A/N: A short recap of chapter 13 because of the time in between postings: The safe from the fallout shelter was cracked revealing legal documents and a box full of photo negatives. Eric sent Sookie flowers with a suggestive paint swatch in Jutland as he dealt with the pathetic mess that is Bill Compton in Stockholm.
Bear with Sookie a bit in this chapter, she’s still a little fragile with Bill’s sudden appearance last time. Eric’s not much better for it either.
“You two really do have a messed up relationship,” Eric said in commiseration when Bill was seeing him out the door.
“At least I’m nobody’s butt boy,” Bill hissed forgetting the threat of his company.
With that one comment Eric punched him squarely in the face in response. “Don’t assume everyone lives your miserable reality, you conniving piece of shit,” he seethed and further emphasized his distaste by spitting on his flailing form on the ground and delivering a hard kick to the gut. With satisfaction Eric stepped over the miserable man and slammed the door behind him.
Frankly Eric wasn’t that insulted by Bill’s comment. An attractive young boy suddenly entering the lives of two openly gay men had many assume similar thoughts. It had never bothered Eric before because it was far from true. There was plenty to hate about Russell but his treatment of him had always been fair and generous. For a lack of a better word Russell and Talbot acted like parents to Eric and in the public arena he would always come to the defence of their reputation as it pertained to his. Their world was filled with sick bastards but on that front Russell and Talbot had always been innocent.
Eric had simply been waiting all night for Bill to lash out. He had promised Sookie not to kill him but he felt the least Bill deserved was a good beating. Greeting the night air Eric happily departed the hotel with a huge smile on his face and an aching hand. Every inch of pain well worth what it had inflicted.
Mindful of the hour he sent out a text to Sookie to get her sexy ass back, Bill would be gone by the next day.
In keeping a healthy distance away Eric had followed every single move of Bill Compton until he passed the passport security point assuring him that the threat of his presence was indefinitely eliminated. He had remained lingering in the arrivals hall browsing through the paperbacks at the bookshop as he awaited Sookie’s arrival. His feet tapped impatiently as he devoured pages of a newly bought book but none of the words seemed to register as he constantly glanced at the clock willing it to be the time that she finally arrived. When the little icon of a plane hitting the ground on the screen notified Eric her flight had arrived his face had remained glued to the window that allowed a view into the baggage claim area till he saw her enthusiastically wave at him when she spotted his tall frame in the distance.
Sookie lurched into Eric’s expansive waiting arms the moment the electrical sliding doors parted way, her carry-on forgotten by their feet. She burrowed her head into his chest inhaling his characteristic scent contentedly as he kissed the top of her head. Her head didn’t hesitate to move to his as without words they greeted each other with a deepened kiss. To other observers in the arrivals hall it appeared they were two lovers greeting each other from an extended period of time apart. Reality was, it had been a little over forty-eight hours.
“Were you okay flying on your own?” he asked full of concern having experienced her ill ease with flying at first hand for several flights now. Eric had been quite surprised at the amount of physical strength that resided in her small hands as she had proceeded to squeeze the life out of him with each take-off and landing.
“Yeah, all this jetting around. I think I’m getting used to it,” she managed to reply in between the kisses he peppered all over her face.
“Good. We’ll be leaving again soon,” Eric informed as he brushed the pad of his thumb over her cheek affectionately.
“I know,” she smiled gleefully. “I can’t wait to feel a bit of warmth and sun on my skin again.”
“Don’t get too excited. Monte Carlo in February may be warmer than here but it’s hardly warm.”
“A girl can dream,” she said longingly as they continued their now familiar walk towards the high-speed train into Stockholm their hands refusing to let go of the other. “And don’t forget Paris. I’ve been excited for that since we booked the tickets.”
He hadn’t forgotten and had gone to great lengths to ensure that it would be a memorable visit. When Sookie had seen from the itinerary they would be having a stopover in Paris, her eyes had lifted and fallen in a matter of moments when she figured out the short amount of time they had there. Instantly Eric had offered to extend the trip by an extra day and night in the city of light.
