Albeit later than intended, Eric and Sookie, followed closely by Sevrin and Willa, pulled up before the hospital in a surprisingly seedy area on the outskirts of town. Sookie, as well as Sevrin and Willa in the SUV behind them, looked around in confused disbelief when he turned off the increasingly deserted road into an obviously neglected lot.
On the way over Eric had elaborated a bit on the “all-species supe hospital”. While it was true that the vast majority of supes preferred to be treated in their own homes or dens or lairs or what have you, the more severe, life-threatening, or long-term cases needed a safe location where the small but powerful group of local supernatural healers could tend to them. Supe biology did not always fall in line with what human doctors knew of human systems. The location also provided a place for Dr. Ludwig and her ilk to perform their research as they tried to advance their own medical knowledge and technology.
“Um, hon? Are you sure we’re in the right place? This doesn’t look like a hospital at all.” She subconsciously leaned a bit closer to the big blond Viking in the driver’s seat. The place seemed to ooze an unsettling feeling of gloom and doom. When she opened her senses to listen to the night, all she heard was a weirdly muffled silence.
Sookie really hoped that Gail and Dr. Ludwig were innocent in everything that was going on, and in her gut she honestly thought they were, but at this point no one outside their group was above suspicion. Whereas in the past she would have screeched and screamed about their innocence and steadfastly refused to think logically about the situation, unfortunately times had changed and for her and her baby’s sake, her clarity had drastically improved.
The vampire beside her had a little to do with it, she knew, but in the end any growing up or maturing that she’d done, she’d had to do on her own. As she glanced out the window at the creepy parking lot, she had to wonder how her life would have gone if Pam hadn’t interfered so badly, if she’d just once told Eric that she’d called, that she’d even stopped by to see him.
Sevrin and Willa clearly heard Sookie ask the question and all three waited for Eric’s reply because the area in no way resembled any kind of hospital they’d ever seen before.
Appearing to have been abandoned for years, the cracked asphalt that served two large, vacant but oddly well-lit buildings was studded here and there with bouts of thriving grass and weeds. A warped, partially rusted metal fence enclosed the lot and the gates through which they had just entered hung drunkenly to each side.
Eric laughed briefly as he parked beside several derelict cars near the front of the largest rusted metal building.
“Magic, my dear Sookie. What you see at this point is an illusion entirely wrought by magic. Once the building allows you to enter, if you were to then turn around and look out toward the lot, you would see a distinct difference.”
Willa and Sookie both remained seriously unconvinced – Willa actually snorted in disbelief, but Sevrin nodded in understanding. There had been many times throughout his life when magic had been the only acceptable explanation for events that otherwise made no sense.
He was a semi-telepathic vampire who, among other things, owned and worked a silver mine, for fuck’s sake.
Without pause he pulled up and parked in the empty spot on Sookie’s side of the vehicle, his vampire senses easily enabling him to leave exactly the amount of room Eric would need to assist her heavily rounded form from the vehicle but not one inch more.
One he stepped from his monster of a vehicle, his old age allowed him to easily detect the pervasive magic in the air. Although certain it was both beneficial and protective considering its dismal purpose, he immediately rounded the front of his vehicle to open Willa’s door anyway.
As a youngling, she would be much more susceptible to the initially pervasive gloomy atmosphere. As she aged she would slowly become less affected by repelling magics and be more easily able to see through them to what they hid, but until then, their effects would remain unsettling. Until then, however, if she happened to stand a bit closer to him than perhaps necessary, it wasn’t as though he’d mind…
It bothered him a bit that they still hadn’t had time to come to a solid agreement about their…whatever, yet, but then, sometimes the words didn’t need to be spoken.
But sometimes they did.
He would worry about it later.
Eric was glad that, by then, Sookie was accustomed to waiting for him to open her door and help her out of the vehicle. Although he hated the necessity – too many threats remained unresolved, plus, poor thing, her center of balance was shot all to hell – that possessive warmth in his soul heartily approved of showing his woman that kind of loving courtesy and protective consideration.
This location was safe – infrequent past visits to follow up on vamp/Were attacks had proven that, but all things considered he still waited for Sevrin and Willa to approach before opening Sookie’s door.
As he helped her descend from the altitude of the seat down to the old asphalt, he couldn’t help noticing how swollen her feet and hands were once again and knew the assistant “Gail” would make time for an exam.
