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.
Claude’s smile increased in size and warmth. “Why not? It would make me very happy to have you around more, and I believe it would be good employment for you, based on what you told me about your childhood.”
Sookie thought for a moment about what she’d seen in Claude’s head. The fifth wing of his home was to be a small school of sorts. Claude and Niall’s plan was to approach the parents of hybrids who showed signs of telepathy. They would then offer to bring them to the ‘in-between’ place for schooling so that they could learn how to use their shields at young ages and also be around other telepaths so that they could hone their gift.
Claude hoped that Sookie would agree to work with the children for a few hours each day and maybe bring Hunter sometimes since his gifts had already advanced a great deal. The purpose of the school would be for the hybrid children to learn about their fairy heritage while they gained the necessary control to exist more comfortably in the human realm too.
“I think it’s wonderful!” Sookie exclaimed, her mind spinning with the possibilities. In truth, she had wondered what she would do for employment since she’d quit Merlotte’s, and this would give her work that was worthwhile.
“I’ll have to think about it once I’m home,” Sookie said. “And I’ll need to talk to Eric about everything.”
“Of course,” Claude said. “But the school will be built no matter what. Katherine is going to run it for us and will be the primary teacher to the children, but since you grew up in the human realm and had to learn how to construct shields on your own in order to operate in that world, your experience would be invaluable to her. I hope that you will do it, Tanah. As I said, it would be nice to know that you would be around a lot, and if you were here during your days, you would not lose time with your vampire.”
Sookie smiled. “I will think about it, Claude. And thanks.”
Claude smiled back. “After many years of making few plans, Tanah, I now have many hopes. In addition to my new employments, I wish to one day marry and bond with Hadley, and I hope that she will agree to return here to be with me once she is more at peace with herself. I have never loved another as I do her. I know of all of her faults, yet I love her all the more. I have seen all of her fear and pain and doubts, and I want only to take those things from her—to give her a home that she will be comfortable in her whole life. With her, I have found laughter in my heart again. And I have thought of new purposes for my existence—better ones than I had before.” He squeezed Sookie’s hand. “Of course, you have helped in that too.”
Claude continued soberly. “After my wife was killed, I felt much sorrow, but Hadley has made me feel alive again. She has given me hope. She has made me look toward the future. I can sense that you think she is unworthy of me, but I know that she is what I will need in my partner. With her, my love is not something I have control over. It just is.”
“It’s not that I think she is unworthy,” Sookie sighed. “I just wish she were,” she paused, “ready to love you like you deserve to be loved.”
Claude smiled. “Hadley is still healing, but,” his voice trailed off and a blush crept onto his face.
“But if that big smooch that Katherine was gushing over is any indication, then her healing is well underway.”
Claude turned even redder.
Sookie couldn’t help her grin. “Have you listened to her thoughts about you lately?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I have been trying to heed your rules about privacy for the most part, and this morning when I was touching her and in her head, her thoughts were centered on Hunter.”
Sookie smiled warmly. “She is falling in love with you, Tanu.”
“I know,” Claude sighed. “I just don’t want to,” he paused, “rush her.”
“You aren’t,” she assured.
“I love Adele too.” Claude became more excited. “She began to speak to me during Hunter’s visit, Tanah.”
“Huh?” Sookie asked.
Claude responded, “Even in the womb, a fairy child will begin to display his or her gifts. Adele is a telepath. Telepathic fairies always begin their communication—when possible—with another telepath, even before they are born. Adele has chosen me,” he said proudly.
Sookie looked at him curiously. “She thinks of herself by that name?”
“Oh yes! She likes her name very much because Hadley feels so much love when she thinks of it,” Claude said with a broad smile. “I think it might have been hearing her brother here that spurred her to begin communicating.” He chuckled, “Sibling rivalry—it is called, I believe.”
Sookie smiled. “Well—what did she say to you?”
“She is very young to be communicating, and it was mostly impressions that I picked up. I know that she liked Hunter a lot and feels a connection to him.”
“Wow,” Sookie said. “Have you told Hadley all this?”
