A/N: Hello, you will note that the dialogue in this chapter is the same as in Chapter 1 of Comfortably Numb, so as the chapter title suggests, we are back “at the beginning.” However, this is not the same exact piece as that previous chapter. Eric’s and Sookie’s thoughts have been reversed, so you will see quite a few differences in the way they are thinking about things at any given time. This chapter is also a little longer, so we see more “inner” thoughts, especially from Sookie. This chapter and the other one are meant to be complements, though you don’t have to return to that one to review it.
Please indulge me for one more moment. To the person who wrote this:
:This story is pretty much, emotional torture p***, drawn out for a ridiculously long time. I think i’ll just wait it out and read the last chapter 5 years from now.
Since you didn’t sign in, I couldn’t respond to your comment. I’m perfectly fine with you not reading on. I will be sure to mark the story as complete when it’s done so that you won’t have to mark your calendar to check after “5 years.” Have a wonderful day! I’m sure that when you wrote your purposefully unkind comment, you were hoping for the same for me.
In the future, here is a way you could have expressed your feelings without being mean. Trust me when I say that you will get more accomplished with thoughtful critique vs. unkind invective.
“Dear Kat, I’m afraid that this story isn’t appealing to me because it seems like it’s taking you too long to get through the emotional torment of the characters—so I’m feeling a little tormented myself. I suppose that I’m used to reading novels where the editors force writers to cut things of this nature down. I’m guessing that’s why you decided to write this as fanfiction. It’s definitely your prerogative to draw stuff out, but it’s not my cup of tea. If you can do it and still hold up the integrity of what you are trying to accomplish, you might want to think about shortening some of the sections. That is my constructive criticism at least. Though I’m not going to be following chapter-by-chapter from now on, I do want you to know that I plan to check back with the story once it’s complete because you made me care enough about these characters to want to know how they ended up. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll check out some of your shorter or non-angst pieces. Best, [insert name here]“
Thanks for the indulgence. Now—on with the show.
Chapter 24: The Beginning
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”—T. S. Eliot
“I can’t stay in New York,” she whispered, her eyes pleading for him to understand. He did. “I can’t stay with you,” she added. He’d known that already. He would have insisted upon her leaving anyway.
“I know,” he responding, praying that she would understand that he didn’t blame her for leaving—or for anything. He blamed his own powerlessness.
“I love you,” she said.
“I know,” he repeated, though—in that moment—he didn’t feel as if he deserved her love.
“I don’t blame you for any of this, Eric. I’m a freak, just like your father said. I don’t deserve you.”
Eric saw Sookie’s self-doubt cloud her features and knew that it was Michelle Stackhouse’s voice in her head—trying to weasel her way back into Sookie’s psyche. He shook his head at her words. “Sookie,” he tried to interrupt.
“No. It’s true.” She gestured down at her dress. “And even in this two thousand dollar dress, I’m plain compared to most of the women in here. Your father is right. I’m defective.”
“No,” he whispered, though he wanted to scream out the word. He was the defective one! He was the powerless one.
She continued to berate herself relentlessly. “You and I come from two different worlds. Appius is,” she paused, “right; my only place in your world would be as your mistress—your kept woman.”
“Sookie, I don’t think that way,” Eric insisted. He had to make her understand that she would always have the most important place in his world and in his heart; it was just that he couldn’t have her.
“I know,” she said. “But it’s still the truth.” She sighed. “You are so many things I could never be. You are going to be the head of Northman Publishing one day, and you . . . ,” her voice trailed off before regaining a little strength. “And you need someone who can be what you need when you get there. We’ve been living in a bubble for these last months—a beautiful bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. We both knew going in that this wasn’t going to last.” She sighed resignedly. “It’s time to stop pretending.”
“Sookie,” he said desperately, “I’m not pretending. Not with you. Never.” She had to see that their bubble was the only thing that had ever been real to him. It was the only thing that had ever mattered. It was the only thing that would ever matter.
