Title: An Invitation

Author: Cat Chester

Rating: PG.

Words: 4,500 ish

Paring: Eric/Sookie.

Disclaimer: Not mine, but I've started saving to buy them. Current total: £4.15p.

Spoilers: All books

Summary: Sookie receives an invitation to the Shreveport vampire Halloween Ball. She isn't very enthusiastic about it.

AN: Not betaed, sorry only got the challenge yestersay and I wanted to post it on Halloween, which didn't leave a lot of leeway.

III

I recognised the envelope as soon as I looked through my mail. I didn't receive many letters like this one (in fact I'd only ever received one) so even before I opened it, I pretty much knew what it was and who it was from.

It arrived five days before Halloween, later than you'd think, but given the local upheaval, not unexpectedly so. To be honest, with the takeover and all, I hadn't expected Eric to throw a party this year.

I stared at it for a while, then I left it on the table while I did my house work, glancing over and wondering if going was a good idea.

Merlotte's was having a Halloween bash that year and although I wasn't working, I had basically decided to go to it.

Now I had a choice. I wasn't sure I liked it in this instance.

Things with Eric were so complicated. I wished he was the sweet, uncomplicated Eric who for a few days had shared my home, by bed and in the process of doing so, had stolen a piece of my heart.

But that was wrong of me. If I wanted Eric, I had to accept everything that came with him, politics, pride, enterprise, ego. Wishing he wad different was as futile as wishing the sky was green. Never gonna happen.

I wished I could sort out my feelings for him, but I also wanted to run from those feelings, and so this time, I chose to run again.

I wrote a very polite note, thanking him but telling him I had other plans and wishing him a good time. I posted it on the way into work that evening.

III

It was one in the morning when I got back from work the next night, and I wasn't completely surprised to see Eric's car there. He was sitting on the porch swing and smiled when he saw me. I smiled back, hating the feeling of happiness and wellbeing that washed over me when he was around.

He stood and came to the steps to wait for me.

"Dear one," he said and leaned down to kiss my cheek. It felt nice.

I noticed most of the house lights were off and assumed Amelia and Octavia were in bed.

"Eric, have you been waiting long?"

"No. Can I come in?"

I nodded. I settled him on the sofa and went to heat some blood for him. Observing the social niceties meant I could delay our conversation for a while. I thought about also going to change but that felt cowardly. I handed Eric his blood and sat next to him, at the other end of the sofa.

"Is this a social call?" I asked.

Eric thought about that for a moment. "Not exactly."

I nodded that he should continue.

"I got your letter about the Halloween party." He looked uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry, but I already told Sam I'd go to Merlotte's party." Not exactly true, I'd only told Sam I'd try and stop by.

Eric's eyes tuned cold.

"Not a date, just for moral support," I explained. "It's the first Halloween party the bar has ever thrown."

He seemed to relax a little but he still didn't look comfortable. Usually when he was about to tell me what to do, he looked confident.

"I wouldn't intrude on your plans usually, Sookie," I wanted to snort at that, but I bit my tongue. "But Felipe de Castro has specifically asked me to invite you."

His tone implied that there was something I was missing, something he couldn't say. It wasn't wise to refuse a vampire, but this was just a party, wasn't it?

"Why does he want me there?" I asked.

"He is intrigued by you, I think he would like to get to know you better."

"What will he do to me if I say no?"

Eric thought for a moment. "I don't know him well enough to say with any degree of certainty, but I doubt he would do anything to you at the moment. He will remember, though, and if he ever needs your services, he may not be as friendly about it."

Eric scooted closer to me and took my hand as I mulled this over.

I looked into his eyes and saw how earnest his expression was. What was I missing here? The king had personally asked him to bring me. The king had also offered me vampire protection, thanks to me saving his life. That was pretty much the extent of my dealings with him so what did he know about me? He knew about my gift, of course. He knew about my blood bond with Eric. He also knew where I worked and he could probably make some deductions about my personality from what I'd said and done that night.

"Will you come, Sookie, as a favour to me?"

Why was Eric asking me for a favour? That would mean he'd owe me one, and that wasn't a position Eric liked to be in.

If the king wanted to use my gift, surely Eric would say so. If he wanted to get to know me, a party wasn't really the best place for that. So maybe this wasn't about me, maybe this was about Eric. The king wanted to know about his new sheriff and as I was bonded to him, about me too.

