After leaving Hunter to his sleep, Eric went to his and Sookie’s bedroom, where he was once again staying now that Scott had reinforced the walls with steel and silver so that the room could be locked down just as securely as the cubby if there were a breach. He’d been assured by Claude before the construction that the iron within the steel would not hurt Sookie; it would prevent a fairy from “popping” into and out of the room, but Sookie didn’t have the gift of teleportation, so it wouldn’t limit or harm her in any way.
The vampire sat heavily onto the bed and spared a few minutes to stare at the new picture that had been added to his bedside table. It had been given to him by Pam―of all people―but like the other two that kept him company before he died each day, it was perfect.
It was an image of Sookie captured from the security footage outside the front entrance of Fangtasia. It was from the day of their bonding. The image had been cropped so that it showed a close-up of her face. One would have thought that the harsh exterior lights would have blunted Sookie’s beauty, but the opposite was the case. Those lights had clutched onto the sparkle in his wife’s brown eyes—and had pulled the gold from them.
In the picture, her eyes were nervous, but excited too. And there was so much anticipation—so much love for him in them. It had been taken moments before he would have seen her—moments before she pledged herself to him. He had felt her coming closer to him and had known when she was just outside the front entrance of Fangtasia. And, of course, he had felt her emotions through their vampire bond, but seeing her face in that moment had been a gift that he had never expected to receive.
His vampire child had handed him the framed photograph after Hunter had gone to bed on the anniversary of the night that they had first seen Sookie in Fangtasia. Pam had said nothing after she’d given it to him. Before that, she’d told him simply that she would make sure no one expected him downstairs that night.
He had—as Pam had anticipated—spent the rest of the night staring at the captured image before putting it into its place beside the bed.
Thankful more than ever for his vampire child, Eric pulled out his phone and sent her a text, letting her know that he’d soon be on his way.
It was still his habit to go to Fangtasia on Sunday nights so that he could take care of all the Area 5 business that required his presence, and since the bar was closed, he knew that he wouldn’t have to deal with any fangbangers. He had thought about moving his “court” closer; in fact, he’d even considered building a small office building on the other side of Bon Temps, but, in the end, he didn’t want any problems he encountered to be that close to home. So he had kept his office in the bar, though he’d sold his interest in the club to Duncan and Pam.
Luckily, his docket was light that night, so he would not have to be away from his son for more than a few hours. He still feared Hunter’s nightmares more than almost anything else, and he was especially worried that Hunter’s fears might resurface in his subconscious that night because of their talk.
Eric quickly texted Jessica to ask her if she could work from his office at home rather than Jason’s that night. The redhead would be able to offer Hunter some solace if he had a bad dream―at least until Eric could get home to comfort his son.
Within a minute, Jessica texted back to say that she and Jason were on their way and had already planned to stay the night―or the day in Jessica’s case—since she was going to be doing some Area 5 paperwork that night, which required her to use Eric’s computer.
Comforted a bit by the fact that Hunter would have both Jessica and Jason near if he had a bad dream, Eric quickly changed out of his fairy pants, which had—much to Pam’s chagrin—become his favorite lounge pants, both because of their comfort and because they had retained the scent of his bonded even after they’d been washed. He put on a pair of jeans and a black tank top―his standard uniform, as Sookie would have said. He added black socks and boots and then a black leather jacket to complete his “look.”
Eric walked down the stairs to find Duncan lounging on the couch. His vampire brother looked both satisfied and spent, and there were two already-finished bottles of TruBlood on the coffee table in front of him. Another was half-finished. Duncan’s eyes were closed and there was a self-satisfied smile on his face.
“I take it that your evening went,” Eric paused, “well.”
“Mmmm,” Duncan sounded. “I have healed.” He opened his sharp blue eyes and grinned at Eric. “You do have an indefinite contract with the Britlingen—do you not?”
“Indeed,” Eric answered with amusement. “She has told me that she plans to stay with Hunter during his life.”
“Then my evening went very well,” Duncan chuckled. “What a woman!” he sighed.
“You are not,” Eric paused, “permanently worse for wear—I take it.”
“Oh—I am very much worse for wear,” Duncan smiled like the devil himself, “however, I intend to be coming out on top the next time.”
Eric chuckled. “I will likely be at Fangtasia for only two or three hours tonight.”
Duncan straightened up a little. “As always, I will stay close to Hunter until you are back.”
Eric nodded. “Jessica and Jason will soon be here as well. There is some work in my office for her to see to, and Jason plans to take Hunter fishing tomorrow morning if it is not raining.”
Duncan chuckled. “That means that Pam will be relegated to the cubby again—since the young lovers will take over the bedroom downstairs.”
Eric nodded. “I will inform Pam when I’m at Fangtasia.”
“Better you than me,” Duncan said earnestly as he sank further into the couch.
“Batanya requires you for a date on Tuesday,” Eric informed the Scotsman with a smirk.
“Requires,” Duncan said wistfully. “I might be in love.”
“Do not do anything stupid,” Eric warned. “She is important to this household and Hunter. You are too.”
