hand and his eyes, whispering to her.

“Mmmm, Sookie, you liked that as much as I did. I knew the bondage would enhance your orgasm but I wasn’t sure if the pain would. I think I could train you to come just from pain if I wanted to.”

“You said one time you get no pleasure from pain…”

“Unless YOU get pleasure from it. If I know you are enjoying it, I get a great deal of pleasure from it.”

“Hold me.”

He pulled her close and pulled the covers up over them.

“If I asked you a question, would you tell me an honest answer?”

“Of course, Sookie, you know you can ask me anything.” He stroked her hair and her shoulders.

“Have you ever enjoyed hurting a woman who didn’t enjoy the pain?”

“Yes, several hundred years ago, I went through a phase when I would keep a meal for a week or two and enjoy her as I pleased.”

“You’d hurt them on purpose?”

“Let’s be very honest about it, Sookie. I’d torture them for my own enjoyment. I could be very cruel in those days.”

“Why did you stop?”

“My sense of honor got in the way and there were practical considerations. It got harder and harder to make a girl disappear without being missed, and it took a pretty secure lair to keep a girl that way for any length of time. And once I made Pam, I was able to enjoy her in all those ways and not have to worry about getting rid of her after. Pam enjoys pain a great deal, and very extreme pain, too. The more I’d hurt her the more she’d cling to me. She’s an ideal sex slave.”

“There are some wild stories about things at Fangtasia…”

“We’ve done some very extreme things at Fangtasia, but everyone was a willing participant.”

“How extreme?”

“More Extreme than I’d ever do with you, if that’s what you’re worried about. I won’t do anything that might scar you. I like your skin too much.”

“Other people were scarred?”

“Scarred, tattooed, branded, pierced or otherwise modified.”

“That’s scary.”

“Are you afraid of me, Sookie?”

“No, I’m not. I don’t know why, but I’m not.”

“You don’t know why?”

“Well, I mean, I know you love me and I don’t think you’d really, really hurt me.”

“I’ll take you to your limit and a little bit beyond it. I’m going to push you because you want that from me. I want every bit of you, Sookie, everything you are able to give.”

“Good – I want you to push me. This is what I was wanting earlier.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I said I wanted more of you but I didn’t know how to say it – this is what I wanted. I wanted you to talk to me and tell me things.”

“About sex?”

“About everything. I like hearing about how you used to be.”

“The things I told you scared you, Sookie.”

“Yeah, but it was true and I want to know the truth. I want all of you, too. I learn from you and I need this when we talk and fuck and then talk some more. I mean, I always feel like you love me, but these times when we’re alone and we talk and you push me sexually – that’s the most real to me. The sharing, the sex, the blood exchanges…”

“Remember earlier when you asked what would happen if you got mad and left me?”

“Yeah…”

“And I said you wouldn’t. I’m going to be honest with you. At this point, you are probably unable to leave me. You are addicted to my blood – you’d suffer without me.”

“But you are to me, too, right?”

“Yes – I was the minute we were blood-bonded.”

“But now it goes both ways, right?”

“Right.”

“That’s fair, then. As long as it goes both ways, I don’t mind. I like the idea of it. I really am yours and you really are mine.”

“Forever.”

“Yeah… one more question, OK?”

“Of course.”

“If you turn me, will I still have free will where you are concerned?”

“You will feel a compulsion to do as I command. You could still resist the compulsion, but it would be difficult – more difficult than it would be for you to disobey me now.”

“So I’d lose a little bit of freedom, and I’d lose being able to be in the sun, but I’d live forever and never get old and I’d be here forever for you and the baby?”

“Yes.”

“Would I still be telepathic?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know of any telepath who has ever been turned.”

“Wow.” She thought hard about that for a minute, “wow – I never considered that I might not be anymore. I always wished it were possible to get rid of it but the idea that it might actually be gone… that’s a lot to think about. Would I still be as valuable without it?”

“You would to me. To the kingdom, it would be a loss of your skill. You would still be my Queen, however, and still my bonded and my wife.”

“I have a lot to think about.”

“You have years to do it, my Angel, so there is no pressure on you. By the time you need to make a decision, you will be sure that the time is right.”

Sookie let out a big yawn. “Hold me until I go to sleep?”

“Of course I will, Sweetheart.

