Chapter 25: My Island of Hope
From “I Love You” by Sarah McLachlan
just you and me
on my island of hope
a breath between us could be miles
let me surround you
my sea to your shore
let me be the calm you seek
oh and every time I’m close to you
there’s too much I can’t say
and you just walk away
and I forgot
to tell you
I love you
and the night’s
and cold here
I grieve in my condition
for I cannot find the words to say I need you so
Last Time: 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.
Sookie had gotten on the subway’s green line at 86th Street, east of Central Park, and though her stop was at 96th Street—just on the other side of the park and up ten blocks—it took her almost forty minutes to complete her trek there via subway. She’d had to transfer to the blue line and then the red line, in order to travel around the park. And, shadowing her the whole time, was Sigebert.
As Sookie climbed the stairs that would take her to the street, she saw Bobby. He was just whom she’d wanted to see.
Knowing that Eric must have sent their friend to pick her up and knowing that Eric would have figured that she was being followed, Sookie walked straight toward Bobby and let him lead her to his waiting car.
“Is this a good idea?” she asked as soon as they were heading toward Carmichael Tower. “Sigebert was following me.”
Bobby sighed. “Eric didn’t want to think of your being cold, and when Ben told him that you hadn’t taken the car, he texted me.”
Bobby turned to look at her. “Eric also texted that we would talk more later, but if you are here, then I know something had to have gone very wrong tonight. Plus, you look like shit, Sook. And, when I called Ben, he told me that something bad had happened during Eric’s meeting with Appius. He wasn’t sure what.”
Sookie nodded and let the tears that she’d been holding in fall freely.
Bobby handed Sookie a handkerchief, but said nothing more as he drove the short distance to Eric and Sookie’s home.
It was only after he parked in Eric’s extra parking space that Sookie spoke.
“Appius was ready for Eric. The bastard listened as Eric told him about me and our plans. And then he talked.”
Bobby turned off the engine and listened in silence as Sookie recounted the exchange between Eric and Appius.
When she was done, the car had grown cold, but neither Sookie nor Bobby moved to get out of it.
Bobby sighed deeply. “Maybe I should just kill Appius—kill him and be done with it. I’ve thought about it so many times.”
Sookie sniffled and shook her head. “You know that would haunt Eric—slowly eat away at him.”
Bobby scoffed. “I could make it look like an accident.”
Sookie looked at him skeptically. “Eric would be able to tell you’d done it. Plus, he wouldn’t want it to be on your conscience.”
Bobby ran his hand through his hair. “I know. And he wouldn’t even blame me for it! He’d blame himself.”
Sookie gave Bobby a sad smile. “Eric’s too good for his own good sometimes.”
“Damned straight,” Bobby agreed. He sighed loudly. “Eric won’t let you stay; you know that—right?”
“I know,” Sookie said. “And even if he could, I couldn’t. After everything, it would,” she paused, “damage me to allow Appius to use me like that, and that would damage Eric more than anything else.”
Bobby sighed and nodded in agreement. “I know. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him. You’ve opened him up, but—in doing that—you’ve made him vulnerable,” he said, though his voice held no accusation. “If Appius hurt you, he would succeed in crushing Eric once and for all.”
“I know,” Sookie repeated, this time much more quietly. She looked down at her hands, which were covered by the mittens Gran had knitted for her. “Eric’s going to ask you to arrange something so that I can get away.”
“I can do that,” he said resignedly.
“He can’t know where I’m going—can he?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Bobby whispered. “Appius will be relentless in watching Eric once you are gone. Plus,” he paused, “Eric will insist that you have a clean start. He’ll think you’ll be better off.”
“Without him,” Sookie finished sadly.
“Yes,” Bobby confirmed. “He’ll think that it’s the only way you’ll be free to live your life.”
“I don’t think I could live without him,” Sookie said somberly. “I may breathe in and out. I may even smile and make new friends. But I don’t think I’ll be able to truly live if he’s not living next to me.”
“Sookie,” Bobby said, “I need to ask you a question.”
She looked up and locked her eyes with his. “You want to ask me how far I would be willing to go to hold onto Eric.”
“Yes,” Bobby confirmed.
“Bobby, can I ask you something?”
“Have you ever lied to Eric?”
