Chapter 66: Come What May
Sookie paced back and forth in Amelia’s living room. Bobby had texted her even before he told Eric that Nora had placed a listening device in his office. Bobby had guessed that Eric would come to Brooklyn after he found out.
That had been fifty minutes before, and Sookie had been pacing for nearly all of them.
After the first text, there had been others between her and Bobby. Bobby, Henry, and Blake were going to come by the next morning for breakfast so that they could talk to her and Eric about the listening device situation. According to the last text she’d gotten from Bobby, Blake was pretty sure that only one had been planted, but Thalia and Henry were using their military connections to get better equipment so that they could be sure.
Henry had called Sookie after putting Eric into a cab. His voice had held worry for them both, which was something Sookie was surprised by—even though she appreciated it. She looked at her phone. There was nothing new, but—then again—Eric had apparently smashed his own phone to pieces.
“He won’t come faster, even if you pace a hole into the floor,” Amelia said worriedly. Desperately needing someone to talk to, Sookie had already told Amelia about Appius’s machinations to spy on his own son.
“I know,” Sookie responded nervously. “But he should have been here by now.”
“Saturday night traffic,” Amelia reminded.
“I just wish I could call him,” Sookie said. “But he destroyed his phone, Ames.”
Amelia sighed. “I know, honey. But he’s okay. They didn’t let him drive.”
Sookie nodded and then rushed to the window as a car pulled up.
“It’s him,” she said.
Amelia got up and patted Sookie on the shoulder before discreetly going to her room.
Sookie answered the door even before Eric could knock. After holding him for a few moments, she pulled him inside and then closed and locked the door behind them. Wordlessly, she led him back to the room that had been hers before she moved in with Eric.
“Sookie,” he whispered in a tortured tone.
“I know,” she returned.
“If Bobby and Henry hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have ever known that Nora planted the bug,” Eric whimpered, pulling her tightly against his body.
“I know,” she said again.
“He would have heard us. He would have found out just how much I . . . .” His voice broke with emotion as he couldn’t finish his sentence.
“I would have lost you,” he said, his voice shaking as he broke down in her arms. “He would have found a way to hurt you,” he added, as his whole body began to shake with sobs and fear.
“Shhh,” she sounded as she guided him to sit onto the bed.
She rocked him in her arms for a while, soothing him the best she could. Something inside of her understood that the Eric she was holding was reliving everything he’d ever been denied because of his father—with the most denied thing being Appius’s love. And something else told her that Eric had never before let himself go—at least not to the point that he’d wept openly in front of another person.
“I’m going to lose you,” he cried, his body shaking even harder. He buried himself into her arms as if he needed to find enough comfort for a lifetime there. “I’m so fucking sorry. I’m so sorry,” he repeated. “So sorry. So sorry.”
“Shhh,” she tried to sooth.
“I’m going to lose you,” he whispered again.
Knowing that they would, indeed, lose each other—even if they never lost their love for one another—all Sookie could do was continue to rock him in her embrace.
“But I can’t lose you,” he said sitting up a little so that he could look at her.
His body still shook, but his bright blue eyes held more life than Sookie had ever seen in them before. It was the kind of “life” that she imagined came into someone’s eyes when he or she was fighting for survival.
“I don’t think I can go on if I lose you,” he said desperately. “When I saw the closet—saw it without your things inside—I felt like my heart had been . . . .” His voice trailed off as tears began to pour once more from his eyes.
She pulled him to her again and rocked him for a few more minutes before she spoke.
“I love you, Eric. That won’t change no matter what happens in the future.”
He looked up at her. “You deserve so much better than I’ve given you—so much better than me. You should order me away from you. Please—order me away.”
She smiled sadly and thumbed away some of his tears, even as her own began to fall. “I can’t, Eric. I can’t because there is nothing better than you—not for me there isn’t. And I think that we both deserve to be happy; you make me happy.”
He leaned forward and took her lips with his own. Hot tears ran into hot tears as they deepened the kiss.
“You make me so goddamned happy, Sookie,” he groaned as he pulled away so that they could both breathe for a few seconds. He trailed his kisses down to her throat and then to her collarbone.
She answered his kisses by placing some of her own anywhere she could reach: his forehead, his ear, his neck, and then his lips again as she pulled him to where she wanted him.
They kissed until both of them felt as if their lungs would burst and then they pulled away from each other, their eyes locking as their lips had done before.
