I never knew exactly what Sookie meant whenever she said that the bottom dropped from her stomach until every vampire in attendance at that wedding turned to look at her as we all heard the beating heart of my unborn child. It’s a sort of fear that has no description. It is so intense that it grips you and makes you immobile. I had never felt such fear until that night. The thought of losing my wife was bad enough, but the thought of losing my wife and child completely filled me with dread. I moved much slower than I would have liked, and only Pam let me through the circle of protectors around Sookie, and only because I commanded her to allow me entrance.
“This is wonderful news! The Northmans are having a baby!” Sophie-Anne said, trying to lighten the mood in the room.
I scanned the faces of the crowd and understood why Sookie’s fear hadn’t escalated. They all looked at her in a sort of wonder. After her public meeting with the Pythoness she had become someone to be respected, more than a regent, even. The talk of her being god-touched and protected carried a lot of weight, and the knowledge that she was expecting a child simply added to the miracle that was this woman.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Northman? Miss Sookie?” Russell Edgington had left the stage and was now standing close to our circle, but not too close. Sookie turned, as did I. Thalia growled at the King of Mississippi and I allowed it. Everyone needed to know Sookie had powerful protectors.
“Yes, your majesty?” Sookie asked from under my arm, looking through the bodies of Thalia and Pam.
“Will you and your husband join us on stage, and will you honor us by blessing our union?” Russell asked.
A slow smile formed on Sookie’s lips, and I must say that I started to lower my guard. They meant her no harm. Not only that, but they revered her. I was not foolish enough to think that later she and our child would be safe. I was sure there would always be someone who wanted to harm them. But for now I guided her to the stage, had her say the words that would bless the marriage of the two kings, and enjoyed the fact that the most important people from a large swath of the country held her in the highest of esteems.
“You were magnificent,” I whispered in her ear as I held her in my arms and we danced. It filled me with pride that she had picked me as her mate. I had always known she was exceptional, but now I understood just how incomparable she was.
“You always say that, and I never believe you,” she said, putting her head on my chest.
I let my hand roam over her bare shoulders and she moved her hand to the nape of my neck, caressing it softly. “You believed me when I told you that I love you. With repetition you will believe that you are magnificent.”
“By then it will have gone to my head and you’ll regret telling me that to begin with,” she giggled and I smiled at the things that still came out of her mouth. One of her many charms: her sense of humor.
Quinn cleared the dance floor for a show, and I kept Sookie close so she could have an uninterrupted view. She had seen these dancers before, and I knew she enjoyed them. “Please give a warm welcome to Sean and Layla!” Quinn announced. Sookie gave them the warmest applause. She watched the couple, enraptured in their movements, and I knew the moment she was holding back tears. I gave her my handkerchief, my silent encouragement to let the tears flow, to let the emotions out. I kissed her hair and she pressed her body into mine, telling me so much with that simple gesture.
I knew Sean and Layla’s story. I knew Layla had been human when they had been dance partners. Layla had been stabbed, and to save her Sean had to turn her. One of these days, hopefully not too soon, I would have to turn Sookie as well. It was not something she saw for herself, but she was always careful to add “at this time” whenever we spoke about it. At this time I wanted her to live her human life to the fullest, to pretend she had a human husband who worked nights and slept days, to bring up our children with my help. She had slowed her aging with the help of my blood, but eventually she would reach the age when she would leave me alone forever, and that thought tore at my insides like a rabid animal. That is if she reached old age. Any number of things happened to humans, and they simply ceased to exist. I never thought of it that way until it was my wife’s existence that was at stake.
She looked up then, probably feeling my turmoil. She gave me back my handkerchief and put her hand on my cheek, trying to soothe me. Who but this woman would ever care as much?
Sean and Layla approached us, and Sookie became giddy with excitement. “You guys are so wonderful! Your dancing is so moving, you had me crying and gave me goose bumps!” she gushed.
“With your husband’s permission I would like to take you out for a dance, Mrs. Northman,” Sean said and bowed low to her then to me.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t deny her a dance with a professional. “Sookie? Would you like to dance with Sean?”
“Yes! Thank you, Sean,” she said, putting her small hand in the hand of the redheaded vampire.
Layla remained by my side, watching her maker and mate dance with my wife. She was smiling indulgently, I noticed. “We saw your wife dancing with you earlier. She’s naturally graceful, a latent talent, perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” I said noncommittally. I watched her dance and get an impromptu lesson. Her hair, her arms, the sway of her hips, the way she tried to catch my eye every time she turned my way… how was it possible for my cold dead heart to sing for her?
But sing it did, and when she was delivered to my arms again I gave her a passionate kiss that earned us applause and hooting from the crowd. She looked down embarrassed, but happy.
