Hadley noticed that Hunter would periodically look at the dwelling where she figured her cousin and Eric Northman, who had become like a father to her son, were currently getting “busy.” In fact, they’d been in there for a couple of hours now, not that she was complaining. She was enjoying spending some time with Hunter—without the vampire there.
However, that time was also proving to be quite painful for her.
Again, Hunter looked toward the dwelling with immense love in his eyes. Coupled with that, every word he spoke about his “Daddy” or his life with him was tinged with that love. But even more than that, all of his feelings were marked with it—so much so that she’d needed to try to turn down her empathic ability a little using the shields that Niall had been teaching her about.
Since the development of her empathy had been happening little by little over the past month, the growth of her shields had been able to occur at roughly the same pace, which was good. Both Claude and Niall could also build shields around their emotions, and Sookie was pretty good at it too, though some things—especially her frustration about her training and her sadness at not being able to be with Eric—would still filter through at times. Katherine could also keep her emotions covered, so it was with Martha that Hadley had been able to do the most practice with her shields, and her friend’s emotions—though strong—had become easier and easier for her to keep out when she wanted to do so.
But Hunter’s emotions were a completely different story. They seemed to jump across the air and straight into her heart. Her son had so much love inside of him, but most of it was for the vampire.
And that—to be honest—had both hurt her and surprised her.
Hadley sighed. She loved her son, and she also wanted what was best for him; she had been certain, however, that she would end up being best.
She sighed again and felt Claude’s hand take hers. That simple action comforted her more than she could say, and she looked up at him gratefully.
Two very different options for her son’s future were battling within her. On the one hand, Hunter could come with her into Faerie; this is what she wanted. There, she could have both of her children with her all the time. And maybe—since he would be around others of his own kind—she could finally give Hunter the happy life she’d not been able to give him before.
On the other hand, he already was leading a happy life—a very happy one. And from Sookie, Hadley had learned that Eric loved Hunter and did not want him to leave the human realm. Of course, if Hunter stayed there, then he would age much faster than she would, and he would live out his life and die in just a few of her days or weeks in Faerie.
Hadley sighed yet again as she took in her child’s appearance. Truth be told, she hardly recognized him. And that had little to do with the inches he had grown and the year he’d aged. Hunter used to be quiet and withdrawn, but now he was teeming with life. He used to look scared all the time, but now he seemed assured—except when speaking to her. His eyes used to be filled with a kind of sadness that nothing she said or did could erase. Now, his eyes carried a smile in them—a twinkle that she knew had nothing to do with her.
She shook her head a little as she looked at Hunter. Her son still had her nose and her chin and her cheekbones, but inexplicably, he seemed to favor the vampire, to whom he was not even related! That thought made Hadley jealous. Oh—he didn’t really look like Eric, not in any obvious way. But he sat up straight like the vampire, almost formally straight—probably a by-product of their sword practice. He also held his shoulders down a bit, managing to look both relaxed and stately at the same time. His hair was styled similarly to Eric’s too, and it had lightened because of his time in the sun. But his skin was still pale—a clear sign that he had been slathered with sunscreen when he’d played outside.
But it was that twinkle in his eyes that made him look like Eric the most.
She sighed and squeezed Claude’s hand, as if asking for his support.
He immediately squeezed back and sent her a wave of his emotions full of support and affection. In that moment, Hadley was more grateful for his encouragement than she could say. And she used that boost of strength to continue her musings.
Hunter now had a father he’d chosen—rather than two parents who had barely chosen him. No—it was worse than that. Both Remy and she had not chosen Hunter in very significant and conscious ways. Hadley had not chosen Hunter over drugs when she was pregnant or when he was a newborn. In fact, she had chosen to get an abortion, and only the promise of a drug fix and then a swirl of other drug fixes prevented her from doing just that. Remy had taken Hunter only grudgingly; Hadley had known he didn’t really want the boy when she left him, but she didn’t care enough to stay. And even though Remy had taken more responsibility than she had, he’d not chosen to accept how Hunter was. And according to what Sookie had told her, Remy had not chosen to actively search for Hunter when she’d taken him either. He’d chosen, instead, to use the kidnapping as an opportunity to get free from his odd child.
