Naughty or Nice Contest

Title: Every Time a Bell Rings

Pen name: Tradermare

Beta'd by: The totally awesome and talented LanYap and Kristin Elizabeth.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Charlaine Harris. I'm only playing with them.


Eric

I stared at the two items on my desk, as if the inanimate objects would tell me what to do. Christmas was just a few days away, and I had not yet chosen a gift for Sookie. There were plenty of romantic or practical gifts that would be suitable, and I could probably get her to accept a more expensive gift without balking because of the human holiday. I had spent most of the month of November thinking of such possibilities, but none of the potential gifts seemed to be just right.

It had been almost a year since the Fae War, and Sookie and I settled into what always seemed to be a tentative relationship. Sookie had recovered from the physical wounds she received during the Fae War, but I could tell that the mental wounds inflicted on her were still healing. I saw the sadness cross her face when something reminded her of what she had lost, and there was no gift I could give that could take it away. No amount of money would bring back the friends and family that were gone forever. Only time could ease that injury. I did not know if it was because of the painful memories, or if it was something else, but we both held back a little piece of ourselves and we both knew it. For now, we accepted this cautious and "almost" partnership as it was, not asking for any more.

Sookie used the bond as her excuse for holding back. She told herself I controlled her feelings and emotions with our bond, which could not be farther from the truth. I wanted to explain it to her, but whenever I tried, she pushed me away, unwilling to hear what I had to say. For some reason, she seemed to get scared when I tried to talk to her about it, and my own desire to keep her from running away silenced me. At first, I thought she believed I was telling her what she wanted to hear, but then I realized that not knowing or understanding the bond had become a convenient excuse for Sookie. She built a wall between us with it, and she would have to break it down when she was ready, so I thought it best to let it go. I waited for Sookie to make the first move and ask me about the bond, and I was still waiting. I tried not to dwell on that wall she constructed, but rather, have faith that someday, she would allow the wall to come down and embrace the connection between us.

I focused my attention back to the items on my desk. Just as I was picking up the green envelope, Pam burst into my office. She loved to make a grand entrance.

"Eric, you need to come out to the bar. Thalia is…" She stopped talking, stared at the object on my desk, and then looked me in the eye.

"Eric, what is that doing out of your safe? What are you doing? You are not thinking what I think you are thinking… are you?"

I put the green envelope back down on my desk, and picked up the black bundle.

"Pam, what is it you think I have in mind?"

"You are not thinking of retracting your pledge are you? Why else would you have the ceremonial knife out of the safe? I know you and Sookie have your issues, but surely, it's not the time to take back your pledge. Right, Eric?"

I turned the wrapped knife over in my hands as I thought about Pam's words. Without remorse or pity, I answered.

"I don't know Pam. She is right – I am high-handed. She called me that, you know."

Pam snorted. "Well, of course you are high-handed. You did what was best to protect her. You saved her from Andre and De Castro. Would she prefer to be bound to them? No Eric, you were there for her. Isn't that worth something?" Pam was irritated now.

"Yes, Pam, it is worth something. But to stay together based on gratitude? If that is what it is, then I think it best we both move on."

"Eric, you can't mean that. It is not just gratitude. She cares for you."

"That may be true, Pam. Even vampires care for their human pets, but I want to be more than that to her."

"Eric, I don't know why you are so maudlin, but just stop it. Sookie loves you. Everyone knows it."

Now it was my turn to snort. In a mordant tone, I said, "Everyone but Sookie, don't you mean, Pam?"

Well, I suppose I had hit upon the ultimate truth, because Pam was finally speechless.

"Neither Sookie or I are served by continuing a lie for the sake of gratitude or obligation." As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew what to do.

"Pam, it has been almost a year. It is time to... What's that saying the humans have?"

"Fish or cut bait?"

"No, but that could apply. I was thinking more about the one about love. Yes, I remember now. If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn't, it never was yours."

"But, Eric—"

"Enough, Pam. It is done. Now what is the problem with Thalia? Let us go out front, shall we?"

Pam raised an eyebrow to me, as if she did not believe me. She was probably right. Could I really let Sookie go and face the possibility that our true bond would never be fulfilled?

