Eric woke up at precisely 5:12 p.m., right at sunset. He was met by a grinning Hunter, sitting cross-legged on Sookie’s side of the bed with the kitten in his lap and his stuffed dinosaur in his hands. Eric sat up, “Good evening, smár rekkr.”
“Uncle Eric!” Hunter exclaimed throwing himself into Eric’s arms for a hug. “You found Dino!” The excitement of Hunter’s movements had caused the kitten to jump up and move, but Hunter didn’t seem to notice. “Thank you for finding Dino!” the boy said happily.
Eric smiled at the boy. “I am glad that you are happy Hunter.” Eric took in the boy’s expression and body temperature. He could tell it was unseasonably warm outside, and Hunter had obviously been playing outdoors until a few minutes before. Something inside of Eric—an emotion he could neither let himself feel fully nor name—was pleased that the boy had clearly wanted to be at his side when he rose.
Hunter went back to sitting cross-legged, and Eric repositioned himself to mirror the pose. “What have you been doing since you rose, Hunter?”
The boy talked excitedly. “I helped Uncle Lala make a,” he paused and sounded out him next word carefully, “o-me-let. And then me and Miranda read in my book, and I wrote my ABC’s and drew some pictures of Cat. And then we went outside and said hello to Scott, and then we climbed on this tree that fell down last night. And then we had cookies and chocolate milk! I love chocolate milk, Uncle Eric!”
Hunter continued to list off the things that he’d done during the day with an excited burst as Eric listened attentively. He was pleased that the boy seemed enthusiastic about his studies. He was also pleased by the outdoor activities that Hunter seemed to enjoy. He too had spent a lot of time outside as a child―at least until the cold Arctic air drove him to the warmth of his mother’s fire. Soon the winter would settle in there, and Hunter would not be able to play outside for such long periods of time. Eric once again resolved to make sure Jarod had gotten the boy an adequate coat and other necessary accouterments for the colder times to come. In addition to a warm coat, Hunter would need a hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Hunter went on, “Oh―and Uncle Eric, you have to see what Uncle Jason got me!” He tilted his head to the side. “Can you come play outside so I can show you?”
“Of course, Hunter,” Eric said. “I will get dressed quickly, and then we can go. I also want to introduce you to Pam and Jessica.”
Eric got up and collected some clothing to wear for the night.
“Who’s Pam and Jes-si-ca?” Hunter asked.
“Pam is my vampire daughter, and Jessica is Pam’s vampire daughter?”
Hunter once again tilted his head to the side, “Are they little kids?”
Eric chuckled, “No―we make vampire children out of grown-up people. If you wish, you may think of Pam like an Aunt. Yes,” Eric said as he thought about how Pam would take the moniker,” you should call her Aunt Pam. And Jessica can be like a cousin to you―if you wish.”
“So—I won’t be able to hear inside their heads, right?” Hunter asked.
“Right,” Eric confirmed. “But do not worry. Jessica is already very happy that you are here, and Pam likes very few people, so you need not fear what she thinks of you, smár rekkr.” Eric gave Hunter a little wink.
Hunter took all this new information in as Eric went into the bathroom to change. When Eric came back out and put on his shoes, Hunter said, “I like having lots of new uncles and aunts and cousins and stuff, Uncle Eric. I didn’t know I had such a big family!”
Eric chuckled. “It is nice, isn’t it―to have many people around that like you very much.” He ruffled the boy’s hair a bit. “Now, let’s go get your jacket, and then we will join the others, and then you can show me what your Uncle Jason has brought.”
Hunter grinned and jumped up, “I have a new green coat, Uncle Eric! Wanna see?”
Before Eric had a chance to respond, Hunter continued, “Can Dino come outside to play too?”
Eric thought for a moment, “Did Dino join you outside when you played earlier?”
“Well then,” Eric said, “I do not see why Dino cannot join us now as well, but he should be kept off the ground.”
Hunter nodded and hugged the toy.
Soon, Hunter had shown Eric his new, thick winter coat and was holding Dino by the leg as he reached out for Eric’s hand. In the kitchen, Eric stopped them for a moment so that they could feed the kitten, and then Hunter once again grabbed the vampire’s hand before the two went outside.
What met them was a very amused-looking Pam speaking with Jason. Hunter skipped up to them as Eric walked in long strides next to him. Hunter didn’t drop Eric’s hand for a moment.
Hunter said, “Hey, Uncle Jason.” He looked up at Pam, “Are you my Aunt Pam?”
Pam momentarily got a horrified look on her face, but seeing the amused look on the face of her maker after the emptiness she’d felt from him right before she’d gone to her day rest, she evened out her look and accepted her fate, “Yes,” she told the boy―her tone clinical. “I am Aunt Pam.”
From next to Pam, Jessica snickered. The redhead ignored her new maker’s glare and bent down, “And I’m Jessica, Hunter!” She shook the little boy’s free hand. “It’s real nice to meet cha!”
Hunter looked at Jessica, his eyes widening, “Uncle Eric says you can be my cousin if I want you to be.”
Jessica smiled, “I’d like that a lot Hunter!”
Hunter grinned and blushed as he looked at Jessica. “You’re real pretty like Mommy and Aunt Sookie.”
Jessica tickled his side a bit, “And you’re real handsome too!”
Hunter blushed even more and buried his face into the side of Eric’s leg shyly.
Pam rolled her eyes, but at a warning glance from Eric, she held her tongue.
Suddenly remembering his Uncle Jason, Hunter looked up excitedly at Eric again, “Hey Uncle Jason, show Uncle Eric what you brought me.”
