Chapter Twenty:

I paced the small room as I frantically tried to think. On one hand, death. If I stayed here, and if I could make Eric leave peacefully, Steve Newlin could still have his holy bonfire, and the world could have justice for the sins I had committed. But on the other hand, Eric. He would never let me stay here, and he would kill anyone who tried to harm me, even if I had volunteered for it. He just wouldn't understand.

I paced for a long time, carefully avoiding Hugo's still body, trying to reason everything out.

I could sense everything that was happening above me, but I zoned it out as I tried to make a decision; I heard gunshots, and stayed; I couldn't even go when Eric was taken and chained in silver. He would free himself, I reasoned; Eric was a resilient being.

Do I stay, or do I go? If I went, what would there be for me? If I stayed...could I even stay, now? How would I ever be able to convince the others that I wanted to stay?

Then Stan arrived, in a torrent of bloodlust, eager to kill any and all humans who were in the Fellowship, regardless of whether they were innocent of capturing me or not. "Destroy the humans. All of them," he said to the other vampires, his gravelly voice sinister in its delight.

And I knew I couldn't waste anymore time trying to make a decision. If I didn't go up now, they would all die. All the humans.

Everything inside the church was chaos when I emerged from the basement, with humans running every which way, trying to escape the avenging vampires. I went up to the balcony, to get the higher ground. I saw that Eric was now free from the chains, as I had hoped he would be, with Sookie and William Compton at his side; and there was Stan, holding a man in his grasp, his fangs brushing his neck. He would have the first blood. I was almost too late. I needed to stop everything before it began, before anyone died.

I walked to the edge of the balcony. "Enough." My voice reverberated throughout the church, quelling all other noise. Everyone froze, only their eyes moving as they searched for the source of the sound, turning to me. My eyes, though, were focused on Stan, standing in the middle of everything. "You came for me, I assume." He felt my authority, I could see it in the rigidness of his muscles, but he was still poised to strike, his fangs digging deeper into the human's flesh. "Underling," I warned.

With great reluctance, Stan acknowledged my presence. "Yes, sheriff."

"These people have not harmed me." I slid my gaze to Steve Newlin, who lay on the steps at the front of the church, the green paint visible on his forehead from where he had been shot with a paint gun. I felt only distasteful pity for him now, seeing him fall from grace in his followers' eyes as they realized that their leader was a psychopath, willing to kill himself and others for his beliefs. "You see, Mr. Newlin," I chided, "we can coexist rather peacefully." He shot me a dark glare, but I disregarded it. I looked to the other humans in the Church. "I do not wish to create bloodshed when none is called for. Help me set an example. If we leave you in peace, will you do the same?"

Rising ungracefully to his knees before Eric, Steve Newlin favoured me with a seething remark: "I will not negotiate with sub-humans." Then he loosened his tie with one hand, bared his neck, and exposed his life blood to Eric in a mad act. "Kill me. Do it. Jesus will protect me."

"I am actually older than your Jesus," I retorted, tired of this man's ego, his crazed religiosity, his insanity. He might have been able to give me what I wanted, but that did not mean I liked him. I despised what he stood for, his beliefs the very antithesis of mine own. So the startled look now in his eyes was a small sweetness to me. "I wish I could have known him, but I missed it."

I went down to the ground level, faster than the human eyes could see, and seized Newlin by his coat collar. I pulled him to his feet and forced him to stand before all his followers, displaying him ‒ making them see just what a wretched creature they had chosen to obey. "Good people, who of you is willing to die for this man's madness?"

As I suspected, no one volunteered. They all looked at one another, but no one wanted to come forth. "That's what I thought. Stand down, everyone. People, go home. It's over now."

Slowly the humans began to mill out, some shooting us sharp looks, others staring at us in surprise. In my grip, Steve was squirming as he realized that everyone was deserting him; that no one would stand up for him. "Please! Don't leave me!" he cried out.

I threw him to the ground. "We have not harmed them, so they choose to not to harm us, even if you would wish it otherwise, Mr. Newlin. I daresay my faith in humankind is stronger than yours." I surveyed all the vampires surrounding me, who were watching and waiting for whatever was to happen. "Come." It was time for them to leave, and myself too. I couldn't stay here now. There would be no holy bonfire at the Church of the Fellowship of the Sun.

Cowboy boots knocked against the wooden floor as Stan approached me, the anger and excitement still rolling off him in waves. "Sir, after what these humans have done to you‒"

I cut him off. "I said come."

With an unhappy grunt he obeyed, and so did the rest. Exiting the Church, the vampires all went to their respective forms of transportation. I watched the girl Sookie walking with William Compton, his arm around her shoulders, a male human trailing behind them. It hit me then why I thought Sookie's last name was familiar to me: the man following them was Jason Stackhouse, her brother – the one who had shot Steve Newlin with the paint gun, and who had been a member of the Fellowship for a while, and Steve's favourite pupil. It seemed that relationship hadn't ended very well.

And walking quickly ahead of everyone else was Isabel, a still unconscious Hugo in her arms. Looking at them, I felt very sad for Isabel.

Eric stood behind me silently, waiting for me to do something, say something.

"You care for the girl, don't you?" I asked, referring to Sookie.

He shifted a little but said nothing.

"Be careful, my Child. There are some things you shouldn't meddle in, and William Compton and Sookie Stackhouse may be one of them."

Eric put his hand on my arm, and my arm felt hot and I flinched away.

"Sorry," he murmured as he dropped his hand, but he sounded more hurt than apologetic. "My car is over there." He pointed out a sleek-looking black Corvette, sitting by itself under a tree at the far end of the parking lot.

I chuckled a little looking at the car. "You would, wouldn't you?"

I slid into the passenger seat. The car smelled strongly of new leather and cleaning products, and the scent of pine came from the little Christmas tree-shaped air freshener hanging from the mirror.

Eric got into the driver's seat. "The one I have at home is red," he said, and started the engine.

We were on the highway, about halfway to my house, when Eric pulled the car off the road and cut the engine.

"Why did you do it?" he whispered as he stared at his fingers, ghostly in the moonlight, clutching the steering wheel.

I had been waiting for this since he had come to 'rescue' me, and I still had no adequate answer.

Eric turned to face me, his blue eyes large and burning. "Why didn't you escape? Why didn't you kill them all when they captured you?"

"They didn't capture me," I said softly. "I went to them."

Silence. Then: "Why?"

"I can't say."

"Explain it to me."

"You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"You won't."

"Well, of course I won't understand," he said between clenched teeth, "if you won't tell me." His fingers tightened, and there a sharp noise as a crack appeared at the top of the steering wheel. "Goddamn it," he hissed.

"Eric, just drive the car."

He started the ignition and turned the car back onto the highway, the tires squealing as he sped off.

We said nothing else the rest of the way home.