LATE Chapter 073

2 of Swords

 

 

The Goddess, tall and lithe, blonde hair flowing in gentle winds, stood on the shore with a sword in each hand, each pointing out to the ground at her sides to form a triangular shape. She raised one hand so the sword crossed her body and pointed to the opposite shoulder, then she raised the other hand in the same way so the swords crossed in front of her forming an “X” shape. Suddenly, it was Sookie standing there, blindfolded, holding the swords. The sword in her left hand pointing to the right shimmered and disappeared and Sookie said, “Where did it go?”

“It was never really here, and it’s not your fault. Take off your blinders, make the most of what you’ve got.”

Sookie woke up when the baby extended his fangs. It took her a minute to realize where she was, but she knew the baby had found his way to her nipple, which was an improvement over biting the wrong spot. She looked at the clock – almost 8:30. She looked down and saw blue eyes sparkling at her.

“Good morning, Pookie. Did you have a good night?”

He purred at her but didn’t stop eating. Sookie dozed while the baby fed and after about half an hour there was a knock on the door.

“Sookie, are you awake?”

“Hey, Alicia, we’re up.”

“Are we having our breakfast?” Alicia asked as she gathered the laundry.

“One of us is,” Sookie laughed. “Is there a note from Eric today?”

“Ah, let’s see – yes, there’s one right here.” Alicia retrieved the note from the side table and handed it to Sookie, then turned on the light on Eric’s nightstand. “I called the real estate agent and she said 8 pm tonight would be fine.”

“8 pm?”

“Yes, apparently Mr. Northman wanted to see the one property that you and Mr. Compton both liked so we’re all going to take a ride out there after dinner. He wanted you to have time for the pool today, though, so I’m going to do hamburgers on the grill when you get up, if that’s alright. If you’d prefer eggs or something…”

“No, I’d love a burger when I get up. I don’t suppose there’s any watermelon?” Sookie asked apologetically.

“Actually, Bobbie and Amelia are out looking for watermelon and hamburger buns as we speak. They’re going to buy some potato salad and things like that, too, and we’ll have a little Fourth of July picnic a day late,” Alicia laughed. “Is your buddy ready for his fresh nappy yet?”

“Yeah, he’s taking a break.”

“Good morning, Baby E.” Alicia gave him a big smile and a tickle as she bent to pick him up.

“Ah, Eesh!” The baby gave her a big toothless grin as she carried him into the bathroom.

Sookie considered putting on a gown while he was gone but she decided she’d rather be naked. She remembered the conversation she’d had with Eric two days ago when he had let the baby feed from her. Eric said the baby would never think nudity was a big deal because he was a Supe. Was there a difference where his parents were concerned? Eric said it was no big deal because they were family. The baby was already aware of a lot around him and Eric and Sookie were both nude around him a lot. She loved it when he showered or bathed with them, though, and didn’t plan to give that up any time soon. Eric always said Americans were Puritanical, and she guessed he was right. Her main concern was whether she could keep from having a knee-jerk reaction to things, and Octavia told her to think things through and figure out what she could live with.

It was really up to her. Eric would never hesitate to be naked around their child – she was sure of that, and she knew her opinion wouldn’t change that. Eric had told her once that it is easier to gain an inhibition than to lose one, but she was sure she wasn’t going to get Eric to pick up any new inhibitions no matter what she did. The question was whether she could lose hers. Can a good Christian girl – or at least a girl that was raised that way – raise a healthy Pagan baby? She was damned well going to try. She closed her eyes and put all her energy into a prayer: ‘OK, Freyja, if I’m supposed to be you, send me the wisdom I need to give this baby what he needs.’

She was lost in her thoughts when Alicia brought the baby back and put him in bed next to her. “Are you alright, dear? You seem awfully intent on something.”

“I’m just thinking about how I was raised and how I need to raise my baby.”

“I see – your background and Mr. Northman’s are about as different as two people’s could be. He’s very natural with everything. You were raised by your grandmother, yes? In Bon Temps?”

“Right.”

“So you probably have a few inhibitions he doesn’t understand?”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Alright, here’s something you should keep in mind – as long as you love your baby, you aren’t going to screw him up.”

Sookie laughed. “That’s nowhere near what I expected you to say!”

Alicia sat on the bed just below the baby. “Look, Sweetie, don’t worry about things like nudity around an infant or even sex while he’s this small. The more relaxed and natural you and Mr. Northman are around him, the better. He’s going to have some very unusual needs from what I hear and for him, what he needs is what is natural and healthy. It might not be normal for another child, but for this child, it is. You’re a good mother, with good instincts and lots of support. Just relax and love him.”

“Thanks, Alicia. I don’t know why I’m so insecure about this.”

“Because you want to do what’s best for him. Every Mommy worries about her first baby that way, and yours is special so you have some special concerns. This child is surrounded by people who love him, and you most of all. Any child would be lucky to have a mommy like you. This child is especially lucky, because you have the temperament and the resources to give him anything he could possibly need. Not everyone could handle a baby with such special needs, but from what I see, you and Mr. Northman are perfect parents for this particular baby. If I ever had any reservations about any of that, they were completely wiped away when I saw his daddy rolling around the living room floor with him. This child will never lack for any love and that’s what matters most. The rest of it is just details and culture and personal taste. You be happy and he’ll be happy.”

“Ap-pee!” Alex said as he played with his toes.

Alicia and Sookie laughed out loud.

“Are you happy, Pookie?” Sookie tickled his tummy.

“Omba, Mamee!” he giggled.

“Alright then, I’ll lay out your bathing suit for when you wake up later. Try to sleep some more, both of you.”

“OK, thanks, Alicia!”

“Nite-nite, you two.”

“Na-na, Eesh!”

“Hey, you!” Sookie tickled him and he rolled on his side facing her. “Let’s go to sleep, OK?”

“Seep, Mamee.” He patted her face and let his little hand stay resting on her cheek. Sookie fell asleep just before he did, and they both slept like logs until almost noon.

Sookie woke up because there was a little finger in her ear.

“What are you doing?” She said with a big smile on her face. The baby was sitting up next to her head, sticking his finger in her ear.

“Nah-nah, Mamee.”

“Come here, you,” Sookie pulled his little ankle so he slid down on his back and she blew raspberries on his belly. He squealed and laughed and she scooped him up for a fresh nappy, noticing the note from Eric that she forgot to read laying on top of the blankets. Once she and the baby were done in the bathroom, she came back to the bed, laying the baby on his back and bouncing face down on her stomach to open the note.

My Beautiful Wife Sookie –

Last night was amazing – you are truly the most perfect woman I have ever known. 

Slight change in plans for this evening – we’re all going to go out to the one property you liked with the real estate agent, hopefully at 8 pm. You can confirm the final plan with Alicia.

Enjoy the pool today, but at some point I want you to read this Fish book to the baby and see if you can get him to say “two” – for some reason, he wouldn’t say it and didn’t want me saying it, either. If he still won’t, ask Octavia if she has any idea what is going on. It might be something I’ll have to ask Niall about. I’m very curious about it, so do please go through the book with him at some point.

Play in the pool, have fun, but be dressed so we can go after dinner. We’ll soak in the tub tonight when I get back from the offices – Bill and I will need to go in for a bit after we see the property. 

I love you very much. 

Your very happy husband Eric

Sookie laughed at the “very happy” part – ‘yeah, he better be happy because my butt hurts, but it was totally worth it,’ she thought to herself.

Fish book? Sookie looked around the room and saw a little yellow book on the table where the note had originally been. Sookie laughed and got up to get the book. She sat back on the bed next to the baby, who had managed to sit up, and looked it over.

“One fish, Two Fish, huh?”

“Pish!”

“Alex, did Daddy read this Fish book to you?”

“Omba, Dadee pish.” The baby pointed at the plastic fish on the book. Sookie handed him the book to hold while she threw on her bathing suit and a cover up then picked up her buddy and his book headed to the balcony that wrapped around the back of the house. She bounced down the stairs with him on one hip and the book in her hand, already able to smell the charcoal grill.

Alicia had the grill going and Bobbie was setting up her massage table for later. Bjorn was sitting at one of the iron tables with Amelia and Octavia, who were reading sections of a newspaper.

“Hey, everybody!” It was really hot today, but glorious. Sookie lived for days like this.

“Hey, sleepy heads!” Bobbie saw and greeted them first and the rest all said their good mornings.

“Are you going to take him in the pool for a bit?” Alicia asked. “I brought a pair of plastic pants to put over his diaper if you want to let him get wet for a few minutes. I figured he’d spend most of his time in the shade with me. We set his little Bouncer up over there.” She pointed to the shady porch outside the kitchen, where the little yellow bouncer with the toys on it stood all ready for him next to a table with Alicia’s glasses and latest novel plus a diaper bag and a spray bottle.

“What’s the spray bottle for?”

“That’s water so Baby E and I can mist ourselves and stay cool. He’ll love it.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet he will! That’s a great idea. I think I do want to take him in the pool for a few minutes.”

“The plastic pants are in the top of the diaper bag over there. Here, let me have him and I’ll put them on him.” Alicia took the baby and went over to her little table.

“Hey, where’d we get the pool toys?” Sookie was glad to see some air mattresses.

“Amelia and I got lucky this morning – they were on sale, too.” Bobbie explained as she and Sookie headed for the table where the others were sitting.

“Wow – long table!” Sookie said as they sat down.

“I pushed three tables together so there’d be room for us all.” Bjorn said, pouring himself another glass of sweet tea.

“Is that a book, Sookie?” Amelia asked.

“Yeah – I have no idea where it came from, but apparently Eric was reading it to the baby and he won’t say the number ‘two.'”

“Will he say other numbers?” Octavia perked up.

“I assume so – Eric wanted me to read it to him and see if he’d say it.” Sookie said as Alicia handed the baby back to her.

“Pish!” The baby pointed to the plastic fish with his little finger, pushing it along the little ledge at the top of the book.

“You want to read about fish, Pookie?”

“Omba, Mamee, pish!”

“OK, then, here we go. One Fish, Two Fish…”

Sookie went slowly straight through the book once and was surprised on the next to last page where, before she could read it, Alex pointed to the top fish and said “wo pish” then to the five fish at the bottom of the page and said “fee, fo, fie pish.”

“Well, I’ll be…” Octavia said

“Alex, show me 5 fish?”

The baby pointed to the red, green, and pink fish saying “fee, fo, fie pish.”

“Show me one fish?”

He pointed at the yellow fish “wo pish.”

“Show me three fish?

He pointed at the red plastic toy, “fee pish.”

“Four fish?”

Green was “fo pish.”

“Show me two fish.”

“Nah-nah, Mamee.”

Everyone around the table looked at each other. As weird as it was that this tiny baby could count, it was even weirder that he refused to say one of the numbers.

“Alex, which fish is this?” She pointed to the blue fish, but the baby grabbed her finger and pulled it away. “You don’t like the blue fish?”

The baby put his hand over her mouth and said “nah-nah, Mamee.”

“Where’s 5 fish?”

Again, red, green, pink “fee, fo, fie pish.”

“I keep thinking he’s going to say “fee-fo-fie-fum.” Bobbie laughed.

“Nah-nah, Ba-bee, fee-fo-fie PISH!” the baby said emphatically and everyone laughed.

Octavia scooted her chair around closer to the baby. “Hey, little Vampire – show me four fish?”

“Fo pish!” he pointed to the green one with one hand and patted Octavia’s arm with the other.

“Show me one two three fish.”

“Fee pish” he pointed to the red one, keeping his hand on Octavia’s arm.

“Where’s one fish?”

“Wo pish.” He pointed to the yellow one as she patted his little hand that was holding on to her.

“Where’s two fish?”

The baby drew his hands in and wouldn’t say anything.

“Alex, show Mommy two fish,” Sookie said.

“Nah-nah, Ma-mee.”

“Octavia?” Sookie was at a complete loss.

“I never saw anything like it.” Octavia then had an idea. “Where are those counting blocks you bought the other day?”

“They’re in the living room,” Bjorn said, “they haven’t been opened yet. Want me to get them?”

“Yeah, do that and let’s see if this is a problem with them.” Octavia requested.

“There are two sets…” Bobbie reminded him.

“Right – bring the simple ones that have big numbers on them.” Octavia was sure he’d know which one to bring, but told him just in case.

Bjorn was back pretty quickly with the hollow wooden blocks that nested within one another. The blocks went from small to big, 1-6 so Octavia set the big 6 block off to the side on the ground. She figured 5 was enough for right now. As she was unstacking the blocks with the numbers facing him the baby reached for the green 3 block and she nodded to Sookie to hold him up so he could reach them. The baby pulled the green 3, yellow 4 and orange 5 into order and said “fee-fo-fie” as he touched each block.

“I can’t believe he can recognize those!” Amelia said. “He’s beyond bright – he’s a genius!”

“I know,” Bobbie agreed, “it’s amazing!”

Octavia pulled the other two blocks into line and asked Alex to show her the 1, which he did, then he got hold of the 2 and pushed it off the table.

“Alex! Why did you do that?” Sookie asked him in surprise.

“Nah-nah, Ma-mee.”

Bjorn picked up the block and put it back on the table. Alex picked it up with both hands, threw it on the ground, looking at Bjorn and saying emphatically “Nah!”

“Just leave it for now and let me try something else,” Octavia said as she bent down for the 6 block, putting it at the end of the line. “Alex, what’s that?”

The baby just looked at her and blinked. She pointed to the last four blocks in order and called them out “three, four, five, six.”

Alex copied what she did exactly, “fee, fo, fie, sis.”

“What is this one?” Octavia pointed to the 4

“Fo.”

“And what is this one?” She pointed to the six.

“Sis.”

“Well, he learned that pretty quick. Bjorn, put that 2 up there.”

Bjorn set it up on the table and the baby immediately reached for it but Sookie said “no-no.” and he pulled his hands back.

Octavia went randomly up and down the line of blocks, and each time she touched one, Alex replied with the number: “wo, fo, fee, sis, fee, fie, wo, fee,” and so on until she pointed to the two and he yelled “NAH-NAH!” and swatted at it, sending it off the edge of the table between Bobbie and Amelia, the corner of it catching Bobbie’s upper arm and leaving a scratch.

“Alex! No! You’ll hurt somebody!” Sookie, nor any of the others, had ever seen him behave this way.

“OK, that’s enough for today. I’m going to have to study on this. There’s no rational reason for him to be having that reaction to a number, so the answer must be non-rational – my guess is it’s instinctive…”

Before she could finish, the baby zipped across the table, blocks flying everywhere, and latched onto the bleeding scratch on Bobbie’s arm. Sookie was horrified – “Alex, no!”

“Relax, Sookie, it’s OK. He’s not hurting me.” Bobbie wanted her to be calm so she didn’t scare the baby. “He’s just licking and it’s already closing from his saliva.” Bobbie picked the baby up off the table and gave him a kiss. “Hi, Alex.”

“Not his fault, Mama,” Octavia told her, “he’s a Vamp. There’s no way to teach him not to lunge at blood when he sees it.”

“Ah, Ba-Bee! Ee!” He pointed at her arm and giggled.

“Alex – come to Mommy and eat.” Sookie was still shocked and embarrassed. She just couldn’t have him attacking people that way!

“Babee ee!”

Alicia came out quickly with a warm bottle of RM, which the baby took eagerly, still in Bobbie’s arms. The minute Alicia had seen the scratch on Bobbie’s arm she had run into the kitchen, just in case, knowing he might get excited if she bled.

“Thank you, Alicia! That was quick thinking!” Sookie was still upset, “Bobbie, I’m so sorry…”

“Sookie, it’s fine. He’s a baby Vamp. He’s going to react when he sees blood. He can’t help that. There’s no harm done, is there, Punkin’?” The baby hummed and shook his head but didn’t let go of the nipple of the bottle.

“Come on, Sookie, let’s go swim for a bit,” Amelia went over to Sookie and pulled her out of her seat.

“But…” Sookie tried to object but Amelia was pulling her cover up off her shoulders.

“I’ve got him, Sookie, he’s fine. Go cool off and we’ll be in when he finishes his bottle, won’t we, buddy?” The baby bobbed up and down in that full-body nod he did, but kept drinking.

“Go on, Sookie – I’ll throw your toys in for you.” Bjorn urged her toward the pool as he stood then bent to pick up the air mattresses he and Amelia had already blown up. He threw them into the middle of the water, and Sookie and Amelia were in the water heading for them, Sookie still feeling a bit odd about everything.

