Title: Early Risers
Fandom: “True Blood”
Summary: “What is to give light must endure burning.” While with the Fellowship waiting to meet the sun, a sleepless Godric and Jason share a morning neither expected to see. Amidst the growing threat of war their encounter will catapult them onto a course to defend a world in which they no longer fit. In the end, each must answer this question: is the road to salvation really one of sacrifice or self-service?
Characters: Godric, Jason, Steve, Gabe (with Luke, Sarah, Eric, Sookie, Bill, Stan, Isabelle, Pam, and Nan later)
Pairings: Part I: Steve/Sarah (referenced), Jason/Sarah
Genre: Drama, AU after episode 205: “Never Let Me Go”
Status: Part 1/?
Word Count: 6,904
Warning: Strong language, some eventual violence via explosions and combat
Disclaimer: All things “True Blood” are not mine and I gain no compensation from this work aside from the pleasure of playing around with the characters. The quote used in the summary is by Viktor Frankl. Quotes in the story are centered and from Andrew Boyd’s “Daily Afflictions.” Many thanks to smarvelous for the awesome beta job.
A “True Blood” fanfiction work by katers007 (Kate Lynn)
Part 1: A Measure of Man
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! 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.'
Click Here for Part 2: Where Godric and Jason discover a bond that might involve board games, Steve tests Jason’s loyalty while Sarah questions hers, and Luke proves his mettle with devastating results.