Eric woke up the next night in his own bed to a beautiful sight; Hunter, along Odin and the cat, was curled up next to him taking a nap. The vampire looked up and saw Batanya standing watch.
For one of the only times he could remember, the Britlingen smiled at him.
She spoke in a quiet voice so that she would not disturb her sleeping charge. “This morning, Hunter and the Werelioness decided that you would be fine here today. At first, the Werelioness had arranged to move you, but the brujo suggested that Hunter might need you to be,” she paused, “more accessible to him on this day.”
Eric looked over at his son and nodded.
Batanya continued with a slight smirk, “Hunter agreed to this plan only after ordering me to watch over you until you awoke. Of course, he was inside all day, so I was also watching over him.”
Eric nodded again and moved his cheek to Hunter’s forehead.
Batanya smiled at the tender action of the father in front of her. “He had a good day―but a hard day. He was awake very early this morning—only a short while after dawn. After his talk with Miranda, he came in here to finish his morning sleep with you. And he returned for his nap an hour ago.”
Remembering all the blood that had been on his body due to his crying, Eric looked a bit concerned for a moment.
Sensing the source of his apprehension, Batanya assured, “Do not worry. Before she went to the cubby, your vampire progeny cleaned off your face and removed your shirt since it also had blood on it. The boy saw none of it.”
Eric sighed with relief. “It was hard for him?” Eric asked softly, monitoring Hunter to make sure he was still sleeping.
Batanya nodded, “The others were all here today. Their words spoke of happiness that he would be getting to see his mother tonight, but the boy was able to hear what lay beneath those words. He returned here many times today to sit and speak with you about it—although, of course, you could not hear him.”
Eric looked at Batanya, “Will you tell me what my son needed to speak in my presence?”
Batanya smiled again but shook her head, “I will not tell all, but I will say that he knew the others were sad and troubled.” The Britlingen looked at the boy affectionately. “He knows that they are worried that he will stay with his mother after tonight, but they are also genuinely happy for him that he will get to see her. He spoke to you about wishing she could come here. He spoke out his love for you many times. He spoke of not wanting to leave here, but he was saddened that he would not be able to live with his mother if he did stay in the human realm.” She paused and then repeated. “He had a good, but hard day.”
Eric nodded, “No matter what happens, I wish for you to stay with him until he is of age, and even then, I will continue the contract if he allows it.”
Batanya nodded her head curtly once. “I will guard this child until I must return to my realm to replenish my strength. At that time, one of my kinswomen will take on the task until I am able to return. He will stay under the watch of the Britlingens until his natural death.” She added with a slight smirk, “If he allows it—as you said before.”
Eric returned the nod, “Hunter will not be the only one missed if he leaves tonight.”
Batanya said nothing, but the corners of her lips sneaked up a fraction. Eric kissed Hunter lightly on his forehead and then spoke in a soft voice, “Son, it is time to wake up. We have a busy night ahead.”
Hunter yawned and stretched into Eric for a hug before sitting up slowly. As always, the cat—in protest of any movement that disturbed his rest—got up and jumped off the bed.
Hunter rubbed his eyes and then looked at Eric nervously. “Do you think Mommy will like the clothes I picked?”
Eric looked down at his son’s rumpled dinosaur shirt and tan cargo pants. He nodded. “Yes,” he smiled, as he noticed that his son had chosen his favorite clothing. “But I am not sure if these will be the clothes you will have on when we get there. Remember when I told you about being in different clothes when I made my visit?”
Hunter sighed. “I know, but I wanted to look good just in case. Sissy says green is my color.” He shrugged a little, clearly not knowing exactly what Pam’s remarks had meant.
Eric smiled. “You chose well. I like this shirt very much.” He tickled Hunter a bit. “It is your favorite dinosaur too—correct?”
Hunter perked up. “Yep—it’s a T-Rex.”
Eric chuckled, “When my people found the bones of dinosaurs, we thought that they were from dragons. Now,” he ruffled Hunter’s bangs, “go and brush this hair of yours while I change clothes and brush my own mop.” He tousled his own unruly hair. “We have our women to visit!”
Hunter giggled and quickly got up before skipping from the room with Batanya and Odin trailing.
Eric quickly put on a fresh pair of jeans and T-shirt. He’d showered while Hunter had taken his own bath the night before. The last time that Eric went to the fairy realm, his clothing had changed, but Eric remembered the eagle talon and his wedding ring staying in place. With that in mind, he put on both of his necklaces. He’d not touched the silver in the locket for a long time, but he still liked it to be close. It symbolized Sookie’s care for him and her willingness to protect him. His wedding ring, of course, never left his hand.
