After Eric and Hunter had left with Claude and Niall, Sookie and Hadley sat quietly by the pool for several minutes. Both were sad: Sookie because her boys had gone home and it would seem like months to them before they were all together again, and Hadley because her “new life” was about to truly begin without Hunter playing a major role in it.
As tears continued to seep from her eyes, Sookie felt something creeping through her body and trying to comfort her. It felt like a warm blanket, and she realized it was Hadley, using her gift of empathy to give her reassurance.
“Thanks,” Sookie said as she squeezed Hadley’s hand. “I needed that.”
Hadley smiled. “You have done so much for me, Sook—so much—that it’s the least I could do.”
Sookie smiled at her cousin gratefully. Her sadness was still there, but Hadley had given her the respite she needed to focus on the reason for that sadness—the purpose of it all. She had to believe that—in the end—this time apart from her husband and Hunter would help to protect them all. Sookie felt anxious—ready to do what she had to do in order to get back to her boys and the rest of her family in the human realm.
Sookie felt readiness from her cousin too; Hadley was anxious to begin her new life.
About ten minutes later, Claude returned through the pool.
“Where’s Niall?” Sookie asked, looking toward the water.
“He has stayed behind for a bit,” Claude reported.
Sookie sat up straight, her body rigid with sudden anxiety. “Eric? Is everything okay?”
“He’s fine,” Claude quickly assured even as he projected an image of Eric from a few minutes prior to Sookie. “The sun did not affect him. In fact, it is likely that he will be able to stay awake for some time.”
“And Hunter?” Hadley asked.
Claude smiled at her. “He’s fine too. He is a little tired from the night, but otherwise he is well. They were just going into the house when I left.”
“And Niall?” Sookie probed.
“As I said, he has decided to stay a while,” Claude answered evenly. “He wishes to speak with Eric. Perhaps, he will also get to meet Jason; he has been meaning to do that for a while now. And, of course, he feels closely connected to the house. He mentioned that he helped to build parts of it. I am certain he will be along soon.”
Accepting this explanation, Sookie nodded. “And you’re sure Eric’s okay?”
Claude smiled. “He was just fine when I left, and he was feeling no danger whatsoever from the sun.”
Sookie breathed another sigh of relief.
Hadley rose to her feet, and Sookie also got up.
“Well,” Hadley said, “I’m gonna go pack up my stuff. Katherine will be here soon, and I’m anxious to meet the people I’ll be workin’ with.”
Sookie gave Hadley a hug. “Thanks again, Had,” she smiled. “I’m so happy that you have your gift; Gran would be real proud that you are usin’ it to help other people. She would be proud that you are gonna pass along her craft to others. And she would be especially proud to know that you are gonna pass along her name to your little girl. You are giving her a legacy, Hadley.”
Hadley returned Sookie’s hug tightly and sniffled as happy tears glistened in her eyes. She smiled brightly at both Claude and Sookie and then went into her little dwelling to pack.
Sookie could now hear the excitement in Hadley’s head. Truth be told, she was nervous for her cousin—more nervous, in fact, than Hadley herself.
“Mab won’t be able to get to her—right?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Claude said firmly as if assuring himself as well. “Once she is in Niall’s village, the magic there will protect her completely. And she will not have far to travel. She will be with Katherine and several guards, and there are wards of protection throughout all of Niall’s territory.”
Comforted by Claude’s words, Sookie nodded. Still, she couldn’t help but to be worried about her cousin. For the first time, Hadley was going to travel into Faerie of her own volition. She would be staying with Katherine in Niall’s home for the time being, so she wouldn’t be alone. However, Sookie feared that memories of the rape might begin to resurface and grow stronger since Hadley was returning into Faerie.
However, when Sookie tapped into her cousin’s mind to make sure that she was truly ready to leave the “in-between” place, she found that Hadley was completely at ease with herself and her decisions—probably for the first time in her troubled life. Hadley was happy to be going somewhere that she would have real value; she’d never felt that before. She was going to be a mother again, and her daughter would give her a chance to make up for past errors. She was happy that Hunter was so well-taken care of and even happier that she wouldn’t have to completely give him up, which she’d thought would be the case just a few hours before. She was anxious and excited to be a good mother to both of her children.
Sookie took herself out of her cousin’s thoughts once she knew that she was okay and sat back down by the pool to wait for Niall’s return.
