Of Rubies and Reasons: This story, "Past and Present," was originally meant to be a special, one shot Christmas story. But after many lovely reviews and people wanting to know "what happens next," I decided to continue on with it. But I was to happy with "Past and Present" to just tack on a few chapters after the fact. Thus, I decided to write a three part series called "Of Rubies and Reasons." This is the first part. Enjoy!


Of Rubies and Reasons
Past and Present

It was December eighteenth, exactly one week before Christmas. And according to a tradition that went as far back as Sookie could remember, it was time to put up the Christmas tree. Standing in her living room, appraising the freshly cut pine covered in a thousand tiny multi-colored lights, the blonde could remember herself as a small girl, begging her grandmother to let them put up their tree on December first. The older woman had always said no on the grounds that, by the time Christmas came, it would be dead. And of course, you wouldn't want Santa to put your presents under some dried up ole thing on Christmas Eve.

That just wasn't acceptable.

When she was little, Sookie had always thought that, when she was older, she'd carve out her own traditions and habits. Silly little things like allowing her pet, if she had one, to sleep inside. Or putting up a Christmas tree as soon as the lot opened in the Garden Center at Wal-Mart. But as the time passed after Gran's death, Sookie found herself holding onto to her grandmother's traditions instead of packing them away like she had with her things.

With her life twisting and reshaping itself in ways that were far beyond her control, Sookie clung to things that were familiar. Things that kept her grandmother's memory alive and well in her heart. Because, if she could remember how much Gran loved her, everything would be ok. Even if the world around her was falling apart.

And right now, with the change in the vampire's hierarchy, an impending werewolf revelation, and a blood-bond between her and a certain blonde, Viking vampire… that seemed like a distinct possibility.

And because of that, Sookie was clinging to Gran's memory harder than ever.

But sadly, some things just weren't the same. Normally, Jason would have gone along to help when it was time to look for trees. He would never pick the tree himself, leaving that to "the girls." Instead, he would throw the chosen pine in the bed of his work truck, make sure it was nice and secure in its stand, and put on the lights. But Sookie still wasn't speaking to him after what happened with Crystal and Calvin. The wound was still raw, and it would be for quite a while yet.

Instead, she'd asked Terry Bellefluer to give her a hand. The Vietnam vet had always gone out of his way to be decent to her, and Sookie tried to repay the favor whenever she could.

Terry only worked part time at Merlotte's and was always looking to pick up odd jobs here and there. It was because of that, and his offer to tear down her kitchen when it burnt, that made Sookie think of the man.

When she'd asked, she'd offered him thirty dollars to bring the tree home, and set it up for her. It wasn't much, but then again, she didn't have much to offer. He'd refused to the money and offered to put the lights on the tree in exchange for a dozen of Gran's special oatmeal raisin cookies. (They too were another tradition she'd kept up.)

Deep down, Sookie was sure that Terry had been so generous, because it was obvious that she and her brother were on the outs. If she really wanted to know his reasons, she could have read his mind. But his thoughts were ones that she stayed out of at all costs. The little glimpses of his inner turmoil that she hadn't been able to avoid were heartbreakingly awful. Truthfully, she didn't know how he made it from day to day sometimes. Though to be honest, sometimes, he didn't.

She'd been tempted to ask why he was being so kind but decided against it at the last moment. Gran would have given her a scolding for questioning someone's generosity.

And so, after spending the past hour and a half in the kitchen, Terry had himself a dozen and a half (she couldn't help throwing in a few extra) freshly baked cookies. And Sookie had a twinkling Christmas tree in her living room. She'd thought about asking him to stay and help her decorate it but decided, at the last second, that that would have been too personal.

Giving the man a small kiss on the cheek, Sookie thanked him as he walked out the door. As he drove away, she gave a small wave, thinking about the sad prospect of decorating her Christmas tree alone, for the first time in her life. She'd originally asked Amelia and Octavia to help. But they had said no, having important Yule rituals to observe instead.

And so, she was alone.

Pushing the front door shut, she thought of calling Sam. Over the past few months, they'd grown closer, become better friends. But for some reason, maybe because of their past, she decided against inviting him. Just like with Terry, it would have been too intimate but for a completely different reason. And they were reasons that she didn't feel like dealing with right now.

There were other people she could have called, but each seemed to have some drawback or other.

