Sookie continued to toss and turn as sleep continued to run from her. She shook her head but couldn’t turn off her traitorous mind so that she could relax.
She found herself thinking once more of her husband. Recently, she’d been picking little fights with Eric in their dreams—probably because she felt like he should be mad at her. Just the week before, she’d complained about all the differences—“deficiencies,” as she’d called them—between their dreams and real life, and her vampire had basically told her to shut the ‘F’ up. She sighed at the memory. He’d reminded her that the dreams were “precious” to him—that after missing her for so long, it was more than enough to have her a few hours during the night.
Not having faced all those days completely without her bonded, Sookie was more frustrated than he was by their continued physical separation. It didn’t help that—more and more—she saw her own inability to master her fairy abilities as the reason that separation was continuing. It also didn’t help that the possibility of her having to go back into Faerie in order for Niall’s training to “work” was looming over their heads like an executioner’s axe.
Niall still insisted that Sookie would ‘know’ when it was time to do that—if it became necessary.
“And how the fuck am I supposed to just know?” she asked into the empty tent.
There was no answer.
Another toss. Another turn.
Sookie sighed yet again. The fact that Eric had existed for more than a year without her still floored her; she had a hard time being without him for a minute, and she’d always had the dreams. And—then, of course—she would beat herself up for her complaints. She had no right to them compared to what Eric had faced. So she’d kept her complaints to herself for the last week and had worked just that much harder. The last thing she wanted to do was force Eric to experience another time gap, so she’d concentrated on her training with even more determination.
She raised her hand to rub the area where her vampire bond with Eric was housed. She had to admit that the pain had been worse that day, despite a third trip into the pool and an extra shot of Niall’s healing magic. Apparently, however, Niall’s magic could help her very little; she could heal the bonding sickness only from within—only with her own magic. Niall had once again counseled her to use that magic on herself at least this once, but she’d not been able to do it. Healing her mate was her instinct, and if her body didn’t produce enough magic to heal both of them, then Sookie couldn’t help but to give what it had produced to Eric for as long as she could.
She shifted thoughts of her ache to the side of her head with another shift on the bed.
Claude had given her one of his patented pep talks earlier in the day when she’d once again failed to construct a protection field while firing her light energy. But even he had looked concerned and unsure. Once more, he’d promised that he would watch over Eric in the human realm when Sookie was away in Faerie. It was the first time that he’d said “when” and not “if,” and even though he’d corrected himself immediately, she’d seen the look in his eyes that told her that he thought she would need to go into Faerie again.
Another toss. Another turn.
In contrast to Sookie, Hadley was growing ever surer of herself. And while Niall seemed to spend a good deal of his time actively trying not to be frustrated at the plateauing of some of Sookie’s abilities, his other great-granddaughter was becoming the apple of his eye. Sookie couldn’t help but to smile as she thought about Niall and Hadley’s relationship.
Hadley’s own father had left when she was a child, and Aunt Linda had been sick much of the time, so it was heart-warming to watch Hadley begin to view Niall as a father. Sookie chuckled. No—Hadley wasn’t becoming the apple of Niall’s eye; she was already there.
Sookie could have felt jealous, but given what Hadley had gone through, she wasn’t—not at all. Niall had been right. Her spirit didn’t belong to Faerie as Hadley’s seemed to, and her cousin was blossoming before all of their eyes. Her empathic skills were also increasing. Heck—earlier that evening, Hadley had ‘felt’ Hunter through the pool. She’d felt his happiness.
Sookie replayed the memory in her mind. Hunter had been learning a whole series of moves during his sword practicing—moves which Eric had pronounced ‘perfect’ two evenings before, during one of their shared dreams. As was usual when Eric spoke of Hunter, her husband was bursting with pride, and Sookie’s cheeks were also burning with smiles as she tried to picture what Eric was telling her. Then Sookie hadn’t wanted to just imagine. She’d wanted to see, and after Eric had talked it over with Hunter, they’d all made a plan that Sookie and Hadley would watch them in the pool so that they could see Hunter’s practice.
Earlier that night, Sookie, Hadley, Niall, and Claude had settled next to the pool.
Sookie had felt nervous, like a parent about to watch her child in a school play or a dance recital. More than one tear slipped from Sookie’s eyes as she proudly watched Hunter going through his routine. Eric was doing the same movements next to Hunter, but to be honest, Sookie had eyes only for her little nephew in that moment. Hunter’s look of confidence and serenity made her feel immensely happy and grateful.
