A/N: I’m not usually one for warnings because I’m terrible at predicting audience reactions but I went through a couple of tissues myself when writing and editing this chapter and it had nothing to do with my insistent cold. It does hit a little close to home so it could be more personal than anything but I give warning for it nonetheless.
“How is Russell doing?” Sookie asked carefully as her hand caressed gently over Eric’s forearm. She had been surprised how everyone had been acting so normal upon their arrival, considering that the man was weeks if not days away from his death.
“Well my husband seems to be enchanting all the male nurses and doctors,” Talbot huffed out in annoyance. “He has recovered enough to come home now. I made sure the nurse they are sending over is as ugly as a troll.”
“Why begrudge him a little eye candy?” Sookie teased, remembering how her aunt Linda had been indulged her every whim in her final weeks.
“I’m all the eye candy he will ever need,” Talbot harrumphed. “You’ll do as a close second.”
She giggled a little at his compliment, “I think I lack some essential equipment.”
“Nonsense. Russell is an equal opportunist when it comes to the aesthetics of beauty.” She couldn’t help but smile at him sympathetically as she noticed the pain of impending loss glistening in his lively bluish-grey eyes before he quickly turned around and privately dabbed away at the tears that fell.
“Eric, will you come with me to visit Russell today?” Pam enquired while simultaneously tapping away at her phone. It would appear she was diverting the attention away from Talbot’s grief was she not so distracted herself.
He looked towards Sookie not for assurance, merely for comfort. She reached out her hand which he instantly latched onto. An encouraging smile graced her face as she understood how conflicted he was in this moment, being here for the man that raised him but simultaneously took everything away from him. Sookie kissed the knuckles she held of his in her hand, simply communicating that she would be there for him, no matter what.
The silence of his answer lasted longer than comfortable but finally Eric spoke for the first time since entering the impressive mansion to someone other than Sookie.
“Yes, we’ll come along.”
As soon as the door closed behind them Eric pulled Sookie’s body to his forcing her to fall on the bed with the sudden loss of balance. He kissed her viciously writhing into her, with need and desperation. Shocked by his assault but welcoming the attention regardless her mouth opened without resistance. She allowed his turmoil to wash over her until he became insistent, relentless and unyielding. Sookie attempted to pull away from him but her refusal seemed futile as he descended on her hungrily over and over.
“Eric stop,” she managed to breathe out as she placed her hands against his chest.
“Why?” he asked pleadingly as he kissed down her neck to trace her clavicles.
“Please, stop.” Her steely tone had caused him to adhere instantly, apologising as he moved off her and moved them both to their sides. She didn’t fail to notice the hurt in his eyes, it could be caused by her but most likely she had only added to what was already there. She brushed a few stray soft locks from his forehead in a vain attempt to soothe him.
“I ache for you,” he pleaded as he pulled her hands to his kissing the tops of her fingertips tenderly. “It hurts.”
“I’m not the reason you’re hurting Eric,” she replied softly.
“What the fuck do you know about it,” he growled out at her, shoving her hands back and disengaging from their loose embrace and pacing away to stare out the window. Gathering her breath she managed to steady herself on the edge of the bed.
“I know.” Her voice was steady and strong as she spoke to his back, coming to stand she rested her hand in support to the small of his back. He turned his form towards her at her gesture, anguish written all over his face.
“You know nothing,” he seethed out in anger.
“I know,” she repeated, her tone still strong and even in her refusal to back down despite his misplaced anger towards her.
“How could you possibly know?” Eric demanded, wanting to feel anything but this. In that moment he was deeply regretting letting her come along as she carried the brunt of his temper.
“Because I’ve been in the same place you are right now.” She had repeated the words Pam once spoke to her in a moment of torment that made her see reason through the haze of misdirected anger she had unleashed on Eric when he carelessly and unknowingly made her feel like a kept woman.
“You haven’t lived this for over nineteen years. You’ll never understand,” he dismissed, the hostility resonated from his eyes in challenge causing a chill to take hold despite the warming rays of the sun flooding the room. He was shutting everyone out, the world and her. It was how he coped, never having to truly care for another but then he had never been in a situation like this one before.
