As soon as Eric and Hunter entered the house, the kitten ran up to greet them. The little creature looked at Eric inquisitively, as if asking where Sookie was.
Immediately, Hunter went down onto his knees to pet the creature. “Hello!” he said excitedly. “I always wanted a kitten and a puppy.”
“Hmm,” Eric said. “The kitten will have to do for now.”
“Cool,” Hunter said, turning his attention back to the kitten, who was loving the attention.
“What’s his name?”
Eric stiffened, but the kneeling boy did not see it. The vampire composed himself. “Sookie has not named him yet. I got him for her as a,” he paused, as he remembered the happiness of his and Sookie’s pledging night and the look on Sookie’s face when she’d received the kitten, “wedding present. He will have to continue waiting for a name until she comes back,” he added firmly.
“Okay,” Hunter said, still petting the kitten. “I guess I’ll just call you ‘Cat’ ‘til then.”
Eric heard Hunter’s stomach growl. “You are hungry?” he asked.
“Yes, and I need to go potty.”
“I can make a sandwich,” Eric said. “And the bathroom is here.” Eric pointed out the small room on the first floor. You will also have your own bathroom upstairs. I will show you your bedroom and bathroom after you eat.”
Hunter threw his blanket off of his shoulders and skipped into the bathroom. Eric chuckled and picked up the blanket, folding it. He closed his eyes as he imagined Sookie enjoying spending time like this with the child, and then he shut out that thought. He quickly zipped into the kitchen and took the left-over TruBlood from earlier from Hunter’s little bag. He heated it for himself. He too was hungry. He pushed out thoughts of the taste of Sookie’s blood from his mind as he made Hunter his sandwich.
By the time the boy rejoined him, the humble meal was on the table along with a glass of water.
Eric sat down next to him in his usual seat. He’d put Hunter at the head of the table and left Sookie’s place empty. He stared at it for the briefest of moments before once again pushing the thought of his wife to the side and turning to Hunter, who was munching on his sandwich.
“Lafayette will make better food for you, Hunter,” Eric said. “I am afraid that I can make very little.”
“Is that what you eat all the time?” Hunter asked, pointing to the bottle of TruBlood.
“Yes,” Eric said. “This is TruBlood. It is my food.”
“Do you bite people too and get blood that way? Mommy says vampires bite people to eat.”
Eric took a moment and then spoke carefully, “I once took blood from people for food, but now I drink only this or from your Aunt Sookie.”
Hunter said thoughtfully, “But you’re married to Aunt Sookie―right?”
“Yes,” Eric answered.
“I guess that’s cool then.” He was quiet for a minute. “I saw you bite those bad guys last night,” he said. “Did you kill them?”
“Yes,” Eric said evenly. “I killed three of them.”
“You were tryin’ to save Aunt Sookie like I was tryin’ to save Mommy?”
“Yes,” Eric answered. “I was trying to protect all of you from them.”
Hunter seemed to come to a decision in his head. “Okay, Uncle Eric” he said as he took another bite.
Once he’d finished his sandwich, Eric said, “I think it is time you slept, smár rekkr.”
As if on cue, Hunter yawned. “But you aren’t gonna sleep yet?”
“No,” Eric said. “Soon I will figure out a schedule so that you are up some during the day with Miranda and the others and up during part of the night with me. But your Aunt Sookie would not approve of your being up all night. Your mother even had you sleep some of the night at the restaurant where she worked, correct?” Eric asked, raising his eyebrow.
“So,” Eric said. “I will find out how much sleep someone of your age requires, and then I will come up with a schedule for you. Meanwhile, it has been a long day. I will show you to your room and get you settled.”
Hunter said a bit reluctantly, “Okay. Can the kitten come?”
“If he wishes,” Eric said. He picked up Hunter’s little bag and the blanket with the trains and held out his hand. “Come Hunter.”
Hunter took Eric’s hand quickly, and then they went upstairs. Eric first showed Hunter where he and Sookie slept. “This is your Aunt Sookie and my room,” he said, trying not to focus on the evidence of Sookie there. Her scent was very strong in their room—almost overpowering him. However, Eric was able to push her to the side of his head again. Later—he would think of her and what he had lost.
Eric looked down at Hunter and then ushered him toward the other side of the floor. “If you need something during the day, Miranda, Jarod, Jesus, your Uncle Jason, or your Uncle Lafayette will be with you. Until this floor is made so that it is safe for me in the day, you cannot open my bedroom door when it is light outside, okay Hunter?”
“Or you might burn?”
Eric smiled. “I probably wouldn’t burn since the sun could not reach my body directly, but I would be weakened.” Eric knew that since he would no longer be receiving regular doses of Sookie’s blood, his ability to be in the sunlight would be over. It was one more thing he’d have to give up now that she was gone from his side, but he would readily trade that gift for just one more hour in her presence—one more minute. Once again, he exiled those thoughts for later.
