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Early Risers

Chapter Text

To seek enlightenment
is to seek annihilation, rebirth,
and the taking up of burdens.
You must come prepared to touch,
and be touched
by each and everything
in heaven and hell.

 

 

For humans, every moment was the middle of a race. A race against time, away from history, barreling towards a future they could only hope would remember them. Their existence was molded by an inevitable end which gave them purpose and drive. Human life was dependent upon a sense of urgency.

In all his years, Godric had met very few people as alive as Steve Newlin.

In person the preacher's face looked impossibly young, despite Godric's features being frozen at half the age Newlin now was. Godric noticed the other man's energy was boundless, vital. Human. In the church's office Newlin stood behind his desk with arms folded, confident as the master of his domain, or perhaps more fittingly as servant-lord of his ideology. His eyes fell down to the silver cuffs encasing Godric's wrists. The restraints burnt through Godric's skin, the undeniable scent of roasting carcass permeating the air. Steve's gaze was one of both gross fascination and blissful release, as though the blood drips gathering on the ground were a sacrifice of his own. Pain and death for him would be a sacrifice. That ease of finding meaning was enviable.

In front of the desk Godric paused when the Fellowship men flanking his sides stopped. A hand from each grasped his shoulders. A show of dominance. The pushed him forward, an offering to Steve. Godric was reminded of pets bringing mice and bird remains to show their masters appreciation. Were other vampires' nests cluttered with trinkets from their human companions?

"Well now." Newlin's voice carried with conviction, his head bopping with excitement he strove to contain. His greeting was a challenge - somewhere in him Godric could tell he ached for a fight. Once upon a time, it might have been beautiful. "They tell me you're here to help us."

They said a lot. They always had.

"I'm here to meet the sun," Godric said simply, then let silence reign. Let Newlin construe what he wished.

Steve's eyes narrowed, then seized advantage of the stillness. Every moment spoken was an opportunity for sermon, and best it be his voice rather than one he deemed evil. There wasn’t a need to question whether Newlin was doing it for Godric's benefit as well as the Followers in the room. Benefit implied room for salvation, and for Newlin, evolutionary abominations were excluded. "Is that all? You know, some might see reticence as blasphemy. Only the Lord is mysterious, too great to be fully known. After all, if everything about Him was accessible, what's left as divine?"

Godric stared at him calmly, assuming he'd asked the question for the chance to answer it himself.

Newlin placed his hands on his hips, pacing slowly as he spoke with a practiced ease, looking at Godric to emphasize specific words as he continued. "But God did give certain words - it was how everything began. And those He speaks to have the honor, the responsibility, to spread His message."

"Responsibility," Godric echoed distantly. Responsibility of the masses to their shepherd; it was an interesting concept. Godric's mind went to his own flock, though he left aspects of divinity at bay. As a sheriff, he didn't want his constituents to see his passing as something to be avenged. For some it'd be a burden to be carried, for others an opportunity to gain an advantage. Godric found it debatable which was worse. Texas was a chessboard, with each player having his or her own rules and stakes.

"It comes with the calling," Newlin replied, assuming Godric's echo was a request for explanation. "I wouldn't be much of a preacher or a man if I ignored what I knew I had to do." What, to him, was right. Waving it off, Newlin said, "I don't expect you to understand."

Godric raised his eyes enough to look Newlin in the face. It wasn't a sign of aggression anymore than his looking down had been one of submission. "I understand."

"Do you?" Newlin stood still and smiled, an empty gesture, as he vocally drew a line between them. "I don't know about that."

"That must be disconcerting," Godric said quietly. "To not know." He hadn't meant it offensively. How could any being be expected to find uncertainty uplifting rather than terrifying with less than a century's worth of experience? It took ages for the Uncertain to cease being an overwhelming assault, to have it become rare and therefore precious.

There was a moment of silence; Newlin clearly hadn't been expecting Godric to take what he’d said like that. He rallied, shooting back, "I'll live." Stepping up close to Godric, toe-to-toe so he could look down on the vampire, he added, “Which is more than can be said for you.”

Because they both wanted Godric to die, or because his current existence didn’t count as living regardless?

The guards began shifting from foot to foot. Likely they were wary about Steve being so close to Godric even though he was willingly wearing handcuffs. From their perspective Godric couldn’t blame them. An animal, which is all he was to them at the moment, wouldn’t put itself in a defenseless position. It couldn’t. The privileged capacity to go against self-preservation was reserved in their minds for human sinners or saints; one or the other depending on the context.

Without taking his eyes off Godric’s, Newlin held out a hand to the guard left of Godric and said, “Key.”

Were the guards the key, or the item they held to release the handcuffs? Godric knew Newlin was speaking literally, but he couldn’t help but wonder which one would make Newlin feel more powerful. The metal, or the word made flesh.

After a moment’s hesitation the guard handed over the key to the handcuffs. Steve clasped them in his hand and smiled, not sparing to glance at either guard as he said, “You boys can step outside for a minute.” He wanted privacy. ‘No, isolation,’ Godric decided. ‘He wants the freedom to spin what happens in here however he wishes out there.’

There was more than one kind of freedom, however. Freedom to, and freedom from.

Freedom of speech, and the many ways one could speak without words.

The guards left obligingly, one after the other, uniforms and bodies neatly upright and unblemished. What lies did they tell themselves to remain that way? How different guards were now. Here at least. Guards of old were savage mercenaries born before the trappings of modern Westernized faith. They had been motivated by a need for physical survival and livelihood, unhindered by wasting time rationalizing away notions of equality and natural rights. They’d yet to realize ‘natural’ was a fluid idea. So, actually, was ‘rights.’

“Want out?” Newlin’s voice filtered into Godric’s mind, thick and muffled. It took work for Godric to focus on him, to realize Newlin obviously meant the handcuffs. Engaging in conversation wasn’t something Godric did often anymore. More and more he felt himself drawing inward, shrinking himself and his world, to where it took an almost painful effort to turn himself outward again to interact with those around him. Each time Godric felt himself stretched thinner, becoming more misshapen when trying to regain a recognizable form of who he’d been.

When he received no reply Steve dangled the bright metallic piece before Godric’s eyes, the cat for once doing the teasing. Testing to see how much he could make Godric his mouse, his toy, his trophy.

Rather than rising to either the literal or figurative bait, Godric simply nodded once. Out was all he wanted. The Fellowship was merely the way.

“Looks painful,” Steve whistled as he unlocked the silver chains from Godric’s bloody wrists. “It was just a precaution. Hope you didn’t mind too much.”

So he hoped Godric minded a little? Godric wouldn’t it past him. Giving an almost imperceptible shrug, Godric replied, “It will heal.” Indeed, already the wounds were closing. While physically he was starved for blood, he was powerful enough to get by on what little remained in his system. Emptiness suited him. Truthfully, Godric didn’t find it hurtful at all, not in any way that counted. They had done it as an act of caution, and then a display of power. Nothing more, and certainly nothing new or without any justification. Godric added, “I have been hurt far worse.”

“Have you.” Steve’s eyes glinted, torn between resenting how little impact he was making and curiosity as to what might hurt Godric. What might hurt all of them badly. Picking several tissues from the box on his desk, Newlin wrapped the handcuffs in them like a bloody present. Setting the bundle down on the desk's edge, he proceeded to examine his red-stained hands.

A part of him had to wonder what 2,000 year old blood tasted like.

Smiling, Newlin held his bloodied hand up to Godric. "Insidious, isn't it?"

Godric blinked. "Blood?"

"Your blood. Red, just like anyone's. Just looking at it, it could pass for human," Steve said casually, making a show of taking a handkerchief from his pocket and cleaning off his fingers. Godric noticed after using it he re-pocketed the cloth. A trophy. Long after Godric was ashes, a part of him would remain with his executioner. It would have anyway; now Newlin merely had a visual reminder of that.

"It is all blood," Godric pointed out tiredly. He knew all of the protestations Newlin would throw out, and what counter-points could be made, and what refutations could then be returned. Godric not only knew all the angles to all the arguments, he'd lived through those points of view coming into being. He'd bore witness to the contexts wherein countless ideologies were born and applauded and undercut and reshaped as they played out the endless cyclical nature of thought.

Newlin settled himself behind his desk, tapping the newspaper on it as though something in print was inherently more legitimate. "My blood has never turned adolescents so high that after orgies they've torn each other’s throats apart to use blood instead of water on a perverted game of Slip ‘n Slide."

"Neither has mine." Godric's reply was mild but pointed. Weak sources aside, the story might well hold some truth to it. Godric knew V was illegally marketed throughout his district, like it was everywhere. He also hadn't gone out of his way to take a stand against it - or anything - in quite awhile. However, that was a far cry from actively and personally distributing his own life force for profit or pleasure. He couldn’t be blamed for every vampire’s actions. Could he? If he hoped his death would impact everyone, did that mean he had to take on the burden of representing them all as well? To, in effect, become them for better or worse?

“Wow, you’re finally showing some conviction. About time. Everything should stand for something.” Newlin's body did not move from his current relaxed position as he spoke. His tone was similarly at ease, as was often the case when what was being said held the rigidity of absolute conviction. "You see, I don’t just believe in God. I believe in all that He stands for. I believe there is a right and a wrong. I believe we humans were made to believe this. Not because we have to, but because we were created with the capacity to long for good, and in order to do that, we have to face evil. Now, I’ve faced a lot of evil in my time, long before you vampires jumped on the public outing bandwagon. I’ve seen Cains murder Abels from greed and jealousy, I’ve seen Sodoms and Gomorrahs fall from perversions. And I’ve also seen Davids trounce Goliaths and disciples make way for the Truth. The Bible is the greatest story on earth because we are that story. We are the living, breathing, acting hand of God, and we will smite you. Because we can, because we should, and because it is right. I believe this. What do you believe?"

After a moment Godric said with quiet certainty, "I believe that I want to believe."

At this Newlin gave a bark of incredulous, if practiced, laughter. "In what? Anything?" he inquired, his tone rapturous in its belittling.

Godric shook his head. "In everyone."

His words silenced Newlin. The preacher caught himself before he looked too startled, his face settling into a fishing grin. "You - you're an odd one."

"That I do believe," Godric replied with the hint of a wry smile. As his lips upturned Newlin's flattened, as though he reflexively could not share even the same expression with this other being. He hadn’t even asked Godric his name.

Godric wondered if any part of Newlin wanted details on his family’s deaths. Did he wonder whether it was one vampire or many? What their names were? Who they were, or had been? Or was it enough for him to simply label it under “evil”? Closure as avenging rather than answers. It was just as well; Godric had no answers for him, and even if he had, they would not be ones he'd divulge. While this partnership between them might be skewed justice in Newlin's eyes, for Godric it was simple release. It was a way out that might move humans and vampires alike to reassess their lust for killing.

“So.” Steve said finally. “You just want to die.”

“I want this to stop,” Godric corrected softly. This meaning everything, every part of this existence. He wanted to burn, to atone, to see what came next. Perhaps it’d be the nothingness of Nirvana, or an afterlife. As long as it wasn’t this life anymore. He looked steadily at Newlin. “And since I want it, you needn’t take someone unwillingly.” No unnecessary bloodshed, no loss of lives that want to live.

They sized each other up for a long moment before Newlin said briskly, “Well, that’s it then. Plan on the ceremony taking place in a few weeks. Until then you should find yourself comfortable enough. After all, we’re not in the business of torture here.” Godric believed that. There was no reason for them to, since they considered themselves already having won. It would be tedious to have to rationalize away unprovoked attacks when the blood lust would be satisfied soon enough.

A moment of awkwardness permeated through the air as neither of them was certain how to end the meeting. Surely not a shake of bloody hands. Finally Godric turned to go, then paused and glanced back. “Mr. Newlin?” He didn’t have to wait to meet Steve’s gaze, the other man had still been watching him. After a beat Godric finished with, “My name is Godric.”

There was nothing conventional about this, they might as well end on introductions.

Godric started to head out again when Newlin called him back. “Godric?” He sounded like he was trying it out. Godric turned and waited as Steve said, “If you or any of your friends try and cross me, you won’t make it to see the light of day.”

A figure of speech, or had Newlin surmised the burning itself was as desired as the end result?

Godric shook his head. “You needn’t worry, Mr. Newlin.”

“Worried?” At that Newlin smiled, as though it wasn’t obvious that every promise or threat possessed an element of fear. “I’m not. No reason to worry when you know you’re doing right.” With that he rose and called the guards back, his step as sure as usual.

Everything about him was so purely blustered and proud, perversely innocent in its undiluted quest to destroy in order to preserve. As though anything could truly be discarded and, once put to rest, have the world become what it used to be, or something it never had been. Truly great expectations incarnate. Godric watched him a moment longer before being led out, imprinting the image to memory. He couldn’t recall the feeling, so he just tucked the snapshot of it away with him, something he could point to and say, ‘So that’s what living looks like.’

*

Steve Newlin watched the vampire withdraw. He wasn’t at all what Steve would have expected. Small, withdrawn, looking like little more than a skinny teenager. Appearances were deceiving.

Alone once more, Steve picked up the phone and called in Gabe. Settling behind his desk, he waited for the other man to arrive. It didn’t take long. By nature Gabe was always on call. Steve waved the other man in once he saw him, motioning he should have a seat. “Looks like we might’ve had a blessed day.” Not lucky, never lucky. Moments of good fortune were blessings.

“Sir?” Gabe inquired patiently.

Steve smiled. “We got ourselves a vampire. Just walked right on it, ready for sacrifice.” He held up a hand as he saw Gabe start to speak, “No, I know. I’m suspicious too. That’s why I want us,” he made sure to say us, “to move cautiously on this.”

“What do you want me to do?” Gabe jumped on board eagerly.

“See if our contact knows anything about a vampire named Godric.” Steve went back to twirling his pen, a habit for when he was thinking. “And add into your schedule at least two visits to our guest a day. I don’t want anyone else here knowing about that thing yet, so consider yourself my point man on this project.” He smiled. “It’s a big responsibility. Consider this a promotion.”

Gabe smiled back. Well, positioned his face in what passed for an ex-Army sergeant’s smile. “I’d be honored.”

“Things are looking up,” Steve added, rising to escort Gabe out. “Elections aren’t far off, and with enough backing, we might end up with someone in office to push the right kind of legislation through.” Someone meaning himself.

“That would be something,” Gabe agreed, adding, “Speaking of backup, latest batches of new recruits should be coming soon.” The Soldiers of the Sun training and implementation fell under Gabe’s responsibilities, though it was more than a responsibility to him. Steve knew it largely defined who the man was, which was largely why Steve had placed him in charge of it. That, and Steve was fairly sure Gabe could even toughen up a pillow, let alone men actively looking for direction.

“I’ll be out on the road for awhile,” Steve said at the door. “Spreading our word.” That consisted of seeing Orry and meeting people, in between press conferences. A busy load, one that paradoxically gave Steve more energy because of it. He took Gabe’s hand. “I trust you’ll hold down the fort.”

“Always.” Gabe left after the handshake, glad more purpose had been added to his plate.

Steve smiled. Things fell into place so easily when the path was clear.

Things fell into place so easily, this must be right.

###

It might have been tedious to some. Godric had been residing in the church basement for two weeks now. Perhaps a little more or less. He had no easy way to judge exactly, and didn’t see the need to find out for certain. The Fellowship wouldn’t delay his meeting the sun any longer than they absolutely had to.

Lying flat on his back on the bed, Godric stared up with closed eyes at the ceiling. He had heard the evening service end awhile ago, which meant one of Newlin’s soldiers would be coming to check on Godric soon. It was always the same man, and at the same time. Things ran with precision here. Did Steve’s sect of Christianity still see their God as a clockmaker, or had that idea died out after the Enlightenment? Godric wondered idly, in the truest form of idleness: he could care less what the answer was, and thought it merely because it came to him and there was nothing else he cared to ponder about more. There was nothing better to do than wait, for death and thoughts equally to come and pass.

Steps. A scent of the unnatural – cologne. Gabe always wore it after a prayer service, perhaps from habit, or to cover up a day spent outdoors. Hard training, that’s what he’d called the work he did. Whipping boys into shape. Preparing for battle. Through the wall Godric could hear the solid thumping of heart against chest, artery pulsing through skin. Over the past few weeks he had gotten accustomed to such background noise. Humans possessed a rhythm all their own, never entirely still, never exactly the same as even a moment before. Molecules forever in motion, symphonies of transience. They could not, even if they wanted to, truly be silent. Human Doings, not Human Beings. They could not truly be anything, or at least not pinpointed as any one thing, for more than seconds at a time.

They could become Vampire, but that was something else entirely.

“Ten o’clock,” Godric heard Gabe say before he came into sight. Part of Godric wanted to add, ‘And alls well?’ Eric would have.

