Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
Running on – running on empty
Running on – running blind
Running on – running into the sun
But I’m running behind
—lyrics from “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne
Sookie was nervous—very nervous. They were circling Phoenix, hoping to stall their confrontation with the Weres so that Leonie and Claude would be able to help them.
“Calm down,” Eric said, for what must have been the thousandth time.
“Eric!” she said with warning in her tone. “I’m nervous. And I’m scared. And there are at least ten Weres behind us—and a flippin’ Weretiger! And our plan is half-based on the idea that I will be able to sustain my light powers. And we’re almost out of gas, so we won’t be able to do another lap around the city! And that means they’ll catch up with us BEFORE my freakin’ fairy great-grandmother or godmother or whatever gets there! And I have to pee like a race horse! Oh—and I’m pre-menstrual!”
There was a low growl into the Bluetooth and the sparks that she felt when Eric was awake got a little stronger.
“Menstrual blood,” Eric rumbled. “Lover, you have made my day—and nobody’s made my day in a thousand years.”
Sookie gasped. “Eric!” she yelled. “Gross!”
“What?” Eric said innocently into the Bluetooth. “I love your blood. I love your pussy. It will be like the best of everything I love!”
“Eric!” she said warningly.
“Now we must live!” he said, trying to sound playful. “I will not miss the time of your menses.”
“Eric!” she said again, this time laughing a little. She couldn’t help herself. The mixture of his playfulness and his sincere excitement was a combination that she couldn’t be upset with. And—truthfully—she needed to laugh a little. Just so she wouldn’t cry.
“How long do your menses last, lover?” he purred. His tone of voice vibrated in such a way that her core throbbed as well.
“Eric,” she half-warned and half-whimpered.
“How long?” he asked again.
“Three days,” she responded. “Sometimes four.”
“Mmmm. Will you let me taste you during that time, lover? Will you let me distract you from any discomfort you feel?”
“Eric, that’s just . . . .” she stammered.
“Gross?” he asked. “No. I assure you. For a vampire, it is nice. The blood is rich and flavorful. In fact, I am certain that the presence of a menstrual cycle is one of the main reasons why Pam prefers women.”
“Eric,” Sookie warned again. He could feel her embarrassment. “I’m not gonna talk about this.”
“Are you blushing?” he asked in his panty-melting tone.
She looked in the rearview mirror. She was as red as a tomato. “No!” she said firmly.
“Are you lying?” he followed up, playful again.
“Yes,” she admitted with a snort of exasperation.
“Would you like to hear about how my human people viewed a woman’s menses?”
“Are you trying to distract me?” she asked. “Distract me from the three cars of Weres following me?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Fine!” she said.
She could hear the smile in his voice as he began. “Of course, the Vikings knew that a woman’s menses was a sign of fertility, so the women of my village would sometimes bury the cloth they used to capture the flow of their blood at the four corners of our crops in order to spur their growth and to protect them.”
“That’s so . . . ,” Sookie started.
“Gross?” Eric chuckled. “The menses were simply a part of life to my people. As with sex and nudity, there was no shame in the menstrual cycle. Why would there be? During the time of her menses, a woman was thought to be at her full power, and when someone was injured or ill, it was seen as lucky to have a menstruating woman caring for him or her.”
Sookie laughed ruefully. “Didn’t the women of your time have cramps? And mood swings?”
“Of course,” Eric said, the smile returning to his tone. Sookie could imagine the twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. “My father stayed well away from my mother during the first day of her menses. And I got many a broom to the side of my head because I didn’t learn that lesson until well into my teen years.”
Sookie’s laugh was genuine now. “I think I would have liked your mother.”
She heard Eric’s sigh. “She would have been happy to see me settled with a woman—though she would be disappointed that it took a thousand years.”
“Are you settled with me, Eric?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
“And are you settling? Settling for something you didn’t really want?”
“No,” he said softly, but quickly. Again, the little electric sparks got stronger in her body. She was starting to recognize that they did that when Eric was feeling something strongly. She didn’t allow herself to contemplate what his current feelings might be, but it comforted her that those emotions were strong.
“What was her name? Your mother?”
“That’s a beautiful name,” she smiled. “And your dad?”
“Your baby sister?”
“Your name seems so—uh—ordinary in comparison.”
He chuckled. “I modernized my name many years ago. In my human days, I was called Eiríkr.”
“Eiríkr,” she repeated. “I love that.”
“You have a good accent,” he complimented.
“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “When did you change your name?”
“I’ve changed my name many times to fit the times and places in which I’ve lived. Godric called me Eiríkr throughout most of my life. And I became Eric Northman in about 1700—though that was just to vampires. In the human world, I have had many, many names. I let myself be ‘Eric Northman’ to everyone after the Great Revelation.”
“Eiríkr,” she whispered again. “It suits you better than ‘Eric’—it sounds like you.”
He chuckled. “Thanks.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
There were several moments of silence between them.
