Fuck five stages.
Denial was her thing so he skipped that and went straight to anger. It was his fucking specialty.
“Get out of the way jackass!”
He heard a cab driver yell at him while he was crossing the road to the taxi stand. He kept walking at a brisk pace, paying no mind to the loud honking that was directed at him. He dared anyone to get within strangling distance of him. Luckily – more for them than for him—no one did.
He didn’t know how he got back to the Tavern without breaking anyone’s jaw. Even with one working arm, he was certain he could do so much damage.
Sam gave him a nervous nod from behind the bar when he stormed inside the pub. Pam must have given the barkeep a head’s up because he didn’t say a peep when Eric hissed, “Close up and call Tray. Tell him I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Do you want me to drive you?”
He paused for a second as he contemplated Sam’s offer before he nodded yes and stalked into his office at the back of the bar.
He had to make a phone call first.
His fist landed on the dangling heavy bag with a muffled thud. He gritted his teeth as he rolled his shoulder and swung again. The skin on his knuckles flared up in seconds. It would be a thousand times worse in the morning. That was the price he had to pay for picking a fight with a hundred-pound inanimate object with bare knuckles. He was glutton for punishment. That he knew for sure.
He could feel Tray and Sam’s eyes boring into his skull. They must be deliberating which psychiatric ward to sign him into. Could he blame them? He was the village idiot. And it took one long distance call to New York for him to realize what a deadbeat he was.
“I know about the baby,” was all he said when he heard Hadley’s sleepy voice through the other line. Forgoing any form of pleasantries like a simple hello or even a faux I’m-sorry-did-I-wake-you-up-bullshit. He had no time for niceties, especially to Sookie’s partner-in-crime.
There was a pause as he heard Hadley cough to clear her throat. He was tempted to ask Hadley what a concoction of lies tasted like.
“How?” she managed to ask.
“Does it matter?” He had no doubt Hadley could feel his rage all the way to her squalid loft in Brooklyn.
“Did she tell you how it happened?”
“Does it matter?” he repeated, clenching his jaw. He didn’t know why he was calling Hadley when he knew she would only cover up for Sookie. It was probably because it was easier to intimidate her cousin. Maybe with a little persuasion he would be able to squeeze out the truth from her. Maybe then he could get the closure he knew Sookie wouldn’t give him.
“She never told you how she lost the baby,” Hadley breathed out. It wasn’t a question but a statement. He detected a hint of disapproval in her tone. Disapproval for what? Weren’t they the ones conspiring to hide the truth from him?
The heavy bag made a baritone thud when he slammed his fist into it, blood trickling from his right fist and onto the blue mat. His left arm would be out of commission for two weeks and he was already keen on breaking his other hand. But try as he might he couldn’t stop. He needed a target for all the impotent anger coursing through his body.
“She was gonna tell you,” Hadley whispered, her voice breaking. “She was so happy, Eric. I’ve never seen her so excited since the day I found her standing behind my door looking for a place to stay. But then that lawyer showed up and threatened to sue her if she ever tried to contact you again.”
Hadley didn’t need to tell him the name of the lawyer. There was only one person Lilith would trust to do the dirty work for her.
Eric was no longer a swinging a jab at a punching bag. He was imagining someone else’s jaw. Someone else’s chest. Someone else’s groin. He would break Lilith’s attorney piece by fucking piece. The way that bastard broke Sookie. He threw another furious thwack. Desmond Cataliades had never lost a single case. It was time to remedy that, Eric thought as he hefted his arm in the air for another blow.
“I told her to tell you what happened. But she was scared,” Hadley said in a hushed tone. “She was scared of you. She was afraid you’d be mad at her. That you’d blame her for losing your child. I take it from your tone that she wasn’t entirely wrong, was she? But before you go off on her, Eric, let me tell you it wasn’t easy for her. It had never been easy for her. She almost died. She kept losing blood that one of the nurses went out and asked me if I wanted to say my goodbyes because they were afraid she’d never make it off the table alive.”
She almost died. Those words echoed in an infinite loop in his head. She almost died and all he was concerned of was his battered ego.