“You’re so beautiful it hurts,” he panted, allowing himself to sink into her gaze.
“You too,” she said almost desperately, as she reached out to slide his suit jacket from his shoulders; he helped the garment along, and it fell heavily onto the bed behind him. Keeping her eyes on his, she loosened and then took off his tie, before unbuttoning the light blue dress shirt he was wearing. With every garment that fell from his body, he looked lighter. Finally, she slipped off the white wife-beater he’d been wearing as an undershirt.
“Stand up,” she requested even as she started working on his belt. He shuffled out of his trousers as soon as she unbuttoned and unzipped them, taking his shoes and socks with them as he went.
Sookie’s eyes were both hungry and soft as she slipped his boxer-briefs over his hips.
She couldn’t help but to admire the body of the man before her. He was so strong—every muscle flexible and perfect. His skin was smooth and soft, except for his hands which were slightly rougher because of the manual labor he did with them during his summers. She’d mapped every scar on his body. And—even more importantly—he’d allowed her to see every scar inside of his body. And in that moment, even as tear tracks stained his cheeks, she’d never seen a lovelier human being.
“Stand up, Sookie,” he requested, taking her hand and helping her rise in front of him. She was wearing only a T-shirt, flannel lounge pants, and panties; they were quickly discarded.
Without taking his eyes from hers, he leaned over to draw down the covers of the bed, and then—even though they were right next to it—he picked her up and laid her down in the middle of it. He moved next to her and then claimed her lips again. It wasn’t long before their bodies were flush against each other, his chest to hers, legs tangled, hands entwined sometimes and at other times searching.
It was a while before Eric finally pulled her on top of him; he needed to feel her weight on him—needed her to keep him from disappearing into numbness as he’d so often done as a child. But most of all, he wanted to see her above him—her tousled blond hair framing her face as if she were an angel or a goddess. He sighed with pleasure when she sank down onto his shaft—rolling her hips back and forth. Grinding against him.
A thousand words in both Swedish and English popped into his mind all at once, but the most beautiful one was “home”—”hem.” She was looking at him with intensity in her blue eyes, and somehow he knew that she was thinking the same thing that he was.
He raised his hands to her hips to help with her movements, but it wasn’t the ecstasy of being inside of her that gave him the most pleasure. It was the fact that she was looking at him as if she believed in him—trusted him. It was the fact that she had begun to look—more and more over the past several months—as if she believed in herself.
She rode him slowly until he could tell she was getting tired, and then he flipped them over so that he was lying behind her—spooning her. He tried to touch every bit of her that he could as he lifted her leg over his and entered her from behind.
They both groaned, loving the contact that the new position afforded. One of his hands wrapped around her and caressed one of her breasts, while the other went under and around her in order to stimulate her clit.
He reveled in the comfort of their slow, steady movements: in and out—again and again. His pace—just as hers had been—was unhurried, and it felt as if something was shifting in him as they made love. It was something almost imperceptible, save for the fact that he felt a little braver—a little more whole.
Needing to see her eyes, Eric repositioned them again, this time so that he was hovering over her. Again, he entered her and set a slow pace, bringing them to their releases with agonizingly rich precision.
They both moaned out in passion as he emptied into her, even as her walls throbbed around him. He stayed above her for a while, resting his weight on his elbows, but keeping all the contact with her body that he could. Their eyes stayed locked, and they spoke thousands of words with them.
None of them needed to be said aloud.
Eric and Sookie made love for hours. After the first time, which had been slow and tearful, they’d become more playful. Their second time was faster, and they couldn’t stop laughing or tickling throughout most of the encounter as they raced each other to their orgasms. Both of them were happy that Amelia’s room was on the other side of the large brownstone because they’d not been able to hold back in the noise department.
After that they’d showered together, but Sookie’s shower at Amelia’s was so small that the logistics were all out of whack, so they finished bathing quickly, returned to the bedroom, and made love again.
That third time had felt normal—comfortable—as if they’d reestablished themselves. As if they’d realized that they were okay.
“I like our shower at home,” Sookie mused lazily as she threaded her fingers with Eric’s again and again.
“Mmmm,” he said tiredly, though he wasn’t yet ready to let himself fall asleep. “I like it too.”
“The shower seat makes things much easier too,” she giggled.
“That it does, min älskare,” he smirked.
“So—how did everything else go tonight?” she asked.
Eric knew that she was referring to everything except for the situation with his father.
