I looked down at the list and saw the next item on the agenda: “Sookie’s Job?”
I sighed a little. Surprisingly, I had gotten a lot of satisfaction from using my telepathy to help Thalia during the last several weeks; however, I wanted more.
But, then again, now that Hunter was in our lives, I also wanted to be a “stay at home mother.” I had taken over some of his home schooling from Miranda, and I loved doing that. Plus, I still wanted to get my own college education as I’d planned to do before I’d been taken to the fairy realm by Claudette. The week before, I’d taken my placement exams for Bossier City Community College, and I was planning to take three online courses and one class on campus during the spring semester.
Still, I wanted something else.
When I was in Faerie with Niall, Claude had told Eric about the residence he was building, which included homes for himself; Hadley and the baby, if she ever chose to move to Dùraig; and Eric, Hunter, and me. There was also the little school for hybrid telepaths that Katherine was going to run and which Claude had asked me to help with.
To tell the truth, the thought of helping fairy-human children gain control of their telepathy warmed my heart, but I hadn’t yet made my final decision about whether I should work at the school. I knew that Eric would support whatever choice I made, but neither one of us wanted to spend time in different realms. In fact, when I’d taken Hunter to Dùraig to visit Hadley two weeks before, Eric and I had both been extremely nervous beforehand. We had decided that the situation would be less tense for Hunter if Eric didn’t go along for that visit. And to make sure that Hunter didn’t lose any of his nightly time with Eric—which is what Hunter had been most concerned about—we’d gone for a couple of hours in the early afternoon while Eric was asleep, taking Batanya with us. Hunter had insisted that Breeta stay home to watch over his daddy. Of course, Claude and Niall were in Dùraig too, so Hunter and I were well-protected.
I sighed as I looked at another item on the list: “Hunter—Fae school?”. Regardless of whether or not I taught at the school in Dùraig, Eric and I had to decide if Hunter should attend. Hunter already had tremendous control over his telepathy, especially considering his age, but I wanted him to gain even more skill if possible. I never, ever wanted him to have the kinds of problems that I had when I was growing up.
Plus, according to Niall, Hunter had some other fairy abilities, including the potential to wield light as I did. In fact, Niall had told Eric and me that Hunter’s inherent gift to wield light was even stronger than mine—though mine had now reached its full potential because I’d received the “light of the ancestors” thing. I had to admit that I was glad that Hunter had that gift too. If he learned to use it, he could eventually defend himself or use the light to heal.
The only problem was that continuing to go to the fairy realm—even just to Dùraig—would likely awaken that gift inside of Hunter sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it would stay dormant in him—just as the gift had stayed dormant in me until I’d had Eric’s blood. If the power was as inherently strong as Niall thought, Hunter would have to learn how to use it and to control it so that he didn’t accidentally harm someone. I could only imagine the trees that I would have shot down during my own adolescence if I’d had the power to wield light at the time. Heck—Jason teased me so much when we were teens that he would have likely been blasted daily!
Niall had already asked Eric and me to consider allowing Hunter to train in Dùraig for a few hours each week. I sighed. That topic was also on our list.
Unfortunately, Niall had told us that Hunter didn’t have the ability to produce “force fields” as I could. But he did inherit the gift of empathy from his mother. According to Niall, that gift was not as strong as Hunter’s other two abilities, but it could be strengthened over time. I could already tell that Hunter seemed to be able to intuit things about the feelings of the people around him. Eric and I knew that being in Dùraig would help Hunter to develop all of his Fae gifts, and that was something we both wanted for him.
I sighed again. It was already too late for me and Eric to prevent Hunter from facing any pain because of his telepathy. Between the thoughts he’d had to hear from Remy Savoy and even Hadley, he’d had to endure too much already.
But what we were determined to do was to make sure that things would be as good as they could be for him from now on, and maybe I could help others do that too. When Hunter got older, I wanted him to be able to have his first kiss with a girl—likely Emma—without having to hear her thoughts as they did it. Because—let’s face it—practically nobody does a great job on his or her first kiss (no matter what a certain Viking claimed). And I didn’t want Hunter to have the added pressure of having to hear all about that! It wouldn’t be fair to Emma either.