Hadley made short work of her packing; after all, there were just a few pieces of clothing and some books that Claude had arranged for her to borrow. She let her mind wander as she tidied up the little room she’d called home for more than a month.
She was looking forward to beginning her new job as a seamstress. She’d already brought many new skills to Faerie by showing some of Gran’s basic quilting techniques to Katherine; however, the other seamstresses in Niall’s community were anxious to meet and work with her firsthand. For the first time in her life, she felt both wanted and needed. And, more importantly, she felt worthy—well almost anyway, but it was a start. Sookie’s words about Gran had touched her deeply, and Hadley felt proud—really proud.
In fact, everything about her life made her feel happy and proud, except for one thing: Hunter. Her heart ached that he was not going to be with her fulltime. However, she was both resigned and resolved where Hunter was concerned.
She was resigned to the fact that Eric was Hunter’s “better” parent. And in her mind, their situation was akin to what would happen to a child if his parents were to divorce.
She thought of Hunter’s infancy and his going to live with Remy because he was—at the time—the “better” parent. Remy was never really a “good” parent, but he’d definitely been “better” than she was—for longer than Hadley wanted to think about.
She thought about her own experience when her mother and father split up. She’d stayed with her mother, who had been a far superior parent compared to her father—despite her mother’s self-absorption and, later, her illness.
But—in Hadley’s mind—Hunter’s current situation was far better than either his early life or her own childhood experience.
Eric was not just the “better” parent chosen between two substandard ones or—in her and Remy’s case for so long―two crappy ones. No—after seeing Hunter and Eric together, the vampire was the “best” parent Hadley could imagine for her son. Remy’s only qualifications were that he was the most likely candidate for Hunter’s biological father and that he happened to be off drugs when Hunter was born. He was willing to take the child, but he’d not really wanted him.
Hadley sighed. She figured that willingness was what had saved Remy’s life from the wrath of the protective vampire when Eric found out just how ambivalent Remy had been about Hunter. Hadley had seen Remy’s waning affection for her son begin as soon as Hunter became “more difficult” because of his telepathy. Still—until she’d left Sophie, he’d been the “better” parent, even though he’d obviously been a bad one.
Hadley shook her head. Even after she’d taken Hunter away, she’d been little better than Remy—if at all. If anyone deserved the vampire’s wrath, it was certainly her. But he’d shown her compassion earlier, and that right there was the ultimate testament of his love for Hunter as far as Hadley was concerned. Eric was so changed since she’d seen him at Russell’s estate, and she knew those changes had come because of his love for Sookie and Hunter.
What had she ever offered her own child before today? Sure—she’d provided food and essentials for Hunter; she’d worked hard as a waitress to give him a house and everything he needed to survive.
But the one thing he’d really needed was acceptance, and she’d not provided that. She could see that now. And even though she was prepared to be “better” for her son, she realized that she was still not his “best” parent. She was better than she had been and would keep striving to be even better for Hunter, but she knew that she’d never be “best.” No—she’d lost that right forever. And while that thought saddened her greatly, she was also very happy that Hunter now did have his “best” parent by his side. She still couldn’t believe that Eric Northman had turned out to be that parent, but seeing them—and feeling them—together had made her see the truth.
Hadley was also resolved. She was determined to make a good life for herself and the child growing inside of her—to honor the lessons she’d learned because of her mistakes with Hunter. With Katherine and Martha’s help, she was eating conscientiously so that she could give the child inside of her the best chance of being healthy. This was the opposite of what she’d done to her drug-addled body when she was carrying Hunter.
She was also trying to let the baby know that she loved her during her every waking minute. She found herself stroking her belly or humming to Adele all the time now. She wanted this child to know she was wanted even while she was still in the womb. She just wished that she could go back in time and do the same with Hunter, but it was too late. It was Eric who had finally given Hunter the kind of love she should have been giving him all along. It was Eric who had made Hunter feel wanted and valued.
Yes—Hadley thought—she was going to give Adele all the chances in life that she’d failed to give Hunter—all the chances that she’d never had herself until now. And she was even more resolved to be a good mother to Hunter than she’d ever been before. She might not get to see him every day, but once his weekly visits started, she was determined to prove herself to him so that he could begin to trust her. He deserved wonderful parents, and she wanted to be one of them.
Yes—she had resigned herself to the idea that her boy was better off elsewhere, but she was resolved to prove herself to him nonetheless.
