From Dead to Worse
Chapter 4

 Charlaine Harris

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I checked my Word of the Day calendar while I was waiting for my hair-straightening iron to heat up. "Epicene." Huh.
Since I didn't know what restaurant we were going to, and I didn't know who we'd meet there, I picked my most comfortable option and wore a sky blue silk T-shirt that Amelia had said was too big for her, and some black dress slacks with black heels. I don't wear a lot of jewelry, so a gold chain and some little gold earrings did the decorating for me. I'd had a tough day at work, but I was too curious about the evening ahead to feel tired.
Eric was on time, and I felt (surprise) a rush of pleasure when I saw him. I don't think that was entirely due to the blood bond between us. I think any heterosexual woman would feel a rush of pleasure at the sight of Eric. He was a tall man and must have been seen as a giant in his time. He was built to swing a heavy sword to hew down his enemies. Eric's golden blond hair sprang back like a lion's mane from a bold forehead. There was nothing epicene about Eric, nothing ethereally beautiful, either. He was all male.
Eric bent to kiss me on the cheek. I felt warm and safe. This was the effect Eric had on me now that we'd swapped blood more than three times. The blood sharing hadn't been for pleasure but a necessity - at least I'd thought so - every time, but the price I paid was steep. We were bonded now, and when he was near, I was absurdly happy. I tried to enjoy the sensation, but knowing it wasn't completely natural made that hard to do.
Since Eric had come in his Corvette, I was extra glad I'd worn pants. Getting into and out of a Corvette modestly was a very difficult procedure if you were wearing a dress. I made small talk on the way to Shreveport, but Eric was uncharacteristically silent. I tried to question him about Jonathan, the mysterious vampire at the wedding, but Eric said, "We'll talk about that later. You haven't seen him again, have you?"
"No," I said. "Should I expect to?"
Eric shook his head. There was an uncomfortable pause. From the way he was gripping the wheel, I could tell that Eric was building up to saying something he didn't want to say.
"I'm glad for your sake that it appears Andre didn't survive the bombing," he said.
The queen's dearest child, Andre, had died in the bombing in Rhodes. But it hadn't been the bomb that had killed him. Quinn and I knew what had done the deed: a big splinter of wood that Quinn had driven into Andre's heart while the vampire lay disabled. Quinn had killed Andre for my sake, because he knew Andre had plans for me that made me sick with fear.
"I'm sure the queen will miss him," I said carefully.
Eric shot me a sharp glance. "The queen is distraught," he said. "And her healing will take months more. What I was beginning to say..." His voice trailed off.
This wasn't like Eric. "What?" I demanded.
"You saved my life," he said. I'd turned to look at him, but he was looking straight ahead at the road. "You saved my life, and Pam's, too."
I shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, well." Miss Articulate. The silence lengthened until I felt I had to say something else. "We do have the blood tie thing going."
Eric didn't respond for a stretch of time. "That's not why you came to wake me, first of all, the day the hotel blew up," he said. "But we won't talk further about this now. You have a big evening ahead."
Yes, boss, I said snippily, but only to myself.
We were in a part of Shreveport I didn't know too well. It was definitely out of the main shopping area, with which I was fairly familiar. We were in a neighborhood where the houses were large and the lawns were groomed. The businesses were small and pricey... what retailers called "boutiques." We pulled into a group of such shops. It was arranged in an L, and the restaurant was at the rear of the L. It was called Les Deux Poissons. There were maybe eight cars parked there, and each one of them represented my yearly income. I looked down at my clothes, feeling suddenly uneasy.
"Don't worry, you're beautiful," Eric said quietly. He leaned over to unbuckle my seat belt (to my astonishment), and as he straightened he kissed me again, this time on the mouth. His bright blue eyes blazed out of his white face. He looked as if a whole story was on the tip of his tongue. But then he swallowed it back and unfolded himself from the car to walk around to my side to open the door for me. Maybe I wasn't the only one this blood bond worked on, huh?
From his tension I realized that some major event was coming at me fast, and I began to be afraid. Eric took my hand as we walked across to the restaurant, and he ran his thumb absently across my palm. I was surprised to find out there was a direct line from my palm to my, my, hootchie.
