Sookie looked at her cousin with concern. Hadley was obviously in shock because of the ordeal she’d gone through, and her eyes were barren. As Claude picked her up to carry her, Sookie raised her hand up to take Hadley’s. Sookie shivered. There was no recognition in Hadley’s eyes as they looked back at her.
“Can’t we move faster—use that magic thing again?” Sookie asked, looking up at Claude hopefully.
The fairy nodded. “In just a moment, I will be able to transport us quickly to the pool where Niall awaits, but we have to be a little further away from the Mab’s palace first.”
Claude’s voice roused and frightened Hadley, and like a trapped animal, she began to scratch at him and struggle in his arms. The fairy tried to reassure and calm her, “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m taking you somewhere safe.”
However, in her current state, Hadley knew only that a man―a fairy―she didn’t know had her in his grip. She recognized only fear. She yelled out against his hold.
Afraid that she would hurt herself if he didn’t put her down, Claude had to stop—if only to quiet the girl down; the last thing they needed was to alert Mab’s people to their position. He tried to set Hadley gently onto the ground even as she continued kicking at him.
Sookie knelt down in front of Hadley, who—once free of Claude’s grasp—immediately curled herself up into a ball and began rocking. Thankfully, her yells were replaced by whimpers. The events of the night had left Hadley destroyed emotionally, and Sookie felt tears on her own cheeks for her cousin.
Sookie reached out a gentle hand. “Hadley?” she said. When the girl didn’t respond, Sookie repeated, “Had?”
Hadley looked up at Sookie with a glint of recognition before her rocking continued. Sookie spoke softly, “Had, we need to get out of here, okay? There’s a place where we can be safe, and it’s nearby, but you have to get up and come with me.”
Hadley shook her head a little and looked wildly at Claude.
Sookie spoke again, “Had, this is Claude, and he’s not gonna hurt you. No one is gonna hurt you now, okay?”
Hadley kept shaking her head and was looking at Claude as if he were a monster who was coming to devour her. “Joren,” she whispered.
“No,” Sookie said firmly but kindly. “This is Claude, and he is helping us get somewhere safe. The fairy that hurt you is dead now. I promise. He can’t hurt you again.”
Trying to process her cousin’s words, Hadley looked up at Sookie with haunted eyes. “Sookie?” she asked.
“Yes, Hadley. It’s me,” Sookie assured.
“But,” Hadley stammered, “that other fairy took you away. He was gonna rape you just like Joren,” she stopped.
“He tried,” Sookie said, “but I killed him.”
Still disoriented, Hadley shook her head. “No―you just stunned Joren. He came for me after you were taken,” she sobbed. “He hit me again; he said he would punish me for trying to run.” Hadley looked up at Claude again. “Please don’t let him punish me, Sookie.”
Sookie saw that Claude was looking around nervously. He said quietly, “We need to leave this place. Others are coming; I feel their thoughts.”
Sookie shook Hadley gently and caught her eye. “Hadley, I need you to get up right now―okay? This man with me is not gonna hurt you. Joren is dead, so he’s not gonna hurt you either. But there are others coming, and we have to get somewhere safe.”
Pulled out of her half-catatonic state, Hadley rose to her feet with Sookie’s help and then leaned on her cousin’s shoulder but looked fearfully at Claude as he tried to help her as well.
“It’s okay,” Sookie said. “I have her.”
Claude nodded and led them further away from the palace―though they had to move slowly. Sookie was frightened; she knew that every minute they were not at the pool represented thousands of minutes for Eric, and no matter how hard she tried to reach out to him―and she was trying her hardest―the fairy bond was just―numb. She wondered if Eric might be dead―truly dead. But until they were safe, she couldn’t afford to sink into her fear, so she just kept them moving. She tried to quicken their pace, but Hadley was sluggish on her feet and nearly tripped.
Finally, Claude stopped and turned. Without a word, he took Sookie and Hadley’s hands, and they were suddenly near the pool again. As soon as they were there, Claude dropped their hands and backed away from Hadley.
Niall met them as they neared the pool. He took in their appearance and clothing gravely.
