Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was dark when she opened her eyes. She turned to the side of the bed but the pillow was empty. Slowly she rolled back to her side and waited. She knew that something must have awakened her. And then she heard it; the small sound from across the hall.
Sitting up was a whole new experience. The stitches were still healing and her balance was off. She had thought when she gave birth that her body would look like it was one baby less, but that hadn’t happened. Within days her chest had doubled in size and her breasts were hot and ached. ‘I’m a basketball,’ she thought. ‘Perfectly round.’ In truth when she looked in the mirror (which she now refused to do) she more resembled a gently sloping pear.
Sookie reached to the bed stand and found the switch for the lamp. She closed her eyes and waited for them to adjust. The small sound came again, a little louder. ‘Yes, definitely not going back to sleep,’ she thought. “Well, at least I have ankles again,” she said aloud and toed her feet into her slippers. Sookie leaned forward and grasped the small table beside her to provide a little more leverage. She managed to stand up without too much pulling. She could tell she was soaked and she stopped in the bathroom to take care of human needs and change around her pads. As she caught sight of her skewed hair and her stained fingers she couldn’t help smiling. “Whoever said having babies was glamorous was just flat out lying!” she told the bleary eyed woman who stared back at her.
Sookie was almost at the door before the mewling turned to crying. The light from the hall spilled in allowing her to see her son, his mouth open and his mittened hands flailing. ‘Hush now, husha little one,” she cooed. She ran her hands under his shoulders, placing fingers behind his head, careful not to disturb the bandages. She brought his sturdy little body to her and cradled him against her shoulder. She breathed in the sweet scent that was new baby as she cuddled her cheek against his head. Sookie brought him to the table to change him first. She knew that the feel of the air would wake him a little more and she was getting pretty good at keeping him covered and moving quick.
She lowered him and pulled things together. Then she started the routine; unsnap, pull apart, cover quick before he pees, clean, lotion, diaper, snap. Then Sookie lifted him and at the same time grabbed the flannel blanket and swaddled him close to the way the nurse had shown her.
Her mind drifted back to that morning. She could still remember her surprise. It had been unexpected, the rush of water as she walked through the open air market. Of course it hadn’t been water; it had been her amniotic fluids. She just stood there dumbly, staring at the puddle and not knowing what to think. She had thought she had two more weeks; it wasn’t supposed to happen; it was supposed to be at night. But it had been none of those things.
Tara was visiting and they had thought that it would be fun to take a stroll through the Old Quarter. The morning had been so bright and it was still pleasant. They had gone to Café du Monde and had beignets and café au lait like any other tourist. There had been something about the little doughnuts that hadn’t sat well and Sookie had mentioned to Tara she wasn’t sure it had been such a good idea. Tara had tutted and said what she needed was to get up and move around. “Babies like that; the rocking of their mother endlessly walking.” And they had laughed. Tara had three children; two of them twins. Sookie figured she probably knew a thing or ten about pregnancy and she had felt better as they walked to the long sheds that held the vendors of the market.
They had been there almost an hour and Tara had walked around the corner to buy cinnamon to bring home when it happened. A woman at one of the booths across from her looked up and saw her shocked face. Then she had looked down and quickly walked forward. “Cher? You have someone here with you, yes?” she asked.
“My friend, Tara, is over there,” Sookie had said and kind of waved her fingers. Sookie had not thought she was afraid but the voice that said the words told a different tale. It was a shaky voice full of promised tears.
“You stand right here, bébé. I go fetch your friend. You okay stand?”
Sookie’s jaw was clenched and her head bobbed up and down in a quick staccato motion. ‘I can’t do this,’ she thought. ‘I’m not ready.’
Tara came around the corner, the vendor trailing her. She had a smile on her face and she took Sookie’s arm. “You okay, girl?”
“I don’t know. I want to go home,” Sookie said.
“No, I think we’re headed to the hospital,” Tara told her. The vendor had dragged a metal chair around to the front of her stand and Tara walked her over to it.
“But I have two more weeks,” Sookie said. “This doesn’t really mean anything, does it?”
