After about ten minutes, Sookie had cried herself out, and she forced herself to leave Eric’s side after giving him a short kiss, lingering at his lips just long enough to breathe out, “Thank you, Eric. I love you.”
She went to the bathroom and wet a rag, carefully washing her face, except for the spot that held Octavia’s potion. She took care of her human needs as well and then returned to the kitchen to refill her and Claudine’s coffee cups. When she went back outside, Claudine was sitting where she’d left her. However, there was now a box sitting on the table in front of her.
Claudine smiled kindly at Sookie. “I am glad that you have someone to seek comfort from when you are troubled, dear cousin—someone who will love you as you deserve.”
Sookie smiled sadly and took a sip of her coffee. “Eric cares for me. I know that, and I know that’s real, but any love he has for me will always be something he resists.”
“Because he is a vampire?” Claudine asked with interest, even as she sat forward in her chair a little. “Can they not love? That is what Grandfather claims. But Grandmother says that his opinions on that matter are hooey.”
Sookie chuckled a little at Claudine’s word choice. “They sure try not to love. It makes them vulnerable. But I know that Eric loved his maker very much.”
Claudine contemplated for a moment. “For the Fae, the ones we care for the most are often the ones our enemies try to use against us. And if we love in this realm, then we are vulnerable to the inevitable heartache that will come from watching the human die while we live on.” She continued meditatively. “Vampires have to deal with both of these factors here: the cruelty of time and vindictiveness of enemies.”
Sookie tilted her head. “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” she considered, suddenly better understanding Eric’s—or any vampire’s—reticence regarding love. She sighed. “But those aren’t the only reasons why Eric will resist any love he feels for me. And it’s not the reason he will doubt me if I tell him I love him—while he’s awake, that is,” she added sadly.
Claudine looked at her in question.
“Eric will always think that the Fae bond is the reason why we feel love for one another,” Sookie said in a quiet voice. “I’ve decided to try to accept what I am feeling—no matter where it is coming from. After all, there are worse reasons to fall in love than the kind of trust it took for us to form the Fae bond in the first place. And it’s too difficult for me to resist the feelings I have for him, especially now that we’re—uh—getting to know each other more.” She blushed as Claudine smiled at her knowingly.
Sookie shook her head to clear it of her thoughts of just how irresistible Eric was.
“Anyway,” she sighed, “I’d thought that I’d found that sweeping kind of romantic love with Bill, but it turned out it was all a lie.” She laughed mirthlessly. “I guess it’s ironic that Eric will never let himself love me because what we have is a kind of lie too, but at least it’s a lie we both know about and a lie that we’re gonna try to make the best of.”
Claudine sighed. “I cannot be sorry that you bonded with the Viking because I am not sure if you would be alive otherwise. With the other vampire—Compton—you were moving down a path that I was certain would lead to your death or captivity. And you were blind to his manipulation.” She shook her head. “So many times, I wanted to go to you, but I couldn’t take you to Faerie after you’d had vampire blood, and Compton could have tracked you to anywhere I tried to hide you in this realm. Once the Viking relit the spark in you, I had hope, and—with Leonie’s help—I was able to get Niall’s permission to aid you, but things progressed too quickly for me to enact my plan.”
“What were you gonna do?” Sookie asked curiously.
“Almost the same thing the Viking did, actually. The witch, Octavia, had already been contacted about performing a severing spell so that Compton’s blood could be removed from your body.”
“How do you know Octavia?”
“I don’t, but my grandmother, Leonie, does,” Claudine said. “She talked to Octavia for me, and I got Niall to agree to allow me to befriend you after Compton had been taken by his maker. However, I didn’t have time to approach you before you left Bon Temps to go to Russell Edgington’s domain. In addition, it would have likely been several weeks or months before the spell could have been done—even if my plan had gone as I’d hoped.”
Sookie sat quietly for a moment, taking in what Claudine had told her. “Why so long?”
“You would have needed to trust me, Sookie—without the kind of hesitation that I feel from you even now,” Claudine said with a twinkle in her eyes. “As you know, the severing spell required that you have a helper. I could have been that only if I had your trust first.”
