Godric unclenched his balled fists several times in a pointless attempt to calm down. Alien sensations crawled over his skin and suspended, static-like, in the air. So potent was the primordial energy pouring from his body that he felt he could bend the very fabric of space and time. Perhaps he could.
Centuries of fanatical asceticism and restraint had not weakened the dark spark that animated him. On the contrary, denied expression and left to accumulate, his ancient magic had grown into something unspeakably dangerous. Once they called him Death. Now there was no name for what Godric had become.
Before him on the bed lay his two glorious progeny, clutched together and quivering from the onslaught of his unleashed power. Their beauty was unparalleled. He could drown in the crush of love he felt for them. He breathed their mingled scents, Eric of fire and ice, Rosalyn of sun and stone. And blood. Entirely too much of Rosalyn’s blood, splattered in watery puddles on the bathroom floor, zigzagging crimson mazes across the tile.
Godric closed his eyes as if to lock his children safely away from the world. But they were not safe, not even in his mind. His memories were a red parade of violence – lifetimes upon lifetimes of horrors. It seemed impossible that the past could haunt him more cruelly, but it did. In Eric and Rosalyn’s vulnerabilities he was blinded with thoughts of Tarquin. Tarquin’s remains, cold and slick in his fingers. Millennia of brotherhood lost in a moment. Amleth’s inconsolable wailing. Eric’s indiscriminate rage. The three of them like wraiths on a black, moonless night, releasing Tarquin’s ashes over the Capitoline Hill to the ruins below. A century of grief so bottomless that it sucked the color from the world.
The past could not be repeated. He was not certain he could survive another loss.
Distantly, Godric was aware that Rosalyn had been pleading with him while he was in downtime. She was accusing him of breaking his word. Something about a fair trial and justice, the time for giving, and not wanting a bloodbath of a wedding party.
Slowly, the world came back into focus.
Eric turned to his sister, unsettled by Rosalyn’s disrespectful tone and worried that Godric might snap at her. “Baby girl, you forget your place. Mind your tongue with Maker,” he said. Eric hid his concern with that incomparable haughtiness that was his alone – and Rosalyn was having absolutely none of it.
“My place? Yes, let’s recall my place, Eric, since you care so much about hierarchy. I am your blood sister and your eternally bonded one. I am also mistress of this Sheriffdom as well as Lady of Godric’s House and Line. You’ll listen to me as your equal, you’ll listen to me because you are in Area Nine, or you’ll listen to me because I am consort of this bloodline – but you are going to god damn well listen or you are excused.”
“I’ll be what?” Eric said, astonished.
“Excused. As in, ‘you can get the hell out’.” Eric’s eyes turned square. He tried and failed several times to find something clever to say in response. “Please, both of you, stop and think before acting,” Rosalyn continued. “No one has ever healed by causing another pain. No one. The pain you all suffer over Tarquin will never be satisfied by Roman’s death. You hurt because you loved. You won’t find peace elbow-deep in his guts.”
“We aren’t looking for peace. We’re looking for his death,” Eric said through clenched teeth.
“He’ll get the true death. I am all for ending his reign of terror. But I will not be party to wanton torture.”
“Silence,” Godric said. The order was soft-spoken and absolute. Rosalyn flinched, unused to these flicks of command from him. He pushed a wave of calm into their bonds, trying to soothe the roiling frenzy his unruly powers had caused. Rosalyn was far too new to understand how greatly affected she was by her kin. Eric knew better, but he had yet to appreciate Rosalyn’s unique influence on him. Eric took Rosalyn’s hand with a conciliatory look and she begrudgingly let him tuck it under the protective wing of his arm.
Godric squatted down in front of them. “I am not easily shocked. But tonight? Coming home to discover this…this obscene violence done to you through the usurpation of my powers? Being weaponized against you? It is too much.” Godric glanced again at the blood-soaked bedclothes in the bathroom and back at Rosalyn’s sickly coloring and Eric’s drained aura. He shook his head in disgust.