The vendor was smiling and talking on her cell phone. Tara squatted in front of Sookie and grabbed her hands. Sookie winced a little. Her fingers had been swelling more lately, so much so that she had stopped wearing her rings. Her friend smiled up at her, “You read the books, Sookie. You know this means it’s time to welcome your little baby into the world. Now, we’re going to wait right here and the ambulance is going to come and I’ll come with you.”
“But Eric isn’t here,” Sookie said and her voice seemed very small.
“Nope, baby girl. He isn’t. So you’re just going to have to put up with your best friend. Which is good news for you because I know a thing or two about all this and he would have been just plain useless!” Tara laughed and Sookie couldn’t help but smile. She did want Eric but there was something so comforting in knowing that it was Tara. This was the one person who knew all her secrets.
“You remember when we were in sixth grade,” Sookie said, “and we pinky swore we would always be there for each other?”
Tara held out her pinky and Sookie linked hers through. “Sure do girlfriend. And I pay up. Unlike some girls who leave me pushing out babies with my husband and just show up later for the kissing and cooing.”
Sookie could hear the wail of an ambulance siren. “I’m scared,” she told her best friend.
“Nothing to be scared about,” Tara smiled up at her. “Easy as falling off a log.”
“Falling off a log hurts,” Sookie reminded her.
“Yup, sure does!” Tara winked. “But I promise you this. You take your bruising and the reward is worth more than you’ll ever know.”
Sookie smiled as she remembered that day. Now as she looked down into her son’s open eyes she knew Tara had been right.
The labor pains had started in the ambulance on the way. Sookie had somehow thought that it would be Dr. Ludwig delivering her and she wondered if she should call. Then she thought about the warehouse that served as the small woman’s hospital and the first pain had hit and Sookie didn’t want to think about it anymore. She wanted modern medicine and human faces and Tara standing beside her, holding her hand.
Sookie had come through the Emergency Room entrance in a wheelchair. She had only had two contractions and she was thinking that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. The Admissions person walked up to them with a wheeling computer and started typing information. Tara pulled Sookie’s health insurance cards out of her purse. As they finished up a nurse came over and told them they were wheeling Sookie to room where they could check her to see how far along she was and then they would be getting her a room upstairs. “You lucky you didn’t come in last night,” the nurse told her. “Full moon and we had all kinds of girls through the door having babies. Now it’s kinda quiet; better for you.” She had a kind smile and Sookie could hear that she had been on duty since last night. She would be done soon and was looking forward to going home.
Sookie and Tara were taken to a small room in the emergency triage area. Another nurse came and pulled the curtain. “Let’s get you in a gown,” she said. Between Tara and nurse, Sookie found herself stripped down to her bra and folded into a plain cotton gown. Tara took Sookie’s clothes and put them in a plastic bag the nurse provided. No sooner had the nurse left than a tall man walked into the room. He had a badge and was part of the hospital staff. He glanced at Tara and then bowed to Sookie. “Your majesty,” he said. “I am Stefan. I am at your service. I welcome you…” and the next pain hit. Sookie’s eyes screwed shut and Tara grabbed her hand.
“Breath, Sookie. Breath with it because clenching up is not going to help you or the baby.” Sookie opened her eyes and forced herself to breath. It took a while this time before the feeling, like a belt tightening, loosened. Tara looked over at the Stefan. “I don’t know who you are or who you need to inform but we don’t need a Welcome Wagon just now. It would be good if you could call and let folks know what’s going on and where she is.”
“But, she should probably be transported to a more appropriate facility,” Stefan said. “Someplace that understands.”
“What are you saying?” Sookie asked and then a nurse practitioner walked in.
“What are you doing here?” she asked Stefan. When he opened his mouth to say something she shook her head and said, “You can come back in a minute. I have to check this little mother out,” and she waved the man out the door. Tara held Sookie’s hand as the woman took a look. She asked questions about contractions and took blood pressure. And then another contraction rolled in. This one was even stronger and Sookie felt it all the way to her back teeth. “Oh yeah, it’s time,” the nurse said. “We’re going to get you right upstairs. First baby?”
“Yes,” Sookie said.
