Of Rubies and Reasons
Truth and Consequences
Sookie had been wearing Eric's ring for weeks. But now, she had to take it off.
It wasn't because of what Sam said. Or Amelia.
No, it was Eric himself.
The day before, everything had come to a head, boiled over. Emotions had been running to high, and Sookie hadn't been able to take it anymore. She was fed up with Sam. Sick of his attitude, she'd confronted him. It had taken one question from him, seven words, to finally break her resolve about Eric and the ring.
"What does he want from you, Sookie?"
What did he want from her?"
Honestly, she had no clue what he wanted. Well, there was the obvious: sex. But if that were really the case, if a roll in the sack were Iall/I he wanted, Eric could easily have glamored anyone to "yield" to him. And in many cases, the glamour would be unnecessary. After all, Eric was gorgeous, and he received countless offers every night at Fangtasia. A fact that still made Sookie a little nauseous.
But if not sex, what?
When she'd slipped the ring on her finger, Sookie had told herself that she'd just wait and see what happened. She'd wait for Eric to appear mysteriously some night or for him to return the message she'd left with Pam. But days had become weeks, and she'd heard nothing from the vampire.
She'd brushed it off, convinced herself to just go about her daily routine. Because, as she was so prone to telling herself, this was Eric after all. Bar owner, entrepreneur, sheriff, and whatever he was to the new king, Eric was a busy guy. He had a lot of responsibilities to take care of. He'd show up when he could.
And Sookie had been fine with that until she'd spoken with her boss. He very quickly had burst the nice little bubble of explanation she'd come up with for herself. And after that, she'd had to know.
When she'd stormed out of Merlotte's, she hadn't planned to go to Fangtasia. She'd been too angry with Sam and herself to notice where she'd been heading. Thankfully, she hadn't gotten into any accidents along the way.
Sookie had gone into the bar nervous but determined to get some answers out of Eric. "Why did you give me a Christmas present?" and "What do you want from me?" had been at the top of her list. Oh, there had been others, but those had been the most pressing.
But Eric had managed to keep her from asking either. Well, she'd gotten out half a question before he'd interrupted her. And with one sentence, seven words, he'd managed to completely distract her.
"Sookie, did you read the ring's inscription?"
And now, she was sitting in her bathtub, an untouched romance novel and Diet Coke by her side, and she had to take off Eric's ring. The only thing she'd been able to think, since the night before was "what inscription?"
And to make matters worse, it was her day off, so she hadn't even had the brain-numbing task of taking orders to keep her mind from wandering off and obsessing over the inscription. Instead, she'd spent the day cleaning, even though Amelia had already cleaned the house from top to bottom the day before. The witch had wisely stayed out of her way, even though Sookie had been able to tell she was dying to ask what was going on.
The moment the sun had begun to set, Sookie realized she couldn't put it off any longer. She needed to find out what was inside the ring. And so, after a long days cleaning, she decided that she needed a bath herself. If not to remove the layer of sweat she'd built up, but to calm her frazzled nerves.
Eric had said he would try to come by, and she knew he would do everything in his power to do just that. And so, her time was limited. She needed to find out what the ring said and now.
Her tub was full of water that had once been hot and bubbly, but still she sat in the middle of it. With her knees pulled up to her chest, she was trying to bring herself to pull Eric's ruby off of her finger. The same litany of questions that had been running through her mind since last night continued to torment her as she stared at the glittering jewel. "Inscription? What inscription? How was I supposed to know…"
Fed up with wondering, fed up with Eric and all the grief his ring had caused her, and most importantly, fed up with her own cowardice, Sookie unceremoniously pulled the ring from her finger. Because her skin was wet, it slid off easily, leaving her hand feeling oddly empty.
The first thing she noticed was that the skin underneath the band was paler than the rest of her hand. She hadn't thought to take it off when she'd gone tanning a few days ago. And now she had the outline of Eric's gift imprinted on her skin. Even if it was only temporary.
Knowing that she didn't have time to waste, Sookie took a deep, steadying sigh before raising the band up to eye level. There, engraved in the white gold, in a slightly slanting script, were the words, 'My lover'.
Shocked, she dropped her hands back into the soapy water. Sookie couldn't stop herself from saying out loud, "That's so obvious. I should have known." Feeling strangely let down, she slipped the ring back on her finger, where it now belonged.