Claude shook his head. “No.” He sighed. “I do not want her to feel,” he paused, “excluded. And if Adele is an empath too—as I feel she will be—then she will soon begin communicating with her mother that way as well. I will wait until then to tell Hadley.”
Sookie nodded in agreement. “Will you be able to hear Adele from here? It wouldn’t be right if she felt like you’d,” she paused, “abandoned her.”
Claude sighed. “I was worried about that, but I think so.” He closed his eyes. “Niall’s settlement is not far from the borders of this place, and I am I strong telepath and know what I’m looking for.” He paused. “She is sleeping now, but I can still sense our connection. I’m sure I’ll be able to hear her, and Hadley has promised to visit each day as well.”
“Good,” Sookie said.
Claude winked at Sookie. “Adele almost picked you to communicate with—you know—but she found that you were always thinking of other things. She wanted to choose her mother, of course, but Hadley is not a telepath, so I was her third choice, but I am still honored.”
Sookie smiled. “Does she think of you as her father?”
Claude nodded. “That is the impression I got. Of course, I cannot help but to think of her as a child of mine in many ways, so it is natural for her to think that way. And being a good father-figure to her is my greatest wish.”
Sookie sighed and once again pressed her fingers against her stomach and looked back at the image of her mate in the pool. “I already have my greatest wish—Eric. But you’re right. I had to give up all hope of a child with him to grab hold of that wish. So I will never feel what Hadley is feeling right now—a child growing inside of me.” Sookie sighed again. “The irony is that I wasn’t even sure I wanted a child until I was with Eric.”
Claude squeezed her hand in comfort, and several moments of silence passed between them.
“I love Hadley,” Claude said.
“You already said that,” Sookie smirked at him, “several times.”
“I love her with everything I have inside of me,” Claude reiterated passionately. “And you can do something for her and for you at the same time. You need to do it. Hunter needs you to do it. And, truth be told, Hadley needs it too.”
Sookie shook her head, not really understanding what he was trying to tell her.
Claude looked at her seriously. “In your mind, you have already done it.”
Confused, Sookie shook her head again. “Done what?”
“You want him to be yours. Your mind and heart both cry out for it. It is difficult not to hear it, Tanah.”
Grasping what Claude was saying, a tear immediately dropped down Sookie’s cheek. “It’s Eric’s feelings―maybe. In our dreams, he’s told me so much about Hunter that I couldn’t help but to love him and wish . . . ,” her voice trailed off.
Claude squeezed her hand again. “Hunter will always love Hadley, and your vampire has come up with a way for the child to maintain a relationship with her. Yet—Hunter deserves a mother that will wish for him—as you wish for him. I love Hadley—you of all people know how much—but I am afraid she will never do that for Hunter.”
Sookie could only nod again as she whispered, “I admit that I have wished Hunter were mine and Eric’s. I sometimes wish it with everything I am, and every time I wish it, I feel so guilty.”
“Because of Hadley,” Claude stated. He didn’t need to ask.
Sookie answered him anyway. “Yes.”
Claude spoke again. “My own mother didn’t much want us—my sisters and myself. It was difficult because we could hear her thoughts, and they were—when she was not guarding them—very clear. She did not love us.”
He sighed deeply, “But sometimes, she tried to, and that was more difficult to take in many ways. Despite his faults, Father loved us without trying. That is one of the reasons why Claudine and I chose him when the wars began. Claudette held out hope that our mother would one day feel love for us—and that hope ended up destroying her.” He shook his head sadly. “She was always the one to try to please our mother the most.”
He paused for a few moments. “Hadley is not like my mother. Hadley does love Hunter; she loves him very much. But she does have to try at times.”
Sadly, Sookie nodded in agreement.
Claude continued, “You do not have to try at all—do you?”
“No,” Sookie said quietly. “But I can’t blame Hadley. She’s been through so much in her life, and even the fact that she tries so hard says a lot about her,” her voice trailed off.
“Yes,” Claude said. “She does try very hard, and I love her for that. However, when I think of Hunter and I think back to the times when I heard my own mother having to try to love me, my heart is with the boy.”
