After their private party in the woods—during which Eric made sure that Sookie had an orgasm for all five of their anniversaries as well as an extra one to store in her “jar”—Eric put out the small fire and grabbed their discarded clothing and shoes, wrapping everything into one of the furs so that it could be easily carried. He then wrapped Sookie and himself into another fur—making sure that she was as close to him as possible—for warmth, of course—before flying them to the house so that they could shower.
Needless to say, they each made sure the other was squeaky clean. There may have also been other kinds of “squeaks” involved as well since eliciting them from each other had become one of their favorite pastimes throughout the years.
Eric and Sookie rejoined the remaining guests at their reception at about 3:30, a little more than three hours before sunrise. Eric had redressed in his tuxedo, though he’d forgone his tie and left his top buttons undone, but Sookie had opted to change into a pretty white sweater dress, which Pam had gotten for her to wear after what the vampiress called their “inevitable romp.” When Pam had given it to her, Sookie had blushed, but she’d not been able to deny the likelihood of Pam’s prediction.
She was always itching to get he hands on her mate. And Eric in a tux? Well—that was just irresistible.
Sookie had paired the dress with some white tights and ballet flats, which her feet thanked her for.
However, even though the couple continued to enjoy spending time with all of their guests, they both kept returning to sit and talk with the A.P., who was flanked by Niall most of the time. Sookie knew that Eric was counting down the moments until the sun rose—the moments until he would lose his maker’s maker.
It was just forty minutes before dawn, and the reception had broken up about an hour before. Everyone had decided to leave the cleaning for the next day, and the tent wasn’t due to be removed until Monday.
All but five people—Sookie, Eric, Niall, the A.P., and Clovache—had taken their leave.
For the small group remaining, Eric had built a fire in the fire pit, around which the family still liked to gather most cool nights. He and Sookie were settled into the wide chair he’d built to accommodate both of them, and Niall and the A.P. were sitting across the fire from them, staring into it even as they held each other’s hands. Silence had fallen over the group in the wake of several goodbyes that had taken place in the last half hour.
The A.P. had insisted that only a few people be told about the fact that she would likely be “leaving” them that morning. Hunter—of course—had been informed and had said his private goodbye to his Grandma Brit before he’d gone to bed.
From the many conversations that they’d shared about the A.P. leaving, Eric knew that his son was already mourning her upcoming loss. Hunter had asked and had been given permission to confide in Emma, and the little girl had been of great help to him. She’d lost her own grandmother, Martha, to breast cancer the year before, and Hunter had stood with Emma through her grandmother’s long illness. And now Emma was serving as an invaluable source of strength for his son. He’d overheard the two children speaking about the A.P. dying several times during their recent sleepovers, and the Viking was comforted that the little girl was with Hunter even then.
Eric longed to shield his son from his grief, but that was not possible.
How could he shield Hunter from pain when his own heart felt so raw?
The vampire’s emotions had been muddled for weeks, and he was only now letting himself feel all of them. The joy of his wedding had been his focus until the dawn’s approach could no longer be ignored. And now, his thoughts and emotions tangled and pulled at him.
Part of him was happy for the A.P. Yet the selfish part of him—the part that couldn’t imagine his life without her presence in it—was in shambles. That part wanted to beg the A.P. to stay, to fall to his knees and plead, just as he’d done with Godric. But he held onto his mate instead, grateful for the strength and comfort she was sending into the bond. He was just as thankful that his son’s chosen mate, though still a child herself, had already proven herself to be a constant source of support and love for Hunter.
Batanya and Duncan, who had known the A.P. for centuries because of his relationship with Godric, had also been told. They had said their goodbyes earlier and then had immediately gone to Miranda and Jarod’s house to look in on little James and Maggie. The twins were definitely trying to live up to the reputation of the “terrible 2’s and 3’s,” but Eric could hear that they were sleeping at the moment. Eric knew, however, that watching over the children would be soothing for his vampire brother. Duncan seemed to be made for fatherhood, and Eric was privy to the fact that he and Batanya planned to adopt a child of their own in the next decade or so.
Batanya, like Clovache, took the A.P.’s leaving in stride. Eric knew that the Britlingens respected and even loved the A.P.—in their own ways—but they also understood her better than any others because of the great deal of time they had spent as her guards. They recognized that her leaving meant that she would be getting her heart’s desire. And they saw her opportunity to seek her own happiness as a rare gift.
Jessica and Jason also knew about the A.P.’s situation, and—to his credit—Jason had been a rock for Jessica as she’d tearfully told the matriarch of her adoptive bloodline farewell. The couple had gone to their own home after that.