She shook her head, and the sadness in her eyes almost drove him to his knees again. “I know that what we had—what we have—is real, Eric. But it’s still all just make-believe. It’s a fairy tale.” She looked down at the floor. “Maybe I don’t deserve to be happy; maybe my mother was right.”
“Sookie,” he said, almost choking, even as he tried to compel her to look up at him again. “Don’t you fucking say that! You don’t deserve any of this.”
“I don’t think that I would be hurting this much if I didn’t somehow deserve it. My mother always told me that you reap what you sow. She warned me that I was defective—broken. But I couldn’t help myself. I just—I just wanted to be with you.”
“I want to be with you too,” Eric returned, wishing he could convey how wrong she was about the idea that she somehow “deserved” the suffering she was now feeling. She deserved love and happiness. Once more, he blamed himself for being selfish enough to bask in her presence for as long as he had—to make her promises that he couldn’t keep.
“As Appius just made clear,” Sookie said, looking over Eric’s shoulder, presumably at Appius, who was celebrating in Eric and Sookie’s pain, “what you or I want is immaterial.”
Sookie could tell that Eric wanted to speak—but he seemed stifled in that moment. She had clearly seen all the self-blame filling his beautiful eyes. And she found that—for the first time—she couldn’t bear to look into them. Her eyes stayed glued to the floor in front of her. She so desperately wanted to take all the blame for the situation onto her own shoulders—to protect the man that she loved.
She wanted for him to understand that it was Appius who was doing this to him and that she knew there was nothing Eric could do to stop it. She wanted to tell him that she was proud of him—and so very grateful—that he was prepared to accept a life of servitude to his father, just so that the people he loved would be safe.
Eric could tell that tears were threatening to stream down Sookie’s face, and her bottom lip was quivering. He knew that she was trying to hold her tears in—to prevent herself from falling apart in public.
It hadn’t escaped his notice that they were standing in front of Monet’s Four Trees where he had first spoken to Sookie—exactly one year earlier. Like a magnet, he had felt himself compelled to her as if she were the true North Magnetic Pole. Her pull on him was even stronger now. He wanted to reach out to her—to fall into her arms, into his home. But he held himself back, just as she was holding her tears back.
He saw her chin lift a little, and he realized that she was—even then—working to stifle her self-doubts, as well as the memories of her mother which were causing those doubts. He marveled at her strength. In so many way, she had conquered her demons; she had survived. He knew that even the threat of the tell-all book that Michelle might produce would not have the power to hurt her. He had seen her beat back the specter of her mother after Gran’s death. In fact, if that book had been the biggest of his father’s threats, then Eric would have gone forward with his plans to break the contract. He knew that Sookie would survive such a thing, but he couldn’t allow her to be vulnerable to Appius’s other threats. There were some things that he wouldn’t let her face; he loved her too much.
He sighed. Sookie was strong. She would survive without him—just as he would compel himself to live on without her. What he couldn’t live with, however, was witnessing Appius hurting her. He couldn’t stand the thought of her being used or manipulated.
Yes—he thought—Sookie was so much stronger than he was. She had survived and broken free. But he could not pry himself from his father’s grip—no matter how hard he tried.
To Appius, more than a quarter century was not enough for Eric’s suffering. Obviously, he required more from Eric, and he would have it. As soon as Sookie was gone, Eric’s suffering would increase exponentially. All of his hope for the future would be gone. All of the happiness Sookie brought to him would be gone.
And Appius would see it all; Eric would hide nothing. He just prayed that it would be enough to satisfy his father.
Eric closed her eyes, determined not to fall apart—at least not yet.
He allowed resignation to fill him; it was safer than despair. In truth—though he’d tried to allow himself to hope for much more—he had been expecting this moment ever since he had stood in front of Sookie in this very spot the year before.
Even then—when Appius had asked him who Sookie was and he had said “nobody”—he knew that he was lying. Sookie was everything to him—”everybody.” He was used to losing things—and people—that he loved, so it made sense that he would lose her too. He had been naïve to think otherwise.
He’d been a fool.
