“If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.”—Frank Lane
“Sookie, Sookie. Min kära, please wake up. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you. It’s okay. I’m okay,” Eric said desperately.
Sookie felt familiar arms holding her and wondered for a moment if she had died too. She wouldn’t be surprised. When she’d heard the shot that she’d been sure had killed her husband, her heart had literally broken.
“Min älskade,” came a whisper and then kisses on her face. “Please. Wake up for me.”
“Sir, please, let us check her,” another voice said.
“I’m not moving,” Eric said gruffly. “Check her, but I’m staying where I am.”
There was a pause. “Okay, sir.”
Sookie felt hands holding her wrist, and she fought to open her eyes.
“Her heart rate is fine,” the voice said. “So is her blood pressure. She’s just fainted. We should check you out though. That’s an ugly bruise you have on your head, and you might have a cracked rib or two. Your bulletproof vest saved your life, but you were still shot at close range.”
“Later,” Eric said firmly, though he wheezed a little.
Hearing Eric’s protestations and his wheezing, Sookie tried to force her eyes open again. Something placed under her nose, thankfully, helped her to awaken.
Her eyes popped open. Eric was cradling her; he was beautiful and alive. His shirt was off, and she could see a bruise forming over his heart, near the scar from his previous gunshot wound.
“Hi,” he said, touching her cheek gently.
“You’re alive,” she responded weakly, a tear falling from her eye.
“Milos? Miranda?” she asked.
Eric shook his head sadly. “Milos is dead. Sigebert shot him in the head. Miranda was shot in the chest by Bill, but her vest protected her. However, she hit her head pretty hard on a table when she fell to the floor. She was knocked out for a while.”
Eric looked at the paramedic who had given Sookie the smelling salts. “Do you know any more about the condition of my guard?”
The paramedic nodded. “Yeah, like you, she might have a cracked rib or two. The bullets you were shot with were high caliber. She has a laceration to the head, but the bleeding’s almost stopped. And she’s definitely got a concussion—again, like you.”
More tears were slipping from Sookie’s eyes as she thought of Milos, who had become like family during the past months.
She tried to sit up a little, but she immediately got dizzy.
“Sookie?” Eric asked in a worried tone. “You okay?”
“She hit her head on the side of the van when she fainted,” Bobby said from behind the paramedic. “I tried to catch her before that happened, but it was,” he paused, “right after we thought you’d . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“We should take you both to the hospital—just to be safe. You probably have matching concussions,” the paramedic said in a slightly joking tone.
Eric nodded in agreement, more for Sookie’s sake than for his own. “Fine, but we ride together.”
The paramedic smiled indulgently. “Of course.”
“Johan?” Sookie asked.
“He’s fine,” Bobby assured. “I just got off the phone with Henry. I told him about Milos and Kate.”
“Kate?” Sookie asked, her eyes horror-filled.
“She’s dead too,” Eric said, his own eyes now filling with tears.
Eric held onto Sookie and rocked her as the paramedics came over with a gurney for her.
“Pam needs to know about Nora,” Eric said to Bobby.
“I know,” Bobby responded. “I’m going to go to her and tell her in person—right after I leave here. Amelia knows already, and she’s waiting for me.”
“What about Nora?” Sookie asked.
“When my grandmoth—,” Eric began and then paused. “No. When Appius’s mother tried to shoot me, Nora jumped in front of me. I was sitting on the stairs when that shot went off, and from where Nora was hit, I think that the bullet would have killed me if she’d not moved in the way of it,” he said with a little awe in his voice. “Nora died—saving me.”
Sookie gasped and closed her eyes, trying to take in what Eric was saying.
“We should get you two to the hospital,” the paramedic said more insistently, signaling for his partner to help him get a still slightly dizzy Sookie onto the gurney.
EIGHT DAYS LATER
Sookie and Eric sat at their third funeral in as many days. And every one of the three people they’d said their goodbyes to had saved Eric’s life. And none of the three would have been killed if Eric hadn’t walked into Grace’s home—if he’d not wanted to try to reconcile with her.
At first, the guilt of those truths had threatened to take Eric somewhere dark. Why did he survive when they had died? Why didn’t he just cancel his meeting with his grandmother when he began to suspect something might be amiss? Was his life worth the ones lost?
Along with the questions, Eric could hear the voice of his father in his head—telling him that he was a “cancer” who killed everyone around him. It had been a “lesson” drilled into Eric’s head so much when he was a kid that it was apparent that he’d not fully unlearned it.