I wanted Hunter to be able to raise and lower his shields at will—without getting tired from doing it the way that I used to. If he wanted to go to regular school or college, I didn’t want him to be bombarded by people’s thoughts. In short, I simply wanted his options to be limitless. And—maybe most of all—I didn’t want him to feel as if he were alone, and meeting other “mostly” human kids who also happened to be telepaths would be a good way for Hunter to know that he was perfectly “normal,” given his heritage.
Maybe that was me projecting my own childhood wishes onto Hunter, but my gut told me that it would be good for Hunter to be around others like himself. I remembered how it felt to be so isolated and so alone. Of course, things were not the same for Hunter. Thanks to Eric, he was literally surrounded by various kinds of Supernaturals―including several telepaths since I was back and since Claude and Niall were often around. But that wasn’t the same as having friends his own age who were like him.
I looked up at Eric, who was waiting patiently for me to get my thoughts together and to speak. He knew me so well; he knew exactly what I needed in that moment: the beautiful silence of his mind as I made up my own. Even the bond was still and calm in that moment. His love was there, as was his undying support for me. But it was quiet—peaceful like gentle waves rolling along in the ocean.
God, I loved him.
His eyes were holding the perfect mix of patience and curiosity. He clearly wanted to know what I was going to decide about the work in Dùraig, yet he wasn’t going to push me to speak. I smiled at him and put down my wine so that I could brush his floppy bangs from his forehead. I brought my hand down to his cheek and sighed as he leaned into my touch as always. He closed his eyes for a moment and then turned his head to kiss my palm. Contentment and confidence now came in stronger waves from his end of our vampire bond, and I sighed as I enjoyed the feel of them.
I’d first told Eric about the opportunity to teach at Katherine’s school a couple of days after I’d gotten home from the fairy realm. At that time—after so long of a separation—neither Eric nor I could imagine being apart for even a minute, so we’d tabled the discussion. Heck—after I first got back, it had been difficult for me to leave the bed during the daytime when Eric was asleep—even if it was just to go to the bathroom or to grab some food.
Thankfully, Hunter’s need for me—and my need to connect with him—overrode my desire to be in the same room with Eric 24-7. But I still sat with him, watching over his sleep, as much as I could each day. Thankfully, Lafayette understood and would bring me up a food tray for breakfast since I tended to wake up before Hunter.
However, when my mate was awake, I felt like a barnacle as I clung to him—especially during the first week that I was back. Of course, he was clinging to me just as hard—maybe even harder. So thoughts of me going back to the fairy realm, even just for an hour, were too much for either of us to bear for the first couple of weeks.
But now, we were reestablishing a sense of normalcy; at our roots, both Eric and I were independent people. And we didn’t need to be together every second in order to be “together.” Still, when we were apart, I could feel a niggling fear from my mate—a fear that we might be separated again. So I made sure to text him every once in a while and to send him a steady stream of my love and comfort through the vampire bond.
Despite our independence, however, our bonds seemed to necessitate that we not be physically apart for long periods, but a few hours was usually no problem, and the fact that we could still feel each other’s emotions, even if he was in Shreveport and I was in Bon Temps, definitely helped. Eric had resumed going to Fangtasia once a week for Area 5 business, and I’d gone to Thalia’s house several times to help her out. During the days, I’d also started running my own errands again—always with Henry or Jarod in toe, of course. With Eric safely asleep at home, I felt more and more comfortable reconnecting with “daytime friends,” as Hunter so sweetly called them. Hunter, in fact, often came with me on my errands now with Batanya closely shadowing him. We had even gone to Merlotte’s several afternoons during the last few weeks so that he could hang out with Emma after school.
I chuckled aloud.
Eric raised an eyebrow at me in question.
“I was just thinking about yesterday at Merlotte’s,” I reported.
