Disclaimer:No affiliation with True Blood here, only borrowing.

Note: Set a few weeks post season two. Written for the E/S Halloween exchange on livejournal. The parameters were cold, calculating Eric, jealous Sookie, banter, a strip club, and a cigarette. Enjoy.

The Suit Makes the Man

"You're money's no good here," Pam said, arms crossed so that her single white glove showed. She was dressed as Michael Jackson turned vamp for Halloween. I could hear a lot of people thinking it was pretty tasteless (and it was) but no one was about to shout "too soon" at the bouncer of Shreveport's only vampire bar on the best night of the year to be able to say you were at a vampire bar.

"Um, thanks Pam," I said, pushing the crumpled bills back into my wallet.

"Why?"

"Well, for not charging me the cover...."

"No. I mean it. Your money's no good. It's all wrinkled and smells like old chicken grease and cheap alcohol and cigarettes."

I found myself wiping my fingers on my jeans. Pam had a way with words. Not a nice way, mind you, but definitely a way. I laughed, half at myself. "Your customers are a bunch of rednecks, Pam. All their money's probably the same. I mean, they're the ones I got it from."

Pam's nose and upper lip twitched into a strangely precise expression of disgust. "I know," she said flatly. "And the less of it I have to touch, the better."

"Well," I said, not entirely sure how to end the conversation. "Thanks."

I was halfway through the door when Pam added, "Eric's not here, by the way."

"What? When I called, you said he was here," I said furiously.

"When you called, he was," Pam replied. Then she proceeded to let me make angry noises for a full minute before adding. "He left an address where you are to meet him."

"He expects me drive around all creation in the middle of the night?"

"Yes."

"Why?" I pressed.

"He found your boyfriend." She said, turning away from me to glance at a driver's license. "Probably something to do with that."

##

An hour, several wrong turns, and a whole bushel of creative language later I pulled up in front of the building that matched the name Pam had given me and the spot she had pointed out on my city map. There were pumpkins glowing away in fluorescent lights in the windows that clashed mightily with the bright purple Sadie's emblazoned on the door. Both colors looked down right garish alongside the red words in neon lights that filled up the rest of the window space. "Live Nudes."

"Oh, Son of a...."

I pushed my way through the first of a set of double doors. Through the second I caught a glimpse of just how live those nudes were. I didn't know if I was more impressed with the position the woman on the pole was holding or by the fact that the pole actually covered more of her than her outfit did.

"I'm meeting someone," I shouted over the music at the woman at the door when she handed me a drink menu. "A tall, blond guy?"

She smiled and clear as a bell I heard, Gonna need a little more than that to go on, sweetheart.

"Dead?" I tried.

"Oh!" She said immediately, with a whole new respect in her voice. "You're with him?I guess he would be the type to go for an innocent little thing like you. The bad ones always seem too," She said a little forlornly.

"I'm not with him," I corrected her hastily. "I'm just meeting him."

"Oh, I get it," she said with a conspiring wink. "I'm not the only girl stuck workin' tonight."

I was following her across a floor packed with men, hootin' and hollerin' like they were at a Homecoming game when her words clicked in my head. "No!" I said in horror. "He's not paying me for... for anything." That was not strictly true since Eric had paid me for Dallas but by anything I really meant sex.

But the hostess just laughed like we were old gal pals and said, "Oh honey don't worry, I would charge him either!"

"No, that's not what I...."

The fact that Eric was laughing when we finally made to the table he'd claimed in the center of the floor didn't surprise me at all (he'd know through my blood that I was well on my way to shell shock) but it seemed to annoy the blond woman who was giving him a lap dance. I could see why. A laugh's probably the last thing a girl wants to hear when she's rubbing up against a guy's crotch and wearing nothing but glitter and panties that look like dental floss, to boot.

"Sookie Stackhouse," Eric said exactly like there wasn't a half-naked stripper on his lap. He was wearing an expensive looking suit and cheap looking pair of thick-rimmed glasses. His hair was also ungreased and falling around his eyes (but that might have been the stripper's fault for all I knew).

"Signs of life in the dead man!" The stripper purred, giving Eric's crotch an enthusiastic squeeze. About time,she thought. You'd think I was losing my touch. She dragged manicured nails across her neck. "You know, you can bite me if you want."

