Sookie grabbed the fleece pullover that Elina had brought for her to wear. Thinking about the Werebear, she cast out her telepathy and found the now familiar signature at the edge of her range. Another similar brain pattern was near Elina; Sookie figured that was her grandson.
Sookie also sensed that the Fae brain had moved to the porch. She grabbed a small whistle that Elina had given her the day before and put it on like a necklace. The Werebear had said that Sookie need only blow that whistle if she needed help.
She took a deep breath and walked onto the porch, where a beautiful brunette was smiling at her. The sweet rolls were both missing from the plate.
“Sorry—but you did say to help myself,” Claudine said with a bright smile as she stood up.
Sookie recognized the woman’s face and voice immediately even though she had seen her only briefly in the fairy realm.
“Claudine?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” the fairy said, as she approached Sookie and gave her a warm hug. “It is so nice to meet you—finally. I asked Grandfather many times to let me get to know you, but he did not want our world to affect yours. However, I always wished that we could have been friends, dear cousin.”
The sincerity in Claudine’s voice immediately put Sookie at ease and also brought a tear to her eye.
“Me too,” Sookie answered. She sniffled. “I’m sorry that I can’t invite you inside. But I can bring you a blanket if you’re cold.”
Claudine waved her off. “Do not worry, little cousin. I do not feel the cold as you do, and I understand why your vampire placed the conditions he did upon his and Niall’s arrangement.”
“Do you like coffee?” Sookie offered. “There’s also tea or water.”
“Coffee with sugar would be lovely!” Claudine answered with glee.
Sookie nodded and quickly went inside. She grabbed two cups of coffee and the fairy book, which was currently sporting her long list of questions as a bookmark.
She rejoined Claudine on the porch and was grateful that the fairy seemed to be content to sip her drink for a few quiet moments. Sookie felt like she needed time to gather her thoughts.
“Do you really love the vampire?” Claudine asked, breaking the silence. Sookie looked up at her in surprise.
“Did you hear me say that?”
Claudine smiled and pushed her long hair behind her ears. They were pointed at the top. “These are good for more than just looks,” the fairy laughed a little. “Do not worry. I will not tell Niall about what we say to one another. I doubt he will ask anyway,” she said with disapproval in her voice. “He is of an older time—a harsher time. He cares for you—just as he cares for my siblings and me—but he does not always know how to show that care.”
“You ain’t kidding,” Sookie sighed ruefully, taking a sip of her coffee.
“I am glad that today can be about you and me!” Claudine said brightly. “And I hope it will be about the friendship I always wished we could have. We may have only until sunset, but that is longer than I thought we would ever get!” She smiled widely. “Many times, I thought of breaking Niall’s orders, but I knew he would just order me home if I did so. Now, I feel that we have some freedom.”
Sookie smiled at the fairy’s fervor as well as the genuine affection in her voice. “I’d like to get to know you too,” Sookie said, trying to muster up the same amount of happiness. “But I’m sad we won’t have more time.”
Claudine winked. “I have learned one thing from being from a realm where the speed of time in relation to other realms is variable. And that is to never say ‘never.'”
Sookie’s smile reached her eyes this time, and she cut herself a piece of bread, especially since Claudine was eyeing it as if she wanted to devour it. Apparently, statuesque six feet tall fairies didn’t have to watch their weight.
“So,” Claudine asked again, “do you really love him?”
“Yes,” Sookie answered truthfully, seeing no reason to hide her feelings from Claudine, even though she couldn’t yet express them to Eric.
Claudine’s reaction—for lack of a better phrase—shocked the hell out of Sookie. The fairy leaned forward in her chair and clapped her hands together gleefully. “I was pulling for that one! Of course, I had to watch from afar since vampires will eat me—if they pick up my scent, that is. But I never cared for the dark one. The Viking, however, is quite handsome. And rumor has it that he is excellent in bed!”
Immediately Sookie blushed deeply and was thankful when Claudine kept speaking enthusiastically.
“Not that I could ever experience sex with a vampire,” she pouted, “though I hear they have great vigor, and the Viking looks—well,” she sighed, “he looks scrumptious! And especially vigorous! But since you can mask your scent, he is not a great danger to you!”
Sookie’s embarrassment went away immediately as she took in Claudine’s words. “Wait!” Sookie said. “Mask my scent? I can really do that?”
Claudine smacked her head with her hand. “Of course, that is something that we needed to talk about. Niall wanted for me to make sure that you learned how to manipulate your scent—in addition to just concealing it.”
“But I don’t conceal my scent,” Sookie said with confusion as she sat forward in her chair and put her now empty coffee cup down on the patio table.
