Exactly ten minutes later, Sookie took Claude’s hand again, and the image of Eric asleep reappeared in the pool. She sighed in relief as she saw that he was still okay.
Tray was still by his side, but had been joined by a pretty brunette with a short haircut and lively eyes. Sookie knew it had to be Amelia; Eric had told her a lot about the witch who had been so helpful to him.
Sookie smiled as she saw the enormous Were tenderly raise Amelia’s small hand to his lips. He seemed to be taking her in, looking her over for any injuries and reassuring herself that she was okay. Sookie refocused her attention onto her husband.
“He’s still got burns on him,” she said softly.
“He will heal fully once he awakens and takes in more blood,” Claude said reassuringly.
“I know,” Sookie sighed. “I just hate not being there. Can we keep watching?”
Claude nodded. “I will have to rest again after a while, but perhaps Niall will be back by then. I am a little surprised he has not returned.
Sookie scoffed. “I’m not. He’s an “F”-in coward. He knows I’m gonna be mad at him.”
Claude chuckled. “Yes—you are right. He is likely—what do you humans call it?―‘in hiding?’”
Sookie glanced at her tanu and smiled. “Yeah. And don’t think you’re off the hook either?”
“Off the hook?” Claude asked.
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Don’t think that you’re out of the woods.”
“Out of the woods?”
Sookie snorted. “You are still in trouble! You should have told me about the danger Eric was facin’ as soon as you got back here.”
Claude sighed. “I was following the wishes of your husband and Niall.”
“I know,” Sookie relented, “but you still should have told me.”
After a few moments, Claude nodded. “You are right. Eric just feared that you would not be able to stay away.”
After a few more moments of silence, Sookie said quietly, “Thanks, by the way.”
“For what?” Claude asked.
“For makin’ me stay here—for makin’ sure I didn’t go there and get myself killed. Or worse—get Eric killed.” She sighed. “If what happened has proven nothing else to me―it has shown me that I’m still at the mercy of my emotions where Eric is concerned.”
Claude nodded. “Yes—but perhaps this experience was meant to happen so that you could realize that and learn from the knowledge.”
Sookie sighed and nodded, “Maybe.”
Several minutes of silence stretched between them as they both became lost in their thoughts.
Sookie noticed that Claude had turned to look in the direction that Hadley had gone in as she’d left for Faerie.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Tanu. I’ve been so focused on Eric that I haven’t been thinkin’ about you, and I should have been. Are you doing okay?”
Claude stiffened a bit. “Yes, I’m fine, but I already miss her. I liked,” he paused, “having her close. But this is needed. She must take hold of her own life now; I believe that humans call it ‘standing on one’s own feet.’ Only then will she know if she is ready to bring another person into her life.”
Sookie smiled at him. “You’re pretty smart, Tanu.”
He chuckled, “And that is why you should always listen to me and do as I say. I am your older brother, after all.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Between you and Jason, I’m in trouble.” She laughed. “Am I to have a know-it-all older brother in every realm?”
Claude laughed with her. “I look forward to getting to know Jason. Perhaps we can gang up on you.”
Sookie shook her head. “I will sic Pam on you if you do.”
Claude laughed again, a little nervously this time. “Please don’t.”
Sookie giggled. “Then don’t make me.”
They shared a mock glare and then another laugh before they both looked back into the pool.
After a few more minutes of comfortable silence, Sookie felt her thoughts drift to Hunter and Hadley. As much as her cousin had been changing, Sookie was very happy that Hunter had returned home with Eric. She’d been so worried that Hadley would inadvertently hurt that beautiful little boy.
“I know what you are thinking,” Claude said, with a wry look in Sookie’s direction. “I cannot help it. I am holding your hand, and you are thinking too loudly for me to keep you out.”
“I wish I weren’t thinking it,” Sookie said with a sigh.
Claude also sighed. “What you are thinking is the truth, Tanah. It is not a pretty truth, but it is the truth nonetheless. Had we not been here, Hadley’s thoughts would have hurt the child—badly. She would not have meant to hurt him, but it would have happened.”
“I just hate to think about all that he’s had to hear in the past—from both Hadley and Remy Savoy. Eric’s told me a few things that Hunter’s said, and I,” she paused, “don’t ever want him hurt like that again. Never.” Her tone was quiet, but fierce as she finished her thought.
“Me neither,” Claude agreed. He paused for a moment. “I wish Hadley had decided to stay in this place so that time would never be at issue between Hunter and herself, but that was not a choice she was capable of making right now. Maybe one day, but not now,” he said wistfully. “She needs to be on her own so that she can heal and find a life for herself.”
