Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“What do you mean, you’re not coming?” Sookie knew her voice was rising, but she couldn’t help it.
“It’s not like anyone there eats anyway!” Rick sneered.
She didn’t need to be standing in front of him. Sookie could visualize her son’s face, the narrowed eyes, the disrespectfully curled lip, and it poked her temper. “That’s not the point!” She hissed before she could stop herself and felt doubly angry, both at herself and her son for provoking such a purely vampire response. Eric could anger her, but only Rick could send her over the edge so effortlessly. Struggling to rein in her frustration, Sookie added, “Thanksgiving is about family! We should be together. Besides, I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” he replied in a tone that sounded more automatic than sincere. “But, you know there’s nothing for me to do down there. You’ll take me to some restaurant for a New Orleans version of turkey and your fan club will make sure we’re being bothered all night. Besides, it’s not like I get a lot of time off for this one. It’s only four days.”
“This isn’t fair,” Sookie pouted. “I haven’t seen you in months.”
“Well, winter break is right around the corner. You’ll have me for a whole month,” Rick replied.
“George will be down here,” Sookie offered, ashamed to find herself resorting to begging, “Rubio was telling me about their preparations. Everyone will be there, George, Maddie…I’m sure we’d be welcome…”
“Like the King’s Sheriff and his family could say no to their Queen.” It was a low blow, and Rick shifted tactics, landing an even harder punch. “Look, Mom, Aunt Fran isn’t looking so good. I know you’re really busy, otherwise, you’d be coming up this way to spend a little time with her. She’s got that cough again, the one that sounds pretty bad. Anyway, she invited me, and I’m thinking if this is her last Thanksgiving, I’d like to be here for it.”
The guilt Rick was throwing worked, and Sookie felt her throat tighten. She got regular updates from Amy Ludwig, who assured her that although Fran was fading, the old witch’s demise wasn’t imminent. ‘She’ll be kicking at least another few years,’ Ludwig had said, still…
“I can’t,” Sookie grated. “We leave for the Summit the Saturday after the holiday, and there’s so much yet to get settled. As for Fran, I think you’re being a little melodramatic. I spoke with her this week and she sounded fine.” When Rick didn’t say anything, Sookie decided to launch a little offensive of her own, “What’s this secret Aunt Lora says you’re keeping from me?”
“Secret?” It was a good thing they weren’t Skyping because Sookie would have recognized the sideways slide of Rick’s eyes, a sure sign he was hiding something. Rick wondered if somehow his Mom found out about his failing grades. It had been a while since Rick checked his online record, but he’d looked last night, and it had been sobering. Courting Brigid Meaney was taking its toll. “Look, this first year was a little tougher than I thought,” he confessed. “I’m talking with my teachers and I’ll get myself straightened out. I can do some extra credit and I figured I’d do that and hand it in while I’m here over the holidays.” That wasn’t exactly true, but hearing it, Rick thought it might be a good idea anyway.
Sookie hadn’t thought Lora’s hints meant grades, but as she mentally ran back through their conversation, Sookie could see maybe school was the concern. “How bad is it?” she asked. It chafed, not being able to observe her son’s academic progress, but school privacy rules would only allow parents to see the online academic records if their child agreed, and Rick refused to share his password. When Sookie tried to force the issue, Eric took Rick’s side.
“No worse than most freshman,” Rick equivocated. He suspected it wasn’t exactly true. Rick was failing pretty much every class.
“Oh, Rick!” Sookie exclaimed, using a tone that never failed in making son feel guilty. “You know you can do better!”
“I know!” he answered. “Look, I may have got a little too caught up in life here. I’ll fix it, Mom, I swear!”
“Well, while I’m relieved to hear you’re happier, you can’t neglect your grades. It was the same thing your first year you boarded at Chester.” Of course, it wasn’t the same thing. Sookie knew the real problem the first year in Chester was Rick mourning a life that had changed irrevocably. They both mourned, but that was past. Sookie knew college kids could get caught up in social activities, although it didn’t seem in Rick’s character. “Well, buckle down, and let me know if I can help. Could I send you anything?” Sookie wanted to be supportive, but what she really wanted was for her child to come home and for everything between them to be as it once was.
