When Sookie woke up, she felt well-rested considering the fact that she’d been very active in her sleep.
“Sleep well?” Hadley asked as Sookie stretched.
Sookie yawned, “Uh-huh.”
Hadley smirked a little. “You know―you talk in your sleep.”
Sookie immediately blushed and then looked around to see Claude and Niall standing quite far away. They had their backs turned and were clearly deep in a discussion. Sookie put up her shields quickly and whispered. “What did I say?”
Hadley giggled a little. Sookie was happy to see the lightness in her cousin’s expression, but was horrified that her Great-grandfather, Claude, and even Hadley may have heard her talking about what Eric had been doing to her in their dream. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of it; it was just that it was private―between Eric and her.
Hadley let her off the hook, “From the look on your face, it seems I didn’t get to hear about all the good stuff.” She winked. “You mostly just said Eric’s name.” Hadley’s expression changed a bit, and she got an almost wistful expression on her face. “You also said Hunter’s name once too. Were you talkin’ about him with Eric?”
Sookie sat up and nodded. “Yeah―a little.”
Hadley scooted over to where Sookie was sitting. “Will you tell me about him?”
“Sure,” Sookie said, reaching over to take Hadley’s hand. “Eric told me about how Hunter is doing in his schooling—for one thing. He’s really good in math.”
Hadley cringed a bit. “He doesn’t get that from me; that’s for sure!”
Sookie chuckled. “I don’t think that comes from our side of the family at all. But he’s good at working his problems. And he is also reading a lot better than usual for six year olds. Oh,” Sookie chuckled again, “Eric says that he used to say his ‘R’s’ like ‘W’s’ but that he doesn’t do that anymore unless he’s real tired.”
Hadley sighed a bit. “What else?”
Sookie told Hadley about Hunter’s puppy Odin, about how he liked to help Eric build furniture, about his learning Swedish, and about his liking to swim. They were both in stitches by the time Sookie told her about Hunter’s ‘girlfriend’ Emma and about how Hunter had gone to first Jason and then Eric for advice about when it would be a good time to kiss her.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope he listened to Eric about that and not Jason!” Hadley laughed.
Sookie giggled. “Apparently both of them told him the same thing—to wait a few years and then talk to them again.”
Hadley grinned. “Good.”
“Hunter also had a message for you, Had. He wanted you to know that he loves you, and he wished you a Merry Christmas.”
Hadley sighed. “I do love him so much, Sook. But I just can’t,” her voice trailed off.
“I know, Had,” Sookie said. “And you’ll see him in person soon when you’re ready. Until then, Eric will tell him anything you want.”
Hadley squeezed Sookie’s hand. “Thanks Sook. I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t here and if I didn’t know Hunter was safe.”
From behind them, Sookie heard Niall speak into her head. “Sookie, there is someone who I would like to introduce you and Hadley to as we eat our food this morning.”
Sookie looked over her shoulder and saw that a tall female fairy with beautiful sand-colored long hair had joined Niall and Claude. She turned back to Hadley. “Hey, Had. There’s someone to meet us, and I think it’s breakfast time.”
Hadley stood up nervously and turned around.
Niall approached with the female fairy and Claude, who was now holding a basket full of food.
“Hadley and Sookie,” Niall said, “this is Katherine.”
Katherine stepped forward and gave a graceful bow. “Hello. It is good to meet you both!” She gave Hadley a little wink. “If it is okay, Hadley, I would enjoy keeping you company while your cousin works on her gifts. I have heard that you are not a telepath!” Katherine squealed excitedly.
Hadley looked a little confused.
Katherine laughed almost musically. “I am excited, Hadley, because I enjoy communicating verbally! Almost all fairies are telepaths and prefer telepathic communication, however. I am so looking forward to speaking aloud with you!”
Hadley couldn’t help but to smile at the jovial fairy. Sookie couldn’t help her own smile either.