“I have been a fool,” he said. “I must apologize to both of you. For centuries, my ethic of absolute restraint and self-mastery has served me well, but no longer. It has become willful ignorance. I no longer know my limitations and I understand precious little about my strengths. In disengaging from my powers, I have endangered you.” Godric looked up at his progeny with the haunted green eyes of an ancient, set incongruously in his sweet, masculine face. He did not try to hide his weariness.
“Maker,” Eric whispered. In his mouth, the word sounded like a prayer. “No one could have anticipated Roman’s manipulations or their effects. How may we serve you?”
“Talk to us,” Ros said.
Godric swallowed, trying to quell his boundless anger. “You do not understand.” He stood and clasped them to his chest. “I will do anything – anything – to protect you.”
“But carnage and cruelty, Godric. Killing everyone that gets in your way? This is not what we discussed. You don’t have to stoop to Roman’s level. Please don’t do these horrible things,” Rosalyn said. “Please, Maker.”
Godric could almost smile hearing her use his sacred title. Almost. “Thoroughly bloodlusted and still arguing like a hellcat for compassion. My gods, what a magnificent creature you are, Rosalyn.”
Eric looked to Godric for confirmation. “Her empathy was enhanced, wasn’t it?”
Godric nodded. “Know that I take your views very seriously, Ros. I promised to foster better co-existence in the world. Yet Roman seeks to tip the balance of order according to his whims. I also promised you eternity. Roman would take that from us too. You want mercy for the merciless. You want peace without the ugliness of achieving it. “
“You’ll only be adding to the chaos Roman has created,” Ros countered. “Making his execution gruesome achieves nothing.”
“Nothing?” Godric was confused by her bizarre logic.
“She is of this era, Godric,” Eric supplied. “She is an innocent. War is a tv program. Hunger is a donation bucket outside a supermarket. She is against torture on principle alone.”
“Prying any knowledge out of Roman will be advantageous,” Godric said. He paced the room and began to lay out his reasoning for Rosalyn. “If Roman has bloodkin, he has kept them hidden. If he has any rationale for targeting my House, he has kept it hidden. Of his supernatural abilities, we know nothing. His allies – next to nothing. There isn’t another elder under the stars about whom I know less and I’ve had two hundred years to search for answers about him. And now I learn that the strength of my blood has given you a great weakness and that I am a mystery even to myself.”
Ros growled in frustration. “So fall in line? Get ready to learn how to break someone on the wheel?” Eric tightened his hand on hers in warning.
Godric tilted his head to one side. “No. Get ready to confront your new abilities. I will no longer hide from my magic and I expect no less of you.”
“Don’t try to dress this up as some learning experience. You just want to indulge your darkest impulses.”
Godric blinked in surprise at her defiance. He was losing track of whose anger was whose. “This is my order, Ros. We will all reach into our powers, whatever they may be. You are not naive. You knew our world was violent when you agreed to let me kill you as your safest option.”
It took only a split second for him to realize that these were not the right words, but by then it was too late. “Oh my god,” she said in horror. “Did you turn me to prove me wrong about you? To groom me into a killer? I didn’t agree to become the mistress of Death!”
Rage tore through his veins and his fangs slammed down. “But you are the mistress of Death. You are whatever I need you to be. Must I command you?”
“I’ll meet the sun before I let you turn me into a monster!” she cried, her voice thick with dread.
Eric scrambled, shoving Rosalyn behind him. “Punish me, Godric! I failed. She is weak and confused because I failed to keep her strong. She doesn’t know what she’s saying. Punish me.”
Godric crushed his finger bones in his fists and he stepped away from Eric’s proffered chest. He clenched his jaw to force restraint into his lips. “Rosalyn Euphrenia Murray, I did not pour my life force into you and eternally bind myself and my firstborn to you as a petty game. Do not ever suggest such a thing to me again, child.”
“No, you – ” Eric clapped a hand over Rosalyn’s mouth before she could worsen matters.
In the haze of Godric’s fury, his lizard brain reminded him that Rosalyn was new and she did not know better. He could not lash out for what he had not taught her. Godric pressed his hands together beneath his chin, praying for patience. It took several minutes before he trusted himself to speak. “Rosalyn, your challenge to me – to give back instead of take – this was always the challenge you chose for yourself. You began it in ignorance. You proceeded in spite of learning about its dangers. Only now – when you can see the world from all sides natural and supernatural – will you begin to understand your vision for the enormity of its dimensions.