Sookie spoke softly, “I would have stayed in order to be able to see him more—to watch over him.” A few tears fell from her eyes. “I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help judging Hadley for her decision to go. I know that she’s tryin’ to do better by Hunter and to do right for herself and her new baby, but,” her voice trailed off.
Claude gave her a little smile. “But Hadley still has much selfishness inside; she is still thinking more of herself than of Hunter.”
Looking at Claude with surprise that he’d be so critical of Hadley, Sookie nodded. “I admit that’s what I was thinkin’.”
Claude nodded, “It is not the most flattering truth about Hadley, but―at present―I believe that your criticism is valid. However, I love her no less because of her choice. And I feel that the right result will occur—has occurred. Hunter is in a home where he will be treasured always, and Hadley will eventually learn that she is worthy of love and will be able to love herself and her children as she should.”
Sookie sighed more deeply. “She sees going into Faerie as a way to do everything better this time around, and I can’t fault that. I know that she needs to establish her own life in order to feel whole, and I can’t blame her for that either.”
Claude looked at her knowingly, “But you do fault her for loving and putting the needs of herself and her new child above Hunter’s—for seeing the new child as more connected to her than Hunter ever was or ever could be.”
Sookie nodded sadly. “I admit that I do feel that. When Hunter was listening to Hadley earlier, I was so scared that he would hear how she loved Adele more—that she couldn’t help herself. I don’t think he did hear, but . . . .”
Claude stopped her. “He did not. We closed that thought before he got to it.”
Sookie sighed in relief at that confirmation. “I just don’t want him to be hurt.”
“Hunter will be fine,” Claude assured. “He is strong and has a good father to protect him from all harm. And we were able to keep him from the things that would wound him. He has many to protect him.”
“I just hate it that he has to be protected from his own mother in that way, Claude. I know Hadley’s tryin’ to do better, but I still hate it,” Sookie lamented.
“Me too,” Claude agreed softly. “I love Hadley more than I have ever loved anyone. However, she has not yet been able to consciously acknowledge many of her more negative feelings about Hunter, and until she does, they will linger inside of her and potentially cause harm to the boy.” He paused and shook his head sadly. “Perhaps, she will never truly understand the gift he is to us all. But she has grown in so many ways over the last month that I hope she will. I believe she will.”
Sookie moved her freehand to her own stomach, imagining what it would be like to feel a child growing there—Eric’s child. “I don’t know how someone could love one child so much more than another,” she observed―almost to herself―as she stared at her husband through the pool. “I don’t know how she could—even in the subconscious places of her mind—see taking care of Hunter as an obligation rather than a,” she paused as her fingers pressed into her belly and tears rose to her eyes, “gift.”
Claude squeezed Sookie’s hand. “I’m sorry, but I cannot help hearing your thoughts and feeling your pain, Tanah. I can see your great love for Eric and what you have given up to be with him.” He sighed. “I have always wanted to be a father, but my wife did not conceive. I still have hopes of being one both to Adele and the children Hadley and I may make together one day.” He sighed and squeezed her hand again. “And I am sorry you cannot have a child with your mate, Tanah.”
Sookie nodded. “Me too.”
They sat quietly for a few moments.
“I’m going to miss you so much when I go home,” Sookie said.
“I will always be near, Tanah,” Claude assured.
“It’s true then?” Sookie asked.
“What?” Claude responded.
“You’re really gonna stay here and not resettle into Faerie proper? Katherine told me that, but I wasn’t sure she was right.”
Claude nodded. “It is true. Niall and I feel that there is a need to establish a colony in this place. And it is likely others will settle here as well once I do. After hearing of the plights of many of the hybrids who were brought here by Mab, we are considering approaching other hybrids in your realm in order to give them a choice to come here to visit, and if we do that, we anticipate that some would want to stay here as well.”
“But you are giving up so much, Tanu, in order to stay here! You are giving up your home and your whole life from before,” Sookie insisted.
Claude smirked. “Am I? Have you listened to my thoughts lately, Tanah?”
“You know I stay out of people’s heads for the most part,” Sookie said. “You deserve your privacy.”
He chuckled. “That fact still baffles me a bit.” He looked at her seriously. “I would like for you to see into some of my thoughts, Tanah. Would you do me the honor?”
Sookie gave him a little smirk. “Just some?”
Claude smirked back and then nodded. “Most actually, but there are a few things that I would not wish for my kid sister to hear.”
“Grown-up things?” Sookie joked.
“Something like that,” Claude chuckled.
“Okay. What do I need to do?” Sookie asked.
Claude chuckled again. “Just open your shields and listen into my head. You know what to do.”
“I know,” Sookie laughed. “But it’s just,” she paused, “weird. I’ve never listened just for the sake of listening before.”
