A/N: We have finally reached the end! There may be one-shots in the future; if there are any specific events people would like to see, please message me with the request and I'll see what I can do, but this really felt like a good place to end the story as a whole. Thanks to everyone who stuck with it, even when it took about ten times longer than I expected to get this out.

Mercy grabbed her purse as she herded Jessica and Heather towards the door. She'd spent the last three days listening to them whining about not getting to see more of Dallas, ever since the party and their first taste of what being a part of Godric's house could mean for them socially. She would have expected the novelty to wear off already for Jessica, since her maker was king of Louisiana. Was it really so different from state to state?

This night out would be good for all of them. The younger girls weren't the only ones feeling a little stir-crazy at being house bound. They could all use a break, so out they were going. Godric could hardly complain since they were going to be out with Isabel. What the Sheriff was planning she really didn't know, but if it got them away from the house for a while she didn't care, as long as they didn't end up clubbing.

Wesley would not be joining them, and he was acting even more churlish than usual. He was going to be stuck in the house with only Godric for company, and the boy would consider that his own personal hell. Mercy felt no sympathy for the boy, since he'd brought it on himself. She hadn't yet gotten to the point that she was ready to put him over her knee, or just kick his ass, but Godric was less patient than she was. Personally, she was surprised Godric hadn't already ripped out his fangs or put him in silver for a week. Grounding the boy was just about the lightest punishment he could get. If he didn't check that attitude of his, he was going to end up in a much worse state.

"So you really don't know what we're doing?" Heather asked as the car pulled up. Mercy wanted to drive herself, but the one stipulation Godric had was that she use the driver and take security with her. Since he hadn't made a fuss about leaving, she agreed to it without arguing, though she thought that Lucas really needed to learn to blend in better if he was going to be their bodyguard. The rear door was opened by the waiting man, and she slid into the car, settling on the luxurious leather seat as the girls followed after.

"After we meet up with Isabel? Not a clue."

Since Isabel had decided to plan the evening, Mercy had determined to leave her to it. Her only input had been that they had better not go clubbing, and to keep it something appropriate for Jessica and Heather. She had a get together of her own to worry about scheduled for a few weeks out, that would bring in the female sheriffs again, and that was all she was willing to stick on her calendar for the moment. Godric had found a way to let her keep teaching, so she would try to meet him halfway in acting the part of Consort, but she couldn't bring herself to try to suddenly become sociable with strangers.

"No way!"

Mercy decided she was officially surprised when they pulled up to the stadium. A Cowboys game hadn't even made the list of top fifteen places Isabel was likely to take them tonight. Thursday night football must have been a real boon to the vampire community, as they could actually attend games. She'd never pegged Isabel as a football fan, though.

"Have you never been to an NFL game before, Jessica?"

Isabel sounded amused at the young girl's enthusiasm as she directed them to the entrance, the human guards trailing close behind them. Mercy could hear them muttering to themselves about the perks of being the ones tapped for this duty.

"'Course not! My parents would never let me go to somethin' like that, even if there was a team nearby."

It would be a first for Mercy, too. She didn't mind football, but she'd never been a true fan, so while she supported the school's football team by attending the games, she'd never once gone to a Cowboy's game. She didn't even follow the games on TV. She only watched the Super Bowl for the commercials and the half-time show.

The press of the crowds as people filed into the stadium made Mercy uncomfortably aware that she hadn't drunk as much as she normally did before they walked out the door. Most of them smelled offensive, but some of them smelled outright delicious. It looked like she wasn't the only one affected by all the humans, either. Heather and Jessica both covered their mouths, after the tell-tale click that their fangs had dropped. Maybe the stadium wasn't the best idea. There hadn't been nearly this many people at the fundraiser.

"Both of you behave yourselves in here."

"It will be far less crowded in the box," Isabel assured them, and Mercy let out a small sigh of relief. She was proven right as they left the masses heading for the main seats and made their way to a box that held maybe fifteen other people. Much better. Hopefully the girls wouldn't get into too much trouble here.