‘No, he wouldn’t,’ Godric corrected himself. Eric wouldn’t have even been here in the first place. What made him think on Eric, anyway? The sham of these soldiers? Godric hadn’t seen Eric in decades, but he didn’t doubt the residue of Eric’s origins clung to him; calluses on the palms of hands with now-polished nails, jagged scars hidden under sleek clothing. It was impossible to think about Eric’s face, pale and reserved, and not think of oceans and monuments, things roaring beneath a calm surface and manufactured testaments to history’s venerable wreckage.

It was selfish to be at all relieved at being the one who would go first. Custom said that parents shouldn’t outlive their children, but custom had never taken their kind into account. It wasn’t fathomable to many to be both a parent and child of the same person, although really, what parent could say they hadn’t learned new depths about themselves, the world around them, and their place in it when they brought forth a new life? To see the world through a child’s eyes was to be born again.

But it wasn’t the only way.

‘Coward,’ Eric would have dismissively called him, if Godric had been anyone else. ‘You shouldn’t be a Vampire if you can’t even be a man.’ Godric could perfectly imagine the smirking tone and bored gaze that would accompany the remark.

How badly would Eric not want to imagine Godric as he was now?

With any luck, he would never have to.

Gabe rapped his knuckle against the metal bar of Godric’s cage, his honesty ring clanking loudly. Slowly Godric opened his eyes and met the gaze of the man. Gabe casually asked, “Thought your kind was supposed to sleep during the day?” He was fishing, his tone was more apparent than an actual wire and pole would have been. What was his bait?

Godric sat up. “I wasn’t asleep.” Sleep had been becoming more and more illusive even during the day. It should have been as simple as lying down and closing his eyes, but Godric had gone through those motions and respite seldom followed easily. Perhaps he required less of it with age. Or even his body was becoming something strange to itself, not quite vampire, not quite anything. As though since he’d lost touch with how to really think like one, and the desire to act like one, his whole being wasn’t certain what to do with itself.

Gabe grunted. He checked the lock, an action Godric always found a little hilarious but never commented on. Instead he heard music and cheering, not directly above in the chapel, but close by. A young girl, lyrically proclaiming Jesus was taking her out, which was apparently a pleasing fantasy as it earned applause. Godric’s head tilt in the noise’s direction must have caught Gabe’s sharp eye, because the man explained gruffly, “New recruits are being welcomed.”

Godric sat still, slightly surprised. Not at the explanation, but that Gabe offered him one at all. Over the weeks the other man had grown more comfortable around Godric, but it wasn’t a familiarity of friendship. Gabe merely seemed confident Godric wouldn’t make a meal out of him. Why, then, the offering of information, as trivial as it was?

“You can hear it?” Gabe looked at him when asking, letting the lock he’d secured drop back in place.

Ah. An exchange. Give and take, in this case knowledge. “Yes,” Godric said simply. Gabe’s face didn’t move, but Godric heard the swift intake of breath. Not once in his time with the Fellowship had Godric bared his fangs, moved in a blur, or done anything apparent that a human could not. That had largely been because Godric knew it’d be received like this. Different could remain out of mind as long as it was out of sight. Should he have lied?

Gabe had enough lies being told to him. Godric doubted he could change Gabe’s mind now, with words, so he tried to simply put the other man at ease. “Congratulations on your promotion.” Since Gabe now had it confirmed that Godric could hear well beyond what happened in the basement, Godric figured he might as well show it could be used politely. He’d heard Steve and Gabe discuss it the night Godric arrived. Steve congratulated Gabe on being the trainer and leader of the Soldiers of the Sun, and now guard of the Fellowship’s sacrifice. Both responsibilities would be considered a job well done if they ended in death.

For a long moment Gabe stilled, clearly not about to offer any thanks. “So you can just hear everything that’s going on.” He didn’t need to add the implied, ‘creepy fuckers.’

Had Gabe said it out loud, Godric likely would have agreed with him. Instead he shook his head. “Only when it’s close enough.”

“How far is close?” Gabe persisted. Soldier, follower, guard, interrogator. How many hats and roles humans fit into in so short a time span.

Godric shrugged. “I don’t know exactly.” After a beat he added, “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

At that Gabe delivered a bark of laughter. “Yeah, right.” He pushed himself away from the cell. “Doesn’t matter. We’ve got things taken care of.” Godric thought he sounded confident, either filled with Steve’s holy light or already pleased with the new recruits. Or both. Godric had already heard excitement beginning to buzz around a few names, based on a game or drill that’d happened earlier that day when he was drowsing in and out of sleep. They stuck in his mind; a part of Godric couldn’t help but still take notice of prowess on a field. In twangy bubbles Godric recalled voices saying, ‘That Stackhouse, he’s a natural.’

A natural what?

When Godric didn’t respond Gabe chuckled and turned away. “Sleep tight.” He’d said that before.

“What does that mean?” Godric asked, more to himself in idleness once more, but Gabe heard. At times it became difficult for Godric to tell what from his mind escaped out for others to pick up.

Gabe looked at him; in all his time with the Fellowship Godric had never asked for anything. “It means sleep well.”

“I know that,” Godric replied. Since the conversation was already opened, he added to clarify, “But why would ‘tight’ mean ‘well’?”

Gabe shrugged, already over the surprise that this of all things was what a vampire would inquire about, and not really caring beyond that. Was he wondering why a vampire wouldn’t have spent centuries already finding out answers to such minutia, since he wouldn’t think them capable of higher pursuits? Finally Gabe said, “It’s just something people say.” With that, he headed back up the steps, leaving Godric alone once more.

Gabe’s answer spun in Godric’s mind as he lay back once more. ‘Just something people say.’ It didn’t have to come from something, although everything had to have at some point. But it didn’t have to have meaning.

It didn’t mean anything at all.

###

He couldn’t stand it much longer.

She was driving him out of his mind because she refused to leave it. It had been almost a week since arriving at the Fellowship, and all Jason could think about was Sarah Newlin: the way her mouth composed itself into a smile before she spoke, how her scent lingered on him when she brushed by, how she might be worth going to hell over after her husband killed him with his crazy gun collection.

Truth was, as much as Jason valued his limbs intact, the best diversion therapy he could come up with was focusing on how he really didn't want to screw Steve... literally or the other way. Both Newlins had taken Jason under their wings, and hell, if a preacher couldn't make a relationship work, what chance did anyone else have? Usually Jason's bedroom activities were win-win, all parties involved fucked in only the best of definitions. ... not counting Rene's interference. However, in this case Jason couldn't find a single way to get to a happy ending with how things were heading.

The possibility of just stopping things altogether entered his mind solely as wish fulfillment. Jason was self-aware enough to know he could never just stop anything, good or bad. Especially not when waitresses or Sarah were involved. Was he addicted to women and drugs, or did women fall under the drug category?

They didn't. Jason didn't use women - or if he did, it was mutual using. He prided himself on giving as good as he got. And only when they wanted it, asked for it.

Had Sarah been asking? If she'd been any other woman Jason by now would have wholeheartedly concluded hell yes. But Sarah wasn't a Southern girl in the sense of 'nice boots, wanna fuck?' She wasn't beer and bartending and Bon Temps. Not that there was anything wrong with those women, Jason thought firmly to himself. Bon Temps had many women who had many, many very right things about them. It just wasn't Sarah. Steve was Sarah, and church and pearls and direction and ambition. Also, unlike all the women he’d recently been with in Bon Temps, Sarah wasn’t dead.

All these thoughts careened around in Jason's head, causing it to pound from strain. He restlessly rolled over in bed, causing Luke to growl and utter threats that stopped just short of taking the Lord's name in vain. Jason finally gave up the battle for sleep and rose. He couldn't tell whether Luke's sleepy response was an inquiry over where he was headed or just a satisfied grunt of good riddance. Jason ignored him and pulled on his running shoes, sweat pants, and jacket. He did so quietly, less out of courtesy and more because he didn't want to rouse anyone to the point of asking him direct questions. He was wearing his honesty ring, and the last thing he'd want to admit to at a church boot camp was impure thoughts about the preacher's wife. He figured a run would help clear his mind, let his other muscles work for awhile.

The air was crisp outside, the kind of cool that went right to the chest in stabs when he breathed. Jason didn't mind. Losing himself in his flesh, painfully or from pleasure and sometimes a mixture of both, was still comfortable territory. He took off at a light jog, warming up as he passed the church on his way to the field. Inside the church, low lights were visible. Jason couldn't recall whether this was normal or not.

He ran until his vision wavered and blood pulsed in his ears. Slowly his senses ticked themselves off as he propelled forward, trying to lose himself in the moment. To simply be motion rather than man, and put his whole mind into his body.

It wasn't working. His mind refused to shut off for once, and Jason couldn't help but feel betrayed. There wasn't even any alcohol or drugs on hand to help him along. Frustrated, he thought about pushing himself until he simply collapsed, but he'd already been going at it for awhile without that happening. He'd never passed out while exercising, training, or playing sports, no matter how arduous. He liked to think that he had no limit in that respect. That no matter what his body wouldn't cave.

It wasn't logical, but Jason was never one who had much use for logic.

He trudged back to his rooms, stopping when noticing the church lights again. It didn't take much observation prowess, as the church was the only thing expelling light as far as he could see. Suddenly he felt both stupid and hesitant. This whole experience with the Fellowship had been one sign after another, and yet he hadn't thought to now pray over his troubles. At least not in the sense of entering the chapel, kneeling with bowed head in solitude, and seeking guidance. But would God give sex advice? It was getting late, maybe even He didn't have much else going on.

The main doors were open. Jason assumed this was a church standard as a symbol of being welcoming. He'd never tried to enter another church in the middle of the night. The farthest he'd gotten was getting stoned in the Bon Temps church graveyard while in high school. Slowly Jason made his way up the center aisle, fingers trailing on the wooden edges of the pews. Everything there gleamed. Even the flowers seemed to. A trick of the lights? Gabe spit-polishing it all? Would a believer's spit be holy enough to use as a cleaning agent? Maybe if the person gargled with holy water first or something.

If he sat or kneeled, he'd get sweat all over the seat and floor. Jason was hesitant to do anything to disturb the space, but wanted the prayer to count. It seemed like it was the thoughts that should count, but church in his experience was all about tradition, and he'd always seen praying done close to the ground. He compromised, awkwardly squatting without his knees touching the marble floor and looked up at the huge cross hanging over the pulpit. "God? I need help. I just... I really don't want to fuck up again." His eyes widened and he slapped his forehead. "Mess up. I don't want to mess up again. Not the other word. Well, that too," maybe especially that, "but I didn't mean to say it." He paused again, then more contemplatively, "Although I guess you already know, right? If you know everything. Know what I'm thinking, what I say, when and what I'm dreaming... Like Santa.” ... oh crap. Jason hoped God hadn't heard that, either. "Not that you're a fat white man with elves and reindeer, it's just the song that made me think of it. The Christmas song? I didn't - "

"Stackhouse?"

God?

"Stackhouse! What the hell are you doing here?"

No. Definitely not God. Jason scrambled to his feet, turning to see Gabe. The other man was entering from the small room off the side of the chapel, where Steve's offices and the basement door were. Jason noticed he had one hand in his pants pocket, key set jangling when he walked.

When his name was yelled a third time Jason forced his gaze to meet Gabe's. "Sorry sir, I was just... praying."

"Now?" Gabe's tone was hard, but it always was. Jason had won the man's grudging respect out in the field, but ultimately Gabe answered to a higher power. Not just God; Steve Newlin. He was a military man in his heart, order and precision leading to clarity and anything that threatened it meeting a swift end.

Like church lurkers in the middle of the night.

"I, uh, had something on my mind," Jason offered. He saw Gabe looking him over and added, "I tried to run it off first."

Gabe grunted. On the one hand, while Jason didn’t think there was a spoken or written rule that forbid recruits from praying at the church, he’d never heard of it being done. The operation was relatively new and most recruits didn't move unless told to for anything. Jason hadn’t been any different, until now. But on the other hand, since there was no set rule Jason wasn't breaking any, and the Newlins called him their prize soldier. At worst, Gabe might tell Steve he’d been there. No harm, no foul?

Gabe moved past Jason to the exit, calling out as a farewell, "Got training in six hours."

"Can't wait." Jason fingered his honesty ring. Well, it wasn't a total lie. Conditioning wasn't the worst, even if he was already sore.

"And don't be referring to God as Santa," Gabe ordered, and Jason thought he caught “little nitwit” muttered from the man once he'd exited the church.

The heavy door slowly closed, leaving Jason in the midst of stillness once more. As usual, he found it unsettling. He thought about returning to his prayer, but it hadn't been going so well even before Gabe broke the spell. 'Shoulda just said a Hail Mary,' Jason thought dryly to himself. Can't go wrong with that one. A classic known by heart. Mary, the virgin mother. Not Mary Magdalene, who Sarah had firmly told him wasn't a whore.

While giving him a handjob.

... maybe an Our Father instead.

Suddenly the still form twisted in pain on the cross and the bright glow all around was overbearing. Jason spun on his heel, ready to head out when he saw the doors to the offices. He paused, considering his options. He was still considering them as he found himself creeping forward, pulling the door handle and entering. The hall he'd entered was narrow and plain, housing just a front office desk and chairs, and doors to Steve's personal office and the basement. Jason tried them both, finding them locked.

He shouldn't. He really shouldn't.

It'd been years since he'd picked locks, anyway. Way back when he'd made Hoyt come with him to steal kids' bikes who'd annoyed him during the day, once or twice to get into his house when he'd left his keys at home and didn't want Gran to find out he was out past curfew. ... well, maybe more than once or twice with that. Hopefully tricks to steal a bike was as easy to recall as riding a bike supposedly was.

He reasoned that checking out what was behind the door was time better spent than possibly getting into Sarah Newlin's pants. ... from a moral standpoint, at least.

Paper clips, letter openers, pens, tape... he searched the desktop for makeshift tools. He'd already seen Steve's office and his arsenal, and besides, best to steer clear of anything too personal. The basement, then. Jason couldn't deny a faint giddy rush, a dim high that always comes when one is doing something they shouldn't. It didn't really matter what was on the other side, although he couldn't deny he was curious. Nobody had been down there to Jason's knowledge save Steve and Gabe.

"C'mon now, pucker up and play nice," he told the lock as he slid in the straightened clips. The lock jiggled as he worked it, keeping a running commentary to himself. "What're you hiding, huh? People don't lock up what ain't important to 'em."

He continued trying for awhile, discarding items and reshaping others, growing frustrated but more focused when suddenly, miraculously, the lock sprang open. Jason sat back in surprise, only then realizing he hadn't made any actual plans on it working. But, living in the moment left one free to seize upon the next one as it came. Standing up he had enough presence of mind to put back the supplies before he headed down the stairs, softly closing the unlocked door behind him.

There were lights on, or at least a light, casting off enough illumination for him to make out each next step down as he came to it. The air felt colder and musty from lack of circulation. "Down, down, down I go, where I stop only God knows," Jason mumbled to himself in a sing-song voice. He blamed Luke for spontaneous attacks of religious rhyme.

The room widened at the bottom, snaking off in two directions. Jason followed the path where the shadowy light grew stronger. There were occasional chests, boxes and shelves along the walls, decorated with office supplies and tomes and a Lost and Found box filled with unmatched gloves, an old eyeglass case, used makeup, some lighters, and a necklace with a broken clasp. Things didn't seem as organized as above, but it was just as clean.

And then there was a makeshift jail cell.

Jason almost did a double take, moving forward to grasp the bars rather than stand still gaping. The metal was cool to touch, and Jason peered between the bars.

Two guileless, sunken blue eyes stared back. A voice that conjured up images of thick blankets softening the consonants said in an accent Jason couldn't place, "Hello, Mr. Stackhouse."

Jason stared back at the unearthily still figure before him, his mind finally quieting save for one thought.

'Definitely not God this time, either.'

 

Chapter Text

The boy said nothing. Godric watched as Jason’s fingers tightened on the bars before shoving himself back as though they were searing. Without moving from sitting upright on the cot, Godric noted his appearance. Wavy hair plastered across his forehead, drying stiff and salty. Rough hands, calloused and sure. The Fellowship's shining star. Godric smiled softly, thinking to himself. 'What child is this?'

"How’d you know me?" Jason finally asked. For a moment Godric noticed him shifting his weight, as though contemplating pacing before discarding it as weak.

Nothing about the boy gave the impression he'd move to run away.

Godric answered, "Your reputation precedes yourself." Godric now had visual reference for the accolades they’d given Jason: a true Christian. An excellent shot. A brother to his fellow soldiers. An instrument for war. A leading example of how to be a follower. When Jason's expression didn't change Godric elaborated, "I've heard about you. And from you." With a slight flick of his glance upwards, Godric indicated he'd overheard Jason and Gabe above.

Jason followed his gaze, confirming his suspicion. "Vampire." The implication of this, and the cell, slowly dawned on his face as well. The sacrificial slaughter. Vampire turned lamb.

