Eric awoke the next night to emptiness. He sat up in bed but found that it too was empty. He instinctively reached out his senses, trying to feel Sookie’s emotions, but he could not feel her. He latched onto the fairy bond for a moment and grounded himself in it. The bond was still there, and to him, that meant that Sookie was still there―somewhere just out of reach.
His mind―so good with numbers and mathematics―had already estimated the time difference between them. She’d been in the fairy realm less than thirteen seconds. She would be working to get to him even now, but it would take time, time he had to resign himself to face. But the fairy bond was still alive. He could not feel her, but he knew that she was still out there somewhere. He closed his eyes and sent all the love that he felt in that moment to the fairy bond, hoping that it would somehow reach Sookie. And then, he moved that love to the side of his mind so that he could move his body out of the bed.
He rose and checked for Hunter using his senses. The boy was outside. Jason, Lafayette and Miranda were playing a game with him. The child was laughing. Jesus and Jarod were starting a fire in the pit.
Eric quickly changed into jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. The night had brought with it a chill, so Eric zipped by Hunter’s room to pick up the jacket that had been in his small bag. He was happy to see that the garment was not where he’d left it; that meant the boy was likely already in it. As he walked downstairs, Eric hoped that Jarod had arranged for a more substantial coat for Hunter. It was 51 degrees outside, but now that the sun was down, it would become cooler. He made a note to make sure that Hunter stayed near the fire most of the time that he was outside or to bring him inside within the next fifteen minutes or so.
The kitten sat expectantly by the food bowl, and Eric automatically bent down to pet and to feed him.
Eric quickly checked his email. Cataliades had responded that Hunter’s age would be the largest hurdle against him being made a co-owner of the house, but the lawyer was working on setting up the property in a trust for Hunter. The half demon also replied to Eric’s inquiries about the possibility of getting demon help in traveling to the fairy realm to rescue his wife. The answer—unfortunately—was as he’d expected. The current treaties between the demons and fairies made it impossible for them to be of any service.
He sighed despondently and then went outside to the back, where Hunter was playing.
“Uncle Eric,” Hunter yelled as soon as he saw the vampire. He raced to him and threw his arms around the vampire’s legs. As if the vampire had done it a thousand times before, Eric swung him up and placed the boy onto his shoulders as Hunter squealed.
“Good evening, smár rekkr,” Eric greeted. He looked at Lafayette, “I trust that you have eaten.”
“Yes,” Hunter giggled from Eric’s shoulder. “Uncle Lala made me pancakes and bacon when I got up. And then we made chocolate chip cookies, and I put in the chips!”
“Yeah,” Lafayette grinned. “This little man turned out to be quite the helper.”
Eric swung Hunter down as the boy laughed out loud at the movement.
“What else have you done today?” Eric said, squatting down to be face to face with the child.
“Well―Jarod and me talked to Scott about my new room,” he said excitedly. “It’s gonna have dinosaurs and trains, Uncle Eric! And Uncle Jason came, and we played this horseshoe game.” He paused and thought, “And did you know that Uncle Lala can make mac and cheese even better than Mommy?”
Eric shook his head and chuckled. “I did not know that, Hunter.” He looked at Miranda. “What time did he rise?”
“About 12:30,” the Werelioness said. “And he took a nap at 3:00.”
“And how did you sleep, Hunter?” Eric asked, once again swinging the boy up to his shoulders. Eric recalled that his own father used to make that movement with him, but he’d forgotten the experience of it until now.
He put his memories to the side as Hunter responded. “Okay―Uncle Eric. No more bad guys.”
“Very good,” Eric said, spinning Hunter back to the ground as the boy squealed. Miranda and Jarod shared a brief look and smile as Miranda touched her stomach. “Now―show me the game you were playing.”