“But you are concealing your scent even now—to a certain extent at least. Of course, I can teach you how to do it fully,” Claudine said with a wave of her hand. “That’s an easy one to master—when you have the gift.”
Sookie shook her head. “No—I have on a potion that a witch gave Eric. That’s what’s covering my scent.”
Claudine looked a little confused now. “Yes. I figured that you and the vampire must be using a potion of some kind, for I did not pick up on your scent until I was quite near to this place. But I can pick it up now. I have a very good sense of smell, Sookie. Most Fae do.”
“So—you see—I’m not the one masking my scent,” Sookie said, still confused.
“Sure you are; you have been for a while now!”
“What?” Sookie asked. “How?”
“By instinct,” Claudine said as if the answer were obvious. “As soon as your spark was activated by the Viking’s blood, your Fae scent would have grown stronger, but you protected yourself instinctively since you were near vampires.”
“You mean I . . . ,” Sookie began.
“You have been concealing your stronger scent since you went to Dallas,” Claudine said contemplatively. “I am sorry, but I figured you knew, but—then again—how would you?” she asked herself. The fairy sighed and looked at Sookie apologetically. “Well, I’m here to make sure you do know what you need to—from now on. Today, you may ask me anything you wish, and if I don’t know the answer or have been forbidden to tell you something by Niall,” she added with a wink, “I will ask someone who might be able to help.”
Sookie was just about to ask who that someone was when Claudine continued speaking, “I can help you understand how to fully conceal or enhance your scent. You may even be able to alter your scent so that you smell like another.” She smiled. “I have only a limited ability to dampen my scent, though I cannot conceal it altogether. My brother and sister inherited the ability to manipulate their scents like Niall can. However, I am a very strong warrior—while neither of them is that good at fighting. That is why I was chosen by Niall to watch over you. I suppose there is give and take to all gifts,” she said good-naturedly.
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed dumbfounded. “I can’t believe I’ve been using a power and didn’t even know it.”
Claudine smiled. “We will work on it today, dear cousin. I may not have the same skill as you, but all Fae traits are powered in more-less the same way.”
“Eric thought that the book Niall gave me was geared toward me,” Sookie commented, mentally checking off a few questions—which Claudine had already covered—from her list. “If that’s true, do I have the ability to teleport too?”
Claudine seemed to be studying Sookie. “Everyone in our family does, and Niall believes you were trying to teleport back to the human realm after he transported you to Faerie. However, you were very weak and could not do it yourself. I can give you the basics of how to do it today, but usually our gifts kick in by instinct, so if you have the ability to teleport, chances are, you will do it when you are in great danger.”
Sookie sighed. “Then I don’t think I can do it. Bill almost killed me—he was gonna rape me and drain me—but I didn’t teleport away from him.”
Claudine looked troubled. “Since your body was in great distress, you might not have had the power to do it.”
“But I’ve been in danger lots of times since Dallas, and I’ve never teleported.”
“Do you know of the concept of fight versus flight, cousin?” the fairy asked contemplatively.
“You seem to be a fighter, Sookie. You have used your light to try to fight your enemies—correct?”
“So your first instinct is to fight; thus, your light manifested before your ability to teleport. And that fighting inclination makes you a good match for your Viking.”
Sookie blushed a little.
Claudine continued. “It is my instinct to fight too, so I did not learn how to teleport until I was well into my seventies.”
“Seventies! How old are you?” Sookie asked. The fairy in front of her looked to be about twenty-five in human years.
“Time is different between your realm and mine,” Claudine commented. “But I am around 700 of your years.”
“It is not so old in relative terms. We Fae live long lives.” She paused. “So I will try to help you teleport today, but it is possible that you won’t be able to—either because that gift is not strong enough in you or because you don’t see yourself under enough of a threat to do it.” She seemed to be in deep thought for a moment. “The first time I did it, it was because Fintan had been seriously injured. I found him and teleported with him back to my grandparents’ palace so that my grandmother could tend to him.”
“You found him?” Sookie asked, curious about the fairy’s choice of words.
“Yes,” Claudine said. “That is my strongest Fae gift: the ability to find those in distress and go to them. I can do it with anyone I am related to by blood. That is another reason why I was chosen by Niall to be your protector here.” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry that I did not come to you after Bill Compton attacked you. I felt your distress, and I also felt that you were near death, but I knew that I didn’t have strong enough magic to heal you, so I popped to my grandmother to ask for her help. She is the strongest healer among us—you see. By the time she got to the hospital you were in, she sensed a vampire was already there with you. When she realized it was the Viking and that he’d given you his blood to start your healing, she left.”