Alicia came back out of the kitchen with the big bottle of sweet tea she had taken in to refill. Bjorn refilled his glass while Alicia sat where Amelia had been.

“Everything calmed down now?” Alicia asked softly.

“Yeah, he just caught Sookie off guard.” Bobbie said. “When he finishes his bottle we’ll go in the water for a bit.”

“You’re sure he didn’t hurt you, Bobbie?” Bjorn asked softly so Sookie wouldn’t hear.

“Yeah, not at all – it really wasn’t a big deal.” Bobbie helped the baby tip the bottom of the bottle up to get the last of the blood from it. “OK, all gone! You wanna go in the pool with Mommy?”

“Omba, Mamee!”

Bobbie managed to get out of her cover up with the baby still in her lap, then picked him up and headed for the pool. Sookie was floating sideways on one of the air mattresses when Bobbie and Alex waded slowly into the pool, and Sookie headed for them.

“Hey, Pookie! Are you coming to swim?” Sookie cooed at him, feeling much calmer in the cool water.

“OMba!” Alex said enthusiastically as he reached for Sookie. Amelia was floating on her back on an air mattress, and Sookie and Bobbie sat on the steps that went down into the pool so the baby could play in the water. “Haaaa!” The baby made the high-pitched sound he did when he really liked something. Sookie had him sitting sideways on her thigh facing Bobbie, his little bum was just barely in the water, and he was enjoying trying to stand as he splashed the water with his hands.

Bobbie was getting a kick out of watching him. “Are you splashing me, Punkin’?”

“OMBA! ‘Pasheen, Babee!” He giggled wildly, having a great time slapping at the water. Sookie actually let herself laugh about it and enjoy how much fun he was having. At one point, she got a palm full of water and poured it down the baby’s back and both women cracked up as his eyes got big and he made his “Haaaa!” sound again. Sookie did that a few times and he giggled and scrunched his little shoulders when she did. After a few minutes, Sookie picked him up and waded a little deeper into the pool, then bent her knees to take him down into the water up to his chest.

“Whoo!” Sookie said as she dunked him. His eyes got wide and his mouth dropped open in sheer delight.

“oohooo!” Alex tried to copy the sound she made as she dunked him again.

“Do you like that, Pookie?”

“OMBA MAMEE!” He was cracking up as she dunked him again. When they came up this time, the baby threw his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek.

“Awww- what a doll baby!” Amelia said

“He’s loving that, Sookie.” Bobbie laughed.

The baby was still giggling when he let out a huge yawn. “Uh-oh. Somebody’s getting sleepy!” Sookie said.

“Nah-nah” the baby said, but then he yawned again.

“Oh, I think so…”

“Sookie – I’m going to start the burgers now, alright?” Alicia called to her.

“OK, sounds good! We’re going to get out in a few minutes anyway. My buddy here is getting sleepy.”

“Nah-nah, Mamee.”

Sookie pressed her forehead to the baby’s. “Listen, Pookie, I know a sleepy baby when I see one, and you are sleepy.”

“Nah seepy.” he giggled, being deliberately ornery and amusing himself greatly.

“I don’t know, Sookie, I think you might lose that argument.” Amelia teased her.

“Oh, no, I won’t because this stubborn little monkey will fall asleep as soon as I dry him off and cuddle him a few minutes.” She laughed as she waded out of the pool. Bjorn threw her a towel and she wrapped the baby up in it and went to sit at the table with him as she dripped all over the cement. As soon as she sat down he pointed at the yellow book.

“Pish!”

“We’ll read about fish after while, OK? Just sit quietly with Mommy a few minutes – shhhhh!” she whispered and shushed him gently.

“Shhhh!” he said with a little lisp that was so cute Sookie thought she would bust.

It wasn’t long before he yawned again, and this time he laid his head on Sookie’s shoulder as she rocked in her seat just a little to soothe him. She slipped the little plastic diaper cover off of him and found his diaper was wet, so she slowly stood and took him to the other table where Alicia had the diaper bag and put a dry one on him, telling him “shhh!” very quietly and smiling when he tried to say it just like she did. He was asleep before she could get the diaper pins closed. Alicia tapped her on the shoulder and pointed inside the kitchen door, where Sookie could see someone had set up the portable crib. Sookie gently took him in and tucked him into the little bed, putting a light cover over him because he was in air conditioning.

“Thanks, Alicia.”

“Thank Bjorn- I had him bring it down. You just hang with your friends and have fun in the pool. I’ll stay close to him and I’ll be right here if he wakes up.”

“How long until lunch?”

“How done do you want your burgers?”

“Did you grind them yourself?”

“Yes, I did, so they’re safe.”

“OK, really rare then.”

“Less than 5 minutes so just have a seat.”

“Cool – thanks!” Sookie walked back over to where Octavia and Bjorn were sitting.
“Aren’t you going to go in the pool today, Octavia?”

“I’m not really up to it today. I’m going to eat lunch, take a nap, then use Amelia’s computer to do a little research on your buddy there.”

“About the 2 thing?’

“Yep – like I said, it’s not rational so it has to be instinct. I suspect it’s a Fae thing, but then again, it might be unique to him.”

“Do you know anything about the number 2 that would make you think it’s just him?”

“Well, the thing I find interesting is the fact that the number 2 is ruled by the moon. And weren’t you told that the dark moons were dangerous to him?”

“Yes, and he can see the future in direct moon light.”

“Um-hmm – a Moon Child. I’m going to do some research on my own, and I want you to wait until I’m done, then I’m going to have you call your grandpa.”

“Niall? You think it’s connected to him?”

“My guess is it’s related to the magick that brought him here in the first place. You do realize that he was born in the sign of Cancer, right?”

“What does that mean?”

“Cancers are also called moonchildren.”

“Wow – I didn’t know that. Octavia can I ask you something kind of personal?”

“Sure you can.”

“I’m going to check with the guards out front – I’ll be back in a few.” Bjorn said, winking at Sookie. She gave him a big smile, knowing he was just giving her space.

“OK, you know how I’m supposed to be a Witch or a manifestation of Freyja or whatever?”

“Yes, I know you to be both of those things. What about it?”

“Well – I don’t know much about magickal stuff. I mean, you know that 2 is ruled by the moon and Cancers are moonchildren and things like that that I just don’t know, so how can I be…”

“Hang on, honey, nobody knows everything. I have to do research all the time. Witches are always learning from everything and everybody. What makes you a Witch is your strong connection to the Goddess.”

“Isn’t everyone a part of the Goddess?”

“Yes, they are, but some people have a stronger connection than others. Some people go their whole lives never tapping into the Universal force. In your case, the Universal Force never let you go. Anyone can learn to feel the connection, but you don’t need to learn, because you never lost it. All you need to do is give yourself permission to work it.”

“Don’t I have a lot to learn, though?”

“You just need to read some books and know some basics that anybody can learn. The main part of your training is going to be working that natural connection you’ve got. How long since you practiced your telekinesis?”

“I haven’t done it since that one day.”

“OK, now’s as good a time as any. You got any books here with you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a book on Wicce that Bobbie lent me but I haven’t had a chance to look at it lately.”

“Where is it?”

“Up in my room in a tote bag.”

“What’s it called?”

Ariadne’s Thread.”

“Shekhinah Mountainwater’s book. Call it down.”

“What?”

“Call it down. Picture it clearly, look at your hands and say your spell.”

“But it’s all the way in the house, upstairs.”

“So?”

“Doesn’t it need to be closer?”

“I don’t know, and neither do you. You won’t know you can do it until you do it. Now get on with it before Alicia calls everyone to the table.”

Sookie looked at her hands, pictured the book and said “come to me” – and she was holding the book in her hands.

“That wasn’t too hard, now, was it?”

“No, but…”

“But what?”

“How do I know I can do something like that until I do it?”

“You don’t. That’s why you do what you need to do, and you have faith that when you need it most, the power will be there.”

“Did I need to do this?”

“Yes, because I’m going to go through some things with you.”

“OK… You know this book?”

“Of course I do. There aren’t that many good ones. That’s a good one. Here, look at page 17.”

Alicia was bringing burgers to the table now and Bjorn was on his way back. Amelia and Bobbie were called out of the pool.

“Read those two verses.” Octavia pointed to two stanzas of verse. “Out loud.”

Dear Sisters

As you read these pages

I ask of you to read them well.

And greet all words as special sages

In meaning come with you to dwell…

Skim not upon the speedy surface

That slidy surface tales will tell,

But dive, my sisters, down to Her face

For deep within She spins Her spell,

Take time to dream, reflect and ponder

Reading twice or thrice… or more,

Meditate, be filled with wonder

Be washed on Her symbolic shore…” 

“OK, what did you learn from that?”

“That there are layers of meaning that will come to me if I think about things and keep going back?”

“Good. What else?”

“That there’s more of Her inside me than in a book.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“Well, I notice that last line about “being washed on Her symbolic shore.””

Bobbie and Amelia came over wrapped in beach towels and sat opposite Sookie, passing plates around.

“What about it?”

“That’s where I always see Freyja – on the shore.”

“A lot of Goddesses are associated with the ocean and the element of Water. Isis and the Virgin Mary are both called Stella Maris, which means Star of the Sea. Freyja is called Shining on the Sea or the Shining One – the sun on the water, or the moon. What time of day is it when you see Her?”

“It’s not. It’s outside of time – though I have no idea how I know that. I can see into the distance, but it’s not really daytime. It’s dawn or dusk or something like that.”

Alicia put Sookie’s rare burgers in front of her, and passed a plate of medium well burgers to the rest of the group. Bjorn was the first to dig in.

“If you had to pick one, what would you say – dawn or dusk?” Octavia continued.

“Dawn. Definitely.” Sookie said as she shook the bottle of Miracle Whip so she could dress her burgers. “But I think it was night that time She told me about Baby E’s dream….”

“You didn’t tell me about that – what happened then?” Octavia continued. Bobbie and Amelia were hanging on every word because they wanted to know about Sookie’s Goddess dreams, too.

“I was in a dark place one time and I realized I was in Alex’s dream – it’s before he was born, of course, and I told him I loved him and She told me that he couldn’t answer me yet but he knew what I was saying. That was the time Alicia woke me and I was singing the lullaby about “shining Angels.””

“What lullaby is that?” Bobbie asked.

“You know, that one that goes “lullaby, and goodnight, lala la la la la la…” Sookie sang the tune to Brahms’ Lullaby for them. “When Alicia woke me she told me the words. I was apparently singing to the baby in his dream but I was singing in my sleep for real…”

“And it was dark in the dream?”

“Yeah, like in the womb, until Freyja chimed in, then She was a light shining around us on the edges.”

“Sookie, I want you to close your eyes for a minute, and say the words Charge of the Goddess – it’s a poem I have in my room that I want you to read. I want you to say the name of it and call it.” Octavia instructed.

Sookie looked over at the grill and saw Alicia go into the kitchen.

“Charge of the Goddess – come to me” and a piece of parchment appeared in her hands. “This is what you wanted?”

“That’s a present for you. I want you to study it, and know it. As you read your books, you’ll see different versions of it by different Witches. This is the most famous version, and it will teach you a lot about the Goddess. I want you to keep it with you a while and read it at least once every day. Write down any thoughts about it that come to you in your journal – you still got your book, right?” Octavia was pretty sure Sookie carried it with her.

“Yeah, but Eric writes in it more than I do.”

“You write in it, too, especially about this. This is the good stuff, isn’t it, girls?”

“Yes,” Amelia agreed. “It’s a great place to start.”

“Absolutely,” Bobbie said, “The Charge is beautiful. It’s about freedom and love and beauty. If I could make everybody in the world read just one thing, that would be it. We’d all get along much better if we’d start from there. It’s what religion was meant to be – the way it was before the war gods got into the business.”

Sookie took a minute to read it while the others put their burgers together.

The Charge of the Goddess

by Doreen Valiente

Listen to the words of the Great Mother;
she who of old was also called among men
Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine,
Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod,
Isis, Dana, Bride
and by many other names:

Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full,
then shall ye assemble in some secret place
and adore the spirit of me,
who am Queen of all the witches.

There shall ye assemble,
ye who are fain to learn all sorcery,
yet have not won its deepest secrets;
to these will I teach things that are yet unknown.
And ye shall be free from slavery;
and as a sign that ye be really free,
ye shall be naked in your rites;
and ye shall dance, sing, feast,
make music and love,
all in my praise.
For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit,
and mine also is joy on earth;
for my law is love unto all beings.
Keep pure your highest ideal;
strive ever towards it;
let naught stop you or turn you aside.
For mine is the secret door
which opens upon the Land of Youth,
and mine is the cup of the wine of life,
and the Cauldron of Cerridwen,
which is the Holy Grail of immortality.

I am the Gracious Goddess,
who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of man.
Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal;
and beyond death, I give peace and freedom
and reunion with those who have gone before.
Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice;
for behold,
I am the Mother of all living,
and my love is poured out upon the earth.

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess;
She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven,
and whose body encircles the Universe:

I who am the beauty of the green earth,
and the white Moon among the stars,
and the mystery of the waters,
and the desire of the heart of man,
call unto thy soul.
Arise, and come unto me.
For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe.
From me all things proceed,
and unto me all things must return;
and before my face, beloved of Gods and of men,
let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.
Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth;
for behold,
all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
And therefore let there be beauty and strength,
power and compassion, honour and humility,
mirth and reverence within you.

And thou who thinkest to seek for me,
know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not
unless thou knowest the mystery;
that if that which thou seekest
thee findest not within thee,
thou wilt never find it without thee.
For behold,
I have been with thee from the beginning;
and I am that which is attained
at the end of desire.

“This makes the Goddess sound like an orgasm…” Sookie observed.

“Exactly,” Octavia said.

“All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals…” Sookie read aloud. “Is that anything like Tantric sex? I read about that somewhere…”

“Sex is called The Great Rite, and some people do include ritual sex, or Eastern Kundalini and Tantric yoga in their practice, but it’s more than that. It’s not just sex – it’s everything. Like when you were playing with the baby in the pool, or rocking him to sleep – those are Her rituals, too. Love and Pleasure are why we’re in these bodies. People used to know that, and live that way, and they can know it again and get back to it.”

“So why don’t they?” Sookie asked.

“They don’t know. There’s been 6,000 years of propaganda telling them that they’re naturally sinful, that sex is bad, that women are the source of evil and people are naturally violent and greedy and only a single male war god can save them from eternal suffering. Goddess temples were destroyed and churches built in their dust. Her sacred sites were co-opted, Her stories and legends rewritten to take away Her power and make Her subordinate to the male gods they invented.”

“Eric said most of what I learned in school was a lie…”

“He’s right. History is written by the winners. You think the American Indians think Manifest Destiny was a glorious thing? Is anybody you know aware of the fact that people lived in peace for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years before they began waging war on their neighbors? War, rape, pedophilia – these are all symptoms of a disease and the disease is patriarchy. Here’s a good example – we live in a democracy, supposedly. Whose ideas did they tell you the Founders based our democracy on?”

“It’s like Greek or Roman, right? Our senate is supposed to be sort of like the Roman Senate?”

“That’s what they tell you, but the Iroquois Confederation had a lot more to do with our democracy than anything any Greek or Roman philosopher or statesman ever did. The best parts of American democracy were stolen from the Indians just like everything else in this country was.”

“OK, so what should we do about it now?”

“We need to get back to being an actual democracy. We’ve got a system right now where the guy with the most money wins the election. We’ve got corporations that have no public responsibilities influencing elections. We’ve got people basing environmental policy on the Christian idea that we have dominion over the Earth and it can’t end until Yahweh says it does. I don’t expect people to worship the Earth the way we do, but even science is coming around to the idea that She’s a living organism. They don’t have to believe She’s got consciousness or a soul to treat Her like She’s the only home we’ve got and we’d better live in harmony with Her or Her immune system will get rid of us just like any other virus that throws the system out of it’s natural state of harmony.”

Alicia came back to the table. “Which would you girls rather have for dinner – steak or chicken?” She sat down and began to fix herself a burger.

Sookie waited to see what the others would say, but everyone looked at her. “What do you all want?”

“You’re the boss lady, Sookie,” Amelia joked, “you decide the menu.”

“I don’t want to disappoint anybody. Should we have both? You’re using the grill, right, Alicia?”

“Right – it’s just as easy to do both, if that’s what everyone wants. I’ll just do some of each and use the left-overs for lunch tomorrow.”