As Katherine and Claude spread out their meal, Niall spoke to Sookie in her head. “Katherine has agreed to be Hadley’s midwife when the child comes. And she will help her with the child after that.” Sookie felt her great-grandfather sigh in her head. She was having a hard time getting used to that feeling. He continued speaking, “Katherine is the twin sister of Claudine’s husband, Ryan, whom―I’m afraid―Mab murdered after Claudine’s death.”
Sookie looked at the gregarious female fairy talking to Hadley and shook her head sadly.
Niall continued, “Katherine and Ryan’s parents were killed long ago in the war, leaving them with no other family. So when Ryan and Claudine married, Katherine became as a daughter to me, just as Ryan became as a son.”
Sookie looked at her great-grandfather. “I’m sorry for your loss of him then.”
“Yes,” Niall continued in her head. “Mab has caused much to be needlessly taken away.”
Sookie had to refrain herself from asking Niall why he didn’t just kill his bitch of a wife.
Apparently, Niall had heard her question anyway. He continued speaking to her telepathically. “I held back my rage at Mab for many years for the sake of our children. In truth, I hoped that Claudette would eventually come to my side, and I knew that would never happen if I killed her mother.”
Sookie nodded and continued their silent conversation. “And now?”
Niall shrugged. “She is still Claude’s mother, and there are others who would rule in her place if she were dead.” He glanced at Claude and then back at Sookie. “I hope that Mab will keep to our treaty now, but if she breaks it again, I will no longer stay my hand now that Claudette is lost.”
Sookie nodded and looked back at Hadley. She smiled. Katherine already had Hadley’s arm linked in hers and was chatting away with her like an old friend.
Niall spoke to Sookie telepathically again, “As Katherine said, she likes to talk a lot.” He chuckled. Sookie had to raise her shields; Niall’s chuckling in her head tickled too much.
By then, the food was all spread out, and Sookie shook her head as she looked at Claude.
“What is it, Sookie?” Niall asked her quietly.
“It’s just that,” Sookie started and then stopped for a moment. “Well, I’m tryin’ to get this whole time thing down. I know that this place is part of both human and fairy time―in a way―and I know that when Claude goes into Faerie to get food or supplies, he’s back real quick. But here’s the part I’m having trouble with. As long as I’m here, I know that time is passing the same in my realm too. But it doesn’t really make sense that Claude wouldn’t come back and sense that huge gaps have gone by in my world―if you know what I mean.”
Niall chuckled quietly. “Humans think of time so linearly, but time is more like a piece of paper that can be folded and unfolded. This place is like a fold. When you share time with others in this place, you can share a fold—so to speak. Your bond with Eric causes another kind of fold. It is all quite logical.”
Sookie scrunched up her brow. “Maybe it is to you, but it makes my head spin to think about it.”
Niall nodded, “Well—maybe it would help to think about it like everyone having his or her own piece of paper. The way that piece is folded is different for everyone, though sometimes those pieces may be stacked together in shared time.”
Sookie thought for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “That does help―but just a bit. It’s still sort of screwing with my mind though. I just don’t get how Claude can go into Faerie and come back, but no extra time has passed in the human realm from his perspective compared to mine.”
“Oh,” Niall said. “I understand your question now.” He sighed a bit. “Let me see if I can explain. When a fairy spends time in this in-between place, he or she actually experiences the time of both the human and fairy realms simultaneously. And when we pass into either realm from here, the magic in our bodies allows us to slowly transition to the time of the place we are passing into. This is how our bodies do not tear apart due to the time differences.”
“But Claudette didn’t go through a place like this to get to the human realm—did she?”
Niall shook his head. “No―some fairies have the ability to travel to the human realm without a portal such as this one. In essence, they can make their own portal, and their magic acts as a kind of protection spell for their bodies; however, if they travel that way, they cannot stay in the human realm for very long—perhaps a few hours or a day at most.”
He continued, “Going through a portal is the only way that fairies can stay in your realm for a long period of time.”
She looked at him with confusion.