"One of our newest residents is a relative of one of the players, and they wanted to make a good impression, so I was presented with a complimentary box for the season. It seemed a good time to make use of it. I'd offered it to Godric, but he declined."

Knowing how useful the box would be for keeping the young ones entertained and out of trouble, Mercy had to wonder if Godric hadn't refused the box in an attempt to force her into more interaction with the local vampire population. Sneaky bastard.

"Of course he did."

A waitress approached with bottles of TrueBlood on a tray, and Mercy blinked. She didn't think that waitresses were normal practice in a box. Maybe this new resident was just going overboard to impress. Thirsty, she looked for a bottle of her own blood type, since it was really the only one that she could stand, and directed the younger girls to take one as well. Not everyone in the room was a vampire, and she didn't want to risk an accident.

It wasn't long before the game started, and Mercy found that the younger girls were almost instantly absorbed. The cheerleaders could stand to put on some clothes that weren't mistakenly ordered in children's sizes, but apart from that, Mercy quite enjoyed herself. Attending so many high school games ensured that she was able to follow what took place on the field better than the others, whose comments seemed to be restricted to how good looking the players were. When the jumbo-tron showed them without their helmets, she guessed that they were handsome enough, academically speaking. But most of them were far too bulked up for her tastes.

The short break between the first and second quarters was the most unpleasant part of the first half. A vampire Mercy had never met before interrupted the discussion that Jessica and Heather had dragged her into over which player was the best-looking in order to introduce herself. It only took a minute's listening to figure out that the woman was angling to place herself in the King's household, and she'd apparently decided to accomplish that by ingratiating herself to his Consort. The expression on her face when Mercy explained that she had no need of any sort of staff, and wouldn't be looking to create those positions was positively priceless, and Mercy carried the wonderfully amusing memory with her through the rest of the first half.

Halftime brought its own special brand of hell as vampires who'd apparently realized the Sheriff was in the box with the Royal Consort came to speak to one or the other of them. Mercy hadn't realized just how many had been in attendance at the fundraiser, and consequently knew exactly who she was. Some merely wished to introduce themselves and welcome her to the community, and those were easily handled with a smile and nod of appreciation. But there were those who had decided that making it into the box meant that they had a captive audience to hear their grievances, or opinions, and those people Mercy wanted to strangle. When her cell phone buzzed and she saw that it was Godric calling her, she nearly wept with relief, as she was able to brush off everyone demanding her attention, and she stepped away to answer it.

"Are you enjoying the game?"

"How did you know where I am?"

"Mason is watching the game on the television, and they showed your box when they panned the crowd. Also, one of Isabel's lieutenants called once the crowd started pouring in, suggesting you might wish a rescue."

"I could kiss Isabel's lieutenant then; these people are driving me crazy."

Godric snickered on the other end of the line, and Mercy decided it was a good thing he wasn't close enough to smack in the head. He could find this funny, he wasn't the one having to deal with it. She could see from the corner of her eye that several people were trying their best to listen in on her conversation, and she left the box. It would be noisier outside in the general population, but most of the people around would be human, and unable to eavesdrop.

"Don't be angry, älskling. They will have to leave before the next half of the game begins. And if they truly get on your nerves, just kick them out, and tell them that whatever they wish to ask of you they can just as easily ask of me."

"If they could just as easily ask you, they would be doing it," she muttered. When someone bumped into her, hard, she cut off to glare at the offender. There was plenty of room around her, which meant that to run into her was deliberate. To her shock, it was Ethan!

"What are you doing here?"

"You need to get out of here, now."

"What?"

"Get out of here, now. Get your friends and go."

She ignored Godric's voice demanding to know what was happening as she grabbed Ethan's arm. He was trying to walk away, after delivering a warning like that? When he'd pretty much told her he never wanted to see her again the last time they were in the same room together?

"Ethan, what's going on?"

"There's no time, Mercy! The Fellowship is up to something, so get your friends and get out of here, now!"

"Up to something? Here?"

No. That couldn't be right. Surely no one in their right mind would try to attack a football game. There was no way they wouldn't be caught!