We stepped into the foyer, where there was a little fountain and a screen that blocked the view of the diners. The woman standing at the podium was beautiful and black, her hair shaved very close to her skull. She wore a draped dress of orange and brown and the highest heels I had ever seen. She might as well have been wearing toe shoes. I looked at her closely, and I sampled the signature of her brain, and I found she was human. She smiled brilliantly at Eric and had the sense to give me a share of that smile.
"A party of two?" she said.
"We're meeting someone," Eric said.
"Oh, the gentleman..."
"Right this way, please." Her smile replaced by a look almost of envy, she turned and walked gracefully into the depths of the restaurant. Eric gestured for me to follow her. The interior was fairly dark, and candles flickered on the tables, which were covered with snowy white cloths and elaborately folded napkins.
My eyes were on the hostess's back, so when she came to a halt, I didn't immediately recognize that she'd stopped at the table where we were to sit. She stepped aside. Seated facing me was the lovely man who'd been at the wedding two nights before.
The hostess spun on her high heel, touched the back of the chair to the man's right to indicate I should sit there, and told us our server would be with us. The man rose to pull out my chair and hold it for me. I glanced back at Eric. He gave me a reassuring nod. I slipped in front of the chair and the man pushed it forward with perfect timing.
Eric didn't sit. I wanted him to explain what was happening, but he didn't speak. He looked almost sad.
The beautiful man was looking at me intently. "Child," he said to get my attention. Then he pushed back his long, fine golden hair. None of the other diners were positioned to see what he was showing me.
His ear was pointed. He was a fairy.
I knew two other fairies. But they avoided vampires at all costs, because the smell of a fairy was as intoxicating to a vampire as honey is to a bear. According to a vampire who was particularly gifted in the scent sense, I had a trace of fairy blood.
"Okay," I said, to let him know the ears had registered.
"Sookie, this is Niall Brigant," Eric said. He pronounced it "Nye-all."
"He's going to talk to you over supper. I'll be outside if you need me." He inclined his head stiffly to the fairy and then he was gone.
I watched Eric walk away, and I was bowled over with a rush of anxiety. Then I felt a hand on top of my own. I turned to meet the eyes of the fairy.
"As he said, my name is Niall." His voice was light, sexless, resonant. His eyes were green, the deepest green you can imagine. In the flickering candlelight, the color hardly mattered - it was the depth you noticed. His hand on mine was light as a feather but very warm.
"Who are you?" I asked, and I wasn't asking him to repeat his name.
"I'm your great-grandfather," Niall Brigant said.
"Oh, shit," I said, and covered my mouth with my hand. "Sorry, I just..." I shook my head. "Great-grandpa?" I said, trying out the concept. Niall Brigant winced delicately. On a real man, the gesture would have looked effeminate, but on Niall it didn't.
Lots of kids in our neck of the woods call their grandfathers "Papaw." I'd love to see his reaction to that. The idea helped me recover my scattered sense of self.
"Please explain," I said very politely. The waiter came to inquire after our drink orders and recite the specials of the day. Niall ordered a bottle of wine and told him we would have the salmon. He did not consult me. High-handed.
The young man nodded vigorously. "Great choice," he said. He was a Were, and though I would have expected him to be curious about Niall (who after all was a supernatural being not often encountered), I seemed to be of more interest. I attributed that to the waiter's youth and my boobs.
See, here's the weird thing about meeting my self-proclaimed relative: I never doubted his truthfulness. This was my true great-grandfather, and the knowledge just clicked into place as if it fit into a puzzle.
"I'll tell you all about it," Niall said. Very slowly, telegraphing his intention, he leaned over to kiss my cheek. His mouth and eyes crinkled as his facial muscles moved to frame the kiss. The fine cobweb of wrinkles did not in any way detract from his beauty; he was like very old silk or a crackled painting by an ancient master.
This was a big night for getting kissed.
"When I was still young, perhaps five or six hundred years ago, I used to wander among the humans," Niall said. "And every now and then, as a male will, I'd see a human woman I found appealing."
I glanced around so I wouldn't be staring at him every second, and I noticed a strange thing: no one was looking at us but our waiter. I mean, not even a casual glance strayed our way. And no human brains in the room were even registering our presence. My great-grandfather paused while I did this, and resumed speaking when I'd finished evaluating the situation.
