Once in the house, Eric quickly flew to his shower. He threw his bloody clothing and boots into a trash bag to be destroyed later.
He’d called Miranda as soon as the fighting was over twenty minutes before, but he wanted for Hunter to stay in the cubby until the clean-up outside―and, to a much smaller extent, inside―had been mostly accomplished. Thalia, Rasul, Isabel, and Bubba were working on the outside clean-up, and Lafayette and Jarod had already cleaned up the damage―which consisted of only a broken window and blood stains from where Bill had fallen on the floor―to the inside of the house.
Eric inhaled deeply as he put on a T-shirt and track pants. None of his enemies were left alive on the property, except for Bill. And none of his own people had been killed. However, Jessica and Bubba had both sustained injuries, though they had already healed. As Eric had feared might happen, Jason had been the most damaged, though Jesus assured him that Jason had suffered only a minor concussion. At that moment, Stackhouse was being monitored by both Jesus and Jessica. The redhead had wanted to give Jason her blood, but Eric had told her not to unless Jason’s condition worsened. The boy needed to be conscious―if possible―and choose for himself if such a blood tie were to be made. Jesus assured them that Jason would be fine, but would need to be watched for the next twenty four hours. The brujo had already called in Ludwig to double check his assessment, but the annoying little doctor had yet to arrive.
Eric flew down the stairs at vampire speed, anxious to greet his little boy. Once at the cubby, he put in the code and saw Hunter looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.
“Uncle Eric,” the boy said excitedly as he climbed the stairs with Miranda’s help. Eric had him engulfed in a hug as soon as he was up the steps. He smelled his young one’s hair and was thankful in that moment―so thankful―that Bill’s plans for Hunter had not come to fruition—and now would never come to fruition.
“Are all the bad guys gone?” Hunter asked.
“Yes,” Eric said, as he ruffled the boy’s bangs. “And how about your charges? Did you use your ability to help keep them safe as I asked?”
“Yes,” Hunter said earnestly. “I told them when that strange vampire was at your cubby door.”
Eric looked down at Hunter with pride. “You did very well, Hunter.” Inside Eric knew that Hunter had always been safe in the cubby once it had been locked down, but he still cringed internally at the idea that Bill had been in their house at all.
“Hungry?” Eric asked his son.
Hunter shook his head, “Nope. Miranda and me took some sandwiches down to eat. And we read books to Batanya.”
With the kitten and the puppy under one arm, the Britlingen emerged from the cubby. She nodded to Eric, set down the animals, and then assumed a position to the side. Eric looked over to the other side of the room where Miranda and Jarod were embracing.
Dr. Ludwig picked that moment to knock on the door, and Eric answered it with Hunter still in his arms, though he kept the boy shielded from the clean-up, which was still going on outside. Ludwig looked up at Hunter and smiled a bit before scowling at Eric, “Where is my patient?”
Eric gestured toward the guest room.
Hunter looked up at Eric, “Uncle Eric, did someone get hurt?”
Eric nodded, “A little bit. Your Uncle Jason got a bump on his head, but Jesus took care of him and now Doctor L. is here to make sure he’s okay.”
Dr. Ludwig’s glare into Eric intensified at his use of that nickname, but then she softened her gaze and looked at Hunter. “That’s right, Mr. Hunter, I am going to make sure your uncle is right as rain just for you.”
“Can I see him?” Hunter asked.
“Oh—I’ll take care of him,” Dr. Ludwig said. “And you can see him tomorrow morning.”
“Okay,” Hunter nodded.
Dr. Ludwig turned one last glare to Eric and then went to the ground-floor bedroom to examine Jason.
Hunter whispered to Eric after she was gone, “Are you sure I shouldn’t see Uncle Jason? Mommy always said that a kiss can make an owie all better. Do you think Dr. L. knows about kisses?”
Eric chuckled, “I’m sure she will take good care of your uncle Jason, smár rekkr. And if he still needs a kiss on his owie in the morning, I know you will give him one.” Eric tousled Hunter’s unruly bangs. “Meanwhile, I believe it is after your bath time.”
“Okay, Uncle Eric.” Eric carried Hunter upstairs and ran his bath water. While Hunter splashed around and Batanya kept watch from outside the bathroom door, Eric grabbed the trash bag full of his ruined clothing and went downstairs to take Odin outside as usual.
“He did okay?” Eric asked, as he passed by Miranda at the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes―but he was scared for you,” Miranda said softly. “He was frightened you would be killed.”
