When Eric and Hunter arrived at the hangar, the same man from the night before, Mr. Litner, was waiting for them. Pam had apparently called him, and the plane’s flight plan had already been filed. Eric quickly captured Litner with his glamour.
“This is my child, Mr. Litner. He was with me last night as well—remember?”
The man nodded.
“Good.” Eric continued. “The child seems too small to fit into the seat of the aircraft adequately. Is there a mechanism to keep him secured?”
Litner nodded and quickly went to a storage locker in the hangar. He pulled out a booster seat and showed Eric how to install it in the plane seat. Eric thought briefly about placing the child into one of the back seats of the six-seat plane, but he decided that it would be better if he could see the boy as they flew. He also intuited that Hunter would wish to see him as well.
Eric quickly loaded the boy’s bag as the child finished his meal and then glamoured Litner to remember nothing of himself, Sookie, or Hunter. He was to recall only a nice―human―man that had arrived the night before and had left a mere two hours later. He secured a very excited Hunter into his seat next to him in the cockpit.
Eric looked at Hunter seriously. “I am trusting you to sit here next to me Hunter, but you must make me a promise, and I will be testing you to see if you can keep your word. If you cannot keep your promise, then you will have to sit in the back of the plane. Is that understood?”
Hunter nodded solemnly.
“Good,” Eric said in a calm voice. “You must not touch any of the plane controls. I may teach you how to fly a plane one day when you are older,” he paused, “and taller. But for now, it is important that you not interfere with my operation of this aircraft.”
Hunter answered very seriously. “I won’t touch anything. I promise.”
Eric nodded, “Excellent. In that case, we are ready.” Eric taxied the plane to the small runway, and upon getting clearance from the tower to take off, he maneuvered the plane into the sky.
Unlike his aunt the night before, Hunter seemed to relish the sensation of flying. He carefully kept his promise not to touch anything, which was made easier due to the fact that he was once again snuggly wrapped up in his train quilt, but his wide eyes took in everything they could.
Once they had been in the air for about twenty minutes and had reached altitude, Eric forced his thoughts of Sookie being gone from his mind. He had spent a thousand years compartmentalizing all the thoughts and feelings that he had, but Sookie had taken a virtual sledge hammer to the walls he had made to keep his emotions out of his everyday life. Now—he knew—he needed to put at least some of those walls back into place, just so that he could function.
He refused to be hopeless. He refused to let the fact that he could not feel her through the vampire bond destroy him. Instead, he clung to the fairy bond. His Sookie was still there. All he needed to do was to figure out how to get to her.
Eric was already thinking about the pieces in his arsenal that he could use to bring Sookie back or to go to her himself. And he also understood that time was an issue. She had been gone from his side for fifteen hours, four minutes, and nine seconds, but that would seem as mere moments to her in the fairy realm.
He steeled himself. If she was forced to take the fruit, she would have to stay in the fairy realm or die. However, he trusted that his spitfire mate would do everything she could to avoid eating the fruit. He trusted her to keep open all avenues home that she could.
Meanwhile, he would be trying to figure out how to get into the fairy realm himself or how to counteract the light fruit if need be. He would go to her and live with her there if need be. Fuck—he’d wear pointy ears if he had to.
Eric thought about what Sookie would want him to do about the boy. He had two promises that he had to keep to his wife, and one was to care for Hunter.
Eric looked at the child, who was still taking in the night sky with reverence. He smiled at Hunter’s delight and felt something that he thought might be like pride for the boy. “You are not afraid to fly―neither in the plane nor earlier with me. Have you flown before?”
Hunter shook his head, “Nope―but I like it. It’s fun.”
Eric’s tone became serious. “Your Aunt Sookie asked me to take care of you while she and your mother are away in the fairy world.”
“I didn’t like the fairies,” Hunter said quietly. “That one lady was mean. She thought real mean stuff about you. And,” he paused, “they hurt Mommy and you.”
“I know. I do not like them either,” Eric said.
“Are they gonna kill my mommy?” Hunter asked, as huge teardrops formed in his eyes.
Eric found that he didn’t like to see Hunter crying any more than he liked the action from Sookie. “No, Hunter. I do not think they will kill her, but I do need to tell you some things that will be very hard for you to understand. They will make you very,” he paused, “sad.”