"Go, Mercy!"

When she didn't move quickly enough for his taste, he grabbed her hand and hauled her into the box. She was so shocked she let him pull her along. Lucas pulled out his firearm as soon as Ethan started yelling about an attack. Confusion set in as the room's occupants tried to work out what was happening, with a human bursting in holding the Consort and a guard with a weapon pointed. Mercy managed to retain enough sense of mind to order the guard not to shoot her brother, but it was really Isabel who was able to calm the chaos enough to make sense of the claim. The briefest possible explanation was given: the Fellowship had managed to plant a bomb in the box and they were going to set it off during the game. A few of the more foolish vampires in the room actually scoffed at that declaration, as if they couldn't believe the Fellowship of the Sun could accomplish such a feat. That scoffing stopped when Isabel ordered a search of the room, and her lieutenant found the bomb inside the bar. The bartender was, unsurprisingly, nowhere to be found. The countdown showed less than a minute before it would detonate, and panic ensued as vampires and the few humans in the room fought to get out.

"Get out of here, Mercy," Ethan ordered as he crossed to the bar.

"What do you think you're doing?!"

"I work bomb disposal. What do you think I'm doing?"

"I'm not leaving without you!"

"Yes you are, now get out of here!"

There was no more chance to argue as she was bodily lifted and carried out of the room by Lucas.

"No! You have to go back!"

She beat ineffectually at his back as tossed her over his shoulder, forcing his way through the crowd. Someone must have alerted stadium security, because people were pouring out of the gates and running towards the exit. The vampires could outrun the blast, but the humans weren't going to make it.

"I'm not leaving my brother!"

Lucas ignored the car, continuing on foot. Mercy saw the moment the explosion happened, and she screamed, clawing at Lucas' back until she drew blood. He didn't react to the pain, simply tightened his grip on her. She had to get back to Ethan!

"My orders are to ensure your safety, Lady. There is no going back."

"No! He could still be in there!"

They were quickly joined by Jessica and Heather, Isabel tugging them along with her, her lieutenant right behind. They watched as parts of the stadium burned. It looked as though the bomb wasn't strong enough to destroy the entire structure, as most of it still stood. Isabel fumed as she watched the smoke. Humans had done this in her area, on her watch. There would be grave consequences for this.

"Find Steve Newlin," she ordered. "He will pay for this."

There was no doubt in her mind that if the Fellowship was behind the bombing, Steve Newlin had authorized it. Mercy's brother must be correct about the source of the bomb; it could not be a coincidence that it was a vampire's box that was attacked. If the Fellowship wanted war, she would give them one.

The sound of Mercy still struggling to break Lucas' hold took her mind from thoughts of revenge, as she realized what the other woman had lost in this. Isabel admired the human for being unable to let the Fellowship act without trying to stop them. He gave his life trying to stop a horrific act, but it meant that Mercy lost her brother, and a child her father. The Sheriff issued another order, quietly. Godric would wish to see the child retrieved and united with her aunt. She was Mercy's only remaining family. Isabel fully expected that the King would arrive any moment, and she wished to have action taken before he did.

"I am sorry, Mercy."

She reached out to lay a hand on the struggling woman, and that contact seemed to make reality set in.
With a wail, Mercy collapsed into Isabel's arms, much as she had when Godric had met the sun. Isabel held onto her, ignoring the flailing attacks as Mercy attempted to pound out her grief. She refused to let go, until a soft whoosh of air told her that Godric had arrived. He looked positively livid, his normal placid expression gone. Oh yes, Steve Newlin would pay dearly for this attack on both humans and vampires. Human justice would not serve this time.

The newly arrived king didn't hesitate a moment to pull Mercedes into his arms. He'd heard most everything from his phone, and he'd been terrified that she wouldn't make it out before the explosion. To have her with him, to reassure himself that she was whole and hale, was all the favor he would ask of the God that she still believed in, and that he hoped still heard him. Such needless destruction, and so many lives were sure to be lost. Once he ensured that she was uninjured, he turned to his two charges. They both looked shaken, but otherwise unhurt. Good. Lucas had done his job and kept Mercedes safe, and Isabel had taken charge of the young ones.