“I’m in the mood for chicken.” Bjorn offered, knowing Sookie wouldn’t make a decision.

“Chicken’s good with me, too” Amelia said, and Octavia and Bobbie agreed.

“OK, then, chicken – OK, Alicia?”

“That’s fine. I’ll make some with barbecue sauce and some without.”

“Oh, that sounds good!” Sookie said, “did you all find any watermelons this morning?”

“Yep, we did – do you want to have one now?”

“No, we’ll have them after dinner. I want Eric to be able to have some if he feels like it. Unless you all want some now…”

“We can wait, darlin’. In the mean time, I’m going back in the pool!” Bobbie said as she finished her burger and headed for the water.

“Me, too.” Amelia said, close on Bobbie’s trail.

“Hey, wait for me, y’all!” Sookie said as she finished her second burger and ran over to the side of the pool, jumping in. Alicia and Bjorn just laughed at them all.

“And I’m going to take a nap. Thanks for lunch, Alicia – you make a mean burger.”

“Oh, thank you, Octavia. Rest well. Would you like another burger, Bjorn?”

“You got any that aren’t in a bun yet?”

“Three right here.” Alicia passed him the plate.

“You want one?”

“Nope – finish ’em up if you want.”

“I believe I will…” Bjorn laughed. “I need to load up on some protein right now, and these were lean cuts of beef, yes?”

“Yes, very lean, good quality, organic beef.”

“Perfect. Where’d they get it?”

“The girls found a Whole Foods market.”

“Good to know. Eric wants us all to go to eating organic as much as we can.”

“Margaret will love shopping here. She loves farmer’s markets and health food stores.”

“She does? I never would have thought that…”

“Margaret’s a lot deeper than most people realize. She and her late husband used to sell vitamins in one of those stores where they sell body building products and health food supplements.” Alicia laughed. “Everybody thinks she’s sort of an old grandma type but she’s really more “zen” when you get to know her.”

Bjorn cracked up. “Margaret?”

“Yes – who else would work for a Vampire as closely and as long as she has Eric? She’s got an interesting history once you sit down and talk to her. Those still waters run plenty deep. She’s every bit the sweetheart you think she is, but maybe not as uptight as you might think. She doesn’t bat an eyelash at dealing with the sex stuff she has to clean up.” Alicia laughed, then whispered “she’s in awe of the Northmans.”

“Who isn’t? I want to be Eric some time – you wouldn’t believe what that guy gets away with!”

“She keeps right up with him though, doesn’t she?”

“Oh, yeah – she even instigates some stuff I can’t believe she’d even do. She’s like the perfect woman,” Bjorn laughed. “She drinks so much of his blood for the baby that it’s making her stronger and like… better, in every way. He said 3 active human women couldn’t match her – and he’s had many multiples of women in many situations. ”

“And women would kill to have a man like him – though honestly, most women couldn’t keep up with him. He’s rather… advanced, for lack of a better word, I think.”

“Oh, yeah, if that guy hasn’t done it, it’s not worth doing. If I had any actual heroes, he’d be at the top of my list. My favorite nights are when I drive him to Fangtasia – he tells some stories when no women are around that are out of this world and I know every word of them is true. When he was a mercenary in Asia there were times he literally got paid in beautiful women – dozens of them! I mean, you just wouldn’t believe where he’s been and what he’s done.”

Alicia just shook her head and laughed as she cleared the table and then went to check on the baby.

Sookie was floating around the pool sideways again while Amelia and Bobbie were floating the normal way. Amelia had been telling Bobbie about the first time she met Octavia when Bobbie noticed Sookie hadn’t spoken in a long time.

“Hey, Sookie – are you alright? You’re very quiet.”

“Yeah, I was just thinking about what Octavia told me about energy and water. Did she ever tell you about that, Amelia?”

“About the sea of energy? Yeah, I always think of it as The Force from Star Wars. Everybody says that movie has Zen Buddhism in it but honestly, if you made it female, The Force is Goddess. The only thing about those movies that didn’t fit perfectly was the fact that Luke was better earlier with his Force than Leia was – no way a guy would have a clearer channel than his sister. They put that in as an afterthought.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like that either!” Sookie said. “And they had him lusting after his sister, and he’s all tapped into The Force and doesn’t know there’s something wrong with that? That was a little creepy.”

“Yeah, it got too far into the male fantasy area – I mean, come on, a girl in chains and a gold bikini?” Bobbie said and Sookie and Amelia cracked up.

“I always wondered – were they actually implying that Jabba and Leia – ewww, I can’t even think about it!” Sookie creeped herself out.

“Yes, they were implying that, which is why it was so cool when she strangled him with the chain.” Amelia laughed.

“How come they never make Goddess movies?” Sookie asked.

“There are documentaries about the Goddess, but if you mean regular movies for entertainment, it’s mostly because men make the movies and they don’t know of or understand Goddess, or they’re afraid of Her.” Amelia said, “They have a tendency to use female characters as the bad guy – Disney was the worst! Evil stepmothers and wicked Queens and poisoned apples – one of her most sacred fruits – it’s always some innocent Princess who needs to be saved from the evil woman in power.”

“Maybe we should be glad the Queens were even in the Disney movies. Look at Shakespeare – a girl hardly ever had a mother in his plays, and girls didn’t fare too well there, either.” Bobbie said. “Not many happy endings from old Will.”

“I know nothing about Shakespeare…” Sookie said “I tried to watch a couple of movies at different times, but I don’t get it.”

“Well, unless you’re going to be an English Major, it’s not really relevant for you, hon. I mean, I love some of it, but woman-wise, it leaves a lot to be desired.” Bobbie said. “Your best bet is to stick with Goddess books and let us fill in the blanks, don’t you think, Amelia?”

“Yeah, between us, Octavia and Eric, we can get you up to speed in a year or two. Plus, I’m sure Freyja will be popping in now and then. By the time the baby gets ready to learn about magick, you’ll be all ready to teach him.”

“Did you all notice him last night when we were humming up energy for Eric’s search?” Sookie asked.

“Yeah, he fit right in, didn’t he? It was so cool!” Amelia said.

“How could he know what to do? It wasn’t my imagination, right? He was paying attention, humming along with us, holding our hands, no complaints or anything.”

“He’s special, Sookie – he gets more special every day. I almost think that kid will be able to perform miracles someday- maybe before he’s even grown.” Bobbie said.

“You know, Sookie, a lot of powerful entities have come together to bring that baby into the world. There has to be a reason. He’s got a purpose, and I believe that everything special about him will tie into it.” Amelia said.

“Yeah. It scares me, but I guess it’s exciting, too. He’ll have a very special life. Did you hear Octavia say she thinks the 2 thing is instinct?’

“I can’t wait to hear what she finds out about that,” Amelia said “It was so intense and he was so definite about it!”

“He knows his own mind about certain things. He did right from the beginning when he was inside me.” Sookie said.

“It will be interesting when he learns to talk to find out if Freyja visits him.” Bobbie said.

“I never thought about it that way, but I’ll bet he knows Her, just like Eric does.” Amelia speculated.

“She knows him, that’s a given. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t talk about Her soon.” Sookie said. “I know She’s all around him. I haven’t told anybody this yet but sometimes, when I’m feeding him, I can feel Her around us. It’s so weird – how can I be Her and still feel Her?”

“You’re trying to apply linear logic to a non-linear situation, Sookie,” Bobbie told her. “You have to be able to accept the existence of apparently contradictory realities.”

“Ok, I know what linear logic is, but I don’t know what a contradictory reality is.”

“Have you ever heard of Schrodinger’s Cat?”

“Yeah – something about a cat in a box being alive and dead at the same time?”

“Right – it was a paradox Schrodinger created to try to show the problem with Quantum Mechanics – the problem is, it IS possible. The cat CAN be both alive and dead and a particle can have both a positive and negative charge and a computer can answer a question you never asked according to Quantum Mechanics.”

“OK…”

“Just know that a thing can be two different things at once. You can be Freyja and see Freyja. You can be She and She can be you and there is no conflict except in your linear, logical mind set. You only think it isn’t possible because you’ve been trained to think that way. The way you interpret it is not the way it actually IS.”

“So it doesn’t have to make sense?”

“Not what most people call sense – in a Quantum context, there is no either/or, there is only AND until someone’s intent chooses a path.” Amelia was trying to make this easier, but it’s not an easy concept.

“OK, but don’t I only experience one or the other most of the time?”

“Yes, but that’s not all there is. Your physical body works best in the either/or. You can use your will and your connection to the Goddess to know both and to affect all realities. Gods and Goddesses live in the AND place and just visit either/or space now and then.”

“So what we would call real life is either/or space and magick works because of the AND space?”

“Yeah, that’s basically it,” Bobbie laughed. “In the AND space, either/or can both be true at the same time in all possible variations and combinations.”

“Some day, Sookie, they’ll be able to build a quantum computer that can perform millions of calculations instantaneously, all at once instead of in linear order. The one millionth calculation will happen the same instant that the first does.” Amelia explained, “particles in different corners of the Universe can be entangled so that one affects the other instantaneously no matter how far apart. Particles can be entangled backwards in time. Those are all examples of real science being discovered and explored right now. It’s driving the scientists buggy,” she laughed. “See, male brains are much more regimented than women’s brains – they’re a lot more stuck in the either/or thinking. There’s a membrane that connects your right brain to your left brain, and it’s a lot more active in women. It’s one of the reasons we’re better at magick – not just the conceptual parts, but the physical parts of it, too.”

“See – shouldn’t I already know stuff like that? I was just telling Octavia that I don’t know enough to be a Witch.”

“You know plenty, sweetheart.” Bobbie insisted, “you just have a specialty.”

“Which is?” Sookie really wanted to hear this.

“Vampire-human relations.” Bobbie said. “Or, really, Supe and human relations.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m a specialist.”

“I would. There might be a few specialty hookers that know more about Vamp sex than you do – and there might not be – but there are few people that know how Vamps, Weres of all kinds, Fae, Witches, Goddesses…”

“And don’t forget the Maenad,” Amelia added.

“…and Maenads interact. You are also, may I add, the world’s premiere specialist in raising baby Vampires.”

“True, Sookie, you’ve got that market cornered,” Amelia cracked up.

“…and I’m doing such a great job!” Sookie said sarcastically.

“You’re doing fine, Sook – he’s still alive and I’ve never seen a happier baby. He adores you and he worships his “Da-dee.” I just melt when he says that,” Amelia laughed, “and I love it when Eric thinks nobody is looking and he gets all misty over the baby – but don’t tell him I said that. He’s still plenty scary at other times.”

“What’s it going to take to build your confidence up, Sookie?” Bobbie asked, “I know you’re overwhelmed and there’s a lot of pressure on you, but you are much smarter and tougher than you think you are. You have not only lived through all your crazy Supe experiences, you’re thriving. Eric – the dream man of women and men alike – worships you. That’s got to tell you you’re doing something right?”

“You know, when I was growing up, people put me down all the time and I’d stand up for myself and refuse to believe them. Eric tells me constantly how wonderful I am and I don’t believe him, either. Maybe I’m just… contrary. My Gran used to say that now and then, but she saw it as a good thing because I didn’t let people put me down. Do I not know how to let someone build me up?”

“You don’t know how to take a compliment. There’s something in you that doesn’t feel you deserve it.” Amelia observed. “That’s directly from growing up with the idea that you were disabled. You have everything you never dreamed you would have and you don’t trust it because you’re afraid you’ll wake up and it’ll be gone.”

“There’s a saying Sookie – Witches are those who DARE.” Bobbie continued, “They dare to honor their Goddess, they dare to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, they dare to be who they are in the face of oppression and violence, they dare to work their will upon the Universe, they dare to walk among the gods and Goddesses, they dare to reclaim the power in the word Witch. You need to DARE to be you just like you dared to choose your Vampires when people around you tried to hurt you for it.”

“”Daring” to be with my Vampires got my Gran killed.”

“Honey, that wasn’t your fault. You can’t let some sociopath’s reality become yours. Crazy just happens.” Amelia said emphatically.

“You know something weird? I always wished I could get rid of my telepathy, and since I’m drinking so much from Eric I almost never have to listen if I don’t want to, but we were talking about what might happen if he turned me and the idea of losing it actually scared me. I think I’ve depended on it more than I realized as I was growing up, even though I hated it.”

“Why do you think you would lose it?” Bobbie asked.

“It’s just a possibility. Eric said he’s never known a telepath who was turned so he doesn’t know if I’d lose it or not.”

“It’s something to think about. Who knows how being turned would affect you? You could lose it, or you could stay the same or you could even start to hear Vamps, too.” Amelia speculated. “You might want to talk to Dr. Ludwig about it. If there’s ever been a telepath who was turned, she’d know.”

“Vamps could never know if I was able to read them – they’d be out to kill me for sure!”

“The baby is showing signs of telepathy, yes?” Bobbie asked.

“Yes.”

“Can he hear Vamps?” Amelia asked.

Sookie looked around to see who might be in hearing distance, “maybe.”

“Have you ever?”

“Only one, only occasionally, and he doesn’t know.”

“Eric?”

“Shhhh!” Sookie nodded.

“You have to tell him, Sookie!” Bobbie was emphatic now. She knew Eric would be furious if he found out Sookie was hiding something that important from him.

“We’ve never talked about it, but I think sometimes he can hear me, too.”

“Has he said that?”

“No, but I’ve noticed I’ll be thinking something and he’ll say or do something that has to be from hearing me. Like, more than he could possibly know from the bond and more than could be dismissed as a coincidence.”

“More than his natural intuition could account for, too, huh?” Amelia asked.

“Right. I don’t know if he doesn’t want to inhibit me, or if he uses it…”

“You mean like, against you?” Amelia didn’t think that was probable at all.

“Not against me but in dealing with me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it past Eric to use something like that to give him an edge – he likes to be in control.” Bobbie said.

“I like him being in control, so I’m not complaining. I decided the next time it happens, or I think it’s happening with him, I’m going to talk to him about it. I realize him knowing something like that’s part of us being safe. I shouldn’t have waited so long, but I know what he expects now so he’d be angry if I didn’t tell him.” She also knew he’d tan her hide if he found out she was keeping something like that from him so she’d better come clean soon.

“Sookie, dear, it’s 5 o’clock!” Alicia called.

“Let’s do your massage, kid, then you can get in the shower real quick before dinner. We’re all going to look at a house tonight, right?”

“Yeah – you guys will probably love it. If I remember right, it’s huge, with like, 6 bedrooms and it’s got tons of land and it’s on the river and there’s a dock and all that. It has a pool and lighted tennis courts.” Sookie headed for the steps out of the pool as Bobbie rolled off her mattress.

“Oooh – tennis would be nice. That’s a great way to stay in shape!” Bobbie said.

“Yeah, the house would need a lot of decorating though – I thought it was kind of plain. I didn’t look at the guest house, either.”

“Guest house?” Bobbie and Amelia spoke in unison.

“Yeah, and a gazebo and an “artists’ studio” whatever the hell that means.” Sookie picked a towel up off the stack on one of the tables and started to dry off with it.

“How much land, Sookie?” Amelia asked.

“Uh… 30-some acres, I think. It’s outside of town.”

“That’s a nice cushion between us and the rest of the world.” Bobbie said. “Lots of room for guards and servants…”

“Yeah, on paper, it sounds ideal,” Sookie said, wrapping the towel around her and taking the pieces of her suit off from underneath it.

“So why aren’t you more jazzed about it, Sweetie?” Amelia knew something was up.

“Well, I like this house and I like our house in Shreveport. If we get that house, we’ll never be at either one of these because it’s a better fit.”

“You don’t want to give up the Shreveport house, is what you’re really saying, right?” Bobbie thought that would be a problem, so she was determined to talk Sookie through this.

“Well, yeah, the Shreveport house has some things about it no place else will…”

“Such as?” Amelia asked.

“It’s close to Fangtasia…” Sookie started.

“Don’t you mean it’s close to the sex room at Fangtasia?” Bobbie laughed.

“Well, yeah, and I’ve only been there a few times and… you know…” Sookie was blushing and the other two were cracking up.

“So ask Eric to build you a sex room at the new place, Sookie,” Amelia suggested.

“I thought of that, but it’s not the same – Fangtasia has a history, you know?”

“I know what you mean – you know all kinds of kinky stuff has already happened there and the idea of that is really hot.” Bobbie understood, but she knew they needed a workable, secure compound to be safe. She was thinking fast as she spread the sheets on the massage table. “He’s not going to sell Fangtasia or the Shreveport house is he?”

