Sookie observed her husband with a lump in her throat. It took a lot of conscious effort for her not to send the healing magic to her husband that she had been unconsciously sending for so long—especially considering the look that was in her husband’s eyes. Given the animated way he was telling Hunter his nighttime story, it was a look that she knew no one else would be able to pick up on.
But Sookie knew her husband’s eyes too well to miss the pain that flickered in them. His beautiful blues seemed a little less bright—a bit less lustrous—than normal. She knew that her vampire was hurting. But she kept her promise to her husband and kept the healing magic for herself that night.
A subtle dip into Hunter’s head using her newly acquired gift told Sookie that he didn’t notice anything wrong with his daddy and that he was enjoying his story time immensely. Unlike before, Sookie didn’t let Hunter know that she was there, and once she was certain that her nephew was okay, she got out of his head.
Looking at the pair, Sookie felt strongly that she ought not to encroach upon their time together in any way. Somehow even watching them on that night had seemed like an intrusion.
She didn’t think that Hunter would choose to stay with Hadley after just a first visit, and her heart told her that the little boy ought to be with his daddy, but she could not read the future. She wished in that moment she had the A.P. there to tell her what was going to happen, but even the ancient vampiress seemed to believe that there were several possible futures for Hunter. Sookie closed her eyes and said a prayer that he would find his best one.
She squeezed Claude’s hand tightly. That night, Hadley had taken Niall’s hand, and Sookie was watching with Claude. She had heard from Hadley’s head that she didn’t want to hold onto Claude’s hand because she was afraid to feel Hunter’s emotions again. She wasn’t sure why, but her empathy always seemed to be stronger when she was around him. She was also feeling guilty about wishing that Hunter wasn’t quite so happy with Eric and his family in Bon Temps. She was—most of all—confused and insecure. And she intuited that if she were holding onto Claude, she’d be less likely to avoid her issues.
Sookie sighed as Claude knocked on her head.
Sookie smiled up at him since he was several inches taller than her, standing at what Sookie figured was about 6’1”. She noticed—not for the first time—how handsome her tanu was. He clearly was going to look as distinguished as Niall one day, but he had darker hair than his father―more like Claudine’s shade. His hazel eyes were clouded with worry.
“Sorry,” Sookie said into his head. “You probably heard my thoughts about Hadley—didn’t you?” She looked down at their joined hands and back into the pool.
Claude answered. “I am sorry, Tanah, but as you are aware, touch makes it harder to block, especially when you think my name.”
Sookie nodded and looked back into the pool.
“It will be hard for Hadley tomorrow, Tanah. For the first time, she will feel Hunter’s emotions firsthand. And after she feels them, she will have to come to terms with them.” He sighed. “She will have a very difficult choice to make,” Claude said into her mind sadly as he looked over at Hadley, whom Sookie knew that he loved more every day.
Sookie nodded as she kept her eyes trained on Hunter and her husband.
Claude continued, “She will know from Hunter’s feelings what is best for him. A telepath can hear a person’s thoughts and intuit emotions from them, but an empath is able to actually feel those emotions in a way that can be overwhelming.” He shook his head a little, and Sookie squeezed his hand to comfort him. He smiled a thanks and went on. “I fear it will cause her pain to understand fully what Hunter feels. And,” he paused, “what she does with that knowledge will help us to understand if she is to be the Hadley she was before or the Hadley she could be—the one she wants to be. No matter what, however, the woman that I love will be hurting tomorrow. And Hunter will also be hurting.”
Sookie nodded again. “I know,” she said into his head in a whisper.
“And your mate hurts now, so you hurt as well,” Claude finished.
A tear slipped from Sookie’s eye as he squeezed her hand this time.
They watched as Eric finished his story and tucked Hunter in with his usual kiss on the forehead. The profoundly tender gesture made Sookie’s heart swell and break at the same time.
As always, Eric sat in the chair next to Hunter’s bed, where he would stay until the little boy was asleep. Sookie let herself get lost in the routine for a moment as she watched Hunter get cozy. She was always immeasurably comforted by the sight of Hunter safe and sound. His dog, Odin, and the cat were both tucked in with him, and Hunter’s eyes droopily watched Eric, who also always seemed comforted by the fact that Hunter was as safe as he could make him.