Hadley, too, had enjoyed seeing her son’s practice. Unusually, she’d taken Claude’s hand that night in order to see into the pool, and Sookie had taken Niall’s. It was generally the other way around, and Sookie hadn’t missed the look of exultation on her fairy brother’s face.
In the middle of the practice, Claude had whispered to Hadley that she should try to connect to her son’s emotions as she watched him. With some effort and Claude’s help, Hadley was able to feel Hunter’s happiness for the briefest of moments, but she had felt it. She was astounded by both her ability and by the profundity of Hunter’s happiness. However, after a couple of minutes, her expression turned melancholy. Sookie poked into her cousin’s thoughts to know why she seemed so sad.
Hadley was fighting with herself. Seeing Hunter happy was one thing, but feeling his happiness was another. For the first time, Hadley was uncertain about whether Hunter would choose to come and live with her. And in that moment, Sookie realized that Hadley had just assumed he would. Sookie dug a little deeper. In the last month, Hadley had grown to appreciate Eric for taking care of Hunter, but in her mind, she’d determined that Hunter would obviously want to live with her once she got better. And Hadley didn’t like the fact that Hunter felt so attached to Eric. It alarmed her; it intimidated her.
Sookie sighed. It seemed that just seeing how happy Hunter was hadn’t been enough for Hadley to understand all along just how important Hunter and Eric were to each other. From Hadley’s head, Sookie heard that her cousin had agreed that Hunter needed to choose where he wanted to be, only because she’d never—until that very moment—seriously considered that he might want to be with Eric more than her.
On the one hand, feeling Hunter so happy made Hadley glad. On the other hand, she felt jealous over Eric’s relationship with her son. And then Hadley felt guilty for feeling that jealousy, especially when she still didn’t feel quite worthy of Hunter’s love. Her thoughts quickly moved to the kind of life she would be able to make for Hunter in Faerie—a life she had already planned in her mind. Then they turned to how sad she would be if he didn’t choose her. And finally she drifted to uncertainty over whether Hunter should even be with her at all.
Hadley finally decided that she would just wait until she was with Hunter in person before getting too concerned. She figured that once Hunter and she were reunited, he’d be too sad to let her go again. She was confident that—though he’d miss his vampire surrogate for a little while—he would get used to a new life in Faery, just as she would. And Hadley now felt able to deal with Hunter—to be a better parent to him and to make up for all the errors she’d made in the past.
Not knowing what else to do, Sookie kept listening. Hadley briefly wondered if her new empathic skills could be used to help Hunter to make the decision to stay with her, but then she dismissed that idea. “No,” Hadley thought to herself, “Hunter will want to stay with me once we are together again. I am his mother, after all. I probably won’t have to influence him at all.”
Apprehensive, Sookie backed out of Hadley’s mind, only to find that Niall was knocking on hers. He spoke to her telepathically. “She does not realize the implications of what she is thinking, my dear. She is just frightened and is apprehending for the first time that she could very well lose Hunter. Her mental fragility had prevented her from doing this before.”
“I don’t like it,” Sookie broadcasted to him.
“Hadley will not be able to manipulate Hunter’s emotions,” Niall assured. “And after taking a little while to analyze what she just felt, I have hope that Hadley will understand what should be done for the child.”
Sookie answered him telepathically, “But you told me that once my telepathy advanced, I could manipulate thoughts—not that I’d ever want to. Wouldn’t her empathy work in a similar way? Could she manipulate Hunter’s feelings even unintentionally?”
“Yes,” Niall relented, “but when Hunter visits, I will place a block around Hadley’s thoughts so that the child cannot hear them, just as I will not allow her gift to unduly influence him. I want neither of them to be hurt, Sookie. And if Hunter is to be the one to choose, he must be allowed to do so freely.”
Sookie nodded. “It’s just that I didn’t know Hadley was so certain that Hunter would pick her. It’s like she’s failed to notice just how good Eric and Hunter are together.”
Niall squeezed Sookie’s hand. “Hadley is still working very hard to become a good mother, my dear. However, I have confidence that―in the end―she will prove to be one for all of her children. She is not like you, my dear Sookie.”
Sookie looked at him with confusion in her eyes. “Not like me how?”
