“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”—Bruce Lee
Sookie was tired. Eric knew that he was pushing her a little, but he needed to make sure that she would be able to handle what would be expected. Octavia would be coming the next afternoon—obviously, after he was in his day-death. The witch would be examining Sookie—to make sure she’d recovered amply from the severing spell.
Eric was almost certain that Octavia would clear Sookie to leave Slidell. Her vital signs were all normal, and, except for some lingering fatigue, she seemed to be just as physically strong as she’d been before the severing spell. In fact, he’d seen her look more tired after a shift of her work for Merlotte.
Still, she was getting a little mentally fatigued from all he was trying to teach her. However, he wanted to test her. He needed to know that she would stay safe. If not, he would have to revise the plan.
“Where will the cameras be?” he questioned her as they looked at the floor-plans of several convenience stores and motels. Two of the convenience stores were actually on their route, and one of the motels was the place in Beaumont where they would have to stay if Sookie was too tired to make it to Houston. He had drawn the others to be representative of the standard layouts of such places.
Sookie took a deep breath and looked down at the specific floor-plan he was indicating. He had been drilling her like this for an hour. She pointed. “There,” she said, knowing there would be a camera pointing right at the checkout stand.
She pointed to a couple more places.
“Good. And the wild cards?”
“Behind any mirror,” she answered. She’d learned from Eric that a mirror in a store often served two purposes: to give a cashier a way to watch the aisles and to conceal a camera.
“Wherever the liquor is,” she answered.
He nodded. For several hours during the last two nights, Eric had given Sookie a crash course in camera detection. He’d taught her how to use sunglasses and a hat to conceal her appearance without being obvious about it. He’d given her hints about how to angle her face to avoid facial recognition technology. He’d taught her how to determine whether a gas station was more likely to have a close-circuit system or a surveillance system that could be accessed via the Internet. She’d learned that certain store chains were “safer” to enter when she needed supplies or had to use the restroom. Other chains were to be avoided like the plague because of their state-of-the-art, Internet-based surveillance systems.
Satisfied with her responses, Eric brought out one of the packages that Brady had sent to them several days before.
“What’s that?” Sookie asked.
He gestured for her to open it.
She gasped as she saw several drivers’ licenses and passports from both Canada and the United States. Knowing she had to pretend to be someone else was one thing; seeing her new identity papers was another.
She looked at the first license. “Donna Clark,” she said quietly as she looked at the brunette in the picture. She was still getting used to her new appearance.
All of the ten licenses in the bundle had the names of different women, all from different states or Canadian provinces. The passports corresponded to the licenses.
“Will I need all these?”
“Perhaps,” he said. “It depends.”
“On how long it takes me to find a way to kill Russell. You may need more before it is done.”
She took a deep, somewhat shaky breath, but then nodded.
“The idea is to use an ID as little as possible,” Eric instructed. “Once it is used, it could also be used to trail you, so if you do have to show one of these to someone, it would be best if you didn’t use it again for a while—or ever. If we leave the country and you need a passport, that identity shouldn’t be used again at all.”
“Okay,” Sookie said. “I mean—I hardly ever have to show my license as it is.”
Eric opened a second box that had been sent by Brady.
Sookie picked up one of the credit cards that was inside. “Am I rich?” she chuckled.
He winked. “Don’t go overboard. You know to use cash first, but some places are more suspicious if you do, so anything that costs over a hundred dollars should be bought with a card. These are prepaid credit cards, so they are difficult to trace. Each should be used only once and has a limit of a thousand dollars.”
“Okay,” she nodded even as she exhaled loudly and resisted the urge to whistle. There were at least twenty cards in the box, and Eric had also showed her their store of money in his duffle bag. Moreover, each house along their route would have even more money! She’d never imagined having access to so much money—not when her checking account had held $40.42 the last time she’d checked.
He opened a third box. Inside were two Bluetooth devices and two phones—one blue and one red.
“What are those for?” Sookie asked.
Eric motioned toward the Bluetooths. “These will allow us to speak with one another when I am in my enclosure within the car.”
“Will we need them?” she asked. “I mean—you’ll be asleep in there, right?”
