“Step out of the car, Miss,” the officer ordered sharply.
Sookie continued to rifle through the bag.
“I said,” the man growled loudly, “step out of the car! And take your hands from your bag. Slowly. Right. Now!”
Eric heard the tell-tale sound of the policeman unsnapping his revolver from his holster and then cocking his gun. And then he heard Sookie’s sharp intake of breath.
Sookie’s fear was back. Thankfully—this time—it wasn’t from Bill. And—even better—it was joined by determination and the feeling that Eric felt from Sookie whenever she was trying to come up with a plan.
“That’s it, my little trouble magnet,” Eric said with a smirk. “I will be with you soon.” He chuckled. “Just don’t get shot before then.”
There were only three minutes until sunset, so Eric entered the code to unlock his enclosure. If need be, he could exit its confines up to a minute before sunset and still be functional. He awkwardly chugged down a bottle of TrueBlood which he’d put into his travel container in case of emergency.
Meanwhile, Sookie had gotten out of the car and was being patted down by the patrolman. The thought of another’s hands on her body—especially given what she’d been through during the past two days—made Eric’s blood boil. But he held his place.
It was just under two minutes to sunset.
“What’s this?” the officer asked as his voice became more aggressive.
“A—uh—a stake,” Sookie stammered.
“Why would a pretty little lady like you be carryin’ a stake?” the officer asked. “And what happened to your head? Did that boyfriend you’re so anxious to get to do this to you?”
Eric closed his eyes, knowing very well why Sookie had the stake. It had been meant for him. In her fear, she would have staked him—without a second thought—if she could have gotten to him. The Viking contemplated for a moment. He had freed Sookie from her dream. If he just let the officer do what he was headed toward doing, Sookie would likely be taken into custody for her suspicious behavior. He, however, could bide his time in his container and then slip away unseen before heading toward his alternative escape route.
He considered that possibility as Sookie stammered out a lame answer to the policeman. In fact, he considered the idea for a good 2.8 seconds before discarding it. In the hands of the human authorities, Sookie would be vulnerable. And it would not take Russell or Bill long to find her.
Stake or no stake, Eric wouldn’t let that happen.
Plus, he couldn’t really blame Sookie for planning to end him. Being on the receiving end of Bill’s woven dream, she’d been stripped of her power—even over her own thoughts. As a vampire, he knew all about losing control of his body because of a maker’s command. He also knew about taking control of human minds—through glamour. But there were “rules” that he followed—limits that he’d imposed upon himself. He’d never used glamour to take away a person’s “selfhood.” And he’d never had his own mind “stolen” from him. Eric had seen and experienced much violence during his thousand years—much blood and much pain—yet he couldn’t imagine a worse fate than becoming the puppet of another.
Yes—that stake, along with the woven dream itself, would be added to the growing litany of items for which Eric planned to punish Bill Compton. He smiled at the thought of spending a lot of “quality time” with Bill. He couldn’t imagine a kind of torture that would be comparable to the hell that Bill had just put Sookie through, but Eric planned to take years—if need be—to find one that was equivalent.
As soon as the sun was exactly sixty seconds from setting, Eric used his foot to activate the release lever for his enclosure. Immediately, the hatchback flew up and Eric used his gift of flight to propel himself from his box as if he’d been loaded on a spring. In the next moment, he had the patrolman by the scruff of his uniform behind a tree just off the side of the highway. Thankfully, the wooded area and the cloudy sky protected him from most of the effects of the waning sun.
Eric looked deeply into the officer’s eyes and immediately had the man under his influence. “Does the camera on your dashboard just record or does it send live pictures somewhere?”
“It just records,” the officer responded immediately. “The department can’t afford the fancier kind.”
“You pulled over the Prius but found nothing suspicious. You let the man who was driving the vehicle off with a warning for speeding when you found out that he was a surgeon and had been called in to perform an emergency surgery. You then felt the call of nature and came over to this tree to take a piss. While here, you smelled something dead, and like the good cop you are, you went to investigate it—didn’t you?”
“Yes,” the officer said, fully enraptured by the vampire’s glamour.
“The odor was from a dead deer,” Eric continued.