“Fine,” Eric said, turning so that he was on his side, facing Sookie. “More than fine—actually,” he answered with a little excitement in his tone.
She grinned at him proudly. He really was tremendous at his work. She’d realized early on in their relationship that no one had ever told Eric that he or she was proud of the job he was doing. That wasn’t to say that Eric hadn’t felt respect from the people he worked with; he had. It was just that he’d never been shown pride by anyone when it came to the work he did, so she made sure that he knew how proud of him she was.
“Tell me about it?” she requested.
He smiled. “Well, my team and Mr. Li’s team really seemed to solidify a good working relationship tonight. And I could tell that Liang and Mr. Li were both very pleased. Mr. Li even requested that he and I refer to each other by our given names!”
Sookie placed her hand onto his cheek. “That’s a big deal for someone with as high of a position in his company as Mr. Li.”
“Eric nodded. And he even . . . ,” he paused and then closed his eyes.
“He what?” Sookie asked, caressing his shoulder lightly.
Eric opened his eyes. “He even said that when my team visits in February, we should bring our families.”
“Oh,” Sookie said gloomily. “Will he expect you to bring Isabel?”
Eric sighed. “I don’t think so. When he mentioned it, I think that he sensed that I wouldn’t want to, though I’m sure he has no idea why.”
Sookie nodded. “Were you able to form an opinion about Mr. Li? What’s his first name again?”
“Guo,” Eric said.
“Guo,” Sookie repeated, trying to pronounce the unfamiliar name correctly. “You told me that you hadn’t been able to get a good read on Guo before.”
“He’s still hard for me to read,” Eric said honestly, “but I know I respect him. And he said things tonight that made me,” he paused, “think. He’s a perceptive man—much more perceptive than most.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“Once Appius arrived, he cornered Guo—just as I expected him to,” Eric informed, the tension returning to his face. “Unsurprisingly, my father didn’t have very flattering things to say about me. Later, when I was having a private talk with Guo out on the terrace, he asked me about Appius. At first, I answered his questions a bit evasively, though not dishonestly, but then he all but told me that his firm would have gone with Vegas Publishing if it wouldn’t have been for me. For my involvement—specifically!”
“Wow! That’s really great!” she smiled.
Eric nodded excitedly. “And then Guo—without directly insulting Appius, of course—pretty much insulted the hell out of him! It was surreal.”
“Are you okay?” Sookie asked after Eric was silent and contemplative for a few moments.
Eric closed his eyes. “When Bobby told me that Nora planted that listening device, I felt so many things all at once. I was enraged that Appius would try to infest my home—our home—with his hate. And then I felt betrayed by Nora. We may have never been particularly close, but I didn’t think her capable of that.”
He took a deep breath and looked at her again. “But none of that held a candle to the way I felt when I walked into our room and didn’t see your things there.” He stopped for a moment, his voice too thick with emotion to go on for a moment. “Before letting Nora back into the private part of our home, Bobby moved all your things, and everything felt so empty,” he said as a tear fell from his eye. “And that’s when I knew.”
“Knew what?” she asked, practically holding her breath.
“I knew I’d have to find another way.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked, her lip quivering.
“I’m not going to go through with the deal I made with my father, Sookie,” Eric said quietly—though decisively. “I can’t. I really think I’d die inside if I did.” He let out a quiet sob. “I know that makes me a selfish bastard, but I can’t give you up. I won’t.”
“But, Eric, what about all those people you’ve been trying to protect?” she asked. “What about being CEO? I know it’s what you want. I can’t ask you to give that up.”
“You didn’t ask,” he said. “And being CEO has never been my main motivation for working at NP. And—as for the others—I’ll do everything I can for them. I’ll give everything that I have to them—except for you. And,” he paused, “I’ll just have to pray that God forgives me if it’s not enough.”
He took a deep breath. “Nothing in my life had ever mattered before I was with you, and I know that nothing will ever matter again—if you aren’t by my side. I used to think that I could just make my way through my life—like a small boat works its way through an ocean. I would try to avoid rough waters by predicting where they would be, and—when I couldn’t avoid them—I hoped that I could keep the boat on the top of the waves so that I wouldn’t capsize. I never expected to be happy; I didn’t know what that meant. But I thought that I could stay in one piece.”
He took another deep breath. “But I’m not in one piece; I haven’t been in one piece since my mother died. And I didn’t even realize that until I started finding all these pieces of who I am and who I want to be. But the thing is that I would have never even known that those pieces were there—if you hadn’t come into my life and shined a light on them.”