“No, but we’ll never be there…” Sookie was almost whining as she dropped her towel and got on the table. At least she could lie on her stomach now!

“Is that something you’d do very often, Sookie? It seems like it would be more fun if you couldn’t do it all the time – it makes it more of a treat,” Amelia said.

“Yeah, I guess – I mean, I wouldn’t go there every week or anything…”

“You’ve got two kingdoms to run and a baby to raise, Sookie – you wouldn’t even be there every month.” Amelia was trying to get Sookie to be reasonable, knowing full well Sookie didn’t want to be reasonable about this. “That’s going to be a birthday and anniversary thing at best. Think about it – If you and Eric are in the basement at Fangtasia, where is Alex? Are you… let alone Eric… going to leave that baby in someone else’s care, even for a few hours?”

“Well…” Sookie started to reply, but it occurred to her that she hadn’t really thought this through. She was pouting as she rested her head on her hands, and Bobbie was spreading a wonderful new musk scented oil on her back.

“Think Sookie. Bjorn and Bobbie, whom you love and trust, are home alone with Alex and you and Eric are getting your freak on at Fangtasia and someone shoots through the living room window again. How is anyone going to get a hold of you? What kind of hell would you and Eric be in trying to get home to your baby? What if, Goddess forbid, he were hurt and you couldn’t get to him?”

Sookie didn’t say a word. She literally never thought about the fact that she’d have to leave the baby alone to make use of Fangtasia the way they talked about.

Amelia came out of the pool, grabbing a towel. “I’m going to go in and take a shower while you get your massage, Sookie. Just take the time to think about how much you’d really be there before you make a decision that affects everyone based on something that’s not really what you want to be doing, OK?”

“OK, Amelia – thanks.”

Bobbie just worked on Sookie and didn’t say anything while she worked it out in her mind. Where would the baby be while they were in the basement? Upstairs? Not without her or Eric. In the bomb shelter, maybe, if the door was soundproofed and they used a baby monitor? Was that too weird – having a crib in the bomb shelter so they could get freaky in the other room? She and Eric needed to talk about this. They could wait until he was older – but how much? Was three years old enough? 12? 18? She’d explode if she had to wait that long to get some quality time with Master Eric. Ooh, thinking of him that way gave her chllls.

“I’ll bet I know who you’re thinking of right now…” Bobbie teased her.

“Am I that obvious?”

“Your temperature went up, your heart beat faster and you had a shiver that left goose bumps. That says “Master” in my book,” Bobbie laughed.

“Am I sick and twisted?”

“NO, you are not…. You’re in love and adventurous and fun. You’re exploring things you’ve never done or even dreamed of before. That’s the good stuff in life, Sweetie.”

“I’m a Mommy, though – I should have other things on my mind…”

“Honey, having him on your mind is how you got to be a mommy in the first place. Being a mother makes you more of a woman, not less of one. Didn’t Dr. Ludwig tell you to have lots of sex?”

“Yeah, but honestly, I’d bet money Eric paid her to say that,” Sookie laughed.

“No way, Hon, she has a reputation to protect. She only gives you sound medical advice, count on it. It’s a very big deal that she’s your doctor, you know?”

“I figured she was just the only one who knew what was going on.”

“Uh-uh, Sookie, she’s elite, even in the Supe world. Bill told me he’d bet she was in on this from the very beginning, helping them figure out how to make it happen. He said there was a good chance they had to get her to sign off on the whole thing.”

“If she’s so elite, how come she helped me when the Maenad attacked me?”

“Eric called her because he wanted you healed. Bill was crazy jealous that Eric had gone to all that expense, but he couldn’t say anything because you were in such dire straits. There were other healers he could have called. Bill didn’t want you to know what a big deal it was.”

“He knew it was a big deal and didn’t tell me?”

“There’s a lot he didn’t tell you in those days, especially where Eric was concerned. He knew the minute Eric called you up front that first night at Fangtasia that he had made a huge mistake taking you near him. He took you there to get back in your good graces, and to show off a little to the other Vamps, but when Eric saw you, he knew it was just a matter of time before he’d take you from him. Then when Eric started making up reasons to see you…”

“Making up reasons?”

“You think Eric couldn’t figure out who was stealing from him? He could easily have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 people and then tortured them until he got what he wanted, but he wanted to see you, and see what you could do. When Long Shadow jumped on you, it just gave him the excuse he needed to kill him – he was going to, anyway, but that way, he got to save you from him and all it cost him was a small fine to Long Shadow’s maker. Eric saw that as a sound investment.”

“You mean I didn’t have to be there?”

“No, you were there because Eric wanted you there and that was the best excuse he could come up with at the time.”

“It never occurred to him to just call me and ask to see me?”

“Think, Sookie – he couldn’t do that if he thought you were Bill’s. He had to come up with an excuse that would fly if the higher ups that were watching Bill questioned his interest in you. Even if you can imagine Eric calling a girl up and asking her for a date, and I can’t, would you have said yes to him?”

“Good point – I was scared to death of him. He was so big and didn’t seem to have much interest in humans except as food.”

“He didn’t until you walked in. You changed his whole world, Sookie,” Bobbie laughed.

“Bobbie, did Bill ever really care for me at all?”

“Sure he did, Sookie, and he still does. He tried to protect you as much as he could, but he was too young and too beholden to other Vamps to help you much – you know that.”

“Yeah, I do. I want him to be happy, you know?”

“I don’t know that he’ll let himself be happy, Sookie, not because of you, but just because he has never accepted who he is. He’s a Vampire that doesn’t really like Vamps.”

“Yeah, that’s a shame. Vamps tend to be a little more intense than average people, but when you get down to it, they’re people, too.”

“I guess it’s the same with Weres, too, huh?”

“Pretty much. They have their individual quirks, too. Some of the pack behavior is too much for me, but yeah, they’re just people, too.”

“Bjorn won’t talk about his pack.”

“Really? That’s unusual. They’re usually pretty clannish.”

“Not him – he won’t answer any questions at all about his family and he made it pretty clear I’m not to ask him about them again. He wasn’t nasty about it or anything, but he was very definite.”

“Huh – it never occurred to me, but the only thing I know about the people around him is that he dated Sabrina and worked for Victor Madden. He’s never mentioned a brother or sister or even a buddy from the service.”

“Nope, and he’s not going to. He said as far as he’s concerned, right now is all that matters.”

“Wow – I guess that’s kind of the way Eric looks at things. The past is over and we have to deal with the here and now.”

“I guess you can’t hold onto the past when there’s a thousand years of it to hold onto.”

“Bjorn’s not that old, is he?”

“He’s going to be 34.”

“So he’s only a couple of year younger than you?”

“Almost 10 years.”

“What? You can’t be that old…”

“Yeah, I am, I just don’t look it, I hope,” she laughed.

“You definitely don’t. If I didn’t know anything about you, I’d think you were barely 35.”

“Thanks – I hope I stay looking younger than I am. I almost wish…” she stopped herself.

“… that someone would turn you?”

“Yeah, I wish they would, before I get much older.”

“There’s nothing wrong with getting older, Bobbie.”

“No offense. Sweetie, but you’re not even 30 yet. It’s just a vague concept to you right now. When it starts showing on your face, it starts to matter a lot more.”

“Becoming a Were would slow that down, wouldn’t it?”

“Becoming a Were? I thought you had to be born that way?”

“You have to be born that way to make a full transformation. You can become one, but you only transform part of the way. My brother is a were-panther, but he only becomes part cat with a human shape to him because he was made, not born.”

“How was he “made?””

“A jealous were-panther kidnapped him and bit him until it took. We didn’t find him in time to keep him from being turned.”

“Poor guy – how is he dealing with it?”

“He doesn’t quite fit in with the others, of course, because he wasn’t raised with them, but he’s got lots of land around his house so he can roam and hunt on the full moons without anybody bothering him. He married a girl were-panther – the reason the guy was jealous in the first place – but he doesn’t see her anymore, thank Goddess. She was bad news.”

“He’s got to be part Fae, too, right?”

“Yeah, but the only effect it had on him was making him irresistible to women.”

“Poor baby!” Bobbie laughed. “He is a good looking rascal…”

“Yeah, my brother’s a rounder,” Sookie laughed. “He definitely makes the most of his one Fae gift.”

“OK, kid, your massage is done – let’s hit the showers and we’ll be all ready to have dinner when the boys get up.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m going to steal this sheet rather than get dressed just to go up the back steps.”

“Go for it – Alicia will get it with the laundry.”

Sookie picked up the pieces of her bathing suit and her cover up and went up the stairs behind the house and in the door to the upstairs. She took a quick shower and found Alicia had laid out a really nice black nursing dress with a square neckline that would look good no matter where they ended up. She slapped on a little make up then headed for the back steps, the smell of barbecued chicken wafting through the air. Alicia was putting dinner together at the grill while Bobbie and Amelia set the table and helped her with the side dishes.

The baby was in his little yellow Bright Starts Bounce Bounce Baby Activity Zone having a blast. He was bouncing up and down in the seat, chewing on one of the teething toys, pressing a button that played music and squealing every time a new tune would start.

“Hey, Pookie! Are you having fun?” Sookie was thrilled to see how tickled he was by the little toys on the seat.

“Mamee!” he giggled, jumping like crazy, reaching for her with one hand and pointing to the piano buttons with the other.

“What did you find? Huh? Does it play music?” Sookie knelt down next to his spot on the patio under the porch light to see what was included in the play seat. “Wow – look at this! This turtle has a mirror on it – lookie, Alex – see the baby in there?”

“Oooohh!” The baby was fascinated once she pointed out the mirror.

“What is that? Who’s in there? Is that Alex? See Baby Alex?”

“Beebee Awek?” Sookie could see the wheels turning in his head.

“Yeah, that’s you, Alex!”

“Awek.”

“Yeah, that’s you, Alex. Your name is Alex.” She tapped his little chest “Alex” then she tapped the mirror “Alex.” She repeated that twice then asked him “Where’s Alex?”

The baby tapped his own chest and said “Awek” then showed Sookie the mirror “Awek,” though he was obviously too young to know that she would see herself when she looked in it.

“Right! Whatcha got there, Pookie?” She pointed to the star-shaped teether he was chewing on. “Is that a star?”

The baby took the star out of his mouth, looked at it, then offered it to Sookie.

“Thanks, but I think you better hang onto that. That’s yours, OK?”

“O-day.” He stuck it back in his mouth, slobbering all over it. Sookie laughed and wiped his mouth with a washcloth from the table next to the play seat, after asking Alicia if it was clean.

“He has been having a blast in his little seat.” Alicia said proudly.

“So I see – that’s a really happy baby!”

“Ap-pee beebee.” Alex jumped and giggled as he spoke. He pressed one of the piano buttons again and squealed when it played music.

“He loves anything that makes noise, doesn’t he?” Sookie said, just in awe of this wonderful little creature that was all hers.

“Yes, he does. Remember how he was with that little rattle the other night? And now this? He’s going to be a music Lover, I’ll bet.” Alicia didn’t know how right she was.

The baby pressed the button again and squealed.

“Who’s that I hear?” Eric called from the back steps

The baby went wild, “Da-dee! VBEE! Dadee!”

Eric zipped down the stairs at Vampire speed, kneeling by the baby. “What have you got here, my son?”

The baby jumped up and down and patted the rim of the seat then touched Eric’s face and pointed to the piano buttons with his other hand. When he was sure Eric was watching, he pressed the button, the music causing him to jump and squeal again. Eric cracked up. “Can you play music, my son?”

“Omba, Dadee! Moodik!”

“Sweetie, watch this,” Sookie told Eric after he gave her a big kiss, “Where’s Alex?” The baby pointed to his chest and said “Awek” then showed Eric the mirror and said “Awek” then pulled it back and looked at himself in it.

“He’s showing you he can see himself in the mirror.”

“Ah, I see. I’ve never seen anything like this machine he is in – what is it?”

“It’s officially called an “activity zone” but I call it a play seat. It’s a place to put him where he has things to occupy him and he can’t roam around and get hurt. It’s got all these different toys he can play with that are supposed to stimulate learning different skills and see the bottom is so he can jump up and down and move around. He’s a little bit small for it, but he’s so advanced we thought he might as well try it out, and he’s loving it.”

“It’s adjustable,” Alicia said, “so it’s on the smallest position it offers. He’s almost big enough for it. At least his feet touch,” she laughed. “He’s been playing music for me, haven’t you, Alex?”

“Omba, Eesh! Moodik!” he giggled and pushed the button again. “Mamee!” He reached for Sookie, “ee, Mamee!

“Uh-oh – Alex is hungry!” Sookie teased him.

“Omba!” He reached his little arms up and opened and closed his hands.

“Huh – I’ve never seen him do that before… but then, he’s doing a lot of things for the first time. He sort of attacked Bobbie today.” She said as she picked him up and put him to her breast.

“He did what?” Eric was sure he misunderstood.

“Well, we were having a little disagreement about the number 2…”

“Nah! Mamee!” the baby yelled belligerently then went back to feeding. Eric was shocked at seeing the baby speak to Sookie with such attitude.

“Eric Alexander, you will not speak to your mother that way.”

“It’s all right, Eric, he just…”

“It is not “all right” – I know he is small, but he is learning fast and I won’t have him being disrespectful to his mother or his Queen. I don’t want you letting insolence go without comment, Sookie. You will have a natural tendency to let him get away with being rude to you because you are tender hearted, but I won’t have it. If you teach him from the beginning it will save you grief later on, I promise you.”

“OK, let’s go sit down at the table – this is hurting my back.” Sookie was hoping to distract him. Damn, strict daddy! She didn’t know if he got Alex’s attention but he sure scared the crap out of her. Half of her was turned on and half of her was straight up scared of him when he was like that.

They walked to the table where Bobbie and Octavia were sitting. Amelia had gone back into the house for something and Bjorn was out front talking to Jerry, who was going to join them for dinner. Eric held Sookie’s chair out for her as she settled with the baby and took his seat at the head of the table and to Sookie’s left, the baby’s high chair sort of between them.

“Good evening, Octavia, Bobbie. Bobbie, did the baby hurt you today?”

“Oh, no – it was no big deal. I got a scratch on my arm that bled and he licked it was all.”

“Yes, but you got the scratch because he threw that wooden block off the table and then he sent the rest of them flying to get at your arm.” Sookie elaborated.

“Not his fault, like I said – he’s a Vamp.” Octavia said. “If somebody bleeds around him, he’s going to react.”

Eric wanted to make sure he understood what had happened. “He threw a block at you?”

“No, he was just throwing it off the table. He had done it a couple of times because it had a 2 on it. It just caught me with the corner. He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. And he didn’t bite, he just licked what was there, giggled and said “Babee ee!” It was adorable,” Bobbie laughed.

“He was very pleased with himself – it was cute as a button,” Octavia agreed.

Bjorn and Jerry came back and took seats at the table. Sookie knew from little snippets she picked up from Jerry that while he was supposedly around so much to check for explosives, he was eating with them so often to be near Amelia. She caught a few stray thoughts about him from Amelia, too, so Sookie figured that might be an interesting development. Jerry was the kind of guy Amelia went for – a polite, working class guy, conscientious and a hard worker. She didn’t know him well, but she knew when she did listen in on him that there was never anything improper about her – unlike Bjorn, who was still quite focused on Sookie’s legs and other attributes much to Sookie’s delight (though she’d never admit it) – so she considered Jerry a good guy. She also knew Bjorn was in on Jerry’s plan, if you could call it that. It’s not like they were scheming or anything, but Bjorn was helping him come up with reasons to be around because he thought they’d be cool together. She also knew that Bjorn respected Jerry and there were very few people you could say that about where Bjorn was concerned. You had to earn Bjorn’s respect over time – he had no positive expectations of people at all, which made Sookie a little sad.

Amelia finally came to the table and was subtly steered to the seat at the end of the table next to Jerry. Octavia gave Sookie a look that told her she knew what was up, too. Alicia came over with two big platters of chicken to go with the potato salad, corn on the cob and 7 Layer Salad that were already on the table, then sat between Octavia and Sookie. Everybody started filling plates and digging in.

Bill came out of the kitchen carrying the RMs Alicia had warmed for him and Eric, and a baby bottle in case Alex wanted one. “Good evening, everyone!” Bill greeted the group as he settled at the end of the table opposite Eric. “Are we house hunting tonight?”