I picked up the green envelope and the black bundle containing our ceremonial knife, stuck them in my pocket, and followed Pam to the bar.

oooo

Christmas Eve arrived. I awoke at dusk and lay in my bed, thinking about what might happen that evening. Sookie insisted on preserving her human traditions for the holiday, and she invited all of her friends and remaining family to dinner. She had been preparing for days, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. She had even asked me to stay in Shreveport the previous night so she could get everything done. I reluctantly agreed, mostly because I knew even if I had gone to Bon Temps, she would be too busy or tired to spend time with me. After my conversation with Pam, I had decided I would proceed with my plan to give Sookie what she wanted for Christmas.

I got up and pulled the black velvet bundle from my top drawer. I removed the ceremonial knife from its wrapper and kissed it, just as I did the night Sookie brought it to my office in front of Victor. With a silent wish that my pledged and bonded would come to me, I wrapped the knife in its velvet blanket and placed it inside another box, which I wrapped in red paper. I added a gold bow on top, and placed it by my cell phone and car keys so I would not forget it. I showered, dressed, and gathered up my belongings, then left to pick up Pam for the drive to Bon Temps.

When we arrived at Sookie's house, all the other guests were already there. Sam and his new girlfriend, Tanya, Sookie's brother Jason, and Bill socialized in the living room. Sookie greeted Pam and me at the front door, pulling Pam into a hug as soon as she walked through the door.

"Pam, so glad you could make it. Come in and let me take your coat. Everyone is in the living room."

Sookie took Pam's coat from her and turned to me. She smiled her real smile and I felt her happiness through the bond. Without saying a word, she reached up and kissed me on the mouth, her lips clinging to mine. I took the opportunity to pull her close and kiss her back, until she was almost breathless.

She laughed and whispered in my ear. "I missed you last night."

I pressed her against me, and replied. "I missed you too."

Suddenly remembering she had guests, she broke free of my embrace and held out her hand for my coat.

"We'll all sit down at the table in a few minutes. Why don't you go in the living room with everyone and I'll be right in after I put these coats away."

I nodded and entered the living room. The roaring fire in the fireplace instantly reminded me of my time under the witches curse, and I smiled, thinking of the intimate talks I had with Sookie while sitting in front of that fire. As if on cue, Sookie was standing next to me, and she put her arm around my waist as I held her across the shoulders and pulled her to me. When she looked up at me, I could tell she had been thinking about the witches curse, too. At that moment, I wished for nothing more than to be alone with her.

With a knowing smile, Sookie gave me a squeeze, and then called her guests to the dining room for dinner. For the humans, she prepared a feast of roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean salad, and seasoned collard greens. For the vampires, Sookie had taken the time to select a special royalty blend, which we enjoyed much more than the usual synthetic blood. The humans raved about the food and in particular, the dessert, which was a wonderful pecan pie, a recipe of Sookie's grandmother, and I could see emotional glances pass between Jason and Sookie as they enjoyed it.

No one was more surprised than I was when Pam helped Sookie clear the table and do the dishes. Suspicious of Pam's motives, I offered to help myself, so I could keep an eye on what Pam was up to, but Sookie would have none of it.

"Eric, please go sit with the others. Pam and I will take care of things in here." She flashed me that happy smile again, and I could not deny her, but I made sure to give Pam a glare to tell her to behave.

I kissed her lightly on the lips and said, "Okay, I'll go. But you call me if you need me."

Seductively, she replied, "I always need you Eric, but not for dishes."

With a wink, I reluctantly joined the rest of the guests in the living room. Pam and Sookie had the dishes done in no time and joined us, and we spent the rest of the evening talking about many things, reminiscing about past holidays. Around midnight, Bill, then the others, decided it was time to leave. Sookie retrieved everyone's coats, and she and I stood side-by-side as everyone said their goodbyes.

Ever the Southern Gentleman, Bill leaned over and gently kissed Sookie's cheek. "Sookie, thank you for the wonderful evening and the hospitality." He then turned to Pam and asked, "Can I give you a ride back to Shreveport?"

"Sure, Bill." Pam kissed Sookie on the cheek, too.

"Sookie, thank you, my telepathic friend. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas." Pam then gave me a quick hug. "You too, Eric. I hope you get everything you want."

Jason, Sam, and Tanya followed with their goodbyes and within a short time, it was just Sookie and I standing at the door. I closed and locked it.

"I thought we would never be alone!" Sookie breathed a sigh of relief and put her arms around my neck. I enveloped her in my arms and kissed her with all I had. Her warm lips parted for me and we explored each other with our tongues, our hands touching everywhere and anywhere until I could take no more. I picked her up and she molded to my body, her legs wrapping around my waist, with her hands twined into my hair.

