Eric woke up in the rocking chair at sunset the next evening as the automatic shades clicked into their night positions. Hunter and Odin were looking up at him expectantly. Automatically, Eric reached out and pulled the boy onto his lap. The vampire merely said, “Tell me.”
“Everything?” Hunter asked, his brown eyes practically glittering.
Hunter grinned wider than he had in a month and then launched into a vivid description of his day as Eric listened attentively and rocked them.
Once Hunter’s long narrative was spent, Eric smiled down at the boy. “It sounds like you had a busy day, smár rekkr,” Eric said affectionately as he brushed the boy’s bangs from his head in the familiar gesture.
“Yep!” Hunter said. “And I,” he paused, “liked bein’ able to visit you whenever I wanted to.”
Eric smiled at him. “Shall we see what the others are doing outside?”
Hunter lit up. “I can go outside at night now that you’re better!” He jumped off Eric’s lap and rushed toward the back door, skidding to a stop in front of the hook that held his coat. Odin was at his heels. Hunter quickly put on his coat as Eric put a hat over his tousled blond hair. Eric grinned as he zipped up Hunter’s coat; the boy needed a haircut again.
Eric and Hunter went outside hand in hand. Miranda, Jarod, Jason, Jessica, and Pam were all sitting around a vigorous fire, which provided warmth against the chilly March night. Hunter looked at Eric expectantly, and the vampire swung the boy up to his shoulder, much to Hunter’s delight. After a few spins in the air, which caused the child to squeal and giggle, Eric settled them into the chair he customarily used. He noticed that the chair that he and Hunter had been working on the night he had first felt Sookie’s call for help was now finished, and Jessica was sitting in it next to Jason as the two held hands and spoke quietly.
Eric turned Hunter around on his lap so that he could look at him. “How did Jessica get her chair, smár rekkr?” he asked with an affectionate tap to Hunter’s nose.
Hunter smiled brightly, “Uncle Jason helped me! I didn’t know how to start a new one, but I told him how we could finish that one, and he helped me!”
Jason sat forward. “Yeah—Hunter told me all about how to finish it up,” he said with obvious pride for the boy as he tapped the arm of Jessica’s chair. “He sanded the pieces all by himself and showed me how all the parts fit together.” Jason looked at Eric sincerely, “You are teachin’ him to be a real woodworker, just like my Granddaddy Earl was.”
Eric smiled down at the boy and swept aside the bangs that were peeking from under his hat, “You learned well, Hunter. We will start a new chair tomorrow night, and I will show you from the beginning this time.”
Hunter looked up at Eric with smiling eyes as Eric patted his back. Eric inhaled the young one’s scent. The vampire was very happy to be among what Sookie would term their family again, but even as he sat there, the husband was having a difficult time placing his emotions for his wife into the room in his mind where he’d been accustomed to housing them before she’d called him for help through the fairy bond. He’d been so single-mindedly focused on sending Sookie his strength for so long that he felt a little lost.
He’d gotten used to sending all of himself—including all of his pent up emotions—straight to the fairy bond. He felt those feelings swell inside of him now, and they seemed to have nowhere to go. It was as if the room in his mind that had contained them had crumbled to ruins from disuse in the last month. And it was only Hunter’s presence that prevented all of those swirling emotions from exploding into a million pieces. With Hunter near him, Eric was able to concentrate on his love for the child.
After a while spent by the fire and in the company of the others, Eric took Hunter inside—after discreetly arranging for Pam, Miranda, and Jarod to meet him in the workshop an hour before dawn. Eric’s mind was already solidifying a plan to make Bill’s Sunday go very differently than the king was hoping.
But before Eric met with them, he needed to take some time to rest and to get his emotions fully back under his control—back behind sturdy walls. Eric knew that he had to keep himself strong for Hunter and for the upcoming conflict with Bill, and that meant that he had to contain his feelings once more.
Throughout the evening, Eric enjoyed being in Hunter’s presence and listening to more about his daytime life as they ate their dinner together. He and the boy also enjoyed their story time, and Eric realized he’d missed tucking the child into bed in the evenings. After giving Hunter his prerequisite goodnight kiss and waiting for him to fall into slumber, he stopped in the hall and gave Batanya a little bow.
“Thank you for keeping him safe in my absence. I will not forget your proficiency. It was a,” he paused, “comfort to me.”
Batanya nodded, and Eric thought for a moment that he saw the slightest trace of a smile tease her lips.