“No,” he said quietly, “but I have kept a few things from him—to protect him. So I guess that’s lying by omission.”
“Would you be willing to do it again?”
Bobby took in a deep breath. “To help him—yes.”
Sookie realized that she’d been holding her own breath and let it out. The relief on her face was clear. “I need your help, Bobby.”
“You’re not leaving, are you?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It will have to look as if I am though. And,” she added with misery, “I think that Eric will have to believe that I have left.”
Bobby nodded in agreement, knowing that if Eric knew Sookie was nearby, he couldn’t stay away. Bobby had known for a while now that Sookie was the stronger of the two in that way.
“I refuse to abandon Eric to Appius’s clutches,” Sookie said with an almost violent intensity. “I will find a way to destroy Appius myself, but it would be easier and faster with your help.”
“You intend to use your lip-reading ability to do that?” Bobby asked.
“Yes. I intend to find information that can be used to buy Eric’s freedom—and, hopefully, bring Appius down in the process.”
Bobby took in the raw determination on Sookie’s face.
They both stayed silent for a moment.
“You didn’t need to ask me how far I would be willing to go to keep him, Bobby,” Sookie said quietly. “I will do anything I have to in order to protect Eric from the fate that Appius has for him, but Eric wouldn’t want me to use my ability like that. And—now that Appius knows about it—he would always be more on his guard if I stayed.”
“But he won’t keep his guard up if he thinks you’re really gone.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “And that means Eric will have to think I’m gone too.”
“Yes,” Bobby said sadly, but with certainty. “Appius can read Eric; he’s always been able to do that.” He sighed loudly. “Appius will only believe you are gone if Eric is broken.”
They were silent for another few minutes.
“Sookie,” Bobby said with resolution in his tone, “I will help you in any way I can. Eric is my family, and you are my family now too. And I love you like you are my sister.”
Sookie reached out and took his hand, her eyes brimming with grateful tears.
Bobby continued. “But you need to know that it might take years to bring down Appius—years to find out what his Achilles heel is. I’ve been looking for dirt that could send him to prison for years—ever since Eric and I negotiated their contract. I’ve gotten some things—but not enough to get him out of Eric’s life for good. Plus, now, we have to find ways to counter all of the threats that Appius made tonight. Are you prepared to do this for the long haul if necessary?
Sookie nodded. “At least if I have to be away from him, I will know that I’m helping him. It will be something to live for.”
“But you might have to give up years for it.”
“As I said, I’d do anything for Eric,” Sookie stated matter-of-factly.
They were silent for a few minutes.
Bobby broke the silence again. “I’ll arrange for you to disappear, just as Eric will ask me to do. But you’ll stay in the area—though not in Manhattan or Brooklyn. There’s a place where I know you will be safe. There, you can stay completely off the grid. You can’t contact anyone you know here—not Amelia or Pam or Thalia or even Henry. And once I get you settled, you won’t be able to leave for a while.” He furrowed his brow. “After a period of time has passed, we’ll work on disguises that you can use and we’ll put you into places where you can observe Appius.”
Sookie shook her head. “There’s a better way; I don’t want to risk Appius or Eric seeing me.” She took a deep breath. “We need to tell Thalia. We should do what we did tonight at the MET—record all we can of Appius. Thalia could help with that. Tonight, Appius was on the edge of saying that he was responsible for manufacturing false evidence. But, unfortunately, he didn’t incriminate himself—beyond insinuating that there was evidence of theft in his possession that he might not turn over to authorities.”
Bobby sighed. “And we can’t do anything official about the blackmail, or he’ll make good on this threats to release the manufactured evidence.”
Sookie nodded in agreement. “We need to watch Appius and record him if we can. Maybe my lip-reading wouldn’t be admissible evidence in court, but if we could add concrete evidence to that, I bet Blake could help us.” She paused for a moment. “I think we should tell him too; he’d be able to tell us as soon as we had enough evidence to take Appius down. But—I think you’re right about Henry. If Henry knew, he might tell Eric; plus, Henry’s not good at hiding what he’s feeling.”
Bobby thought about what Sookie had said for a minute and then nodded. “Okay. Given Thalia’s expertise, she can help us get video of Appius so that you can ‘listen’ to him. But I think we should hold off on telling Blake until we have something promising. We may be limited in what we can do if a cop is in the mix,” he added significantly.
