A/N: For some reason this ‘Christmas’ song was playing on repeat when I was writing this piece but it really fit the mood. It has no lyrics so feel free to listen while you read, I had briefly toyed entering this into a competition that used Christmas carols as a starting point but in the end this really didn’t meet the brief anymore. Enjoy with or without the music!
Special thanks to MsBuffy for her editing skills and VAlady for agreeing to preread this and confirm the ‘need to practice answer’ I will be giving you in the comment/review section.
Sookie wasn’t surprised to see the message appear on her screen when all her colleagues made to leave the office. Internally she cursed herself for not switching off the computer before putting on her coat. With a resigned sigh she shrugged out of the warm item at the estimation this wouldn’t be a matter resolved in minutes. Things would never be that easy with Eric Northman.
As ever, the message was cryptic and revealed little of what to expect despite knowing him so well now. She kept her coat hanging over her arms to signal she wouldn’t be staying long and was officially off the clock, something he often forgot, intentionally or not. The walk to his office wasn’t long, he had relocated her to a close proximity within days of coming to work at Aria V. Her heels sank in the short commercial carpet that dampened the worst of the pain inflicted by such footwear. It had replaced the hard surfaced tiles when he declared the incessant noise of her shoes unbearable to his sensitive ears. She had slipped out of her shoes for days after that announcement before the carpet arrived, something she was quite thankful for considering the abuse her feet usually suffered by day’s close.
On account of her short stature she never once contemplated exchanging them for comfortable flats, his physical height was intimidating enough and those few inches gave her the confidence never to back down in his presence, something she needed on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
Eric treated her like an assistant when he was well aware of her job description. She had negotiated her salary and contract terms with him directly after all. When Sookie was hired she discovered after some snooping around that she was being paid fifteen percent more than any other man or woman in her position. Initially this had pleased her and she had congratulated herself on her own negotiating skills until his required presence of her became a continual. She had long blamed his incessant demands from her on that fact alone. In her mind, Eric Northman was a tight wad who wanted his money’s worth which meant she brought him his coffee every morning with hostility. Photocopied whatever needed copying before tossing it on his desk with a sneer.
After the third time he insisted she look over something or the other unnecessarily in his only available time slot over lunch her scowl had somewhat dissipated into a permanent frown. From the next day onwards she simply got them both a meal from the deli across the street, knowing his particular order by heart in the process of the previous days, and silently ate her lunch in his office with him. Little of it was said between them as the routine settled, though there were whispers in the office of his apparent favouritism of her that she denied vehemently. It could never be favouritism in her mind, it could only ever be interpreted as him riding her hard. He was, by all appearances, cold and stoic, especially in her presence.
The only time she would see the walls crumble would be when he teased her. An effort to relieve himself of the scorn that would continually settle on her face in his vicinity, or so he said. His taunting always teetered on the edge of improper but he was careful enough that it only could be taken as such in the interpreter’s mind. Her talk of an imaginative boyfriend, Bill, named after the constipated cat of her neighbours that she had the misfortune of looking after more times than she cared to count, had only encouraged him to no end, consolidating further proof of his torment and dislike of her.
She once asked after the identity of a young blonde girl on his desk, what she supposed was his daughter, while gesturing to the only personal item that seemed to reside in his immaculate and precisely arranged office. A simple nod was given and the item was taken from her hands, the silver photo frame was placed back in the exact same arrangement it stood before as if she had never been there, her thumbprints polished away.
He was a man of few words but when he did speak it was direct and to the point. He saw no use in shrouding the truth with placates for the comfort of another. A Scandinavian trait she was informed, but convinced little by the explanation. While Sookie appreciated this attitude in an employer she found it hard to reconcile with the man whose eyes sparkled with incidental mischief. Often it would emerge when she slipped in her professional persona, like it had earlier that afternoon when she caught a rare smile on his face. The reason; the explained absence of Bill at tonight’s holiday party. Sookie hadn’t lied, he really was in the hospital with another bout of irritable bowel syndrome, but her careless and indifferent delivery of that news had spoken more of her true dislike of the surly cat than of her care for her supposed significant other.