Hadley realized that she still had a long way to go in order to do that, and she was saddened by the fact that Hunter would likely always have to be kept from some of her thoughts. She hated herself for the negative flashes that would still jump into her mind, and she prayed that they would go away one day. Something deep inside of her intuited that being in Faerie would help her to overcome a lot of the negativity that still tinged her perceptions of both herself and her oldest child.
Sookie looked at Claude, who was watching Hadley’s dwelling with a certain amount of trepidation. She gave her tanu his space, knowing that he was also saddened that Hadley would be leaving.
Claude had committed to staying in the “in-between” place to watch over Eric and Hunter while Sookie and Niall progressed into Faerie proper. And that meant that he wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with Hadley as he had been. She was already planning to visit Claude daily—despite the fact that she wouldn’t be able to look in on Hunter through the pool. However, Sookie knew that wasn’t the same for her tanu, and she was more grateful than ever for Claude’s unselfishness in the situation, especially given the fact that he loved Hadley so much.
About ten minutes after Hadley had gone inside her dwelling, she re-emerged with her little bag, and Katherine arrived with a huge smile on her face.
Sookie could tell that the always boisterous fairy, who had brought along a breakfast for Claude, Niall, and herself, was anxious to talk about Hunter’s visit, but she held back when she saw Claude and Hadley looking at each other with yearning in their eyes.
Sookie understood that look; she’d just had to say goodbye to Eric, and though Hadley and Claude would see each other the next day, it didn’t change the fact that their separation would be difficult for them both.
Katherine smiled at Sookie. “Sookie, may I speak with you for just a moment?” the fairy asked, even as she gave a meaningful look in Claude and Hadley’s direction.
Sookie had to hold in her giggle. Katherine was not one for subtlety. Still, Sookie followed Katherine until they were on the other side of Sookie’s dwelling so that Claude and Hadley could have a moment to say goodbye privately. Of course, much to Sookie’s amusement, Katherine placed them where she could still see the couple. So much for complete privacy, Sookie thought.
Katherine began asking Sookie about her visit with Eric, but Sookie kept the conversation light, knowing that Katherine was actually keeping one eye on Hadley and Claude the whole time.
Claude rose and walked over to Hadley once they were as alone as they were going to get. He reached out and was pleased when she took his hand without hesitation.
“Claude,” she said in a voice that was both nervous and sure, “I don’t think I could have gotten through last night and this morning—actually through this last month—if you hadn’t been next to me.”
The fairy brought his freehand gently to Hadley’s cheek. “I am saddened that I will not be next to you as much as I have been, Hadley. You must promise me that you will come and see me here often.”
She nodded. “I promise.” She blushed a little. “I’d miss you too much if I didn’t.”
“I will miss you too, Hadley,” he said quietly. “But I need to stay here to watch over Hunter and Eric while Sookie is in Faerie.”
Hadley nodded. “I know. And I’m glad that you’ll be watchin’ over Hunter,” she paused, “and Eric. I’m still not sure how the time thing works, but I’ll come here every day to see you until you come back into Faerie.”
Claude gave her hand a little squeeze. “I would like that, but I must tell you that I plan to make my home in this place from now on.”
“What?” Hadley asked in confusion.
Claude sighed. “I have—as you know—the ability to go into Faerie proper for longer than most without becoming synced to the time frame there, and over the period that you and Sookie have been living here, I have been working to strengthen this ability. I can now stay in Faerie for almost an hour at a time without allowing myself to shift to that time. So I will still be able to oversee many of my previous duties there, but I plan to build a permanent dwelling here for myself.”
“Why?” Hadley asked, the emotion clear in her voice.
Claude caressed her cheek lightly. “I find myself with families in two realms now. And I do not want to leave behind either of them because of time. Settling here seems the best solution. I will still be able to travel to visit you in Faerie and to do my duties there for short periods of time, but I can do most of my work from here. In truth, there are always guards stationed in this place, and now overseeing them will become my primary charge.”
“But you love your work with agriculture,” Hadley said. “You’ve often told me about your plans for improving the crops in Faerie.”
