“What has you calling me at this hour?” he asked, hoping to divert the conversation.
“You told me to call if anyone ever tried to access your files. They just did,” she explained. “Very sloppily I might add.”
“The investigator from this afternoon?” he whispered while crouching down in between the bushes per Niall’s gestures. He looked intensely into the distance searching for the sign of animal life.
“No,” she answered. “I’ll be surprised if that man can find Internet porn. This is courtesy of the associates at Locke and Nave.”
While that very word would have been the appropriate response to Lina’s news, the curse had slipped out for completely different reasons. Time suddenly moved differently, Lina’s voice was heard in the background, muffled as it fell to the dirt floor before becoming muted indefinitely as the phone fell into a puddle. Noise became an odd observation of time as thuds and shouts alternated while Eric tackled Jason and Niall. Ears stung from ringing, nostrils filled with the scent of gunpowder that had emerged from the bushes in the direction in which Eric had been staring.
A stained hand went very still in front of them. “Fuck, I’m bleeding,” Jason whimpered, his dirty blonde hair suddenly dark and wet, and his otherwise tan face suddenly startling white.
Eric didn’t hesitate to tie his jacket around the wound to stem the bleeding, putting as much pressure on it as he could. Niall nervously came to action, screaming at the top of his ancient lungs for help in every language he could think of. Time seemed to last an eternity as Eric continued to focus singularly on Jason who seemed to be falling in and out of consciousness while ignoring the cacophony around them. A helicopter arrived, and without hesitation he declared to be Jason’s only family and was airlifted to the hospital.
Eric cursed profusely as he felt Jason’s clammy hand turn cold on their swift flight to the hospital as the EMT’s worked diligently in stabilising him. He’d seen so many die, at his own hand and others, but none had seemed quite like this, none so undeserving or messy.
“A bullet isn’t going to kill you, Jason Stackhouse,” Eric threatened lowly to his unconscious form before he was rushed away behind closed hospital doors that barred entry to anyone but medical staff of the Intensive Care Unit. He exhaled deeply against the door that suddenly felt so solid, the light surrounding him felt excessively bright while black spots stung from the periphery. Focus lost, suddenly he was heavy, his feet no longer able to uphold his tall frame forcing him to collapse on the pristinely white floor of the dreary hall, adrenaline making way for blinding pain as it shot through him with a shout, and the realisation that the blood soaking his arm was not a residue from Jason, it was live and gushing, an open wound of his own.
A shaking Claudine awoke Sookie from her restless sleep. Unlike the rest of the Brigants, Sookie had refrained from the copious amounts of alcohol that had flowed around them so she awakened easily. Adrenaline was coursing through her body before she could even make sense of the words that were carefully expressed to her. All she could feel was rage and urgency, and within moments, she was tearing out the door. Only after she had readjusted the driver seat did Claudine manage to catch up carrying a cardigan and a pair of shoes in offering. It was only with the realisation she had no clue where to drive to that had allowed Claudine to catch up with her.
“I assure you something like this never happened before,” Claudine declared apologetically. Sookie’s eyes wordlessly stared her down with rage. It didn’t matter that Claudine had been one of the few in the family who wasn’t so fond of the annual shooting tradition. Despite Claudine’s moral objections to hunting, she had been the one convincing Sookie that it was a perfectly safe pursuit the previous night.
Sookie couldn’t care less right now. The two most important men in her life were in a hospital thanks to a stray bullet. Another fucking bullet. If she hadn’t been navigating her to the hospital, Claudine most assuredly wouldn’t have been the one sitting beside her in the car. Adding insult to injury, she babbled on about the great Brigant family and their various virtues. Sookie took a deep breath, forced by a red stoplight she couldn’t ignore, and then turned her head ever so slightly in warning, “Can it, Claudine! My brother and I know exactly why we were invited. Tell Niall we’re not making any claims to Fintan’s inheritance as of now.”