Sookie nodded in understanding and gave Claudine a little smile. “Thanks again for trying to help. It would have been a good plan if I’d not gone runnin’ after Bill or if Russell hadn’t found out all about me from that file Bill made about me.”
Claudine smiled almost sadly. “Of course, I’d also intended to hide you away in Faerie for a while after the severing spell was done. Obviously, that would not have worked.”
“Because of the Fae bond,” Sookie said.
Claudine nodded. “I wish we had known that it was possible for you to form such a bond,” the fairy sighed. “I can see that the way it was made has hurt you deeply and caused you and your vampire to be uncertain about your feelings.”
“Can you tell me more about them—about Fae bonds?”
“Well,” Claudine began, “while fairies gain their spark at birth, they lack the ability to form bonds until they reach adulthood, which—for us—is at about a hundred years old. For humans, physical maturity comes much earlier. For instance, you reached the physical age of being able to form a bond at nineteen, but since your spark had been effectively stifled, it was thought by Niall that you would never form one. Plus, no one of less than half-blood has ever successfully formed a bond before. And no fairy has ever formed a bond with a non-Fae. It was thought impossible.”
“Niall told us all that,” Sookie said quietly. “He said that was why he missed the fact that I had a bond.”
Claudine nodded. “He probably did not say it, but he was sorry about that. I have seen him since then, and he expressed,” she paused, “regret.”
Sookie smiled a little. “Can you tell him that it’s okay—that I’m okay? Uh—but only if he asks about me?”
“What about bonds between two fairies? What are they like?”
“Well,” Claudine said, sitting forward in her chair like she was gossiping with an old friend, “I know a lot about them actually. I was very curious about bond-making when I was growing up. In the Fae culture, bonds are rare, and bonded pairs are sort of looked down upon by some people, even though most fairies secretly envy them.” She frowned a little. “Bonded pairs are known to be formidable, though their lives become linked in a way that most fairies fear. They literally cannot survive without each other. And most of us never feel a strong enough connection with another to risk our lives being tied to someone else like that.” She sighed—almost with longing. “I have always thought that bonding was a beautiful notion, though my brother always made fun of me for thinking that.”
Sookie smiled. “Brothers can be like that.”
Claudine nodded. “I have always liked the idea of a bond tying two people in love so closely together. I suppose I like the romance of it.”
Sookie’s smile faded.
Claudine looked at her with compassion in her eyes. Sookie was grateful it wasn’t pity.
“Your bond with your vampire did not form as bonds are usually made―I’m afraid. In Faerie, two Fae will take a long time deciding whether or not to bond. And great love is always at the heart of a bond. The bond amplifies the feelings. The skeptics among the Fae think of a bond as a kind of parasite, doing all that it can to make itself stronger. But I don’t believe that, for the Fae that have one are made stronger too.”
“How are they made stronger?” Sookie asked, even as she tried not to cringe at the fact that Eric would likely agree that the bond was a “parasite.”
“A bond is quite magical, and the Fae abilities of the bonded pair invariably strengthen after it is formed. The bond pushes the fairies to become stronger in a sense—to protect each other and the bond itself. There is a shared purpose and a joy in sharing it.” Claudine shook her head. “Some ambitious fairies have tried to form bonds to gain more power, but those always fail to be made. A bond can only be made by those with pure hearts in the forming of them. That is why Niall was so surprised that you were able to form one with the vampire. I’m sure you have figured out by now that he does not have a high opinion of vampires.”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. That’s pretty obvious.”
Claudine smiled somewhat wistfully. “You and your vampire are an anomaly—lightning in a bottle. That is why I believe your vampire will come to accept the fact that his love for you is no less real because it was formed through the bond.”
“I hope so,” Sookie said quietly. She stared into the woods for a moment and was comforted to “hear” Elina’s mind. She couldn’t hear her specific thoughts—probably because she was in her bear form—but Sookie was glad for her presence nonetheless. The elder Werebear did remind her of Gran, and it was a comfort to have her nearby.