For once, Sookie hadn’t been able to pull him up from the self-loathing and guilt he was feeling. In addition to Sookie, Claudine had tried to talk to him. And then Bobby had tried. And then Pam. It was finally Ben, who saved Eric from plunging fully into depression.
Eric had been terrified to talk to Ben—to face him after what had happened to Milos, who had been like a son to the MET’s head of security. However, Ben hadn’t waited for Eric to come to the MET; he had come to see Eric.
The two had said nothing for a long time as they’d stared out at the Hudson from the terrace. Then Ben had stood up and motioned for Eric to follow him. Together, they’d packed up Milos’s things. Together, they’d driven to the Bronx. Together, they’d spoken with Milos’s father and brother and had returned his things to his family. And then Ben had driven them to a pier on the East River.
It was there that Eric had spilled his guts—as they’d looked out over the water. Eric unleashed every negative thought that he’d been having about his choices and actions—and himself. And Ben had silently listened to them all.
And—when Eric was finally done indicting himself—Ben took over the speaking. He told Eric that he didn’t believe he was responsible for what had happened. He told Eric that he was strong—not weak—for having wanted to give Grace another chance. He told Eric that the situation had been impossible because the people who had orchestrated it, Bill and Grace and Michelle, were bile-filled monsters. He told Eric that he’d done the best he could in the face of those monsters.
When Eric had tried to protest, Ben shut him up with a look, telling him that Milos had died for a brother—as much as Nora had. He asked him if he would have stepped in front of a bullet for either of them—to which Eric answered an unhesitating “yes.” Ben reminded Eric that Kate Batanya had been killed in the line of duty—duty both to her country and to a friend. When Eric questioned his worth, Ben just hugged him like a father should and told him unequivocally that he was, indeed, valuable—to Sookie, to Johan, to himself, and to all those who loved him.
When Eric once again blamed himself for going into Grace’s house to start with, Ben reminded him that he’d done it for love, which was the best reason to do anything. Eric had gone into that house because he loved his grandmother and wanted to believe that she could—after so many years—love him back. He’d gone into that house because he loved his wife and child and wanted to make sure that neither Grace nor Bill Compton could ever harm them.
When Eric had looked at the ground in shame, Ben had forced his chin up, telling him that it wasn’t his fault that Grace and Bill and Sigebert had murderous intentions.
Then Ben had reminded Eric that Milos and Miranda and Agent Batanya had all chosen to go into that house with him—because they, too, had wanted the legacy of hate begun by Appius Northman to stop. Finally stop.
Ben told Eric that he was proud of him.
Ben told Eric the he loved him like a son.
The two stood at the pier almost all night—ignoring the frigid temperature—as Eric talked out and then cried out his pain. And, by the time Ben dropped Eric back at Carmichael Tower in the early hours of the dawn, Ben had become a father to Eric—an even more tangible father-figure than Godric had been—for Eric was now ready to accept that a “father” could love him, even though he had flaws and made mistakes.
Eric still felt guilt and sorrow, but—after his talk with Ben—he knew that, in time, he would be able to work through those emotions. Could he have done things differently? Yes. But he hadn’t. That was the truth of the matter. And he needed to deal with the reality of the situation. He needed to stay strong for his family, for—though their remaining enemies were no longer immediate threats—Eric had no illusions that they would “go gently” into the night. wHeHe
Eric sighed. There would be at least three criminal trials on the horizon.
Wybert had been captured even before Agent Batanya’s team had breached Grace Northman’s home; however, he’d not confessed to killing Michelle Stackhouse until the next day—after her body had been found. Of course, since then, he’d also confessed to other crimes in his misguided quest to protect Grace.
Luther had also been arrested as an accessory to murder and attempted murder. The case against him would be more difficult to prove, and the prosecutor was trying to broker a deal with him in order to get him to testify against Grace.
Grace’s trial was likely going to be a media circus. She’d already hired several well-known lawyers to be her defense team. And, given the high profile of the Northmans in Manhattan—it was likely that their first move would be to ask for a change of venue for the trial.
Eric sighed as his wife leaned against his body. He placed an arm around her shoulder. Sookie had proven to be so strong during the past days, seeming to know exactly what to say and what not to say to him. Despite her own trauma, it had been she who had made sure that Eric ate in the days following the deaths. And it had been she who had called Ben to come see Eric.