Eric smiled back. I’d told him all about the sight of two Britlingens hovering protectively around Hunter and Emma as they’d played checkers. Breeta had basically become Emma’s daytime guard. Batanya—of course—remained Hunter’s guard during the days. At night, Breeta watched over Hunter, and—with Sam and Luna’s reluctant blessing—Eric had hired one of the most promising vampires in his retinue, a 50-year-old named Christopher, to watch over the Merlotte family.
At first, Sam had bristled at the idea. He and Eric had had a very long and very loud discussion about it—thankfully out of the earshot of the kids, who were having a sleepover in Hunter’s room. Sam had argued that as shifters, Luna and he were both able to protect little Emma just fine. He’d already reluctantly agreed to Breeta because he and Luna couldn’t be with Emma when they were both working during the day. Plus, he didn’t want to insult a Britlingen by turning down what was essentially free protection. However, he drew the line at a vampire guard, especially since he didn’t want to owe Eric.
In turn, Eric had assured Sam that he’d never felt that Sam and Luna couldn’t protect their family. In fact, Eric—always the smooth-talker—had told Sam that he would be doing him a favor by accepting Christopher as a nighttime guard. Christopher didn’t have a lot of experience, but was the child of a close friend of Duncan’s, who had met his final death while protecting the queen of Georgia from a Fellowship of the Sun attack. Duncan had taken the relatively young vampire under his wing, and he was looking to prove himself and carry on his maker’s legacy as a respected guard. Eric had also confided in Sam that his main motivation for providing a guard was to allay Hunter’s anxiety. In Hunter’s mind, if he needed a guard, then Emma did too. It was simple to Hunter; he loved her and wanted to make sure that she was safe.
Still refusing the guard, Sam had decided that he needed to have a talk with the precocious Hunter—“to set him straight on some things.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what had transpired during the seven-year-old and thirty-seven-year-old’s “meeting.” I’d been tempted to go looking for the information in Hunter’s mind, but I’d refrained from doing that. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be that kind of mother to Hunter; he needed to trust me. And I needed him to know that he could.
All that Hunter had told me and Eric about the “meeting” was that Mr. Merlotte and he had come to what Hunter called “an understanding.” And—the very next day—Christopher was on the job. Sam would just shake his head a little whenever he saw Hunter now—though there was always a smile in his eyes when he did it. After their meeting, Sam had taken to calling Hunter, “Little Northman,” a nickname that Hunter had welcomed.
Eric and I figured that Hunter had told Sam how much he loved Emma and how much he simply wanted to make sure she was as safe as possible. It would have been difficult for Sam to refuse that kind of argument, especially if Hunter used what Eric had termed his “big eyes.” Hunter often got an extra cookie or a longer bedtime story from his daddy when he used those.
I smiled again as I thought about the previous afternoon.
Two Britlingens together in Merlotte’s had certainly been an intimidating sight, even to people who had no idea that they were “other.” However, the funny part had been when Emma and Hunter explained the rules of checkers to the two fierce warriors. Later, when Batanya and Breeta took a turn to play, I thought there might be bloodshed between mother and daughter when the game came down to a stalemate.
Let’s just say that Britlingens didn’t seem familiar with the concept of a tie.
I spent another moment laughing at the memory of Hunter and Emma giving up on ever getting their game back as the two Britlingens played one tie game after another. The kids turned instead to Uno. It had been a fun, relaxing afternoon, and I’d enjoyed spending time with Luna, who had actually given me a lot of reassurance about some of the concerns I had over becoming a teacher. Oh—I knew that I wouldn’t be teaching a traditional curriculum, but it was still nice to get some pointers.
Luna’s advice was that I should always begin by giving my students a task that I knew they could do pretty easily―in order to build their confidence. Then, once they were confident and ready, I should challenge them with something to push their abilities to the next level—to make them strive for improvement. In that moment, I realized just what a great teacher my new friend was.
I looked again at Eric, still waiting patiently for me to get my thoughts together. I placed my hand gently on his arm.
“So,” I started, “I talked to Claude, and the school is due to be opened in three weeks’ time.”