“Oh Eric,” Sookie said as tears began to fall down her cheeks. He used his thumbs to brush them away.
“Do you remember the gallery with the Islamic art that we went to in June? It was our first gallery together; it was the day you told me you wanted to have a relationship with me.”
“I remember. Gallery 455 with all the manuscripts.”
“Yes. But none of those manuscripts was my favorite piece in the gallery.”
“I know,” Sookie said, closing her eyes as she recalled that day. Most of the time, Eric was accurate when it came to picking the piece she would choose as her favorite because it was the same piece that he gravitated toward. But that day had been different. “You didn’t tell me your favorite that day; you said you would one day, but you haven’t yet.”
“That’s because I knew you hated the thing that I was drawn to, the Mihrab—the prayer niche.”
Sookie shivered involuntarily.
Eric pulled her close into his body—as if trying to protect her from “fear” itself. “I didn’t know why you hated that piece until we talked in Sweden—until you told me about the corner you were made to sit in. I realized—then—that the Mihrab was like a corner in a way, a place where you might get trapped. I realized that no corner had ever answered your prayers.”
“Except the corner where I first saw you,” she whispered.
He sighed. “And that was a trap too. I was a trap for you—a trap that wouldn’t be sprung for almost four years, but a trap nonetheless.” He shook his head. “But I can’t let it stay that way, Sookie—not anymore!” he said passionately.
“What do you mean?” she asked, looking up at him.
He leaned forward and kissed her lightly. “I told you earlier that I felt like I was broken—like I wasn’t in one piece. It was when I was staring at the Mihrab—trying to figure out why you didn’t want to look at it, when you wanted to examine everything else—that I suddenly began to see that I was actually in thousands of pieces, just like the tiles making up that prayer niche. And I knew that one day—after I’d hurt you—you wouldn’t want to look at me either.”
He sighed. “I almost left that day; I almost ran away before you could choose me. But I,” he paused, “wanted you so badly, so instead I prayed. I looked into the Mihrab and I prayed.”
“Eric,” she whispered.
“I prayed that I would be the only one hurt because of our relationship. I prayed that you would come to hate me before our time was up.”
“Why?” she asked through blurry eyes.
“So that you wouldn’t be hurt when we had to part,” he responded.
“Eric,” she whispered again, drawing closer to him.
They clutched each other for several minutes, neither of them speaking.
Finally, he spoke at a volume she could barely hear. “I feel like I could take all those pieces of myself and start making something worthwhile out of them—something beautiful like the Mihrab. I want to build us a little piece of the world without corners in it—where neither one of us has to be afraid of anything. And I don’t give a damn what Appius thinks! I don’t give a damn what he does!”
“What about Northman Publishing? I know you love it.”
Eric nodded. “I do, and I’ve worked hard there, but I could find other places to go if I had to. Contrary to what Appius believes, he doesn’t control everyone in the publishing world. Guo Li taught me that—just tonight,” he said with hope in his voice.
“What about your team?” she asked.
Eric’s face twisted in agony. “Maybe—if I find other work—I could help them too. Or maybe—if I can give them enough notice—they could find other jobs. And I will save money in the meantime. Regardless, I can’t break the contract until I’m thirty-five. Selling the house would look too suspicious to Appius right now, but I’ll put away everything I can. And—after I break the contract—I’ll give all my savings to my employees while they are looking for other work.”
“And NP itself?” she asked.
He sighed. I can’t worry about that anymore. Appius will choose another successor, and I have to trust that the company will go on without me. After all, it survived and thrived long before I started there.”
“But it’s your legacy—from both your sets of grandparents. Your morfar’s company is part of it.”
“I know,” Eric said quietly. “But I realized something when I was looking at that empty closet. I realized that neither Morfar nor Grandfather Northman would want me to be miserable for the sake of a company.”
“But you love Northman Publishing,” Sookie insisted.
He opened and closed his mouth as if struggling to say something that he couldn’t yet say. He wanted to tell her that he loved her a hell of a lot more than Northman Publishing—more than he’d ever loved anything—but he couldn’t. He was still afraid of those words—of his father’s reach into his life.
“I can’t give you up,” he finally said. “I won’t. But I can give NP up. And I’m going to use the escape clause.”