She whispered into my mouth, "Bedroom," and I carried her there, my hands caressing her bottom as we moved down the hallway. In no time at all, we were naked on her bed, still kissing, and touching with the passion conceived from not seeing each other for three nights.

I ran my hands down her body, from her shoulders to her hips, feeling her sweet curves and warm skin. Her beautiful breasts moved up and down in time with her breathing, lightly scraping against my own bare chest. I teased her nipples with my tongue, bringing them to hard peaks. When I delved into her warm, slick center, her hips arched to meet my touch, and I knew she was ready for me. I slid into her slowly, savoring the feeling, memorizing every sensation of her body. For all I knew, this might be the last time I would have her, and I wanted to remember every moment. When Sookie and I were together in this way, I never had any doubt of her love and depth of feeling for me.

I moved within her, gently at first, watching her face, and feeling her response until I knew she wanted and needed more. I took her harder, and faster, scraping my fangs on her neck, and she cried out with pleasure. When I felt her contract around me, pulling me in deep, I bit her neck, sucking her warm life into me. Her screams of pleasure made me want more and I drank deeply from her, cherishing everything about her, until I could no longer delay my own release. I came hard inside her, feeling her drinking me into her body. After my release, I stayed within her, wanting to feel her around me forever. Sookie wrapped her arms around me and held me to her, whispering my name, while I rested on her. At that moment, I did not know if I had the strength to give her my gift. How could I let her go? Just the thought had me clutching her to my chest, as if she was going to disappear.

After a time, she spoke, bringing me back to reality.

"Eric, is something wrong? You seem particularly intense tonight. Are you okay?"

"I am fine, my lover, just fine. I'm just a little nervous about my gift for you, that's all."

She laughed. "You, Eric Northman, are nervous? Now, that I cannot believe. So when do I get this mysterious gift."

"Do you want it now?"

"Okay."

I got out of bed and retrieved the gift from my coat pocket. When I returned, Sookie was sitting in bed with a small black box in her hand. I crawled back under the covers with her, and we snuggled up against each other.

"You first, Eric. Merry Christmas." She handed me the black box. "I hope you like it."

I pulled off the gold ribbon that went around the box and slowly opened it. It was a long chain, with a bullet shaped pendant with a familiar scent.

"Where is this bullet from, lover? Why does it smell of my blood?"

I could feel her skin warm as she blushed. "It's the bullet I sucked out of you in Dallas."

"You kept it all this time?"

"Yes. Do you like it?"

I kissed her tenderly. I was so surprised that she had kept the bullet, and had it prepared as a keepsake. I put the chain over my neck, intending to wear it forever. I could sense the emotions building in the room, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing with my gift. However, I had already committed to this course of action.

"I love it, Sookie. I'll never take it off." I framed her face with my hands and kissed her again.

She smiled at me, and returned my kiss.

"Now it's your turn." I handed her my present. She ripped off the bow and wrapping paper and opened the box.

"Eric, what is this?" Her voice was nervous as she pulled out the black velvet bundle. "What does this mean?"

"My lover, I am giving you back the knife and retracting my pledge to you."

Tears started falling from her eyes, and I quickly brushed them away.

"What do you mean? Are you breaking up with me?" She looked me in the eye and I could feel her sorrow. A lump formed in my throat as I tried to find the words to explain to her.

"No, no, lover, I'm not breaking up with you. My present to you is your freedom of choice – your freedom to choose what you want, without being pressured."

"I don't understand." The tears were falling faster now, and I pulled her close to me as I continued.

"My love, I want you to be with me of your own free will. I know you feel like you did not have a choice to bond with me. I know you were not fully aware of what it meant when you brought the knife to me. I am giving you back your freedom of choice by giving the knife back to you. You may choose whether you want to pledge to me. However, know that I love you, Sookie. I want you to be happy without reservation, and to make your own choice in this matter. If you choose me as your mate, bring me the knife and we will pledge and re-bond with free will."

Her tears were slowing, but I could still hear the emotion and fear in her voice

"But I thought we were pledged so you could protect me? Won't DeCastro want me if I'm not pledged to you?"

"No one knows of this except you, me, and Pam. We will keep this secret for now so DeCastro or Madden do not come after you. They will still believe we are pledged and we will let them think that for your protection."

"But Eric, you say you love me. What if I choose NOT to be with you?"

