Hunter woke up at 10:00 on the dot. He felt safe.
He was surprised when he realized that he was cuddled up with someone warm. That meant it wasn’t his daddy next to him or even his Sissy, who had been with him when he’d fallen asleep.
Hunter let out a tentative, “Aunt Sookie?”
Sookie opened her eyes to see a similar pair looking at her in question. “Hey, sweetie,” she said, a little groggily. She opened her arms and was happy when he nestled further into her for a hug.
“Is Daddy in his cubby?” Hunter asked hopefully.
Sookie sighed. “Not yet, Hunt. But I’m gonna get him tonight—okay?”
Hunter nodded into her embrace, and Sookie made sure that her shields were up as she felt the precocious seven-year-old begin to probe for information.
She chuckled. “You know―I can feel that, sweetie. But it’s okay. I’m gonna tell you what you need to know about what’s happening with your daddy, but you can’t pick into my head for more, okay? One day, your daddy might tell you everything that’s happened to him, but that’s gotta be up to him when you get older―okay?”
Hunter pulled out of the hug and sat up, which caused Odin to get up as well. Sometime in the early morning, the cat had joined the little group and had settled on the end of the bed. Sookie smiled and allowed herself to think for a moment about how wonderful it was going to be when Eric was there with them too. She was happy that her husband had built a bigger bed—though he’d refused to move it in until she was back. They were going to need it.
Sookie sat up alongside Hunter. She looked around the bedroom space, which had been expanded during the renovations that started soon after Claudette had taken her to Faerie. However, the new part of the room was almost bare. Sookie sighed, knowing that Eric had put much of his life on hold as he’d waited for her to return. Six more months had gone by—a flash to her, an age to him—since Eric and Hunter had visited the “in-between place.”
She exhaled heavily. From her husband’s perspective, they’d spent only one night physically together in almost two years―besides a month’s worth of dreams. Sookie couldn’t fathom having to endure that kind of separation. She vowed that she was going to spoil Eric with as much of her time as he could stand for as long as he needed it.
Sookie was brought out of her reverie by Hunter, who had placed his little hand on hers in a comforting gesture. “Are you sad ‘cause Daddy’s hurt?” he asked with tears in his eyes.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah—and also because I haven’t been here with you two before now. I missed you guys.”
Hunter nodded and spoke sincerely. “I missed you too, Aunt Sookie. And Daddy missed you lots, but see?” He pointed over to the bedside table. “He sleeps with your picture next to him.”
Sookie squeezed Hunter’s hand as she looked at a picture of herself from the day that Eric and she had pledged. She’d never seen it before, but she knew the exact moment the image had been captured. She’d been getting ready to go into Fangtasia, and she’d been nervous and worried about what Bill’s reaction would be to the pledging. Then, she’d felt Eric’s certainty coming through their vampire bond—and his happiness. Feeling Eric’s faith in them had been enough to make her relax and simply enjoy the moment that they would be married in the eyes of the supernatural community.
“I see that yours is there too.” She smiled at Hunter as she pointed to the picture of him and Eric next to the pool.
“Yep,” Hunter grinned, his dimples dipping deeply into his cheeks.
Sookie smiled along with him for a moment before taking a steadying breath. “Sweetie, I was able to talk to your daddy in my dream this morning. He told you how I’m able to do that—right?”
Hunter nodded excitedly. “‘Cause of your bonds, right?”
Sookie nodded back.
“And you talked to Daddy―so he’s okay?”
Sookie looked at Hunter solemnly. “He’s hurt, but he’s getting better. He wanted me to tell you that he misses you.”
Hunter took a deep breath. “He’s gettin’ better?”
“Yep,” Sookie answered. “There’s a real bad vampire that has him—a real strong one—but I’m gonna do everything I can to bring him back home to us—tonight.”
“Is it gonna be dangerous, Aunt Sookie?” Hunter asked, his lip quivering.
Sookie nodded. “Yes, but your daddy and I are both gonna do our best to come back to you safe and sound, Hunter. And you know how strong your daddy is—right?”