There were several more moments of silence between them.
“If you want him Sookie—if you love him and wish he were yours and truly want him—then that is a good thing. It is good because it would help Hunter, who longs for a mother who will accept him as he is. It is good because it would allow you and your vampire to have your desire—a child of your own. And it is good because you will both ensure that Hadley stays a major part of Hunter’s life, and Hunter will love her all the more because he will no longer feel that he is missing something—something that she may never be able to give him.”
Sookie shook her head. “I can’t replace his mother. I won’t do it!”
Claude smiled. “No—you cannot replace his mother, but you can be his mother, Tanah. You can be his mother in a way that Hadley’s mind will not let her be. Hadley feels too guilty about the past. She feels guilty that she didn’t want Hunter in the first place. She feels guilty that she didn’t take care of him when he was in her womb. She feels guilty that she left him. She feels guilty that she preferred staying with Sophie-Anne Leclerq over Hunter.” Claude’s tone became a little darker as he said the vampiress’s name. He went on, “And in the inner depths of her mind—in a place that she isn’t even aware of—she is happy that your Eric has taken such good care of him that she no longer has to.”
Sookie sobbed for a few moments. “I know. I felt that this morning when we were in her head. But I,” she stopped.
“You don’t want to think badly of her.” Claude sighed. “Neither do I.”
Sookie nodded once again. The hand that wasn’t holding Claude’s was still on her belly.
Claude smiled at her. “Some people were made to be mothers, Sookie. Some were made to be fathers. And I believe—especially after seeing you and your Eric last night—that you and your vampire were made to be Hunter’s parents.” He paused and gestured toward the pool, “I also believe that you two are what we fairies call a fated pair.”
Sookie looked up at him with some question in her eyes as she wiped her cheeks with the sleeve of her dress.
“Do you remember what Niall told you about hindala?” Claude asked.
“It means that you and Eric were destined to meet. It is an idea beyond time and distance and realm. The fact that he is a vampire and you are part fairy—two types of beings who are natural antagonists—makes your union even more amazing. I have only heard tales of such pairs in legends, but I believe that fate would find a way for any such a union to have an offspring. And I believe that fate has given you Hunter for a reason.”
Sookie sighed, her eyes filling with tears again. “I won’t take my cousin’s child from her.”
Claude spoke passionately, “You will not be taking anything from Hadley. For one, I would not let you, Tanah.” He paused. “From my father I have learned that love is not about taking. It is about giving. Give yourself to Hunter as you long to do, and you will see what happens. The child already belongs to your mate. And your fondest wish is to have a son—to have Hunter as your son. This is not,” Claude said sadly, “my Hadley’s fondest wish. Her fondest wishes do not involve Hunter.”
“But you still love her?” Sookie probed.
“Oh yes,” Claude smiled. “We—none of us—can really control the depth of our love for others, and Hadley has done the best that she could with Hunter. The fact that she is embracing Adele—despite the way she was conceived—makes me love her even more. This is the first time she has really ever felt secure enough in herself to try to love another. Before now she was afraid that loving someone else would lead her only to disappointment and loss—to despair.”
Sookie nodded. She—also—had had a difficult time opening her heart to another, and then everything had been complicated further due to vampire blood—Bill’s blood. Sookie sighed. She loved Hadley, and in many ways, her cousin’s life had been more difficult than hers. Sookie’s parents had died, but she’d had Gran.
Hadley’s parents had divorced, and her dad had pretty much disappeared from the picture. Then Aunt Linda had gotten terminally ill. And then her horrors with Uncle Bartlett had begun.
It was no wonder that Hadley had drifted away from the values that Gran had been able to instill into Sookie each and every day until the day she died. Sookie couldn’t fault Hadley’s imperfections any more than she could fault her own mistakes because of her own fears.
She sighed as silence fell over Claude and her again. She looked at her beautiful mate. Though his skin was blackened in places, his blonde hair shone as always, and―as always―his face looked boyish as he rested. His bangs draped messily across his forehead―just as Hunter’s did.
She wiped a tear from her eye.