“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 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 form 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 in 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, 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 relieve 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 heavily on me and my Gran. Hadley was doped up more than her mother at that point. Jason had shut himself off; 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. 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.”
Sookie sat patiently on her knees beside Eric waiting for him to open his eyes. At the first sighting of a shade of blue peering out from beneath narrowed slits, her hand ran gently through his hair as he mumbled a good morning.
“How are you doing today?” Sookie whispered when she came to lie beside him on top of the covers while his arm reached for her. He never answered, but his eyes spoke volumes of his continuing internal turmoil. She kissed the lids softly; tasting the salt of his tears that must have fallen when she finally fell asleep but neither one would ever give them a mention.
“Thank you,” he whispered while burying his face in her neck, losing himself momentarily in her fresh scent to be guarded from the world by her mane of blonde hair.
Sookie held him for as long as he needed to be held before he found her lips and kissed her softly. She tried to hide the grimace for as long as she could before he looked at her curiously. “Morning breath,” she tittered softly before he grinned and attacked her lips again with squeals of protestations while he nipped and sucked at her skin intermittently. In the end he carried a brilliant smile as he gazed down on her with his body caging over hers, the duvet cover lost somewhere in the melee in between.
“Get a room, you two,” Pam coughed loudly as she leant into the doorframe.
“I thought we already did,” Sookie laughed from beneath Eric.
“I meant somewhere else,” Pam returned quite seriously as she pointedly gestured randomly around the room causing Eric’s face to scrunch up in confusion to their meaning. “Better do it soon before Russell comes home.”
Eric regarded her carefully before the light-hearted look on his face was wiped away with the mention of his surrogate father’s impending arrival that day. When Talbot returned after the nightly hour visit he had confirmed as much. Sookie had observed when they returned from their visit earlier that day that one of the drawing rooms on the ground floor had been converted into a bedroom for Russell supplemented with all necessary medical equipment. There was no choice in avoiding the inevitable any longer.
A nurse had arrived, introducing herself as Nadia, to come and check all the equipment. She spoke a little bit of English but not enough to sustain a full conversation. She had quickly retreated in what was to be Russell’s room setting everything up before stealthily leaving again.
“You’ll come down for breakfast, won’t you?” Sookie asked carefully unsure where Eric’s mood had taken him. He nodded without a thought and made his way to the bathroom while Sookie followed Pam down to the kitchen.
“What was that about?” she asked Pam curiously, but received no more of answer than a non-committal shrug and a finger to her bright pinkly painted lips.
Despite Talbot’s objections, Sookie helped Adonia clear up after breakfast when Eric still hadn’t come down and the table held a lone prepared plate for him where Sookie had assembled things she knew he would like. The two women were easily drawn to each other as neither could stand to be idle in times like these. Sookie had run herself ragged when taking care of her Aunt Linda; it kept the mind from wandering too much as to what would inevitably happen next and she found comfort in the same pattern now. Pam stayed for the company but sat watching the labour happen instead, preferring it over the prospect of being alone.
When Adonia chattered about something while beaming brilliantly at Sookie accompanied by another painful pull and pinch of the cheeks, Sookie asked Pam what she had spoken.
“My new flour-sifter, where shall I hang you,” Pam translated for her disinterestedly with the aid of her phone.
“There’s no flour-sifter here,” Sookie said in confusion, looking around her. Pam and Adonia conversed a little back and forth trying to find sense with Pam’s limited grasp of the language before she addressed Sookie in English again.
“It’s an expression. Apparently when you have something new, you, in this case, you take care of it and show it off,” Pam explained as she continued in her signature bored tone. “She’s planning to marry you off to Talbot.”
“She does realise he’s gay right?” Sookie whispered conspiratorially.
“Yes, she does. Stop whispering, she doesn’t understand you anyway,” Pam returned with a roll of her eyes. “Adonia knows that, but you’ll never hear her speak of it and she’s still on the prowl for a suitable wife for him.”
“Tell her I’m flattered, but I’m here with Eric.”
Pam explained it to Adonia who seemed disappointed and stalked off mumbling some prayers in Greek.
“She’s not pleased,” Pam offered with a tiny shrug as if Sookie hadn’t understood the hostile body language. “She was really looking forward to blonde grandchildren.”
“She already has two, how many more does she need?”
“Adonia doesn’t consider us her grandchildren. Blood ties are everything around here,” she shrugged.
“That’s awful,” Sookie sighed, her shoulders slumping in on her.
“What is awful?” Eric questioned when he returned to the kitchen and wrapped himself around her while she finished drying the last of the dishes.
“Hey,” she greeted as he placed a soft peck on her lips before he moved to stand beside her. “Pam told me Adonia doesn’t consider you her grandchildren.”
