“It’s late,” Sookie pointed out. “Visiting hours will be over.”
“Not for you,” he said, tapping the temples of her face lightly.
“Yeah, okay,” she sighed before he kissed her gently, hoping to calm her nerves, but failing miserably.
It seemed even darker and more ominous the second time they arrived at the imposing property. The guard didn’t even need encouragement, with the mere mention of her name and who they had come to visit, they were taken through. Where before she had been the nervous one, she couldn’t fail to notice Eric had become more and more anxious as they were guided through the large property that resembled more of a mansion than an institution. A knock was placed on the heavy set of doors that guarded Dermot’s private rooms, noticeably different from any other residents.
“Enter,” the frail voice croaked before they carefully treaded into the dimly lit room, the imposing vastness suddenly revealed to them with a flash of lightning from the raging thunderstorm that carried on outside. He was faced away from them, Eric and Sookie exchanging a nervous glance as the door was closed behind them, they moved towards the seating arrangement that sat before the marble fireplace, the low embers doing little to reveal the rest of body connected to the set of legs it illuminated on the turned sofa.
“Mr. Brigant?” Sookie started, polite as ever, her fingers digging into the squeaking cellophane wrapped around the bouquet of flowers that her Gran’s manners had dictated you brought to any ailing person you visited. She startled at the sight before her, the loss of distance revealing all that she had been unable to see along the long trek across the expansive room. The close resemblance to Jason and how he would most likely look like in a few decades should have been the thing that startled her, frighteningly so, considering just how much they looked alike. Sookie didn’t even have time to contemplate that, her fingers growing weak and without much notice loosening the hold on the offered flowers, tumbling softly onto the plush carpet with a crackle while she gasped as two sets of voices replied in unison, “Yes?”
“Let me look at you,” the one on the right pleaded, which at this point she had to assume was her grandfather, Fintan, alive and seemingly well.
Hesitantly she made her way over to him, “Fintan? How?”
“You look so much like Adele,” he whispered with a hint of sadness despite the large smile on his face. He heaved a big sigh, “You don’t remember, do you?”
“I told you it took,” Dermot said in a smug tone shared only between siblings.
“Granddaddy?” she whispered with renewed shock, “Granddaddy Earl?”
“I told you it didn’t take,” Fintan gloated. “She remembers me after all.”
“Dermot,” she concluded. “He made us all believe, didn’t he? Was there ever a real Grandaddy Earl?”
“There was an Earl Stackhouse once, yes,” he answered. “He even dated Adele in high school, but he was a soldier who never returned. His parents were both deceased before him, and there was no other family. They were different times.”
“Why did you leave?” she demanded, suddenly very angry. “Gran was heartbroken! She never believed you’d just up and disappear on her!”
“Sit,” he pleaded, patting a seat beside him. Reluctantly, she seated herself where requested, Eric taking a seat closely beside her in an adjacent armchair. Fintan quickly took her sweaty palms into his, frowning, and demanding in a sudden, harsh tone, “Where did you get this?”
Startled, she followed his intent gaze that was locked on her wedding ring. “It’s an heirloom,” she stammered, turning her head, unsure what to answer, “Eric?”
Tears suddenly sprang from Fintan’s eyes while looking over Eric for the first time properly, and, swallowing a sob, he cried out, “You’re him. Halina’s little boy?” A cautious nod was given in answer, and Eric suddenly found himself embraced by the elderly man, frail fingers digging into any flesh they could find in affirmation that he was real. “I’d hoped, I’d always hoped the rumours were true. I’m so sorry, Erik.”
Eric wasn’t quite sure how to respond, so, with lips held tersely, he finally nodded, whispering, “I survived.”
“Granddaddy, don’t,” Sookie interrupted, taking Eric’s hand in hers, knowing the memory wasn’t a pleasant one. “It’s his story to tell, not yours to demand.”
“You’re right, you’re right,” he nodded, retaking his seat. “You don’t know how pleased I am to know you are alive and well. Will you at least tell me how you two found each other?”
She smiled shyly, “Eric just sorta showed up on my door one night. The rest is history.” Fintan frowned with concern, eyes travelling between the blonde couple. “He’s good people. Eric would never hurt me,” Sookie offered, recognising the scrutiny as concern. “I’m not his method of revenge.”
Fintan glanced at Dermot who nodded, validating her statement. “Did you leave because of me?” she suddenly stammered, vague recollections of her childhood resurfacing, and the answer to her Grandfather disappearing out of her life so suddenly still lacking.