I smiled, ready to have my laugh at his expense this time but Eric, being Eric, didn't seem bothered at all that the woman had basically just announced his arousal at the sight of me. "We're finished," he said to the lap dancer, holding out a folded bill between two fingers. Then he waited patiently while the stripper processed the fact that she was being dismissed and extricated herself from his chair and legs.

The vampire waved a hand and a chair was brought for me immediately, almost as if we were in the middle of Fangtasia instead of a strip club. I sat for a few minutes, watching the women on stage wrap themselves around the poles, sliding in lazy circles toward the floor, or climbing toward the ceiling on impossibly high heels, not quite believing I was actually here or that this wasn't the most vulgar display I'd ever seen. "You know there was a maenad in Bon Temps a little while back, right?" I asked, probably more casually than Eric expected. "I saw the parish coroner dancing naked on my front lawn and I spooned with him on my kitchen floor to stop him from shrieking since, if she heard, the maenad might have come and killed me."

"What a touching anecdote," Eric said in perfect dead-pan.

"I'm just saying, if you thought being here would ruffle my feather you've got another thing coming, buddy."

My chair had been placed close enough to Eric's that our shoulders were touching and when he turned to grin at me, his face was uncomfortably close. "When I want to ruffle your feathers, you'll know."

Any comeback I might have had died on my lips. This close up and with his hair all mussed, he looked entirely too much like he did in the dreams I tried very hard not to remember. When I realized that he would feel the sudden rush I was experiencing of a certain kind of energy, I needed to take a few calming breaths. I decided to pick as innocent a topic as I could come up with to save a little face. "What's with the glasses?"

"I am Clark Kent."

I might have snorted before I got around to laughing properly. "Eric, that is the lamest Halloween costume ever."

"Why?"

"Because you didn't do anything but put on some glasses and mess up your hair. I mean, are you even wearing a Superman shirt under that suit?" I realized after the words were out of my mouth that it probably wasn't the best idea to think about what Eric had under his clothes, let alone ask. It wasn't quite up there with sucking bullets out of his chest. But still.

"I didn't think it was necessary. Actions speak louder than...." He seemed to be considering how to end the old cliché.

"Spandex?"

Excellent. Now I'd gone from mental images of form fitting superhero t-shirts to spandex.

"So, what? You're already Superman underneath? Is that what you're getting at, Mr. Humble?" I taunted trying pretty unsuccessfully to avoid another conversational trap. "I mean sure you're strong and fast and all that but what about laser vision?"

He shook his head.

"Breath that freezes things?"

He leaned in like he might breathe on me to try it out. Then he shrugged.

"Flight?"

"I can fly." He said and I spent a minute trying to figure out how it might be a joke or some kind of innuendo.

"Whatever," I said finally. "Why are we here, Eric?"

"You've started smoking," he observed from very close to my face.

"It seemed like the thing to do," I said tartly. But it really had. I'd had a whole ton of anxious energy since Bill disappeared. Maybe anxious isn't the best word. It was a kind of energy that left me with very few options as to what to do with it. Those options being as follows: single-handedly hunting down a very dangerous vampire whose whereabouts were unknown, running around town naked and screaming and then going off after that dangerous vampire, or taking up a disgusting but soothing habit. All things considered, I figured smoking was the least likely to get me fired, committed, or killed in the immediate future. Plus, it was a really convenient excuse for taking a break at work when the occasional scream just wouldn't be contained. "Why are we here?"

A waitress in a very short velour skirt attached to a low cut "parka" of the same material handed me a gin and tonic I hadn't ordered. At least she was a practical promiscuous dresser, it was cold in the club and 'sexy eskimo' afforded more coverage than any number of other costumes I'd seen.

"Why don't you ask the question you really want to ask?" Eric said pointedly.

"Why don't you stop playing games with me?" I was probably just encouraging him by answering his question with a question but otherwise I would have had to say, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You've had my blood. You know what that means," he said. "You may be more reserved than you have been in recent history but I know there is still fervor beneath the calm front you are putting up."