Niall chuckled. “Okay, think of it this way. In human airplanes, the interior must be pressurized so that the passengers will not become ill. A portal acts in a similar way for fairies that go to the human realm. The portal prepares our bodies to transition to a new time; that way, we do not become ill. Without a portal, our bodies eventually begin to feel the pressure of the other place, and we will become ill and then die.”
Sookie was still confused. “Why don’t the hybrids get sick when they are brought to the fair realm then?”
“The magic in your blood connects to the magic of Faerie and gently brings you into alignment with the time here. However, once the light fruit is taken in, this alignment becomes permanent, as I have indicated before.”
“Okay—so that doesn’t explain why Claude doesn’t have major time lapses every time he goes into Faerie.”
“As I said,” Niall explained, “fairies feel both times when we are here. When Claude leaves this place for only a short while, he is able to stay folded together with us—in a way—and he is able to keep the magic in his body from aligning with the time of Faerie as long as he returns quickly. Thus, he does not experience time lapses.”
Sookie closed her eyes and tried to understand what Niall was telling her. Just when she thought she was grasping how it all worked, however, she would become confused again.
Niall chuckled. “I know it is difficult for you, child, but you do not have to understand everything. I am not even sure that I understand everything about this place, nor do I need to. Just know that Claude is sharing his time with us right now—even though he is also able to pass into Faerie for short periods of time if need be.”
“How long can he be there before he gets,” Sookie paused, “aligned there?”
Niall chuckled again. “Not long, and he must make an effort to hold himself with us here, which is what he desires to do, so I have begun to send others for things we need. For instance, today, Katherine brought our food with her.”
Sookie nodded. “What about me? Could I learn to avoid the time lapses, like Claude can?”
Niall smiled sadly. “I have looked for this kind of magic in you already, Sookie, but I cannot find it.”
“Figures,” Sookie muttered ruefully.
Niall laughed. Sookie turned her attention to Hadley, who was now talking to both Claude and Katherine. For the first time since they’d been there, Hadley looked truly relaxed, and Sookie was very grateful for that.
About half an hour later, Katherine left, promising Hadley that she would return the next day.
A few minutes after that, Claude heard that Sookie was once again questioning his father about the time differences between their realms. He smiled a little. He had to give Sookie credit for her tenacity.
He looked at Hadley. Talking to her had been much easier with Katherine there, but now that she was gone, he felt like a nervous wreck.
Claude took a deep breath. He’d never felt this attracted to another person before—neither physically nor in essence. Knowing the potential obstacles that were already in the way of his courting Hadley did not stop his feelings either. It seemed that since he had first seen her—had first held her in his arms when she was so broken—all that he wanted to do was reach out and protect her.
His father had spoken to him about Hadley’s likely reservations given the fact that human ideas of familial relationships were so different from those of the Fae. However, Claude knew that the biggest obstacle to them being together would likely be Hadley’s rape. Would she ever have the ability to love anyone again—to trust anyone again—after her violation at the hands of Joren?
Claude shook his head sadly as he glanced inconspicuously at Hadley. After he had read of the events in Mab’s Palace from Hadley’s mind, he found himself wishing that Sookie had not killed Joren. He would have liked to have had the honor of that particular deed.
Claude sighed. He was a warrior. He was his father’s heir. He was a chosen keeper of the light and knowledge of his forebears. He was intelligent and worked to oversee all of the agriculture in his father’s domain when his duties to Niall—and now to Hadley and Sookie—didn’t pull him away. Even that morning, some of his lieutenants had visited him in the ‘in-between’ place to consult with him about a new irrigation system. Yes—Claude was a respected, valued fairy. He’d inherited both Sky Fae and Water Fae gifts, and the magic within him was powerful; in fact, the only fairy Claude knew of who was stronger was Niall, whom Claude respected above all others due to his father’s open mind.
However, no matter how intelligent or powerful Claude was, in that moment, he felt like a blubbering idiot. He couldn’t think of even a single topic to use in order to engage Hadley in conversation. He could think only about Hadley herself: her lovely eyes that had taken on more luster since the day before, the softness of her hair as it had draped against his shoulder as he’d carried her away from Mab’s palace, the soft smile she’d given him when he’d spoken to her about her food preferences, the way that he’d wanted to rush to her and hold her after she’d awoken from a nightmare the day before. What he could not think of, however, was something to say to her. His mouth felt dry, and his mind felt empty.