We escaped the gala after a few more dances. The night was still young and there was one thing that I wanted Sookie to experience: the city at night. “We have been inside the hotel these past two nights,” I said as we walked hand in hand through the doors of the lobby.
“Everything is the same as it is during the day, but dark. Everything still moves at the same speed,” she said, admiring the sights that met her. We walked a block to the second tallest building in Chicago: the Hancock Tower. It was a dark monster against the blue black sky.
Sookie stood at the corner of the sidewalk and looked up, and up. “Are we going up there?”
“Do you want to?”
“Question with a question?”
I laughed. “Yes, my love. Come on. They left the observation floor open all night knowing there’s a vampire summit next door. Otherwise they would have closed at midnight.”
“It’s past midnight?” she asked looking down at herself. “Hey! I still have all my shoes and I still look pretty.”
“You look gorgeous, Sookie-ella,” I said, holding a door open for her.
“And my prince is still hanging around,” she smiled up at me. How she could think of me as a prince was beyond me.
“More like your frog,” I caught her waist and brought her close. “Kiss me, Princess Sookie.”
She tried to pull away. “You naughty toad! I don’t kiss frogs to which I have not been introduced properly.” I nuzzled her delicious neck and she giggled.
That’s when I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t turn Sookie on a whim, simply because I was selfish. I couldn’t do to her what I did to Pam. Pam wasn’t cold-hearted, but she pretended to be and that was just as bad. If I ever lost my Sookie in that way, I would never be able to forgive myself. I had almost lost my own love of life, and Sookie had been my reminder. She loved that part of me as much as I loved it in her.
We took the elevator to the observation floor of the Hancock Tower, with Sookie pausing to pop her ears before proceeding to the floor-to-ceiling windows. I could feel her joy and elation at the sight that met her eyes. I could do these things for her. I could give her experiences.
“Eric, this is beautiful…” she said within a breath. We weren’t the only ones admiring the view, but there weren’t many others. “Look! A Ferris Wheel! Look at all those tiny boats on the lake… The cars look like ants with red butts,” she laughed.
“Sookie,” I got her attention and reached for her hand, pulling her to me. “How about a kiss from the top of the world?”
She smiled and tilted her head up, putting her hands on my shoulders and pulling me down. The kiss turned delicious, and I very much wanted her but had to bide my time. She deserved to see the whole view and linger if she wished. So I pulled away and she gave me a small pout before her face turned puzzled. She looked around us and ended up looking at the King of Kentucky, who had just made his way to the side of the building where we were standing.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered in her ear.
“Nothing is wrong,” she turned to me again quickly with a look that told me she would fill me in later. Whatever she wanted to say could not be said in front of the other vampire.
The King of Kentucky noticed us and nodded politely. It was highly unusual for him to be alone, but perhaps his companions were in another part of the building. Meanwhile Sookie was moving to admire the view from somewhere else. We were hidden from the view of others when she spun around in place, looking somewhere behind her.
“Hello?” she asked in a low voice. I thought she might be losing her mind for about half a second when I saw the air shimmer and a Britlingen appeared. I got between her and Sookie immediately, not knowing the threat.
“Salutations, Northman family,” the Britlingen bowed low. “I am Batanya,” she said and stood up. It is not often that I am confused; I do not enjoy the feeling. I was confused at the sudden appearance of an inter-dimensional guard.
“Nice to finally meet you,” Sookie said from behind me, looking around me. I stepped aside but only a fraction. I knew I would be no match for a Britlingen’s quick sword, but better I take the brunt of it than Sookie.
“I mean you no harm, Sheriff. We were summoned to protect the King of Kentucky. We were told that your wife averted an attack on the hotel and I wanted to thank her. Also, if you are in need of guardians we can recommend you to our people,” Batanya said directly to me then she looked around me at Sookie. “You can sense us?”
Sookie was quiet for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted her to tell the Britlingen about her telepathy. She did and didn’t. “Something like that,” Sookie answered.
The Britlingen eyed her, but as usual with these creatures, she gave nothing away. “You are an amazing human, Mrs. Northman,” and with that she disappeared in another shimmer of air. I couldn’t smell her, hear her or feel her move. Sookie remained staring at a point in mid-distance where she could still sense the Britlingen’s mind.
“That was nice… wasn’t it?” Sookie asked looking up at me. “I mean, that she would recommend us to her people. Will that aid in negotiations?”
I looked at her, surprised that she knew all or part of what happened when one summoned a Britlingen. “Yes, I imagine that would be so,” I answered.
“Mr. C. told me some of it yesterday,” she said interpreting my expression.
“There is no better bodyguard for you and our baby,” I said. I had not come across many, and now that I found they could become invisible, completely undetectable, I was completely sure that summoning a couple to take care of Sookie would be the right decision. The disappearing act must have been new. I’d never witnessed it before, as well I should not have.