“But, Eric, I can’t let you give up everything for me,” Sookie said, her head shaking and her eyes registering shock at what he was saying. “You’d lose your home and your trust fund and all the stock you have left in Northman Publishing. And then there’s your grandmother.”
Eric sighed. “I don’t care about the trust fund or the stock. And I’ve already bought my mormor some stock in NP. If she sells it, she will have enough to live on for a while. And, if that’s not enough, I’ll find a way to support her—somehow. Yes—once the dust settles, we’ll lose our home in Manhattan. But I will—hopefully—find another job.” He suddenly looked troubled. “But Appius will likely fire you too.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. I’ll find something else too!”
Eric sighed. “I worry about Pam. Appius might fire her to spite me.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “Just warn her. She’s got several years until you’re thirty-five. She can find something else. And—if there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about her during the past months—it’s that she loves you! She wants you to be happy, Eric, and she wouldn’t want to be the reason you aren’t.”
He sniffled a little. “Appius will tarnish my mother’s name. And Godric’s.”
Sookie nodded. “Yes. I imagine that he will—just out of spitefulness. But they are both dead, Eric. And you are alive. They would want you to be happy! I just know it!”
“I’ll likely be charged with the statutory rape of Marnie Stonebrook. I’m sure that Appius will pressure her to press charges,” Eric said with trepidation.
“We’ll survive,” Sookie responded. “Bobby will use his lawyer mojo to help you to prove that you didn’t know she was underage when you had sex with her. And—even if you have to go to prison—at least it won’t be the one Appius has made for you.”
Eric closed his eyes. “And there’s Peder. Appius now owns the bank that gave him his loan.”
“Just warn him,” Sookie said. “He’ll have years to save money to repay the loan. And—if he can’t—well—you can’t take responsibility for that.”
Eric nodded as his body started to shake again. She held him closer.
“I can do this,” he said—as if trying to convince himself. “I know that other people will be hurt,” he half-sobbed, closing his eyes for a moment, “but I have to do this. I can’t break the contract until my thirty-fifth birthday, but—right at the stroke of midnight on that day—I will. Come what may.”
“Eric, are you sure about all this?” Sookie asked. “If you do it, there will be no going back.”
“No going back,” he echoed.
He looked at her. “Sookie, I really don’t care about the money, and NP will go on. I don’t care about fancy houses or cars. What I care about most in this world is lying next to me right now.”
A tear slipped from her eye.
“When I break that contract, I’ll be gaining control of my life for the first time,” he said with something akin to wonder in his voice. “And I will also be gaining so much more than I will be losing. And—I will do everything I can to help the others.” He sighed and dragged his hand through his hair. He shook his head. “I won’t be able to protect all hundred and four of them,” he said sadly. “But—maybe I can protect some of them.”
He took her hand. “Sookie, I can’t marry someone else; I can’t. I can’t marry anyone who’s not you.”
“Eric,” she whispered.
He went on. “I choose you—just as you chose me in June. I should have done it before—the moment I first saw you!” He suddenly bit his bottom lip nervously. “If you want me, Sookie—if you are willing to be with me even though I might be incarcerated and left without a job or money.” He shook his head and furrowed his brow, even as a fresh tear fell from his eye. “Wait.” He sat up abruptly and put his feet on the floor.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Wait,” he said again, this time whispering the word. “Wait. I can’t. Wait.”
“Wait?” she asked, sitting up next to him.
“No?” she questioned desperately.
Eric stood and looked for his jeans. Quickly he put them on. “No—I can’t do this to you.”
“I can’t ask you to settle for what I’ll be able to give after Appius is done with me,” he said shaking his head. “I can’t. I won’t.”
Sookie went to speak, but Eric interrupted her.
“No. I can’t. Appius is going to destroy me when I use the escape clause. He’ll find a way to make sure I go to prison for the maximum sentence that statuary rape allows for. And he’ll figure out how to keep me for getting work when I do finally get out. He’ll use every bit of power he has to make me suffer! And—seeing that I,” he paused, “care for you more than any other, he’ll try to hurt you too.” He shook his head. “No. I won’t let you go through all that! I can’t! I won’t ask you to trade one half-life for another.” His eyes wild and dripping fresh tears, he picked up his shirt and began to put it on quickly.
“You don’t need to ask!” Sookie yelled, standing up quickly. “And—the last time I looked, I was in charge of my own fucking life!”
“Sookie, he’ll hurt you!” Eric yelled, his voice twisted with agony.