"I will accept your decision, Sookie. It is not what I want, but I will accept it. I will still protect you from DeCastro and Madden and anyone else wanting to do you harm, but you will be free to go with whomever you want."

I pulled her closer to me, and held her for a moment. I could feel that she was upset and confused.

"My lover, please understand. I want you. I love you. But I do not want any walls between us. There are no conditions or time limits. I am here for you. My feelings for you have not changed. I want you to be happy. Not forced, not cajoled, not tricked. Do you understand?"

She pulled back from me and looked at me, this time with more love and understanding, and less confusion. "I think I do. So, what do we do now?"

"Well, what would you like to do? Do you want me to leave?" I asked.

"No! I want you to stay tonight. I'm just in shock. Please don't leave."

"Well, I can surely make some suggestions on what we might do for the rest of the night."

I kissed her with everything I had in me, and let my love for her flow freely through the bond. She responded to me, stroking my body, holding me close, answering as if we were one being. We loved each other until just before dawn, when I got up to leave for Shreveport. She was dozing quietly beside me when I got out of bed. She woke as I started to get dressed and watched me through sleepy eyes. When I was finished dressing, I came back to her bed.

"Merry Christmas, my lover. Sleep well. I love you."

"I love you, too, Eric."

She had finally said it.

oooo

The next night at Fangtasia, I was not even in the building five minutes when Pam appeared in my office.

"Eric, so, how did it go? How did Sookie like her gift? Are you two still together?"

"Yes, Pam, we are still together. You might want to adjust your attitude right now."

"Eric, I just don't understand why you would do such a thing. It's not like you to willingly give up your advantage."

"Pam, I told you. I want her of her own free will. Besides, what I did is only part of her gift."

"Really? What else is there?"

I pulled the green envelope from my pocket. Eric Northman was written in gold on the front, and a border of golden leaves edged the entire envelope.

"I received this shortly after Sookie's abduction."

I handed it to Pam, who looked it over before opening it.

Dear Eric,

My sister Claudine left a will. As executor, I am bound to inform you of her wishes. Claudine was on the path to becoming an angel. In order to fulfill this chosen path, she had to select someone least likely to perform an unselfish act, and then get that person to do what would seem to be impossible. She selected you.

Even though she has gone on to the Summerland, you can still help her achieve her goal to be an angel by performing such an act. The choice is yours. I am simply the messenger.

Claude Crane

Pam read the message a second time, before she looked at me as if I had two heads.

"So you did this for Claudine? For a fairy? Have you lost your mind?"

"Pam." I glared at her. "No, I did this for Sookie. She loved Claudine."

"So let me get this straight. You let Sookie go, so you could help her cousin become an angel, and you won't tell Sookie about it and now you might end up without her?"

"Yes, Pam, that is what I did." I growled at her, displeased with her tone.

Pam just shook her head at me.

"It's a calculated risk, Pam."

"Yes, Eric. One you could easily lose."

"Well, I am betting on winning."

"So, did the fairy get her angel wings? Do you know?"

"I do not know if the fairy is now an angel. It does not matter to me if she is or not. I did what I did for Sookie, not for the fairy."

"Have you heard from Sookie yet?"

"No, and I don't expect to. She will come to me when she is ready. She loves me. I know she does, she just needs to resolve it in her own mind."

"I hope you are right, Eric."

"I believe I am right, Pam. I need to give it some time now. We will speak no more of this. Let us go out to the bar and enthrall the vermin, shall we?"

oooo

I sat in my booth, providing entertainment to the human customers that attended the annual Fangtasia New Year's Eve Party. It had been a week since I had heard from Sookie and I was starting to wonder if I had miscalculated. But then again, I had told Sookie she could have the time she needed to make up her mind, and I wanted to stick to my word. I would just have to wait. After all, I had waited this long.

I could not keep my thoughts from the New Year's Eve when the witches cursed my memories and I found myself with Sookie. I fingered my bullet pendant, and realized that my time with Sookie had started much before that fateful New Year's Eve. For her, perhaps it had started in Dallas, when she first had my blood and I watched over her while she helped the Dallas vampires. I remembered the first time she stepped into my bar, thinking of her in her white flowered dress, so fearless and full of life. Maybe I thought I could draw her to me by thinking of her, but as the night wore on, I realized that thinking of her was only making me long for her more. It did me no good to indulge my yearning for her.

