“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.”
“False alarm,” she announced, holding up three sticks proclaiming identical negative results.
He nodded, unsure what to say, finally managing, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” she smiled with relief. “It’s good. If anything, these past 24 hours have proven that we’re not ready for that. I thought with all the travel I messed up somehow, forgotten a pill somewhere along the way. We dodged another bullet.”
“You’re probably right,” he agreed, guilt yet to leave his expression, although sporting one of identical relief, glad to know he wasn’t alone in feeling elated by the negative results. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“I know,” she whispered, leaning into him. “I wish it never happened too, but it did. We should move on,” Sookie said with determination, adding thoughtfully, “And never let Adonia know the possibility of a baby ever existed.”
He chuckled softly, but his expression remained as burdened as before. “You’ll see a doctor,” he urged with some concern. “Make sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Sure,” she agreed with a bit of surprise, the thought not even occurring to her unless there had been a positive result. “Makes sense, I guess.”
“Sookie,” he sighed, sensing she was still decidedly distant. “How do I make this right?”
“You talk,” she answered. “When you feel like shit you talk, to me, to Pam, to anyone, I don’t really care who. Write it down for all I care. Stop bottling it all up.” He nodded thoughtfully, causing her to smile, lopsided, “Now would be a good time to speak.”
“Right,” she nodded with determination. “Let’s get to bed then, tomorrow’s a new day.”
He winced at the sight of the bruises on her arms when she undressed. She marked easily, rationally he knew that and seeing them appear on her body before him, a perfect constellation of ten, five on each thigh, but these were not the evidence of the heat of the moment, rather of inflicted pain. Pain he had caused, intentional or not, he still wasn’t quite sure.
“Does it hurt?” he asked when she caught him staring, and she shook her head in response.
“More the thought of them,” she replied, settling into bed and pulling the duvet up for him to join. He slipped in, remaining a healthy distance away. She turned her back to him, establishing the distance even further, switching off the light before bidding him goodnight.
She woke in his arms, their bodies failing to remember the events of the days past, causing her to tense momentarily when she woke.
“Sorry,” he murmured against her skin.
“It’s fine,” she whispered, making it a point to remain exactly where she was. “Just surprised is all. It’ll pass.” He regarded her carefully, looking as if the weight of the world was resting solely on his shoulders, and she knew it was more than what had passed between the two of them, prompting her to ask, “What’s the cause of this? What are you afraid of?”
After a long thought, he finally answered, “What if this is it?”
“Is this such a bad place to be?” she asked, insecurity palpable from her voice that was now small rather than whispered.
“Not really what I meant,” he hummed. “But no, this is not a bad place to be, if this is what gets me back to you.”
“What’s the ‘this’ you meant then?”
“My family,” he clarified. “What if their death is just the fallout of whatever has been keeping the Brigants on a murderous rampage for decades? If all this comes down to is that we’re simply collateral damage.”
“Then you know,” she sighed. “Isn’t this what you always wanted, why Russell lived every day happily and healthily while you could have easily done something about it?”
“Maybe,” he replied with a slight edge.
“I’m sorry, Eric,” she offered while hugging him tight. “I’m sorry you were the cost of them. It isn’t fair, none of this is fair, but it’s the hand we were dealt. We don’t get to be the ones in control of it all, unfortunately.”
“Let’s just go back to Sweden,” he grunted. “Forget ever being involved in any of this. Write our own stories for a change.”
“What?” she cried out, sitting upright with the shock. “Now is when you throw in the towel, after all this time?”
“What does it matter now?” he shrugged. “I know what there is to know, taking out the entire Brigant family does not look to be a smart idea right now, or the solution for that matter.”
Her eyes narrowed, arms crossed, she pointed out, “I thought my parents drowned in an accident, that wasn’t the case in the end. All Fintan and Dermot have to go on are assumptions, we barely know a thing.”
Eric shook his head, “In the end it’ll come down to this, money or power. Most likely a combination thereof, not enough of it to go round to satisfy each and every Brigant equally. We’re better off walking away. I know a dead end when I see one.”
“I can’t believe this!” Sookie cried out. “Do you hear yourself?”
“It’s not worth it to me anymore,” he spoke softly, his eyes barely meeting hers, the volume trailing as he continued, “This singular obsession, it’s cost me too much already. It nearly cost me you.”
“Would you have called me, tracked me down, informed me I was about to be a father if I hadn’t returned?” he posed, leaving her momentarily speechless, both of them knowing exactly that she wouldn’t. She loved him, that much was certain, but she never had and never could reconcile herself with that side of him. The side that was dark, angry, bitter, and could take out another man’s life without much thought. Lacking apology or any attempt to reconcile, surely she would have finally closed the door on him. “I could have lost everything I cared for all over again, and it would have been my fault. No one to blame but me and my obsession for the truth. Had you been pregnant, I would have never known there was a part of me out there walking and talking because I was too focused on something else. I’d be losing out again. Do you even know where I was, what I was doing?”