“Well don’t you worry none. At the rate this one’s moving it won’t take any time at all. Usually it’s the tall girls that go into labor like this; hard and fast. Guess yours is a little anxious to meet his momma,” and she smiled, washed her hands and called to someone in the hallway to get a room and a gurney.
Sookie could see Stefan at the door. He was making a call but he was brushed aside by two women. They bustled in and helped Sookie up and put a belt around her. “This will help us monitor the baby,” one nurse told her. The other prepped her arm and stuck her with a needle.
‘Who is your obstetrician?” Sookie was asked. She gave the nurse Amy Ludwig’s number. “Never heard of her, the nurse said.”
“She’s usually in Shreveport, but I’ve known her forever.”
The nurse frowned. “Sure hope she makes it down here in time,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” Tara told her. “That woman can fly. You’ll see.”
Everything seemed to happen quickly then. The gurney arrived and Sookie was transferred over. Blood had been drawn and a fluids bag was hooked to the needle in her arm. The belt apparatus was unplugged from the machine it had been attached to and the long paper tape that had the record of her baby’s heartbeat was ripped off and laid in the gurney next to her. A young man in scrubs came in and smiled at her.
“Off we go to the best floor in the whole building,” he smiled, “The floor where all the miracles happen.” Sookie smiled back at him.
“Ready?” Tara asked. She was holding purses and Sookie’s clothes and she looked like a sea of calm in the middle of a hive of swarming people. Stefan was staring at them as they wheeled by; his head turned and he never stopped talking on the phone. “He’s creepy,” Tara giggled. As the doors to the elevator closed Sookie squeezed her friend’s fingers where they draped over the rails of the gurney.
“You need to call home. You need to call as soon as we’re off the elevator and make sure.”
Tara gave Sookie a funny look but as they neared their floor he expression turned serious. “You think?”
“Don’t know,” Sookie said. “Why take a chance?” And then another contraction started and Sookie didn’t want to think about anything else but breathing and focusing on something far away; someplace where the woman arched on the gurney was below her and the pain belonged to someone else.
When the doors opened Sookie saw Amy Ludwig. She stood there like she had been in the building all day. “Couldn’t wait for me to finish my golf game?” she asked. Sookie’s eyes were bright with tears and she kept breathing. The contraction didn’t let up until they were in the room. Once the muscles started to release she was shifted to a bed and the curtain was pulled.
“How long has this been going on?” Dr. Ludwig asked.
“Only about thirty minutes,” Tara answered. “We were in the open air market down near Canal Street and her water broke.”
Amy checked the paper tape while the nurses got Sookie settled. They hooked the belt back up to another machine and the sound of the heartbeat came through a little speaker. Amy jerked with her chin and the nurse turned off the noise. “I’m going to check out what’s going on,” the doctor told Sookie. She looked around and found a step stool. “Now I’m going to have you scoot down towards the bottom of the bed.” Sookie did as she was told. Dr. Ludwig was gentle but thorough. “Yup,” she said, “You’re not going anywhere little girl. I’m going to go get some scrubs. Don’t start without me,” and she winked and jumped off the stool.
Tara helped Sookie move back up the bed a little. She fluffed pillows for her friend and pulled up the sheet. “I’m cold,” Sookie told her.
“I’ll go get a warmed blanket from the nurse. I’m sure they have them,” Tara told her and turned to go.
“Wait,” Sookie told her. “Call first. Do it from here.”
Tara nodded and pulled out her phone. Sookie gave her the main number; the one she knew rang through. Someone answered almost right away. Sookie heard Tara identify who she was and where they were. Then she looked up and smiled. “They already know. They sent someone; he should be here any time.” Sookie felt like she released a breath she hadn’t even known she was holding. And as she did another contraction started. Tara held her hand and talked with her through the worst of it. She reminded Sookie of things they had done as girls; of people they had known together. When it passed, Tara sat beside her and smoothed her hair from her forehead. She smiled down at Sookie and Sookie thought it was the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. “I can see gooseflesh on your arms, “ Tara told her. “Let me go get that blanket. And do you want some juice or water? I’ll be quick as a bunny. Promise.”
