Five hours after he’d entered the pool with his tanah, Claude still had a tight hold on her in its healing waters. Niall had kept his healing magic flowing steadily into her for just as long.
“You can bring her out now,” Niall finally said. “Her body and her mind need to rest. There is little we can do, except to wait for her to awaken. I have done all that I can to heal her, and she has taken in all the pool can give her. I believe that it is up to her now,” Niall said.
Claude nodded and walked from the pool with Sookie in his arms. He laid her still-unconscious body onto the blanket and turned back to the pool. Immediately, he tried to see an image of Eric, but he could not connect with his vampire brother.
“Why can I not see him?” Claude asked with surprise.
Niall then looked toward the pool and also tried to call up an image of Eric. Again, there was nothing.
“Is he dead?” Claude asked with sorrow in his voice. “Is he no more?” he questioned with tears in his eyes as he looked at Sookie and then sank to his knees beside her.
Niall’s eyes also brightened. “I do not know for sure, my son,” Niall’s voice caught with his emotion, “but I can think of no other reason why we cannot see him.”
Just then, both fairies looked to the pool as they recognized that there was someone who was not of their realm asking for admittance.
Niall closed his eyes and then opened them quickly. “It’s my sister,” he whispered.
The Ancient Pythoness entered into the fairy realm with Clovache on her heels. Immediately, the Britlingen guard took up a position about ten yards from the vampiress and her fairy kin.
The vampiress looked down at Sookie’s prone figure and closed her eyes. “She will survive this,” the Ancient Pythoness said with certainty. She took in Claude with her glazed-over eyes. “Your quick thinking ensured her survival, nephew.”
Claude let out a sigh of relief. “And Eric?”
She gave them a little smirk. “My little cat lives, yet for how long is still uncertain. This one,” she gestured toward Sookie, “still has much work to do.”
At hearing that the vampire was alive, Niall also sighed with relief. “When will she awaken?”
The vampiress turned her gaze to her brother. “When she must—if they are both to live,” she said simply.
“Why can we not see him?” Claude asked.
The A.P. gestured toward Sookie. “She can help you.”
“How?” Niall asked.
The vampiress smirked. “Must I always tell you everything, Brother?”
Niall scoffed. “No.” He reached down and took Sookie’s hand, and suddenly they saw Eric, apparently dead for the day on a table.
“Iron,” the A.P. said as she took Niall’s other hand and looked at the child of her child with her seemingly unseeing eyes. “The room where he is being held is encased in iron, so you cannot see inside. It has been specially made so that no fairy can pass through its wall. But she,” the A.P. gestured toward Sookie, “is enough human to see into the room, though she will have to pass into it as a human and not as a fairy.”
Claude took Sookie’s other hand and looked at the image as well. “What about the humans and Weres that make up Sookie and Eric’s clan? They could go into the room during the day when Eric’s enemy is sleeping. They could get him.”
A loud sigh was heard from the A.P.’s lips. “They must not, or they will lose their lives and interfere with the only future that can save them both.” The A.P. took one last look at Eric and then dropped Niall’s hand.
She shook her head. “I have studied every thread. I have hoped for any other way than the way that is now paved for Sookie and my little cat. He will suffer as he has never suffered before in the thread that we are now taking. But his suffering may still lead him to a long and happy life. If Russell Edgington is to be stopped with Eric still alive in the end, then only Sookie can do the stopping.”
“I will go there and face this Russell before he can go back into the iron-encased room,” Claude said passionately.
The A.P. looked at her nephew proudly, though the sadness showed in the downward turn of her mouth. “Then you would fight very bravely and die very quickly, child,” she informed. “And I would like to get to know my nephew in the end of all of this, so please do not do that.”
“What if both of us go?” Niall asked.
“Then I will lose you both,” the A.P. said evenly. “And―that―I would like even less.”
“But surely—given all the Weres and shifters and witches and humans and vampires and fairies that we could amass—we could defeat Russell Edgington,” Niall observed.
The A.P. nodded. “You could, but in all of those scenarios, Eric dies.” She looked down at Sookie. “Then, she will follow him to her own death not long after; the loss of her bonded will kill her inside, and then her body will join her mind in death. And the child—Hunter—will never be the same again. He will never be content or feel truly safe if his father leaves him now.”