Sookie kept her eyes on the floor and tried to control her breathing and her tears. She wanted to sink right into the polished wood—to disappear. But she didn’t. Against all odds, she felt some strength rising inside of her, and she pushed away her mother’s voice and remembered the woman she’d become. She had faced mental torture for much of her life, but she refused to give up the greatest gift that Eric Northman had ever given to her: hope.
Happiness might escape her, but she was determined to root herself in that hope.
She loved Eric—loved him way too much to let him stay trapped in his fucked up world where he would meet with only more pain. She was determined to help him, even if that meant her leaving him for a while. Eric thought of himself as weak compared to his father, but Sookie knew better. Ironically, it had taken her seeing Eric crumble to his knees for her to understand that she was the only thing that could truly break him.
Sookie realized that she was Eric’s Pandora—just as Appius had said. She had allowed for the box of his emotions to be opened and to flow into the world. And seeing her hurt would make him crumble. She could not allow that to happen. She would not abandon him, but she couldn’t stay with him either.
But—like Pandora—she was determined to leave hope in the goddamned box!
She was determined that she would find a way to save him, but she could do that only if she were not being scrutinized by the devil who had put all the sins of the world into the box to begin with.
Resolution flooded into Sookie, even as she felt all the self-doubt and all the negative messaging of her mother’s “ghost” ebbing from her body. Appius—that fucker—would go down! And she and Eric would celebrate when he did, but—until she could ensure that Eric was free—she’d have to be careful.
Feeling stronger now, she raised her eyes to Eric’s face, but he was not looking at her. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes were closed. Guilt seemed to be drowning him. He was not in chains, but she knew very well that he was imprisoned.
She saw his hands flex, and all she wanted to do was to reach out for him. But she couldn’t. After all, she and Eric had a captive audience and a performance to finish.
But she promised herself that no matter what happened, she would never let him go. She was going to fight when he couldn’t.
Yes. To save Eric from his father’s plans for him and from his own guilt, she would have to let him go. But she was determined that their separation would be only temporary. She would be damned if she let Appius win. She would find a way to give Eric back his hopes and his dreams—their hopes and dreams. And—in so doing—she would reclaim her own heart.
She had to! Even if it took her decades, she had to.
She had been living in a fantasy with Eric Northman for the last eight months, a fantasy where Eric was the sun lighting her bleak existence. She needed that sun. She would not be complete without it.
She was ready to begin her fight, but she was afraid too, wondering if she could bear to leave the man in front of her. Every fiber of her being wanted to stay close to him. Thus, her first impulse had been to tell Eric that she would comply with any demand that Appius made, but she knew that would hurt Eric even more in the end. Plus, she knew that Appius would be on his guard around her if she stayed.
She needed the bastard to let his guard down.
“Should I go now?” she asked Eric. She wanted to leave. She needed to talk to the one person that she knew she could trust to help her—and Eric—Bobby. But seeing Eric’s slumped posture, she also needed to try to mitigate his immediate pain.
She spoke softly. “I understand why you made the choice you made. And I know that you didn’t intend to hurt me—that you are trying to protect me and Pam and your grandmother and everyone else. I also know that if it weren’t for my,” she paused, “disability and my past, then this wouldn’t even be happening. I wish I could be a normal girl, Eric. I wish I could be worthy of your world.”
“You are worth so much more than this world,” Eric said passionately. His tone brooked no argument, and any doubt that Sookie had in herself left her. Eric was her miracle.
Sookie motioned across the room, toward where Appius was standing. Eric didn’t dare to turn around, but he figured his father was looking at Sookie with judgment and mirth in his eyes.
His heart broke as her eyes went back to the floor—obviously a defensive move after she “overheard” what they were saying from their lips.
“I know you believe in my worth, Eric,” Sookie said. “But I can ‘hear’ what’s inside people—the things that they think no one else can hear.” He saw her inhale deeply. “The only worth a man like your father will ever see in me is in how he can use my ‘disability’ to find out other people’s secrets. And I’d comply too; I’d do whatever he said so that he wouldn’t hurt you. That’s why I have to go. I’m afraid that I would fall in line with his plans for me—and for us—if I stayed.”
