Sookie pulled into the garage in Needles with her eyes glued to the rear view mirror.
“Calm down,” came Eric’s voice through the Bluetooth. “You are fine. Just breathe. I will be with you in two minutes.”
“Eric,” Sookie said as she held her breath while the garage door closed behind her.
“Shhh, little one. All is well. Just take deep breaths. You did well.”
“Eric,” she said again, this time, even more shakily.
“Count to sixty and I will be there.”
Sookie began counting quickly. “One. Two. Three.”
“Slower,” Eric said.
“Four. Five. Six. Seven.” She said, slowing down.
“Good,” keep going like that. “You are safe. We are fine.”
“Eric. I was so scared.”
“I know. Count.”
“Eight. Nine. Ten. Eric.”
“I love you, Eric.”
“I know. Count, Sookie.”
“I can’t remember where I left off.”
“Count down from ten.”
“Ten. Nine. Eight.”
“Seven. Six. Five. Four.”
Sookie took a deep breath. “Three. Two. One.”
In the next instant, Sookie heard the mechanism that controlled Eric’s coffin open. And then suddenly she was in his arms. All of the adrenaline that had fueled her for the last eight hours was gone as her tears started to fall.
“What if?” she stammered.
“Shhhh, min älskade,” he soothed. “We are together and we are fine.” He kissed her forehead.
“Eric,” she sobbed, all of her fear and anxiety from the day overwhelming her—draining the adrenaline that had been keeping her going, “I love you. I wanted to tell you so many times. I love you. I love you. I love you,” she repeated over and over as her tears overtook her completely. “I love you and I could have lost you. I could have lost you without ever saying it when you could hear it! I could have lost you. Lost you. Lost you. I love you. Love you. Love you,” she cried.
“Shhhh. It is fine now. I hear you, Sookie.” He rocked her body in his arms.
Eventually, her crying became hiccups, and she became aware that she was in a bed. Eric seemed to be all around her, holding her as tightly as she needed to be held.
“Sleep,” he said softly. “You took care of me. I will take care of you.”
“Eric, I thought I was going to lose you.” she repeated in a hoarse whisper.
“Sleep,” he whispered into her ear. “I have you. I promise. It is my turn now—my turn to take care of you.”
“Eric,” she said with a sigh as she finally let herself sink into him and into sleep.
After her breathing evened out, Eric kissed her forehead lightly and got up. Immediately, she stirred, her arms—even in her sleep—reaching for where he’d been.
“Shhh,” he whispered, as he bent down next to her. “I will be back soon. Sleep. All is well, min vackra älskade.”
She managed a nod. “One day I’ll learn that language,” she said almost imperceptibly and then fell back into an exhausted sleep.
Eric stared at Sookie for a few moments before leaving the bedroom and going to the garage. He grabbed his duffle bag and sped back into the house—this time to the bathroom where he stood looking at himself in the mirror. Blood smeared his face and had gotten into his hair and onto his T-shirt.
But he was alive. He was alive because of Sookie—because of his bonded.
He went back into the bedroom and gazed down at her for a moment. He felt the Fae bond inside of him throbbing and knew it was because of the trauma and stress they’d both endured that day. His own body was still weak—despite his having Sookie’s blood earlier—and he could feel Sookie’s exhaustion through the tie.
The day had almost taken her from him.
“Ek elska þik,” he whispered, in the first language he’d ever known. “I love you so fucking much it hurts,” he said as a tear slipped from his eye. The vampire wasn’t sure what to do with the words that he heard coming from his mouth—in two language, no less—or the feelings that fueled them, but he knew they were true. And it had taken almost losing her to make him understand that truth—and to understand that the origin of his feelings simply didn’t matter.
They were inside of him. They were a part of him.
And that—suddenly—was both enough and too much all at once.
But it was also bliss.
Eric pulled himself from Sookie’s side and moved quickly to the garage. He pulled all of his and Sookie’s belongings from the car and stacked them in a corner of the garage. He smiled when he ran across the coffeemaker Sookie had taken from the house in Taos because she knew that the Mammoth Lakes house wouldn’t have one yet.