The vampire went to his and Sookie’s office and quickly checked his emails. Pam had been keeping on top of all of his Area 5 business, so thankfully there was nothing pressing for him to see to.
He also read the reports that had been sent to him by Amelia Broadway, though Jesus had been keeping him up-to-date with their research. They still hadn’t come up with a way to get him into the fairy realm, but Eric now had a couple of ideas of his own. He sent both Jesus and Amelia emails; he wanted to get them working on a new theory that he’d developed based on his experience during Sookie’s ‘call’ to him. He hypothesized that a fairy could summon someone into the fairy realm, just as Sookie had been ‘summoning’ his strength to her so that she could survive. The only requirements, he theorized, were choice on the part of the one being summoned and—if he wasn’t mistaken—a little bit of fairy blood.
He posited that this was how Bill had gotten to the fairy realm―that Claudine had used the fairy blood within him to draw him in. If this theory was correct, Eric felt certain that Sookie could bring him into the fairy realm to her—without a portal—if she could only learn how to do so.
He also sent an email to the head of the research department for the company that had developed TruBlood—a company that he owned a good deal of stock in; he had another idea about how he might get into the fairy realm even if Sookie wasn’t able to call him to her. It just might take a bit of time to develop all the pieces he needed, but he was relieved to finally have a direction of thought.
That small triumph aside, Eric was frustrated to find that there was still no response from the A.P. as he scrolled through almost a month’s worth of emails. He rose angrily, but then tried to set that emotion aside. When he found that he couldn’t easily do this, he decided to check on Hunter, knowing that seeing the child safe would calm him. It did. Puppy, kitten, stuffed dinosaur and boy were all sleeping peacefully. Eric felt relief wash over him as his anger dissipated and could be put to the side.
Eric texted Bubba to come inside and then went downstairs. Feeling that he still needed the extra boost of strength, he quickly drank two bags of donor blood. Since Hunter was used to him drinking only TruBlood, Eric had drunk only a bottle of that as he’d shared dinner with the boy earlier, but given his ordeal, he needed more human blood to replenish his strength.
He assessed his strength as he drank the donor blood. He would drink another two pints before his day rest and two more upon rising the next night. Then he would be able to switch back to TruBlood fully, and that thought comforted him a bit. He knew that Sookie would understand his need to take human blood, especially given the fact that he had to prepare his body for the upcoming battle with Bill, but Eric didn’t like doing it. TruBlood tasted boring to him, but not offensive. The more he drank human blood that didn’t belong to his bonded, the more sour it tasted to him.
He passed Bubba with a nod and went to his workshop. He stripped the cover off of Hunter’s unfinished headboard; he estimated that if he could work steadily on it, he could finish the carving in twelve hours, which still left him plenty of time to have it ready before Hunter’s birthday, which was eight days away. He got out his small tools and began to carve where he’d left off before. As he channeled his energy into his task, Eric felt his control returning.
Twenty minutes later, Eric felt Pam’s irritation as she entered the workshop.
“I am in no mood, child,” Eric said as he worked to carve a dinosaur tooth. “We will meet an hour before dawn to discuss the Bill situation, but I need time for myself until then.”
Pam squared her shoulders and mustered her courage. “And I’m in no mood either,” she said sarcastically. “It’s time that you and I had a talk about your fucking asininity!”
Eric threw down his knife and rose with a growl. “You will keep your tone in check with me, young one,” Eric said threateningly, his anger rising like a rocket.
Pam cringed and shrank back a bit, but shook her head and stood her ground. “No. I have been on pins and needles for almost a month as you have been giving every last bit of yourself to Sookie through your fairy bond―and I get that, Eric. Hell—I respect it even! I know that you love her more than your own life, so I supported you, but I’m not gonna sit by and support any more of your shit!”
“What the fuck are you talking about, Pam?” Eric asked angrily.
“You’re closing yourself off―again! You are so far in fucking denial that you think you can just compartmentalize every emotion you are feeling, Eric, and it’s gotta stop—or you really will end up dying. You’ll fucking tear yourself apart!”
A red tear slipped from Pam’s eye as Eric turned away from her, picked up his carving knife, and recommenced his work. “Get out, Pam,” he said coldly.