“You think I don’t understand what it’s like to have gratitude for a man who came to harm you?” she said disbelievingly. “To share with someone you never imagined you could connect with. If that’s what you think then you’re right Eric I don’t have a clue what it’s like to realise you love and despise at the same time.”
“This has nothing to do with our love,” he spat out. “Everything I’ve been working towards for over sixteen years is coming to an end and it’s out of my control.”
“Keep telling yourself that Eric,” she replied evenly. “You could have killed him hundreds of times over. You. Never. Did. Why?”
“FUCK!” he growled out as a bedside lamp went flying through the room crashing onto the hard tile floor, shattering in thousands of pieces. Sookie didn’t flinch as she kept her eyes firmly on him.
“Don’t you fucking dare use your ability on me,” he roared in frustration.
“I told you I never would again,” she spoke softly without judgement. “Tell me why it hurts Eric,” she demanded as he continued to heave his breath with an erratic heartbeat. She placed her hand over the palpitating organ willing it to calm down his sweaty palm soon fell over her hand. “Tell me,” she repeated with all the love she could carry for him in that moment.
“He’s my father,” he expelled defeated his knees buckling with the weight of the confession. She observed how small he looked, despite his tall stature he was nothing more than a boy of thirteen in that moment.
Sookie pulled his body towards hers, finding not an ounce of resistance in it left as it yielded to her touch. Her hands held him up as he sought to find his feet again while she took in his shell-shocked face. She kissed him tenderly on the lips, her hands coming up to cup his cheeks, it was softer then she’d kissed anyone ever before while he fell apart in her tender touch again.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said with such determination he could only believe her. She guided him back to the bed where she coaxed his body to fall on its side and Sookie followed as he lay before her never as vulnerable as he did now. She repeated her words of assurance over and over again while her touch soothed the worst of his fears because Eric knew he no longer stood alone in this.
“I love you so fucking much,” he whispered as she kissed away the tears that fell, the ones they both pretended were never there. She smiled in return, touched by his words but more so by his ability to be so emotionally bare with her.
Neither one of them had noticed Thalia peer through the door that stood slightly ajar while she took in the young lovers laying side by side on the bed. Her heart thawed a single degree at the sight. The scowl that had grown attached to her face was not one of intention, it was the evidence of her own loss. That was the price one paid for knowing what happened between those two who lay on the bed and never being able to know it again.
Perhaps Ms Perky wasn’t as bad as Thalia initially thought.
They travelled down the same road as they had that morning from the airport. Though both found Pam’s company far preferential to Thalia. Eric was still tense albeit somewhat soothed by Sookie’s continued hold on his hand while he shifted gears not unlike the time they first met. Pam had physically gagged more than once at the sight but neither gave it mind, much to Pam’s further displeasure and ridicule.
“What do you do for fun around here Raven?” Sookie asked hoping to occupy her with small conversation.
“Nothing,” she huffed out. “It’s tediously boring and you’d think I would be able to find a fellow lesbian on the isle of Lesbos.”
“I’m sorry Raven maybe you’ll meet someone nice today,” Sookie offered.
“It’s ok Sookie, we had enough fun before we got here in Mikonos,” she shrugged. “I’ve had little gay boys worshipping the ground I walked on and my pick of women. I should be good for a couple of weeks.”
Pam started directing Eric to the hospital as soon as they entered the capital Mytilene leaving Sookie to her thoughts. When they pulled into the parking lot the sun was high in the sky and the light was painfully sharp on Eric’s suddenly dark features as Sookie witnessed the steel resolve on his face take hold while Pam obliviously skipped towards the entrance.
Sookie stopped Eric in his tracks to make sure he was okay. “I’ll be right here, wherever you want me.”
He kissed her softly clasping on to the affection she was offering unselfishly. His hand hung softly in her hair, his thumb caressing her cheek.
“I think I should be alone with him for a bit,” he sighed. All he wanted right now was to lose himself in Sookie and forget the rest of the world but he knew the time to postpone the present was over.
“That’s fine I’ll wander around here,” she said encouragingly. “Call me if you need me.”
He kissed her once more before moving inside with a whispered thank you.
“You know you two are really revolting,” Pam said as Eric finally joined her inside.