Hunter nodded as he sniffed, “Okay, you can tell me, Eric.”
Eric looked at the little boy, who was wiping away his tears and trying to be brave. Eric took in the boy with definite pride now. Hunter had just lost his mother and had been left alone with a vampire he’d met only the night before. And now the young one was resolved to listen to any bad news that Eric gave him. A hint of a smile briefly ghosted Eric’s face. The child had obviously inherited Sookie’s courage.
Eric spoke in a calm voice, hoping that his steadiness would somehow comfort the boy. “First, I want to tell you that I found your actions against the fairies to be very brave. You are still small―much smaller than your enemy―but you attacked him to try to free your mother. Going against such odds is something that only someone extremely courageous would do. My father would have called you smár rekkr.”
Hunter looked up at Eric as Sookie always did when she wanted to learn what he had said. The boy’s brown eyes were a slightly lighter shade than Sookie’s but there were flashes of intelligence and curiosity in them that reminded him of his wife. Also in his eyes was the lost look that Sookie sometimes got, the one that Eric intuitively connected with her telepathy and the isolation it had sometimes made her feel. Whereas that look appeared in Sookie’s eyes only sporadically now, he noticed that it seemed to be a permanent feature of Hunter’s.
“What’s a sma-wrl wek-kirw?” Hunter asked, trying to pronounce the words as Eric had, but having a difficult time with all the R’s.
Eric smiled proudly at the boy’s attempt to say the Old Norse words. “It means ‘little warrior.’ Your aunt is a warrior too, Hunter.”
Hunter smiled at the words Eric had used to describe him and looked out into the night sky for a moment. He realized that he was confused about what his name was now. So he looked up at Eric in question. “Mommy said that I was Jeffrey now. And she’s been callin’ me Jeffrey―even though her head sometimes still says ‘Hunter.’” He paused. “But when you and Aunt Sookie came, she called me Hunter again. And you and Aunt Sookie called me Hunter. Am I Hunter again? Or am I still Jeffrey?”
Eric sighed. “Your mother was trying to hide you and herself from people like the fairies and bad vampires. I will do all that I can to protect you from them. You may call yourself whatever you wish now.”
Hunter smiled a half-smile. “I wanna be Hunter again then. I like that more than Jeffrey.”
“Me too,” Eric agreed with a half-smile of his own. However, the vampire’s expression quickly turned serious. “There are things―like I said before―that we must discuss, and I must know your feelings on these matters so that I can best protect you and take care of you as your Aunt Sookie asked.
“Okay,” Hunter said a bit meekly.
“Hunter, in the fairy world where your mother was taken, things are very different. What seems like just a little while there is a long time here.” He paused and looked at the little boy. “Do you understand so far?”
Eric went on, “Your Aunt Sookie was there once before, but she was able to come back to me.” Eric’s voice cracked a bit with his emotion; he paused for a few moments in order to settle himself. “And I know that Sookie will do everything she can to come back again, and she will bring your mother with her if she is able.”
Eric looked at Hunter, who was obviously trying to be strong and to hold in his tears.
The vampire continued speaking, “Sookie spent only a little while in the fairy world before. Do you know how much time fifteen minutes is, Hunter?”
“Yes,” the boy said. “That is how much time it takes Mommy to make macaroni and cheese.”
“Good,” Eric said. “Well it felt like that amount of time to Sookie, but to me, it felt like she was gone more than a year.”
“Santa comes only one time a year,” Hunter said thoughtfully. “Mommy says I have to be a good boy for him to come, but he only comes one time a year.”
“That’s right, Hunter,” Eric said, happy that the boy seemed to understand the concept of time. “So a year is a lot longer than fifteen minutes.”
Hunter’s eyes filled with tears again, and he spoke in a low, shaky voice. “That means Mommy is gonna be gone for a long time, doesn’t it?”
Eric nodded. “That is likely to be the case, Hunter. I’m sorry.” Eric once again tried to swallow his own emotions. “Your Aunt Sookie will likely be gone for a long time too,” he added quietly. It was the first time he’d said those words out loud, and each one seemed to stab him like a silver blade.