Eric zipped downstairs and quickly fed the cat. Lafayette was standing pensively in the kitchen―as was Pam, who was holding a cooler containing the synthetic fairy blood, which had been delivered earlier that day.
Eric nodded to his vampire child and spoke quietly, “Thank you for making it so that Hunter would not see me that way.”
She just nodded, obviously trying to hold back red tears of her own.
Eric touched her cheek gently and then quickly pulled out the blood and drank every drop.
He looked at Lafayette. He could smell that their entire little clan was gathered in the living room. He also heard the patter of Hunter’s feet at the top of the stairs. He whispered to Lafayette. “There must be no tearful goodbyes, and we must be on our way. Niall will be waiting.”
Lafayette visibly stiffened and then a determined look spread across his face as Eric knew would happen. He’d learned a lot about Sookie’s flamboyant friend—their friend—over the last year. One of those things was that he was able to keep his head when—as he said—the ‘shit went down.’ Oh—Eric knew that Lafayette would most likely break down in tears the minute Hunter left, but until then, he could be trusted to make sure things went smoothly, and everyone else would follow his lead.
Lafayette hurried into the living room as Hunter came down the stairs with Odin at his feet. Eric knew that it was because of Lafayette that Hunter was not immediately greeted by a barrage of people when he was at the bottom of the stairs. “Ready?” Eric asked his son.
Hunter nodded and put his hand into Eric’s. They stopped quickly in the living room, where Lafayette had everyone at least seeming to watch television. “See ya later, Hunt,” Lafayette said, looking briefly over his shoulder at him. “Don’t forgets that tomorrow’s spaghetti night.”
Hunter smiled and gripped Eric’s hand tighter as the others quickly said “goodbyes” and “see you later’s.” Jared promised to look after Odin until Hunter got back. Jessica was the only one that almost lost control, but after a quick look from Pam and a squeeze of the hand from Jason, the young vampiress composed herself. Eric quickly helped Hunter put on his jacket, gloves, and hat. Then Hunter once again took his hand.
Within minutes of Hunter coming downstairs, he, Eric, Pam, and Batanya were out the door and walking toward the old cemetery, where Sookie had arranged for them to meet Niall and Claude. Hunter kept a tight grip on Eric’s hand as they passed a forlorn-looking Bubba. Eric was quite glad that Hunter could not hear the vampire’s thoughts in that moment. As they approached the cemetery, Hunter’s hold grew even stronger.
“Daddy,” he said looking up at Eric with concern. “I can hear fairies. Are you sure they are good?”
Eric picked Hunter up into his arms to carry him. He spoke comfortingly. “I smell Niall. I have smelled him before―remember? They are good. They are your kin.”
Hunter nodded, but Eric could tell his son was glad to be held.
Eric looked at Pam. “Stay back a bit. If I am right, they will both mask their scent from you as we near, but if they don’t, keep control of yourself.”
She nodded and spoke to Hunter lovingly, “See you soon, little brother.”
“Okay, Sissy,” came Hunter’s reply.
Eric saw Niall and another fairy in the distance, but he stopped right inside the property barrier while they were still several yards from the fairies.
Niall chuckled and gestured toward Claude. Both of them walked safely through the magical barrier and onto the property.
Niall spoke to Eric, “A last test?”
Eric shrugged, “An old habit.”
Niall chuckled again. “You help to keep your family safe through such habits. Do not forget them.”
Eric nodded to the fairies.
Niall looked at Hunter, “I am Niall. I am your great-great grandfather, but that is too long to say―I think―so you may just call me Niall, or Grandpa, if you wish.”
Hunter looked at Eric and then at Niall. “Okay Ni-all,” he said, trying out the name.
Eric looked down at his boy proudly, knowing that he’d just signaled that the fairy would have to earn the name of ‘Grandpa.’
Also looking proud, Niall smiled at Hunter before gesturing toward Claude. “This is my son, Claude.”
Hunter looked at him less warily. “Daddy told me that you are my Aunt Sookie’s brother and my mommy’s friend.”
Claude bowed and smiled. “I am. I help to watch over them so that they are safe, and I help your Aunt Sookie with her training.”
Hunter nodded and seemed to make a quick decision in his head. “Hi Uncle Claude. It’s nice to meet you.”
Eric snickered a bit at Hunter’s naming of Claude. Niall chuckled. Truth be told, Eric had intuited that Hunter would likely respond quickly to Claude, based on Sookie’s description of her chosen fairy brother. On the other hand, Eric knew just how formal Niall seemed—at least at first. But knowing Hunter, Eric was certain that he would soon be calling the fairy, “Grandpa.”
Claude smiled. “It is nice to meet you too, Hunter. Through your aunt Sookie, your father has reported that many people call you Hunt. I would like to do that—if it is okay.”
