Title: A Very SVM Christmas Carol

To: FangbangerLayla

Summary: On Christmas Eric has to make his final decision of whether to make the marriage to Oklahoma official and wed by New Years or to take his final chance by defying his maker and his king. To help him with his decision, apparitions try to assist him to understand his past, his present, and the possible consequences of his future.

A/N: Thanks to VampQueenV and Sheetse for pre-reading, and tons of adoration to Shellsfantasea for her beta work. Love you ladies! SVM belongs to Charlaine Harris; I'm just making snow angels in her yard. ;) Have a Merry Christmas and wonderful holiday season, everyone! Specifically to FangbangerLayla: I hope you enjoy it and have a Merry Christmas.

A/N2: Canon; Spoilers through all twelve books; warning: reference to but no depictions of canon child abuse

"I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,
C. D.
December, 1843." – Charles Dickens before
A Christmas Carol

Stave 1: Claudine's Ghost

Claudine had died; there was no doubt. She had been trying to become an angel. And whether she succeeded, Eric didn't know. But she was no longer alive for sure.

In the most recent fairy civil war, between Sookie Stackhouse's great-grandfather Niall and his brother Breandan, there were many deaths.

Sookie's paternal grandfather, Fintan, was one of those deaths. Though Eric was on amenable terms with Prince Niall when it was mutually prosperous, there was an element of true friendship between Eric and Niall's son Fintan.

They had met a few centuries ago when Eric signed the contract with Sophie-Anne to work as her sheriff in the largest area of her territory. As the two were natural enemies, they immediately clashed before developing a strong respect for one another.

Sookie's parents were additional casualties. Before Fintan died, the water fae had been following him, trying unsuccessfully to kill him. When the fae pushed Sookie's parents off a bridge and held them under the water to drown them, it had been right after Fintan had crossed the same bridge, leaving his lover for the last time as she shooed him away to take care of their grandchildren. It was the water fae's good luck to sense Niall's royal blood in Corbett Stackhouse. And it wasn't hard for them to murder the unsuspecting couple.

Sookie's Aunt Linda was a victim as well. The cancer had already weakened her immune system. The stupid human doctors used their chemotherapy to try to kill the cancer before both the cancer and its treatment could kill their patient. Already weak from the poisonous treatment, it was easy for the water fae to fill her lungs with fluid and cause the pneumonia that actually killed her.

Fintan was more difficult. But when his son was killed and his daughter died soon after, he could not think sensibly. He went off half-cocked and was captured by Breandan's dynamic duo: Neeve and Lochlan. Fintan's death was not one Eric ever cared to picture. He had seen what Neeve and Lochlan had done to his Sookie.

Clancy had died the same night Claudine had. Really, it was unprecedented in two ways. Never before had vampire and fae teamed up against an enemy. More to the point, vampires put themselves at risk to involve themselves in a fae war of no consequence to them.

However, the water fae had begun their involvement by attacking the sheriff's bonded wife, an act that caused fully acceptable repercussions. Clancy death in that incident, however, was regrettable. He was a good vampire, though Sookie had never really liked him. Not that Sookie's opinion of his vampires mattered.

Claudine's death seemed to be the one that affected his lover the most. He understood the loss she felt and understood the loss Niall also felt with her death. Not only was she his granddaughter, but she was also pregnant in a race that was having a lot of difficulty reproducing.

Eric remembered, occasionally, from his human days, how hard it had been when a woman and child would die in childbirth. His own Aude and their child had died in that manner.

Sookie had taken Claudine's death hard. She had been so happy her Godmother had been pregnant, perhaps because she knew she would never have a child of her own with her vampire. The idea that Claudine, who had such high aspirations, had died protecting her really hurt his lover.

And somehow, with that whole mess going on, he had dismissed the rumors he heard of his maker being on this side of the pond. While Appius preferred Europe and its more established hierarchy, it was completely possible he had worn out his welcome. If Eric had not been dealing with the fairy war, perhaps he could have prevented the current problem that had him tearing his hair out. Literally. Of course, he would only do so before bed, knowing it would regrow while he was dead for the day.

There were many destroyed keyboards, mice, and even entire computers that had suffered his wrath from his impotence in the face of his dilemma.

Appius had bought his and Alexi's freedom from New York state's King (which was only in danger after Alexi went on one of his sprees) by brokering Eric's marriage to the King's child, who needed help establishing security and prosperity of her newly obtained queendom.

Thus, Appius negotiated with the King and Freyda to marry Eric off. With the takeover, the Fae war, the repercussions of Clancy's death, and Pam's 'defiance' of Victor, his maker snuck this up on him without him knowing. Since leaving Appius's side, he had always made sure he was never caught completely unaware. Yet with his return and death, his maker had blindsided him one last time.

Since he had flown away from Sookie on her birthday, he had had little contact with her. There were always people watching, observing, reporting. He did not let Felipe know they were at odds. They spoke on the phone at least weekly. But she was busy with her bar. He was busy with his bar. They saw each other maybe once a month. She didn't ask about the contract. He didn't mention it. He didn't bring up the fairy love token that granted wishes. She didn't mention her cluviel dor either.

And in the meantime his deadline was looming nearer. Tomorrow, when he woke up, he needed to make his decision official. If he was going to go to Oklahoma he would need to sign the contract and fax it to his lawyer so that a week later, on the first of January, he could officially join with Freyda.

Eric didn't even want to think about that date and what it meant. His time with Sookie had really begun on the first of January when she picked him up as he ran towards his 'heart's desire' unaware. Marrying Freyda on the same night two years later seemed almost like sacrilege.

However, his other option involved possibly even more sacrifice. The fastest way to die as a vampire was to take a kingdom and be unprepared for it. As his own King, he would not be bound to join his state with Oklahoma and could not be Freyda's consort.

But Eric never wanted to be King, especially in a state with so many problems. A huge population of vampires in New Orleans that brought out drainers galore. Fairy portals. The only known relations of the last Fairy Prince. The home of the famed telepath, the only one now that Stan's had disappeared. Maenads. A database that helped in amazing ways but could also be used as a weapon against all vampires. Witches. – the list of pitfalls was daunting.

Would being King solve his problems or only create more? He loved Sookie, but for how long would she be alive even with his help? She had already demanded he never turn her. So where did that leave him in fifty or sixty years? Even if he took Louisiana, would he be able to keep her safe? Again, the quickest way to die as a vampire was to take a kingdom unprepared. If he met the true death, something he never intended to do, he would be of no help to her anyways.

He leaned his head back and hit solid wood, making him realize he had been in downtime and it was about time for Fangtasia to close. About time for him to determine his future.

Sighing he looked around at the black-adorned fangbangers. The few tourists in attendance were wearing some variation of red and green; seriously, the colors clashed together. And Jesus was not born in the cold season. A girl with black-dyed hair and ridiculously huge breast implants came up to him. "Merry Christmas, Master. Can I make your Christmas merry?" she asked in an annoying voice with an exaggerated wink.

"Fuck off," Eric said in response, standing up and walking towards his office.

"You don't mean that; you mean fuck me. I'd be happy to." She wouldn't give up.

He grew enraged. She was not Sookie. He had not fucked anyone but Sookie since they had pledged. For some reason, though beautiful, he was not looking forward to fucking Freyda if he was forced to marry her. Wrapping his large hand around the fake gothic girl's neck and squeezing slightly, he glared at her. "I do mean fuck off. And what the fuck do you have to be merry about? Look at you. You have no family. You have no one who cares about you enough to be with you on Christmas Eve. You are a pathetic desperate excuse for a woman."

He threw her aside, and the too skinny woman coughed to get air back into her lungs, her throat sore from his grip. "Yeah? Well then look at yourself. Why are you upset? You have people desperate to be with you for a night. I've come here every night this week. You take women back to your office nightly, often more than one per night. They always come out looking satisfied with fang marks that weren't there before. So what the hell are you complaining about?"

