Eric awoke the next night to what were becoming familiar sounds from outside: splashing and Hunter’s laughter. The vampire smiled at the music of his son playing in their new pool.
Eric didn’t bother to shower. Instead he quickly put on his swim trunks and zipped downstairs, diving into the pool after a flying leap from the back door. As always, the splash made Hunter squeal with glee.
“Uncle Eric!” the boy exclaimed, swimming up to him. Eric chuckled a bit as the floating devises on the boy’s arms bobbed erratically up and down in the water as Hunter excitedly swam toward him. Eric hugged the boy and then dunked him slightly. Hunter giggled and splashed Eric as best he could.
They swam around for a bit, and then Eric looked at Miranda, whom everyone had been trying to stay away from lately. Her stomach was huge with her child, and in the humid Louisiana summer, she could be found in the pool most days as well as many nights. She stayed perched on the steps under an umbrella Jarod had fashioned for her there.
Only Hunter was currently safe from her tirades; even Jarod had begun ‘hiding’ from her most days.
“Hello, Miranda,” Eric said tentatively. “How was your appointment with Ludwig?”
“The bit-,” Miranda stopped herself, “I mean the doctor refused to induce my labor yet again. She says I must wait until I deliver naturally, despite the child’s size and the fact that it needs to get the fu-,” she stopped herself again. “Well—he needs to vacate his current residence before I burst!”
Eric tried to hide his chuckle. “The doctor would know best about such things.”
“Do not speak of things you know nothing about, Northman!” Miranda barked. “Until you are almost nine months pregnant, you will kindly keep your mouth shut.”
Hunter spoke sincerely as he dogpaddled next to Eric, “Doctor L. told me that the baby would come soon, and then I would have to be very gentle with him until he learned how to play with me.”
Eric smiled at his boy, “Doctor L. is right about that. Did you give Miranda and Jarod what we made for the baby today―as we’d planned?” Eric winked down at Hunter.
Hunter nodded excitedly and swam over to Miranda, who caught the swimming boy in her arms. “You liked it, didn’t you, Miranda?”
For once, Miranda’s countenance softened, “Yes, Hunter. It was lovely.” She looked at Eric. “It is a beautiful cradle. You and your Uncle Eric did a good job on it.”
Hunter beamed. “It was Uncle Eric’s idea, Miranda, but I’m the one that picked the kind of wood to use.” He looked at Eric. “Oak―because your baby will be strong and brave. I just know it!”
Miranda actually looked like she might tear up, but she quickly regained her countenance. “Yes―it was very nice, Hunter.” She slid further into the water as she torpedoed Hunter toward Eric.
Hunter squealed as Eric caught him and then propelled them both quickly on the surface of the water, much to Hunter’s delight.
Eric took one more minute to enjoy the pool with his son and then he said, “Hunter, I have something important that I have to talk to you about, okay?”
Hunter―sensing the seriousness in Eric’s tone―immediately tensed, “What’s wrong, Uncle Eric?”
“Let’s get out and talk―okay smár rekkr?” Eric said.
Hunter nodded apprehensively as Eric picked him up and flew him out of the pool. Eric grabbed one of the big, fluffy towels from the little cabinet he and Hunter had built and quickly wrapped it around the boy. He looked at Miranda meaningfully.
She glared right back. “I won’t be getting out of this pool for the foreseeable future, Northman,” she growled.
Eric sighed and nodded. “Hunter, I’m going to go to New Orleans tonight.”
Hunter tilted his head, “Where Mommy used to live?”
“That’s right,” Eric said.
“Can I come with you?” Hunter asked, his voice shaking a bit. He had never been without his Uncle Eric for a day or night, except for when he had to go to work early on some Sundays and Aunt Pammy tucked him in.
Eric sighed, “No, Hunter. You need to stay here.”
“Will you be back tomorrow when I wake up, like you are on Monday mornings?”
Eric shook his head. “Hunter, I do not know when I will be back, but Aunt Pam and Uncle Jason are going to stay with you in the house―as will Miranda and Jarod and Jessica.”
Hunter’s eyes started to well with tears. “Why are you goin’ away, Uncle Eric?”
Eric sighed deeply, hating himself for bringing tears to his son’s eyes. “I think I have found a way to go to where your Aunt Sookie and your mother have been taken. I’m going to go to try to bring them back.”
Hunter considered this for a moment. “But if you go there, it will be a long time before you come back―just like Mommy and Aunt Sookie.”
Eric nodded, “Yes, Hunter. I will try to come back quickly, but it may be a while.”
Hunter tried to hold back his sobs as he pulled himself into Eric’s embrace. “Don’t go, Uncle Eric.”
Eric sighed, “Hunter, I have to get them back if I can. We both need them back.”
Hunter buried himself into Eric’s chest and shook his head, “Can I go with you?”
Eric pulled his boy closer to him, “No―I’m sorry, Hunter.” Eric didn’t want to tell Hunter that it was too dangerous for him to go.
Hunter looked up at Eric with big tears in his eyes. He was shaking.
Eric looked down at him, trying to project confidence, “I will return as soon as I can. And we will be together again. Until then, you will have Uncle Jason, Aunt Pam, Uncle Lala, Jesus, Jessica, Bubba, Miranda, and Jarod all taking care of you.”