“Alicia – you have the particulars?” Eric asked.

“Yes, the real estate agent will be here at 8 pm and we’ll caravan to the house. She’s very excited to show it to you. I got the impression you could get them to come down on the price if you made a reasonable offer. There aren’t many people looking for a place that size, and she kept telling me all these little details about it. I think she wanted me to put a bug in Sookie’s ear.”

“Well I had a finger in there today, so I guess a bug had to be next.”

“What?” Eric laughed.

“When I woke up this morning, the baby was sticking his finger in my ear.”

Everybody laughed and ooh’d and awww’d and the baby laughed with them though he didn’t realize they were laughing at him. The baby was done feeding so Sookie put him in the high chair so she could eat. Eric reached over and said “hello, my son” and made the baby giggle. Alex noticed the baby bottle by Eric’s RM and said “ee, Dadee” so Eric set the bottle on the high chair tray for him and he grabbed it eagerly.

“Huh – he just got done eating.” Sookie said.

“This is different, Sookie – very different.” Eric explained, “He had some of one, now he wants the other. That’s not that unusual.”

“It’s not?”

“Vampires are very attuned to subtle differences in flavor and instinctively crave variety. It is part of his nature to want as many types as are available to him.” Eric said.

“How do you know that? I always wonder how everybody knows stuff about this baby when there’s never been a baby like him before…” Sookie was a bit exasperated.

“Educated guesses, girl,” Octavia said. “and some careful divination and planning. Most of what you’ve been told has been true, hasn’t it?”

“So far, I guess… except that he was supposed to be Fae but he’s a Vamp.”

“I told you he would be Vampire…” Eric immediately pointed out, proud to have proven Niall wrong.

“He’s Fae, too, but he’s more Vampire – I think they put more of his daddy into him than they intended to.” Octavia said. “I believe that 2 thing is distinctly Fae. King Eric, I want you to call Niall and ask him if he has any information about it. My guess is he won’t want to tell you what it means, but he’ll know. What he does after will tell us more than anything he’ll say over the phone. I’d do it before we leave the house tonight.”

“And ask him if there’s a way to keep him from teleporting out of his crib,” Sookie added.

“No time like the present then – you all continue your meal and I’ll step inside and call him.”

Eric had been dying to call Niall and ask him what was going on anyway since he read the story for the baby, and once Octavia said to do it, he wasn’t going to wait any longer. He couldn’t wait to brag about how advanced he was either, or how he loved blood. Eric was feeling beyond vindicated about the baby’s Vampirism – he was cocky about it because the idea that his son would be Fae had absolutely eaten at him. He was so relieved when the child had fangs and a taste for blood that he was afraid it would be obvious and Sookie might be offended. A part of him would never have been at peace with his son being overtly Fae, but he didn’t want Sookie to know that. Now that problem appeared to have been averted.

“Hello, Vampire? What can I do for you this evening?”

“Hello, Niall. I wanted to talk about my son.”

“He’s not yet a week old – what could there be to say?”

“Well, he can already speak and possibly count a little….”

“What?”

“Yes and something strange has come up. He refuses to say or acknowledge the number 2. He’s quite adamant about it. Any idea why that might be?”

If you had told Eric that he would ever see Niall Brigant speechless, he’d have bet big money you were wrong. There was silence at the other end of the phone for a long spell, and Eric looked at the phone thinking it had dropped the connection.

“Niall?”

“Yes, my boy, I’m here…”

Did Niall just call him “his boy?” WTF?

“I think perhaps Dr. Ludwig and I should move our visit up. It would seem to be time to check the little one’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“I think you’ll be surprised at his abilities. Sookie wants to know if there’s a way to keep him from teleporting out of his crib.”

“When will you be returning to Shreveport?”

“Tuesday.”

“Very well, then. Dr. Ludwig and I will come for dinner Wednesday evening at 8 o’clock. Tell my granddaughter that I will bring something to help her keep him in his bed. In the mean time, if the child seems averse to anything, don’t force the issue with him. Just make a note of it and let us know immediately. Tell Sookie to call if anything else comes up – she doesn’t need to wait until dark. Dr. Ludwig and I can be reached at any time of the night or day. We don’t want you two feeling overwhelmed when there’s support available. Is there anything else I should relay to the doctor?”

“He can roll over, sit up, and crawl at both regular and Vampire speed.”

“Oh, my, well, we’ll look forward to seeing you Wednesday. Give Sookie my love. Good night.”

It did not escape Eric’s notice that Niall was in a big hurry to get off the phone and get a hold of Dr Ludwig. Eric didn’t know what that old fucking Faerie was up to, but he knew something was afoot that he needed to know about as soon as possible. He returned to the party with intent.

“Octavia, you practice divination, do you not?”

“Several forms, but I prefer cards.”

“Wonderful. Would you please ride with Sookie, Alex and me as we travel to the house? I have some questions and I’d rather not wait until later to ask them.”

“Of course.”

“Very good. Bjorn, you will drive and I will take the passenger seat. Sookie, Octavia and the baby should be comfortable in the back. Bill, I thought you might ride with the real estate agent in case she can be charmed, and Alicia, Amelia, and Bobbie will have guards with them. Is that amenable to everyone?”

Everyone agreed as they finished up their meals and the dishes were quickly cleared away and cleaned. The watermelons would wait until tomorrow night. It was nearly 8 when they began to assemble in the living room.

“Eric,” Bill approached him, “I take it I’m to charm the real estate agent to get us a more favorable price?”

“If we like it, yes. You don’t need to resort to glamour, I don’t think, but she’ll certainly work harder for us if she’s given incentive.”

“How far do you expect me to take it?”

“I’m not pimping you out, Bill, I’m just asking you to turn on the Southern charm and remind her she’s a lady – you excel at this. I’ve seen you do it many times.”

Mary Jo Dupree was right on time, pulling up to the Prytania St. house in a dark blue Saab convertible at 8. Jerry Kerik opened her door for her and walked her to the door and announcing her: “Ms. Dupree is here, your majesty.”

“Hi, Mary Jo, how are you tonight!” Sookie was the first to greet her, baby in arms.

“Hello, Mrs. Northman. It’s so nice to see you again.”

“Allow me to introduce my husband, Eric Northman. Honey, this is Mary Jo.”

Mary Jo offered her hand to Eric and he shook it, giving her a dazzling smile. “Ms. Dupree, I am very pleased to meet you. Thank you for adjusting to our schedule this way.”

“Oh, my pleasure, your majesty. Anything I can do to help you get settled in New Orleans is no problem at all.”

“We’ll certainly appreciate any help you can give us. We’ll be taking a small caravan – I was wondering if you would lead the way in your car, and my second in command would ride with you? Bill Compton heads the New Orleans office in my absence.”

“Yes, I believe we’ve spoken on the phone, Ms. Dupree.” Bill flashed her a sweet smile that nearly curled her toes.

“Please, Mr. Compton, call me Mary Jo. I’d be very pleased to have a chance to talk to you about the property.”

“Wonderful. I think we’re all ready to go, yes?” he looked at Eric.

“Bjorn – are we all assembled?” Eric asked

“Yes, your majesty, we are. Let’s all load up and head out.” Bjorn took charge of moving them all from point a to point b.

Once they were in the cars and on their way, Octavia took her Tarot pack out of her purse and unwrapped the scarf, black and dark green with red roses, that encased it. She shuffled a few times and told Eric, “Whenever you are ready, your majesty.”

“Octavia, please call me Eric when we’re with family,” Eric said warmly. “How do we begin.”

“The easiest way is you ask questions and I answer them with short readings. I use a special deck, called the Connolly Tarot, so some of the images might be different than you’ve seen before.”

“Alright, when I told Niall about the “number 2″ issue he was literally speechless for a long while. Why?”

Octavia flipped three cards – The Empress, The Moon, the two of swords. “He was trying to decide how much to tell you. There are cosmic forces at work here, but he’s only telling you half the story. There’s illusion or deception around this matter of a dual nature – the two is both literal and symbolic. Niall’s magick had unintended consequences you don’t know about, and might not for a long time. There won’t be a quick resolution of this situation. You’re barely at the beginning.”

“Did he know the baby would be this advanced?”

“Absolutely not. I got the 10 of swords reversed, the two of pentacles reversed and Transition reversed. In other decks, Transition is the Death card. Something about Niall’s magick didn’t work – half of it is right, half of it is wrong. Something wasn’t able to cross over – that’s the language I’m getting, but as of now, I have no idea what it means.”

“When will we know what it means?”

“10 of pentacles, 5 of swords, Justice. The good news is that eventually, it will all work out, but it will be a long time before it happens and it won’t be the solution that was intended. There will be imperfect beginnings, misunderstandings, and you must always know that Niall will never tell you the whole truth until he has no other choice. Ages 5, 10, 15 and 21 will be critical ages for this child. He’ll face a dual crisis at each of those stages – one from within and one from without. Two is going to be a big number with this – the Justice card shows a Goddess holding the scales of Justice. A Goddess put all this in motion and it’s going to take a Goddess to sort it out, but She’ll be working on Goddess time, not human time, so this is won’t be resolved quickly.”

“Alright, Niall was uncharacteristically friendly to me, and he was adamant that if anything else came up, Sookie should call him or Ludwig immediately and not wait until dark. He said not to force this issue or any other with the baby – just make a note of it and let them know. He also moved up their visit to test the baby’s abilities – they’re coming to the Shreveport house at 8 pm Wednesday. Why the rush?”

“Oohh-eee! The High Priestess, The Magician reversed and The King of Pentacles. He’s scared to death – something about his magick is going to come back on him and maybe others. The High Priestess is a badass woman – Freyja and/or Sookie – and the King of Pentacles is you, Eric. He’s afraid you’re going to give him the Victor Madden treatment, but at this stage, it won’t help anything. Your best bet is to play Niall’s guilt. He’ll be much more pliable to keep all hell from breaking loose over this and I do mean HELL. He knows all about the Freyja/Sookie connection, by the way. He’s known for a long, long time.”

“How long?” Sookie asked.

Octavia flipped one card: The World.

“Since before you were born, Sweetheart. He agreed to it before you were conceived.”

She pulled another card:

“Materialism – in traditional decks, that’s The Devil card. Niall arranged it, probably because he owed a debt to the Goddess. You’re the repayment of a debt.”

“Great…”

“You’re chosen by the Goddess, Sookie. That’s nothing to regret or resent. That’s something to rejoice about. You are favored in ways you haven’t even begun to comprehend. The fact that Niall was involved in your genesis doesn’t negate or lessen that in any way.” Octavia really wanted to drive this point home.

Eric was very pleased to hear Octavia say that to Sookie. He knew exactly what it meant to be favored by Freyja, and he wanted more than anything for Sookie to embrace her position and revel in it. Helping her understand it was the reason he kept Bobbie, Amelia and especially Octavia around. Once he had fully understood Freyja’s role in Sookie’s life, he had wanted nothing more than for her to appreciate the gifts they had both been given. Now that the baby was here, it was more important than ever for Sookie to embrace her power.

“Dadee!” Alex called to Eric from the back seat.

“Yes, my son?”

“Omba, Dadee.”

“He’s agreeing with you, Vampire.” Octavia knew she was stating the obvious, but she wanted him to know that she knew.

“I haven’t said anything.”

“Apparently you don’t need to. It would be best if no one outside this car knew that.” Octavia understood the implications far too well.

“Yes, I agree.” Eric was very serious.

“Well, Bobbie and Amelia might know.” Sookie ‘fessed up, knowing she’d have to tell on herself soon, too.

“Really? Good to know. Let’s keep it in the family, Sookie. I don’t mind you sharing with your Witches, but don’t let it get out of our circle. You must promise me.” The tone of Eric’s voice made it clear that this was not a request.

“I promise.”

“Looks like we’re here,” Bjorn warned them, “She’s got her turn signal on.”

The cars all pulled into a drive that curved gently in front of a very stately 3 story house with 7 columns across the front and a balcony that ran the full width of it. A garage stretched toward the right of the house and there was a pretty little gazebo off to the far right of the lot.

“This is very nice.” Eric observed as they pulled to a stop.

“Yeah, the inside is a little plain.” Sookie was trying to lower his expectations.

Everyone got out of the cars, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the place before they were even inside it. Eric took the baby from Sookie and carried him so Sookie could look into closets and bathrooms. The baby was very observant as they went through the house, those big eyes taking in everything. He even occasionally pointed to an object that caught his eye and Eric was beaming at him. He seemed to like chandeliers a lot because he would point and make his “haaaah!” sound when they went into a room with one.

Inside the house was plenty to like – a master suite and master bath, 5 other bedrooms plus 5 other full baths and 2 half baths, a huge formal dining room, a kitchen with a breakfast bar. The agent explained that the full property was 36 acres but they could buy just the 6 acres that actually included the buildings but Bill quickly said they’d want the whole 36. He also asked whether they’d be able to surround the grounds with a fence if they chose to and Mary Jo knew of no reason they couldn’t.

The guesthouse turned out to have 3 bedrooms, a fireplace, 2 baths and wood floors. Sookie noted to herself that the guesthouse was bigger than her own house in Bon Temps. The little artists studio was cute and Bill and Eric considered whether it would be big enough to use as an office or whether to make it a guardhouse the soldiers could use. The pool was in front of the guesthouse and it was gorgeous.

You could see the pool from the 2nd floor balcony that ran the entire width of the back of the house. There was a den and a formal living room in the house so the den could always be used as an office. There were lighted tennis courts but they didn’t belong to the house – they were community courts right beside the property – but that was no big deal. They’d be able to use them if they wanted and they weren’t close enough to the house to cause a problem.

Eric’s main concern was that there were neighbors far too close. A fence would help with privacy, but if the compound were ever under attack, many people would be affected and he didn’t like that. Their house in Shreveport was at the end of a dead end road and the neighbors were further away than they’d be here. He was also not sure he liked the distance from the New Orleans offices. The Prytania Street house was in an historic neighborhood and he honestly felt that would be a better deterrent than a fence would out here. There were also eyes closer by there – close enough to do some good, unlike out here where they’re only close enough to get hurt. The pool and garden in town were nicely concealed and enclosed. Maybe Sookie was right – that was their best option.

Eric thanked the woman profusely and they said their goodbyes. She promised to keep Bill informed if she saw any other properties that might fit their needs and went off on her own since she lived out this way. Bill rode back into town in the van with the guards.

Sookie was miserable when they got back into the car and they barely got out of the driveway before she asked, “Eric, are you going to buy that house?”

“No, Sweetheart, I think the house we’ve already got is a better fit. I didn’t like the way the neighbors were situated out there. It wasn’t a good defensive position and I know you weren’t thrilled with it. I won’t force you to live where you won’t be happy, Sookie. You know your happiness is my first priority after our safety.”

“I thought that place was so much of what we needed…?”

“It had some good things about it. The size of the house and the guesthouse would certainly make our lives easier, but as I said, I didn’t like the surroundings. That river entrance would be very hard to defend. It’s too far from our offices. The inside of the house was very…”

“Plain. I didn’t like the inside at all.” Sookie said.

“Well, then, we have more information to work from. We’ll look at some more properties but the more I see, the more I like the house we have. Victor Madden obviously found it a safe haven or he wouldn’t have lived there. He had no shortage of enemies himself. Do keep in mind though, that if we find a suitable property, I can hire the decorator who did our Shreveport house to decorate it for you – she’s based in New Orleans.”

“Oh – I never thought of that…”

“You can also hire her to work on the current house if the décor is not to your liking, Just because it’s already done, it doesn’t mean you have to keep it that way. It is your house, Dear One, and I want you to be happy with it.”

“Even if we won’t be there much?”

“Even if, though I think we’ll be there a great deal of the time. You love it too much to stay away long and it is very convenient to my offices. I’ll need to be here a lot between now and the first of the year to oversee reconstruction. Bill and I both will have to stay very involved to get our properties ready for Mardi Gras.”

“So if I wanted our bedroom totally revamped…”

“I’ll leave her business card and have Alicia contact her for you. You have everything tailored to your tastes. I’ll like whatever you like. You don’t need to wait for my approval and don’t worry about the cost.”

Octavia was smiling to herself, knowing that Sookie would never have suggested redecorating on her own. She also wondered if Eric could read her mind, or if he just knew her so well that he could anticipate her desires. She was beginning to think all three of them could read each other’s minds and she and Eric hadn’t told each other about it. If Sookie could read Vampire minds, she’d be a formidable foe and a powerful advantage for Eric.