Sookie tried to shake off the feeling of disappointment that had settled in the pit of her stomach. After all, what had she expected? What had she wanted to find inside the ring? She didn't have an answer for either question, and she didn't think she wanted to know the answer to the second.
Her bath finished, and the mystery revealed, Sookie climbed out of the tub feeling let down. Just as she'd finished pulling on a pair of blue jeans, the chirping of her cell phone filled her bedroom. When she picked it up, the tiny display screen read, 'Fangtasia'. Cautiously, she flipped it open. "Hello?"
"Sookie," Pam's voice sounded giddy, or as giddy as a vampire's voice could sound anyway. "Eric is on his way over. Make yourself presentable."
Sookie stared at the phone incredulously. Since when did Pam give her fashion advice? And when had she purposely seen Eric looking un-presentable? Granted, he'd seen her looking pretty bad some days, but that was never on purpose. There was always a reason.
She merely said, "Thanks Pam," before hanging up the phone and rolling her eyes.
As far as she was concerned, jeans and a t-shirt were just fine. After all, that was what Eric usually wore. If it was good enough for him, it was certainly good enough for her. The shirt she'd slipped on was the free one Pam had given her from Fangtasia, and it was beginning to show some wear. But that didn't matter; she'd have her coat on over it anyway. She pulled her damp hair up into a ponytail and threw on some sugar cookie-flavored lip-gloss, but that was it. She didn't bother with any other makeup.
The sun had completely set since she'd climbed in the tub, and given Pam's call, Sookie decided it was time to go outside and wait for Eric. Yes, it was January. Yes, it was cold out. But if he were to come in, one thing would lead to another. It was inevitable. And they needed, had to have their talk before anything else happened between them.
On her way outside, Sookie grabbed a heavy blanket out of the hall linen closet, in addition to her coat. If she were going to sit out in the cold, she was going to try and be as warm as possible.
Before walking out the front door, she made sure that the tortoise shell buttons of her jacket were secure and threw the black and red fleece blanket she kept for football games around her shoulders. She was just going out on the porch, so she didn't lock the door, but she did grab her cell phone and keys just in case. In the time since she'd met Bill, Sookie had learned to keep herself prepared for anything and everything at all times.
She'd only been sitting outside for a few minutes when Eric's car came speeding up her driveway. It was only then that she remembered she had him to thank for the fresh gravel. And right then, it struck her, how much he'd insinuated himself in her life. The gravel and her front door. The coat and phone. And of course, the ruby ring on her finger. They were all gifts from him. And of course, she was connected to him, tied to him, by blood.
And all of this, not to forget what happened when he lost his memory, led to a lot of confusion.
As Eric came striding towards her, Sookie made up her mind. They had a lot to talk about, and it wasn't all related to his gift. Before he could speak, before he could even open his mouth, Sookie held up her left hand, as if to say stop. "Eric, I rescind your invitation into my home." Her voice was quiet but firm.
In response, he stopped in his tracks, a single raised eyebrow speaking for him.
"Not permanently." She dropped her hand, thanking her lucky stars that she couldn't hear what was going through his head. "Just until we get things… sorted out."
Eric nodded his head as if he understood. But Sookie could tell, by his expression, and emotions that he was put out and confused. She couldn't quite understand his confusion. After all, he was Eric. He should know perfectly well what he was like. And a blushing flower, he was not.
For a few minutes, they stared at one another. Sookie couldn't tell what Eric was thinking. And for once, she wished she could. It would have made the moment so much easier. Instead, she was stuck with her own warring mass of thoughts and an irritated vampire.
Truth be told, there was no easy way to begin this particular conversation. And so, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "You never returned my call." It was childish and petty, but it was the best she had.
"Was I supposed to?" It wasn't insulting. He was simply being matter-of-fact.
But that didn't mean the comment didn't sting.
Sookie just stared at him. Of course Eric Northman wouldn't observe normal, human phone courtesy. "Well, it would have been nice." She sounded petulant even to herself.
"That aside, do you-"
Now that she'd started the conversation, she wanted, needed it to go her way. If she were to allow Eric to steer them off in another direction, she'd never get the answers she needed. So she cut him off mid-sentence. That might have been rude for humans and vampires alike, but she just didn't care. "Why did you give me the ring, Eric?"
Now, he was more than put out with her. It was in his face, his stance, his emotions. "Why can you not just accept a gift?"
