“Great-granddaughter,” Niall said gently, “I understand that you wish to keep an eye on your husband throughout the day, but I also need for you to rest for the training that is to come. We might need to delay our trip into Faerie another day if you do not.”
“No!” Sookie said loudly, startling both Niall and Claude. “We have to go tonight!”
A wry and shrewd smile moved across Niall’s face. “Is there something you have not told me?”
Knowing that Claude wasn’t aware of the A.P.’s relationship to his father and not certain whether Niall planned to tell him, Sookie didn’t want to say much. She bit her lip nervously, “Let’s just say that I have it on good authority that I need to go into Faerie tonight as planned.”
Understanding exactly who that authority was, Niall nodded.
Claude had a pretty good idea of who that authority was too, despite the fact that his father’s mind stayed closed to him on the matter. To his great credit, Claude said nothing. He knew that his father had his secrets, and he intuited that one of them related to the late-night vampire visitor who had come a few days before—a vampiress he could only assume was the A.P.
Claude had a hypothesis about why the vampiress had been there and a few other theories cooking in his quick mind as well. For one thing, the vampiress had simply “knocked” and had needed no fairy blood to gain admittance to the realm; she had simply needed permission. Of course, she could have had synthetic blood, but as far as Claude could determine, Eric was the only vampire with access to that.
Plus, he had always wondered about his father’s relationship with the ancient vampiress and knew that they’d had many dealings throughout the years. However, even though Niall always kept most of his thoughts about the A.P. locked up in his mind, Claude knew that his father felt affection for the vampiress. Yes—Claude had his theories, but he was not the kind of person who needed to have them confirmed. If his father desired to keep his secret, then Claude would not push.
Claude was broken out of his reverie by Niall’s voice, “Then, will you sleep at least, Great-granddaughter? You can sleep as we watch. Between the two of us, Claude and I can keep watch all day. And I swear that if trouble comes to young Eric again on this day, I will return to his side myself.”
Sookie could sense the affection in her great-grandfather’s voice. “You really care for him―don’t you?”
Niall nodded. “Yes. Plus, I owe the vampire much, and now he feels that he owes me as well.” The fairy smiled. “I like this arrangement. To feel indebted to one another is a good thing. It builds trust, and that is a rare commodity in the Supernatural world.”
Sookie smirked. “Yes—I’m positive that your care is based on indebtedness only,” she remarked sarcastically.
She looked back at her sleeping husband. “Still—he’d like that you said that.” Her voice took on a wistful quality. “It’s what he does, you know—now more than ever.”
Niall’s brow lifted in question.
She smiled at her mate proudly. “The people that he trusts—it’s like they all gravitate to him and want to earn that trust even more. I used to think it was just Pam, but then I saw it with Miranda, Jarod, and Tray, and now there’s Jesus and even Lafayette. And there’s Jason and Jessica and Bubba and Thalia. And—from what Eric’s told me in our dreams—he’s even close to Sam now. She laughed out loud. I think that even Tara trusts him.”
Niall laughed. “Oh—I enjoyed your friend Tara very much. She was very adept with her weapon and quite,” he paused, “talkative during the battle.”
Sookie joined Niall in laughing as she imagined Tara’s colorful language. She looked at her great-grandfather closely. “I’ll sleep, but I’m gonna to stay right here. And you both have to promise that you will wake me if anything happens.” She looked at Claude and then back at Niall.
Niall nodded. “I promise.”
“I will get you a blanket and pillow so you can be more comfortable, Tanah” Claude volunteered. “And I need to speak briefly with one of my lieutenants; I will return in a few minutes and will be close-by if something happens.” He gestured toward the pool.
Sookie nodded. “Thanks.”
After Claude was gone, she smiled warmly at her great-grandfather. “You stayed to help him when you didn’t have to. You stayed and helped to protect our family and our home. And I know you didn’t stay just for Hunter. He was out of reach from our enemies—completely out of harm’s way.” She paused. “So you didn’t need to stay for Hunter. But you stayed anyway—for Eric. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
Niall returned her sincere smile. “You are right. Hunter did not need my protection. But you are wrong about one thing. I did stay for Hunter’s sake as well as your mate’s. The boy needs his father, Sookie.”
He paused as his smile dropped from his face. “You have heard your cousin’s thoughts as well as I have. You know that even though she does not want to have them, she does. She does not love Hunter as she loves her unborn child—though she loves him the best she can. I had hoped that her seeing him would alter the discrepancy in her feelings between her two children, but,” Niall sighed, “it only made the differences more pronounced.”
He shook his head sadly. “It is not her fault—not really. She has to shut down part of her emotions, especially since Hunter so clearly favors and is more comfortable with his father—with young Eric. As an empath, she feels this sharply, and instinctively, she is protecting herself and her unborn child by not allowing her own feelings of loss over Hunter to overwhelm her.”
Niall sighed again. “You are right that I helped Eric today because I care for him. However, protecting Eric also means protecting you and protecting Hunter. There was much that we had to keep Hunter from in Hadley’s mind today.”
Sookie nodded forlornly. “Claude and I talked about that earlier. I’m so grateful that you and Claude kept him from hearing those things.”
Niall smiled proudly. “We were not the only ones protecting Hunter from thoughts he did not need to hear from his mother, Sookie. I was very proud of you.”
Sookie looked at Niall with a little smile as well. “I’m just glad I could help, especially since I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Niall assured, “You did wonderfully. Actually, you did much of the work and, most importantly, you kept Hunter calm and reassured him when we had to exclude him from part of Hadley’s mind.”
Niall grew more serious. “You first instinct was to protect Hunter. And be assured that he heard only what he needed to hear. He heard that his mother loves him, which she does. He heard that she is happy that she will be able to see him so much, which she is. He heard that she does not want to be separated from him, but she supports his staying with Eric.”
Sookie bit her lip. “What about in the future—when he sees her again? Will we always have to keep him from her thoughts?”
Niall squeezed Sookie’s hand soothingly. “Because of your Eric’s teaching, Hunter will likely try to keep himself from her thoughts—unless he is invited.” He sighed. “One day, Hunter will be old enough to understand that his mother’s ambivalent thoughts about him are really not about him. They are about herself. Until then, however, I will make sure that Claude or I am around to keep him from hearing what he does not need to hear. And now you know that you can help with that too. It is one of my greatest hopes that we will eventually not be needed to do this—that Hadley will one day think about Hunter only as she ought.”
Sookie sniffed and felt new tears coming into her eyes.
“You, on the other hand,” Niall spoke to Sookie softly, “should continue thinking what you are thinking around Hunter as often and as loudly as you can. He hears your love for both him and his father very clearly and is quite comforted by it.”
Sookie nodded and whispered. “Claude said basically the same thing to me.” She paused. “The more Eric talked about Hunter during the last month, the more I wanted to think of him as our son, Niall. I don’t want to take Hadley’s place though. That wouldn’t be fair to her.”
Niall smiled. “The fairy way of thinking about family is a good way, Sookie—maybe even better than the human way.”
She looked at him in question.
He explained, “We are all tied to each other through magic, and though we may have closer relationships with our family members, that is not always the case. We tend to cleave to those that our magic takes us to. For instance, I never felt a connection with my own parents. I had some affection for them, but the ‘feel’ of them did not make me wish to be around them. On the other hand, my teacher and mentor was like a parent to me even though we were not related in any way, except for the connection we felt through the magic within us. Other than with him, I always felt closest to Claude and to my sister, but that had more to do with pull than familial ties.” He gave her a wry smile. “By the way, you and your vampire were very clever to figure out that the ancient lady is my sister. No one in this realm remembers.”
Sookie smiled a little sheepishly.
Niall continued. “You must not see what you could have with Hunter as taking anything away from Hadley. Last night, I sensed that you were pulled to each other. This pull is occurring for many reasons. You are both telepaths operating in a mostly human world, so you will always be able to understand each other—to teach each other—on that level. You have a strong connection through your mate as well. And then there is the pull of your magics to one another. Do not deny the connection for your cousin’s sake, my dear. Instead, embrace it for her sake. But most of all, embrace it for the sakes of yourself and Hunter.
Sookie nodded as Claude returned. “Thank you. You’ve given me so much to think about.” She gave him another hug.
“I suspect that things will progress naturally when you return to your home, my dear. For now, try to put your guilt away,” Niall said as he returned her embrace.
She nodded again.
Intuiting what they had been discussing, Claude said nothing. He spread out a blanket onto the grass and then helped Sookie to get settled.
Niall smiled. “Sleep well, child. We will wake you when Eric wakes, and you will see that he is well. Then we will go into Faerie.”
Sookie nodded and looked down at their still joined hands.
Niall answered her unspoken question, “It is better if our hands stay linked. The magic of the pool works to show what you most want to see. It will be less taxing on us to maintain the watch if we have your help. When I need rest, then Claude will take over. Do not worry, my dear. We will not stop our watch.”
Sookie nodded again and snuggled into the pillow Claude had brought from her dwelling; it still smelled of her husband, and it comforted her. She watched the pool and her sleeping husband until she too drifted to her sleep.
Niall watched his great-granddaughter sleeping peacefully. He watched his ‘great-grandson’ doing the same through the pool. Niall chuckled to himself. The idea of his thinking of a vampire as his own family astounded him, but here he was—doing just that.
Niall grinned wider. He thought about his sister and how she always managed to push him somehow. She was probably laughing her ass off thinking about Niall’s feelings of paternal affection for the vampire. He sighed, wondering if the matching up of Sookie to the vampire had been his sister’s plan all along.
He shook his head. Even she didn’t have the power to determine fate, and his great-granddaughter seemed to have been lucky enough to find a fated partner in the vampire. Of course, the coincidences of the situation did not escape Niall’s attention either—if, indeed, they were mere coincidences. Eric was essentially his sister’s grandchild, at least in vampire terms. And Sookie was his great-grandchild. Niall was also not blind to the fact that his sister probably enjoyed the irony of a fairy-vampire fated pair, a set of soul mates to rival even her and her demon. And she’d helped to make it happen by making Godric, who in turn made Eric.
Niall chuckled once again. Though he doubted that his sister could create the love that existed between Sookie and Eric, there was no doubt that she had wanted to nurture it and to protect them as much as she could.
He had agreed with this goal; thus, he had helped his sister to accomplish it. At the same time, however, he was troubled. His sister always seemed worried for the pair—very worried—as if their chances of making it through what was facing them were slim. That was why Niall planned to do everything he could to give Sookie the tools she needed to be powerful. In fact, he hoped that between his plans once they were in Faerie and her shared power with Eric, Sookie would end up being even stronger than the strongest of the Fae. She would—apparently—need to be.
Niall smiled as he looked at Eric in the pool. The vampire had let the fairy magic flow through him with unbridled abandon. Niall was still amazed by what he’d witnessed, but more so by what he’d felt. Eric had used the fairy magic like a real fairy—and unlike Sookie. He’d let the magic take him completely over and mastered it without allowing his emotions to take over. Certainly, the vampire had been concerned for the brujo and angry at Hallow and the situation as a whole, but he had wielded the fairy light with cool and calculation.
Eric had allowed it to pool in his hand―instinctively creating a fist and a kind of dam for the power inside of himself―until the magic had reached its zenith. Most fairies spent decades honing their magic to such a level. Young Eric had not needed that. Niall was convinced that it had been the vampire’s vast experience in war that had enabled him to quickly assess how his new weapon would be most advantageous to him. He admired the vampire’s acumen. And—even more so—he admired young Eric’s confidence.
And that was one of the things that Sookie seemed to be missing: the certain knowledge that her light was indeed a weapon. And, unfortunately, no weapon was effective against a strong enemy unless its user understood how to wield it logically and dispassionately.
Perhaps, Eric had been able to use fairy magic so instinctively because fairies and vampires were both somewhat bloodthirsty at the core—willing to let themselves be absorbed completely into battle and death, if need be.”
Whatever had caused Eric to allow the magic to completely take him over, the effect had been spectacular to witness. And, of course, his sister had known of it and had hinted at the possibility of it months before—even as she’d been warning him of a nebulous threat on the horizon.
Niall shook his head and then motioned for Claude to take over the connection while he excused himself for a few moments to take in some nourishment and expel the waste from his body—what Sookie liked to called “taking care of her human needs.” Niall chuckled. There was not anything exclusively human about it. The only beings he knew of that did not expel waste were vampires, and that was because their bodies were extremely efficient and “frugal” in a sense. They took in only blood and other fluids, and those fluids were all utilized within their bodies to nourish the magic that kept them animated. In other words, there was no waste at all. That was one reason he had always admired the beings that should have been his foes―at least, according to his parents.
Niall looked over at his son, who was now watching over the vampire and holding the hand of his chosen sister—his Tanah. He knew that the time had come to tell Claude of his relationship with the A.P.
Long ago, his sister had asked him not to tell anyone of their connection until—in her words—“the cat had been let out of the bag.” And he had respected her request all these years. Now that Sookie and Eric had figured things out, however, he felt that his son should know too—had a right to know that he had an aunt who wanted to hear about him almost every time they met.
So he returned to the pool side and launched into the story, telling Claude of how the A.P. was really his sister as well as “Carlah” from the old fairy legend. Of course, the one thing he left out was his sister’s true name. That part—he’d wait for her to tell. He was no fool.
Several hours later, Niall had completed his tale. Not surprisingly, Claude had already guessed some of the story, and—as always—Niall was exceedingly proud of his son’s intellect. After that, they had settled into a comfortable vigil, switching off every hour or so in order to keep the connection to the human realm constant.
About a minute after the sun had set in the human realm, they saw Eric’s vampire child, Pamela, come into the room with him. She looked at her maker with worry and carried a bag of blood in her hands. Eric had not yet woken up, so she replaced the Werewolf at his side and waited for him to rise.
Niall and Claude were just discussing whether to wake up Sookie when her vampire stirred.
“Sookie,” Niall said softly, “your mate is awake.”
Sookie was sitting up almost instantly, her eyes glued to the pool. She watched closely as Pam offered Eric the bag of blood.
He seemed to be resisting it.
“Take the blood, you crazy Viking,” she whispered.
When Eric did begin to drink the blood and the remainder of his burns began to visibly heal, Sookie sighed with relief. “Thank God,” she said.
They all watched for about half an hour longer—until Eric and Hunter were rocking peacefully together and Sookie was assured that both of them were safe and healthy.
“Okay,” Sookie said, looking at Niall with certainty in her eyes. “I’m ready, Grandpa. Let’s do this thing that I need to do so that I can get home to my family!”