“Yes, please,” Sookie told her.
As Tara left the room a tall man she didn’t recognize turned towards her. He was standing outside the door and was clearly on station. “I’m James,” he told her. “I am from the palace. The queen? She is doing well?”
“You have any kids of your own, James?” Tara asked.
“No,” James said. “I haven’t found the right one yet.”
“Well then you’re as useful as tits on a bull. But yeah, she’s doing fine.” Dr. Ludwig walked around the corner then.
“Any more contractions?” she asked. Tara filled her in and told her where she was headed. Amy nodded and then turned to the guard. “You from the palace?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” James acknowledged.
“You need to call and arrange transport. If there are complications we need to be ready to move mother and child back before we get too much attention.” The guard nodded and pulled out his phone.
“You think there’s going to be trouble?” Tara whispered.
“No, not necessarily. But goodness knows what the child will look like. Better to take precautions. It would have been better if she had made it back to the palace. These people,” and Amy gestured towards the hospital employees walking past them, “will insist on having their staff involved and who knows what damage they could do before someone rises to glamour them.”
Tara’s eyes widened. She hadn’t really thought about it. “Do you think that the baby might be damaged; being born during the day?” she asked. Dr. Ludwig shook her head.
“Unlikely. Where were you headed?” Tara told her and Dr. Ludwig nodded. “I can use your help. Why don’t you go get those things and let’s get back inside.”
When Amy walked back in the room it was clear that Sookie was in the middle of another contraction. She picked up the tape and watched the printout of the heartbeat; the spikes and valleys and the contraction continued. “You’re doing well, Princess,” she said. “Not easy like a fairy birth, but you’re not truly fae.”
“Think you could give her a little something to take the edge off the pain?” Tara asked from the door.
Dr. Ludwig frowned. “Why?” She looked at Sookie. “You want something?”
Sookie couldn’t believe she was asking and for what felt like the hundredth time that morning she was grateful her friend was with her. “Yes! That would be nice,” Sookie snarled.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” the doctor snapped back. “Or maybe you should have and you wouldn’t be laying here looking like you do.” Like magic (and maybe it was) the small doctor had a shot in her hand and she injected it into the drip line that was hooked to Sookie’s arm.
Sookie could feel the sting of the medicine as it entered her. Within a short time she felt a little less focused. But then another contraction started and it felt like there was no edge or end to it. Dr. Ludwig moved back down the bed and flipped Sookie’s gown up. She put one hand on her belly and gently inserted fingers to check. “Well, that’s unexpected. You’re almost fully dilated. At the rate this is moving along you could be pushing in less than half an hour. You’re doing real well. Just hang in there,” and she hopped down and headed to the sink.
Tara sat with her. She let Sookie squeeze her hands. When the time came she helped to move Sookie into stirrups and she stood by her head and helped her to roll forward and press down. When five minutes of pushing turned into fifteen minutes of pushing, Tara was the one who got in her face and told her if she couldn’t do better they were going to be wheeling her down and cutting her open to take the baby and she wouldn’t be able to hold it for a while. Sookie managed to find a reserve of strength and holding Tara’s hands, she pushed her son into the world.
Sookie had not looked as the cord that connected her to her child was cut. Her son was laid on her chest and she found herself staring at him as she tried not to pay attention to the final steps of birth. “Going to need some stitches,” Dr. Ludwig groused and in that moment her son seemed to knew Sookie was there. He had a big head covered with blond hair and strong shoulders. He lifted himself up all on his own to look at her, his head bobbing uncertainly.
“Well, will you look at that,” Tara said beside her.
Sookie picked up each tiny hand and looked as his perfect fingers flexed and then wrapped around her finger. She traced the arch of each eyebrow and ran her finger along each little cheek. Then she looked closely at him and said, “Are his ears pointed?”
Amy and Tara had both squinted. Amy picked the baby up and took him over to the warming table where drops were placed in his eyes and first shots were administered. As she carried him back, his crying proving there was nothing wrong with his lungs, she said, “Not unusual for those ears to look a little funny. He was an awfully big boy coming through a small space. Give them a few days and they’ll go back into shape. Eight pounds, 10 ounces. Mr. Northman will be pleased.”