“Okay.” Sookie nodded; she didn’t question Bobby. If he thought that more could be done operating “outside the law,” then she was determined to be outside of it with him.
Bobby popped his knuckles as he always did when he was planning. “Thalia can help me to get cameras on Appius as much as possible, and she can be trusted not to tell anyone—not even Henry.”
Sookie nodded. “Or Eric.” Of all of her new circle of friends, Thalia was the one who would be most willing and able to keep her secret. She knew it would be more difficult for Bobby, but she trusted him to help her get Eric his freedom, and she knew that he loved Eric as much as she did. “And it’ll be my job to study all that video.”
“Until you can catch Appius saying something that we can use to destroy him,” Bobby continued her thought.
“Yes,” Sookie said.
Bobby sighed. “I know you hate the idea of doing something like this. I know it’s why you didn’t want to join the FBI.”
“With Eric, there are different rules,” Sookie said with an edge to her voice. She looked at Bobby with cold, raging eyes. “After what I saw Appius do to Eric tonight, I want that bastard wrecked to the point that he can never hurt Eric again once we’re done with him. Never.”
Bobby nodded in agreement.
“I hate that we’re going to have to deceive Eric about all this,” she said in a quiet voice. “I just pray he’ll forgive us.”
“He will,” Bobby said.
She smiled a little. “It’ll be easier for him to do that if we hand him Appius’s head on a platter.”
“Without having to kill him to do it,” Bobby added somewhat regretfully.
Sookie looked down at her hands. “Appius went on and on about Pandora tonight.”
“Pandora?” Bobby asked.
“Yes. There was a painting of her in the gallery where he and Eric spoke. He said that Stella was his Pandora and that I was Eric’s.” She looked back up at Bobby. “But Appius was wrong. I intend to unleash hell upon him. I’m going to make sure that the pain he’s caused Eric returns to him tenfold.”
Bobby smiled a little. “And I’ll help to make sure that you have a box brimming with potential ammunition.”
Sookie closed her eyes again. “Eric said that you would need a week to get things together for me to leave without a trace?” she questioned.
“I could have you out of here by tomorrow,” Bobby said. “But I’ll tell Eric that I need the full week.”
Sookie nodded. “Thanks. It’ll be difficult to keep this from him, but I want all the time I can get with Eric. He and I both need it,” she sighed.
“But it’ll be easy too,” Sookie laughed ruefully. “I won’t have to pretend that my heart is breaking. After all, I’ll be leaving him for God only knows how long—maybe forever if we don’t find what we need against Appius.”
Bobby nodded as the two fell into silence once more.
“Did you know that there was one thing left in Pandora’s Box when she supposedly released all evil onto mankind?” Sookie asked quietly.
“What was left?” Bobby asked.
Eric tried to will the driver to move faster so that he could get home to Sookie. He’d stayed at the party exactly two hours after Sookie had left it. After a while, he’d somehow managed to affect his usual, seemingly carefree countenance as he’d feigned interest in what the people around him were doing and saying.
However, it had all been an act on his part—an act set on a stage made out of rotting wood that he was afraid he might fall through at any moment. At one point, Pam had tried to ask him what was wrong and why Sookie wasn’t with him. But Eric—incapable of speaking about it for fear that he might not be able to “perform his role” if he did—had simply shaken his head.
The only useful thing he had accomplished during the two hours that he moved among the party guests was arranging for Bobby to pick up Sookie. He should have known that she wouldn’t take the car, and she was rarely one to take a taxi even if she was carrying cash. When he’d imagined her walking in the cold of the New York night, he’d almost sprinted away from the party to go and pick her up himself.
But he couldn’t. There were “rules” for him to follow at an NP party, and the last thing he could afford to do now was to break more of Appius’s unspoken rules. No. He would need to seem to be the model of obedience—at least until Sookie was safely away.
He glanced down at his watch and cursed the Saturday night traffic. All that he wanted was to be home. He had only a week—only seven days—to store enough happiness to last him his whole life. And the clock was already ticking down the time.
Sookie lay in the bed that she’d been sharing with Eric for the previous eight months. Earlier, she’d had on some sexy lingerie under her dress, which she’d hoped Eric would discover for himself when they arrived home together after the party. But that wasn’t to be.