“Oh. Well, thanks for trying to help,” Sookie said.
Claudine smiled. “You’re welcome. It was for the best that the Viking helped you though. The Fae bond would have made it impossible for you to come to Faerie, which is where my grandmother would have had to take you in order to fully heal you.”
The two were quiet for a moment as Sookie contemplated the fact that her fairy cousin and her step-fairy-great-grandmother had planned to come to her rescue after Bill almost drained her in Alcide’s van. That fact actually made her feel better—more loved even.
“So this book was made just for me,” Sookie commented, as she touched the Fae book.
“Of course,” Claudine said with her tinkling voice.
“Because Niall didn’t want to give me any other secrets about the Fae?” Sookie asked in a challenging voice.
Claudine’s countenance changed immediately. “Yes, I am afraid I have been forbidden to tell you some things about fairies, lest the Viking learn of them. Fairies have some weaknesses that Niall does not want others to know about.”
“Yet the book told me about lemons and iron,” Sookie commented. “He had to have known that I would tell Eric.”
Claudine smiled. “See! I told you Niall was not all bad.”
Sookie shook her head, having a hard time following Claudine’s train of thought.
The fairy continued smiling, and Sookie noticed her incredibly sharp incisors. “Niall is more worried about your being protected than he is about the vampire knowing how to harm us. He trusted you and Eric not to use this knowledge to harm our kind—but to keep yourselves safe with it. But—like I said—he has forbidden me to speak of other weaknesses that fairies have. As a hybrid, the lemon and iron likely won’t harm you, or—if it does—you won’t have a severe reaction. Thus, those were the logical things to tell you about.”
Sookie nodded. She wasn’t quite ready to become a member of Niall’s fan club, but she was thankful that he’d given her the book and that he’d allowed Eric and her to have some knowledge about how to protect themselves if Breandan did come after her.
“Can other people read the book at all?” Sookie asked.
Claudine shook her head. “No—just you and the one who prepared it for you—so that is you and my grandmother. Her name is Leonie—by the way. Niall contacted her while you were unconscious—since she was in this realm too at the time. She made it for you.”
“Not that I’m not grateful to your grandmother, but why would she help me? Didn’t Niall cheat on her with a human woman?”
Claudine laughed. “My grandmother and grandfather have not shared a bed since it was discovered that Leonie could no longer have children.”
Sookie’s face screwed up in anger. “So he just discarded her?”
“No!” Claudine said insistently. “Do not think so badly of Niall, dear cousin. His marriage to Leonie was arranged, and they have been excellent partners over the years, ruling over Faerie with fairness and tolerance. But there was not romantic love between them. They had a daughter, Magallen, but the birth was difficult, and our healers soon realized that Leonie would not be able to have additional children. After that, Niall and Leonie decided―mutually―to seek other bedfellows. They have both been quite active in that department—especially Grandmother,” Claudine said with a wink.
Sookie blushed and took a deep breath. She’d heard of “open marriages,” but had never known anyone who had one—by choice, that is. Gran, however, had always taught her to be accepting of others and their ways.
“Well,” Sookie said with resolution, “as long as they’re okay with it.”
“More than okay!” Claudine assured. “You would like Grandmother Leonie. She has wanted to meet you for a long time, though she has deferred to Niall. She was especially fond of Fintan; in fact, she was like a mother to Uncle Fintan and Uncle Dermot. Niall had to bring them to Faerie when they were small children, and he was heartbroken at having to leave his beloved behind. Leonie accepted the children and raised them with as much love as she had given to my own mother.” Claudine smiled sadly. “I think those boys taught her how to live again since my mother died young—while she was having my siblings and me. Leonie mourned more than any other when Fintan died. She took care of him after he was returned to us by Breandan, but even her healing couldn’t help him.”
Sookie sniffled a little as a tear rose in her eye for her grandfather.
Claudine looked out into the woods and continued speaking softly. “Fintan was much injured, and her magic could only stave off his death for a little while, not prevent it. And—at that time—we thought that your father, your mother, your brother, and you had all been killed by Neave and Lochlan. Fintan’s heart broke because he had not been able to keep you all safe.”
Sookie asked a question that had been preying upon her mind. “How did Breandan find my grandfather in this realm?”
Claudine looked back at Sookie and closed her eyes. Sookie felt the fairy reading her thoughts.
“Stop!” Sookie said, throwing up a shield around her mind.
“Oh!” Claudine said with a little surprise. “Sorry.”
“I don’t like people in my head,” Sookie said.