"We will return to the nest."

Mercedes had enough to endure at the moment; he wouldn't dream of subjecting her to any questioning by the human police that raced to the scene. There was nothing they could ask that Isabel couldn't answer until Mercedes was more recovered. Within seconds, the car pulled up to the curb and Godric ushered his charges inside ahead of him, before he slid in himself, still holding Mercedes. The silence that settled in was nearly stifling, but the girls didn't dare break it, and all of Godric's focus was on Mercedes. She had not yet stopped crying, though the screams at least were subsiding. She was still blindly striking out, but she'd managed to strike only him, so he would keep silent. He simply carded a hand through her hair, holding her close with the other.

His mind raced with making plans. His first call when he returned to the nest would be to Lucian, to apprise him of the situation. Newlin would not escape justice this time. If the human had any self-preservation instinct he would run, but putting the word out through Lucian would eliminate anywhere outside of Texas that he could try to hide.

By the time the car pulled up the drive to the front door, Mercedes had stopped moving completely, or making any noise. The younger girls were out and speeding up the steps almost before the vehicle was put into park. Godric could hear them practically shriek as they told the boy what they'd been through, and Wesley's expressions of disbelief. He could scarcely comprehend it himself, that Newlin would sink to such maliciousness. He knew the man capable of atrocities, but he'd thought the human to have a limit.

"We must go inside, älskling."

Mercedes gave no indication that she'd heard him at all, and he squeezed her to him tightly. This latest blow was simply too much to ask of anyone. It was no wonder that she was nearly catatonic. What he wouldn't give for this entire evening to never have happened.

"Come Mercedes. We cannot remain out here."

He could not be easy until they were inside. If Mercedes was the target of the attack, she was too exposed sitting in the car. When she still made no move to leave the vehicle on her own, he tucked her against his chest as he slid out of the car and sped inside. From the staircase he instructed his charges to remain inside for the rest of the night, and he continued his instructions as he moved through the hallways until he reached their room.

The bed was ignored in favor of the bathroom, and he ran the water in the bath as hot as he thought she could stand it. As the garden tub filled, he made his phone call to the magister, then left his phone on the bedside table. He refused to be disturbed by constant ringing as he cared for Mercedes. He worried about her state; she neither moved nor spoke when he stripped her, or himself, or when he pulled her into the tub with him and settled her against him. He supposed she may have gone into shock, if such was possible for their kind. He would almost prefer the screaming and violence of her initial reaction.

"Your niece will be brought to you, Mercedes. And we will punish those responsible for this."

It was the only comfort he could offer her, and he was well aware of how insufficient it was. He could give her Steve Newlin's head on a platter, and it wouldn't be enough. Nothing could make up for what had just been taken from her, though he would not say aloud how surprised he was to hear that Ethan, who'd disowned his sister and gone to the Fellowship, would have given his life to save her. Such sentiments would only hurt her.

After several minutes spent soaking, Godric assumed the task of washing Mercedes, as she made no move to do so. They'd managed to get clear of the explosion, but they'd stayed close enough that ash had soot had drifted onto them. Mercedes should bear no traces of the evening's events. Once he was done, and the water began to cool, he dried them both, and wrapped her in a robe before carrying her into the room and depositing her on the bed. Only the arrival of her niece, or the delivery of Steve Newlin, would drag him from her side in the next hours. The business of the rest of the state could rot.

"My brother's dead," were the first words to come from Mercedes' lips in hours. Godric only nodded at the statement. He'd left Isabel at the stadium waiting until the fire died down enough that she could go into the wreckage and confirm the death. She'd left a voice message confirming that Ethan had died while they were in the bath.

"I know. I am so sorry, mit hjärta."

He could not bear her heartbreak. He would prefer to die by stake than to ever hear such a sound of grief cross her lips again.

"He's dead because of me. How could Newlin hate me so much that he would do something like this?"