The highway patrolman nodded.
“In exactly six minutes, you will return to your car and go on with your day—won’t you?”
“Yes,” the officer answered distantly as Eric released him.
As the vampire left the wooded area, he felt very minor blistering on his skin, but he was already healing, even as his ultimate enemy finally slipped into the horizon. When he returned to the car, Sookie was still standing next to the passenger-side door, which was where the officer had taken her. She had picked up the stake that the patrolman had dropped when Eric had grabbed him. Her hands were shaking.
In fact, her whole body was shaking.
“You had a dream today,” the Viking said evenly.
“Yes,” Sookie whispered.
“Did you kill me in it?” he asked, a little smirk tugging at his lips.
“Yes,” she said even more quietly.
He casually walked toward her and leaned against the car.
“The officer will be back in five minutes, Sookie,” Eric said softly. “And you have four options.”
“What are they?” she asked, her voice obviously taxed from her hours of continuous chanting.
“You can get into this car and continue heading where you were heading. To Bill—I presume?” he asked.
“Yes. Fangtasia,” she said.
“Ah. My own club,” Eric answered evenly. “At least Bill knows how to turn the knife when he thrusts it.”
“Option two?” she rasped out.
“The same choice you made last night. Bill has used his blood to keep you in something akin to a waking nightmare, but I managed to stop it before sunset. He is awake now, but he can no longer use his blood in the same way since it is night. However, his blood has resumed searching for him—as it did last night—but I believe I am blocking it. Come dawn, you will undergo the severing spell—as planned. And that will prohibit things like,” he paused, “today’s episode for happening again.”
“You could still run on your own. I’d even let you take the car.” Eric sighed. “But I believe that you now understand the influence Bill could have over you. I should have accounted for the possibility that Bill could send you the kind of ‘day-dream’ he sent. And for that, Sookie, I take responsibility. Apparently, Bill’s aptitude for making humans bend to his will is quite strong, and includes not just potent glamouring skills but also dream-weaving.” The vampire sighed again. “I was too passive in seeing to your wellbeing.”
“And four?” she stammered timidly.
“You can try to kill me with that stake in your hands,” Eric said, smirking again.
A tear fell from Sookie’s eye as she dropped the stake.
“Eric,” she whispered. “I already staked you in a dream today. I don’t want to repeat it in reality.”
He chuckled, shook his head, and picked up the stake. “I am highly stakeable, so I will not take it personally.”
She looked up at him, her large brown eyes watering with tears. “I haven’t changed my mind about wanting the severing spell.”
“Can we go?”
The Viking nodded and opened the car door. Before Sookie could move, he quickly picked her up into his arms and carefully placed her into the seat before buckling her in. He shut the hatch back and then zipped to the patrolman’s car. He quickly located and removed the tape from the officer’s dash-cam and took an unopened bottle of water that he found in the passenger seat of the patrol car. Then he zipped back to the Prius and got behind the wheel. After opening and then handing the water to Sookie, he turned on the engine, signaled, and pulled smoothly back onto the interstate. A sign indicated that the next exit was in six miles.
The pair in the car was silent as Sookie drank the water to alleviate her sore throat.
Eric took the exit and then turned around and got back on the highway toward Slidell. They were approximately halfway between Slidell and Shreveport, near a little town called Opelousas.
“Your head is bleeding,” Eric said after they’d traveled about fifteen minutes.
As if awoken from a daze, Sookie lifted her hand up to her head and felt the wound on her forehead. “I tripped and hit the kitchen counter earlier,” she said.
Eric sighed. “My blood is healing it, but head wounds take a bit of work and your adrenaline was too elevated to heal you earlier. Are you feeling dizzy?”
She let out a little sob. “I don’t know.”
“Do not cry, Sookie. There is no reason to cry now.”
“No reason?” she asked as anger rose in her voice. “No reason!”
“No reason. Not now,” Eric repeated.
She looked at him with her mouth agape. “How about the fact that the man I thought I loved sent me a dream that freaked me out so badly that I wanted to kill you? How about the fact that I felt compelled to drive at high speeds toward a fate of captivity and pain? Isn’t that a reason to fucking cry? I was out of my fucking mind, Eric!”