Of course, Hadley was no better. No—she was worse. Even after she’d gotten off of drugs, she’d chosen to stay with Sophie-Anne, instead of trying to build a real life with Hunter. She’d told herself at the time that Sophie-Anne would not have let her go, so that was why she’d not chosen to be with Hunter.
But Hadley knew that she could have left Sophie-Anne. There had been a window of about a year—starting right before Hunter’s third birthday—when Sophie had yet to consider that Hadley might be part fairy. In truth, the vampiress had become a little bored with Hadley and used to the taste of her blood.
So—for about a year, Sophie stopped sleeping with her or requesting her presence. She would still “lend” her out to others, but Sophie paid her no mind. Looking back, Hadley realized that glamour had likely kept her from becoming angry at Sophie’s dismissive behavior, but at the time, Hadley had simply gone along with whatever Sophie wished.
She sighed. Sophie’s indifference during that time period was likely why she’d allowed Hadley to leave the mansion in the first place. However, Hadley had not asked to leave for good—not even after she’d reestablished contact with Remy and met Hunter properly for the first time.
Looking back, Hadley knew that she could have left safely. Others had when they’d no longer attracted the queen. They were glamoured heavily, given a small severance package, and dropped off at a nearby hotel. Bill Compton was actually the one that always did this—until he left for Bon Temps, that is. Hadley had seen him do it many times, but she’d never asked for it for herself. She’d never chosen Hunter.
But then, Sophie had suddenly become interesting in her again—to the point that she would barely let Hadley out of her sight. Hadley now knew that one of the older vampires that Sophie had “lent” her to had asked Sophie if her “pet” was part fairy. And that had gotten the ball rolling. After that, Sophie had allowed Hadley to leave the palace only in the day time, so her visits with Hunter became more sporadic and lasted only a couple of hours. And it wasn’t long before Sophie had Hadley followed. The consequence of that had been that Sophie had become interested in her family, which had led to her telling the queen about Sookie rather than admitting that she had a child.
After that, there really was no way for her to see Hunter or to leave Sophie, but there had been a window when she could have chosen her son over herself or Sophie. But she hadn’t.
Hadley realized just how awful that fact made her. But she was no longer running from the truth or hiding from it. She knew that there had been times when she should have made choices that would have shown Hunter that he was her true priority. But she’d always chosen herself or Sophie. She felt guilty for her past actions, but because of talking to Niall, she understood that guilt couldn’t solve anything—not really. Its only purpose was to teach people to avoid making the same mistakes again.
And Hadley didn’t want to make any more mistakes where Hunter was concerned, so she kept looking at herself with a critical eye. Thankfully, Claude kept right on holding her hand and sending her emotional support.
It had taken Sophie-Anne almost letting Eric kill her and then marrying Russell and moving them to Mississippi―where she was treated like crap during her short stay―for Hadley to finally question her relationship with the vampiress. Sophie had been extremely angry at Hadley for telling Eric about Sookie. However, the vampiress had not apologized for her unwillingness to save Hadley’s life. Clearly, the secret of Sookie’s lineage had been more important to Sophie-Anne than Hadley had been.
In the one night she’d been in Mississippi, Hadley had been forced by Russell to give Talbot blood in order to smooth things over with his lover. Apparently, the fairy-ish taste of Hadley was just barely impetus enough to keep her around, according to Russell. The person Hadley had thought she’d loved—her Sophie—had said nothing to stop Russell from belittling her. On the contrary, she’d made a comment about blood being the only thing that Hadley was good for anymore.