"He hates anyone who does not buy into his creed. He will be dealt with, I promise you."

"I can't do this anymore."

Could his blood freeze? It felt as though the very blood in his veins froze at that declaration. Surely she couldn't mean—

"Can't do what, Mercedes?"

"Any of it. People are dying because of me, simply because I exist. I can't—I can't do it anymore."

No. NO. He wouldn't allow what she was suggesting.

"No. You cannot leave me, Mercedes. I will keep you alive by force if I must."

When she didn't deny anything, he knew he was right to fear, and he immediately began planning. If the situation required him to be ruthless, he would be ruthless. He would keep her alive by force, as Eric had threatened to do with him. The difference was that he would actually be able to do it, whereas Eric wouldn't. As her Maker, he could simply command her not to harm herself in any way; he wouldn't even have to be cruel to her. While he hoped to be able to persuade her, once the worst of the shock passed, if he had to command her obedience he would do so.

"Why would you be so cruel?"

"Because you cannot abandon your niece when the child arrives. You are the only family she has left, apart from an unfit grandmother. You can't leave her alone, after just losing her father. And because I won't survive losing you."

It was the simple truth, and it was as true now as it was the first night after her turning, when he feared she might walk into the sun. If she died, he would follow after, as soon as he could.

"This attack was about Steve Newlin's hatred; you were simply a convenient target for him. These deaths are not on your head. I too know what it is to lose, dear heart. You will survive this. If not for yourself, you will do it for Ava."

She fell silent once again, and Godric held her closer. While he knew loss, and knew it well, he'd never before had to deal with one of his children suffering such a loss, and he was unsure precisely how to comfort. For the moment there was nothing he could do but hold her and let her grieve.

Another hour passed in silence before there was a soft knock on the bedroom door before it was slowly opened. Godric bared his fangs at the interruption until he saw that it was Isabel. She wouldn't disturb them for no reason.

"Your niece is downstairs, Mercy."

Perhaps the only news that could have motivated Mercedes to move drove her from the bed faster than her companions could blink. Before Godric could utter a word, she was down the stairs and pulling Ava into her arms. The child clearly knew that something was wrong, but the ancient vampire wondered at the extent of her knowledge. Would Mercedes have to try to explain to Ava what happened to her father? No, the child already knew. Godric could hear Ava crying about what she'd seen on the news, and he heard Mercy's muttering cursing the humans who'd let the girl watch the coverage. At least she would be spared having to break the news herself.

"You're staying with me now, Ava," he heard her trying to reassure the child. Godric silently agreed with his consort. The child needed stability more than anything else at the moment, even more than she needed protection. There were many arrangements that needed to be made with a human child becoming a permanent resident of the nest. A room would need to be prepared for her near theirs; Mercedes would want the child nearby. A human caretaker would have to be found for the daylight hours, perhaps he would see if Beth might be available so that it was someone Ava was familiar with.

Isabel and Godric stepped out of the room to give Mercedes and her niece some privacy, and he found the young ones in the den, watching the same news coverage on the TV. Ethan was being hailed as a hero who tried to stop a bombing; Isabel or her lackeys had been thorough in their reports to the police and the reporters who'd descended on the scene. Godric doubted that the news would bring Mercedes any comfort, but at least her brother was being honored for his actions rather than made the scapegoat that the Fellowship of the Sun would be desperate for.

"The Fellowship quickly distanced itself from Steve Newlin, who ran as soon as the explosion occurred. They could not have chosen a target better guaranteed to cost them all public support. So far the human police have arrested four of their top leaders, and they've put out the alert for Newlin."

"We will find him first."

It was an order, and his sheriffs would know the consequences of their failure. There would be no human justice for Steve Newlin, not after this. He would like to be able to take the leaders arrested by the police as well, but he would settle for Newlin. There may have been moments when he wondered if Steve Newlin was clever enough to plan and order the attacks on his people, but Newlin was the head of the church, and their public face, and he would be the one to pay. The others, Godric could worry about later. He had decades to go as the King of Texas, any others who needed to go could quietly disappear after all the furor calmed died down. He could take his time.