Sookie spoke dejectedly, “I was too late. Hadley’s been,” she paused, “hurt, really badly.”
“You are hurt too?” Niall asked her softly.
Sookie didn’t have to speak. She felt something in her head and knew that Niall was in there, finding his own answers.
Niall sighed with relief as he read from Sookie’s mind that she had not been raped as Hadley had.
“My bond with Eric is―hurt. I don’t know what’s wrong; it’s numb,” Sookie answered as she held Hadley closer.
“I know,” Niall said quietly. “And I will explain why soon.”
“Is Eric dead?” Sookie asked with trepidation.
“No,” Niall said. “He is alive.”
Sookie let out a sigh of relief.
Niall looked at Hadley with grave concern. “I have not done right by her,” he said softly to himself. Sookie could barely hear his words, and given Hadley’s state of mind, she doubted that her cousin could hear them at all.
Niall moved forward slowly and held out his hands in a peaceful gesture until Hadley looked up and saw him. He spoke calmly in a voice that Sookie guessed would have comforted a wild animal. “Child, I am Niall. I am your great-grandfather. Will you allow me to help you?”
Hadley, almost with no hesitation, calmed and nodded her head. Sookie wondered in that moment if fairies might have the ability to glamour.
Inside of her head, she heard Niall’s voice talking to her, even as he silently took Hadley’s hand.
“Sookie,” Niall projected into her mind, “we cannot glamour in the way your vampire can, but some fairies are able to project thoughts into the minds of others―even into the minds of those without telepathic abilities. For older fairies, those thoughts need not be in words; they may be in feelings or other forms of support. Right now, I am sending comfort and peace to Hadley. I am telling her that her physical wounds will soon heal and that it is okay to be frightened but that nothing will harm her in my presence. I am apologizing for not being in her life before this, but I am committing myself to her happiness and safety from this day forward. Perhaps, you will think it is too high-handed―as you would call it―but I am also sending some healing magic to her through our connected hands.”
Sookie looked down at Niall and Hadley’s joined hands and noticed a very faint white light there.
Niall continued to speak inside of Sookie’s head, “I have healed her of the physical pain of the rape she experienced, but I cannot salve her emotional wounds the same way. From her mind, I have seen what she saw and felt what she felt, but I cannot take the experience from her as I would wish. I can, however, transmit my love and empathy to her. When she is stronger, I can also work with her to overcome her emotional wounds―though I fear they will never heal completely.”
Sookie nodded in understanding and gratefulness. A big part of her didn’t like the idea of Niall being able to work his way into their minds to the extent that he could, and his comfort of Hadley could be seen as a manipulation of her, but Sookie had also grown up a lot in the last year. And she was glad that Niall had healed the physical pain from Hadley’s rape as well as the bruises and cuts on her face and body.
As for the emotional comfort Niall was giving to Hadley—well—Sookie was no hypocrite. Many times, she had been grateful for the comfort and love Eric had sent her through their vampire bond. She simply hoped that Hadley’s feelings weren’t being pushed to the side to make room for Niall’s.
Sookie had resented Bill for covering her grief over Gran’s death with what he wanted her to feel. She had needed to work through that grief, not to cover it. But from what Niall had said, it seemed that Hadley’s emotional grief was not being covered, so her cousin would be able to deal with it in her own time. It seemed that Niall was simply using his powers to comfort her as best he could, and Sookie couldn’t fault him for that. Seeing the emptiness in Hadley’s eyes being replaced by some signs of life was proof enough for her that whatever he was doing was helping.
Hadley let go of Sookie and fell into Niall’s comforting embrace. He led her to the pool and sat her down, before collecting a cup of the water for her to drink.
Sookie breathed a sigh of relief as she saw Hadley give Niall a small smile after she drank the water, and for a brief moment, her cousin looked like herself again.
As if already in the middle of a conversation, Niall spoke to Hadley out loud, “No dear. Do not fear.” He took her hand again. “Just look into the pool, and you will see your son. Hunter was not harmed by Claudette, and she cannot harm him―I assure you. Sookie’s vampire, Eric, has looked after Hunter well.”
Sookie walked over to the pool as Hadley gasped at the image she saw in the water. Sookie saw nothing.