Claude smiled. “I will still have that work, Hadley. I have many lieutenants to help me run the programs I have started, and I will be able to manage most things from here and assess situations in Faerie as required. Plus, there is some lovely land in this place, and I hope to bring a few human crops here to test whether they can grow and if they will benefit our people before trying to introduce them into Faerie proper. Such things have been tried before, but have always failed. We are able to bring food from the human realm, but we have never been able to grow the crops that produced that food. I believe that first establishing the plants here might be the answer. And I will be working with several others on magic that can bind the crops to this realm.”
“You’re excited about this,” Hadley observed.
“Yes,” Claude confirmed, “there are so many hybrids now that having human food would be a way to make them feel more at home here; plus, the human food that I have sampled over the years during my few visits to that realm was delicious. It will be a challenging project for me. Perhaps, I can even learn how to grow the foods you miss most.”
“So you—you won’t be there with me?” Hadley stammered, the disappointment clear in her voice.
“Not all the time,” Claude said, squeezing her hand. “That is why you must promise to come here for many visits.”
Hadley nodded her head as a tear dropped from her eye. “I will come all the time.”
They were silent for a few minutes.
Hadley final broke the silence. “Claude if I’m ever ready to,” her voice trailed off mid-sentence.
“It is okay, Hadley. You do not have to say anything more,” Claude said as he stroked her hand with his thumb.
“I want to say more,” Hadley said quietly. She looked into his beautiful hazel eyes, which seemed to always turn deep green as he looked at her. She loved the color they became and never saw that particular shade when he was speaking to others. It made her feel special. He made her feel special.
She took a deep breath. “If I’m ever ready to be with someone again, Claude, it will be you.”
“I know,” he whispered, moving closer to her.
“I know you love me,” Hadley said with a sigh.
“Yes,” Claude confirmed. “I have loved you since the first night I saw you.”
“I don’t know how,” Hadley said with a rueful chuckle.
“Don’t,” Claude said fervently, catching Hadley’s eyes into his like a trap. “Do not sell yourself short, my love. Your heart is kind and you are strong. I know of your past mistakes. However, I also know of what you have had to face during your life—what you have overcome to be here with me right now. You are beautiful, Hadley Hale—inside and out. I will love you all my days and will take that love with me to the Summerlands.”
Tears fell from Hadley’s eyes. “I wish I could be what you need, Claude. I wish I could deserve you.”
Claude leaned down and kissed her lightly on her cheek. “You are yourself, Hadley. I neither want nor need anything other than who you are. That is how I love you. And if one day you honor me with your love in return, I will become complete.”
He brushed the tears from her eyes with a gentle touch.
“I don’t wanna say goodbye to you,” she said softly.
“You never have to,” Claude said reassuringly. “Just because I stay here does not mean we will not have time together. Right now, you need to find your own way, my love. And I believe that you will do it much sooner than you think. And I will always be here whenever you need me. And after Hunter begins his visits to this place, he will have a house to enjoy, for my home here will always be open both to him and to you.”
Hadley’s eyes were bright with tears that she was trying to keep from falling. She raised her freehand to Claude’s cheek and then raised herself up onto her tiptoes.
Ever so slowly, he bent down as she raised herself up, and their lips met in a gentle kiss. Neither of them tried to deepen the kiss; Hadley was not ready for that, and Claude loved her enough to know it. But they both lingered in the kiss for a long while, familiarizing themselves with the planes and valleys of each other’s lips.
Claude tenderly brought his hands up to both sides of her face to hold her steady, and slowly, Hadley’s own hands moved until they were settled onto Claude’s shoulders. Neither pulled the other closer in passion or frenzy, but their lips kept moving seamlessly together nonetheless.
It was a tender kiss—as kiss that promised a future.
When Hadley finally lowered herself from her tiptoes and broke their touch, they simply gazed at each other for a few moments.
“Perfect,” Hadley whispered, breaking the silence between them.
“I always knew it would be,” Claude said softly even as he brushed a stray hair behind her ear. “You are my love, Hadley. And I will be ready if you decide to have me.”
She looked a little worried. “I don’t want you to have to wait for me. I mean—if someone else . . . .”
“Hadley,” he interrupted, “there is no rush. Remember that time is different here, and you will have a much longer life. Plus, it is high time that you realize that you are worth waiting for.”
She smiled and bit her lip. “The day I really believe that is the day I’ll be ready to be what you need,” she said perceptively. “Until then, I want you to know how grateful I am to have you in my life—and in the lives of my children.”
He nodded and placed a soft, chaste kiss on her lips. “I will see you soon, my love.”
“I know,” she said quietly.