Chapter 26: Pure Heart
“My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.”—Alfred Lord Tennyson
The first thing Eric discerned in his hazy foray into consciousness was a pressure on his chest; it wasn’t uncomfortable or unwelcome. It was just a slight weight on his body. And it was one with which he was familiar.
He tried to say her name—tried to confirm that it was her on his body. But he couldn’t speak. Something was in his way.
Next, he tried to open his eyes, but those wouldn’t work yet either. They too had a weight on them. He found that he could hear, however. There was a beeping noise—a consistent one.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
He inhaled. It was difficult because he faced an obstruction there too, but he managed to make out something. He would have smiled if he could. It was the lavender of Sookie’s shampoo.
He tried to move, empowering his toes to twitch. Check. They twitched. Next it was his fingers. Check. There was something against them—something soft. Sookie’s hand?
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
He tried to say her name again, but again he was stopped.
He went through his senses. Smell and touch. Check. Hearing. Check. Seeing. Not yet since his eyes wouldn’t open for him. What was the other sense? Tasting. He moved his tongue. Plastic? A firmness. A tube?
After he’d gathered his information, he tried to puzzle out his situation using his groggy brain. He was in a hospital bed; of that he was certain. The beeping was a machine monitoring his heart. The taste was a plastic tube in his mouth, likely helping him breathe. He could move; he was wasn’t paralyzed.
He felt her hand on his. He felt her head against his chest.
He was able to smell her.
She was alive. Or he was in heaven with her. Those were the only two possibilities.
He tried to open his eyes again, and again it was as if a weight had hold of each of them. He tried speaking her name again, but the only sound her heard was a cry: Johan.
Eric wanted to yell out with joy, but he couldn’t. Johan was alive.
“Okay baby,” came Sookie’s tired voice as she stirred beside him. Eric felt her warmth disappear from his body. He hated that, but he understood that she was going to their son.
He tried to open his eyes again, but the weight was too much. The effort was too much. And then his mind went quiet again.
Sookie had fed Johan and then had rocked him for almost an hour, but he was still restless.
“You know there’s only one thing that will calm him down,” Henry said from across the room. Since the incident with Appius, he and Bobby rotated shifts, trusting no one else with Sookie, Johan, and Eric’s safety. And now the threat was very real again; the ballistic report had told them that there was still one more threat at large.
Luckily for Henry, Rasul and Tray were more than capable of holding down the fort at Carmichael Tower; plus, he’d had a lot of saved up vacation time. He couldn’t think of a better reason to use it.
A repentant Milos, along with his new partner—the newly hired Miranda—stood outside the door pretty much 24-7, but Henry and Bobby were no longer willing to leave anything to chance, so they stayed in the room with Sookie, Johan, and Eric.
Sookie smiled at her friend. “I know, but I hate to—uh—use Eric like that.”
Henry chuckled. “You and I both know that Eric wouldn’t mind. He’d love it.” He paused and his voice softened. “If Eric’s aware at all, he loves having you and Johan near, Sook. I’m sure of it.”
Sookie nodded and stood up with her now seven-week-old son. Eric had missed a month of Johan’s life—at least on a conscious level—but she and the infant both counted on him all the same.
“Help me?” she asked Henry.
“Sure,” Henry smiled, taking Johan in his arms as Sookie climbed up into the extra wide and extremely comfortable hospital bed with Eric. Niall had ordered it especially for them. Henry handed the squirming child to his mother, who carefully put him onto Eric’s chest—making sure to keep him off of the thick bandage hiding one of her husband’s wounds. As if knowing that his father had been hurt, the infant didn’t wiggle or move too much. And within two minutes, he was asleep.
Sookie smiled sleepily at Henry. They both knew that lying on Eric’s chest was the only way that Sookie slept—just as it was the only way that Johan slept peacefully.
“It’s okay, Sook,” Henry said. “I’ll be right here. Go ahead and get some rest.”
Sookie nodded and scooted closer to Eric’s side. She lay a hand on Johan’s back, and enjoyed listening to his gentle snore for a couple of minutes before drifting off too.
