Eric followed Godric to his resting place in silence.
He had followed Godric for centuries, and he found the old pattern of retracing his maker's footsteps familiar and comforting in an odd sort of way he couldn't place. Without even thinking about it, he put his feet in the exact spots Godric's had been. It was old habit.
"Step only where I step," Godric had once instructed him when he was still new. "Learn to walk as I do. Be quiet. Disturb nothing."
Eric stared at Godric's back, noting the way his hands were always half-curved into fists, prepared for the onslaught of battle at any moment. He knew Godric's tendency to sway his arms slightly with each step and expected it when he paused for a fraction of a second as they came to a corner.
Those were behaviors learned from millennia of hard living. Those were behaviors Eric had picked up from him.
Even in the very beginning, Eric had never minded walking behind Godric. The idea only bothered him in principle. Of course Eric never liked, nor ever would like, someone else coming before him. But Godric was so much shorter than Eric, it hardly mattered if Godric was in front of him or not. He could always see over his head.
A pang of wistfulness accompanied the thought as it filtered through Eric's mind.
When Godric stopped in front of one of the many doors dotting the walls of the corridor, Eric stopped too. He remained precisely four steps back, a respectful distance away, automatically.
It was not often that Eric was put in a position where he was required to defer to someone else. In Louisiana, he was a sheriff, and since he'd surpassed his thousandth year, he was recognized as a vampire whom precious few could overpower. He was surprised at how quickly the appropriate formalities came back to him.
This was Godric: his father, his brother, his son. This was his maker in every sense of the word.
Eric was overwhelmed again with the thought of all he would have lost if Godric had been destroyed by the Fellowship of the Sun. If Stan, or anyone else like him, had murdered Godric in their own greedy pursuit of power. If he'd truly been gone from this world—
Eric was not keen on emotions. They were pesky inclinations that motivated humans to make terrible decisions and act even worse. It was best to avoid them, and, in avoiding them, sidestep all of their disastrous consequences.
Godric had taught him to think strategically about every detail of his life. "Make certain your head is clear of all influences outside logic," he would say. "Have no regrets."
But that degree of loss, the mere idea of it, sent a hollow aching so deep inside of Eric, he couldn't find a single place within himself to take refuge from it. There was no aspect of Eric that Godric had left untouched. There was nothing unaffected by him.
Eric followed Godric into the room, forcing himself to remain composed as he shut the door behind them. Now that they had reached their destination, he was free to meet his maker where he stood in the center of the room and position himself at his side.
Godric was always such a concrete, unstoppable force in his mind. Nothing could overpower Godric; Godric was invincible. He had long withstood the test of time. Eric never once entertained the notion that he could be taken from him. Until a few weeks ago, when he learned of his disappearance. And the possibility of having him taken away became all too real.
Godric interrupted Eric's horrific train of thought with a small bob of his head. "What do you think?"
Eric realized belatedly he wanted his opinion of the room. He tore his gaze from Godric unwillingly and surveyed the décor, though he could really care less about what the place looked like so long as Godric was safely contained within it.
The walls were an off-white color that served to compliment the intentionally dim lighting of the room. (Godric had been born into a world where fire was the only means of evading the dark, and Eric knew he did not care for anything overly bright.) The furniture was sparse, but every piece was of the highest quality imaginable. Eric duly admired the intricate designs decorating the dresser at the far end of the room. He assumed the craftsman had been Vampire, as he didn't believe any human could possess that degree of patience. The bed was nearby, just as was customary in human bedrooms.
The window, sealed shut with heavy coverings that would not allow even the tiniest slither of sunlight to shine through, and the ancient artifacts Godric always hung on the walls wherever he stayed were the only indications that it was not a mortal who retired here. Eric had not spied the artifacts yet, and he glanced around in search of them. They were miniscule pieces of the places Godric had been that could be taken down in half a second's notice.
"So that, regardless of where an eternity carries me, I never lose sight of my past," he had explained.
As the centuries crept by, and Eric traveled with Godric from the Old World into the New, he began to notice that, while Godric continued to tote his reminders with them, he never obtained any new pieces to add to his collection.
"There is no need," was the answer when he questioned him about it. "I have you with me now."
Eric scanned the walls a second time in order to pinpoint the current location of the mementos. His expectant gaze wandered each one, beginning with the blank surface in front of him and pivoting around clockwise until he was back to where he started. Each was as barren as the last. Believing he must have missed something, he stepped closer to the wall the headboard of the bed was pushed up against (recalling that was most often where Godric chose to hang them) and began to scrutinize its blankness further.