“But Brendan…” she started and Sookie interrupted her immediately.
“We don’t give a fuck, especially now!” she seethed. “The only words I want to hear coming out of you are ‘left’ and ‘right’.”
Claudine nodded meekly at Sookie’s dismissal and they soon found themselves outside the Emergency Room. Sookie jumped out of the car, leaving the keys while barking at Claudine to park it.
She desperately searched the waiting room for the tall blonde head of hair belonging to Eric. Failing to find him, she ran to the reception desk where it took some time to locate a nurse who could speak to her in English. The news was inconclusive; Jason was still in surgery and a doctor would be with her soon to provide more information. All the nurse was able to tell her was that he was relatively stable upon admission.
She searched the public areas relentlessly while trying to reach Eric on his cell phone. The same nurse that informed her of Jason’s condition interrupted her incessant calling by sternly pointing to a sign proclaiming just that. Frantically, she attempted to explain whom she was in search of, and it was only then that was she was notified of Eric’s condition and led back into the Emergency Room.
Her heart seemed as if it was pounding out of her chest, not relenting its beating drum into the very edges of her scalp. Her mouth was dry, and the only sounds she registered were the irregular beeps of the heart monitors. The nurse had said something to her, but it failed to register, all she could see was a set of curtains and through a thin sliver of light, his hair with stains of red against the white of a pillow. A cry escaped her as she tore at the flimsy fabric that separated them, her knees buckled at the sight, and her tight clutch on the curtain nearly pulled it off of the rod as she all but collapsed to the floor.
“You too?” she exhaled sharply, the tears she had been holding back flooding out all at once.
“I’m fine,” he shrugged, trying not to wince while the nurse finished up stitching his arm. “They’re paying me extra attention because I flew in with a Brigant.”
“Promise?” she asked softly, moving towards him with borrowed energy to his outreaching, undamaged arm. The nurse swiped the wound with some more alcohol and handed them some instructions before leaving them alone. He moved to sit up on the side of the bed, pulling her close for a soft kiss. “Promise,” he returned against her lips.
“Don’t ever scare me like that again, asshole!” she threatened while swatting his arm hard. He winced a little in pain, even though it was the uninjured limb.
“I’m sorry!” she cried out, but all he could do was chuckle.
It didn’t take long for his face to fall into contemplation again, “How’s Jason?”
“In surgery, they’ll tell me when they know more.”
“Good,” he nodded. “That’s good.”
“How is that good?” she whispered with a tempered sob. “They hurt him, Eric.”
“I know,” he whispered, kissing her brow softly. “Still, he’s alive.”
“You didn’t know he was alive?” she whispered with a hint of confusion.
He shook his head, “They saw our ID info, figured out we weren’t ‘brothers’ pretty quickly.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “What happened, Eric? Who tried to kill Jason?”
“It was quick,” he apologised. “I should have seen it, but… I don’t even know who they were aiming for. Could have been me.”
Her eyes teared up again at the thought while he tried to explain that despite his clear line of sight Eric had little to go on as to whom the shooter was. The identical hunting gear along with the likeness amongst the Brigants made it difficult to establish. The assailant had shot at their cluster; the target was most likely Jason or Niall considering the position he had found himself in at the time. That was if it had indeed been an intentional shot. He had only seen the bullet fired while distracted with the news during his phone call with Lena. His arm had been grazed while wrestling down the other two, and he had come out relatively unscathed. Without his intervention, he was certain Jason most assuredly would have died instantly rather than as he was now, fighting for his life.
They were silent for a while after that. Sookie positioned them on the narrow bed, simply snuggled up in a poor attempt of comfort while they stared at a utilitarian clock as it ticked away like any other day, waiting for news. Through the privacy of the curtain they became aware that Niall and his entourage had arrived in the meantime. Seeking access to her and to Jason, but despite their extraordinary wealth and name, under Sookie’s instructions, they were not permitted anywhere near them.