“I am sorry then,” Claudine said contritely. “It is just that I felt your distress, and it is my instinct to try to help. And to do that, I was trying to find the thought that caused your pain.”
“It’s okay. But—can you just try not to go in there again?”
Claudine nodded, but gave Sookie a curious look.
“So did you find the thought?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Claudine said. “I saw the memory that had stirred your guilt and sorrow. I could see Fintan saving you from a snake with his magic.”
“Do you think Breandan found Fintan because he used his magic to save me?” Sookie asked, sharing her fear aloud.
Claudine shrugged. “I do not know how Fintan was found, but if such a little bit of magic alerted Breadan to where Fintan was, then he was already close and would have found him anyway. Do not blame yourself for his capture, cousin. I know that Fintan did not blame you. He spoke of his human family with great love. He wanted to go back to his Adele—to rest in her arms one last time—but there was not enough magic left in him to teleport home to her, and he would not have survived the trip if another had tried to take him.”
Sookie wiped away a few hot tears that streaked down her cheeks.
She stood up abruptly. “I—uh—need to go inside for a minute. To go to the bathroom and get more coffee,” she said shakily, as she picked up both cups. “Will you—uh—need a bathroom?”
Claudine could tell that Sookie needed a moment alone. The fairy shook her head. “No—not in the time I am here. Take your time, cousin. I will be here.”
“I’ll just be a minute,” Sookie assured as she rushed inside. She put the coffee cups on the kitchen counter and then ran into the bedroom where Eric lay dead to the world. Knowing that his presence would offer her the comfort she sought, she lay down next to him and rested her head on his alabaster chest. Once with her bonded, she allowed her tears to fall freely. Hearing about how her Grandpa Earl—Fintan—had wanted to return to Gran had made her heart break for both of her grandparents.
Sookie had been very young, but she still remembered how Gran’s face had changed after Grandpa Earl had disappeared. Gran had gone from having a never-ending smile in her eyes to having a look of intense longing. That look had eventually faded a bit—maybe when Niall altered her memories—but it had never gone away completely.
Growing up, Sookie “heard” the gossip from the heads of Gran’s “friends.” Maxine Fortenberry was the worst. She thought that Earl Stackhouse had left Adele for another woman and even spread the rumor that Earl had been seen with a woman and two kids in New Orleans a few years after he left Bon Temps. Others hypothesized that Earl Stackhouse had been the victim of a crime. Some thought that he had been killed by an alligator or that he’d drowned. Apparently, he’d been going fishing the morning he’d disappeared. According to Gran, his truck had been found near Lake Bistineau, where he liked to fish for bass. All of his fishing gear was still inside of the vehicle. No trace of him had ever been found.
At the time, Sookie hadn’t really understood much about what was going on because the thoughts of the people around her were also very confused and sad. And then—shortly after her grandfather had disappeared—her parents died. Sookie’s memories of those years during her childhood all swirled around thoughts of loss—both hers and other people’s. She especially remembered Gran’s sadness at losing her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law in such a short time.
Now that Sookie knew what had really happened to Grandpa Earl, she felt the tragedy of the situation even more acutely. Her grandfather had wanted to return home—to the woman he loved so much that he’d left Faerie and lived as a human. He had made the choice to live with Gran in the human realm—to raise a family with her—even though he would not age with her.
Sookie had heard Gran thinking about her husband a lot over the years. Gran had never even looked at another man after Grandpa Earl disappeared. She had always held out hope that he would return to her. Sometimes, she even hoped that Maxine’s rumors were true because that would mean that Earl was alive and happy somewhere. But mostly, she imagined that he had fallen into the water, bumped his head, and gotten amnesia. Occasionally, she would indulge in the fantasy that he would remember who he was—who she was—and return home to her. And that dream had stayed with her until her own death.
Sookie thought of her Gran and Fintan—forever separated in two different realms. And she cried for them, even as the Fae bond—still active and alive, despite Eric being dead for the day—comforted her as if Eric himself were hugging her as tightly as she was holding him.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed meeting Claudine. She’s fun to write, and I was trying to make her so sweet that Sookie was in danger of getting cavities. LOL. I also wanted Sookie to get a little information about her fairy family, especially Fintan/Earl. I think she deserves to know. And, of course, I wanted her to be aware of her “gift” of scent alteration. I always imagined that if Eric ignited her Fae spark, she would smell more like a fairy. I wanted to show the instinctual nature of Fae gifts. Sookie’s power kicked in when needed to cover her “new scent” in Dallas—probably just as soon as she’d drunk Eric’s blood.