Eric’s lip twitched up into a little smile. “And I can tell that you have made your choice about whether to help Katherine with it.”
I smiled back. “I think so. I’m leaning in one direction, but I want your advice before I decide for sure.”
He nodded and gestured for me to continue. I could feel his support through the bond and knew that I would have it no matter what I ultimately chose to do.
“Well, I really wanna teach those kids—to help them learn how to control their telepathy. You know what it was like for me when I was a kid,” I paused.
Eric nodded and I felt him sending comfort through the vampire bond.
I smiled at him in thanks. “If I could help only one kid not to feel like I had to feel,” I sighed and paused again. “Well—I think it would be a good thing.”
Eric’s tone was full of encouragement. “I think it would be a very good thing, Sookie.”
I sent my gratefulness into the vampire bond.
“Tell me more about the school,” Eric requested, his interest clear.
“Well,” I started, “so far, Katherine’s found ten hybrid kids under the age of twelve that are also telepaths. She and Niall have approached their parents or guardians and have told them about the school. In all but two of the cases, one of the kids’ parents is also a telepath, and all of those parents have already jumped at the chance to send their kids to the school. In fact, the telepathic parents are gonna be attending too—just to learn more about fairies and to develop their own shields. Niall’s gonna help them. According to him, most of them have learned how to raise some kind of rudimentary protection from the thoughts of others—similar to my shields—but all of them live pretty isolated lives and are anxious to strengthen their defenses.”
“What of the other two children—the ones who do not have a telepathic parent?” Eric inquired.
I sighed. “One of them is with foster parents, who are—understandably—a little apprehensive about the whole thing. In that case, the child is only three and has just started to show signs of being a telepath. The foster parents are freaked out, and the kid is having a hard time living with so many other kids in the house. Plus, the foster parents are having trouble accepting the fact that there are fairies in the world. Niall had to use his ability to influence their minds in order to make sure they wouldn’t mention their new-found knowledge to others. He also had to influence them not to call the state to say that they couldn’t keep the girl, which is what they had been planning to do before Niall even showed up.”
Sighing again, I shook my head a little. Eric reached out to stroke my arm.
I brushed a tear from my eye and looked at my vampire. “It would be even more awful for her if she was sent to an orphanage. All those kids,” my voice broke and I had to stop for a moment.
“But Niall and Katherine won’t let that happen, min kära,” he comforted.
I took a deep breath. “No. Katherine is planning to influence the caseworker to let her adopt the child so that she can raise her in Dùraig. Niall’s setting up a fake residence and background for Katherine even now. She had wanted to have children with her husband, but that never happened, and I know she’d be a good mother. And as long as the child doesn’t eat the light fruit or go into Faerie proper, she’ll be able to choose whether or not to return to the human realm when she’s older.”
Eric continued to caress my arm lightly—comfortingly. “And the other child?” Eric asked.
“He’s about Hunter’s age and is being raised by his grandma.” I smiled a little as I thought of Gran. “She’s half Water Fae and half Earth Fae. She chose to leave Faerie a long time ago because of the prejudice she’d faced for being mixed. According to Niall, her child, who’d been a single mom, was one of those taken to Faerie by Mab. She’s,” I paused, “pregnant.”
“Oh,” Eric said, understanding the implications of my statement. That meant that she couldn’t leave the fairy realm. It also meant that the unborn child had been conceived through rape.
I shook myself from that thought. “The grandmother has already helped her grandson to develop shields, but she’s hoping that attending the school will give him the chance to make friends. Also—just like with Hunter and Hadley—as long as they initiate the visits, the kid’s mom will be able to see them in Dùraig. Who knows? Now that Mab is gone and there is peace, the grandma might decide to return to Faerie with her grandson, but Niall says that there is other family that she must consider too. From the sound of things, I think that the little boy and Hunter could become good friends—if we decide to have Hunter attend the school too.”
Eric and I sat in a comfortable silence for a few moments as we both contemplated that idea.
Eric got a faraway look in his eyes as a little smile settled onto his lips. He always got that smile on his face when he thought about his son, and that smile made me love him even more.
