About twenty minutes later, Eric landed them in the front yard in front of the farmhouse. He smelled the magic around the house and hoped that Jesus’s protection spell would continue to protect Sookie’s property as it had before. His wife’s scent was strong, but he knew it would soon begin fading. He forced his sorrow over that inevitable fact to the side for the moment. He needed to be strong for Hunter, and he needed to get through the next few hours. He called upon the strategist and the warrior within him to come to the forefront.
Eric smelled the others around the back of the house where someone had built a fire in the makeshift fire pit he and Jarod had fashioned several nights before. He put Hunter down on his feet, threw the afghan onto the front porch, and bent down to speak to the child. “Do you like campfires, Hunter?”
The boy’s face lit up. “I’ve never been by a campfire before, but I like them.”
Eric chuckled. “Now―keep your blanket around you since it is chilly outside. Tomorrow, we will make sure you have a good coat to wear when it is cold.”
“Okay,” Hunter said, taking Eric’s hand. Eric could sense that the boy was nervous again and led them around to the back of the house where the others were gathered.
Eric stopped just before they were within sight of the group and bent down to speak to Hunter again. “I will have to tell them what happened to Sookie and your mother, okay.”
Hunter looked up and nodded sadly. Eric squeezed his hand gently.
As Eric and Hunter approached the light of the fire, everyone turned to look at them and stood up. There was a lot of tension in the air already, and when they saw Eric with a little boy instead of Sookie, that tension doubled.
“Where’s Sookie?” Jason asked. “And who’s this?”
Hunter whimpered a bit at his side, and Eric unconsciously bent down to pick up the boy.
He looked at the group, “Let’s all sit down, and I will tell you what has happened and what is going to happen.” With the boy in his arms, he strode confidently to take the seat that had become his in the small collection of mismatched chairs that had been amassing around the fire pit for the last several nights.
Eric was self-aware enough to know that his confidence was—for the most part—an act, but he also knew that he needed to put on a self-assured front and take charge in that moment. He spoke to Hunter, “Would you like your own seat, or do you want to stay in this chair with me?”
Hunter looked up and spoke in a soft voice, “With you, Uncle Eric.”
“Very well,” Eric said to the boy and then settled them into the chair with Hunter on his lap.
Jason spoke again, “Uncle Eric?”
Eric took a deep and unnecessary breath and looked at Jason. “Yes―now everyone sit, and I will explain everything. You may ask questions if you still have them when I am finished.”
Once everyone was settled, Eric used his senses to make sure that there were no prying ears spying on them.
He began, “First—I would like to introduce you all to Hunter. Hunter, I will tell you everyone’s names in a little while, okay?” He looked down at the boy, who nodded up at him.
Eric looked at the others again. “Hunter is the son of Hadley Hale, Sookie and Jason’s cousin.”
“Cousin Hadley?” Jason asked in a surprised voice.
“Yes.” Eric continued. “Hadley once lived with Sophie-Anne, the former vampire queen of this state. The two were,” Eric paused and looked down at the boy, “good friends, and Sophie-Anne let Hadley stay with her for a while. Hadley was the one who told the queen of Sookie’s ability.” Eric tried not to tense since he was holding Hunter. He continued in as casual of a voice as he could, “Hadley decided to run away with Hunter, and the two went to Santa Fe. Hadley wished to keep Hunter away from other vampires because he has the same ability as Sookie.” Eric looked around the circle with narrowed eyes. “This ability must remain a secret. Is that understood?” Everyone nodded.
Eric went on. “Good. You will all be glamoured to make sure of it.”
Again there were nods, this time of assent.
Eric continued, “Sookie told me about Hunter and Hadley, and we decided to find them to make sure that they were safe. After Sookie’s encounter with the fairies, she feared that they might come for her cousin and Hunter too.” Hunter turned his face into Eric’s chest in order to hide his sobs from the rest of the group. Eric pulled the blanket tighter around the child and then put his hand―somewhat stiffly, but comfortingly―on the young boy’s back.
“I hired a private investigator, and we learned of their location. We also learned that Bill had also hired a P.I. There is no indication that Bill knows of Hunter’s ability, but he wanted Hadley.” Eric paused, trying to figure out how to gently say what he needed to. “He thought that Hadley might be a suitable substitute for her cousin since they have a similar bloodline.
He continued to pat Hunter as he went on. “Sookie and I learned two nights ago that Bill’s P.I. had a piece of information that might lead him to Hadley and Hunter, so we decided to go to them and move them to a safe location. We’d intended to bring them to a safe house near here for the time being, but when we arrived at their house last night, I smelled that a fairy had also been there watching them.”
