Niall reached out and took hold of Hadley’s free hand for a moment, knowing that she was struggling to come to terms with her decision not to try to influence Hunter.
He felt strongly that she was making the right choice for everyone involved. It wasn’t the easiest one for her, but it was the right one.
Niall sighed. He loved Hadley very much, but he also knew that Hunter would be better off staying with the vampire. Part of him hated that knowledge since it meant that the child would not be living in Faerie, where he could truly meet his potential as Fae.
Hunter definitely had the spark—not as strongly as Sookie did, but it was there. And Niall knew that spark could grow even brighter inside Faerie proper. He would have been honored to train his great-great grandson from such a young age.
However, a single minute in Eric and Hunter’s presence versus Hadley and Hunter’s had told Niall all he needed to know.
Oh—both parental-child pairings had love. That was certain. But Hunter’s mind was very different with his two parents, and Niall had unapologetically sunk into the mind of his great-great grandson so that he could be sure.
Niall knew from Hunter’s thoughts that the boy felt absolutely loved and accepted by his father; of that, there was no question. And therein, lay the potential problem in Niall’s eyes. With his mother, Hunter didn’t feel the same sense of security. He was uncertain. He was consciously trying to seem like a boy she would want—trying in every moment with her.
Hunter was having a good time with Hadley, but he didn’t feel as free as he did with his father. Hunter was thinking about his words to Hadley before he spoke them. And he was consciously hiding his telepathy from her now. In fact, he’d completely tried to shut down his usage of it within the last several minutes.
When Hunter had tried to probe into Hadley’s thoughts, Niall had already been in them, and because they would have hurt the child, he had brought a shield around Hadley’s thoughts. Inadvertently, however, he had caused the boy to feel even more pain.
Hunter had taken his being expelled from his mother’s mind as a sign that his telepathy was “bad” and that he shouldn’t be using it at all. So he’d stopped trying to read her.
Niall had lifted some of his shielding from Hadley’s thoughts—the safe ones—but it was too late. Hunter would not delve in again. Then, Niall had attempted to talk to Hunter in his head a bit―to encourage the child to try again with his mother. Hunter had attempted one more time, but so much had to remain closed off that he backed out sadly. He had felt rejected and down, but also resolved: resolved to prove to his mother that he could be “good.”
After that, the boy had shut his telepathy down as much as he was capable, right after using it to tell Niall, “Mommy doesn’t like me using my head like that.”
Niall sighed. How could he tell Hunter that he was the reason he couldn’t freely delve into his mother’s thoughts without letting him know the reason behind his expulsion? No matter what, the boy would be hurt. Niall wondered for a moment if Eric could explain it to Hunter in a way that he could understand. The vampire did seem to have a way about him.
To curb the child’s self-doubts and reemerging shame about his telepathy, Niall had been greatly tempted to let Hunter into his mother’s thoughts completely after that, but Hadley’s musings were not at all settled where Hunter was concerned, and Niall knew that they would harm him a great deal.
Niall sighed deeply. He knew from Hunter’s mind that the boy would likely do whatever his mother guided—because he was so anxious to gain her acceptance, to feel her unconditional love. In other words, he wanted desperately to feel with his mother what he felt with his father. He felt guilt already that he did not. He thought it was his fault, and that broke Niall’s heart.
Niall knew that if Hadley asked him to do it, Hunter would stay, whether he wanted to return with Eric or not.
Niall was more grateful than he could say that Hadley was resolved not to ask that of her son. However, there was still a danger that Hunter would choose to stay anyway—just to try to gain his mother’s approval.
Niall hoped that Hadley would not allow Hunter to make his choice based on guilt; he suspected that she would not, given the woman that she had been becoming before his very eyes for the last month.
In addition to Hunter’s thoughts, Niall was also unashamedly monitoring Hadley’s. No—not everything in her mind was “good,” so to speak, but she was tackling her fears and doubts and no longer hiding from them.
More importantly, she was using her empathy to monitor Hunter, and she was—right at that moment—trying to deal with the discomfort his feelings caused her. She was even brave enough to contrast those feelings with what the boy felt for his father. Moreover, she’d not tried to influence Hunter with her gift in any way. She’d built shields around her empathy for a while, but she’d not tried to manipulate her son with it, and now those shields were down and she was “listening” to all of Hunter’s feelings. It was not easy for her, but she was doing it.
Niall was proud of both of his great-granddaughters. The one sitting next to him had embraced the fairy within her and would become an excellent addition to Faerie if she decided to go there. The other one—so like his sister that it was sometimes frightening—had embraced her fairy part only to the point that it suited her.
Niall smiled toward the tent where red sparks were still periodically appearing and then turning into fairy dust. He’d never seen the full effects of his sister’s bond with her demon; in fact, he’d only seen them together once—as the demon lay dying. She had wanted to die as well, but couldn’t because the demon’s parents had cursed her to have a long life.
When he’d hidden her away in the human world with the handmaidens of the so-called Oracle of Delphi, he’d simply hoped to help her conceal her new gift of future-sight―which she’d yet to learn how to control. He’d had no idea he was putting her into the path of a vampire who would ensure her long existence in the human realm.