Eric nodded solemnly. He looked down at Miranda’s stomach, “And you are well? And the child?”
The Werelioness nodded. “Yes―I missed the fight, however.”
Eric smiled, “Yes, but you protected the cubs, and that is most important.”
Miranda smiled back and touched her stomach. “Yes.”
Eric looked at the broken window in the living room; the glass had been cleared away and the cool night air was being kept out by a piece of plastic. “Can Scott fix this tomorrow?”
Jarod spoke up. “Scott was with Tray tonight, and when he saw the damage, he left immediately to go get a replacement window. He’ll actually be coming to fix it in about an hour.”
Eric checked quickly on Jason’s condition with Ludwig before heading outside. According to the crone doctor, Stackhouse had only a minor concussion and would be fine to go home the next day, but he would need to rest for a few days beyond that. Eric promised swift payment before the doctor could even ask for it―which earned him another glare from her—and then he quickly put on his flip flops, which were by the door, and picked back up the trash bag. Then, he led Odin outside. The dog ran into the darkness as if to greet a friend.
He threw the trash bag to Rasul, who put it into the back of a truck, which already held many bodies. There were too many bodies and not enough fresh graves in the graveyard, so Eric had asked Rasul and Bubba to take them to a little crocodile farm he happened to own.
“Don’t forget the marshmallows,” Sam told Rasul as he approached Eric from the shadows; Odin was at his feet, prancing alongside Sam, whom Eric knew to be the dog’s second favorite person. The vampire bowed to the shifter.
“Merlotte,” Eric said. “I appreciate your help tonight.”
Sam nodded, “It was nothing―especially not when I think about what Bill wanted to do to Hunter.” He bent down to pet Odin affectionately.
“Still,” Eric said, “Sookie would wish for me to say thank you.”
Sam smiled, “Sookie would, wouldn’t she?”
Eric nodded and gave a hint of a smile, “She’d insist.”
With that, Sam turned and started to walk away, waving Odin back when the dog tried to follow. “Just let me and Luna know when the next play date for Hunter and Emma is,” he said over his shoulder.
“I will,” Eric said. The vampire approached Tray next; the Were was leaning against his motorcycle.
“You left us with very little work to do, Northman,” Tray said sarcastically. “I brought twenty, and only five got kills tonight. It was hardly the training exercise I was hoping for.”
“So sorry,” Eric said sarcastically, even as his eyes were smiling.
“Would Sookie require that you thank me as well?” the Were asked; his eyes were full of amusement.
“She would,” Eric said.
“Well,” Tray replied. “I suppose I would tell her ‘you’re welcome.’”
With that, he got onto his bike. He looked at Eric, “But next time, vampire, leave a little more for us to do, okay? I barely got a claw bloody.”
“I’ll remember,” Eric assured.
His obligations outside met, Eric turned to go back into Hunter, but he was met by Thalia, who moved in front of him. The petite vampire looked up at him. “Tonight, Norseman, you proved yourself a worthy warrior yet again. And, once more, I owe you my life.”
Eric chuckled at the look of utter displeasure on Thalia’s face. “You owe me nothing, Thalia. Nothing.”
“But you owe me fealty, Viking,” the petite vampire said with a snarky and somewhat frightening grin. Eric shrugged and bent onto one knee.
“You have my fealty, my queen. And you will always have my gratitude.”
“Rise,” Thalia said. “I will inform the Authority of my ascension when you inform me that Compton is no more. Meanwhile, I will have one more night of peace—at least. And I think I’ll take Bill’s house across the cemetery—once I figure out the human who officially owns it and glamour him or her.”
“I’d start looking with Selah Pumphrey,” Eric suggested.
Thalia nodded. “And Bubba will be staying with me there during the days―if I can get him to give up the ground, that is. I think I deserve a consort.” She began to walk away but then stopped. “Oh—and you will give him two nights off a week from now on.”
“Of course, my queen,” Eric said with a little bow. He smiled at Thalia, knowing that she was going to be the best thing for the state of Louisiana in a very long time.
Thalia turned to Isabel, who was approaching from the woods. “I want one of your people―a good one, I suppose―to take over Area 2 tomorrow, Isabel. The vampires there are a pain in my ass, and I no longer want to deal directly with them.” She looked back at Eric and then at Isabel. “And conduct your business efficiently so that I don’t have to be bothered with it. And when Rasul gets back from your alligator farm, make sure he knows the drill—and the new person too. I don’t want to have to bother with any of you; I’ll have enough shit to deal with.”