The vampire didn’t answer. Simply put, there wasn’t a good answer for her.
“Or how about the fact that, for the last few hours, I haven’t even been in control of my own actions?”
Again, the vampire said nothing.
“Or how about the fact that I would have killed the one person who’s been trying to help me? The one person who’s told me the truth? I would have killed you, Eric! I wanted to kill you!”
Again, there was silence.
“Or how about the fact that my head hurts like hell now that I’m back to myself?”
This time, Eric responded. “Do not worry about that. You probably suffered only a minor concussion. It shows your strength that you were able to navigate the car this far—without passing out.”
She glared at him. “What about the fact that my knees are bloody and hurting?”
“Those wounds have already healed, Sookie,” he said reasonably.
“And the fact that I cut my foot when I got out of the car a little while ago because I didn’t even put on shoes before I left the Slidell house?”
“That cut is also currently healing.”
She huffed. The tears were now streaming from her eyes. “What about the fact that I peed in my pants somewhere along the way?”
Eric shrugged. “I admit that you have smelled fresher, little one.”
“Indeed. But your reaction is understandable. Bill’s influence stimulated your fear, and that often leads to humans not having control over their bodily functions. Plus, Bills’ control would not have allowed you to stop until you were almost out of gasoline—or unless stopping would have enabled you to find him more rapidly. So—your incontinence could be construed as my fault.”
“What?” Sookie asked confusedly, even as she turned beet red because of the topic of her bladder control—or lack thereof.
“I have a very fuel efficient vehicle, Sookie,” he smirked. “But thankfully the seats are leather, and they’ve also been treated with Scotchguard. So—no permanent damage done.”
After a few moments of shock, Sookie started laughing almost uncontrollably.
The vampire joined her.
At the first exit after they turned east onto Interstate 10 from Interstate 49, Eric pulled off the highway and then drove past two well-lit convenient stores before stopping at a small, rundown gas station. He turned so that he was looking Sookie in the eye. “I need you to go in and pay for the gasoline. Can you do that?”
“Good,” Eric said. “After you pay, go to the restroom at the side of the building.” He gestured toward where he was talking about. “After five minutes, I will knock three times in quick succession.”
She nodded again and then took the forty dollars he handed to her.
“Also buy yourself some more water or whatever drink you prefer. And a snack. We will not be back in Slidell for another two hours.”
She nodded for a third time.
“Sookie?” he asked.
“Yeah?” she mumbled.
“Just checking,” he smirked.
“Checking?” she asked.
“Yes,” he grinned. “I wanted to make sure you still had the ability to speak.
She rolled her eyes, and he grinned even wider.
She rolled her eyes again. “What?” she demanded.
Appreciating the light that was reappearing in her eyes, he chuckled at her fiery response. “Did you call anyone after you woke up today? While you were trapped under Bill’s influence? Did you tell anyone about the safe house or about your plan to do the severing spell?” he asked, his voice even.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I would have called my brother or Sam or Tara or Lafayette or even Bill’s voicemail, but I didn’t have a phone,” she confessed.
“Okay,” he responded. “And you didn’t pull over to use a pay phone?”
“No,” she answered. “Wait. I would remember if I did—right?”
“Yes,” Eric nodded.
“Then—no. Once I was in the car, I didn’t make any stops.”
“Good,” Eric said with something akin to pride in his voice.
“Good?” she asked.
“Good,” he affirmed. “I will see you soon, little one,” he said softly.
Sookie got out of the car and went into the small convenient store. Thinking of the scene in Harry Potter when Professor Lupin gave Harry chocolate so that he could recover from his encounter with the dementors, she grabbed a package of Ding Dongs. Then she picked up a premade ham and cheese sandwich that looked awful, but would fill her up. Finally, she grabbed a bottle of Gatorade before making her way to the front of the store. She considered getting Eric a TrueBlood, but then thought better of it.
“Will this be all?” the acne-faced teen at the counter asked; he barely looked up from his phone as he operated the cash register.
“And the gas,” Sookie responded.
“Pump number?” he asked.
“Uh—whatever one the car out there’s at,” she answered.
