Madame Mervin, Hammer of Sues (das_mervin) wrote,
Madame Mervin, Hammer of Sues
das_mervin

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The Darkest Hour: Part IV (1 of 2)

Surprise! I said as I--I won't finish that.

Anyway, you guys have been so incredibly awesome and supportive of this little endeavor--Hyde thanks you all, as you all know--and I have decided that, as I'm not saying anything, who needs a day's wait between each chapter? So, we're doing away with that. Every night, a piece. Good, no? That should be handy.

And so, I really hope you like it. We've had wanking, prostitution, alcohol, sex, blood, violence, murder, rape (or close enough), so now, here's the best of all--SUBTEXT!!!!! *beats Meyer about the neck and shoulders with a halibut*

Have at it.



Part IV

The night was cool, the air still. Down below the streets were full of light and movement, hordes of ants busily scurrying through the glowing, glittering maze of their home—their prison.

It was quieter here, above them, but not entirely, the night not soft and dark, but polluted by the noise and light that their small minds insisted on creating to ward away the creatures that still stalked their subconscious in the night.

Creatures like him.

Edward sat in an easy crouch, perched high atop St. Louis atop the tall white Southwestern Bell Building. He was above it all, near scraping the sky, with all the rest of the city spread out below him, ripe for the picking. Yet no matter how high he rose, he could still hear them, whispers of their minds inside of his own, the same trivialities, the petty squabbles, the mindlessly inane comings and goings of their short lives. But occasionally he would brush up against something blacker, and he would shudder away.

Except on nights like tonight—tonight he welcomed it.

Because now it was time to hunt.

There was a hint of anticipation curling in his middle, an impatient hum in his bones that played counterpoint to the drone of humanity in his ears, but he was in no hurry. For now he was content merely to sit, to watch, to listen. No moon shone tonight, and he fancied that in the empty blackness of the eastern forests that he’d haunted so recently, the sky would be carpeted with stars. But here even his sharp eyes had trouble picking some of them out; the sky above him was cast with a sanguine glow that splashed upward from the city below. Headlights, traffic lights, spotlights, neon lights—all combined to blot out the stars with a thick blanket of hazy orange.

Edward didn’t like it. Nor did he like the endless racket that echoed up from the streets—the roar of talk, the honking of horns, the rumble of trains, the blare of a passing barge—all shattered the quiet intimacy of the darkness, leaving behind this seething, pulsing tumor eating into the side of the landscape.

Seething, pulsing, and alive—with blood.

Edward ran his tongue along the length of one fang, stroking, idly coaxing it from its sheath. He had been two months here in St. Louis—he kept the date by the newspapers that were so carelessly strewn through the streets by the filthy people who dwelt here—and, he had decided, he thought he could live here.

It had been difficult at first, trying to settle down without actually having a place to settle. But his months of wandering, while initially liberating, had grown tiresome, and before long he decided that he needed somewhere to hang his rather abused and tattered hat.

He supposed it was not out of character for him to have finally taken up residence in the main building of the St. Louis Public Library. It had been a simple matter for him to break in after hours and let himself inside the attic storage space. It had been dusty, when he first found it, but it was dry, and—to his admitted delight—full of a great many uncatalogued books. Nothing fancy—the better books were carefully shelved and stored—but there was something to read up here. Not that he was limited by that at all—once the doors were closed and locked and the librarians gone, it was no challenge to sneak down into the library proper and there read the nights away.

He’d had no idea how much he had missed visiting a proper library—not the pathetic little collections of the towns that he’d been living in since he’d been turned—until he’d actually had a full, real library at his fingertips. He’d spent countless hours since arriving here buried in the books, soaking up the knowledge that had been denied him for ten years.

That had been more then enough to seal the deal for him; it had not taken him long to clear and clean a small corner for his own use up in the attic. There was spare furniture up here as well, and he had soon arranged himself a comfortable little nook where he could sit and read to his heart’s content.