“May I say something extremely confidential in front of Bjorn?” Octavia asked.

“Yes, Octavia, Bjorn needs to know everything about Sookie’s circumstances to protect her.”

“Alright then, I think you and Sookie need to admit to each other that you can hear each other’s thoughts. The baby’s not the only one that can listen in on you two.”

Eric was silent for a minute. “Sookie, can you hear my thoughts?”

“Sometimes – not very often, just when things are really intense.”

“Can you hear other Vampires?”

“Not quite.”

“Explain.”

“I can hear… something, but not clear thoughts. It’s almost like what I hear from Weres, but the volume is really low. The weird thing is, I know it won’t stay that way. I know – I don’t know how – that soon I’ll be able to hear all Supes.”

Eric turned in his seat so he could see Sookie’s face. “Sookie – do not put that in writing anywhere. Should you decide to write in your journal, you must never put on paper that you can do this. Do you understand?”

“Yes. So, can you hear me?”

“Sometimes. More often lately, when you are under stress.”

“You never told me?”

“You never told me – we have both been… unwise. From now on, Sookie, you are to tell me when you hear me or any other Vampire. No more secrets between us, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Octavia. That was a very important revelation. Sookie and I need to communicate more effectively, it seems.”

“You two communicate fine – you’re both just used to keeping things to yourself from being alone so long. You’ll grow out of it in time. Your relationship is just getting started. Cut each other some slack. Just remember that you’re never alone anymore – there are always three of you, no matter where you are.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of…” Sookie said.

“Worried about the baby knowing you’re having sex?” Octavia wasn’t going to mince words.

“Yes…”

“Unavoidable. Just don’t feel guilty about it. This child will have a very different attitude toward sex than most kids. How does he react now when you do?”

“He cheers Eric on if he’s awake…”

Eric laughed out loud at that and Bjorn just shook his head and smiled.

“… but he usually sleeps. It’s like it soothes him. I think he gets as “blissed” out as we do.”

“No reason for that to change. You aren’t disturbing him. You’re showing him his Mommy and Daddy love each other. That’s a good thing.”

“I guess…”

“You worried about the kinky stuff?” Nope, not mincing words.

“Yeah…”

“He can feel the difference in play and anger. Seems he takes his cues from Eric. If there’s no harmful intent on Eric’s part, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I can be somewhat sadistic.” Eric stated matter-of-factly.

“You’re a Vampire – that comes with the territory. That won’t warp him. Just be who you are – he needs to learn how to be all of what you are, not just the nice parts. He’ll be in the basement at Fangtasia with his own girls sooner than you think.”

Sookie was shocked. “How did you know…?”

“Everybody knows Eric’s reputation, girl, and they know you must keep right up with him or he wouldn’t be so happy. The sex room at Fangtasia is legendary. I don’t need to be psychic to know you’ve been there and liked it.”

Sookie blushed furiously at the idea of Octavia knowing so much about her sex life. She was trying to think of a way to ask Octavia about what to do with the baby when they were there when Eric spoke.

“Octavia – there’s a relatively sound-proofed room in the basement that is removed from the main room. Sookie would like to know if there would be any harm in putting the baby in the side room with a baby monitor. He wouldn’t hear us, but we’d be able to hear him if he needed us.”

“Holy shit!”

“Sookie!” Eric was shocked at her language. Bjorn was biting his tongue to keep from laughing.

“Can you read my mind that clearly?” Sookie was shocked and embarrassed. How long had he been hearing her and what had she been thinking around him? She was now less worried he’d be mad at her for not telling him she could hear him and more aggravated that he hadn’t told her what he could do. What a sneak!

“When you’re that intent on a thought, yes. You were trying furiously to figure out how to ask your question.”

“To answer your question – that’s what baby monitors are for. Plan your games for when he would be asleep, put a crib in the other room, tuck him in, set up a monitor and get as wild as you want. Sookie, I know your background is giving you some conflict about the sexual aspects of being a wife and a mother – don’t beat yourself up for having urges and don’t hesitate to satisfy them. All that Puritanical stuff is bullshit. You’re a Pagan now – sexuality is the Goddess’ greatest gift. Worry less and have more fun. It’s good for all three of you.”

“OK, I’ll try…”

“Don’t try, do it.” Octavia said. “You don’t earn points for feeling guilty. Guilt is patriarchal tool to control you and keep you from being free and healthy. Nobody is going to let you screw up that baby. You’ve got all of us helping you – we’ll let you know if you get off track. Be the Goddess that you are – that’s the greatest gift you could give that child.”

“”Do or do not, there is no ‘try’?”” Sookie wasn’t trying to be a smartass quoting Yoda, and Octavia knew it.

“Yoda had a point there. Be decisive and live life like you mean it. It’s not immodest to know your own power. You can be a badass when you need to be and still be lovable. You can enjoy wild sex and still be a good mommy.”

“I don’t know why I’m so insecure all of a sudden. I used to be tougher than this, and I need to get it back.” Sookie said, almost to herself.

“Being a mommy has stirred up a lot of issues from your childhood – you’re thinking about your own Mamma, your Gran, how you felt growing up. You need to be at peace with them. You didn’t do anything wrong to make them go away. You don’t need their approval in how you live your life. And, I’m just going to say it plain, Eric is not Bill Compton or John Quinn – he’s not going to betray you. That’s not in your cards, and those situations were not your fault. Now the next time you’re alone, you get quiet and call down Freyja, and ask Her to make you strong and certain about your path.”

“You know, She said one time She wouldn’t let me hurt the innocent.”

“Exactly. She won’t let you abuse your power and being happy won’t jinx it and make everything go away. Enjoy your life.”

“I think I had another dream about Her…”

“Let’s hear it.”

“First it was Her standing on the shore with two swords, pointing sort of out and down like sides of a triangle. Then it was me wearing a blindfold and I crossed the two swords in front of me like an X. Then one of them shimmered and disappeared. She said it was never really there and it wasn’t my fault, and to take off my blinders and make the most of what I’ve got.”

“When we get home, girl, I want you to get your computer out. I need to show you something. That’s an important dream.”

Sookie was quiet the rest of the way home, letting her mind process everything all her friends had told her that day. Some of it conflicted a little, but she figured Alicia and Octavia were the oldest and both of them said she wasn’t going to screw up her baby if she had wild sex. She was going to try very hard to let that fear go. She knew that would make Eric happy, and when she thought that she noticed him turn his head a little – he was hearing her, so she sent him something worth hearing. She got as clear a picture as she could of herself tied down to the bed at Fangtasia and him going down on her.

Eric cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, “Sookie, don’t forget Bill and I must go in to the office tonight.”

“I haven’t forgotten.” She smiled to herself, knowing she was getting to him. “You won’t be very late getting home though, right?”

“Not a minute later than I have to be, my Angel, rest assured.” Eric sent back and x-rated thought of his own – Sookie bent over his knee being spanked – and Sookie heard it loud and clear. Damn, now her motor was running…

“VBEE!” The baby heard it too – oh well. ‘Get used to it, Sookie,’ she told herself, ‘this bond goes three ways and he’ll always know, but he’ll know it’s healthy and natural and you are NOT going to give this child a Christian guilt trip because it has nothing to do with the life he’s meant to live.’

“Omba, Mamee.” Everyone in the car laughed.

“Listen, you little Punkin’, you learn to stay out of Mommy’s head, OK?” Sookie said to the baby, laughing. The baby, who had been holding her finger all the way home, giggled and grabbed her hand with his other hand, too. She tickled him and felt a weight lift from her shoulders.

They arrived at the house and unloaded, Bill and Eric getting ready to go to the offices as Sookie got the baby out of the car.

“Sookie,” Bill said, “Ms. Dupree gave me some background on this house. It was also owned by an actor who played a Vampire in a comedic movie and it is known at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel. She also said it may be haunted.” Bill laughed.

“No “maybe” about it,” Octavia said, “I thought you all knew it was haunted?”

“It is? For real?” Sookie said, handing the baby to Eric so he could kiss him goodbye.

“Oh, yeah, but they’re friendly. They like that you have a baby.” Octavia certainly didn’t think it was a big deal.

“Wow – I had no idea.” Sookie looked at the house with new eyes.

“That doesn’t bother you, does it, Sookie?” Eric asked.

“No, it’s actually kind of cool. We always thought my Bon Temps house is haunted by my great-great grandfather. That just makes me feel more at home.”

“It might actually explain why you’re so attached to this house already. It has that familiar feel to it, you just didn’t know what created the feeling.”

“Huh – you mean, I can sense ghosts and didn’t know it?”

“Yep – not that unusual, really. You’re just so used to it, from growing up around it, that it feels normal to you. Places that aren’t haunted probably feel a bit strange to you.”

“Yeah, they do – I always say there’s no life to them. I guess it’s just the opposite, huh?”

“There’s no awareness to them. You’re used to having someone look over your shoulder and it feels odd when they aren’t there. Very interesting.

Eric finished his little talk with the baby, gave him a kiss on the lips and said, “be a good boy for Mommy and Daddy will be home to give you your last bottle, alright, Eric Alexander?”

“Omba. Ba-ba, Dadee.”

“You won’t be that late, will you?” Sookie asked as she took Alex back from him.

“No, not at all. Bill says we’ll probably be home by 1 am.”

“Cool. Be careful, and I’ll see you later,” she tipped her face up to let him give her a long, sweet kiss. He gave the baby a final peck on the forehead and he, Bill and Jerry went to the territorial offices.

As the women and Bjorn moved back up the marble steps and into the front door, Alicia asked if anyone would like a snack.

“What have you got, Alicia?” Bobbie wasn’t going to be shy about it – she could definitely eat something.

“I found several cheesecakes in the extra freezer the other night we haven’t used yet. They’re frozen but in this heat, they’ll thaw by the time I get them cut and dished up.”

“Oh, yeah,” Sookie said, “I’m always up for cheesecake!”

“Alright then, just let me stow my coat and they’ll be right up.”

Sookie left the baby with Bobbie while she ran upstairs to get her laptop for Octavia.

When she got back to the dining room, she took the baby so Bobbie could help Alicia, then she fired up the laptop and slid it across the table to Octavia.

Bjorn came in from talking to the guards on duty and everyone gathered at the huge dining room table as Bobbie and Alicia got the cakes, forks and plates. Bjorn brought the baby’s highchair in from the kitchen where it was stowed after dinner outside. Sookie got the baby settled next to her chair and Bjorn even helped Alicia slice and serve the cakes while Bobbie went through the baby’s toys to find something to keep him occupied.

“Wow, Bjorn, you’re going to eat cheesecake?” Sookie was surprised.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t, but I’ve been really good this week so what the hell. I’ll work it off in the gym when we get home to Shreveport.”

“Hey, I never thought about the fact that there’s no gym here. Is that going to be a problem?” Sookie asked.

“I actually had an idea about that, Sookie.” Alicia said. “You know technically the room I’m in is the Master Bedroom Suite – that’s why the spa is down here. Either you and Mr. Northman could move down there, or you could turn that bedroom into a workout room, then the spa is right there for after.”

“Better to turn it into a workout room. A first floor bedroom is not a good defensive position – I’m sure that’s why Madden didn’t use it,” Bjorn explained, “and you need to have the nursery right next to your bedroom, plus my bedroom should be near Sookie’s and Bobbie’s should be near the baby in case we’re needed at night. The second floor is best, though we need to rearrange some things for maximum safety, especially when the baby gets old enough to stay in a room by himself.”

“Eric’s going to let me call a decorator to work on this house – what should we do? This would be the time to tell me.” Sookie said, shaking one of the Elmo rattles for the baby to his sheer delight.

“I told Eric about what we need to do to the security system already. As far as rooms go, there’s a small apartment down the hall from where we are now – I think Bobbie and I should take that room, and the rooms across from you should be used for the baby. Margaret and Alicia are going to take the apartment on the third floor, and any Vampire company you’re likely to have could stay either there or in the gym. The den needs to be your offices – you and Eric could both have desks and computers in there. From what I hear, you’re going to be getting really busy this Fall and Winter. You should have things done while we’re in Shreveport. I think Eric wanted to upgrade your bathroom a great deal, too.”

“Yeah, we need a bigger tub, and I want a bigger, better bed. I want a much bigger rug over in the living room with a pink border and flowers and maybe some cozier couches. I’m not too sure about the pool table, either, and we need a TV in here since this is where we seem to hang out. I want to make this house as comfortable as possible so Eric won’t keep looking for another place…”

“Why you so attached to this place already?” Octavia asked. This was beyond anything Octavia could account for, even with the haunted energy.

“I don’t know – I just felt like I belonged here the minute I stepped into it. It was like coming home. I don’t remember ever being so excited about a house before. I never really paid much attention to them.”

“You don’t say…” Octavia said, almost to herself. She was going to study on this later, when it was just she and her Tarot cards.

“Amelia is your house going to be usable or do we need to have rooms here for you?” Sookie asked. “The baby won’t really have to have a nursery for a long time.”

“My house is almost done, and Eric agreed to pay for the rental unit for Octavia because he wants her to stay nearby. He’d make room for us here, but we really think it’s better to give you all a little more space.”

“Well, it’s up to you all. Do whatever makes you happiest, OK?” Sookie dug into the cheesecake then and the baby gnawed on the teether, slobbering profusely. Sookie wiped him with a damp washcloth Alicia handed her. “Why is he slobbering so much?”

“I’d say his teeth are starting to come in,” Alicia guessed.

“Yep, that’s what happens. He’ll start putting everything he can get his hands on in his mouth.” Octavia agreed.

“Isn’t it too early for his teeth to come in?” Sookie knew the answer but she asked anyway.

“He’s doing everything else early, Sookie, he’ll probably be ahead with that, too,” Bobbie said.

“Can I still breast feed him if he has teeth?”

“Oh, yeah, you just teach him not to bite. People breast feed babies up to 5 years old sometimes, and you know they’ve got full sets of teeth,” Alicia reassured her.

“Do me a favor and don’t tell Eric that some people breast feed until age 5, OK? Two years is my limit – maybe three, but I doubt it.’ Sookie wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not.

Octavia found what she was looking for and slid the laptop back to Sookie. “Does this look familiar to you?”

“Oh my Goddess – that’s exactly like I was in my dream!”

“That’s the traditional image for the Two of Swords in the Rider-Waite Tarot, among others. And you say one of them disappeared?”

“Yeah, and she told me it was never here and it wasn’t my fault, so take off my blinders and make the most of what I’ve got.”

An Elmo rattle suddenly flew into the center of the table, making Sookie say “Uh-oh!” and retrieve it. She put it back on the baby’s highchair tray and turned back to her conversation and her cheesecake.

“Uh-oh!” Alex said as he threw the rattle back on the table.

“Looks like your little buddy knows how to throw things, Sookie,” Bobbie laughed.

“Yeah, no kidding. Alex, no throwing, OK?”

“Nah” he said, sort of shaking his head and his whole upper body as she put the rattle back on the tray. He chewed on the toy for a few minutes then “Uh-oh!”

“Alex, no.”

He just looked at Sookie and blinked then pointed to her cheesecake and said “ee, Mamee!”

“He wants a bite of cheesecake,” Bjorn laughed.

“That’s grown-up food, Sweetie. Not for babies.” Sookie told him.

“Ee, Mamee!”

“Maybe he’s just hungry,” Sookie said as she took him out of the high chair and tried to put him to her breast, but he wasn’t having it. While she was trying to get him to feed, he stuck his fingers in Sookie’s slice of cake and stuck his fingers in his mouth before she could react.

“Wow, that kid is fast when he wants to be,” Bjorn said with admiration.

“Mmmm” Alex said, reaching for more, but Sookie pushed her plate out of the way and he let out a piercing shriek.

“Alex! What’s wrong with you?” Sookie was aghast.

“He’s not used to you saying ‘no’ to him, Sookie,” Bobbie pointed out, trying not to laugh.

“You know, as long as you don’t give him any of the graham cracker crust, a little bit won’t hurt him. Want me to get you a spoon?” Alicia suggested.

Before Sookie could say ‘yes’ the baby demanded “ee, Mamee!” and Alicia headed for the kitchen. “EE!” he yelled and pounded the table with his hand and was adamant that he was going to have cheesecake.

“Alright, hold on, you little Viking. Alicia’s bringing you a spoon.”

“EESH!” he yelled toward the kitchen.