Turned.

Into nothing.

Godric blinked, pulling out of himself by force to refocus on his surroundings. Jason still stood rooted where he had been. "I won't harm you," Godric promised.

Jason's gaze narrowed, looking skeptical. "Are you hurt?"

It was a fair question. From the outside looking in, why would anyone capable of escaping remain contained?

Assuming, of course, that one didn't have the perspective that existence itself was confining, so any smaller manifestations of it weren't worth causing upset. Which, since he'd asked such a question, set Jason outside that category.

"I'm uninjured," Godric assured him, although he supposed in retrospect that was anything but reassuring. "I'm here by choice."

At that Jason paused, seemingly torn between slight relief he wasn't involved in a clear cut murder set-up and puzzled over why that was the case. Interesting he didn't just assume it was God's will being done and calling it a day. He also didn't seem motivated by blood lust of the human kind, or else he'd have been disappointed Godric wasn't fearing for his life. Godric wondered what then did motivate Jason.

He wondered if Jason even knew himself.

“Oh.” Jason didn’t seem to have an answer, but then, Godric didn’t know how one would respond to hearing that someone willingly incarcerated themselves. Finally Jason offered, “I couldn’t sleep.” When Godric said nothing Jason added, “That’s why I’m here.” Further silence prodded him to shift awkwardly and continue, “In case you were wondering. Which you probably weren’t. So. Yeah.” He looked around, possibly for the nearest exit, or for anything that would reciprocate with an actual response.

What should he say? Godric knew silence worked with Steve, who was more than happy to fill the stillness himself. Gabe had never tried to make actual conversation. Godric offered honestly, “I don’t know what to say.” Jason gave a small grin at that, as though for this human not knowing something wasn’t a catastrophic event.

Jason shrugged. “That’s all right. I probably shouldn’t stay long, anyway.”

“And you often do as you’re told?” Godric asked.

Jason shrugged. “More often than not,” he said, then a bit bitterly added, “The often being when I shouldn’t.”

Godric cocked his head, his voice soft and devoid of judgment and feeling. “Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth.” Jason’s answer was just as soft, though infused with guilt and anger and more emotion than Godric could name. A part of Godric, the part that had been a father, struggled to care enough to comfort him. Then again, perhaps Jason would be better off without any guidance Godric could offer. The love he felt for Eric regardless didn’t negate the fact that Godric had guided him poorly.

Instinctively Godric’s eyes fell to where the truth ring rested on Jason’s finger, quietly musing, “It seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? To tell the truth. To say things as they are.”

Without looking up, Godric could hear the shrug in Jason’s voice as he said, “No simpler than sleeping should be.”

“I am afraid I can’t help you there,” Godric said, with a hint of self-deprecation. “Daylight hasn’t been any kinder to me in that respect than the night is being to you.”

“Really?” Jason looked him over. “Thought y’all were dead dead during the day. Ed – someone told me that.” He clammed up, and Godric decided not to pry.

Godric gave a faint nod. “Usually, we need to rest during the day. It can’t be helped.” It was a gamble, offering this information, but Gabe likely had already noticed the faint stains of blood on Godric’s clothing. There wasn’t much of it, as Godric hadn’t fed in forever, but Gabe was observant. Whether it’d be realized yet that this was a result from not sleeping, Godric wasn’t sure. However, Jason was the first person who wasn’t outright revolted by Godric, or at least didn’t seem to be, and wasn’t bridging understanding part of what Godric desired?

“What happens if you don’t?” Jason asked. He didn’t appear to want to know for any reason other than curiosity, and Godric doubted Jason could fool him. After so long, it wasn’t hard to see through most people.

Simply Godric said, “We become ill. There’s blood involved.” When wasn’t there? “But as you can see, not life-threatening. Merely unpleasant.” In Godric’s case, at least.

Jason leaned against the wall, raising an eyebrow in incredulity as he pieced this new information together with what he’d previously heard or seen. “So, lemme see if I got this right. Y’all can fly, move faster’n a speeding bullet, and kill like a ninja Godzilla, but skip a nap and it’s bleed me a river time?”

Godric paused. “Well, not all of us can fly.”

“Huh.” Jason thought this over, then said, “I guess NyQuil or a beer wouldn’t work for you, for sleeping.”

Godric shook his head. “I doubt human food would agree with me.”

“But you’ve never tried it?” Jason looked surprised. “Really? Never?”

Did it really have to be pointed out? “Not since I was turned, no.”

“How do you know you wouldn’t like it, then?” Jason persisted. He really wasn’t one to let things rest. A proverbial dog on the scent, unsure what he was after but pursuing it just as relentlessly. Godric reflected in passing, how it all would fit. What initially drew Newlin to Jason was precisely what would ultimately repel him. Jason could take things into his own hands. He could act, pursue, be dogged, and be challenging, and ultimately, he would be all of those.

Godric shrugged. “Blood is what nourishes us, and all we crave.”

“I’d still try something, or at least not knock it ‘til I have. I mean, some foods make me sick after I eat them and aren’t really in the basic food group chain, but they’re still worth having. While you’re eating it? Like heaven.” Jason concluded his imagery with nostalgic smile, clearly having particular memories tied to his blanket statements.

There was no need to force the point, so Godric merely said mildly, “Would you try anything?”

Jason stiffened, knowing what was meant. “Not just anything.”

Godric attempted a smile to put him back at ease. “Sometimes it’s good to have boundaries. Oddly, it can help things grow.”

“You know,” Jason said after a moment, “You remind me of somebody.”

“Somebody good, I hope.” Godric had meant it lightly, but as soon as he said it he realized that in these times, the concept of good was anything but light. For some, it was everything.

Jason merely nodded. “Right.” After a beat he looked around for something, anything, else to latch onto. “Hey, they got games in here?”

Godric followed Jason’s eye line to a shelf stuffed lined with several board games. “Apparently so.” He watched Jason go over and begin perusing them. In honesty, Godric hadn’t even known they were there at all.

After a moment of reading the titles, Jason shoved the games back in place. “… guessing you haven’t been playing those.” Godric assumed that meant they weren’t typical boxes of Monopoly.

“I’ve never played,” Godric answered. He didn’t know exactly when board games had come into fashion, but they’d never been an activity he’d adopted.

“Never?” Jason asked in surprise again. “They’re not bad, not really my thing. But how long have you been around?”

Godric tilted his head. “Why?”

A shrug was his answer, followed by Jason elaborating, “For someone wanting to die, seems like there’s a lot of stuff you haven’t yet done.” When Godric made no reply he hurried to add, “Not that it’s any of my business. It ain’t.”

“It isn’t,” Godric agreed. “But it’s fine.” He doubted Jason had meant any offense, and knew there wasn’t any way he could understand.

After a beat Jason asked, “Do you at least like sunrises?”

Godric paused, then answered quietly, more to himself than anything. “I don’t remember.”

“It would just seem too bad, to have the last thing you see be something you don’t like,” Jason said. “It would sorta be like over-salting the wound.”

“That presupposes there’d be a wound at all,” Godric replied, but smiled softly to show there was no offense. He wanted to burn, it wouldn’t be an affliction.

Jason nodded, seemed about to say something, then clearly changed his mind and went with, “I should get going. Thanks for, uh, sharing your…” he paused, not sure what to call the room. It was more akin to a jailhouse than bedroom, and while that much was obvious, he didn’t seem to want to state it. “What do you guys call it, where you stay?”

“Vampire homes are nests,” Godric answered. “Although I wouldn’t call this one.”

Jason nodded. He started to leave, then looked back with an afterthought. “Why do y’all call it a nest anyway? Makes me think of – “

“Animals.” Godric found that fitting.

“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “Like little birds sitting around being fed worms or somethin’.” After a beat he added, “No offense,” with a look of, ‘do you expect this by now?’

Godric smiled slightly again; this time, it didn’t feel entirely forced. “I don’t know why.” The smile faded as he added, more quietly, “We just do.”

Left with nothing else to say, Jason headed back upstairs, stopping himself just before leaving Godric’s sight. “Hey.” Once he had Godric’s gaze he asked, not without a level of awkwardness, “What’s your name?”

“Godric.” This time, given upon request. “Sleep well, Mr. Stackhouse.”

Jason caught the irony and gave a wry, “You, too.”

With that final exchange of words, of well-wishing both knew wouldn’t come to pass, Jason left. Godric heard his steps recede, heard the basement door and church door open and close.

Another encounter that didn’t end in bloodshed; one that didn’t end in anything negative at all. Godric didn’t feel much of anything, not lighthearted or optimistic. But he knew he should.

He knew, at least, a part of himself wanted to.

###

"Looked sharp out there today," Luke said that afternoon after training, giving Jason a grin blooming from the seeds of sarcasm. The truce between them was uneasy though undisputed. Ever since Jason had helped Luke on the obstacle course there existed between them the cornerstone of brotherhood through service. Us versus them. Being willing to lay down your life for someone didn't mean you had to always like them. Jason might hate eighty percent of what came out of Luke's yap, but he'd fight like hell to make sure Luke lived to keep on yapping for years to come. He'd kill a vampire in Luke's defense.

... provided the vamp deserved it.

Images of Eddie and Godric came to Jason's mind, unbidden and almost as bothersome as the invasive thoughts of Sarah. He couldn't imagine Eddie harming anyone, and Godric... well, Jason wasn't sure what to make of him. But Godric hadn't even done so much as raise his voice, let alone fang out. If the Fellowship was based on taking down evil, why not focus on the biggest evils?

'Because their evil’s all the same,' Steve Newlin's voice twanged in Jason's mind. 'It's like a woman being pregnant. She either is or she isn't. Vamps can't help being demonic spawn through and through, but that isn't an excuse.'

There was no part of Jason that wanted Steve to be wrong.

Maybe Steve just didn't know. Godric wasn't exactly the talky type, and as far as Jason knew, Steve's only other personal experience with vampires was hearing that his family was slaughtered by them. Jason couldn't blame him for wanting to protect his people from a threat he didn't know might not be real. And Newlin seemed to want to hear Jason's thoughts; he seemed to like talking to Jason at least.

Giving himself this silent pep talk, Jason went straight up to Steve's office, standing in the door way and knocking on the partly open door. "Got a minute?"

"Jason." Newlin smiled up at him from where he sat behind his desk, twirling a pen between his fingers. He pointed it at the door, gesturing for Jason to close it and enter. "What's on your mind?"

Jason swallowed, suddenly slightly nervous. "Well, uh," he froze in front of the visitor's chair, suddenly realizing he was in clothes twice-stained with sweat and bits of dirt and grass now as well. He should have showered first before charging in. He cursed himself, then promptly forgot about it, remaining standing. Somehow, even though he was now taller than Steve, it didn't feel like he was looking down at him. "I was at the church last night."

"I know." Steve didn't pause or blink. "Gabe told me." Jason wondered how much else Steve knew, and how badly he'd be punished when Steve found out he'd been downstairs. If he found out, but if Jason claimed to have met Godric upstairs, it might get the vampire in trouble. Then again, with only a few days left before execution, how much worse could it get for him?

Jason cleared his throat, deciding to leave it as vague as he could. "Well, I figured it was open since it was a church -"

"Jason," Steve cut in. "You're not in any trouble for going to a church to pray." His eyes betrayed nothing to Jason over whether he knew it went further than that. "After all, that's what we're all here doing. We should all be asking our Lord for strength and guidance." He tilted his head slightly, regarding Jason. "Did it bring you any clarity?"

"Well... not exactly," Jason admitted. "But things kind of got interrupted." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "First by Gabe... and then Godric." Again Steve's expression didn't react at all, so Jason hurried to add, "Nothing bad! We just... met."

"I see." While the preacher's expression might still be curled up into one of calm benevolence, Jason noticed Steve was decidedly quieter than usual. He hoped it meant Steve was listening. Newlin set his pen down and added, "Jason... why are you coming to me with this? If it wasn't anything bad, as you say."

"No, no, definitely not something bad," Jason agreed quickly. "But it was something, so I thought... I wanted... to tell you." After a beat he added in full honesty, "It felt right."

Newlin nodded, repeating, "I see." He twirled the pen on the desk a moment, then gave Jason a smile. "Well, acting because you think something is right is every man's duty. I'd expect nothing less from you. Just the same, I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to be out and about there again. Wouldn't want all the soldiers trying it. Some might not be as ready to handle Godric like you did."

Jason couldn't figure out why he felt complimented and insulted by that at the same time. Before he could ponder on it Steve added, "Was there anything else?"

"Yeah. Yes. Just... Godric. He didn't try and bite me," Jason explained.

"Well, he's locked up," Steve pointed out easily.

"Any vamp could've busted through that cell," Jason replied, then paused, unsure whether he'd just revealed that Godric hadn't come to him and over how Steve would take being argued against. Jason hurriedly added, laying it all out, "I don't think he's a threat."

"Based on him refraining from murdering you for one night." Newlin didn't even bother trying to make that into a question, clearly not finding the point worth discussing.

Jason rallied, sitting up straighter. "Well, he hasn't killed anyone while he's been here, has he? How long has he been here?" If only for one night, Jason had to admit Steve might have a point.

"Godric has spent thousands of years murdering people. Men, women, children, he'd admit to all of that. Did you ask him?" Newlin leaned forward, folding his hands on the table. "He wants to die, Jason. He came to us. Now, whether it's to atone for his sins or not, does it matter? If he's as good as you think he might be, why would you want to stop it when it's what he wants?"

Jason frowned slightly. He hadn't meant that he thought Godric was as good as Steve was making it sound like he thought. Newlin had a way of reasoning out whatever Jason said to make it sound laughable, and Jason wasn't keen on the idea that Steve might think less of him. "I didn't mean he was definitely good, just maybe not... that bad. Maybe. I dunno. Seems like there should be a good reason to kill something." Even if it was what Godric wanted, Jason couldn't bring himself to believe that the reason the Fellowship was having him meet the sun was for a mercy offing. Then again, was it wrong if both Godric and Steve agreed to it?

Newlin leaned back in his seat, fingertips tapping rhythmically on the polished desk top. "We're saving the world here, Jason. Isn't that reason enough?"

Well, when put like that... "I know that's the goal, it's mine, too," Jason replied. He pressed his own hands flat on the armrests of the chair, leaning forward instinctively as though to keep the gap between them at equal distance. The Fellowship had given him a lot, he didn't want to throw it all away. "I just wasn't sure this was the right - the best - way to go about it, I wasn't sure if you'd talked with Godric, so I thought I should ask about it."

"Well I have," Newlin said reassuringly, then smiled. "Relax Jason. Did you think I'd throw you out for asking me a question?"

And just like that, Steve managed to reduce the confrontation... discussion... whatever it was to a simple question easily flicked away. A part of Jason internally breathed in relief, although he didn't entirely think the issue was settled. "No. Well, yeah, maybe I thought that for a second," Jason grinned.

Newlin mirrored his expression and pointed at him. "You need to have more faith in people, Jason." He then paused, appearing to think, and added, "You know, maybe it's my own shortcomings. That the finest soldier for Christ I have doesn't know how valued he is."

"No, I do," Jason quickly reassured. "You've been great to me."

Steve shook his head. "No, no. I mean, you almost took a vampire's words over mine. What kind of leader does that make me?"

"Godric didn't say anything about you, really. You're a great leader," Jason added, then after a beat, "I didn't mean to upset you." Newlin waved the concern off, but Jason insisted, "Is there anything I can do?"

"Well..." Steve spun his chair slowly to the side, picking up a paper pad and writing on it. "Since I know you can handle yourself. I do have a lead on our enemies. If you still trust me enough to want to."

Jason craned his neck to try and read the address even before Steve finished writing it. "Of course I do. What do you want me to do?"

"Just do a little reconnaissance. See how many vamps there are, what they're doing. Make sure our intel is right. From a safe distance, of course." Steve slid the address across the table to Jason. "And you'll have backup. Take Luke with you."

"Luke?" Jason looked up in faint surprise from the paper in his hand to Steve, then quickly added, "Sure. Sure." Luke was hotheaded, but Jason supposed he was dedicated and the second most fit soldier there. Now really wasn't the time to question Steve, anyway. Besides, who knew. Maybe the vampires would be sitting around not feeding on newborns and Jason could show Steve it wasn't just Eddie and Godric who might not be completely evil. Despite being demon spawn.

Newlin smiled. "Thank you, Jason. Wait for tonight, and may His holy light guide you there and back safely. Report to me when y'all get back, don't worry about the time."

"All right," Jason nodded, rising with a smile. "Can count on me." He headed for the door, opening it and nearly colliding with Sarah Newlin who was standing just outside it. "Whoa, sorry! Sorry." Jason thumbed the honesty ring on his finger thinking, 'I'm so not sorry. But I want to be?' "... sorry." That last one wasn't directed at anyone in particular, as Jason steadfastly avoided looking at her as he passed by.