Soon after, he’d broken into a department store downtown, forcing the window by the fire escape and sneaking inside, where he had found himself new clothes to replace the filthy, torn, and bloody ones he’d been wearing for far too long. After leaving enough cash on the counter to pay for his acquisitions, he’d crept into the local YMCA and showered in water hot enough to scald the skin off of a human, scrubbing away any and all traces of dust and grime and blood. His old clothes and his battered knapsack were tossed in the bins back in the alley, and, with new clothes on his body and new shoes on his feet, Edward finally started feeling more like himself. More like he could actually live here, not just pass through.

He’d certainly been doing well enough for himself so far. A smirk curled the corner of his lips. St. Louis was a large town, and a major hub of the Midwest—of course there would have to be an Imperial Governor here. It hadn’t taken him long to spot her—or be spotted by her. Her name was Sarah Masterson, and she lived comfortably in a downtown penthouse along with her lackey, a nasty little toady named Harry Criss. But while he’d found them out—they still hadn’t found him.

Oh, they knew he was there, and he knew they knew it. It was the job of the Imperial bureaucracy to keep their fingers on the pulse of their territories—and to know when it stuttered. They knew the signs of a vampire feeding. And as long as it was neat and left no evidence of vampires behind, it was perfectly acceptable. In fact, should he want to, he was by Imperial Law welcome into their home for a reasonable amount of time and entitled to clothes or money or any other general assistance, should it be required.

But he had no desire to get involved with the workings of the Imperium, and so he did not, staying firmly away from either of them. However, he knew that they were beginning to get annoyed with him. Not because of any trouble he was causing them—he was a quite fastidious and sparing eater, and knew Imperial Law quite well enough to keep from violating it—but simply because he wasn’t leaving, and they couldn’t find him. Vampires were, by their very nature as the ultimate apex predators, solitary and often nomadic. Exceptions to this rule tended to be the Imperial forces, who formed small, permanent covens of two or three and served to maintain secrecy and enforce Imperial laws by settling in largely populated areas and serving as a governmental head of a given region.

And now here was Edward, apparently settling here as well, and yet making no attempts to contact the local governor, but rather taking great pains to avoid her.

It had almost become a game with him, one that he found he enjoyed more and more as he felt his pursuers’ mounting frustration. In the world of cutthroat Imperial politics, one did not become a governor by ignoring forays into one’s territory, and he knew that Masterson very much wanted to know who he was and what he was doing there—was he an ally, or was he making a bid for power on his own? Edward had heard Criss tailing him more than once, trying to find him and “invite” him to meet Masterson herself. The man was a tracker of sorts; not a terribly powerful one, but he made up for it in skill with what he did have as well with more traditional means. Edward knew that he had been a trapper in life, and was honestly very, very good at reading trails and predicting movements of his quarry.

It was just that Edward was better. Because he didn’t need to predict—he knew. He knew when Criss was out looking for him, and he would simply toy with him until the man grew tired of it for the evening and went back to report to Masterson. Edward had grown to almost look forward to their little forays, and sometimes led him quite a merry chase through the town before he finally gave up. Edward had even taken pains to arrange several false hideouts around the city, little waystations where he would spend time now and again and leave signs of himself for Criss to find, all the while keeping his own little refuge in the library safe.

It really was a lot of fun.

But tonight he was free. The governors were required to make up quarterly reports of the state of affairs in their domains for submission at the end of the year to the bureaucratic machine of the Imperial Heads themselves, and with March winding down, Masterson and Criss had other things on their minds. They were safely ensconced in their suite a handful of blocks down the way, leaving Edward to his own devices for the evening without the threat of being spotted while occupied, and open for a night on the town.

And tonight, he was hungry.

As a rule, Edward didn’t actually do his eating right here in downtown. It was too crowded, for one, and there was more chance of getting caught—Edward knew enough to know that it was unwise to make a mess where he slept, as it were. And also, the people here were largely harmless. Silly, shallow, and small-minded, yes, but they did no lasting damaged as they scuttled to and fro, mired in the short, pointless concerns of their short, pointless lives.

And so Edward left them alone, and reserved his hunger for the outskirts of the town, feeding not on the silly little creatures who went about their own business, but for the depraved filth that stalked the darker places, the madmen and murderers and monsters who preyed on their weaker brethren. That was where Edward hunted, the docks, the wharfs, the back alleys and dark corners in the industrial zones, the places where decent, law-abiding folk dared not go. Those were Edward’s hunting grounds. There he was the hunter, and it was their turn to be the prey.