Hunter smiled at him and nodded.
Claude winked at the child and then once again bowed to Eric. “My tanah is extremely anxious to see you,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “And I am pleased to finally meet you.”
Eric returned Claude’s bow. “I am glad to meet you too. Sookie has told me of you.”
Claude smiled. “And I feel as if I know you too.”
Eric nodded again to Claude, acknowledging the connection they now shared because of Sookie.
Anxious to see his wife, Eric looked at Niall. “How will this happen?”
“You seem just as anxious as your mate, young Eric,” Niall chuckled. “I will take your hand and Claude will take Hunter’s. Batanya can pass to our realm under her own power.”
Eric looked at the Britlingen, who nodded to him in confirmation.
Hunter gripped Eric tightly and looked up at him nervously.
Eric looked down at his son and then back to Niall. “I would like to continue holding Hunter if that is acceptable.”
Niall nodded, and he and Claude walked over to the pair. Eric spoke softly. “I will be with you, my son. You need not fear. We will have a very nice visit.”
“Traveling to Faerie will take only a moment, Hunt,” Claude promised. “And your aunt and mother are anxious to see you.”
Unconsciously, Eric placed his chin gently onto the crown of his son’s head, a gesture that gave them both comfort. He spoke to the fairies. “Hunter wishes to show his mother his favorite dinosaur shirt. Is that possible?”
Claude chuckled. “Yes, Hunt. And I believe she will like it very much. We do not have such creatures in Faerie, so I hope that you will tell me of them.”
Hunter nodded excitedly. “Okay.”
Reassured, Hunter smiled up at his father, though Eric could still see some nervousness in his expression.
Eric reached out his hand to take Niall’s, and Hunter mimicked the movement and took Claude’s.
The five travelers were almost immediately in the sunlight and standing as if on top of the pool of water in the ‘in between’ place at the borders of the fairy realm.
Hunter ignored everything else and looked up at Eric with fear in his eyes. “Daddy―it’s day here!”
Eric smiled, “It is always day in this realm―I think―min son. But the sun will not burn me here. I’m sorry that I forgot to tell you this before. Do not fear.”
Hunter nodded as Eric took his hand from Niall’s and unconsciously reached up to ruffle his child’s bangs. Hunter’s big brown eyes began to look around until they landed on his mother.
As for Eric, he didn’t need to look to know where his mate was. The vampire bond had ignited and was telling him exactly where she was. His nose was telling him. His mouth was already watering. His skin was tingling.
She was really there, and he was home.
The vampire bond pulsed with love, joy, and what could only be called relief; the force of the magic between the pair of reunited lovers stirred the air between them into a barely noticeable haze.
Eric raised his eyes from Hunter and locked them onto his wife’s beautiful brown eyes. He caught a breath that he hadn’t needed to take as he saw the specks of green—a beautiful sea green that threatened to knock him off of his feet with its tidal force—in her love-filled eyes.
His first impulse was to run to her, but he calmed himself so that he could be what Hunter needed right then. He felt his wife’s love and pride in his actions wash over him.
Niall chuckled and spoke to Claude quietly. “Impressive―isn’t it.”
Claude nodded and smiled in the direction of his chosen sister. “Yes—you were right. I have never felt such a bond,” he returned to his father telepathically.
Keeping his eyes fixed on Sookie, Eric walked slowly to the edge of the pool and then set Hunter onto his feet on the grass. Hunter grasped Eric’s hand tightly even as he looked at his mother nervously. Sensing his son’s anxiety, Eric ripped his eyes from his mate and bent down to speak his child.
As he did, Eric felt Sookie bombarding him with her strength and comfort. He’d never been more thankful for his wife than in that moment; he’d also never been more thankful for the emotional connection that their vampire bond gave to them. Its loss for so long would forever remind him of its preciousness.
“Son,” Eric began, “remember what I told you last night. You will have a good time tonight with your mother. And see―just as Claude promised―we are still dressed as we were, so you can show her your dinosaur shirt.” Instead of ruffling Hunter’s bangs as usual, Eric reached up and gently straightened them before kissing him on his forehead.
Comforted, Hunter nodded and looked at his mother, who was gripping Sookie’s hand anxiously. To Hadley’s credit, she had felt Hunter’s need to take a moment with Eric, and she had given it to him.
Eric smiled at Hunter. “And I will be near all night. Even if you don’t see me and I am spending time with Aunt Sookie as you spend time with your mother, I will be here, and you can call me if you need me.”
Hunter nodded again. Eric felt a rush of strength from his wife and looked at her gratefully. “We’d better go greet our women, smár rekkr.”