There was Tara. But Sookie didn't think she could handle the other woman's newly wedded bliss given her own romantic status lately. Then there was Calvin, but she still wasn't able to face him after the Crystal-Jason-Hotshot incident. And he too came with his own can of romantic worms. Even if she made it clear that nothing would ever happen between them, there was still a faint trace of lingering tension there.

For a second, Sookie even thought about calling Pam. They were friends after all. The vision of the vampire putting tinsel on the tree, one strand at a time, caused a wave of giggles to break through her gloomy mood. Before she could stop herself, the blonde had a vision of Pam dressed in a sweater covered in beaded snowflakes and slacks in her head. But now, instead of tinseling the tree, the vampire was sipping a mug of O negative as she eyed the tree, looking for an open spot. She couldn't help but think that that would really be a sight to see. Just not tonight. Indulging the last of her laughing fit, the blonde turned to the cardboard boxes labeled "Christmas Orn." in Gran's scrawling script.

The sight sobered her up instantly.

Putting off opening the boxes, Sookie crossed the room to turn on the small radio she normally kept in the kitchen. She didn't bother flipping through the stations; it was already tuned to Bon Temps' annual Christmas station. The rest of the year it was an oldies channel, but it played nothing but Christmas carols from November first until December twenty-sixth. The radio crackled to life; Elvis's smooth voice flowed out, crooning about being alone on Christmas.

Despite the fact that the song hit a little too close to home, she spared a smile for Bubba. His brain was as addled as a vampire's could be, but he'd protected her more times than she could count. And sometimes, when he thought no one was paying attention, he would sing to himself. And boy was that a treat. While she was still a little leery of him, Sookie still considered him a friend.

Unable to put off the task any longer, Sookie turned back to the boxes of ornaments, feeling a lump of bitterness settle in the pit of her stomach. This was her second Christmas without Gran, but it was her first alone, without even Jason to ease her sadness. She supposed that she should be getting over the waves of sorrow at times like this, but deep down, Sookie didn't think she'd ever really be over her grandmother's death.

Taking a seat among the boxes, Sookie pulled one onto her lap and began rummaging through it. The contents were packed neatly, the ornaments all placed back into their original cartons. The only thing out of place was the occasional stray hook and a limp-looking strand of tinsel or two. No matter how carefully the decorations were packed away, a few of the silvery strands always managed to make their way into the storage boxes. And each year, when she found the leftover icicles, Sookie would do the same thing.

Reaching into the box, Sookie pulled out one of the leftover strands and wrapped it around the band of her ponytail. It was something her grandmother had done when she was a little girl. But unlike all of the other traditions she'd been holding onto, this one made her smile.

With a slightly lighter heart, the blonde pulled the top box of ornaments out of the large cardboard box. Slipping the inner tray, Sookie walked over to her tree. Very carefully, she pulled out one of the baubles. Round and covered with red and white stripes, it looked like a giant mint.

After finding the perfect spot, Sookie carefully placed the little hook over the branch. Before moving onto the next, she took a step back to admire the effect. Happy with what she saw, the blonde finished with the remaining ornaments in the box before moving onto the next.

By the time she got to the fourth box, Sookie was humming along with the radio, doing little dance steps in between hanging ornaments. Just as Bing Crosby finished crooning the last notes of White Christmas, she picked up a very old, very fragile looking box. Inside were four small silver heart shaped ornaments with teal and magenta designs on them. The paint was flecked and worn, but they were beautiful.

They were Gran's favorite.

Her dancing slowed to a careful walk, and Sookie gently plucked one of the fragile ornaments out of its slot. The candy cane striped balls could be replaced. These could not.

Eyeing the partially decorated tree, the blonde scanned the higher branches, looking for an empty spot. For as long as she could remember, Gran had always insisted that smaller ornaments should be hung at the top of the tree, big ones towards the bottom. It hadn't made sense when she was younger, but Sookie had come to understand her grandmother's reasoning.

Just as she found the perfect spot, an empty branch that had a nice open space around it, Mariah Carey's voice poured out of the small radio. The song was upbeat and chipper, and it had been one of her favorites for years.

Still weary of the fragile ornaments in her hands, Sookie resisted the urge to sing along. She, however, could not stop herself from humming as she looped the small hook over the prickly pine. Stepping back to admire her handiwork, Sookie smiled in satisfaction before beginning the search for another spot.

Mariah continued to sing about what she wanted for Christmas, and Sookie hung two more of her Gran's favorite ornaments, each looking more perfect than the last. Her humming had gone from soft and subdued to singing. And by the time she picked up the last of the heirlooms, she was singing spectacularly loudly and gloriously out of key.

