Of Rubies and Reasons: "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 second part. Enjoy!

Of Rubies and Reasons
Actions and Reactions

Sookie had been wearing Eric's ring for weeks now. She hadn't taken it off once. At first, she tried to think of a reason, an excuse really, to pull the gem off of her finger. But each scenario she came up with seemed more ridiculous than the last.

The night she'd first slipped it on her finger, Sookie had walked into the kitchen after she'd finished decorating her Christmas tree. Lying in the sink had been the cookie sheet she'd used to bake Terry's cookies on. She'd placed it there, a few hours earlier to cool. And there it had been, still waiting to be washed. It had been only one pan, but she still hadn't felt like doing it.

She'd walked over to the sink, twisting the ring around her finger as she'd prepared to take it off. She'd rather do that than subject the beautiful ruby to the harsh dish detergent. But just as she had gone to pull on the band, something lying by the sink had caught her eye.

Next to the apple-scented soap had been a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves. They'd been a fixture in the house ever since Amelia, the clean freak, had moved in. Sookie had never used them herself, preferring to just stick her hands in the soapy water like Gran always had. But now, with the ring glittering on her finger, the blonde had decided to pull the gloves on. Her roommate had never been possessive of her cleaning supplies, but Sookie figured she would pick up another pair the next time she was at Wal-mart, just the same.

After that, whenever she came across something, some activity, where she though she should take off the ring, Sookie always managed to find a reason not to.

Eric's gift had very quickly become a part of her.

And that was a fact that everyone noticed.

In a small town like Bon Temps, and a popular watering hole like Merlotte's, even something as insignificant as a new piece of jewelry on the crazy waitress was big news in the right hands. And boy, oh boy, were there enough people around, thirsting for a good piece of gossip. Up until now, Sookie hadn't fully realized just how rumor hungry the patrons of Merlotte's really were. For as many times as she was asked about it while people were ordering, Sookie might as well have served the story up as a special side dish with the burgers and fries.

Her girlfriends, the few she has anyway, all reacted the same way. At first, their eyes would widen in shock, and they would gasp, just like she had the first time she opened the small black velvet box. Once they began breathing again, they demanded her to "spill it."

Holly and Tara both grabbed her hand as she told them an edited version of the story. Both women knew that Eric was a vampire. After all, it seemed silly to leave out that detail given the fact that Holly was Wiccan and Tara had dated a vampire or two herself. (Even if one of those relationships hadn't exactly been voluntary.) She did, however, leave out the part about their blood-bond. That wasn't something she wanted to share with anyone at Merlotte's. Ever.

Especially if there was any chance that it would end up as the bar's latest hot topic.

Even Arlene wasn't immune to the lure of Eric's ring. And despite the Grand Canyon-sized gap between them, Sookie could tell that the other woman was dying to rush over and ask about it. But then again, she had always been the most gossipy of the gossipmongers. The newest Fellowship recruit managed to keep her distance though. That, however, didn't keep the other waitress from stealing covert glances at the ring whenever possible.

But Sookie didn't care. If her ex-best friend wanted to know about the ring that badly, she would have to swallow her pride and ask o oor ask one of the newer waitresses for the story. Somehow, she didn't think that, even if Arlene did manage to come up and ask about it, she would tell her. Purely out of spite. Deep down, Sookie knew that Gran wouldn't approve of such a thing. But given Arlene's recent turn about, she didn't think that her grandmother would disapprove itoo/i much.

But just because the patrons of Merlotte's wanted every little detail about the ring, didn't mean that everyone had reacted so positively.

Most notably, Amelia, Octavia, and Sam.

A few hours after she'd finished decorating her tree, and packed away the mess, her two roommates had arrived home. From their bubbling laughter, Sookie had been able to tell that their Yule festivities, whatever they had been, had gone well. She had barely taken two steps towards the women when Octavia's sharp eyes had zeroed in on the glittering ruby. And the sudden absence of her laughter had drawn Amelia's attention to the ring as well. But instead of widening in surprise, her eyes had narrowed slightly.

Octavia and Amelia had exchanged a loaded look before the older woman had excused herself. Sookie had let down her mental guard and tuned into Octavia. As it turned out, she had been mentally begging Amelia to get the whole story and to fill her in in the morning. Sookie hadn't been pleased. And not for the first time, she had wished she'd left her guard up.

Once the woman had been out of earshot, Amelia had turned her attention back to the ring. She hadn't even bothered looking up when she'd said, "Wow, did the rock fairy stop by while we were gone?"