Claude, of course, had also been told about the A.P. leaving. His goodbye to her had taken place only fifteen minutes before, and Eric had felt Sookie’s heart wrenching as they’d witnessed it. Tears had poured down Claude’s face as he’d told his aunt that he loved her and would miss her. After that, he’d decided to go back to the “in-between place,” which had been named Dùraig, a Fae word that translated roughly as a “wish” or a “hope.”
Eric could tell that Claude wanted to be close to little Adele, whom he thought of as his own child. The vampire certainly couldn’t fault the fairy for that impulse. Even then, Eric wished that Hunter was by his side, but he and Sookie had decided—after much discussion and after a talk with Hunter—that it would be best if their son did not witness the A.P.’s death.
In addition, Eric knew that Claude needed to seek out the comfort of his own mate, and even though Hadley had not given herself to Claude completely, Eric intuited that the two would soon be at that point.
For all of Pam’s ribbing about Claude not moving fast enough with Hadley, in Eric’s opinion, the fairy had actually gone at exactly the right pace to win the woman’s heart. Eric traveled to Dùraig several times a month with Sookie and Hunter. And every time he went, he could tell that Claude and Hadley had gotten closer to one another.
Eric still had problems with Hadley over the way she favored Adele over Hunter, but the vampire had discussed the issue many times with his son and knew that Hunter had made his peace with the situation. After all, Hunter certainly favored Sookie now—had made her his true mother—and Hadley filled more of an aunt’s role for him.
But—despite any reservations Eric had about Hadley—he genuinely liked Claude, and the fairy loved Sookie’s cousin. Plus, Eric knew that Hadley loved Claude as well.
Strangely enough, Hadley had confided in Eric a few weeks before. She’d realized that she was in love with Claude—more even than she’d been in love with Sophie-Anne—but she felt she wasn’t worthy of him.
Eric understood from the early days of his relationship with Sookie what it felt like to think of oneself as inferior to the person one loved. So Eric told Hadley the lesson that Sookie had taught him. It didn’t matter whether she was good enough for Claude. What mattered was that Claude thought she was. What mattered was what Hadley was willing to be now and what she and Claude could be together.
For Claude’s sake, Eric hoped that Hadley would soon understand that her past need not dictate her present choices. Meanwhile, he was confident that she would be a comfort to Sookie’s tanu—their tanu.
Eric—as he always did—used his heightened senses to account for those whom he thought of as “his people.” However, on this night, he knew that he was using that habit as a distraction to keep from dwelling on what was soon coming.
Tray, Amelia, and T.J. left soon after the music had ended. T.J. had slept through most of the party in the “mead hall” under Becky’s watchful eye but had been wide awake and rambunctious when they left. Sam and Luna’s two younger children, Tommy and Samantha—along with Becky—were currently asleep in Tara’s guestroom since the Merlottes had decided to stay the night.
Bubba, who had graced them by singing for over an hour, and Thalia were safely across the cemetery in their home. Kibwe, Isabel, Rasul, Clancy, and Chow were also there, where they would stay in Thalia’s refurbished and luxurious state-of-the-art basement for the day. Eric smiled a little, knowing that this ultra-secure facility was little more than a diversionary tactic by his queen. Though Bubba and Thalia stayed indoors some nights, more often than not, they moved through a secret passageway from their basement quarters to the ætt land, where they would dig a hole in which to take their day-rest. Both of them preferred sleeping in the earth, and they knew that they would be secure within the protection spell.
Eric knew that Lafayette, Jesus, and little Kyle had gone to their home, but since there was a privacy spell around their dwelling, he could sense nothing inside. Tara had gone with them, and she and Lafayette were determined to continue “toasting the newlyweds”—with tequila shots—into the morning hours. Eric had heard Miranda and Pam making a bet about who would pass out first, and Jesus had been promised half the amount of the bet if he would “accurately” report the winner to them.
After escorting his wife to Jesus and Lafayette’s house, Henry had begun a patrol of the ætt land with Alcide. Due to the lateness of the hour and the fact that Mia was already asleep, Maria-Star had decided to stay in the little apartment that had been built next to the stables. Alcide would join her to take his own rest after the morning shift of Were guards arrived.
Knowing what he did about Henry, Eric was certain that the ex-marine would continue his patrol until he was confident that things were as they should be before he sought his own rest. Eric had considered making Henry his chief of security many times, but the truth of the matter was that Miranda was brilliant at that job already and Henry enjoyed his work as a doctor too much to leave it. Plus—though he would admit it to no one but Sookie—Eric was a little reticent about angering Ludwig, and the hobbit-like doctor was already pissed at him because Henry had been spending so much time on the security for the wedding. Eric chuckled to himself a little, knowing that if Ludwig grumbled too much, he could subdue her with his secret weapon: Hunter.