He sighed. A fairy living in another realm would eventually attune more to the “time” of that realm. However, it took many centuries for that to happen. He, for example, had not felt any change during his years with Viola. But eventually a fairy would begin to age more rapidly if he or she stayed in the human realm. The same was true with demons that chose to stay there, which was one of the reasons why the populations of both groups had never been particularly high in that realm.
But―finally―after more than a hundred years, his sister too had begun to age like a human. By then—because of her extraordinarily long life and her intermittent prophesies to them, she was revered by the Spartans and well-taken care of and protected. She’d been happy about her aging and hopeful for her own death.
However, because of the curse of her beloved’s mother, she could not see the danger that was lurking in the form of the cruel vampire, Appius, who wanted to tie her to his side and use her to further his own ambitions and power-hungry greed. And once his sister had become vampire, she had truly been shackled to an eternal existence apart from her beloved. The only thing to give her hope had been her mate’s prophesy.
His sister had not seen Appius coming, just as the curse had foretold, and the vampire had brutalized her for many, many years. Niall had tried to get to her, but he could not find her for a long time. Guessing that she was Fae, Appius had used magic to conceal her. He’d also moved her around a lot.
It had taken Niall a long time—even by fairy standards, but even more by human standards—to find his sister. He’d gone to her to try to save her, but she’d shunned him. Her maker had commanded her not to leave and had directed her to tell him of all threats she saw with her future-sight, so that meant she had already told Appius about Niall’s coming there. In fact, Niall had barely escaped the trap that Appius had laid for him.
But Niall had recognized that his sister was also giving him a breadcrumb—as she’d always loved to do, even when they were children. And after many years, he was able to develop a magic spell to ensure that she couldn’t see his future plans. And then he’d taken a specially-made silver sword and cut the head off of Appius Livius Ocella. He only regretted that he couldn’t make the pain last longer. However, he’d had zero regrets about killing that monster as he’d grasped his sister’s weakened and broken body to his, given her some of his blood, and teleported her out of Appius’s lair.
She’d told him not long ago that if he’d not saved her from Appius, she would have been tied to him for millennia. She’d also told him that she would have never found and turned Godric and that Appius would have been the one to turn Eric, who would have suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of his maker during his early years.
Now, knowing Eric, Niall was doubly happy that he’d saved both his sister and the Viking from Appius. Yes—his sword had looked very good stained with Appius’s blood.
Niall shook his head and smiled. Sookie was so like the woman who was now known as the Ancient Pythoness among the vampires and as Carlah among the fairies. He chuckled. Neither of those names was her true one. He reckoned that only he and his sister still knew her real name, and he knew his sister well enough to know that he wasn’t going to utter it to anyone else. After all, he was not quite ready to die yet. He smiled a little wider.
Yes—Sookie and his sister were very much alike. They were both stubborn and fiery. They both loved men that most fairies and humans would consider part of the darkness; maybe they were. However, both women loved their mates because they had seen the good men inside of that darkness. They both loved despite the prejudices of their worlds. They both loved the differences between themselves and their mates, even as their worlds had condemned their chosen pairings because of those differences. And they’d both settled for nothing less than what they knew they wanted—no needed.
Niall’s parents had never understood nor appreciated the beautiful uniqueness that dwelled within his twin sister—older than him by three minutes. They’d wanted only her obedience, but she’d been obedient only to her own heart—just like Sookie.
He used to envy her for that. But then he’d met Viola, and he’d come to understand her.
He looked down at the boy in front of him and once again regretted the fact that Sookie and Eric could not have a child of their own. There had been no child for his sister and her Artegal either, a fact which he also regretted. Perhaps in the face of such overwhelming and burning love, the universe simply had not found a way to bring about pro-creation in the midst of creation.
Still―thinking about it, Niall figured that the universe was smarter than he was. And maybe procreation didn’t require biology. His sister had chosen a child―Godric. Niall had met Godric only once―just as he’d met his sister’s demon only once―but the vampire’s resemblance to the demon had been remarkable. There had been absolutely no physical likeness, but the energy from the two had been the same, and his sister had finally re-found her happiness after she’d made her vampire child. Godric’s own chosen child, Eric, was completely different from Godric. Niall had never met Eric before meeting him through his watch of Sookie, but his sister had always spoken of him with extreme mirth and pride. Again, the Viking had been a major source of her happiness. So perhaps, after all, his sister really had had children with her mate—just not in any conventional way.
Niall smiled. His sister had kept her vow to be happy to her husband, and even though Niall had at first doubted her theory about her child’s child and his own great-granddaughter, he was quickly running out of doubts as he saw the evidence of the love and magic between them.
Of course, the fulfillment of the demon’s prophesy relied upon others and not upon Eric and Sookie. Otherwise, Niall would have already bet on them. Still, part of him selfishly hoped that his sister would need to stick around for a while longer as the world learned tolerance. He did not get to see her often, but he would miss her greatly if she did leave her body.
He turned to look at Hadley, who had resumed her game with Hunter.