“Monsters like Roman only know monstrosity. He has had millennia to evolve and yet has chosen otherwise. He will not be stopped by your pleas and your school. It will take a monster faster, smarter, and far worse than him. So tell me: how am I to create beauty and harmony when what is called for is destruction – when what is called for is me? I am Death, the Destroyer, the Devourer. You say I belong in this world? Prove it. Your vision is mine. I am your weapon to command.” He met her gaze, irises a hard grey-green slate. It was a stare that dared her to contradict him. Rosalyn swallowed compulsively and she tugged the sides of her robe tighter. In a sudden swirl of wind, Godric was gone.
Emptied bloodbags fluttered back to the ground in the wake of Godric’s furious departure.
“Are you insane?” Eric said. He heated yet another satchel of O-neg and handed it to her. “Drink that, and don’t even think of talking again until you’ve got your head screwed on straight.”
She sipped at it and the red frenzy scratching in her veins cooled. “What…what the hell was that?”
Eric ran a hand over his exhausted face. “What part was unclear to you? The part where our ancient-ass maker just reminded you that promises cut both ways? That you don’t get to demand things like total world peace and sparkle rainbows and magic fucking unicorn butterflies without understanding what you’re asking of him? Without helping him achieve it? Yeah no, baby girl. You’re up to speed. There are no double standards in this family.”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
“Hardly.” Eric groaned and flopped backwards. “And they say girls are easier to raise. Pshah.”
“You agree with him,” Rosalyn accused. “You can’t wait to play savage warrior and devil may care about the consequences of using excessive force, for him or anyone else. He’s talking about going on a rampage and destabilizing the world!”
“I don’t usually question how he chooses to keep us safe. Now isn’t an especially good time to start, but nobody asked me.”
“Roman isn’t worth dying for.”
“No, but you are,” Eric retorted.
“I’d rather we weren’t already discussing who is an acceptable sacrifice.”
“Then get a hold of yourself and stop busting Maker’s balls! Odin’s bloody beard, woman. You think this is the first time we’ve dealt with a berserker ancient? Our laws are only as strong as the strongest vampire that chooses to follow them. Newsflash: Roman isn’t playing by the rules. I’ll be damned if one of us dies over your ideals, especially ones so ill-suited to this clusterfuck. Righteousness is quick way to meet an early grave. I should know.” He gave her a pointed glare.
“It’s what got me killed the first time. I chased an ideal of revenge right into my funeral bier.”
Rosalyn sat quietly. “Godric wants more than survival. And he’s wrong. He’s more than just a weapon.”
“Well then you’d better come up with a solution for him and fast.”
“Surely Godric doesn’t expect me to figure out how to fix this mess.” Ros scoffed. “I hardly know anything about vampire politics.”
“He can’t sit on his hands and do nothing. That’s crazy.”
“We’ll all be killed,” she said. Eric raised an amused eyebrow. “What? Why is that funny?”
“Because I’m curious whether I looked as preposterous as you when I first began to understand Godric’s methods.”
“If by method you mean throwing some riddle at me and letting me stew over it? He can’t be serious.”
“He’s as serious as the grave, lillasyster. Godric will always give you the freedom you demand – and demand it you have. He has given you just enough rope to hang yourself with. I would appreciate it if you used it as a lifeline instead.”
“No. What is absurd is you pulling rank on the people who love you and are willing to die for you making demands about the treatment of hypothetical prisoners we haven’t even figured out how to hypothetically capture.”
Ros took an unsteady breath. “When you put it like that, I sound like Sookie.”
“No, what you sound like is a bloodlusted newborn with more power and position than sense. You have a right to protest our sire’s plans. Gods know you’ve figured out your place in the pecking order. But with that right comes a fuckload of responsibility for our family.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shut you down before.”
