Sookie snuggled into her sofa, luxuriating in how content she felt. Her life had an unsettling tendency to be full of excitement…and not always the good kind…so she always tried to appreciate in full the few truly peaceful moments she had. Tonight, her kitchen had been filled with her family and closest friends, and Sookie was over-flowing with Christmas cheer. She couldn't have asked for a better evening.

For over a decade, Christmas dinner had always been her, Gran and Jason. It had been small, but cozy, and nothing would ever quite replace it. Sookie still felt a pang in her heart every time she thought about the death of her grandmother, but she felt she'd done her Gran proud tonight. She'd cooked up a veritable feast and invited over all the people she loved most in the world: Sam, of course, Tara (and by extension, her husband JB), and her cousin/fairy godmother Claudine.

She'd also tried to convince her roommate Amelia to bring over her boyfriend Tray Dawson, but the two of them had decided to travel to visit her mentor Octavia instead. Octavia, one of the many people whose lives had been upturned by hurricane Katrina, had lived with Sookie for about a month. But she'd finally found herself a job working for a small insurance company in a town about forty miles away from Bon Temps. It seems like Greg Aubert wasn't the only insurance agent around who liked to back up his policies with a bit of magic. Octavia, who was a touch paranoid about inclement weather ever since the hurricane, had not wanted to travel to Bon Temps once she heard on the radio that there might be snow. Sookie felt Octavia was being overly cautious. Being so far south, Sookie could count on one hand the number of White Christmases she'd ever experienced and still have fingers left over. But Amelia hadn't wanted Octavia to be uncomfortable, so she and Tray decided to travel to see Octavia instead of trying to cram three more people around Sookie's small kitchen table.

The last person Sookie invited over for dinner was her brother Jason. She had been fully prepared to keep ignoring him for all the sorrow he'd caused her, but Jason had finally humbled himself enough to apologize to her for the whole mess with Crystal. It had taken a good bit of willpower for Sookie to hold out until he came to her to apologize, but he'd been the one in the wrong, and it was up to him to mend fences. But she wasn't so proud that she couldn't accept his apology when he came to her. Inviting him over for Christmas dinner had been her way of extending her own olive branch. And she hated to think of him all alone on Christmas. Now that he was divorced from Crystal, Sookie was really all he had left…at least until their great-grandfather Niall felt comfortable enough to reveal himself to Jason.

Niall had of course declined the invitation to Christmas dinner. Sookie hadn't really thought he'd come, but she felt it would have been rude to not offer. He wasn't quite ready to be introduced to her brother or her other friends. But she'd had lunch with him on Christmas Eve, and he'd been incredibly touched by the journal she'd given him. Sookie had spent the last month creating her 'memoirs', writing down her thoughts and feelings about key moments in her life, hoping that it would help Niall to get a better sense of who she was. Niall, knowing how Sookie hated grand gestures, offered her the gift of warmth instead. He placed a small enchantment on her house to help keep it insulated during the cold winter months. Sookie had found it so touching and thoughtful that she'd given him a huge hug before going home.

Unlike Niall, Claudine had been more than happy to accept an invitation to Christmas dinner, mostly because she was very excited about exchanging presents. She felt she didn't always do the best job at keeping Sookie out of danger, and she was thrilled to have an excuse to give Sookie something special…a gorgeous evening gown from Tara's shop that Sookie had been eyeing enviously for months. It was ice blue with silver thread woven through it, and it glittered like a diamond in the light. Tara had even been thoughtful enough to buy Sookie a matching shawl and pair of heels to go with it. Sookie's first response was joy…followed quickly by guilt over how much the dress had cost. But she certainly wasn't going to deny her friends the pleasure of giving her such a beautiful ensemble…not when she could read the waves of satisfaction coming off of them once she'd opened the package.

