“They make the inbreeds in Hotshot look civil,” Jason exclaimed as soon as they were in the privacy of the car arranged for Jason during his stay. He grimaced at the memory of his ex-girlfriend Crystal and the messed up family she came from. He had witnessed a lot amongst the Norris clan, but it was nothing compared to the interchange between Claude and Claudette.
“Promise we’ll never let it get as ugly as it did with Gran’s inheritance again,” Sookie asked softly as she reached for her brother’s hand through the two front seats. Eric was only just settling into the passenger seat as he observed their tender reunion. Despite speaking over the phone numerous times, Eric knew they had never come to broach the subject that kept them separated for so long.
Jason turned his head to look at Sookie in the parked car. He had been surprised to hear from his estranged sister weeks ago after she had left without as much as a goodbye. Despite the hostility that had emerged over their grandmother’s contested estate, he was glad they were making amends. He had moved on from his toxic relationship with Crystal who had been encouraging him to fight with Sookie just like his sister’s fiancé had.
Jason had been happy to let the will be upheld initially, but when Crystal informed him he was going to be a daddy soon his priorities shifted. Despite never partaking in the meth that Crystal cooked up in her kitchen, he was now convinced that those shifts in his life had contributed to their volatile relationship.
“Neither of us was in a good place back then,” Jason offered to his baby sister while petting her forearm. It was a gesture that Jason had often given her consolingly after the death of their parents. “Connor and Crystal were poisoning our wells.”
Sookie let out a tiny sob while Eric shifted uncomfortably. He wanted to console her too, but didn’t want to intrude between the brother and sister in the confined space of the car.
“Get out here,” Jason said when he opened her car door to his weeping sister. She moved without thought, and was immediately engulfed in her brother’s embrace. “We ain’t never gonna be as crazy as them. For one, Big Blonde in the front seat isn’t an uppity asshole and two, I don’t have any intentions of fucking him in it.”
Sookie laughed a little at the mere thought of them together.
“You did say you wanted to enjoy some Euro ass,” Eric said dryly with a lascivious wink from his seat in the car.
“Not cool, man,” Jason returned, even though he had a hard time holding down his own laughs. He held Sookie tightly for another second, shifting them both from side to side while he whispered so Eric wouldn’t overhear, “I like him, sis. He’s good for you.”
Sookie gave him the biggest smile she ever granted him, her brother’s approval meaning so much to her in that moment and she simply replied, “Me too.”
“Ready?” Eric whispered to the shell of her ear, arms encircling her waist upon noticing her extended preoccupation with her mirror image. Her eyes flit up momentarily before giving a nod. “I’ll be there the whole time.”
“Thank you,” she whispered with a squeeze to his forearm.
“Sis! You ready to go!” Jason growled through the bedroom door.
“He gets like this when he’s hungry,” Sookie explained with a small smile before taking a deep breath. “Best get this over with.”
The impressive dinner table that could easily seat twenty or more stood decidedly empty as Claudine flittered past it without a glance, guiding them instead to the smaller and more intimate table of the conservatory while prattling on about the benefits of organic foods and the special preparation by the chef that night, displaying her expertise in talking about anything without substance.
“I thought you were expecting more people tonight,” Sookie noted while being seated beside Claude at the far end of the table in direct opposition of Claudette, who was seated with her set of twins who seemed like a set of well-behaved angels despite their mother’s declaration they were the opposite, and her husband, whom neither Sookie, Jason, or Eric could look in the face long enough and not be disturbed by other imagery that involved Claude who openly leered.
“They didn’t want to come when they heard you two would be here,” Claude sneered, gulping down another generous shot of liquor before dropping the empty tumbler with a thud to the thick damask table cloth.
“CLAUDE!” Claudine admonished with a gasp.
“What?” he shrugged. “She asked, what do you want me to do lie?”
“They cancelled because someone fell ill,” Claudine assured Sookie with a broad smile, though she didn’t need her ability to tell her that was a poorly veiled truth. “Everyone will be here tomorrow.”
“Well. I, for one, am very happy to have you both here,” Niall smiled with a small pet to her hand. “And your Eric, of course.”
“Thank you, Niall,” she acknowledged before adding they were happy to be there too.
