"I really don't know what to do …" Eric's head was in his hands, but he looked up when Sookie entered the dressing-room. She saw the brooding look in his eyes, and was instantly worried. What could have happened? He had been so upbeat earlier about tonight's ceremony and his role in it; when he'd found out that they had modelled the Fangy statues on him for the second year running his chest had swelled so much it had threatened to rip the seams on his shirt.

He had promenaded the hallways and backstage areas, basking in the admiration and envy, but then Pam had arrived and whispered something to him and they'd been holed up together for the last twenty minutes. Sookie looked from one to the other. "What's wrong, honey?"

The Viking sighed heavily. "Sometimes I wish my life did not involve so many difficult decisions. A great deal of responsibility rests on my shoulders, Sookie."

"I know, but surely you don't have to worry about that tonight? Pam, haven't you and Fairy got everything under control here?"

Pam rolled her eyes. "More or less. We're pretty much on schedule but Bill is being a pain in the ass. He's sharing a dressing-room with Lorena, he wants to watch Life with the Llama Herders of Peru on Discovery and she won't let him near the TV. She says she doesn't trust him, for some reason, and he keeps invading other people's dressing-rooms to see if anyone else is watching it. Fairy's trying to corral him at the moment."

"So if it's not the ceremony, is there a problem in Area 5? I thought Maxwell was looking after it this evening. Has he called? Has something gone wrong?" Sookie's blue eyes widened in alarm. "Are the FotS causing trouble again?"

"No, they've fallen apart since Newlin came over to the dark side." Eric chuckled, but then became solemn again. "I've been putting off making this decision, but it can't wait any longer. If I choose wrongly, the repercussions could be very serious."

Pam nodded solemnly, and Sookie sat down next to him and ran a hand across his broad shoulders. He was still wearing jeans and his favorite Fangtasia T-shirt. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No. Maybe." He swung round in his chair and took her hands. He looked deep into her eyes as he said "It's my burden to bear, lover, I understand that, but can I trust you to give me your honest opinion on something?"

She was mildly insulted that he had to ask, but decided (for once) that this wasn't the place to start shrieking and/or sulking. There would always be time for that later. This was obviously important to the Viking, so she said. "you know you can - what's up?"

He nodded to Pam, who crossed to the closet. It was huge - much bigger than the one in Sookie's dressing-room. But then, Eric's dressing-room was the largest available. He had insisted that as he was presenting the Epic award, his accommodations should be equally epic. Pam had tried to point out that Russell Edgington and the Pythoness both out-ranked him, but he had threatened to allow Ginger to re-arrange her shoe closets, and she had backed down hurriedly.

Sookie wondered nervously what was hidden in there, and was startled when Pam turned back round and said, "what do you think?"

In one hand she was holding the silver-grey suit Eric had worn on the night Sam had approached him for help with the Maenad, and in the other was the black outfit from his interview with the Magister and Queen Sophie-Ann.

Eric said, "the silver-grey brings out my eyes, but Pam thinks the black is more what my fans will be expecting. You see my difficulty?"

Sookie gaped. "Is this what you meant? This is the major responsibility with the serious repercussions? Your clothes for tonight? Are you serious?"

He looked indignant. "Of course I'm serious. How could you ask? We both know that the entire audience is here to see me, and what I'm wearing will be discussed throughout the fandom. This is a big responsibility - I have to get it right."

"So what's all that crap about burdens?"

"If you think it is not a burden to be cursed with the looks and physique of a demi-god, then ..." Sookie interrupted him before he could get started on his favorite topic - himself.

"Why not just wear your tux?"

Pam snorted. "Have you looked out there? Everyone's wearing a tux - it's like a convention of head waiters. Even Compton's dug one up from somewhere. And when I say 'dug up' I'm not kidding; it looks like he's borrowed it from one of his neighbours in the cemetery. No, Eric's right. If he's not looking his best it could shake faith in the brand."

"What brand?" Sookie was completely lost now. She looked at Eric but he was checking his hair in the mirror.

Pam continued, "the Northman brand of clothing. It's the newest money-spinner for Fangtasia. Eric's appearance at the Fangies will shift a lot of merchandise in the next few days so the way he looks is crucial. We all know it's his reputation for total sexy hotness that brings the fangbangers to the bar, so he has to look the part."

Eric looked smug and winked at Sookie, but she huffed and ignored him, now she knew the situation wasn't serious. Besides, she was curious about this new line of clothing. "So what's the 'Northman' brand? If you want him to advertise the products, shouldn't he be wearing some of it, not the stuff he's worn before?"

Pam dived back into the closet and came out with a plastic-wrapped package, which she tossed to Sookie. "No, it's casual wear, and tonight's more formal. Fairy insisted."

Eric said, "I did offer to wear the Holy Black Tank, as she calls it, and she was very tempted, but Lafayette said if I could come casual so could he."

Pam shuddered elaborately. "I don't think I could stand that boy's idea of casual."

Meanwhile, Sookie had undone the plastic from the package and spread out the contents. It was a black T-shirt, with the slogan 'Vampires Like it Wet and Red' on the front. She wrinkled her nose. "Eeww. That's tacky."

Pam said, "Market research indicates humans like this sort of thing. We have others. How about this one?" 'Pale - it's the New Tanned'.

Sookie shook her head in disbelief and Eric said, "show her the signature range."

His child rooted through the closet and produced several more T-shirts and hoodies in varying colors. Each had Eric's autograph in bold script across the top and underneath was a slogan. In quick succession Sookie read, 'Eric Northman - Because He's Worth It', 'Eric Northman - Probably the Best Vampire in the World' 'Eric Northman - I Can't Believe I Drank The Whole Fairy!' and 'Eric Northman - Too Cute to be Goo'. She wasn't quite sure what he wanted her to say.

Eric looked at her enquiringly. "No? How about this one? My personal favorite." He held out his hand and Pam passed him a black T-shirt with white block lettering. It said, 'Eric Northman - Lipsmackinthirstquenchinblooddrinkinsunhatinfastmo vinnightwalkincooldressinsexlovineverlivin Vampire'.

"Okay, that one's pretty good. Not that I'm gonna be wearing it any time soon. But if you don't mind people walking round with you plastered all over their chests, that's up to you."

He smirked. "I'd rather be plastered all over your chest, lover."

She was about to answer him when an ear-splitting shriek arose from the hallway outside. As the mirrors rattled in their frames and bits of plaster dropped from the ceiling Pam sighed and headed for the door.

"Ginger - she must have spotted one of her heroes. That girl could outscream an entire football stadium."

As the door closed behind her Sookie turned back to Eric. "You're gonna have to make up your mind, you're on in about twenty minutes."

"You haven't said which makes me look hottest."

"Eric, you'd look hot in a Hefty bag and you know it."

"Hmm, there's a thought. Maybe one of the see-through ones …"

Sookie giggled. "Well, they are for keeping your junk in."

"Then we had better make it the extra-large size…"