When she walked back into their offices, Eric was there, and he spoke without looking up, “Maxwell tells me there’s a new restaurant in the Quarter that prides itself on their holiday dinner. He can have the reservations made.”
“No need.” Sookie tried to be upbeat, but knew she was failing, and noticed her mate read it in her.
Eric stood and, ignoring the others in the room, pulled her into his arms. “He is a man,” he reminded her. “He must find his own way, learn by making his own decisions.”
“I miss him,” Sookie sighed, saying aloud her simple truth.
“There is no missing, now,” Eric crooned. “Every memory you make with Rick will be perfect. There is no end to the number of times you may see him for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or any of your Christian holidays. This is less than a second in your eternity, both of yours.’
“Yes, I get it,” Sookie sighed, pushing away. “It’s just…” and she sighed again. “Why can’t he be like his friend, George? George comes home every holiday.”
Eric laughed, which didn’t help Sookie’s mood at all, and when she turned from him, he caught her, pulling her back against him. “Spoken like a true mother,” he chuckled. “My mother used to say the same thing about me.” He sobered, “She compared me to my brother. She felt I needed to be more levelheaded.” He squeezed his mate gently before saying, “If I have one regret, Sookie, it’s that I didn’t give you more children. You are a good mother. I see how it must have been for my own when I went away. It is said men are brave in war, but I think the courage of mothers is greater.”
“Now you’re just buttering me up,” Sookie sniffed.
“Is it working?” and Sookie looked up to see Eric’s teasing smile. She couldn’t help it. She smiled, too.
“You know it is!” she replied and together, they walked back toward to the table that held the plans for the upcoming Summit. As she picked up the itinerary, she said, “Thank you, Eric.” He didn’t reply, didn’t even look at her, but what he sent through their bond was intimate.
“What about the rooms?” Eric asked Pam.
Pam was tasked with the logistics for the upcoming Summit. Eric knew his daughter both loathed and desired the job. On the one hand, it allowed her ultimate control but, on the other, it was made up of thousands of details and that drove her crazy. “They’re not budging,” she whined. “The event coordinators are saying we’re late and the only rooms available are on the human floors.”
“We can’t be housed with humans.” Eric knew he didn’t have to tell Pam but, in his frustration, he did. “It’s a slap in the face! It tells everyone there we’re no better than humans…”
“Preaching to the choir,” Pam huffed. “If we had something special to offer, something intriguing, they’d open up the reserved suites, but as it is,” and she waved their itinerary at him. “Rubio is giving a ‘scintillating’ update on natural gas futures, and we have an infomercial on why living vampire in New Orleans is better.”
Eric glanced toward the hallway. He diverted Sookie upstairs before he started this conversation, but his mate had a way of appearing when he was angry. “I won’t have them disrespect us,” he growled.
Pam sighed, “It’s not Sookie’s fault she’s no longer a telepath.” None of the Summit people said it out loud, but every time any of Eric’s people spoke with vampires outside Louisiana there was an underlying current to the conversation. Some rulers held the loss of Sookie’s ability against Eric, others thought he was hiding something. “It was a valued skill and there is a persistent rumor she still has it, but you’re keeping it all to yourself.”
“As if I’d spy!” Eric huffed, but he couldn’t help the grin that followed. Having a vampire who could ‘read’ other vampires would be a valuable weapon. “Besides, if Sookie really could read our kind, we’d be in better shape than we are.” Eric shrugged pragmatically, “Well, with Barry the Bellboy in hiding, no one has a telepath. In time the truth will be accepted and suspicions will ease.”
“Like vampires get over anything?” and Pam eye-rolled him. “Look, I’ll do another round with our team here and see if we can come up with something that will pique Minnesota’s interest.”
“I know you’re doing your best,” and Eric gave his daughter a wan smile. “You’re probably wishing you’d returned to Minnesota and Queen Maude when you had the chance.”
“With all that snow and ice?” and Pam gave a delicate shiver, “Besides, who would I torment if I didn’t have you? Maude just doesn’t appreciate my sense of humor.”
“I don’t think what you do should be called humor!” Eric growled, and then chuckled at his daughter’s middle-finger reply.