Okay, so he was definitely right on a couple of points. One, I was a lot calmer than I had been a few weeks ago. Right after Bill had disappeared, I kind of snapped for a few hours. Can you blame me? I'd just gotten my life back from a crazed maenad after having gotten it back from a bunch of crazed zealots and then my almost fiance gets snatched from under my nose? It was a little much for a girl to take.

After searching frantically around the restaurant and calling everyone I knew, I'd driven home. There, in light of all the shit that defined my life, the most sensible solution seemed to be a nap. The nap kind of turned out to be more like a short coma. When I finally woke up it was to Lafayette standing over me saying, "Sook, wake up. Now."

"Go away," Id told him, squinting against the light.

"You need to invite Eric in, Sook," Lafayette said in a voice too reasonable for my sleep addled brain to argue.

I shrugged and turned into my pillow. "Eric, you can come in," I muttered.

He was in the door and up the stairs before I had time to panic, sit up, and shout, "Wait! Eric?"

He'd heard about Bill's disappearance through whatever way it is that Eric hears these things and wanted to know what I knew. The conversation didn't go well and it ended worse. Actually it ended with em trying to beat all the lying, sneaking, and conniving out of him which is just too great a task for a mortal woman to assume.

Our next two confrontations were no less volatile. Sam had gone off the radar and that left Eric as my only... hope. Hope. Not really the role I'd ever pictured for Eric in my life. I'm pretty sure Pandora would have lost it big time if Eric Northman was the only thing left in her box after all the even nastier things had been released on the world.

But now I was calm.

Calmer.

"Why. Are. We. Here?"

"I am here to do market research," Eric said. "I am considering new avenues for vampire tourism. And you, I assume, are here because you want information about Bill Compton and because I have that information. Though I suppose you could have just come here on your own for the entertainment. If that is the case, please, let me buy you a lap dance."

I smile as sweetly as I know how. "You just had to do your 'market research' when you knew I was driving down to Shreveport to talk to you?"

"Of course not," Eric said honestly. "But it is significantly less crowded here than it will be at Fangtasia tonight and being here is far more likely to cause you to blush. Which I find delicious."

"Killing two birds with one strip club, are we?"

Eric looked perplexed for about half a second and then smirked. "So you want to talk about feathers again, do you?"

"I want to talk about Bill."

Eric gave an expert eye roll. "It is as I told you, your prince charming has returned to his maker."

It wasn't a great moment of revelation. I'd been agonizing over Bill's disappearance for weeks. The police wouldn't help since vampires weren't quite citizens yet and couldn't reallybe declared missing. I'd tried anyway, of course, only to have Bud Dearborn finally crack and tell me, "The vampire's been wandering around for more than a century doing God knows what. Did you really think he would stick around forever?"

Right then I'd been angry enough to spit. Now... maybe a real lead just seemed too good to be true. "Okay Eric but you were just guessing before. Do you know for sure?"

"Yes," Eric said as if he was wondering why we were still having this conversation.

"He just asked me to marry him and then decided to skidaddle while I was in the bathroom?" I might have been fixated on finding Bill a little too hard for a little too long but I had enough perspective left to know that was sort of an obscenely illogical scenario.

Eric shrugged. "It is possible that a hooded cloak and a silver chain were involved."

I assumed he meant Lorena and that she wasn't trying out her Halloween costume. "So he was kidnapped? That's a little different than 'he returned to his maker.'"

Eric shrugged again and went back to his market research, staring intently at the stage.

"If Lorena took him then he needs help." As predicted, that got zero response from the great, big vampire pain in my ass. "So are you going to help me or did you ask me to come all the way down here just so you could tell me you were right?"

A smile threatened at the corner of Eric's mouth. "Does that sound like something I would do?"

"Yes."

The smile made good on its threat.

I turned a glare on him that I have on good authority (or the authority of the Merlotte's crowd, anyway) is pretty withering. It didn't really seem to do the trick (I guess I hadn't accounted for all the variables, maybe the Merlotte's results were more a measure of how nuts the people there think I am instead of the scariness of my facial expression). My attempt to stare a stake through his forehead was rudely interrupted by a pair of heels planting themselves squarely on the table in front of us. The fact that there was a mostly naked woman attached to those heels caused even more of a disruption.