She shook her head, bracing herself. Of course, several devastating scenarios had fleeted through her mind when she was at her lowest; other women, being consumed by alcohol which he had always ignored, killing something, hurting someone far worse than he ever did her, or a combination thereof. “I don’t think I want to know,” she whispered. “Whatever it was, don’t tell me.”
Sookie didn’t think she’d ever seen him more fragile than at that moment. “I don’t even want to contemplate what you think I did,” he said with a sigh, his gaze lost to the swirled plaster of the ceiling.
“Eric, just don’t,” she pleaded through tears. “I don’t know how much more I can forgive, if I even should forgive-”
“I was looking into Claudine’s mystery man,” he interrupted softly, soothing her with his hands. “Eamon Coleman, heir to the Coleman & Coleman fortune. I wouldn’t stop looking till I knew everything there was to know about him, convinced he was the key to everything and before I knew it, a night and a day had passed. Only then did I remember leaving you the way I did, realising what I had done, you could have been long gone by then. Never to be seen again.”
“I-” she struggled out, unsure how exactly to respond to that.
“It’s time to step away,” he said with determination. “At least for me, the next time you tell me you’re pregnant I want to be terrified for what’s to come. Not for all the things I still need to do, figure out, settle, whatever. I want to be able to be excited about something that’s going to happen for a change.”
“Next time?” she asked with a wobble.
“There will be a next time, won’t there?” he asked carefully. “Maybe not now, but in a few years at least. You’re it, Sookie Stackhouse, and I don’t want to ever miss a thing with you again.”
“Okay,” she whispered, holding him close, her forehead coming to rest against his, grumbling, “I still can’t believe this.”
It was a phrase she soon repeated when they arrived at the institution, only to be told there never was a Dermot Brigant residing there. The rooms which he and Fintan had occupied stood miraculously empty, and none of the staff could recognise them or remember a thing, despite Sookie pushing her influence to the greatest possible degree.
“Look here,” Eric noted, carefully prying away a corner of the wallpaper that notably curled up, revealing a note addressed to her. Quick to pluck it from his hands, she scanned the words, huffing with indignation as it told her exactly what Eric had been convincing her to do hours earlier, return to Sweden and wait until they contacted her again.
“Paternalistic sets of asses!” she complained, causing Eric to laugh, which only seemed to add fuel to the fire. “I mean it!”
“I know,” he chuckled, despite himself, “but Sookie, look at you,” he added, pointing to the mirror where she had to admit she looked rather ridiculous with her face puffed up and red with the indignation for being left out from the party.
“Time to go home?” she offered weakly.
With a nod he agreed, “Time to go home.”
Six Months Later…
“Mikonos?” Pam posed, Jason briefly glanced at Eric who shook his head and mouthed ‘gay,’ causing Jason to instantly object, after clarifying it was the man on man sort. Pam huffed before offering another six sunny destinations. Despite claiming to detest Sweden, Pam had been quick to snap up the apartment next door when the previous elderly resident moved to a care home. Sookie was still rather dubious how voluntary that move had been, but it had certainly freed up the otherwise cramped accommodations. Where Sookie previously thought it was embarrassing to have her brother overhear their more private moments, Pam had driven them to near abstinence with a mere look and a grin.
Not that there had been many private moments initially, as much as they had tried to move on, a strain remained. One that didn’t seem as resolved as either one would have liked, in the end at Sookie’s insistence, they visited a therapist, refusing to be in another relationship where she was partially left in the dark, intentional or not. First they went as a couple, and later Eric continued on his own, her gift allowing that confidentiality was more than a mere vocational oath. While initially opposed to the entire idea, Eric had found some sort of comfort in the sessions and continued to go without so much of a complaint. Their relationship soon returned to something of ease and security, even better in places than before as they rediscovered their footing.
Eric had initially been spearheading an idea to open up a bar, but Sookie was quick to axe the idea, having slung enough beers for a lifetime already. Instead, they had started to focus on flipping apartments in Stockholm’s overheated property market once they had finally finished up putting the finishing touches on their home after Bill’s destruction of it and found they missed that shared time.
Things had been remarkably quiet; Jason was feeling quite flush after accepting a rather large settlement from Niall that barred him from talking to the press about the incident. Sookie had been outraged that all contracts had been signed and settled upon their return, wanting nothing to do with the Brigants whatsoever, but in the end, Eric had rationally pointed out Jason had lost a lot of income due to the recovery time and his medical costs would most likely not be covered. He simply couldn’t afford not to take the money and while Eric was happy to pay for them, Jason was unlikely to accept that kind of charity. Both Uncle Des and Peder Falk had reviewed the contracts and noted they were extremely fair, forcing Sookie to resign herself to the situation.