The task was as menial as expected and thus done with minimal effort and haste. There was something different about him but she couldn’t quite place what. She fidgeted momentarily with the heavy wool of her coat, unsure whether to wait for him or depart by herself with work seemingly done for the rest of the year. When he immersed himself back into the paperwork in front of him her decision was made.
“Stay,” he commanded without lifting his eyes when she attempted to put on her coat for the second time that night. Dismissively he gestured towards a stack of signed contracts. It wasn’t a subtle gesture and neither was the message when she took in the names and signatures of Mr. and the former Mrs. Northman’s dissolution of marriage. If that hadn’t spoken enough for him, the date of filing did, March twenty-third, the day she had come in for her first interview.
She hadn’t even exchanged a word with him then. He had merely interrupted momentarily and caught sight of her and carelessly expelled a perfunctory greeting after demanding a report from the heavily pregnant woman for whose vacating spot Sookie had been interviewing. Before Sookie could return the greeting he had already emptied the negative space in the doorframe that his large form had previously occupied. The interviewer’s apologetic reply that he was never like this had quieted Sookie’s initial reservations for the position, she was, however, fully prepared to kick the woman’s ass after her first day for the blatant lie. Pregnant or not.
Her eyes continued to scan over the fine print of black and white as the copier continued to spit out the pages in quick succession. His now ex-wife received far more than she was entitled too. A clear sign of appeasement in trade for expedience. The only thing he seemed to have fought for was the custody of their daughter. Alternate Christmases she had noted, the amended script and double set of signatures identified this was a clause that had been argued over till the bitter end in the morning of that day, December twenty-third. It appeared she won- this Christmas, Pam would be spending it without her father.
It only added to the mystery of Eric Northman, making her briefly consider the possibility of her colleagues’ observations before dismissing it again. A sniff expelled too loudly to take in the scent of her. A finger that dragged over skin a little longer than necessary. A hand that rested so closely next to hers on a meeting room table, never touching, the sensation of it there nonetheless.
Instead of sprawling the papers all over his desk as she would usually do, in demonstration of her distaste with being assigned the task causing purposeful chaos and disorder in his meticulously arranged environment, Sookie neatly positioned the contract and its copy on the preferred corner of his desk. A paper weight placed on top at an exact ninety degree angle. A small smile crept on his face with the gesture before he moved to get up and pulled on his black leather jacket. She regarded the room with confusion, where nothing could truly ever get lost, except her it appeared. In this instance it was the physical disappearance of her jacket.
He held out a deep cranberry coat in offering for her to step into, one she recognised without due pause and in that moment was gutted to find in the office. It was a coat she had spent many hours staring at on the screen of her computer, her new salary no longer objected the price tag. The colour had been the inhibitor that kept her finger from finally clicking the checkout button. Seeing it confirmed that she should have taken the plunge, she wanted it now as it was held tauntingly in front of her.
“That’s not mine,” she observed with a hint of sadness at being offered another’s coat, his path, however did not change course.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered while draping it over her shoulders causing her to stiffen with the sudden weight of it.
She contemplated outright refusing the gift, telling him to shove it up a place she referred to him as more often than not. Instead her arms found the sleeves of the rich coat that fit her perfectly and an unexpected gratitude was spoken softly in return only to part ways again once inside. His eyes found hers incidentally throughout the evening across the loud room. To all present it appeared that his annual Christmas speech was spoken solely to her and in compensation he ignored her for the rest of the night.
After ensuring the worst of the drunks were safely in a taxi and homeward bound, she came to stand beside him to settle up the tab, having placed her in charge of the petty cash that night, another seemingly menial task. He helped her into her new coat again, this time she wasn’t hesitant about stepping into it immediately as the bar’s proprietor was none too subtle about locking them out.
“Can I drive you home?” Eric requested though he was already steering her towards his car without her permission. Instincts told her to dig her heels into the fresh snow on the ground, after all it wasn’t far to her home and she usually enjoyed the leisurely walk in the cool night air. A misstep into an icy wet puddle soaking the leather of her boots settled her decision and she allowed him to safely tuck her into his car.
