Chapter 04: The Best Medicine
Five minutes later, Niall heard an almost ungodly howl from the hall and went to investigate. Little Ned had made the noise; he was next to Sookie, who was unconscious!
Having worked in hospitals and with doctors for much of his life, Niall was immediately terrified by the sight before him. Sookie was extremely pale and there was blood on the floor—quite a bit.
Immediately, Niall went into action. First, he called Ludwig, who was still on the estate. Then he called 9-1-1. And then he crouched next to Sookie, holding her hand and telling her to hang on and to be strong.
He tried not to think about the implications of the thick blood between her legs as he applied pressure to a cut on her temple.
Ludwig was there a few minutes after he’d called her and quickly assessed that Sookie—whom she still called Ruby, of course—and the baby were in trouble.
A lot of trouble.
The ambulance arrived only minutes after the doctor, and Niall rode with Sookie as she was taken to the nearest hospital. Dr. Ludwig also rode in the ambulance and immediately ushered Sookie back into an emergency treatment room when they arrived at the hospital.
When Niall tried to follow, Ludwig told him—in no uncertain terms—to stay out of the way so that she could work. Thus, Niall was relegated to the waiting room of a hospital that he had donated so much money to that it had been named after him: the Brigant Medical Center.
He huffed at not being able to be with Sookie. However, as he sat down, he realized that it was not he whom she needed.
He took his phone out of his pocket and made a call.
Eric sat on the bench looking at the Van Gogh painting—his and Sookie’s Van Gogh painting. He focused on the golden wheat field before moving his eyes to the cypress trees.
Just as he’d done with Sookie, he visited the MET each Sunday. The visits were a time of respite for him; likely, they were what kept him sane. They allowed him to center himself after a week of pretending as if his world hadn’t fallen apart.
And, most importantly, he felt even more connected to Sookie at the MET than he did anywhere else, especially now that Appius had found a way to put more surveillance equipment into his and Sookie’s home.
So—each Sunday—he would go to the MET and then walk through the park, visiting all the places that he and Sookie had enjoyed going during their months together. And—in so doing—he would store up the strength he needed to get through another week.
Among some of the papers Sookie had left behind, Eric had found a list of all of the galleries that she’d already visited—in the order in which she’d visited them. She’d started going to the MET in March of 2011, well before Eric had known her as anything other than the owner of the golden hair which haunted his dreams.
He’d used the list and had followed the same order that she had, deciding to “catch up” as it were—to see the things that she had already seen and to speculate about which item in each gallery had prompted her to take her single picture. When he was done going down the list, he figured that he would begin drawing once more from the jar with the numbers of the galleries Sookie had not yet been to.
And—of course—during each of his Sundays, he would always visit their Van Gogh.
Sometimes several times.
He closed his eyes and imagined Sookie in Paris, exploring a new gallery of the Louvre each week. Or—perhaps—she was in London, roving through the British Museum. In truth, he had no idea where she might be, but he liked to fantasize about moments that might be occurring in her life.
Good moments. Moments that would cause her to smile.
He looked down at the sketch pad in his hands.
That morning he’d been to Gallery 903, a modern art gallery with works by Paul Klee and Henry Moore. Eric had found that he didn’t care for modern art as much as he liked earlier works; however, he’d found appreciation for some of the sculptures by Moore. The sleekness of line in the sculptures, especially the one called “Two Forms,” appealed to the architect in Eric, and he’d already begun designing a new chair, though he doubted if he would ever build it.
After all, it was a chair intended for two.
Eric sighed as he looked back up at the Van Gogh painting. He’d tried very hard to—at least—move on with his life, even though he couldn’t move forward without Sookie. He’d thrown himself into his work, determined to make his division of NP bigger and more profitable than ever. In addition, some of his proposals to other department heads had even been okayed by Appius—with Clancy and Andre working as intermediaries between the two Northman men.
And, best of all, his engagement to Isabel seemed to have placated his father—for the time being, at least.
Eric had been to China twice since February, ostensibly to bolster NP’s relationship with Guo Li and his team. However, on the first trip, Eric had told Guo all about Appius’s threat, and he’d given the honorable businessman the chance to break their partnership.