"I saw such a woman in the woods one day, and her name was Einin. She thought I was an angel." He was silent for a moment. "She was delicious," he said. "She was lively, and happy, and simple." Niall's eyes were fixed on my face. I wondered if he thought I was like Einin: simple. "I was young enough to be infatuated, young enough to be able to ignore the inevitable end of our connection as she aged and I did not. But Einin got pregnant, which was a shock. Fairies and humans don't crossbreed often. Einin gave birth to twins, which is quite common among the fae. Einin and both boys lived through the birthing, which in those times was far from certain. She called our older son Fintan. The second was Dermot."
The waiter brought our wine, and I was jerked out of the spell Niall's voice had laid on me. It was like we'd been sitting around a campfire in the woods listening to an ancient legend, and then snap! We were in a modern restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana, and there were other people around who had no idea what was going on. I automatically lifted my glass and took a sip of wine. I felt I was entitled.
"Fintan the Half Fairy was your paternal grandfather, Sookie," Niall said.
"No. I know who my grandfather was." My voice was shaking a little, I noticed, but it was still very quiet. "My grandfather was Mitchell Stackhouse and he married Adele Hale. My father was Corbett Hale Stackhouse, and he and my mom died in a flash flood when I was a little girl. Then I was raised by my grandmother Adele." Though I remembered the vampire in Mississippi who'd told me he detected a trace of fairy blood in my veins, and I believed this was my great-grandfather, I just couldn't adjust my inner picture of my family.
"What was your grandmother like?" Niall asked.
"She raised me when she didn't have to," I said. "She took me and Jason into her home, and she worked hard to raise us right. We learned everything from her. She loved us. She had two children herself and buried them both, and that must have about killed her, but still she was strong for us."
"She was beautiful when she was young," Niall said. His green eyes lingered on my face as if he were trying to find some trace of her beauty in her granddaughter.
"I guess," I said uncertainly. You don't think about your grandmother in terms of beauty, at least in the normal way of things.
"I saw her after Fintan made her pregnant," Niall said. "She was lovely. Her husband had told her he could not give her children. He'd had mumps at the wrong time. That's a disease, isn't it?" I nodded. "She met Fintan one day when she was beating a rug out on the clothesline, in back of the house where you now live. He asked her for a drink of water. He was smitten on the spot. She wanted children so badly, and he promised her he could give them to her."
"You said fairies and people weren't usually fertile when they crossbreed."
"But Fintan was only half fairy. And he already knew that he was able to give a woman a child." Niall's mouth quirked. "The first woman he loved died in childbirth, but your grandmother and her son were more fortunate, and then two years later she was able to carry Fintan's daughter to completion."
"He raped her," I said, almost hoping it was so. My grandmother had been the most true-blue woman I'd ever met. I couldn't picture her cheating anyone out of anything, particularly since she'd promised in front of God to be faithful to my grandfather.
"No, he did not. She wanted children, though she didn't want to be unfaithful to her husband. Fintan didn't care about the feelings of others, and he wanted her desperately," Niall said. "But he was never violent. He would not have raped her. However, my son could talk a woman into anything, even into something against her moral judgment... And if she was very beautiful, so was he."
I tried to see the woman she must have been, in the grandmother I'd known. And I just couldn't.
"What was your father like, my grandson?" Niall asked.
"He was a handsome guy," I said. "He was a hard worker. He was a good dad."
Niall smiled slightly. "How did your mother feel about him?" That question cut sharply into my warm memories of my father. "She, ah, she was really devoted to him." Maybe at the expense of her children.
"She was obsessed?" Niall's voice was not judgmental but certain, as if he knew my answer.
"Real possessive," I admitted. "Though I was only seven when they died, even I could see that. I guess I thought it was normal. She really wanted to give him all her attention. Sometimes Jason and I were in the way. And she was really jealous, I remember." I tried to look amused, as if my mother being so jealous of my father was a charming quirk.
"It was the fairy in him that made her hold on so strongly," Niall said. "It takes some humans that way. She saw the supernatural in him, and it enthralled her. Tell me, was she a good mother?"
"She tried hard," I whispered.
She had tried. My mother had known how to be a good mother theoretically. She knew how a good mother acted toward her children. She'd made herself go through all the motions. But all her true love had been saved for my father, who'd been bemused by the intensity of her passion. I could see that now, as an adult. As a child, I'd been confused and hurt.
The red-haired Were brought our salad and set it down in front of us. He wanted to ask us if we needed anything else, but he was too scared. He'd picked up on the atmosphere at the table.