As much as she loved her friends for getting her presents, Sookie always felt slightly reluctant when accepting gifts. She hated the idea of people spending money on her. She much preferred getting gifts for other people. She would sometimes spend all year trying to come up with something that was just right. She'd been proudest of the idea she'd had for Sam. He'd told her on several occasions how happy he was to finally be putting down roots. As a symbolic gesture, she'd bought him a voucher for a sapling from the local plant nursery. Come spring, she said they could plant it together wherever he liked, so he'd have actual roots right in the soil. Sam had gotten so teary-eyed that Sookie had to crack a joke about how 'his collie Dean' had better not mark it up when he was out roaming the streets. After that, Sam laughed and the intense build-up of emotion subsided until they were back in their comfortable 'friend zone'.

All in all, the evening had been a wonderful success. Food had been eaten, presents had been exchanged, and Sookie's guests had forcefully made her sit down while they cleaned up after dinner. Now, everyone had dispersed home, and Sookie was sitting by her fire, smiling contentedly at her twinkling Christmas tree. There was only one thing keeping it from being a totally perfect moment.

She still hadn't given Eric his Christmas gift.

It was wrapped and sitting under her Christmas tree, taunting her.

It had been a whim that made her decide to buy small presents for Eric and Pam, the two vampires she considered friends. (Even though she was back on speaking terms with Bill, she still couldn't stomach the thought of giving him a Christmas present…not after the way he'd betrayed her.) When she'd seen an old copy of Alice in Wonderland, one of the ones that had the neat colored drawings in it, at a second hand book store, she just had to buy it for Pam. Sookie personally thought that when Pam wasn't dressing up for the Fangtasia crowd, she bore a startling resemblance to Alice. Sookie wasn't sure if Pam had gotten the joke when she'd given her the book, but Pam had thanked her graciously. The next day, Sookie had received a package on her doorstep containing a gorgeous necklace made up of delicate white and blue rhinestones. At least she hoped they were rhinestones, otherwise Pam had really gone overboard. The necklace was the perfect compliment to the evening gown she'd received from Claudine and Tara, making Sookie wonder if her friends had coordinated their efforts.

After buying something for Pam, she felt it would be rude to not get something for Eric as well. After all, they had shared some very intimate moments, and he was always trying to look out for her in his own strange way. They were finally starting to get back to the teasing rapport she'd always loved, and she didn't want to ruin it by accidentally offending him. She'd been browsing through a music store in Shreveport when she came across something she thought would be fitting for him. There was a CD called "Nordic Roots" in the international music section, and after listening to a few of the sample tracks, it seemed like something he would enjoy. She had bought it months ago, believing it was a perfectly acceptable gift to give to a friend.

The problem was…Sookie wasn't so certain anymore that Eric was 'just a friend'.

Ever since he'd regained his memories of their few short days together, he'd been acting differently towards her. Oh, he still flirted like mad and used all of his charm to try to worm his way (back) into her bed. But it went beyond that now. Once a week, he sent her flowers. Not huge, grandiose arrangements…something she'd expect from him…but quaint little arrangements of dainty flowers that suited her homey kitchen perfectly. The first bouquet had been a pleasant surprise. Now she found herself looking forward to the weekly arrangements.

And he kept doing her small favors…small inconsequential things that were incredibly endearing because they showed he really cared. For example, somehow he'd found out that her new kitchen sink had already developed an annoying drip, and he'd had a plumber come over and replace the washers inside the fixture. If he'd bought her a whole new sink, she'd have gotten all riled up and sent it back. But how could she begrudge him the little gifts, when she knew they cost him so little? It warmed her heart to see how hard he was trying to soften her up without scaring her away.

The one thing Eric hadn't done was simply ask her out on a date. Oh, he'd show up from time to time at Merlotte's and chat with her after her shift, but he never offered to take her out. It perplexed her. Eric had made it more than clear that he wanted Sookie to be 'his', but he hadn't tried to directly force her hand. Was he afraid of rejection? Or was he hoping Sookie would come to him all on her own?

That has to be it, Sookie thought with a sigh. He's waiting for me to make the first move.