Eric had already discovered that a clause had been added to the NP/Guangzhou Press deal that had not been in the original contract that they’d negotiated. The clause had been put in at the last minute from Guo’s end, though it turned out that Guo hadn’t known about it. The clause allowed for the directors of the partnered divisions—in other words, Eric and Guo—to reallocate their profits from the deal to other parts of their companies without oversight.
When Guo went to his superior, Wei Yang, it was confirmed that the clause had been added by him. Appius had contacted Mr. Yang shortly after Guo had arrived in the United States. Guo’s director had believed Appius when he claimed that a new clause had been agreed upon by Eric and Guo and that Appius was informing Mr. Yang directly because he wished to personally express his respects and his hopes for the companies’ future dealings. Appius had off-handedly asked that Mr. Yang make sure the changes he mentioned were added to the final draft of the contract. Mr. Yang had seen no reason to doubt the head of Northman Publishing. The legal team at the Chinese publishing house had no reason to question Mr. Yang. And the seemingly innocuous clause had slipped in.
Of course, Eric and Guo had gone through the contract so many times that the official signing of it was more ceremonial than anything else. And, since the final draft had come from the Chinese, Eric had had no reason to reexamine it. Neither Eric nor Guo had imagined that anything had been added without their knowledge.
After Eric and Guo had discovered the origin of the added clause, both had gone to work to figure out if anything else was amiss. Guo and Liang tracked the profits that their company had already made from the deal, and they soon found that some of the money had been filtered into some of Guo’s other projects. From there, it looked as if that money had disappeared, but by digging, Liang found that the money had been put into two Cayman Islands accounts, one in Guo’s name and one in Eric’s name.
Guo had been—understandably—livid. Not only had he been inadvertently set up by his own superior, but also his honor, his livelihood, and his freedom had been threatened. Luckily, Mr. Yang had listened to Eric and Guo when they shared all their information with him during Eric’s second visit to China. After that, the accounts in the Caymans were watched until more deposits were made. Those transactions were then traced to a mid-level employee at Guangzhou Press who had some expertise in hacking. It was then found out that the hacker had been employed by someone matching Franklin Mott’s description; however, the only arrest made had been the hacker. Unfortunately, neither Mott nor Appius could be implicated in the matter.
To be frank, Eric hadn’t cared that Appius couldn’t be directly blamed. He was just glad that the matter had been contained before Guo, Liang, or Guangzhou Press was damaged.
The Cayman accounts had been closed, and all the money had been put back where it belonged. Since he was the official head of the international division at NP, Eric had been able to null the contract that Appius had had a hand in creating; then, he’d renegotiated with Liang, Guo, and Mr. Yang. Unfortunately, the incident had led to Mr. Yang wanting to scale back his company’s ties with NP—at least until Eric took over as CEO and Appius was completely out of the picture. NP and Guangzhou Press were still doing a little work together, but it was on a much smaller scale than Eric had hoped for.
Despite that setback, Eric was glad that one of Appius’s threats against him had been neutralized and that Appius couldn’t hurt Guo, his team, or Guangzhou Press in the future. Eric had already looked through every other contract he’d worked on at NP with a fine-tooth comb. Luckily, he’d found no other irregularities, but he now did an internal audit of his division of NP every few weeks—just to be sure he protected his team. And, since he couldn’t sleep much anymore anyway, he had plenty of time to devote to the extra work.
Miraculously, Guo and Mr. Yang hadn’t black-balled NP and Eric throughout the rest of Asia, so despite the lessening of projects with Guangzhou Press, Eric had been able to keep all the members of his team employed and working on other things. Eric could only pray that Appius would keep his word to no longer interfere with him.
Unfortunately, Sophie-Anne had decided to throw an engagement party for Isabel and Eric, a party that she couldn’t be talked out of—at least, according to Andre. Through Andre, Appius had informed Eric that he and Isabel would have to accept Sophie-Anne’s “generous offer,” but Appius had also assured that there would be no need for them to have any direct contact with each other at the party. Eric was grateful for that small favor. He just hoped that his cooperation would be enough to show his father that he was complying fully so that Appius would feel no further need to sabotage Eric at NP.
In fact, since January, the only direct contact between Eric and Appius had come in the form of an email, which Appius had sent to Eric after the contract with Guangzhou Press had been renegotiated. That email had been short and to the point: “I still own you. A battle is not the war.”