"Jason?" he heard her say, which made him stop and turn to face her. She was wearing a dress suit of bright yellow, and he could perfectly picture her in the glowing church. There had to be an even lower ring of hell for guys who not only lusted after a preacher's wife but had their fantasies place said wife in a church.

He forced a grin. "Hi! Afternoon. Sorry, I didn't see you there." He gestured back at the door.

"Oh, no," she waved that concern off, also wearing a smile that seemed strained. "Don't worry." After a beat she added, "I just wanted to say good luck."

He nodded and smiled. "Thanks." Unable to think of anything else to add with Steve's office situated between them he added, "Well, best be off," and headed down the hall. He told himself he was hurrying to brief Luke on the mission. That was way the hell better than a Stackhouse just running away.

*

As Jason passed her Sarah had felt his touch without making any actual contact. Breath caught in her lungs, giddy and resentful signals crossing inside her. It shouldn’t be possible that someone, a simple man, should have such energy about him that she could feel his heat and electricity from inches away. Especially someone who was not her husband.

Then again, her husband shouldn’t leave her in the dark, forcing her to loiter outside doors for snatches of information like a child snoops for presents before Christmas.

Particularly when what she overheard sounded like a death sentence.

Once alone with Steve she stared at him a moment, then shook her head slightly in disbelief. "What are you doing?"

"Hey, honey," Steve greeted her, his smile distant. She knew that expression; either his mind was elsewhere, or he was ticked off at her greeting. What did it say about their relationship that she hoped it was the latter? At least distaste over something she did was having his attention on her.

There might also be the tiniest part of her that wanted nothing more than to anger him. She refused to allow herself any further pettiness than that. "Steve." Her tone was clear, firmly just shy of pleading. She wanted an answer to her inquiry.

Steve sighed. To her it sounded fake, and that was confirmed when he said, "I assumed you were listening at the door and that it was rhetorical." His tone wasn't malicious, but it didn't have to be to make his point obvious.

"If you told me yourself I wouldn't have to find out like a child would," she replied, and added as she saw his jaw drop open to speak, "And don't even think about calling me a child." That was the tactic he'd have resorted to. They'd danced this dance before, every day for days now it seemed, their steps rote and played out and without any music by now. It wasn't just Jason, wasn't Jason at all, although perhaps she was less willing to put up with the changes in Steve since meeting him. If they were in fact changes. Steve wasn't a real partner, and she felt betrayed, as though he'd offered her a future he'd never intended to fulfill. As though it was partly her fault for having wanted that future at all.

“Sarah.” Steve’s tone was thin. “I don’t have time for this.”

‘Then answer the damn question,’ she thought, apologetic over the silent cursing, but left the words to boil in her mouth. Pushing Steve a third time would only bring another rebuff, another denial of the truth. How Saint Peter of him. Only Peter had acted out of fear, and then felt shame. Many things could be said of Steve, but she’d never once seen him ashamed of himself. She was left without means or desire to accuse him further, left again as the one who had to defer to him. Softening her voice, she adopted a placating means. “I want to understand. Sending Jason – and Luke –“ she quickly added, “after vampires-”

“Will only secure their loyalty to us,” Steve cut in.

“What about your contact?” Sarah tried, careful not to use Hugo’s name. “Isn’t he supposed to be keeping an eye on things like that?”

“Sure,” Steve nodded. “When he’s not canoodling his soulless whore of damnation.” Automatically from such a lascivious act came doubt and disdain.

Was bedding a vampire worse than cheating with a married woman?

Leaning back in his seat, Steve looked directly at her. “Remember, even our Lord endured tests. Jesus was tempted in the desert and came out stronger for it.”

She should be more surprised by Steve’s logic than she was. “So should we thank the serpent for trying to tempt him, or God for arranging it?” Her implication was clear. ‘Which one are you seeing yourself as?’

Which one should he be seen as?

“If they follow the plan, neither should be tempted at all.” Steve stood up, crossing to her. “Jason will make sure our information is correct, and Luke will provide backup… should the need arise.”

There it was, nestled between the lines, sounding almost cozy delivered in his warm voice. If Luke fell in line, they'd simply assess their intelligence. If Luke became overzealous, if his penchant for destruction took over, Jason would either stand beside him or try and stop him. Either case had the risk of fatality.

For Steve, unquestionable conviction would be worth that risk. After all, he held it himself; Steve was utterly devoted to his cause, and saw no failure in his future. Certainty was settling like that.

Sarah nodded quietly, turning to leave. At the door she paused, not looking back at him as she added, “Only in the Bible, God didn’t work like that. He didn’t arrange it.” ‘Where does that then leave you?’

“But He didn’t stop it.” Which, to Steve, was just as good. She could feel Steve looking up from the papers in front of him to stare at her. “There must’ve been a reason for that.”

Otherwise, it was madness.

Sarah swallowed and offered a hollowed, “Must be,” before leaving the room.

She should have known better by now than to ask.


###

“Are you sure this is right?” Luke’s voice sounded dubious. Right after sun down they’d set out to look for the location Steve had provided. Jason peered at the paper; some directions had been scratched down, but they meant little to him as nothing in Dallas was familiar. Couldn’t there have been some MacDonald’s landmarks or something thrown in?

“It’s right,” Jason said with more confidence than he felt. Maybe this was a test, he reasoned. To see how much they could be like real soldiers, dropped in the middle of nowhere, with only their senses to sort out where to go. Like Black Ops, only with it being the Fellowship of the Sun, maybe it should be Light Ops. Only that didn’t sound too intimidating.

At a cross section Jason stopped cold, hearing Luke grumble as they nearly collided. “Stackhouse, what now?” Even though Steve had helped equip them both, Luke had to be chafing that his briefing had come through Jason. That knowledge helped Jason not rise to Luke’s level of irritation.

“It’s supposed to be near a hotel, just west of it. The Hotel Carmilla.” Jason squinted up from the paper to look at the signposts nearby. “There’s gotta be a way to find it.”

“We can’t just ask somebody,” Luke chastised.

Jason frowned. “Wasn’t planning on that. People ain’t the only way. There’s phone books.”

Luke couldn’t argue that, so questioned, “Where’re we gonna find a phone book?”

A hotel? Jason started to say, “Well, or we can maybe call information and –“

“You boys lost?” A voice cut him off. Both Jason and Luke spun to see an older-looking gentleman beside them waiting for the crosswalk to let them pass.

“No,” Jason and Luke answered simultaneously. The man shrugged and looked back ahead, possibly content his offer sufficed as his good Samaritan deed for the day.

Luke looked at Jason, then back at the man and said, “Well, maybe just wondering what’s a good place to eat near the Hotel Carmilla.” His look of innocence was as heavy-handed as the attempt at being covert, and internally Jason face-palmed.

“The hotel?” The man jerked a thumb back in the direction they’d come. “Know there’s a diner not far from the hotel’s bar, and cheaper too. Should be back that ways, and to the right.”

“Thanks!” Jason interjected quickly before Luke spoke again. “We appreciate it. Have a good night.” He turned and tugged Luke’s arm with him to go.

Luke yanked himself free when out of sight of the man, hissing, “What the H E double-L you doing, Stackhouse? I got us directions!”

“Yeah, that didn’t look suspicious at all,” Jason pointed out dryly. “Why not go all out and wear a sandwich board next time saying Nothing World-Saving Goin’ on Here.” Luke’s gaze darkened even further, and Jason sighed. “Let’s just regroup, all right? We did need the directions. But remember the training, don’t get ahead of yourself.” After a beat he adopted what he thought was a tone of “Braveheart” gravitas and tapped Luke’s head. “First learn to use this,” he said, dropping his hand as Luke batted it away, then pointed at Luke’s chest, “And then – what the fuck?” He tapped Luke’s chest more firmly, feeling a thick vest of sorts beneath it. “What’re you packing?”

Luke shoved his hand away again and started walking. “Nothing. Vest’s just in case of trouble.” Glancing back he added, “Good soldiers prepare for anything.”

“There’s prepared and then there’s alien invasion alert level,” Jason muttered, starting to walk as well. “This is just a reconignation –“ was that the word? Jason amended it to, “recon mission.” With full authority, and equal measure concern, he stopped once more and touched Luke’s shoulder. “Hey.” He waited for Luke to look at him, then gave a nod. “Just that. All right?”

After a moment Luke nodded grudgingly but in seeming submission. “All right.”

Jason nodded. “Good.”

They started up once more, managing to find the hotel in double the amount it should have taken. A short while later, this time with only two incorrect streets taken, they stood across the street from the address on the paper slip.

From behind a thick tree Jason looked the house over. It was large yet sleek, with a car parked in front and light illuminating the inside. “Why would a vampire live with all them mirrors?” He wondered quietly. “Seems like a death trap.”

Oh. Right.

From his backpack Jason pulled out a pair of binoculars, taking a moment to adjust the focus. They were heavy and looked new, and Jason got a small, giddy rush as he often did when using Steve’s field equipment. Boys and their toys.

But this wasn’t a game. Jason sternly forced himself to focus. The place wasn’t empty, and slowly he got the images of the moving figures to sharpen. He counted five figures in all. Three men, two women. “Well, there’s people in there all right. I count five, but not sure if they’re the ones Steve was mentioning.” Beside him Luke said nothing, just shifted. “Did you hear me? We can’t get close enough to –" Jason's voice dropped off as something inside the house caught his eye.
He couldn’t hear what was being said, but Jason recognized who was saying it. There, beside Bill, stood his sister. “What. The. Fuck?” he whispered incredulously, in confusion. Beside him Luke stirred again, as Jason looked through the lens another time to make sure. No mistake, it was Sookie. “Luke…” Jason began, not sure what to say, then words failing altogether as he saw Luke’s hand was reared back, ready to throw something small, hard, and dark.

Without thinking Jason lunged himself at Luke, tackling him, trying to knock the grenade out of his hand. It might kill them instead, but Jason reacted before such logic seeped in. It wouldn’t have mattered, because he’d still have died for his sister.

It didn’t matter, because it was too late.

While falling Luke still hurled the grenade at the house, aim skewed but still heading for a window. Luke’s eyes grew large in anticipation, and in that brief moment it looked like he was about to say something. A prayer? An explanation? Damnation over Jason's betrayal?

Before Luke had a chance to praise any holy light, Jason’s fist knocked him into darkness. Luke’s body slumped over, unconscious, immediately forgotten.

“Sookie!” Jason screamed, out loud and in his mind, as loud as he could, hoping she’d hear one way or the other as she always somehow seemed to.

Flames danced through the thick black smoke spilling out of the house, tall and orange and lighting the sky. Death should not be so bright.

Dawn. Gran. Amy. Now Sookie. He’d heard that it wasn’t possible all could be lost.

But it could. Here. Right now.

‘We’re all connected,’ he heard echoes of Amy’s stoned voice whisper. ‘We’re most alive when we don’t think about it. When you care about someone, you can’t say where you begin and they end. Whether that heartbeat is yours or mine, it doesn’t matter.’

Bullshit.

Witnessing what might be his sister’s death, Jason had never been more and less aware of his own life, and everything about that could not matter more. Leaping forward into the flames, his only thoughts were a half-formed prayer, or a wish, directed nowhere in particular, running haphazardly of its own accord.

‘Holy fucking hell!

Please, not her.

Take me.’

Chapter Text

(Five minutes ago)

"It ain't against the law in Texas to kill a son of a bitch," Stan drawled in a growl.

"Do they have that engraved on the courthouses yet?" Eric sneered. On a good day Stan could get tiresome, but Eric hadn't had a good day now in weeks. He felt agitated and twitchy, nothing at all like he was accustomed to. As the days passed and Godric remained missing, more and more of Eric's foundation felt like it was tipping. No, not tipping, not even crumbling. It was sinking, and dragging him down with it. Nothing made sense. Eric couldn't imagine anyone or anything overpowering himself, and if nothing could take him down personally, certainly nothing could touch Godric.

If anything happened to him, there wouldn't be a dry neck left in the state. Eric would make sure of that.

Isabelle cut in, "This is getting us nowhere." She was seemingly pacing, but Eric noticed she ended up positioning herself between himself and Stan. She didn't make a show of it, leaving Eric to surmise this was discreet for Dallas.

"Incompetence does that," Eric agreed.

"Eric," Sookie said in admonishment. Bill put a hand on her arm, as though she was an overexcited pet needing to calm. It must be terrifying for him to know he couldn't protect her. Probably an even harder hit to know that he was in a worse position than she was. After all, she wasn't the disposable one.

Stan leaned against the fireplace mantle. "Better listen to your human, sheriff."

"She is not his," Bill hissed.

"No, I'm not," Sookie agreed, her tone firm as she cast Bill a look Eric could only interpret as, 'Trust me, I can handle this.' Grudgingly Bill backed off, though remained standing by her side to keep his presence known.

Codependence, how quaint. "Who cares?" Eric inquired impatiently, his mind solely focused on the matter at hand. In the past the Sookie and Bill Show had proved amusing at times, and Eric found Sookie nothing if not intriguing, but all of it was superfluous now. Eric wasn't just missing a maker, friend, father, brother, son, or partner; it was all of those.

"He's right," Stan said, as he'd agree to anything that could be brought back to violence. "I say we go in there and take back what's ours."

In the tonal equivalent of an eye roll Isabelle asked, "And if Godric isn't there?"

Stan shrugged; this wasn't about Godric for him. "Then we've narrowed the search down and gotten takeout. I call that a productive night."

"That's because you are all small minded, fangless idiots." Hands curled, Eric headed for the door. He was finished, therefore the meeting was. He detested losing his composure, and the longer he stood around them accomplishing nothing, the worse it'd become.

"Eric." He heard Sookie break away from Bill, the scent of her growing stronger as she approached him. Wedging herself partly in front of him to block the door, she looked up at him with an expression more puzzled than anything over his behavior. "I have an idea." Glancing back at the others she added, "I'll go to the Fellowship."

"You most certainly... should... not," Bill said, clearly having made the effort to refrain from saying 'will not.' Perhaps he was being trained as Sookie's pet as well. "Sookie, it isn't safe."

It wasn't, but that clearly didn't concern her. Definitely intriguing. And, more importantly, useful.

Isabelle ignored Bill. "For what purpose?"

"I can snoop around, literally and in peoples' minds, remember?" Sookie pointed out. "I can go in and find - Jason?" Her voice trailed off at the end, drifting into confusion that didn't have time to play itself out before everything broke into pieces.

###

It didn't seem possible that something so small could take out so much. Jason rushed through the rubble, one arm overhead to shield his face from anything falling. "Sookie! Answer me, goddammit!" he said, louder and louder. In times of stress, cursing was what came to mind. Or rather, what came to mouth, since Jason wasn't thinking on much at all.

He found something blonde, but it wasn't his sister.

It was, however, on top of his sister. "Sookie?!" he knelt down and shoved the other body off her.

She was struggling, trying to push it off as well. "Jason?" Looking at him for barely a second, she then immediately threw her arms around him. The hug was tight, squeezing out all the air in him, and he reciprocated in kind. For the moment this took the place of words, just as necessary to ascertain the other was all right. After a long moment she pulled back, immediately looking for Bill who was now right by her side.

Placing his hands flat against the sides of her face, Bill asked worriedly, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Sookie said, lightly taking Bill's hands and pulling them down, keeping them encased in her own. "You?"

Bill nodded, not seeming to find the question important at all. "You're certain?"

"Yes. Eric - " at that point she looked down at Eric lying where he'd been pushed off her. "He threw himself on top of me. He blocked the blast."

"He fell on top of you," Bill said, as though wanting this scenario to be the case was enough to make it true.

"Bill, whatever faults you might find in me, clumsiness isn't one of them," Eric said, his voice easy but weak.

Bill snorted. "Neither is honesty."

"Most would consider honesty a virtue, not a fault," Eric said, still lying flat.

"Not how you'd use it. If you used it," Bill retorted, looking ready to say more when Sookie cut him off.

"Stop it you two. Where's Isabelle? And Stan?" Sookie looked around, settling her gaze on Jason at the end once more. "And what are you doing here? Weren't you at church camp?"

Jason, still kneeling, rocked back on his heels. "Well... it's not exactly camp."

"I'm fine," they heard the other man, Jason assumed it was Stan, interject. Looking over he saw Stan place an unharmed cowboy hat on his head as he added, "But I'm about to make sure someone else ain't." With that he zipped off, hunting for the attacker.

Luke.

"No!" Jason shouted quickly.

He started to rise, but Sookie grabbed his arm and asked, "What's going on?"

"I don't have time to explain right now, but if Stan maws down on who I think he might, there's gonna be a whole mess of trouble," Jason said impatiently, adding, "Trust me."

After a beat Sookie turned to her boyfriend. Fangfriend? Boyfriend, Jason settled on. He heard her implore, "Bill?"