"Fuck. Off." Eric replied, glancing at Pam to take care of it. Eric glared at her, wanting to kill or glamour the girl because of her mouth, but the police, due to Claude's bullshit, were still watching him. The feeding he did was necessary, and then for appearance and to not lose business, the girls were glamoured to believe they had the night of their lives.

He walked back towards his office, but instead of settling down to work he just grabbed his paperwork and left the building. He flew to Bon Temps, not even needing to check his direction anymore. He knew his way to her by feel alone.

He floated outside her window, noting the twinkling fairy lights that decorated her home. He saw her smile in her sleep; though he wanted to imagine it was because of him, he didn't think it was possible. Jason would be joining her here tomorrow with his pregnant girlfriend. Sookie would cook a meal, and they would spend Christmas day together.

Tonight Sookie had been at her bar, working with Bon Temps' merry revilers who were too God-fearing to venture to Fangtasia.

He smiled sadly, watching her sleep. The artificial tree in her living room was something he hadn't seen from inside her home yet, but through the window he could remember times as a young vampire, watching the holiday develop and, occasionally, seeing the beauty of its simplicity.

But maybe that's what Sookie needed. Simple. Uncomplicated. And he was anything but. He tore his eyes away from her sleeping form and sighed.

He flew home and just stared at the contract, reading it over and over, going through different options and different plans. Trying to find a solution.

The night had darkened even more as the clouds threatened to burst. It was cold enough, for once in this endless hot and humid area, to snow. And Eric wanted it to.

Flipping on the Vampire radio to drown out the quiet, Christmas music flooded the air:

"God bless you, merry gentleman!
May nothing you dismay!"

With a growl, he punched the radio, completely destroying it. But before he had, he could have sworn he had seen Claudine's face in the reflection of the shiny plastic. However when he looked again, it was gone.

It was official. He was going insane. He locked his doors and went into his secure resting place, meaning he was triply locked in on his own. Stripping down to nothing, he lied down and thought while waiting for the dawn.

He looked at the ceiling, and he would have sworn that he saw Claudine's face scattered across it.

"Fuck," he cursed, floating himself up before realizing he was just seeing things and lying down again. Did vampires ever go crazy from stress?

Suddenly, the ihome next to his bed turned on to the radio blaring Christmas music. His iphone rang with a song neither he nor Pam had downloaded. The music most familiar from the movie Home Alone rang out. Maybe it lasted a minute. Maybe the tune went on for an hour, but Eric lied, frozen in his spot when suddenly it all stopped.

He blinked his eyes, trying to will the day to come and take him from his madness. Suddenly his bathroom door slammed open and steam, as if from a ridiculously hot shower poured out of the room. The apparition of none other than Claudine appeared before him. Even without her tasty smell, the modelesque woman dressed only in one of his plush towels drew him to her. But she was fairly transparent. Literally. A ghost.

"Hey, Sexy," Claudine's ghost said with a giggle, taking in Eric's naked form without any shyness.

"What do you want? Who are you?" Claudine was dead.

"Ask me who I was."

"Who were you then?" Eric asked, exasperated.

"In life I was Sookie's godmother, Claudine Crane."

Eric sighed and grabbed a pair of jeans. Because he didn't have enough to fuckin' deal with.

"Don't you believe I'm real?" Claudine asked as her towel slipped down slightly, almost exposing her breasts, which wouldn't be as tempting anymore since they were unsuckleable now.

"Nope."

Opening her mouth, Claudine let out a ridiculously deafening screech that echoed in the small space.

"Stop!" Eric cried, his ears screaming in pain. "Fine! I believe in you. Why the hell are you here? With me?"

"I'm here because I must be. Everyone has his place. And now, since you took away my eye candy – if Claude knew I saw your gracious plenty he'd be SO jealous! – I may as well get to why I am here." Eric looked at her, exasperated. Hadn't he just asked her to tell him that? "I am here to warn you that you have a chance of helping Sookie escape my fate. You will be haunted by three spirits."

"No thanks."

"If they do not come here, you are condemning her, Vampire! Expect the first – oh shoot! I was supposed to do this yesterday! It's so damn hard to figure out the timing with vampires! Well, she'll be here in about four minutes. Please, Eric, do not doom my Goddaughter."

And just as suddenly as she had thrown the door open, she and the steam both disappeared.

Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits

With each minute that passed, Eric stared at the bathroom door, waiting for it to emit steam and grant another ghost's visit. The towel that had been around Claudine had fallen to the floor, where it still lay.

If he had a heartbeat, it would be pounding in his chest in anticipation. 'How can I kill a spirit who is probably only there in my mind?' he thought, ignoring the obvious evidence of the misplaced towel.

He had, not only the modern ihome and his phone, but also an old clock with a wind-up mechanism on the wall. He had made it with his own hands. Though he could feel the passing seconds, it took far too many of them for the minute hand to move one space. Looking at the timer on his phone, it was at least ten second before the timer progressed forward.

He tried to think. Witches. It must be more fucking witches doing this to him. Or fairies. Claudine was a fairy. But would the fae really show her as a spirit to him, when it was the highest honor among fae to be visited by a loved one's spirit before he or she passed into the Summerlands?

No, it wouldn't be a fairy. And a witch would not have been able to breach various protective enchantments around his day chamber.

The minutes dragged by ridiculously slowly. "Finally," he breathed as the four minutes were up.

He spoke just before the fourth minute passed and, as it did, his room filled with a blinding light and his closet door was pushed open from the inside.

Eric sat, staring, as a familiar blonde head poked out and she let out a shriek as she tumbled forward and rolled into the room, a shoebox stuck around her foot.

She was white – everything was. Her skin. Her hair. Everything but her eyes, which were the same dark brown they always were. "Master!" the ghost cried out happily.

"Ginger."

"I can never get my grand entrance just right," she complained with a sigh, tossing her white hair over her shoulders.

She was dressed in a short black skirt and black bandeau top that made her whiter-than-a-vampire skin seem all the more obvious.

"Are you the spirit Claudine mentioned?"

"Yup!" Her voice was just as annoying in timbre, but almost seemed to come from down a long hallway, despite her being right before him. She pulled a piece of paper out of the top of her skirt and read in a staccato and flat tone, "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"Whose past?" he asked, trying to figure this out. Ginger was dead. She had died while he had been an amnesiac when the same curse that disfigured Belinda caused Ginger to smack her head on the sink and die in Fangtasia's bathroom. She had been dead for almost two years.

"Huh?" Ginger questioned. "Whose past?" she asked him. She obviously didn't understand the question.

"Nevermind. So what brings you here?"

"I was told to come here. Your warfare – I mean your welfare depends on it." That perked him up as well. Claudine had only mentioned Sookie. Was he in danger too based on this decision?

Ginger pulled the box off her bare white foot and pulled herself up. Bowing, she said, "Master do you mind if I touch your arm? I need you to come with me." She didn't hesitate, because he really didn't have a choice, and she wrapped her hand gently around his arm.

She walked with him, back towards the closet doors. "Don't worry, Master. I'll take care of you."

She was walking towards the wall. She was going to walk into the wall. "Ginger—" he started as she was about to collide with it, but suddenly they were outdoors.

The darkness that had clouded his eyes was gone and Eric recognized an old village. The land was different. It was not where he was born. But as he looked around, he knew he had lived there as a young man. His mouth dropped open, taking the area in. The mounds of snow didn't deter the humans from living there. He heard animals in the homes, kept there to keep warmth within the buildings.

It was dark. There were times when the sun was hardly up this time of year, so the color of the sky didn't indicate much about the time of day. It was the time of Yule for his people, the holiday of celebration called Jól. He couldn't tell if it was before the Norwegian King Haakon I Christianized it or if the celebration was still held for three days at the solstice, but it was definitely the time to celebrate Jólnir, another name for Odin the All Father.