He smiled at his great-granddaughter. Hadley had—in fact—turned out to be a lot like him. Like him, she was also an Empath and getting stronger at it every day. That is why he thought that she would encourage Hunter do what would be best for him in the end—to make his own choice, but to make it be the right one. Niall knew that Hadley would not be able to live with Hunter or herself for long if she didn’t.
The vampire’s decision to allow the boy to make his own choice had been harder for him in many ways, but ironically, Niall had never doubted Eric, despite the fact that he could neither hear in his head nor feel his emotions.
As Niall looked at Hunter, he couldn’t help but to smile proudly even as he shook his head a bit. Like his aunt, the boy didn’t feel the connection to Faerie that his mother intrinsically did. Still—Niall could feel Hunter’s magic stirring; he too clearly had the “light” power as his aunt did, and his telepathic abilities were very strong for one who was not quite seven years of age. But Hunter had been hesitant to let that magic flow freely within him until he’d felt magic emanating from Eric as well.
Niall smiled wider. The boy—simply put—wanted to be just like his father. Niall remembered getting the same sense from Earl before he’d had to leave him. He sighed at the memory. Maybe it was all boys with their fathers—or at least the fathers that cared for them. Niall could see that Hunter was blossoming under Eric’s guidance, and he knew that he’d continue flourishing with him. Hunter—so much like his father, like Eric—had already been planning out miles ahead.
In his mind, Hunter had furniture built for Emma. He had horses ridden. He had Godric walking. He had a new kitten to eventually be a love interest for ‘Cat.’ He had his Uncles Lala and Jesus married so that he could finally call Jesus, “Uncle Jesus.” He had a grown-up image of himself already mastering the sword next to his father. He had that same young man softly kissing a grown-up image of his Emma.
Niall looked contentedly at Hunter. He would be a magnificent fairy if he chose to live in Faerie. But he would be happier as a human with a little fairy mixed in—just like Sookie. Niall would be proud of the boy either way, but he wondered if the boy would be capable of moving through the world as gracefully if he did not have his chosen father to look to as an example.
Niall closed his eyes and wished his Viola were by his side to see their lineage with him. There was so much of her in them—so much of her magic flowing through them. Hadley had Viola’s kind heart—though she still feared allowing for that kindness to rule her. Sookie definitely had Viola’s fire as well as her tolerance. Hunter had inherited Viola’s gentle spirit and unselfish heart. Yes—their lineage was magnificent.
He sighed and looked at his son with Mab―Claude. Because of his ambivalence for their mother, Niall had failed his fairy children in a great many ways. He hadn’t loved Mab, though he had tried to be dutiful—to be caring toward his children. It had taken a human woman to teach him about love. And he’d learned that human love was much more intense than the fairy version. With humans, so much was at stake. With fairies, time did not matter so much. He looked at Claude and Hadley’s entwined hands and was proud of them both; he knew that it was her “human-ness” that so attracted Claude to Hadley.
After he’d returned from the human world, Niall had tried to be a better father. He’d certainly known how to show his love better, but it had been too late with Claudette. Niall sighed. Fueled by her mother’s prejudice and lies, Claudette would not forgive the fact that he had taken a human wife. He’d failed with his youngest fairy daughter. He’d also failed to protect his human son, Earl, in the end. Niall had left him to save him, but Earl had died because he’d been brought to Faerie, and the worst thing was that Niall had known nothing of this until it had been too late.
He’d confronted his sister about not telling him, but she had not seen Earl being taken. And if she’d stepped in to prevent him from being there at the time that Sookie had arrived in Faerie, then Sookie would have been killed. And Hunter. And Hadley.
Niall closed his eyes. He did not envy his sister’s knowledge of the possible futures that could entrap them all. And he knew better than not to trust her.
Niall glanced toward a new red spark over Sookie’s dwelling. As far as he could tell, Eric was bound and determined not to fail his son in any way. And Niall respected that facet of his great-granddaughter’s chosen mate more than any of his other qualities. Perhaps, Niall should have hated the vampire who had killed both of his daughters—one accidentally and one very purposefully—but he couldn’t. It had been Mab who had put both of his girl’s into harm’s way, and Niall knew where the blame really belonged.
Instead, when Niall thought of Eric, he felt oddly paternal—protective even. He looked at Claude, who was giving him a knowing look. Claude was a better man than he was; Niall knew that much for certain. And Claude had almost immediately opened himself up to Sookie and Hadley. Ironically, it was the vampire whom Niall had had an easier time opening up with, a fact that Claude knew very well and liked to tease him about.
Still—in truth—Niall felt almost like he had two sons now, and though it might not have been fair or even right, Eric was currently sitting in the part of his heart that Niall had always reserved for Earl. He’d not replaced Earl; nothing could do that. But the vampire had softened the blow of the loss. And Niall knew that something similar had happened between Claude and Sookie. She’d become his sister after he’d lost his.
Niall looked on as Hadley continued playing the game that Claude had brought from Faerie with her son. The game was—he could tell—not challenging to the boy, though Hunter was still making an effort to show his enjoyment to his mother.
Niall sighed, wondering if the boy would choose to continue trying to please his mother―despite his own feelings.