Their breakfast over, Sookie and Hunter seemed to take matching deep breaths. Sookie looked at the clock. It was a little after 11:00, and plans needed to be made. She turned to look at Hunter. She could tell that he’d been actively seeking out the minds of everyone around him, trying to find out more information about Eric. She also knew that it would be better not to leave him totally in the dark.
In fact, the only way that she knew would keep Hunter out of heads, in which he might learn things that would irrevocably hurt him, was to let him be a part of things—to let him know that he didn’t need to go digging. She knew this lesson from many difficult experiences of her own.
Sookie looked around the room, but her gaze fell last on Jesus. “I’m sure you all want to know about Eric and about what we need to do to bring him back to us.”
She saw Jesus nodding as Lafayette took his fiancé’s hand.
Sookie continued. “Why don’t we all gather in the living room?” She looked at Hunter, who was looking back at her with uncertainty, wondering if he would be able to join them. Sookie took his hand. “Come on, sweetie,” she said, “let’s go get settled in the living room before the others join us.”
Sookie had made a decision regarding Hunter that she felt—she hoped—her husband would approve of; after all, Hunter would just use his gift to find out anything that was said anyway, so he might as well be in the room when certain things were decided. Moreover, he had as big a stake in Eric surviving as anyone—bigger in fact.
Hunter looked up at her with surprise and gratefulness as he took Sookie’s hand. As they passed out of the dining room, Sookie noted that Batanya was smiling with approval. Sookie didn’t know much about the Britlingen, but she decided to take her endorsement as a good sign.
As they entered the living room, Hunter pulled Sookie over to the rocking chair that was his and his daddy’s seat. After a moment of thought, he looked up at her. “You can sit here with me if you want—since Daddy’s not here.”
Sookie’s heart sang out in joy as Hunter settled onto her lap. She was trying to keep focused on Eric and what she needed to do that day, but she couldn’t help the maternal pride that had been swelling in her all morning. She took a moment to hug Hunter to her, and she let all the love she felt for him stand at the forefront of her mind so that he would be sure to hear it.
Hunter was being so brave. She was also pleased and surprised by how much control he now had of his telepathy; he’d improved so much in just six months.
She could feel his mind working right after they’d woken up—poking and prodding into her head like a surgeon, subtly looking for the information he wanted. However, after she’d asked him to, he’d stayed out of her brain. Other people’s brains were a totally different story. He was fishing for something from Niall’s brain even then. She smiled a little and shook her head. He was indeed a handful!
She also sensed shields in Hunter’s mind, and although they were raised to keep people’s thoughts from traveling into his head when they were not wanted, Hunter could obviously lower them selectively and at will.
As if guessing Sookie’s thoughts―or maybe he was also amused by Hunter’s antics—Niall smiled at her as he took a place on the sofa. Sookie couldn’t help but to chuckle. Her great-grandfather looked utterly out of place as he sat with perfect posture in her cozy living room. Claude looked much more “part of the family” as he came into the room chatting with Jarod, who was holding the adorable Godric in his arms.
Sookie instinctively wrapped her arms a little tighter—protectively even—around the child on her own lap.
“Hunter,” Sookie said, turning him a little so that they could see each other, “I need you to promise me that you won’t dig into people’s heads today—okay? I want you to know what’s goin’ on, and I’m not gonna keep things that you need to know from you. I promise. But there are also some grown-up things that you won’t need to know about.”
Hunter seemed to be considering something. His face settled into a little frown for a moment. “When will I be grown up, Aunt Sookie?”
She smiled. “Not for a while yet, Hunt. Your daddy, me, and your mommy will decide when you can hear everything, but I’d say when you’re eighteen or so.”
Hunter screwed up his little face. “I’m seven now,” he sighed, “so I guess I have to wait.”
Sookie laughed and pulled Hunter into her for a hug. “I promise that we will always tell you all that we can, and you need to promise that you won’t try to find out what we haven’t told you—okay?
Hunter was considering again. “Okay, Aunt Sookie. I promise.”
She gave him a kiss on the forehead and resettled him so that he was facing forward.