“Just ask already,” Sookie teased when she found his fingers lingering cautiously over the zippers of her suitcase after he had placed it on the bed. She was quite amazed that in between the caresses and kisses that had marked their speedy train journey home he had gone without a single question to what was hiding in the safe.
“No,” he returned, turning his back on the alluring prospect of what lay inside. “I’m cooking us dinner and then you can show me.”
“Ok,” she smiled, kissing him softly before he left the room where she unpacked the contents of her luggage dividing it into neat piles by colour ready for the laundry. She smiled at the sight of her much fought over panties as she fingered the black scrap of lace, memories falling back to that magical moment in the eaves of the attic room with the sour Mrs Frisk. With that she decided she’d start the laundry cycle with darks rather than the whites, in order to slip those panties on sooner than she thought.
Eric had shown much patience and interest in her during dinner but as she was finishing off the last of her dessert Sookie instantly recognised that dazed look on his face.
“You’re going to disappear into the cave again aren’t you?” she asked already knowing the answer as she slid over the items from the safe.
He simply nodded as he got up from the table with the stack of files and small cardboard box in hand mumbling to himself in Swedish.
“I’ll just get right on painting the apartment a vulva pink in my underwear then,” she yelled after him with no reaction.
It was near one o’clock when after fruitless tossing and turning Sookie abducted Eric from his seclusion.
“You’re coming to sleep with me,” Sookie announced sternly pulling at his unwilling body.
He reluctantly agreed following her to the bed, his mind still occupied with the newly uncovered documentation, trying to organise the relevance of them in his mind. She shoved him in the direction of the bathroom thrusting a toothbrush and toothpaste in each hand. He cleaned his teeth per her stern instruction and undressed himself before slipping beside her in bed.
“Better,” she sighed out against his chest as they settled in their preferred sleeping positions.
“Thank you for pulling me out of the daze.”
“You’re welcome. So tell me I’ve been dying to know. What’d you find?” she asked as all she had been able to uncover were legal documents that made little sense to her untrained eyes.
“A lot of paperwork that I will need Peder’s help with. My grandmother seems to be quite the hoarder with accounts and shell corporations all over the world. It seems an intricate trail to harbour money in different places.”
“You think she’s been purposefully hiding your family fortunes away?” Sookie questioned.
“It’s possible. But her current accounts seem plenty full but I never looked into her wealth before Russell so I have no comparison. As far as I can tell she was acting stealthily for decades to avoid taxes,” Eric mused. “Who knows maybe she didn’t want my father to inherit anything just like my great-grandmother.”
“Like mother, like daughter. Do you have a copy of her will?”
“I have copy of one of her wills, but it might be one of many for all we know.” His fingers lingered through her hair soothing them both with the close contact.
“Anything else?” she whispered with an audible yawn as the onset of sleep was catching up with her.
“A stack of negatives, the scanner will load them all up tonight.”
“Promise me you’ll rest and eat well while you disappear into your cave this time,” she requested softly. “It’s rather lonely without you.”
“I promise. I will eat three meals with you every day and sleep beside you,” he smiled at her before his tongue followed lips searching for entrance into her mouth. A contented sigh escaped her as he kissed her goodnight after which he lowered his voice seductively, as he asked, “Did you say something about vulva pink earlier today?”
Sookie giggled quickly rotating her body round in his arms as her cheeks flushed that exact same shade. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. You must be hearing things.”
Sookie woke to an empty bed. Pretty confident that Eric had yet to have eaten she set about making breakfast for them both. When he failed to come out on his own with the strong smells of her Southern breakfast she peered into the cave. It was a hive of activity with several printers running simultaneously and Eric pinning a series of photographs onto the walls that had previously remained bare.
“Hey, ready for breakfast?” she enquired when Eric failed to take notice of her presence.