“Sookie,” Eric whispered.
Their eyes finally met. For Eric, it was a sweet agony to see her love and her pain mixing in her blue orbs.
“Inside of you, I see so many things that I love, Eric. You’re kind; I knew that from your eyes since the first time we were standing together in this very spot.”
Eric followed her gaze to the painting on the wall. “The Four Trees,” he said.
“To answer your question, I do like this painting, even though I’m not generally much of a Monet fan,” she said, responding to the query he’d made the year before, a question she’d been too tongue-tied and nervous to answer at the time. “The trees are so straight and tall, but they still seem so,” her voice trailed off.
“Lonely,” he said, looking at the painting.
“I was going to say sad.”
He nodded. “Sad” was the right word. It was the only word for the moment.
“Your father thinks that you are ‘securing’ me as an asset even now,” she said. “What will you tell him when I leave here tonight?”
“That I have secured you—that you’ve complied,” he sighed. He hated the thought of her compromising herself like that, but he would lie to Appius in order to protect her.
“And when I leave New York?”
Eric couldn’t stop himself from moving closer to her. “That I don’t blame you for going.”
“He’ll suspect you of helping me.”
“But he’ll find no proof.”
“What if he threatens Pam and your grandmother and all the others again?”
“He will threaten them,” Eric said with certainty. “But I’ll claim ignorance about your disappearance nonetheless. And without proof of my involvement, I don’t think he’ll follow through with his threats as long as I do everything else he says.”
He could see Sookie shiver a little. “Do you think he’ll try to find me?”
He sighed and nodded in affirmation. “He’ll try. But I’ll make sure you get away without anyone knowing where you’ve gone—not even me. All my money can’t be for nothing. However, it might take a little while for Bobby to get things set up so that you can leave cleanly.”
“Cleanly,” she repeated.
Eric nodded. He knew that their separation would be anything but clean. It would leave a gaping wound in them both. However, he wanted her to be free. Needed her to be free. It would make his prison more bearable.
He took a deep breath. “Until Bobby has things ready, you’ll have to keep going into work; otherwise, Appius will suspect something is wrong. You’ll have to keep pretending for just a little while longer, Sookie.”
“He’ll never accept my disappearing like that. He’ll hurt you—punish you,” she said, her voice suddenly full of fear and her tears threatening once more to fall.
“No. He’ll see pain enough in me to satisfy even his voracious appetite for my suffering,” Eric assured, knowing that he wouldn’t be trying to hide his misery from his father. He wouldn’t have been able to anyway. He lifted up his hand and caressed a strand of her golden hair behind her ear.
Sookie looked up at him fearfully. “Eric, what about Hunter and Remy?”
“I’ll make sure that they’re okay,” he vowed. “But it’s probably best if you don’t contact them—or anyone else that you know.”
“Then—I truly will be alone,” she whispered.
“Not alone,” he promised, trying to make her understand that he would always be with her, even if they were forced apart. “Never.”
“Just lonely—like the trees?” she asked, looking back at the painting.
“Yes,” Eric said, suddenly overcome by his own sadness. “Lonely.”
They stood silent for a moment.
“I know you don’t think you have any power over your father, Eric,” Sookie said, still looking at the painting. “But I know you do. I think you have miles and miles of untapped power in you. You’re a good man, Eric Northman. And you’re nothing like Appius. Nothing! And no matter what life he traps you into, you will stay a good man.”
“What if I become just like him one day?” Eric asked, fearfully. “Right now, I feel powerless to stop anything that he wants from happening.”
For a moment, Sookie seemed to be scrutinizing him, peeling back every guise and disguise he had ever used to protect himself from the world. Only she had ever been able to see into every part of him.
“You won’t,” she said confidently.
“How do you know?” he asked, desperately wanting to believe that he wouldn’t turn out to be like Appius. Eric was terrified by the thought that he might hurt others out of bitterness and the need to flex what little power he had left.