As the “family” continued to congregate into the room, Sookie was formally introduced to those she didn’t know, starting with little Godric, who practically bounced out of Jarod’s arms and began to explore the floor and crawl around, greeting everyone with a drool-filled smile as he got to them. From the corner where she was finishing up a call, the Werelioness had her eyes trained upon her little boy to make sure he didn’t stumble as he pulled himself up against the coffee table to get a better look at Niall. Jarod’s eyes, too, were on his son; though the two parents allowed Godric to “explore” as he willed, they were obviously ready to sweep in. Of course, with all the loving hands around the room ready to catch him, Sookie figured there was little chance that the now teetering Godric would actually fall.
Next, Tray and Amelia came in, and Sookie was introduced to the witch, who had—according to Eric—once been Tara’s lover but was now engaged to Tray. Amelia’s thoughts were extremely loud, but Sookie couldn’t help but to like her right away even as she strengthened her shields. Hunter gave Sookie a knowing smile and then leaned back into her more, automatically seeking out comfort from her as he always did with his daddy.
The last two to enter the room were Alcide and his fiancé, Maria-Star, whom Sookie had never met. She’d also not seen Alcide since she’d gotten back, and she felt herself tense up a bit. The last time she’d seen him had been the night she killed Debbie Pelt after the insane Werewolf had kidnapped her and attacked Eric. That night seemed very recent to Sookie, though it had happened almost two years before according to human time.
Alcide smiled at her warmly. “Hello, Sook. It’s good to have you back.” He pulled Maria-Star into his side, and Sookie could hear from Alcide’s thoughts that the woman next to him gave him a sense of peace and pride that he’d never known before. They were even planning to try to have children, starting right after their wedding. Seeing Alcide so happy and settled—and, more importantly, not “settling” for either a woman who didn’t feel the same level of affection he did or who couldn’t get control of her own life—made Sookie relax. She’d hoped that one day she and Alcide could move beyond their failed romantic moments and claim a friendship. Looking at Alcide and Maria-Star now, she knew that would be possible.
“I’m Maria-Star,” the striking Werewolf introduced herself, a slight French accent indicating her Canadian roots.
Sookie reached out her hand and shook the Were’s. “Real nice to meet you. Thanks for bein’ here,” Sookie said sincerely.
Maria-Star nodded and then winked at Hunter. “I’ve checked on Freya today. She’s all better.”
Hunter smiled and turned his head to look at Sookie. “Maria-Star takes care of my horses, Aunt Sookie.”
Sookie kissed the top of Hunter’s head as he told her a bit about his horses while chairs were brought in from the dining room so that everyone who wanted to could have a seat. In the end, Sookie was glad that the vampires were not yet up, for there would have been nowhere to put them.
As she looked around the room, she let herself have a moment to enjoy the family that was now so much larger and even more varied than it had been when she’d been taken to Faerie. She held Hunter close to her, knowing that he was an integral part of that family’s core—just as her husband was and just as she hoped to be.
Miranda spoke up from the corner of the room. “That was Sam,” she said, holding up her phone. “The Were guards we sent to meet up with them at the Louisiana state line are with them now, and they should be here by late afternoon.”
Sookie felt and heard a sigh of relief from Hunter as she saw an image of Emma float through the front of his mind. He looked up at her. “You’ll get to meet my Emma.”
Sookie chuckled at Hunter’s usage of the possessive pronoun, “my.” She kissed his head again and projected to him telepathically. “You really are your daddy’s son.”
Hunter giggled and answered into her head. “You’re gonna like Emma, Aunt Sookie.”
“I know I will,” Sookie said, tickling his side a little.
Jesus looked at Sookie and then at Miranda. “Diantha will also be here this afternoon. Mr. Cataliades has gone to Las Vegas, however, so he won’t be coming.”
“What?” Sookie asked looking up at her.
The Werelioness looked back at Sookie. “It’s just that I’m guessing Thalia sent Cataliades to find out who in Nevada would make a good king or queen. She doesn’t really want the state, but last night we confirmed that Felipe de Castro has been helping Russell, so,” she stopped for a moment as she looked at Hunter. “Well—let’s just put it this way,” she continued, having censored her words a little, “Thalia is very angry at Felipe, and I don’t think he’s gonna be king much longer.”