“It’s called horseshoes, Uncle Eric! Uncle Jason, put this pole in the ground here, and then I stand over here.” Hunter marched over to a spot about five feet away from the pole. He picked us a horseshoe. “And then I throw one of these and try to make it stick around the pole!” He demonstrated and giggled as his horseshoe hit the pole and bounced to the side. Then he stomped about ten feet farther away. “This is where everyone else stands—the grown-up line.” He looked up at Uncle Jason.
“Yep, Hunter,” Jason spoke. “This here’s the grown-up line.”
Hunter cocked his head and looked up at Jason in question, “Is this where vampires play from too?”
Jason laughed, “Vampires should probably stand even farther away Hunter, maybe over by the porch?”
“Cool!” Hunter said. He picked up a horseshoe and skipped over to the porch. In the dirt right in front of it, it used the heel of his worn tennis shoe to draw a line. “Wanna try from the vampire line, Uncle Eric?”
Eric smiled at the boy and then zipped over to him. “Of course, Hunter.” He reached down to take the light piece of metal from the boy and then threw the object without seeming to aim. The horseshoe landed softly right at the base of the pole, barely making a clink as it touched its target perfectly.
“Uncle Eric, you are good at this game!” Hunter said excitedly, running over to look at where the horseshoe had landed. Eric noticed that the boy’s shoes had come untied, and he zipped over and squatted before him.
“Do you know how to tie your shoes yet, Hunter?” Eric asked.
The boy shook his head. “Mommy always ties them.”
Eric nodded. “I will begin teaching you to tie them tomorrow evening, Hunter.” He reached down and quickly tied the shoe lace. While there, he got a better look at Hunter’s shoes. They were worn and obviously a bit too small. One of the laces had also broken, and Hadley had put string on the end of it so that the shoe could be tied. Eric looked up at Jarod.
Intuiting Eric’s thought, the shifter spoke up, “Hunter and I looked at his clothing today as well, Eric. He said that he had a few more things, and I assume that they will be here by morning. Meanwhile, I already ordered a few things today, including a few new pairs of shoes and a warmer coat for him. I had it shipped next-day air, so he’ll have them all tomorrow.”
Eric nodded his head in satisfaction. “Excellent.”
Hunter grinned, “Jarod and me picked out a new shirt with dinosaurs too, Uncle Eric!”
“That sounds very good. Perhaps one day, I will take you to a museum so that you can see real dinosaur bones,” Eric said.
Hunter giggled and then ran over to where Scott and his crew were cleaning up for the day. He skidded to a stop about ten feet away from the building. He turned to face Eric, who was walking to his side. “I have to stay this far away at least while they are workin’. That’s what Miranda says.”
“Miranda is very wise, smár rekkr. You must always listen to her about these matters when I am sleeping.”
“Okay,” Hunter said. “Do you know Scott, Uncle Eric?”
“Yes,” Eric said with a smile.
“Good evening, Northman,” Scott said, smiling down at Hunter.
Eric looked at the dwelling that Sookie had insisted be made for his own benefit, but put the emotion of her loving act to the side. “Scott,” Eric said. “Will the changes to accommodate Hunter’s room take much time to complete?”
“Not at all,” the Were said. “In fact, we can still begin renovating the house on Monday if you want. We’ll start from the master bedroom side of the second floor, but all that needs to be changed on the blueprints are a few quick layout alterations to the other side of that floor. And since plumbing already exists where Hunter’s new bathroom will be, there will be no problems.”
“Good,” Eric said. “And the time frame for your finishing―is it still four to five weeks?”
Scott nodded. “Yeah, maybe under that if the weather holds. Tray has put me in touch with more pack members that I can take on, and the background checks are much easier with Tray helpin’ with those too.”
“And we will still be able to use the house—correct?” Eric asked.
“Sure,” Scott answered. “We’ll just block off parts of it as we work—just as we did before. And only me and three others in at a time—as we agreed.”
Eric nodded. “Work on the supports and the second and third floors first. Hunter will need to be based in the bedroom downstairs during the renovations, so wait to begin that room until he can be moved to his new one.”
Scott made a few notes. “That will add a bit of time on, maybe four days more?”
Eric nodded. “That would be fine.”