His beloved needed her coffee. That was just one of the many things he now knew about her.
After everything was out of the car, he quickly lifted out the spare tire and removed the various license plates he’d had concealed in the bed of the vehicle—except for the plate that had been on the car at the start of the day. He then exchanged the California plates that were on the car with plates for Nevada. Eric smiled to himself. He was going to be putting the car right into the back-fucking-yard of one of Russell’s biggest allies, Felipe de Castro.
“Let Madden try to figure that out,” Eric said to himself with a smirk, as he quickly went inside and wet some dishrags. With them he wiped down any surface of the car that might hold Sookie’s finger prints, though he made sure to leave some of his own behind. The Viking couldn’t be certain that Victor would even check for prints, but Eric knew that he would if he were in Victor’s position—once he’d exhausted more traditional and “vampire” means of searching, that is. Eric also knew that Victor had likely already lifted some of his prints from one of his homes in Shreveport or from Fangtasia, so he’d have a lot with which to compare the prints in the car.
The Viking, however, didn’t want any trace of Sookie to be left behind, so he cleaned the car meticulously even though a slight trace of her wouldn’t seem out of place. After all, Russell and Bill knew that he’d taken Sookie from the hospital in Rustin. And they knew that she’d been with him for a couple of days before he’d supposedly killed her. Still, that had taken place weeks ago, so a small trace of Sookie could be explained, but a large amount of evidence of her might make them suspicious, especially after the day they’d just experienced.
Even as he was doing his cleaning, Eric was scanning the area using all of his senses. Since the next part of his plan was to be precarious and dangerous for his confederates, he waited for quite a while until he found a suitable human to do as he needed. He located a jogger, just as she was yelling a quick goodbye to her husband and telling him that she’d be back in an hour or so.
Making certain no one else was around in the early evening, Eric intercepted the human after the first block of her run and quickly glamoured her to proceed to the address of Eric’s safe-house, which was another three blocks down the street. He also glamoured the woman to wait in the shadows next to the house.
Then, Eric quickly flew back to the safe house and showered, making sure to scrub his head thoroughly in order to remove all of Octavia’s potion. He needed to leave his scent in the car.
His shower done, he quietly went into the bedroom and checked on Sookie. He found the usual stash of clothing and money waiting in the dresser there. He put a modest amount of money into the new duffel bag he found in the closet. He quickly dressed so that the clothing would smell like him and then undressed, placing that clothing into the duffel bag too. He tossed in his half-used bottle of shampoo and the towel that he’d just dried himself with. Its dampness would cause the contents of the bag to be a bit musty when Victor found them, but it would also suggest that Eric had been in a hurry.
And—as a bonus—the “ripe” scent would be unpleasant for Victor.
After the new duffel bag was packed to his liking, Eric dressed in fresh clothing. He checked on Sookie again, and finding her still in a deep sleep, he went to the garage and threw the duffel bag into the hatchback. He then got into his “car cubby” in order to leave his scent now that the potion wasn’t covering it. His also sat in the driver’s seat of the car for several minutes, as soon as he’d made sure that everything he and Sookie wanted to keep was out of the car. He took the spare car key from his pocket and put it into the ignition.
He chuckled as he noticed that the keychain was the one that Pam had given him when they’d opened Fangtasia. It had the Fangtasia logo on it and said, “Life sucks.” He decided to leave the keychain with the key as a little “fuck you” for Russell, Victor, and Felipe.
Next, Eric opened the garage door and found the human he’d glamoured. He gave the human a pair of gloves and a wad of cash and ordered the woman to take the car to a local carwash and vacuum the inside thoroughly before filling the car up with gasoline. Then, the woman was to drive back and park the car five blocks to the north of where they were. There, she would leave the car unlocked and the key under the floor mat. The woman would then throw the gloves away and forget that she’d done anything except have a nice jog.