Duncan smirked. “When have I ever done anything stupid where a beautiful woman was concerned, Brother?”
Eric rolled his eyes. “That tavern in Glasgow? The blonde?”
Duncan shook his head. “That was her husband’s fault.”
“The Russian peasant girl?” Eric quirked a brow.
“How was I to know that her father had a pitchfork?” Duncan responded.
“How about Italy?”
“That whole decade shouldn’t count,” Duncan grinned. “It was my first time in Italy, after all.”
Eric rolled his eyes. “What about Mary?”
Duncan scoffed. “You stole her from me.”
“You bet me I could not. It was clearly your fault.”
“I am still positive that you used glamour,” Duncan said with a glare.
“I did not,” Eric chuckled. “It is ironic that history refers to her as Mary, Queen of Scots. After I was done with her, she was more Queen of Viking.”
Duncan growled. “You should be glad that I did not really like her.”
“I would never have stolen her if you did, min bróðir,” Eric said sincerely. “Anyway, you tended to go through women like Pam goes through shoes back then.” He narrowed his eyes. “That cannot be the case with Batanya, Duncan, or it must stop now.” [Bróðir is “brother” in Old Norse.]
Duncan got a dreamy look in his eyes. “It is not the case, Bràthair. Plus,” he paused, “she will surely kill me if I displease her.” [Bràthair is “brother” in Scottish Gaelic.]
Eric chuckled. “Yes—there is that too. However, I would not like that outcome either.”
Duncan smiled. “Nor would I. So I assure you that my intentions remain honorable.”
“Keep them that way,” Eric said with just an edge of warning in his voice.
“Okay, Dad,” Duncan joked. Then his tone changed to show his sincerity. “She is worth that and more.”
“The fairy said that he’d be waiting for you in the usual place,” Duncan informed him. “And it seems like the young ones are here too,” he chuckled.
Eric chuckled as well. Indeed, Jason and Jessica had arrived a few minutes before.
For fun, Eric zipped out of the house at vampire speed, catching Jessica and Jason in the middle of some very heavy “petting” on the porch swing.
Quickly, the two pulled away from each other, looking like two guilty teenagers who had just gotten caught making out by their parents. Considering the fact that Jessica’s lipstick was all over Jason’s neck and his hand was still up her blouse, they looked very guilty indeed.
“I should be home in a few hours,” Eric said, chuckling as the couple tried to right themselves, which included Jessica having to swat Jason’s hand away from her breast since he was the proverbial deer caught in headlights at that moment.
Eric was, as always, amused by the pair on the porch swing. According to Pam, they’d talked about bonding, but Jason—Eric had been pleasantly surprised to learn—wanted them to wait until Jessica turned five in vampire years before making any decisions about that. However, they were talking about getting married. The eye rolling from Pam about that topic had been epic, but Eric knew that his child would support her own in whatever choice Jessica made.
Eric teased the couple. “So sorry to interrupt.”
If possible, Jessica would have blushed.
“Uh—it’s okay, man. We just got here,” Jason stammered.
At Jason calling him “man,” Eric chuckled again. In fact, Eric was quite glad he’d come out when he did. He would not have wanted to catch them five more minutes into their make-out session. He looked at Jessica more seriously. “Tonight, Hunter told me of some things that had been upsetting him.”
The redhead sat up straight. “Is he okay?” she asked worriedly.
“Fine now,” Eric assured. “But will you two stay inside until I am back so that you can hear if he has a nightmare?”
Jason and Jessica rose immediately.
“Sure,” Jessica said, grabbing Jason’s hand and walking with him toward the door.
“Thank you,” Eric said with a little bow.
Once the young couple was inside, Eric began walking at human pace toward the little garden that Claude had been working on. Soon after Claude had begun his visits and told Eric about his plans for the “in-between place,” Eric had given him use of about an acre of land near the creek so that the fairy could better learn about plants on earth. A greenhouse had been added to the garden area during the spring, and there had been much fresh food in the house that summer. Hunter was especially pleased with all the cherry tomatoes, which he popped into his mouth like grapes. Eric enjoyed the smell of all the garden vegetables and knew that Sookie would be happy with the arrangement as well.
Plus, for an hour or two each Sunday after he’d had his breakfast, Hunter would learn about gardening and plants from Claude. In fact, they were learning some things together. The vampire was pleased that Hunter was acquiring knowledge of these things. Eric thought back to his own youth and the crops that his mother had overseen and taught him about.
As was true with all the nights when Eric had to leave the ætt land, he had to steel himself. Leaving Hunter—even for a few hours—was still difficult for him, especially since the warned-about threat still loomed. But it had to be done if he was to remain sheriff of Area 5.
Eric quickly scanned the property to make sure his assets were in place before he departed. He knew that Hunter was safe in the house. Between Batanya and Duncan, Hunter was well-protected. And now that Jessica and Jason were inside, he felt better even better.
Of course, Miranda and Jarod were available for any back-up protection or support if the need arose. He used his senses to determine that Lafayette, Jesus, and Tara were all asleep in Tara’s new home. Five Weres were patrolling the property, including Alcide and Maria-Star.