Hunter buried his face further into Eric’s shirt and began to cry a bit harder. Eric continued to pat the boy’s back and unconsciously began to rock them a bit in the chair.
“The fairy was not there when Sookie and I arrived but had been there not long before. We decided to move Hunter and Hadley as soon as they’d packed a few belongings, but before we could get them to safety, we were surrounded by many fairies intent upon taking Hadley with them to their realm. They had also planned to take Hunter. They did not expect for Sookie and myself to be there.”
Eric once again put aside his sorrow and recounted what had happened in a calm voice, which was betrayed only by a hint of emotion. “After a short battle, I was entrapped under a silver net. Sookie was able to use her powers for a short time, but then she was captured by one of the fairies. Hadley too was secured, and though Hunter here was very courageous in trying to protect his mother, he was also taken. Sookie had figured out that one must consent in order to be taken to the fairy realm, and she negotiated with the fairy in charge in order to save,” he paused, “my life. In my incapacitated state, I would have been unable to prevent the death blow that this fairy was about to strike upon me with a silver sword.” He paused again, trying to still the emotions rattling inside of him. “Sookie agreed to go to the fairy realm if the fairy agreed not to kill me.”
From across the fire, Eric saw tears begin to fall from Lafayette’s eyes, and Jason looked to be in shock. Eric continued, “Hadley agreed to go willingly to the fairy realm in order to save Hunter’s life, but they did not take him along. It turns out that they really wanted to take only Hadley and then Sookie when we happened to be there. So they placed Hunter back into the house and sealed the doors with magic. I was left under the silver net to die in the sun when it rose.” He finished in a whisper, “Sookie and Hadley were taken.”
Eric continued to rock the boy as his sobs continued. He allowed the others to absorb the story for a few minutes and used that time to steel himself. When he spoke again, his voice sounded like that of a general. Both Jesus and Miranda recognized his tone from the time when Sookie had been taken by Debbie. They also recognized the look of sorrow that Eric couldn’t quite hide. “Hunter will be living here from now on.” Eric looked around the circle until his eyes fell onto Miranda. “Hunter is now your daytime charge. He will not go out of the protective barrier around this house for the time being, but on warm days, I imagine that he will wish to play in the yard. Is this arrangement acceptable?”
Miranda nodded, “Yes.”
Hunter’s sobs had ceased, and hearing what was going to happen to him now, he was peaking over the blanket at Miranda.
Eric continued, “Very well. Please arrange for his meals for the short term. I’ll hire a cook as soon as someone suitable is found. Also, Hunter was being home schooled by Hadley. His books will most likely arrive tomorrow night. I will also arrange for a teacher for him, but in the meantime, I would like for you to work with him on reading and writing for a couple of hours a day.”
Miranda nodded again. When she caught Hunter’s eye, she winked at him and gave him a kind smile. “That will be fun―won’t it, Hunter? My name is Miranda.”
The little boy nodded shyly. “You don’t sound like most people,” he said in a small voice.
She laughed, “I am not like most other people, Hunter.” She looked at Eric, who nodded. “I am a Were. Have you ever heard of a Werewolf, Hunter?”
The boy’s eyes widened, and he sat up straight on Eric’s lap. “Are you a Werewolf?”
Miranda scoffed, “Absolutely not. I can transform into an animal, Hunter, but it is no wolf. I am a Werelioness.”
“You can be a lion?” Hunter asked.
“Yes,” Miranda said with another wink. “At the full moon or when I need to be one to protect little boys like yourself, I become a lion.”
“Can I see sometime?” the boy asked shyly, as he sunk back into Eric’s chest a bit.
Miranda nodded, “Yes. I will show you soon.”
“Cool,” Hunter said shyly, but now gaining a little confidence.
Eric turned his focus to Jarod. “Hunter,” he said, “this is Jarod.”
The shifter waved to get Hunter’s attention, “Hey Hunter.”
“You don’t sound the same either,” Hunter said. “Are you a lion too?”
Jarod chuckled a bit. “No―I am even better.” He winked at Miranda as she rolled her eyes.
“Do not listen to him, Hunter. There is nothing better than a Werelioness. We are rare and fierce.”
Hunter smiled tentatively. “What are you, Jarod?”
“I’m what is called a shifter. I can become different kinds of animals.”
“Wow!” Hunter exclaimed. “What’s your favorite?”
“I like to run as a lion,” Jarod said with a wink.
“Of course he does,” Miranda said. “That is because he knows that lions are best.”
Jarod smiled at her.