"Godric?"

It was Jessica who timidly called for his attention, and he turned to her.

"Could they attack here?"

The others looked as worried as Jessica did. Godric was reminded of just how young they really were, and that the girls at least had their world upended tonight as well. It was likely the first time they'd ever been so threatened by violence and hatred.

"It is unlikely that they would be able to do so. We would be able to see coming any attack from outside, and no one is permitted through the gates that we have not personally screened, so they would not be able to infiltrate the nest as they did the stadium. They would be foolish to make the attempt."

He was honest in his answer to them. No place could be completely safe from terrorists such as the Fellowship of the Sun, but this nest was one of the safest places they could be. His answer seemed to satisfy them, for the moment.

"Me and Heather, we got the room next to yours all cleaned up and ready for the kiddo, since Isabel said she'd be comin' here."

Godric was touched at the thoughtfulness of the gesture, even if he wanted to berate them for leaving the safety of the nest after the explosion. After thanking them, he rejoined Mercedes and guided the pair of them upstairs, as her niece refused to let go of her, and the child obstructed her ability to see where she was walking. He wouldn't dream of trying to separate them at the moment, so he simply made certain that the path was clear of any obstacle that might cause injury to the child. They were followed by the young ones, which made Godric curious as to what precisely they'd done. He was surprised to find that they'd managed to get the queen-sized bed and dresser that had occupied the space out, and an entire suite of children's furniture in. A daybed rested against the wall, and a child's table and chairs were in another corner of the room. Bean bag chairs rested in the center of the carpet, all in much lighter colors than the previous furnishings. Had he really missed all of their maneuvering while he was occupied with Mercedes?

"You did a wonderful job, girls, thank you."

They were the first words Mercedes said to anyone but her niece, and Jessica and Heather beamed. As Mercy settled Ava in the bed, Godric wondered what the child's arrival would mean for his other charges. Would Mercedes be able to continue their education, now that she had the responsibility of caring for Ava again? He hoped she would. It would be a shame indeed if she was no longer able to teach. Jessica and Heather showed a real aptitude for academic pursuits, if given the opportunity.

TB-TB-TB-TB

It took six days for Godric to receive the call from Lucian that Steve Newlin had been run to ground. The human had headed north, and managed to make it across the Canadian border before he was found. The Canadian authorities were happy to hand him over once it was discovered that he was wanted in connection with a terrorist attack, and Lucian had gone personally to collect him. Newlin faced a most unpleasant return trip to Texas.

Lucian was leaving the human's fate in Godric's hands, and the king of Texas had some very specific ideas for just what he would like to do to the man. He wouldn't kill him; after all the damage he'd caused, death was far too easy a fate for Steve Newlin. No, Newlin would face a severe penalty for everything he'd done. Godric thought about offering him up to Mercedes to decide his fate, but ultimately decided against it. She wasn't bloodthirsty enough to execute the justice the vampire community would demand. Besides, she was occupied enough with Ava, and all the legal arrangements that had to be taken care of for her to assume custody.

The grandmother was already attempting to challenge the claim, but Godric wasn't too worried on that account. Kate had come to the nest with a copy of Ethan's recently drafted Will, and in it Mercedes was named as Ava's guardian. The attack on the stadium hadn't been quite enough to make the human woman abandon the Fellowship of the Sun, but she'd at least had enough change of heart to contact her former friend about the child that had been orphaned. Perhaps there was hope for her yet.

He passed Beth in the kitchen, and nodded to her in greeting as Lucian wrapped up his phone call. He considered it most fortunate that the human woman had agreed to become Ava's nanny. The manager of the Carmilla had eagerly released the human from her contract with them to make her available to the Royal Consort. She would be instrumental in helping the child adapt to living in the nest and still have a normal human life. Mercedes might regret the necessity, but many humans had nannies to look after their children, so in this they were no different than any other wealthy couple.