He would make sure of it.
Once Sookie was safely feet-first on the ground, Willa quickly snagged the cooler from the back seat, Eric locked the vehicle, and they turned en masse toward the building with Sevrin bringing up the rear in his usual formidable style.
As they slowly…so very slowly…made their way to the main entrance – the emergency bay was hidden on the opposite side of the main building and accessible via a separate street entrance – he was supremely tempted to gather her up into his arms and blur them inside, but knew she needed to walk as much as she could.
The books told him so.
While he didn’t mind the bits where the books encouraged pregnant women to move and walk on their own and heartily disliked the sections dealing with things like “constipation” and potential “hemorrhoids”, he did enjoy the parts about “manipulating nipples” and “preparing breasts and nipples for upcoming nursing”.
Always aiming to be helpful, he mentally reminded himself to concentrate more on those aspects when they returned to their bed…
“What’s got you grinnin’,” she asked in a cranky voice as they approached an unusually wide door that appeared to have been vandalized at some point in the recent past.
Somehow he didn’t think Ms. Grumpy-Pants was in the mood to hear his current thoughts, so he simply shook his head and tightened his arm about her waist as he leaned forward to open the door for her.
Each could feel the magic officially washing over them as they stepped through the doorway.
Sookie stiffened, instinctive fear for her unborn child bringing her hands up to cover her abdomen as that first wave seemed to roll through her, but when it brought nothing but a light sense of calm, she relaxed. Eric’s hand stroking along her back helped, too.
“I felt it,” she whispered excitedly to Eric when he stepped to her side. “I didn’t know what it was at first but then it felt like a rolling tide of peace or something.”
He smiled and nodded, then with his hand still on her back guided her on into the brightly lit area between the door and a long, curved counter staffed by employees.
Standing tall and broad and on high alert for any possible threat, he surveyed the room and the people in it, sniffed the air for evidence of Dae-kind, and listened for conversations with any threatening content while waiting for the slackers.
Once through the door herself, Willa, with her hand still firmly clasping Sevrin’s, glanced over at Sookie in wide-eyed shock before looking back at the mountain who as usual had chosen to bring up the rear behind her.
“Wow,” she whispered softy, her own experience similar to the telepath’s. Still not the least bit concerned about using any sort of “stoic vampire” facade, she glanced about in wide-eyed wonder. The facility was truly immaculate…and very busy with staff in ubiquitous “health care garb” talking with families or escorting patients around, medical staff working busily behind the counter, someone helping someone else fill out what she would bet was yet another generic medical care form…
“This place is rockin’,” she whispered.
Sevrin grunted at the sensation when he walked through the door but didn’t stop scanning the periphery for potential threats. Calming sensations were all well and good but he knew how people were and therefore kept his guard up.
He could “calmly” kill with the best of them…”calming” vibes or spells or whatnot meant nothing to him so why would they mean fuck-all to anyone else bent on violence?
Well away from that entrance, staff, patients, and visitors milling or standing about singly or in small groups stopped as the arrival of three vampires escorting an obviously pregnant hybrid drew everyone’s attention.
Sevrin dropped his fangs.
Great. Just what we need. Wonder how long before someone wants an autograph?
The forbidding expression on his face darkened as his eyes narrowed and his brow descended even further.
Barely a moment after everyone fell quiet, a light voice called out as its owner rounded the corner from one of the hallways leading off the main counter.
“That’s Gail,” Sookie altered the others before raising her hand to wave at the woman when she saw her. “Hi, Gail. Is this a good time?” She glanced around to indicate the activity in lobby/intake area.
The woman veered to the long counter, grabbed a file, then started over but faltered when she got a good look at Sevrin.
A brief scan of the woman’s brain – oddly garbled in the traditional way of the Were but still decipherable for the most part – revealed general, and understandable, fear and shock at Sevrin’s massive and forbidding appearance, but at least there was nothing suspicious rambling around in her mind.
Bless her heart but she’s actually a bit concerned on my behalf. That’s sweet, but honestly…just because he’s a big guy doesn’t mean he’s automatically some sort of mass murderer or anything…
Mentally rolling her eyes in exasperation, Sookie took several steps forward so the dang woman could see that “the big dark mountain” was, indeed, with them since she knew he was guarding her flank or whatever term it was she’d overheard him and Eric using the other night.
Once she reached Gail’s side, she made the introductions.