And yet he liked to start such nights here, at the highest point of the city, looking down on his domain. And it was his, nearly as much as it was Masterson’s—he policed the area just as she did, keeping down crime among the humans as she kept it down among vampires. They were simply two sides of the same coin. Really, she should thank him.

If he ever decided to drop in on her—because she’d certainly never find him first.

He smirked to himself, sitting for just a moment longer on the white spire of the building beneath him, and then he turned and leapt. His long coat fanned and fluttered behind him like wings in the breeze created by his fall, but other than that he was silent, landing without a sound on the neighboring rooftop several stories below where he’d previously been. And then he was off, up and running and bounding to the next building over, sailing effortlessly between them as he headed away from downtown and off toward the docks, his favorite stomping grounds.

The thoughts on the wind rippled by him and he brushed them aside without a thought, not caring that Stevenson was working late and wanted to go home but he had to get this report finished, or that Maude was going out for a night on the town , sneaking out when she was supposed to be watching her little brother, but really, he could take care of himself, or that Floyd was headed for the blind pig over on Third and hopefully he could find that Dixie girl again, she’d been a good time, or that James hadn’t eaten for days and was so hungry and oh, yeah, he could hear the blood pumping, almost taste it beneath the surface, and he would bite, and he would drink

Edward skidded to a halt. That last…he opened his mind, and this time, he listened, and he heard it again.

(Oh, yes, right there, that one, that’s the one I want, so hungry, baby, yeah, just come a little further, let me taste you)

A vampire. No doubt about it—Edward well knew the hunger that burned the throat and gnawed at the stomach of the body that housed the mind he’d just touched.

But it wasn’t Masterson or Criss. No—James, his name was. Someone different. Someone new.

Edward stood where he was, unsure. His first instinct was to head the opposite direction, to leave and go about his business and avoid him—just as he avoided the governor. Only…this wasn’t a governor. This was just another vampire. But he’d had such a bad experience with other vampires in the past, they didn’t like him, didn’t like the way he ate—

No—they hadn’t liked the way he’d eaten then. Not now. Why should they? He knew the password, the secret handshake—another vampire wouldn’t have any problem with Edward at all.

Still, though—did he want to just leave, or go and…what? Say hello, maybe? It would be polite, he supposed. This person, this James, had just come to town, didn’t know the city—maybe he’d appreciate someone who knew the area, who knew where the good hunting spots were. And maybe he’d like the library like Edward did—maybe he’d like to sit and read for a spell, rather than going back out on foot.

Edward listened again, saw through his eyes—he was close, yes, and he could see her, a young girl and her boyfriend, but he was getting fresh, and he watched gleefully as their fight escalated, and before long he was sure she’d leave in a huff, leave her fella, and then she’d be his—

Edward changed directions, leaping off to the north, towards where he knew James to be. He kept a careful mental ear out, hurrying his steps even more as he watched the lovers quarrel and saw that she was indeed getting ready to leave the mild danger of the intoxicated beau for the much more lethal danger of the empty street behind her.

He made it. There. From where he stood on the edge of the apartment building, he could see the shape of a man crouched on the roof below, and Edward could hear his thoughts as if he was shouting them. James.

Edward didn’t bother to hide his approach this time. He just jumped, landing with a deliberate thump on the rooftop of the building beneath him, and then straightening to stand.

James heard it; Edward heard his thoughts of hunting scatter—the girl was safe—and he reared back, coming up in a defensive posture, watching and ready.

“Hello,” Edward said, the sound of his own voice, which he’d hardly used in the past two months, loud and unfamiliar in his own ears.

James didn’t relax, just stood, still tensed, where he was, but after a moment, he jerked his head in reply.

“My name is Edward,” he went on. “Edward Cullen.”

This did not have the reassuring effect he’d hoped, rather the opposite. Edward heard the sudden suspicious alarm in James’s mind; he’d forgotten that most vampires tended to drop their surnames, with the exception of those who lived more permanently and visibly among humans—meaning Imperial underlings.

