Hadley and Sookie looked into the pool and watched as Eric seemed to be explaining to Hunter how to ride his new bike. Sookie smiled thankfully and let her mind drift to her earlier conversation with Barry.
Barry had told her that he’d been in the fairy world for about five hours altogether. And when he looked in the pool with Niall, he’d seen that his life as he’d known it was now gone. His parents, to whom he was estranged before he’d come to the fairy realm, were both dead now.
Sookie still didn’t understand how the world that Barry looked at through the pool was one that was far into the future compared to the one that she saw, but Niall had said that was just the way it was and that each individual had his or her own timeline to follow. He had said more things about ebbs and flows that she didn’t quite follow either. Finally, she’d told him that he was giving her a headache and that she’d try to figure it all out later.
At that moment, however, she’d simply wanted to try to reassure Barry that things would be okay. Apparently, after Mab’s initial ‘welcoming’ of the hybrids, which had ended abruptly with Sookie shooting the fairy queen with her light and revealing the fairies’ real appearance to everyone, the hybrids had been herded to Mab’s palace. There, the females had been separated from the few males that had been brought from the human realm.
Barry hadn’t known what had happened to the women, but he’d been given his ‘new assignment’ in the palace and had been threatened with death if he didn’t complete his work to the fairies’ satisfaction. It turned out that he was to be a glorified bellhop again, catering to all the fairies’ needs. Barry was certainly glad when he was freed several hours later, but like the other hybrids, he’d been heart-broken to see that his life in the human realm was all but forgotten.
Barry, as well as the other hybrids that had been brought to the ‘in-between place’, had decided to become a part of Niall’s community. Her great-grandfather had promised that they would all be given employment that interested them and that suited their skills. He also vowed that they would be treated as equals to full-blooded fairies as long as they were in his territory.
Like Barry and Sookie, most of the other hybrids had endeavored to hide their telepathy and other fairy gifts from those around them. According to Barry, four of the hybrids in the tent had spent some of their childhood years in mental institutions. Sookie felt certain that she would have ended up in one of those if it had not been for Gran. So it made sense that they would want to be around other telepaths when they learned that their immediate family members and few friends were no more. Sookie didn’t blame them, especially given the risks of the severing spell.
As a group, they’d left with a few of Niall’s people about an hour before. Sookie made Barry promise to come and visit her once he was settled and knew what his new job was going to be. Apparently, all the hybrids were also going to be ‘taking lessons’ on the history of the Fae. When Sookie also showed interest in them, Niall promised that he’d tell her all that she wanted to know as they trained.
Sookie’s attention was brought fully back to the happenings in the pool when Eric started to ‘gear-up’ Hunter. Sookie chuckled as her vampire put a helmet on Hunter’s head—over his warm hat. She chuckled even louder as Hunter got elbow pads but somehow managed to talk Eric out of knee pads with an expression on his face that looked almost like one of Pam’s. Sookie wished in that moment that she could hear the pair in addition to just seeing them.
Niall smiled along with Sookie and Hadley. They all watched with rapt attention as Hunter took his first pedal on his bike. Eric held him steady and upright for a moment as he jogged alongside Hunter. When Eric seemed certain of the boy’s stability, he let him go, but used his vampire speed to zip ahead to a good stopping place so that he could catch Hunter if he fell.
Sookie and Hadley both held their breaths as Hunter teetered first to the right and then the left before centering himself and pedaling faster. The look of concentration on his face and his tongue wagging out slightly as he focused were endearing, and he succeeded in pedaling several yards on the newly paved driveway before he lost his balance. Eric was next to him before he could fall and gripped the bike tightly so that it would straighten.
Sookie sighed as she saw her vampire look proudly at Hunter. Eric walked around to the other side of the bike to get back into the position to let Hunter try again. Though Eric’s back was now turned in the image, he was obviously speaking to the boy and giving him more instructions. Hunter nodded and then the operation began again as Eric kept the bike steady until Hunter was ready to pedal on his own. This time, Hunter pedaled by himself from the end of the driveway all the way to the porch, before he stopped himself and looked back for Eric’s approval. The vampire was giving it enthusiastically.
Hadley looked into the pool and then at Sookie. Her eyes were streaming with tears, and she gripped her cousin’s hand tightly. “Sook, I can’t kill my baby. I just can’t.”
Sookie squeezed her hand, “I know, Hadley. I know. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
Hadley’s tears fell freely as she looked into the pool. “I gotta do right by her. I can’t think of me, and I won’t think about how she happened. I won’t kill her like I almost killed Hunter.”
Sookie kept hold of Hadley’s hand and pulled her head to rest on her shoulder. Niall continued to hold Hadley’s other hand as she looked into the pool.
Hadley spoke in a quiet voice, “But I can’t just abandon, Hunter. I don’t know what to do.”
Niall spoke. “When you are ready, I will go to the human realm and bring him here for a visit, Hadley.”
Hadley shook her head sadly, “I can’t take care of him now. I’m not,” she paused as her sobs began afresh, “able to do anything for anyone right now.”
Niall patted her shoulder in comfort, “I know. And it is okay, my dear. Until you are ready, young Eric has things well in hand. We will wait until you are stronger, and then I will bring Hunter here for you to see. After that, you and the boy’s father must decide whether he will stay in Faerie or not.”
Hadley shook her head sadly, “Last time I saw Remy, he was a little afraid of Hunter since his disability―” she sighed and then corrected herself, “I mean his gift—had become apparent. I don’t think he really wanted him, and when it became,” she paused, “difficult to care for him, I think he pulled back from Hunter emotionally.”
Niall spoke softly, “It is not to the boy’s biological father that I am referring, Great-granddaughter. It is to the father the boy has chosen for himself.” Niall gestured toward the pool.
Hadley looked at the water more carefully and focused her attention on Eric for the first time. Hadley noticed that he was not acting like a caretaker or a babysitter. She looked at Sookie, who was still tense.
“Eric thinks of himself as Hunter’s father now, Hadley, and Hunter feels the same,” Sookie said softly. “He told me that in my dream. He’s taking real good care of Hunter, and don’t worry. When the time comes for Hunter to visit, he won’t keep Hunter from seeing you. I know it. And I know that he wants what’s best for Hunter.”
Hadley looked back at Eric and Hunter as if noticing the relationship between them for the first time as well. She observed them for several silent minutes.
“It’s good that he loves him.” Hadley spoke a bit mechanically, “Your vampire’s spent as much time with Hunter as I have now.” She sighed and shook her head.
Sookie noticed Claude standing to the side with a concerned look on his face. That look told her that Claude wanted only to reach out and comfort Hadley in that moment. She could see his hands twitch. For the first time, Sookie fully understood something essential about Claude; he loved her cousin, and he wanted to protect her from her pain. She gave Claude a little smile and a nod.
Hadley continued, “Yes―when I’m stronger and can think, then I’ll see Hunter, and we’ll all figure out what would be best for him.” She looked back at Sookie as the tears once again gathered in her eyes. “Meanwhile, will you do me a favor?”
“When you are able to talk to Eric again, will you ask him about Hunter? Will you have him tell Hunter that I love him and that I’ll see him as soon as I can?”
“Of course I will, Had.”
Hadley looked back at the pool and then brought her shared grip with Sookie to her stomach where her new child was growing. Hadley couldn’t help the smile that broke through her tears as Hunter once again took off from the bottom of the driveway, this time pedaling with much more confidence.