Hunter cried softly for a few minutes. As Eric’s own emotions swirled within him, the vampire tried to think of what he could do to help comfort the boy. He knew that Sookie would want him to do something. And, truth be told, he felt the need to do something as well. He felt what he knew to be growing affection for the child. Finally, he reached out and put his hand lightly onto Hunter’s little shoulder, grateful that his uninjured one was closest.
After a few more minutes, Hunter asked. “Am I gonna be all alone like Nemo?”
Eric shook his head, “I do not know who Nemo is, but you will not be alone. Remember―your Aunt Sookie asked me to take care of you. And there is also your father. Would you like to return to live with him, Hunter?”
Eric felt Hunter stiffen under his hand.
The boy shook his head slowly. Eric couldn’t feel the boy’s emotions, but he could practically see the sadness rolling off of Hunter. “Daddy doesn’t like me,” he said in a very quiet voice. “He says he loves me out loud, but he never thinks it. Most of the time,” the little boy’s voice paused and then broke. He sobbed for several moments before continuing in a shaky voice. “Most of the time, he thinks of how I’m broken. And he gets mad at me when I don’t mean to say something that’s in his head.” Hunter shivered a little. “He used to yell at me a lot until Mommy came to take me somewhere else.” Hunter trembled and began to rock himself a bit.
“Is there anything else?” Eric asked softly, perceiving from the boy’s rocking that there was more. “You can tell me anything you need to, Hunter.”
The boy looked up at Eric with sad eyes. “Sometimes he thought it’d be better not to have me. Sometimes he thought he wanted to hit me in my head when I ac-ci-dent-al-ly told him something he was thinking.” Hunter tripped over the word ‘accidentally’ as he spoke, reminding Eric of just how young he was. In many ways, the boy spoke as if he were much older, probably because he’d learned much vocabulary from having to listen to people’s thoughts.
The vampire thought back to his own childhood. He didn’t remember being as young as Hunter, but he knew he’d never feared his own father as Hunter seemed to. He’d respected him―certainly―and he’d often felt that he wasn’t living up to his father’s expectations of him, but he’d never feared him, nor had he been struck by him.
In fact, men who abused their children or women in such ways were seen as the weak ones in his village. His father had taught him that preying on those that were weaker was the sign of a weak man―not a strong one. Eric decided to look further into the character of Remy Savoy, but from what Conway had already told him of the man as well as what Hunter had let on, Eric resolved to keep the boy away from his father—at least for the time being.
Eric squeezed Hunter’s shoulder lightly. “Then―you will live with me in my and Sookie’s home.” His voice caught on his wife’s name, and Hunter looked up at the thousand-year-old with a perceptiveness well beyond his age.
“You are sad too, aren’t you, Eric?”
“Yes,” Eric said quickly. “I am sad that your Aunt Sookie isn’t with me. I miss her.”
Hunted nodded in sad agreement, “I miss Mommy too.”
Eric moved his hand from Hunter’s shoulder as the boy turned his head and looked out the side window.
A few more minutes passed by, and then Hunter spoke up, “Why can’t I hear in your head.”
“It is because I am vampire,” Eric said.
“I like not hearing, but,” Hunter stopped.
“I can’t hear if you really want me to live with you. I can’t hear if you like me, Eric.” The boy looked down and continued in such a quiet tone that even Eric could barely make it out. “No one likes me—not really. Mommy tries, but,” once again, the boy’s voice faltered.
Something in the vampire melted at the boy’s words. He looked down at him and realized that he did like the boy—that the affection he felt for him was growing even in that moment. Certainly, a part of that affection was because of the child’s connection to Sookie. But there was more. He liked Hunter because of his courage, and he liked him because of the fact that the boy did not automatically hate him just because he was vampire―despite Hadley’s teaching and her words the night before. He could sense the boy’s strength of character hiding under all of the hurt he’d been forced to endure in his short life. The vampire recognized the instinct to survive when he saw it, and Hunter was an obvious survivor.
“Then you must take my word for it, Hunter,” Eric said, looking directly at Hunter. “I will not lie to you.”
“Just like you can’t lie to Aunt Sookie?” Hunter asked.
Eric chuckled, “Not quite. Your Aunt Sookie can tell if I am lying through a bond that we share.”
“A bond?” Hunter asked, not quite knowing what the word meant.