She didn’t. “At least in the last month you acknowledged your pain―you couldn’t not acknowledge it! And you felt your feelings along with your physical pain. But now, you are going right back to where you started, putting all your emotions to the side as if you can escape them. Wake up, Eric! Sookie is fucking gone! She may be gone for-fucking-ever, and you need to feel something about that, or you are gonna do some real fucking damage someday, and I’m not talkin’ about a hole punched into a wall at Fangtasia or a car smashed to bits like last time! What if you lose your precious control around Hunter? What if you scare him? Or worse—what if he’s there to witness you tearing someone in his family in half? I’m telling you this for damned certain, Eric. Neither one of you could survive that!”
Eric had her by the throat and several feet off the ground before she had finished her sentence. “You forget yourself, child,” he seethed.
“No,” Pam managed to gasp out despite his grip. “I am remembering what you told me―that I would have to tell you when your emotions concerning Sookie threatened us, and that’s exactly what’s happening Eric. And Sookie would agree; you fucking know she would! I’m doing what she would want me to do! I’m telling you that you have to deal with your shit now!”
Eric’s grip grew tighter, but Pam went on, her voice now croaking. “Bill sees you as weak. That’s why he’s willing to act now. He knows,” she paused as she choked in her maker’s grip, “that you are weaker without Sookie.”
Eric threw Pam to the other side of the workshop and turned his back to her, his emotions spilling over. Almost a month of being wound up tightly―trying to save Sookie from death and pain―preceded by months of his trying to shut his emotions down completely where Sookie was concerned had brought him to the point that he wanted―no needed to kill. But he didn’t want to rip his own child in half. He tried to push his anger to the side, but Pam spoke from behind him.
“I feel you doing it again, Eric!” she yelled, her frustration clear. “You can’t keep putting yourself into a box!”
Seething, her maker turned back around, “I must be strong for Hunter. The boy needs me.”
“Yes!” Pam exclaimed. “And he loves you too. But he doesn’t need you to hide behind him, and that’s exactly what you’re doing, Eric―make no fucking mistake about it! You are using the boy to hide behind so that you don’t have to deal with your feelings about Sookie being gone!”
Eric was in front of her again in seconds. His fangs were extended fully and there was a murderous look in his eyes. “Save your Dear Abby advice Pam. I am not hiding behind Hunter. I am caring for the child, just as Sookie asked. What would you have me do―ignore him?”
“No! But you shouldn’t ignore yourself either!”
Eric snarled, “I. Am. Not. Hiding. Behind. Hunter.”
Pam mustered every bit of courage she’d been born with and also every bit that her maker had instilled within her, “Yes. You. Fucking. Have. Been! And you both deserve better, Eric.”
Eric looked ready to tear his child’s head off, but she again stood her ground and offered herself to his wrath―just so he would face his fucking grief.
Eric stepped back, the anger clear in his eyes. No matter how hard he was trying, he could no longer put his emotions to the side of his mind.
And along with his anger came what he had feared the most, sorrow―the sorrow that Sookie was not with him, the sorrow that he might never see her again―the sorrow that he had been hiding from for months. What he’d just experienced―being called to her only when she was hurting and dying―might be the best he could expect in the long future ahead.
Eric turned from Pam again; gravity seemed to be pulling at him, and he sunk heavily to his knees.
Another tear slipped down Pam’s cheek as she watched the strongest person she had ever known crumble at the pain of facing his emotions. So that she wouldn’t fall to her knees with him, she had to shut down their bond again.
After several minutes of silence, Eric spoke in a shaky voice, “Bill’s right, you know. I am weak now. I have been unable to protect Sookie time and time again. And now Hunter is threatened too.” He paused for a long moment. “Sookie is the strongest part of me, Pam; I don’t know how to exist without her anymore, and if I let myself think about her being gone forever,” he continued quietly, “I will break.”
“I know you’re hurting,” Pam said just as quietly. “But you can’t let yourself break; you have to trust that you are strong enough to feel without breaking, Eric. Listen―you just felt your strongest connection to Sookie since she was taken. You helped her to stay alive. You have a lot of people here who are willing to do anything—to die even—so that you can get to your pledged mate. And you have Hunter, and he loves you more than anyone else in this world. He was not,” she paused, “okay when you were sick, Eric. That light in him wasn’t as bright. I do not want to see it go out of him if you are lost.”
“So what do I do, Pam? If I am to be strong for the boy, I cannot lose myself to my grief and pain.”
“But you’re the one who’s getting lost, Eric. You just can’t turn off your life as you seek only to fulfill the promises you made to Sookie. It’s been killing you, Eric. Don’t forget that I can feel you.”