"Why did you decide now to come meet me?" I asked. "How long have you known about me?" I put my napkin in my lap and sat there holding the fork. I should take a bite. Wasting was not part of the way I'd been raised. By my grandmother. Who'd had sex with a half fairy (who'd wandered into the yard like a stray dog). Enough sex over enough time to produce two children.
"I've known about your family for the past sixty years, give or take. But my son Fintan forbade me seeing any of you." He carefully put a bit of tomato into his mouth, held it there, thought about it, chewed it. He ate the way I would if I was visiting an Indian or Nicaraguan restaurant.
"What changed?" I said, but I figured it out. "So your son is dead now."
"Yes," he said, and put down the fork. "Fintan is dead. After all, he was half human. And he'd lived for seven hundred years."
Was I supposed to have an opinion about this? I felt so numb, as though Niall had shot Novocain into my emotional center. I probably should ask how my - my grandfather had come to die, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
"So you decided to come tell me about this - why?" I was proud of how calm I sounded.
"I'm old, even for my kind. I would like to know you. I can't atone for the way your life has been shaped by the heritage Fintan gave you. But I will try to make your life a little easier, if you'll permit me."
"Can you take the telepathy away?" I asked. A wild hope, not unmixed with fear, flared in me like a sunspot.
"You are asking if I can remove something from the fiber of your being," Niall said. "No, I can't do that."
I slumped in my chair. "Thought I'd ask," I said, fighting away tears. "Do I get three wishes, or is that with genies?"
Niall regarded me with no humor at all. "You wouldn't want to meet a genie," he said. "And I'm not a figure of fun. I am a prince."
"Sorry," I said. "I'm having a little trouble coping with all this... Great-grandfather." I didn't remember my human great-grandfathers. My grandfathers - okay, I guess one of them hadn't truly been my grandfather - hadn't looked or acted a thing like this beautiful creature. My grandfather Stackhouse died sixteen years ago, and my mother's parents had died before I was into my teens. So I'd known my grandmother Adele much better than any of the others, actually much better than I'd known my true parents.
"Hey," I said. "How come Eric fetched me for you? You're fairy, after all. Vampires go nuts when they smell fairies."
In fact, most vampires lost their self-control when they were around fairies. Only a very disciplined vampire could behave when a fairy got within smelling distance. My fairy god-mother, Claudine, was terrified of being anywhere around a bloodsucker.
"I can suppress my essence," Niall said. "They can see me but not smell me. It's a convenient magic. I can keep humans from even noticing me, as you have observed."
The way he said this let me know that he was not only very old and very powerful, but he was also very proud. "Did you send Claudine to me?" I said.
"Yes. I hope she's been of use. Only people of part-fae blood can have such a relationship with a fairy. I knew you needed her."
"Oh, yes, she's saved my life," I said. "She's been wonderful." She'd even taken me shopping. "Are all fairies as nice as Claudine, or as beautiful as her brother?"
Claude, male stripper and now entrepreneur, was as handsome as a man could get, and he had the personality of a self-absorbed turnip.
"Dear one," Niall said, "we are all beautiful to humans; but some fairies are very nasty indeed."
Okay, here came the downside. I had a strong feeling that finding out I had a great-grandfather who was a full-blooded fairy was supposed to be good news, from Niall's point of view - but that it wasn't a completely iced cupcake. Now I would get the bad news.
"You went many years without being found," Niall said, "in part because that was what Fintan wanted."
"But he watched me?" I almost felt warmth in my heart at hearing that.
"My son was remorseful that he'd condemned two children to the half-in, half-out existence he'd experienced as a fairy who wasn't truly a fairy. I'm afraid the others of our race weren't kind to him." My great-grandfather's gaze was steady. "I did my best to defend him, but it wasn't enough. Fintan also found he wasn't human enough to pass as human, at least not for more than a short time."
"You don't look like this normally?" I asked, very curious.
"No." And just for a split second, I saw an almost blinding light, with Niall in the middle of it, beautiful and perfect. No wonder Einin had thought he was an angel.
"Claudine said she was working her way up," I said. "What does that mean?" I was floundering through this conversation. I felt like I'd been knocked down to my knees by all this information, and I was struggling to get to my emotional feet. I wasn't having a very successful time doing it.