“I know,” she said again.
“You will be coming up on the exit soon,” he said. “South 7th Street.”
“I saw a sign for it. Two miles until the exit,” she said.
“Sookie, Leonie texted. They will not be far behind us. And you will be able to hold them off until she and Claude get there.”
“Okay,” Sookie said, though her nerves and her fear had ratcheted back up. “Remind me again why I can’t just drive to the nearest police station?”
“Brady has discovered that many of the policemen in this state are on the payroll of King Sampson. And there are many Weres on the force too.”
“How much gas do you have?” he asked.
“It’s on empty,” she whimpered. “Below the empty line.”
“It will be enough,” he said. “Not much farther.”
Sookie steeled herself and tried to push back her fear. Eric needed her. She thought about the last several hours. As they’d been driving, they’d considered many scenarios: some involving Sookie trying to get help from the police, some where she drove to crowded places, and one where she even drove to the main headquarters of that state’s Fellowship of the Sun. Eric had spent time on the phone with Brady and then had talked to Elina, trying to figure out if there were any ‘friendly’ Weres in Arizona—anyone else who could be trusted to help them. However, they’d been able to find no potential allies in the state of Felipe’s child.
After that, everything became a matter of timing as Eric’s plan came together. And that plan centered around two simple truths: the car was going to run out of gas, and that was going to happen well before sunset.
Luckily, Eric and Sookie had several things working in their favor. First, the Weres didn’t—as a whole—think that she was ‘Sookie Stackhouse.’ The first Were she’d encountered at the café, Ray, had—at a certain point—relayed to the others that she looked ‘similar’ to the telepath in the pictures that had been circulated around the kingdom beginning the night after Sookie and Eric’s disappearance from the hospital. Ray was beginning to doubt his own theory, however. Apparently, Ray had encountered a fairy before, and the Fae scent at the café had altered his idea about whom he’d seen. So that meant that Russell likely hadn’t told his allies, Felipe and Sampson, that Sookie was a fairy—just that she smelled sweeter than most humans.
Once other cars had joined the little Were convoy behind Eric and Sookie, their pursuers had become a little more brazen—though they’d not opted to attract attention by forcing Sookie off the road or anything. However, they had gotten closer to the Prius, one of the cars even passing Sookie so that the occupant—a fucking Weretiger—could try to get a better look inside the vehicle. Of course, the windows of the car, which had become darker in the bright Arizona sun, had prevented that.
As the Weretiger had passed the Prius, Sookie had gotten a good look at him, but his thoughts told her that he couldn’t really see her. In that moment, Sookie had become extremely fond of Eric’s love of technology—and his carefulness. The cars behind her settled into a kind of rotation after that. Most of the Weres were convinced that she was unaware of them following her—despite the fact that she’d basically “circled” the city twice.
So—at least—that was good.
Also good was the fact that one of the vehicles in the Weres’ convoy, an SUV carrying five Werewolves, had been forced to stop for gas several miles back—lowering the total number she was hearing from sixteen to eleven: ten Weres and one Weretiger.
“You will turn onto East Washington Street soon,” Eric said. “Tell me the plan.”
Sookie took a deep breath. “I’m going to the parking garage on Washington and 1st Street.”
“How do you get there?”
“From Washington, I’ll turn left when I get to 1st. The garage entrance will be on my right.”
“Good,” Eric said.
Sookie tried to keep her breathing even. “How far away are Claude and Leonie.”
“Tell me the rest of the plan,” Eric said instead.
Sookie closed her eyes and looked over her shoulder as she stopped at a red light. It was the first time she’d stopped in hours. She felt her fear rising.
“Sookie!” Eric said insistently. “Tell me the plan.”
“Brady,” she said.
“What about him?”
“He found a parking garage that doesn’t have working cameras.”
“And I’m going to drive into it.”
“After I’m in the garage, I’ll turn to the right.”
“The lower level of the garage is usually closed off on weekdays, but Brady bribed the attendants, so the gate to the lower level will be open.”
“Yes,” Eric said. “Then?”
“I’m going to drive as fast as I can until I reach the southwest corner of the garage. That should be the darkest place.”
“As soon as I park, I’m going to pop out of the car.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to crouch in front of the car—in the corner.”
“When they come at me, I’m gonna hit them with everything I have until Claude and Leonie get here.”
“Damned right you are!”
“Eric, I’m scared.”
“How far away are Leonie and Claude?”
“They will be there five to seven minutes after we get there.”
Sookie exhaled a shaky breath and looked at the gas gauge. She couldn’t risk running out of gas by circling the parking garage a few times. She needed to get underground—just in case. The Weretiger had been thinking about simply ripping the car open in the sunlight. He was curious to know what vampire was inside—and anxious to kill “it.” According to Brady, the level of the parking garage they were going to would have very little light, though there were a few windows on the sides of the structure. The corner would give them the most cover.
She made the turn onto East Washington and watched the cross street numbers become lower and lower, like a countdown.
