9. Facing the Issues.

Pam slapped at Eric’s hands and took over with his tie, huffing at the mess he was making of it. She was nervous for her sweet boy, tonight was his first big party and what a party it was touted to be! It was obvious that it was a daunting prospect for him.

“You’ll be fine baby boy, you’ll eat, you’ll watch the first few episodes of Sookie’s show, you’ll talk with Fin and Lori, you’ll have a great time!”

“What … what if someone asks me something?”

“Like what? Remember what this party is for, the focus isn’t on you, sweetie, Sookie is the one everyone will want to talk to!”

“You’re right Mom.” He circled his shoulders and ran his hands through his new haircut. “Is my hair okay?”

Pam dropped her arms to her sides and narrowed her eyes. “Are you still questioning my styling abilities? It looks great!”

“No! No, you’re great at cutting hair and thank goodness you are – I couldn’t have spent another minute in that salon. My face was peering out from every magazine in the waiting area, it was creepy.” Eric continued to preen until Pam slapped at his hands again, muttering about him playing with his hair so much it would end up looking greasy. “Do you think Sookie will like it? I didn’t tell her I was getting it done.”

“I think you look even more handsome than you did before and if Sookie doesn’t like it, then she’s crazy, pure and simple.”

Eric nodded and looped the tie back over his head, placing it in the garment bag with the rest of his suit, double checking he had everything for his first night away from home. Sookie had booked them into a hotel very close to where the party was to be held. His emotions were like a hurricane inside him, he had already had to call Aloysius for impromptu counselling twice since waking, he wished Sookie was there, she calmed him, made him feel … sane. He looked at the clock, it was almost time to leave, his Mom was driving him to the pick-up point down town and he had a long journey before he would get to NYC where Sookie would be waiting for him at the port authority. Eric just hoped he didn’t get stuck sitting next to someone who talked a lot, or smelled bad, or snored for the whole trip … he’d been told many horror stories about long bus journeys.

–**–

Sookie rushed through the New York streets, it was a short walk to the bus station from where she’d parked on W39th Street but she was running late. She had to apologise to three different people who tried to stop her to take photos with their cell phones or ask for an autograph, she had to be there when Eric got off that bus. He had come so far but the slightest little thing could set him back, at least that was Sookie’s fear. The actress was slightly out of breath when she got to the arrivals board and scanned it to see which direction she should be heading in, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that Eric’s bus hadn’t arrived yet. Making her way through the crowd, she eventually found herself at the right gate and slumped onto a chair to calm down before she saw her boyfriend. Sookie felt someone sit down next to her and an elbow nudge her in the ribs rudely.

“Hey Sookie.”

She looked at the man closely; she definitely hadn’t seen him before. He was older than her, perhaps in his late 30’s, with mousy brown hair and sharp features … like a rat.

“Uh … hi. Do I know you?”

“No, no, I’m just a fan … Sookie.” Sookie bristled at how familiar he was trying to be despite never having met him and shifted so she wasn’t sitting quite as close to him. “Are you here to catch a bus?”

“Actually no, I’m waiting for someone.”

The man laughed and Sookie wished she had asked Arlene or Lorena to come with her; she was very, very uncomfortable with what was happening. Deciding that the old saying, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, was probably the right way to go, she turned and smiled at the man.

“So you’re a fan huh? Can I have your name?”

“The name’s Gabe. I love all your work.” Gabe leered at her, drawing his eyes from her sneaker clad feet up to her face then back down to settle on her breasts.

“Wow … you’ll … uh … be looking forward to the new season of Galaxy Pioneers then?”

Gabe shrugged. “I’ve heard you don’t take your clothes off, so no, not really.”

Sookie closed her eyes and swallowed, taking deep breaths before opening them to find that Gabe had moved closer to her again and turned so his arm was resting on the back of the seat behind her. She looked around, hoping that other travellers would recognise her and come over, she never thought she would wish for that, a couple were chatting between themselves heatedly, there was an older lady absorbed in her knitting and another young man engrossed in his cell phone. She cleared her throat and tried to smile at Gabe.

