It was quiet when Alan woke. The first quiet morning since Hailey's nightmares began. The full night's rest invigorated him in a way he hadn't expected. He felt stronger, happier, more alive.
Donna turned over in her sleep and pulled the covers off of him. The brisk morning air sent shivers down Alan's spine. He nudged his wife gently and peeled blankets from her sleeping form. Carefully he nuzzled into her, the warmth of her body something he wouldn't trade for anything else.
She murmured incoherently as she felt him press himself against her. "Check on Hailey," she mumbled before turning over.
Signing, Alan pulled himself out of bed and tied his robe tight against the cold. He shuffled down the stairs, flipping light switches as he went, to the small room next to the kitchen. The door creaked open, the electric light flooding into the dim darkness that permeated Hailey's room.
Her bed was a mess of blankets. An army of stuffed animals lay scattered around the floor facing away from the bed, a silent army standing guard over their ward.
Alan sat down on the edge of the bed, Hailey's body outlined by swaddling blankets that left a vaguely human impression. Gingerly he bent down and kissed roughly where he thought her head was.
"How'd you sleep?"
"Not well," came the mewling reply.
"Was it the nightmare again?"
"No. I just couldn't sleep. Does this mean I have to go see the doctor again?"
"I don't know, honey. Maybe. Mommy and I will talk it over."
"I don't want to see the doctor." Hailey shifted away from Alan.
"He's just trying to help you," Alan said reproachfully. "He would never hurt you."
"I don't want to see the doctor!"
Alan relented. "Okay. No doctor today. But let me know if you have the dream again."
"Will you protect me, daddy?" she asked, a hint of her old playfulness shining in her voice.
He smiled. "I'm always here for you, Hailey."
She pulled the covers down enough for her elfin eyes and tousled hair to peek out. "Do you love me, daddy?"
Alan cupped her face in his hand. "More than anything, angel."
"Good," she replied decisively. "Then I love you, too."
He laughed softly at the logic and nearly missed hearing her cough. His hand shifted from her cheek to her forehead. "You feeling okay?"
"My stomach hurts. I don't have to go to the doctor, do I?"
"Not for a tummy ache. Here, go back to sleep. You might have to stay in bed today until you feel better." Alan rose to his feet and made for the door.
"You're not going to send me back, are you?"
Alan turned to look at her. Her bright green eyes and straw-blond hair barely peaking out of the covers, gazing quizzically at him.
"No, sweetie, I'm not going to send you back." He wasn't even sure where back would be. The hospital? The womb? "You're ours to keep forever and ever."
A diminutive hand shot out of the covers. "Shake on it?"
Smile still on his face, Alan grasped the small hand. It felt strong in his, squeezing back harder than he was gripping her hand. "I promise," he said.
She stared at him for a moment, sizing him up, studying him. When she pulled her hand away her nails grazed against his palm.
Alan snapped his hand back in pain. A thin line of blood trailed down his palm. He took a step backwards and made his way out the door and back up the stairs. Mary had cocooned herself in the blankets, impervious to all his charms.
He wasn't thinking about that. All he could think of was the way Hailey had pulled her hand back to her face, fingertips faintly red, and her soft pink tongue licking her fingers clean.
The smoke poured from his mouth like a gaseous waterfall. The girl following behind him kept her expression blank and bleak, but such things were common.
He looped the silver chain around his wrist and tugged gingerly at it.
The girl looked up, the chain trailed from her waist to his wrist. "Are we there yet?"
"Not quite yet, my darling Grainne. Almost, though. Soon, relatively speaking."
"Why do you keep calling me that?" the girl whined. "I have a name already."
"You'd do well not to speak it aloud, my darling Grainne." He puffed diligently on his cigarette, the bright ember eagerly burning in the dark. "Think of this as a game, my pet."
"My name's not Grainne."
He leaned down, bent at the waist until his chest was perpendicular to the ground, even then he still loomed several feet over the girl. He smiled, showing all too many small, narrow teeth. "My darling Grainne, a name is nothing. I, personally, have a lot of them. Think of it as just one more name on a list of names that will grow over time. All of them are you, but none of them define you. You will surpass names and titles like the grains of time, my little Grainne."
"Why won't you just call me by my real name? You know it. It's ─"
He puffed on his cigarette. One of the few luxuries he allowed himself. Any minute now.
Her mouth struggled to form the word. Lips twisting into cruel shapes while her tongue tied itself into knots. The girl started to cry. "I can't say it! I can't even say my own name!"
His hand caressed her face, wiping tears from the petulant toddler's chin. "There there, pet. I was afraid to tell you, but your name isn't your anymore. It belongs to another. In return, the king has given you a new name. One befitting your rank."
She sniffled. "My rank?"
His smile widened, his mouth filled with more teeth than any human should have. His pale, luminous hand brushed a golden strand of hair out of her eyes. "My darling dear, the things you don't know. Soon you will be a fairy princess. Just like in the stories."