“Of course, my queen,” Eric said―again with a small bow and a smile. Truth be told, he’d never heard that many words from Thalia all at once before.
The petite vampiress growled and walked into the woods. Isabel smiled at Eric, “It is always nice to come to one of your parties, my friend. I take it that the child is well.”
“He is,” Eric said.
“And I take it that Compton will soon be quite unwell,” Isabel said, her accent prominent.
“He will,” Eric confirmed.
“Good,” Isabel remarked. “King William was always quite annoying. He kept trying to get me to turn against you. He even promised,” she rolled her eyes, “marriage if I did—as if I would want that.”
Eric smiled, “Well you will no longer have to worry about that.” He turned once again to go into the house with Odin trailing him.
Eric hurried upstairs as he heard Hunter emerging from the bathroom. “Did you brush your teeth, Hunter?”
The boy looked as if he’d just been reminded of something very important and rushed back into the bathroom. Eric smiled and shook his head as he prepared the bed for his boy. His teeth cleaned, Hunter ran into the room and jumped into the bed, followed immediately by Odin.
“Book or story?” Eric asked.
“Story, please,” Hunter requested as Eric pulled his customary chair up next to the bed. For the next half hour, Eric told Hunter about a time when he and his men had been trapped in an early winter storm on the Baltic Sea and made it home only because the North Star had been shining even through the snowy tempest. As he told the story, Eric allowed himself to think about Sookie and about how she had truly become the guiding star in his life. He wondered what she would say about him sitting by Hunter’s bedside and telling him tales of days long gone. He smiled to think of her right there with them, listening alongside Hunter.
When he closed his eyes, he could imagine both sets of brown eyes that he loved so much staring up at him. He realized that a moment such as that would truly be a paradise.
His story finished, he tousled Hunter’s hair before bending down and kissing him on the forehead.
“Good night, Uncle Eric,” Hunter said sleepily.
“Good night, smár rekkr,” Eric said.
The boy looked up at Eric. “I don’t like it when the time changes, Uncle Eric.”
Eric tilted his head, “Do you mean daylight savings time?”
Hunter nodded. “It makes it so I don’t see you as much, and I already missed you when you were sick.”
Eric smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair again. “You are right, Hunter. I will speak to Lafayette and Miranda, and we will push back your schedule starting tomorrow. That way, we will have another hour together each evening. But for tonight, it is already past your bedtime, so try to go to sleep.”
Hunter smiled brightly and then yawned. “Cool.” He closed his eyes and snuggled in with Odin, the kitten, and his toy dinosaur.
Eric sat quietly by Hunter’s side until the boy fell asleep. The vampire was not one for “what if’s.” He was one for preemptive plans and anticipation. However, he couldn’t help but to go over in his head what might have happened to Hunter if Bill had conducted his plan a week before when Eric was incapacitated in the cubby.
He knew that Miranda or Pam would have locked down his resting place, thus ensuring his own survival, and even if they had not, he could have done it himself from inside the cubby. However, he would not have done that; even in his state, he would have been more concerned about Hunter’s safety and would have gone to him.
Eric closed his eyes and imagined that night’s scenario if it had been a surprise attack as Bill had intended. He went through the sequence of events which would have occurred if he had not been able to fight.
He sighed in relief. The magical barrier would have kept them out―of that he was certain now. One of the humans positioned near the property line had walked a bit too far before Bill’s signal was given. That human had been unable to pass onto the land before Lafayette and Jesus lifted the spell. The guard had been momentarily baffled, but the spell lifted seconds later, so he’d told no one about what he probably thought was a misstep on his part. However, Eric had seen it. Thus, he was now certain of the efficacy of Jesus and Lafayette’s protection spell. With relief, Eric knew that Bill’s plan would have failed before it had even gotten started.
Eric was also comforted by the fact that his contract with Batanya included an extraction order. If she would have been unable to fight off a breach to the cubby, she would have transported Hunter to safety, even if that meant taking him temporarily to her realm.
Yes―Eric was confident that Bill would not have reached Hunter no matter what, but the Civil War veteran’s machinations may have led to the deaths of others. And the fact of the matter was that Bill had wanted to take Hunter―would have continued to make plans to take the boy.
The thought of Bill taking his son’s freedom and innocence raised Eric’s ire to the point of burning.