“She does,” Eric replied, pulling her into his lap while he poked at the comestibles on the plate. “We’ll be cast aside as soon as she has any natural ones though. She’s just pissed she never got to be around babies, it’s the only reason she hasn’t died yet. She’s well past her nineties.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have flat out crushed her hopes,” Sookie said slightly aghast, her movement to find the woman in question was halted by his strong grip around her waist. “I feel awful.”
“She wants to marry Sookie off to Talbot, something about blonde babies,” Pam supplied as she regarded Eric’s confusion.
Eric laughed a little before he supplied, “Don’t worry, min älskling. You’ve hardly crushed her hopes; you’ve just made her more determined.”
She looked worried momentarily until Eric kissed away the frown in her brows.
“Shall we go out?” Eric asked when he had scoffed down all that was on the plate in quick succession.
“You don’t want to be here when Russell arrives?” Pam demanded with a tinge of hurt.
“You know I love you more when you’re cold and heartless,” Eric teased, hoping to deflect the situation with some humour.
“You can be a real cold hearted bastard,” Pam rebuked in anger before stomping out of the room.
“She’s young, Eric,” Sookie offered sympathetically. “I think everyone forgets that around her because she acts so grown up. Everyone copes in their own way.”
He nodded appreciatively when she got up to put his plate away and gave it a rinse before stowing it away in the dishwasher. She finished drying her hands on the tea towel and hung it to dry. It was no surprise to her that Eric had instantly occupied the space to the rear of her, she glanced up to meet his eyes. “Let’s go somewhere. Just you and me,” she whispered against his lips while clasping her hand in his. Eric didn’t hesitate for a second, taking the given comfort where he could, kissing her softly before guiding her out of the house.
They walked through the historic town to get to the beach, treading their bare feet over the sand and into the cold Mediterranean Sea. She mocked his ridiculously large footprints with her dainty feet while he continually threatened to toss her into the cold sea. He pulled her into a secluded spot and they made out like a careless couple on holiday, simply enjoying a private moment on the beach.
As they made their way back, several stops were made by the little shops that were scattered throughout the town. Sookie stocked up on sundresses that reminded her of the ones she left behind in Louisiana, albeit with more colourful patterns, hoping they would bring the warmth of the sun. She found a few traditional Greek goddess dresses that were surprisingly flattering on her short frame. So flattering in fact, she had a hard time beating Eric out of the fitting room.
He was a little more difficult to shop for, though desperately in need of some casual wardrobe. They did manage to find him some eventually that didn’t make him look like a lost cruise passenger.
“Do you wish to meet Russell?” Eric asked when they sat down for lunch, the lone couple on the terrace as Sookie had insisted the sun would be high enough to keep them warm.
“Only if you want me to,” she replied after finishing her bite of salad.
“I’m asking if you would like to meet him.”
She gave a small shrug. “When you told me about what he did to you and your family, I was ready to shoot the man myself,” Sookie offered as she reached for his hand. “It’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? So yes, I’d like to meet the man who helped raise you. Would you like me to talk to him?”
He remained silent for a while as she continued eating her salad. Eric still hadn’t figured out what he wanted. He knew he wanted the truth and he knew Russell was going to die. Eric just hadn’t figured out how and why things were going to happen, and in what order.
“Just tell me when you know,” Sookie answered for him when she saw him struggling to find a reply.
“Yeah,” she answered absent-mindedly trying to attack an olive with her fork.
He held her offered hand that wasn’t engaged in the assault. “Thank you for being here.”
She moved her face across the table to give him a sweet kiss. “Glad to be of service, mister.”
“I’m still working on it,” she winked. “You have älskling, but I haven’t found one that fits you yet.”
“Which ones have been discarded?” he asked curiously.
“Well, honey, darling, and sweetie. They’re all out as I wasted those on the undeserving,” She cringed slightly at the memory of Bill. “Baby or babe seems completely bizarre with your giant stature and all.”
He laughed a little at the idea before offering with a smirk, “I’ve always been partial to Viking Sex God.”
She blushed at the memory of it. “I can’t call you that in public!” she gasped. “Maybe in private if you’re lucky.”
“I’ll hold you that,” he countered, far too self-satisfied for her liking.
“How about clam-digger?” a voice from behind them quipped before Pam appeared and sat down beside him slumping in the wooden chair.
“I think that one is more suited to you, Raven,” Sookie giggled.
“I’m happy to see to your needs if doodle-bug over here is negligent,” she leered.
“I think I’ll do fine without you,” Sookie shifted uncomfortably in her seat afraid Pam might jump her right then and there.
“Cutie-patootie?” Pam offered.
They simultaneously vetoed that one. Apparently a few choice digs at her brother were enough to restore their strained relations of the morning. None of Pam’s suggestions were noteworthy to Sookie, but ‘my Viking’ did have a ring to it.