Nora’s funeral had been held on Monday, January 20. And, showing even more strength and character, Sookie had helped Sophie-Anne and Pam to make all of the arrangements for it. With Amelia on one side of her and Bobby on the other, Pam had given the eulogy for her sister. It had been a beautiful tribute. Pam didn’t pull any punches when it came to admitting that Nora had her flaws. However, Pam had ended her eulogy by saying that Nora had died a heroine—trying to save the life of their brother and trying to stop the madness of their father’s legacy of hate.
Milos had been laid to rest at the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island on Tuesday, January 21. His father had delivered the eulogy and had talked about his son’s military service with pride. He also talked about how much Milos had enjoyed his new job and how proud he’d been to be protecting such good people. Sookie had cried quietly throughout the service.
It was now Wednesday, January 22, and Eric couldn’t help but to have mixed feelings. He was incredibly sad, but also incredibly happy, for—just two hours before—he and Sookie had been told that she was pregnant with their second child.
After the shootings, they’d been taken to the hospital and, indeed, had been diagnosed with matching concussions. However, Sookie’s blood work had come back with slightly elevated hormone levels. Since they’d resumed sex less than a week before that test, it was too soon for a pregnancy to be confirmed with a hundred percent certainty. However, Ludwig had drawn some of Sookie’s blood the day before after Milos’s funeral. And right before they’d left for Kate’s funeral, they’d gotten the results: positive.
It seemed that all that time without sex had made Eric’s sperm into “super sperm,” or—perhaps—his little swimmers were just adept at finding their way around Sookie’s birth control pills. Whatever had happened, however, Eric and Sookie had taken the pregnancy as a sign that God wanted them to move forward, even as they honored the memories of their fallen “family members.”
He and Sookie had already started calling the baby Kate—though they didn’t intend to tell anyone else about “her” until after the first trimester. Eric didn’t know why he was so certain his second child would be a girl, but Sookie seemed just as sure. If the child wasn’t a girl, they’d have to scramble for another name since Kate Adele Northman had already been decided upon.
Eric looked around the small chapel. Kate Batanya hadn’t been the type of woman to have many friends. Half of the room was filled with her colleagues, though it was clear that they respected and/or feared her.
The other half of the room held mostly the same people who had attended the other two funerals—a kind of “block” that had traveled together from one place of mourning to the next.
Sookie, of course, was right next to Eric. And Johan was asleep in the crook of his left arm, cuddled half inside of his suit jacket. Next to him on the other side was his mormor and then Niall. Amelia sat next to Sookie, and Pam, Bobby, and Thalia completed the row. Behind him were Henry and Blake, Ben and his wife Maria, and several other members of the MET crew including Doris, Tony, and Jack. Behind them were Sophie-Anne, A.J., Tamara, Gracie, Alexei, the Edgingtons, and Desmond Cataliades. And in the next row back were Claudine, Claude, Copley Carmichael, Paul Carmichael, and Paul’s wife. Tray, Rasul, Jarod and Miranda were in the row after that. Calvin and Alcide were holding down the fort at Carmichael Tower.
Eric had offered to let Miranda out of the contract she’d signed when she became his and Sookie’s guard, but she’d refused, telling him to “shut the fuck up.” In fact, the day after that, Jarod had told Henry that he was resigning from Carmichael Tower so that he could go to work for Eric. Eric had been floored by Miranda and Jarod’s friendship and devotion to him, Johan, and Sookie.
Before Sookie had come into his life, Eric had been so afraid of loss that he’d tried to avoid everything worth having. The previous week, he’d lost three people he cared about within a few horrible minutes. He’d felt the pain of their loss and the guilt attached to their deaths. But, thanks to his talk with Ben, he’d realized that he’d never regret having those people in his life—even if it was just for a short time. And the miracle was that they’d felt the same way about him.
Kate Batanya had made it a personal mission to capture Bill Compton because she cared about his family.
According to Milos’s father, Milos had been aware of all of the risks of his job, but had thought that keeping Eric, Sookie, and Johan safe was well worth those risks.
Indeed, both Kate and Milos had become part of Eric and Sookie’s “family.”
As for Nora, Eric still couldn’t believe she’d stepped in front of a bullet for him. It was difficult for him to reconcile that selfless action with the mostly selfish woman he’d known. But—in the end—Eric decided that he wasn’t going to question Nora’s actions or motives. Only she knew why she’d jumped in front of him. During her life, Nora had made a lot of mistakes and had—both intentionally and unintentionally—caused a lot of damage. However, she was Appius’s victim too—his last victim, if Eric had anything to say on the matter. And the last moments of her life had actually been her strongest, most admirable moments. Eric had decided to remember his stepsister for those moments and to be grateful to her.