Sookie wasn’t surprised that he knew exactly which building she lived in when he found it without her giving any directions. As he parked the car she momentarily stared up at the darkened windows unsure what to say to him anymore. Sookie had always been quick to hurl an insult his way and she found she didn’t have any for him tonight. She eventually settled on, “Would you like to come up for a drink?”
Eric was out the door and opening hers before she could blink while she demurely tried to extract herself from the low seat in the sports car without flashing her underwear at him. He wisely looked away.
It appeared Bill had been released early as he circled around Sookie’s legs possessively while she fumbled with the keys to her front door with chilled fingers. With the threat of the pointed toe of her boot she informed the cat with no uncertain terms to fuck off. A single brow raised on Eric’s face with the delivery of the feline’s name. She emitted a small snort before inviting him in, as he gleefully came to understand why he had found no information on the infamous Bill despite all his digital reconnaissance. She failed to explain, however, why her neighbours would give the cat such a mundane name.
Her boots were kicked off as soon as she walked through the door while directing him to the general vicinity of the couch. They spoke of work while sipping away at hot chocolate languidly. It was a topic of conversation they both could engage in with little effort as he explained to her his plans for the upcoming year and she gave valuable input. With the telling swipe of his thumb across his fingertips before the hand clinched into a fist she knew he would implement most. Mug empty and a glance at the late hour on her clock made him get up to leave and she followed reluctantly with an ache prevalent in the soles of her feet, reminding her of a question that had been haunting her all night that lay forgotten momentarily when her feet were tucked under her thighs on the sofa.
She held his jacket hostage as it remained locked against her chest, wafting the scent of wet leather into her nostrils while peering up at him with her now significant height disadvantage. Silence reigned, both unsure what to make of this goodbye.
“Why did you carpet the hallways?” she demanded with the fiery spirit that was her usual treatment of him. Her teeth, however, bit nervously at the corner of her lips while awaiting his answer. His shoulders sagged a little with his reluctance to tell her the real reason. He was by his own admission a terrible liar, excelling only in creative truths, as he had found little necessity for lies when the silence of omission proved equally effective, if not more so.
“Your feet,” Eric admitted frugally.
“My feet?” Sookie requested seeking the confirmation of that particular declaration.
“Your feet,” he repeated with an emphasis that could no longer allow her to question the statement. Eric didn’t feel it necessary to inform her of the fact that he spent days trying to figure out the exact product for the job and the necessary underfloor that would minimise the pain her alluring footwear inflicted on her limbs, going so far as to consult an engineer specialising in the field. He nearly went back on his decision several times when observing the shade of nail polish she wore on her dainty feet whenever she padded into his office. The sway of her behind, however, in those impossibly high heels finally settled his resolve.
“Oh,” she managed to stammer out after some time, suddenly releasing his jacket back to him.
She watched in silence while his agile and long fingers pulled at the zippers on his stiff jacket with a teasingly slow movement. The momentary sparkle returned to his eyes, she awaited the anticipated taunt that would surely embarrass or anger her, whatever caused her to flush out red the quickest. Nothing of the sorts left his lips as he simply stared down at her. Waiting. Wanting.
“Where are you staying tonight?” she asked with the realisation that he would most likely be alone from Christmas until the New Year.
“A hotel,” he answered simply. “Downtown.”
She nodded in understanding, her hand, however, lingered on his forearm as if unable to verbalise what she wanted from him, from this strange night where everything she had taken for truth suddenly stood in a different light. She took a single step closer, standing in line with his chest. A finger traced over the silver metal straight down the middle of his torso, her eyes travelling along in pursuit of her index finger before her gaze came up to meet his.
A/N: Ahem… yeah, it’s called a one shot for a reason… It’s going to take a lot of convincing to get me to continue this… I’m talking Facebook campaigns and influential people begging on their knees… the only thing I’m even willing to entertain at this point is a series of children’s illustrated books about Bill the constipated cat… but tell me what you thought anyhow 🙂
my muse is evil… so here onto the next