His mission was to find Mercedes and give her the news that Newlin was caught, but so far he'd failed to find her. It was after midnight, so the child was in bed. Mercedes should be teaching, but the classroom was empty. She wouldn't be outside, not while she believed Newlin to still be on the loose, but he was at a loss as to precisely where she could be. They'd spent the last several nights working on math skills, and tonight was to be more of the same. The sound of some sort of collision directed his attention up to the game room, and he followed the sounds, to discover Mercedes and the young ones gathered around the pool table.

"And what is it you're learning in playing pool?" he asked as he stepped up to the table. Whichever team was solids had a definite lead. Only two solid balls remained, while four striped balls sat on the table.

"We are learning geometry," Mercedes declared as she lined up a shot on one of the solid balls. "Geometry is all about shapes, and calculating angles. Tonight they're getting a practical demonstration."

She sunk the ball with relative ease, and in two more shots ended the game. It fell to Jessica to collect the balls and rack them for another game. She did so grudgingly, grumbling under her breath the entire time.

"Will you be much longer?"

"Why? Has something happened?"

"Steve Newlin was apprehended in Canada. He'll be brought back to Texas for judgment tomorrow night. It will finally be over."

Mercedes was not the only one to visibly relax at that announcement. It had been difficult on all of them, knowing that the man responsible for the explosion at the stadium was on the loose, and possibly still after them. It was perhaps especially hard on the younger girls, who'd been firsthand witness to a type of violence they'd never before experienced.

"What will happen to him?"

"I haven't yet decided. But he will no longer be able to hurt you, Mercedes, or Ava. On that you have my word."

"Do you want to play, Godric?" Jessica interrupted them, "I'm getting tired of losing."

He accepted the pool cue and reached for the chalk.

"Have you ever played before?" Wesley asked curiously. The boy had become much calmer since he'd come so close to losing his sister. The attack seemed to break something that he'd been keeping locked up. If he also managed to develop respect for his elders, Godric would be satisfied.

"Once or twice," Godric answered with a smirk as he broke the balls, sinking three of them on the first attempt.

"Showoff," he heard Mercedes mutter beside him. Running the table ensured that the game did not take long, and it had the added bonus of ending the practical math class early, when the young ones refused to play against him. Mercedes took his actions as a personal challenge, and after the table was reset she took the first shot. Godric was uncertain of the last time they'd had nothing better to do than playing a simple game. He would have to make more time for such things. He refused to let the position he held take over his life.

"Let's make this more interesting. What do you say to a wager?"

"I say if it involves strip anything you need to take it to your room!" Wesley interjected without even looking up from his video game. Godric ignored the child's goading, while enjoying the mental images his words evoked. Mercedes just stifled a laugh as she warned him to behave himself.

"Where's the fun in that?"

He chose to ignore the calls that came for him the rest of the night, instead playing pool for several hours before warning the others to stay away from the hot tub if they didn't wish to be scarred for life, then herded Mercedes out into the night air. The water was already bubbling, steam rising, as he made short work of both their clothing and carried her into the spa.

"We could have done this in the tub in our bathroom."

"That wouldn't be nearly as fun. Besides, I wanted to watch the stars."

His nuzzling into her neck belied that fact as his fangs grazed skin. He could care less about the night sky, but if they retired to their room they could be more easily interrupted. Inside one of the staff, or the young ones, could knock on their door. Inside, Mercedes would be more likely to worry about Ava, even though the child was asleep. He wanted no interruptions.

"I can tell you're really concerned about the stars, man-child."

"I'm multi-tasking."

He smiled against her skin at the huff that comment received. She wasn't pushing him away, so he continued in his attentions.

"Multi-tasking is a myth, kid."

"Would you like me to disprove that theory? I am perfectly capable of accomplishing multiple tasks in here with you."

He preferred to continue marking her skin to arguing with her, and once one of his hands drifted downward, she seemed to lose all thoughts of arguing as well. After a few more minutes of worshipping her body, it was quick work to turn her around to face him, and bury himself inside her. He held her tightly as they moved together for what seemed both an eternity and an instant until he reached his own peak, and he felt her shudder against him as he continued moving through his climax before finally going limp.