Ben had told him something very wise during their talk. In every piece of great art, there was struggle, and in the greatest art, there were mistakes—brush strokes that weren’t quite right or colors that didn’t quite work. He’d emphasized that it was the imperfections that created specialness and uniqueness.
He and Sookie hadn’t gone to a new gallery the previous Sunday. For some reason, Monet’s The Four Trees had beckoned to them. Maybe it was because—during their relatively short time together—they had lost four people who had helped them to find their way to each other, or who had helped them to stay together and whole. Gran had been lost to them before she’d gotten to meet her great-grandchild, and they still missed her very much. Milos and Kate had been lost to them too soon after they’d become members of their “family.”
Understandably, Nora’s loss was felt mostly by Eric. As screwed up as their relationship had been at times, she’d proven herself to be a loyal sister to Eric. In Nora’s newly-rewritten Will, read after her funeral, she’d honored Eric even further. Unbeknownst to anyone, she’d made him her executor and main beneficiary, asking only that he use his “unwaveringly honorable judgment” to decide what was “best for their family.”
Eric and Sookie had sat in the gallery for a long time, quietly talking about all of them, and thinking of various ways that they could honor them.
Of course, others had died the day that their friends had. But Eric and Sookie didn’t talk about them, nor had they since then. In some ways, they were not important enough to talk about.
Bill Compton had been cremated following his autopsy. Eric hadn’t felt any guilt over putting a bullet into his head. Sigebert, too, had been cremated, and his remains would be given to his brother, Wybert, who would likely never spend a day outside of a prison again.
Michelle Stackhouse’s funeral was, ironically enough, probably starting even then. Her role in Grace’s plot had yet to become public, though it would soon enough. Jason had come to New York in order to take his mother’s body back with him to Bon Temps, where she’d be laid to rest next to her own mother. Sookie had said that was fitting, but—beyond that—she hadn’t mentioned her mother’s death.
Sookie had never even considered attending Michelle Stackhouse’s funeral.
Jason and Niall had actually had lunch on the day that Sookie’s brother was in New York. And Niall had helped Jason with the arrangements for taking his mother home. According to Niall, Jason had been almost “pleasant” to be around. Though Jason had clearly been mourning for Michelle, Niall felt as if the young man was finally beginning to understand what kind of a person his mother really was. But only time would tell if he could truly change. Meanwhile, Sookie had stuck to her previous decision that she didn’t want to pursue a relationship with Jason, though she was glad that Niall was trying with him.
She had “brothers” who had chosen her—who had shown her unconditional love.
Eric heard Sookie sniffling softly next to him and handed her a handkerchief.
Kate’s father, who was also an FBI agent, had just begun his eulogy for his child. He smiled as he told those gathered about how his daughter had loved her job more than anything else. And many laughed with him as he told of how Kate had basically interrogated any potential boyfriend to the point that he ran for the hills. He teared up when he said how proud of her he was. He talked about how satisfied she would have been to know that people like Bill Compton and Grace Northman had been stopped from hurting others. And he told those gathered that his daughter had actually shared with him that she “liked” the Northmans, which—coming from her—meant that they were the equivalent of “family” in her eyes.
That last statement had brought tears to both Eric’s and Sookie’s eyes, and they’d found their hands settling over Sookie’s stomach, cradling their little Kate—not even two weeks old, but already surrounded by so much love.
Eric was thankful—so thankful for his life—that his heart felt like it would burst.
Sookie and he had both survived horrible torment from their parents, and they had managed to come through whole—or at least whole enough so that they could work on fixing themselves. They’d given each other a connection and a family—something that they were determined that their children would never lack. They would teach their children to love, and they would give them love in return.
Of all the things they could do, Eric knew that was the one that would honor their fallen loved ones the most.
A/N: When I realized that this chapter was over 20 pages, I decided to split it up, so you will now be getting one more and then the epilogue. The “new” chapter 41 still needs a bit of work, but I’ll get it to you ASAP and then I’ll work on the epilogue.
I know that a few of you blame Eric for the deaths of Nora, Milos, and Kate. I suppose that—in a way—I understand your viewpoint, though I cannot agree with it. I do, however, respect those of you who have PM’ed me about this issue so that I could respond back with my reasoning. On the other hand, I continue to ignore my “guests” who rail without signing in.
Until the next chapter,
And, once again,