"They're gone," Godric said, knowing exactly what he was searching for.
Eric turned to look at him, his typically blasé expression slightly taut with misunderstanding. "Why?"
"It was time."
Eric watched as Godric paced to the bed and balanced himself on the edge of it without anything further. He gave the room another once over, then mirrored Godric's actions without prompting. He didn't bother with respectful distances when he sat, and Godric showed no signs of disapproval at his closeness.
"How long have you been without them?"
Godric stared at an invisible spot on the wall Eric had been scrutinizing, as if he was envisioning the artifacts there. "Not long. The past three decades or so."
"Doesn't it seem… empty to you?" Eric knew it sure as hell seemed empty to him. Empty. Desolate. Devoid of personality.
Amazing that before he knew Godric's artifacts were gone the space had appeared fine. Only after the fact did he absorb the knowledge that nothing here was really Godric's. The décor was only reminiscent of the vampire who inhabited it. What it contained were but echoes, like the metallic reminisce a sip of synthetic blood leaves on the tongue after a swallow.
"Sentimental value fades, just like everything else. I saw no reason to cling to material possessions I no longer have any use for."
"You could have sent them to me."
Godric faced him with a glint of amusement in his eye. "And what would you have done with them?"
"I could've put them on display at Fangtasia. I'm sure relics from Ancient Rome would have been quite a draw for tourists." For an explanation pulled directly out of his ass, Eric thought that sounded pretty good. It was much easier to say than the truth: he wouldn't have wanted them for any other reason than that they were part of Godric.
The ghost of a smile graced his maker's lips. "Then I apologize for depriving you of business." The ghost vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and Godric returned his attention to the wall.
Eric examined the side of his face, calling to memory the last time he'd looked upon it. Not one night went by without Godric passing through his thoughts in some form. Everything Eric said, or did, or contemplated doing could be traced back to a moment, a conversation, a lesson involving his creator. But, as often as he thought of him, Eric's visits to Godric were brief and far in between.
It wasn't something that was intentional. It wasn't something that happened in the blink of an eye. It's not possible to transition from spending every waking moment alongside someone to letting a lifetime pass without exchanging a single word in an instant. That kind of erosion occurs slowly, in a gradual process of separation and growing apart.
"Gawking is an offensive pastime, best left to the fools who founded the institution."
Godric's reprimanding tone was familiar to Eric, but it was dehydrated by exhaustion. Instead of looking away, he stared all the more intently. A change had definitely taken place in his maker since the last time they were together. However, he was struggling to identify how profound a change it was.
"I should visit you more often," he concluded aloud.
"You visit often enough."
Eric tried not to be hurt by the snub. He quit gawking and mimicked Godric's transfixion with the wall. Said by anyone else, the mild rejection wouldn't bother him. Said by his maker, it stung. And when he looked at the wall, he thought about the artifacts again, recalling why Godric had rid himself of them.
Sentimental value fades, just like everything else. I saw no reason to cling to material possessions I no longer have any use for.
He felt a brand new sting as he made an intuitive leap, connecting himself to the artifacts. It wasn't a leap at all, really. Just a small step. If Godric didn't care about the memories the artifacts represented, then why should he care for the ones Eric carried with him? Eric despised how much this revelation ate at him. He felt weak for placing this much stock in the opinion of one person, for continuing to give a damn when obviously the unbreakable bond he believed in with such blind faith was not being upheld on the other end. All of the devotion and undying loyalty he invested had somehow become one sided.
"What changed?" His voice came out softer than usual, hushed by other questions he couldn't get past his lips.
Godric noticed the difference. He stared at him, picking apart his expression with a focus so intense that it was impossible to hold his gaze.
"Eric," he replied seriously after a moment, "I don't place you among the relics." He lifted a hand to Eric's head and stroked the blond hair there in an old, soothing motion of their past. "I love you above all others."
Eric let Godric's assurances relieve him without resistance. He immediately felt guilty for ever questioning anything. A thousand years should be enough time to ease any doubts, but his had still gotten the better of him.
From the initial shock of Godric's disappearance, to the chaotic quest to find him, to second-guessing the invincibility of their bond, Eric was shot. He allowed the welcoming sensations of stability and rightness to flow through his veins like a narcotic. And then the Viking, who very recently had been enraged at himself for relying on someone else so heavily, slumped limply into the ancient boy's side. It was not a comfort he would have allowed himself under any other circumstances, but it was far from the first time Eric had leaned on Godric.
"It's a fascinating concept, love is." Godric moved the hand that had been stroking Eric's hair to his shoulder, inviting the burden of his weight. "They say it never dies."