Still, Eric couldn’t help but to be impressed with Henry’s work and loyalty. The Werewolf—instead of being in the wedding party as Sookie had wanted—insisted that he put his military training to good use by overseeing the event’s security. And, like the soldier he was, Henry apparently hadn’t even flinched when Quinn, who had been acting as his lieutenant in matters of security, was basically removed from the equation at the last minute. Moreover, he’d arranged—with a little help from Octavia—for Quinn’s witch friend to be detained. It turned out that the witch was an old associate of Freyda’s, who was using Quinn to get close to Eric and Sookie. She could have become a major problem to them because of the Weretiger’s delusions, but Henry had quickly and efficiently handled that threat too. Before the wedding, he’d had Octavia place a stasis spell around the witch so that she couldn’t perform magic of her own. And after Claude “popped” Eric, Sookie, and Hunter back to the ætt land following the wedding, Henry led Pam, Duncan, and Octavia to where the witch was being held. After making sure she was working independently and that Quinn had known nothing of her secret agenda, she’d been dispatched.
Indeed, Henry was extremely competent in dealing with such matters, but Eric still wasn’t going to stir up the hornet’s nest that was Ludwig’s temper by approaching the Werewolf with a permanent job offer. Instead, he’d just gratefully accept the fact that Henry was one of the many people who were willing to protect Hunter and Sookie. He was family. Of course, Eric would still string up the Werewolf by his balls if he ever hurt Tara, but the Viking was confident that Henry was smart enough to recognize her value.
Confident that the area around the ætt land was secure and well-guarded, Eric continued checking his people.
Pam and Molly had gone to the “vamp cave” about a half hour before the party wrapped up. Pam had known about the A.P.’s impending departure too, but—in true Pam fashion—his child had not wanted to share a public goodbye with the A.P.
The “vamp cave” also had a privacy spell cast around it, but Eric could feel his child’s sorrow through their bond. He was glad, however, that Pam was seeking company and comfort from Molly. The fledgling vampiress was good for her, and Eric hoped that Pam would stop stubbornly resisting a long-term relationship with her.
Miranda and Jarod were both asleep in their home, and Eric could tell that all three of their children were still asleep as well. He could sense Duncan and Batanya walking to the “vamp cave” where Batanya would stay until just after dawn. At that point, she would take over as Hunter’s guard. Breeta generally went to watch over Emma during the daytime, but since the little girl was with Hunter, Eric knew that both Britlingens would soon be watching over the children.
From Batanya, Eric had learned that Clovache would be joining the guarding rotation the next day. The A.P. had apparently paid for the services of Clovache through several more centuries, and she had decided to honor the contract by transferring to Eric’s employ.
The third Britlingen to join their group would be watching over Emma at night and providing more support for the ætt land during the day. Eric figured that the round-the-clock guardianship of Emma was Hunter’s idea, but he couldn’t fault his son for needing to make sure his woman was safe. He pulled his own woman more closely into his long body.
No. He couldn’t fault his son at all.
Sookie shivered, despite the fact that there was a fire going. A cold wind had picked up from the north in the last hour or so.
Sensing his wife’s discomfort, Eric rubbed her arms to create a little friction and whispered to her, “I will go get you the afghan.”
“Thanks,” she smiled up at him. From the bond, Sookie could tell that Eric needed a few minutes to steady himself for what was coming. “Check to see if Hunter’s finally asleep,” she requested, giving him the excuse he needed to take as much time as he needed.
Eric kissed her nose and then quickly and quietly went into his home.
Sam and Luna had opted to stay the night in the guestroom downstairs, and he didn’t want to disturb them. He needn’t have worried. Luna was in a heavy sleep. And as Eric went into the living room to grab the afghan, he found Sam wide awake and sitting on the couch, his head tilted toward the ceiling. The shifter had a small smile on his face.
“They are talking about the horses and playing checkers,” Sam reported.
“They are still awake?” Eric asked, though he was not really surprised.
“Yeah,” Sam nodded. “I had been worried that they were growing up too fast—that we might need to cut out these sleepovers.
“And now?” Eric asked with an amused grin.
“And now—despite the fact that he’s your son through and through—he’s also a gentleman with her. And he’d obviously walk through fire for her.” He smirked at Eric. “It was she who stole a kiss from him half an hour ago.”
“She always does, you know, but the kisses are innocent.” He chuckled. “I imagine that Hunter is still blushing and grinning from it.”
“Women,” Sam said in feigned frustration. “They learn to rule us early on—don’t they?”
“Agreed,” Eric said nodding his head. “Do not worry, Sam. Though Breeta and Batanya are both loyal to Hunter, they have agreed to speak with me if they see anything of concern between the children. However, I believe that Hunter will come to me for advice well before anything of an adult nature happens.”