Conversation remained polite and cordial after that, and, despite the beauty of the intricate dishes that were displayed before them course after course it appeared most preferred their diet liquid. After the dessert course, drinks were taken to the large living room with the same assortment of people from lunchtime after Claudette’s husband excused himself with the twins noting the late hour of the night. The previous animosity between the decidedly drunken duo that was Claude and Claudette had since dissipated over an undiscovered bottle of scotch.
“If my sister Mab could only see the state of her grandchildren now,” Niall chuckled at the two while they were adamantly trying to convince each other which of the two was prettier.
“She didn’t allow for much, Mother was quite the same,” Claudine acknowledged. “I always think they’re making up for lost time.”
“Well, at least you drove Mab mad with all your flower talk; and making your own way when she was still alive,” Claudette giggled before pressing her index finger against the tip of Claude’s nose with an accompanied ‘boop’.
“I think you earned her respect with that,” Niall complimented with a warm smile, ignoring the antics of the other two siblings.
“By cutting me out of her will,” she snorted. “I think she never wanted to believe I don’t care for material things and wanted the last laugh from beyond the grave.”
“Look at where you are in comparison to them,” Niall pointed out as if they weren’t in the room. “Those two are strangled by stipulations of their trust funds, trapped in a marriage with someone she never loved, and he can never be who he is to the rest of the world. She knew you’d never agree to anything like that.”
“Sounds like her,” Claudine sighed with a yawn. “Always orchestrating everything to her view of the world, but don’t take that burden on yourself, Uncle Niall, we agreed to help you of our own free will, don’t take their gilded cages as your making.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he smiled before kissing the fingers on her hand affectionately. “However, each of us needs to carry our burden.”
“Enough of that now,” he chided. “Sookie and Jason didn’t come here for this. Why don’t you gather the family albums so they at least know who all their family is when they finally meet them?”
It didn’t take long for Claudine to do as Niall asked, only to find Claude and Claudette snuggled up against one another in deep sleep upon her return, just as they were when younger.
“This is Rogan, my youngest brother,” Niall pointed out in photo album with a distinct patina of time gone by while Claudine covered her siblings with a blanket. “He looks rather different these days, you’ll meet him for sure tomorrow. He and Mab are the reason we are so many, Alesia and I were blessed with Fintan and Dermot before she passed. Frida never wanted any children, her figure she always told me.”
“Dermot never had any children?” Sookie asked, even though she already knew the answer.
“Not that we are aware,” Niall answered, his eyes slightly misty. It was difficult to tell whether it was the nostalgic images before him or the careful mention of his other son. “You two are the only legacy I have, it shames me it took so long for us to meet.”
“Don’t think we would have been ready any sooner,” Jason shrugged. “So everyone work at that fancy-schmancy company of yours?” He asked while Claudine swiped through the professionally photographed portraits on the website of the large pharmaceutical corporation to show everyone in their more recent incarnation.
“No,” Claudine said with a shake of her head. “There’s over fifty of us, about half of us are involved in the company somehow. Be careful of him,” she added, pointing to Brendan, Rogan’s eldest son. “He didn’t respond all too well knowing of your presence.”
Sookie nodded, holding on to Eric beside her that much more tightly before she was forced to release her hold with the slight buzzing sound coming from his pants pocket. “Pam,” he explained to her before stuffing the phone back in leaving it, the movement was however halted by her.
“Take it,” she encouraged, feeling safe enough with just Niall and Claudine, knowing Pam wasn’t one to call without reason. With a nod he excused himself, moving out of the house and into the cool air of the garden seeking better reception, and only finding it on the edge of the premises, but impatiently Pam had already hung up, and failed to answer when he tried to call her back.
“Do you work here?” a voice addressed him in French.
“What’s it to you?” Eric questioned in return, not faltering with his own proficiency with the language.
“We’d like to get a tally on how the vote will pan out.”
“Niall’s seat has never been up for grabs,” Eric bluffed, pulling from the knowledge his research into the Brigants and the worldwide trading company had yielded him. “No story here,” he added, recognising the stranger as a journalist with ease, from experience he knew no true investigator would so openly be soliciting leads without a bit of stealth.
“My sources say differently,” he grinned. “The old patriarch is hanging by a margin. This might be the year they finally dethrone him.”
“You have a card?” Eric posed before the man hastily handed over a business card confirming his employment for a large international financial newspaper. Eric neatly spelled out an email address on the back before returning it to him. “Send me what you got, I’ll tell you if you’re on the right track.”
“What are you to them?”