“By the way,” and Pam flounced down in a chair, “Indira’s settled in. I’ll head up there in a couple days. Thalia’s with her now.” When Eric didn’t say anything, Pam added, “Thanks for this. I’m happy you’re giving her a second chance.”
“I may have been hasty in exiling her,” Eric admitted. “When it comes to my mate, I find my emotions interfere with my judgment.”
“That’s saying a mouthful!” Pam laughed. “Sookie’s looking better though. Happier.”
“She is anxious about Rick,” Eric volunteered. When Pam’s eyebrow lifted, Eric continued, “The boy has told her he won’t come home for her Thanksgiving.”
“Did he say why?” Pam asked.
“He told his Mother his grades are suffering,” Eric smirked.
Pam sighed, “So, is that the real reason?”
Eric flopped into the chair opposite Pam, “According to Cataliades, unless Rick changes his habits, he will be asked to leave school by next Spring. Academic suspension, he called it.”
Pam’s expression turned pensive, “Well, if he isn’t happy in school, why not invite him to the Summit? He is a telepath…”
“Sookie would never forgive me,” Eric interrupted. When Pam opened her mouth to press, he held up his hand. “You know her feelings on this subject. She wants Rick to live as he always has…her normal life. Even if he fails at Harvard, Sookie will insist he return to college,” Eric sniffed. “She is determined that this education ritual be completed.”
“She still doesn’t fully grasp how things are, does she?” and Pam sighed. “What difference does it make whether he attends school now or later? He can earn a hundred degrees and attend dozens of schools. There’s no limit on when he goes, he’s immortal!”
“Almost,” Eric nodded, “Like the Fae. She sees his changing nature as he matures, and her mind refuses to adjust. You know how stubborn she is! Ludwig says Rick will start to fill out now as his musculature matures, and then his Spring is over. He’ll begin the long Summer of his life.”
“What exactly does Sookie think he’ll be doing with this college degree of his?” Eric shrugged. “Does she think he’ll be working in some office like his friend, George Hermosa?”
“It’s not so much what she thinks he’ll do as what she’s afraid he’ll become.” When Pam cocked her eyebrow, Eric supplied, “Peter.”
“Peter is an extraordinary human,” and Pam shook her head. “You read what Karin sends. She’s happy. He’s happy. He is respected by the people in their town.”
“Sookie grew up poor,” Eric explained. “She wants her son…”
“Your son,” Pam corrected.
“Our son,” Eric conceded, “to have some better life and that better life doesn’t appear to include Rick being part of the Supernatural world.”
“Has she said that?” Pam gasped. “I thought she accepted her place among us now.”
“For herself,” Eric nodded. “She’s even happy, but for our son? She holds onto her old ideas, including celebrating human rituals that center on food and eating.”
“Sookie has always harbored strong feelings about her human family,” Pam offered. “I never wanted one, but Sookie feels protective about children, especially her own child.”
“She has always been that way. I remember once arriving at her house to find a small child sleeping in the room where my resting place was located. It was her cousin, Hadley’s son. Sookie was covered in his scent and she’d moved things in the house to accommodate him.” Eric lost himself in the moment, remembering the odd jolt he’d felt, seeing the slight body in the extra bed, and then Sookie’s yearning whenever she spoke of him. “I wish I had known about Rick sooner,” he said softly. “I wish I had seen him as a child.”
“Freyda would have killed him,” Pam pragmatically pointed out. “Your Oklahoma Queen was happy to woo you, but I don’t think she would have tolerated Sookie having any claim on you, particularly a shared child. Freyda was many things, but in the end, she was still a vampire.”
After a moment, Pam grabbed her phone, “You know, this gives me an idea.” Pam glanced up, “Do you think connecting with a human relative would please her?”
Eric held up his hand, “You know what Rubio says, her brother is more set in his ways every year. His progenies are equally ignorant, the kind of rabble who throw stones at cats and mock the helpless. He has made trouble for the Longtooth Pack and Merlotte. He still runs with the Hotshot panthers, but he fights his nature, as Sookie once did. Jason Stackhouse would not accept Sookie and his progenies would revile her. No good could come of trying to reconcile them.”