For some reason, the forced casualness in Amelia's voice had caused Sookie to become instantly defensive. She'd reacted by crossing her arms over her chest, effectively hiding the ruby from view. "It's from Eric." She hadn't even bothered to try and hide her irritation.

The witch had put both hands up in mock surrender in response to her friend's tone. "Look, I know he's a good time. But I also know what happened at the Summit because of him." Amelia had taken a few steps backward, hands still raised when she'd seen Sookie's eyes narrowing dangerously.

When she'd arrived home from that disastrous trip, Sookie had told her roommate all about the blood-bond, and since then, they'd discussed other details about her relationship, or lack thereof, with Eric. Never once, had the sexually adventurous witch expressed any concern over her adventures with the vampire.

But then again, he'd never given her a ring before.

Before leaving the room, Amelia had dropped her hands in defeat. And her once shrewd eyes had been full of concern. "Look, just be careful, alright?" When Sookie had begun to protest, the witch had help up one hand, but this time it had been to silence her. "This is Eric we're talking about. Since when does Eric Northman give gifts with no strings attached?"

Amelia's words had left her speechless. Only hours earlier, Sookie had had the same exact thought.

That night, before going to bed, Sookie had placed the small, black velvet box the ring had come in on her bedside table. With Amelia's words and her own thoughts running through her head, Sookie had stared at the silvery bow stuck to the lid.

She'd contemplated taking the ring off and dropping it off at Fangtasia with Pam. She'd known that she should give the ring to Eric herself, but she just couldn't. Of course, the vampire would have her own mix of Dear-Abby-meets-the-undead words of wisdom. But that would be far easier to deal with than Eric himself.

But just as she'd gone to slip the ring off, the part of her that was overjoyed to be wearing it, told her to stop. And she had. Without hesitation. That part of her also had told her to leave the box where it was. Just in case some string did appear.

The little box had been sitting in the same spot for weeks. The only time it had been moved or touched was on cleaning days. And even then, it had only been picked up, dusted under, and then sat back down. For the most part, Sookie had been able to ignore it. But whenever she did look at it, it reminded her to be careful, just in case.

Sookie had gone to bed that night, feeling, if not exactly good, better, about Eric's ring. In fact, by the time she'd finished getting cleaned up and done with breakfast the next morning, she was feeling positively giddy about it again.

But as soon as she walked into Merlotte's for the lunch shift, and Sam caught sight of the glittering ruby, that feeling disappeared.

Her boss didn't come over and ask about the ring. In fact, the man turned and walked the other direction, causing tears to prickle at the backs of her eyes.

Sam didn't come near her for the rest of the day. But Sookie did notice his ears perk up whenever someone else asked her about the ruby on her finger. And each time she told the story, she saw his face get darker and darker.

Sookie knew that Sam didn't particularly love vampires. But he didn't hate them either. In fact, the last time she saw her boss and Eric together, they'd been on speaking terms. Even if they weren't friends, they'd still been able to tolerate one another. For her.

But now, Sookie wasn't so sure about how Sam would react to Eric, the next time they saw one another. She also didn't know how Sam would react the next time she tried to talk to him.

And that bothered her. A lot.

She and Sam were friends. She shouldn't feel the need to worry about things like that. But now, she did.

For the next few days, Sookie moved around Sam as if she were walking on eggshells. She even tried to make sure Eric's gift was out of sight by carrying her tray on her left hand or resting her had on the back of her hip. But no matter how careful she was, Sookie couldn't hide the ring all of the time. And more than once she caught her boss staring at the offending piece of jewelry.

But after a few weeks of dealing with Sam's attitude, Sookie gave up. It simply wasn't fair that she had to hide something that made her so happy. One not so special day, she found herself pushed to the breaking point when she caught him shooting the ruby one of his dirtier looks. His eyes were narrowed and his mouth pressed into a tight, thin line.

The look in his eye caused her rare, but horrible temper, to flare up.

He was in the middle of mixing a gin and tonic when Sookie stormed over and slammed her tray down on the bar next to him. He didn't even flinch when the plastic circle crashed into the counter top. And that just made her angrier.

When he didn't acknowledge her, Sookie took the now over mixed drink from her boss and slammed it down on the bar in front of Holly, sending a cascade of alcohol over the counter top. The waitress had been giving them both questioning looks, but when she caught the expressions on their faces, she grabbed the half-spilled drink and all but ran in the other direction.

"Well, Sam, what is it? What's your problem?" Her voice was trembling with anger and so were her hands.