“What are you doing over there?” Sookie yawned when she found the bed devoid of him. He didn’t answer immediately, and, with a knowing sigh, she exchanged the comforting warmth to peer over to see the screen of the laptop he was hovered over along with an assortment of notes spread out over the desk top. He only startled slightly when she kissed his cheek and wrapped her arms around his neck from behind. “What is this?”
“The reason why you and Jason are here,” he said with a serious tone, only letting up momentarily before kissing her in return. “Morning.”
“Finish up, I’ll make us breakfast,” she returned, recognising his concentrated state of mind that left little acknowledgement of what happened around him when he absorbed himself into the evidence at hand. “Don’t make me come get you when it’s ready!” Sookie warned before shutting the door on him.
Eventually Eric did wander into the breakfast area after being called for no less than three times. “So what’s going on?” Sookie asked when they finished up breakfast with little conversation, Jason still bleary eyed by the early rousing by his sister while he still suffered jet-lag and Eric’s deep contemplative mode.
“I figured out why they so desperately wanted you two here,” he answered before getting up to retrieve his notes and laptop. Sookie cleared the table, encouraging Jason to do the same with a single menacing glare so Eric could set down the different cards to explain the structure of powers with visual aids, not unlike when he had unravelled Bill’s scheme to Sookie on the night they first met. He finished with the placement of an index card carrying the Stackhouse siblings’ names, placing it firmly in the middle.
“This is your bargaining position,” he explained as he placed it over half of the shares that Dermot Brigant held. “Fintan Brigant’s shares were bequeathed to his brother as he appeared to have no legitimate heirs at the time. Your grandmother never laid claim on behalf of your father.”
Sookie made a quick calculation of the shares that once belonged to her grandfather. “If we lay claim to them, Jason and I are the deciding vote between the two factions,” she deduced with Brendan and Niall on different ends of the spectrum as laid out before them.
“Yes,” Eric smiled, glad to see her catch on so quickly while Jason simply scratched his head in continued confusion. “Niall, Rogan and Mab inherited equal amount of shares, but the trust stipulated any recognised children would be bequeathed parts of the shares upon birth. The more children and grandchildren Mab and Rogan had, the less sway they had. The fact that multiples are not uncommon in the family meant they lost a lot of ground soon in comparison to Niall. It meant Dermot and Fintan held more shares than their cousins. Without Fintan, Dermot holds the same amount of shares minus one as his father. His continued absence; however, has always forced them to discount those votes, working to Niall’s favour.”
“Where do we come in?” Jason questioned.
“The source is vague, but it assures the power block with absentee votes is coming to an end; the only absentee to pose any threat being Dermot.”
“We were invited as leverage,” Sookie concluded, to which Eric nodded while Jason was barely grasping what he was trying to explain. “It’s why Uncle Des is coming in as a surprise guest at the reunion. Niall seeks to recognise us, with stipulated conditions I’m sure.”
“Uncle Des is coming over?” Jason replied, unsure of how to respond to any of the information, the mention of their grandparent’s old friend at least he could react to.
“Yeah, he was friends with Fintan and some of the other Brigants,” Sookie explained. “I don’t know if they’re really going to petition us to claim the inheritance or just threaten with it, but it explains their insistence on suddenly enveloping us into the fold.”
Jason let out an exasperated sigh, “I thought we were done with all this inheritance legal mumbo jumbo. Now we have to listen to it all over again.”
“Now that you two are both aware, you hold this sway,” Eric offered in commiseration. “At least you get to decide how you want to handle this. If you want you can leave them to fight it out amongst themselves. Sell your shares to the highest bidder or disregard your claim. Expect everyone to be extremely nice to you as soon as they all figure it out.”
“What do you mean figure it out?” Jason said in confusion. “If you knew within a night, wouldn’t they all know already?”
“The article will be out in tomorrow’s paper,” Eric explained. “That’s assuming this journalist hasn’t already been probing the other members of this family, which I’m almost certain he has.”
“Well, at least they’re not trying to kill us this time,” Sookie said in exasperation, any energy for the day already gone with early morning’s revelations.
Jason looked at her with shock at her slip of the tongue, catching on quick for once.
“What do you mean this time?”
A/N: Gratitude as always to msbuffy’s helping hand in this.
The Brigants are indeed an odd bunch but then old money tends to be… so the plot thickens and what will Uncle Des’ presence mean? Thoughts?
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