Eric held her and stroked her hair and her back as she let herself relax into him and closed her eyes. It took no time at all for her to fall asleep, but Eric was so comfortable holding her that he lay there for over an hour, just enjoying the warmth of her in his arms and the scent of her that enveloped him.

“Ma-ma!”

The baby was awake so Eric quickly, silently, moved to the crib and picked him up. His diaper was wet so he gave him a fresh one, and laid him on the bed while he pulled his jeans on, the baby watching his every move with a big smile. Eric got a bottle of RM out of the diaper bag and took him out to the sitting area for their nightly time together.

“Alright, my son, now we can have our talk while Mommy sleeps.”

“Ma-mee,” the baby giggled.

“Yes, Mommy is very tired, so you and I will rock a while, and talk. You were a very good boy today, Eric Alexander. You are learning very quickly and Daddy is very proud of you.”

“Da-da!” the baby patted Eric’s face and leaned forward to press his mouth to his cheek. Eric kissed his cheek and hugged him close, the baby chattering and playing with the necklace Eric always wore. Alex noticed the bottle in Eric’s hand and said “ee, Da-dee!” so Eric let him get snuggled against his bare chest and held the bottle for him while he drank. The baby would drink a little then chatter a little, patting Eric’s face and chest, and there were times when he’d reach up so he could wrap his little arms around Eric’s neck. Eric would stroke his little back and could tell that the skin-to-skin contact was very soothing to the baby. He was surprised at how soothing it was to him, too, holding his son close and whispering to him.

After about 20 minutes, Bill came quietly up the stairs.

“Welcome back, Bill,” Eric said softly.

“Eric, time for his pre-dawn bottle, I see.”

“Yes, we like our quiet time before dawn, don’t we, Alex?”

“Omba, Dadee.”

“I can’t believe he’s speaking already.”

“I know – he’s quite advanced according to Octavia. Alex, who is that?” He pointed at Bill. The baby looked at Bill then at Eric. “That’s Bill. Say “hi, Bill!”

“Ah, Bee!” Alex waved at him.

“Hello, Prince Alex. Are you having a good night with your Daddy?”

‘OM-BA!” He nodded with his whole body then patted Eric’s cheek. “Da-dee!”

“One of the girls in the office sent this to him. I’m not familiar with the author but she assured me this was something children love.”

“One Fish, Two Fish, Three, Four, Five Fish by Dr. Seuss, based on and inspired by Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Eric read aloud. “Sookie mentioned this author to me. She said his stories rhyme and use repetitive words to help children learn to speak. She was sure I’d have them memorized at some point because he’d want me to read them so much. I guess these plastic fish on top are for counting?”

“Apparently – I looked through it – very simple, repetitive, interesting illustrations. It should be useful when he’s old enough to understand counting.”

“Alright – we’ll try it out and see if he likes it. I haven’t had a chance to read to him yet. Leave a note with the girl’s name on it and I’ll have Sookie send her a Thank You card. Anything going on at the office I need to know about?”

“I’ll need you to look at the contracts for three contractors to get started on our properties. I know you’re looking at properties tomorrow night, but it would be useful if you could go into the office for a bit.”

“That’s no problem. Sookie isn’t going out with the real estate agent. I’m going to have Alicia cancel the appointment.” Eric was holding the little yellow board book so the baby could play with the plastic fish on the blue bar at the top of it.

“Is she ill?”

“She’s overwhelmed. Something had to give, and that was the only place I could take some pressure off of her. She’s not at all confident in her ability to deal with the baby. She wants to go back to Shreveport Tuesday and have Alicia and Margaret get ready to move here with us.”

“She likes it here that much?”

“Yes – I’m sure we’ll still visit the Shreveport house to get away from things, but I know I need to devote more time to our projects here. I’m going to try to make sure she has a few weeks where she doesn’t have to do anything except enjoy the baby and the summer, then after the Wiccaning ceremony we’ll move our base of operations here for a while.”

“Are you sure you want to do that? Your Shreveport house is more well-suited to your lifestyle. You can make changes here, of course, but I almost think you should stay there, extend your fence line, and just come here for a week every month and to Las Vegas only when you need to.”

“Have you given up on the idea of a compound in this area?”