She was just about to hang the last of her grandmother's precious ornaments when a loud burst of laughter caused her to jump, sending the small silver heart crashing to the floor. With a delicate tinkling, the ornament shattered as it connected with the wood paneling. As the broken pieces of glass scattered, Sookie felt her heart break, and for a second, she didn't care who her intruder was. At that moment, nothing mattered but the fact that another piece of her grandmother was gone.

Even though a wave of sorrow filled her heart and hot tears began to prickle at the backs of her eyes, Sookie felt a sense of amusement wash over her. And that feeling was most definitely not her own. She didn't need to look up to know who was there or to reach out with her mind, searching for a mental signature, but all she found was the blank space of a vampire's mind. The knowledge that her intruder was one of the undead, coupled with the effect on her emotions, confirmed what she already knew.

Normally, his presence soothed her instantly. Normally, his nearness calmed her worn nerves like a powerful balm whether she wanted it to or not. But right now, even with their blood-bond easing her sorrow, Sookie wanted nothing more than for Eric Northman to go home and leave her alone.

This was a private ache, and despite everything that had passed between them, this felt more personal. More intimate. She and Eric had been through so much together and would undoubtedly go through more, but… This wouldn't be part of that.

Blinking back tears, Sookie focused on the glittering shards of glass. She should have scolded him for breaking in again, but she couldn't bear to meet his gaze.

Eric's laughter had died out long ago, and from the silence filling the air, Sookie knew that he had picked up on her emotions as well. The anger, the sorrow, her exasperation at his presence. He could feel it all.

Still staring at the shattered pieces of glass, Sookie was surprised when she heard Eric's voice coming from above her, instead of from across the room. "Sookie, I -"

Before he could get any further, she cut him off. She knew what he what was coming; his shift in emotion screamed it. "No, Eric. It's not time for that talk."

Not waiting for him to respond, she climbed to her feet and walked towards the kitchen to grab a broom and dustpan. He didn't speak, or follow, but his disgruntled sigh was enough to keep her out of the living room for as long as possible.

Once she was safely hidden from the vampire, she allowed a few stray tears to escape. Wiping them away, Sookie moved to the broom cupboard and made a very noise show of retrieving the items she needed.

Truth be told, if she could have made it out of the door and away from the house, without Eric realizing, she would have. But even with the slight boost in her speed and strength from the last time she'd drank vampire blood, she wouldn't have made it. Eric was undoubtedly using their bond to try and predict what she would do next.

Even though she was growing used to the blood-bond, there were still times when she hated it with all of her being. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to be alone with her misery. She wanted to be able to sit down on the floor and weep over the broken ornament and her grandmother's memory. Sookie wanted to shed a few tears for what she'd been forced to do to Calvin because of her brother. And she was sure she had a few bitter tears saved up for Jason as well.

But with Eric there… she just couldn't.

He was tall and beautiful, but he was not a good shoulder to cry on. One of the few times she had, he'd said he would buy himself a new suit to replace the one she'd sobbed on if she stopped. Thinking about it now, Sookie couldn't help but think of it as some strange backwards bribe.

Broom and dust pan in hand, Sookie shut the cupboard door when a dangerous thought popped into her head. It was a thought that promised a whole new wave of tears dedicated to broken hearts and dishonest lovers.

If Bill were there…

No, she wouldn't go down that road. Bill wasn't there. And based on the ache in her heart at the mere thought of him, he wouldn't be ever again. Or at least, not any time soon. The burn of betrayal was still fresh, and she wasn't sure if it would ever truly heal. And if it did, it would definitely leave a scar.

Sookie shook her head from side to side in an attempt to clear all thoughts of her ex-boyfriend from her mind. The pain that came with thinking of him was simply too much to bear on top of everything else.

Tears dried, thoughts of Bill buried deeply, the blonde knew she couldn't hide in the kitchen for any longer. Not only was it childish, but soon Eric would come looking for her. And somehow, that seemed even worse.

Taking a few deep breaths, Sookie steeled herself for the inevitable. With broom and dustpan in hand, she walked back into the living room completely unprepared for what she found. Or… didn't find.

Eric was gone.

Nowhere to be seen.

And of that, she was absolutely certain. Reaching out with her mind, she searched for the blank space that vampire brains always created. There was nothing.