Still—even after all that, it had taken Eric using the influence of his blood to make her actually walk out of Russell’s mansion, get into a car, and drive to Bon Temps. And then the distance from Sophie-Anne had given her the strength to get Hunter and meet Sookie to find out if he had telepathy as she’d thought. After that, it was the mix of bitterness over Sophie’s behavior and fear that Hunter would be discovered that had made her get back into her car and run away with her child until she no longer had money to fill the gas tank.
Being honest with herself, Hadley knew that she’d have never run with Hunter just for him. No—it was her anger at Sophie that had been her main motivation at the time.
Hadley closed her eyes. She knew that if the marriage between Sophie-Anne and Russell hadn’t happened—and, especially, if Eric hadn’t made her leave that mansion—she would likely be with Sophie even now if she’d not been killed by Bill Compton, and though she hated to admit it, part of her wished that’s the way things were. She hoped against hope that that part of her thinking was the remnants of Sophie’s blood or glamour. But, being honest with herself, how could she be sure of that?
Of course, if she’d stayed with Sophie, then Hunter would still be languishing away with Remy. Oh—she might have continued the irregular visits she’d been paying her son―telling herself that she was only staying away to protect Hunter—but that wouldn’t have really been choosing him.
On the other hand, there was Eric, who seemed to have chosen Hunter just as much as her son had chosen the vampire.
Hadley shook her head, trying very hard not to feel jealous of Hunter and Eric’s relationship. Intellectually, she was happy that Hunter was so happy. She was glad that he seemed surrounded by people who accepted his telepathy and his “otherness” with no compunction.
And anyone could clearly see that he was flourishing. He was so confident and at ease with himself—except when he spoke with her. That fact stung, but she couldn’t run from it. She wouldn’t.
In short, Hunter was doing a hundred times better and was about a thousand times happier with the vampire than he’d ever been with Remy or her. Yes—part of Hadley was very jealous. But the bigger part of her—the part that had been blossoming since she’d been in the fairy realm—was pleased that Hunter had such a loving parent and had been taken care of so well.
And, of course, Hadley’s empathy allowed her to know her son’s feelings as she’d never been able to know them before. She sighed.
Knowing them hurt.
In truth, she’d known what would be best for Hunter the moment Eric had bent down to speak comfortingly to him after they’d stepped from the pool. Hadley had thought that he’d rush to Sookie and leave Hunter to her without a second thought, but that hadn’t happened―though the feelings she had been getting from Sookie seemed to be an amalgamation of her cousin’s and the vampire’s immense love for each other. Hadley figured that it had to be the vampire bond that Sookie had formed with Eric and that the emotions she felt swirling in her cousin belonged to both of them. Feeling that—in addition to Hunter’s worries—was overwhelming to say the least. And truth be told, their feelings for each other made her jealous too. She’d never had anything even close to that with Sophie.
But Eric hadn’t zoomed to Sookie. He’d seen to Hunter first.
That was—perhaps—the first time in her life that Hadley had witnessed a true parent. Her own mother had tried to be a good parent, but she had worked long hours and had seemed more concerned about the dramas that played out in her own life with Hadley’s father and various other men than she’d been about Hadley herself. Then, she’d gotten cancer, and her energy was spent trying to live through her treatments. She’d not even noticed Uncle Bartlett’s inappropriate attentions to her daughter. And when Hadley had finally tried to tell her, her mother had shut her down, saying that she needed Bartlett’s help around the house since she was so sick.
So Hadley had kept her mouth shut and had felt that it was her own fault when things kept escalating with Uncle Bartlett. He had told her that her mommy would die if she tried to tell on him again. He had told her that her mommy would get sicker if she didn’t do as he said.
The true sick one had been Uncle Bartlett, who had taken her virginity when she was only twelve years old.
Hadley felt Claude’s hand squeeze hers again comfortingly; briefly, she wondered if he was listening to her thoughts or picking up on her emotions. But she realized that it didn’t really matter. That squeeze was enough to keep her from sinking, and Claude already knew all about Bartlett anyway. It had been he and Niall who had helped her when her suppressed memories came rushing back a few days after Joren had raped her.