Scott finished packing up his supplies, and he and his men were gone by 6:30, which was their agreed-upon stopping time each day.
Lafayette came up to Hunter, “Come on, little man. I got you’s a snack waitin’ inside.”
Eric looked at Lafayette. “He has eaten well today?”
“Yeah,” Lafayette reported with a chuckle. “This one’s got quite the appetite. Given when he woke up, I thought I’d have dinner ready for him at 10:00 or 10:30 tonight, so he could use a snack now.”
“Good,” Eric said. “I will take my meal with Hunter then as well.”
Hunter smiled and hugged Eric’s leg.
Eric looked down at the boy and moved him slightly so that he was standing on top of his large boot. Hunter looked up in question. “Hold tight,” Eric said playfully as he began to swing his long leg with Hunter attached on it. The boy squealed and giggled.
“Again, Uncle Eric!” Hunter exclaimed. “Do it again!”
Eric repeated the movement a few more times and then set Hunter onto his feet. “Go have your snack with Lafayette. I need to speak with Jesus for a few minutes.”
“Okay,” Hunter said, running to his Uncle Lala.
Jason followed Hunter and Lafayette in so that he too could get whatever snack might be available.
Eric was pleased to see that Miranda had already added a code for Lafayette so that he could move freely into the house.
As soon as they were inside, Lafayette sent Hunter to the bathroom to potty and to wash his hands.
Once the boy was in the bathroom, Jason looked at Jesus, “He’s doin’ pretty good, don’t you think?”
“Ah―little ones that age can bounce right back if they are taken care of properly, “Lafayette said, “but he still had plenty of moments of sad today.”
“Yeah―that,” Jason said. “But I meant Eric. He seems to be doin’ better than I thought he would.”
Lafayette chuckled, “Yep―who knew that big vamp could be a good papa? But the little man obviously thinks he hung the moon already. Hell―the bitch be so old, he may have actually done it!”
“Yeah―that too,” Jason said kind of frustrated. “But I meant Eric with Sookie. He seems to be takin’ it okay.”
Lafayette scoffed at that and rolled his eyes. He talked in a quiet voice, “We ain’t lookin’ at the same motha fucka then. Eric’s wound up so tight and so far in denial that he’s gonna explode one day, and trust me, I don’t wanna be on the receivin’ end when it happens.”
Jason looked surprised. “Ya think?”
Lafayette nodded and kept speaking low so that they could hear when Hunter came back. “Oh―I know it. That big motha fucka loves Sookie more than I have ever seen anybody love anybody. Those two―well—there’s just somethin’ ‘bout the way they love each other that’s just different. Maybe it’s that bond thing they have. But if you look close at him―close into his eyes―you’ll see they don’t look the same as when Sookie was here, ‘cept maybe when he’s lookin’ at or talkin’ to Hunter. That motha fucka is grieving like crazy, but he’s denying it even harder. That shit ain’t never good when it finally blows up.” They heard Hunter come out of the bathroom door. Lafayette added quickly, “Just don’t make him mad.”
“You think Hunter is safe with him then?” Jason asked in a whisper, the concern obvious in his voice.
“Oh yeah,” Lafayette said quickly. “Couldn’t be safer. I’m just sayin’ no one else is.”
Lafayette and Jason turned their attention to Hunter as he walked into the kitchen. Lafayette put some carrots and celery on a little plate and added a dollop of homemade peanut butter. He took those and a glass of chocolate milk to the table, along with the plate of cookies, which Jason was eyeing. Hunter excitedly crunched his vegetable snack and then chomped on his cookie as he swung his feet back and forth. He laughed as his two uncles entertained him. He was so happy that he felt only Uncle Jason’s and Uncle Lala’s affection for him and for each other from their heads.
They didn’t think he was too weird after all. And, for the first time, he felt that lots of people liked him.
As soon as Hunter went inside, Eric’s demeanor wilted noticeably. However, the vampire quickly steeled himself. He looked at Miranda carefully and then at Jarod. It was only them and Jesus in the backyard at that point, though Eric could smell Bubba at the tree line around the front side of the house.