A man who looked familiar, almost like looking in a slightly skewed mirror, was leaving one of the old makeshift houses and walking toward a building near the center of the cluster of houses from which quite a bit of noise was coming.

"He won't know we're here. But I am sure you recognize him," Ginger spoke.

"Leifur," Eric said, his voice no longer emotionless. His brother was a grown man, and he was walking towards the celebration. It was obviously before he made the famous journey to find North America during a time when he was staying in what is now Norway.

The celebration was at the temple. Feasting was done. Ale was consumed in mass quantities. Livestock and horses were killed as sacrifice to the gods and the idols, walls, and men were sprinkled with blood.

Once the ritual of the sacrifice was complete, the meat of the animals was not wasted. It was boiled and served at a large banquet for the entire village. Fires were lit to boil the blood, and the chieftain blessed it and the meat.

Eric followed his brother into the temple, and they arrived as the toasts were in full swing.

They drank first to Odin, for victory and power to the king, Tor, and Frøy. They drank again to Njörðr and Freyr for good harvest and for peace. Again, they drank to the king. And then the minni began, the toast to those who had died. Eric's own death was not so recent as to be mentioned tonight.

Eric recalled, as he watched the festivities, that Yule was a time of mirth and joy among his people. They would also cut down the largest tree and burn it in a Yule Log Ceremony to honor the gods and bring good luck.

Looking at his brother, Eric smiled as he also saw some boys who were old enough to be with the men partaking in the festivities. And his mouth dropped open slightly as he saw shadows of his own sons. When he died, Eric had two sons and a daughter still alive. While he had never loved his wife the way he did Sookie, he had cared for his children once they got to a certain age. His oldest boy was already looking like a young man, with small but defined muscles from work and swordplay. His second son was his youngest child when he had been taken by Appius. Born fifth, he was still just a boy, but he had only been a baby when Eric had last seen him. But here he was, celebrating with the men, obviously pleased to be drinking the ale before the food was brought to everyone.

Tracks of red tears drifted down his face. "They mourned your loss, you know," Ginger said softly. "Leif did well with them. But your boys missed their father." Eric nodded allowed her to grasp his arms once more. He didn't want to leave, but apparently it was time. With one last look at his boys and their mirth, they left the temple.

Once more, darkness blocked his vision and when it cleared, he almost mourned that they were not still in his old village. However, he recognized England in the Victorian era.

"Pam," Eric murmured softly; his mind was still reeling from seeing his children – he never figured he'd have any sort of opportunity like that. His family was gone and he was torn from them. But he had a new family, he thought, trying to get his mind to focus on the shadow before him. Pam was his greatest accomplishment.

It was their first Christmas together. She had snuck out in the summer nights, and by this winter she had wanted to stop back and see her family. Really, she wanted to drain her father (an act he had prevented) and sleep one last time with her former lover (this he allowed, including a glamouring lesson for altering behavior). But on Christmas day, they spent the night together.

He watched as a vision of himself and his progeny kissed in the falling snow before walking into an inn to find some dinner.

It made him smile, especially knowing her sexual preferences now. It had been decades since she had kissed him, a century since she had done so with the passion she had just shown him before the inn.

"Happy Christmas!" the pair called as they came in and took a room. It was a game, really. Who could charm a pair of humans to their room with them for a feed. Maybe a fuck. There was one rule: no glamour until necessary, but not to win.

And this night, Eric remembered, he would best his child. Two ladies were willing to share their bed, obviously imagining the foursome that later came to be.

Kissing Pam's temple, "I win, and it certainly is a Happy Christmas," he taunted. Really they both won multiple orgasms and good blood.

Once more, Ginger slipped her hand in the crook of Eric's arm and lead him out of the inn.

Darkness.

Northern Louisiana.

It wasn't too far in the past, but certainly not in the past two decades. But the Stackhouse residence was decorated for Christmas. There were fairy lights outside. A beautiful tree in the living room with the same furniture that was at Sookie's when he first visited her house, only a bit newer. And a large family was sitting around the old table, with a few pint-size humans eating carefully at the coffee table (one he remembered breaking at one point) in the living room.

Ignoring the kids for now, Eric and Ginger walked into the kitchen. Gran. Eric would recognize the appearance of the woman in the pictures at Sookie's house easily, even in her younger version. She was sitting next to…a fairy. Fintan was having Christmas dinner with his lover, his children, and, Eric glanced back into the living room, his grandchildren.

Sitting at the table were Sookie's parents. He had seen the pictures of Corbett and Michelle, but the images were few and far between. Corbett was smiling at his sister – Linda was there too – and Michelle was staring at him dotingly.

Another man was at the table, looking around Gran's age and sitting next to her. Eric noticed his chair was positioned to look out at the living room, and he excused himself from the table to go and sit with the kids.

"Hey Uncle Bartlet!" the boy cried as his uncle sat down.

"Hello, Jason. Are you all enjoying your Christmas dinner?" he asked, sitting close enough to one little girl – not Sookie – that his leg was resting against hers.

The girl he was sitting too close to nodded slightly, looking down at her lap. Jason nodded enthusiastically; he obviously looked up to his great-uncle. And young Sookie was there too. Eric smiled seeing his lover in child form. She was bony and awkward.

"I wouldn't like that, Uncle Bartlet. And Hadley is scared you'll do what you did to her again," Sookie said softly.

Her uncle looked at her, bewildered, and Hadley scooted away from him.

"Sook! Why do you gotta be doin' that weird stuff?!" Jason yelled. He was probably about nine to Sookie's five or six. He glared at his little sister, and she cowered from him.

"Excuse me," little Sookie said, getting up and going on the porch.

"Now be nice to your little sister, Jason. Why do you think your Gran is happy to have me over—because I was nice to her growing up," Bartlett said, standing up. Eric noticed he squeezed his niece's knee before he got to his feet.

He followed Bartlett outside where Sookie was sitting on the same porch swing that still adorned the porch.

"Sookie, I told you before, we don't talk about that stuff," Bartlett said gravely to his niece. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and the little girl started shaking slightly.

"Stop him!" Eric cried to Ginger.

"I can't and neither can you. This already happened. It is what it is, so don't blame me," she explained. She took his arm and they walked off the porch. Eric didn't want to leave little Sookie there alone with her molester, but with nothing to do to stop it, he didn't want to stand there and helplessly watch. It was bad enough hearing her sobs.

The darkness came to him once again and he welcomed it. "Let me go back home," he whispered to the darkness.

He walked with the spirit of Ginger, and he was suddenly walking out of the closet, though Ginger was somehow tripping over something and grabbing on to him to keep from falling.

"I'm sorry, Master. I'll leave you to rest now," Ginger whispered as Eric sat on his bed, exhausted.

He barely blinked before he felt himself collapse backwards in his dayrest.

Stave 3: The Second of Three Spirits

Eric's eyes opened, but he knew it couldn't possibly be the next day yet. The sun was up, yet somehow he was awake and fully cognitive. Unlike when Sookie woke him up with the exploding hotel, he was not delirious, half-awake, and mostly unaware of what was going on.

He still felt exhausted from Ginger's visit. He could not have imagined the things he had seen in the few Christmases he was privy to. It had been amazing and surprisingly emotional when he saw his brother and his own children. He had not thought of his family in a very long time until Sookie asked about them.

But to see his little warrior and his baby boy again, over a thousand years later as they celebrated the gods and the solstice, brought those buried thoughts to life.

His first Christmas with Pam had been awesome. Remembering it was so different from seeing it, and bringing it also to the forefront of his emotions right after seeing his children showed him not only what he had lost, but also how much he had gained. Had be been alive and joined with a new wife, he would have been at the solstice celebration with his family. But he also would not have had the opportunity to find Pam.