“Incidentally,” Fintan noted sadly, “it was the both of you. I recognised your little talent, and called Dermot for advice to help you cope. Unfortunately, we weren’t as careful as we thought and Halina’s family paid the price. We still had our codes of communicating from the war and she was happy to help. I never knew what it would cost Halina and you, Erik. Then your parents, Sookie, I never knew if it was an accident or not, but I knew my place could no longer be with Adele if it threatened your lives. I could never forgive myself that, or stomach the thought you were all next.”
A worried glance travelled across Sookie, forcing out with great effort, “We’re not related, are we?”
“No, no,” Fintan assured. “They thought we were,” he said, gesturing between Eric and himself. “They thought they were mine. They spared Halina just to be cruel, knowing a woman could never forgive the loss of her family, but leaving her with the knowledge of who was the cause of it all. We only just managed to save Olle from a similar fate. It was best for everyone involved if I just ceased to be.”
“Oh God!” Sookie cried out, sobbing, barely able to sound out another word, and clutching hard at Eric who had fallen even more stoically silent than she’d ever known him capable.
“We looked for you for so long, Erik,” Fintan spoke apologetically. “In fact, there are still people looking for you. I should probably tell them to stop.”
“Locke and Nave?” Eric questioned with a surprising calm while soothing Sookie. Fintan nodded in reply. “Don’t change the order. I don’t think you’re the only Brigant employing them.”
“Yes,” Dermot nodded in agreement. “That is probably for the best.”
“Granddaddy?” Sookie asked in a whisper, “Who are they? Who are the ones that did all of this? Is it Niall?”
Fintan smiled weakly, “If we knew that, we wouldn’t all be sitting here, now would we?”
Eric hadn’t uttered a word since they left, and Sookie was unsure whether it was best to ignore the situation and remain just as mute or attempt to elicit some sort of response from him. She never managed to give it another thought the moment her back collided into the hotel door as soon as it closed, his mouth hungrily attacking hers and taking her by surprise, responding automatically nonetheless, and, barely keeping up with his frenzy, she nudged his chest lightly to little effect once she realised this had nothing to do with affection.
“Eric,” she gasped only to be cut off.
He seemed determined and while she usually welcomed his roaming hands, they were now digging into her, the impact bordering on pain, while he ground into her without a care.
“Eric,” she tried again, shoving him harder and being met with even more resistance. “You’re hurting me!”
He regarded her with a look she’d never seen on him before, it was excessively cold and satisfied, still, he stepped back, hovering above her as if he was about to say something to her, but didn’t. Instead he moved her away from the door, lacking his usual gentility, neither acknowledging her nor the situation. No apology was uttered nor did he show any sign of remorse, grabbing the car keys he’d tossed into the room moments before, and leaving her in a state of total confusion.
He regarded her for a moment, feet already out the door while his hand lingered on the doorknob, and with a strength she didn’t know she possessed Sookie managed to sound out successfully, “You can’t blame this on me. Any of this.”
He slammed the door.
All borrowed strength was lost in that moment, and in tears she fell into a puddle where she once stood with strength. She remained unmoved for hours atop the rough carpet, only managing to succumb to tears again as she watched images of Bill and Lorena being arrested live on TV after the exposé her Uncle Des had facilitated with the help of Sophie Anne, Hadley, and a reputable investigative journalist who had gone undercover. It was a strange thing, seeing her cousin appear pixelated on screen and still recognising her without doubt, boasting about her good deeds of getting the cretins caught, yet failing to recognise her own initial involvement in the whole sordid mess that had nearly cost Sookie so much.
It wasn’t the reason she was crying though, she couldn’t even muster a hint of happiness over the knowledge that Bill and Lorena would be locked away for years and that their high profile clients would not escape persecution. The only thing she could really feel about it was relief, relief that she no longer had to watch her back for Bill and that no other girl would be subjected to the awful fates that the gruesome duo had subjected to young and naive girls. It all remained overshadowed by her state of confusion and Eric’s continued absence, despite the late hour of the night.
Managing only a minimum of sleep, she woke up to an empty bed, the first in a very long time now and she didn’t know how to feel about that. She didn’t think she could stomach any food, but her body insisted differently, only deciding to throw it all out again as soon as it settled. When Eric still remained absent and it was nearing the time she had promised Fintan and Dermot they’d return to the institution, she finally gave up and asked the reception clerk to call her a cab. Gathering up the laptop and other pieces of evidence they had brought along for the Brigant twins to review, Sookie figured that if he left it behind and made no attempt to retrieve it or contact her, he was still okay with sharing those files.