He smiled at the sight of her and without thought pulled her into his body, dropping the unpinned photographs in his hand on the desk as he kissed her good morning. A small grimace clouded her face as she accused him of morning breath when it was in fact minty and fresh. She laughed at him regardless when he checked the smell of it against his own hand.
“Tease,” he growled at her as he followed her down to the dining table.
“Your tease,” she reminded with a chaste kiss to his lips. “How long have you been up?”
He looked towards the clock, “A little over two hours.”
“What are the photographs of?”
“Halina and Olle’s trip in the Mediterranean that the professor had spoken of. The man in the photo’s looks like the American but something is off about his appearance.”
“Maybe they’re brothers?” Sookie offered as an explanation.
“It’s possible. Somehow I feel it is an imposter,” he countered thoughtfully. “I might be influenced by my grandmother’s warning.”
“Don’t trust the American, it’s not him, he just looks like him,” Sookie recited.
Eric nodded in assent. “I need you to buy some things for our trip to Monaco,” he said handing over one of his credit cards.
“Sure. What do you need?”
“I need you to go over to a boutique on Birger Jarlsgatan,” he said absent-minded shuffling the last of his breakfast in and slipping her a note with the name and address. “Ask for an appropriate Monte Carlo wardrobe. Don’t worry about the cost.”
“You did not just ask me that,” she seethed at him.
“Ask what?” he probed, lacking the understanding where her sudden change of mood had come from.
“You did not just ask me to sit pretty and buy myself something nice,” she all but spat out.
“I don’t understand. I thought women enjoyed buying clothes.”
“If I want to buy clothes I’ll do it damn well when I want with my OWN money. What’s wrong with my clothes anyway?” she demanded now thoroughly insulted by words never spoken.
“Nothing, I like your clothes. Well not when you look like the mummy,” he teased in an attempt to lighten the mood as he was still unaware what had her so riled up. “Will it help for you to think of the clothes as a disguise? Monte Carlo is a strange place; there are two types of people there. Tourists and the exuberantly wealthy, we need to pass as the latter in the company of the lawyer.”
“You mean you need me to pass me off as some gold digger beside you?” she asked becoming more affronted with every new piece of information that came from his mouth.
“Well I’d like to think you and I have a little bit more class than that. Closer to old money than new. Nothing flashy or overstated but it should pass the scrutiny of a discerning eye.”
“Fine, but I’m paying for it myself,” she huffed out from her defensive stance with her arms crossed firmly of her chest. Her asinine tone had yet to relent as she continued, “If I’m going to be acting like a two bit whore I sure as hell don’t want to feel like one.” Her last comment had enraged Eric when he all but yanked her across the table by the hand that shoved the credit card back in his direction.
“Don’t ever refer to yourself in that way,” he gritted out as she tried to loosen herself from his grasp.
“You’re hurting me,” she whimpered trying to pull her wrists from his grasp. He let go instantly unaware of how his strength had betrayed him in an effort to protect her from the self-inflicting emotional wounds she was intent on assailing herself with. It had him instantly flashing back to that field in Pennsylvania all over again where he inadvertently hurt her in every possible way then too.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered trying to pull her in an apologetic embrace but she hesitated and visibly winced with his touch. Bill Compton may have been annoyed at how Eric spoke of Sookie in their tête-à-tête but it paled in comparison to how angry Eric was of the way Bill had spoken of her and his intended future for her. It had taken Eric a lot of effort to restrain himself to not to harm Bill any more than he did. Since her return neither one had spoken more words than the reassurance that he was gone but it became obvious to them both now that Bill’s presence lingered over them even when he physically wasn’t there.