It was finally Hadley who put him out of his misery.
“Is it always light here?” she asked him quietly as she looked up at the glowing sun of Faerie.
He nodded and then found his voice. “Yes. Our sun is always out.”
“You don’t have night at all?” Hadley asked, even as Claude asked, “Are you missing your nights?” at the same time.
The two laughed a bit, and Claude gestured for her to speak first.
Hadley looked up at the sun. “Actually, I kind of like the idea of it always bein’ light, but it is a little hard to fall asleep.”
“Oh,” Claude smiled. He stammered a bit. “I could bring you and your cousin a tent.” He nodded. “Yes—I should have arranged for it before. It would give you privacy, and you could also sleep easier in there since it would be darker.” He stammered a bit more. “And since you may be here for a while, I’ll arrange for you and Sookie to have beds in there, and maybe a little table and chairs?”
Hadley smiled at him. “That’d be real nice—much nicer than sleepin’ on the ground. Not that the pallet you brought for me wasn’t okay,” she added quickly.
She leaned in toward Claude conspiratorially, causing the fairy’s breath to catch. She whispered, “But can you bring two tents? Sookie kind of talks and—um—moans in her sleep.”
Claude had to stifle a moan of his own as Hadley’s scent filled his senses. He sighed; he had been trying to place her scent for days, but he couldn’t. All that he knew was that it made him feel hopeful for the first time since his wife had been killed and that it made him feel more alive than he’d ever felt before. He sighed. “I will make sure that you have your own space by tonight then.”
Hadley smiled again, and Claude noticed the light dancing in her eyes. “Thank you, Claude.”
It was the first time she had said his name, and he felt lost to it. Once again, he couldn’t find any words to say to her. It was hard enough to keep himself from staring at her beauty, but he stopped himself because he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. “You’re welcome,” he managed to stammer after a few moments.
He took a deep breath. “Okay—think,” he said to himself. Finally, after almost a minute, he had another topic. If he had been alone, he would have yelled out in triumph. As it was, he made a resolution to make a list of many topics that he could discuss with Hadley in the future so that he did not have to force himself to think so hard while he was in her presence. It seemed that his thinking was not so good when she was so near.
He took another deep breath. “What were your hobbies in the human realm, Hadley?”
She looked over at Claude. Her expression was one of calm and ease, and when her eyes met his, he had to stop himself from audibly gasping.
“I mostly worked and took care of Hunter,” she said. “But when I was with Sophie-Anne, I liked to read a lot.”
Claude knew from Hadley’s head that Sophie-Anne was the vampire she had once loved. He’d been very happy to learn from her thoughts that she was bisexual, so she would not disqualify his attentions just because he was a man. He—also—considered himself to be bisexual. In fact, bisexuality was quite common among fairies. Most fairies were attracted by a partner’s essence more than his or her gender. Still, Claude couldn’t help a little spike of jealousy when Hadley mentioned her former vampire lover’s name. He stifled that emotion, however.
“What kind of books do you enjoy, Hadley?” Claude asked. “Both my father and I have large libraries. I could bring you books to help you pass the time here.”
“Wouldn’t they be in a different language?” Hadley asked.
Claude nodded. “Yes, but there is magic I can perform so that they will appear in your language.”
“How come you can speak English?” Hadley asked.
He chuckled, “We can also use magic to help us communicate in various languages, Hadley. But if you like, I can teach you the language of the Fae.”
Hadley nodded. “I’ll think about it. I always hated learnin’ Spanish in school though. Magic would have made it easier though,” she added with a little laugh.
Claude felt absolutely giddy. “So what kinds of things do you enjoy reading?” he asked.
“I used to read mostly romance novels,” Hadley answered a bit sheepishly. “I don’t suppose you or Niall have any of those.”