“I know he will!” she yelled. “I get that! But if I’m not going to let you be in charge of my life, I’m damned sure not going to let Appius be in control! No! I’ve worked so hard to take my life into my own hands, Eric! It’s up to me to decide what I want!”
“I can’t let you,” Eric said, his tone tormented.
Using both hands, she forcing him to sit back onto the bed. “And I can’t let you leave me, Eric Northman.” She shook her head. “Stupid blonde,” she chuckled a little as she wiped away a tear from her own cheek and then one from his. “I want you, Eric Northman! I’ve always wanted you for as long as I can have you, and if you are willing to go through hell to keep me, then don’t you know that I’m willing to do the same for you?”
“Sookie,” he said shaking his head, “I can’t let you get hurt. I could be selfish before—because Appius would have never found out about you. But—once I break the contract—he’s going to find out about us!”
“Yes!” Sookie said proudly. “Yes he will. Because I’ll be the one standing right next to you when you break the contract and tell him to go to hell!” She took a breath. “And I’ll keep standing right next to you—through anything that Appius throws at us.”
“Even if I’m in prison?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Maybe I’m the selfish one, but I’d rather have you be mine and be in a government prison than be someone else’s and be in Appius’s prison.”
Eric sighed. “Me too.”
“I’m with you, Eric. Please—respect my choice! Please,” she paused, “be with me.”
Tears streaming down his face again, he pulled her into his embrace and held her tightly. “Thank you, Sookie Stackhouse. Thank you.”
“We just had a fight—a real one,” she whispered after they’d been silent for a while.
“I’m glad you won it, min älskare,” he said, looking up at her with vulnerable, open eyes. They held an expression she’d not see before: they held hope for the future.
“Me too,” she responded, kissing his forehead.
After divesting Eric of his clothes again, Sookie pulled him back into bed and back into her embrace.
They didn’t speak for a while after that. They were both exhausted from their love-making and their emotional talk. They knew that the sun would be rising in only a couple of hours; however, they wanted to keep ahold of each other, and sleep would have relaxed that hold more than either of them was ready for at the moment.
“I’ve been able to build up quite a bit of money through investments,” Eric said quietly. “By my thirty-fifth birthday, I’ll have enough accumulated to set up a trust for my employees who lose their jobs because of me. And I’ll try to warn the ones I can—well ahead of time—to try to find something else.” He sighed. “For I while, I’ll have to cut ties with my siblings, except for Pam and Alexei; they are both over eighteen, so Appius couldn’t bar me from seeing them. When Gracie and A.J. are older, I can try to reestablish a relationship with them.”
“And Nora?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t know,” Eric said. “It’s possible that Appius is just using her as a pawn.”
“You could tell her the truth. If Pam told her, it might be even more convincing.”
Eric sighed. “I trusted Pam. When I told her, I already trusted her. Even if she chose Appius, I knew that she wouldn’t go out of her way to harm me—or you.”
“But you don’t feel the same about Nora?” Sookie asked.
“I can’t be sure about her,” Eric said honestly. “She’s always been Appius’s favorite.” He sighed. “And—frankly—even if she believed me and knew the truth, she might pick him.”
“And if she picked him, she would help him,” Sookie said perceptively.
Eric nodded. “Pam still loves Appius, yet she helps me,” he reminded.
Sookie nodded, but then tried to sound optimistic. “But you will still have Alexei and Pam in your life. Appius can do nothing to stop you from contacting them.”
Eric smiled a little. “Yeah.”
Alexei had made contact with him a couple of months before, and Eric had been trying to strengthen his relationship with his younger half-brother since then. They still weren’t as close as Eric would have liked, but he could tell that Alexei was settling down a little. His younger brother had called him several times for advice or just to talk things through. Alexei’s relationship with Appius was somewhat tepid, though it wasn’t anything like Eric’s relationship with their father. No—Appius had always accepted and even indulged Alexei’s excesses. But when Appius had determined that Alexei’s plans to go to acting school in London were just another one of his whims, Alexei had called his older brother looking for support for something he truly cared about.
Eric sighed ruefully. “Okay—so the best case scenario is that Appius just shuts down my division, fires everyone in it, fires Pam, takes my stock and the trust fund, tarnishes my mother’s name, drags Godric’s reputation through the mud, and lets me go. Maybe,” he paused, “he would settle for those things.”