The vampire nodded, clearly reluctant to chase after Stan, but neither of them seemed content to leave Stan to his own devices. Sounded like he and Luke might have a few things in common. Bill kissed Sookie briefly then said, "I'll be back soon." He left with a whoosh of air that ruffled Jason's hair, and he couldn't help but think how vampires came with their own special effects. Get fangs, you'll never need a fan again.

Sookie was looking around, Jason wasn't sure what for, when they heard a weak cough from the ground. She looked down. "Eric?"

His voice was weaker, raspy, but with an element of urgency. Pale hands covered the areas on his torso where he'd been wounded. "Think there... was... silver... in it."

"Oh God," she said, then turned to Jason. "Jason, there was another vampire here. Isabelle. She was by the window. See if you can find her, if she can come help."

Jason nodded and leaped to his feet, anxious to be doing something. Anything but explaning anything further. "On it." He headed where Sookie had pointed, hearing Eric hoarsely protesting there wasn't time. With single-minded focus Jason tore through the rubble closest where the grenade hit, through plaster and cement and blood and finally body parts. Gagging, though not as much as he head around his first few dead bodies, Jason stumbled back. There was a woman, or what little remained of her, looking like a doll that'd been chewed up by a dog.

Even vampires could die. Jason already knew this.

What he didn't know, what he'd now have to add to figuring out, is how much guilt he should feel this time. It was easier to think on how he should feel, than on the actual feeling itself. Only this time it wasn't guilt, or the guilt was largely overshadowed by anger. Luke shouldn't have been so careless, and that went double for Steve. Who would give Luke access to a grenade?

Who, if any, knew Sookie would be there?

Looking down at the corpse, Jason offered, "I'm sorry." He wasn't sure on whose behalf he was apologizing, but it didn't matter.

It felt right.

Turning, he saw Sookie bent over. Brief panic flooded him again until she sat up with a decidedly disgusted look on her face. He certainly hoped it was a disgusted look; it was difficult to tell beneath all the blood coating it. As Jason approached she spat something out, wiping a hand across her face and saying, "That's all."

"That's all of what exactly?" Jason asked cautiously. He wasn't sure as her brother, or just someone with ears that could hear, that he wanted her to say.

Eric, now with his arm behind his head as a cushion, chimed in. "Sookie decided she would play medic." He sounded satisfied, as though her deciding to save his life was as valuable as her having actually done it.

"I couldn't just let him die," she said defensively, even though Jason hadn't said a word. "I mean, he saved me."

"Tit for tat," Eric agreed. "Oldest bargaining system in the world."

"Thought back in the day they bartered with chickens and goats and stuff," Jason said, anything to wipe out the memory of Sookie chest-sucking just moments before.

Eric smiled. "I can assure you, there was more to it than that." It was a smile that did not inspire confidence in any around it that they wanted proof. Especially when he added, looking at Sookie, "There always is."

She was silent a moment, then in discomfort changed the subject. "How's Isabelle?"

Jason shook his head. "Dead." After a beat he asked hesitantly, "Did she know a vampire called Godric?"

"Godric?" Never had Jason felt such an intense focus as Eric suddenly turned towards him. Within a second Eric was on his feet, towering over Jason. "What do you know about him?"

"The Fellowship has him. Or he's with them, in the church back east of here," Jason elaborated, trying hard to fight the compulsion to back up a few steps away from Eric's looming. It became a moot point as the second the words left his lips, Eric was gone. "I wish they'd stop doing that," Jason sighed in annoyance.

"Nevermind," Sookie said, getting to her feet. "Where is the Fellowship, and what do you have to do with it?"

He shook his head. "No time. We gotta move." He grabbed her arm and they ran out, Sookie hesitating only when passing Isabelle's remains. Once clear of the ruined home, Jason looked around. "How big a crime d'you think car stealing is if you're heading off a church massacre?"

###

He must have overtaken them. Eric sensed when Bill's and Stan's scents grew stronger and then receded once more as he easily passed by them. Still, though it took moments, it seemed like forever until Eric arrived at the church. He could sense it, in so many ways. Godric was here.

Godric was calling for him.

Racing down to the basement, all was a blur until he was at Godric's feet. What he felt was rudimentary and raw, questions bubbling up but all that escaped was a declaration: "Godric."

A hand fell on his head, soft and sure, and he looked up to see his Maker. Godric's hair was shorter, his eyes tired, and his clothing ill-fitting. All of these bits shuffled around with the centuries of images Eric had of Godric stored in his memories. His vault, as Pam might say. Godric's hand fell away and he quietly rebuked, "You needn't be here." Meaning, he shouldn't.

Eric remained kneeled, though unwilling to bend yet. "I will not let them hurt you."

"Eric." The name came out with a smile, one rueful and knowing. "They aren't hurting me."

"But they want to," Eric insisted, and then stopped. The last thing he wanted to do was follow that up with inquiring why Godric had put himself in a position where they could. Instead he offered, "Can you make it out of here? Do you need to feed?" It was obvious Godric was running on little. Even though Eric knew he could, he wanted Godric to drink and be replenished, to be full and flushed instead of coldly half-present.

Godric merely held out his hand. After a moment Eric took it in a firm grasp, and let Godric help him rise up. Beats of silence followed with their fingers interlocked, cool touch to cool touch. Then with a deliberate delicacy Godric released his hold. "You should go."

"Not without you." Eric's statement held equal measures of threat, plea, and promise. When Godric merely gave a small, sad smile, calling Eric's bluff, Eric added, "Stan's coming. He's already chasing down one Fellowship member, and I doubt he'll be satisfied with just that."

"See to it he doesn't," was Godric’s only reply. The why didn't matter, not at the moment. Eric rose and departed, not certain whether the seeds he'd planted would take root in Godric or not.

Framed in his cell, Godric called after, "Make certain no harm comes to pass." His manner of giving orders never changed. Godric was firm without being harsh, calm while conveying insistence.

He wasn't to be ignored.


###

“Jason, I said to the right!” Sookie screamed as the car jerked, nearly sliding into a mud hole.

Through gritted teeth Jason countered, “To the right there’re trees, Sook.” He tensely tried to keep driving in the general direction Sookie indicated when she caught snatches of a hysterical man’s thoughts – Luke’s. So far it’d taken them well of any main road, through a wooded area that might be a pleasant park during the day but at the moment was only serving the purpose of being a royal bitch to navigate. “Why the hell’s your boyfriend chasing him through the woods?”

“Why did your friend decide to run through here?” Sookie shot back. Even if Jason could spare a glance at her face, he knew he wouldn’t want to see her expression. “Don’t go making this Bill’s fault.”

“I’m not.” Jason took a deep breath. This wasn’t Bill’s fault, but it didn’t seem likely Bill had succeeded. If he had, he’d have returned to Sookie with Luke in hand. Since he hadn’t… Jason still stubbornly inquired, “Anything?” When lacking proof, he’d go with hope. No body had yet been found. Jason knew Sookie would also cling to the old adage ‘Leave no man behind.’ Be that man Luke or Bill.

“Nothing, not even a whisper,” Sookie answered in frustration. “He might just be unconscious. And I couldn’t hear Bill either way.”

Perhaps some might take the time to ask her whether he’d want to, but Jason merely considered the situation and nodded. “You should work on that.”

He felt her stare at him. “There aren’t mental jumping jacks you can do to tone up for vampire mind invasion.” The sheer ludicrousness of the fact that there was nothing but sincerity in that statement seemed to hit her, as she changed the subject. “We can’t be far off.” Jason said nothing, figuring she was concentrating, feeling relief flood through him when she exclaimed, “There! Right up there! He’s alive.”

A figure was on the ground, crawling on his belly like one would do to avoid being shot, or too injured to rise. Parking the car Jason and Sookie ran and crouched down beside Luke’s body. Behind him was a battle, not unlike watching ice hockey on television. The moves were too swift for Jason to be able to follow exactly what was happening. Feral noises rang out between the sounds of bodies being flung against trees and rocks. Perhaps Sookie could distinguish Bill’s growls from Stan’s, but all Jason could do was hope Bill was holding his own.

A groan escaped from Luke, and Jason rolled him onto his back. Bleary eyes met his, not showing any acknowledgement that Luke even recognized him. “C’mon,” Jason said, trying to hoist Luke’s arm around his shoulder for the leverage to help Luke rise. Sticky sweetness coated Jason as Luke’s blood seeped onto him. Luke’s head hung at an unnatural angle, the moonlight enough to see a deep gash in his throat. Stan’s revenge, or Dallas justice.

Sookie moved to Luke’s other side, ignoring the subsequent moan that escaped him as she placed Luke’s other arm around her shoulders. There was no indication that she acknowledged this was the same individual who had nearly killed her not long ago. At the moment, it didn’t seem to matter to her. Looking at Jason she gave him a nod, and together they unsteadily rose, dragging Luke between them. Luke’s cries grew as they moved him to the car and Jason internally cringed. They didn’t need Stan more aware that his prey was escaping.

Shifting his weight, Jason balanced Luke against the side of the car while he opened the back passenger door. He heard Sookie gasp a moment before all of Luke’s weight was lifted from him. Quickly Jason spun and looked at the ground, certain that Luke had fallen. Instead of a body, Jason only saw a pair of shiny black shoes. Raising his gaze, Jason took in the sight of Luke’s body dangling by the fingertips of Eric.

“Eric, you can’t kill him,” Sookie said urgently, though she didn’t touch him.

Eric barely spared her a glance, instead keeping his measured focus on Luke. “I have no intention to,” he said, then raised his other wrist up to his mouth, sinking his fangs into his skin. Bright red drops appeared, and Sookie caught on first what he was planning. Now she did step forward, taking his wrist. Eric’s eyes fell to her hand, appearing almost bemused at the idea of it working as a restraint, before looking at her. “Godric wants him alive. I’m ensuring that happens.” His wrist flicked and Sookie stepped back, less from the shooing gesture than from befuddlement. Her look was one of confusion and curiosity, but to Jason there was an alarming lack of wariness in it.

“What’re you planning on doing with that?” Jason asked with arms crossed, nodding at Eric’s cut wrist. There was no way making Luke a vampire would make this situation any better.

Slowly Eric looked at him, acknowledging Jason’s presence for the first time. “Healing him,” Eric said as if explaining to a child.

Jason blinked. “Vamp blood does that?”

“It can serve other purposes aside from intoxication,” Eric said, his tone and gaze terrifying in its ease. Jason felt his heart hammer through his chest as Eric continued to direct his focus on him for a beat longer, then once again dismissed him by merely looking back at Luke. Without fanfare Eric shoved his wrist against Luke’s mouth, waiting patiently as Luke chocked blood down.

It was like watching the Sci-Fi channel meets Discovery, a medical marvel that wouldn’t be amiss having a thriller soundtrack. At first Luke jerked back, away from what was thrust before him, and then he turned voracious. Reaching up he firmly locked a hand around Eric’s wrist, pulling it towards himself possessively, hungrily sucking what his body needed to replenish. Jason watched Luke’s neck wound close, sealing itself up like a zipper. Like nothing had ever opened Luke up at all.

Eventually Eric yanked his arm back, healing himself within moments. Luke gasped as he fell back against the car, raising his fingertips to his lips. Was he tasting his blood, or Eric’s? Cautiously Jason said, “Luke?”

This time the other soldier’s eyes were intense, locking on Jason’s with a wildness but recognition. Luke’s mouth formed Jason’s name noiselessly, then managed a single word before Eric ripped off into the night with him. “Why -”

Eric had to be taking Luke to Godric.

Looking away from the direction Eric had fled, Sookie ran off after Bill and Stan. Jason overtook her and caught her arm, keeping her on the edge of the fray. Or what he hoped was the edge; it was still difficult to tell. When the movements had moments slow enough to follow, it was clear Stan was stronger, but his attacks were becoming wild with inhibition or from frustration. Bill’s moves were coldly precise, though no less animalistic. Nature worked both ways. Beside Jason, he could feel Sookie become still. He doubted she was on any level appreciating the display.

Waiting there, watching, Jason was aware of a personal fact he’d long known about himself: Stackhouses weren’t ones to stand on the sidelines. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling on Sookie’s arm. When she resisted he added, “He’s just gonna be distracted with you standing here thinking he has to watch out for you.”

The truth of that seemed to slap her across the face. Sookie pulled away and insisted, “We aren’t going to run away, Jason.”

“Of course we ain’t,” he scoffed, like that was a given she should have known. “We’re getting the car.” They ran back, jumping in it. Jason started the ignition, impatiently buckling up when Sookie reminded him to. Both of them leaned unconsciously forward, peering through the windshield, waiting. He felt her wince as Bill got thrown, and only realized he was holding his breath when he didn’t hear her exhale. Leaning across Jason, Sookie flashed the car’s lights, distracting both vampires. Bill leaped up, spared a head tilted glance at the car, then circled Stan, slowly for him. He looked like a coil, heated up even though made of dead flesh. When Stan attacked, Bill must have dropped to the ground, shoulder catching Stan at his midsection and hoisting him over Bill’s head. To Jason it happened in a blink; all of a sudden Bill was kneeling and Stan was lying on the ground where he’d been thrown. It was the silent sign; Jason floored it, running over Stan’s body. Sookie flung open the back door and Bill leaped in. Jason assumed Bill could arrive at the Fellowship far faster on his own, but that wasn’t his destination. Sookie was.

Glancing over, Jason saw Sookie’s hands run over Bill’s face, adding to the blood already covering her. They were all covered in it, in each others’, a perversely intimate fact Jason shook off as quickly as possible. “Think that killed him?”

“I do not,” Bill said, his voice husky and ragged. “I thought it unwise to finish him off.”

“Because he’s deep down a swell guy?” Jason asked disbelievingly. He might be willing to admit not all vampires were posters for evil, but some certainly fell in the crazy category, just as some people did. Only said crazy people didn’t heal within minutes of having the shit kicked out of them and then be up for biting you.

There was a moment of silence, then Bill replied, “Because the last thing Dallas needs now is another death.”

###

The body was dropped in front of Godric unceremoniously, but alive. Another life now in his hands. After letting the boy go Eric moved to stand beside Godric. Smelling the blood, Godric reached over and took Eric’s wrist. Lightly he ran a finger over the area where Luke had fed from Eric, knowing exactly where it was despite the wound having healed. It wasn’t some mystical awareness; it was the only area visible on Eric with blood stains that would likely have been used. Godric tried to recall if he’d ever had Eric give blood to someone to save them before. Perhaps it was a first. And, of course, Eric had complied.

Eric offered a faint smile, seemingly content to be the object of Godric’s attention. It was Godric who turned away first when hearing deep gasps and a shuffling from a clearly traumatized Luke.

Backing himself against the wall of the cell, Luke clasped his hands together tightly, spinning his honesty ring round and round on his finger. Words soon spewed forth in a babble. “Oh Jesus, oh God, what’re you going to do to me, what did you do, what’re you going to do –“

“Nothing,” Godric said simply. Stepping closer, he looked down at Luke. “You’re safe.”

A hysterical laugh escaped Luke as he shook his head. “You’re not gonna take me, make me, make me like you, you’re not, you’re not...” The last words became a mantra he chanted, his hands dropping to his sides, fingers closing on something.

Eric scoffed; if it was put into words, he would’ve said ‘please.’ “You have a high opinion of yourself.” He smiled, almost jaunty, so content to be back around Godric that Godric wished he could reciprocate in kind.

Focusing on Luke, Godric studied him a moment before saying, “Your Fellowship is upstairs.” He stepped aside, clearing a way for Luke to leave. Luke’s eyes widened, darting from Godric to Eric in disbelief, before he scrambled up and out.

Eric looked at Godric. “You know he’s going to make it sound like we tried to kill him.”

“Maybe.” Godric felt a heaviness, aware it was far more likely than maybe. Everything he hadn’t wanted was coming to pass, and was his fault. Perhaps the start of it wasn’t, and it certainly wasn’t a fight Godric wished to undertake, but he couldn’t deny he was now playing a part. If he did nothing, the Fellowship wouldn’t just find another sacrifice. They’d seek revenge. At the very least, Godric could set this right.

He walked past Eric and up the stairs, only dimly aware of the sensation of sadness and guilt. It was the first time in years he’d felt anything long enough to be recognized definitively; the first thing to give him resolve about something outside himself.

It wasn’t a feeling he hoped would last long.

Already Godric could hear the evening service dissolving as Luke burst through the church’s doors. Newlin called for people to remain calm before sympathetically egging Luke on to incite them more. Luke’s tale was scattered, like several fishing nets thrown haphazardly into an ocean in the hopes of pulling up a catch that’d impress Steve. “Stackhouse is with them, he was helping them. I tried to stop them, one bit me and another made me drink and –“ he paused as a collective gasp echoed throughout the congregation, and Godric entered in time to see them recoil from Luke at once. One needn’t be telepathic to know his pain.