However―again―Eric’s eyes flashed and told Sookie that he was in pain because of the anguish Hunter would soon feel no matter what he chose and because of his own fear of losing his son.
On normal nights, once Hunter was asleep, Sookie would generally practice a bit more with her fairy magic as Hadley taught Katherine about quilting, which was something the fairies didn’t have an equivalent for. Hadley had apparently picked up a lot from Gran―more than Sookie had realized—and had used quilting as a daytime pastime when living with Sophie-Anne. Thus, she had learned even more.
But that night was not normal, and the nervousness was thick in the air since Hunter and Eric would be there in less than a day.
Hadley dropped Niall’s hand soon after Hunter seemed to fall asleep. She gave Sookie a little smile; surprisingly, Hadley had been grateful that morning when Sookie had told her that Eric planned to have a conversation with Hunter, letting him know some things about Hadley’s situation. Hadley had been glad that she wouldn’t have to be the one to break Hunter’s heart like that.
As soon as Hadley joined Katherine, Niall came over to Sookie and took her free hand.
“I need to speak to Sookie for a moment,” Niall said to his son.
Claude gave Sookie a little kiss on the cheek and then turned to go join the others, who were sitting about twenty feet away.
Sookie looked back at the pool and asked quietly. “I need to keep watch over him—okay?”
“Of course, my dear,” Niall said.
They watched as Eric rose slowly from his chair. The vampire bent down and gave his sleeping son one more kiss on the forehead before softly brushing his bangs to the side of his forehead.
The troubled look in Eric’s eyes was much more prominent now that Hunter was sleeping, and Sookie knew that Niall could see it too. He squeezed her hand comfortingly.
Sookie saw her husband speak briefly to Batanya, and then he went straight into their room and shut the door. He sat heavily onto the edge of the bed.
Sookie knew that Eric usually worked on Area 5 business or Louisiana business right after Hunter went to bed. That is why they’d worked out their schedule over the last month so that she would not try to call him into her dreams until he’d had time to do his work.
She also knew that Eric had begun retiring to the cubby as soon as his meetings were done so that he could fall asleep in their dreams without incurring the wrath of Miranda.
But tonight, Eric did not work, nor did he meet with Bubba or Miranda or Pam or Tray or Jesus about the de Castro threat as he usually did, nor did he go to the cubby. That night, he just sat on the bed as if catatonic. Sookie followed his eyes to see that he was looking at the pictures that were placed on the bedside table—the one of Sookie with Gran and another one of Eric with Hunter, which Sookie hadn’t seen before. Eric and Hunter were sitting next to the new pool that Eric had told her had been put in. She’d never seen a picture of her husband looking so unguarded or so at peace. He looked beautiful. Hunter looked beautiful. They looked beautiful together.
The image of Eric in the photograph contrasted sharply with his current state. His shoulders were slumped. And she watched as red drops began to show in the corners of her husband’s eyes and then fall unabated down his cheeks as he looked at both images.
Niall projected a thought into her head. “I wanted to speak to you for a moment, dearest Great-granddaughter,” he said in a sad tone.
Sookie nodded and watched her husband as tears began to well in her own eyes too.
A single tear slipped from Niall’s eye as he watched the vampire. “Young Eric fears that he will never again be able to do what he just did—to tuck Hunter into his bed and watch over his sleep.”
Tears began to fall down Sookie’s cheeks.
Niall squeezed her hand and continued speaking. “I went into Hunter’s mind and heard the words that your Eric spoke to him as he told him about his upcoming visit here and the decision he must make.” The fairy sighed heavily. “The vampire told him that what happens will be Hunter’s choice. He told the boy that he will love him no matter what that choice is. He told him that Hadley will love him no matter what that choice is.” Niall paused and continued sadly. “He told him that as a vampire, he would be able to wait a very long time for Hunter’s return and that he would always view Hunter as his son. Hunter was both sad and happy when Eric told him all these things. He was glad to be seeing his mother. However, he was sad that he will not be able to stay with both of his parents. He was initially very apprehensive about having to choose, but your Eric has taken his mind off of his sadness and uncertainty.”