“I have wanted power over my own fate all my life,” Sookie said in an almost other-worldly voice that was strangely soothing. “I would do a lot if I thought I could get it. And I know you feel the same way. But there are some things you wouldn’t do.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“I’m sure,” she said, looking at him lovingly. “You could have asked me to stay. You could have tried to convince me that using my little ‘gift’ for Appius’s benefit was a small price to pay for us being together. You could have asked me to be your mistress, as your father suggested. You could have offered to set me up in an apartment and even to father ‘little defective, freakish bastards’ with me. You could have assumed that I would have accepted those things.”
Eric felt like growling as he remembered Appius’s words. “I wanted to kill him, Sookie.”
“Me too,” she admitted. “But—like I said—there are some things that neither one of us would do to gain power over another. We both know—too well—what it feels like when it’s taken away.”
He nodded. He’d had a gut-wrenching reminder that night of just how powerless Appius could make him. Eric took in Sookie’s face as she glanced at their audience. From the look in her eyes, it was clear that she “overheard” more malicious words from Appius, Andre, and Sophie-Anne.
“I need to go,” she said as she looked back at him. The slight quivering of her lips told her that she wouldn’t be able to hold it together for much longer. Already, her eyes were burning from the tears that she had been holding back, and her throat felt raw.
However, even though she needed to go, she didn’t want to. She knew that leaving the party would be her first step toward leaving New York and Eric, and she wasn’t sure if her feet could move.
Sookie had left Bon Temps in order to escape from her mother. She had left Mississippi after finding out about Bill’s duplicity. But the last thing she wanted to do was to leave New York, where she’d found a true home for the first time. However, for the first time, leaving didn’t feel like running away. She would leave to keep her freedom and her new-found dignity intact. And she would also be leaving in order to fight for Eric’s.
In her too-short time with him, Sookie had come to understand something very important about Eric Northman: He was a survivor, but she had only ever seen him fight for others. Even earlier that night, he’d been trying to fight for others more than for himself. He’d spent hours the night before trying to figure out how to protect her and his team at NP and his mormor.
Eric had willingly cradled the fates of everyone he cared for in his strong arms, yet he thought of himself as weak when he couldn’t protect them all. However, despite his self-doubts, Eric was the strongest person that Sookie had ever known. So much stronger than he gave himself credit for. But he needed to be the one to believe that—to know, in his bones, that it was true.
“One day, Sookie Stackhouse,” he said with an intensity that made her shiver and lower her eyes to the floor again, “you’ll know that getting away from this place—from me—was the best thing that has ever happened to you. You’ll be happy, Sookie,” he said firmly.
Once more, Sookie had to blink back tears. She hated his pain, and she knew that they would both be facing more of it in the weeks, months, and maybe even years ahead. But she also knew that there would be no happiness for her without him—no contentment.
The best thing that had ever happened to her was seeing Eric standing in a corner—standing as if ready to erase all the pain she’d ever felt when she’d looked into corners before. But now it was time to give him a way out of that corner.
“Is there anything I need to do now?” she asked, wondering what Appius and his little cohort was expecting next. “Should I cry? Should I yell at you and make a scene? Do we need to put on a show for our,” she paused, “audience?” She glanced over Eric’s shoulder; that audience was still studying her and Eric intently. “Appius told you to set me straight about my place, but I don’t know exactly what that looks like.”
Eric inhaled as if he were going to speak but then couldn’t.
“Do they need to see me hurting? Do they need to see me destroyed? Will that make them happy?” she asked, feeling her bitterness intensely.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, his voice sounding defeated. Sookie hated Appius more than she’d ever hated anyone—even her mother—in that moment.
“I don’t want to have to pretend—not even for a moment,” he added.
She looked up at him and tried to smile. “I’ll pretend because I love you, Eric. I’ll pretend because I trust you.”