Niall projected into Sookie’s head, “You must take her hand too if you wish to see what she sees.” Sookie sat down next to Hadley and reached out to carefully take her cousin’s other hand, making sure not to startle her. Once she had, she saw Hunter in the pool of water before her.
He seemed to be dancing as he moved his feet in a little pattern several times. Then she saw Eric coming into focus next to him, completing the same pattern.
Sookie sighed in relief as tears began flowing from her eyes. Despite Niall’s earlier assurances, she had feared that the numbness of the bond had indicated that Eric might be injured. Her relief washed over her like a tidal wave when she saw that he was fine. No—he was better than fine; he was beautiful.
“Claudette used magic to deaden your bond, I’m afraid,” Niall projected into Sookie’s head. “She sent all of her remaining magic into a curse right before her death, so the spell was very strong and has held fast.”
Sookie nodded and continued looking into the pool. Both she and Hadley were transfixed as Eric bent down to gently straighten Hunter’s posture before resuming his own movements next to the boy.
“What are they doing?” Hadley asked.
Niall responded, “Eric has started teaching Hunter how to use a sword.”
“What?” Hadley asked, sounding concerned.
“Do not worry,” Niall answered with a chuckle. “If anything, the vampire is being overly careful of Hunter’s safety. For the last month or so, he has been teaching the boy only movements such as these. But the wonderful effect of this practice is that it has also helped the child to become more focused in both body and mind. His telepathic skills are becoming easier for him to control every day.”
“How can you know all this?” Hadley asked Niall.
“I am very old, and even when I watch through the pool, I can pick up certain thoughts and memories.” Niall looked at Hadley with assurance. “Your son is safe and happy. You will talk with him soon.”
“Why not now?” Hadley asked.
Niall frowned a bit. “You need to rest for a while, and then I wish to talk to you about what will come. Do not fear. As long as you are in this place, time will not pass quickly in the human realm.”
Hadley nodded. “Can I watch a little while longer―please?”
Niall nodded. “Of course, my dear.”
“You are a fairy―right?” Hadley asked.
“Yes,” Niall said.
“Can you fix Hunter? Can you make him not have the mind-reading thing? Can you make him normal?” Hadley asked as she took in the sight of her son.
Sookie stiffened at Hadley’s words, but Niall spoke kindly. “Hunter is quite normal, given his fairy blood, Hadley. Many fairies have telepathy—even hybrids.”
“But I just want him to be like other kids so he can be happy,” Hadley said softly, reaching toward the pool.
Again, Niall spoke kindly and evenly. “He will never be as human children are—not fully. But he is happy. See for yourself, my dear.”
Hadley and Sookie kept their eyes trained on the pool. Once again, Sookie’s first impulse was to jump in head first. She knew that Eric could not feel their bond either. But she was held back by a warning from Niall in her head.
The vampire and the boy in the image came to the end of their exercise, and Eric squatted his tall frame to be eye-level with Hunter. He smiled at Hunter proudly and ruffled his hair affectionately, just as Sookie had seen him do before. The two began to talk animatedly to each other, and Eric was obviously telling him something about their practice, based on the arm movements he was demonstrating.
“He’s grown,” Hadley said, a little sadly. “And his hair is blond again.”
Just then, the two in the image began to laugh at something Hunter had said, and Eric swept the boy up into his arms and over his shoulder before swinging him around. Hunter seemed to be squealing in delight as Eric gripped him tighter and then swirled them briefly in the air in quick circles. When he set Hunter back on his feet, the boy was obviously laughing heartily.”
“Where are they?” Sookie asked with tears of happiness still streaming down her face. She didn’t quite recognize the space, though it looked vaguely familiar.
“It is the third floor―the attic―of your home,” Niall responded.
Sookie smiled as she took in the results of the renovations to that part of the house for the first time, even while keeping most of her focus on Eric and Hunter.
“When are they?” Sookie asked, much more tentatively.
“You would call this date December the twenty-fourth in the year 2010,” Niall answered in Sookie’s head only.
It had been more than thirteen months since Hadley and she had been taken to the fairy realm, and it was Christmas Eve.