“Is Thalia here?” Sookie asked, trying to tally up her assets.
Miranda shook her head. “Bubba said that she left a little while after we confirmed de Castro’s involvement in all this.”
Sookie nodded. “Well—then—I’m not gonna worry about de Castro at all. I imagine that Thalia’s got that part well in hand.”
Miranda smirked. “That is safe to assume.”
“Okay,” Sookie said. “Tell me what we know, and then I’ll tell you what I learned from Eric and how we are gonna deal with it.”
Miranda smiled. “I’m glad you’re finally here, Sookie. I’ve been waiting for a good fight.”
Sookie heard a little growl from Jarod and then looked at Miranda closely, noticing the bulge in her midsection for the first time.
Miranda sighed and rolled her eyes, half in Jarod’s direction and half in Sookie’s. “It seems like I’m either pregnant or in actual labor almost every time something good happens.” She pouted a little. “I’ll never hear the end of this from Pam.”
Sookie chuckled as she heard from the Werelioness’s mind that she was expecting twins this time. “Congratulations,” she said to both Miranda and Jarod.
“Two this time,” Jarod said proudly. “I want girls and shifters, so—of course—Miranda wants more boys and Werelions.”
Miranda looked at her husband affectionately and unconsciously placed one hand over her belly. “Well—at least I can help make the plan,” she smiled. “Okay—Sookie, here is what we know.”
Sookie made sure to hold Hunter tightly.
“After Bill’s death, Lillith found her way to de Castro. She told him about Russell’s location, and de Castro decided to use Russell to—um—remove Thalia from the throne and to take out Eric.”
“So we have to worry about Lillith too?” Sookie half-asked and half-stated.
“No,” Miranda said evenly, “Lillith is no more.”
Sookie looked at Miranda in question.
“Pam dealt with her—last night,” Miranda said simply since Hunter was in the room.
“Okay—right before I went back into Faerie, I watched Quinn’s attack in the fairy pool and then heard about it from Niall. What happened with de Castro after that?” Sookie asked.
Tray picked up the narrative. “We successfully stopped all of de Castro’s invading forces around the state, and Thalia eliminated Victor Madden, and for a while de Castro seemed to be behaving himself.”
“But not anymore,” Sookie commented.
“No,” Tray confirmed.
“Anyone else I need to know about?” Sookie asked.
“Yvetta was involved with Hallow, and we know that she’s been hanging around de Castro’s court for the last several months. It is rumored that she’s a witch now,” Miranda said.
At the sound of the Estonian dancer’s name, Sookie barely kept herself from tensing up against Hunter, and she quickly made sure her shields were up tightly. “Well,” Sookie said as she banished the memory of Eric screwing Yvetta in the basement of Fangtasia from her mind and turned to look at Jesus, “I’m gonna assume that we have witches that are more powerful than that―” she paused,” than Yvetta.”
Jesus nodded confidently. “Yes, between Amelia, Laf, and me, we can likely counteract any spells she tries to cast our way. And Diantha will be able to help as well.”
“Good,” Sookie continued, “I can tell you for sure that when I was there, she wasn’t at the warehouse where Russell’s holding Eric.” She took a deep breath. “What was there was an army of Weres―all of them taking at least some V.”
Tray exhaled. “Okay—do you know how many?”
“I heard about fifty Were brains while I was there—though they were obviously working in shifts. There’s a large room on the first floor that’s functioning as a kind of bunkhouse. There were thirty in there, a few patrolling the building itself, and about twenty around the building. And like I said, they were all on V, which will make them stronger.”
“And more dangerous,” Alcide chimed in. “And less predictable.”
Sookie looked from Alcide to Tray. “What can we get by way of help?”
Tray smiled. “We’ve already been gathering some forces together, Sookie. Between the Shreveport pack and reinforcements coming from Areas 1 and 3, we’ll have about sixty Weres to match against their fifty. Jarod, Luna, and Sam will be going too, so that’ll make three shifters, and lions can best Werewolves on V any day of the week. And,” he smirked, “The Weretiger will finally come in handy.”