Niall responded. “I know that you love your husband―more than anything—and you want him to be happy. I feel this truth from you always. Despite this, you spent many days deciding where it would be best for Hunter to live. And you made your mind up based on what you know to be best for Hunter; you did not consider what would be best for your mate, Hadley, or yourself. It was the child you thought of first.” Niall gave her a gentle smile. “This kind of thinking is what a mother ought to do. It was my Viola’s way. Hadley is not a natural at this―as you are―but she is trying to learn.”
Sookie nodded and looked into the pool, once again becoming captivated by Hunter as his practice came to an end. The smile that brightened his little face caused more tears of happiness to drop from Sookie’s eyes. Hunter turned and waved into the air in the direction he thought that they were watching from, but he was turned a bit askew. “Wrong way, precious little man; look more toward the door,” Sookie said into her mind.
Clearly surprised, Hunter stood up straight and turned toward their direction; his confusion was clear on his face. He said something to Eric, and Sookie could hear in her head and read from his lips what he was saying: “Aunt Sookie?”
“Yes,” Sookie responded, trying to speak to him again.
Again Hunter spoke to Eric.
“It’s okay, Hunt. It is Aunt Sookie,” she said with reassurance. She didn’t know how, but she’d connected to Hunter telepathically, and she didn’t want him to be scared. “We’re watching over you, and we wanted to tell you how wonderful you did! I’m so proud of you, Hunt. I love you so much.”
Tears welled and fell down Sookie’s face in a river as she heard Hunter’s mind answer her. “I love you too, Aunt Sookie.”
In her head, she could hear him speaking excitedly to Eric, who had realized what was going on too. “Aunt Sookie said they liked my practice, Daddy! Aunt Sookie said she loves me!”
Hunter launched into Eric’s arms and hugged him happily.
And with that, Sookie’s telepathic connection to her nephew ended, but her tears of joy didn’t.
Niall chuckled aloud, and Hadley looked at them in question. “What happened?”
Sookie was overwhelmed with emotion and couldn’t answer, so Niall answered for her, “Sookie just spoke to Hunter telepathically.” Into Sookie’s head, he added, “And that required great skill, by the way.”
“Really?” Hadley asked, a bit jealously. “What did you say, Sook?”
Again, Niall answered. “She said that we had enjoyed his practice. She told him of our pride and love for him.”
Sookie didn’t miss the fact that Niall had used the word “our” and that he’d been a little less than accurate, but she also hadn’t missed Hadley’s jealousy. She figured that as high-handed as Niall could be, he was just looking out for them.
Sookie got her tears under control. “Could I talk to others like that?” she asked out loud.
“Other telepaths—yes. Others—no,” Niall answered.
Then he returned to her head so that he could continue privately, “It is a sign of your increased ability that you could initiate a conversation with Hunter through the pool like that, but I should not be surprised, given your ability to connect to Eric through your bonds―at least to a small extent—as you watch him. Hunter’s answering, however, did surprise me. It shows his aptitude. He has learned much control in the safety of the nest young Eric has made for him.” Niall’s tone seemed to indicate his pride in the child as well as Eric.
“And I have,” Niall continued, “finally solved the mystery of how you have been able to heal Eric of his bonding sickness in the dreams.”
“How?” Sookie asked, carrying on their telepathic discussion even as she watched Eric swing a happy Hunter in circles.
“You aren’t curing him in your dreams, my dear,” Niall said with a twinkle in his eyes.
He responded, “I generally take Hadley’s hand, and you hold Claude’s or Hadley’s, so I did not feel it until tonight.”
“You are healing Eric as you watch him in the pool, my dear. I felt you doing it even as we watched Hunter’s practice. Your bond spoke to his; your heart healed his.”
A fresh tear slipped from Sookie’s eye as she realized the truth in Niall’s words.
He continued, “There has been a soft flow of magic from you into him the whole time. I suspect this has been the case every time we have looked in on young Eric and Hunter.” He gave her a wink.
“But in the dreams, I see my light healin’ him,” Sookie said.
Niall shrugged. “You have said that many things feel real in the dreams but do not stay with you when you wake up. I think this is one of them.”
Sookie had sighed in disappointment at Niall’s words. She didn’t know why it mattered to her how Eric got her healing magic—just that he got it. However, she realized that she’d liked thinking that she was healing him in their dreams. The dreams had felt just that much more real because of it.
Sookie tossed and turned again.
Despite the dreams’ shortcomings, she wished she could get to sleep so that she could be in one with Eric.