Was he tainted, would they turn on him?

There was disgust on Steve’s face, but it wasn’t the look he gave vampires; that expression Godric could identify first hand. No, this one was deeper, edged with a hurt betrayal and rage when it couldn’t be denied. It was meant for Jason. Glancing up, Newlin met Godric’s gaze, giving him a look that made it clear he’d like nothing better than to ram a stake through his heart. At that moment, in his anger, letting Godric burn wouldn’t suffice. Steve wouldn’t see it as his actions having lost Jason for his cause; it was, for him, another example of a vampire stealing what was his. Worse than killing; seducing. Newlin only worked with temptation. It was all he knew.

Luke cast pleading eyes at Steve, begging for understanding, “No, no, I’m not… I just got healed, but I’m not…” his voice trailed off as he realized Steve was no longer looking at him, but over him. He followed Newlin’s gaze back to meet Godric. Luke all but breathed a sigh of relief as he adopted the glare of others, focusing it upon the two vampires before them.

Standing slightly Godric and to his right, Eric softly said, “Oh, this’ll end well.” He didn’t sound especially concerned, and really, there was no reason for him to have. There was no immediate danger here for them. Either Godric or Eric could have taken everyone out on their own within minutes. Eric knew that as well as Godric did. Whether Eric saw that as a power or a responsibility was another matter.

Godric stepped forward. “That he was healed is true.” He opened his mouth to continue when three more individuals burst into the church.

Panting, Jason immediately said loudly, “Don’t listen to anything he says!” Pausing then to take in the scene, Jason amended, pointing at Godric, “Well, you can maybe listen to what he says.” Pointing at Luke he then added, “But not him.” Looking at Newlin, with a hint of betrayal in his voice as well, he said, “And you… you set Luke up to be packing, just to test me? And it didn’t matter who got killed, did it? Even if was me, or innocent people, or my sister?” As the accusations went on, Jason grew more heated.

“Jason –“ Sarah tried to cut in, her body shaking slightly as if conflicted over whether to go to him or not.

“No it didn’t.” Steve’s voice rang out loud and clear, silencing Sarah and the rest. Hands on hips he stepped towards Jason, looking him over as though seeing him for the first time. There was nothing soft or pitying in his gaze, nothing to indicate how hurt he must have been. His conviction became a salve as he issued Jason his final judgment, “Why should it? Every single one of you sympathizing devil worshippers will end up in hell for what you’ve done. If you think you’re innocent, well… I feel sorry for you.” The words were hollow, without sympathy. “But that doesn’t excuse anything, Jason. You made your choice, and all of you will pay for it. God doesn’t take kindly to evil’s whores, and you’ll find that neither do we.”

“You motherfucker,” Jason said, lunging at him and punching Steve’s face. The movement broke the tension, the emotion in the room expelling explosively from people as they ran for the door or for places to hide, and screamed for help and for silence to hear Steve ordering Gabe to take Jason down.

A shot rang out, a sound most of them had never heard before in real life. The congregation paused, looking in its direction, some hopeful, others fearful. They looked at Godric, who managed to position himself in front of Jason before the bullet hit him.

A bloody circle appeared through Godric’s white shirt, and his gaze dropped down to it along with everyone else’s. Even Gabe paused, waiting to hear other orders, trying to make sense of what was happening. In silence everyone watched the bullet slowly push itself out of Godric’s chest, the wound healing by the time the bullet hit the floor with a cling.

“God Almighty,” someone whispered, in terrified wonder.

“Not a miracle,” Godric corrected, leaning down and picking up the bullet. “Just good timing.” He approached Gabe, who didn’t flee, and before he could try anything Godric twisted the gun barrel upward, rendering it useless. Looking out at the crowd, Godric addressed them, asking, “Is this really where your faith takes you?” After a beat he added, “I’ve seen otherwise,” with a glance at Jason. Holding up the bullet in his fingers, he then went to Steve. The other man started to get up, but from Godric’s look he slumped back down, glaring but unmoving. “Hold out your hand,” Godric said, quietly commanding, and Steve thrust his out. Perhaps he was expecting pain, something he could use to make himself a martyr.

Godric dropped the bullet into his hand instead, offering Steve back what was his. In silence Godric knelt down in front of Steve, matching figures in white with followers flanking each of their sides. "You were shown mercy today, Mr. Newlin," he said quietly. "If you remember nothing else, remember that." With that he rose and walked away, the people surrounding him parting like a sea to let him through.

One by one they all turned, watching him go. Eric, Jason, Sookie, and Bill fell in step behind him, and followed him into the night.

###

They should go. Godric could sense the coming dawn, the sluggish numbing that would be affecting Eric and the other vampire with them more. There was little more they could do at Godric’s apartment now, anyway. The area had been roped off, a crew taken care of the wreckage, and an investigation underway. Eric had pitched in willingly, but Dallas wasn’t his territory. He didn’t know the contacts Godric would have as sheriff, and since Godric lacked both of his lieutenants, the majority of the work had fallen to him. The details were tedious, and not something he’d had to bother with in quite awhile, leaving him exhausted by the end.

Eric came up beside him, looking ready to drop. Godric knew he hadn’t fed after Luke had drunk from him, but Eric made no mention of it. “Still no word on Stan,” he merely said, all business, and Godric loved him for that. Eric was an anchor, more in tune with the world and making things work in it, and by far the least painless way to pull Godric out of his internal musings.

Godric nodded. “Thank you.” He turned back to look at where Isabelle’s body had been. Because of him, she was dead.

Who did that leave for Dallas now?

“Is there anything here you need to take with you?” Eric asked. “To the hotel.”

Godric shook his head. “I don’t need anything.”

“No change of shirt? I think this bull’s eye might make it a little too easy for Flanagan,” Eric pointed to the blood circle on Godric’s chest, forcing a smile along with the joke.

He looked so worried, Godric forced a smile back. “Very funny.”

Looking aside, Eric stepped closer, saying with a lowered voice, “You know they’re going to be looking for blood to blame. The Fellowship, the police, the AVL –“

“I know,” Godric said. He’d happily offer up his, but it was no longer that simple. Without Isabelle, the only one Godric could conceive of leaving Dallas to in such a time of turmoil was Eric, who had his own obligations elsewhere. The Fellowship might now be calling for more than a vampire’s blood. Jason and his sister were at risk, only because they'd tried to help. Whether they sent terrorists or the police after them wasn’t yet clear. And then there was Stan, who had yet to appear. Godric knew Stan was loyal enough to obey a direct order… but if he wasn’t around for Godric to give him one, there were several possibilities he might take up on his own initiative that Godric didn’t care to think about. Only, he had to think about them, to figure out how to next proceed.

Godric had known Nan Flanagan for decades, and could already hear her voice ringing in his head. ‘Sheriff, you fucked up.’

Shaking himself out of the reverie this time, Godric surveyed those around him. Tired, bloody faces looked back at him as he cleared his throat to gain their attention. “The Hotel Carmilla is expecting us. Clean clothing will be provided for you there, should you require any. Please, take the first car.” He indicated the limo the hotel had sent, which was sitting outside waiting. “I’ll meet you there.”

Jason’s sister and her boyfriend went to it, but Jason hesitantly hung back. Godric looked at him expectantly, waiting as Jason sorted out what he desired to say. “I suppose I should say thanks.”

“If you want,” Godric replied. "You needn't feel any obligation." He wasn't in the business of accruing debts, one of many reasons he now made a lousy politician.

“No, I want,” Jason shook his head, then said more firmly, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” After a beat Godric added, “You did your fair share today to help, Mr. Stackhouse. I owe you thanks as well.”

At that Jason grinned, waving the compliment off in poorly attempted humility. “It was nothing. But, well,” he became more uncomfortable, though still looked Godric directly in the eye as he added, “I’m sorry, too. About the Fellowship.”

Godric smiled, one without humor. “As am I.” When Jason looked down he added, “Not because of you.”

“No?” Jason looked back up, frowning. “Then why?”

It was near dawn; it was beyond words. Godric merely shook his head. “You should go now. I’ll see you at the hotel.”

Jason seemed to debate arguing, then simply nodded. He headed off, pausing once more to add, “Stay safe,” before entering the car. Watching it take off, Godric thought the words fitting for all of them.

Trudging into his bedroom, one of the less demolished parts of the house, he sorted out shirts without really looking. Without turning around he said, “I said you should go.”

“Technically,” Eric said with mock innocence, sitting on a remaining part of the bed, “You didn’t specify who should get in the first car.”

“Don’t be difficult,” Godric said, turning to look at him with more fondness than anything. Eric smiled, knowing it. “I’m not going to disappear if you let me out of your sight, you know.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Eric retorted, the words lightly bratty on the surface, but Godric knew the concern underneath. He remained silent as Eric easily slid into a serious tone. “Why did you?”

Godric shook his head. “Not now.” It wasn’t an order, nor a plea. He wasn’t sure what it was. “The sun’s almost up, we need to get you to the hotel.”

He looked at Eric, and after a moment the other man nodded. “Not now,” he agreed, indicating it would be addressed eventually. Eric never let anything go.

Picking up the first shirt he saw, Godric took off the bloodied one and pulled on the new. Tossing the ruined one back into the closet, Godric heard Eric’s cell phone ring. Turning, he watched as Eric said, “Hello?” Slowly Eric’s face constructed its expression into one of concern. “Sookie, slow down. What happened?”

Godric could hear her voice through the phone, the words coming in a hurry. “The police stopped us, they’re taking us down to the station. They let Bill go, I know he wanted to glamour them but I thought that might make things worse. He’s gone to the hotel, but Jason… they want Jason to answer some more questions.”

Texas, the chessboard. So that was how the Fellowship was going to play that piece. It was a diversion, a move that at worst was sacrificing a pawn. There would be a bigger picture than this.

“Tell him not to say anything,” Eric ordered. “Go with him, and I’ll call you back soon.” Closing the phone, he looked at Godric.

Neither needed words to convey the situation presented before them.

‘Your move.’

Chapter Text

Part 4: What We Carry

 

"I didn't do anything," Jason repeated firmly for the umpteenth time, a reaction which still only earned him a vague eye roll as the police continued to take down his information.

Beside him Sookie hissed, "Jason, just don't say anything." She wasn't allowed at his side, having to stand back as two men in uniform flanked him. A very small part of Jason couldn't help but think how if he was a vampire, or hell even just on V, he'd be able to overtake them easily. Then again, if he was a vampire, it would be other people he'd be dealing with, not the cops. Wouldn't it? He wondered if the vampires had any form of justice for dealing with each other.

He wondered if whatever they had was really justice at all. It was much the same he was wondering about human law enforcement at the moment.

The officers took him to an interrogation cell, which Jason realized was an experience that didn't become old hat. He could feel sweat start to stick his shirt to his underarms and back, and tried to mentally grasp anything positive he could think of to calm himself down. 'Sookie called for help. I didn't do anything wrong. At least this time I won't end up with a needle stuck in my dick.'

A hefty folder fell on the tabletop behind which he was seated, jerking Jason's attention back to what was transpiring around him. Looking up he saw a third officer standing on the opposite end of the table, her arms crossed and bearing a solemn expression. Jason wondered if that was a stance they all learned in police training. He found it decidedly more appealing on a woman and automatically started to grin. The other two officers silently departed. Jason sat up a little straighter, wondering if this was being caught on camera. Of its own volition his gaze snaked around the walls, although it was impossible to tell whether what was going on in the room could be seen from the other side or not.

The officer said, not unkindly, "Hello, Jason. I'm Detective Armata. Tell me about tonight."

"No," Jason said, shaking his head quickly. Armata just looked at him, and Jason felt compelled to continue explaining. "I, uh, was told someone was coming here I should talk to first."

"A lawyer?" The detective asked.

Jason nodded again. "Yeah, I think so."

Armata sat down across from him, her easy manner not eradicating the slightly menacing air that permeated from her. Was that on purpose? "Think so?"

"Yeah." Jason fought the temptation to lick his lips. They were dry, but he wasn't certain how any motion he made might be misconstrued. "My sister called someone. I think to get a lawyer."

Armata sat back, hands folded across her belly. "Your sister waiting out front. Tell me about her?"

What was the interest in Sookie? Or was this just another approach to get him to start talking? Suspecting the latter Jason clamped his jaws shut tight and shook his head again. With stubborn defiance he stared back at Armata staring at him. After what felt to Jason like an excruciating pause Armata was called away. Sighing, the detective rose, opening the door to reveal a man who decidedly did not look like a part of any precinct.

Purple was the first thing that came to mind when Jason saw him. The man was dressed in a dark wine-colored suit, one that even without any green made Jason think of the Joker. He didn't think that boded well. Purple Suit's shirt and shoes were black, matching the man's hair and the sunglasses he wore despite it being nighttime and inside a building. Of average height and lean build, Jason thought he looked like someone who might've been an athlete once upon a time, and now could still chase after an ambulance should the need arise. He smiled at Jason's appraising gaze, a wide smile that was unsettling in its lack of self-consciousness. A character, is what Gran would have labeled him. "Pardon me, Detective," Purple Suit said in a nasal accent that betrayed a lack of Southernism. "My client and I would like to get acquainted."

Armata coolly smiled back, seeming to know him. "You do that, Mac."

"That's Mr. Mac to you," he said, still smiling as though he couldn't imagine a more pleasant evening than one spent cordially correcting a member of law enforcement.

This time Armata ignored him. Looking back at Jason, with a decidedly more wary glint in her expression, she said, "See you soon." With a last look at both of them she picked up the folder on the desk and exited the room.

Once the door was secured shut, Mac turned back to Jason and said briskly, "Well then, down to business. First off, I'm Arthur MacKenzie." Taking the seat Armata had vacated, he set his briefcase down on the table and held out his hand to shake. He didn't bother to wait for Jason to take his hand before going on, like it was something he'd recorded, "A pleasure. You may call me Arthur, Mac, or Mr. Mac if you're still young and Southern enough to want to respect your elders."

Jason considered this, then asked, "Well, what does everyone else call you?"

For a brief moment Mac paused, and Jason wondered whether he was taken aback by the question or silently evaluating something. Then as though he hadn't missed a beat Mac grinned and answered, "Nothing you'd be comfortable introducing me as to your grandmother in church. Not if you're right in the head."

"My grandmother's dead," Jason shrugged, although he knew that wasn't the point. "And she didn't care 'bout names, anyway. Not like that." Gran had loved learning about peoples' lineages, but she never looked down on anyone because of what they went by. Hell, she'd known twice more about the history of all the families in Bon Temps than Jason did about his own. It'd never seemed all that important to him to memorize historical facts about people long dead that he'd never met, not when there were living beings around to interact with. Truth be told, it still didn't hold his interest outside of the fact that it'd been a part of Gran. By virtue of her no longer being around to think it was important, Jason felt the very least he could do was balance the scales some and no longer scoff at genealogy pastimes.

With the sunglasses on it was impossible to tell whether Jason's words made Mac blink or not, but his voice was as smooth as always. "Sorry to hear about your loss. Let's just go with Mac, then." Having made one decision about the dynamic between them, Mac leaned forward and folded his hands on the table, taking the lead again. "Now Mr. Stackhouse, this is how it'll work. Right now you're being held in custody. They don't have enough right now to charge you with anything. They can, however, hold you for twenty-four hours before having to press charges. This can be extended by another twelve hours in some cases, by the courts for ninety-six hours, and in the case of terrorism, up to twenty-eight days."

Jason started to sweat again, but Mac didn't seem at all perturbed as he continued, "But the likelihood of that given the charges won't happen. The Sheriff -"

"Godric?" Jason interjected.

Mac nodded, "Yes. His staff has me on retainer. Since I was called in by his office, he's not going to be pressing charges for the explosion. Granted, all of the witnesses there are either vamps or related to you, but it's more support than the actual thrower of the grenade has. The assault in the church, now -"

"They were the ones firing the damn gun!" Jason cut in again, loudly.

Mac raised a hand in placation and Jason slumped back in his seat sullenly. Calmly Mac went on, "Fingerprints will show up on the gun. Whatever other violence that went on though is your word against theirs. Still, they really don't have much. My guess is this is a scare tactic, or a diversion." Looking at Jason, Mac explained further, "It's ineffectual revenge, minimal leverage, or an attempt to keep our eyes off of something else going on."

"Like what?" Jason wondered. He didn't think the Fellowship was above revenge; hell, it was what they were practically built on. That, and fear. But he couldn't imagine Newlin going about it in a moronic way. Was all this to distract from another sacrifice they were having? It seemed a helluva lot of risk to drag in the police just for that.

Shrugging, Mac drew a line between his job and Grisham-style heroics and firmly stayed planted on the former side. "You got me. I'm a lawyer, not a detective. My job is to keep you off the chopping block long enough for this to be figured out."