No—her own mother had not been what could be called a good parent. Hadley’s father would not be up for any parenting prizes either. In the few years he lived with her mother and her, he had told Hadley many times that she was ‘good for nothing.’ And she had believed him because she didn’t know any better.
The closest she’d ever seen to a good parent was Gran, who treated all of her grandkids well. She always felt love from Gran―but she was Gran, not Mom or Dad.
So, ironically, the first moment of true parenting she had ever witnessed was when the vampire that still scared her bent down to comfort his son because Hunter was nervous about seeing his mother after so long. The love in both of their eyes couldn’t have been missed.
In that moment, Hadley had seen Hunter have something he’d never had before―a parent who loved him unselfishly and with no reservations. That was something she’d never been able to do for him, no matter how hard she’d tried. And she had tried.
When she looked at Eric, she knew that the vampire didn’t need to try at all to love Hunter; he just did. Perhaps it was that fact—the fact that Eric didn’t need to try—that Hadley was most jealous of. Even now, she knew she was trying to love Hunter in a way she never had to do with the child growing inside of her. That fact made her feel ashamed, but it was still a fact. And she was not going to turn or run from it as she’d always run before.
No—she needed to be honest now, even if it hurt. She needed to finally be a good mother to her son, even if that meant accepting that she was not one. It was a hard truth, but she knew that it was the right one to seek out, and Claude’s transmission of support to her—which bounded through her rudimentary shields like a stallion—confirmed that fact.
Okay—so the truth was that she’d never felt a part of Hunter’s life in a fundamental way. She’d wanted to care for him and make sure he was safe because he was her son. She loved him because he was her son. But there were—and had always been—equal parts love and guilt battling within her when it came to her feelings about Hunter.
She sensed ambivalence from Hunter about his feelings for her too. She squeezed Claude’s hand a little tighter, very grateful for the strength and confidence that he was projecting toward her. Truth be told, she was beginning to fall in love with Claude. He was beautiful—both inside and outside. He loved her and her daughter. He loved Hunter. She’d felt his affection for her child many times as they’d watched him in the pool. Claude was proud of Hunter. The irony was not lost on Hadley that both Claude and Niall seemed to be able to love Hunter without any reservation, whereas she couldn’t.
Claude had once told her that he used to be jealous of Niall’s affection for Earl, especially since Niall had been very different with his fairy children during their younger days. But then Claude had explained how Niall had changed and grown. Claude talked about how he’d always loved and respected his father, but that Niall had seemed to hold back a part of himself. He spoke of how he’d truly become friends with his father just in the last few years or so. He talked of how he had confidence that she too would prove an excellent parent. He’d said it like he was already certain of it, and that right there had probably caused her to fall for him.
Hadley had felt a little jealously about Sookie and Claude at first because of their nicknames for each other—tanu and tanah—until he had told her what those meant. And that jealousy had told her that she was interested in him romantically too. She just didn’t feel ready to be with him yet. The memory of what Joren had done to her was still fresh. And—truth be told—she didn’t think she deserved Claude.
He squeezed her hand and pulled her toward him a little. Hadley knew that that gesture was his way of disagreeing with her. She wondered for a moment if she minded that he was in her head, but then she decided that she didn’t. It was freeing—in a way—to no longer be able to hide. It helped her not to hide from herself either.
Hunter glanced from Niall to her, and she could feel her son’s ambivalence again, but this time, she didn’t try to dampen her empathy. Claude being right next to her made her feel brave, and she knew that she needed to feel what Hunter felt in order to do what she needed to do. His emotions hurt her, but she knew that they were not unwarranted. Hunter was frightened that she would hurt him. He didn’t trust her. He loved her, but his hurt because of her had been great. Her little boy turned back toward the dwelling that held his father, and his emotions immediately shifted. He trusted Eric fully—loved him fully.
His emotions for his father were both beautiful and painful. But she didn’t try to keep them out.