“I don’t know how you can trust me,” he responded, closing his eyes. “Because of my selfishness to have you, Appius found out about your ability. Because of me, you have to leave New York. Because of me . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Because of you, I felt acceptance for the first time,” she said softly, praying that he could feel her sincerity.
“Sookie, I . . . ,” he started, but then stopped. She could see that his eyes were also burning with unshed tears when he reopened them.
“What do we do right now, Eric?” she asked softly, hoping to help them both along by focusing on the current “act” of the play. “Not tomorrow—but right now?”
“They will want confirmation that I’ve ‘handled’ you.”
“What does that mean?” she asked. “What does that look like?”
“There are two choices,” he said evenly, though his words obviously pained him. “Either you can look like you’re giving into Appius’s rules for our lives and leave here forlorn, or you can look like you’re resisting them and leave here angrily. Both scenarios would satisfy Appius’s thirst for my pain.”
“If I did the first?”
“You could go to our home, and I would follow in a couple of hours—after I have satisfied my father by fulfilling my duty here.”
“What would that duty include?”
Eric sighed. “Talking up clients. Acting like a spoiled millionaire. Flirting with women.”
He shook his head and his eyes flashed angrily. “Not her. No matter what he fucking says.”
“Would you have to sleep with one of the women to satisfy him?” she asked, not able to stop her lower lip from quivering.
“No,” he said quickly, obviously tormented. “I swore to you that as long as we were together, I would never be with another. And I intend to keep that promise,” he vowed.
“And after I leave New York?”
“After you leave New York, I will try to make a deal with Isabel so that I can keep my promise to you, Sookie—for the rest of my life.”
“Would your father agree to that?”
“If it involved marriage and kids, then yes,” Eric said. “The contract I brokered with Appius allows for the children to be adopted.”
Sookie thought about the implications of Eric’s words. He was vowing to try to remain faithful to her even after she left. She knew that she would remain faithful to him. “And if I leave the museum angry?” she asked.
“You’d have to go to Brooklyn—to Amelia’s. I’m sure Appius will have you followed, but he won’t hurt you. He’ll just make sure you don’t try to leave town before I have a chance to manipulate you into complying,” he said bitterly.
“Eric, I want all the time I can have with you. So I’m gonna go home.”
“To our home?” he asked in such a tentative way that it almost broke her heart.
“Is that okay?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly.
She knew that every second with him would only add to their agony later on—once she had to leave him—but she didn’t care. She was selfish for as much time as possible.
“Okay—then I just need to act like what? Sad and then accepting? I can do that,” she said, forcing a little smile. “At least, that’s how I really feel.”
His voice cracked with his guilt, “I wish. . . .”
“No,” she interrupted him, “wishing isn’t a real thing. Don’t do it.”
Once more, he wanted to reach out for her. He just didn’t think he deserved to.
“Wishing isn’t a real thing,” she repeated more quietly, eerily. “Don’t do it.”
“What can I do?” The mixture of resignation and strength flowing from her broke his heart. He too felt resigned to the fate that had been dealt for them, but he couldn’t feel any strength.
Two large, hot tears flowed down her left cheek.
Despite her protestations, he couldn’t help but to wish—even though his wishes were no longer attached to hope. He wished that he were a better, stronger man who had found a way to earn Appius’s love. He wished that he could think of a way out of Appius’s grip. He wished he could give Sookie the life she deserved. He wished he could make all of her tears go away. Mostly—right then—he wished that they could be free.
Just Sookie. Just Eric. Just free. Free to love.
“I’ll love you my whole life,” she vowed. “I won’t be able to help myself.”
Eric’s face suddenly clouded with fear, and Sookie realized that he thought she was telling him goodbye. “You’ll be waiting for me when I get home? You won’t try to leave New York tonight?” he asked pleadingly.
“I’ll be waiting,” she said, trying to assure both him and herself. “But I will have to go soon. If I stay, then none of what we feel right now will survive.”
His relief was obvious, and he smiled a little. “I know. But tonight and tomorrow, Sookie. I’m living for those right now.”