He wanted to tear his sling off and risk damaging his left arm for good. He was useless with both arms anyway. He couldn’t protect her from Cataliades and Lilith. What good was he? He should have fought for her with everything he had. But he stayed behind and moped like a girl.
He had been utterly revolted by Bill’s smarmy ways of slithering into her life. But he was no better. At least Bill persisted. At least Bill never gave up on her.
He struck the bag once, twice, five more times until the small bones in his fingers crunched, yielding from the impact. He fell to his knees and he could hear Tray and Sam’s hurried footfalls on the mat.
He felt a hand on his shoulder but he shrugged it off gruffly. He didn’t want their pity.
He pressed his bloody fist on the ground and pushed himself up. “Send me the bill at the Tavern,” he told Tray, without looking up.
Tray Dawson, his old friend from their neighbourhood, opened his gym for him as soon as Sam gave him a call.
Tray didn’t say anything when they arrived. He only offered Eric a set of black boxing gloves. Eric declined the gear as he went straight to the corner with the punching bags.
“Why don’t we tape that up before you go?” Tray asked, nudging his head to Eric’s bleeding knuckles.
He shook his head in response before he stalked out of the gym with Sam scuffling to catch up to him.
Tray could only watch his friend go. He, like most of Eric’s old friends, knew only one person could enrage Eric to the point of wanting to hurt himself.
He decorated her pristine white door with blood smear. She could just add that to the list of things he screwed up.
The bags under her eyes were red and swollen when she opened her door. She looked so tired and defenseless in her pink bathrobe and it was like a kick on his spleen knowing he was the reason behind those sad eyes. She let out a breath and her shoulder sagged from relief. Or it could be dismay as she gripped on the doorjamb as though she was bracing herself for a storm.
“She was afraid of you,” Hadley’s voice continued to taunt him.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. It sounded like sigh but it was more than enough to make him deflate.
In a single stride he pulled her flush against him, throwing his arm around her. He needed the contact more than she did.
Her shoulders shook gently but erratically against him.
Mission accomplished, Northman.
He made her cry. Again. That was all he was good for: Making her so fucking miserable.
“I’m so sorry, Eric,” she said softly. And he had to pull back so he could look into her eyes and tell her to shut the hell up. To please stop apologizing because it was crushing him with unspeakable guilt. The sorrow on her face was like a machete to his chest.
“I was going crazy looking for you. You weren’t at your loft. I tried the Tavern but it was closed. And I was so scared that you’d get into another accident,” she said between sobs. “I wanted to explain. I need you to understand that didn’t tell you not because I thought you weren’t good enough. I just – I just don’t want you to get hurt. And I was afraid that if you found out you’d do something rash and you’d wind up hurting yourself. I couldn’t let that happen. I’ve lost so much, Eric, I can’t lose you too.”
She really had a way of twisting the knife.
“Don’t,” he cut her off, levelling her with his gaze. “Don’t do that, Sookie. Don’t apologize to me. I know what happened,” he said, running a shaky hand over his hair, which was an idiotic move because now his hair was now dank with sticky crimson liquid. “Hadley told me.”
Her eyes rounded in shock before she bit her lip to keep it from quivering. He swallowed hard because all he wanted to do was kiss her. But he couldn’t. He wanted to. God, he was dying to.
“You listen to me,” he started, tipping her head with his atrocious finger under her chin. “For so long I was mad at you. And I held onto that anger because I thought that was the only way I could hold onto you. I thought that as long as I had that anger festering inside me, I knew I had you. It was fucking stupid, I know. All these years, all I did is blame you. For running. For giving up on us.” He lowered his hand as well as his gaze. He was afraid she’d see the shame written all over his face. “When I was the one who gave up on you.”
She shook her head. “You have every right to hate me.”
“No,” he shushed her, his gaze back on her. “I don’t hate you. I don’t. I can’t. I hate how fucked-up we are. I hate Lilith. I hate my dad; I hate your mom. I hate your fucking husband. I hate them because they stole you from me.”