Eric huffed in consternation. “Yes, you did. Quite spectacularly, I might add.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“No, you’re not. You didn’t want me to intervene. How’d that work out for you?” Rosalyn fiddled with the corner of her kimono, embarrassment curdling in her gut. “You aren’t yet able to gauge, let alone control, your own bloodlust, nevermind others’. You were pushing Godric unfairly when he was already very far gone.”
“He is my husband, Eric. I’m not going to walk on eggshells when he’s pissy or coddle him when I disagree with him. I don’t worship him like you. He’s not a god. He’s a man.”
Eric rolled up to a sit. “A man? He is the greatest man to have ever walked this world, to be sure, but a man is the very least of what Godric is. Has he not explained to you what he believes a maker and child should be to each other?”
“He has.” Rosalyn thought back to her first plane ride with Godric. Those human memories were fuzzy and distant compared to her flawless preternatural recall. “He told me that a maker and progeny are all things to each other in time. Not everything all the time – “
” – ‘but all things to each other in the end’,” he finished, the motto etched across his undead heart. “Just so, Ros. Now you are going to listen to me. As you say, whether you choose to do so because I am your brother and your bonded companion, or as the First Reborn of your bloodline, or as your eternal millennial elder is up to you.”
“I am not playing with you. Are you listening?”
Something in her gut responded to his stern tone. He was right. This was not her goofy Viking friend speaking. He was an ancient being to whom she was blood bound. “Go on,” she said.
Satisfied that he had her attention, Eric continued. “To be given immortality is to be god-touched. But no god chose us. No other supernatural being picked us. Godric did. There isn’t another vampire in existence that gives the gift of immortality and forswears the powers of total domination he is granted as a maker. No vampire but he makes himself a servant to his progeny. None. Not even me. And for that, he is more than a god. Godric lives to make the eternity he promised you possible. His commitment to that end is absolute. He lives for you now. So you be mindful of what role you are inhabiting when you speak to that ‘man’, do you understand me? For when you speak to Godric as your Maker, you owe him awe.”
Eric fell perfectly still, wanting the sheer magnitude of Godric’s dedication to overwhelm her. It did. Rosalyn wilted into her hands and began to sob. She tried to curl into Eric’s chest, but Eric resisted. “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry,” she sniffled.
“Stop leaking blood. I told already you that Godric cracked my skull open and left me for a day after I was flippant about his commitment as a maker. You think I enjoy sharing my fuckups with you? I’ve never shared that story. Godric just gave you the benefit of a warning not to insult him that way ever again and a brother with enough experience to highly recommend you listen. Godric will only warn you once.”
“Then what? He’ll hurt me too? You’ll thrash me on his behalf?”
“Depends. Do you think you don’t need a maker?”
“I need him more than anything. It was like I had a hole punched through my soul while he was gone,” she said, rubbing at the messy tears staining her cheeks. “I need you too.”
Rattled by her distress, Eric relented and pulled her into his arms, dropping a kiss on each of her puffy eyelids. “Then you’re already smarter than I was at your age. Godric has not earned my undying allegiance by extorting it through commands and violence. Those are the tactics of weak, deplorable makers. I needed a whack from him here and there as a yearling because I purposefully put my own skin at risk. He gave me the tiniest taste of what an enemy might do – not as a punishment, but as a lesson to stop me from running straight toward danger. Learning about the horrifying resilience of your reborn body is not one he’s going to let you learn at someone else’s hands.”
A shiver coursed through Rosalyn’s spine. “I just want an explanation. He’s doing the opposite of everything he said he wanted.”
“You’re a lot like him, you know. Strange and beautiful.” A smile curled at the corner of Eric’s mouth. “Godric tackles problems at odd angles. It is absolutely infuriating when you want a clear answer, but almost nothing in life is straightforward. Trust him. He can’t fight our battles and have you balking at his authority. Don’t expect him to behave like a conventional thinker because he’s not. Following conventions gets you killed. Godric won’t teach you rules or give you wordy explanations in advance; he’ll give you the space to experience firsthand the consequences of your choices. He shows you how your wants and desires endanger what you care about. More often than not, it involves endangering himself.”
The realization hits Ros with force. “My god. That’s exactly what you did to him at the fundraiser. You made him think you were going to be killed to teach him a lesson.”