When she came to that realization, Sookie had to force herself not to balk at the idea. Her first reaction was something along the lines of 'fat chance', but the more she thought about it, the more the idea grew on her. She was tired of being alone. It seemed like most of the men she'd had in her life had betrayed her at some point. Bill had seduced her under false pretenses and then cheated on her to boot. Alcide had used trickery to drag her neck deep into the middle of Were politics. Quinn had led a nest of hostile vampires straight to her door. But not Eric. When he wanted to use her 'gift' he was upfront about it. He was there to protect her whenever he could. And he was making an honest attempt at wooing her. Maybe inviting him over would be the best present she could offer him. Not that she was going to wrap herself up in a bow or anything like that. But if he could be content watching It's a Wonderful Life and snuggling by the fire with her, maybe there was a chance for them after all.

Her mind made up, Sookie picked up the phone to dial Fangtasia. For a panicked moment, she was afraid no one would pick up…it being Christmas and all…and she didn't have any other way of contacting Eric. But after two rings, she heard Pam's bored voice.

"Fangtasia…the Bar with a Bite," Pam said with a put-upon sigh.

"Merry Christmas, Pam" Sookie said with a cheerful smile.

"Merry Christmas to you too, Sookie," Pam said, her voice sounding ever-so-slightly less bored. "Is everything all right?"

"Oh, everything's just fine!" Sookie said brightly. "I'm surprised y'all are opened on Christmas."

"Well, to be honest, most vampires don't celebrate Christmas. We're not exactly a religious bunch. And there are quite a few people who are lonely during the holidays…especially after that dreadful hurricane. We're actually quite busy tonight."

"Well, I don't mean to be a bother, but do you think I could talk to Eric?" Sookie asked nervously.

"Is it important?" Pam asked.

"Well…not really. I mean, if he's too busy, I can just call back some other time!" Sookie replied, her voice rising in pitch as she tried to control her nerves and remain 'nonchalant' (her Word of the Day entry from Monday).

"Ooh…you're calling, and it's not important? That is interesting. I'll take the phone to him right away," Pam said, and Sookie could almost hear the smile in Pam's voice. Pam had been urging Sookie to 'have pity' on Eric for months now.

Sookie heard the raucous sounds of Fangtasia's patrons in the background as Pam carried the phone through the bar to Eric. Sookie scrambled for something she could say that wouldn't sound totally forced, but before she could think of anything clever, she heard the deep rumble of Eric's voice come over the phone.

"Hello, my lover," he said sensually. "Pam says you have called for entirely non-urgent reasons. I'm intrigued."

"Well, I don't want to bother you if you're busy, but if you have some time, I was wondering if you mightwanttocomeover," Sookie mumbled the last bit under her breath as fast as she could before her nerve left her.

"Surpringsly, Christmas is one of our busiest nights of the year. Lots of lonely people with no one to go home to trying to drink away their sorrows," Eric replied, his tone perfectly calculated to give off the impression that he was uninterested.

"I totally understand!" Sookie said, her voice strained and painfully cheerful. And even though he couldn't see her, she was giving off one of her tense, thousand-watt smile. "I'll just leave you be then."

"I can be over in less than an hour," Eric replied quickly, before Sookie could hang up the phone from embarrassment.

"Really?" she said. "You'd do that for me…just drop everything? It's not even anything important. I…I just wanted to see ya."

"I have learned in my long life that you must place the things you value most as the highest priority. I'll see you in an hour," he said. And then the phone went dead.

He always did have the best parting lines.

For the next forty-five minutes, Sookie rushed around her house like a mad woman. She tried on several different outfits before settling on a pair of jeans that hugged her curves nicely and a dark red V-neck sweater that was just low enough to be interesting. She didn't want to go all out and make things more stressful than they already were, but she didn't want him to think she hadn't made any effort at all either. Once she'd decided on her outfit, she did a last sweep of the house, making sure everything looked neat and tidy.

Just as she was shoving an errant piece of wrapping paper into her trash bin, she heard a knock on the door. She raced to the door and then stopped a moment to collect herself before answering.

"Hi," Sookie said, her voice breathless with nervous excitement as she opened the door.

