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.
The circles underneath Sookie’s eyes had grown harrowingly dark after a full week of worry and ill rest. Somehow it all brightened somewhat at Dr. Brunner’s announcement that Jason was now stable enough to be moved from the ICU where he would be slowly roused out of his medically-induced coma. His cognitive future remained uncertain, but his condition was no longer critical. Upon hearing that news, Eric was able to wrap up Sookie in his arms, the eternal fatigue crashing through her system. He gently put her to bed, and she was finally able to sleep through a whole night uninterrupted.
It didn’t surprise them in the least that the local police investigation had concluded the shot had been an accidental misfire and the shooter was unknown. It was clear to everyone, including the police, that this was a convenient version of events. Cataliades assured them that it was not an intended attempt on Jason’s life, that the Brigants were not a murderous family, but Sookie and Eric took little truth or comfort in that.
There had been no attempt made by the Brigants to contact them directly after the Uncle Des’ intervention and Sookie had refused their financial assistance in paying the hospital bill. The excessive stream of flowers sent their way by the family were directed towards a local care home without even a glance from Sookie, and, after the third offering, the nurses simply removed the cards, placing them with the others, and called for the necessary pick up.
On the third day after his move, Sookie heard the most beautiful word ever uttered, “Sook?” There was a hoarseness to his voice, his throat sore after all that time of intubation and his only source of hydration having come from an IV for well over a week. Sookie couldn’t even manage an adequate response, instead bursting into tears. Eric had to briefly force her away from Jason as the medical team instantly set out to run a battery of tests. With baited breath they awaited the results, Dr. Brunner and her optimistic, methodical demeanour doing little to reveal the general state of her brother.
His memory was mostly intact, the events of the shooting were a vague memory that was far from unusual considering the trauma. It was the first time they had ever witnessed the dedicated doctor become excessively solemn at the news that Jason’s left leg was diminished in mobility. Her cheery optimism soon shone through as she expressed her confidence that with physical therapy and time that this too would heal.
“You were very lucky, Herr Stackhouse, with such a brother-in-law,” she smiled. “I don’t get to give such a good prognosis to everyone.”
“It helps that I have such a pretty doctor,” he grinned with a rather overt wink.
Dr. Brunner barked rather loudly with the compliment, “Ah yes, the nurses have warned me about you.” She smiled knowingly with a waggle of her eyebrows and added with a glance in the general area of his crotch, “It’ll be a while yet before you can do that.”
Sookie swatted her brother admonishingly when he began to grumble and was hushed before he could make any mention of desired ‘Euro Asses’ and sponge baths, politely thanking the pretty doctor for all her care instead. The pleas to leave the hospital came soon after when confronted with the food offerings.
While his immediate health had been the main focus for Sookie in the aftermath of the shooting, she soon became concerned with how to care for Jason once he was released from the hospital. He would need to move onto a rehabilitation centre soon and of all the places in the world, she had never felt less safe than where they were presently.
They couldn’t risk returning to Louisiana with Bill Compton possibly still keeping tabs on her whereabouts. Jason, meanwhile, had little wracking his mind while he happily indulged in the attention of the nurses and complaining about the poor choice in TV channels. Eric finally suggested they return to Sweden. There was a more specialised centre for Jason’s rehabilitation in Germany, but the hospital’s doctors deemed the institute in Stockholm perfectly fine. Flights were booked immediately.
The other Brigants had slowly returned to their homes all over the world while Niall and Claudine remained behind. Offhandedly, Cataliades had informed them over dinner once that the delayed vote had kept Niall in power as CEO, but neither Sookie nor Eric took any interest in that news nor their role in it.
After much relenting, Sookie had agreed to a sit down conversation with Niall before they were to leave with Uncle Des promising to fly in for the occasion. If it were up to her she wouldn’t exchange a word with the family ever again, but there were still answers that they needed, for Eric and for Jason. So she swallowed her pride, saddened by the entire affair. She had genuinely liked Niall and Claudine until she became aware of their internal family power plays, and despite avoiding their request for contact, they didn’t stop after Niall had retained his seat. The chance was slight, but it made her hope that it truly had been an accident.
Sookie didn’t know if their continued insistence for contact pertained to guilt or genuine care, but she felt she owed them a moment of explanation regardless. Mostly she did it for Eric, a fact wordlessly acknowledged by them both.