“I’m sure you know, or at least know of, Eric Northman.” She tilted her head toward the big blond vampire who stared unsmilingly down at the much shorter woman.
“This” she indicated the brunette vampire, “is his Child, Willa. And this handsome young man is Sevrin. He’s with us.” Luckily Sookie didn’t see the look Sevrin turned on her for that one. “And you’re Gail…?”
To her credit the Were lady only blinked twice before reverting to her normally professional demeanor.
“Yes…well, nice to meet you all. I’m Gail Smythe, one of Dr. Ludwig’s assistants. Now, for the sake of our patients and staff I have to ask if the three of you have had your blood needs met tonight?”
The three vampires appeared momentarily nonplussed but eventually nodded anyway.
“Good. The question is standard procedure for visiting vampires, for both your comfort as well as ours,” she added with a smiling shrug, “If it had been needed, a supply of both synthetic and natural bloods is kept on hand. Although the word seems to be taking forever to reach the undead masses who might need it most, ever since that horrible HepV incident Dr. Ludwig has run a program whereby any vampire in need of sustenance is welcome to stop by the emergency entrance at any hour of the night. Spread the word, if you would? While the freshness and quality may vary, at least the vampire’s, shall we say, nutritional needs would be safely met.”
She nodded to emphasize her approval of the program.
“Well, then…if you will all come this way, I have the supplement jars readied for you, and since I have some time at the moment,” she quickly glanced at her watch as if by habit, “I was wondering if you would like a quick check-up? It never hurts to keep track of the numbers.”
After receiving Sookie’s nod, she turned and began leisurely leading them down the hallway from which she had come.
Sookie appreciated the consideration on behalf of her slow-moving-land-mammal status.
With the tall blond Viking glowering at her side and with Sevrin’s glowering presence at her back, the light crowd in the hallway parted seamlessly for her and the group to easily pass.
Eventually Gail stopped at a room with the door open to prove that it was empty.
Now apparently over the shock that was Sevrin, Gail gestured into the room while looking at each of the vampires.
“Go ahead and make yourself comfortable or, if any of you wish, there’s a small waiting room about three doors down.”
“I stand here,” came Sevrin’s immediate, no-nonsense reply as he leaned back against the wall beside the door. Willa appeared torn for an instant but in the end decided to stand beside him.
Sookie found herself torn, too. In one way she wanted Willa in there with her for emotional support but in another way she knew this was a time she needed to spend with Eric.
Maybe next time, Willa…
Eric quickly scanned the room then, to Sookie’s surprise, without a word he scooped her up and sat her on the table.
“What can be done about the swelling in her hands and feet?” His question, stated as the demand it actually was, rang through the door as it was being closed for privacy.
The assistant gently assessed Sookie’s hands and ankles, then removed the patient’s shoes to better inspect her feet.
“Right off the bat I would push more water and walking, but we’ll know more once we get some numbers.”
With that goal in mind, she busily arranged several medical-looking implements that Eric had seen in various hospital-based television shows, then she left briefly only to return rolling an alien-looking cart of some kind. She quickly plugged the cart’s electrical cord into the wall then attached a new chart to what he figured must be Sookie’s file.
After taking her blood pressure and listening to her heart, lungs, and various places on her swollen abdomen and with much fussing about, Gail eventually pronounced Sookie to be in very good shape.
“These are just preliminary findings, but your blood pressure is down into the normal range so that’s a good improvement. As for that swelling, it’s only barely above the normal “to be expected” amount, so at this point I stand by my original course of action: push fluids, particularly water, and walk as much as you comfortably can. I would add that limiting your salt intake if you’re not already would be a good idea as well. Some women find that having a nice rest once or twice during the day, or perhaps evening and night as in your case, helps with that water retention, as do light massages to help increase circulation.”
Sookie and Gail both laughed when Eric raised a brow and mock-bowed.
“When Dr. Ludwig returns we can reassess the situation, maybe take a closer look with some blood work at that time,” she stressed for the suddenly alarmed vampire’s benefit, “but for now, would you like to see the baby?”