"Hello, Sookie" Eric said with a soft smile. He leaned forward and gave her a feather-light kiss on the cheek. "Such a lovely color you're wearing," he murmured into her ear as one of his long fingers traced the edge of her neckline. "Red hides bloodstains so well."

Sookie shivered slightly at his touch, but once he mentioned blood, she snapped out of it and gave him a playful swat on the arm. "That's not why I invited you over here!"

"Then enlighten me. Why did you invite me over?" Eric asked, sounding genuinely curious.

"Well, I got you somethin' small for Christmas, and I wanted to give it to ya," Sookie said bashfully. "And I thought, if ya had the time, maybe we could watch a movie or somethin'. There's a 24 hour marathon of "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV right now."

"You…want to watch a movie with me?" Eric asked slowly, as if he wasn't quite hearing her right.

"Well, only if ya like," Sookie mumbled.

"Like a date?" Eric asked, his voice turning gleeful.

"Yeah, like a date," Sookie snapped, starting to feel defensive.

"I would be honored," Eric replied, grinning broadly.

Sookie gave him a small grin of her own before turning to go into her living room. She flipped through the channels until she found the station playing the movie she wanted.

"Oh good!" she said with a relived sigh. "The movie should be starting over in just a couple of minutes. Can I get you something to drink while we wait?"

"Surely you know what kind of blood I prefer," Eric replied, eyeing Sookie's neck hungrily.

"Trueblood it is, then!" Sookie replied with a nervous grin, dashing into the kitchen before he could come up with something else suggestive to say.

Sookie rummaged through her fridge and found a bottle of TrueBlood in the back. But (miraculously) it had been several weeks since she'd had any cause to have vampires over to her house, and she hadn't replenished her supply. When she opened the bottle, it had a distinctly 'off' sort of smell to it. When she glanced at the cap, she noticed that the bottle had expired last week. Reluctantly, she trudged empty-handed back to the living room

"I'm real sorry, Eric. My Trueblood expired, and I don't think it's fit to drink no more."

In the blink of an eye, Eric went from lounging on the couch to standing directly in front of her, causing Sookie to let out a startled gasp. "It's not polite to offer a guest a drink if you can't deliver," Eric said, leaning in close to let his fangs graze her throat.

Sookie trembled, and she was on the verge of telling Eric to go ahead, consequences be damned, when he backed off, returning to the couch so swiftly she'd almost swear he never left.

He grinned at her and patted the cushion next to him on the couch. "It's alright. I forgive you…this time," Eric said with a wink.

Sookie gingerly sat down next to him, not quite sure how to act. Without so much as a by-your-leave, Eric closed the gap between them and slung his arm over her shoulders. Sookie was half afraid he'd end up pawing at her all night, but once he got comfortable, he actually made a show of relaxing and watching the movie with her.

Eric absently rubbed her shoulder or played with an idle strand of her hair every now and then, but for the most part, he was a perfect gentleman. By the end of the movie, Sookie had almost forgotten that her date was a vampire. As the end credits rolled over the screen, she impulsively leaned up and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.

"To what do I owe the honor?" Eric asked, a surprised look on his face.

"That was the first 'normal' date I've had in my entire life," Sookie said. "No unwanted thoughts buzzing in my head…no hidden agendas. Just a guy and a girl watching a movie. It was totally normal and totally wonderful…and well, I just wanted to say thank you."

"You are most welcome," Eric said with a bemused smile, "but it's not time for good-bye kisses just yet. I recall you mentioning something about a gift earlier?"

"Oh…I nearly forgot!," Sookie exclaimed, jumping off the couch to go get his present from under the tree. "It ain't nothin' special, but it made me think of you," she said.

"The fact that it's from you makes it special," Eric replied. He opened the wrapping paper carefully, and smiled when he saw the CD. The cover said "Nordic Roots" and showed an icy landscape. "It looks like a little taste of home," he said with a smile. "I'm sure I will enjoy listening to it immensely."

"Glad ya like it," Sookie replied softly.

"If you check again under your tree, you will see that I brought something for you as well."

"Really?" Sookie asked, surprised. "I didn't see you carry anything in."