“I haven’t taken my clothes off in any of my work Gabe; you must have me mistaken for someone else.”

“Oh no, you’ve filled out some since those pictures in the paper but you most definitely have taken your clothes off for a camera sugar.”

He extended a hand to try and touch her and she leapt off the seat. “I’d really appreciate if you didn’t try to touch me Sir. I don’t want any trouble; I’m just waiting for my boyfriend. His bus should be here real soon.”

Gabe snorted and brought a hand down to rest over his crotch, Sookie looked away before he could do anything with it and moved across the waiting area to sit next to ‘Cell phone Guy’. When she finally looked up, Gabe was gone and the man next to her was staring at her.

“Sorry, that guy was creepy; I knew he wouldn’t bother me again if I was sitting with someone.”

The man’s eyes darted between her and his phone, he tried to hide the screen but Sookie saw that he’d been using twitter and looked very annoyed that he’d been interrupted. She busied herself putting some lip gloss on and checking her hair in a tiny mirror to make sure she looked ‘together’ when she saw Eric. It wasn’t long before a bus pulled into the gate and its passengers started to disembark.

Eric waited until all of the other passengers had moved to the front of the bus before standing and retrieving his bags from the overhead compartment. He could see Sookie, craning her neck on the platform to try and spot him, so he knocked on the window and waved, his heart fluttered as the grin spread across her pretty face and she started bouncing and clapping. As soon as he stepped onto the platform she was in his arms, he dropped his bags at his side and lifted her to swing her round before setting her back on her feet and pulling her to him for a deep kiss. Her hands were under the baseball cap he had on and he could feel her fingers searching before she pulled back and took the hat off, staring at his new look.

“It’s … shorter.” She frowned a little and tugged at it before smiling. “I love it!”

They made small talk about his trip as they walked back to Sookie’s car and smiled at some people who recognised Sookie. When they were exiting the parking garage, Eric turned to his girlfriend and put his hand on her knee across the centre console.

“Is it always like that, people shouting at you whenever you go somewhere?”

“Kind of.” Sookie shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me though, it’ll get worse when the show goes on air, then something else will happen and they’ll be recognising a different actress.”

“Do any of them go too far?”

Sookie shuddered as she remembered Gabe. “Some, there was a guy at the bus station as a matter of fact, he was creepy but I just told him what was what and moved seats. I’ll be more careful from now on, he scared me and if I have to go somewhere that I need to wait for a while I’ll be taking some company.”

“Good idea, I don’t like the idea of weird guys scaring you in bus stations. Not because you’re recognisable, just because you’re my girlfriend and weird guys talking to you worries me.”

“I’m not some waif that can’t handle a little confrontation Eric!”

“I know but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel protective of you does it?”

Sookie thought about that for a moment. “No, I guess it doesn’t.”

They pulled up outside the Hilton and Sookie handed her keys to the valet as Eric got his bags out of the trunk. They went inside and Eric stood looking around him in awe of the opulent foyer as Sookie checked in and got their room key, Sookie wrapped an arm around Eric’s waist as they made their way to the elevators, smiling and acknowledging those who recognised her. When the young couple were finally in their room, Eric carefully extracted his suit from the garment bag and inspected it for creases before hanging it in the wardrobe. Sookie wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek into his back but was annoyed when Eric took her wrists and moved away from her.

“I’ve just spent five hours on a hot bus Sookie, I stink! Let me take a shower, we still have a few hours before we need to leave right?”

“Yeah, I have that stylist from before, Jennifer, coming to the room at 7pm so I guess I should get cleaned up too.” She smiled as Eric kissed her forehead and turned away towards the bathroom. “Would you like some company?”

Eric stopped mid-step and chewed on his bottom lip before facing her with his answer. “Sure, that sounds … nice.”