Hunter giggled a little as Eric rose to his feet and led them over to where Hadley and Sookie were standing about ten feet away from the pool. Knowing Eric needed her, Sookie dropped her cousin’s hand and took her husband’s free one, an act that helped Eric to let go of Hunter’s hand.
Hunter paused for a moment and then launched himself into Hadley’s arms. Hadley tearfully picked up her son and held him to her, hugging him tightly.
“I missed you, Mommy. I love you,” Hunter’s little voice came through his tears. Sookie moved closer to Eric as he looked on at the reunion of mother and son with a little smile on his face.
The mix of happiness and fear flowing from him into the vampire bond almost overwhelmed Sookie—especially after so long without that bond—but she held on to him and leaned against him, placing her arms around his body. He kissed her hair unconsciously as she nestled into his chest, sending him more strength through the vampire bond.
Hadley spoke after a couple of minutes. She looked at Eric, “Thank you. Thank you for taking care of him.”
Eric responded. “You need never thank me for this. Taking care of Hunter brings me only joy.”
Hadley nodded. “Still—thank you. You are a good,” she paused, “father, Eric. You are much better than the one I chose.” She smiled at him and then down at Hunter. “And you are the best son in the whole world—actually in two whole worlds.”
Hunter smiled back up at her and then looked at his daddy. He smiled even wider when he saw that his daddy was hugging his Aunt Sookie and holding her hand. “Hiya, Aunt Sookie,” Hunter said happily.
Sookie smiled back as a tear fell from her eye. “Hiya, Hunter.”
Hunter jumped down from his mother and quickly came over to hug Sookie, who let go of Eric momentarily so that she could bend down to embrace the little boy.
“It’s so good to see you, Hunter,” Sookie said. In her mind, she realized that she was telling him that she loved him.
Hunter smiled, but then looked at her seriously. He spoke in a whisper, “Daddy likes to hold your hand, so you should do that a lot today.”
Sookie pulled back and winked at him. “Thanks, Hunter. I’ll do that.”
Hunter continued speaking to Sookie. “Emma let me hold her hand once, but Uncle Jason said I needed to be older before I kissed her.”
Sookie let out a little chortle. “Uncle Jason is definitely right about that.”
Hunter looked at Eric. “Daddy said that I’d better ask permission first too, but he said I should wait a while. He said that holdin’ hands was okay, but that he would speak to me again about it when I was thirteen, but that I should wait until at least then before I tried to kiss Emma again. When I told Emma that we’d need to wait before we started kissin’, she said that was cool,” Hunter rattled off. “She’ll be fourteen then, but she said it’s okay that she’s a year older. Until then, she told me I could kiss her on her cheek any time I wanted if I asked first, and Daddy said that was okay too. ‘Course she never asks before kissin’ my cheek, but she is older,” Hunter shrugged. “And I don’t really mind.”
Sookie chuckled at Hunter’s animated rambling. “Your daddy is pretty smart, Hunt. And so are you,” she beamed as she stood up and retook Eric’s hand, winking at Hunter as she did.
Hunter smiled up at them and then turned back to his mother.
Hadley reached out her hand to him. “Come on, Hunt. Let’s go have a snack, and I’ll show you where I live here, and you can tell me all about this Emma. And Claude brought us a game to play too!”
Hunter glanced at his daddy a little nervously.
Eric spoke up confidently, even though Sookie could sense his trepidation in the bond. “Enjoy your time with your mother, min son. I will be near.”
“Yeah,” Sookie said. “See that little place over there?”
Hunter followed Sookie’s pointed finger to her dwelling. “Uh-huh,” he sounded.
Sookie smiled. “We’ll be in there for a little while, so if you need us, just yell—okay?”
Looking relieved that his daddy would be so close, Hunter smiled at them. “Okie dokie.” He turned to go with Hadley to a pallet that was set up for them to sit on about twenty feet away.
Eric nodded at Batanya, and Sookie gave the Britlingen a little smile.
Batanya returned the nod and followed after Hunter.
Sookie felt Eric actively working to calm himself and settle his nerves as he watched his son move away with Hadley. Sookie sent him another wave of strength. She spoke to him in a low voice. “Don’t worry. Hadley is well aware of the borders of this place, and she won’t take him beyond them. And I have asked Claude to stay nearby too. Niall was already planning to.”
Eric looked at her seriously. “Without you here, I don’t know if I could do this,” he whispered.
Sookie gave him a little smile. “You are such a good father, Eric. And I know you will always do right by Hunter—always.”
He smiled down at her, and Sookie felt his emotions shifting. He spoke in a low voice. “My son will be safe and needs time to be alone with his mother. And I need time to be alone with you, min kära.”