In the blink of an eye, Eric moved from the couch to the Christmas tree. "I am very fast," he said with a smirk as he gently lifted a large box from behind the tree where he'd hidden it.

Sookie took the box from Eric's hands, wondering what he could have gotten her that would be so large. She moved her hands to tilt it, and Eric grabbed her wrists in a gentle but firm grip.

"Ah…I would not recommend shaking it," Eric replied mysteriously.

Sookie arched her eyebrow but did not comment. Instead she set the box gently on the ground and carefully lifted up the lid, which had been wrapped separately from the rest of the box so that it could be taken off easily. Inside was a tiny white kitten curled up on a blanket. At the sudden intrusion of light, the kitten woke up, letting out an adorable yawn before staring up at her with bright blue eyes.

"Oh, Eric…it's absolutely adorable!" Sookie squealed, flinging her arms around Eric to hug him. "How did you know I wanted a new cat?"

"I asked your roommate," Eric replied. "It wasn't that difficult."

"But it was very thoughtful," Sookie said softly, cupping his face in her hand. She leaned in and gave him a soft kiss, and he was just starting to pull her in with the hopes of things progressing further when they were interrupted by the sound of glass breaking. The kitten had escaped from her box and had immediately begun entertaining itself with the low-hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree.

"Oh, no!" Sookie exclaimed with a laugh. "I haven't cat-proofed my tree! I can tell you're going to be a trouble-maker already," she said affectionately as she picked up the kitten and ruffled the fur on top of its head. "Here, can you hold her while I go get a broom? I'd hate for her to get broken glass in her paws."

Eric handled the cat gingerly as if he wasn't quite sure what to do with the little ball of fluff, but he managed to keep her from squirming away as Sookie swept up the broken glass and moved a few of her ornaments higher up on the tree.

"OK…I think it's safe to let her down now," Sookie said as she darted back into the kitchen to throw away the dust bin full of broken glass. While out there, she glanced casually out the window as her outdoor motion light turned on. She caught a glimpse of a deer standing in her back yard, surrounding by a sky full of fat snowflakes. Sookie paused to admire the scene. Snow was rare in Louisiana, and it would probably all melt once the sun came up tomorrow, but for now it was like a snow globe come to life. She dallied, admiring the beauty of it until the deer raced off and her outdoor light winked out.

With a disappointed sigh, she turned to go back to the living room, but Eric was already standing in her kitchen doorway with a worried look on his face. "Are you alright?" Eric asked cautiously. "I heard you gasp."

With a secretive smile, Sookie took Eric by the hand. "I'm just fine," she replied. "But I've got another surprise for you…close your eyes."

For a second, she thought Eric would refuse. It was obvious that he hated not being the one in control. But with a display of trust, he dutifully closed his eyes.

Sookie slipped on her shoes and carefully led Eric outside. Once they were in her back yard, she stepped away from Eric so she could watch his face. "Ok…you can open your eyes now."

A genuine look of delight crossed his face. Eric was normally very guarded, and most of his expressions were carefully sculpted to convey a certain message. It was a rare sight to see such an open smile on his face.

"I love the snow," he said reverently.

He closed his eyes again, tilting his head up to let the snow fall on his face. It snowed so rarely down south that this was definitely a special treat for him. Sookie knew she should let him have his moment, but something devilish took over her mind. Before she could talk herself out of it, she scooped up some of the wet snow and packed it into a ball. Eric was so absorbed that he was taken totally by surprise when the snowball hit him in the face.

Sookie had all of about two seconds to giggle as she stared at Eric Northman, one of the most powerful vampires in Louisiana, looking totally flustered as he shook snow out of his hair. And then, before she knew what hit her, he had tumbled her to the ground, pinning both of her arms above her head with one of his massive hands.

"Eric, let me up…it's cold!" Sookie shrieked as snow began to melt all along her backside.

"You should have thought of that before you provoked a vampire, my dear," Eric said with a mischievous glint in his eyes. He picked up a handful of snow, and Sookie closed her eyes, sure that he was going to have his revenge by rubbing it in her face. But instead, he slid his hand under her sweater, piling snow onto her bare stomach.