“I was just passing by,” he went on—not entirely a lie, “and I—spotted you. Thought I would come by and introduce myself.”

“Why?” The demand was as harsh as James’s voice was smooth. “This your turf?”

“Not exactly. I’m not with Governor Masterson—the one in charge of this area—if that’s what you mean,” he said. “But I am…semi-permanent, I suppose. I’ve lived here for two months.”

Now James relaxed—it seemed that he shared similar sentiments about avoiding the authorities. And he was intrigued, too, by the fact that Edward apparently wasn’t with the Imperium, and yet still seemed to have a permanent residence. Edward read the easing of his shoulders as clearly as the thoughts in his head, and he took it as a cue to move closer.

James tensed again, but Edward moved slowly and non-threateningly, almost a stroll, until he was just near enough to him to reach halfway—and he held out his hand.

James eyed it, as if not at all sure what to do with it—had it really been that long since he’d been offered such simple civility, Edward wondered—but after a moment, he took it.

His hands were bigger than Edward’s, the fingers thick as well as long, and his grip powerful. Edward kept his face neutral and reassuring; James eyed him for a moment, before grunting, “James.”

“A pleasure,” Edward said, and James jerked his head again. “So,” Edward said after a moment, groping for his rusty manners in the face of the tense silence that fell, “what brings you to the Gateway City? Anything in particular, or just passing through?”

“Passing through,” came the answer, and James didn’t say anything else, just looked at him.

“I’d planned to do just that myself,” Edward said, when it became apparent that James was not going to hold up his end of the conversation. “But then I ended up staying. I find that I like the city atmosphere.”

The corner of James’s mouth quirked upwards briefly, and Edward felt a ripple of dark amusement. “Yeah—good pickings,” he said.

Edward shifted, a bit discomfited—that hardly seemed like an appropriate topic for conversation. “Quite,” he agreed tightly, and then asked, “From which direction did you come?”

“East.”

“Myself, as well,” Edward said, and he swallowed reflexively, before forcing himself to say, “Chicago, originally, but all over the Northeast since then.”

“Mmm. I was on the coast, myself.”

The silence fell again. James was still not relaxed, Edward could see that even if he hadn’t been able to hear his suspicious thoughts, and his face was openly appraising, looking Edward up and down. He couldn’t help but feel the small twitch of ego when he heard James taking in his appearance—his new and well-fitting clothes, his shiny shoes, his clean and neat hair (well, as neat as his ever could be). James himself was dressed much like he remembered Susannah had been dressed; a motley assortment of clothes that looked to have been scrounged from all over and ill-used in the interim, the cuffs of his pants frayed, his jacket lacking buttons and gaping open, and with no shirt on underneath. His hair was long and tangled, pulled back in a rough horsetail, and his feet were bare. Trinkets and bits of jewelry and such dangled from his pockets and belt loops, giving him the appearance of a walking rook’s nest.

Edward felt positively cosmopolitan next to him, and he could feel that James too saw the difference, and did not like to be the one at the apparent disadvantage. Trying his best to be delicate, Edward asked, “Would you like to come have a seat somewhere with me? Maybe…talk? I’m sure you’ve been traveling for a while—I know where you can get a hot shower, if you’d like.”

There was a burst of self-righteous anger—(is he talking down to me, the little prick?)—but it subsided quickly. “That…might be nice,” James conceded grudgingly. “But I’m hungry—I was looking for a bite to eat, before you showed up,” he said, his voice somewhat accusing.

“Ah—yes, well.” Edward coughed a little, not exactly sure what to say, before admitting, “Actually, I was—well, I was—a bit peckish myself, and was out looking—looking for the same, before I saw you.”

And at that, a smile stretched James’s face, not the little smirk from before, but a full-fledged feral grin that lit up his face, and Edward was taken aback. “Well, then, why didn’t you say so?” he chuckled.

Edward pursed his mouth. “If I may say so,” he said, a bit stiffly, “we are in an Imperial seat—and I’m afraid that you might…stick out a bit, right here in the middle of downtown.”