The thought of going to her tonight crossed my mind. After all, it was our anniversary of sorts. Maybe she was waiting for me. I quickly brushed those thoughts from my head. No, I told her it would be her choice and I would not pressure her into anything. It would be best to stay the course.

By three in the morning, the bar crowd had dispersed and the human employees and vampires had left. Only Pam and I remained in my office, putting away the night's receipts and finishing the final paperwork of the night.

"Eric, I'm going now. I have an engagement." She stopped for a moment, before continuing. "Would you rather I stay for a while?"

"No, Pam, you go on. I will see you tomorrow night."

Pam came over to me and kissed my cheek. I was a little surprised by her show of affection, but I felt her concern through our sire-child bond, and I patted her hand.

"Happy New Year, Pam. Now go scoot."

She laughed at that, and in spite of everything, I laughed with her. The truth was we both missed Sookie.

Pam scurried out the door, obviously late for her engagement. I sat down at my desk, shuffling papers, not really sure what I wanted to do. It was still early, and I did not want to go home to rest just yet. I could kill some time here at the office. The week had been a tough one, although I did not let on to anyone. However, in spite of the difficulty, I consoled myself with the thoughts I had done the right thing, for Sookie. I thought about protecting her from the likes of Madden and DeCastro, and I knew it would be more difficult now that we were not in regular contact. I would need to send someone around to watch over her. For the first time since I made my decision, I felt some genuine concern as to what that might mean for her safety. I would need to find a way to be sure that she was still safe, even if the worst happened and she did not select me as her mate. Protecting her was a personal pledge I would never retract.

Shaking it off, I shut down my computer and gathered up my cell phone and keys. As I grabbed my jacket and put it on, I heard the back door of the club opening. Pam must have forgotten something, I thought. When I turned around, though, Sookie was standing there. We just looked at each other, waiting for the other to speak in the awkward silence born from not seeing each other for a week. After a few moments, I spoke in a quiet and calm voice.

"Sookie, what are you doing here? It is so late. Why are you not at home?"

"Eric, I wanted, no, I needed to see you. I have missed you so much." She took a deep breath. "I love you."

She came to me and I wrapped my arms around her. I could not hold her close enough. Even if she was not here to tell me she had chosen me, it felt so good to hold her again. I whispered into her ear, "My lover, I have missed you too, but it is very late. Let me take you back to Bon Temps. We will talk there."

"No, I don't want to go back to Bon Temps. I'm here to see you, to tell you…"

Before she could finish her sentence, the room filled with the sound of ringing bells, starting quiet and growing louder with each passing second. It was a sweet sound, like the sound of children's laughter. Sookie grabbed my hand, and pointed to the hallway where a bright light spilled through the doorway. When we took a step closer, we heard a "pop" and then Claudine was before us. Her beauty still intact, her body had no substance and her form looked ethereal, but she clearly supported a fine set of wings.

"Claudine!" Sookie gasped. "How are you here? Oh, how I've missed you."

"Sookie, I am here for a moment on my journey to a new existence. I wanted to see you one last time before I move on. I need you to know I graduated to angel." She gave Sookie a brilliant smile as she spoke, and then she looked at me, but said nothing more.

"Claudine, I'm so sorry, for you and your baby. Please forgive me. You were killed because of me, and I can't tell you enough how sorry I am."

"It was my destiny to go to the Summerland as I did, protecting you. It was not your fault, and I am honored I could serve as your godmother for the time I had in your world. Do not let guilt keep you from having a happy life. I cannot stay here, but I needed to see you one last time. Please be happy, Sookie. Follow your heart and you will find what you need."

As her form started to fade, she blew a kiss to Sookie and then, to my amazement, one to me. When she was gone, the room was quiet, the bells no longer ringing. Sookie wiped the tears that were rolling down her cheeks and turned to me.

"Eric, I came here tonight to give you something. I hope you will accept it. I am going to follow my heart."

She reached inside her purse, and handed me the black velvet bundle.

"What are you saying, Sookie?"

She looked me in the eye and spoke the words I longed to hear.

"I'm choosing you Eric. I love you. I am yours. I willingly pledge myself to you."

I cupped her face with my hands, brushing away a few errant tears with my thumb. I could no longer keep the smile from my face.

"And I am yours, my mate, my love, my wife."

I gathered her into my arms and when I kissed her, I could swear I heard a bell ring. It was the sweetest sound.


A/N: I hope you enjoyed my little story. I'd love to hear from you!

Thank you ehee and indigobuni for hosting the contest! *hugs*