“I understand,” she said and turned to look at the city again but I could tell she didn’t like the idea of having a Britlingen guard. I would have to think of an alternative, or a buffer. I wondered how much protection a witch could conjure around Sookie, if it would be enough to protect her completely. The Britlingens were still my first choice.
We left after taking in the whole city from every angle and joined the King of Kentucky (and the invisible Britlingens) in the elevator. He was an odd person, never trusted anyone, and didn’t say anything to us other than nod as we entered the elevator. Sookie and I walked at a leisurely pace back to the hotel, holding hands and enjoying each other’s silent company. The King of Kentucky was a bit farther ahead.
Everything happened so quickly that I had no time to react. Without any alerting noise or sound a car careened towards us, jumping the sidewalk. I lifted Sookie and flew straight up, but that was not why I was stunned. Right where we had been standing, a Britlingen had stopped the car with such force that the whole front disintegrated. None of it had touched her.
Sookie started hyperventilating in my arms, her heart barely able to remain inside her chest. I got us away from the scene and into the hotel quickly. “Breathe slowly, Sookie. Come on, dear one, you’re all right.” I did not put her down, only held her in my arms. It was one of the few times I wished I could have glamoured her.
“Are you two okay?” the King of Kentucky asked. Batanya had shown herself and was running behind him.
Sookie couldn’t contain her tears and buried her face against me. I was worried that the fright had harmed her. Soon we were surrounded by others and in minutes the paramedics arrived. I had no choice but to let them look her over.
I watched as a man and a woman worked around her and on her, putting a cuff on her arm, making her say her name, counting her heart beats, which were almost as fast as the baby’s usual heartbeat.
“How far along are you?” the woman paramedic asked Sookie.
“Nine… nineteen weeks,” she breathed, shaking.
“Your blood pressure is very high, so I’m going to give you some oxygen and we’ll take it again in a few minutes, okay?” the man paramedic said, giving Sookie a mask that pumped the foul smelling gas.
Sookie looked at me and reached for me. I pushed the man aside and took his place beside her. He didn’t say anything to me. There were many voices talking at the same time, but I focused on Sophie-Anne’s and the King of Kentucky’s.
“What happened?” she demanded from the King.
“I don’t know. I was well ahead of them and some drunken person lost control of his car, almost slammed into them both. My guard stopped the car, and by then your sheriff was in the air with his wife,” he answered, sounding concerned.
I heard Sophie-Anne’s sure steps heading outside the lobby to the scene of the crash. I had to admire her determination to get to the bottom of what happened. I was sure she would question whatever authorities were outside. In the meantime the paramedics were taking Sookie’s blood pressure again.
“Your blood pressure is coming down, Mrs. Northman,” the woman said and Sookie turned her head to her. “Just a few more minutes and we can let you go.”
Finally I was able to sort through my own fear and rage and feel Sookie within me. She was full of plain terror. Her free hand moved to her stomach, and I understood her fear now. I bent over her and put my ear to her womb. Why I hadn’t thought of it earlier was beyond me. I counted heartbeats for six seconds and multiplied by ten.
“140 beats, still strong and healthy,” I said to her. The next time they took her blood pressure it was back to normal.
Pam and Thalia were waiting for us amidst the crowd. It was the first time I’d ever seen Thalia truly worried, or showing any emotion, actually.
“Could one of you two find out from Queen Sophie-Anne what happened? She’s making inquiries of the authorities outside,” I ordered, lifting Sookie back into my arms. She allowed it and held me tight. Thalia left without a word and Pam followed us to the room and once there gave Sookie glass after glass of water. Sookie drank them without protest.
Pam answered the door before Sophie-Anne could even knock. She entered our room as if she owned it.
“Eric, give Thalia a raise when you get home,” the Queen said shaking her head with an appreciative smile. “Alright, so this is what happened: the guy inside the car was a member of the Fellowship. Someone knows who Sookie is because that car was aimed at her, so the hotel’s security has a leak. But that’s neither here nor there for now; I’ll take care of that. Anyway, the guy survived whatever happened to his car. Nobody knows how it got destroyed, but from seeing you both intact I’m going to assume one of the Britlingens intervened. So, the cops had the guy in custody in one of their cars, and I see Thalia just staring at him. That woman glamoured the idiot into yelling a confession. It was epic!” She turned to Sookie. “Don’t worry, Sookie. You are one of my most precious people along with Eric. We will keep you safe. For now I’m keeping either Diantha or Gladiola on watch round the clock. When we get home we’ll figure something else out. Good night, guys!”
With that she left.
Sookie, Pam, and I continued looking at the door in utter disbelief.