Sookie's Christmas was horror-filled. Eric didn't want to think about it, but he would endure centuries of more time with his sadistic maker if it would save that little girl her grief. But Ginger said he wouldn't have been able to stop or change any of it.

Shaking his head, 'since when do I care about children?' he thought. Standing up, he went and washed his face with hot water and soap to rid it of the tear tracks.

When he came out of the bathroom, the white specter of Sophie-Anne was sitting on his bed grandly. "Come on in, Eric. Let's have a chat," she said gently.

He stared at her, almost a little uneasy. She was his queen. To save himself, his progeny, his retinue, and his human, he had not retaliated when she and her children were slaughtered. He had even killed Sigebert himself, cutting off his head once Sookie had run him over.

"It's okay, Eric," she said as if reading his thoughts. "I can't hurt you; I've come to help you."

He nodded and sat down next to her on his own bed. She looked much the same, but her skin was even whiter. Her hair, typically a lustrous bronze, was also stark white. However her taste in clothes hadn't changed, and she was wearing a beautiful purple dress – the color of royalty, he noted.

"Eric, I am your Ghost of Ch—" She was cut off as a huge crash was heard in the closet and the doors flung open.

White smoke poured out. Ginger, in a long white gown and with closed eyes, was standing on top of the rod that she had knocked down, and all of Eric's clothes were on the floor of the closet in a crumpled mess. "I AM THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST!" she yelled into the room, her voice staccato and obviously forced. Her arms were splayed out as if she had the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Closing her eyes and sighing, Sophie-Anne rose smoothly to her feet and walked as if she were floating. "Ginger, dear, you already came to him," she said gently, taking one outstretched hand and helping her out of the closet. Bending down, she helped the girl remove the shoebox that her foot had somehow got stuck in . . . again.

"I was?! Oh yeah! Hi again, Master!" she said cheerily.

"It's time for you to go now, Ginger," Sophie-Anne said gently. She was being surprisingly patient with the girl.

"Okay. Bye, Master!" Ginger said happily before she walked back into the closet and disappeared.

"She was glamoured one too many times," Sophie-Anne explained with a shrug. "As I was saying, I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. I will warn you, when we are out you will see the daylight, but with me it will not harm you. I told you, I do not want to hurt you, only help."

Eric nodded, thinking about whom they would see: Sookie. How had she gone from the scared and hurt little girl to the strong and amazing woman he knew?

"Before we go, I want to tell you that I understand why you did not reject Victor Madden's offer to be a sheriff for de Castro. But I am a biased party here. I always thought you respected me as your monarch. I always respected you as my sheriff and as a vampire. I made Andre, Wybert, and Sigebert allow me to come alone today. I did not want them to harass you with their anger. But I do not understand why you won't avenge your Queen." She paused briefly, but didn't allow him to respond. "It's nothing for the moment though, let's see what there is to see." Her gentle hand slid around his bare arm and, without having to take a step, they were standing outside of Merlottes.

Sookie was in her uniform and looking happily around. It was this past night: Christmas Eve. "Oh thanks y'all," she said after seeing the large tip Hoyt and Holly left her. "Have a Merry Christmas! And if you have time tomorrow, Hoyt, stop on by tomorrow. I have one of Gran's pies all made up for your Mama." She smiled brightly and waved as they left the building. Sophie-Anne and Eric slipped in as they walked out. "Sam!" she cried as he walked from his office and behind the bar. "Why don't you head out now? You have a long drive to your Mom's house tonight. I can lock up." Her blonde ponytail swished as she walked to his side.

"Well if ya don't mind, Cher; I'd certainly like to get a bit farther tonight." He hugged her briefly before looking around and leaving through the back. There weren't too many people left in the building. But someone was outside, Eric noted. A vampire he had seen in Felipe's retinue was walking towards the building. The vampire opened the door and sat at the bar.

He must have come fairly often because Sookie knew his order, without prompting for a mock blood type. She popped the top off the bottled blood and popped it in the microwave. "How's it going down south?" Sookie asked, pleasantly.

"Not too bad," the red-haired vampire said smoothly, taking the drink when it was offered. Sookie didn't seem to trust him, but she nodded and continued her closing duties.

Jane Bodehouse had just been picked up by her son (since Sookie had called him), and the few remaining stragglers departed, leaving Sookie and the vampire alone. Eric glared at the man, who was obviously there to scope out Sookie for de Castro. Why had those he had watching Sookie not reported this?

"Well, Michael, I have to head home," Sookie said with a gentle smile.

Nodding, he got up. "I should return to my home anyway, but it is nice to come to your bar on occasion."

"No bars in Alexandria?" Sookie asked, teasing.

"Nope. Not a one," he said with a wink. Alexandria was just past the southern boundary of Eric's area. And he glared once more at the vampire who couldn't see him. "You have a Merry Christmas, Sookie," he said cordially.

"You know he's trying to find out how close you and Sookie really are," Sophie-Anne said, referring to de Castro. Eric nodded and watched as Michael left the building, and Sookie locked up the doors, finished cleaning, rinsed out the bottle Michael had left, and tossed it with the other bottles amassed tonight. She sighed, grabbed her stuff from her locker, turned off the lights, and went to her car.

Eric and Sophie-Anne followed her home, skipping time suddenly to see her turning off the lights and getting into bed. She checked her phone, looking for something obviously, and sighed once again. "Merry Christmas, Eric," she breathed out.

"Merry Christmas, Sookie," he replied. He knew she couldn't hear him, but she looked so beautiful. Her blonde hair fell on her pillow, splaying out behind her. Her breathing deepened and slowed as she fell asleep, him the last thing on her mind.

He lied down on her bed, ignoring the spirit of his former Queen, and curled his body around her back.

He watched her sleep and closed his eyes to blink, only to have the sun streaming through the windows and the space next to him empty.

Instinctually he scooted away from the sunlight, hissing. "It will not hurt you," Sophie- Anne reminded him. Cautiously, he walked towards the window. There was a slight layer of snow on the ground, and the sun was high in the sky.

Turning, he went through the door into the kitchen where a much smaller family was finishing their lunch in an updated kitchen. Jason, Michelle with a bulging pregnant belly, and Sookie sat at the table. "Jase, I'm really happy you're here."

He smiled, squeezed Michelle's hand gently in thanks, and said, "I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else, Sook."

She sighed happily. "So I saw Tara and JB yesterday, giving the babies their gifts and offering some babysitting to let them go on a date or something."

Michelle smiled; she had been very friendly with Tara since she found out she was pregnant. "How did the kids like their gifts?" she asked.

Sookie's soft laughter rang out in the kitchen. "Oh I don't think they cared. I think Tara certainly loved the outfits I had bought for them and the blankets I made."

Eric felt out of place as an observer. He wanted to be by Sookie's side, holding her hand in his own. Laughing with Jason about the silliness of the ladies' topic. Even if he was around, though, he wouldn't be privy to this though. The sunlight streamed through the windows, despite the chill outside.

Hoyt stopped by with Holly on their way to his Mama's and happily took the pecan pie Sookie made.

But when everyone left, Hoyt to Mrs. Foytenberry's and Jason and Michelle to her parent's, Sookie donned her coat and shoes, grabbed a bouquet of flowers, and headed out to the cemetery. She gently placed the flowers on the grave of Adele Stackhouse after wiping the snow off of the headstone. "Merry Christmas, Gran," she said out loud. "I haven't talked to you in so long and on days like this I miss you beyond belief. I guess it doesn't help that I also miss him," she trailed off and stared at the darkening skyline.

"I love you, Gran," she said softly after standing there for a while lost in thought. She walked back to the house and smiled when she saw a few silhouettes standing there on her porch. "Pam! Bill!" she called as they came into view. "Merry Christmas!"

"Happy Christmas, Sookie," Pam said, smiling at her friend. She wouldn't bring up her maker. Not today.

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," Bill added. Pam scowled slightly at the pet name, but winked at Sookie when she noticed.