Eric had said he wouldn't have asked me to change my plans yet he wanted me there, presumably because he'd been told to bring me.

So my not going would look bad for Eric. I followed that line of thought. Why would it look bad? Because he had given his word he would bring me. My refusal would reflect poorly on him… because we were bonded!

I remembered him telling Andre that I heeled nicely. Eric should be able to control me, I realised. Only my telepathic powers seemed to prevent that but given our bond, my defiance of him would make him look weak to other vampires. If he looked weak… I didn't want to follow that thought through, I didn't think weakness would be a good thing to show in his tentative position.

"Okay." I told him.

Eric gave a big smile, the one that crinkled his cheeks up. "I'll pick you up at nine."

I nodded. "Sounds good," I tried to sound enthusiastic.

I wondered if Eric could stay or if he needed to get back. I wondered what I wanted to happen if he did stay.

"I have to get back," he answered my unspoken question. He rose to his quite considerable height but didn't let go of my hand, towing me with him to the door where he turned to face me. He cupped my face with both his hands and looked into my eyes, searching them as though the answer to some important question could be found there. I felt naked in front of his penetrating gaze, like he could see into my soul, yet I was unable to look away.

He slowly bent his head and kissed me. It was a passionate kiss, but also a little tentative and questioning, like he was trying to communicate with me. When he pulled away my breathing was ragged and Eric was showing fang.

I wanted to pull him to me again. I wanted to lock him out. I wanted to explore his body and see if it was as good as I remembered. I wanted to be free of him and the unwanted emotions he brought into my life.

Then he gave me a wry smile. "I'm over one thousand years old, dear one. I can be patient."

And then he was gone.

III

Choosing a dress had been harder than I thought. Not that Tara didn't have a lot of very nice dresses, especially with Christmas rapidly approaching. The trouble was, I didn't know what I wanted my dress to say. Tara had some daring ones that looked breath taking, and some elegant ones that would look beautiful, and some demure ones that would look very pretty.

I wavered for a long time and finally decided on an elegant gown. It didn't show too much and but it did show enough. It was long and backless, with a split up to mid thigh and in a dark, red wine colour.

I almost changed my mind again when Tara told me I looked good enough to eat, but I realized it was just a turn of phrase.

Amelia had helped me curl my hair and she'd pinned it up, leaving a few tendrils to curl around my face and shoulders. I kept my makeup light.

Eric arrived right on time and I think his eyes widened when he saw me. I felt a shiver of pleasure, then firmly squashed it. Tonight wasn't the time for rampant hormones.

It wouldn't be easy though, since Eric in a tux was a sight to behold. I wasn't much for tuxedos, unless it was a wedding or something, and on most men, they just looked odd. But Eric knew how to fill one and he looked positively edible.

No, don't go there.

He took my hand and bent over, kissing the back like a gentleman.

"Miss Stackhouse, you look amazing."

I blushed. "Not so bad yourself." He led me over to his corvette and opened the door for me.

"So, what's the score?" I asked as we began our journey back to Shreveport.

Eric looked perplexed (my word of the day).

"What's the format, what should I expect?" I clarified.

"It's is basically a dance for the king's employees of Area five and some of the other area sheriff's. Felipe has themed it around a southern ball. There will be vampires and humans, we will mingle, dance and, hopefully enjoy ourselves."

Okay, that sounded fine.

"Oh, and there's an auction." He sounded offhand. A little too much so.

"Oh?"

"It's nothing. One dance, the proceeds go to charity. An idea Victor had from watching an old southern movie."

"You still haven't seen Gone with the wind?" I asked, incredulous. "You're sheriff of Louisiana and that's a southern staple."

Then I remembered the scene, the ladies were auctioned off for one dance to the highest bidder.

"Wait, are you saying I'm going to be auctioned?" My voice was higher than I'd like.

Eric's jaw was clenched. He glanced at me. Was he upset that I was going to be auctioned or that I was putting up a fight?

"As you are my guest, I am forbidden to bid on you." He told me. "But I have arranged for Bill to bid."

Well, that wasn't so bad. I could stand a dance with Bill.

He looked at me again, trying to read my face. "Will you do this for me?"