Knowing Eric would be able to repeat the woman’s words verbatim later if she happened to miss anything important, during the exam Sookie had been keeping a strong bead on the woman’s mind without worrying too much about what was actually said, so when Gail offered to perform the ultrasound…
“Oh could we?” Sookie was thrilled! She had been wanting another sonogram of the baby, not just to see her now but so she could put the resulting picture in her small collection of “baby book stuff”, too. Unfortunately the first and only ultrasound performed a while back by Dr. Banner had been too blurry for her to make out anything. The doctor had kindly printed the sonogram anyway, but no matter how hard she’d stared at the image in her hands, the supposed “bean” remained an indecipherable blob.
Now that she knew more, Sookie had to wonder if the baby’s Dae blood had been responsible for that interference and couldn’t wait to check the clarity this time around.
She glanced excitedly up at Eric and her heart melted at the gleam in his eyes.
It took Eric a second to realize what this Gail had asked since his vampire brain had gone on lock-down over the thought of anyone – barring maybe, possibly Dr. Ludwig and then only if proven innocent – performing non-emergency blood tests on his Sookie.
When he realized what was asked…it was all he could do to remain stoic in front of the doctor’s assistant but knew he was failing miserably.
He’d known about ultrasounds and their resulting sonograms from the books and had in fact looked into purchasing one of those machines, but didn’t know anyone who might understand how to work the damn thing.
The idea that parents could see not just an image but such a highly detailed image of their unborn child astounded him.
How times have changed…that I would live to see this night…
Clearing his throat became a sudden necessity.
He nodded and activity in the room picked up immediately.
In moments he and the assistant had Sookie leaned back in the proper position with the top of her maternity jeans lowered below her belly and the bottom of her shirt tucked up under her breasts.
Both felt mild revulsion over the warm clear oozing gel that Gail smeared heavily over the moving mass of Sookie’s belly and then both held their collective breath as she fired up the complicated system on the cart.
Sookie reached out and was glad when Eric, standing by her side as always, took her hand in his.
At first the image on the screen was a static-filled indecipherable mess. Sookie’s heart fell – no matter where the assistant held the instrument, the most anyone could make out was a fluttering blur.
After a few minutes spent trying her hardest to find a clear image, Gail paused to stare in consternation at the screen.
“Let me…,” she mumbled as she studied the controls, then with a distracted “ah” she adjusted a different dial and resumed her search for something…anything… recognizable on the screen.
After a few movements of the instrument in her hand, all at once the blurry static on the screen cleared to reveal a small, perfectly-formed, slowly moving baby.
Eric’s hand around Sookie’s tightened markedly but Sookie barely noticed.
Eyes riveted to the too-small screen, it was a long moment before the baby’s parents could speak.
“That…that’s our daughter – look at her, Eric! That’s our daughter! She’s on her side – look, she just raised her tiny fist to her mouth!”
Her eyes filled tears of joy, she and Eric both stared in amazement at the image as Gail held the wand perfectly still while still managing to work some of the alien control buttons.
“Is that hair?” His voice filled with awe, he continued, “Are babies supposed to have hair in there?”
“I think so? Some are born with a full head of it, but I’m surprised she has so much hair this early. She looks so big but at the same time she’s so tiny…”
Having held her tongue to allow the parents time to enjoy their first view of their child, Gail chose then to speak reassuringly.
“Although I would prefer for Dr. Ludwig to confirm this, if I’ve read the charts and measurements right, by now she is pretty much fully developed physically – in fact if something untoward were to happen, it would appear that she could be safely delivered without undue fear – so it’s natural that she could already have hair.”
She paused as they watched in fascination as the baby moved her arm minutely, then when she stilled again, Gail continued.
“What she’s doing from now until her birth is simply laying the foundation for and possibly growing her powers. The longer she can stay in there the easier it will be for her afterward, though.”
“Her powers?” Eric had known that the child would likely inherit her mother’s telepathy, but the prospect of her possibly having other gifts, possibly even powers… He immediately began mentally reviewing his contacts worldwide looking specifically for anyone who could instruct him in how best to help her, maybe even coming up with someone to help gently teach his daughter…whose tiny head moved as though she had heard his voice and was now searching for him.
Stunned, he stared at the screen mesmerized by the thought that the girl child already knew and sought his voice.
“Talk to her, Eric. Let her know that you’re here for her,” Sookie whispered as she looked back and forth between the screen and his blue eyes glowing with wonder.
Silly things like appearances and “vampire facade” promptly forgotten, he bent directly over Sookie’s abdomen and directed his voice to where it seemed the baby’s head would be.