Claudine followed Sookie’s gaze and smiled softly at her. “Your vampire already does things to show his care for you, dear cousin. They are things that wouldn’t occur to my own husband to do, but—then again—we are not a love match.” The fairy grinned. “The Werebear I met on my way here told me that she was here to guard us at Eric’s behest. And I can feel that you are comforted by her presence. Plus,” she paused, “Eric arranged for this.” She pushed the little box Sookie had noticed closer to her. “Or—at least—he arranged for part of it, and his idea led to my own addition,” she added with barely-contained excitement.
Sookie opened the box and saw two items that immediately brought tears to her eyes. She pulled out a picture of Gran, Jason, and herself, which had been taken in the spring—right when the azaleas were in bloom. Hoyt had come over to Gran’s with Jason for lunch the day the picture had been taken, and he’d had a new digital camera that he was snapping pictures with. Sookie had asked him to print one out, and she’d framed it and given it to Gran for Mother’s Day.
The other item was a pocket watch that Sookie recognized immediately even though she’d not seen it for almost two decades. It was her granddad Earl’s pocket watch. Fintan’s watch. Sookie put down the picture and touched the watch lovingly, tracing her fingers over the leaves and filigree in the design.
“Niall told me and Leonie that you were unconscious when he and Eric made their deal for me to come here.”
“I was,” Sookie whispered. “I had fainted. I kind of lost it when I found out that I’d basically trapped Eric into the Fae bond. You see, we made it at probably the worst moment of his life, and I’ll always wonder if he accepted it just because he was so vulnerable then.” Sookie shook her head as a tear fell from her eye. “Eric looked so betrayed in the moment Niall told us about the Fae bond. And I saw his eyes when he realized that what he was feeling for me had been made by the bond.”
“That must have hurt you very much,” Claudine said as she brushed away a tear of her own.
“Yeah,” Sookie admitted. “And then I just got so mad at myself for doing that to him—for doing the same kind of thing that Bill had done to me. For forcing Eric to love me.”
“Surely you cannot blame yourself,” Claudine said. “You did not know about the bond.”
“It didn’t matter. All I could feel was anger at myself for needing a connection so badly that I’d forged one with someone who was in the midst of sorrow when it was made. And then, all I could feel was pain because I realized that almost everything that had happened between Eric and me up until then had been influenced by the Fae bond. I had trapped him into a future that he would never have agreed to if he’d been given a choice.”
“But that was not your fault,” Claudine reiterated forcefully.
“I know that—now. At least, I know it here,” Sookie said as she pointed to her head. “And that has made things better for me. Eric and I have both had time to process things now, and—as I said—I couldn’t stop myself from still loving him.”
Claudine sighed. “It seems that he cannot help himself either. The watch is proof of that.”
Sookie looked at her in question.
“Eric asked that Niall give you something to remind you of your grandfather—a keepsake. A remembrance. According to Niall, the vampire was concerned that you had been made to leave everything behind at your own home. He felt that you would be more content if you had a remembrance of your family, and he said you retained only nice memories of Fintan.”
Sookie sniffed. “He didn’t tell me about that.”
“Niall didn’t guarantee that he’d get the keepsake. He said only that he would consider it. It was Leonie who convinced Niall to give you the watch. She also helped me to get the picture.”
“How?” Sookie asked.
Claudine smiled. “Leonie was with me when Niall came to tell me of the deal he’d made with your vampire—about the arrangement for me to visit you. Grandmother was helping me to get my affairs in order so that I could return to Faerie.”
“Wait,” Sookie said with confusion. “I saw you in Faerie when Niall tried to take me there.”
Claudine shook her head. “You must have seen my sister Claudette. We look exactly alike, and she is already in Faerie. After hearing about what had happened with you and Eric, Leonie popped to Faerie in order to get you the watch.”
“But the time difference between us and Faerie?” Sookie observed in a questioning tone. “How could she get this so quickly?”
Claudine smiled. “She knew where she was going—of course. And she lingered in Faerie for only a minute—two human days.”
Sookie nodded in understanding and looked back at the pocket watch.
“Did you know that it was given to Fintan by Adele?” Claudine asked.
“It was?” Sookie asked, looking at the object in her hand even more closely.
“Open it,” Claudine instructed.
Sookie opened the lid and read the inscription. “Always remember—if I could love you for all time, I would. Yours, Adele.”