"Come on in!" Sookie said, looking around slightly. Looking for him, Eric realized. Was he not there? He hadn't planned on going to her tonight, no matter what his choice was, he realized with shame. She looked so disappointed for a moment before she threw on her stoic face with the occasional fake smile.

"Here, Sookie," Bill said, handing her a wrapped gift after they settled down in her living room with drinks. She smiled and went to her lit up tree. She grabbed her own gift for him and handed it to him in return. She opened as he watched, tearing into the wrapping paper gently but with a certain level of excitement. His gift to her was a watch – an expensive one at that. But it was beautiful and dainty. With a thin, white, leather strap and a small face, the gift made her smile.

"Oh you remembered!" Sookie said, surprised and happy. "My watch has been broken for a while, and I kept complaining about it but never got around to buyin' a new one," she explained to Pam.

His child only nodded. Had Sookie known the cost of that watch she would not have accepted it. But Pam would not further ruin the night for Sookie.

Bill slowly opened his gift, carefully detaching the tape. Then he pulled up the folded ends and slid his present out of the paper. "To use later, " he murmured, placing the wrapping paper next to him. In his hands was a new copy of the computer game Diablo III.

"I know you didn't have it yet, but you mentioned wanting to play," Sookie said with a smile.

"Thanks, sweetheart," Bill said, setting the present down beside him and giving her a hug.

She smiled at him before getting up and getting the second to last present she had under the tree. The one that remained was very thin and not too big, wrapped in bright shiny red wrapping paper with a large bow on it.

"Here, Pam," Sookie said, handing the vampire a carefully wrapped present in a pastel pink paper. "I'm sure it's not up to your usual standards, but I saw it and thought it would fit you."

Pam looked at the present in delight. Ripping off the wrapping paper zealously and shredding it everywhere, "Careful!" Sookie cried in response. It'd be such a shame if Pam shredded the leather in her excitement.

"Oh my! Sookie! You—" Pam stuttered – actually stuttered – as she saw her gift. It was a beautiful vintage Chanel purse. Large. Pastel pink. Leather. Gorgeous.

"I saw it and thought you'd like it. I had plenty of money from Claudine and—" she took a breath, "—and I'm not really sure if I'll get to see you too much more." She smiled sadly at her friend before a tear-streaked Pam tackled her in a hug. Though she would complain at the exuberant hug and excessive tightness, it was really what Sookie needed at the moment. Her warm arms wrapped around the cool body of her slim friend, and she held Pam, knowing as soon as they released each other that they would continue as if the moment never happened.

"You know I love you more when you're cold and heartless," Sookie whispered to her friend, mimicking Eric's words to her after he was cured of the witches' curse.

Pam snickered softly and then released Sookie, helping right her on the couch while she looked happily at the bag.

Pam smiled as she looked at the gift tag. "Aww! From: 'Your Favorite Breather.' And you are, Sookie." Really, there was a large possibility that Eric would choose Freyda to avoid potential true death, pretty much evidenced by his lack of presence tonight, and then Pam would possibly never see her friend again. There wasn't much need to hide emotion, though she rolled her eyes to make Sookie smile. Pam grabbed the gift bag she had for her friend, and Sookie happily pulled out the tissue paper and tossed it in the air, making it fall down around her. She grinned warmly and pulled out the gift.

"Pam, this is beautiful!" Sookie said, pulling out a soft blue sweater the exact color of Eric's eyes. She stared at it, trying to force back the tears that were threatening to fall from her eyes.

And Bill had to ruin it. "Sookie that will look beautiful on you. I'm glad I'll still be around to see you wear it."

Her eyes shot up to him, and she wanted to glare. She wanted to scream. She wanted to revoke his invitation. But instead she just turned away from him. For all she knew, he had sure information that Eric had already accepted the marriage. And it was Christmas, not the time to kick out guests and scream at one of very few friends who were not leaving her for sure. Her eyes returned to Pam as she said, "Thank you so much!"

Pam had no qualms about glaring daggers at him. And she did. But when Sookie spoke she looked back at her; "It will fit nicely in your new luggage set. I know yours was blown up in the hotel. It will be delivered here tomorrow."

"Pam, that's so thoughtful. Thank you so much." She, less excitedly than Pam, gave her friend a tight hug.

Eric's lack of presence went unmentioned and deliberately ignored. And his eyes were once again flooded with darkness.

When they cleared, he was back in his own dayroom being affected by the sun. But Sophie-Anne rested her hand on his shoulder. "If it is your path, I would ask that you gut de Castro for me." She winked at him and then was gone.

He heaved a huge sigh. He didn't want to admit it, but he missed Sookie. He missed the time he had spent with her when he had no memory when he could just be himself. Even if he stayed his own man, how could they have anything similar when he would be as deep as possible in the 'vampire shit' as a king?

Suddenly, the locked and bolted door to his day chamber flung open. Standing in the doorway was a cloaked and hooded figure.

White hands reached up and slowly pushed back the hood that was obstructing the spirit's face. Eric's throat tightened so the word that followed the reveal was only a shallow whisper.

"Appius."

Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits

Appius silently approached Eric, and the vampire noted the changes in his maker – his color mostly – again all white with the exception of his full-length black robe and cloak.

Eric bent to a knee before his maker's spirit, not because he was forced to, but because of the levity of the situation, the importance of his appearance, and the feeling of the air around Appius who seemed to carry gloom and mystery with him.

The cloak's hood, before he revealed himself, had completely covered his face; his body was sheathed in black up to the tips of his fingers and the hand that was stretching towards him.

"You must be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come," Eric prompted his maker. But the spirit remained silent. "So you'll show me things that have not yet happened, but will in the future. Right?"

Appius's smile was menacing and twisted as he nodded his head. But no words passed his lips.

Ginger and Sophie-Anne had been easy as bagged blood compared to this. The Viking felt a fear of his maker develop in a whole new way. He stood from his kneeling position and took in an unnecessary ragged breath. The longer he stood waiting for his maker to say something, do something, the more unsure he became.

There was also the weariness of Appius being the spirit. What if he wasn't helpful like Sophie-Anne and Ginger had been? Could he show him false things to convince him to follow the contract, even if it had a worse outcome?

Somehow Eric knew, however, that the spirit of Appius could only show him the truth. The spirits were there to help him and to help Sookie.

"Let's go, Master. I need to get this finished before the sun is down."

Appius walked, gliding as if he floated, out the door he had come through.

As before, the scene came before Eric's eyes, but it was horror to view. Las Vegas. Felipe' casino. It was where de Castro did all of his business. Light tight suites were modified just for him once vampires came out of the coffin. Already owning a hotel on the strip meant he only had to renovate to have everything set up to run his empire.

And in the throne room, Sookie was sitting with cuffs on, defiantly staring at Felipe as he gave orders.

"Mees Stackhouse, it is Christmas; I would love to release you from your bonds for the night."

"And I would love to stab you in the heart with a toothpick," Sookie said with a glare. The six months she had been held by force had done nothing to tame her will.

"Do not forget I've kept tabs on tu hermano, chica. Your brother's life is in your hands and is based on your compliance."

"And that is the only reason you have been able to keep me here, de Castro." As cliché as it was, her outfit most resembled Princess Leia's slave costume. Not one tear had fallen on her cheek because of it – at least not in front of Felipe.

Eric felt his rage grow. No! What happened to the protection? What happened to the addition to his contract that Sookie was not to be touched? That Felipe had to agree?

He looked at his maker for an answer, but the spirit stayed silent.

"Look my dear, this is your life. You are here. You read minds for me. You do as I say. And your brother, his wife, and your young nephew live their lives not knowing how easily I could kill them at any moment," de Castro said, placating her.