Eric did not respond. Instead, he slipped from her hold and busied himself with righting the wreckage in the studio. He picked up the blood bags on the floor and turned on the bathroom, scrubbing the tile and porcelain and mirrors with the relentless precision of a neat freak. As he finished straightening a fresh set of towels on the dowel rod, he finally spoke. “The threat against my life was real enough. Godric just didn’t realize it was losing him.”
“Does Pam know?” Ros whispered.
“No,” he said, his back still turned to her.
Slowly, Eric returned to Rosalyn’s side. Her hand automatically covered his. There was more wreckage to clean up than what had been left lying about on the ground. She would have to speak to Godric about his firstborn – and soon. “I’ll apologize to Godric. I hurt him and I’ll fix things. I trust you both to know what is necessary. I’ll keep out of the way. I’m just a liability.”
“Tsk, you are so much more than that. You don’t get to step aside in this family. You get to step up. That your empathy is riled in bloodlust over your thirst for violence is…curious. Embrace it, as Godric has ordered. He clearly believes it to be another power at our disposal.”
“I know you were just trying to help me. You got me through hell. Forgive me?”
“Of course, baby girl.” He played with the tail of her braid thoughtfully. “I know you need to build your own relationship with Maker. I also know that it isn’t easy listening to me advise you from a thousand years of being at his side. Talk to Amleth when he arrives. He had a similar advantage over me when it came to Godric and he’s been bossing the shit out of me since I was made.” Eric snorted a laugh. “It’s still hard for me to watch you make the same mistakes I did. We’ll draw our lines in the sand for each other as we go, okay?”
“Sure, Blondie. It’s not a competition.”
“No, it is not.” A devious smile broke out across his face. “It really is not…because I’ll always win, lillasyster!” He growled and pounced, overpowering her without effort. He entertained her pointless attempts to escape by tickling her and nipping back with blunt teeth and they wrestled until they were breathless from laughter.
Rosalyn wrapped her arms around him and nestled against his neck. He returned the embrace, settling his cheek against the delicate skin of her temple. When Eric eventually extricated himself to track down Godric, Rosalyn was at his heels on the stairway. She stopped him before he could code out.
“C’mon, kiddo. Maker should have regenerated his blood enough to feed you again. Just watch yourself. I know the view of my ass is great, but you can’t always hide behind me.”
Rosalyn wanted to laugh, but could not. The frisson of all that had transpired between them loomed large in their bond. In the space of a few days, their friendship had radically transformed. Rosalyn was suddenly frightened that the spell would be broken the second they stepped through the doorway, and the Eric that was sensitive and honest and beautifully raw for her would evaporate. “Eric, behind closed doors…” she began.
“Hm?” he said.
She tried to find the words. There were none. Eric saw the difficulty and leaned down to her, blood on his tongue. “This is what you mean,” he said.
This time, she accepted the bloodkiss of her brother in kind and the cord binding them together affirmed what speech could not.
“Behind every door. Beneath every mask. Always, my bonded,” he said. For a brief moment, Eric gave a boyish, embarrassed grin before settling it into his usual impenetrable smirk. He tapped her nose, scanned his palm into the security panel, and ushered her through the door.
Godric’s arms sliced through the water with furious precision. The surface of the pool was hardly disturbed. Beneath it, the man was a deadly streak of opal and green and blue amongst the purling aquamarine. The serpent on his back coiled and struck with each rhythmic stroke.
He ignored the shimmering silhouettes of his two progeny waiting at the pool’s edge for a dozen more laps. When he was certain that he could be sufficiently civil, he popped up at the far end of the lap lane. “Summon Pamela,” he told Eric. “When you are adequately healed, bring me Sophie-Anne’s crown.”
“With or without her head?” Eric asked. Rosalyn looked up at him dubiously and he winked. “Just the crown, then.”
“Take custody of Ronwe on your return and lock him down in a holding cell.”
“Yes, Maker. Anything else?”
“I assume you’ve taken matters into your own hands and had a talk with Ros?”
“Then she doesn’t need a lecture from me. Take Empress Akiko-sama’s kimono from my wife before you toss her in here.”