But as she handed the swaddled baby back she took Sookie’s finger and traced it along the delicate arch of cartilage. As their eyes met, the doctor took the small blue knit cap that came with a plastic bassinet and pulled it firmly over the boy’s head. “Looks like the cap is almost too small,” Amy said. “I think you have another Viking on your hands.”
The nurse came forward and Dr. Ludwig nodded. “We’re going to take your son out of the room and get him all cleaned up. The nurse here,” and she jerked her chin towards a woman in scrubs,” is going to help you get yourself together too. They we’ll be back and you can get some sleep.” Sookie nodded. She was tired; more tired than she could ever remember being.
“You have a name for the card?” the nurse asked.
Sookie shook her head. “I want to wait until his father gets here. We’ll announce it then.”
Sookie had slept then. She didn’t remember when Tara had left. She vaguely remembered being poked a couple times and a nurse had insisted she get up and go to the bathroom.
The first time she really woke up she had seen soft lights and a dark sky out the window. She could hear crooning and she lifted her head to see her husband sitting in the chair across from her. He had a blanket draped across his lap and he was holding their son to his shoulder. His hand seemed huge against the baby’s back; his long fingers wrapping all the way up and almost over their son’s head. Eric’s eyes were closed and he was humming. Sookie could see him rhythmically breathing in and out and she knew he was drawing the baby’s scent into himself.
As her smile started, Eric opened his eyes and looked at her. He sent her a wave of such pure joy that Sookie thought her heart would burst and she found her own joy to send back to him.
“I love you,” he told her.
“”I love you more,” she smiled in return.
They had come home the next day; the palace buzzing with the news but once they were through the doors the excitement had died down. Sookie knew that the bubble she was in was only temporary. There would be announcements to be made and presentations. Gifts would be sent and acknowledgements returned. There would need to be photos and the cover story sent to the media. But for now all was calm and quiet.
Sookie settled into the chair and propped her elbow. She freed herself and turned her son to her. He had learned to feed quickly and he accepted the nipple with a greedy pull. He brought his hand up and placed it on her breast.
“I know how you feel,” Eric said from the doorway. Sookie looked up and smiled that Mona Lisa smile that every new mother has; that smile that speaks across the ages of birth and death and rebirth in a great unbroken circle.
“He is his father’s son,” she told him and winced a little as he pulled hard. “But he could use some of your finesse.”
Eric stepped forward, his eyes not leaving the child. “I will teach him when he is ready,” he said softly. Eric squatted before her. He took her free hand and kissed her palm.
“You are thinking of your other children,” Sookie said as she felt a thread of emotion drift across the river of their bond. She dragged her hand from his to smooth it across his hair.
“I wonder what became of them. I remember two of them like this; pulling at their mother’s breast.” Eric’s eyes lifted to hers. “I promise you I will never leave you or our son to go wandering. I will not miss our lives.”
“It was different then,” Sookie told him. “We know you love us.”
Eric watched as Sookie shifted the baby from one side to the other. When he finally became drowsy, his mouth slipping from her, Eric stood. “I will take him,” he offered.
With a movement that showed practice, Eric Northman lifted his sleepy son to his shoulder and rubbed his small back. “I will teach you many things, Finn.” Eric looked up at his wife, a broad smile on his face.
Later, as they stood over the crib where their son was squirming, his thumb already seeking his mouth, Sookie leaned against her husband. “You know when it was that I first knew I was yours?”
Eric pulled her towards him. “Enlighten me,” he smiled. “There were so many times I tried to tell you, but you would just fight the inevitable.” Sookie poked him and Eric obligingly made a huffing noise. “All right, lover. Tell me. When was it?”
“That night you were running down the lane towards my house. Do you remember?” Then Sookie laughed. “Of course you do! Like you forget anything!” Then she smiled and snuggled back into his embrace. “You were barefoot and lost. You had no memory. I should have kept on driving, but I couldn’t. I knew that you belonged with me. And you’re right; I fought it. But it was that night on that road that was the beginning. I never would have guessed that it would have led to here.”