"She shouldn't have told you that," Niall said. He debated with himself for a second or two before continuing. "Shifters are humans with a genetic twist, vampires are dead humans transformed into something different, but the fae have only a basic shape in common with humans. There are many kinds of fae - from the grotesque, like goblins, to the beautiful, like us." He said this quite unself-consciously.
"Are there angels?"
"Angels are yet another form, and one which has undergone an almost complete transformation, physical and moral. It can take hundreds of years to become an angel."
Poor Claudine.
"But enough about this," Niall said. "I want to know about you. My son kept me from your father and your aunt, and then from their children. His death came too late for me to know your cousin Hadley. But now I can see you and touch you." Which, incidentally, Niall was doing in a way that wasn't exactly human: if his hand wasn't holding mine, it was placed flat against my shoulder, or my back. This wasn't exactly the way humans related, but it wasn't hurting me. I wasn't as freaked out as I might have been, since I'd noticed Claudine was very touchy-feely, too. Since I couldn't get telepathic vibes from fairies, this much contact was tolerable. With a regular human being, I'd be bombarded with thoughts, since touch increased my sensitivity to telepathic contact.
"Did Fintan have any other children or grandchildren?" I asked. It would be nice to have more family.
"We'll talk of that later," Niall said, which sent up an immediate red flag. "Now that you know me a little," he said, "please tell me what I can do for you."
"Why should you do anything for me?" I said. We'd had the genie conversation. I wasn't going to revisit that.
"I can tell that your life has been hard. Now that I am allowed to see you, let me help you in some way."
"You sent me Claudine. She's been a big help," I repeated. Without the crutch of my sixth sense, I was having trouble understanding my great-grandfather's emotional and mental set. Was he grieving for his son? What had their relationship really been? Had Fintan thought he was doing us all a good deed in keeping his dad away from the Stackhouses all these years? Was Niall evil, or did he have bad intentions toward me? He could have done something awful to me from afar without going to the trouble of meeting me and paying for an expensive dinner.
"You wouldn't want to explain any more, huh?"
Niall shook his head, his hair brushing his shoulders like strands of gold and silver spun out to incredible fineness.
I had an idea. "Can you find my boyfriend?" I asked hopefully.
"You have a man? Besides the vampire?"
"Eric is not my man, but since I've had his blood a few times, and he's had mine..."
"That's why I approached you through him. You have a tie to him."
"I have known Eric Northman for a long time. I thought you would come if he asked you to. Did I do wrong?"
I was startled at this appeal. "No, sir," I said. "I don't think I'd have come if he hadn't told me it was okay. He wouldn't have brought me if he hadn't trusted you... At least, I don't think so."
"Do you want me to kill him? End the tie?"
"No!" I said, getting kind of excited in a bad way. "No!"
A few people actually glanced at us for the first time, hearing my agitation despite my great-grandfather's don't-look influence.
"The other boyfriend," Niall said, and took another bite of his salmon. "Who is he and when did he vanish?"
"Quinn the weretiger," I said. "He's been gone since the explosion in Rhodes. He was hurt, but I saw him afterward."
"I heard about the Pyramid," Niall said. "You were there?"
I told him about it, and my newly discovered great-grandfather listened with a refreshing lack of judgment. He was neither horrified nor appalled, and he didn't feel sorry for me. I really liked that.
While I talked, I had a chance to regroup my emotions. "You know what?" I said when there was a natural pause. "Don't look for Quinn. He knows where I am, and he's got my number." In more ways than one, I thought sourly. "He'll show up when he feels like he can, I guess. Or not."
"But that leaves me with nothing to do as a gift for you," my great-grandfather said.
"Just give me a raincheck," I said, smiling, and then had to explain the term to him. "Something'll come up. Am I... Can I talk about you? To my friends?" I asked. "No, I guess not." I couldn't imagine telling my friend Tara that I had a new great-grandfather who was a fairy. Amelia might be more understanding.
"I want to keep our relationship a secret," he said. "I am so glad to know you finally, and I want to know you better." He laid his hand against my cheek. "But I have powerful enemies, and I wouldn't want them to think of harming you to get at me."
I nodded. I understood. But it was kind of deflating to have a brand-new relative and be forbidden to talk about him. Niall's hand left my cheek to drift down to my own hand.
"What about Jason?" I asked. "Are you gonna talk to him, too?"