Eric turned a bit and gazed into her, though his eyes held no accusation. “Not always. I can sense that you have inherited Godric’s gift at shutting me out.”
Pam looked at Eric contritely.
He gave her a little smile. “It’s okay. I understand why you have needed to do it. Maybe now I understand a little better why Godric needed to do it too.” He paused. “I am glad that you are able to protect yourself in this way, and I know that this has not been easy for you either.”
Pam sniffed, “I hate shutting you out. I don’t like not feeling you because it feels like I’ve lost a little of myself.”
Eric nodded. “I am sorry, Pam. I am trying.”
She wiped away another tear before it could fall. “I know.” Her voice was almost inaudible now. “Eric, if you don’t learn how to deal with Sookie being gone―if you keep trying to push aside everything that you feel for her―then one day, it will become too much for you to endure. And I don’t wanna lose you, Eric―not like you lost Godric.”
Eric turned around to face her completely; his face was streaked with blood, but his blue eyes were fierce, “Do not try to keep me from holding to my promises to my wife, Pam.”
“I’m not, Eric,” Pam insisted. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. I think you should continue to take care of Hunter, and I think you should keep trying to find a way to get to Sookie. I miss her too, you know. But you can’t hide behind these things as if they are merely tasks to list off and complete. And you can’t keep hiding from your emotions.” She lowered her eyes. “Even with Hunter, you hold back because you are afraid. And you were getting more and more afraid all the time, Eric—before Sookie called for your help. I felt it, and I don’t want you to go back there.”
Eric shook his head. “What is there to be more afraid of Pam? My Sookie is gone.”
“What if the fairies took Hunter? What if Bill somehow got him?” Pam asked quietly.
Eric grimaced, and fear gripped him.
Pam felt the ripple of Eric’s fear despite the fact that she had shut down the bond. She spoke quietly to her maker, “You always were too emotional, Eric―much too emotional for my tastes and way too much for any vampire. I could always feel you compartmentalizing―from the day you made me. But at that time, there was no one you found worthy of caring about fully, not even me and not even Godric.” She chuckled, “But then again, we wouldn’t have let you anyway. Now I know what drove your emotions for all those years―finding the one that killed your family. A thousand-year revenge quest that ended with you burying Russell in cement—and I felt no satisfaction at all from you that night.”
Eric looked up at her, “No, there was none.”
Pam nodded and went on. “And then Sookie was suddenly gone, and all I felt from you was sorrow and emptiness, which you covered and hid inside that brain of yours. When she came back, you did too, Eric.”
Eric nodded, “I know.”
Pam chuckled a little, “And then there’s Sookie―finally―a person you are willing to let all your emotions loose for.” She chuckled again. “What a fucking disaster area you two are. The telepathic fairy barmaid and the Viking vampire sheriff—it should be a fucking sitcom. And somehow—some way—you two just make it work.” Pam shook her head, “I hated her at first, Eric.”
He looked up at her with anger.
“I don’t hate her now―rest assured,” Pam said with a little smile. She knelt down on the floor before her maker, who was still on his knees. “I felt her unworthy of you at first, and I was frightened because all those emotions and feelings that you were always so good at tucking away were coming to the forefront. I didn’t like it, so I didn’t like her. When she disappeared the first time, I was initially glad, but then I realized how much it pained you. And I thought I was going to lose you. And then she came back,” Pam smiled, “and I did lose you. But―it turned out that that was a good thing. You have so many feelings, Eric. And that little telepath was willing to take them all on and pour just as many back into you.” She shook her head, “It’s enough to make me never want to fall in love―that’s for sure.”
“I don’t know how to feel things without her here with me,” Eric said quietly as more tears slipped from his eyes.
“Oh―sure you do,” Pam said. “Just look at you now! You feel like you do everything else, Eric. You feel your emotions in a big way, but maybe you need to deal with those feelings one at a time. Eric—please—you have to feel them and act, rather than feel them and shut yourself down.” She raised her hand tenderly to his cheek. “And you can’t deny that they exist, Eric.”
Eric shook his head just as Pam’s phone rang. “Jessica,” she said as she answered. She listened for a moment, her eyes becoming concerned. “Come to the workshop in five minutes.”
Feeling Pam’s anxiety, Eric rose quickly and used a rag to wipe the blood from his face. “She has been monitoring Bill?” he asked as he threw the rag to his progeny so that she could wipe her eyes as well.
“Yes,” Pam confirmed. “And she has some new information.”