“I’m coming, Alex, hang on,” Alicia hurried back in with a spoon and handed it to Sookie, who scooped up a little cheesecake and slipped the spoon in his mouth. The baby smacked his mouth open and shut a few times as everyone laughed about his little tantrum and his subsequent enjoyment of the cheesecake. It was obvious he loved the stuff, so Sookie gave him another bite and he hummed while he gummed it into submission. Two more bites and he became more interested in the toys on his high chair than the cheesecake so Sookie put him back in the chair and finished her cake.

“That was intense,” Sookie said, sounding a little shell-shocked. “What’s he going to be like when he gets older?”

“That’s why you’ve got Eric. He’ll be able to handle him, Sookie, don’t worry.” Bobbie said softly, “He’s just too small to understand when you say ‘no’ right now. As he gets older he’ll learn to take ‘no’ for an answer. No infant reacts well to being refused something he wants.”

“That’s right. Sweetie. He’s doing fine and so are you,” Alicia assured her.

Sookie’s phone rang then. “It’s Eric. Hi, honey, what’s up?”

“What is wrong with the baby? I heard him shrieking in my mind.”

“Oh, he’s OK, he just had a little tantrum because he wanted a bite of my cheesecake.”

“That rage that I felt was over cheesecake?”

“Yep. We gave him a little and he’s fine now.”

“He was able to eat it? Without getting sick?”

“So far, so good. He’s back to chewing on his toys now.”

“Is that good for him?”

“It’s unavoidable – that’s what they do when their teeth start to come in. They stick everything they can get their hands on in their mouths and drool all over it.”

“Good to know. I’ll see you in a bit, my Angel.”

“OK, Sweetie, bye-bye.”

“Ba-ba,” the baby repeated, though his attention was focused on the toy he was looking at then chewing on. Octavia’s mind was trying to sort out that message to Sookie and she was watching the baby intently – what was missing that should have been there?

“Anybody want more?” Alicia asked. Everyone said no, and thanks, so Alicia and Bobbie gathered up the dishes as Sookie and Alex, Amelia and Octavia went into the living room. The Exploration tunnel was still in the floor so Sookie put the baby down there and let him play with the toys.

Before long Alex was trying to pull a toy off the top and bending the tunnel and Sookie asked him, “What are you doing, Pookie?”

“Pish, Mamee.”

“Fish?” She looked in and he was pulling on a fish-shaped teether. “Wow – I guess that is a fish, isn’t it? Here you go, baby boy…” she unhooked the little toy and it went straight into his mouth.

Octavia motioned for Sookie to come sit on the couch and leave the baby so they could see what he would do. There was a little conversation, but everyone was waiting to see what Alex would do when left to his own devices for a while. At first, he just chewed on the teether and looked at the insides of the tunnel. Then he rolled over onto his belly and went into a crawl, going slowly along the length of the tunnel, stopping to pull at some leaf shapes on the bottom of it. He came out the far end and managed to sit up, playing with the circular rattle on that end of the tunnel. Alicia and Bobbie had come into the living room and the women became engrossed in talking about possibilities for decorating the house. Suddenly, there was a wail from across the room – Alex was sitting there crying. Sookie rushed across the room to see if he was hurt, but saw nothing wrong.

“What’s the matter, Pookie?”

“DAAAAAHHHH-DEEEEEE!” he wailed.

“Daddy? Are you missing your daddy?”

The next sound that came out of him wasn’t like anything a human baby would make and it was positively heartrending. Sookie scooped him up and kissed him, trying to bounce him a little and calm him down, but he was inconsolable and Sookie’s phone was ringing.

“Hi, Sweetie,” she said into the phone as the baby wailed like a banshee.

“What is wrong with the baby now?” Eric was beside himself.

“As near as I can tell, he misses you.” Sookie told him.

“He misses me? How do you know that?”

“Shhhh, Alex, don’t cry. He was playing in the tunnel from the other night and he crawled down to where you were that night and sat there and just started wailing out of the blue…”

“DAAAAAHHHH-DEEEEEE!” Alex wailed again.

“… did you hear that? He wants you, Eric.”

“Hold the phone to his ear, Sookie.”

Sookie held the phone so the baby could hear and said “OK!”

“Eric Alexander?”

The baby stopped for a minute, blinking tears from his eyes and trying to understand where the voice was coming from.

“Alex, can you hear me, my son?”

“Omba, Da-ah-dee,” he whimpered.

“Do not cry, my son – Daddy is coming home right now, OK?”

“Oday” he snuffled.

“Eric? What did you say to him?”

“I told him I’m coming home. I’m leaving right now. We’ll be there in 15 minutes, so try to distract him until I get there.”

“Alright, Sweetie, I will. OK, Alex, Daddy is coming home.”

Alex pointed at the phone, “Dadee.”

“Yeah, that was Daddy,” She was cooing at him trying to cheer him up “and he’s going to be home in just a few minutes, alright? You know what – you need a new diaper. Let’s get a clean nappy so you’ll be all fresh for Daddy, OK?”

“Oday,” he mumbled, wiping his eyes.

“Do you want me to take him, Sookie?” Alicia offered.

“No, that’s OK, I’ll change him. We’ll be back in a minute. Sorry everybody…”

“Don’t apologize, Sookie – babies cry. You’ve been lucky up until now with this one,” Octavia told her, “he’s just a little upset, but it’s all going to be fine.” Octavia only half believed that, but she didn’t want Sookie to know she was worried about that dream.

Sookie wanted to believe what Octavia said but she was shaking a little. She knew Octavia was right – babies cry – but she couldn’t help feeling like this was out of the ordinary somehow. This baby didn’t do this… or he hadn’t until now. She never felt such overwhelming sadness before as was pouring out of this child as she carried him up to their room.

“OK, Pookie, let’s cheer up for Daddy, OK? We’ll get all fresh and powdered and smell nice and sweet when he gets here. What are you going to say to Daddy when he gets home, huh? I’ll bet you say “víg” right?”

The baby didn’t say anything but he rubbed his little eyes and was obviously calming down as he let out a big sigh. Sookie kept cooing at him as she cleaned him up, then she walked around the bedroom with him a little bit, rubbing his back and sending him all the love and security she could. Eric was flooding the bond with all the love and comfort he could, too, but underneath it she knew he wanted to get to his son as badly as his son wanted him there. When he was a lot calmer, they went back downstairs where everyone was drinking coffee and talking about what they needed to do to get ready to go back to Shreveport.

“How are we doing now?” Alicia asked as Sookie brought him back.

“We’re a lot calmer now, and we can feel Daddy on his way here, so that’s helping a lot.”

“You know, it occurred to us that this is the first time Eric has been away from him at night.” Bobbie said.

“Huh – I never thought of that, but I think you’re right. He hasn’t gone to the office this way since we’ve been here. I hope this doesn’t create a problem for him. I know he had things to do tonight. I hope he’s not mad that I couldn’t handle him.”

“Sookie, he won’t be mad – he called you and he was the one that said he was coming home. My guess is he’s as anxious to see the baby as the baby is him,” Amelia told her.

“That’s true, Sookie,” Bobbie agreed, “you never had a chance to handle him. He started wailing and the phone rang. Eric might have to strap him into that Baby Bjorn Carrier and take him along when he wants to go into the office, at least for a while.”

“Don’t start questioning yourself, Sookie. He’s a baby. He wants what he wants when he wants it. He’ll grow out of it as he gets older.” Octavia knew Sookie was blaming herself and it had nothing to do with her. The Goddess told her it wasn’t her fault – and she was beginning to think that she knew what “it” was but it was too soon to say anything.

“He’s always been demanding, Sookie,” Bobbie pointed out, “even in the womb, remember?”

“Yeah, that’s true. Eric is here!”

Eric was out of the car before it came to a complete stop and instantly through the front door calling “Alex!”

“DADEE!” The baby couldn’t get into Eric’s arms fast enough.

Eric kissed him and hugged him tightly to him. “That’s my good boy. Daddy missed you, too, Eric Alexander.”

“I’m sorry, Eric, I…”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about, my Angel,” he said as he kissed her hello, “he and I just aren’t used to being apart yet and we wanted to see each other, didn’t we, my son?”

“Omba, Dadee,” The baby put his hand on one of Eric’s cheeks and kissed the other.

It was all Eric could do to keep from crying. “I’m sorry to be a bad host, everyone, but we’re going to go to bed. Sookie, are you coming up?”

“Yeah, of course! Good night, everybody!”

Eric turned immediately and headed up the stairs, Sookie right behind him and the baby. At the top of the stairs Eric kicked it into Vampire speed so by the time Sookie got to the room he was sitting on the bed, still holding the baby tight, the baby with his little arms around his neck. Sookie was trying to sort out what she was feeling in the bond, but couldn’t so she just asked, “Eric, are you OK?”

“Yes, Sookie, I’m fine, I just… I never felt anything like that before.”

“Like what?”

“Like when the baby was missing me. The sadness was so deep…”

“I know, I felt it, too. Is that… normal?”

“I don’t know but I’m not putting either one of us through it again. Until he is older, when I am awake, he is with me. He goes where I go. I’ve worked at my home office with him in a sling, I can do that wherever else I need to.” He stood up, saying “let’s get our clothes off and go to bed. We need family time for us all to feel sound again.”

Sookie pulled her dress off and threw it over a chair, then pulled off her thong. Eric put the baby on the bed just long enough to shuck his clothes and was in bed with the baby next to him in seconds. Sookie climbed in from the bottom to her side and Eric helped her get under the covers, Alex tucked in safely between them.

“Wow – it’s barely midnight. This is early for us to be in bed.” Sookie said as she noticed the clock.”

“Yes, but this is where we all feel safest – in bed together. I’m kicking myself for going into the office without taking him with me.”

“Eric, there was no way to know he’d have such a reaction. He was fine until he got to the end of the tunnel where you were the other night and I guess he just suddenly realized you weren’t there and he lost it.”

“He wasn’t fine earlier – I called twice, remember?”

“Yeah, he was a little intense earlier. He kept throwing a rattle in the middle of the table, then he pitched a fit over the cheesecake.”

“I can’t believe he was so angry about food.”

“Well, he stuck his fingers in it before I knew what was happening and then I pushed it away when he went back for more and he flipped out on me. Alicia ran to get me a spoon and he was actually yelling for her to hurry up. I guess he really liked it.”

“What does it taste like?”

“Well, it’s cream cheese so it’s like tangy, sweet, milky tasting. It’s like ice cream but thicker and with a sour edge to it.”

“I don’t know what ice cream tastes like, and neither does he. We’ll have to try some sometime. I’m tempted to try this cheesecake. Is there any left?”

“Yeah, Alicia put some back in the fridge. Want me to go get some and we can all have a taste?”

“Omba, Mamee.”

Eric and Sookie cracked up.

“How does he know what I’m saying?”

“I don’t know – he always seems to, though. So you are getting cheesecake?”

“Yep, I am,” She gave them both a big kiss and scurried out of bed, throwing on her pink robe and heading swiftly downstairs.

“Hey, y’all!”

“Well – we didn’t expect to see you again tonight,” Alicia laughed.

“Yeah, we got to talking about cheesecake and Eric wants to try it and the baby wants more and, truth be told, I could eat some more, too…” Sookie said, being a little silly, just relieved that all was right with her world now. Everyone laughed and Alicia headed to the kitchen to get them a dish of cheesecake and some spoons.

When Sookie came back into the room, Eric was sitting up in bed, snuggling the baby under his chin with his eyes closed, lightly stroking the baby’s bare back as he purred in his arms.

“You two look so sweet,” Sookie said softly. She sat the dish and spoons on the end of the bed and took her robe off, then picked it up and walked on her knees up to her side of the bed.

“We’re glad you are back, my Angel,” Eric said as he leaned over and kissed her, the baby taking the opportunity to stick his fingers in the cake again, taking a good handful.

“Ack – you little monkey! Hang on a minute,” Sookie laughed as the baby giggled and sucked his fingers, getting cheesecake all over his face and dropping bits on ‘Dadee’s’ bare chest.

“Is it that good, my boy?” Eric laughed with him.

“Omba, Dadee!” He was absolutely delighted with himself as he gnawed at the mess in his hand.

Sookie scooped up a spoonful and fed it to Eric. “Mmm – creamy and sweet but tart at the same time. It’s quite good. Not worth screaming about though,” he laughed and teased the baby.

“Mmmm” the baby hummed as he gummed and licked the creamy goo from his hands and face – sort of.

“Well, he thought it was. I’ll have to get a washcloth to clean him up but I might as well wait until we’ve finished it.

“What are you eating, Alex?” Eric asked him.

The baby blinked at him and held his hand out to show him what he had. Eric laughed and said “Do you know what it is called?”

“Nah.” He shook his upper body instead of just his head.

“Cheesecake.”

“Deeday!” he repeated, though it was muffled because his mouth and hand were still full.

Sookie just melted and said “Aww,” at the same time Eric laughed and said “I guess that’s close enough.”

Sookie ate a couple of bites. “Want another bite, Sweetie?” She offered Eric a spoonful and he ate it as the baby said “Bi!” and watched intently.

“Tell Mommy you want another bite, Alex.” Eric urged him.

“OMba – BI, Mamee!” he looked at Sookie expectantly and she gave him a spoonful of just the creamy part.

Sookie had noticed some bits of cheesecake on Eric’s chest and she was trying to be good, but then she just couldn’t take it and she licked them off of him. The baby cracked up.

Eric laughed and teased the baby, “what’s so funny?”

“Mamee ee Dadee!” the baby laughed, reaching for more cheesecake, but Sookie pulled the plate away and gave him a spoonful instead. Alex yawned, his mouth full of cake and Sookie laughed.

“You need to swallow that, Sweetie, so you can go to bed!” Sookie said, finishing the last bite of cake.

“Nah, Mamee, ee.”

“No more – see?” She showed him the empty plate, “It’s all gone.”

“Nah, MAMEE ee!” the baby pointed to Sookie’s breast.

“Oh, you want milk now? OK, hang on.” Sookie climbed out of the bed and put the empty pie plate on the side table and went to the bathroom for a washcloth, then came back and washed the cheesecake off Alex’s little hand and face as Eric held him for her. She dropped the cloth back in the bathroom, then got back into bed and opened her arms to him as she said, “OK, eat!”

The baby went right to her, and she held him to her breast as Eric scooted down and turned on his side to watch them. This was bliss – watching Sookie smile and look in the baby’s eyes with such love. There was warmth and love flowing around the whole bed like a gentle whirlwind.

“What are you smiling at, “Dadee?”” Sookie teased him.

“I’m smiling at everything – you, the baby, being here with you both. I’m glad he called me home.”

“He called you home?”

“In his own way, absolutely. Was he not calling for me?”

“Yeah, he was, I guess – I just thought of it as you deciding to come home rather than him calling you…”

“Between what I was feeling in the bond, then when I heard him cry for me over the phone, there was no way for me not to come back. I was frantic to get here – Kerik hadn’t really even stopped the car when I got out. I would have flown but there were too many people about in the Quarter. Kerik had to go back for Bill because there was work that had to be done.”

“I’m sorry – I know there are things you had to do. I should have handled him better.”

He stroked her cheek. “Don’t be silly, Sookie. You can’t “handle” an infant – they feel what they feel. He’s too young to understand that I had work to do.” He caressed the baby’s head, “He only knew he wanted me and I wasn’t there. I can’t tell you what that meant to me, Sookie, to be so loved and needed. I never expected… I never felt anything so intense. He feels everything so intensely, even more than an adult Vampire does. He’s so tiny but his feelings are all-encompassing. It’s overwhelming sometimes.”

“I wonder sometimes…” Sookie started but stopped.

“What is it, Sookie?”

“I wonder if all babies feel so intensely. Sometimes it feels like it’s… I don’t know, like, bigger than he is, like it’s too much for one baby. Something about it feels more than it ought to be.”

“He is a Vampire, Sookie, so he’s bound to be more intense than a human baby.”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe it’s just new mommy anxiety, but sometimes something doesn’t feel right.”

“Do you think there’s something wrong with him?”

“Not with him – he’s perfect in most ways – but, like, around him. I can’t explain it, but something’s just not right. I don’t know. Maybe that dream just bothered me.”

“Did you have this feeling before you had the dream?”

“On the edges, yeah, if that makes any sense. Did you know there’s a Tarot card that looks just like I was in my dream? Octavia showed it to me on the computer. Isn’t that weird?”