Sookie sniffed again, trying to hold back her tears. “And the picture?” she asked, looking once more toward the framed photograph on the table.
“Well—as I said—Leonie is able to conceal her scent, so when I had the idea to bring you something from your home in Bon Temps as well, she chose this. She also visited your brother and checked on your friends. One of Leonie’s Fae gifts is similar to the glamouring that a vampire can do, so Jason was more than happy to speak with her.”
“Really? How are they?” Sookie asked, thirsty for information about the people she loved.
“Your brother, Sam Merlotte, and Lafayette Reynolds are being watched by Russell Edgington, but they are all fine. Jason has been glamoured by Bill Compton more than once.”
Sookie gasped with concern.
“Do not worry. He has not been harmed by it. And from what Leonie could discern, Jason did not tell Compton anything of importance—because the vampire, thankfully, failed to ask the right questions. Your brother was asked if he knew where you were, and he did not. He was asked if he knew where Tara Thornton was, and he did not. Jason is to call Bill if he learns where either of you is. Leonie later found out that Lafayette and the shifter had been glamoured in a similar way.”
“I didn’t know that shifters could be glamoured,” Sookie said with surprise.
“It is more difficult, but Mr. Compton seems quite skilled in his glamour—at least in the ability to accomplish it.”
Sookie’s brow furrowed as she thought about her inability to resist Bill’s woven dream.
Claudine continued her report. “Your house also has a constant guard. Leonie went during the daytime, and she discerned several Weres outside your home. She also smelled the scents of several vampires. Do not fear, however; the Weres didn’t detect her. She asked me to let you know that one of the Weres, in particular, has an extreme, sociopathic hatred for you. She picked up the name Debbie Pelt from her head.”
Sookie nodded and sighed. She wasn’t surprised. “What about Tara?”
“Jason told Leonie that Tara is with a Werewolf named Alcide Herveaux.” She lowered her voice. “After you disappeared from the hospital, Jason and your friends figured that Eric would either drain you or take you to Russell. Alcide and Tara decided their best bet was to run, but Alcide was purposely vague about their destination. Lafayette and Jason decided to return to Bon Temps. Sookie, I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your brother and your friends believe that you are dead by Eric’s hand. They also told this supposition to Bill while they were under the influence of his glamour.”
Sookie shook her head sadly. She’d hated having to leave everyone without a word, but she knew that they would be in greater danger if she tried to contact them. “It’s probably better for them that way,” Sookie said sadly. “At least they’ll stay safe.”
“Yes,” Claudine agreed with sorrow in her own tone.
“Does Bill know where Tara and Alcide went?” Sookie asked, suddenly very concerned.
“No,” Claudine assured. “From what Leonie gathered, Bill never found out that Jason and Lafayette had been at the hospital, so he has never asked them questions about Alcide, which might have brought out information he could have used.”
“But surely Bill would have smelled that Jason and the others were there—at the hospital—right?”
Claudine shook her head. “Not necessarily. He would have asked Jason about it if he had. Between the disinfectant smells in the hospital and the smell of the Werewolf—not to mention you and Eric—Bill probably missed the fact that Jason and Lafayette had been there. Lafayette has a similar scent to Tara since they are related, and Jason’s scent is similar to yours, though not as strong. Just in case, however, Leonie wiped Jason’s memory of your time in the hospital. She did the same to Lafayette too.”
“Do not worry,” Claudine assured, picking up Sookie’s apprehension. “Leonie just took the memories of that night from their minds to protect them—and your friends Tara and Alcide. And then she took away the memory of her visit. But that is all. What she did wouldn’t have harmed them.”
“I know it was for the best,” Sookie relented. “I just don’t like the idea of people being glamoured and their memories taken away. Eric does it too—to keep us safe―and it’s usually not that big of a deal, but I’ve been around people who have been glamoured too much,” she shivered, thinking of Ginger, “and I’m afraid for the people I love.”
Claudine nodded in understanding.
“Will you thank your grandmother for me?” Sookie asked as she touched the picture. “Will you thank her for all her help? And for taking care of Jason and Lafayette too?”
“Of course,” Claudine smiled. “Now—shall we practice your skills?”
Sookie nodded in affirmation and then followed Claudine off the porch.