Eric had chosen to temporarily focus on Hunter’s needs and not his anger, but now he let his anger wash over him like a tide―more like a fucking tidal wave.
Eric gave one more affectionate pat to the boy’s forehead and then petted the kitten and Odin. “Stay,” Eric said quietly to the clever animals.
Eric passed Batanya in the hallway. He was surprised when the usually quiet Britlingen spoke to him. “The child is brave and has a good heart.”
Eric turned to look at her. “Yes.”
“He read me several stories today.”
“Yes―he told me.”
She looked toward Hunter’s room, “Our next contract will be for a full five years, Northman.”
Eric looked at her with a bit of surprise and then bowed. As he went down the stairs, he chuckled to himself. Like Sookie, Hunter had a way of drawing supernatural beings to him. And—most of the time—he also seemed to draw out their best.
Eric knew that Jessica was at Jason’s bedside, and he saw that Jesus was on the couch as he passed the living room.
Jesus spoke, “I’m going to stay the night to make sure that Jason is okay. Dr. Ludwig agreed that it was just a minor concussion, but I’m going to sleep on the couch so that I can keep an eye on him. And Laf is in the guesthouse for the night.” Jesus smiled toward the bedroom, “Jason has a pretty nursemaid too.”
Eric nodded. “Is the privacy spell I asked for in place?”
Jesus responded warily, “Yes. No one will be able to hear what is happening in the workshop for the next forty eight hours.”
“Good,” Eric said and then left the house.
Jesus was not naïve. He knew why Eric had asked for the privacy spell and could only guess about what might happen in the workshop. He’d seen all the tarps and plastic that now covered Eric and Hunter’s work things. He also knew that Bill had been taken there. An image of the television program Dexter entered his mind.
The brujo shook his head. He’d already been the witness to a slaughter that night, most of it done by his employer, the vampire who had just spoken to him―the vampire whom he had seen lovingly take Hunter up for his bath time and the one who had made sure the child had gotten his dinner. It was hard to reconcile the killer with the husband, father, employer, and friend that Eric was as well.
However, Jesus could not muster up much compassion for the humans and vampires who had died that night. Their express purpose had been to come into that house and kidnap a child so that Bill could force a tie with him and bleed him dry in every way that really mattered. Jesus thought about Bill feeding from little Hunter and cringed; he also knew of Bill’s plans to train the boy as first his telepath and then later his lover. It was of little difference to Jesus that Bill had talked about waiting until Hunter was eighteen to make him his lover either. By then, Hunter would have already been tied so tightly to Bill that he wouldn’t have had free choice.
Jesus felt nauseated as he remembered the recording of Bill’s discussion with Lillith about Hunter. Everyone had listened to the tape the night before so that they would all be fully aware of Bill’s plan of attack as well as the danger if they failed to stop him. Jesus knew that he would forever remember the monarch’s words.
Bill had congratulated himself that he planned to ‘wait to take the boy completely’ until he was a legal adult. But in Jesus’s mind that hardly mattered; it was just a justification given by a sick and delusional individual. In the recording, Bill had talked about Hunter like he was a replacement for Sookie—someone that he could love and whose purity would help him restore his humanity.
Jesus shuddered. No―he did not feel sorry for the vampire that he knew would be facing Eric’s wrath. He did feel some sympathy for the families of the human gunmen who had died that night, but then he remembered seeing the bulletproof vest that Eric had given Bubba to wear. It had been riddled with wooden bullets—all of them aimed at his heart. If he’d not had the vest on, any one of them might have killed the benevolent, loyal vampire that Jesus considered a friend. The humans had been told to eliminate Bubba first, just as Eric had thought they would, and they’d shown no mercy. Without that vest, Bubba would be dead; of that Jesus was certain.
Jesus sighed. Maybe being a part of the supernatural world meant accepting the deaths of your enemies without question. All he knew was that if it hadn’t been for Eric’s carefully laid trap, Bill would have kept trying to get Hunter, and he would have killed anyone in his way, including Jason, Miranda, Jarod, or his beloved Lafayette. No—Jesus didn’t feel sorry for Bill Compton at all.
Jesus checked on Jason one more time. The young man was sleeping peacefully, and his vitals were good. “Jess, I’ll be sleeping on the couch if anything changes, okay? And wake me when you have to go to your day sleep so that I can take over watching.”
The redhead looked up at Jesus and nodded. The brujo patted her shoulder comfortingly and then went to get some well-earned rest.