Eric gestured toward Jesus and then spoke directly to Miranda, “He could help. He is a brujo and a nurse, and there are things that he might be able to do, but if you do not wish for him to know, then that is your choice.”
Miranda looked at Eric and sighed, “It’s okay. He can know.” She turned to Jesus. “I’m pregnant—probably only a week or so along though.”
Jesus grinned, “Congratulations Miranda―Jarod!” He went over and gave Miranda a somewhat awkward hug and then shook Jarod’s hand vigorously.
Miranda smiled and then looked serious. “We lost a child―a little girl―at two months about five years ago. It is very difficult for a Were and a shifter to have a child.” Jarod reached out and grasped her hand.
Jesus nodded, “I will research to see if there is any magic that can help the pregnancy, and I’ll be around a lot, so tell me if you have any cramping at all, and I can check you out immediately. I spent about a year working for an OBGYN right out of nursing school.”
Miranda squeezed Jesus’s hand gratefully with her free one. “Thanks, Jesus.”
Eric asked, “Have you called Ludwig? She might know other things that can be done.”
Miranda nodded. “I am going to see her next week―after nightfall, of course.”
Eric nodded, “Good.” He smiled a bit, but it didn’t quite get to his eyes. “Sookie would be happy about this. She would likely enjoy spoiling the child.” Eric visibly shook himself as he pushed that thought of Sookie to the side of his mind. Imagining Sookie with an infant or with Hunter was too much for him in that moment. Again, he steeled himself. “Hunter will enjoy your child as a playmate if you decide to stay with us here.”
Miranda nodded, “That is our plan, Eric―if that’s okay with you now that there’s a child.”
Eric nodded, “Of course. Godric would be pleased about this too. He mourned your other child’s loss deeply, so much that he couldn’t hide it from me, despite his trying to keep our bond dampened.” Eric felt both sorrow and anger for his maker at those words, but he brushed that to the side as well. He had important matters to take care of.
Eric spoke evenly to Miranda, “If you are unable to work with Hunter as much as I asked yesterday, then Jarod may take over primary care of him as long as the boy stays within the barrier of this property. And you must sleep more, Miranda. You and Jarod didn’t return to your hotel last night. I’m sorry that I didn’t notice the child last night. You must now be careful of your health.”
Miranda smiled, “Thank you, but until Ludwig says differently, I will go on as I have been. And I slept on the couch last night after Hunter went to bed again, and I also napped with him today, so I had plenty of rest. However, if it’s okay, Jarod and I will work together on Hunter’s security here so that he is up to speed if Ludwig orders me to take it easier. Also, I want Jarod on perimeter duty when I’m busy helping Hunter with his schooling.”
Eric nodded and looked at Miranda carefully, “I trust you to do what is best for your child and for Hunter—just as I trusted you to watch over Sookie. I am also hoping to hire a Britlingen to be Hunter’s personal guard; I hope that doesn’t offend you.”
Miranda scoffed. “I will never be offended by sound judgment, Eric. If the fairies get through the magical barrier around this home, I suspect that I could merely slow them down. But a Britlingen is another story altogether. I would welcome the help with what may come.”
Eric was grateful for Miranda’s own sound judgment.
“I will, of course,” Miranda asked, “continue to be in charge of daytime security—correct?”
“Of course,” Eric confirmed, not missing the fact that Miranda’s question had sounded more like a statement.
Miranda smirked. “Excellent. It will be gratifying to be able to boss a Britlingen around—if need be.”
Jarod asked, “Britlingens can travel to all other dimensions and realms—can’t they?”
“Then why not just hire them to go get Sookie and Hadley?” the shifter asked.
Eric sighed. “If that were possible, I would have already done it, but Britlingens work as guards only. They fulfill their contracts—ruthlessly, if need be—but they will never go on the offensive. I have also made inquiries among the demons; however, they cannot help without risking open war with the fairies, and they don’t have the numbers for such a risk.”