So she had taken off the silky garments and lay naked under the covers. She was anxious to be next to Eric, and she didn’t want anything to distract from that.
Ned was lying over the covers next to her, seemingly dead to the world in the way only kittens seemed to be able to achieve; however, his ears perked up as he heard the soft whoosh of the elevator doors.
Immediately, he jumped off the bed and trotted off to investigate.
“You’re here,” Eric said as he entered the bedroom a few seconds later. His voice had a faraway quality to it—almost as if he believed that she’d been a figment of his imagination from the start.
“I’m here,” Sookie said.
Eric hesitated at the doorway for a moment, seemingly taking her in. She watched his chest rise and fall as he took deep breaths.
“Come here,” she whispered, letting the covers slip from her body and sitting up in the bed.
Not even a second later, his lips were crashing into hers, their tongues desperate to taste. Both of them took their hands to various items of his clothing. His jacket was pushed off of his shoulders even as his belt was removed. His tie was loosened and discarded as his pants were unzipped and fell over his hips. Shoes were kicked off, and socks and trousers were removed in swift motions as the top buttons of his shirt were opened until impatient hands ripped the rest. The only care that was taken was with the amber cufflinks, holding his shirt on at the wrists, but those were deftly removed, even as his boxer-briefs were pulled down his body.
Once he was as bare as she, Sookie lay back onto the bed and welcomed his body as he lay over her, their flesh touching as much as possible.
They resumed their kissing as their hands replaced the task of clothing removal with the mission of touching each other everywhere.
“I love you,” he said against her lips as he entered her. “I love you,” he repeated as she felt warm tears trailing down her cheeks. She wasn’t sure if they were her tears or his. Or both.
It didn’t matter.
He thrust into her in long strokes as she wrapped her legs around his slender hips, urging him to go even deeper.
“I love you,” he repeating, again and again.
“I love you,” she responding with chants of her own.
With the way that their bodies knew each other and the desperation of their emotions, it didn’t take long for them to reach completion.
They fell asleep wrapped up in each other’s arms, the room still echoing with the sounds of their repeated vows of love amidst their tears.
Many of you have wondered why Eric doesn’t just expose his father’s misdeeds in the Press. In this story, Eric knows that Appius would counter that by giving his manufactured evidence to authorities. It is useful that Eric/Sookie have friends in the police/FBI, but they have to tread carefully. Remember that Bobby’s been trying for years to collect information that could be used to blackmail Appius (or send him to prison). This Sookie and Eric are doing their best in the face of a more powerful foe. At this point, Eric doesn’t even really know Desmond Cataliades, and the codicil to John Northman’s Will is sealed. However, I can tell you this: Sookie and Thalia and Bobby will make a formidable team. And there are lots of surprises to come. I agonized over the choice of whether to let Eric “in on” the plan. But Bobby is right. Appius can read Eric like a book. He won’t believe that Sookie is truly gone unless Eric believes it too.
Okay—I know I’m rambling—but I feel the need to thank those of you who are still on this journey with me—despite all the angst! And—from the number of nominations the Comfortably Numb series got in the You Want Blood Awards—I know that’s quite a few of you. Since this is an all-human story and also pulls in a fair bit of my biography, I’ve always been “nervous” about it. Like all my stories, I want everyone (possible) to like it, but this story also holds more of me in some ways. So to get the validation of the nominations for it is a breathtaking feeling. Thank you to everyone who is supportive of this work and me! There aren’t adequate words to describe what you all mean to me. We—all of us—operate in a world where so many things are expected of us—where we do wonderful things every day, whether they be simple things like making lunches for kids or big things like sitting at the bedside of an ailing family member. Little or big, we rarely hear “thank you’s” for what we do, nor do we expect them—nor do with do these actions for accolades. I write b/c I want to. It’s my pastime and my therapy. I started posting my work b/c I loved reading the work of other authors (whose stories also offered me “therapy” and another “pastime”), and I hoped to offer something similar to others. And—in the often “thankless world”—many of you have offered encouragement and thanks for my work. I hope that you know how much I thank you right back. I hope that you know that my true reward is YOU.
Until next time,
And–once again–many thanks for this embarrassment of riches: