Epilogue

It had been a very long trip, and I was never more grateful to land at the private airfield outside of Shreveport in all my life. I missed my family dearly, and I was thrilled to finally be able to get back to them. My work has taken me to some crazy places over the past four years, and while I loved it, I loved my family more. There really is no place like home. But since I don't own a pair of ruby slippers, I'm forced to fly commercial, and that just takes too damned long, especially when the flight originates in Africa.

With Sookie's encouragement, I'd stopped taking the crappy print jobs about three and a half years ago, opting instead to go back to my first love, photojournalism. I'd invested wisely over the years, and money would never be an issue, so now I only take work that I feel passionate about. This last trip was for a national ad campaign for UNICEF. I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain why I chose it.

After grabbing my luggage and dumping it in the back of my pickup, I jumped in the driver's seat and called Sookie to let her know I was on the way.

"Eric!" Sookie squealed.

"How's my girl?" I asked. Even after four years, the sound of her voice still thrilled me to the core.

"Crazy busy. Everyone except Jason, Crystal and the twins are already here, but they're on the way. So, yeah, same as it always is…a madhouse," she replied, giggling. I'd never get tired of hearing that sound.

"Glad to know nothing's changed in my absence," I teased.

"How far away are you?" she asked.

"I just left the airport."

"Well, hurry up and get here. I need a kiss. Two weeks is way too long without one."

"Just a kiss? That's all you want?" Two weeks was definitely way too long to be away from her.

"Behave yourself, Mr. Northman. I have children within earshot."

"Tell them to put on some earmuffs. That's what Pam always does."

"I'm going to ignore that last comment. Now get your fabulous butt home so I can have my way with you."

"Sookie?" I asked.

"Yes?"

"I love you, baby. I'll see you soon."

"I love you, too." She blew a kiss through the phone before we hung up.

On the drive to the farm house, my mind wandered, thinking of all the wonderful changes that have happened over the past several years. We've had some struggles, to be sure, but we've lived a pretty blessed life thus far.

After Sookie and I renewed our vows, I began renovations on the brownstone and extended the entire building to span the entirety of both lots. I was sad when I knocked down the studio and we lost the little back yard, but I ended up creating a new studio inside the addition and built a rooftop garden, and I was very pleased with the way it all turned out. It was done at a nearly break-neck speed since we had Jake and the little one to make room for, but in the end, the building came out beautifully. We added a nursery, four more guest rooms (for our ever-increasing family's visits) and three full baths.

Life during those first several months of our marriage was difficult, but we made it through, and we're a formidable team because of it. Between the stress of dealing with Jake's adoption, her pregnancy and the constant noise and interruptions from the construction, Sookie and I found a way to be partners. When I would fly off the handle at a contractor, she stepped in and calmed the situation with her usual grace and poise. When she would fret over roadblocks in Jake's adoption proceedings, I was there to lend a shoulder and hold her up. We fit together perfectly, and the truth is, while we've had our fair share of disagreements, we've never once raised our voices to one another.

The house was completed just two weeks before the birth of our daughter, Adele, who, of course, was named for Gran. Sookie was marvelous and brave, and so beautiful when she was in labor. I didn't know it was possible to love her more, but watching her give birth to our daughter increased that love a million times over. And when I held Addie in my arms for the first time, I loved her even more for giving me that most precious gift.

Jacob's adoption was finalized nearly a year to the day we brought him home, and in the years since, he and I have grown especially close. That string I felt tugging at my heart the first time I met him has turned in to an unbreakable bond between us. Sometimes I feel like he knows me better than I know myself, and vice versa. I can tell what he's feeling without even speaking to him most of the time, just as he can with me. He's a bright, beautiful, happy boy, and I'm beyond proud of him. The first day he called me dad was one of the happiest of my life.

My thoughts naturally turn to Pam every time I think of Jacob. She was so instrumental in his adoption, and I will never, ever be able to repay her for all she's done for us. While she's still the snarkiest bitch I know, her relationship with her niece and nephew has warmed what she used to refer to as her "cold dead heart." So much so in fact that she and her partner of three years have been considering adopting a child of their own. Sookie introduced Pam and Amelia, the woman who, in truth, was responsible for bringing Jacob in to our lives, and they've been together ever since. I often tease Pam about her.

"She must be a witch," I'd say, alluding to the fact that she had to have put a spell on Pam to keep her monogamous for so long. Honestly, though, they're perfect for each other, and Amelia has been an amazing addition to our crazy family.