Maria-Star had turned into an incredibly lucky find for Eric. Originally from Canada, she had moved south after her small pack was almost wiped out by a pack of Werebears, who wished to increase their territory.
Maria-Star, a trained veterinarian and an expert in equine care, had decided to come and stay with her second cousin after the decimation of her pack. And that cousin happened to be Scott Cusmano. A few months after that, she’d started dating Alcide, and the couple had quickly become engaged.
As they’d been building the stables in February, Scott had suggested that Maria-Star would be a good choice to take care of Hunter’s new horses until he found someone permanent, but after a week, Eric had offered her the job. Eric was quite pleased with her work, and the stable now housed seven horses of varying ages and temperaments as well as two ponies. In addition to her duties as stable-master, Maria-Star also helped Miranda to coordinate the nighttime Were security and took several shifts a week herself.
Eric’s strong sense of smell also picked up Bubba and Thalia at the queen’s estate. On Sundays through Tuesdays, Bubba stayed with Thalia, but Eric was comforted by the fact that they too were close—in case additional back-up was needed.
Having so many people there to keep Hunter physically and emotionally safe did make Eric feel slightly better about leaving him, but he still hated going.
Eric chided himself. After all, most parents had to leave their children at least five days a week in order to go to work. He was gone only a few hours on one night per week, and Hunter was almost always already asleep when he left.
Still, he hated going.
“Ready?” Claude asked, breaking the vampire out of his reverie.
Eric nodded and went over to grab the fairy’s arm. Immediately, Claude “popped” them to the rooftop of Fangtasia so that they could arrive unseen by any visiting vampires or protestors, who still picketed outside of Fangtasia—sometimes even when the bar was closed.
For the first couple of weeks after Sookie left the “in-between place,” Claude had kept watch only through the pool. However, once Claude realized that Eric generally left the confines of the protection spell only when he went to Fangtasia, the fairy and the vampire had met in order to come up with a plan.
Especially since a construction crew of fairies was now housed in the “in-between place” and working on Claude’s home, the fairy didn’t want to have to monitor the pool at all times; there was no real need to.
So Eric and Claude had come up with a plan, which had worked out better for everyone involved. The best part of the plan, from Claude’s point of view, was that he got to spend each Sunday with his new, bustling family in the human realm. He was thankful for his visits, but he was also sorry for all that his tanah was missing out on.
Sookie would be so happy to be home, yet so heartbroken at all she’d not been able to be a part of. Still—Claude could see Sookie’s influence in almost everything that Eric did.
Honestly, Claude didn’t know which was worse: Eric’s having to be without his mate for so long or Sookie’s having to miss so much.
As part of their protection plan, Claude had given Eric and Miranda the number of a Sky Fae who still dwelt within the human realm. They were to call that number if there was any trouble or if someone tried to breach the protection spell. The fairy would then immediately go to Claude in the “in-between place” and convey the message.
Claude also checked in several times per day through the pool to confirm that things were okay.
As time passed at a snail’s pace in Faerie, Sundays in the human realm were quickly becoming Claude’s favorite times—though “living” in two timelines had taken a lot of getting used to. He knew that his father had done it for long stretches of time before when his duties would allow it, but it was a very “unique” experience.
Claude now had a routine that he quite enjoyed in the human realm. Each Sunday, he would arrive in the mornings and study volumes with the demon-hybrid, whom he quite liked. Part of him wished that his mother could see that he was friends with a demon; she’d likely “blow a gasket,” as Lafayette might say. Claude also enjoyed spending time with Jesus’s mate. He liked watching Lafayette prepare the food he’d grown; he hoped to one day please Hadley by presenting her with dishes similar to the human ones. The spices in Faerie were different, but after he established some of the human crops in the fairy realm, he hoped to introduce some of the spice plants as well.
After Hunter awoke each Sunday, Claude would eat with the boy, help him with his telepathy, and work with him in the garden Eric had arranged for. Then, in the afternoons―as everyone in the household waited for the vampires to rise for the night―Claude would conduct more complex research with the human plants and soils. Claude was already growing a few plants successfully in the “in-between place.” Once the vampires rose, Hunter and Eric would always spend a few hours at their sword practice or other activities, and then the family would generally gather for what they called “movie night.” Claude was enjoying his taste of cinema.
After Hunter went to sleep, Claude would go with Eric to Fangtasia—popping them there and back. Since Claude could hide his scent, no other vampires had found out what he was, and he stayed out of sight―but at the ready―during Eric’s meetings.
The arrangement had worked well for both of them. Claude could help to directly guard Eric during his most vulnerable times, and Eric was away from Hunter for even less time than before since there was no longer any travel time to be considered. Meanwhile, Claude was able to spend more time overseeing the construction of his home in the “in-between place,” even as he got the opportunity to spend what Lafayette called “quality time” with the family.
Claude fully planned to keep the arrangement going even when his tanah came home. In fact, he was certain that her presence would add to the richness of his visits.