Hunter nodded and bit his lip. He looked up at Sookie with eyes that went from uncertain and frightened to trusting and confident. In that moment, his expression reminded her so much of Eric that she almost cried.
Instead, she smiled and tousled his bangs, again without thinking. “You look just like your daddy right now,” she said, her voice catching just a little.
Hunter smiled widely. He knew that his Aunt Sookie didn’t mean his first daddy either. “Daddy and me have the same hair,” he said proudly.
Sookie grinned as she ruffled his bangs. “Yep. His won’t stay put either. And you have the same dimple.” She touched the tiny cleft on Hunter’s chin. “And you get the same look in your eyes too.”
Hunter grinned even wider.
Sookie ruffled his hair once more. “I smell something yummy coming from downstairs. Shall we go investigate, little man?”
Hunter nodded and grabbed Sookie’s hand tighter. “Come on. I bet Uncle Lala has cooked somethin’ good for breakfast!”
Sookie giggled at Hunter’s enthusiasm as he pulled her off the bed and out of the room―with barely a ‘good morning’ to Batanya, who seemed to take his brief greeting in stride.
In truth, Batanya didn’t quite know what to do with herself. Britlingens—as a people—were taught to detach themselves from others; it was one of the tenets of their culture. That’s what made them excellent protectors.
But Batanya was not detached at all—not anymore at least. She was happy to see her charge feeling better and hopeful that the family she looked over would become complete at last. She was anxious for the arrival of Breeta—her beautiful daughter―whom Batanya was certain would become a better warrior-guard than even herself one day. And—unexpectedly—she was in love. Batanya shook her head. How the vampire had enraptured her was a mystery, but Duncan had managed to do just that.
Yes—in a corner of the human realm, Batanya had found every single thing that she’d never allowed herself to hope for. And if all went as planned, she’d transfer her contract as Hunter’s guard to Breeta in time. Oh—Batanya would still stay on to watch over her ward, but she wanted to do so because of choice and not because it was her work; that distinction suddenly mattered to her for the first time in her long life. And after she was no longer on contract, she wanted to retire from the Britlingen ranks and bond with Duncan—not that the vampire knew of that plan yet. But she didn’t expect much trouble from him.
She smiled to herself as she followed Sookie and Hunter downstairs.
From Hunter’s mind, Sookie could tell that he was confident that she’d bring his daddy back, and though his worry over Eric was still on his mind, he thought of his daddy as his hero—even better than Spiderman and Superman and Batman put together. Sookie couldn’t help but to be captivated by the whirl of thoughts and energy that surrounded Hunter; he was such a beautiful individual that she wanted to spend all day learning about him through his thoughts.
Despite that impulse, however, she pulled out of his mind soon after she found herself in it. Hunter deserved his privacy, but she was glad that he was okay—anxious for Eric to be back, but no longer overly frightened. She sensed a lot of relief in his brain at seeing her, and she was happy that she could give him that.
Sookie took a deep breath as she stepped into the kitchen, both to take in the smell and to steady herself. It felt like she had seen everyone only two months before, but she knew it had been almost two years for them.
Lafayette was alone and humming to himself, but he turned around as soon as he heard Sookie and Hunter’s footsteps. He came quickly up to them and gave them both a huge hug before wiping a tear from his eye. “‘Bout time you’s gots back, girlie,” he said chidingly at Sookie, though his joy was clear in his voice. He simply pointed to the dining room table. “You two go sit, and I’ll brings y’all somethin’ good to eat before you’s can gets your napkins tucked in.”
Sookie smiled and gave Lafayette a quick kiss on the cheek, having to use a great deal of effort not to cry herself. It felt weird to see someone else “ruling” her kitchen, but Hunter pulled Sookie’s hand―which he’d yet to drop―and led her to the dining table. Suddenly, he came to a halt and looked up at Sookie.
“Wait,” he said as if realizing something important. “Usually no one sits in this chair,” he pointed towards Sookie’s usual chair, “but that’s ‘cause it’s your chair. So you get to sit in it—right?”