Jason raised his hand, which held a squirt gun. He smiled proudly. “After Jesus told me that fairies could be hurt with lemon juice, I got me some of these for under my pillow, and then I thought that Hunter could use some too, right? So I bought him a couple of nice squirt guns at Wal-Mart, and we practiced shooting each other with water when it was hotter this afternoon, didn’t we, Hunt? And then we made sure that the lemon juice didn’t hurt our skin—right, little man?”
Jesus spoke up from behind Jason. “We tested a tiny bit on Hunter’s arm to make sure he didn’t have an allergic reaction of any kind. There was nothing.”
Hunter grinned up at Eric, “I learned how to shoot Uncle Jason and Jarod real good!” He scrunched up his nose a bit. “But shootin’ Miranda is against the rules.”
“Yes—it definitely is,” came Miranda’s voice from behind them.
Eric chuckled and then looked at Jason closely, surprised by the young man’s cleverness. Apparently, Jason had inherited some of the Stackhouse genes after all, and he had had the presence of mind to make sure that Hunter was not affected by the lemon juice as well.
“This is a good plan, Jason,” Eric said after a few moments. He bent down to be eye-level with Hunter. “Your Uncle Jason will fill up a very special squirt gun with lemon juice, and you can keep it by your bed at night. If the bad men come, you can shoot them.”
Hunter smiled, “That’s what Uncle Jason and Miranda said! They said that I can fight bad fairies with my special squirt gun!”
Eric swung Hunter up onto his shoulder, eliciting a happy and surprised squeal from the boy. Eric looked at Jason again, “You have done well, Stackhouse.” He bowed a bit and noticed that Jessica was looking at Jason with large doe eyes. He rolled his own eyes as he swung Hunter to his waist level and then flew him in a circle around his body. The boy continued to laugh hard.
Meanwhile, Pam was looking on with surprise at the ease her master seemed to have with the boy. The child obviously thought much of Eric and seemed to prefer him to all others. Pam shrugged her shoulders. Perhaps the boy would be good for keeping Eric from dipping fully into the depression that had shaken him when Sookie was gone to the fairy realm the first time. With Hunter awake, Eric seemed much more grounded and in control of his emotions than he’d been the night before.
Eric looked over at Miranda, who was sitting next to the fire that had just been built by Jarod and Jesus. He tossed Hunter over his shoulder, much to the boy’s glee, and then walked a few steps toward the Werelioness, making sure that Hunter was safely away from the fire as he continued to swing him around a bit.
Eric nodded to Miranda in greeting. “Hunter spoke of reading and writing today; he enjoyed his lessons.”
Miranda smiled, “And he was very good at them too. From what I can pick up, he is already at a second grade reading level and writes his alphabet perfectly. He’s also very good at drawing all his shapes.”
Eric rested Hunter at his side for a moment and smiled at the boy proudly. “You did not tell me of your shape drawing, Hunter. Which ones did you draw today?”
“Um,” Hunter began, “I drawed some triangles and circles and rectangles.”
Eric chuckled at the boy’s pronunciation of the difficult shape words. “That is very nice, Hunter. I want for you to think about something, okay?”
Hunter nodded as Eric put him on his feet and squatted to be eye level with him. “What do you want me to think about, Uncle Eric?”
“I would like for you to work with me a little in my workshop once I have some supplies. I want to make some new chairs for around the fire. Would you like to help me?”
Hunter’s eyes lit up, and he launched himself into Eric’s arms, hugging him tightly. “Can I, Uncle Eric? Can I really help you?”
“It would please me very much, Hunter,” Eric said as the boy looked up at him. “I can also teach you Swedish while we work.”
“Cool!” Hunter grinned widely and then tilted his head. “What’s,” he paused, trying to say the new word like Eric had, “Swe-dish?”
“It is the language of the place where I came from.”
Hunter grinned again. “Cool!”
Eric once again swung the boy up to his shoulder and stood. He looked again at Miranda, “Did the boy eat well today? Is the new schedule working adequately?”
She nodded, “Lafayette was already here this morning by the time I got Hunter up.”
“We had strawberries too, Uncle Eric!” Hunter supplied as he moved around Eric’s shoulders.
Miranda grinned at Hunter as she continued, “Lafayette had to leave to go to Merlotte’s before Hunter ate his lunch, but it was already made, and there is enough food to warm for everyone at dinner time.”
“Very good,” Eric said.
Miranda added, “Mr. C. and Batanya will be arriving after 7:00. I thought it would be best if the workers were gone well before they arrived, so I sent them home early today.”
Eric nodded approvingly. He looked at Jesus, “Anything new today?”
Jesus reported, “Not much, I’m afraid. I read more of Godric’s book, but it is repeating information we already knew about fairy bonds. I got an email from Octavia’s student, Amelia, and she has promised to gather her notes, scan them, and email them tomorrow.”
“Good,” Eric said.
Jarod spoke up, “I moved Hunter’s things to the downstairs bedroom today. It is ready for him to begin using.”
Hunter looked up at Eric, concerned. “Where will you sleep when Scott is changing the house, Uncle Eric?”
“I’ll be using my cubby, Hunter.”
The child scrunched up his nose as Sookie sometimes did when she was trying to understand something. “Cubby?”
Eric chuckled, “Yes, it is a special resting place for vampires during the day. Here, I’ll show it to you.” He swung Hunter to his feet and started toward the house with the boy rushing over and grabbing hold of his hand. Eric turned around and spoke to Jesus. “Will Lafayette be back this evening to pick you up, or did you bring your own vehicle?”
Jesus answered, “Lafayette is coming after his shift―at around midnight. I figured I could stay busy organizing the materials Mr. Cataliades brings until he gets here.”
“Good,” Eric said and then looked at Miranda. “Once Hunter is in bed for the evening, I want to have a meeting with everyone, and then you and Jared may return to your hotel for the night.”
With that, Eric slung a gleeful Hunter over his shoulder and took him inside to show him the cubby.