Sookie nodded as they continued to watch Eric. Her tears were now flowing freely, but she did nothing to stop them. Seeing the tears on Eric’s cheeks, she couldn’t have stopped herself from crying along with him even if she had wanted to. His pain would always be hers.
Niall continued speaking into her head, “Hunter was very happy tonight, Sookie. His thoughts told of how much he loves his father. His thoughts spoke of a Father’s Day gift he is getting for the vampire. They spoke of plans that have been made that he is excited about—like horses coming for his birthday. But mostly they spoke of his favorite kind of day—a day just like today, a normal day for them—except for the first part of it. His thoughts told me that he had a happy time practicing swords with his father. They spoke of his father making him his favorite snack. They spoke of his pride in knowing how to make something beautiful for the girl that his little boy’s mind sees as being his wife one day. They spoke of how he likes to have dinner just with his father and how his favorite thing of all is to rock with him in their chair. He had a good night, Sookie. And he never thought about how it might be his last night like this one. He never thought of it because of your mate’s strength, my dear.”
Sookie let out a little sob.
Niall went on. “I do not have the ability to read the mind of a vampire, but I have heard Eric speak through Hunter’s mind many times as I have watched them. He speaks only true words to the child, so he will allow Hunter to stay with Hadley if that is what he chooses—even if that choice comes tomorrow night. And after tomorrow night, he will also be losing you for a time.” Niall’s voice lowered to almost a whisper even in her head. “I do not cry tears of blood, Sookie. In fact, fairies do not often cry.” He squeezed her hand. “I have cried a tear for young Eric tonight, but it was shed both for him and because of a memory. May I tell it to you?”
Niall’s tone in her head was almost tortured. “The night I was leaving behind the human realm to return here—the night that I was leaving Earl behind in order to protect him—I cried many tears.”
He paused as Sookie pulled her eyes from the pool to lock with her great-grandfather’s gray-blue orbs. She saw great pain there.
Niall continued, “However, I cried none of those tears while Earl was awake. My last day with my son—my Earl—was spent doing simple things that I knew the boy loved best. Every moment of that day, I knew it was to be the last time I did each of those things with him, but I did not allow my boy to see my grief.”
He went on, “I have been in many battles where friends were lost. I have faced down enemies when I thought I might die. I have seen great suffering and pain. I have experienced the deaths of three of my four children, including Earl. I held the hand of my sweet Viola as she died.” He sighed. “I have lived longer than even your vampire. But that day with Earl—our last together—was the hardest day I have ever spent.”
Sookie cried tears for her great-grandfather as well as for her husband and Hunter.
Niall gave her a little smile and then smiled into the pool at Eric. He spoke comfortingly, “I feel your bonds pulling for each other―longing for each other. If you wish it, Great-granddaughter, I can use my influence to calm your mind so that you will sleep immediately. I did this for Hadley when she first came here.”
Sookie nodded a thanks as she looked at Eric. She felt only the desire to be with him in that moment, but she knew that she would not be able to go to sleep in her current state without help.
After one last glance into the pool, her great-grandfather dropped her hand and then led her to her little dwelling. She lay down in her bed, and he pulled over the chair Claude had brought so that he was sitting next to her. He smiled kindly, “You will have to let me into your mind to do this, child.”
He took her hands.
She tried to relax, but more tears threatened to fall.
“Think only of Eric,” Niall said soothingly. “But do not think of his pain. Think of the safest moment of your life, and you will find him safe there too.”
A memory of Eric and her sitting in front of the fireplace in the cabin rolled into her mind and displaced the sadness she felt. She was wrapped up in Eric’s arms, and they were both wrapped up in a quilt. They were watching the fire together―sometimes silently caressing each other and sometimes talking about random things. They had both felt completely safe and serene.
Niall smiled, “Good, Sookie. Stay in that time. Now close your eyes.”
Sookie heard Niall speaking soft, comforting words to her, words about sleep and rest, words about peace and love. She stayed in her memory as Niall spoke to her.
Soon, Niall’s words lulled her. The last words she heard from him before she drifted off to sleep sounded like a prayer: “I love you both very much, young ones. Rest in each other tonight. And remember—you will never fall as long as you are together.”