“Well—that is the fairy way, Tanah, and since you need to learn to be a little more fairy, you might as well try this. Anyway,” he gestured toward the pool and the image that hadn’t changed in the last half hour. It will be a good way to pass the time while we are waiting for nightfall to come to your realm.”
Sookie gave him a wry smile. “Okay, I’m going in. Hide your grown-up thoughts.”
She closed her eyes and slowly began to sift through her tanu’s thoughts. She was immediately struck by the fact that Claude very much wanted to stay in the “in-between place.” He was excited by the new experiments he intended to conduct using human plants. He was also happy with the plans that he’d drawn up for his new residence, the construction of which was due to begin very soon. It was to be larger than his home in Niall’s community, which he planned to officially pass along to Barry, who had already been living there.”
“Barry’s living in your house?” she asked him out loud.
“Yes,” Claude reported. “He needed a place to dwell, and I had many seedlings that needed to be looked after, as well as my private orchard. He has enjoyed the residence and has done a fine job with the seedlings.”
“And you’re just gonna give him your house?”
“Why not?” Claude shrugged. “I no longer need it. Soon I will have my personal effects brought here, and then Barry will make the house his own.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow. “Just like that?”
Claude chuckled, “Just like that. Now,” he said with a teasing lilt, “keep looking. There is more I want you to hear about. And if you have more questions, ask them telepathically. It is good practice.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and then closed them as she dipped back into Claude’s thoughts. She found that he was thinking about the new home he was planning to have built. The residence was to have a large library and an even larger office/conference room so that Claude would have a space to meet with his lieutenants about the projects that they would be overseeing for him in Faerie. There was also to be a greenhouse built where Claude could plant seedlings and mix earth soil with that of the fairy realm.
“How big is the ‘in-between’ place exactly?” Sookie asked telepathically, a little ashamed that she’d never really cared to know before. She’d always been content to stay near the pool.
Claude chuckled. Into her mind, he answered, “It is the equivalent of 10,000 of what humans call acres.”
“Oh,” Sookie said, very surprised at its size. “I had no idea it was that big. That’s huge!”
Claude chuckled again, which caused a tickle in Sookie’s head since they were still communicating telepathically. “We are actually very close to the border here, but Faerie circles this place on all sides,” Claude reported.
“So the pool is not in the center?” Sookie asked, still surprised.
“It is and it isn’t,” Claude responded enigmatically.
“Huh?” Sookie asked.
“The source of the pool is underground,” Claude explained. “That source is in the ‘center’ of this place, but the water that rises to the surface is here.”
“Oh,” Sookie said.
“Keep listening. There is more to hear,” Claude ordered out loud.
“Fine, but don’t forget to speak telepathically,” she returned snarkily.
They both chuckled.
Sookie closed her eyes once again and got more images of Claude’s new home. It was to be shaped so that there was a central courtyard with his greenhouse in the middle of it. From that center would flare five wings. A section would go to Claude’s office space and conference room. Another ‘thicker’ wing would lead to Claude’s private residence, which would hold his bedroom, library, kitchen, living area and another small room.
“A nursery space, just in case,” Claude said into her head.
“Oh,” Sookie said as she kept looking. Another wing was a kind of guest house with two additional bedrooms, a living area, and a small kitchenette.
“That space will be for Hadley and Adele during their visits. If we marry later on, it will be for the children once they have grown to a certain age.”
Sookie squeezed Claude’s hand. He was such a good man. She prayed that he would get everything that he hoped for with Hadley.
She looked at the fourth wing of the home. It was very much like the third area.
“This one is for you, Tanah. I hope that you and Eric and Hunter will visit me here too, and I want to make sure that you are all comfortable when you do.”
Sookie opened her eyes in surprise. She spoke out loud. “You’re building a whole wing of your house just for us?” She stammered. “But Claude—we—we’ll never be able to stay that long since Eric’s a vampire.”
Claude shrugged. “Maybe. But once you are together again, I imagine you will exchange blood more often, so it will be easier for him to come here and stay for longer periods. And you are family. Plus, Hunter will need a comfortable place if he ever stays overnight. I would like to get to know Jason too, and I know he could travel here.” Claude smiled. “It will be nice to have a place where I can stay close to all parts of my family, Sookie. This home will let me do that.”
Sookie hugged Claude tightly. “You’re the best brother I could have ever asked for, you know.”
Claude smiled. “Keep looking, Tanah. There is one more thing I want you to hear about.”
Sookie closed her eyes and saw Claude’s plans for the fifth wing of his home. Her eyes jetted open as she realized the purpose of it.
“Really?” she exclaimed.