“You promise I’ll see you soon?” Hunter asked in a quiet, trembling voice.
“I promise,” Eric said. “As soon as possible.”
Hunter kept holding on to Eric tightly, as if he were afraid the vampire would disappear at any moment.
Pam arrived at that moment but held back from approaching as Eric gave her a look.
Eric looked at Hunter closely, “When I was your age, my father would leave every time the weather would warm up. He would go on long journeys, not returning until the snows came again. I would miss him very much, but I knew that he had to go in order to make my family and my village more prosperous and secure. He told me that I had to be brave and to take care of my family and our village while he was gone, but I do not have to tell these things to you, Hunter. You are already very brave. And I know that you will always do your best to take care of those around you. And they will also take care of you, so you need not worry about anything.”
Eric ruffled Hunter’s wet bangs. “So I don’t need to tell you the things that my father used to have to tell me, smár rekkr. Instead, I will tell you how much I am going to miss you―even if I am only gone for a day or two. I will miss you all the time that I am not with you.”
“Just like you miss Aunt Sookie and I miss Mommy?”
“Yes, Hunter―just like that.”
Eric continued, “And since I will miss you so much, you know that I will not stay gone any longer than I must―right?”
Hunter nodded his head as he tried to wipe away his tears.
“And Hunter, I want to tell you one more thing that you must remember no matter how long I am gone.”
Hunter looked up at him with wide eyes.
With difficultly, Eric smiled at his son, though Pam could see that it did not reach his eyes. “You must remember that I love you, Hunter. As much as any father ever loved a son, I love you. And you must remember that I am very proud of you.”
“I love you too, Uncle Eric,” Hunter sobbed as he once again buried his face into Eric’s chest.
Eric let his child cry for a few minutes and then spoke to Pam, “Is everything ready with Octavia.”
Pam spoke in a quiet voice, “She is not pleased, but they will be ready.”
Eric stood up with Hunter in his arms. “All right, smár rekkr, it is time for me to go. Like I said, your Aunt Pam is going to stay with you during the nights now, and Uncle Jason will start living here in the days too―until I get back. So that means you will get Jessica all the time as well. And Uncle Lala and Jesus will be returning tomorrow.”
Hunter looked up at Eric. “Who will teach me to swim when you’re not here?”
Eric smiled and ruffled Hunter’s bangs again. “Uncle Jason and your cousin Jessica have already been helping, right? They will continue doing this.”
Hunter continued looking up at Eric, “Vem kommer att lära mig svenska?” [Who will teach me Swedish?]
Eric smiled proudly at Hunter, both for his delay tactics and for his increasing fluency in Swedish. The boy was saying more and more complicated sentences by the day. “Din moster Pammy kommer att lära dig.” [Your aunt Pammy will teach you.]
Pam stepped forward now. “That’s right, Hunt. And I will do your bedtime story at night too until Eric is back. Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.” In that moment, she was saying the words to both Hunter and herself.
Eric looked down at Hunter and kissed him gently on the forehead as large teardrops continued down Hunter’s cheeks. Eric ruffled the boy’s hair one last time and then handed him to Pam.
Without another word, Eric turned and headed into the house at vampire speed, not wanting Hunter to see the red tears now making their way down his own cheeks. His choice had been impossible; to get Sookie, he had to leave Hunter. Eric just hoped that he would be back to his son within the next few days―or even months―and that he would have their women with him.
Pam unconsciously rocked Hunter as he continued crying a little. “Don’t worry, Hunt,” Pam said after a few minutes. “Aunt Pammy is gonna make sure everything is okay.” She sat down in a lounge chair and continued to rock him. Miranda, still in the pool, looked on sadly; tears were in her eyes too.
Pam could hear when Eric came quietly out of the house to go. She could sense that he was hovering somewhere nearby as he watched them for a few minutes. She could feel his sadness and determination, and then he was gone.
Pam waited for Hunter to stop crying and then hugged him tightly. “Well, Hunt, would you like to swim some more? I know that the whale―I mean Miranda―is taking up most of the pool, but there seems to be room for you since you are still a small child. I do not think both of us could fit in there with her, but I would be willing to try that too.”
“Pam,” Miranda said in a warning tone. “If I weren’t so pregnant, you would be in trouble for that remark.”
Pam looked down at Hunter and rolled her eyes.
The boy couldn’t help but to giggle a bit.
“Maybe we can get Jesus and Lafayette to come up with a magical spell that can make the pool bigger so that Miranda can fit better. What do you think, Hunt?”
He giggled a little more.
“And just think about all the fabric that was needed to make just that bathing suit for her! It must have taken the whole store just for that!”
Again Miranda growled as Hunter tried to stifle his giggles.
“Isn’t Miranda getting fat, Hunt? Have you seen how she has to turn sideways to get into a room now?”
Hunter snorted loudly—just like Eric, “Aunt Pammy, Miranda isn’t fat. She’s got a baby in her belly.”
“That’s right, Hunter!” Miranda said. “Defend me from mean, old Aunt Pammy. Do you know how old your Aunt Pammy is, Hunter?”
The two women kept poking fun at each other good-naturedly, making Hunter laugh as they did so. For once, Miranda didn’t mind looking like a whale instead of a lioness; as long as it could distract Hunter for a little while, she didn’t mind it at all.