Hours later Jason’s doctor finally informed them that he was stable, but his condition remained critical despite pulling through the surgery well. He would remain in a medically-induced coma until the swelling in his brain receded.
“We will know more tomorrow morning,” Dr. Brunner offered with a sympathetic smile.
“Is there anything we can do?” Sookie asked, the worst of her worry finally letting go of its hold on her shoulders.
“Go home and sleep,” she encouraged. When Sookie looked ready to protest, she held up her hand sternly. “You asked what you could do. The best you can do is to take care of yourselves now. We will take care of him.”
“OK,” she nodded, her hands quickly swatting away at her eyelids where the tears refused to hold. “Can I see him? Just for a moment?”
The doctor eyed her skeptically before speaking directly to Eric, “These are the only conditions under which she’ll leave my hospital, aren’t they?” He had to stifle a chuckle at her menacing glare before agreeing with the doctor. “Very well, follow me, but he stays here!”
Sookie nodded vigorously, not wasting any time in following Dr. Brunner into the ICU. It broke her heart to see her brother laying there, so fragile and pale, the large tube down his throat making his lungs expand unnaturally while his head was all but wrapped entirely in thick bandages. She caressed his bruised cheeks carefully, uttering how sorry she was over and over until the doctor finally pulled her away and out of the darkened room.
“Let us take care of him now,” she soothed gently, and then adding with a wink, “You take care of the other one.”
“Oh God, Eric!” she cried out in shock with the realisation that she had just left him behind, and she hurried back to his bedside again only to find two seemingly innocuous men conversing with him and being dismissed once she joined them.
“Security,” he answered to her unasked question, adding, “For Jason.”
She kissed him hard on the lips, uttering after, “I may forgive you yet.”
They never returned to the Brigant estate afterward. Looking like a fine set, she in her pyjamas and he in bloodied clothing, they checked into Mr. Cataliades’ hotel where the staff never let out an expression or notice that there may have been anything strange about them or their attire.
Her uncle Des soon became the designated liaison between the Brigants. Their belongings were promptly delivered to the hotel, and they respected her wish for no contact. Sookie sat diligently by Jason’s bedside every day, receiving the same news from Dr. Brunner each and every time, “There’s still too much swelling. We’ll know more once he awakens.” Sookie was only allowed in for thirty minute intervals, two times daily. In reminiscence of their teenage days, it appeared he happily slept the day away, much to her Gran’s chagrin. Now she carried that frustration, irritated with her limited access. Each and every time, she battled with being relieved that he had yet to awaken without her and not having awakened at all.
Their hotel room, despite being fitted luxuriously, was poorly used. The bed was hardly slept in, tossed and turned in at most. Their erratic comings and goings meant that Housekeeping were often forced to skip cleaning their room and neither one could be bothered to demand cleaning after they returned, exhausted, to the same dirtied room. They ate there, nothing truly nourishing, with crumbs catching in all the soft surfaces.
For once in her life, Sookie couldn’t find it in her to care that she had allowed her surroundings to fall to ruins, despite her excessive pride and obsession with cleanliness, reserving that only for taking care of Eric’s wound. ‘Living’ itself became an elusive concept to her while she kept her vigil, staying by her brother’s bedside and in the hallways when the staff requested of her kindly, for the fourth or fifth time, to leave. She’d come close to crumbling at noticing the mess in which they now resided. That moment, it appeared, fortunately always coincided with the Housekeeping staff finding the room accessible on their regular schedule, and she’d returned to a world in order again, finding she could breathe freely once more.
A/N: So I’m safe for now, right? We’ll find out how Jason really is next time, what will happen with the Brigants and where we’re headed to next and there might be another twist awaiting our favoured couple. Thoughts encouraged and all 😉
Many thanks again to msbuffy for her tireless dedication and wonderful editing skills that she shares not only for my stories but for many others too!