"Felipe. Listen to me and listen well. You can force me to stay here. You can claim I'm here of my own volition to get around the contract. You can trust, however much you want, that I will give you accurate information (though you can't say I haven't already warned you about the nature of forced telepaths and how uncooperative they can be). You can make me work for you. But you will not force me to be happy about it. You will not force me to care for you no matter how much you try. Presents, flowers, and even actions mean nothing when you are holding me against my will.

"Rest assured," Sookie continued, "If I am able to kill you with impunity, I will."

Felipe stared at her, almost seeming saddened by her words. And maybe he was. His response chilled Eric to the bone, more than anything had before this moment. "I will miss your warmth, Sookie. But you will be mine."

He nodded to the vampire guarding the door and realization crossed Sookie's face. "No! You son of a bitch!" She struggled against the hands that held her captive and pulled her towards the door.

"Tonight, mi cariña, you will become my child. And then you will never say those filthy things to me again." He looked at her scathingly and then turned around.

However, when he did, he faced a seething Eric. Eric wanted to rip the head off his shoulders all the more because of the grin de Castro hid from Sookie.

By now he knew that there was nothing to do for it, he was only seeing shadows, but his hatred of his king grew, and his desire to kill him was rising exponentially. His fangs had descended in anger from the moment he saw Sookie's bound form, and they would not retract, no matter what Eric did. He just didn't have control at the moment.

His fists tightened as he stared into the smirking face of Felipe, and he watched as Sookie was dragged bodily out the door. Before Eric could try to uselessly try to punch the shadow of de Castro, the darkness descended and clouded his vision.

The shadow changed and developed into a vision of his future self. He was in Oklahoma. Christmas was obviously something Freyda celebrated with zeal, but he was sparring, training various warriors in Freyda's kingdom.

His wife stepped into the dojo where the vampires were working out, fighting, testing tactics, and using swords and other weapons to push their limits and learn new skills.

"Ninety years, my love, since you signed yourself to me," Freyda said as she stepped in the space and ran her hands along his bare shoulders. "You have certainly proven an apt consort, in bed, in your contribution to my state – my commander said he almost bested you in each fight this week."

"He has learned much. He is someone on whom you can depend when I leave in a decade."

"Oh don't speak of such things, Love. I wanted to negotiate you staying with me." Her voice was smooth, tantalizing, making it seem like the best offer anyone could get.

"No." And Eric, watching the shadows, could see Freyda's face contort in anger behind his own back.

"Eric. You are mine. Your maker gave you to me."

"We have talked about this before, Freyda. Appius Livius Ocella brokered a hundred-year marriage to you during which time I was to be your consort including a warrior, a bed partner, and a trainer of your vampires. However I am now my own vampire." The Eric watching just smirked, noticing the similarities between his own future words and that of his lover. Sookie always proclaimed she was her own person.

"Eric, love, do not think you will ever leave," Freyda said to his rear as she deftly lifted the stake and impaled him through his back.

It was something else, Eric thought as he watched his body collapse and ash away, to see his own death. Twelve hundred years, and his end was to be stabbed in the back by the wife he never chose and never wanted. Eric was more stoic watching his own true death than he had been imagining Sookie's turning.

He sighed unnecessarily and turned to the spirit of Appius. "Is there more?" he asked.

The darkness came over him once more and he was in the middle of a heated battle back in de Castro's throne room. Freyda, Felipe, a young were-tiger, and hoards of vampires were fighting each other – some he recognized and others he did not.

A flash of blonde hair was seen towards the front of the room, and Eric dashed towards it. "Sookie!" he cried, forgetting he was invisible, forgetting he was already dead. She should run and try to escape in the commotion, not jump headfirst into the fray.

But when he got to her, he realized it was a different blonde. "Pam."

Pam, he knew, would not go with him to Oklahoma. If that is where he went, she would go on her own again, as she had before he called her to see if she was interested in opening Fangtasia with him.

A war cry she could have learned only from her maker was released from her lips as the Victorian-era vampire deftly swung her sword. She was his best contribution to the world, Eric knew; and he watched her with pride as she got close enough to fight de Castro. "You killed my maker and you killed the best friend I ever had!"

"He would have been in my way," Felipe responded, uncaring. Had Eric been released from the contract de Castro would be dead soon after, especially if Eric learned of Sookie and her fate.

"And" he continued, "your friend Sookie would just not listen. I tried. For almost a century I tried to get her to do as I said. But that damn mouth…" He scowled as they continued fighting, matching blow for blow with their swords.

Eric let out a strained cry and fell to his knees. He watched as Pam cut off Freyda's head as the wife who had killed him tried to come over to kill his child from behind.

"Gracias, dear," Felipe said. "I was going to have to kill her for the death of my sheriff anyway. She was such a useful pawn." He still had no idea why the maker-child tie never worked with Sookie. But he set her a deadline with a hard rule: she would submit to him by tonight or she would die. It was fitting, de Castro thought, that Sookie die on the one-year anniversary of her lover's death.

And Pam, in her retaliation, would follow them in the true death as well.

Eric screamed in pain as the Spanish vampire did a quick move with his sword that his child did not anticipate. Still on his knees he closed his eyes, unwilling to see his child's body flake as his had.

Turning without looking, he ignored the fighting around him. He did not care that Maxwell Lee was there, battling Nevada vampires. He showed no further emotion when he saw Rasul best the commander he had just told Freyda was improving, though to what degree he never indicated.

He stood before Appius and dropped again to his knees. "Tell me I can change it!" He reached up and grasped his maker's hand. "Tell me that this isn't set. That I can do something. Please!"

His maker's face didn't change. It was stoic. It looked down at him expressionless. In agony he grasped at the hands pleading, "Please, Master!"

Eric closed his eyes, praying to his old gods, the new gods, the Christian God, the Jewish God, the Muslim God, Ra, Osiris, Cemunnos, Odin, Thor, Freyja, Zeus, Jupiter, and every other god and Goddess he could think of.

When he opened his eyes again, he was no longer grasping his maker's hand; in its place was his bedpost.

Stave 5: The End of It

He was home. He released the bedpost, now imprinted with the grip of his hand, and stood up. The towel Claudine had dropped on her way out was gone. He sped into the bathroom. All of the towels were folded in their spots on the rack that held them. His face was still streaked with bloody tears, so he jumped in the shower and bathed himself only as a vampire could. Quickly.

He went out to his closet and flung the doors open. The bar in his closet was still hanging as it was supposed to and his clothes were all still hung up. He looked down, hardly realizing he was once again naked and his jeans were put away. He threw on some clothes – his typical dark jeans and boots, but donned a deep red dress shirt to match the sweater dress he had seen Sookie wearing.

He checked his phone. It was the night of the 25th. Christmas Day right at sunset.

He grabbed the unsigned paperwork and left his daychamber, noting that the locks were still intact rather than broken from when Appius threw the door open.

Moonlight flooded through his windows as rushed into his office and stopped at his safe. Grabbing what he had been saving for a special time to give to Sookie, a necklace that had been his mother's and that he had somehow kept safe from his days as a human, he flew out of the house and went as quickly as he could to Bon Temps.

He scanned the Stackhouse property rapidly before realizing she had been in the cemetery speaking to her deceased loved ones and thinking at first dark.

Flying down, he came to a gentle landing before her, far enough and quiet enough not to startle her, but also making enough noise to alert her to his presence. She hated it when vampires silently came upon her and surprised her.

She turned, looking to the noise. "Eric?" Sookie said cautiously. For all she knew he could be here to tell her goodbye – she was expecting it really. Pam had told her that today was the day to decide. And if she wasn't going to be his choice, Sookie wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Sookie, I am so sorry," he said, falling on his knees before her.

She rushed over to him, abandoning the flowers she had come to lay down at her family's graves. "Eric!" she cried, worrying something was wrong. He hardly ever apologized. He never did so from his knees. "Are you okay?!" she asked.