Her perspectives had changed tremendously with the events. Sookie realised that she couldn’t hide the cause of her parents’ death from Jason any longer either with the knowledge gained from Russell. To a certain extent, it meant she would no longer be able to disguise Eric’s involvement either. She would tell him almost everything, aside from Eric being her intended assassin. She believed that would be too complex to explain to her brother. It was something, after all, that she herself could barely make sense of. Once home in the safety of Sweden, she would tell him all.
The night before Jason’s intended discharge, they sat down to dinner with the two remaining Brigants and Desmond Cataliades. The conversation was tense initially, Niall and Claudine politely enquiring after Jason’s health to which Sookie would only answer in the most limited of ways. While awaiting the dessert course, it was Sookie who finally gathered her courage and turned the questions on their host as it became apparent the polite niceties of the evening were drawing towards its natural end.
“Why is Dermot persona non grata?” she asked before downing a large sip of water nervously. In tandem, without any liquid to aid it, two gulps travelled down Claudine and Niall’s throats.
“He has not been of sound mind for quite some time,” Niall said carefully. “I fear he has not been the same since Fintan’s death.”
“What did he do?” Sookie demanded testily, throwing her gage to its maximum setting though finding it of little effect.
“He had an affair with Frida,” Niall answered regretfully while Claudine soothingly held his hand.
“Your wife?” Sookie asked for clarification.
Niall nodded, “My second wife, though that was not the worst of it. Brendan had attempted to take control of the company even then and Dermot was aiding him unscrupulously. He would do everything in his power to sabotage me in my personal and business life. Dermot,” he sighed, barely able to pronounce the name of his own son, “with his actions, turned our family against each other.”
“Why was he so intent on destroying you?’
“He was hearing voices that told him I killed his brother,” Niall sighed. “Fintan always held my favour where he had always been his mother’s child. He never was quite the same without her, and Dermot was difficult in his late teens. At that time, he was convinced I killed his mother.”
“Did you kill either of them?” Sookie asked coolly.
“Of course not!” Claudine interjected incensed. “Uncle Niall wouldn’t harm a fly. Dermot’s schizophrenic.”
Sookie gave a tiny shrug, and she remained unapologetic to her posed question. The table remained silent as tempers slowly cooled. Wordlessly, the plates of dessert were sat down by sets of cotton gloves with a brief description of the dishes for distraction.
“If his mental health is to blame for his poor behaviour, why excommunicate him still?” Sookie asked, finding the measure rather harsh.
“I can forgive, but I cannot forget the pain inflicted,” Niall confessed. “Until he is stable, I do not wish him to be in the company of our family. The doctors advise against it.”
“Why do you ask, Sookie?” Claudine posed frostily. “I assure you he is locked up in an institution in New England. No one maliciously intended to harm your brother.”
“Just something someone said at the reunion,” she returned off-handed. Eric didn’t miss the suspicious look Niall sent her way. They spoke mostly of Jason’s progress after that. They bid each other goodnight after a round of coffee where Niall expressed hope that they might meet again soon under better circumstances, and Sookie found herself not rejecting the offer outright, the necessity of good relations prevailing over her personal feelings.
Cataliades had accompanied them to their room as his suite was only two doors down. Despite Sookie’s wish to turn in early, she agreed to speak with her Uncle Des to digest the conversation with Niall.
“I think we found your kryptonite,” Cataliades said as they seated themselves in the living room area of his opulent suite.
“Excuse me?” Sookie replied, confused.
“They may not lie well to each other, but the Brigants can certainly lie to you,” Eric offered the same observations as Cataliades.
“It’s not a lie if they believe it to be true,” Sookie said from experience. “I don’t think I’ve ever met more delusional people in such close concentration and related by blood. If they believe it strongly enough, it’s as valid as truth.”
“That may very well be the case here,” Cataliades agreed. “They are extremely creative with the truth, always have been. What is your sudden interest in Dermot?”
“He ordered the death of my parents,” Sookie replied as Eric laced his fingers with hers and squeezed gently.
The lawyer nodded, not needing to hear any more on how they uncovered that truth. “It doesn’t sound like the act of a schizophrenic,” he replied. “They wouldn’t have the capacity to hire it out. Do you know who carried it out?”
“Russell was the clean-up crew,” Eric offered as Sookie deferred to him. “It was well-planned and covered up convincingly. Russell never before shared with whom it was he had worked.”