Her hand flew and found his cheek and if it wasn’t so damned calming he would have never leaned into her palm like a sick puppy. Goddamn, he could feel himself melting into her. He slanted his head to plant a kiss on her palm and for a brief moment he thought she would recoil from him. Mercifully, she didn’t.
“You’ve been there for your mom when she married my father. You were there for Pam tonight when she had her child. You ran to my side when I wrapped myself up in a fucking tree. Can’t you see, Sookie? You were always there for everyone. But no one was there for you.”
Her hand slipped from his face to his shoulder as she stared at him with glazed eyes.
“I missed you,” she blurted. “I missed us. We used to be friends more than lovers. I missed that. I want to be able to talk to you without it turning into a screamfest. We may not be able to salvage what we lost but we can help each other heal. And we can start by letting me tend to your hand.” She tipped her chin to his hand that looked more like a slab of raw meat now.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he lied, trying to sound tough to disguise the tingling pain. He suppressed a wince when she took his palm to examine the extent of the injury.
Did he say tingling? Well, it was more of a prickling pain of being pounded by a sledgehammer repeatedly.
She ushered him to the living room and waited for him to get settled to the sofa before she disappeared to fetch a first aid kit from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
His curious gaze followed her as she bounded down the stairs and darted to the adjoining kitchen. She came back with a bottle of Grey Goose and a glass with sliced lime. She poured three fingers of vodka into the glass and just when he thought she was going to hand it to him, she raised it to her lips and downed it in a couple of heavy gulps.
The hell? He looked at her with a tight smirk and an arched a brow. “I needed it,” she shrugged. “I might have to amputate your hand.” She passed the bottle to him and smiled coyly. “You better start chugging down some too. I don’t have Novocain so we’ll have to improvise.” She punctuated her quip with a playful wink and as hard as he tried he couldn’t keep the goofy grin that graced his face.
“Let me guess, I should have seen the other guy?” she drawled sarcastically as she placed his hand on her thigh while she gingerly swabbed the open wounds with cotton pads drenched in isopropyl alcohol. He gritted his teeth to keep from cringing. He would rather bite his tongue clean off than tell her to go easy because it was fuck-me-ouchie.
“You’d be pleased to know that Tray’s punching bag will not be pressing any charges,” he volleyed back with an equal dash of dry humor.
She chuckled, sparing him a quick glance as she dabbed brown liquid antiseptic on his hand with cotton swabs.
“Although I want to maim a certain lawyer right now,” he added in an icy whisper.
“Eric,” she said chidingly, her ministration halting at once.
“They will pay for what they did,” he gritted with an unflinching stare. “Both of them.”
Lilith and her lawyer would never see him coming. He might be related to her by blood but she took something from him that was stronger than any familial tie.
Sookie must have seen the grim determination on his face because she didn’t offer any rebuttal. She only tucked her lower lip under her teeth and went back to wrapping his hand with gauze.
“Just don’t do anything you’d regret,” she mumbled after a while. “She’s still your grandmother.”
“I broke my bond with her the minute I saw your bruises at the B&B.” His blood would still curdle whenever his mind wandered off to that god-awful day three years ago.
Again, she said nothing as she covered his hand with saran wrap and hoisted herself up on the sofa with her knees bent in front of him. Placing his hand on his lap, she then leaned closer and for a fleeting second he thought she would press her lips to his when flung her arms around his neck. To his dismay he felt her thumbs fiddling with the sling draped on his nape. He let out a sigh of disappointment. From their angle he could easily peek under her loose robe. It was too good to pass up. Twisting his head a little, he discovered she was wearing nothing but a sheer bra underneath.
He closed his eyes quickly. This would be a terrible time to get a hard-on.
“I’ll draw you a bath. Your clothes are in the bathroom. I packed up a few from your apartment,” she explained, peeling herself off the couch with his discarded sling wrapped around her bent arm.
“You presumed I’d come here and stay the night? Isn’t that a bit cheeky of you, Stackhouse?” He refused to call her otherwise.
She didn’t seem to mind the old appellation either as she rolled her eyes offhandedly while tightening the sash of her pink robe. “After the way you bolted, I thought I’d find you in jail or back in the hospital. Might as well be prepared. Pam has a go-bag too, in case she was your emergency contact.”