“So we can do nothing?” Niall asked.
“I did not say that,” the A.P. said with a twinkle in her eyes. “But you must wait for Sookie to tell you what to do. She will show you the way. Until then, help her find it.”
Niall shook his head. “You are the queen of enigma, Sister.”
“And you are the king of annoying me with your questions, Brother. You always have been,” she smirked.
Claude watched the exchange with a little surprise. He’d never seen his father seem so—young. He couldn’t help his smile, despite his worry.
“You,” the A.P. said as she looked back at Claude, “must not blame yourself for this. It happened as it had to. And I am glad of it. If you would have stayed with Eric, then Russell would have found you both at Fangtasia, and you and Pam would have died in that thread.”
Niall inhaled deeply. “I could have lost you,” he said in a whisper as he looked at Claude. “Why did you not warn me?” he asked his sister.
“It would have done no good,” she said softly. “And I trusted in my nephew to follow the logical course of action and secure this place.”
“It was too great of a risk,” Niall said, looking at his sister with a glare.
“Everything about this situation has been risk,” she glared back.
“Father,” Claude said, placing a hand on his father’s arm, “it was my risk to take. I would die to protect my family. That is what you taught me.”
Niall turned to face his son and smiled.
“There will be more risks to face before you are done,” the A.P. stated flatly. “But the time until she wakes up will be the most difficult for you to stand.”
“Why?” Niall asked.
“Because you will be able to do nothing. No matter what you see my little cat go through, you must not try to help him. You must stay here,” she said. “If you do not, then all will be lost.”
Niall’s eyes widened. “But—is there nothing to be done to protect young Eric until Sookie awakens?”
“Nothing that will not kill him or Sookie, and that would kill him soon after,” she said softly. She placed her hand on her brother’s again. “You love him.”
Niall nodded. “He has become a third son to me.”
She smiled. “And he now has a third father. If he lives, I hope you will prove yourself to be the best among them.” She sighed. “His human father built an impossible wall of expectations for him to climb, and his vampire father could not show him his love even after he had climbed that wall.”
“I will love him as he comes,” Niall said firmly, “as I have loved all of my children.” He looked over at Claude proudly. “All of my sons have been perfect to me.”
The A.P. nodded. “It will be good for my little cat to have a father who finds him worthy—at least, one who knows it before his own true death.” She chuckled. “My Godric was always a bit slow in such matters. And the Viking father was such a,” she paused, “Viking.”
“So there is nothing to be done to help Eric?” Claude asked.
“There is living to be done. And you, Nephew, have much of that to do. There is a child that needs you to stay alive.” She winked at him through her opaque eyes. “And a woman you love that will soon come to her senses.”
Claude’s eyes brightened. “Hadley?”
“What other woman do you love?” the A.P. grinned. “Do not ask questions you already know the answers to.”
The A.P. looked back at Sookie and sighed. “Do not ask questions you already know the answers to,” she repeated softly to Sookie’s unconscious form. “Trust yourself. Trust your love. Trust your beloved.”
With surprising grace, the A.P. went down to her knees and then bent over and kissed Sookie on the temple. “You have but one thread where you succeed, my dear, but I believe in that thread more than any other.”
In a flash, she was on her feet and by the pool. Clovache was by her side.
“How will the others—in the human realm—know not to act?” Claude asked her. “They will try to save him if they can.”
The A.P. chuckled. “My little cat has already taken care of that. And my dear Batanya, my protector for so long, will see to it that nothing happens that is amiss,” she said casually. She gave Clovache a sideways glance. “Of course, I did not tell her that she will find her own happiness in the process, but some things are best left as surprises.”
Clovache chuckled softly.
The A.P. turned to Niall. “I will see you soon—regardless of what happens. And we will either rejoice together or grieve together, dear Brother.”
Niall nodded, his eyes brightened again as tears threatened to fall. “I pray it is for the former.”
The A.P. smiled. “Remember the sparrow.”
With that, she and her Britlingen guard disappeared into the pool.
A/N: As always, thanks for your lovely comments about the last chapter! I know that you are all “ready” for action, but it is daytime in Louisiana. You might wonder how the A.P. is able to go into Faerie then. Let’s just assume that she’s in a different time zone―okay?