Claude shrugged. “I am not sure what your romance novels entail, but there have been many stories written of Fae lovers—both real and fictional. Perhaps you would like to read some of those?”
Hadley nodded. “That sounds great.” She looked down. “I have a feeling I am gonna be here for a while, and it’d be nice to have somethin’ to do. I think I might also like to read a little about fairies—like history or something? That’d be helpful—I think.”
Claude nodded. “When Katherine comes again tomorrow, I will have her bring some books—a variety for you to choose from. However, I suggest you begin with a book that tells about the different kinds of Fae as well as the different forms our magic can take. I think you would enjoy learning about these things.
Hadley tilted her head a bit, “Sookie got all the magic in our family—and Hunter too, of course.” Hadley looked at him in question. “Have you ever seen Hunter? Now that I think of it, you haven’t looked with us in the pool each night. You can if you want―you know.”
Claude’s breath caught. “I would like that.” He smiled at her invitation. “And, yes, I have seen Hunter before; he is very smart and good at controlling his telepathy around humans.”
Hadley took a bite of something that looked like a plumb and looked at him curiously.
Claude answered her look. “When you were in Faerie, Niall sometimes asked me to watch over Hunter when Eric was sleeping.”
“Thanks,” Hadley said with a smile.
The fairy chuckled. “I once saw Hunter work out a riddle that one of his people had given him before even I could do it. And he was blocking out the riddle-giver so that he could work out the answer on his own―all at the same time. All this showed great skill for a hybrid his age.”
Hadley smiled a little wider, but then her expression quickly drooped. “I always knew he was smart. I just didn’t know how to help him find that in himself.”
Claude looked at her seriously. “From what I have heard and seen, you did your best with him. It is a lot more difficult―it seems―to take care of the young ones in your world than here. Of course, there are not so many children in Faerie, so there are many who will want to help you if you do decide to move into the realm.”
“What do you mean?” Hadley asked.
Claude answered in a kind tone, “Fairies do not easily have children, but that is generally offset by our long lives. All told, there are only two or three new children born every decade or so in our world.”
“Aren’t there more now?” Hadley asked quietly. “Aren’t there more since that queen is makin’ people,” her voice dropped off, and she looked down.
Claude spoke softly. “You are right. There will soon be more children than usual, but because of your cousin and because of you, all of the pregnant hybrids have settled into Niall’s territory. There―they will be able to decide what lives they wish to pursue.”
“But they can’t leave here either,” Hadley sighed.
“No,” Claude said.
“Are there more like me?” Hadley asked even more quietly. “More that were,” she paused, “forced?”
Claude sighed, wanting to reach out for Hadley’s hand to comfort her, but he stopped himself. “There were five who conceived children after being forced to mate,” he said quietly. “You make six.”
A tear dripped down Hadley’s cheek. “Can I meet them?”
Claude nodded. “I do not see why not—though they would have to come here to see you, at least for the time being.” He continued somberly. “I know from Katherine that one of them will be coming to see her human family in the pool later today. Would you like to meet her when she comes?”
Hadley nodded and answered quietly. “Yes. I think that would be good for me.”
Claude smiled a little. “Yes—and given the nature of your own fairy gifts, I think you could help her too.”
Hadley looked at him with confusion. “Like I said before, I never had anything special about me—no abilities like Sookie and Hunter, no telepathy or magic.”
Claude scrunched up his brow. “Of course there is magic in you, Hadley.”
“Magic in me?” Hadley asked.
Niall had been watching his son as he talked to Hadley. He turned his head slightly in Sookie’s direction and smiled at her as they finished their continued conversation about the time differences between their realms. Sookie didn’t seem to understand any better, but she was determined to keep trying. He couldn’t help but to be proud of her, even as he was concerned about Claude.
He spoke into Sookie’s head, “I’m afraid Claude’s even more in love with Hadley than I had thought.” He inconspicuously gestured toward Hadley and his son.
“Why afraid?” Sookie thought back at him.
