[A/N: I named this chapter for a song called “Deeper River” by Dusted. Chapters 56 and 57 also were named for lyrics in this song, which has swirled through my mind throughout the writing of the ‘darker’ parts of this story.]
Eric was taking his time tucking in Hunter that night, simply enjoying the presence of his son and the fact that Hunter had also chosen him as his father.
The bedtime story completed, Hunter looked up at Eric will large eyes, “Will anything change now that you are Daddy and not Uncle Eric?”
Eric considered this question for a moment. “No―you’ll just call me Daddy, and I’ll call you Son from now on.”
“You haven’t taught me those words in Swedish yet,” Hunter said sitting up a bit.
Eric ruffled his child’s bangs. “You―I think―are trying to stall in going to sleep, smár rekkr. I must be more careful now about anticipating all those plans of yours.”
Hunter giggled and lay back down. “Will you teach them to me tomorrow?”
Eric shook his head. “No―I will teach them tonight. They are easy. ‘Daddy’ is just ‘Pappa’ of ‘Fader,’ and ‘son’ is―well―‘son.’ The sound the ‘O’ makes is the only difference.”
Hunter tried out his three new words, careful to pronounce them as Eric had. He smiled, “They are easy, but I still like ‘Daddy’ best.”
Eric chuckled, “So do I, Son.” He leaned over and gave Hunter his kiss goodnight on the forehead.
Hunter looked up at him, a little concern hovering in his eyes. “Are you still goin’ to your cabin tonight?”
Eric nodded. “Yes, but do not worry. There are many people here to keep you safe, and if anything happens, I will come to you.”
As Eric turned to go, Hunter spoke up, “Daddy, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
The question and concern in his son’s voice stopped Eric in his tracks, and he turned around and came back to Hunter’s side, sitting next to him on the bed. Eric pulled his boy to his chest for a hug. And then he looked into his child’s eyes. “Yes, Son. You will see me tomorrow―soon after sunset. Do not worry. I just need to go to the cabin tonight to feel,” he paused, “closer to your Aunt Sookie and to think about her. Do you understand?”
Hunter nodded. “I think so.”
Eric added, “I love you, Son.”
Hunter smiled, “I love you too, Daddy.”
Eric smiled and settled Hunter back into his bed with another kiss to his forehead. Then Eric sat down in the chair next to the bed. “I will sit with you until you go to sleep tonight, smár rekkr, and I will see you thirty minutes after sunset tomorrow night.”
Hunter smiled, settled himself into Dino, and closed his eyes. It was not long before the boy fell into his slumber.
Eric rose from his child’s side and went quickly into his bedroom. He retrieved his already packed knapsack and went downstairs. Pam was nervously waiting for him in the kitchen.
Eric gave her a little smile. “Do you trust me, child?” Eric asked.
“Always master,” Pam said sincerely as she straightened up tall.
Eric nodded. “Good—I am going to tell you something very important then.”
She looked at him attentively.
“I have been in a very bad place, and I have contemplated meeting the sun many times in the last months.”
Pam took in an unneeded breath.
Eric continued, “But I would never choose to leave you without saying goodbye first, Pamela. I would not do that to you. And,” he smirked, “I would never leave you without giving you the chance to convince me to stay.” His gaze grew serious as he remembered the rooftop in Dallas where he’d had only moments to try to beg Godric to stay with him; no matter how bad his depression got, he would not do the same to Pam. “I swear it.”
Pam nodded and handed him an already-warmed bottle of TruBlood.
Eric slung his bag over his shoulder and picked up a bouquet of daisies he’d had delivered to the house earlier. He gave Pam a kiss on the forehead and left through the front door so that he could avoid the people still sitting around the fire in the back yard.
Eric walked at human pace—actually slower than the normal human pace—to Adele’s grave.
Once there, he brushed a few fallen leaves off of her headstone and put the daisies onto her grave. For several long moments, he said nothing.
Finally, he spoke. “I have a son, Adele. You have a great-grandson from Hadley, and now he has chosen me as his father. His name is Hunter, and he is a lot like Sookie.” He paused. “I am trying to do as well with him as you did with Sookie. I am trying to be a good father to him and to show him how much I love him for himself—just as you did with Sookie.”
Several more minutes of silence passed and then Eric sank to his knees. “Tonight is my and Sookie’s anniversary, and I am going to the place where I know that her scent and essence have been trapped in time, Adele.” He sighed. “But I have failed you. I have lost her again.”
“It is not possible to lose one who is bonded to you, young one,” a voice said from behind him.
Eric turned around. “Niall,” he said quietly.
“Hello Eric,” the fairy said.