Sookie nodded and grabbed his hand on her way to the bathroom; pulling him behind her while she hopped and her other hand left a trail of sneakers and socks. Eric copied Sookie’s actions and by the time she was starting the shower running, they were both down to their underwear. Eric watched as Sookie unfastened her bra and let it fall to the tiled floor before yanking her panties down to her ankles and flicking them at him with her foot. He caught them and looked at them for a second before his brain realised that his girlfriend was naked and his eyes drank in her beauty.

“What do you want to do first baby? Get clean or get dirty?”

Eric opened and closed his mouth a few times; all of the blood in his body had rushed to his groin as soon as the idea of being in a shower with Sookie captured any thought processes he would usually use. “Uh … clean … no! Dirty … but then we’d … uh … clean first?”

Sookie giggled at her boyfriend’s turmoil. “It’s not the $60,000 question Eric. Why don’t we see how dirty getting clean makes us?”

His head lolled back on his shoulders as Sookie stroked his arousal through his shorts before pulling them down his legs and nudging his ankles to remind him to step out of them. When she sat back on her heels to look at him, Sookie sighed, he was truly magnificent. She stood and took his hand, urging him to join her under the warm spray; Eric closed the door of the shower behind him and turned to find Sookie was already filling up her palm with shower gel. The sight of her covered in water droplets, the cold of the gel being spread over his body, the slick feel of her hands as they moved over his skin, Eric groaned as the sensations overwhelmed him and grabbed Sookie’s wet hair, pulling her flush against his body and kissing her. Eric got the feeling that getting clean with Sookie would end up being very, very dirty … and he was right.

–**–

Jennifer Cater knocked on the door of the hotel room … again, pressing her ear against the door, she heard what sounded like people running around and jumped back as the click of the handle being turned indicated someone was right on the other side. Sookie Stackhouse stood before her, pink cheeked with a serious case of sex hair, not that Jennifer could blame her. If she had a boyfriend that looked like Eric Northman, she’d be all over him any chance she could get.

“Hi, I’m a little early but better early than late right?”

“Oh definitely Jennifer! Thanks so much for coming to do this for me; I wouldn’t have time to go to a salon what with the other things I had to do today.”

Immediately Jennifer’s eyes darted to where Eric was sitting on a sofa wearing a fluffy white robe. “Uh huh. Well, let me see your dress so I can work out a colour palette and then we can talk about what you’d like done with your hair … I think Eric might be in need of a little styling help in that department too.”

Sookie looked at Eric and covered her mouth with her hand to stop the laughter from bubbling to the surface. His hair was sticking out at a multitude of angles; if it was white he would look like he was related to Doc Brown.

“Great Scot!” She exclaimed before she could stop herself, noting Eric’s frown as he sauntered off to the bathroom to look for himself. When he came back in, it was obvious he’d wet his hands and tried to flatten the bird’s nest on his head.

“Yep, just as well I’m early.” Jennifer shook her head and started unpacking everything she needed from her rolling suitcase.

–**–

Eric was hustled through a side door by Sam and Arlene as Sookie was dragged to the red carpet outside the Ziegfeld Theatre. The camera bulbs blinded her but she smiled as widely as she could and put her arm around Lorena’s waist as the press shouted questions at them. They answered as Rasul had instructed, ensuring that no spoilers for the season slipped out, moving from interviewer to interviewer along the crimson pathway. Just as Sookie was about to answer the ‘is Troisha romantically involved with the Captain’ question for the 7th time in 30 minutes, the attention of the press was diverted to an arriving vehicle.

“Oh my God!” Lorena pinched at Sookie’s arm making her wince. “Is that? Wow … that is desperate.”

Sookie turned to see Bill walking the carpet arm in arm with a girl she vaguely recognised from a reality TV show. “Wasn’t she in rehab?”

“Who knows? Either way, he’s breaking all the rules walking her up the line. Look … here’s Holly from the network.”