Eric was too quick for Rosalyn and had her soaring through the air before she could squeak. Gravity, in contrast to the Viking, worked more slowly, and she had time to tuck and roll into a ball as the wall of water approached. Godric latched onto her instantly, sinking them both to the bottom. She tried to mouth a bubbling apology but he smothered it with a demanding kiss. He did not want to hear it. He already knew. His muscular limbs wrapped around hers, molding her body to his in an unyielding embrace. Me, he told her. His seductive call roused her through the bond, dissolving her into a pulsing hunger for him. He made love to her fiercely until there was nothing but her and his focus on her. When she was boneless and had fallen to pieces, Godric hoisted Rosalyn out of the water and onto the diving board.
He was not done. In fact, he had not even begun to make his point. Rucking her legs around his hips, he mounted her and thrusted, using the board’s bounce beneath his knees. Rosalyn’s eyes went wide. “Do I have your attention now?” he said.
“Yes,” she gasped. He arched an eyebrow and waited. “Yes…Maker?” she tried.
His lips quirked ever so slightly. “That’s right, Rosalyn. I am your maker. I have not wanted to sully our honeymoon by teaching you what this means, but it is my duty. I am your maker. You are my duty. You. Are. Mine,” he said, punctuating each word with a bounce so deep it traveled up her spine and raised the hair on the back of her neck. He fisted her hair and whispered hotly in her ear. “You fell ill because you are mine. You heal because you are mine. Your pain is mine. Your joy is mine. Say it.”
He found a rhythm with his hips, bending her pleasure around his hard flesh. His tremendous aura of power swelled and enveloped her, willing her total surrender. Godric needed not say a word to make her submit, she realized. He needed only to desire her submission and everything within her wanted to yield and in the yielding there was ecstasy. He possessed her completely, losing himself in her and she in him. He healed her with crashing waves of hot bliss and fed her more of his lifeblood and she understood.
Rosalyn was his blood. And though he might despise the word, in the blood, he was her Master. Yet he asked when he could order. What little dissent that occurred in his bloodline, he allowed. He had allowed her little bloodlusted rebellion, though it hurt him. And while he finished demonstrating his absolute authority, that he gave her this lesson with pleasure was his choice too. He did not lord his power over his progeny. He freed them with it.
Rosalyn came again, crying his name and digging her nails into his biceps. Slowly, he pasted a trail of kisses down her body as he slid off the diving board. He stood over her, no longer the lost, impassive boy in the desert. He was an untamed king of the night. More than a god. A ruler of gods – befitting the meaning of his name. “Have I made myself clear, love?”
“Crystal. I am so very deeply sorry, Maker.”
“It is forgiven. I’ve not shown you the nature of my dominion over you because I’ve wanted to savor every second of these early days.”
“And I haven’t asked, my heart, for the same reason.”
“I do not want my kin to cower in my shadow. I rely on you to challenge me. I relish it. But don’t you dare question my honor as your maker. I won’t hesitate to remind you.”
“I don’t doubt it. Though…” she smiled, “I can’t say I’d mind a little review.”
Godric whipped a towel around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Don’t test me, lover. You’ll find that you won’t like the attention such attention-seeking behavior yields.”
Heat pooled in Rosalyn’s core once again seeing his sensuous lips uttering such promising threats. “Mmm. God you are so sexy like this. Show me again, sire.” She ran her hands up his chest and over his tattooed collar.
“Rosalyn…” His body reacted with more than a little interest. “As much as I hope to spend my eternal nights showing you exactly what it does to me when you call me your sire, I need to attend to a few other matters first.”
“Like your other naughty cub?” She pulled the towel from his hands and blotted her damp hair. “Does Eric get the same ‘punishment’?”
“Impertinent woman,” Godric said, nostrils flaring in amusement. “I’ve something else in mind for him. And you, Madame, are going to help.”
A/N: Hi lovelies! I haven’t forgotten about you or this story! Hope you like this long overdue update. Please leave a comment if you have a moment. I value every follow, favorite, and review I receive and your feedback is deeply motivating for me. Reviewers get a very special “lesson” from Godric. xx, M.