“I’ve given up on Sookie agreeing to it. It would be an ideal solution but honestly, I don’t see her actually moving out of the Shreveport house. I know she loves this house but I’ll bet she changes her mind when she gets back to your bed in Shreveport. She’s attached to that room and to the baby’s room. You should build a guest house for Alicia and Margaret to live in, or let them move into the second floor and build a house for Amelia and Octavia to use, or me, if I needed to.”

“Did Sookie see any properties at all that she would consider?”

“She liked the one that I thought sounded nearly ideal, in Lafayette: 36 acres of land, an 11,000 square foot home, 6 bedrooms, a guest house, a pool, lighted tennis courts, a gazebo, and artist’s studio. I thought the artists’ studio would make an ideal office for you to administer both kingdoms. The land goes from the road to the river. I really think you should look at it.”

“Let’s do this – I’ll have Alicia tell the lady that Sookie is not available in the afternoon, but that all of us want to see that property tomorrow night. Then we all go check it out. Sookie must have liked it – she wanted me to go back with her.”

“Alright, let’s do that, and then you and I can go in to the offices after. At least you’ll know what is available before you make your decision.”

“OK, good. I’ll leave her a note and tell her to enjoy the afternoon but to be ready to go see the property after dinner. We’ll see if she can show it to us at 8 pm.”

“I think that’s best. I’m going to rest now.”

“Good day, Bill.”

“Ba-ba, Bee!”

Bill laughed and waved to the baby then went to his room.

“Well, what do you think, Alex? Do you want to read about fish?”

“Pish!”

Eric laughed and opened the little book, beginning to read:

“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Eric pointed at each picture as he read the words.

“Pish!”

“Black fish, Blue Fish, Old Fish, New Fish.” Again he read the word and pointed at the picture, the baby paying close attention to Eric and then to the book.

“Three Fish, Four Fish, Here come more fish!”

“Mo pish.”

“One Fish, two fish, three, four, five, This one has a car to drive! And that’s the end of it, my son.”

“Nah-nah, Da-dee, pish!” He patted on the book.

“You want more fish?”

“Mo pish!”

Eric laughed and opened the book again, but instead of just reading it, he talked to the baby about every picture. On the next to the last page where the story went from one through five fish, he pointed and counted each fish for him ” One fish – see, Alex, one. Two fish – one, two. Three fish, one, two, three. Four fish – one, two, three, four. Five fish, one, two, three, four, five.”

“Fee, fo, fie.”

Eric looked at him, then pointed to the one at the top of the page. “What is that, Alex?”

“Pish.”

“How many fish?”

“Wo pish, Da-dee,” then he pointed to the bottom of the page where a line of five fish was shown. “Fee-fo-fie pish.

Eric tried not to get too excited. The baby was good at imitating sounds, right? He couldn’t possibly understand counting even a little bit, could he? He decided to try something else. Moving the plastic fish along the bar, he said “yellow fish, blue fish, red fish, green fish, pink fish.”

“Nah-nah, fee-fo-fie pish,” the baby insisted, pointing to the red, green, and pink fish which were 3,4, and 5 in the line on top of the book.

“Alex, show me one fish.”

The baby pointed to the first fish in line, “wo pish.”

“Show me two fish.”

“Nah-nah.”

That was strange. “OK, Alex, show me five fish.”

He pointed at the yellow fish, skipped the blue one, then pointed at the red, green and pink ones, saying “fee, fo, fie pish” when he pointed at the red, green and pink.

“One fish?”

The baby pointed at the yellow “wo pish.”

“Three fish?”

The baby pointed at the red fish, “fee pish.”

“Five fish?”

“Fee, fo, fie pish” and he pointed at the red, green and pink ones again – 3,4 and 5.

“Alex – show me one, two, three fish?”

“fee pish” he pointed at the red fish.

“One fish.” He pointed at the yellow one.

“Three fish?” He pointed at the red one.

“Two fish?”

“Nah-nah, Da-dee,” the baby said and put his hand over Eric’s lips. Eric was dumbfounded – why did the baby have such an aversion to saying “two?” It seemed impossible for him to know what it meant, let alone have a dislike for it. Unfortunately dawn was coming and Eric just had time to put the baby back in bed next to Sookie, give them both a kiss and write her a note for the day.

He went to bed puzzling over the fact that the baby seemed to understand a little bit about counting, but refused to say or acknowledge the number 2.

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