"Jason," he said, his face showing distaste. "Somehow the essential spark passed Jason by. I know he is made of the same material as you, but in him the blood has only shown itself in his ability to attract lovers, which after all is not much recommendation. He wouldn't understand or appreciate our connection."
Great-grandfather sounded pretty snotty when he said that. I started to say something in Jason's defense, but then I closed my mouth. I had to admit to my most secret self that Niall was almost certainly right. Jason would be full of demands, and he would talk.
"How often are you going to be around?" I said instead, striving hard to sound nonchalant. I knew I was expressing myself clumsily, but I didn't know how else to establish some framework for this new and awkward relationship.
"I'll try to visit you like any other relative would," he said.
I tried hard to picture that. Niall and I eating at the Hamburger Palace? Sharing a pew at church on a Sunday? I didn't think so.
"I feel like there's a lot you're not telling me," I said bluntly.
"Then we'll have something to talk about next time," he said, and one sea green eye winked at me. Okay, that was unexpected. He handed me a business card, another thing I didn't anticipate. It said simply, "Niall Brigant," with a telephone number centered beneath. "You can reach me at that number any time. Someone will answer."
"Thanks," I said. "I guess you know my phone number?" He nodded. I'd thought he was ready to leave, but he lingered. He seemed as reluctant to part as I was. "So," I began, clearing my throat. "What do you do all day?" I can't tell you how strange and neat it felt to be with a family member. I only had Jason, and he wasn't exactly a close brother, the kind you told everything to. I could count on him in a pinch, but hanging out together? Not going to happen.
My great-grandfather answered my question, but when I tried to recall it afterward, I couldn't come up with anything specific. I guess he did secret fairy-prince stuff. He did tell me he had part ownership in a bank or two, a company that made lawn furniture, and - and this seemed odd to me - a company that created and tested experimental medicine.
I looked at him doubtfully. "Medicine for humans," I said, to be sure I understood.
"Yes. For the most part," he responded. "But a few of the chemists make special things for us."
"For the fae."
He nodded, fine corn-silk hair falling around his face as his head moved. "There is so much iron now," he said. "I don't know if you realize that we are very sensitive to iron? And yet if we wear gloves every moment, we're too conspicuous in today's world." I looked at his right hand as it lay over mine on the white tablecloth. I extracted my fingers, stroked his skin. It felt oddly smooth.
"It's like an invisible glove," I said.
"Exactly." He nodded. "One of their formulas. But enough about me."
Just when it was getting interesting, I thought. But I could see that my great-grandfather had no real reason to trust me with all his secrets yet.
Niall asked me about my job, and my boss, and my routine, like a real great-grandfather would. Though he clearly didn't like the idea of his great-granddaughter working, the bar part of it didn't seem to disturb him. As I've said, Niall wasn't easy to read. His thoughts were his own as far as I was concerned; but I did notice that every now and then he stopped himself from speaking.
Eventually, dinner got eaten, and I glanced at my watch, astounded at how many hours had passed. I needed to go. I had to work the next day. I excused myself, thanking my great-grandfather (it still made me shiver, thinking of him that way) for the meal and very hesitantly leaning forward to kiss his cheek as he'd kissed mine. He seemed to hold his breath while I did so, and his skin felt soft and lustrous as a silky plum under my lips. Even though he could look like a human, he didn't feel like one.
He stood when I left, but he remained at the table - to take care of the bill, I assumed. I went outside without registering anything my eyes saw along the way. Eric was waiting for me in the parking lot. He'd had some TrueBlood while he was waiting, and he'd been reading in the car, which was parked under a light.
I was exhausted.
I didn't realize how nerve-wracking my dinner with Niall had been until I was out of his presence. Though I'd been sitting in a comfortable chair the whole meal, I was as tired as if we'd been talking while we were running.
Niall had been able to mask the fairy odor from Eric in the restaurant, but I saw from the flare of Eric's nostrils that the intoxicating scent clung to me. Eric's eyes closed in ecstasy, and he actually licked his lips. I felt like a T-bone just out of reach of a hungry dog.
"Snap out of it," I said. I wasn't in the mood.
With a huge effort, Eric reined himself in. "When you smell like that," he said, "I just want to fuck you and bite you and rub myself all over you."
That was pretty comprehensive, and I won't say I didn't have a second (split evenly between lust and fear) of picturing such activity. But I had larger issues to think about.