He continued speaking, “So Hunter, it is best if you don’t open the door to my room in the day, okay?”
“Okay,” the boy agreed.
“Good. I will be with you first thing at night.”
Eric opened the door to Sookie’s old room and placed Hunter’s little bag on the bed. He unzipped it to find a few changes of day and night clothes as well as socks and undergarments. He quickly put the clothing into the dresser. “You should put on fresh night clothing,” Eric said. “But you can wait to bathe until tomorrow.” Eric walked into the bathroom, carrying fresh pajamas and a little toothbrush and comb set that were also in the bag.
“Go ahead and change into new night clothing, and take care of your,” he paused, “pottying if you need to. I will return in a moment, and then you can brush your teeth.”
“Okay, Uncle Eric,” Hunter said.
Eric was pleased to see that the kitten had indeed followed them into Hunter’s bedroom. He zipped quickly to the room that had been acting as storage and grabbed the little step stool that he’d placed there during the clean-up of the farmhouse. There had been a similar stepping device in the bathroom at Hadley’s little duplex so that that child could reach the sink easily.
He returned to stand outside the bathroom door until he heard the toilet flush. “Are you all dressed, Hunter?” he asked through the door.
“Yep,” the little boy said. “I even got my shirt changed by myself, Uncle Eric!”
Eric opened the bathroom door and set up the stepping stool. Automatically, Hunter climbed up to the faucet and washed his hands. Eric got him a hand towel, and then the boy brushed his teeth. He looked shyly at Eric, “Do you know how to tuck people in, Uncle Eric?”
Eric nodded, remembering how Sookie had joked about tucking him in just a few days before. He banished that thought to the side. He took Hunter’s hand and led him over to the bed. “This bed belonged to your Aunt Sookie when she was a young girl,” he said. “You must tell me if it is comfortable for you tomorrow after I rise, okay Hunter?”
The little boy nodded and jumped in once Eric had pulled back the covers. The kitten jumped up on the bed to receive pets right as Eric covered up Hunter. The little boy giggled and petted the kitten. “Hey, Cat, will you sleep with me?”
Eric put Hunter’s familiar blanket over the other covers. “Are you warm enough?” he asked, not certain how much covering a little boy Hunter’s age might need.
“Yep,” Hunter said.
“Good,” Eric said, relaxing a bit. “I have to go somewhere for about an hour, but I will check on you before I go to my rest for the day, okay?”
“Miranda and Jarod will come inside when I leave, so if you need anything, you can ask them.”
“Okay,” Hunter said.
Eric accessed what he knew about human bedtime patterns from his mind. “Do you require a glass of water next to your bedside as your Aunt Sookie does?” Eric asked.
“I like one in case I get thirsty.”
“Very well,” Eric answered, retrieving a cup from the bathroom and filling it with water. Setting it down, he asked, “Do you require a light on?”
The boy nodded. Eric turned on the bathroom light and cracked the door before making sure that the covers were pulled up tightly around Hunter’s shoulders.
“I will leave the door to the hall open as well so that the cat may use his litter box if need be and so that Miranda and Jarod can monitor you better.”
“What does ‘mon-i-tor’ mean, Uncle Eric?” Hunter asked sleepily.
“It means that they will be watching over you.”
Hunter continued to pet the kitten, which stretched out next to him. “Do you have to go now, or can you wait until I fall asleep?”
Eric felt that it was two hours before sunset. “I will sit in that chair over there until you sleep, Hunter.” He pointed to a chair by the window.
“Okay,” Hunter said, closing his eyes.
Once sitting down, Eric too closed his eyes as he let his longing for Sookie filled him for a few minutes. Then, he put that longing to the side of his mind and pulled out his cell phone, quickly texting the people whom he wanted to put Jesus in touch with the next day. He gave explicit details to none of them except for Mr. Cataliades, whom he knew would keep his confidence. Demons were known for that; plus, Cataliades had been his lawyer for over fifty years. Jesus would also have to go through Cataliades to contact the Britlingen Batanya. Britlingens were from a different realm—just like fairies were—and Eric and Batanya shared a mutual respect. Eric also contacted Octavia Fant, the powerful witch from New Orleans, whom he’d had helping Pam earlier.
Eric had helped Octavia out of a big mess about three decades earlier, and it was time to call in the favor she owed him—though he felt that she’d probably help him either way. They’d been friendly since then, and every five years or so, she would ask for some of vampire blood so that she could use it in her magic. He trusted her to use the gift responsibly and always found vampires willing to donate for a price or a favor.