Eric hadn’t shared with Sookie how Bill had imagined their happily ever after. It sickened him too much and he wanted to spare her Bill’s idiotic idyll with the small step up from prostitute to stripper. Living side by side in those seedy worlds gave Eric the knowledge that few women ever managed to escape that life and the offers of escorting were never far behind. Sookie Stackhouse didn’t belong in that world, Eric was certain of that and he had vowed to keep her safe from it. Only in that moment did he realised how aggravated Bill had really made him with his feeble notions and delusions. A punch to the face and a kick in the gut hardly seemed adequate now.
“Sookie, I’m really sorry,” he repeated again keeping his distance intentionally and his arms up in surrender. “I just think of what could have happened to you. I can’t stomach it.”
She sighed, “I get it. It doesn’t sit well with me either. I cringe at the thought there is some other girl out there who is next at the hands of Bill and Lorena and there isn’t a thing I can do about it.”
“Sookie, please,” he pleaded, needing to hear her forgiveness.
“I can’t right now Eric,” she said circumventing his body that was reaching out to her in desperation. “I’ll be back tonight, make sure you eat something.”
She gathered her things and left the apartment despite the torrential snow outside.
Sookie had settled herself into the Fotografiska museum’s café as the darkness had set in early in the afternoon where she was finishing up an open sandwich, allowing the argument of the morning to flitter through her thoughts again. The view through the giant picture windows across the expanse of water towards Gamla Stan kept her company as she absently ingested her food with little notice to the taste. It was a familiar view, similar to the one from Eric’s apartment but the sheer size of the glass and closer proximity to the water gave it a completely different perspective. It was a particularly clear night and Sookie swore she saw wisps of the northern lights in the distant sky.
When her phone continued to ring she ignored it as she had all day. There were very few people who had this number and it wasn’t much of a guess who had been trying to reach her. As it continued to ring for the third time in a row she finally decided to pick up as the people around her started to take notice.
“What do you want?” Sookie spoke a little more sharply than she intended.
“Well hello to you too,” a women’s voice purred down the line.
“Raven, hi,” Sookie managed, trying to find the manners her Gran had taught her.
“Are you okay Sookie? I don’t know what you did with Eric but he’s out of his mind with worry.”
“I’m fine,” she sighed although truthfully she really wasn’t yet and Pam was all too quick to catch on to.
“Bullshit, Barbie. I can hear it from here, what did my insensitive brother do?”
Another sigh passed her lips before Sookie delved into the explanation of what had transpired between her and Eric that morning. She couldn’t help but wince again with the mention of Eric’s sudden temper that had bruised her delicate wrist. “It’s not the reason why I’m upset, and I’m not upset with him either.”
“So why are you upset?”
“Didn’t you feel helpless after your run in with Bill? That you may be out but the next girl is just waiting round the corner who isn’t so lucky.”
“Yes, but this isn’t what’s truly bothering you. That’s just annoying you,” Pam interjected.
“You know this how?” Sookie returned testily, slightly annoyed herself with Pam’s assumptions.
“Because I’ve been in the same frame of mind you are in right now.”
“And where’s that?”
“You’re struggling with the fact that you might actually like the place you are at right now,” she informed sagely. “You resent your own happiness because part of that happiness has been handed to you by Eric. Like the credit card. You didn’t earn it. The last time you put all your trust in a man you ended up in the clutches of Bill. You probably vowed never to let that happen again and here you are again.” Sookie simply remained quiet at the analysis as she found it hard to counter the words of wisdom Pam spoke.
“Eric’s one of the good guys Sookie and I will kick his ass for hurting you, intentional or not,” Pam declared with a feral growl. “But he’s as far from Bill as you can get. He cares for you Sookie, I don’t know why but he really does. There aren’t many people that can claim to hold his affection. Don’t be suspicious of it, he doesn’t dole it out indiscriminately.”
“You really are wise beyond your years Raven,” Sookie complimented as she let the advice sink in.
“Well I’ve lived my years quite intensely,” Pam spoke sedately making Sookie’s heart break for the torment she had experienced so far in her short life. A smile graced her face that Eric had somehow freed her from that existence.