“You’re just jealous Pam.”
“Pffff, she’s not my type. I’m blonde enough by myself thank you very much,” she replied agitated.
“You’re jealous of what’s between us,” he pointed out accurately. “When have you ever spent time with anyone beyond breakfast?”
“Ha! They don’t even make it to breakfast. They’re out the kitty door as soon as we’re done,” Pam grinned. “I never want something like that.”
“I didn’t think I did either but as soon as I met her I did,” he spoke with the first and only genuine smile of the day. “Now I don’t ever want to be without her again.”
“God you’re beginning to sound like Russell with the fate and destiny talk. If you start quoting ‘The Secret’ you’re dead to me,” she warned completely serious about her threat.
“When that happens I’ll happily supply the bullet,” he grinned pulling her into his side.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve retained some of your balls,” she smirked while knocking on Russell’s door.
Russell replied in Greek and with a shrug Pam threw open the door as neither Eric nor she had ever bothered to learn the language, much to Talbot’s disappointment.
The light hearted banter with Pam had done nothing to prepare Eric for the sight of the man who had raised him for so many years propped up in the hospital bed looking so weak and fragile. It was almost as if he were the personification of Eric’s own precarious emotional state. He was always a slender man but now he was extremely so, the volume of flesh lost leaving him to look hollow. His skin had a dull grey sheen and his once lustrous hair and point of vain pride was matted down sitting limply. He looked like death were it not for the mischievous glint in his eyes revealing the man’s continued mental strength in the fight his body was waging against itself. Yet to any casual observer it was obvious there was no trophy to win.
“Ah my two favourite children,” he spoke as good-humoured as ever. “Have you come to beat your inheritance out of me?”
“You know I’ve already cleared out your safes before you ever told me you were sick Papa,” Pam cackled as she placed a kiss on his cheek.
“Oh Pamela I always knew the way to your heart was with shiny things, my little Raven,” he responded with equal sarcasm as he fingered the ends of her long blonde hairs before they beckoned to his son. “Eric come to me, my dear boy.”
Eric sat in the chair closest to Russell instead of greeting him as amicably as Pam. There had never been much physical affection between the two and he had decided there wouldn’t be any need for it now. Eric was always stoic, distant and cautious. In this moment he didn’t know how to reach out to Russell, if he even wanted to. If Sookie were here she would take over for him, act as a distraction like she had that morning with the rest of the family. It was for this reason he asked her to stay behind. He needed to confront what was to come, the inevitable was here. This he had to do on his own.
Russell reached out for his hand instead and for once Eric allowed it. He marvelled at the difference in size and plumpness. “Such strong hands,” he whispered. “I hear they have finally learnt a tender touch. Where is your Ms Stackhouse?”
“You’ll meet her soon enough,” Eric replied without much thought. He didn’t want them to meet but that too was inevitable.
“I’m glad you came to see me,” he smiled dotingly. “You were always my favourite son.”
“I’m your only son,” he scoffed. Eric always had a hard time carrying that particular title in reference to Russell and it stiffened his defences to greater heights. In this moment he could no longer truly deny that after acknowledging that Russell was like a father to him as he had confessed to Sookie earlier.
“That doesn’t detract that I am proud of the man you have become,” he replied with warmth.
“How is your health?” Eric chose to ask, uncomfortable of delving into the conversation further especially in the presence of Pam.
“A little fluid in the lungs, but my blood work is back where it should be. Well where a dying man’s should be.” He laughed a little at himself. “I get to go home tomorrow if nothing changes.” Russell seemed excited at the prospect even though everyone present in the room knew he was going home to die. They also knew it wouldn’t take very long.
A male nurse interrupted them to run some final tests. The nurse was thoroughly ogled and lasciviously engaged by Russell, he never was one to relent his Southern charm even if it was in heavily accented Greek.
The three of them spoke of everything and nothing until Russell requested of Pam to allow him and Eric to speak alone for a moment. With a nod and a slightly tearful goodbye she sought to find Sookie leaving them to their conversation.
“Eric I don’t have long anymore,” Russell started.
“I am well aware.”
“Always had such a way with words,” Russell sighed nostalgically. “The way you always lived with your head between books I feared you might forget to see what is around you.”
“What is it you wish to speak with me about?” Eric asked never having anything but an efficient conversation with Russsell.
“My dear boy, you exceeded my expectations. You are excellent at what you do, perhaps a little too excellent. You’re methodical, precise, calculated. It’s all rational to you,” he continued, his voice not laced with admiration, it simply dealt with the fact of it all.
“You’re seriously going to give me a job performance review right now?” Eric smirked at the incredulousness of it all. He was no longer sure whether to cry or fall apart in hysterics or a disturbing combination of the two.
Russell shook his head with a tired sigh. His son always walked a path by himself and it would be no different now. “I am going to give you a last piece of advice. You may be good at what you do but what you do does not make you good.”
“You wish to discuss the morality of our profession?” Eric questioned with an upturned brow. “I think a priest is a more suitable choice for this discourse. I can live with the lives I’ve taken can you say the same?” he asked coolly, for in that moment Eric could only think of the family that lost their lives beside him and he was soon to follow were it not for a faulty bullet. The word sanctimonious came to mind.
“No,” he said with an emphasised shake of his head. “My premature physical demise stands testament to that fact. I have taken the lives I regret and I am paying the price. Your caution and care for each hit has kept your mind clear. But you and I both know you do this job out of strategy rather than obligation.”
“I don’t know what you are referring to,” Eric replied, his tone even despite the fact that it caused the small hairs on his neck to stand up.
“You don’t think I know what you purchased with your first pay check? The silver bullet with my name on it? What you do in your apartment on Fiskargatan? How you have occupied every single spare moment of your free time?”
“What do you know of it?” he asked the hostility palpable in his voice as Russell had just revealed every carefully guarded secret he had kept from him with extreme caution.
“You have wanted me dead for as long as you know me,” Russell replied calmly. “I am surprised you held on for so long without pulling the trigger.”
“I want to know the truth. I can’t let you die till I know why,” he spoke so softly it reminded Russell of the young boy he had taken along that one fateful night. “That it be right, that it be just.”
“This is why you are not a true assassin. You seek the answers, the cause. No one can die at your hands without it,” Russell informed calmly, having given the subject about as much thought as it had occupied Eric. “A true assassin shoots first and asks questions later, if at all.”
“I think you mistake yourself in determining the difference between an assassin and a killer,” Eric offered.
“I think you mistake yourself in thinking there is a difference,” Russell countered. “You have made that distinction for yourself, it is how you survived. What information are you truly waiting for Eric? You saw me kill your family. What other evidence do you need?”
“I need to know the truth.”
“Exactly,” he grinned encouragingly hoping to help Eric find the answer he was offering all along. “You need the truth more than you need my death. You’re a survivor. Not a killer.”
“What are you asking of me?” he sighed in slight defeat.
“I seek to be your last, the last to die by these magnificent hands,” he marvelled at Eric’s hands again as they rested in his own while he spoke the words evenly and direct.
“Why me?” he simply asked taken aback at the sudden turn of the conversation.
“Talbot is too tender hearted. He never could kill someone while looking them in the eye. Always poison with him. Such a kind death,” Russell smiled wistfully. “Besides it is not something one should ask of their spouse.”
“That is what you seek from me? A kind death?” Eric ascertained Russell’s intention without much information as always. “By my hands?”
“Pamela has been through enough in her short life. I think she would have no issue smothering me with a pillow but that is exactly what concerns me for her. I trust you will continue to look out for her.”
Eric nodded in agreement at his assessment and confirming his continued care of Pam.
“I’ll tell you all I know when you prepare that needle for me,” Russell offered in negotiation pulling a set of vials from his bedside table. “Honestly I don’t know much, but enough to help you seek out the truth.”
When Eric didn’t respond Russell took a sip through the straw of his drink, his throat now sore with the continued conversation. The slurping sound filled the vacuum of noise in the room as Eric continued to contemplate the jumble of information thrown his way.
“When I fired that dud I knew I was looking into the eyes of the boy who would one day reunite me with my maker,” Russell offered with a weak smile with Eric’s continued silence. “I’ll be glad if it’s you. If anyone deserves to stand at my demise then it is you my dear boy.”
“Why do you wish to be killed when death is imminent?” Eric asked unsure of his motivations. It seemed unlike Russell to disregard the limited time he had left simply to teach him a final lesson. He was never that giving despite his care.
“I don’t want to suffer my dear boy,” he pleaded as the fighting eyes Russell had held up so valiantly revealed the pain that would only grow larger by the day. “Do you wish me to suffer?”
“Do you?” Sookie asked. She had listened intently without commenting throughout the entire retelling of their conversation, the impact of which had kept Eric mute till they were back in the house in the privacy of their room. Meanwhile Adonia was attempting to teach Pam to cook but by the sounds emanating up the stairs it was an unattainable task giving them plenty of time to talk.
“Do I what?” he asked still not fully present, his mind still lost in thoughts.
“Do you wish him to suffer?”
“Why do you ask that of everything?” Eric replied confused. He had anticipated many questions from Sookie but he was surprised that her focus lay upon that.
“He’s blackmailing you Eric,” Sookie pointed out. Knowing the effects of manipulation by a loved one first hand had made her highly perceptive to it now. “Either you prove to him you care by accepting a dangling a carrot of information at a cost or he becomes a martyr by your insistence he suffers. He’s seeking redemption and he wins either way. Russell’s not ready die, he’s bartering for a better spot in the afterlife. Unfortunately you’re deemed the key.”
He stayed silent at her analysis, wondering how she could deduce Russell’s intentions so well without being present for the conversation.
“The suffering it’s great you know. I had hoped never to witness it again,” she sighed with strained pain.
Eric thought back to her file, he had not done that in quite some time, having become accustomed to her life story retold by her rather than typed out facts. Suddenly it clicked in the many strings that ran with information through his mind; her Aunt Linda had passed away from ovarian cancer. She had been here before.
“I can give you choice if you wish,” Sookie offered. “Gain the information on your own terms. My ability is yours to use.” She tapped at her head with her last sentence. “End him, don’t end him. Take back the control.”
Eric let out a frustrated sigh. Things had always been clear to him, he always knew which path to follow now he was at a loss and she was only offering more paths.
“Tell me what it was like with your aunt,” he finally asked. It was his usual mode of operation, to access all possible information to inform his final decision.
“It was a slippery slope of bad news. She dealt with it admirably, she wasn’t scared to die.” A small tear escaped the corner of her eye. “Something happens when you know death is near, when it’s inevitable. Aunt Linda fought with every bone of her body but when she accepted her fate she was the happiest I’d ever seen her. She was content to let go.”
“Would you have done for her what he’s asking of me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied without a moment of hesitation. “I nearly did.”
Eric raised his eyebrow in question as response, surprised to find she carried that courage in all her innocence. Though it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to him at all.
“Like I said, the suffering is great. It doesn’t only apply to the physical ache. The suffering affected everyone surrounding her. I have never experienced such great pain at standing witness to another person’s discomfort. I hurt just as badly with her, physically and emotionally,” Sookie explained, her eyes simmering in pools of unshed tears with the reprisal of those feelings of helplessness of knowing there was nothing she could do to relief her of the agony.
“The doctor said because she wasn’t conscious anymore she didn’t register pain. Her body spoke differently and it wore heavy on me and my Gran. Hadley was doped up more than her mother at that point. Jason had shut himself out, it was their way of dealing with it.”
“Disengaging,” he spoke knowing the motion of that all too well as his own. Nor had it gone unnoticed by him that all the other members of his makeshift ‘family’ were playing fair weather in the darkest of storms.
“Yes,” she continued. “I contemplated smothering her with a pillow just to put her out of her body’s misery whether she was there or not. I had no idea if that would actually work. I feared adding to her suffering and failing only to cause her more pain. I think were it not for her insistence of wishing to die a natural death I think I might have tried.”
“A final act of kindness,” he noted thinking back to the word Russell had requested to typify his death. She shook her head in response slowly.
“It has nothing to do with kindness,” Sookie contested. “It’s an act of love.”
A/N: *sniff*… next time Russell comes home and I promise there will be a little more levity in between before Russell gets to meet the illustrious Ms Stackhouse.