There was that flash of anger, of wounded pride and belligerence, but it too burnt out quickly, and Edward took the opportunity to rush in and say, “I myself never hunt here—too close to Governor Masterson’s home—she lives just over there,” he said gesturing towards her building.

Now there was a small trickle of something close to unwilling respect in James’s thoughts, and Edward straightened. “I prefer to go out on the docks. It’s much darker there—less chance to be seen—and I find the…the ‘pickings’ to be more than satisfactory.”

James was smiling again. “Well, then—lead on. This is your city, and all.”

And Edward, in spite of himself, realized that he was smiling slightly in return, and it was with a rather surprisingly light heart that he motioned for James to follow, and then he took off towards the east, leaping across alleys and over rooftops, with James running along beside him.



The streets were a bit quieter now; Edward found that his ideal time in the city was between three and five in the morning. The crowds and partygoers had for the most part turned in, the night shift was not quite over, and even the earliest of risers were just easing out of their beds. The city streets were as empty as they ever were this time of day, and Edward enjoyed strolling along the sidewalks unmolested, just another denizen going about his solitary business.

Only not quite so solitary this morning.

He cast his eyes over at his companion. James had been quite willing to follow Edward down to the docks, his face bright with anticipation and an almost conspiratorial glee. But when they had reached the river, there had been a brief burst of confusion and no little anger on his part when Edward had rather awkwardly suggested they split up and meet back where they were after they’d finished. Apparently, James thought they were going to hunt together—to…share, or to…to play or something. Edward managed to keep his lip from curling in distaste, in no small part because James apparently thought that splitting up was Edward’s way of saying that he didn’t want to be seen with him—that he was too good to hunt with him.

The truth was he just wasn’t comfortable with eating in front of someone else, and didn’t understand how James seemed so eager to do so. It wasn’t an exhibition—it was what they did to survive. So Edward carefully couched it as a precautionary measure—that he’d been able to avoid the Imperium for so long because he’d kept his feedings low-key and inconspicuous. James hadn’t fully accepted that, but he’d nodded tersely and taken off towards a cluster of warehouses.

Relieved, Edward had gone off in the opposite direction. It hadn’t taken him long to locate a drunk addict trying to sleep on the ground, filthy and stinking of liquor. He was out there because he’d been forced to run from the police when his neighbor had reported him for beating his girlfriend and her little boy, and so Edward had made short work of him.

Taking care to sneak the corpse down to the water’s edge and dumping it in—he covered his tracks whenever it was convenient to do so—he raced back up to the low storage building where he had James had split up.

He’d been briefly concerned—James certainly seemed to be taking his time. Had Edward offended him enough that he’d left? He honestly hoped not—as flat and one-sided as their conversation had been, James had at least been someone to talk to, and Edward was only just now discovering that he’d missed that.

He’d exhaled in relief when he’d felt that first tickle of a familiar mind come into the edge of his perception, and as he drew nearer, Edward had heard James’s thoughts, ripe with the dark satisfaction of a successful hunt, the familiar singing euphoria of his own body after eating doubled in James’s own, and Edward grinned lazily when he finally dropped down atop the roof with him.

James was flushed and smiling hugely, his fingers restlessly toying with what looked like a golf tee, twiddling it over the tops of his knuckles. “Good pickings,” he drawled, and Edward chuckled, nodding in return. They’d made a swift return back towards the heart of the city.

Edward deliberately took them by a department store, and as they whisked over the top of the building, he’d casually remarked that he would drop in from time to time when he needed new clothes. His rusty tact seemed to have improved, because there was little to no anger in James mind as he mulled over the comment, and then he stopped at the building’s edge and mentioned that he might like to do the same, that he’d been wearing what he had on for quite a while now.

A window was forced, and they both slithered in. James prowled off toward the racks of clothing, while Edward surreptitiously snuck over to the cosmetics department and made off with some soap and shampoo, tucking them in the pockets of his long overcoat and leaving payment by the register—overpayment, really, making sure to leave what he thought would be enough to cover James’s purchases (really, the man didn’t look as though he had two pennies to rub together).