“Most of the time,” Eric said, but I will get into the car coffin before dawn on the days we travel, and you know that I wake before sunset. I also don’t have to sleep right at sunrise.”
She nodded as he handed her the blue cell phone. She smiled as she noticed that he’d kept the red one for himself.
“The phones control the Bluetooth devices,” he explained, “and they also work like regular phones, so feel free to contact me that way too—if you don’t have your Bluetooth.”
Eric moved closer to her on the couch to show her the elements on the phone. “However, these phones have been specially designed to work only with each other. Their signals are also scrambled and untraceable, and they will block monitoring devices.”
“That sounds high-tech.”
Eric nodded. “Brady used to work at the Pentagon.”
“How did you meet him?”
“His grandfather was my day-person for almost fifty years.”
“Yes. Many vampires hire people who can perform any necessary errands during the day. Before Internet shopping and the Great Revelation, it was difficult to procure some things at night.”
“Oh. That makes sense. Do you have one now—a day-person?”
“I do—or at least I did,” Eric said. “His name is Bobby Burnham, but I’m sure that Russell has or will find him.”
“Will Russell kill him?” Sookie asked in a concerned tone.
“I doubt it. He’ll likely question him and then glamour him in case I try to contact him.”
Sookie sighed. “Oh. Okay. So Brady’s grandfather worked for you then?”
Eric smiled. “Yes. Up to about thirty years ago. But there are no records that would connect me to Brady. Plus,” his smirked, “let’s just say that Jones is not Brady’s real last name.”
“Why doesn’t he work for the Pentagon anymore?”
“About seven years ago, Brady discovered that there was a department in the government privy to the existence of Weres. They had captured some Werewolves and had kept them imprisoned for years—experimenting upon them.”
“That’s horrible!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Yes. It was,” Eric commented stiffly. “Brady is a Were, so you can imagine how he reacted.”
“What did he do?”
“He pretended everything was normal for a while—until he found out where the Weres were being held. As you’ve probably picked up on, he’s kind of a computer genius and was able to wipe out most of the data that had been collected on the Weres. When he was ready, he blocked the surveillance equipment at the site of their imprisonment. He asked me to help him get them out. After that, he was compromised, so he could not return to his work. But before he disappeared, he erased most of the records about himself as well. Now, he’s more of an independent contractor; most of his work is for Weres—making sure that they stay unknown to humans. But he also does some work for me.”
“And he owes you one,” Sookie added.
“We owe each other—many times over,” Eric said. “That is best for trust, but not even he knows all the details of our escape route.”
“A little trust here and there?” Sookie asked.
“Precisely,” Eric said with a chuckle. He turned his attention back to the phones. “As I said, these will not call other phones, but they can do a couple of other things.” He pulled another item from the box.
“What’s that?” she asked as Eric slipped a thick bracelet unto his wrist.
“This,” he said, showing her the underside of the piece, is a panic button of sorts.”
She looked at it with curiosity. “Panic button?”
He nodded and took her phone from her. He turned it on and showed her the home page, where there were only four icons. “You push this one,” he said pointing to the picture that looked like the Bluetooth, “to call me using the earpiece. This one,” he pointed to the icon that looked like a phone, “is—of course—for using the phone in the regular way. The third button controls this wrist device.”
“What do you mean—controls?”
“Should you need me during the day when I am asleep, you may use this button to wake me up.”
“How will it do that?”
Eric sighed. “Encased in this band is silver nitrate. A bit will shoot into my wrist if you push that button and enter a code. It should be enough to shock me from my sleep.”
Sookie looked horrorstricken. “I’m not gonna shoot you with silver, Eric!”
“For our safety’s sake, I hope you will if there is ever a need,” he said firmly. “I assure you that the dosage I would receive would not do me significant damage. I would heal quickly.”
She shook her head and looked at the device warily. “But it would hurt you?”
Eric nodded. “Yes.”
She sighed. “Then I hope I won’t have to use this.”
“Let us just hope that there is never an emergency that merits it,” he said.
She nodded in agreement. “What’s the fourth button for?” she asked as she looked at the last icon on the phone.
He pulled out a smaller box. “Tracking,” he said. The little box contained a normal-looking ponytail holder and small pin shaped like Thor’s hammer. “Yours is in a less obvious object,” he smiled as he handed her the hair accessory. “There are tiny microchips in these items that will allow us to track one another. The fourth button activates the chip—see?” he asked, as he pushed the button on her phone and activated a code. A little red dot popped up with a map, showing their exact location.
“So you can find me without blood,” Sookie mused.
“Frankly, blood would be better, but as long as we have these things on, we can track each other,” Eric said. “The code must be entered each time this feature is used, however.”
“What’s the code?”
He grinned. “Something I knew you would remember—something related to how I was able to track you before.”
She looked at him with curiosity.
“The code is ‘ss.'”
“For Sookie Stackhouse?”
“No,” he smirked, “for silver sucker.'”
She glared at him and hit his arm playfully.
“Good. You are angry with me,” he grinned.
“Why is that good?”
He motioned to the wristband. “We will need to test this once I am asleep.”
“Eric. I . . . .” She paused and sighed loudly. “I don’t want to.”
“I know,” he responded gently as he took her hand. “But—before we leave this place—we need to test the band to make sure the dosage is correct. If the dosage is too little, the pain would not awaken me. If it’s too much, it would leave me too incapacitated to be of any use to you.”
Seeing her discomfort, he went on, “You may wait until Octavia is here if you wish.”
“Can she give you a cure—for the silver?” Sookie asked.
Eric shook his head. “Not quite a cure, but there are ways she could mitigate the silver’s effects.” He quickly took his disposable cell phone out of his pocket and texted Octavia to make sure she would have the supplies she would need if the silver had a greater effect on him than he anticipated it would.
Sookie shook her head. “I still don’t like the idea of zapping you with that thing.”
“But you’ll do it anyway,” he said, “because it is necessary.”
She nodded resignedly. “Yeah.”
“Did you memorize the route to both the motel in Beaumont and the house in Houston?” he asked, changing the subject.
Sookie nodded in affirmation.
“And the witch did not see the route?” Eric asked.
“No,” Sookie assured.
“And you have memorized the addresses of the places at which you may stop for your human needs along the way? And the address of the motel in case you cannot reach Houston?”
“Yes,” she said.
What Sookie did not know was that Brady had chosen each of those places carefully. He had already set things up so that those places would be without their surveillance capabilities on the day when Sookie and Eric left Slidell. Brady was going to steal the feeds from the stores and the hotel during that day. And Eric would use the video to determine whether Sookie had absorbed the lessons he’d taught her. It was a test of sorts—before they were truly out on their own.
The only concern Eric had was that Brady would need to upload the videos of Sookie to the Internet for Eric to be able to access them, but Brady had assured Eric that his encryption codes would not be broken.
“When is Octavia coming?” Sookie asked.
“Not until 4:00 p.m., so you should sleep, little one. After all, you have to begin altering your sleep cycle anyway.”
She nodded and bit her bottom lip.
“What is it?” he asked perceptively. He’d come to recognize when she had something she wanted to say to him—but was reluctant to say it.
“Eric, I was thinking today. What’s going to happen with my house? I had bills, and my property taxes are due soon.”
“You are working for me now,” Eric answered.
“I think we are surviving together more than working, and I’m not exactly getting a normal paycheck.”
“Regardless,” Eric smiled. “Listen—your credit is about to take a big hit, but I have my lawyer watching over your property. If we are gone for a long time, your house will go into foreclosure. But he will arrange for someone—who cannot be connected to either him or me—to buy the property. And, after everything is over, we will sort it out. But I promise—you will not lose your home, Sookie.”
“How will I ever pay you back,” she sighed. “I doubt if Sam will even hire me back after all this.”
Eric chuckled. “The shifter would certainly rehire you. And I’m sure that you will save my life many times, so I will owe you.” He winked.
“What about you?” she asked suddenly. “I mean—will you get to be sheriff again—after all this is over?”
Eric shook his head. “No. By now, all of my known properties—including Fangtasia—have likely been burned to the ground. And if I kill Russell and Sophie-Anne, Louisiana will be up for grabs.” He sighed. “When this is all over—if I am still alive—I will either have to become king or I will have to leave Louisiana.”
“Oh,” she said, her expression clouding with sadness.