"Like us," Eric said, smiling at the irony of relating the horrific image of a vampire to the glorified idea of love.
Godric smiled with him. "I suppose, in a technical sense. But not really. A stake through the heart, silver, the sunlight… We can be destroyed."
Eric thought of the fickleness of love. He sneered at the idealistic views of eternal faithfulness and affection the humans attempted to bind themselves to with petty, pointless vows. Holy matrimony was a joke. If it weren't, what would be the need for divorce? Monogamy was clearly not natural.
"Love can be destroyed."
Godric shook his head, his chin brushing Eric lightly on its pass. "I don't think so. I think it's simply forgotten."
Dawn encroached. A vague weariness settled over Eric, and he straightened to glance at the window. There was no point in looking, the coverings over the glass gave away no hint of the sky lightening, but he found himself double-checking anyway. Two years of society accommodating them was nowhere near enough to erase centuries of surviving secretly beneath the human radar.
He turned to Godric, a farewell caught in his throat. His maker was obviously safe, yet he was still unable to recover from the staggering possibility of loss. Like yanking the foundation out from under a building, without Godric he would collapse. Eric could not let Godric out of sight. He was not yet strong enough.
"The day is rising," he said in a desperate attempt to justify what he was about to ask. "May I stay with you?"
Godric cocked his head at him, and Eric fully expected to be called out on his weakness. He prepared himself for a swift, stinging humiliation. He wouldn't try to make excuses. He would accept whatever rebuke he had earned.
But the infinitely powerful vampire beside him looked him in the eye for several torturous seconds, and then turned away. "If it suits you."
Eric blinked. Yes, a change had definitely occurred in his maker that he hadn't been around to witness. He rose with a nod and proceeded to remove his clothes, his confusion mounting when Godric made no move to join him. He sat stoically, like a pondering statue devoid of any kind of animation.
Stripped bare, Eric reclined back on the mattress without bothering with the blankets. They were for show as far as vampires were concerned. What was the point in using them when one did not give off body heat? He crossed his arms behind his head nonchalantly and shut his eyes. He had no qualms with nudity. Actually, he preferred it to the annoying restriction of clothing.
It was a relief to hear the bed's soft squeak when Godric laid down next to him. Despite his outward peace, he had wondered if his maker wouldn't just sit there staring numbly off into space until the early hour forced him to submit to it. Eric cracked open an eye lazily, the weariness of the day was increasing in potency with each passing minute, and appraised him.
Godric was laying on his side, covered all the way down to the shoes on his feet. He was propped up on one elbow with his head cradled in his palm, his deceptively wide, childlike gaze fixated on him. Godric was appraising Eric too.
Eric waggled his brow at him.
A grin broke out on Godric's face, and a tiny chuckle escaped him.
It was the first time since Eric had reunited with Godric at the Fellowship of the Sun church that he had expressed anything resembling joy. Eric relished in the sound, feeling triumphant for having evoked it.
"You still have a sense of humor." Godric folded both arms across his chest, lowering his cheek to meet the pillow. "I'm glad."
The new position exposed more of the tattoos concealed underneath his shirt than the previous did, and Eric was reminded of one of the conversations they'd had about the various marks of ink etched into his skin. He had assumed they were a reward, symbols to denote a higher rank and status, and Godric was quick to correct him.
"They were a punishment." Eric could still remember the way he ran his thumb along the design wrapped around his collarbones as he said it. "One I will continue to serve forever, as it turns out."
A voice identical to the one in his memory summoned him back to the present.
"Tell me something, Eric. Are you happy?"
Godric was safe, here, alive, speaking… Eric let his eyes slide closed. "Why shouldn't I be?"
He felt the bed tremble. Godric must have shifted again. He was beginning to feel a little weightless himself. Though the room was carefully shielded from any confirmation, Eric knew it must be daylight. The weariness was tugging at him, pulling him closer and closer to the edge of the grave.
He would have fallen in, had Godric not spoken again.
"You're happy being as you are now, satisfied with where this second life has taken you?"
"Yes," Eric whispered simply, quite literally half-dead.
Godric did not ask him anything else.
Eric let the day disconnect him from his body and drifted without quarrel into the silence of temporary death. But all was not silent. There was something brushing his hair—a whisper.
"Persevere, my child."
It sounded so final that Eric fought for awareness, trying to get enough of a hold on it to resurface, but too much time had passed since he surrendered. The words were left hanging over him. They felt too few and too heavy, and Eric's last thought was that something was very wrong.