“He will no longer look at other options now,” Niall sighed into her head. Still, Sookie noticed that Niall was smiling a little. He continued to transmit to her, “However, despite my fear that he will be hurt, it is good to see him come to life again.”
Sookie sighed, trying once again to put aside the idea that Claude and Hadley were related. She couldn’t quite do it. Maybe it took being in Faerie for a while to feel the connectedness to everyone there in order to understand; however, Sookie wasn’t willing to do that either. She just wanted to get home.
She was, however, willing to trust that Claude would not force a relationship with Hadley. From the way he was looking at her, she could tell that he would treat her like a precious treasure whether they ever became romantically involved or not. Sookie couldn’t help but to warm a bit to that thought even as she began to follow Claude and Hadley’s conversation.
Claude answered Hadley’s question. “Of course, there is magic in you, Hadley. Your fairy blood may not have manifested in your birth realm, but it is already stirring here.” His voice took on a slightly lower timbre even as his eyes shone. “It is a pleasure to feel your magic enliven, Hadley. Your magic is very,” he paused, “lovely.”
“Really?” Hadley asked, curious now. “But I don’t feel anything.”
Claude smiled and closed his eyes. “I can feel that your child is being nurtured by your fairy blood even now, and I feel power from her. She’s going to be strong.”
“So the fairy gifts can skip a generation or something?”
Claude shook his head. “Oh no, Hadley. Now that you are here, you will begin developing your own innate gifts.”
“Will I become telepathic—like Sookie and Hunter?” she asked.
Claude shook his head. “I do not think so. Not all fairies have the same gifts. However, I already sense the gift of empathy inside of you. You will likely learn to feel the emotions of others, and that means that your presence will also comfort others. That is why I remarked that you would be able to help the other hybrid who suffered while in Mab’s palace.”
Hadley’s expression ranged somewhere between curiosity, fear, and hope.
Unable to help himself, Claude spoke passionately. “There is a strengthening light inside of you, Hadley. It is very clear to me. And it is beautiful.”
“Really?” Hadley asked, now looking at Niall to confirm Claude’s words.
“Yes,” Niall answered kindly. “Claude is right. You have a good spirit, Hadley. And it seems at home here; your fairy spark has awakened and is growing brighter each hour. Do you not feel it?”
Hadley thought for a minute. She shrugged. “I don’t know. This morning when I woke up, I felt like,” she paused and thought for a few moments. “I felt like I could be happy here. It’s weird given what,” she stopped again for a moment, “happened to me. But it felt nice to wake up here. And now that I’ve talked to Katherine and Claude, I feel,” she paused once more, “better. I feel like I could be happy here.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to smile at her cousin as Niall nodded. “Yes, I feel this from you too, Great-granddaughter. This one’s spirit,” he gestured toward Sookie lightheartedly, “is only restless here. It is not at home in this realm—will never be at home here. But your spirit is joining us.” He smiled at her wider. “I am very glad of this, Hadley. Your spirit is beautiful and is already adding to the magic of this place. It will add to Faerie as well.”
Hadley smiled at Niall’s words and brightened even more when she realized that she could actually feel the truth of them. She looked at the others with surprise. “What was that?”
Claude chuckled. “That, Hadley, was what I was talking about—the proof of your fairy nature enlivened by this place and by the one that grows within you. You are an empath. That means you will begin feeling the emotions of others as well as the truth or lies in what they say. You have a powerful gift.”
Sookie wondered if Hadley could see the adoration in Claude’s eyes as she turned her gaze to her cousin.
Hadley had tears in her eyes, but unlike her tears from the previous days, they were happy tears. “Sook,” she asked, looking at her cousin, “can you believe it?”
Sookie smiled at her, “Of course, I can.” Sookie was happy for Hadley, happier than she could express, but she was also thinking about Eric and what Niall had told her.
Niall was one-hundred percent right. Her own spirit was restless and wanted nothing more than to get home—which meant getting back to Eric. She looked at Niall and spoke to him softly. “I’m ready to start my training again whenever you are.”