The woman the lap dancer from before and from here I could see that she was as blond and curvy as money could buy. She was also gyrating, rolling, and shaking all that curviness right in our faces. Well, from the look on Eric's face, the visual assault on me was probably just collateral damage.

Eric looked up at the stripper appraisingly. "You want something from me, Sookie, but you bring nothing to the table."

"Very funny," I said as blondie slowed her table dance down to a seductive rocking of her hips.

"It wasn't meant to be," Eric said quietly and his voice seemed to unravel from his mouth like a silk ribbon. "If you're going to play in our world you should learn to argue from a position of strength. What do you know about me? What do you have? What do I want?"

The stripper stepped down from the table to stand on Eric's chair and then swished her hips lower and lower until she was straddling his lap. "You know, the offer still stands. You can bite me, if you want." She said and I rolled my eyes. Didn't we already do the lap dance bite me thing?

"Look," I said, standing up to give me a little height advantage and to distance myself from the words I really couldn't believe were coming out of my mouth. "If you're going to turn this into some messed up thing where I have to have sex with you so you'll help me find Bill, you can just forget it. I'll find him on my own."

Eric laughed, not denying my accusation but not looking the least bit guilty either. Not that he would. So I stood there racking my brain, he really was my best bet and he couldn't really think I'd sleep with him to find Bill, right? Not to find Bill, a really misbehaved part of my psyche teased. Shut up, you're just Eric's blood talking, I retorted.

Eric was having a one-sided conversation of his own. "Quite the determined woman aren't you?" He was saying in that voice like velvet. "I turned you down once but you persist. It's admirable in its own way." Eric had the stripper caught in his gaze and she was leaning in, turning her neck toward him. "Strength of will is such a rare trait in a human."

My eyes widened. He wasn't really going to bite her in here, was he? But when I looked around, everyone in the club seemed to be looking away very deliberately. I snorted. "I don't think you really need to glamour her, I think it's safe to say she wants you to bite her."

He broke his gaze from the glamoured stripper and turned his eyes up to me. "I agree," he said. "But I don't really want her here for this."

"Huh?" I asked very eloquently.

Then he bit her.

His eyes never left mine, staring at me past oiled, tanned skin and a head of blond hair. I could see the movement of the delicate muscles of his face as he sucked at the wound on her neck and I could hear her little gasps that were neither pleasure nor pain but something new altogether. The blonde pressed herself closer to him, rolling her hips on his lap, her spine twisting and writhing in time with the rhythmic suction of his mouth. He held my eyes and maybe it was a trick of his blood but I felt the pull of his mouth in the pit of my stomach, dropping lower, drawing me toward him like a negative pressure, like gravity.

To my credit, I didn't move an inch forward. Less to my credit, I was gripping the back of my chair and promising God a lot of things if He would just keep my knees from going out. It was all wasted effort anyway, Eric would have definitely noticed that my pulse had jumped up a good hundred points. "Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea I need a cigarette."

With that oh-so-convenient excuse I marched out of the club on legs so unsteady you would have thought I was wearing stripper heels.

It was chilly in the night air of late October but, burgeoning nicotine addict that I was, I still couldn't bring myself to smoke indoors. Outside the front door of Sadie's I took my first drag and melted a little, like all the cells in my body had finally remembered how to fit together, like I'd sunk into a warm bath that relaxed every muscle but left me buzzing at the same time, like... yeah, smoking's a revolting habit. I know.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the patch of the parking lot that was lit by the security light and it completely killed my buzz. I'd made sure to park under the light, what with this being an unfamiliar part of town and a strip club to boot. But the only evidence of my car that remained under that light was a smattering of broken glass glittering away in the sodium glare. "You've got to be fucking kidding me," I said to no one in particular. No, scratch that. To everyone.

I snubbed my cigarette out on the sidewalk and spun on my heels, intending to march right back the way I'd come. But my progress was interrupted by a large expanse of chest and Egyptian wool. I didn't have to look up to recognize the wall that had been placed so inconveniently. "Come on Eric, I changed my mind. Your place or mine? But I hope you don't mind driving because somebody stole my car."

"Why?" Eric asked with perfect sincerity.