Sam placed both of his hands on the bar and dropped his head as if he were exhausted. When he spoke, his voice was low and weary. He didn't raise his head to look at her. "What does he want from you, Sookie?"

His words, too familiar, too similar, cut her to the quick. And even though her shift wasn't over for another two and a half hours, Sookie pulled off her apron, grabbed her coat and purse out of Sam's office, and walked out of Merlotte's.

It wasn't until she'd been driving for fifteen minutes that Sookie realized she was headed towards Shrevport. And therefore, Fangtasia.

And Eric.

The moment the realization hit, Sookie felt every muscle in her body tense up. Her jaw was set, and her fingers locked themselves around the steering wheel. Not only had Sookie not seen Eric since the night he had given her the ring, but she hadn't spoken to him on the phone either.

She'd called Fangtasia the night after he'd stopped by, so she could thank him, but Pam had said that he was busy with the new king. Sookie hadn't wanted to pass along a thank you through the vampire, but there had been no other way. She'd thought of sending him flowers and a note, but the moment she thought of it, Sookie threw the idea out. She simply could not bring herself to send a daisy and carnation mix to Eric Northman, Viking vampire, sheriff of area five. And a full bottle of Royalty Blended was simply too expensive. In the end, she'd she'd left a message, ignoring Pam's snickering as she tried to come up with something to say.

He hadn't returned her call. Though Sookie was sure he'd gotten the message right along with a heaping side of snark from Pam. She knew that her grandmother would have scolded her for such and impersonal thank you to a very personal gift. But Eric hadn't called her back either. She knew that was a childish way to think, but she didn't care.

Pulling her car into the Fangtasia parking lot, the blonde grimly realized that her rudeness was about to be rectified, whether she liked it or not. Now that she was there, there was no going back. Eric was definitely inside. She could feel him. And the calmness she felt radiating from him soothed her frazzled nerves. But just a little. She was far too nervous to feel completely calm after only one jolt of Eric's emotions.

The moment she shut off the car, Sookie knew that no matter what, there was no turning back now. It was the point of no return, the edge of the precipice, and all those other clichés. As she tried to will herself to get out of the car, she put off the inevitable by straightening her ponytail, checking her makeup in the mirror, and plastering on her cheeriest smile. But eventually, the car, which she'd turned off, became to cold to sit in, and she could put it off no longer.

With much trepidation, Sookie climbed out of her car and headed towards the bar. The whole way, she kept up a steady mental pep talk, and by the time she made her way through the parking lot, she was feeling much better about the situation and herself. But the moment she walked inside and saw Pam in her flowing black bouncer garb, her stomach crashed to the floor. Sookie would have turned and left had the vampire not spotted her first.

"Sookie! I never had a chance to thank you for letting me pass along your message." There was a devious twinkle in her eye that caused Sookie's stomach to turn. "I take it you're here to see the master?"

Pam grabbed her by the elbow and laced her arm through hers. Sookie had seen teenage girls walk arm-in-arm countless times, but she'd never done so herself. And to do so with Pam almost made her feel as if she had a real girlfriend. The sheer ridiculousness of it made her want to laugh.

And she almost did until Pam started leading her through the bar and she realized what was actually going on. Pam wasn't being all gal pal-y with her. No, she was making sure that Sookie wasn't able to escape. She should have known that the vampire would be able to decipher the meaning behind her nervous smile. But she hadn't, and now, she was trapped.

Pam's next comment confirmed her suspicions.

"Drop the smile. It makes you look insane." The smile instantly fell from her face.

Halfway between the door and the table Eric normally occupied, Pam glanced over and checked out Sookie's outfit. Work pants and shirt. White Nikes and a red coat. From the look on her face, she didn't approve. "And this is what you've chosen to wear when thanking your lover for a gift of jewelry? Dear Abby would not-"

What Dear Abby "would not" Sookie didn't hear. Nor did she care. Once again, she was hit with a jolt of Eric's ease. But this time, it was mixed with surprise and pleasure. When she finally spotted his table, Sookie found Eric staring at her expectantly.

It was only then that she realized, if she'd been able to pick up his emotions while in the parking lot, he'd have been able to sense hers as well. Pam had most definitely been waiting for her. Not for the first time, Sookie cursed the bond tying Eric and her together.

As Eric rose to his feet, she felt Pam let go of her arm. Sookie decided that the vampire must have thought she wouldn't turn and run away now that they were with "the master." But instead of taking the few steps that would close the gap between them, she stayed put. Whether she was too nervous to move or too stubborn, she didn't know.