Eric rose and asked desperately, “Have you come to tell me that Sookie is dead? I cannot feel her. Is she dead?”
Niall sighed and shook his head. “She was still enclosed within the scope of Mab’s magic when I came here, so I do not know.”
“What did the Ancient Pythoness tell you? Will Sookie live?” Eric asked, his voice thick with fear.
Niall’s lips tugged up into a small smile. “I knew you would figure out my mysterious source, Eric.” Niall’s smile fell away. “She would not tell me if Sookie will survive this test; I do not think that she knew for sure. She indicated that there was more than one possible future when she spoke of it. Plus, she is a riddle spinner—that one.”
“I am well aware,” Eric returned. “Will you tell me what else she said?” the vampire asked.
Niall considered for a moment and then nodded. “I will tell you some things, but I would not want to break the lady’s rules.”
Eric scoffed. “She will not speak to me at all.”
Niall nodded sympathetically. “I will tell you what I believe pertains to what Sookie is going through now. The ancient one told me that Sookie would face a choice—to return to you and certainly die or to stay in Faerie for a time and face possible death. The lady told me to warn Sookie that returning to you before she was ready would mean death for both of you―and for the child. However, I was not to warn her about the grave danger she would face if she ventured back into Faerie—not that it would have stopped her anyway.”
Eric’s lips twitched upward a bit. “It would not have.”
Niall nodded and then sighed deeply. “I was to watch my great-granddaughter go where I could not help her and face an enemy that would likely kill her or worse if she were captured. And I was told that Sookie’s survival depended upon your coming to the pool—but that I could not aid you in getting there beyond letting you in. I was also told that I could not keep you there to wait for Sookie by giving you my blood.”
Eric looked at Niall in surprise. “You would have given me your own blood to keep me there?”
Niall nodded. “Yes. But the lady warned me that you could not stay or Hunter’s life would be in grave danger.”
“Claudette,” Eric said quietly.
Niall nodded sadly. “I was not told my own child was to be the source of the danger―but yes. I believe her to be one of the threats against you and Hunter that the lady was speaking of.”
Eric shook his head. “I offered Claudette mercy before I allowed my child’s child to end your child’s life. Jessica had been bitten by the fairy Neave and was poisoned by her.”
“Yes,” Niall said sadly. “Mab’s other children are quite toxic to vampires.”
“Were,” Eric corrected.
Niall nodded slightly, “Well, that is something good then—something good to come from Mab’s malicious plans.”
Eric scrutinized Niall. “I have now been the agent of death for both of your daughters.”
“You have,” Niall said, looking at Eric with just as much scrutiny. “It is a great irony that I harbor no ill-will for the vampire who has removed my daughters from this plane.”
“Did you know that Claudette was dead?” Eric asked.
Niall nodded. “I felt her magic surge darkly and then I felt her death.” The fairy’s expression became almost tortured. “What I felt could mean only one thing―that her last act of magic was a curse.” A tear slipped down his face. “That means that I will not see her in the Summerlands when I too pass from my corporeal body.”
Eric looked at Niall curiously. The fairy continued. “I take it that Claudette’s curse was directed at your bond with Sookie. I cannot feel my great-granddaughter’s magic in you as I did before.”
Eric nodded. “Did she destroy the fairy bond?”
Niall sighed. “I am not sure. What do you feel?”
Eric answered. “Empty. I feel both of our bonds, but they are hollow―numb.”
Niall looked relieved. “Good—then even her final curse could not destroy your bond fully. Given time, it will reawaken—or at least I hope that is the case.”
“How long? Can you heal it? How about the water from the pool?” Eric asked, his voice desperate again.
Niall shook his head sadly. “Claudette cursed you at the time of her death. To do that is considered an abhorrent act among my people. Generally, when fairies’ bodies are near death, they use their magic to transform themselves—to evolve into the form they will take in the next plane of existence, the Summerlands. This last act of magic is the strongest one of a fairy’s corporeal life, and to use it for a curse means that what remains of the fairy’s essence will be forever lost and separated from his or her kin.” Niall paused. “There is not even a word in Faerie for the kind of curse Claudette has brought onto herself.” Another tear slipped down Niall’s face.
There were several moments of silence between them before Eric spoke. “I spend much of my time afraid that Sookie needs my strength and is calling out to our fairy bond. And I can do nothing to aid her.”
Niall sighed. “I admit that I fear that too now. After seeing the power of your connection both when she ate the light fruit and then again at the pool, I admit that I was comforted that if Sookie did face grave danger in Mab’s lair, then you would be there through your bond to help her when I could not. And I’m sure that you did help her as we were by the pool; however,” he stopped.