Then he waited idly by the window in the women’s section, musing rather derisively at the appalling fashion sense people displayed these days. His mother wouldn’t have been caught dead in these grain sacks that were in style in this decade.

James reappeared in short order, his arms full of fabric. “You said there was a place a man could get a shower?” he asked, having swallowed his pride.

Edward smiled. “Right this way.” As they clambered out the window, Edward carefully replacing it so none would be the wiser, he offered, “I sneak into the Y a few blocks from here. Months of sluices in rivers and the rain got very tiresome.”

James actually chuckled, a hint of camaraderie seeping into his thoughts. “Tell me about it—never thought I’d actually find myself missing things about being a human.”

“Well, I suppose we’re not quite all that different on such salient points,” Edward replied with a shrug. “Follow me.”

A quick dash across the rooftops, and then they were swinging themselves down into gymnasium of the darkened building. The showers were empty, and Edward made a point to give James his own toiletries that he had stashed there, rather than the newer ones he’d bought at the store. He’d been briefly taken aback when James had tossed down his bundle and just started shucking his clothes right there. Edward had obviously been spoiled by having the place to himself.

He’d turned away, a bit embarrassed, and got a whiff of himself. It seemed that the odor of his last meal was clinging to him—and not just the smell; he spotted blood crusting under his nails and on his knuckles. Fresh blood pooling in his cheeks, he’d slowly stripped down himself, and then lathered up as well, scrubbing away any traces of blood or filth along with the reek of cheap alcohol.

Edward couldn’t help but notice the obvious differences in himself and his companion. To see James’s broad shoulders, the hair that sprinkled his arms and chest and stomach, the powerful cords of muscle strapped to his chiseled frame. Next to that, his own gangling, skinny body with its dusting of peach fuzz looked awfully pathetic—awfully young.

He looked away and turned off the water, padding over to the racks of towels to dry himself off and to flick a comb through his flattened hair, causing it to spring back up in unruly wet spikes.

He heard the sound of the water shutting off, and James was shaking himself off like a dog and then gliding over for a towel. “You’re right—there’s nothing quite like a hot shower,” he grinned, draping a towel over his head and rubbing vigorously.

Edward smiled back, even if it was a bit wan. “I know—I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I first came in here—figuratively speaking, of course,” he hastened to add, realizing the inappropriateness of such an expression in their situation.

James seemed to think that funny as could be, though, and he laughed appreciatively. As he set to work combing the months’ worth of snarls from his mane of hair, Edward couldn’t help but ask, “How old are you—or were you, when you were changed?” he amended.

“Twenty-three—luckiest damn day of my life,” James declared. Then he eyed Edward, who felt the urge to shrink under his scrutiny, particularly when he heard the evaluating thoughts in his head, guessing at his age. “You were—what? Eighteen?”

“Seventeen,” he said, looking at the floor.

James grunted but didn’t say anything else as he pulled on his new clothes. Edward did the same for his own, trying to appreciate that James did not remark further, but it was difficult when his thoughts were shouting to the air that he was sure glad he wasn’t stuck looking that young.

The tiled room was silent save for the rustle of clothing until they were both dressed; Edward stood to leave after tying his shoes, but James was engrossed with his old clothes. He seemed to be intent on collecting his strange assortment of dangling chains and jewelry and whatnot that adorned his old wardrobe; Edward noticed that he’d shoved the golf tee he’d been playing with earlier into a knotted hemp cord that dangled from a belt loop.

Edward finally broke the silence by asking, “So when were you changed?”

“Five years ago,” he answered, not looking up from his task, and Edward felt something lift in his middle.

“Ah—I’m older than you, then,” he said, and then James looked up. “I’ve been a vampire for ten years.”

James smiled, but it was a bit hard. “Yeah—but you were only seventeen. That’s a five year difference—were you born in—what? 1901?” At Edward’s nod, James looked rather satisfied. “So was I—so that makes us the same age, then.”

Edward felt the corners of his mouth wanting to turn down, but he didn’t let them, rather smiled a little at him, and left him to his task in silence.

Eventually he stood, and said, “So—do you really live around here? Like, have a place to stay?”