He sighed in frustration and peeled his face from his phone once again so that he could glance outside.
“That’s pump three,” he said testily, as if reprimanding her.
“Pump three it is then. Thank you,” Sookie responded, seeing no reason to forget her own manners simply because the teenager in front of her had obviously been born in a barn. “Do I need a key to get into the bathroom outside?”
The teen sighed and then—as if it were the most cumbersome chore in the world—handed her a small key with a large brick as a key chain.
“Bring it back when you’re done and don’t try to steal it,” he said as she handed him the money to pay for her transaction. The distracted teen shortchanged her by sixteen cents, but she said nothing, instead opting to shake her head and wonder when she had become so freakin’ old.
Key/brick in hand, Sookie took her small bag of food and went to the bathroom. Not knowing what else to do, she relieved herself and tried to clean herself up a little. Peeing in her pants had been embarrassing enough, but having Eric know about it was downright humiliating. Just as she was flushing the toilet, she heard three knocks.
She sighed and then opened the door.
Eric quickly entered with his duffel bag in his hands. Without a word, he pulled out another pair of his boxer shorts.
After handing them to her, he turned around and waited as she discarded her own soiled sweatpants and panties for his too-large clothing.
“Okay,” she said when she was done.
“Throw them away,” Eric said of the garments she’d taken off. He gestured toward the small wastebasket. He then looked at her cautiously before picking her up and placing her onto the small counter. He examined her head wound and then moistened a towel before cleaning it. His expression was an odd mixture of concern and forced detachment.
“Is it okay?” she asked in a whisper.
“Almost healed; the wound is already closed, though there’s still a little pinkness,” he answered before throwing away the used towel. He repeated his actions with her once-skinned knees before taking off her blood-stained sock and looking at the cut on her foot.
“It was a pretty deep cut,” he said. “My saliva would finish healing it.”
“Okay,” Sookie said, though her voice sounded a bit shaky. Eric bent down and quickly washed her foot with a wetted towel before licking it a few times.
She giggled at the feeling of his tongue on her skin.
“Tickles,” she said as he looked up at her in question. Her cheeks were flushed.
“I’ll have to remember that,” he said with a little smile.
The look of longing in his eyes made her wonder just what he was going to remember.
“What do I taste like?” she asked when she realized that this was the first time Eric had tasted her blood. His face was controlled, but his eyes were burning a bright blue.
“Like every wish I’ve ever had,” he answered enigmatically. His voice was as controlled as his expression, except for a moment—when it caught on the word, “wish.” Eric pulled a fresh pair of socks out of the duffel bag and put them onto Sookie’s feet.
Finally, he took out the little bottle, which contained the potion that would cover her scent. Again, he rubbed a few drops of it onto her forehead.
That finished, he grabbed her bag of food and put it into the duffel bag before collecting the garbage bag from the wastebasket and tying it.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded and went to stand up, but he stopped her. “I will carry you since I have no appropriate footwear.”
She would have protested, but she found that she didn’t have the energy, so she just nodded again as he picked her up and zipped her back to the car.
“I’m tired,” she said wearily when they’d been back on the road for about thirty minutes. She’d already eaten her Ding Dong and had picked at her sandwich as much as she was able.
“Then sleep,” he said.
“I’m afraid. What if I dream?” she asked.
“I will stop him, Sookie. Or I will wake you. He cannot send the same kind of dream during the night that you experienced today.”
Sookie sighed and then nodded. Before too many more minutes, she was asleep, her head resting against the passenger’s side window.
As Eric continued to block Bill’s blood, he looked over at the sleeping woman next to him. Her skin was pale and his blood inside of her told him that she was worn-out from the woven dream.
Whether Sookie knew it or not, she had fought against Bill’s influence over her. She had fought right alongside of his own blood. Yet he’d felt only shame and sadness from her earlier as he’d seen to her minor wounds. She should have been celebrating the fact that she had resisted contacting her friends and family. She should have been proud that she hadn’t called Bill’s cell phone and told him where she was in addition to all of their plans. Instead, she was beating herself up for her shortcomings.
She reminded Eric of someone—someone he saw in the mirror every day.