Hadley sank into Claude’s side a little, and he placed his free arm around her comfortingly—protectively—even as he kept hold of her hand. If she was honest with herself, she knew that she didn’t deserve Hunter’s trust. Hell—she still recognized that she didn’t fully accept him as she should. She loved him, but there was something about him that made him feel like he wasn’t wholly hers—guilt maybe? She had, after all, been planning to get rid of him before he was even born.
She sighed, very grateful that Niall had been able to do as she’d asked him to do that morning—to keep Hunter from her thoughts. She smiled a little. Her great-grandfather had seemed proud of her when she’d asked him not to let Hunter hear her thinking about anything that might hurt him.
She felt Claude’s arm tighten around her again. She felt herself filling up with love and sorrow.
Her brain knew what would be better for Hunter—knew where he would be happiest. But a part of her still wanted him with her, and her heart broke a little when she imagined her life without him. She wanted a chance to make things up to him, and if he stayed in the human realm, she’d never get the opportunity to be a good mother to him—the kind she ought to have been all along.
But she also recognized the inherent selfishness behind that line of reasoning. If she could prove a good mother to him, then her guilt would disappear. But what about Hunter? What was his best future? Where would he be most happy? By trying to be a good mother, she might steal that happiest future from him. But by being the best mother she could be, she would be stealing a future with him from herself.
Hadley was broken out of her thoughts by Hunter, who was now looking at the tent with awe.
“What’s that?” he asked, as he saw a red light emanating from the structure. “Fireworks?”
Hadley looked and saw the light too. She gasped.
Niall was a bit concerned by the power of the magic that was escaping Sookie’s little dwelling, but he kept his tone even. “That is more magic, Hunter. Your father and Sookie’s bond has grown again, just like I thought would happen―or, at least, what I,” he paused, “hoped would happen.”
“Cool!” Hunter exclaimed as the light flitted away in a series of bright red sparks. “Daddy was so sad when he couldn’t feel his bond with Aunt Sookie, but I helped to fix him.”
“How did you do that, Hunt?” Hadley asked curiously.
“Well,” Hunter said, looking toward Batanya. “Batanya and me and Jesus came up with a plan to make sure that Daddy had somethin’ else to think about instead of just missin’ Aunt Sookie.” He smiled brightly. “And it worked too. And I got to start learnin’ about swords with Daddy.”
Hadley smiled, “That is really cool, Hunt.”
Hunter spoke excitedly. “Mommy, Daddy is the best teacher ever. Did you know that he also taught me how to talk in Swedish, and I can make stuff out of wood now! I made you a chair to sit in!”
Hadley couldn’t help but to smile at the effusiveness of her child. Yes—the Hunter she was looking at was light-years from the one she’d left behind. Making an internal decision, she spoke sincerely, “You will have to send me that chair, Hunter. I’m gonna wanna sit in it all the time.”
Sensing the significance of the moment, Claude once more squeezed her hand.
Hunter nodded excitedly. “Know what else?”
“What?” Hadley asked.
“Daddy and me made a rocking chair for Miranda before Godric was born. We can make one for you too, Mommy—for you and my new baby sister.”
Hadley smiled, “That would be a wonderful gift, Hunter.” She knew that given the time difference between their realms that what would seem like minutes to her in Faerie would be weeks to Hunter when he went back to the human realm.
She knew that she could stay where she was in the ‘in-between place,’ but that was not the life she longed for. She wanted to go into Faerie and build a life there, meet new people, and have a real place in the world. But that meant that Hunter would probably grow into adulthood, live out his life, and die before his sister was even born. However, she still nodded gratefully, trying to hide her sadness. “I would love a new rocking chair from you and your daddy.”
The lightness and pride in Hunter’s expression made Hadley’s decision even clearer. She knew in her mind that Hunter should stay with his father—that his life would be better if he did.
So she wouldn’t stand in Hunter’s way if he chose to stay with Eric instead of her. It would hurt her, but she would abide by his choice.