“How many days a week will the school be, min kära?” he asked.
“Just one,” I answered. “Saturdays—so that the kids can still attend regular schools here—if that’s what their parents wish. All but one of them is being home-schooled or is currently too young for school, but with training,” I heard my voice trail off. “With training,” I resumed, “they might be able to go to regular schools without the trouble that I had.”
“And you can help them,” Eric stated confidently.
His level of confidence in me always floored me a little. I smiled at him even as I let out a big sigh.
“What is it?” Eric asked me.
“I don’t like the thought of being in a different realm from you,” I responded, “not even for one day a week―not even for a few hours.”
Eric nodded. “I do not like it either, min kära. Would it be day or night that you would go?”
“Day,” I whispered. “From ten in the morning to five or six.”
Eric contemplated for a moment and then looked at me with concern. “You would be the one to feel the separation—all while I slept. I would not have to feel it.”
I gave him a little smile, nodded, and tried to act a little braver than I felt. “That’s the good news. And I would still be able to feel you through the fairy bond; it’s not like I can feel your emotions through the vampire bond when you’re asleep anyway.”
Of course, he felt the anxiety underlying my words. He always did. And he could tell that I was hiding something from him too. He always could.
In fact, I had been hiding some information from Eric since I took Hunter to Dùraig to visit Hadley. However, to his credit, Eric hadn’t asked me what I was hiding. He had been waiting for me to process things, but I knew that he was going to ask me now. That was okay, however, because I was ready to tell him about it now.
Eric brought his hand to my shoulder and rubbed a little. “There is something you have kept from me about when you and Hunter went to Dùraig for your visit,” he stated. He didn’t need to ask.
I nodded. “It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.”
He looked at me expectantly and encouragingly, and I felt both of those emotions from his side of the bond as well.
“When I was in Dùraig before—even when I was in Faerie itself with Niall—I couldn’t feel our vampire bond at all. It was like it was just,” I paused.
“Empty,” Eric whispered throatily, his tone of voice indicating just how much he had been forced to suffer when I was gone. For him, it had been almost two years; for me, it had been just over a month. Without thinking, I reached out, stroked his chest, and flooded the bond with my love and comfort.
“Yes—empty,” I agreed. “During my visit with Hunter, I was able to feel you through our fairy bond—just like I did before. But being in Dùraig this last time was really,” I paused, “uncomfortable for me and got worse the longer I was there.”
“Physically uncomfortable?” Eric asked to clarify.
I nodded. “Yeah. It was different than before. Instead of the vampire bond feeling empty, it seemed to be pulling—stretching for you.”
Eric contemplated for a moment. “That sounds like bonding sickness,” he said with concern in his eyes. “But that should not have been possible since you left me for only a few hours. Plus, you went while I was still dead for the day, which should have prevented any problems.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” I said, feeling guilty about not doing so. “It’s just that I didn’t want you to worry until Niall could try to figure something out to stop it from happening again.”
“You do not have to face burdens alone, my love,” he gently reminded, though there was no anger or disappointment in the bond.
I sighed with relief. “You’d gone through too much already,” I responded as I brushed my hand along his shoulder; the truth was that I felt responsible for a great deal of his suffering, and I didn’t want to be responsible for any more. “Plus,” I added quickly, “I wanted to see if Niall could explain why it happened. After all, it could have just been caused by my own anxiety at being away from you—like a little panic attack?”
He nodded slightly. “I am your helpmeet—just as you are mine,” he said evenly. His statement was not meant to be an accusation. I knew that he wasn’t trying to make me feel bad for hiding something from him, but I could also tell that he didn’t like it. Still, his eyes shone with only love and concern.
I tried to keep my guilt from entering the bond, but I could tell from the look on Eric’s face that he could feel it. Thankfully, he didn’t mention it, and I felt myself relax again. Oh course, his comforting caresses along my collar bone helped. He always knew exactly what I needed—even if it were just a simple touch.
After a few moments, he asked, “Did Niall figure out what it was or—better yet—a way to stop it from happening again?”