Edward felt his skepticism, and honesty compelled him to admit, “Not a house. But I do have several places around town where I can relax, and I have a place that I stay on a relatively permanent basis—somewhere I can wait out the day and relax and read.”

Even that seemed to be enough to impress James, and Edward felt some of his previous good cheer returning. “You’re most welcome to join me, of course—the Imperials have no idea where it is.”

James grinned at that. “A man after my own heart—I keep away from those bastards,” he said, his mind full of contempt, as well as a trace of fear that Edward didn’t think he was even aware of.

As they walked out of the showers, Edward felt compelled to ask. “A bad experience?”

“Not personally. But the asshole who changed me sure had a beef with them, and he was always telling me all about it. About the way they use all that Imperial money to set themselves up like kings, and just want everything brought to ‘em.” He snorted. “The thing is, I’m pretty sure that old Myron was just mad that someone had beaten him to the punch somewhere, and turned me hoping I’d help him take over or something.”

James paused as they clambered out of the window, and then watched rather quizzically as Edward dropped to the alleyway below rather than climbing back up to the roof. “Come on—it’s just a short walk from here,” he said.

“Walk? You mean, out through the street?” James demanded.

“Of course. Why not?” Edward asked, gesturing to their neat appearances. “We can now. No one will know—not the Imperium, and certainly not the humans.”

James tilted his head, and then smiled. “Well, all right then,” he said, and dropped down beside Edward, and together the two of them walked out into the streets.

They strolled in silence for a while. Well, they didn’t speak, anyway; Edward could still hear James’s thoughts running around in his head. He was vaguely uncomfortable about it, too—barely even an hour after they’d eaten, and James was already eyeing everyone they passed as if they were a steak, playing his tongue over his fangs, sniffing the breeze of a passing human, imagining eating near everyone they passed.

It must be because he was so young, Edward decided. His own self-control had been less than stellar when he’d been new. Now, glutted on fresh blood as he was, he didn’t have the slightest desire to eat anyone. James just needed time and a bit more experience.

Still, listening to his increasingly explicit fantasies of eating was making Edward more and more uncomfortable, not just because he was being forced to once again feel a hunger not his own, but from the oddly violent bent to his thoughts. So, just to occupy both their minds with something else, he asked, “So how were you changed, exactly? What were the circumstances?”

James turned towards him. “Well, like I said, for all his bitching about it, I think Myron really wanted an Imperial appointment or something. I think he was trying to get himself a flunky vampire to help him.” (And I’m nobody’s stooge) The thought was writ large in the set of James’s mouth as much as it was loud in his head. Then he grinned. “He just saw something he liked when he got a look at me—you know how it is.”

Edward nodded; more than once he’d felt a particularly strong pull towards a human, found them somehow more attractive prey, and he knew that if he’d changed them, then they would have a more than average extra ability upon waking. It was that same pull Carlisle had felt when he himself had been changed back in 1918.

“So,” James was going on, “he followed me for a while, and then one night he jumped me.” He grimaced a little at the memory, but then his face cleared. “And when I came to, I was this.” His expression and his mind glowed with satisfaction and he looked over at Edward. “A vampire—and the best damn tracker you ever saw.”

Edward couldn’t help but smile back at the infectious confidence that buoyed him as they walked along. “If that’s true, I’m surprised you haven’t taken up with the Imperials. My f—the vampire who changed me told me that powerful gifts are always welcome in their ranks.”

James cocked his head at him. “Were you changed by an Imperial?” he asked, and Edward felt his returning wariness as he began running over in his mind all the ways that Edward didn’t act like a typical vampire, and wondering if that was why.

“No—no, not at all,” he assured him. A snort escaped him. “Nothing could be further from the truth, actually—he is rather at odds with them himself. But he did visit the Imperial Heads once.”

“Heads? What—you mean the ones in charge of everything?” James asked, surprised.

Edward nodded as they turned the corner. “They’re somewhere in the Alborz Mountains over in Persia, I believe. They live in an underground fortress built into the side of a mountain.”

James was staring at him; clearly he’d never heard of this. “You serious?” he demanded, and Edward could hear that he didn’t believe him.