He would need only a few minutes before he was ready again, and he planned to make the most of their time alone. They still had a few hours before they needed to seek shelter from the dawn, and he would utilize all of it. When they finally did need to seek shelter, Godric didn't even bother with the clothing strewn around. He simply scooped Mercedes up in his arms and sped across the grounds through the house, up to their room. The humans in the house would have seen nothing but a pale blur, but if any of the vampiric inhabitants were still moving about, they would have seen an eyeful. He didn't care.

"What's going on in your head, man?" Mercy asked the man-child who still hadn't let go of her. She was getting tired, with the sun rising, but she could see the gears of his mind working. Godric leaned over her, weight braced on one arm as his eyes searched hers out. The bedroom lights automatically dimmed to their lowest setting as the sun rose, but Mercy had the feeling that his eyes would be able to pinpoint hers even in total blackness.

"You won't leave me, Mercedes?"

"Leave you?"

"After the attack….your brother…you wanted to leave me."

She hadn't wanted to leave him, she'd wanted to end it all—oh. He must be worried that she might still decide to walk into the sun. She carefully traced his tattoos with her fingertips as she considered her answer. She'd calmed down some since that night. Having Ava as her responsibility again played a large part in that, as it forced her to engage in the world to make the necessary arrangements. Ethan had given his life to save hers. Once she was thinking clearly, she decided that she wasn't going to insult that sacrifice by throwing her life away. She owed him a debt: to make sure that Ava was taken care of, and to make sure that the Fellowship didn't use him as their scapegoat. She couldn't do any of that if she was dead. Nor would she choose to face her the judgment of her Creator and explain why she threw away the life she'd been given.

There was more to it than that, though. She'd decided, in the last several days, that she just couldn't abandon Godric. The ancient vampire had managed to work his way under her skin since that first night he showed up on her porch, and after ten years that bond had only gotten stronger. She'd had to spend months living without him, and it had been almost unbearable. She might never be able to be the Consort that he needed, but she'd adjusted to the new reality of her existence, and she was committed to it now. She couldn't imagine leaving him behind as she'd been left before. Like it or not, she loved the arrogant man-child. Smug little bastard.

"I won't leave you."

"A promise?"

"A promise."

He smiled as he leaned down to kiss her, and in the same motion he pulled the sheet up over their heads to cocoon them in their own little world.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Several vampires had crowded into the living room of the nest, the only room large enough for such a gathering, as Lucian pulled Steve Newlin to the center of the room and forced him to his knees. Eric had even made the trip from Louisiana once he'd been informed that Newlin was captured, and brought with him another vampire from his Area. Godric's son had shown great discretion in waiting until the sun set to make his way to the nest, instead of joining them last night. Beside the Viking stood Isabel, who looked as lethal as she did beautiful as she watched the human dispassionately. Behind her, all those who'd been at the stadium the night of the bombing had filed in to watch justice delivered.

Godric stared at the human, who was still spitting vitriol even as his life hung in the balance, and he could almost feel pity. It must be a special torture indeed, to be so aware of one's insignificance that one was driven to such lengths to feel important.

"We left you in peace, Mr. Newlin. You should have done the same."

"I will not answer to sub-creatures. My god will protect me."

Godric thought it was Mercedes who snorted at that declaration, but he would not look away from the human to confirm it.

"My Consort is still a God-fearing woman, Mr. Newlin, and one who has harmed no one, even after her turning. And yet you would have murdered her, and countless other innocent people, in order to destroy us. If your God is the same as hers, I do not think he will protect you for such atrocities committed in his name."

Godric nodded to Eric, who stepped forward with his guest. He'd thought long and hard over Newlin's punishment. If the man hated vampires so strongly, he could think of only one punishment that was sufficient. Eric sank to one knee behind the human, and the other sank to his knees in front. In a blink, Eric's hands seized Steve Newlin and held him in place as the other's fangs dropped. The human struggled uselessly at the immediate threat before him.

"Steve Newlin. Meet your Maker."