What followed would remain in Sookie’s heart forever. For long minutes in a voice low yet filled with a soothing timbre, he spoke in an unknown but lyrical language to their daughter…who slowly turned her tiny head in the direction of that voice in proof that she truly did hear him.
While she didn’t understand most of what he said, some words sounded almost like “father” and “heart” while the rest made no sense at all, the cadence of his words and the tone of his voice filled her heart nearly to bursting with love and warmth.
She knew then that regardless of the deceit behind her child’s beginning, her Eric would love her child in all the ways a father should. If ever someone was meant to be a daddy, it was him.
Fathering was in his blood and in his bones and their child would never, ever doubt the love he felt for her.
The baby apparently agreed because into his third minute of conversation with her, she slowly pushed her tiny hand up until a slight bulge appeared on the surface of Sookie’s abdomen.
Reverently, with his voice falling into a whisper, Eric gently rubbed a fingertip across that tiny bulge.
The Viking knew that moment would live in his memory until the end of his time, and resolved to be the best father he could be to his little girl.
A hearty sniff from Sookie brought him back to reality, and he smiled openly at the sight of her tear-streaked but overwhelmingly happy face.
This, he realized, is right. This is what I want, what I need, what I must protect. This is my life now.
While the new parents-to-be were having their epiphanies, Gail went against office policy to capture and print 32 different shots of the baby from the video-capable set-up. Somehow she didn’t think Dr. Ludwig would mind.
Eric was surprised by now long the machine kept printing but ignored it in lieu of helping the assistant clean and tidy Sookie’s belly. After helping her to sit up more comfortably, he kept a side eye on Gail as she cleaned and disinfected some parts of the system but not other parts.
It didn’t make sense to him but then, he also wasn’t too concerned. His blood would kill most anything that could harm his Sookie and that was what mattered.
Suddenly the printing noise ended and 32 small images of his precious daughter were placed into his hands. A motion of the woman’s hands caught his eye and he looked up to see her silently asking with her hands if they wanted the two in the hallway to come in.
Appreciating her tact, he glanced at Sookie who was currently looking at the pictures. After gaining her attention and motioning the question, she nodded…and returned to looking at the images.
He had to smile at that.
As Gail wheeled the cart from the room, he heard her bid Willa and Sevrin to enter if they wanted while she fetched the “refills”.
Willa promptly scooched onto the bed beside Sookie and made the proper oohing and aahing noises over the baby’s images. Sevrin, true to his nature, hung back to obviously block the open doorway.
Eric silently snickered – he knew his Sookie wouldn’t let that slide for long.
Sookie let Sevrin get away with his “I’m a mountain” b.s. for a little while as she enjoyed Willa’s company, but she quietly plotted. During the past several nights she had gotten to know the darkly fearsome vampire and knew that while warm family scenes might make him slightly uncomfortable, it was only because he wasn’t accustomed to them, not because he didn’t care or was cold or anything like that.
When she finally had the image in her hands again that she wanted, she called him over.
“Sev, come over here – come look at her! Isn’t she a beautiful little girl?”
Sevrin did not want to approach the bed.
Not only would that leave the doorway literally unguarded, but…why would he want to look at a picture of a baby that wasn’t even born yet? It…it wasn’t his kid…! That shit…that kind of thing…that was for the females, gaaagh!
But the adoring excitement on the telepath’s face…so open and inviting him to share in her joy…fuck…there was no way he could deny her wishes without hurting her feelings or whatever…no wonder he didn’t like getting involved in other people’s shit…baby pictures…fucking hell...
One look was all it took.
He should have known.
It wasn’t like any type of picture he had ever seen, but it didn’t take him long to identify the subject. The baby’s tiny face was angled as though she was looking up, and her tiny little fist was raised so that she was touching the top of what little space it looked like she had in there…and he glowered.
“Isn’t she perfect?”
He grunted in agreement with Willa.
She was…that baby was…she was a real person, a real, tiny, little, complete person…so little and tiny…so real…
The fuck would demons get their fucking hands on that tiny little baby…not going to happen on his watch. Pantelides had a fierce reputation, true, but any Dae would burn with enough Napalm on their ass.
It was time to raise an army.
**A/N: Awww, Eric would make a fantastic dad, wouldn’t he? And Sevrin… *sigh* Methinks the babe will have a very-slightly over-protective Uncle Sevvie… So, what did you think about Eric seeing his first sonogram?