“I’ll put out some feelers,” the lawyer responded wisely. “With his recent death, it won’t appear too suspicious. It is, after all, the way this world works.”
“You agree with Uncle Des that Dermot might just be a scapegoat?” Sookie asked Eric after they returned to their own room. “That our combined losses are not just the ramifications of a disturbed mind?”
“There is very little that has made sense in all my investigations over the past couple of years. A schizophrenic mind would explain a great deal,” Eric sighed while he removed his dress shirt. “A schizophrenic mind under the thumb of a manipulating and scheming family is just as suspect. I think we need to keep our options open.”
“Jason first,” Sookie breathed out with exhaustion while collapsing onto the bed.
“Of course,” he replied, kissing her forehead softly and then headed into the bathroom.
Upon his return, Eric found her already asleep and still dressed on top of the covers. He carefully undressed her and diligently manoeuvred her under the sheets. She was so tired that she barely stirred from his motions.
The past few weeks had been exhausting, and the new information was draining his ability to entertain the different scenarios that trapped his brain from rest. For sixteen years he had been gathering evidence that never quite tied together, and now he had multiple feasible scenarios, though none, however, made sense as a whole.
He sighed; it had been so easy back then to simply blame Russell. He was the one who had pulled the trigger, but in hindsight, he was now, ironically, the one with the least blood on his hands. It was almost laughable that the executioner and clean-up crew appeared the most innocent.
With the discovery of Locke and Nave investigating into his person, he had assigned added security to Halina in Sweden, although so far nothing suspicious had occurred. Eric had a difficult time anticipating where the true threats lay as the multiple strings of possibility whirred together, strangling like a rhizome into a Gordian knot. The clean ending that he had always imagined it was nowhere in sight. His mind refused to let up that night, and Sookie found him wide awake when she rose shortly before sunrise.
“Did you get some rest?” she asked sleepily through squinted eyes. He simply shook his head as her head came to rest upon his chest. She had stopped admonishing him for staying up for her protection nights ago. It wasn’t a conscious decision, sleep simply evaded him, and he was lucky to get in a nap now and then. Sookie hoped that once in their sanctuary of Sweden he would be able to abandon his self-imposed stress.
She knew he needed to decompress in his little cave, working out all the different scenarios that were perplexing his mind, trying to make sense of it all. She looked down at the white slip dress she was wearing, realising she had fallen asleep once more before finding the time to change and prepare for bed.
“I have something for you,” he said, moving away slightly from her hold and pulling a thick envelope out of his nightstand. She opened it to find another fake passport, nothing particularly new in their life as they were swapped out constantly while they moved across the globe. With little thought she placed it with the others, marking the oldest one as the one to throw out.
“Look inside,” he requested.
“What is this?” she asked, frowning with the discovery of the name on the identity card, ‘Sookie Northman’.
“If it had been me in Jason’s place, you wouldn’t have been allowed near me in the hospital,” Eric explained. “I have no family and I would want you there by my side.”
“I could have persuaded them,” she said, tapping at her forehead. She monotonously added, “I appreciate the gesture nonetheless.”
“Why do I feel you’re not that grateful?” Eric asked warily as her disappointment failed to hide amongst her tired features.
She let out a tiny sigh, and then mumbled, “I thought you were proposing.”
“Is that something you would want?” he asked curiously. “I’m afraid I have no legal identity now that would allow it.”
“It was with Bill,” she said, hating that his name always came up in moments like these. “I couldn’t fathom living with a man to whom I wasn’t married. I’ve stopped seeing the necessity of that since being with you.”
“We could have a wedding if you’d like,” he offered. “It just wouldn’t be legal.”
“It shouldn’t be about the wedding, but the marriage,” she explained while trying to reassert for herself what was truly important now. “We’re partners, I guess, so rings and a piece of paper shouldn’t change what’s already there.”
“Let’s stop calling this a loaner then,” he said, gently kissing over the cool coloured metal of Halina’s ring on her hand. It seemed a lifetime ago when he had haphazardly slipped it over her finger just before their departure to Monaco. It hadn’t come off ever since and he felt it right for it to remain where it was. “Promise to love, cherish, and obey?”
A/N: Okay, okay, gush away… and look Jason lives, I’m not that cruel after all 😉 plus some other interesting stuff happened, feel free to plot and scheme below…
Much thanks to msbuffy for being the amazing editing genius she always is.