“Actually, I wasn’t thinking of Stackhouse. I was thinking of Hadley’s son, Hunter Savoy,” and Pam’s fingers flew over her phone. “We stopped protecting him years ago, but I’ve kept an eye on him.” She turned the phone, showing Eric a photo of a shaggy-haired man. He looked to be about thirty-years-old. He was standing in some open market, looking preoccupied.
“He is living a normal life?” Eric asked.
“Like Sookie was when you found her,” Pam shrugged. “His father died years ago. I was told it was natural, a heart attack…something like that.”
Eric took the phone, staring at the face, “Is he married? Children?”
Pam shook her head, “No. When we had him guarded, there were no visitors, no women. He lives a couple hours north of here. He used the money we pushed his way to buy a rice farm.” Eric was looking at the photo, trying to see Hadley in the face. When Pam mentioned money, Eric lifted his eyes to hers. “Sophie-Ann’s money,” Pam nodded. “Cataliades made it look like a life insurance policy from his mother.” After a moment, Eric indicated that Pam should continue, “His land, it’s not much. He plants rice and raises crayfish. He sells them to local restaurants.”
“There’s money in this?” Eric asked.
“Not a lot,” Pam conceded. “The place is run down. I hear he’s struggling financially. His neighbors have started to use processing equipment and they’re squeezing him out.”
Eric handed Pam’s phone back, “Why did you continue watching him? My orders expired years ago.”
“He’s Sookie’s family,” Pam answered, “and you cared enough to want him to be unmolested, just like you wanted Sookie to live in peace.”
“If things had been different, if I had remained here, Sookie might have adopted him,” Eric mused. “She wished to treat him as her own. I felt it.”
“She might adopt him now,” and Pam arched an eyebrow, “and if there’s a cousin, Rick might be tempted to come home a little more often. It would be another human he could connect with.”
“Hunter Savoy is no longer a child. There’s no reason to believe he will view us any differently than Jason Stackhouse. He might be just as bad, twice as bad,” Eric said reasonably.
“Well, maybe I should find out,” Pam shrugged. “If he does want to reconnect, it may keep Sookie from yearning, at least until Christmas, when Rick does come home.”
Eric sighed, “We’ll see if Rick will return to New Orleans at all. Karin reports Rick has taken a woman. He has formed a tie with her.”
“I can’t believe Sookie didn’t tell me!” Pam exclaimed, “Still, it’s about time!”
“Sookie doesn’t know. Rick hasn’t told his Mother,” and Eric sighed again. “This woman is the reason his school has become unimportant. My contact tells me Rick spends all his time between her legs. Like many young men before him, he finds sex more appealing than studying or the duty he owes a parent.”
“Spoken from experience?” Pam laughed.
Eric nodded, “My father and mother expected much from me, but once I discovered what my cock was for, I stole every moment I could to pleasure myself. It was one of the reasons they had me marry Aude so soon after my brother’s death. They thought having a wife would stop me from fucking every woman foolish enough to say yes.” A wry smile stole across his face, “From what Karin says, Rick is much as I was. She also said the woman is acceptable. Cataliades asked the witch, Fran Miller. She knows of the woman’s family. She…Brigid Meaney, is not without money, although Cataliades said there is some difficulty. Parents dead, and the Grandmother hasn’t seen this Brigid in several years. Her allowance is administered through a trust.”
“Yet, you haven’t thought to tell Sookie?” Pam asked. “Eric, she deserves to know.”
“I would have to admit I’ve had Rick watched,” and Eric knew he looked sheepish. “She will not be pleased. She will accuse me of being high-handed.”
“Which you are!” Pam exclaimed. “Just own it and tell her!”
“Rick is not a child,” Eric frowned. “Your brother needs to tell his Mother about this development himself. It is not my place to share his secrets, and neither should you!”
“But you shared Rick’s secrets with me!” Pam pointed out. “You need to come clean with Sookie before she finds out!” When Eric said nothing, Pam sighed, “Which leads me back to Hunter Savoy. Any objections to my making contact with him? I can find out what he thinks about vampires. Who knows? He might be thrilled to know he has family left in this world. Most humans are.” Eric thought back again to the young boy he’d known so briefly, and the happiness being with him had given Sookie.