Noticing that they were free to make a break for the entrance, Lorena and Sookie huddled by the door and watched as Bill and his Z-list arm candy argued with Holly about her being allowed to go in the main entrance. Giggling they made their way to the main room to be reunited with their men.

–**–

The four friends sat together during the meal provided, chatting about the various sights and sounds of the evening. Lorena was the only member of the group that had been to an event of that ilk and had many comparisons to make between the Galaxy Pioneers premiere preview and that of her last big project, Mississippi Queen.

“Well on MQ, it was about vampires, so there were all these emo-goth vamp wannabees hanging around outside. It was such a trip!”

“As opposed to the sci-fi geeks wearing costumes from every incarnation of Star Trek?” Fin raised an eyebrow and smirked as Lorena playfully tapped him on the shoulder.

Eric was startled as Sookie grabbed at Lorena’s hand, pulling it closer and staring at one of her fingers. “You? When? Oh my God!”

“Shh.” Lorena and Fin simultaneously tried to get Sookie to quieten down before Lorena leaned in close. “Fin asked me last night but we’re waiting until tomorrow to announce anything.”

Eventually, Eric realised what was going on and shook Fintan’s hand. “Congrats man, I wish you guys all the best! A little sudden though don’t you think?”

Fin and Lorena gazed into each other’s eyes as Fin answered him. “When its right, you just know and there’s no point in holding back.”

Eric nodded and spotted that Sookie was incredibly interested in her napkin; he reached over and squeezed her hand, disappointed when she gave him a weak smile in return. Sookie soon directed the conversation back to small talk and Eric spent the rest of the meal wondering if there was any way he could fix whatever seemed to be wrong. He knew that whatever was between he and Sookie was right, it was very, very right but he also knew that asking her to marry him would not only be something he wasn’t quite ready for but it would also be incredibly meaningless – he would only be doing it because she was jealous that her friend had been proposed to.

When it was time for everyone to move into the theatre for the viewing, Eric excused himself to go to the restroom. He was still concerned with Sookie’s mood and how on earth he could remedy her melancholy – if he could remedy it, that he didn’t notice who he was standing next to at the urinal.

“So you’re the ‘tard huh?”

Eric turned towards the slurred sound to find Bill swaying slightly while he did his business. “I’ve never been called that before, mostly because I don’t have any learning difficulties, which is the usual cause for referring to someone as a ‘tard.”

“Oh! A smart guy huh? Well you weren’t smart enough to keep away from the poisonous bitch you’re fucking!”

Eric closed his eyes and sighed, he could feel his heart begin to race as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. Every instinct he had was telling him to hit Bill and knock him unconscious, luckily, his brain stayed in control enough to prevent him from making such a mistake.

“You only think she’s poisonous because you’re not with her anymore. Bitter much?”

“Fuck you!” Bill snarled, zipping up violently and stalking to the sinks. “Why should I be bitter? I’m not the one who had to stoop so low as to scour the patient list at the psychiatric centre for sex!”

Eric lips were set in a thin line, almost white from being pressed together. He knew Bill was trying to goad him and as he made his way to the sinks, he noticed Bill lean against the counter and fold his arms. The dark haired actor smirked, making it obvious he was thinking of something hurtful to say to Eric.

“As far as her memory is concerned, I’ll always be her first.” Bill stood up straight and pressed against Eric as he dried his hands, attempting to intimidate him. “That’s something you can never have. Doesn’t that just irritate you?”

Eric frowned a little and straightened to his full height, towering over Bill. “What irritates me, Bill, is that you feel the need to be a dick. Please don’t speak to me again … ever.”

Eric marched to the door of the restroom and almost bumped into Rasul as he was entering. Rasul stepped past Eric and noted Bill’s expression which was pure anger. Placing a hand on Eric’s arm, Rasul addressed both men.

“I want to know what just happened here.”

Eric shrugged. “He was being a dick, so I told him not to speak to me again.”