“Quinn?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah,” Jarod chuckled. “Once Miranda and Eric had finished with him, he got cooperative bloody quick.”
“Well—that’s good I guess,” Sookie smirked. “There were also a couple of vampires at the warehouse—in addition to Russell. They stayed outside as if they were monitoring the Weres.” She paused and took a breath. “I got a look at the vampires from the mind of one of the Weres, but I didn’t recognize them. According to the Were’s head, the vampires used to be in Russell’s court in Mississippi, and he seemed to think that two or three more might be on their way.”
“Well, we have Duncan, Pam, Jessica, and Bubba on our side,” Jesus observed.
“We also called Isabel and Rasul this morning right after Sookie got here,” Miranda informed. “The Weres that are coming from their areas are bringing them so that they can join us, but they had to leave the rest of their retinues in place just in case de Castro was monitoring their Areas. Clancy was still in Area 5 when Eric was taken, and he’s stayed close by so that he could help too. And Chow is coming with Isabel.”
“So that’s nine vampires for us,” Sookie clarified.
Miranda looked at her in question.
“I’m counting Eric,” Sookie said passionately.
Jarod chuckled. “Yeah—there are others in the area, but these are the eight we can trust fully. They are all battle tested.”
“We have others guests coming as well,” Niall spoke up.
Sookie looked at him, “Who? More fairies?”
Niall gave her a knowing look. “Not quite. The Ancient Pythoness is coming. There will be two Britlingens with her as well—Clovache, her guard, and Breeta.”
“Breeta is my daughter,” Batanya said from behind them.
Sookie turned her head around and looked at the Britlingen, who was looking right back at her with a fierce expression. “If it is acceptable to your plan, I will join the fight. Breeta—I assure you—can protect Hunter well in my stead.”
Sookie saw the passion in Batanya’s eyes. Based on what she knew about Britlingens, Batanya’s offer was quite unprecedented—and, therefore, quite meaningful. Ordinarily—according to Eric—Britlingens would not join a fight; they would simply defend those they were hired to protect during a fight. However, from Batanya’s expression, it was clear that she did not see this case as “ordinary.”
“Would that be okay with you, Hunter?” Sookie asked the little boy in her lap.
Hunter nodded. “Cool.”
“And I can fight too,” Jason said as he smacked the back of the person nearest to him, which happened to be Tray.
Sookie sighed. “Jase, I know you can fight, and I appreciate your willingness to do so more than I can say, but I want you, Tara, and Lafayette to stay here.” She looked at her friends pleadingly.
Tara immediately piped up. “Excuse me, Sook, but I don’t think so! I’ve learned a little about witchcraft myself, and ain’t no one in this room able to outshoot me with a shotgun. Plus, I’m the best one here at protection spells, so―at the very least―I can help to protect Jesus and Amelia, who—granted—are better at the other magic stuff than I am.”
Sookie sighed, but then nodded. “Fine, Tara. But that’s it. I don’t want you, Jesus, or Amelia too close to the fightin’.”
Jason and Lafayette both went to protest as well, but Sookie raised her hand to stop them.
“Guys, I know you could both help. I’m not sayin’ you couldn’t, but I want some people here―watchin’ over this property and Hunter.” She pulled the child closer to her. “Jason and Laf, I need to know that y’all are here.” She looked over at Miranda. “And you too—okay?”
Jason and Lafayette looked at each other and then at Hunter. They relented. “Okay, Sook.”
Sookie smiled at them, grateful that they weren’t going to push. “I’m also gonna have Bubba stay here.”
“Don’t forget that you have two fairies as helpers, Tanah,” Claude smiled.
Sookie looked at her tanu. “I know, and I’m gonna need you to do something real important tonight.” She turned her focus to Niall. “But you’re not gonna come with us.”
Niall looked at her in question, but didn’t say anything.
Sookie wasn’t quite ready to tell her great-grandfather his part in the plan yet. She needed to work up to that. After all, how did someone ask another to kill his own wife?