Eric waited one minute after the woman had driven away. In order for Octavia’s potion to cover the scent of his possessions as well as his body, they had to be within a hundred feet of him. Once he was certain that the Prius was well out of range, he quickly took his remaining bottle of Octavia’s potion from his jacket pocket and applied a few drops to his forehead.
He then grabbed a few TrueBloods from the case in the garage and went inside to sit next to his bonded. All he could do now was to wait.
Forty minutes after the human left, Eric saw Sookie stirring. A moment later, he heard a vehicle approaching.
“Is it Leonie?” he whispered to a still half-asleep Sookie.
He could tell that she was reaching out with her telepathy. “Yeah,” she said tiredly.
“Stay here, min älskade,” Eric cooed. “Sleep. I will return soon.” She nodded and was soon out again.
Eric opened the garage door and was met by headlights. A dark SUV with tinted windows pulled into the space; as soon as it was parked, Eric closed the garage door.
He stayed back a bit as two people emerged from the vehicle: Leonie and her grandson, Claude. They had already figured prominently in the day’s events.
“How is Sookie?” Leonie asked, the concern in her voice clear.
“She is sleeping—resting.”
Leonie looked relieved. “Good. This is Claude. You two didn’t officially meet earlier.”
The two men exchanged a brief nod, with Claude leering at the handsome Viking.
“Any problems?” Eric asked, gesturing toward the car.
“No,” Leonie said. “And don’t worry. We bought the vehicle under the false name that Claude used to use when he was a dancer. No one will be able to trace it to you.”
“Thank you,” Eric said a little stiffly. “Thank you both.”
“Have there been any changes in what you need for us to do, Eric?” Leonie asked.
The vampire shook his head.
The beautiful fairy before him smiled kindly. “Tell my great-granddaughter that I will see her soon.”
“I will,” Eric said. “The car is approximately five blocks north of here. It will smell of me.”
Leonie nodded. “I will contact you when we are done with our task.”
Eric nodded as the fairies left the garage. Immediately, he packed up the new vehicle, stuffing everything into the back cargo space so that the back seat was free. He arranged the quilt and pillow Sookie had taken from the Slidell house a little more than a week before. He sighed as he thought about everything that had changed between them since then.
Tonight—in his arms—she’d cried herself to sleep for a very different reason than she had cried the week before as she’d lain in the car so that she could be close to him. A week ago, the Fae bond was something that he was getting used to—something that he resented deeply—but today it had helped to keep them both alive.
It had saved his life.
Sookie had saved his life.
Eric shook himself out of his musings for the moment and went into the house. He got his duffle bag and took it to the car before checking to make sure nothing was left behind.
Finally, the vampire went back to his sleeping bonded—his mate—and carefully picked her up, taking the quilt on the bed with her. It was in a style that Sookie liked; plus, it would add to the padding in the vehicle, thereby adding to her comfort. He thought about waking her to take care of her human needs, but he didn’t want to stop her from taking the rest she desperately needed.
Eric drove west on Interstate 40 with his eyes in his rearview mirror. He was still a little more than 370 miles from his and Sookie’s final destination and a half an hour out of Needles, and so far, there had been no signs of further trouble.
Though the SUV Leonie had secured was exactly what he had requested, it got poor gas mileage compared to the hybrid, and he knew he would have to stop for gasoline at least twice along his route.
He sighed as he thought about the Prius. On the open highway, that car was able to get almost 50 miles per gallon, and with an almost 12 gallon tank, the car could travel almost 600 miles in optimal conditions.
However, that day had not been optimal. He looked at the sleeping figure in the back seat. Sookie’s trip that day was supposed to be precisely 391.7 miles from her starting point outside of Gallup, New Mexico to the garage of his home in Needles, California. It should have taken her between five and six hours to get there.
Instead, she had been in the car for the whole day—more than twelve hours. And she’d driven almost 800 miles.
Eric monitored Sookie closely through their blood-tie as he re-lived their day and tried not to think about how he’d almost lost her.
A/N: Finally—the stubborn Viking has finally admitted what has been obvious to us for a while. He really loves Sookie—and not just because of the Fae bond!