Bill snarled at Eric and stared daggers at Rasul, he had been sure he would be able goad Blondie into an argument, maybe even a fight. Either one would have gotten his name in the gossip columns, it would have been even better if Eric could have been made out to be the aggressor but it’s all good. Rasul waved his hand to get Eric to leave, making it apparent that he wanted to speak with Bill alone.

“Bill what, exactly, were you trying to achieve by being an ass?”

“You’ve only got that mentally ill, geek’s word on that.”

“Yeah, well, that mentally ill geek seems like a hell of a nice guy, so I’ll take his word over yours any day of the week. Take my advice Bill; don’t go looking for trouble to keep yourself in the limelight. Work hard, work well and it’ll happen.”

Bill sneered at his boss as he walked past him to head in for the preview. Rasul shook his head and wondered if he was going to have to get someone to keep an eye on Compton over the show’s hiatus. The last thing he needed was one of the main cast going down the tubes and it was clear that Bill’s drinking needed to be addressed … soon before he made a serious mistake.

–**–

Sookie spent most of the first episode preview feeling jealous that Lorena and Fin were engaged, despite the fact they had known each other for a shorter time than her and Eric. The second episode was spent thinking about all the reasons why Eric wouldn’t want to ask her to marry him and if he would ever feel like taking that step. By the time the third episode was almost over, Sookie felt immensely guilty and selfish. It was obvious that her mood had not gone unnoticed and Eric was on edge, Sookie thought about everything they had been through in such a short time and chastised herself for even momentarily obsessing about taking vows. She loved Eric and he loved her. That was all that mattered at that moment in time. Sookie realised that as much as Eric had to live one day at a time due to his condition – it was something she would have to learn to do too.

They made their way through to the large room, passing guests and colleagues who already had drinks in hand. The women made sure their partners were seated and comfortable before going off on their own to schmooze with others in the industry.

“She seems to have cheered up.” Fin sipped at his beer. “I think it’s easy to guess what made her so sad for a while.”

Eric sighed and rolled his beer bottle between his palms on the table. “I know that she wants more, she wants marriage and kids and vacations to the beach but … I just can’t think that far into the future yet. Is this the beginning of the end?”

“Sookie is the only one who can answer that question, friend, but for what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s so selfish she would throw what she has with you to the side and pursue those things with someone else.”

Eric nodded and sipped at his drink. Fin looked at him and wondered if he should go and find the girls and make an early night of it, the only way Eric and Sookie were going to get past this was to talk about it and the longer they stayed here, the harder it would be for them to talk about later. His musing was interrupted by Rasul sitting in the vacant chair next to Eric.

“Hi, we didn’t get introduced before.” Rasul extended his hand to Eric, then to Fintan. “Rasul Mahmood. I apologise for Bill’s behaviour in the restroom before.”

“It’s not you who should be apologising.” Eric shrugged.

“No, it’s not. What did he say to you anyway?”

“He was just trying to bait me, into what – I have no idea. He called me a name then said something about Sookie. It’s no big deal, he knows, now, that I won’t react so he’ll probably not bother next time.”

Sookie and Lorena noticed the three men sitting at the table; they paid particular attention to the irritated expression on Rasul’s face.

“Do you think we should get over there?” Lorena bit at her bottom lip. “He doesn’t look too happy.”

“I can’t imagine Eric or Fin would have done anything to get on his nerves. You know Rasul; he’s pretty laid back about stuff.”

Lorena cleared her throat and quirked an eyebrow at Sookie. “Speaking of laid back, that’s something you certainly weren’t through the preview. Was it nerves or something else?”

“Uh … oh! You know how these things are. It’s always touch and go until you see how the critics are going to take things.”

“Uh-huh and the fact your mood plummeted after we had talked about Fintan proposing to me was just a coincidence right?”

Sookie sighed and plonked unceremoniously into a nearby vacant chair. “Urgh! You’re right and I feel awful! My brain went all kablooey and all I could think about was whether it would ever happen for me and Eric. I’m a horrible, selfish person!”