And then, of course, there's Sam, my oldest and dearest friend. It didn't take him long to seal the deal with Daphne. They were married not long after Addie was born. Daphne sold her restaurant in Shreveport when they got married and moved to New York. She's now one of the premier private caterers in the city, due in large part to her talent, but our connections didn't hurt, either. They had their first child, a son, last year. They named him after me, saying that it was only right since they'd never have met if it wasn't for me and Sookie.

Octavia has kept busy, especially since Sookie has been spending more time at home with Jake and Addie. She's taken over the as the Director of Adele's House, and has become a powerful voice for the children in New York who don't have a voice of their own. She's also a fabulous grandmother to my children, and they adore her. She's been like a second mother to Sookie and Jason, so she assumed the grandma role easily.

Jason met his wife, Crystal , two years ago at a bar in Shreveport, and promptly got her pregnant. They have twin girls, and it's been quite a good deal of fun watching him change from a wild child to a responsible husband and father. I'm quite certain that his poor girls will be on lock-down until they're thirty. I guess when you've been the "bad boy" long enough, you know what to look for in your daughter's potential suitors.

Then there's Lafayette. He and I have grown extremely close. He's so much like Sookie in the way he loves his family. He's fiercely loyal to and protective of my children, and he's godfather to them both. He's never had to follow through with his threat to kick my ass from Bon Temps to Shreveport, and he never will. We still have our Patron Parties a few times a year, though we've never had a replay of the "Plane's, Trains and Automobiles" incident. None that I can recall, anyways. He's still single and loving it, and though I sometimes tell him I wish he'd find someone to settle down with, he simply shushes me and tells me that we're all the family he'll ever need.

Last, but certainly not least, my thoughts turn to Sookie. They always do. She is the reason I'm the man I am today, and being her husband has brought me more joy than I can ever give words to. She is the kindest of mothers, the most compassionate person I know, and still as sexy as ever. I often get an "Ew, gross," from Jake whenever I kiss her, which is, of course, almost every time I'm in her presence. She still turns my insides to mush, and I make love with her every chance we get. She is the light of my life, the joy of my heart, and as I put it so eloquently four years ago, she's still the jewel of my belly button.

As I rounded the corner and pulled in to the long driveway of the farm house - now our summer home - I saw my family in the yard, setting up for our annual crawfish boil. Lafayette turned the hosting duties over to us two years ago, reasoning that we had more room for everyone to stay. Secretly, I think it's because he got tired of the massive cleanup afterward, but I'll never tell him that.

I parked the truck and grabbed my bag out of the back, and turned to hear Addie's sweet voice calling out to me. I dropped my bags to the ground and bent down to catch her as she ran into my arms. I picked her up, kissing her nearly white-blonde curls on the top of her head.

"Daddy!" she yelled as she threw her tiny little arms around my neck. I looked up over her shoulder to see Sookie and Jake standing on the porch, smiling at me, with the rest of our patchwork quilt family nearby.

I carried Addie to the porch and put her down, needing the arms of my son and wife to hold me as well.

"Hiya, Jake," I said, pulling him to me.

"Hey dad. We missed you. Especially mom," he said as he hugged me back. I knew my days of hugging him were numbered. He was ten years old now, and boys didn't want to hang on to their fathers once they were in their teens, so I take what I can get while I still can.

"I missed you guys, too," I said as I released him, and turned to Sookie, pulling her to my chest. She still smells like sunlight, coconuts and flowers, and her lips still taste like lemons and sugar.

"God, it's good to be back. I'm never taking another two week trip again," I said to her as I kissed her.

"Well, at least not in the next nine months, I hope," she stated.

I took a step back and looked at her beautiful face. She smiled up at me, tears welling in her eyes.

"Really?" I asked.

She just smiled and nodded, and I picked her up and spun her around. Another child. More blessings. More…everything.

After spinning my wife around some more, I made the rounds and said hi to the rest of the gang before going back to the truck and getting my bags. I passed Sookie in the foyer and grabbed her hand to kiss it.

"I'm just going to take a quick shower and get some of the travel dust off me. I'll be right out, okay?"

She nodded, then stood on the tips of her toes and gave me a long, deep kiss before releasing me and smacking my ass as I walked toward the hallway that led to our bedroom. As I walked, I looked at all the pictures we'd hung along the walls over the years. They told the story of our life together, and I couldn't help but smile. I saw the faces of those I loved, but more than that, I felt the hundreds of thousands of words of love that shone through them.

Sam was definitely right. I am the luckiest S.O.B. in the world. And I'm home.