Sookie closed her eyes and tried to remain strong for both him and herself. “So am I. But for the first time in my life, I want to fight for me too. I need to fight for me. You taught me that. You taught me that I deserve to be happy. That’s why I have to go,” she looked at him pleadingly, hoping that he would one day understand that fighting for herself meant fighting for him too. She did deserve happiness; so did he!
And she meant to deliver it to him.
“I know,” he said.
“How long will it take Bobby?” she asked, knowing that Eric would task his most trusted friend with figuring out a way for her escape from Appius’s clutches. She intended to ask Bobby for even more than Eric did.
“One week?” he requested with begging eyes.
“Okay,” she responded with resolution. “One week.”
His voice straining, he whispered, “I wish I could leave New York with you.”
“Me too,” she said, even though she knew that he couldn’t.
“But my father would hunt for us relentlessly if I did. And he’d destroy Pam and my grandmother and the others too—just to punish me.”
They stood there for a moment, both silent and trying not to wish for things that could never be. But Eric couldn’t help himself, just as he couldn’t help himself from finally saying the four words that had been on the tip of his tongue for almost a year.
“I love you, Sookie,” he whispered.
The words made him feel both lighter and heavier. From the time that Eric was five years old, Appius had striven to drive love from his life, taking away everything that meant something to him—to the point that Eric was afraid of love. But not saying the words out loud hadn’t prevented Appius from knowing how much he loved Sookie.
And she deserved to hear the words as many times as he could say them in the next week. He couldn’t help but to be struck—once more—by the fact that “love” was a synonym for “goodbye” in his world. But things with Sookie were going to be different from the norm. In the past, Appius had taken what he loved. But now Eric was going to be giving Sookie up because he loved her so much.
And that thought offered him the comfort he needed to go on. Knowing that the woman he loved would be safe and free would be enough for him. She would be lost to him, and he would be lost without her. But Appius wouldn’t have her. Eric would protect her; he had to.
“I love you so goddamned much,” he reiterated.
She smiled a little. “That’s a very good thing.” Her lips dipped into a frown. “I just wish love were enough to beat back the devil.”
“I know,” he said. “But for just one more week, I want to pretend that it is. At least it will be a real pretense.”
“One more week in our bubble?” she asked, her slight smile returning.
“One more,” he said, glancing back at the painting next to them.
She too looked at it, and she felt the distance between the trees profoundly. Lonely, but not alone.
Two more thick tears fell from Sookie’s eyes.
“I’ll see you at home, Eric” she said as she turned and walked away. She was not bothering to hide her tears anymore.
Eric followed Sookie’s departing figure with his eyes and then turned to look at The Four Trees again. His burning eyes swept over the landscape as he tried to get a handle on his emotions. Monet had painted his subject so that the tops of the trees were not visible; thus, there was no undisturbed sky. Eric noticed for the first time that the spindly trees and their reflections seemed to form bars on the canvas, a cage that couldn’t be escaped from. He imagined diving into Monet’s painted water and disappearing, but he knew that his elimination from the prison his father had set for him would not stop Appius from hurting those he loved.
On the contrary, if Eric were gone, Appius would hurt them all the more.
Eric was trapped, but at least if he were in Appius’s cage, he would provide a convenient target for Appius to maim. And the others would be protected.
He took a deep breath and turned to face his father, who was studying him carefully, even as Eric had been studying the painting. Eric could only imagine how crushed he looked, and for the first time in his life, he didn’t keep his sorrow from displaying on his face.
He could see Appius’s eyes light up in conquest.
Eric walked across the gallery and nodded at Sophie-Anne and Andre before speaking to Appius.
“You have won,” Eric said simply.
“I always do,” Appius returned coldly.
A/N: I hope this “review” of CN’s first chapter gave you enough new stuff to make it worthwhile. I really appreciate all of the continued support for this story! I’ve gotten a few reviews like the one in the author’s note above, but most of you have been so wonderful and supportive that you bring a lot of joy to my life. I’m grateful for that more than I can say.
Next up: Sookie and Bobby have a much-needed talk and strategy session.