Pam, as ever, had been eager to help him spend his new fortune, and it seemed to encourage Jason’s progress with his physical therapy with the promise of unlimited Euro Ass with Pam as his wing-woman, of course. Reluctantly, Sookie acknowledged that if it helped him recuperate quicker and thus, was worth indulging.
“I’d happily go to Mikonos,” Claude piped in, only to receive a scalding look from Jason. Of all the people to be knocking on their door, Claude had been the last one Sookie had expected. He had, however, come with a great opening line, ‘The Dermots sent me.’ After that, it didn’t take long for Claude to revive his unusual sibling behaviour, finding a kindred spirit in Pam. He flew in now and then under the cover of ‘business’, bringing news or requesting Eric to review newfound material, but in all honesty, little progress was made, much to Sookie’s frustration. Never had she felt time ticking away more slowly while feeling an innate sense of urgency, most especially for the fact that her Grandfather, Dermot, and Niall were all of a certain age. Something that only became all the more prevalent when the seemingly indestructible Halina had a health scare of her own, deteriorating her to such a state, they were sure death was imminent. Thankfully, she recovered to everyone’s amazement, including the doctors.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Sookie announced, catching the tail end of their collective conversation. Eric looked up from his papers with confusion, instead she only addressed Claude, “We should probably speak privately.”
“Door’s open,” Pam gestured, turning back to Jason. “Mallorca? You have to like garlic though.”
“What’s up, Cousin?” Claude grinned, sitting himself comfortably in Pam’s pink apartment. It may have been twice the size of Eric and Sookie’s, but if at all possible, Sookie tried to avoid it like the plague on account of the enormous amount of pink, a colour she insisted on painting in the exact same shade as Eric’s little cave. Despite Eric’s denial, Sookie swore that Pam had some sort of insight on the meaning of that particular hue that directly correlated to the colour of her nipples.
“That was Claudine on the phone,” she started carefully. “Well, first Claudine, then Uncle Des.”
“It’s the middle of the night over there,” he noted with confusion.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, placing her hand atop his in comfort. “Niall passed away.”
“Oh,” he swallowed audibly, any true emotional reaction delayed by the news as it settled in. “I mean he’s old, ancient, I mean was, he was-” His voice choked up then, leaving him incapable of sounding out any more, Sookie awkwardly taking him in her arms for a comforting hug. Her own feelings towards Niall were more unresolved, the news impacting her far harder than she would like to admit. Softly they both cried for the elderly man, Claude retelling her of the stories of his childhood, how Niall had intervened with his awful mother numerous times, offered him a home when he came out as gay, and his mother wanted nothing to do with him for years.
“He was a good person, wasn’t he?” Sookie asked in surprise. She’d contemplated rekindling the contact with her great-grandfather more than once, but the sight of Jason struggling to walk always killed any resolve. “At least he tried to be, right?”
“As best he could,” Claude nodded. “He was stubborn though, perhaps to a fault, more so when I was younger. Not a saint, but he tried to do the best by everyone, even if it came at the cost of him. What did Claudine say?”
“I don’t really feel like repeating that right now,” she replied, holding her lips tightly.
“She finally showed her claws then? Took her long enough.”
“She’s my sister, Sookie,” he chuckled. “I know her far better than anybody else. Don’t let that New Age, hippy bullshit fool you. She’s tough as nails.”
“Yeah,” Sookie sighed. “I found that out alright. Her exact words?” He nodded. “‘Fuck you, you little backwater bitch. How dare you, none of us will be taking this laying down! See you in court!’ It’s all she said, no ‘hello, guess what your great-granddaddy is dead’ or anything, just hung up. Uncle Des was the one who told me what happened, that he passed peacefully in his sleep, that I’m the executor of his will.”
Claude fell into hysterics with the last revelation, only explaining when the tears of laughter that had turned slightly melancholic in the process had been wiped away, “Niall always did want to have the last laugh, God, I loved that fucker.”
“I don’t get it,” Sookie replied, face scrunched up in confusion.
“Of course, you don’t,” he grinned. “Congratulations, you’re the new Niall.”
A/N: I’m well aware some of you were quite excited about the possibility of a baby but it was just an evil plot device to motivate certain behaviour… #sorrynotsorry
Things are transitioning once more with Claude as an unexpected ally, Claudine a possible foe, and the jury is still out on Niall no matter what his mortal state… thoughts welcome as always! Till next time.
Much thanks to msbuffy!