I was about to snap that I wouldn't, that I wasn't his to auction off like some old fruit basket and that I had my own mind, thank you very much!. Then I remembered why I was here, because I didn't want Eric appearing weak.

"Are all the humans being auctioned?" I asked.

Eric nodded. "It is supposed to be fun and light hearted." Yes, well vampires did enjoy knowing that other vampires coveted what was theirs.

More to the point, however, if I backed out everyone would know he hadn't been able to control me. I didn't want to be controlled, but I also didn't want anything to happen to him. I found I felt very protective of him.

I sighed. "Okay, I'll do it."

I made up my then to be the best partner to him I could tonight. I'd take his arm, laugh in all the right places and do everything I could to make him look good. He'd had a tough time recently, I wanted to help.

The party was in a Shreveport hotel's ballroom. I let Eric open my door for me at the hotel and escort me into the building. I plastered a friendly smile on my face and we went into the ballroom together.

About a third of the room was given over to a dance floor at the other end of the room. There was a stage behind it with a quartet (piano, violin, cello and singer) and the rest of the space was given over to mingling with a bar at either side of the room, and a buffet (for humans) along the back wall. There looked to be about sixty people in the room.

Eric began introducing me to people, I presumed people he worked with. Sandy was there, as were some other Fangtasia employees, like Pam. I looked around for Bill occasionally, but I hadn't seen him yet.

Most of the vampires had a human as their date and the humans looked pleased as punch to be here.

"Why doesn't everyone have a date?" I whispered when we were alone.

"Because the lower ranked vampires are afraid of losing their humans to a higher ranking vampire."

I drew back a little. "Does that mean that someone else could claim me?"

Eric shook his head. "No. Humans are often swayed by power and might switch allegiance to a more powerful vampire. I cannot give you to someone else unless you want to go."

That was a relief. Until I remembered Tara. She had been traded, handed off to another vampire without her consent.

From the thoughts around me, I began to realize that I wasn't fawning over Eric enough, so I suggested a dance. Eric was happy to agree.

"You are uncomfortable," he told me as we danced.

I shrugged. "This feels very much like a beauty pageant." I told him. "It's demeaning."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," he said coldly.

I glared at him. "Hey, if you want to date me, ask me on a date." I hissed, trying not to draw attention to us. I had promised myself I wouldn't show him up. "Do not parade me around like a dog owner trying to win best in show. It's tacky. You're better than that macho crap."

Eric smirked then and pulled me closer. "Oh, Sookie, I'm sorry. I may be a vampire, but when it comes to you, I am a man. I want everyone to see how wonderful you are because it makes me look good."

I finally cracked a genuine smile. Eric had a lot of bad points, but he was always straightforward.

"And if the king hadn't told you to ask me, would you have?"

"Of course," he looked at me like I was mad for thinking he might not. "But I would also have allowed you to decline if you chose."

"So this whole thing is point scoring?" I clarified.

He nodded. "Most of vampire life is point scoring."

I took a deep breath. "Then you'd better kiss me."

I'd noticed most couples on the floor were kissing. Not hot and heavy, but very definitely enjoying each other.

Eric looked like I'd asked him to bark like a dog. "Sookie?"

I put a hand behind his head and pulled him down to me. Eric didn't need asking twice. We didn't break step and I wondered how he knew where the edge of the floor was, then I decided I didn't care.

We were interrupted by the side doors opening and everyone turned to look. The king's entourage steamed in, in pairs with the king at the rear. His "date" was tiny, probably only five foot, with black hair and some Asian blood in her. She looked very exotic.

Filepe began meeting and greeting and we decided to do the same. Every vampire we spoke to (male or female) gave me the once over, most of their dates did too. I tried not to because if you need to size up your competition, it means you don't have faith in yourself.

Besides, I knew I'd lost this one when I'd seen the king's companion.

Bill had brought a young woman called Lisa. She seemed very nice and it annoyed me that Bill wasn't paying more attention to her. From her thoughts I picked up that she genuinely seemed to care for Bill. He'd be a fool to let her go, but it wasn't my call.

Finally we stood before the king and his "date".

"Ms Stackhouse, how wonderful to see you again," he told me, his eyes travelling over my body as he made small talk with Eric. As his gaze made its way back up I noticed him scrutinizing my neck.