He'd answered her questions with another. It was obvious to her that he was just as determined to control their talk as he was. Sookie managed to keep her voice firm, impersonal. "Because you don't give just gifts." In retrospect, her sentence sounded strange and garbled. But she continued on anyway. "So, why?"
Sookie was unsurprised by the look of anger on Eric's face. In his mind, she, as a human, was being unforgivably impertinent. But if they were going to have something together, well, he was just going to have to get over it. And even though he was staring her down, she didn't look away or speak. It was time for him to fess up, and she wasn't about to let him off the hook.
After a very long wait, he spoke.
"You once accused me of not…" The irritation in his voice was obvious, but Sookie wasn't about to interrupt. "Showing you how I feel. Of not making my intentions known."
Sookie was so shocked that she would have swore her eyebrows had jumped all the way up to her hairline. She had to clench her jaw to keep from laughing, because really, it wasn't funny. A confession like that should have been romantic. But, of course, Eric had managed to make it the most un-romantic, most ominous thing she'd ever heard. And that was saying something.
Finally managing to swallow her giggles, Sookie looked up at Eric. "And this is your way of making your intentions known."
Eric merely looked down at her, a stony expression on his face.
If her amusement wasn't gone before, it certainly was now. She knew what was coming next. She didn't even try to stop it. "Do you regret what happened?" For once, her words were devoid of emotion, and that only reinforced her seriousness.
Eric didn't ask what she meant or pretend to not understand what she was referring to. Even though she hadn't said the words, it was clear that Sookie was talking about what happened when he'd lost his memory. Just as dispassionately, he replied with a simple, "No."
Sookie merely nodded her head, but her heart was racing. She wasn't surprised when Eric's voice, strangely quiet, said, "Do you?"
Absentmindedly, Sookie twisted the ruby ring around her finger. It was something that was very quickly turning into a nervous habit. She didn't need to consider her answer, but she knew that once she gave it, their present, their future, would change. She could only hope that it would be for the better. Whatever that was. Her own answer was a simple, resigned, "No."
This time, it was Eric's turn to nod, but as he did, his face split into a wide, wicked smile. "Does this mean that I may be re-invited into your home, my lover?"
Sookie couldn't help it. She just had to laugh. There was no point in trying not to. "I guess it does." Their talk was over; it was nowhere near what she'd imagined it would be.
His eyes widened in surprise. "Do you mean you're finally going to yield to me, Sookie?" There was no mistaking the hope in his voice.
"No, Eric. Not tonight." Sookie stood up and pulled the red and black blanket more tightly about her body. She hadn't noticed it before, but the cold was sinking in. Part of her resolve had included scenarios for what would happen after their discussion. And she planned to follow through with her decisions. No matter how amazing Eric looked in the moonlight.
The speed at which his face went from wolfish eagerness to disappointment was nothing short of comical, and Sookie couldn't stop her laughter. "If we're going to do this, I want to do it right." She knew she was asking for the impossible, but she was going to make her demands anyway. "I want a real date. And I want you to call me on the phone yourself. Not Pam."
"You do realize that, despite my not regretting what happened, I don't actually intend to follow through with those plans, right?" Once again, Eric's voice was stony.
"Of course not." In her heart, Sookie knew he would never be the same man she'd fallen in love with when he'd lost his memory. There was no hope of marriage or of him giving up everything for her. But that didn't stop her from wanting a proper date. "But I want more than just 'yielding' to you."
Eric didn't respond; he didn't even snort or sigh to show his feelings. Sookie could feel his emotions, and they were flipping through a number of different things. The feeling was enough to make her feel seasick. It was simply too much at once. A strong sense of relief flooded her senses when he finally stopped and settled on, of all things, resignation.
"So, when you have some free time, give me a call. You know my number." Not giving Eric a chance to respond, Sookie walked to the door of her house. Turning the knob, she looked back at him one last time. "Thanks for the ring. It really is beautiful."
As she walked into the house and shut the door, Sookie was aware that Eric was still standing in her driveway. She couldn't help but smile a little bit to herself. For once, she was the one making the grand exit.
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- To everyone that has reviewed any part of this series, thank you so much. When I originally came up with the idea for "Past and Present," it was a silly little fic about Eric and Sookie decorating a Christmas tree together. And… it just morphed from there. With out all your kind words and enthusiasm, I wouldn't have continued the story beyond "Past and Present". So, this really is for all of you. Thanks again.
- Quack: You are the best beta. My work is so much better because of you. Thanks so much. :duck:
- As always, reviews are love.