Eric paused, trying to figure out how to explain what a bond was in a way that Hunter could understand. “When your Aunt Sookie and I got married in the vampire way, we formed a bond with our blood. It lets me know what she is feeling, and it lets her know the same about me. And it also tells her if I’m being untruthful.” Eric paused, “But I will not lie to you because I choose not to, Hunter.”
Hunter nodded and a look of anxiety spread onto his face, “Do you like me? Do you want me to live in your house?”
Eric answered sincerely, “I do like you, Hunter. You are brave, intelligent, and of good character. And, yes, I will be glad to have you in my and Sookie’s home. It will be your home too Hunter until the day that you decide to leave.
Hunter’s face relaxed into a little smile, and the two fell into silence for several more minutes. Hunter yawned and asked in a sleepy voice. “If Aunt Sookie is my aunt, then are you my uncle?”
The vampire thought about the question for a moment. Strictly speaking, Sookie was not Hunter’s aunt but his second cousin; however, she seemed to think of the boy more like a nephew, and he had heard Hadley called his wife Hunter’s aunt. He spoke, “Yes, Hunter. If Sookie is your aunt, then I am your uncle since Sookie is my wife.”
Hunter smiled up at Eric, the first smile that Eric had ever seen from the boy which also brightened his eyes. “Good,” the little boy said as he snuggled into his blanket. Within a few minutes, his even breathing told Eric that he was asleep.
Eric’s phone vibrated in his pocket when they were about half an hour from Shreveport. He picked it up and talked in a low voice so that he wouldn’t disturb the boy’s sleep.
“Eric,” Pam’s voice said. “Everything is moving smoothly here. Conway’s body has been found by the authorities, and Jessica was very helpful in glamouring them to believe that he’d been the victim of a hit and run. There will be no questions. And while we were taking care of that, the Weres packed up the house and placed everything into a U-Haul vehicle. Octavia has arranged for a local coven to erase all of the supernatural scents in the area—including the child’s and Sookie’s scents—and we are returning the car to the rental agency even now.”
“Have you secured Sookie’s belongings―her purse? Our bag?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” Pam answered solemnly.
“Good,” Eric said, working very hard to keep his voice even. He knew that Pam could feel his emotions to some extent—despite their distance from one another and the fact that he was trying to mute them for her own sake―and to her credit, she didn’t comment upon them. “Was there any fairy presence at the home while you were there?”
“No,” Pam responded. “After we take care of the car, we’ll return to the house briefly. Jessica and I will drive the U-Haul vehicle to Louisiana ourselves if that is acceptable. If we begin the trip tomorrow, we will be in Bon Temps the night after that. Jessica is excited about the idea of a road trip.” Pam paused. “We will glamour a few neighbors into believing that it was Hadley and the boy that they saw driving away in the U-Haul. Jessica has already glamoured Hadley’s boss to believe that she has moved on to California, and he is expecting a letter from her that will give him her forwarding address so that he can send her final paycheck. Jessica, it seems, has a proclivity for glamour. With a bit of practice, she will be truly excellent at it.” Eric could hear the pride in his child’s voice about her own new child.
Pam continued, “I’ve also arranged for a P.O. Box to be set up in Barstow, California next week. And the week after that, I will have someone send a letter to Hadley’s former employer from somewhere in the Los Angeles area. I will make sure that the hand-writing in the letter matches a sample I recovered from Hadley’s belongings tonight. And after the check is sent and picked up, I will close the Barstow account.” She chuckled a bit. “All of that should give Bill’s P.I. something to do for quite a while.”
Eric spoke. “You have—as always—thought of everything, Pamela. However, I want you to begin the trip back tonight if you can. Find a vampire friendly hotel along the route and get as far along as you can—even if it is only a few hours from Santa Fe. I don’t want you in the area any longer than is necessary―just in case the fairies come back.”
Feeling her maker’s concern, Pam spoke lightly, “We will be careful.” She paused. “I saw the silver net, Eric.”
Eric could feel his child’s concern and sorrow.
“I am almost healed,” Eric said evenly. He knew that his child would know how hard he had struggled against the net by the amount of his flesh on it.
Pam spoke again, “It has been cleaned and disposed of. We will be well on our way before the sun rises, master.”
Eric hung up the phone and then called Miranda. The Werelioness answered after the first ring.