"Not hungry tonight, Eric?" he asked pleasantly. I'd noticed most of the fang-bangers had fresh puncture marks in their neck, but I hadn't given it a lot of thought. That's how fang-bangers looked.

"Ah," Eric seemed stumped. He wanted to say he'd fed from me, but he knew I wouldn't like that implication.

For some inexplicable reason that I still didn't understand, I didn't want Eric looking bad in front of his new king.

"That's my fault, sir." I looked at the floor, hoping he thought I was blushing. "I didn't want anything to detract from my dress so I asked Eric to feed a little, uh, lower down."

After a moment I risked a glance at the king. His eyes were positively smouldering. Uh oh.

"I see." He said in a strange tone. "Well, Eric, you are a very lucky man."

"Thank you, Sir." Then the king passed on to the next couple.

I gulped. I had the feeling that in protecting Eric's reputation had just made a big mistake. I was about to ask Eric what he made of the interaction when he turned me to him and kissed me. There was nothing gentle about this kiss. There was passion in it (well duh) and gratitude and maybe just a little desperation.

When he eventually released me from the kiss (but not from his arms) his voice was rough with desire. "Sookie, you are…" he gently pushed a curl off my forehead.

I didn't get a chance to find out exactly what I was because someone was on the stge, asking for quiet. The auction was about to start.

"The auction goes in order of rank," Eric explained. "The lower ranked vampires partners will go first."

"Where will I come?" I asked.

"You should be third from last, behind Victor and, of course, the king."

So Eric was the third highest ranking vampire in the room! Even Sandy didn't out rank him. Wow.

The auction was in aid of the Katrina fund, so at least my humiliation was for a good cause.

I was pleased to note that the male humans were also being auctioned. Sandy's date was someone I wouldn't have minded bidding on myself, but being human, I probably wasn't his type.

Finally my name was called and Eric raised our arms like everyone else had done. I didn't like the feel of the eyes that turned to me, evaluating me and my worth. I felt like chattel.

Bill didn't begin the bidding, two male vampires who's names I couldn't remember did, they bid back and forth for a while, then Bill joined in. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then it was just Bill and the black vampire remaining. The black vampire was slowing, taking longer to consider each bid, Bill was winning. Until Felipe stepped forward and doubled the current bid.

My heart sank.

Bill managed another bid but Felipe bid a great deal higher again. I could tell from his expression that Bill was out of the running. I could feel by how firmly he gripped my hand that Eric wasn't happy either.

The next two auctions took place but I wasn't paying attention. Now I just wanted to get my dance over with then get the hell out of there. Once the auction finished I thought we would all have our dance, but then I realized that was impossible because some vamps had bid on more than one person.

"When do we dance?" I asked Eric, unreasonably furious at him for letting someone else win the bidding.

"When he asks you," he said, his face carefully blank, "you must accept."

Eric hadn't bid on anyone.

"I feel a little overwhelmed," I told him. "Dance with me."

Eric led me around the dance floor. He didn't talk or try and kiss me, he just gave me time to think, bless him.

I had so many thoughts and fears running through my head that it was hard to pick one to focus on. When I did manage to focus on my fears, I began to realize I had no way to predict what might happen. Kings were laws unto themselves.

Andre had tried to bind me to the queen, no one would have stopped him. If the king really wanted me, I doubted anyone could stop him, even if they wanted to. Would Eric try and save me? Would Bill? Was Felipe observant enough of vampire law that he wouldn't try and take me away from Eric?

I remembered my Grandfather. He would never let me be taken against my will, and even if they stopped me contacting him, he would find me, I was sure.

I was also sure it would cause a war. I had thought about Eric's words a lot since the night of the take over, and that was the only explanation I could come up with. Grandfather interference on my behalf would have caused the vampires to go to war with the fairies.

That wasn't an option I relished, but it did provide some comfort.

Just then the song changed and Felipe appeared at our side.

"May I cut in?" he asked pleasantly.

Eric looked deeply into my eyes but I was too confused to know what he was trying to say. He kissed my forehead softly and stepped away.

Felipe took his place and held me a little too tightly. I tried to give him a gracious smile.

"So, Ms Stackhouse, how have you been?"

"Very good, thank you. You?" I didn't care how he had been, but it was polite.