Pam wasn’t. Sookie was. He had it changed when she returned to Seattle.
“Always the girl scout,” he said with a smirk as he followed her to the stairs. “One question, though. How do you suppose I take a bath with both my hands on a freaking Roman Holiday?”
“With my help of course,” she countered arrogantly. Fan-fucking-tastic. How will he get through an entire bath without his dick springing into action? Maybe he should ask her to make the water ice cold.
“Don’t worry,” she said in a hurry probably reading the panicky look in his eyes as they entered the bathroom. “I won’t take advantage of you.”
He never felt so pleased and frustrated at the same time after his bath. Every brush of her hand, every glide of the sponge, every stroke of her fingers was torture. Pure, straight-out-of-hell, torture. She kept her word though, and stayed away from his sensitive areas and let the soapy water clean the off-limit crevices.
She dried him off with a fluffy towel and he was like fucking invalid – correction, a stupidly, ecstatic cripple – for letting her. She helped him get into his boxers, and he couldn’t help but smirk when he saw her cheeks flare up as she tried to keep her eyes on the tiled floors. Tried but failed woefully. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to lose against a punching bag after all.
When he was properly dressed he went down to the living room while she slipped into the bedroom right across the hall. He didn’t follow her. As much as he wanted to know how far he could push his luck, he didn’t want to taint the already tainted evening with him jumping the gun.
She came downstairs after a few minutes, wearing one of her oversized shirts and string pajama bottoms and it was like she was sixteen again. She plopped beside him and wove her fingers through his wet hair, as though that was the most natural thing to do. God help him, it was like she was punishing him. He swore if she kept torturing him like this, he would die with his cock as stiff as a flagpole.
He breathed deeply to calm himself, then lowered his eyes on the couch and saw a Nike shoe box in her lap.
“What’s with the shoes?” he asked to distract himself from thoroughly enjoying her fingers doing all sorts of wonderful things on his scalp.
She pulled her hand away and he found himself missing it already. She looked down at the box and flipped the top lid before she slid it to the space between their thighs.
“I didn’t have the money to see a shrink after the miscarriage. And honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone about you and my – our – child. I couldn’t because I was selfish. Even in misery I don’t want to share you, both of you.”
His jaw tightened and he swore if his fists weren’t strapped he would have punched a hole in the wall.
“These,” she picked up one of the sealed envelopes with such gentleness, “these letters helped me cope. Every time I dreamed of you. Of him -”
“My dreams were always of a baby boy with your eyes,” she explained.
He blinked quickly. He wasn’t one for tears but the stinging sensation at the back of his eyes was threatening to convert him into one.
His son. His eyes. His.
And Lilith stripped him of a chance to be a father to the only woman he wanted to have a child with. He would gladly surrender his soul to the devil to be anything but a Northman right now.
“You were always with me. There was simply no getting away from you,” she said with a hollow chuckle trying to cover the sadness in her tone with levity. She never should have tried, he could see right through her. “I want you to have them. I thought that maybe if you get to know him the way I did, even just in my dreams, maybe you won’t be so angry anymore.”
“I’m not angry because you didn’t tell me. I accepted that. I am trying to accept. I knew you were just- you were just being you. But it doesn’t mean it hurts any less,” he offered, plucking one sealed envelope with his middle and index finger. “I should have been there with you. I should have taken care of you. Maybe if I hadn’t given up…”
Her finger snuck under his chin, forcing him to look at her. “Shut up,” she snapped with a smile. “Nothing could change what happened.”
He shook his head. “If I had tried a little harder, none of these would have happened. Y’see, all along I thought Bill was the neutered wimp who found a way to slither into your life when I was the wimp,” he hushed, sliding closer. “I was the asshole who let you suffer alone. Now I envy him. I envy that fucking bastard who gets to hold your hand without the fear of you pulling away. He gets to kiss you without it being wrong. He doesn’t have to pretend he doesn’t love you and that he’s losing his mind every second you’re away. He doesn’t die a little bit everyday every time he sees you smile at someone else but him.”