“The illustrious Ms. Stackhouse, I do declare! Aren’t you a darling?” Russell beamed with excitement as Sookie first entered the room.
“It’s very kind of you to say, Sir.” Sookie answered when she offered her hand to him. He took it and placed a soft kiss against the ring Eric had shoved on her finger before leaving Sweden.
“Eric has proposed to you already? My, he moves quickly,” Russell spoke regally while admiring the ring with his beady eyes.
“Oh, no. That’s just a family piece,” she lied.
“Well, it’s certainly precious, nonetheless. Please, sit,” he said gesturing to a chair. “Eric, get in here. You’re not sending your sweetheart in to the firing squad all alone are you?”
“Of course not,” Eric replied while he moved to sit beside Sookie who immediately latched on to him. Russell gazed down pleased at the sight of the entwined hands.
He whispered conspiratorially to Sookie, “You know, Ms. Stackhouse, I worried my dear boy was going to end up a spinster with fifty-eight cats.”
Sookie snickered a little with his antics. Somehow Russell reminded her of Gran and her gossiping friends. “I don’t think you would ever have had to worry for that, Sir. Eric’s allergic to cats.”
“Well done, Ms. Stackhouse, you pass the first test. Please do call me Russell.”
“Only if you call me Sookie,” she smiled politely.
“Where does your family hail from Ms. Stack-, I mean, Sookie?” he enquired.
“Bon Temps, Louisiana. Nearest Monroe.”
“Of course. I have actually been there once, don’t remember much of it though,” Russell spoke in recognition of an old memory.
“Eric tells me you were raised in Mississippi,” Sookie offered.
“Yes. Natchez, born and raised,” he smiled at her. “Unfortunately folk were not as tolerant back then so I ended up crawling up north.”
“Sadly, people are still not as tolerant as they could be,” Sookie spoke knowingly of the discrimination she received for being different.
“My momma used to say ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’ I always hoped against hope she was wrong,” he sighed. “I did always have a bit of a penchant for silk as a child.” He finished with a self-deprecating laugh, which Sookie joined.
“Now I’m not going to ask how you two met since Eric already told me. So tell me, Sookie, what are your intentions with my son?” he smirked as Sookie appeared to turn as white as a sheet.
“My, this really is a firing line,” she retorted tight-lipped. “We make each other happy, I think that should suffice for now.”
“My, my you really are a little spitfire, aren’t you? My little ice prince could use a bit of thawing now and then. Don’t worry, dear, you had my blessing as soon I saw the way he looks at you,” he replied amused at her fire.
“Thank you kindly,” she responded as demure as she could be.
“Your momma truly did raise you right,” he marvelled with a slight hint of malice lighting up his otherwise tired eyes.
“My Gran, actually.”
“Yes, of course, my apologies,” he spoke consciously as if he had known the woman.
“There was no offence made,” Sookie returned suspiciously.
“You are most accustomed with death,” Russell observed while he pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I grew up next to a cemetery that was my playground. I may have considered a few of the residents as my friends,” she replied in all seriousness.
“You are a truly unique individual, aren’t you? Don’t you wish to know more of me?”
“I’ve always been taught not to pry, Sir,” she replied.
“Russell,” he reminded her.
“Of course, I apologise, Russell,” Sookie corrected.
“Do you not pry with Eric either?”
“Eric tells me what he is comfortable telling me,” she returned vaguely, shifting uncomfortably in her chair with the scrutinised gaze that fell upon her.
“As she tells me,” Eric interjected picking up on Sookie’s defensiveness. “Perhaps we should leave you to rest, it has been a long day. Has it not?”
“I do tire easily these days,” he said downcast, hoping to rear some sympathy.
“If you would appreciate it, I can cook you some home comforts,” Sookie offered falling back on her Gran’s hospitality.
“That would be nice,” he answered, genuinely excited for the first time since they had spoken. “How is your gumbo?”
“Well, it’s my Gran’s recipe although she made it better than I ever have, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.”
“Dark roux?” he asked, salivating at the mere thought.
“You’d be chased out of Louisiana for anything less,” she informed him seriously as if they were discussing classified information.
“Then I look forward to tasting your gumbo, Ms. Stackhouse,” he spoke with an emphasis on her last name.
“Sookie,” Eric corrected.
“Of course, Sookie. It seems old habits die hard.”
“We’ll leave you to your rest,” she offered, before moving to get up with Eric following quickly behind her.
“It was lovely meeting you, dear. You take care of my boy there.”
“It’s nice to have met you, too. Eric has told me much about you,” she spoke evenly.
“We will talk later, Eric,” he spoke as a statement rather than a question.
“I will inform you when I make my decision,” Eric replied as he led Sookie out the door.
“Can we take a drive somewhere?” she whispered to Eric as soon as they left the room. He simply nodded and quickly came back with a set of car keys in hand.
“What happened in there?” he asked as they got in the car. She shook her head as she held her index finger to her pouted lips in imitation of Pam earlier that morning. They remained silent as they drove until Eric pulled over to a deserted beach he frequented as a teenager where they walked a small distance before she broke the silence.
“Eric, how much have you told Russell about me?”
“I informed him about the dud, aside from that, nothing. He may have done some investigation in preparation, but Russell has always been minimal when it comes to the gathering of intelligence. Pam may have told him some things,” he explained when he pulled her down beside him on the sandy beach hoping to alleviate her nervous energy. “Though I asked her not to.”
“Tell me about this ring,” Sookie asked as she toiled it back and forth on her finger.
“It was Halina’s engagement ring. I think it belonged to her grandmother-in-law before her.”
“It’s not a typical engagement ring design. Most would describe it as a wedding band.”
“You are not happy wearing this ring?” he asked, confused, not understanding the significance.
“Eric, it’s beautiful, but he recognised it. He recognised it as an engagement ring. He knows this ring and he knows the implication of it.”
“You two were having a completely different conversation to the one I heard, weren’t you?” he asked seeking to confirm his suspicions.
“Yes, Russell can give the old ladies of Bon Temps a run for their money in circular speak. He all but bless your heart’ed me,” she huffed out, her feet digging deeply into the sand.
“I don’t understand,” Eric replied with a blank stare.
“When Southern women say ‘bless your heart’ it’s usually a blanket statement to thinly veil a criticism. It’s a polite way of saying F.U. without the backlash `cause your manners are still intact. Intonation gives it a different meaning though.”
“Russell was insulting you?” Eric growled out.
“No, he was baiting me. He was being improper without losing his manners. Unless you grew up knowing all the implied undertones you’d never realise he was prying.”
“He was rude to you?” Eric asked, desperately trying to retain his laughter over the supposed offense.
“Yes and no,” she sighed, finding it difficult to explain to someone who hadn’t lived through it. “I can handle rude behaviour, but it’s not that what worries me.”
Sookie remained agitated and nervously kicked her feet in the sand. He pulled her in for a kiss hoping it would settle her nerves as it had been proving to him, and, indeed, she lost herself in the kiss briefly. However, her agitation came back full force when she pulled away again.
“Stop distracting me,” she snapped at him. “And don’t you ‘you’re cute when you’re mad’ me.” He made a zip motion over his lips although he could hardly suppress the smirk that had settled there.
“Ass,” she mumbled with a poorly contained smile while swatting his shoulder. “Let me translate the conversation for you. Russell knows of the many deaths in my family. He all but implied my mother and gran were negligent in my manners on account of my temper.”
“I like your temper,” he smiled at her. She just glared at him to let her finish causing him to reconsider his stance on that.
“Someone doesn’t ask a woman of her intentions unless it is to stress, if you have to ask they probably aren’t good.”
“He doesn’t care what happens between us,” Eric replied dismissively before it dawned on him. “Russell was purposefully being passive-aggressive with you. He was pushing for you to lash out.”
She nodded, “Yes, he was testing my limits of propriety. I think he knows.”
“He was pushing to break my hold on my manners. To pry where I shouldn’t,” she sighed, her body relaxing some as she locked her eyes on his. “He knows about my ability, Eric, and he wasn’t shy about letting me know.”
“Pam witnessed you with Long Shadow, she must have told him,” Eric offered trying to ease her anxiety, though it did little to settle his own. “She promised not to speak to anyone about it. I specifically mentioned Russell and Talbot were not to know,” he whispered in disappointment.
“The deaths in my family can be easily looked up, but not the ring, Eric, and Raven couldn’t know about that,” Sookie offered hoping to absolve her of the blame. “She seemed to be warning us about something in the room this morning.”
“But she knows of your ability.” His heart sank a little, for as long as he had known Pam, her word meant everything for it had been the only currency she could barter in when little else was afforded to her. It appeared it hadn’t stopped her from communicating in other ways, like the way she had been vaguely hinting at something to him that morning. He hated to think it, but it was the only truth that made sense. She was working both sides.
Eric heaved a deep sigh, “I fear we no longer know where her loyalties lie.”
A/N: Special thanks to MsBuffy for betaing. She has been kind enough to take on the editing of my chapters on all my stories as my work is piling up and this allows me to post as frequently as possible. Saying that there will unfortunately only be one chapter on this story till the new year. It’s a combination of holidays, workload and wishing to enjoy my holidays as simply holidays. There will be some stocking stuffers and outtakes but on the multi chapter stories it will be quiet in the latter weeks of December. I hope you will all understand and patiently await what’s to come.
Next time we’ll probe into Russell’s motivations and a bit of a surprise arrives… get on the speculating 😉
Today’s fixin is here.