He kissed her forehead. “Do not worry. I will take care of any vampires who know of you and want you for their own, Sookie. I will not leave you unguarded. You need never worry,” he said. “I swear it.”
She nodded. He’d assumed that her sadness had come from her worry over her own safety. But that had not been the case. After their time together, she knew that she would miss him terribly if he left, but she intuited that he wouldn’t want to be the king. Then again, there were no guarantees—no assurances that they would ever be able to stop running or that they would even survive.
So—for now—she didn’t let herself think about the fact that her close relationship with Eric likely had an expiration date.
“You are fine, child,” Octavia pronounced less than five minutes after she’d arrived. Sookie had just brought her an iced tea.
“Uh—so we can leave tomorrow morning?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” the elder witch said with a quick nod of her head.
“Oh—okay,” Sookie said with uncertainty. “I figured there would be some kind of exam or something.”
Octavia took a long drink of her tea. Amelia had left to pick up some last-minute items for Sookie.
An uncomfortable silence filled the living room, and Sookie fidgeted in her seat.
“He has helped you?” the witch half-asked and half-stated.
“Huh?” Sookie asked inelegantly.
“Eric—with dee pain you have in you,” Octavia clarified. “Dee aura around you is different—not so sad. Not so heavy.”
“Uh—yes. We’ve talked a lot. And he has helped me deal with some things. He’s my friend.”
Octavia nodded. There was a knowing look in her eyes. “He likely wants everyt’ing and not’ing from you, child. But I suspect you want dee same from him—yes?”
Sookie wondered if her expression showed the confusion she felt. “Uh—I don’t know what you mean?”
Octavia smiled kindly. “You will know when you know.”
Sookie shook her head, still not quite understanding Octavia.
“You love him. And dee vampire loves you as well. He is a good man, child, but he will not be quick to admit his love.”
Immediately, Sookie was uncomfortable. “Uh—love?”
“There are many kinds of love, child.”
“Yes,” Sookie said quickly. “And I do love Eric in a way. Like I said, he’s become my friend—maybe the closest I’ve ever had.”
Again, Octavia gave Sookie a knowing look. “He is a true friend to you, child. Do not forget dat, especially when you leave dis place. There are tings dat may happen, child—tings dat neither you nor he can control. Having a true friend is new to you both. Remember dat.”
Sookie nodded a little as Octavia began rifling through her bag.
“I was told by Eric dat you were going to try to wake him today.”
Sookie nodded. “Yes. With silver.”
“T’would be best if we did dee test while Amelia was still gone. There are some tings she does not need to know of you and dee vampire.”
Sookie nodded. “Okay.”
Nervously, she led Octavia to the bedroom where Eric was dead for the day. He wore his wrist-band, which was ready to shoot a small amount of silver nitrate into his body. The telepath shivered as she pulled out her new phone. She hit the third button and a call for her password came up. She smiled slightly to herself as she typed in “ss.” After she’d done so, there was a screen prompting her to confirm that she wanted to inject Eric with silver.
She didn’t. Her finger paused above the button.
“‘Twill be okay, child,” Octavia said gently. “Even if everyting in dat bracelet were sent into him, ‘twould not kill him.”
Sookie nodded and pushed the button. In a flash, Eric was sitting up, and his face was a picture of agony.
“Shit!” Sookie yelled.
She forgot about Octavia in the room. She forgot about her own hesitations and insecurities. She forgot about Russell and Bill. She even forgot to breathe. But she knew that she would never forget the pain in Eric’s eyes.
“Eric!” she yelled as she launched herself onto the bed and wrapped her arms around him.
“Sookie,” he said, the discomfort clear in his voice.
Before Octavia could move to help Eric with the pain—before Eric could even ask for help—there was a light shining from Sookie’s hands and transferring straight into Eric’s body.
Sookie was frightened as she saw the light flowing from her hands. She’d seen it before—when she was fighting MaryAnn and when she was trying to fend off Russell’s Weres. She’d used it to attack.
But Eric was not her enemy!
And she had just shot him with more power than she’d ever unleashed before!
Thanks so much to all of you who have already responded about the last chapter! I very much appreciate your comments and support and patience! I hope you’ll let me know what you think of this chapter.