“Not weird, but possibly important. Those images represent powerful archetypes. Is it possible you’ve seen that picture before?”

“I don’t think so. I know of a few people who read cards but I never looked at them or anything. I always avoided stuff like that.”

“Sookie, try to be clear about this. Was it a dream or a vision of Freyja like the others?”

“A vision, I guess. Freyja was definitely there at the beginning and then She spoke to me.”

“Did Octavia give you any insight to the dream?”

“No, but I know there’s something she’s not telling me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Something about the way she got quiet after she showed me the Tarot card, like she was trying to figure something out. I even tried to listen in on her. I only heard her trying to figure out if something was missing, but later she had an idea I missed and she was careful not to think it again. Her thoughts are a lot more disciplined than most people’s.”

“Do you think she would lie to you?”

“Oh, no, I’m sure she wouldn’t, I just think there’s something she’s not telling me, because she’s not sure yet.”

“You think she’s protecting you?”

“Yeah, at least until she’s sure what’s going on. She doesn’t want me to worry any more than I already am.”

“She must think that’s best for you right now.” Eric had complete confidence in Octavia to do what was best for Sookie.

“Probably, and she might be right, but I’d rather know what’s going on.”

“She’s probably not sure…”

“Eric, I want you to make me a promise.”

“What is that?”

“If you find out what’s going on, you promise to tell me. I don’t want you hiding anything from me. Whatever it is, I can handle it, but I won’t be able to handle it if you don’t tell me.”

“Sookie, you are my bonded. There will be no secrets between us.”

“Like being able to hear my thoughts?”

“I was afraid you’d be intimidated or inhibited if you knew – and may I remind you, you did not tell me what you could do. I should punish you for keeping something like that from me.”

“Like hell you should! Not when you did the same damned thing!”

“First, don’t take that tone with me and don’t curse in front of the baby. Second, my not telling you was to give you a sense of privacy. Your not telling me could have put us in danger.”

“I don’t want you trying to protect me that way. I want to know what’s going on. Look, it’s three of us against the world, right? The three of us need to know what is going on between us. Not telling me things is not protecting me. Now promise me that you’ll tell me everything that’s going on from now on.”

“Does that include my work as King?”

“Only if it directly impacts us. You don’t have to share the grisly details of the Vamp politics and war because I know that might get ugly. I’m talking about stuff around us and with the baby. I want to know everything that’s going on with our baby.”

“Whatever I know, you will know, and I assume the same is true of you?”

“Absolutely. We’re a team.”

“Why are you so afraid I would keep something from you?”

“It’s not about you hearing me and not telling me, I…. I just don’t like the feeling that people aren’t telling me the whole story.”

“By people you mean Niall? Octavia told us he would never tell me the whole story until he had no choice, Sookie.”

“Yeah, exactly. When she said that, I had a flash in my mind that whatever it is, he thinks it’s for my own good that he’s not telling us, but it’s not – it’s for his own good. I’m sure of that.” She looked down at the baby and whispered, “He’s falling asleep.”

The baby yawned and stopped feeding and Eric got up and tucked him into the portable crib. He slid back into the bed and took Sookie in his arms, hugging her tightly and kissing her hair. “Whatever is going on, Sookie, we will handle it. We have our son, and he is healthy and strong. That’s all that matters. The rest of it is politics and Fae magick and probably won’t touch us.”

“They didn’t know he would be this advanced, Eric. Doesn’t that seem strange?”

Eric was smoothing her hair and stroking her face and shoulders. “Yes, but I’m guessing that has to do with our blood exchanges and the bond between us. No one could have guessed how that would work. Even now, we are growing stronger in the bond and we are assuming each other’s abilities, and it has only been a few months. Our exchanges may continue for years.”

“Humans can be turned by accident, can’t they?” Sookie asked as Eric rolled her on her back and moved over her, kissing her neck and upper chest as she ran her nails gently up and down his back.

“It has been known to happen when a relationship lasts for many years and involves blood exchanges over time.” He was nipping at her neck hard enough to make her gasp each time he bit.

“You may not even have to turn me – it might happen anyway, th-then.” It was getting a little hard to keep her train of thought and she was already spreading her legs.

“It’s possible, but I hope not.” He looked her directly in the eyes, “I want to turn you.”

“You do? Why?” He bit her shoulder, not hard enough to feed, but enough to hurt and possibly leave a hickey. She tried not to cry out and she was writhing now.

“It will be the most erotic experience of our lives.” He emphasized the word “erotic” by slipping his fingers into her.

“More erotic than the things we do now?”

“Yes, even more than that. More than you can imagine, my Angel. It will be more transcendent and intense than anything you can imagine.” He was watching her face closely to see how she responded to his fingers inside her – she was so beautiful as she closed her eyes and threw her head back.

“Was it like that when you turned P-Pam?” He had a hand on each side of her shoulders now, and was nudging her legs up and to the side with his knees, really opening her up.

“Yes, to a degree, but I didn’t love Pam the way I love you. That will make it even sweeter. It will be the single greatest moment of my long life.” He entered her with force as he said “life” and Sookie cried out softly as he began to take her energetically, not letting her catch her breath. He reached his first release very quickly, then continued to pump at a slightly slower pace. In the back of her mind, Sookie knew he was wild because he was thinking about turning her. She couldn’t wrap her mind around why that was such a turn on, but it obviously was because he was fierce in his attentions for a good hour until Sookie started to come really hard and he pushed her even after until he came again.

She was still out of breath when he flipped her over and pulled her hips up in the air, taking her so fast and hard that she tried to hold onto the edge of the mattress, but the sheet slipped off and she started to slide back, so she grabbed the black leather headboard and it broke! Or did it fall open? She wasn’t sure but she and Eric were both getting close to another release so she reached back and helped herself along, rubbing her clit as she braced herself on one elbow. They finished almost simultaneously, Eric collapsing on the bed beside her, laughing his ass off that they broke the headboard. Sookie was face down, also laughing, trying to get up on her knees to see if she could fix the headboard. She tried to balance herself by leaning on it but it fell forward and hit Eric in the head, which made both of them laugh harder.

She finally managed to get up and look at it, but was shocked to see something inside it. “Holy shit!”

“Sookie!” Eric laughed, “such language!”

“Eric, look at all this money! And there’s a book here, too.”

“What?” He pushed up on his knees and looked inside and saw that the inside of the bed was lined with money in plastic bags and there was a ledger taped onto the inside of the back of it with duct tape. “Sookie, this is fantastic!” He pulled all the packets and the book off the backboard and looked briefly to see how this headboard locked shut.

“Wouldn’t you have smelled the money, though, Sweetie?”

He had left his pocketknife on the nightstand so he used it to split one of the packets open. “Not when it’s in two airtight layers of plastic, and these are brand new bills. These were heat sealed, washed and heat sealed again, probably so Sabrina couldn’t smell it if she spent the night with him. I think I hear Bill downstairs. I’m going to go down,” he jumped up and put his jeans on, “You can stay in bed if you want, or come with me, either way.”

“Uh…” she was trying to think about whether to leave the baby or take him or what, when Eric said, “bring him with us,” and threw her a little night gown, then her pink robe.

“We smell like sex, you know…” she reminded him.

“They’ve smelled it before. This is important.” He pulled a Fangtasia t-shirt on. “This is what we were looking for. This ledger has account numbers in it. It’s still early enough that Bill and I might be able to track some of this down tonight.” He grabbed a big leather tote bag that had Sookie’s journal and magazines in it, “I’m using this,” and dumped the contents on the bed so he could fill it with the money.

“OK, then – go ahead and we’ll be right behind you.” She knew he was dying to run downstairs, so she let him go while she took a minute to use the bathroom and clean herself and the room up a little before she put the baby in a sling and went downstairs, too.

By the time she and the sleeping baby got there, he and Bill had the money spread around the dining room table, and everybody who was still up – Bobbie, Bjorn, Jerry and Amelia- was counting the money. Bill was using Sookie’s laptop, which she’d left down there earlier, and Eric was on the phone with the offices trying to track down their accountant.

“OK, this one has 50 in it, too.” Amelia said.

“Mine, too,” said Bobbie.

“Ok, then, that’s 30 bundles of fifty $100.00 bills,” Bjorn said. “That’s $5,000 per bundle, totaling $150,000.”

“An escape fund, no doubt,” Bill said. “There are four accounts at each of 4 different banks here in New Orleans, which are about $25,000 each. The real money is most likely in these accounts in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and/or Venezuela.”

“Why Venezuela?” Sookie asked.

“The United States has no extradition from Venezuela. It’s a good place to stash emergency money.” Eric explained, since he was on “hold.” “We have funds there, should we ever need them, my Angel.”

“We do?”

“Yes – I nearly took you there when I was about to become king.”

“I’m glad we stayed here,” Sookie said.

“So am I, my Angel,” he winked at her, then someone finally picked up the phone.

“Yes, is Reginald Bartholomew available please? This is Eric Northman. It’s a matter of some importance.” He talked to the person on the other end and managed to get the man on the phone. He couldn’t give account numbers out on the phone, but the man was able to tell him which accounts were likely located where. They made an appointment to meet at the offices at 8 pm the next evening, and a special Vampire courier would arrive tonight to pick up the account numbers so he could spend the day tracking down the accounts.

“OK, so what does all this mean?” Sookie asked, “You’ll get the funds for the reconstruction back, right?”

“It’s possible. We should find a significant chunk of it at least,” Bill said.

“When is the courier getting here, Eric?” Bjorn asked, “I’d better let the guards outside know.

“He should be here by 3. It’s that service through Anubis Airlines and they know it’s for the Kingdom.”

“I’ll let them know.”

“It’s 20 after 2 now, Bobbie said, “Should I make some coffee or I think there’s sweet tea already made in the kitchen.”

“I could use an RM.” Bill said.

“So could I, and you might want to be sure there’s a bottle ready for Alex – he’ll be awake and hungry in a while,” Eric added as he dialed the local office.

“I’ll help you, Bobbie,” Amelia said, “Jerry, you wanted tea, right?”

“Right, thanks. I have to be up early tomorrow.”

“What do you have to do tomorrow, Jerry?” Sookie asked, just trying to make conversation since there was nothing else to do.

“Alicia thinks there might be a package arriving tomorrow – something about a crib for the baby. I’ll need to go over it if it does.”

“Oh, yeah, the co-sleeper. I forgot about that. We’re going to leave one here so he’s got a familiar place at both houses. What if it doesn’t come tomorrow, though? We’ll be leaving Tuesday, right?”

“Right. There’s staff that cares for the house and such that will watch out for it and it will be here when you come back, your majesty.”

“What time are we leaving Tuesday?”

“As soon as the King is up and ready to travel. We’re supposed to have everything ready by the time he rises.”

Bobbie and Amelia came back with bloods and tea for everyone.

“So, now Sookie, how exactly did you find this stuff? Eric said you found it in the bedroom, but he didn’t tell us exactly what happened.” Bobbie was teasing her.

“He didn’t tell you?”

“No, but judging from the smile on his face, we’re pretty sure sex was involved.” Amelia laughed.

“I just sort of grabbed the headboard for something to hold onto and it came open.”

“Grabbed the headboard, huh?” Bobbie repeated as she and Amelia were laughing and Bjorn and Jerry were trying not to.

“Yeah, we thought we broke it, but it turned out it was made that way.”

“Leave it to Sookie to be having sex with a Norse god and find a fortune in the bed while she’s doing it,” Amelia laughed.

Bill was less than thrilled about that description but he said nothing. You’d think by now he’d be used to women fawning over Eric.

“It was pretty funny. We both cracked up, especially when I tried to get up to fix it and I hit Eric in the head.”

“You hit him in the head?” Bobbie asked.

“I was trying to balance on it to get up to it and see if I could fix it and it fell open and hit him in the head – not hard or anything. We laughed about it.”

“I don’t know, Sookie, you might be a danger to the king…” Bjorn teased her.

“You won’t hear him complaining…” Sookie said with attitude.

“No, indeed,” Eric said as he finished his call, “this King has no complaints of any kind about his lovely Queen.” He bent and kissed her on the forehead then sat next to her. “I tell you gentleman, that was the most profitable lay of my long life,” he laughed. “The whole kingdom might benefit from Sookie’s… exuberance.”

“Your exuberance is more like it – I was just trying to hang on!” She laughed and everyone else laughed with her. Eric was loving the jealousy rolling off of the men – and the women- in the room, though they all tried to hide it. This was another one of those nights when it was very, very good to be Eric Northman.

The courier came and got the account numbers to deliver to the accountant and everyone began to disperse for the night, Jerry going upstairs with Amelia. By the time they were settled back in their room, Sookie was falling asleep and the baby woke up hungry. Eric took him out to the sitting area and gave him the bottle of RM that he had brought upstairs with him.

Bill came up about an hour later and joined Eric as he rocked the baby.

“Find anything else, Bill?”

“Yes, I did. I was able to identify at least one off shore bank and I found out that there are accounts with our primary bank that are getting automatic deposits from the main account. That skunk actually set up an account that skimmed 20 percent off the top of everything that came in, and made regular withdrawals from it.”

“How could he set something like that up? Don’t these banks have rules against things like that?” He put the baby up to his shoulder and the baby watched the conversation between the two men quietly, playing with Eric’s necklace.

“He got hold of the authorization codes, somehow. Only Felipe should have been able to set that up,” Bill was sure of that.

“I guarantee Felipe didn’t know about it. That’s traceable – if he were going to steal from the Council that way, he’d hide it, especially since they were behind in their tribute. I wonder if Madden set that up to make Felipe look guilty?”

“It would have been in Madden’s favor to have the Council get rid of Felipe. That’s much neater than pulling off a coup.”

“True.” Eric laughed, “It would be ironic if he set Felipe up only to get swept away along with him. It probably never occurred to the egomaniac that nobody would want him as regent.”

“Nobody is right, from what I’m hearing. People in the office are beginning to loosen up around me and you wouldn’t believe the stories I’m hearing about Madden. As bad as Felipe was, he was much preferable to Victor. They told me people here were living in dread of Madden ousting Felipe. I’ve been going over the reports from the sheriffs in these territories, too, and I think Sabrina picked up that double tribute idea from Madden. He was charging the Sheriffs double.”

“He never charged me double…”

“He knew you would either kill him or turn him in. The others were all afraid of him. Yours was the only area that didn’t have their tribute doubled and I’m convinced it was because he was afraid of you looking further into his finances.”

“Oh, yes, I’d have gone straight to Felipe to question a change like that and that might have triggered an audit of the entire Kingdom.”

“I think Madden was planning to get rid of you just before he took Felipe out, but you beat him to it and there were larger forces that chose you over him.”

“Let’s just hope those larger forces stay happy with me. I’m hoping Sookie and the baby go along way toward keeping me on their good side.”

“Speaking of Sookie, I think you should have her go into the office with you tomorrow night. The girls have all been asking to meet the new Queen, and I’m pretty sure some of them have gifts for the baby.”

“I’ll have to take the baby with me anyway, so I might as well. I’m not leaving him again while he’s this small. I’ll leave Sookie a note and have her get ready to go with me. I should have taken her in before now, but there has been too much going on.”

“They’ll probably have a few things for her to sign and approve as well. When you come back, she’ll need to go in regularly, a couple of times a week at least.”

“Alright, that’s fine. I’ve been giving her space to adjust to the baby, but they seem to be finding their rhythm with each other. She’s a little overwhelmed but it could be much worse,” he laughed.

“I hear he acted up a little tonight, but he’s generally very well-behaved. Any time you have had him out in public he has been very charming.” Even Bill had to admit that Alex was a sweet baby, and he was too cute to dislike.

“Yes, he makes me very proud. Even tonight, he cried because I wasn’t there. He’s a very good boy, aren’t you, Alex?”

“Omba, Dadee,” he agreed.

“And on that note, I’ll say good day.”

“Good day to you, too, Bill. Say “bye-bye” Alex.”

“Ba-ba, Bee.” Alex waved at Bill who laughed and went to bed. There was just no way not to love that child, even if he was Eric’s.

Eric rocked the baby a bit longer and he became sleepy as dawn approached. He tucked him into the bed next to Sookie with a pillow at the side of the bed and he kissed them both good night. He went to rest thinking about the fact that his son had cried for him when he was gone, and the love he felt was stunning. He thanked Freyja for Her blessings to his family as he dozed off, and this time he felt the kiss on his cheek as he slipped away.

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