And that did it. "I have no idea!" I said, half laugh, half wail. "Why would anyone take mycar? Seriously. It's a piece of crap. And it still took me forever to save up for it. Why? Why would someone take it? It's my car. It's the only car that's ever been mine." I wasn't crying but I was leaning against Eric's chest like I might start. Oddly enough he was sort of stroking my hair. It wasn't as soothing as nicotine but.... "Sure," I said into his chest. "'Mine' you would get. Vampires."

"Tell me Sookie," he said. "Is it Bill that you've been seeking so steadfastly these past weeks or the idea of Bill? Is it he that affects you so greatly or that he has been taken from you?"

I stepped back from him. "Oh do not go all vampire shrink on me," I said, tapping out another cigarette.

Eric laughed like I'd answered his question. "You know," he said as I flicked my lighter to life. "You have just the right temperament for a vampire."

I stood frozen in the moment of déjà vu, forgetting to draw on the cigarette so its tip just roasted in the flame of my lighter but didn't catch. "Fuck," I said, as a ward against against the realization that had come over me.

"You smoke and you curse," Eric said, breaking me out of my trance. "Perhaps Compton should leave you more often. If nothing else, it's made you more colorful.

I ignored him. "You don't want me to sleep with you."

"And you lie."

I ignored him again. "You said to think of what I had to offer. Which is nothing. Well, other than telepathy which I've already promised you and sex which you know you're not going to get. But you also said to think about what I know about you and what you want," I said, putting the pieces together. "I know you're a good maker. You released Pam like Lorena released Bill, only she didn't have to force you. And I know that's important to you because Godric was a good maker."

Eric was starting to look like what, for a vampire, might pass as uncomfortable but he had brought it on himself. "And I know you take care of the people you're responsible for. Bill told me that, even though he kind of hates you, he still told me that. And that's why you're going to help me. Because Lorena is a terrible maker and because Bill lives in your Area so you're responsible for him."

Eric just looked at me steadily.

He was going to help me but he wanted to make sure I knew why first. Bastard. I closed my eyes, put my hand, unlit cigarette and all to my forehead and let out a frustrated scream. "You know, that's the worst thing about dreaming about you," I said with my eyes still closed. "It's not that I always seem to be having sex with you or letting you bite me. It's that the rest of the time you've got me convinced that there might be something to you. That, in some twisted way, you might be someone worth dreaming about."

I kept my eyes shut for a good five minutes but can you blame me? I'd just blabbed pretty much my deepest, darkest secret-- that I wasn't fantasizing about sex with Eric but about a relationship with Eric.

Kill me.

In all the time I had my eyes closed, Eric didn't seem to have anything to say. But the second I opened my eyes he was right up in my face, his skin glowing under the moonlight and filling my vision. "Don't worry lover, they are only dreams."

I closed my eyes against him one more time. "Are you really going to help me find Bill?"

"I've already arranged a contact for you in Jackson."

Jackson? What was in Jackson? "Bill's in Jackson?"

"It would appear so."

"Thank you, Eric." I said with as much sincerity as I could muster.

"You leave tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow?" I said in alarm. Then back-peddled, not wanting to seem ungrateful. "I'll have to make arrangements at work and...." I gestured rather helplessly at the parking lot.

"Your car will returned to you by sunrise," he said and grinned savagely enough that I felt a little bad for whoever had taken it. "Unless the thieves have realized what a sad piece of machinery they've taken and done the sensible thing and burned it."

I let the slight against my car go. "Please, just don't kill anyone."

"Would it make you love me less?" He quipped.

"Eric, I mean it."

"You always do. Now come, it's late and you have a rescue to plan." He held out an arm to me.

"Where did you park?" I asked straining to see the rest of the parking lot.

"I didn't," he said with a wink.

As it turned out, he really could fly.

I can't really do justice to the experience of flying with Eric. Suffice it to say that it was sure something. And enough of something to balance out the utter shit that had been the earlier part of the night. Enough of something that after I extricated myself from his long limbs when we were safely back on the ground and I thanked him one last time for good measure, I almost closed that little bit of distance between us to kiss him until my oxygen deprivation set it. Or maybe kiss him but follow it with a good slap. Just so we understood each other.

But it had been a terrifyingly fantastic journey, full of adrenaline and nerves, and my mouth was already busy with a cigarette.

Disgusting, those cigarettes, but sometimes they're the only option.

End