Eric felt warmth the next time he became aware of himself. Again, he felt pressure. This time, however, it was different; it was coming from two sources. There was a light pressure on his chest—almost so light that he didn’t feel it, but there was something familiar about the weight. And then there was a heavier pressure at his shoulder.
He activated the senses that he already knew worked. Again, he smelled Sookie’s shampoo, but there was something equally as comforting—the unique scent that was his child’s. Eric somehow knew that the slight pressure on his chest was his sleeping son, and he ached to bring his hand up to touch him—to confirm that he was well.
He felt his fingers move. One of his hands was trapped in a warmth that could only originate from his wife, but his other hand was free—though it tingled as if waking up from numbness. He figured that his whole being was trying to do the same. He concentrated all of his strength on moving his hand, bringing it up to touch his sleeping child.
He needed to touch his child—needed to make sure Johan was real.
He moved his hand an inch!
And then another!
Another inch! Another!
And then there was something soft—Johan’s little foot. Eric moved his fingers up until they settled on his son’s back. Another hand was there too—Sookie’s. He put his hand over hers.
The limit of his strength had been met, and he slept again.
“He moved his hand,” Henry said in an excited whisper.
“Is he going to wake up?” Bobby asked.
“If you recall,” Dr. Ludwig intoned, “I have been telling you for a month now that he was going to wake up. It was just a matter of time.”
“So—he’s going to be okay?” Bobby asked, the uncertainty, worry, and hope all clear in his voice.
“I think so,” Dr. Ludwig said with a smile on her lips.
“And what do you think?” Henry asked in the direction of Dr. Thomas Cooper, who had been the one to operate on Eric—four times during the last month.
“I think he’s already done better than I ever thought he would,” the surgeon said honestly.
When Thomas Cooper had been called from the operating room a month before to take care of a gunshot victim, he’d been annoyed that his surgery had been interrupted. Still—he’d been able to pass along the closing and the post-op to an intern and had rushed to the sixth floor, where there had been a hostage situation. He’d come into the room to find Dr. Amy Ludwig, the only person whom he’d ever met who was smarter than he was, working to revive a man who had been shot five times.
A blond woman—holding a tiny infant and with a slight bullet wound of her own—was looking on as Ludwig worked. Her eyes had been wide open, watching as Ludwig and a nurse tried to control the bleeding of the man. However, her lips had been moving, and Thomas had recognized that she was praying.
He’d paid very little attention to the two dead men he’d passed on his way into the room, even though he’d known one of them pretty well. Maxwell Lee had been an excellent chief of security, but Thomas knew when it was too late to save someone, and the bullet wound between Maxwell’s eyes indicated that “too late” had been about five minutes before. An older Caucasian man also stared toward the ceiling—unseeing. He, too, was dead.
But the man Ludwig had been working on was fighting, despite all his wounds.
Thomas had immediately assessed those injuries. The worst two were gunshots to the head and the chest. But the bullet wedged into Eric’s chest had clipped Eric’s aorta, so it had to be dealt with first. Almost a week later, after a medically induced coma had allowed the swelling around the bullet in Eric’s brain to go down a little, Thomas had been able to remove that one too. Luckily, it had lodged shallowly, about the “best” place a bullet could be in a brain, though it had come dangerously close to hitting the part of Northman’s brain which controlled his memory.
The other three shots had been nasty too. One had hit Eric’s spleen, which had to be removed. Ironically, the closest Eric had come to dying on the operating table had been when his spleen had ruptured, even as Thomas had been working on his aorta. However, he’d been able to guide the surgeon assisting him to perform an emergency spleen removal, even as he’d finished up repairing the aorta.
But it had been touch and go.
Another bullet had clipped Eric’s femoral artery, which had required yet another surgery. The fifth bullet had gone through the side of his neck and then had grazed his wife’s head. An inch in any direction, and any one of the bullets could have killed Eric Northman, but none of them had.
Dr. Ludwig had proclaimed Eric Northman to be “fighter” enough to survive when Thomas had first come into the room to start working on him. Thomas had been skeptical at first, but now he tended to agree with his diminutive colleague.
For the last weeks, Dr. Cooper had chosen to continue to keep Eric in a coma so that the trauma to his body—especially after his brain surgery—would have a chance to heal.