Of all the things she had expected, this certainly wasn't it. In her mind, she had pictured Eric doing everything from examining her partially decorated tree to holding a sprig of mistletoe suggestively in the air. Never once did she think that he would just up and leave. But as she made her way over to the broken ornament, Sookie couldn't help but think that Eric had made some pretty spectacular exits in the time they'd known each other. This was just another one to add to the list.

Very carefully, the blonde knelt on the floor, taking care to avoid the broken glass. She was just about to start sweeping the remains of her grandmother's ornament into the dustpan when something small and silvery, under the tree, caught her eye.

With the tree still not decorated, she had yet to put out the few gifts she had bought. So, nothing should have been there. Laying down the broom, she turned to see what had caught her eye. To her surprise, sitting under the branches was a small, black velvet box with a little silver bow on top. When she picked it up, the ribbon twinkled and reflected the multi-colored lights that were hanging on the tree.

There was no note, but she didn't need to think twice. It was from Eric.

Though he'd given her gifts before, this felt different. This felt more like a gift gift than anything else he'd given her. The coat, the cell phone, and front door had all been presents, but they'd really been replacements for things he'd had a hand in ruining. But…

As far as she could recall, Eric hadn't destroyed any of her accessories lately. Or ever for that matter.

There was nothing he had to make up to her, or pay her back for. There was nothing he needed to replace.

It seemed like whatever was in the box, really was just a gift. With the implications of that knowledge sinking in, the small object in the palm of her hand got heavier and heavier until…

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Sookie. Just open it." Her voice was surer than she felt, so she took her own advice.

Very carefully, the blonde reached out with her free hand to pull open the velvety lid. As it opened, the hinges on the box squeaked, making her even more nervous.

The moment the cover snapped open, so did her eyes. Nestled in the box was a ring with a beautiful pear-shaped ruby set on a white gold band. Or, she assumed it was white gold anyway. The metal was silver in tone, but a vampire wouldn't give her silver surely.

Almost afraid to touch it, the blonde gingerly pulled the ring out of the box. As it moved, the tiny lights adorning the tree, caught in the stone's facets, causing it to sparkle and shine. Taken aback by the ruby's beauty, Sookie didn't bother to stop a small, breathy "oh" from escaping her lips.

Without thinking, the blonde slipped the gift on her left ring finger. It wasn't an engagement ring by any means; no one would ever mistake it for one, so figured it was ok to wear it there. With the jewel in place, she held her hand in front of her face to admire the effect. It looked perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Still holding her hand up, Sookie twisted her wrist from side to side. She smiled widely as the ruby glistened with each movement. With the shock of Eric's present wearing off, Sookie realized that, this ring was the most valuable piece of jewelry she owned.

Given Eric's personality, she was sure that it had cost more that the earrings Bill had given her. Not that price mattered. But after restricting herself to Wal-mart and the extreme clearance rack at Tara's Togs, it felt strange to be in possession of such an expensive ring.

Finally dropping her hand, Sookie couldn't help but wonder about her Gran's jewelry. The older woman only had a few pieces that boasted any real monetary value, but they'd been dear to her. She knew the stories behind a couple of the rings and her grandmother's favorite necklace, but the rest were a mystery. And sadly, they always would be.

Was it possible that Fintan had given Gran a similar gift? A token of affection from lover to lover? Would she have even accepted such a gift from someone who wasn't her husband? Before learning about her real grandfather, she would have said no. But after meeting Niall, she wasn't so sure.

When she'd originally opened the jewelry box, her first instinct had been that she would have to give the ring back. It was a gift that strings would surely be attached to. Because when it came to Eric, nothing was ever free of complications.

Ever.

But now… she wasn't so sure if she'd be giving it back.

Things with Eric were always, for lack of a better word, interesting. Even more so given their bond. Perhaps, she could keep the ring, for now. Until she found out the vampire's intentions anyway. And she hoped that she was able, in good conscience to keep it. Because part of her, one that wasn't so small, was ridiculously happy to have a ring on her finger. Even if it wasn't an engagement ring.

There would be strings and complications attached to the gift. But some of them didn't seem so bad.

Her heart a little lighter than before, Sookie turned back to the broken shards of her Gran's favorite ornament. The single pear-shaped ruby sparkled as she reached for the dustpan.

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- Merry Christmas everyone! I hope that this made your Christmas just a little brighter. :)
- Quack: My beta. My red pen of DOOOOOM wielding goddess. Thank you so much for all of your help. I appreciate it so much.
- Reviews are love.