His arms slipped around her waist and he pressed his face against her stomach as he held her close. "I do not want to lose you, Sookie. I cannot let that happen."

Sookie listened to his words, confused, but instead of questioning him she sunk down to her knees before him. His arms remained around her waist, but fell with her. He pulled the unsigned contract out of his pocket and showed it to her.

"Today was the deadline," he said to her, eyeing her reaction. It was Christmas; he did not want to upset her. He could tell her about Jól and the celebrations from his youth. Maybe he wouldn't mention how Pam and he had first celebrated Christmas.

She looked at the paper and noticed he hadn't signed it. "What's going on then? Pam said you had to sign it or you'd be given the true death for treason." She bit her lower lip and looked at him nervously.

He ran his finger gently over her lip to get her to release it. "I will do what I need to do to stay with you and keep you safe." She nodded and handed it back to him. He took it, looked directly into her eyes, and promptly ripped the offending paper in half.

Her eyes visibly widened and she took in a breath. "Remember, Sookie, what I told you: I would bring you to my side. I will share everything I have with you. Every vampire who owes me fealty will honor you. Please remember that when I do what I need." If he need to take control of the state that very notion would come true; it would have to.

She bit her lip again and nodded, almost understanding. "Come on," she said, grabbing his hand and trying to pull him up. "Pam and Bill are probably back at the house waiting for me. And I have something for you."

He nodded and, wordlessly, lifted her up bridal style. She let out a shriek and a light laugh. It had been so long since he had heard that laugh. "Sookie, don't tell Bill I did not sign it. He's eager for me to leave," he said, trying to be gentle.

"Well, he only was ridiculously obvious when he was mentionin' how you and Freyda fit so well together," she declared, rolling her eyes. She trailed her fingers along the collar of his shirt. "Hey," she said happily. "We match." She gestured to their clothing.

"We always match, lover. You to me and me to you." Sookie smiled in response and leaned her head against his chest as he flew up into the air. The clouds suddenly let lose a torrent of snow.

Sookie sighed in contentment as Eric's forward movement stalled and they stopped to watch the snow as it fell around them.

"Do you think we could build a better daychamber in your home for me?" Eric asked, looking down at her as a snowflake caught on her eyelash.

"You can never let me surprise you," Sookie scolded, thinking of the gift she had for him beneath her tree. "I have a drawing from Alcide's company that I wanted you to approve if you were going to stay in Louisiana."

Eric spun her so her legs were wrapped around his waist and his lips were on hers, kissing her hungrily, almost desperate. He would not let Felipe destroy her.

Her arms were around his neck as his cool lips were pressed against her warm ones. Her tongue parted his lips and was welcomed in his mouth. Her fingers wove gently in his loose hair.

They were still kissing when they landed on her porch and only broke apart when they heard an unsettled throat clearing, obviously unnecessarily. Pam was scowling at Bill for making the noise. Sookie was blushing furiously. "Hey; Merry Christmas, y'all!"

She grinned, unable to stop the smile from lighting up her face. Her legs slid off Eric's hips.

Pam looked at her maker, questioningly. He returned her stare, seemingly communicating silently before a smile also graced her features. Pam's arms were around him as soon as he released Sookie.

"Remember our first Christmas together, Pam?" he asked her with a wink, wrapping an arm lovingly around her.

"How's Freyda?" Bill asked suddenly, causing everyone to scowl at him.

"I wouldn't know. I haven't spoken to her yet tonight." Bill's knowing grin made Eric want to throw him against a tree. Hopefully one that happened to have a branch sticking out that could conveniently stake him.

"Come on in! Anyone want a bottled blood?" she asked, going to make up the three drinks anyways.

She made herself some hot chocolate and returned to her living room with it and the bloods. Bill was in his own chair. Pam was on the couch with Eric. But when Sookie went to sit in the other chair after placing the drinks on the coffee table Eric had bought her one time after they broke it, she was, instead, pulled onto Eric's lap.

Had she been in another frame of mind, she might have protested. But she needed him. If he was staying and risking his life for her and her safety, she needed to be close to him.

"Lemme just grab the gifts from under the tree, Eric. Then I'll come right back," she assured him, getting up as soon as he pulled her down. She grabbed three gifts, all of the ones remaining under her tree, including one he knew was his that she hadn't be able to give when he saw it with Sophie-Anne's spirit.

She placed the presents beside her and sat back down in Eric's lap.

"Here, Sookie," Bill said gruffly, upset that his blatant mention of Freyda didn't repel her away from Eric.

She smiled, looking at it and handed him the wrapped box she had set for him. She opened the gift as he watched intently. She gently tore the paper off the box, setting it aside.

"Oh you remembered!" Sookie said, surprised and happy. "My watch has been broken for a while, and I kept complaining about it. But I never got around to buyin' a new one," she explained to Pam and Eric. Déjà vu.

"Really, Bill?" Eric asked. "Cartier?"

Sookie gasped, knowing the name of the expensive brand. "Bill I really can't accept something so expensive."

"About five grand, right Bill?" Pam asked him since Eric already spilled the beans about its worth.

Bill ground his teeth together as she placed the watch on the table and scooted it towards him. "Really, Sookie, it is nothing compared to your worth."

"All the same, Bill. It's too much," Sookie replied.

Sighing, he gingerly picked up the wrapped box from her hands, her gift to him. Bill, just as in the scene with Sophie-Anne, slowly opened his gift, carefully detaching the tape. He once again pulled up the folded ends and slid his present out of the paper. "To use later." The paper was once again beside him, and in his hands was a new copy of the computer game Diablo III. But this time Sookie wasn't looking as excited to give him his gift. Especially since her eyes kept drifting to the watch he had not so subtly left on the table.

"I know you didn't have it yet, but wanted to play," Sookie said with a slight smile.

"Thanks, sweetheart," Bill said, but it wasn't completely sincere.

Handing Pam her gift, Sookie grinned. "Here, Pam. I'm sure it's not up to your usual standards, but I saw it and thought it would fit you." It was ridiculous that the things they were saying were so exact to his dream? Vision? Whatever it was.

Pam looked at the present in delight. She still ripped off the wrapping paper zealously and shredded it everywhere. "Careful!" Sookie cried.

"Oh my! Sookie! You—" Pam stuttered – just as Eric had seen earlier that evening – it still took him by surprise. The beautiful vintage pink Chanel purse had been absolutely perfect for the fashionista. Large. Pastel pink. Leather. Gorgeous.

"I saw it and thought you'd like it. I had plenty of money from Claudine and I just knew you'd love it."

Pam's eye's flicked to her maker, obviously asking permission before she scooted closer and slipped her arms around Sookie in a warm hug. And this also took him by surprise.

Pam smiled and looked at the gift tag. "Aww! From: 'Your Favorite Breather.'" The vampire winked at her friend before returning to her seat and grabbing the gift bag she had for Sookie.

Sookie happily pulled out the tissue paper and tossed it in the air, making it fall down around her. Eric blew at it, sending the light paper flying towards Bill who grumpily snatched it out of the air. "To use later," Eric told him with a smirk. His ignored Bill as the now sour-looking vampire crumpled up the paper in tight balls.

Sookie rolled her eyes but grinned warmly and pulled out the gift. "Pam, this is beautiful!" Sookie said, pulling out a soft blue sweater the exact color of Eric's eyes. She turned and held the soft cashmere against Eric's cheek comparing. And with a loving smile she leaned down and kissed him gently.

And Bill had to ruin it. "Sookie that will look beautiful on you. I'm glad I'll still be around to see you wear it." He grinned superiorly at Eric and Pam before standing up.

"Sweetheart, I'm afraid I must head out," he said standing before her, the game in his hands.

"Okay, Bill." She stood up to walk him to the door after she placed the sweater on the couch beside her and grabbed the box holding the expensive watch. Eric, of course, stood up with her, his arms wrapped protectively around her waist.