“Just be careful,” he warned Pam, “and let me know, but first,” and he touched the itinerary. “See if you can get us off the human floor!”
“So, how exactly did you know my Aunt Sookie?” The voice on the other end of the phone was slightly nasal, softened by the soft slur Pam recognized as Cajun.
“I’ve been her friend since the time she lived in Bon Temps,” Pam answered. “She’d like to see you again.”
“Then, you can’t know her,” Hunter Savoy replied. “She’s dead.”
“That’s true,” Pam replied, “Just maybe not in the way you mean.”
There was a long pause. “What are you saying?” he finally asked.
“Well, she’s Sookie Northman now. I’m guessing you’ve heard of her.” Frankly, Pam was a little surprised Hunter hadn’t just hung up. He had to have seen his Aunt’s face, either in newspapers or on the television. They weren’t captured by the media often, but Hallowe’en was just past, and Eric and Sookie had made quite the splash, waving from the top of the float in the Boo Krewe annual parade through the French Quarter.
“I don’t know what game you’re playing,” Hunter said shortly. “My Aunt Sookie disappeared a long time ago. My Father told me she was killed, and I don’t appreciate you calling me, trying to cash in on my family’s tragedy.”
That gave Pam pause. There was something about this that wasn’t adding up. “Did you know your Aunt Sookie is a vampire?” Pam asked.
There was another long pause, and then, “Really?” Pam couldn’t miss the hopeful tone in Hunter’s voice.
“She’s in New Orleans. Look, Hunter, would it be okay for me to come see you? This might be easier in person,” and Pam waited. When the silence stretched, she asked, “Hunter? Are you still there?”
“Yes,” he finally answered. “I guess it would be all right, you coming out here.”
“I can be there in a couple hours if that would that be okay?” Pam asked.
“It would,” and Hunter sounded surer. “I’d better give you some directions. I’m a little hard to find.”
“Not for me,” Pam assured him. “My name’s Pam Ravenscroft, and I’ll see you soon.”
It took two hours. The houses Pam passed were more run down than she remembered. The signs of poverty were everywhere. The driveway was little more than a rut and Pam had to drive up on the embankment a couple times to avoid bottoming out. At last, the small shotgun house came into view. The paint was peeling but the metal roof looked newer. There was an ancient truck parked in the driveway and a small boat docked behind the house, floating on a grass-covered pond. The whine of insects was everywhere. Pam figured the pond must be both a crayfish and bug breeding ground.
She was no sooner out of the car than the front door opened and Hunter Savoy stepped out on the porch. He was tall, although not as tall as Eric. He had dark hair and arresting blue eyes. He was thin, but his bare arms were roped with muscle. His mouth opened, and then closed. Pam thought he looked as if he’d seen a ghost. “Do you know me?” she asked, stepping into the glare of the porch light. It didn’t seem likely he’d spotted her when she’d come to check on him so many years ago, but it was the way he was staring at her.
“You’re not human,” he stammered after a bit.
“No,” and Pam was tempted to drop fang, but resisted. “I’m a vampire, like Sookie. If that makes you nervous, you can step inside. I can’t enter your house without your permission, so you’ll be perfectly safe standing inside your screen door while we talk.”
“That’s okay,” he told her and he took a deep breath. “Wow, it’s been a long time since, I mean, since I’ve seen one of you. There’s times I almost thought I’d dreamed it,” and instead of looking nervous, Hunter actually seemed to relax. “You said you’ve seen my Aunt Sookie?”
“Yes,” Pam nodded, “Like I said, she’s vampire and she’s living in New Orleans.” Pam looked around. There were wires running to the house, but no satellite dish. When Hunter absently swatted at an insect, Pam asked, “Would you be more comfortable inside?”
“Away from the bugs?” and Hunter smiled wryly. “It won’t help much. I’ll warn you ahead of time, I don’t have air conditioning.”
“I won’t notice,” Pam assured him, and then walked up onto the porch. Hunter opened the door, but Pam waited, sensing the barrier that kept her outside.
“Sorry,” he stammered, “Won’t you please come inside?”