“So—he’s waking up?” Bobby asked with a cautious smile.
“It looks like it,” Dr. Cooper returned with a smile of his own. He loved giving good news. “I’d figured that it would take a little longer for the medicine in Eric’s system to run its course, but it looks like he’s impatient. And, before you ask,” he said, anticipating Bobby’s next question, “all of his wounds are stable.”
“I told you so,” Dr. Ludwig pronounced triumphantly, though quietly, since Sookie and Johan were still sleeping soundly, nestled against Eric’s body.
In truth, Amy Ludwig felt downright elated—and vindicated! She didn’t know much, but she knew goddamned well that the presence of Sookie and Johan had saved Eric Northman’s life, just as much as Thomas Cooper’s considerable expertise had. Hell—who was she kidding—Sookie and Johan had mattered more!
Magic—had mattered more!
“Eric,” Bobby whispered desperately into his friend’s ear, obviously trying not to wake up Sookie and Johan. “Wake. The. Fuck. Up.”
Eric’s eyes popped open. At first they were uncertain and unfocused. Then they settled on Bobby accusingly. He tried to speak, but the plastic tube prevented it. He struggled against it a little.
Dr. Cooper approached Eric. “Hello, I’m Thomas,” the doctor said in a whisper. For the first time in his career, he was trying not to awaken an infant and a woman lain out on top of a patient.
Thomas sighed, but smiled all the same.
Why he’d let Ludwig talk him into allowing Sookie and the child to basically move into Eric’s hospital room and have their run of it was beyond him. Of course, even if he’d been able to deny Ludwig, there would have been no denying Niall Brigant. And Thomas had to admit that Eric had survived injuries that most people wouldn’t have, and letting the people he was fighting for stay with him was probably more therapeutic than any of the medicines in his IV.
Eric gave the doctor a little nod.
“Eric?” Sookie voiced tentatively, almost as if in her sleep. She sat up carefully, her eyes locked into his. “Eric,” she said again, this time smiling through watery eyes.
Again, he tried to speak, but he was fighting a losing battle as he fought the tube in his mouth.
“Could you move the baby for a minute, Sookie?” Thomas asked gently.
Eric shook his head. He didn’t want Johan or Sookie to move.
“Just while I examine you,” Thomas assured. “I’d like to get these tubes out of you so that you can speak, but I need to check a couple of things first.”
Eric nodded as Sookie leaned in to kiss his cheek. His eyes followed her movements as she picked up Johan. He gasped a little at the size of his son, who was wiggling and frowning at the disturbance to his slumber. Fussily, Johan let out a little cry and opened his eyes, taking in his mother before settling his gaze onto a pair of eyes exactly like his own.
A tear fell from Eric’s eye, and his throat burned as he looked at his family. He’d thought he was going to die. He’d feared more that they would die.
“If you blow out,” Thomas said after a few minutes, “I can remove the tube that is keeping you from speaking.”
Eric looked at the doctor and nodded in understanding. He wanted to speak, after all. He needed to say his beloved’s name.
“I’ll count to three,” Thomas said, “and then you blow.”
Eric nodded again.
“One. Two. Three.”
Though weak, Eric exhaled for all he was worth; he felt the tube slipping from his throat. The sensation was good and bad all at once.
“Sookie,” he croaked out as soon as the plastic was gone. His voice cracked, and it was painful to speak, but he couldn’t stop himself. “You okay?” he asked, looking at her head. The last time he’d seen her, there had been blood in her beautiful golden hair.
She touched her forehead where there was a small bandage. “I only got nicked by a bullet. You pulled me down in time, Eric. You saved me. You saved Johan.”
He still looked concerned.
She smoothed her hand over his cheek. “I had to get only five stitches, Eric,” she said softly. “I hardly felt it.” She smiled a little. That was the truth. Eric had been in surgery when Indira had sewn her up, and her worry had covered up any pain she might have felt.
Eric nodded, even as Dr. Ludwig thrust a straw to his lips. He looked up at her. She’d obviously pulled a stepping stool out from under the bed.