“Tell him I’m at the café of the photography museum if he wants to come find me. Otherwise I’ll be home in an hour.”
“I’ll let him know,” she replied with a returned chipper tone. “And Sookie-”
“Just fuck my brother already so he can have his balls back. I don’t know how long that man can go without imploding.”
“Goodnight Raven,” Sookie spoke as she shook her head admonishingly at Pam’s rousing words before hanging up the phone. Since the apartment was just up the cliff behind the museum Eric arrived within fifteen minutes hastily looking over the tables before he found her numbly staring out across the water. He hesitantly sat beside her on the comfortable sofa careful not to startle her again.
“Sookie, I…” he started but she held her hand up to stop his impending apology, Sookie had heard it once and wasn’t interested in hearing it again.
“I am not upset with you. Well I’m a little upset over your physical reaction but not with you.”
“I shouldn’t have grabbed at you like that. I really am sorry. I let my rage for Bill overtake me. Sookie I have never felt so ashamed.” She nodded with his apology not quite sure how to answer, there was no way she could excuse the unintended act and it was apparent to them both it never would be. “I asked Bill how he saw the two of you working out. The picture he painted Sookie, it would have destroyed you and it has been destroying me ever since.”
“I guess we’re both a little sensitive about that,” she whispered as she reached out for his hand in some sort of comfort. Shame fell all over the serious set of his face as he saw the bruises his grasp had caused. In a paltry offer he kissed the marks tenderly, committing them to memory of what pain he could cause. Her eyes watered with the sight, the marks were insignificant to the emotional pains that had followed her the entire day.
“I could have been a little more tactful with your request,” she continued in an effort to explain what had her so upset. “It just hit a nerve Eric. I always paid my own way from the moment I could work. Bill convinced me to rely on him financially, something I never would have stood for before. I didn’t even blink when he proposed joint accounts. He was going be my husband so somehow that made it ok,” she sighed with the memory that had waived her lack of resistance for a supposed love. She could only ever feel foolish about it now.
“That I am paying for everything has been making you uncomfortable?” he asked though the answer had already been spoken. “This is why you are so insistent on doing my laundry, keeping the apartment clean and buying the groceries?” She merely nodded in affirmation.
“Under normal circumstances I would be paying for your aide and skills. You were so hesitant accepting the money from the Long Shadow assignment I didn’t want to push you unnecessarily again. I thought you were fine with the way things were,” he sighed as he pushed a lock of hair from her face that was obscuring her eyes from view. “If anything considering how our relationship has progressed I thought you would be more insulted if I offered you a salary as if I was buying your company. That I was no better than Bill.” His last sentence was spoken with a severe distaste that was palpable to them both. She reached out to his hands again, now for both their comfort. He let a small smile slip out with her touch.
“I considered your clothing a business expense. I should have considered the implications, I’m sorry that I didn’t.”
“Thank you,” she returned softly, thankful that he had come to understand. “It’s something that was bothering me for a while and to be honest it still does a little. You just handing me over your credit card so carelessly made something unspoken come to the forefront, something I was trying so hard to ignore. Ignoring things got me into this mess in the first place.” With the pain that caused to inflame in his eyes she quickly added, “Not that I consider being with you a mess, it’s probably the best outcome that I could ever have come across even without the circumstances. It just felt like you were throwing it in my face where we stand unequal and I have no hope to ever match, exerting your control over me. Raven made me see you’re coming from a good place. I’m sorry I reacted the way I did.”
“We’re in this together, so let’s compromise,” he proposed. “We split the costs where necessary.”
“I can live with that,” she replied sporting her first genuine smile that day.
A/N: The Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm is one of my favourites so if you ever make it out to that fair city make sure to go for a visit, even if there are long lines outside. They’re there for a reason and don’t miss out on the view in the café it’s one of the best in Stockholm 😉
This week’s fixin’s are here in case you skipped over it in the announcement post.