“And we could go somewhere else,” Sookie suggested, “maybe even to Sweden to start over. We’d sell the house and give all our savings to your employees. Pam would be okay—because we’d tell her to save her money and she’d find something else—even if it were as a fashion critic.”
Eric chuckled a little.
“And,” Sookie went on, “your mom and Godric would both understand.”
Eric frowned a little. “Appius won’t make it easy. He won’t like me going against his wishes. And there is always the possibility that he might have other things to punish me with—things we can’t foresee.”
She smiled. “Then we’ll disappear—go to Greece and become fishermen.”
He chuckled. “Greece? Fishermen?”
She shrugged. “Why not? Or we could hide out in the lake house and you could make furniture. You could sell it under another name.”
“And you’d be my sugar mama?” Eric laughed a little.
“Yeah,” she grinned, letting her dimples show.
He sighed. “Before today, I prayed that the time until I turned thirty-five would pass slowly because I knew that I would have to give you up then. But now that I won’t be doing that, I can’t wait for the time to blaze by—so that all this can be done.”
Sookie sighed. “I know. But if you break the contract now, it would be worse—right?”
Eric nodded and kissed her head. “Yes. And the time will actually be good. I need to make sure my team at NP is okay—or, at least, as okay as I can make them. And I need to warn others whom Appius might hurt—like Pam.” He sighed. “And you will be losing your job too, and I know you send money to Gran.”
“So we stay as we are until your thirty-fifth birthday.”
“Yeah. And we hope that Appius doesn’t find out about us; otherwise, he’ll try to make our lives a living hell. Meanwhile, I’ll save all the money I can.”
“We’ll save,” she corrected.
“Yes,” he agreed. “We.”
They stared at each other for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry that it took me so long to choose you,” he said quietly.
She put her hand on his cheek. “You were thinking of other people.”
He nodded. “Yes. But I have to be selfish now. I have to be selfish with you,” he said passionately.
Sookie looked up at him with a smile on her face. “We’re really going to do this?”
He kissed her forehead. “If you mean spend the rest of our lives together, then—yes—that’s what I want.”
“It’s what I want too.”
Eric sighed and then smiled. “I’m glad.”
She tucked her body into his and rested her head onto his chest as he turned over onto his back and pulled her with him so that she was nestled into his side. She looked up at him and saw that his eyes were closed.
“Mr. Li seemed to see things that others don’t see,” he said quietly.
“Like what?” Sookie asked.
“Earlier, he saw Appius looking at me through the glass door leading to the terrace. Guo commented that Appius looked at me like I was his enemy.”
“What did you say?” Sookie asked.
“I told him that I wasn’t Appius enemy—or, at least, that I didn’t intend to be.”
“What did he say?”
“He agreed that I was not, but then he said words I’ll never forget.”
“He said that Appius would one day make me his enemy if he didn’t learn to recognize his chief business asset—even if he couldn’t take pride in the gift of a child.”
“Wow,” Sookie said, as she contemplated Mr. Li’s words.
“I have—despite everything—always wanted Appius’s acceptance,” Eric said, his eyes still closed.
“I know,” Sookie responded quietly. She could empathize. Part of her still wished for Michelle’s acceptance too.
“Even when I knew that he would never love me as a son, I endeavored to be the best I could be at Northman Publishing. Even then I wanted some kind of recognition from him—something like approval.” He paused. “Even if he couldn’t give me love.”
“Until tonight, I would have never made him my enemy,” Eric said, a tear falling down his cheek, “no matter how much I hated him.” He went on, “And if tonight hadn’t happened—if Appius hadn’t asked Nora to plant that bug—I wonder if I would have kept to the original plan and given you up—just so that I could protect everyone else but us.” He sighed. “Just so that I could try to gain a tiny bit of favor from him.”
He shook his head as more tears fell. “I hate and love him,” he admitted quietly, choking out the word that he associated so closely with loss—the word that he was so afraid of that he couldn’t even say it about Sookie.
“I know,” she said, rocking him against her again.
“Appius became my enemy tonight,” Eric said soberly. “And I am going to fight him with everything I have. I’m going to fight for you. I’m going to fight for us. And I’m going to,” he paused, “fight for myself.”
“Me too,” Sookie said. “Come what may.”
A/N: Okay—only one more chapter of Comfortably Numb to go! And it’s a short one, so I’ll try to have it to you by Saturday. But don’t worry. There’s more of this Eric/Sookie story to come now that they have decided to fight Appius.