“Drink this,” Dr. Ludwig said insistently. “It’ll make your throat feel better. You’ve had a tube in it for almost a month,” she added testily.
“A month?” Eric asked.
“Don’t talk!” Dr. Ludwig ordered. “Drink!”
“Drink, Eric,” Sookie said softly.
Eric nodded and did what he was told as he moved his eyes back over to his son.
“Mr. Northman,” Dr. Cooper started.
“Eric,” Sookie corrected, rocking Johan in her arms a little as he began to reach for his father.
Thomas smiled. “I hope it’s okay if I call you Eric. Your wife insisted we all be on a first name basis.”
Sookie smiled down at her husband. “Thomas saved your life four times,” she said reaching down to squeeze Eric’s hand. “We like him.”
Eric nodded and looked up at the doctor gratefully. “Thanks,” he choked out after Dr. Ludwig removed the straw.
“I would have worked on you myself,” Dr. Ludwig said in her usual sarcastic tone, “but you know I prefer patients of a smaller variety.” She winked.
“Thanks, Amy,” Eric said.
“Drink,” the diminutive doctor ordered again, though a little smile played on her lips.
Eric looked up at Dr. Cooper, his eyes begging for the physician to explain what had happened.
Thomas had seen that look before. They were eyes of confusion, but gratefulness. “You were shot five times, Eric,” he said, trying to break the news gently. “And if I may say so, you picked some bad places to be shot.”
“We’re all still pissed at you for that,” Bobby said, smiling through tears.
Eric looked over at his friend for the first time. Bobby’s arm was in a sling.
“Bobby?” Eric croaked, fighting against taking another drink.
Bobby looked down toward his left shoulder. “Ah—this thing? It’s not bad. I just got one in the shoulder. And you know why that is?”
Eric’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“I’ll tell you,” Bobby said with a smirk. “It’s because I know how to get shot without it hitting my fucking vital organs!”
“You okay?” Eric asked.
Bobby nodded. “Yeah.”
“Everyone else?” Eric asked. “Okay?”
“Drink,” Dr. Ludwig said.
Eric shook his head, but then took a sip to appease everyone.
“Blake was hit,” Henry said.
Eric looked at him with concern.
“He took a kidney shot, but they were able to patch him up,” Henry assured. “He’s due to start work again next week. Niall and your mormor have been fussing over him at their house because your—uh,” he paused.
“Mormor was banned from the hospital—well almost banned,” Sookie said. “She—uh—transferred her care onto Blake.”
“Why banned?” Eric asked shakily.
“Don’t be concerned,” Sookie said, “but Elsa fainted. She was just tired and a little dehydrated, but after that, her doctor said that she could be here only one hour a day.”
“That doctor would be me,” Thomas said with a smirk.
“She’s okay?” Eric asked.
“Yeah,” Thomas supplied. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her.”
“Much to Niall’s chagrin,” Bobby chuckled.
Thomas shifted uncomfortably. “Your grandmother likes to ruffle my hair—literally. And,” he sighed and paused, “she pinches my butt on occasion. She says I remind her of an actor she once knew.”
Eric smiled a little. “She does like actors.” His face grew grave as he looked back at Henry. “Sorry about Blake.”
Henry stepped forward. “You and Sookie are family, Eric. Blake feels the same way I do.”
Eric coughed a little and nodded. “Anyone else get hurt?” he croaked out.
Bobby sighed and looked at Sookie. Eric followed his eyes to his wife.
“The chief of security at the hospital, Maxwell Lee, was shot in the head. He died immediately,” Bobby said.
“Fuck,” Eric sighed, looking anguished.
“Bill was also shot,” Henry said with a sneer, “but only in the arm. It was superficial.”
“Appius had twelve bullets total,” Bobby said. He’d shot all of them before he fell. Mott had gotten him a bullet-proof vest, so it took a bullet in the head to take him down.”
“Is he dead?” Eric asked, looking at Sookie.
“Yes,” she said, “he’s gone. Dead and gone.”
A/N: Well—I hope you made it down safely from the cliff I’d left you on! Thanks for your patience (or “patience”) as I’ve worked on other things! I hope I don’t have any typos left in this. I wanted to get it to you ASAP!