Sam nodded. “Yes. I suppose Britlingen chaperones will be a good thing as they get older.”
“Indeed,” Eric agreed.
“Emma confides in Luna too,” Sam added with a sigh. “Emma has told Luna that she intends to marry Hunter—that she loves him.”
“You know that Hunter feels the same about her. They are a good match.”
Sam smiled resignedly. “I know. And it is clear that you have taught Hunter to have respect for women.”
Eric smiled. “With Sookie around, it has been impossible not to teach him that.”
“I’d imagine,” Sam chuckled. The shifter’s tone turned serious. “Earlier, Hunter was upset.”
Eric stiffened. “About the A.P.?”
Sam nodded. “He and Emma were talking about her. I’m sorry I overheard. I know you were trying to keep it private. May I ask why she is meeting the sun? I mean—I know she’s old, but she’s so respected in the supernatural community.”
Eric sighed. “It is a long story, and much of it is private.” He paused for a moment. “A prophesy was made long ago, and the A.P. thinks that it was fulfilled today. If so, she will be able to seek the man that she loves as much as I love Sookie, but she must die to her life here in order to do it.” He paused again. “She has been forced to dwell without him for thousands of years, and she is tired of waiting.”
“I can’t blame her,” Sam said quietly. The shifter was silent for a moment and then looked again toward the ceiling. “Hunter was grieving for her, but Emma comforted him.” He shook his head. “Sometimes, she seems so grown up.”
“Hunter too,” Eric said. “His childhood is moving too fast for me.”
Sam nodded in agreement and sighed. “I am concerned for Hunter.”
Eric’s brow rose in question.
“Because of his Fae blood, he will likely outlive Emma by many years,” Sam explained.
“Yes,” Eric said, the concern clear in his voice as well. “I have thought about that too, but shifters—by rule—live longer than humans. And it is clear that they belong to each other.” The Viking sighed. “So I have faith that they will live a happy and full life before death separates them—if it does.”
“Will Hunter choose to become a vampire?” Sam asked curiously.
Eric shrugged. “I admit that I hope he does one day, but it is not something we will talk to him about until he is of age.”
Sam nodded. “If he does become a vampire, then Emma will choose to become one with him; of that, I am certain.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “I know that he would not be turned without her, but the A.P. has seen them with children, so it will be a long time before such decisions would need to be made.”
“Who would do it?” Sam asked, knowing that Eric had likely thought about all contingencies surrounding his son despite the fact that those decisions were “a long time” away.
“If it is to be done, then I will turn Hunter, and Pam wishes to turn Emma.”
Sam nodded and the two were silent for a moment before Sam grinned. “So you and I will be grandfathers together.”
“If the A.P.’s predictions are correct, then yes,” Eric shared. “I have not told Hunter of this, however.”
“No. They shouldn’t know,” Sam agreed, once more looking at the ceiling.
“They should experience the joy of their journey without knowing the outcome,” Eric added. He picked up the afghan. “I need to get this to Sookie.”
Sam nodded. “Hey,” he said as Eric was about to leave the room. “How many grandkids?”
“Don’t you want to be surprised?” Eric grinned.
“No,” Sam chuckled.
“She saw at least four—two of each gender.”
Sam’s smile broadened.
“And a parcel of great-grandkids,” Eric added before turning once more to go.
“Eric?” Sam said.
This time when Eric turned around Sam’s smile had dropped.
“I don’t know who the Ancient Pythoness is to you for sure,” the shifter said quietly. “But I know she’s important to you.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said.
They were both silent for a moment.
“Staying for Sunday dinner tomorrow?” Eric asked.
“Luna and the kids are. I gotta be at the bar tomorrow night since I’ve got Holly and Terry opening.” He paused. “You should come by around closing. I’ll buy you an RBL.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at around 2 then,” Eric said simply before leaving the room.
As Eric approached the fire, he nodded to Clovache who stood a bit away from the group as she kept watch over the A.P. The Britlingen’s face was just as calm as usual, but Eric felt his own emotions rolling through his body. He steeled himself as he rejoined Sookie and then wrapped them inside the afghan and her into his arms. She looked up at him in question.
“What took you so long?” she asked in a whisper.
“Sam,” Eric reported. He kissed his wife on the forehead. “I think he has finally decided that the kids are not exploring territory that they should not be,” he chuckled. “And,” he paused, “I’m meeting up with him for a drink after Merlotte’s closes tonight.”
Sookie lifted an eyebrow. “You two aren’t gonna become friends—are you?” she teased.
Eric smirked. “I told him about our grandkids.”
Sookie grinned. “That’d do it.”
The couple fell into silence and held onto each other as the mood became more and more weighty. They both became lost in the flames of the fire. There was nothing more left to do but to wait for the dawn.