Sookie barely registered Connie the Corpse's voice as she took in Eric's appearance. The chilly voice sounded as if it were a million miles away when she said, "And here's one for all the undead lovers out there. It's The Five Satins with "In the Still of the Night" here on KDED radio."

The song began, soft and slow, and Sookie's heart melted when Eric smiled down at her. There was no trace of his normal arrogance or challenge. It was simply gentle and made him look more beautiful than usual. Had Sookie not seen it with her own eyes, she wouldn't have thought it possible. Her heart didn't stop at the sight of him, but it certainly sped up.

"Dance with me, lover." Before he'd finished speaking, Eric had slipped his arm inside Sookie's coat and around her waist. The intrusion of the chilly limb inside of the warm jacket caused her to gasp. She'd forgotten how cold his skin really was. Eric merely laughed as he pulled her body closer to his.

She didn't even pretend to resist.

Unlike the last time they'd danced together at Fangtasia, Eric and Sookie weren't on the dance floor, and no one was watching them. Except Pam that was. As preoccupied as she was, Sookie could still feel the other vampire's eyes glued to her backside.

Eric's arm around her back was beginning to warm up, and Sookie found herself quite comfortable in Eric's embrace. Her left hand was on his shoulder, and their free hands were clasped tightly together. It felt wonderfully familiar. But more to the point, it felt right.

"The ring is exquisite on you." There were traces of some long lost accent in his voice, but that wasn't what caught Sookie off guard. Her head had been slowly moving towards his chest until he spoke. When what he said sank in, she pulled back to look up at him.

"How would you know? You haven't seen it on me." Just as quickly as she'd pulled away, Eric pulled her back. The amusement she felt coming from him made her angry. But just a little.

"Sookie, I do not need to see the ring on you to know that it's perfect for you." Oddly enough, the strange formality of his words caused her irritation to subside.

To his answer, she had simply no response.

The silence that followed wasn't uncomfortable, and Sookie quickly found herself completely relaxed in Eric's embrace. The last time she'd been that comfortable with him, he hadn't exactly been himself. After he'd had his memory restored, Sookie was sure she'd never feel that same sort of ease and love around him again. And that had broken her heart.

But now, here she was, blood-bond or not, completely at peace with Eric Northman. The impossibility of that overwhelmed her, and the purpose for her visit came rushing back full force. She hated to break the moment, but there was something she needed to know.

Sookie sighed deeply before pulling herself away from Eric's body so she could finally look up at him. Surprisingly enough, he let her. "Eric, why did you -"

"Sookie," his voice was soft, seductive, and just enough to distract her. "Did you read the ring's inscription?"

When he cut her off, Sookie suspected that he was trying to avoid her question. She expected him to try and take her mind off the ring by brining up their long overdue talk.

What she didn't expect was for him to send her mind spinning more rapidly than it had when she'd first opened the tiny velvet jewelry box. Unfortunately, she responded by saying the very first thing that came to mind. "What?" Where was her Word-of-the-Day calendar when she really needed it?

Eric's answering chuckle and smug emotional state let her know that he'd expected this reaction. Angry with him for tricking her so easily and angry with herself for falling for it, Sookie was about to tell him off. But when his laughter ended abruptly and the arrogance shifted to something along the lines of servitude, she changed her mind.

Sookie didn't need to turn around to know that either Victor Madden or Felipe de Castro was standing behind her. And she didn't particularly care which one it was either. She had much more important things on her mind than vampire politics.

Without letting go, Eric bent over to whisper in her ear. As he did, his cold lips slid over her ear lobe. "Sookie, I must go. I'll come by your house tomorrow night. If I can." Before releasing her, he kissed her gently on the cheek.

When he walked away, Sookie stayed exactly where she was, not even turning to watch him leave. The next thing she knew, two smaller but equally cold hands were holding up her left one. Her mind still reeling, she only just heard Pam say, "So, this is the ring? Well, Eric always has had excellent taste. You know what Dear Abby would say…"

How long Pam continued on, Sookie wasn't sure. The only thing she could think was, "What inscription?"

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- I'd originally meant for "Past and Present" to a one-shot story. But after all of the love, kind words, and some of the most touching reviews I've ever received, I decided to continue on with it. So, this is my little thank you gift for all of the awesome reviews and encouragement. There will be one more part to this series.
- Quack: I don't think I thank you enough. I don't think I tell you how awesome you are enough. I'm so lucky to have you as my beta. Thank you so much.
- Reviews are love.