It was one big room with what looked like a small bedroom with a cot off the back. The kitchen was along the back wall. If there was a bathroom, Pam didn’t see it. “It’s pretty basic,” he said apologetically, “but it suits me.”
“No television?” Pam asked.
“No need,” Hunter said proudly. “I have my mind and I read.” If Hunter had an extensive collection of books, Pam didn’t see them. Every surface looked scrubbed, unusual for a bachelor living rough, and Pam didn’t hesitate to sit on the chair he offered. “I have tea,” and he gestured toward an ancient refrigerator.
“I don’t drink that,” Pam replied and, unable to resist, slipped her fangs into place.
“Wow!” was his response. Hunter Savoy didn’t look worried in the least. “Do you think I can see her, my Aunt Sookie?”
“I think she’d like that,” Pam answered, then looking around, said, “It might be better if you came to New Orleans, though.”
“I don’t think I could,” Hunter sighed, and when Pam looked surprised, he pointed at his head, “Too noisy.”
“You’re a telepath!” Pam gasped.
Hunter cocked his head to the side, “I’m surprised you didn’t know,” and for the first time, he looked concerned. “Why didn’t my Aunt Sookie come if she wanted to see me?” He was backing toward the door.
“If you’re worried, just say you rescind my invitation,” Pam told him.
“I rescind your invitation!” he said quickly, and Pam found herself being propelled out his front door. As she straightened up, brushing her hair back into place, Hunter appeared at the screen door. “Guess you weren’t lying about that,” he said tentatively.
“I’m not lying about the other thing, either,” Pam assured him. “Sookie doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell her?” Hunter asked.
“Because I wasn’t sure what I’d find,” Pam said truthfully. “Your uncle hates vampires. If you’d turned out to be like him, I would have kept you a secret. Your Aunt doesn’t need another family member who can’t stand what she is.”
“You mean Uncle Jason,” Hunter nodded. “I saw him once at the market. I knew who he was, and it didn’t take long to know what he was. I didn’t introduce myself,” and Hunter looked away. Pam could see it had cost the man something.
“Well, your Aunt Sookie isn’t like that and I know she’d be happy to see you again,” and Pam remembered Eric’s story. “Your Uncle Eric, too.”
“Who’s he?” Hunter asked, and then guessed, “My Aunt’s husband?”
“He remembers you,” Pam smirked. “He told me he saw you once when you were visiting your Aunt Sookie. You must have been small. He said you were sleeping.”
Pam could tell she’d startled him, but then Hunter laughed. “Is he tall, long blond hair?”
“That’s him,” Pam confirmed.
“Wow!” he said again. “That was a long time ago. So they’ve been together all this time?”
“No,” and Pam shook her head. “Them being together is a pretty recent development, but they’re happy.”
“I’d really like to see them,” Hunter told her. “Do you think she’d come out here?”
“I think when she hears about you, wild horses couldn’t keep her away,” Pam grinned, and pulling her phone from her pocket, she started dialing numbers.
Sookie found it difficult to sit still in the car. Ever since she’d heard Hunter was alive, well, and wanting to see her, she’d felt restless. Her initial idea was to leave immediately for Redhook, the name of the town where he lived, but Eric refused. “You wouldn’t have time to make it back here before dawn, Lover, and from what Pam tells me, there’s no light tight accommodations at your nephew’s home. At best, you’d find yourself baking in the trunk of a car.”
She’d had to content herself with an hour-long phone call, instead. She’d spent an embarrassingly long part of the call crying, but in all fairness, Hunter had cried, too.
According to the GPS, there was still an hour to go, and Sookie turned to ask the question that finally occurred to her. “How did Pam know where to find him?”
Eric gave her that sideways look that told her he’d anticipated her question and didn’t look forward to answering it. “It goes back to when we had our troubles…the divorce.” Sookie’s eyes narrowed, and she waited. He didn’t look at her, which she’d come to recognize as a sign that he knew he was treading on thin ice. “You remember the deal? I had you watched for a year?”
“I remember,” Sookie nodded. “Karin was so mad she wouldn’t even talk to me. She lived out in my woods like some stalker.” Sookie stared out the window, remembering those days. It hadn’t been long after Eric left that she realized she was pregnant. Glancing over, she reached out and took his hand in hers. “I thought it was the worst time of my life and it was pretty bad, but as it turned out, something wonderful came of it, too.”