Eric listened to Sookie’s breathing in stereo—both through the Bluetooth and through his enclosure.
Of course, he could also feel her fear through their blood tie, and he could tell that she was having to concentrate on not hyperventilating. Eric lamented that there was little that he could do to make her feel better.
“I used to feel what you are feeling before a battle,” he said into the Bluetooth.
He heard her breathing catch a little.
“Tell me,” she whispered.
“I would always feel fear before I fought; it was how I knew that I was ready to hang on to my life with both hands. But I feel more than fear inside of you, min älskade. I feel your resolve and your courage. So I know that in the moment of the fight, your fear will fall away.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because you are a warrior, Sookie Stackhouse. To protect yourself and to protect those you care about, you will do what you must. And you will be ruthless as you do it.”
“You told me something like that in the first dream I ever had with you,” she said.
“It is the truth. I have always seen the fight in your eyes—the strength. But I still need you to promise me that you will flee if you must.”
“I can’t do that, Eric,” she said.
“I need you to promise me,” he said urgently. “I must know that you are safe.”
Sookie sighed. He’d been trying to get her to promise that she would run—that she would teleport away—if her light wasn’t enough to hold the Weres off. “But if I leave you, they might take you away or—worse—they might just try to open your cubby.”
“I have told you that they cannot,” Eric assured. “And you are just to hold them off for a little while—until Leonie and Claude arrive. The Weres won’t be able to remove the car without a tow truck of some kind. Leonie and Claude will be there before that could happen.”
They both felt a lurch as the car choked sluggishly on the small amount of gas it still had left.
Sookie immediately tensed.
“Where are we?” Eric asked. He had his phone set to GPS and had their exact location pinpointed, but he wanted confirmation.
“Stopped at the light on Washington and 2nd,” she answered. “One block away.”
After the light turned, Sookie pushed the accelerator, and the car moved forward. Eric heard Sookie’s sigh of relief. It was short-lived, however, as the car sputtered again. Sookie increased her speed, despite the car’s protest.
“I gotta make this green light,” she said to herself.
Eric didn’t protest her decision to use the remaining gas to avoid the light. In addition, if she barely caught it, the Weres would not. He felt the car turn left and then slow down.
“God—that was close,” Sookie breathed.
“Promise me, min älskade,” he said once more. “You must stay safe for me.”
“I promise,” she whispered.
Sookie pulled into the parking garage, and—as promised—the gate to the right had been lowered. Also—as promised—there was no attendant present as she drove into the garage.
Eric looked at the most recent text he’d gotten from Leonie. He knew that Claude was driving as fast as he dared, but there was some traffic at this time of day, and that had slowed the fairies down. They might be longer than seven minutes now.
Eric felt the car making more turns, and they seemed to be going lower. Suddenly, the car stuttered violently and then died.
“Shit!” Sookie exclaimed, trying to start the car again. The engine turned over, but the car did not start.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“In the middle of the lower level, but there’s sunlight here,” she said desperately. “It’s like it’s coming directly into the side windows because of the time of day. Eric—it’s right over us like a fucking spotlight!” Her breathing had become faster.
The vampire ran through contingencies. In the middle of the garage, Sookie would be exposed and vulnerable. Though his cubby was pretty much impenetrable, the rest of the car wasn’t. Had she made it to the corner of the garage, she would have had some cover and could have fired at the Weres using the car and the wall as her shields. But, now, things had changed.
“They’re coming,” Sookie said desperately.
Eric heard tires and brakes. “Look around, Sookie!” he said urgently. “Do you see anywhere you could teleport that would give you cover—where they couldn’t see you?”
“What about you?” she asked.
“They will sniff around the car for a while if you are gone. Leonie and Claude will come soon.”
“No!” Sookie said insistently. “I didn’t like that plan the first time you said it a hundred miles ago. I’m not leaving you like a sitting duck while I pop to safety.”
“You will have no cover here, Sookie,” Eric said. “They will get into this car, and when that happens, things will come to a head quickly. You will not be able to hold them off because they will come from all sides. Look now!” He ordered, “Do you see any cover?”
At the firmness in Eric’s tone, Sookie looked around the space. “Yes,” she whispered. “I can see some old crates and supplies in the corner.”
“I need you to pop yourself over there and then hide behind them.”
“Eric,” she said.
“Sookie, please.” He heard more tires screeching. “You must be safe. Keep the Bluetooth on.”
“Eric,” she said again.
“Eric, I need to tell you something—just in case something happens to us.”
“Nothing will happen, min älskade. Now, please, go. Be safe. Now, Sookie, please. I need you to go! NOW!”
The vampire heard a popping noise and knew that Sookie had done as he’d asked.
The air in the car coffin was stale since the space was sealed up. But Eric purposefully took a long breath of it into his lungs and then pushed it out. And then he said a prayer for Sookie’s safety.
The air hadn’t been needed.
The prayer had been.