"Hold your horses," I said. "What do you know about fairies? Aside from how they taste?"
Eric looked at me with clearer eyes. "They're lovely, male and female both. Incredibly tough and ferocious. They aren't immortal, but they live a very long time unless something happens to them. You can kill them with iron, for example. There are other ways to kill them, but it's hard work. They like to keep to themselves for the most part. They like moderate climates. I don't know what they eat or drink when they're by themselves. They sample the food of other cultures; I've even seen a fairy try blood. They have a higher opinion of themselves than they have any right to. When they give their word, they keep it." He thought for a moment. "They have different magics. They can't all do the same things. And they are very magical. It's their essence. They have no gods but their own race, for they've often been mistaken for gods. In fact, some of them have taken on the attributes of a deity."
I gaped at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't mean they're holy," Eric said. "I mean that the fairies who inhabit the woods identify with the woods so strongly that to hurt one is to hurt the other. So they've suffered a great drop in numbers. Obviously, we vampires are not going to be up on fairy politics and survival issues, since we are so dangerous to them... simply because we find them intoxicating."
I'd never thought to ask Claudine about any of this. For one thing, she didn't seem to enjoy talking about being a fairy, and when she popped up, it was usually when I was in trouble and therefore sadly self-absorbed. For another thing, I'd imagined there were maybe a small handful of fairies left in the world, but Eric was telling me there once were as many fairies as there were vampires, though the fairy race was on the wane.
In sharp contrast, vampires - at least in America - were definitely on the increase. There were three bills wending their way through Congress dealing with vampire immigration. America had the distinction (along with Canada, Japan, Norway, Sweden, England, and Germany) of being a country that had responded to the Great Revelation with relative calm.
The night of the carefully orchestrated Great Revelation, vampires all over the world had appeared on television, radio, in person, whatever the best means of communication in the area might be, to tell the human population, "Hey! We actually exist. But we're not life threatening! The new Japanese synthetic blood satisfies our nutritional requirements."
The six years since then had been one big learning curve. Tonight I'd added a huge amount to my store of supernatural lore.
"So the vampires have the upper hand," I said.
"We're not at war," Eric said. "We haven't been at war for centuries."
"So in the past the vampires and the fairies have fought each other? I mean, like, pitched battles?"
"Yes," Eric said. "And if it came to that again, the first one I'd take out is Niall."
"He's very powerful in the fairy world. He is very magical. If he's sincere in his desire to take you under his wing, you're both very lucky and very unlucky." Eric started the car and we pulled out of the parking lot. I hadn't seen Niall come out of the restaurant. Maybe he'd just poofed out of the dining room. I hoped he'd paid our bill first.
"I guess I have to ask you to explain that," I said. But I had a feeling I didn't really want to know the answer.
"There were thousands of fairies in the United States once," Eric said. "Now there are only hundreds. But the ones that are left are very determined survivors. And not all of those are friends of the prince's."
"Oh, good. I needed another supernatural group who dislikes me," I muttered.
We drove through the night in silence, wending our way back to the interstate that would carry us east to Bon Temps. Eric seemed heavily thoughtful. I also had plenty of food for thought; more than I'd eaten at supper, that was for sure.
I found that on the whole, I felt cautiously happy. It was good to have a kind of belated great-grandfather. Niall seemed genuinely anxious to establish a relationship with me. I still had a heap of questions to ask, but they could wait until we knew each other better.
Eric's Corvette could go pretty damn fast, and Eric wasn't exactly sticking to the speed limit on the interstate. I wasn't awfully surprised when I saw the blinking lights coming up behind us. I was only astonished the cop car could catch up with Eric.
"A-hum," I said, and Eric cursed in a language that probably hadn't been spoken out loud in centuries. But even the sheriff of Area Five has to obey human laws these days, or at least he has to pretend to. Eric pulled over to the shoulder.
"With a vanity plate like BLDSKR, what do you expect?" I asked, not so secretly enjoying the moment. I saw the dark shape of the trooper emerging from the car behind us, walking up with something in his hand - clipboard, flashlight?
I looked harder. I reached out. A snarled mass of aggression and fear met my inner ear.
"Were! There's something wrong," I said, and Eric's big hand shoved me down into the floorboard, which would have provided a little more concealment if the car had been anything other than a Corvette.
Then the patrolman came up to the window and tried to shoot me.