Eric sighed as he continued to look at the swirling paint that reminded him so much of Sookie’s golden hair. He was very much aware that the war had already been won by Appius.
“Eric?” a voice said, tearing him from his thoughts.
Eric looked to his side and saw Bobby standing there, his expression grave.
“I need you to come with me,” Bobby said. “Sookie needs you.”
Bobby Burham had once stared down the business end of a gun—held by a mobster with a death wish. Bobby had been so scared that he’d almost pissed his pants.
He’d been even more scared when his father had first told him that he had cancer—when Bobby was only twelve years old. Godric had fought and won against the cancer for years before finally succumbing to it, but Bobby had spent many a night frightened that he was going to lose his father—before he finally did.
But Bobby had never been as frightened as he was at the moment. Sookie, the woman who’d become like a little sister to him, had collapsed, and—according to Niall—she and her baby were both teetering between life and death.
The moment that Niall had called, Bobby had known that there was only one thing he could do. He had to tell one of the two most important people in his life that the woman he loved—the woman that Bobby had sworn would be safe—might not survive the day.
And he had to tell him that there was a child, too.
Somehow, Bobby knew that if Sookie died—and took Eric’s child with her—his best friend in the world would follow soon after. He’d heard stories of people who’d seemingly died from broken hearts, and Bobby felt certain that his friend—his brother—was the kind of person who couldn’t survive the death of his soul mate.
Bobby sighed heavily as he sat next to his great-uncle. He closed his eyes and gathered his courage to speak. “Do they know anything beyond what they knew before—about Sookie? The baby?”
“No,” Niall said somberly—looking, for the first time, to be his real age. “Ludwig believes that Sookie may be suffering from preeclampsia; her blood pressure was slightly elevated this morning, but it was nothing major. But something must have happened . . . .” He paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “Preeclampsia generally doesn’t develop until later in pregnancies, according to Ludwig, and Sookie is not quite 20 weeks along, which is when the earliest cases tend to happen, but the fetus is large for its age, so that might have something to do with it.”
“And the blood on the floor?” Bobby asked in a strained voice. Telling Eric about that detail had been the hardest part.
“Ludwig is trying to use medicine to stop Sookie from having a miscarriage. As of half an hour ago, she still wasn’t sure if it would work or if,” Niall paused and exhaled raggedly, “either of them would survive.”
Bobby closed his eyes tightly. “Thank you for having the helicopter meet us. I was afraid we’d be,” he let out a sob, “too late.”
“Don’t think like that,” Niall said gruffly. “Sookie and her child will be fine! She’s a tough young woman. I know she’ll be fine,” he added, trying to sound more confident than afraid.
Bobby sighed. “And the wound on Sookie’s head?”
“Ludwig says she hit her head pretty hard when she fell,” Niall reported in almost a whisper. “She’s definitely got a concussion, but Ludwig thinks it’s a minor one. It’s,” he paused, “the least of our worries right now.”
Bobby nodded and put his face into his hands; he bent forward until his elbows were on his knees. The two men were silent for a few minutes.
“I wish you would have told me about Sookie and Eric,” Niall said. “Maybe I could have helped—put some pressure on Appius or something.”
Bobby ran both of his hands through his hair as he looked at his great-uncle. “If I thought you could have helped, I would have told you. But Appius acts like a snake when he’s threatened; he strikes to kill. Plus, some of the things Sookie and I are doing to try to entrap him aren’t exactly legal.”
Niall put his hand onto Bobby’s knee and squeezed a little. “I am not the saint you seem to think I am,” Niall said. “And as far as I can tell, Appius should be in prison for what he did to Eric when he was a child! Not to mention the blackmail he’s currently using to keep Eric under his power.”
Bobby sighed. “We figured that the fewer people who knew that Sookie was here, the better—at least for now.” He shook his head and let out a sob. “It killed me to not be able to tell him—especially once Sookie found out she was pregnant. It killed me to watch Eric sink more and more into depression and resignation, even as I finally found someone to love.”
“You? In love?” Niall asked in surprise.
Bobby nodded in affirmation. “She’s an ex-Naval officer, and she’s got two kids.”
Niall smiled warmly. “And you love her? And the children?”