With another screech, Sookie bucked her hips, trying to shake the snow off her skin.

"Here…allow me," Eric said, quickly lifting up her shirt and licking some of the melting snow from her stomach.

Sookie shivered for an entirely different reason, but it was still freezing outside, and she had no desire to let Eric take off any of her precious clothing with snow falling from the sky. She just wasn't as impervious to the cold as vampires are.

"I…I don't suppose we could continue this inside?" Sookie asked, her whole body starting to shake from the cold.

Without preamble, Eric scooped her up bridal style, his lips sucking snowflakes off the skin of her throat as he carried her inside.

Once inside, Sookie squirmed until Eric set her down. "I just need a minute to change into something dry."

"Why change into anything at all?" Eric asked, his fingers reaching for the buttons of her jeans.

Sookie grabbed his hands, and he allowed her to stop him. "I really need a minute to myself…things are going much faster than I thought they would tonight. Can ya do that for me…give me a minute?"

Eric visibly reigned himself in. "I'll give you anything you need," he replied, his eyes smoldering.

Sookie dashed into her bedroom. At first, she just planned on putting on something…anything…warm and dry. But then she saw the gift box from Claudine lying on her bed. She fingered the sparkly material reverently. She could go back out there in a bulky sweater and jeans, clearly indicating her desire to stay clothed and warm…or she could go out there 'dressed to kill' and finally accept that she wanted to be with Eric in every sense of the word.

When Sookie finally reappeared in her living room, Eric was seated on her couch. He was statue-like in his stillness, and she had to suppress a giggle, because during his 'down-time', her new kitten had curled up on his lap and was purring away. But all thoughts of laughter left her as his eyes snapped to awareness.

She could see the hunger in his eyes as he looked at her. Her new evening gown sparkled in the firelight, and her cold nipples stuck out through the thin material. "Looks like you have one more present to unwrap," Sookie whispered, trying her best to sound sexy and not let her teeth chatter.

With deliberate slowness, Eric crept across the room, eyeing her like a wolf stalking its prey. When he reached her, he reverently slid down the zipper of her dress, until the fabric slid off her and pooled at her feet.

"I think I'd like that drink now," he whispered into her ear.

A moment later, his fangs slid into her throat. Sookie let out a moan of pleasure. She was so chilled from the snow that Eric, who had been sitting by the fire the whole time she got changed, actually felt warm to the touch. It was a pleasant change, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, trying to absorb the heat from his skin.

Eric was so eager to reclaim her body that he didn't bother taking her to her bedroom…he didn't even bother laying her on the ground. With speed and grace beyond any human's, he quickly slipped out of his clothes, never letting his lips leave Sookie's throat. When he was as bare as her, he wrapper her legs around his waist and slid inside of her in one long thrust.

Given that she'd made him wait so long, she expected him to go hard and fast, but he chose to go torturously slow instead. Sookie had never had a vampire feed on her for so long. Normally, she allowed a quick bite at the end of a lovemaking session, but Eric was feeding from her in tiny sips, accentuating each suck with a small rocking motion of his hips. As he drank, his hands languidly roamed her body, becoming reacquainted with her every curve. When her orgasm finally hit, it was like a slow crescendo that continued to build and build until she thought would never end.

When his fangs (among other things) slid out of her, Sookie's whole body was thrumming in the afterglow. When she found her knees were too wobbly for her to stand, Eric tenderly carried her back to her bedroom. He licked at her neck until every stray drop of blood had been cleaned away before smearing a few drops of his own blood into the wound, causing it to heal before his eyes. Sookie took the liberty of licking the last few drops of his blood off his fingers before leaning up to give him lingering kiss.

"Merry Christmas, lover" she said with a glint in her eye, teasingly using his pet name for her. She snuggled against his chest as her body began to tell her just how much she needed sleep after such a long day.

"Merry Christmas, love," Eric whispered into her ear as Sookie drifted off to sleep.