It didn’t help that Sookie was greeted with questions regarding Eric’s apparent absence. She remained mute about it, and Fintan was happy enough to start pouring over the documents she had brought, adding notes of his own and admiring the work Eric had put in.
Despite not being willing to answer much beyond technical questions pertaining to the documents, Dermot asked, “What’s ailing you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she mumbled again, continuing to stare out the sunny bay window seat she had perched upon.
“Let’s talk about something else then,” he offered in an unusual, cheery tone and adding with a chuckle, “It’s not like he’ll hear us.”
She glanced over at Fintan, causing another stab to her heart with the likeness he posed to Eric with his intense concentration and absorption of the paperwork in front of him. Sookie turned to his identical brother, regarding him carefully in these strange surroundings, “Are you really schizophrenic?”
“No,” he answered earnestly, “but I’ve battled through some dark times. Nothing to really warrant my permanent stay here though.”
Her face crumpled up in confusion, “So why are you here?”
“This,” he sighed, “is the safest place I can be. They don’t consider me a threat if they consider me incapacitated and beyond reach. I play up the insanity of my teenage meltdown and they leave me alone. It’s better for everyone, and it’s kept Fintan and I safe all these years.”
“Do they know what else you can do? The Brigants, I mean.”
“I don’t think so,” he answered. “They might suspect. I was never as pulled together as you, my dear, and was always a shameful secret whom no one wanted to mention.”
“You never had the support of people like Gran,” she whispered, her eyes briefly acknowledging Fintan alongside her in that sentence, but still finding it difficult to stomach his sudden departure from their lives. Sookie petulantly refused to give any overt sign of forgiveness in his presence.
“She was a wonderful person, indeed,” he smiled. “Far too good for my brother over there.”
“I heard that!”
The two in the bay window shared a laugh at his expense, and Fintan was quick to return to his papers with an audible grumble.
“When did you figure out you could do more?” Dermot asked, tapping at her forehead with a fondness that, despite their best intentions, had been noticeably absent with all other Brigants.
“Eric,” she whispered with a pained expression. “It seemed the most natural conclusion in the world to him that one skill could lead to another.”
“You love him, don’t you?”
“I do,” she replied, the tears that she’d managed to keep away all day suddenly bursting from their confines.
“It’s why it hurts,” he soothed, taking her gently in his arms and soothing her back. “Just know it’ll hurt a little less tomorrow, and even less the day after.”
“I know,” she nodded. Smiling weakly, she added, “Thank you.”
It was dark and raining again when she left Fintan and Dermot after an amicable, and surprisingly delicious, dinner. A cab had been called and taken a generous amount of time to arrive, but she enjoyed the fresh air and the cold. It was faintly reminiscent of Stockholm, of better times. When she spotted the approaching lights of the ordered taxi, she moved quickly towards the gates through the rain, utilising a scarf for cover, and managing a greeting of goodbye to the now familiar guard as he let her out.
How she had failed to spot his tall stature was a mystery she’d not really bothered contemplating. She was already halfway into the opened cab, returning his look, but not replying while she contemplated shutting the door on him, and leaving without a word just like he’d left her the night before.
“Sookie, please?” Eric pleaded, halting her intended movement by taking the external door handle in hand, knowing just as well as she what would happen next, considering the determined stare she wore for armour had he not intervened.
Uninterested in an apology in that moment, she spoke evenly, “Why did you leave?”
“Didn’t want to say something I might regret,” he shrugged. “I was an asshole who only thought about himself.”
It didn’t answer her questions, and his defensive stance didn’t seem to relent as her gaze continued to bore into him, “I thought I’d seen the worst of you the first night we met, but I was wrong.”
She held up her hand in protest, not wishing to hear another thing if all he wanted was to argue, “If I hadn’t told you to stop, Eric, would you have?”
He remained painfully silent, making the absence of an answer far greater than the worst of her thought.
“If you can’t answer that,” she spoke pointedly, becoming angrier in the process, “then we have nothing to discuss.” She flopped down into the back seat, her hand firmly grasping the door handle with every intent to close it.
“Sookie, wait!” he begged, showing some regret for the first time. “Please, just let me talk to you! Get out of the fucking cab!”
“Are you okay, Ma’am?” the driver asked, eyeing Eric with a healthy suspicion.
“It’s okay,” she sighed, having all but forgotten the driver up until that point, “I’ll be a minute, okay?”
“If he harms you-”
“Call the cops,” she finished, her gaze firmly on Eric as she spat out the words. The door closed, both of them outside and moving to the small awning for some refuge from the rain, despite the fact they were both already soaked to the bone.