Sookie couldn’t help but to smile at Hunter’s words. She bent down and kissed the little boy’s forehead. “Uh-huh. So—where’s your chair, sweetie?” she asked him.
“Right here.” Hunter pulled out the chair at the end of the table, climbed into it, and sat down. As Lafayette began to bring in food, Hunter started chatting. “I heard once in Jesus’s head that usually the daddy sits up at the,” Hunter paused, looking for the word he wanted, “head of the table, but Daddy says that he likes to sit across from you. You know why?” he asked Sookie, his eyes dancing just like Eric’s eyes always danced.
Sookie grinned as she sat down at her place. “Why’s that?”
“I’m not sure,” Hunter said thoughtfully. “But I think it’s ‘cause he can hold your hand better over the skinny part of the table. And he likes holdin’ your hand.” Hunter shrugged.
Sookie wiped a tear away before Hunter could see it. “I like holding his hand too, sweetie,” Sookie said as she reached over and patted Hunter’s hand. By that time, the people who had been gathered in the living room had heard Hunter and Sookie and were filtering in.
Sookie looked at the newcomers and then greedily took in the tower of hotcakes and bacon in front of her.
Lafayette had followed her eyes. “Now y’all don’t be gettin’ between Sookie and her breakfast. We’s got time to do what we’s gots to do after we feed her. I’m bettin’ fairy food ain’t near as good as my hotcakes, so if you’s ain’t eatin’ then get yo’selves back into the living room.”
Sookie smiled gratefully at Lafayette. He was right. Fairy food was nutritious but not varied in flavor, and she quickly sunk a fork into her pancakes as she gave the others an apologetic look. She moaned as the first bite hit her taste buds.
To Sookie, it seemed like she hadn’t eaten in days, probably because she hadn’t—she realized. In fact, she’d been unconscious for a couple of days—with only the water of the fairy pool as nourishment. She was grateful that Gran couldn’t see her bad table manners as she crammed in a second bite without having finished the first one, but she was suddenly starving.
Hunter, who’d been too upset to eat much during the last couple of days, was happily chomping away with his Aunt Sookie. The little boy smiled at her between his bites. His daddy loved her and had missed her so much. His daddy also trusted Aunt Sookie to save him from the bad guy. So Hunter had decided to trust her too. Plus, the parts of her brain that Hunter had heard were thinking about only two things―both of which Hunter had responded to immediately. Aunt Sookie’s first priority was to bring his daddy home safe and sound. The second thing that she was looking forward to was being with Hunter and Eric together—and finally being a family with both of them.
Hunter liked those thoughts a lot.
Niall smiled as he saw Hunter and Sookie eating with such enthusiasm. Cognizant of the fact that those who had been separated from Sookie needed time with her, he went to the living room to wait for her to finish her meal.
Tara pulled up a seat next to Sookie and smiled at her friend before giving her a quick hug.
Sookie smiled back brightly before taking a swig of orange juice. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Sookie said as she gave Tara another hug.
“Me too, Sook,” Tara said sincerely. “I’m just sorry ‘bout what I said the last time I saw you.”
Sookie shook her head. “I know.” She smiled slyly. “And Eric told me that he’s growing on you.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Yeah—he’s a’ite once you get past the scary vampire thing.”
Jesus sat at the opposite end of the table from Hunter and kissed his fiancé when he brought in another two stacks of pancakes. He smiled at Sookie as she shoved another big bite into her mouth.
She nodded at him. Jesus was at the top of the list of people she had to thank for holding Eric together through his darkest times.
The intuitive brujo nodded back, seeming to understand what she wanted to say with a mere look.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Miranda said to Sookie meaningfully.
Sookie looked over at the Werelioness and nodded. “Thanks,” she said as she forked another bite.
Miranda smiled and returned with Tray to the living room.
From across the room Claude spoke to Sookie telepathically. “I have spent many days in this home, Tanah, but it was always missing something until now.”
Sookie looked over at Claude and then at Eric’s empty chair.
Claude followed Sookie’s gaze and again spoke into her head. “Yes—we are still missing someone, but he will soon be here. Trust in yourself, dear Sister.”