“However, she is not yet safely back to the ‘in-between place,’” Eric completed.
“You did not tell me what could be happening to her; Claudette took great joy in informing me of Queen Mab’s breeding program.” Eric’s expression had turned forlorn―almost despondent.
“I am sorry,” Niall said quietly as he approached Eric and looked down at Adele’s grave. “Telling you of it—I knew—would cause you only pain.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed, “much pain.”
Niall sighed, “Claudette thirsted for love, but my own was always insufficient for her. She blamed me for her mother having an affair with another. She blamed me for falling in love with a human. She blamed me for having a family with that human. She felt that I loved that other family more than her—that I abandoned her for them.” The fairy paused. “And she was not completely wrong to hold me at fault. I failed her, I’m afraid. I should have made sure that she knew how much I loved her. However, showing affection did not come naturally to me; it was my Viola who truly taught me about love, and by then, Claudette was so tied to her mother that I could not untangle her.”
There were a few more moments of silence between them.
“Why did you come here tonight?” Eric asked.
Niall smiled, moved to a grave several yards away from Adele’s, and brushed some twigs and leaves from the old headstone he found there. “Viola’s body lies here. And it is the anniversary of our bonding. I always come here on this day when I am able.”
“It is Sookie and my anniversary as well,” the vampire volunteered.
Niall nodded. “Life gives us many coincidences, young Eric.”
Another silence fell between them.
Eric looked down at the daisies on Adele’s grave. “I would have liked to have met Adele Stackhouse,” the vampire finally said.
“She captured my Earl in the first moment he saw her.”
Eric chuckled. “Sookie told me of her Gran’s spirit; she called it gumption.”
Niall nodded. “Sookie comes by her fire honestly, having it from both her grandmother and her great-grandmother.”
Eric looked at Niall. “When did your Viola die?”
Niall looked back at Eric. “I lost her on August 8, 1947, according to the time of this realm.”
“You said earlier that a bond will never be lost. Do you still feel Viola?”
Niall nodded. “Our connection changed when she died, but I still feel the love I always felt for her—and from her. And you still feel your love for Sookie too—correct?”
“Yes,” Eric nodded.
Niall chuckled. “Then you feel like a human man now―I think. You love, and you know that Sookie loves you as well. However, you must believe in that love now―rather than feel it directly from her—just like a human must believe. You must count on more than just your bonds to know that you are loved.”
Eric looked closely at Niall. “I must learn from my son, then.”
Niall chuckled. “Yes—the young are sometimes much wiser than the old in their way. Hunter cannot use his telepathy to know that you love him. But still he trusts in you.”
“And—now—in himself,” Eric added.
“Yes,” Niall agreed.
After a few moments of silence, Eric sighed. “I just wish I knew whether she was alive. I wish I knew if she were still here to love me.”
“If?” Niall asked with a twinkle in his eyes? He shook his head. “I do not believe that. My Viola—I know—loves me still―despite her body leaving this world. I do not believe in ‘if’s’ for Sookie and you either, young Eric.”
Niall once again smoothed his hand over Viola’s headstone. “The ancient lady told me that you would face troubled waters. She said that you would need to face them in order to grow. Do not drown in sorrow, Eric. Hold to your faith.”
“I do have faith in Sookie,” Eric said.
The fairy smiled. “Perhaps the real challenge is to have that same kind of faith in yourself?” Niall leaned down and gently kissed the stone that marked the grave of his beloved. “I should leave now. I feel certain that she would not approve of this little meeting between us.”
“Perhaps not,” Eric said. “Or perhaps the old bat knew about it all along.”
Niall chuckled. “Yes—likely she did.” He chuckled louder. “I will have to try out the name ‘old bat’ for her.”
Eric sighed. “Will you let me go back with you?”
Niall also sighed and shook his head. “I do not want to risk Hunter or,” he paused, “you. So no.”
Eric nodded forlornly. “I need her.”
Niall nodded. “I know.”
“Will you protect her if you can?”
Niall nodded. “Yes. I will always try to protect all the members of my family.” With that, the fairy looked down at Viola’s gravestone one last time and then was gone.
Eric looked down at Adele’s grave.
After a few minutes, he spoke, “I will strive to be a worthy father and husband, Gran. And I will try not to drown in the river of my sorrow.”
Eric picked up one of the daisies and walked it over to Viola’s grave. “I hope that your soul is lingering to find your mate in his Summerlands, Viola. The fairy is not a bad man, and he still loves you very much.”
With those words, Eric secured his knapsack tightly over his arm and then took off into the night sky.