“You wanted to talk,” she said pointedly. “So, talk.”
He dragged a tired hand through his hair, and only then did she notice how sallow he looked, clearly lacking a night of decent sleep as well. “Remember what I told you when we first met? What I’d do to the person who was the cause of this?”
“You wanted to kill me?” she trembled with sudden realisation. “That’s what was going through your mind last night?”
“No!” he denied immediately. “FUCK!”
“Tell me!” she demanded, her voice hoarse from the strain.
Annoyed at her consistent misinterpretations, he growled while his hand slammed into the rough brick wall, crying out with the rough impact on the skin of his fist, “You and that fucking little talent!”
“Don’t blame this on that!” she yelled back.
“It’s what made Fintan make a move!” he cried out in exasperation. “It’s what killed my family!”
Her eyes were wide with disbelief, “You really believe that?”
“No,” he replied earnestly, the sincerity of his statement there with or without her ‘little talent’, “but I felt it, it all made sense, but only for a moment, and it was strong. In that moment, it was all your fault.”
“And you wanted me to suffer?” she finished. “Make me hurt?”
His nod was barely there, but enough to acknowledge what she said was correct.
“Well you certainly managed that,” Sookie spoke softly, her gaze falling to her feet. “What were you about to say? When I told you I was hurting? Don’t hold back now!”
“Good?” she asked, her face finding his again in the dark. “It made you feel good to know I hurt?”
“No!” he denied. “If anything I feel even worse.”
“Good?” he questioned.
“Yeah,” she bit back. “I hope it hurts at least half as bad as I feel! Bruised and swollen from your grasp and all the tears I’ve shed over you! My gut wrenching so much it felt like my stomach was turned inside out with the way you treated me. It’s not okay-”
“Sookie-” he tried to interrupt.
“No! I’m talking now!” she cried out. “I get it, it sucks finding out your parents got killed in a scheme that wasn’t of your making. That they meant everything to you, that someone took away your entire world in one moment for greed, power, or whatever it is that fuels this to prove a point to someone! That they were treated as insignificant casualties in a game without any fair rules, I get it! I’ve lived it, I’ve mourned it, and I’ve dealt with it. I get it! It doesn’t mean you get to be an ass and make me feel like that because you couldn’t handle feeling it. Because the only way you could feel better was knowing that someone else hurt just as bad as you!”
They both stood, slightly stunned, she for the fact that she managed to coherently deliver everything that had been eating away at her since the incident last night, and he for the startling accuracy of his emotional state that he failed to piece together himself.
“No,” he acknowledged finally. “And I was, an ass. No, far worse than that. You didn’t deserve that.”
She remained silent, his words of apology clearly failing to appease her.
When it appeared she was about to move again, he offered earnestly to the question that had angered her so when he failed to respond, “I would have stopped.”
“I know that,” she whispered, finding his eyes rimmed red. “I just needed you to know that, too.”
“Sookie, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, his shoulders falling in defeat and she never thought she’d witnessed him looking so small, no matter his physical height. She held him tight and allowed him to choke on his incoherent words as they were whispered into her neck in apology, only stopping him when it appeared his lips came to seek out hers.
“Don’t kiss me right now,” she said in remorse with her face turned away. “You lost that right.”
He nodded in reluctant agreement, looking forlorn once more when she moved towards the cab only to be surprised when she paid the driver for his trouble, assuring him she was fine and safe with Eric.
“Let’s go home,” she whispered, taking his hand in hers.
She stopped her tread, turned up to see him still thoroughly lost in his emotions and the conundrum of the notion of where their home truly was, gave a reassuring smile, kissed the back of his hand, and offered simply, “You really should know by now it’s wherever you are. Just like you should know when you hurt, so do I. You’re no longer alone in this world.”
He nodded gravely as that statement sunk in while opening up the passenger door for her, and her hand came to rest on his forearm tentatively, stopping him from moving away, searching out his lost eyes, and she whispered, “Eric, I’m late.”
A/N: Not an easy chapter by any means, I know. Congrats to those who guessed Fintan wasn’t as dead as assumed. I debated a little on a rewrite but in the end I decided this was in character with the Eric that has been developed in this story so far who has a history of an inability to deal with his own emotions and lashes out, I consider him emotionally stunted due to the trauma of his childhood. So while not liking his actions, they felt true to character and felt no reason to sweep that under the rug and in my view their relationship will never be picture perfect. Oh and you all know how much I enjoy a preggers Sookie *rolls eyes dramatically*… Feel free to weigh in and stuff…
Thanks to the wonderful msbuffy who manages it all much to my amazement.