And Octavia’s head was a treasure trove of knowledge about the supernatural. He quickly emailed Jesus with the contact information for Cataliades and Octavia. By the time he had finished this, Hunter had been asleep for several minutes. Eric rose and looked at the boy as he pat the head of the kitten. Satisfied that Hunter was comfortable, Eric left the room. He quickly zipped outside.
Only Miranda and Jarod remained by the fire. Eric had listened to the conversation of those who had remained outside after he and Hunter had gone indoors an hour earlier. The group had tried to come to grips with the fact that even a day for Sookie in the fairy realm would likely mean their entire lifespans. Jason and Lafayette had cried over how they might never see Sookie again. And Jesus had attempted to comfort them both―even though Eric had heard the anguish in the brujo’s voice as well. Once again, Eric appreciated having Jesus around.
Then group had resolved that they needed to be strong and put their focus on helping Hunter settle in. They talked about various things he might need, and Eric smiled when Jason talked about the fish that he’d seen in the little rivulet running through Sookie’s property. Jason was already planning to teach Hunter to fish in it.
Eric was never more grateful for the odd circle of people whom Sookie had brought into his life than he was in that moment. They were trying to rally for Hunter’s sake, just as he was. The boy had relaxed in his arms a little more with each person he’d met that night, and Eric knew that the thoughts in their minds made Hunter more comfortable about the prospect of his new life.
Eric was certain that none of the people around the fire that night would judge or dislike Hunter for his telepathy, and he hoped that the boy would learn that he had nothing to be ashamed of. Eric hoped even more that the sad look, which was a fixture marking the pain Hunter had endured in his life, would soon begin to fade away. Eric couldn’t go back in time to take away the pain of his wife’s childhood, but he damned well could shield Hunter from additional pain due to his telepathy. Eric would ensure that the boy didn’t come into contact with small-minded people who would judge his differences—even if that included making sure that Hunter never again saw his own father.
In fact, the more that Eric thought about Hunter’s words about Remy Savoy, the more Eric wanted to fly to the man and kill him. The idea of Hunter having to hear his own father thinking about hitting him made Eric’s blood boil. But Eric controlled his urge to murder the man; he owed it to Hunter to see if his father had or could change. But if Eric did find the man unworthy, there was no way in hell Hunter would ever have to hear his malicious thoughts again.
Also, Eric would devise ways to help Hunter begin to develop mind shields to protect himself from others’ thoughts, just as Sookie had learned to do. Yes—Eric would make sure that Hunter was safe and happy; he would see that look of sadness leave the boy’s eyes.
About twenty minutes before, Jesus had taken Lafayette home, and Jason had left as well. Eric understood very well how much his wife’s being gone would affect everyone in the household, but he needed a few moments to let it affect him; he needed it before he imploded from the force of his loss.
Eric approached Miranda and Jarod. “I need for you to go inside with the boy while I retrieve some books from the cabin for Jesus and myself. I will be back within the hour.”
Miranda rose. “Jarod can put out the fire, and I will go in right away.”
Eric nodded and went to take off. Then he stopped. “The boy prefers that the light be left on,” he said right before he took to the sky.
Miranda quickly walked into the house. With her superior hearing, she could pick up the boy’s soft snore from where he slept on the second floor. She slowly climbed the stairs to look in on him. The little one looked very peaceful, and Miranda smiled and put her hand gently over her own stomach. She’d realized that she was carrying a child just that morning. It seemed to be too early for even Eric to scent it, which was saying a lot. Jarod came up quietly behind her and joined his hand with hers over her belly—over their child.
The shifter and the Were took in the room. Miranda chuckled softly. “There are probably too many blankets on him.”
Jarod smiled, “But he is warm. And Eric knew enough to give him his own blanket for comfort.”
Miranda nodded. “He made sure to leave the light on.”
Jarod added, “And do you see the water on the nightstand?”
“Yes.” She motioned toward the bathroom door. “Did you notice the stepping stool?”
Jarod nodded. “He also stayed until he was sleeping.”
Their hands tightened around each other’s over her belly.
Jarod kissed Miranda’s neck lightly and spoke in a soft, though serious tone, “I promise, Miranda, that I will be such a father to our little one when he or she comes.”
The Werelioness sunk back into her mate, and they were silent for a few minutes, taking in the sight before them. They had tried to have a child one other time, but she’d lost it in the second month of the pregnancy. “Eric will know soon, but I don’t want to tell the others until it is obvious that the child is safe inside of me.”
“And you must try to take it easy.”
Miranda nodded. “I will, but that is not why I lost her according to Ludwig.”
“I know,” Jarod said quietly. “Still.”
“Meanwhile, I will get some practice with Hunter.”
They were silent for a few more moments. Miranda chuckled, “Who knew that Eric could be a good father? I mean―look at Pam?”
Jarod laughed quietly; then he said seriously, “Sookie knew. That is why she asked him.”
Miranda nodded, “Yes, Sookie knew.”