“You are the love of my life,” Eric told her. “I have waited centuries for you, and now, here you are.”
The bond sang, but soon enough, Sookie remembered her original question, “So, back to Hunter.”
“Ah, yes,” and Eric’s gaze returned to the road. “I remembered him. Jason was under the protection of his Pack in Hot Shot, but Hadley’s child? He would be vulnerable for a long time. I knew how you felt about him and I knew if he were found, he could be used to manipulate you. I arranged it through Pam. She would be left here, De Castro’s Sheriff. She would have the ability to ensure Hunter was shielded.”
“It’s been a long time, Eric, twenty years…” Sookie sighed.
“How young you are,” and he grinned at her. “Twenty years is an instant to us, Sookie, but yes, it was a long time to maintain a discrete guard and Pam didn’t. The guards were removed ten years ago once Hunter was as old as Rick is now. He seemed established, solitary, but knowing your family history, no one thought it odd.” Eric gave her a sharp look, and Sookie felt a quick stab of guilt. Hunter’s abilities were something she’d never shared with Eric or anyone. She wondered if her nephew was still telepathic and if it accounted for his quiet existence.
“I’m grateful,” Sookie sighed. “It was a horrible time, and I wanted to hurt you as much as I was hurting. I said some terrible things to you back then. I’m ashamed, thinking back on it.”
“Writers say that love can make people change. I once thought that foolish. Now, I don’t. I hated you for years, Sookie. I convinced myself what I felt for you was one-sided, and you betrayed me.” Sookie stared at Eric. His jaw was set and his knuckles were pale as he clenched them around the wheel.
“If I’d found a way to tell you about Rick, I mean… If I’d known from the beginning he was yours, what do you think would have happened?” and Sookie gasped. There was a roil through the bond, almost like a snake of unsettled emotions, and then nothing, letting her know Eric had cut it off at his end. “Stop that! I can handle it! I want to know,” she scolded, so slowly, Eric opened himself up again. The emotions were already tamer, and it answered for Sookie what she’d asked.
“I guess in the end, all’s well that ends well,” she sighed.
“I told Pam I wished I’d known Rick as a child,” Eric confessed, and he took Sookie’s hand again. “I am sorry I missed that.”
“I don’t know,” and Sookie settled back again. “Somehow, I can’t see you with a baby. The smells, the crying? Eric, when I think of you, it’s more of a bad ass grown-up. I can’t imagine you on all fours playing horsey!” She felt something, but it was quick. It felt like disappointment, then it was gone. Sookie wasn’t surprised, after all, he’d just told her he felt some regret, but now, hearing her words, he must have realized how unhappy reality would have made him.
Soon enough, they were turning down a dark cut between bushes and brambles. Eric had left his Corvette in the city, opting for a truck, and now Sookie understood why. “It’s worse than my driveway back at Hummingbird Lane ever was!” she laughed. Sookie glanced around, thinking how the press of vegetation would have frightened her in her human days. Now, she could see everything so clearly, and what wasn’t visible was marked by scent patterns. Just driving by, she marked the location of the deer and not much farther, a black bear. “There’s a lot to being a vampire that’s not so bad,” Sookie sighed.
“I’m glad you’re figuring that out,” Eric quipped, and in a blink, they were parked and he was at her door, offering his hand.
The air enveloped her like stepping into a warm pool. Sookie could hear the mosquitoes surround her, but not one bothered to bite. There was nothing about her that interested them. The light on the porch was turned on and, in another instant, the door opened. “Hunter?” Sookie couldn’t believe it. He was so tall. His face was changed, but as she rushed to the porch, she could see similarities, too. The nose was the same shape and his eyes were still bright blue. She could see she’d startled him, moving at vampire speed, so she took a step back, allowing him to adjust.
“Aunt Sookie,” he said after a moment, “You haven’t changed at all.” He leaned forward, Sookie opened her arms and, in another moment, they were hugging. Inside her, Sookie felt some small piece of the heart she supposedly no longer had fill and click back into place.