Bill wanted to kiss her goodbye, but Sookie just leaned back into Eric's torso after she opened the door. "Merry Christmas, Bill," she said, handing him the watch. He nodded at her after taking it, ignoring his sheriff, and left the house to speed across the cemetery.

After she closed the door, Sookie turned to look at Eric. "D'ya think he's reporting to de Castro right now?" she asked, biting her lip again.

"Don't worry about that now, lover. We'll figure it out tomorrow, and I'll become king if necessary. But tonight we need to celebrate."

She nodded as he released her, noting the Scarlett-like impulse to "think about it tomorrow," and they went back to the couch. Though posturing was no longer necessary, they still held hands and sat down so Sookie was leaning against Eric on the couch since Pam had moved to the chair.

"Thank you so much for the sweater, Pam," Sookie said as if they had never been interrupted.

"It will fit nicely in your new luggage set. I know yours was blown up in the hotel. It will be delivered here tomorrow."

"Pam, that's so thoughtful. Thank you so much!" She stood up and gave her friend a tight hug.

"I should head out too," Pam said, knowing how exuberantly her maker would want to reconnect with his wife. "Should I contact Niall?" Eric nodded, affirming the plan.

"Huh? About what?" Sookie asked, startled at the mention of her great-grandfather.

"Vampires, specifically Eric as sheriff, assisted Niall in the war against Breandan. He owes us. And he will repay that debt by helping us take out Freyda and Felipe," Pam said with a nod.

Sookie's eyes looked to Eric. "Do you want to be King?"

"I want to keep you safe. And that is what I must do to accomplish that." He was unwavering, sure, and determined. Sookie didn't argue, but just wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately. Neither noticed Pam slip out the front door.

Their lips pressed together, and Sookie's hands were the first to venture to remove his shirt. Their tongues were brushing teasingly as her fingers deftly undid each button of his shirt. One. By. One. "Cheese and rice, how many buttons are on this thing?" she asked, exasperated as she came up for a breath.

Eric just pulled it open in response, and the remaining buttons flew off and rolled across the floor. She didn't complain as her hands immediately ran up his stomach muscles, over his pecs, and across his shoulders, pushing the shirt off him and groaning under her breath as she felt his muscle definition.

Her teeth grabbed his lower lip and the resulting growl from him flooded her panties.

She moaned as his lips descended to her neck and he nipped gently on his way down. Pausing to pull her dress off, his mouth descended on her bra-covered breasts, leaving trails of saliva from wet kisses everywhere but where she wanted his lips to be.

Pulling down the cups, his mouth first covered her right nipple and then her left. He paid equal time to each and she moaned in response, her hips thrusting upward towards him. Wanting more. Needing more.

His blunt teeth gently pulled her nipple away from her body, causing her back to arch and a low groan to escape from her lips. He released her nipple enjoying watching her breast bounce naturally as it resettled on her.

The same attention was paid to her other nipple, before he flattened his tongue and brushed it hard against the one he had just released. His fingers slipped beneath her lace boyshort panties to press against her sex, feeling the wetness that had been scenting the air since the flight over.

"Eric!" she cried, arching into his fingers as he slipped one into her while his thumb rubbed circles over her nub. She threw her head back as a sudden orgasm snuck up on her. Her fingers dug into his defined shoulders. She clenched around his fingers, but he did not stop his ministrations.

When she opened her eyes again, they were on her bed, both naked. He was leaning over her on his elbows and already settled between her legs.

Her face came forward to capture his lips as she wrapped her arms around him again. She moaned as his head rubbed against her lower lips. Her hand reached down and she positioned his impressive manhood.

Gently he thrust forward, entering her with care. She returned the movement before he pulled back and thrust forward once more, harder, impaling her completely. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she cried out in pleasure.

As their movements continued, they looked in each other's eyes and kissed lovingly. It had been so long since they took their time. Since they really made love. Sookie ran her fingers through his hair before her hands rested on his back. "Eric," she cried as her body quaked and she went over the edge. His movements didn't stop as he continued to thrust into her.

'She's beautiful when she comes,' he thought. "I will never tire of seeing you like this," he said, sweeping her hair away from her glistening face.

She growled at him, almost animalistic, and pushed his shoulder so he would let her ride him. He smirked, letting her push him over, and he watched her body as she climbed up and settled herself on him.

Even with her on top, he was thrusting upwards into her, causing her to cry his name with each movement of his hips. She would grind down against his pelvis each time their skin kissed.

His fingers moved to her clit as he began edging towards his own release. "Cum for me, Sookie," he said.

"Oh God—Eric!" she screamed, collapsing forward against him as she fell over the edge and felt his cool seed flooding her.

She was breathing deeply with him still planted deeply inside her. Her body was shaking and she wasn't sure she could move.

Telling him so, she listened to his chest rumble as he laughed. "Are you content as you are, or would you like me to carry you?" he asked, slightly with a teasing edge, but still sincere.

"I wouldn't mind a shower," she said, nibbling her lip and looked at him saucily. "And you didn't take any blood. I'm sure I'm better than the bottled stuff. I wouldn't mind giving you a taste." He was hard once more inside her.

Later that night they were back in the living room, him in his pants and her in her panties and a red Fangtasia t-shirt she had taken at one point. "Are you staying here today?" Sookie asked him. She had just shown him her gift – the plans, not to build him a room, but to renovate her bedroom to be light tight during the day.

"I was actually wondering if you would come home with me," he said to her. She nodded, still just leaning against him. His arms were around her, but one had just grabbed the jewelry gift box he had taken from his safe.

Once she lifted the lid, he explained. "This was my mother's. We have been married for many months. In my time there was often a bride-price paid when a man from our village brought a woman from another village to his home to marry. Typically there were two payments from a groom mundr and morgengifu, while the bride's family provided the heiman fylgia. Mundr would be the traditional bride-price to a bride's father. At least twelve ounces of silver at the time for poor men.

"For you, I would have paid at least twelve oras, worth four or five cows, which was a lot. But you will not be a kept woman." His voice was slightly teasing when he mentioned her inane notions of being kept, as he told her of his human traditions.

Sookie listened intently, and he continued as she still held and examined the beautiful necklace. "The morgengifu was a morning gift paid again by the groom once the marriage was consummated. And the heiman fylgia is a traditional dowry, paid to a bride through the groom by the bride's father so the couple could set up their home."

Eric stroked his fingers over the back of her hand as she held the necklace. "While the mundr matches the worth of the heiman fylgia, the morgengifu is whatever the groom and his bride's father decide. Though late, I want this to be your morgengifu. I want this to be a real marriage, wife." The tease as he called her wife was obvious in his voice.

"This is beautiful, Eric," Sookie said, stroking the crystal in the center. The chain was hand-woven, with two ends, one a simple clasp and the other looping around a quarter-size U-shaped piece of bronze with two curled ends. Dangling from the center of the crystal was a deep grayish purple crystal set in a round bronze pendant.

"It's gorgeous," she said softly, taking in the design, all the information he gave, and what he was really asking.

Yes, he was actually asking her. She pulled the necklace out of the box that held it and slid the chain around her neck, pulling her hair forward so Eric could clasp it on her.

She turned her body to face him and show him the necklace on her. "Beautiful," he said.

And she nodded in response to his earlier statement and laced her fingers through his. They could treat it as a real marriage. Just like every other couple, they just needed to figure it out. And now that she had her morgengifu it seemed to come full circle. She curled her body against his body, not wanting to move—just for a little while at least.

"Merry Christmas, Sookie," he said as he kissed the top of her head.

"Merry Christmas, Eric."

Eric had no further interaction with Spirits, but each year he celebrated Christmas with his wife. Family, he realized, and time spent with them, were the importance of the holiday and the winter solstice. He kept Christmas well. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Sookie intoned, "God Bless Us, Every One!"

Wait…Or was it…

"Merry Christmas, y'all!"