Sookie nodded gratefully and tried to keep her emotions in check as she looked back at Eric’s chair. She then took her focus to Hunter and smiled. “We’re gonna need a bigger table―aren’t we, sweetie?”
Hunter grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “Daddy and me can make one, Aunt Sookie!”
She smiled. “That’s a great idea, Hunt.” She looked around the room as she slopped a bite of hotcakes into syrup. “So tell me some things that have been goin’ on in the last six months while I finish eating.”
As Sookie and Hunter pretty much inhaled their food, Tara and Jesus—with an occasional comment from Lafayette—talked about what had been going on since January. Between bites, Sookie asked about how Tara’s schooling was going. Sookie was happy to see that all the energy and zeal her best childhood friend had always had was being funneled into something productive and not self-destructive.
Sookie smiled at Jesus. He was as steady and calming as ever, and Sookie had been so happy when Eric had told her of Lafayette and Jesus’s engagement during one of their shared dreams the previous winter. It seemed that they were waiting to see if the Equality in Marriage Act that Eric had spearheaded and that Miranda had written would pass during the fall session of the Louisiana State Congress. When Eric had told her of his idea and the work he’d done for that piece of legislation the winter before, she’d been floored—and proud.
They’d spent almost the entirety of that dream talking about how Miranda had found quite a few progressively-minded or Supe legislators that would introduce and advocate the bill. Many of the bill’s detractors had been found to have serious skeletons in their own closets. But Sookie had been extremely impressed by the restraint with which her husband had handled them. He’d used neither glamour nor unreasonable intimidation on them—though he had sent Pam to see each of them, and he admitted that once or twice, she’d come home slightly happier than he thought she ought to be.
But Sookie couldn’t blame Pam if she scared the bejesus out of a couple of State Congressmen, especially after Eric had told her some of the “crimes” committed by the loudest detractors. Even while they spoke out against the immorality and wrongness of gay and vampire-human marriage, they were guilty of so-called immoral acts themselves—except they were two-faced about it. Eric had found out that four of the loudest detractors had had on-going extra-marital affairs, one of them with a vampire. Another of the spokesmen against the marriage legislation was a V-addict and was currently trading political favors for the drug. So their zeal against what they called “the unnatural” was hypocritical—at best. Eric had assured Sookie in the end that Pam had been ordered to use moderation. She was simply to tell them to stop their condemnations, or their own immoral acts would be made public. They were not to be glamoured and were also told that they could vote as they wished but were not to try to influence others any longer. Sookie was sure that Pam had been very convincing.
Sookie couldn’t help but to smile a little at that thought and was anxious to get to see Pam for more than a couple of minutes. The two had certainly had their rocky patches, but Sookie knew that—along with Jesus—Pam had helped to keep Eric on his feet.
As Sookie took the last bite of her pancakes, Jesus told her that the Marriage Equality Act seemed to have slightly less than a 50-50 chance of passing at this point but that much of its support had to do with Eric, who had made several PSA’s about it for the AVL, which had—of course—taken public credit for the piece of legislation.
“And if it don’t pass,” Lafayette said as he rejoined them in the dining room with fresh-made biscuits and honey, “we’s gonna go to Massachusetts this winter. I’s tired of waitin’.”
Sookie nodded and smiled as she took a big bite of biscuit. Hunter, now finished with his breakfast, was talking to Claude, who was telling him about Hadley and her new job.
A few minutes later, Jason came in from the guest room on the ground floor. He looked tired and was rubbing his eyes. When he saw Sookie, he rubbed them again, as if he’d been half expecting for her appearance last night to be a mirage. Sookie almost cried again because of the relieved expression on her brother’s face. He quickly came to her side and enveloped her in a big hug.
“Glad you’re back,” he said with a sigh as he took a biscuit from her plate. “Twice is enough, okay?”
Sookie smiled and nodded. As she looked around the table, she couldn’t agree more. She grinned at Hunter, who was feeding a scrap of bacon to the cat. Twice was definitely enough.