Hunter screwed up his nose and took in the two new people. Jarod had just grabbed Miranda’s hand affectionately. “Are you two married like Aunt Sookie and Uncle Eric?”
Miranda chuckled, “Sort of.”
“Cool,” Hunter said with a shrug, not sure what to make of her answer. Still, they seemed nice.
Eric spoke, “Jarod, I need you to speak to Scott when he comes tomorrow. First, make sure that he and his crew do not speak of Hunter’s presence here. Tell Scott specifically.”
Eric went on, “Tell Scott that Hunter is the child of a friend of Sookie’s who has been hurt and that he will be living here for the time being. Also, tell him that the plans for the upstairs need to be altered. The office and library for Sookie and myself is to be scaled back. We will keep a second bedroom on that floor where Sookie’s old bedroom was. We will also keep the attached bathroom. Tell Scott to redraw the plans and give them to me as soon as possible. Then work with Hunter to figure out what kinds of things he would like to put into his room, and make sure that he has what he requires as far as furnishings go. His clothing and toys will be here tomorrow evening as well, and he will require other things, I’m sure. Please make sure that he has what a human boy his age needs. Begin with a warm coat.”
“Sure,” Jarod said, “I’ll get the ankle biter sorted.” He grinned at Hunter. “I see you like Thomas the Trane.”
“Yeah, and I like dinosaurs too,” Hunter said with a smile.
Jarod chuckled, “We can definitely work with that. And perhaps a swing set for outside?” he looked at Eric, who nodded.
“Whatever Hunter requires to feel at home,” the vampire said. Then he quickly added, “But do not let Pam be in charge of purchasing. He does not need one of every toy in the world; just get what he needs.”
Jarod chuckled again. “Don’t worry. We’ll get it sorted, won’t we Hunter?”
Hunter wasn’t so sure about the meaning of all of Jarod’s words, but he liked him. Hunter smiled at Jarod, whose mind always seemed to be laughing a little.
Eric next turned to Bubba. “Hunter, this is Bubba.”
“Howdy,” Bubba said. “I sure am sorry to hear about your mama.” He turned to Eric, “And Miss Sookie too.” Bubba looked down for a moment. “If it’d be alright, Mister Eric, I’d like to stay on and watch over Hunter here until Miss Sookie gets back. I like it here, and I want to stay close to Miss Thalia. I like to live in the woods here where I can keep to myself, too.”
Eric nodded, “Thank you, Bubba. I will see to Hunter’s safety most nights, but I was hoping that you would stay on to help me with that.”
Bubba grinned, “That’d be just fine!”
Sitting next to Bubba was Jason. Eric said, “Hunter, this is your Aunt Sookie’s brother, Jason. So I guess that makes him your Uncle Jason.”
Jason got up and came to kneel in front of Eric’s chair, extending his hand out to shake Hunter’s. The little boy reached his own hand out a bit timidly but smiled shyly.
“I’m happy to meet you, Hunter,” Jason said. Jason smiled despite the fact that he was obviously still upset over Sookie being taken. The thought of her being gone from his life again saddened him a great deal. His only consolation was that he knew where she was this time.
Hearing his Uncle Jason’s thoughts, the boy tried to reassure the man. “Uncle Jason, Uncle Eric said that Aunt Sookie is gonna try real hard to get home soon with my mommy, but he said it will be longer for us than for them. He said they’d come back as soon as they could, right Uncle Eric?”
“That is right,” Eric said, looking at Jason. “If there is one thing that I know about your Aunt Sookie, it is that she is already working on getting back home to us.”
Jason looked up at Eric gratefully as a tear slipped from his eyes.
“See, Uncle Jason,” Hunter said. What Hunter heard from his Uncle Jason’s thoughts made the boy like him right away. His uncle was sad about Aunt Sookie, but he was really happy to have a new nephew. Hunter continued to try to comfort him. “Uncle Eric and me are sad too―right Uncle Eric?”
“Yes Hunter,” Eric said, smiling a little at the boy’s openness and care for others. He definitely had his Aunt Sookie in him. “We will miss them, but we will also be brave, right smár rekkr?”
“That means little warrior,” Hunter pronounced proudly to his other new uncle, though because of his trouble with R’s the word came out more like ‘wawwia.’ “Uncle Eric said that I was brave when I fought one of them bad guys.”
Jason smiled sincerely at the boy, “I bet you were, little man.” He stood up obviously steeling himself. “Well―I’ve always wanted to be an uncle, so it’s a good thing you are here, Hunter. I’ll come over a lot, and we can play. I’ll help Jarod built your swing set, and tomorrow, I’ll bring you over some trucks that I played with when I was a kid―if you want.”