'For me to figure this out,' Jason thought. There was no way he was going to let himself be set up for something again. There had to be a weak link in the Fellowship, somewhere. Not Newlin, or Gabe. Certainly not Luke. Sarah? Her image came into his mind, and while there was nothing weak about it, there was maybe a chance. A crack in something, somewhere. Maybe. At this point Jason wasn't certain which part of his body was leading him, his head, heart, or something else. First, in order to do anything, he had to get out of there. Looking squarely at Mac he asked, "So what happens now?"

"Now, you continue to sit and be silent until they let you go. Knowing I'm your counsel, I don't think they'll want to tango with you for much longer. Not without a lot more to charge you with." Mac said this with noticeable bravado, but it didn't seem like blustering. He didn't say whether it was his name or who employed him that might be so intimidating. "Any other questions?

After a beat Jason nodded. "Where're you from?"

Again Jason couldn't tell how Mac took the question; the glasses hid his expression. Perhaps that was the point. "Massachusetts." He smiled. "Why'd you ask that?"

Shrugging Jason said, "Don't meet too many people not from nearby. Why'd you come all the way here?"

Mac's smile widened. "People move around, Jason."

"Not without a reason," Jason argued.

"Some do," Mac said, and didn't specify any further on if he was one of those or not. Instead he changed the subject by rising and picking up his briefcase. "Righty then, we'll be in touch."

Jason blinked in surprise. "Don't you want to hear my side?"

"Why would I want to hear that?" Mac countered.

"Well... to know what really happened. Seems like you should get the truth from your client, don't it?" Clearly Mac had been filled in somehow, but to Jason the idea of someone speaking for him without him having any say chafed. Before engaging with the Fellowship perhaps it wouldn't have, but Jason was by now well aware how his actions could be twisted for someone else's purpose. If it was his life on the line, he should make damn sure it was his story being dealt with.

"The truth?" That earned Jason a wide, bemused grin. Positioning himself carefully in front of Jason, Mac pulled down his sunglasses enough to expose his eyes, both a milky blind mess. Tiny red circles, more irritated skin surrounding pinprick holes rather than a scar, dotted the corners of his eyes and directly beneath them. How the hell could he see like that?

... what did he see?

Mac continued without averting his gaze. "The truth's whatever people assume. Winning's not about the truth."

"Lemme guess," Jason huffed, managing not to look away from the other's disfigurement. "It's about being on the right side."

Mac shrugged, apparently unable to be offended, and slipped his sunglasses back up his nose. "I prefer not to deal with sides. Too many sharp edges for me. No, winning's about managing to stick around for the long haul. And Jason, those backing you, they've got infinitely more haul than most."

"Unless they get killed," Jason pointed out.

Mac nodded. "Unless that." Then he smiled and gave a slight 'ta-da!' gesture with his free hand. "But that part's not your concern, nor is it mine. You're my concern, and I can assure you, I've got no reason to fail." He spoke as though failure was always an option, a choice. Perhaps it was. It was hard to tell how much Mac believed in what he said, but he spoke with conviction, and Jason wanted to believe him.

For now, it had to be enough.

###

"I trust Godric," Eric said patiently over the phone with Sookie. "MacKenzie should be with Jason by now. Godric's used him before in legal matters, I don't think you have to worry." Or at least, she shouldn't worry about her brother of all things.

Then again, while Eric didn't find Jason worth concern, Sookie's loyalty to him was admirable. And interesting.

Eric finished with, "Let me know when your brother's been released." There was a good chance it'd happen soon, it was worth sounding like he was certain of it. Hanging up, he sat down on a sofa opposite Godric in one of the Hotel Carmilla's suites. Studying Godric he said, "You're bleeding."

Godric merely stared at him. "As are you." Dawn had several hours passed, and the bleeds had begun. Eric wondered how despite being clearly starved Godric still had blood to spare. Perhaps it was magic; at the very least it was Godric. It was amazing how the machinations of a body Eric knew as well as his own could still be so wondrous. Getting up again, Eric took a soft burgundy colored hand towel from the bathroom. Sitting beside his Maker, he offered it over. "Any word yet from Stan?"

Godric shook his head. "People are searching for him." Ignoring the cloth in his lap, Godric lifted up his hand to Eric's face, wiping away the blood streaks with his palm. "You need to rest."

"So do you," Eric bandied back.

"I can't."

"Can't, or won't let yourself?" Eric probed gently. Returning the favor he reached over and cleaned Godric's face, each leaving stains upon the other. If Godric didn't wish to use the cloth, then Eric wouldn't. If Godric didn't sleep, Eric was resolved to refrain as well. His act was somehow both that of a precocious child and a master tactician. After hundreds of lifetimes they could play any part for the other, often more than one at the same time.

Godric contemplated not sidestepping the question, but then realized he didn't even know the answer, anyway. "There's a call the needs to be made first regardless," Godric said, and Eric supplied his. It took Godric a moment to recall the number, then he dialed it.

The voice on the other end was cool and crisp, definitely someone groomed by Nan. "AVL services, this is Kristina, may I ask the nature of the call?"

"This is Godric, Sheriff of Area 9," Godric said, and despite the utter lack of pomp in his delivery, the news still silenced the woman on the other end of the line. "I imagine Ms. Flanagan has been trying to reach me."

"One moment," Kristina said, and Godric was placed on hold. Rather than silence, a public service commercial explaining a new vote coming up for vampire marriage laws played. Overhearing, Eric merely shrugged. They both knew who they were dealing with; of course Nan wouldn't miss any opportunity, including anyone being on hold, to make them listen to whatever she found important. The commercial cut out halfway through as Kristina returned on the line. "Ms. Flanagan is currently en route to Dallas and will be meeting with you half an hour past sundown."

"Oh, is she?" Eric said sarcastically. "How good of her to let us go out of our way to find this out."

Kristina's tone gleamed with the same professional polish as it had before. "Miss Flanagan's schedule is extremely tight, but I can assure you that she is looking forward to meeting you. Was there anything else myself or the AVL may help you with?"

"No. Thank you for your assistance," Godric answered. Hanging up, he handed the phone back to Eric.

"You know she's going to want someone she can throw to the wolves," Eric commented immediately after, pocketing his cell.

Godric shook his head. "We won't know anything until tonight." Sensing the objection in Eric despite the other man's stillness Godric added, "Worrying over it until then won't help."

"There's a difference between worry and planning," Eric said. "We should be ready."

"Which includes being rested." Rising, he only had to place a hand on Eric's arm to get Eric to stand, ready to follow him anywhere as always. At the very least he could stop Eric bleeding unnecessarily. Going into the bedroom Godric stretched out on the bed. Eyes closed, he could visualize Eric's movements as he heard the sounds of the other man's shoes being kicked aside and him placing his phone on the bedside table. Without hesitation the mattress gave way as Eric slid onto the bed beside him. After a beat Godric rolled onto his side, facing away from Eric, remaining still as though asleep. He felt the larger man wrap around him, and soon the dead weight told him Eric had drifted off. The phone on the table buzzed, but neither of them made any movement to answer. Perhaps Eric was too exhausted to wake. For Godric, it was a matter of prioritizing.

A fight was coming. What nature it'd take, its exact form, wasn't yet clear. However, pieces were falling into place so loud he couldn't ignore them however hard he tried. He would need Eric rested.

He would need to make sure this time things worked out right.

###

Nothing. Either Eric was sleeping, or busy, or… she decided not to think on any other or's. "We're coming back now," Sookie finished, hanging up after leaving Eric a message that Jason had been released. She took a deep breath, waiting outside the police station for Jason to follow. No part of her had assumed helping Eric would be the simplest of tasks, but she hadn't expected it to become this complicated. Although, Jason was more than capable of getting himself into trouble. At least this way there were people around to help him out of it.

Rubbing her shoulders, she could feel goose bumps on her skin. Her arms were bare. She felt uncovered, and cold, inside and out. Not dead, but exposed, caught in the open in a game she was only starting to understand. Bill had warned her about this. She didn't know what it said about her, that she'd still have chosen this direction for her life rather than continuing to feel as she had mere weeks before: like a little girl, with no control. For the first time she felt as though she had choices in life, and those choices were making her world larger than she'd ever thought possible.

She should have expected that there would be growing pains to go along with it. Should she also have expected that it wasn't just her that'd be experiencing the pain? At times she felt as though she should wear a sandwich board, with blinking lights proclaiming: Personal Hazard Warning. That was what happened when you didn't run and hide. If you were open enough to take on other peoples' burdens, sometimes those people ended up taking on yours as well. Gran had.

Gran also would have told her to hush up and build herself as big a life as she could. Big not in the financial sense, but in the more important one. She'd have said to put all of yourself into your life and get out of it every bit of happiness you can. Pain came with change, and as long as you took responsibility for it, you didn't have to shy away from it. You had a responsibility not to.

Which worked out well, since Stackhouses weren't very good at backing off.

"Sook?" Jason called out, and she turned to see him exiting the station. The stubble on his cheeks looked scratchy and his eyes were rimmed with red. Even still, she noticed the steely look in his gaze. It was his football face, not the grinning one he'd toss up at the crowd after scoring a point, but the one right before a play occurred. It was calculated and focused, entirely in the present but grounded with purpose. Amazing what confidence without preening stupidity could look like. She hadn't seen it on him in a long time.

He breezed by her without stopping. "I'll meet you at the hotel. There's something I gotta take care of first."

"Wait," she said, making a grab for his arm. He dodged by her, and she rolled her eyes but hurried after him, managing to match his step. "Where are you going?"

"The Fellowship."

At that answer she did grab him. "Are you insane?"

"I know what I'm doing," he said, yanking his arm free. "I'll be careful, all right? I'm just going to talk to Sarah."

"Sarah?" Sookie took a moment before placing the name. "The Reverend's wife?"

"She's more than that," Jason insisted, then at Sookie's look he added in exasperation, "No, we didn't sleep together." She knew him well enough to know the expression on his face meant 'Well, not yet. But that isn't what this was about. ... not entirely. Who knows how things might play out, but it isn't the goal, and I think that should count as personal growth.' At Sookie's appraising look he took a step back, as though encasing himself physically in shadows would keep her at bay. "But she's not like him. She might help us."

"Or she might scream bloody murder and you'll end up right back here," Sookie protested. "Can't you just call her? I'm sure Eric could get some untraceable cell or something -"

"No," Jason shook his head. "It has to be in person. And what's going on with you and Eric?"

Sookie felt startled by the question. "Nothing. He has more contacts here than Bill does, that's all. What's going on with you and this Sarah?"

"Nothing," Jason mimicked her tone, then added, "Certainly haven't been sucking on her chest -"

"I was saving his life," Sookie insisted angrily.

"I'll have to remember that one," Jason said, then held his hands up as her eyes narrowed further. "Just looking out for you."

"Not all vampires are bad!" Sookie could feel the heat rising to her face, and her voice decible level climbed accordingly.

"I know that," Jason said, loudly as well, then silenced as he surprised them both. It was a sincere sentiment, one that'd been rising in his mind but had yet to be made vocal so blatantly and definitively. "It's kinda like people. Some are dickwads, some ain't."

Sookie smiled, her tone softened but still as unaware of whomever was around as she had been when heated. "It's exactly like people, because they are." She tried not to sound rebuking, but wanted to nudge his acceptance as far along as she could. For awhile now there had been a wall between them, built by their own guilt and opinions and failings, and now rather than it being made of stone it had thinned to glass. She could see him on the other side, and it was far more easy to break through. "Let me go with you to see Sarah. I can sense if someone else is approaching, and see what she's thinking."

He shook his head. "Sneaking more'n one in is risky, and having you hide and spy on her... seems like a betrayal, don't it?"

She raised an eyebrow at that. "They did betray you already."

"We don't know that she did," Jason said vehemently. "Trust me, I can take care of this." At her pause he looked harder at her. "Sookie. Promise?"

Reluctantly she nodded. "All right. But if I don't hear from you in an hour, I'm coming after you."

"You'd have to catch me first," he said, walking backwards long enough to punctuate his remark with a grin before turning on his heel and disappearing into the night. Heading into the mouth o'hell. Heading to her.

###

It was home. Ever since Sarah could remember, she'd loved the comfort of church.

It stood to reason many found the experience too structured, or a sacrifice to be made. No, a bargain, like 'I'll get up early for you on Sundays if you let me through the pearly gates.' While Sarah fought hard not to condemn people for being that selfish, the truth was she simply, fundamentally, couldn't comprehend it. How could people not feel lightened by centering themselves around a solid purpose and set of values? It was so basic, to do right felt right, and it felt right because it was right. There was a benevolent power that welcomed everyone and gave them love and life everlasting, and all it asked in return was devotion to what one should already be devoted to doing, thinking, and wanting.

Any desires, actions, or thoughts that fell outside the scope of good He set forth then were to be subjugated. It had all been so simple, not so very long ago.

It had been almost a full twenty-four hours now since Steve said they'd been infested by traitors. Sarah found it easy enough to believe a vampire had betrayed them, but Jason? He hadn't wanted to go on the mission with Luke to begin with. Then again, if he was loyal to the Fellowship, why had his blood kin been meeting with vampires? Even if he no longer trusted Steve, why did he suddenly trust this Godric? The puzzle was incomplete, and there were few things Sarah hated more than leaving anything unfinished. The world had enough half-heartedness.

Her mind churned as she sat still in the church. She wasn't certain how much time passed, but it hardly mattered. Steve was off in a meeting, he'd informed her of that much, although the details he'd left vague. It might be over already, it might take all night. Either way, he didn't call for her.

"Sarah?" The voice was unpolished and hesitant. Leaping up she turned to see Jason standing just inside the door, positioned out of view from any of the windows.

Now that he was back, she felt an overwhelming urge to throw something at him. Unfortunately, the only objects within reach were the prayer books tucked behind the pews, which felt unholy, or one of her heels, which felt too cliché. She settled for going to him and giving him a resounding smack across his face. "How could you?"

His hand went to his face, anger in his eyes. "Why'd you do that for?"

"Why? Why?!" She hissed. "How about deserting us? Just running off and-"

"It didn't go down like that," he cut in.

"I was there," Sarah protested. She could still hear the gun fire.

"Fine, then." Jason crossed his arms. "Tell me what you think you saw."

"What I saw," she clarified, "was you walking out, with a vampire." A vampire who'd saved him, and who had offered peace. She couldn't deny that fact, although she had to wonder what its ulterior motive was in doing that.

"Yeah, after your husband sent me on a fool's mission and then tried to have me shot!" He punctuated his exclamation by a wide flinging of his hands, nearly hitting a nearby candle holder.

Automatically she reached out to steady it and countered, "After you told everyone not to listen to him."

"Did you miss the fool's mission part?"

"No, I didn't." She raked a hand through her hair. "Of course I didn't miss it. He was – he thought it a test of loyalty."

"Crazy fucker almost got my sister killed," he said heatedly, and watched her face whiten in surprise at the mention of a sister, and then her eyes narrowed.

"Don't call him that. And he didn't know about your sister." Sarah hated a part of her that doubted, even though she spoke with certainty. It didn't seem possible or plausible that Steve had any clue Jason's sister was at all involved, but she couldn't help holding some residual doubt no matter what when it came to Steve now.

"But he did know someone might die, including me. And he was fine with that." They both knew she couldn't argue with that. After a moment Jason could feel some of the heat dissipate from his voice. "I don't mind risking my life, but I damn well intend to risk it on my own terms."

Looking up at him she inquired, "Is that what bothers you? That he didn't ask you?"

"Wouldn't it bother you?" He asked, then amended that to, "Doesn't it bother you?"

She looked steadily at him. "He's never put me in a position where I might die."

"No," Jason agreed. "He just puts you in a position where he gets to decide how you'll live."

His words were worse than an actual slap; truth always hurt more. "Screw you!"

He just stared at her quietly for a long moment. "We all gotta pick sides, Sarah. But that don't mean we got to stick with 'em." He turned to go, saying over his shoulder, "You have my number. Call me if you change your mind. Just remember it's your decision. Not his."

Her hands clenched at her sides. "It's not yours, either."

"No. It ain't." He turned and gave a wry smile then. "Which kinda makes it a bitch, don't it?" With that he left, already knowing the answer was yes. Yes, it really did.

###

"You might as well have ripped the head off a newborn and worn it as a party hat, for all the shit that can come from this." Nan's voice itself could drop the temperature of any room, which would have been more useful had she been surrounded in the hotel suite by those whose bodies were affected by such things. As it was, she had to settle for saying her piece and having no intention of letting them delay her longer than necessary. The only human… well, non vampiric person at least… in the room was Sookie, seated beside Bill. A quick glance at her had told Eric her mind was elsewhere. Likely her attention was being wasted on her brother, who was off on some other fool mission about which she'd remained vague.

It was almost cute how any thought they could keep secrets from him.