Lorena crouched down and placed a supportive arm around her friend’s shoulder. “You’re normal Sookie. Every girl has those thoughts when something they want happens to someone else. What you need to do now, is talk to Eric. I saw the look on his face through the previews, he wasn’t watching the show. He was watching you. Take off, go somewhere private and talk to him.”

“Okay, you’re right. Lord knows what he’s thinking right now!”

Sookie stood and quickly walked towards where Eric was sitting. Fintan noticed her approach and turned to Eric.

“Your Sookie is coming over. You should ask her if it’s okay for the two of you to leave. I think the sooner you two talk about everything the better.”

Eric nodded and turned to face his girlfriend as he rose from his chair, when she reached him they shared an embrace. “Sookie, I was wondering …”

“Can it wait Eric? I’d really like to get going. There’s something I need to say to you.”

“Oh! Well, I was wondering if we could go soon because there are some things I’d like to talk to you about.”

“So, you don’t mind leaving early?”

“Not at all, I thought I was going to have to convince you to leave now.”

They smiled at each other and Sookie said her goodbyes to everyone she knew while Eric retrieved their belongings and said his own farewells to Fintan, Lorena and Rasul. Just as they were about to exit the theatre, they saw Bill’s date rushing past them looking very upset. Although she was a little concerned as to what had happened to the young woman, Sookie couldn’t help but feel thankful that the emotional display as the ex-big brother contestant left the building attracted the attention of the waiting press, clearing the way for her and Eric to leave with minimal hassle.

–**–

The young couple entered their hotel room and as soon as the door was closed they both blurted out their apologies at the same time. Sookie and Eric shared an uncomfortable laugh before Sookie frowned and sat down on the bed.

“Why are you saying sorry Eric? You have nothing to apologise for, I’m the one who let my jealousy ruin what could have been a fun night out.”

“Well, I’m sorry for not being the kind of boyfriend you want to have. I know you want romance and proposals and I feel bad for not being able to give you those things.”

Sookie’s eyes widened in horror and the full implications of her earlier mood were made painfully apparent. “Oh Lord! No Eric! Don’t you ever think those things, you’ve given me so much and you’re an amazing boyfriend. I feel awful because you should never think you aren’t the kind of boyfriend I want to have!”

“But all the things you want … I don’t know if I can ever give them to you.”

“The truth is … I’m not sure what I want. The moment I saw Lorena’s ring, yes, I wanted a big romantic gesture but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I don’t need big romantic gestures. Every time you walk out of your house, every time you’re out in public and speaking to people, that says more about how you feel about me than a shiny bauble and I’m sorry it took me most of the night to get my head around that.”

“So, you don’t want me to propose to you?” Eric frowned.

“Not if it’s not what you want to do right at that moment. Don’t get me wrong, if at some point you get down on one knee with a ring, I’ll be thrilled! But until you feel it’s time, I’m happy with the fact that we’re in love and we’re happy together.”

Eric barely managed to hide his relief and closed his eyes to absorb the fact that Sookie wasn’t breaking up with him. Sookie gently stroked Eric’s cheek with her thumb, smiling as he opened his eyes at the physical contact. He opened his arms and she crawled into his lap, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and nuzzling into his neck.

“I thought you would want to break up with me.” Eric sighed and inhaled the scent of Sookie’s hair as she shook her head vehemently against his shoulder.

“Never!” She sat back and held Eric’s face in her hands. “I love you Eric and I’m willing to accept whatever part of you that you can give. Don’t ever think that I’m going to give up on us at the first hurdle, I care for you far too much for that.”

Eric nodded and smoothed Sookie’s hair away from her face. “I love you too Sookie.”

Their lips met softly as they tightened their embrace, both of them trying to prove the depth of their feelings for the other with their bodies. Eric rolled Sookie on to her back and gently ran his hands over her curves. She sighed into his mouth as the pads of his fingers brushed her hardening nipples.

“Make love to me Eric.”

“Anything for you, my Sookie.”

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