“Really?” Hunter asked.
“Absolutely,” Jason said with a wink.
“Cool,” Hunter said.
“Okay,” Eric said, happy to sense that Hunter was relaxing and becoming more and more confident about his new home by the second. “Next, we have Jesus.”
“Hey Hunter,” the brujo said. “I work for your Uncle Eric.”
“Nice to meet ‘cha,” Hunter said. “You sound kinda strange too, but you are nice. I like your head!”
Jesus chuckled, “Well thank you, Hunter. I like you too.”
Eric looked at Jesus seriously. “Jesus, I will email you with the information for several people from the supernatural world that I want you to contact right away. I need to know everything I can about fairies. I want to know how to get Sookie and Hadley back, or—if need be—I will go to Sookie. I need to know if there is a way to counteract the light fruit if she and Hadley are forced to ingest it. And I need to know fairies’ weaknesses so that I am not defeated by them again,” there was a rough edge to his voice, “no matter how many come at me.” He unconsciously patted Hunter to comfort him. “I know that Sookie and Hadley are trying to make their way back here even as we speak, but in the meantime, we will also be trying to get to them.”
Jesus nodded forcefully. “I’ll also start combing through the books I have as soon as I get home.”
Eric said, “Once Hunter is settled for the night, I will fly to the cabin to get Godric’s books. I will keep some of them to study myself and bring the rest for you to read through. Those whom I am putting you in contact with will be expecting your calls by tomorrow morning. And they will help you in any way they can.”
“You’re gonna help Uncle Eric bring home Mommy and Aunt Sookie,” Hunter said, smiling at Jesus.
“I’m gonna try my hardest,” the brujo answered sincerely.
“Thanks,” Hunter said.
At this, Lafayette rose and walked over to Hunter. He bent down and stuck out his hand to the boy. “I’m your Aunt Sookie’s friend, Lafayette. You can call me Uncle Lala ‘cause your aunt is like a sister to me too, okay? You can comes to me when you needs to have some fun, Hunt.”
Lafayette looked at Eric. “And you’s don’t have to looks for no other cook if you’d be willin’ to hire me to do it. I’ll come by every day and cook a big dinner once we figure out Hunter’s sleep schedule, which I’m sure is gonna be all fu-,” he stopped himself, “all messed up since he’ll be livin’ with a vampire. And I’ll make sure there is food for breakfast and lots of things for Miranda and Jarod to warm up for themselves and Hunter every day.”
Eric cocked his head to the side, “This is a nice gesture, Lafayette.”
“Oh, I’d do it anyway ‘cause I loves Sookie, but it ain’t just no gesture. You’s gonna be payin’ me, vampire.”
Eric chuckled, “No doubt. I’ll have an employment contract drawn up. And I will see to it that accounts are started at the local food stores. Meanwhile, Miranda can arrange for you to have some cash for the purchases you must make.”
“That’d be fine,” Lafayette said. “Tomorrow, I ain’t workin’ at Merlotte’s, so I’ll come over and make a big breakfast once Hunter gets up, and the little man and I will talk ‘bout all the foods he likes.” He looked back at Hunter, “You’s likes pancakes and bacon?”
Hunter nodded happily. “Lots of syrup okay?”
“Of course! How else would we’s eats them?” Lafayette said with a wink.
Hunter giggled and then sneezed.
Eric put Hunter on his feet in front of him and then rose behind him. “Well smár rekkr, it is time to get you inside and out of the cold. Your Aunt Sookie would not approve of your being sick.”
Eric looked at her harshly, “What? Sookie would not want the boy ill.”
Miranda just chuckled more loudly.
Eric rolled his eyes and then looked at Hunter. “Say your goodnights, Hunter.”
Hunter waved at everyone. “Nice to meet y’all,” he said.
He put his hand into Eric’s. “Can I meet the kitty now? Miranda was just tryin’ to remember if she fed him.”
Eric looked even more harshly at Miranda.
“Hey, tattle-tale,” she said good-naturedly to Hunter. “And I did remember to feed him right at nightfall, just like you said—not that he ate anything; he’s holding out for you, it seems,” she looked at Eric almost accusingly.
Eric nodded stiffly. “Okay, Hunter. Let’s go meet the kitten and make sure he eats.”
Hunter waved again and then watched with fascination as Eric entered the code and used the thumb scanner to get inside the house. Eric chuckled, “When you are older, you too will have a code. In the meantime, Bubba, Jarod, Miranda, Jesus, Lafayette, or I can let you in―or Pam. You will meet her the day after tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Hunter said.