"We'll keep that in mind for next time," Eric responded, just as dryly.

"Funny," Nan said, in a tone that implied she had no idea what the word actually meant. She didn't bother even looking in Eric's direction, merely saying to Godric sitting beside her, "So tell me what happened before I get to read another police beat about it."

Eric kept a careful gaze on his master, watching Godric look Nan directly in the eye before he answered. "The Fellowship was looking for a sacrifice. If they'd tried to take one that was unwilling, I thought... it seemed like it would be worse."

Had Eric possessed the ability to breath, he was fairly sure this was a moment that'd have knocked any air out of him. As it was he remained completely still as Nan questioned disbelievingly, "You volunteered?"

"I thought it best," was Godric's only reply.

"Well then, your judgment leaves much to be desired." Breezily Nan moved on before Eric could finish imagining her neck slashed. Alas. "And the shootout?"

"Things got out of hand," Godric shrugged. "I believe they were overzealous -"

"No one cares what you believe," Nan cut in.

"You asked him," Sookie shot back heatedly. Bill laid a hand on her arm but she insisted at Nan, "He's the reason my brother isn't dead or locked up in prison right now-"

"Touching. Now let him speak." Leaning forward Nan smiled at Godric, a look on her that seemed more of a sneer. "Just the facts on what transpired will do nicely."

Gamely Godric complied. "Sookie, it's fine. From what I've gathered, two humans were sent to spy on my nest. One decided to take the opportunity to attack. Stan was provoked, but he was neutralized." A quick look Bill's way caused the younger vampire to offer a grave nod in support of the claim. Godric continued, "However, we haven't been able to locate him since."

"What idiot left him unattended?" Nan demanded, then waved her hand to dismiss her own question. "Doesn't matter. It all falls back on you, sheriff. You fucked all this up, including your own people."

"According to you," Eric said coldly, making it clear his view was decidedly, and potentially deadly, different than hers.

"I speak for many people, sheriff," Nan smiled at Eric, wholesomely unpleasant. "It wouldn't be wise to forget that." She wasn't one easily intimidated. In another context, Eric might have appreciated that about her. She continued, "No human sustained visible injuries, you're all lucky on that account. Still this is a PR nightmare."

"What did you have in mind to do about it?" Godric said calmly. Once more Eric felt a slight distancing awe at his maker. Always Godric had possessed a strong center, a solidity of being that led few to ever move him against his will. Only now, his directness seemed devoted to pacifying those around him. With one question he'd squashed any bickering and focused the group on solutions at hand. For centuries Eric had seen pacifying others as, if not demeaning, then catering to them at too high a compromising price. Now that he was in charge of his own area, pacifying those beneath him to his own advantage came with the position. However, playing mediator to Nan while retaining one's dignity wasn't something he'd care to undertake. Godric stepped into the role flawlessly, without any menace lurking beneath, something wholly unlike Eric had seen before. There was no part of his maker's demeanor indicating that he could kill them all within moments without spilling a drop of blood on the carpet for the hotel to have to clean. As if his swift, expedient savagery didn't exist. Only Godric could manage to make such a countenance not appear weak.

Nan's curt gaze held no respect. "You're fired, for one. And when he turns up you get to break the news to Stan that there's no way in hot Texas hell he's moving up the ranks."

Sookie let out an incredulous sound and began to argue, but to Eric's disbelief Godric started to nod agreeably, then he paused and asked softly, "Who would step in?"

"Nobody," Eric interjected. Looking at Godric he waved at Nan as though he might dismiss her with merely his hand. "You can't seriously be thinking of stepping aside now. What, you'd let the AVL move in on your -"

"Nothing is his, Mr. Northman," Nan said simply, without room for negotiation. "As noble as your sense of entitlement is I'm sure -"

"It's not about that." At Godric's voice both Nan and Eric looked at him. "Someone brand new to the area, as it would have to be if it's not Stan, would find it a difficult transition at this point."

"Not your concern," Nan shrugged. "You can't really expect us to trust your judgment at this juncture, anyway. Sorry, this isn't a discussion."

"What dead blood have you been feeding on?" Eric sneered, not moving but feeling his ire rising in steady waves.

"Pardon me," Bill said, his Southern blather in full force, reminding Eric he was even still in the room. He was the odd contrast to the room, with Eric and Nan leaning forward in their seats, Godric sitting back, and Bill remaining perfectly upright in his. Perfect, or rather trained, posture. He had served his purpose in supporting the events that had transpired at Godric's apartment and in the woods with Stan; Eric could only hope he'd remain useful now. "I'm curious as to what the king thinks about this?"

To be fair to Bill, it was a fair question. Eric looked at Nan. "Well?"

Nan's jaw tightened, briefly yet Eric caught it. She wasn't any more used to being questioned than the rest of them in the room were. She repeated, "Not your concern. But we have full backing of -"

"I'll speak with him." Godric looked at all of them, ending his gaze on Nan. "It isn't about a power struggle. But I can't leave things as they were. Are." He shook his head. "At the very least, he should hear out any recommendations -"

"From the sheriff that had his headquarters exploded, killed one of his lieutenants, has his other one gone renegade, let himself be taken hostage without any word on his whereabouts, caused another area to be deprived of their sheriff while he was hunted down, involved the police in a shootout, and further alienated one of our largest oppositions in the nation." Put like that, Nan didn't even bother trying to make it into a question. "Yeah. Where would Texas be without you." Standing up, she looked down at him squarely. "You're done. I expect the paperwork signed by the time I leave. Tomorrow at sunset. You don't want to try and fight this." She turned on her heel, leaving an aura of, 'not if you want to make it out intact,' in her wake.

"Ms. Flanagan." Godric stood up, though didn't approach her. He merely said, "I do respect that you want to protect rights and create a positive image. We don't have to be on opposite sides."

"Very nice speech. Did you give the same one to the people who still want to fry your ass?" With that she opened the door, tossing out, "Be smart. Leave the politics to those who can play the game," before leaving the room, the door closing heavily behind her.

Clearly she didn't realize there was no game Eric Northman couldn't win. Rising he was immediately at Godric's side, looking between him, Sookie, and Bill. "We can fight this."

Godric moved away from him, going to the door. Quietly he said, "That isn't the question." Without saying what was, he left both the younger vampires and human to answer it for themselves.

###

Steve was a restless sleeper. It was something Sarah had known since their wedding night. They'd fallen asleep after a passion-filled night in each other's arms, and she'd woken up an hour later from an elbow to her head. In all their years of marriage, it was rare for them to wake up and not find the blankets tangled on his side or a pillow tossed on the floor. Her first thought was that there'd been some inner turmoil that was troubling him, something she might perhaps soothe. Soon she'd discovered it was simply Steve, always on the go even in bed. Content it wasn't something harming him and secure on her own side of the mattress, the quirk had quickly become affectionately amusing, if occasionally irritating.

Even now, staring down at him shifting in his sleep, a part of her wanted to smile at the sight. There were harmless parts to Steve, perhaps even parts that were good.

Steve had told her he'd never even realized he was a restless sleeper until she told him. He'd jokingly said she could tie him down in bed, then more seriously suggested placing pillows between them, so he'd be less likely to move over to her side. She'd said it wasn't necessary, and it hadn't been.

Neither had suggested the idea of having separate beds.

If it had come up now, would he?

Silently she slipped out of bed. Steve moaned behind her, and she bent over and lightly kissed him. Pulling back, she leaned in quickly and kissed him again, harder. That brought him at least halfway awake. Blinking sleepily at her, he asked in a husky twang, "What's wrong?"

Even tired she could see he realized that was the wrong thing to say. Sitting up he held up a hand to have her wait, rubbing his face with his other one. "Sorry. But why are you up?"

"Thirsty," she answered. And she was, though for what, she didn't entirely know or want to admit. "I was going to get a drink and saw you lying there and just…" she shrugged to finish her explanation.

He smiled, reaching out a hand to pull her close. "Just couldn't resist?"

She smiled back, sadly, and nodded. "Something like that." Pulled down to sit beside him she placed a hand on his chest. A protective barrier, masked as a sign of affection. Through his shirt she could feel the warmth of his skin, and the steady beat of his heart. Lightly she pushed him back. "Did you want something?"

Shaking his head, he laid back down at her encouragement. He must have been exhausted. "I'm good."

"Are you?" she asked softly, but maybe the question she should be asking was, was she?

Looking at her oddly for a moment, he assured her. "I am. You okay?"

"I think so," she nodded. After a beat she said, "Steve… what are you going to do, about what happened last night?"

"I already took care of it," he said easily.

She saw his eyes start to close and tapped his cheek. "Meaning?"

With a sigh he edged himself up on one elbow and looked at her. "I called the police and our legal counsel. A written statement was made earlier, and tomorrow –" he checked the clock and amended, "today rather, there's a news interview."

"The police?"

"A gun went off, Sarah," he said, patronization again creeping into his tone. "The police had to be notified."

"And you told them one of your men did the shooting?" she pressed.

At that he raised an eyebrow. "One of mine?"

Levelly she stared at him. "Aren't they? Yours? Isn't all of this yours? What part of your life am I even a part of anymore?"

"Woah, wait now," he held up his hand, as though her words were a verbal assault to ward off.

"That's all I've been doing, Steve. Waiting." With that she left the room, heading down to the kitchen. Filling a glass with tap water, she sipped it idly, staring ahead in frustration. Through the window she saw a tall form exercising. At first she thought it was Jason, but upon a closer look that wasn't the case.

The figure was pushing himself like Jason would have though, and Sarah took a second to muse on how from a distance, all of their soldiers might appear interchangeable. Holding the glass of water, Sarah looked at it, then back out the window, and impetuously stepped outside. Walking quickly in just her nightgown and robe, feeling the uneven ground scratch at her bare feet, she stopped several feet away from a sweaty, grunting Luke. Watching him for a moment completing push ups, she finally said, "Luke?"

He startled, scrambling to his feet. "Mrs. Newlin, I - I'm sorry..."

Her brow furrowed. "What for?"

Dark eyes met her, ones disoriented and pained. "I don't know." He raked a shaky hand through his hair. "I can't get it - him - it out of my mind."

"Who?" she asked softly. It was enough to snap his attention towards her again, as though he'd forgotten she was even there.

"Nothing, no one. Never mind," he muttered, and attempted to walk past her. "Goodnight."

"Wait." She held out the glass of water to him, and at his hesitancy added, "You look like you need it more than I do."

At this prompting Luke grasped the glass and drank deeply. After a moment his face spasmed and he spat the water out on the ground. Kneeling over he retched. Worried, Sarah crouched down beside him, hesitantly placing a hand on his back. "Don't touch me!" he screamed and she jerked back in shock that he would dare raise his voice to her. Her eyes narrowed, though it was hard to rebuke someone now curling up into themselves. She thought she heard him saying, "I can taste it, I still taste him, I can taste everything in the glass..." slowly his eyes met hers, though whether he was really seeing her she wasn't sure. His voice dropped and he whispered, "It's wrong. It's just wrong."

"What is?" Positioning herself in front of Luke so he'd have a harder time not meeting her gaze, she firmly said, "Luke, what are you talking about?" At his firm head shake she added, "I can't help you if you don't tell me."

"I can't." She saw his cheeks glisten with what must have been tears; she was ashamed to say she found it slightly revolting. Knowing he must feel the same, she tried to keep her face impassive as he said, "I'm tainted. That thing did it... I can't close my eyes without seeing him, doing what he did to me, and... and other stuff..." with a low moan he buried his face into his shoulder, eyes squeezed shut.

Keeping her voice calm Sarah pressed him. "Who, Luke?"

"The vampire." Luke let out a shuddering breath, meeting her gaze once more. "From yesterday, when he bit me." A terrified look crossed his face. "Am I becoming one of them?"

Sarah shook her head, then paused, slightly uncertain. "I don't think so. I think you have to die, and you didn't, did you?"

"No," Luke shook his head, then quieter, "Though maybe I should have. It might've been better."

"Don't talk like that," Sarah said sharply. "Don't even think it."

"Right. It's a sin," he replied in a hollow tone. It was clear something was deeply broken inside him, and Sarah was torn between her instinct to run away and the awareness that he was one of her flock. She couldn't help but wonder whether this was why Luke had been spared, so he could live on tormented.

Was this what happened to her sister, before she'd died?

"Don't tell, Mrs. Newlin," Luke's voice cut into her thoughts. He looked incredibly young to her, scared and pleading. Was this what their soldiers would amount to? "Please. I'll figure it out. I'll... I'll stop it." Warily she wondered how, but it was clear he didn't yet know.

Slowly she got to her feet. Was this the fate in store for Jason?

Was it her choice to save him from it?

Resting on his knees, Luke appeared every inch the repentant follower. Only it wasn't clear for what sins he was paying. Still, he now seemed lost in prayer, and if anything could offer comfort it would be that. Not wanting to disturb him she backed away.

For the first time, situated between her house and her church, she didn't feel safe.

###

"I've never known you to shy away from a battle." Restlessly Eric stood by the window in Godric's hotel suite, arms folded. After Bill and Sookie had left for their room, he'd waited for Godric's return. It had to be near sunrise now.

Stepping inside the room, Godric shook his head. "I wasn't shying away. I was trying to prevent one. I just didn't go about it very well. Obviously."

"Did you really think you could just disappear?" Eric watched as Godric quietly closed the door, as silent and still as if he'd never opened it. Godric gave him no answer, and perhaps there wasn't one. There wasn't an excuse for acting as though nobody would care he was gone. Eric dropped his arms, acknowledging that continuing to harp on it would serve no good. Quietly he asked, "What does the king of Texas think of this?" The situation at large, the politics of it, this was safer, sturdier ground for him to tread.

"We haven't spoken of it, or of many things." Godric sank down onto the sofa with a sigh.

Tired and slight, silent and eyes downcast, he was a force Eric knew to be reckoned with. Almost to himself Eric said, "It should have been you." When Godric looked up to meet his gaze questioningly, Eric elaborated. "You could have had all of America, had you wanted."

With a faint smile Godric shrugged. "But I didn't want it. I still don't. A district was fine."

Fine. "So fine that you were going to die and leave it." The words came out before Eric could stop them, and he looked down cursing himself for it. Still, it didn't mean he didn't believe what he'd said.

"That wasn't because of the district," Godric responded gently, like the faint pressure from a knife drawing blood. There it was. An admission, framed by refusing to place blame for it. The man who had given Eric eternal life sought death. Without looking at him Eric rose and crossed the room to exit. He couldn't pass through the doors without some acknowledgment, however. No matter the infuriating confusion, he couldn't imagine abandoning Godric even in this slight way.

He'd thought that went both ways.

Eric wasn't certain which was worse, knowing he wasn't enough to cause Godric to want to live, or knowing that whatever it was had to be incredibly... unendingly... painful for his Maker.

"The king should know about this." Godric's words cut through Eric's thoughts.

Blinking, Eric gratefully grasped onto the concrete problem presented to them. It needed to be dealt with, and Godric was needed as long as it was. "You think he doesn't?"

"I'm certain he knows a version of it," Godric answered wryly. Indeed, wasn't that all there ever was? "It isn't even that either side is wrong. They think they're doing what's right. Goodness can come from both sides and still find the path to one another unsure. Depending on how far two lights are from each other, between them can still be a point of darkness. Where everything gets lost."

Eric wasn't really in the mood for prosaic speech. "What do you do then?"

"Flail about. Guess on a direction to take. Or, inch by inch, each side brings their light closer together, until both sides can see the way." Godric looked at him. "We need to speak with the king."

"He could definitely help prevent a war," Eric agreed. The power of a king wasn't to be trifled with.

Rising up, Godric went to the window. Light was beginning to appear on the horizon; its presence triggered the hotel's sensors and the blinds closed the day out. Without looking back Godric quietly asked, "And if he says no, and all that's left is me?"

Within a moment, a time span so sudden not even a human would've had the chance to breath, Eric was by his side. "Your people will follow, wherever you lead."

Godric nodded imperceptibly, staring ahead as though he could see a finish line, needing it to keep going. "Then I'll lead them."

A door knocked, insistently, determined to break the moment. Filled with glee that spilled over into a slight grin, Eric bounded over and opened the door, the smile fading as quickly as it had come as he took in the sight before him.

Pam stood there with her clothing torn, singed hair partially covering a face coated with blood. Paler than normal, she still met his gaze steadily and said, "That's right. Things in Shreveport are going to hell in a hand basket, so kindly tell me whose intestines I can rip out 'cause I'm dying to make a pretty little bow for it."

###

Notes: Although serving a different purpose here, the inspiration for Mac's sunglasses came in part from the awesome Romo character from the beyond brilliant "Battlestar Galactica." There'll be more of him!

Coming Up, Part 5: Where Godric gives Jason a special kind of proposal, Sarah paves her own path with an unlikely ally, and everyone realizes that it is indeed good to be the king.