“Well hell,” Jared muttered under his breath.
Jesus spoke up, “Eric, I’m working to adapt the protection spell a bit in order to make sure it works just as well,” he paused, “even though Sookie is not here physically.”
Eric nodded, though he once again had to steel himself at the mention of Sookie’s name. Once he had, he spoke in a professional tone, as if he were conducting a business meeting. “That is excellent. I am also trying to arrange for the ownership of this house to be split between Sookie and Hunter so that the protection spell can protect him directly.”
Jesus nodded. “That would be best. But I didn’t know that kids as young as Hunter could own property, and wouldn’t Sookie need to be here in order to sign papers for a sale to go through?”
“Yes,” Eric admitted, “I have thought of these potential problems too, but partial ownership of the property is to be set up in a trust for Hunter with Sookie as guardian. It might take some strategic glamouring to get everything accomplished as I want it, but I’m confident in Cataliades’s acumen.”
Jesus nodded again. “Meanwhile, I’ll keep working on the stronger protection spell just in case.”
“Good,” Eric said. “We must do all that we can to ensure Hunter’s safety. Did you learn anything of value about the fairies today, brujo?”
“Yes,” Jesus said excitedly. “I started with the oldest of Godric’s books. It is in Latin, but I found a spell that increased my ability to understand the language.” He smiled, “It was quite a useful spell. And as I was reading, I found a passage about fairies.”
Eric perked up.
Jesus continued. “It involves their weaknesses. Apparently, iron is for them like silver is for vampires. And lemons and limes are also toxic to them.”
Eric nodded and then looked concerned. “Hunter―he said, looking at the house. What of his food?”
“Don’t worry,” Jesus said quickly. “Lafayette made nothing with lemons or limes in it today. And we talked to Hunter about it. He says that he doesn’t like lemons because they are sour, but he doesn’t seem to have any kind of reaction to them. He says he likes lemonade. And Sookie always put lemons in her iced tea.” Jesus chuckled. “Hell, I watched the girl suck her way through about three limes in one night when we were drinking tequila.”
Miranda and Jarod also chuckled a bit, but Eric couldn’t join them. The image of Sookie enjoying herself with her friends was placed into the room in his mind that was quickly filling with her.
“Good,” Eric said, “but make sure that you monitor Hunter’s exposure to lemons and limes carefully. In fact, make sure that I am awake anytime that he is given anything with them, just in case he is hurt.”
Eric was contemplative for a moment. “Good work. This explains why lead bullets did nothing to the fairy. We can design things to keep on hand to fight the fairies now―should they come for Hunter or to finish what they started with me. And Stackhouse should be told of this. He has fairy blood as well, and they may come for him. In fact, a spell should be placed around his residence to protect him when he is there. It’s what,” he paused, “Sookie would desire.”
Jesus nodded. “I also got an email from Mr. Cataliades. He is driving up from New Orleans the day after tomorrow with some books for me to look through. He is going to be collecting some other items and says that I may come to New Orleans to retrieve them as soon as they are ready. Also, the witch Octavia says that I can come to her shop in New Orleans and peruse her books whenever I wish. I figured I’d do that at the same time as I get the additional books from Mr. Cataliades since Godric’s and Marnie’s collections will definitely keep me busy until then.”
Jesus continued, “Meanwhile, Octavia is putting me in touch with one of her students, a young witch named Amelia Broadway. Amelia is―according to Octavia―something of an expert in fairies; she’s been studying them for years, in fact. Octavia is asking her to email me her notes on them. If Amelia is as thorough as Octavia said, then those notes should be useful in helping us to know a lot about fairies in a relatively short amount of time. Octavia says that Amelia has scoured all of the books in her collection and has compiled much information on fairies already. Her notes should save a lot of time.”
Eric nodded again. “Excellent.”
The vampire moved to go inside to join Hunter but stopped abruptly as he smelled Bill Compton step onto the property.