Sookie figured Hunter would feel awkward around Eric, and she was about to ask if he wanted her husband to wait outside, but Hunter disentangled himself from her and walked toward Eric. “And you! I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to, after all, we’re kin now. Every bad time I ever went through as a kid, and there were a few, I’d imagine you standing at the end of my bed, like you did that night in Bon Temps. I guess I thought of you as my guardian angel. I figured if you were there, nothing bad was going to happen. You helped me get through a lot. Anyway,” and Hunter blushed a bit, “thank you,” and he wrapped his arms around an astonished Eric, holding on until the taller vampire patted him back.
Now Hunter turned back toward the house, “Well, come on in. It’s not much, but you’re both welcome.” He held open the door, waiting until they’d stepped through. Sookie felt her heart drop, looking around. It was so poor. She’d seen houses like this when she’d been young, the kitchen little more than a hot plate and a stove. The refrigerator looked like something from the Fifties, and she knew the bathroom would be a privy some distance out the back. Knowing Eric’s people had been keeping an eye on Hunter, she shot her mate a quick look before asking, “How long have you been living here?”
“After my Dad died, there wasn’t much. He remarried, had a couple more kids. The house, the money, all of it went to her. She was pretty happy to see the last of me and the feeling was mutual. I was old enough to live on my own.” He glanced at the refrigerator, “I bought some TruBlood. Can I offer you some?”
Sookie figured it must have cost him a good part of his weekly income. “That would be nice,” she answered. Hunter shot her a quick smile, clearly happy to be able to play host. He uncapped both bottles and poured the contents into glasses, then poured himself a glass of iced tea. Sookie didn’t have the heart to tell him that TruBlood needed to be warmed and she could see he had no microwave, so she gamely picked up her glass, sipped, and thanked him. She saw Eric do the same, and she was grateful.
“Anyway,” and Hunter picked up his narrative. “It was a relief. It all worked out. Couldn’t have been more than a week or so after my Dad died that I got the letter. It was a check. Seemed there was an old insurance policy from my Mom and it took a while to find me.” Hunter shrugged, and Sookie shot Eric a look. “Could have knocked me over with a feather. My Dad told me my Mom never accounted to much, but in the end, it was her that saved me. I used it to buy this place. That was about twelve years ago.” Sookie did some quick math. Hunter would have been eighteen, a year younger than Rick now, and it hurt her heart to think of someone so young having to face those kinds of decisions.
“Thought I’d grow rice,” and Hunter grinned. “Turns out the crawdads that live under the rice brought in more money.”
“And you never met someone? Never got married?” Sookie asked.
Hunter gave her an odd look. He looked away, and then looked back again, “You really can’t hear me anymore, can you?”
Sookie felt like a deer caught in the headlights. If she answered, Eric would know, and she knew there’d be some explaining to do, but she couldn’t leave Hunter hanging either. “No, honey, I can’t. When I became this way, I lost it.”
Surprisingly, she didn’t feel any reaction from Eric, which told her Eric knew she’d held back this secret. It made it worse.
“I remember all the lessons you taught me; wait to make sure someone says the words before answering, and don’t blurt out what I hear in someone’s head. For a while, I could even keep things quiet in here,” and he tapped his forehead, “even when I was around a lot of people, but when I turned twelve or so, well, I just couldn’t keep out the noise any more. Dad started to home school me, and that made it better. Guess it got to be a habit. I can go to the markets, meet folks, but I still have trouble being around people…well, except you.” He grinned, and Sookie realized how handsome he was. “This is the longest conversation I’ve had in years. It’s…” and Sookie caught the bright scent of tears. “I’m so happy you’re still alive, Aunt Sookie. I would have looked for you, but Dad told me you’d died.”
There was a moment, and Sookie saw Hunter’s jaw firm, “Now, I don’t want you thinking bad of my Dad. He did the best he could. I expect the reason he told me that is because I’d ask about you all the time. He was a good man and he treated me right, but even a good man gets to the end of his rope with a little kid.”
He gave Sookie a lop-sided smile and in that instant, Sookie saw Hadley. “Well, we’ve found each other at last,” she said brightly, “and there’s no reason for us to lose each other ever again.”