Bobby nodded. “Yes. The kids are part of the package, and Thalia’s a wonderful mom—not to mention the fact that she’s beautiful and brilliant. I can’t see my life without her anymore.”
“Have you told her that?” Niall asked.
“I’m waiting for the right time,” Bobby said nervously.
Niall shook his head and squeezed Bobby’s leg again. “We are all on this earth on borrowed time, Bobby. The right time is when you first feel it.”
Bobby nodded, conceding the point to his great-uncle.
“How did Eric take the news about Sookie and the baby?” Niall asked, looking toward the door leading to the NICU, where Eric had disappeared with a nurse ten minutes before.
Bobby sighed deeply. “He hasn’t said a word to me since we got onto the helicopter.”
Niall put his arm around Bobby. “You told him everything?”
Bobby nodded. “Yes. I told him that Sookie and I have been working to try to find enough information to stop Appius for good. I told him about the baby and about how Sookie decided not to tell him because she feared Appius would use their child against him.” He sighed. “I just hope that Eric doesn’t hate me for keeping this from him. But—if Sookie or the baby dies—he won’t need to forgive me because I won’t forgive myself.”
Niall squeezed Bobby’s shoulder. “You and Sookie were both operating under impossible conditions. So was Eric.”
“He’s the best friend I’ve ever had,” Bobby said in a low voice. “He’s a brother to me.”
“I imagine he feels the same.”
“I hope so,” Bobby said.
Both men became silent again—this time for at least half an hour; in his own way, each of the men was praying for the welfare of the family behind the NICU doors. They perked up as they heard the door to the NICU open and the diminutive figure of Dr. Ludwig approach.
“Your cure—it seems—is better than mine,” the doctor said in her nasally tone.
Bobby and Niall both looked at her in confusion.
Ludwig glared at them as if they should have been able to read her mind.
“Five minutes after he went in there, her blood pressure started to stabilize, and the baby’s heart rate is now rising toward where it needs to be,” she said tersely.
“Has the medicine stopped her labor?” Niall asked.
Dr. Ludwig shrugged. “Her labor has halted, but—whether that was from the medicine or his presence—I could not tell you.”
“But she’s going be okay?” Bobby asked hopefully. “They’re going to be okay?”
“That’s not what I said,” Dr. Ludwig answered somewhat impatiently. “But things look better now.”
“Is Sookie awake?” Niall asked.
“No,” Dr. Ludwig responded. “That little body of hers has gone through quite a bit of trauma today, and we’ll need to monitor her and make sure her blood pressure stays down. Plus, I still want to give her some type-specific blood, but she’s B-negative, and there’s none in the hospital’s blood bank. I’m having some sent over from . . . .”
“I’m B-negative,” Bobby interrupted.
“As am I,” Niall informed.
Ludwig looked at both men in front of her with a tilt of her head. “Good—she can have yours then. I’ll walk you down to someone who can take your blood.”
Bobby and Niall both rose to their feet.
“So—uh—Ruby is going to be okay once she gets the blood?” Bobby asked.
“It should strengthen her—yes,” the doctor said. “We’ve given her some O-neg and plasma already, but she lost quite a bit of blood when she hemorrhaged; however, she’s hanging in there. It’s a real miracle that she’s still carrying her child, given the amount of blood she lost.” Ludwig chuckled a little. “That little baby is a fighter—tenacious and damned stubborn. I’ve never seen one survive the kind of trauma he went through today.”
“He’s like his parents,” Bobby said as a tear made its way down his cheek, “a survivor.”
A/N: Hello all! I hope that you liked the chapter. Thanks to everyone who took the time to review for the last chapter. I really appreciate your comments!
This chapter, I will admit, was difficult to write. I needed to try to get you caught up on things—with the 4-month jump. But, at the same time, I wanted to convey just how much trouble Sookie and the baby were in. A few of you made comments that Eric shouldn’t be reunited w/ Sookie at this time, but I didn’t want a long separation, and I knew that—if Sookie’s and the baby’s lives were in the balance—Bobby would go get him. The danger that Sookie and the baby are in will certainly change things for Eric.
Next up: Eric hears his son’s heartbeat even as he waits for Sookie to wake up. I’m planning one more chapter before I transition to Uncharted.