"Over worked," he grinned. "But I enjoy my work."

We lapsed into silence then because I couldn't think of anything to say and Felipe seemed to be considering something.

"Are you very fond of Eric?" he finally asked.

"Very," I said firmly. "I am his."

"I could look after you," he told me. "You would never want for anything."

"I can look after myself, thank you, and I don't want for anything now."

His eyes narrowed slightly and I felt tweaks of power around me.

"That doesn't work on me," I told him, sounding ruder than I probably should.

"So I see. You are quite an enigma."

I didn't know what to say to that.

"And you are quite beautiful."

"Thank you."

"I don't know if Eric has told you, but if you came to me of your own volition, he could not stop you."

"I know, and I appreciate your offer, really I do, but I like my life just as it is."

He smiled then. "You are different from the others."

"Well, I'm telepathic." I shrugged slightly.

"No, it's more than that." He contemplated me for a moment. "I could always force you, I suppose." The soft, seductive voice he used made those words even more frightening.

"You could, but you wont." I hoped I sounded firmer than I felt.

"Oh? Why not?"

"First of all, because Eric would never let me go willingly. He will fight for me."

"He cares enough to die for you?" he asked incredulously.

I wasn't really sure about that. "It's a matter of pride, "I bluffed. "If you take what is his illegally, he'll have no choice but to fight you. You want to keep Eric, I don't see you killing him over a human."

He shrugged. "Perhaps. You had another point?"

"Yes, I would fight. You can't glamour me and I will fight you every step of the way."

Judging from his expression he didn't seem to think that was much of a problem.

"And finally, there are things you don't know about me, forces you wouldn't want unleashed. If you hurt me, the vampires will be at war again." I very deliberately didn't say who they would be at war with.

He smiled. "Humans don't scare us."

"It won't be humans you're at war with."

He considered this. Perhaps he was thinking of shifters, or demons, or even fairies, I didn't mind. As long as he realized that acquiring me was not without consequences.

He surprised me then by tipping his head back and giving a deep laugh. "And the mystery deepens." He was still smiling.

Finally the song drew to an end but he didn't let me go. Eric appeared beside us.

"I love a good mystery, Ms Stackhouse, I look forward to figuring yours out." He kissed the back of my hand and then he was gone.

I turned to Eric and he took me in his arms, holding me. I hadn't realized how tense I was until I was able to relax. Eric stroked my back.

"Do you want to go home?"

I nodded into his chest and he led me away.

III

The drive back to my house was silent, aside from the opera quietly playing in the car.

As he pulled into my driveway Eric said, "I'm sorry he made you so uncomfortable tonight."

I tried to laugh it off. "I should start a fan club." My laugh sounded hollow.

"Sookie," he took my hand. A lot of people were taking my hand tonight. "Sookie, he will never hurt you. I won't allow it."

"I don't want you to get hurt, Eric."

He gave a wry smile. "Surprisingly enough, nor do I, but I don't want you hurt either. You may resent it at times, dear one, but our bond means that I cannot ignore your pain anymore than I could ignore my own. I cannot lose you."

I put my hand up to his cheek. Sometimes he was so… sweet.

He slowly leaned towards me, giving me time to back away, I assumed. I didn't. Our lips met in a tender and loving kiss. I wanted more. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as my desire grew.

It couldn't hurt, right? One night, no strings. It had been so long since anyone had shared my bed, would sleeping with Eric really be so bad?

That thought brought me up sharp and I pulled away. I scrambled from the car as quickly as I could before the last shreds of my resolve disappeared.

I turned when I got to the front door to see him sitting in the car, exactly where he had been. I think a part of me had been hoping he'd pursue me.

"Goodnight, Eric."

He smiled, as though amused by my antics. "Goodnight, Sookie." His voice was deep with desire. "Sleep well." He winked at me as he pulled away.

Bastard. Like I could sleep at all after a kiss like that! I was horny and alone.

I stomped into the house and slammed my bedroom door after me. Not very mature, I know, but it did easy some of my tension and suddenly, though perhaps not surprisingly after what had happened tonight, I did feel weary. Bone tired.

I got ready for bed and climbed in, pulling the covers over me protectively.

Sometime soon I needed to decide what to do about Eric. But not tonight.

Not tonight.