Eric spoke, “Miranda, I need for you to gather Jesus, Lafayette, Jason, Bubba, Jarod, and yourself at the house. I will be there in a little over an hour’s time, and I need to speak with everyone.”
Miranda could hear the edge in Eric’s voice. “Something is wrong, isn’t it? Pam would tell me nothing—just that she had made contact with the Weres in Santa Fe.”
“Yes,” Eric said, “something is very wrong.” He felt the hollowness of the vampire bond and thought about the raw truth of those words. “I will tell everyone what has happened at the same time. Pam is finishing things up in Santa Fe and will not return until tomorrow night.” Eric hung up the phone and looked down at the sleeping boy.
He spent the last minutes of the flight planning both his next moves regarding the recovery of Sookie as well as the steps he would need to take to care for the child.
Hunter woke up as soon as they’d touched down. After parking the plane in the hangar, Eric helped the boy out of his booster seat and pulled his train blanket around him tightly again. “You were very good, Hunter. You kept your promise to me.”
Hunter beamed at the vampire. “Thanks Uncle Eric.”
Eric paused for a moment, taking in the foreign-sounding moniker. He nodded, “You’re welcome, Hunter. Now―I am going to fly us to where you are going to live.”
“And I can live there for as long as I want?” Hunter asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. He grabbed Hunter’s little bag and slung it over his shoulder. Sookie had left the afghan she’d covered up with the night before on the back seat of the plane. He picked that up too.
“Once we get to the house, you will be meeting some new people, Hunter,” Eric continued, bending down to pick up the boy into his arms. He felt the child stiffen a bit. “Do not worry. They will be your new,” he paused, “family. They will all take care of you.”
Hunter asked in a quiet voice—a voice that sounded almost haunted, “But what if they don’t like me, Uncle Eric? What if they don’t like me ‘cause of the thing I do with my head?”
Eric carried Hunter from the aircraft, set the boy back onto his feet, and then knelt down.
Eric spoke sincerely. “I cannot imagine that they would not. They all like your Aunt Sookie very much, and you know that she can do the same thing with her mind that you can.”
“But what if they don’t?” Hunter asked again as his eyes brightened with tears. Eric watched as the little boy almost seemed to shake himself out of his sadness—as if he were trying to hide it. Hunter raised his hand to wipe away the one errant tear that had managed to fall down his cheek, and then he spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, a tone that made Eric want to kill anyone who had ever dared to harm the child in front of him. “The people Mommy works with liked me at first. But now they think I’m weird. That’s what everyone thinks about me before long, Uncle Eric.” He looked at the vampire straight in the eye. “Even Mommy.”
Eric steadied himself. Part of him wished that he could just glamour Hunter, but he knew that wouldn’t be possible, and he knew that it would be wrong too. He thought about Sookie and what she’d told him of her childhood, and he tried to figure out what Hunter needed to hear from him in that moment. He tried to figure out what Sookie would say.
He spoke in a reassuring tone, “That is not what I think, Hunter. And I think that those you will meet tonight will like you—just as I do. You will be able to hear some of their minds, so you will know.” He paused and then went on, “In your life, Hunter, there will be many that do not like you, but those that are important will always stand by you. And your ability will help you to know whom to trust.” Eric put his hand on the boy’s uninjured shoulder again. “I believe―as I said―that the others in our family will like you very much. But if they do not for some reason, then you must not think that it is your fault. We all can choose whom we like. Perhaps, you will not like some of them too. And you must remember that I like you―no matter how anyone else feels, okay smár rekkr?”
Hunter smiled a little and nodded. “Okay, Uncle Eric.”
Eric picked up Hunter and settled the wrapped-up boy against his chest. He added the afghan Sookie had brought so that the boy could stay cocooned against the November night; he took a moment to smell his wife’s scent on the afghan before pushing his thoughts of her and his anguish away. The boy needed him.
“Hunter, I’m going to use this blanket to cover your face from the wind—okay? It is colder here than it was where you were before.”
Eric pulled part of the afghan over the boy’s face so that he’d be protected from the wind and the cool temperature.
The vampire walked up to the worker who would be cleaning his plane. He caught his eye and quickly glamoured the man to forget seeing Hunter and him.
Then he took off into the night sky.