But he just nodded in reply. “Carlisle visited them sometime in the 1700s,” he said. “Right about the time when humanity began to modernize itself, and when the Imperial Heads issued the edict for vampire secrecy. That’s when all these local rulers started popping up under them,” he said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of Masterson’s building. “To make sure that the idea of vampires just sort of faded away into antiquity. Encouraging people to think us as nothing but backwards superstitions, fostering all the inaccuracies—essentially keeping the fact that we exist a secret. They police the area and report directly back to the Imperial heads in exchange for their backing and access to their resources.”

James was silent, mulling this over, and Edward found that the desire to talk had rather fled him as well. So they walked the rest of the way to the library in silence, which was only broken when Edward told James that they were there, and directing him to climb up the fire escape.

The two of them clambered into the attic, and Edward was suddenly self-conscious of the meager little niche that he’d carved for himself. He wished he’d tidied a bit more recently; it looked woefully shabby, and terribly small.

But James didn’t seem to mind. Quite the opposite; he smiled and said, “Not bad—and you stay up here whenever you want? The Imperials really don’t know that you’re here?”

“Oh, they know I’m in their city,” Edward said lightly. “But they’ll never catch me.”

“Oh?” James asked. “You so sure?”

“Yes.”

“You have one of those masking gifts? Can you hide yourself when they sneak up on you?” James asked.

Edward chuckled. “No—they simply can’t sneak up on me. No one can. Because I can hear them. Their thoughts,” he clarified at James’s blank look. “I can hear thoughts.”

And he heard them, all right—heard the sudden, wild flare of angry alarm. “What—you mean—mine? Right now?” James demanded.

“Yes—yours and everyone else’s,” Edward said.

(What?! Everything? Everything I think, he knows—what the hell! You stay out of my head, you son of a bitch!)

Edward held up his hands against the sudden onslaught. “Please—there is no need for name calling,” he said deliberately, and saw James’s eyes widen dangerously. “It’s not something I do consciously,” he hastened to add. “It’s largely like background noise—I mostly just tune it out.”

“How do I keep you out?” James demanded bluntly. (don’t WANT him there my head my thoughts it’s private don’t want him snooping)

“You can’t,” Edward said automatically, surprised—Carlisle and Esme never asked him that. Did they think they couldn’t, or did they just never bother? “At least, I don’t think you can,” he said honestly. “I’ve never had anyone try to keep me out.”

(Well I’M gonna keep you out, you sorry little bastard—you can’t see they’re mine you stay OUT)

“Please,” Edward said, trying to halt the relentless flow. “I can only hear surface thoughts unless I’m listening—and the more emotional said thoughts are, the better I can hear them. And you’re giving me a headache.”

His anger only mounted at that, but then Edward felt a sudden, deadly calm clamp down on it. James stared at him for a moment, and Edward stared back, and then James asked, “So you can’t hear me as well now?”

“No,” Edward answered, honestly relieved at the softening of his mental edges. “I’d have to listen to you specifically to hear you when you’re calmer—and I’m not,” he said firmly.

James was still tense and wary. “Surface thoughts—you mean you don’t know anything about my memories and things like that?” A welter of images, fast a furious, started skimming across his mind, too rapid to make too much sense of it other than the bright, lingering images of faces and feedings.

“Well, you just thought about them, so I saw some of that,” Edward said dryly. “But no—I don’t see what you aren’t thinking of specifically, right this moment. I don’t really know anything about your history, beyond what you’ve told me. Like I said—I mostly just use it to keep the Imperium off of my back—and to hunt. That’s all it is. Now, please,” he said, gesturing to an empty chair. “Sit down. I apologize for making you uncomfortable—that wasn’t my intent at all. I merely wanted to let you know that we are quite safe from the Imperials here, so you can relax.”

Edward sat down and looked expectantly up at his distrustful guest. James stared back, and after a moment, he sat. But his back was stiff, and his eyes were focused. Gone was the easy confidence and dark humor in his eyes.

Edward leaned back in his chair, trying his best to look at ease. “So—how did you wind up coming here?” he asked, trying to recapture some of their previous rapport.

(don’t WANT you in my head don’t want you here don’t want you to hear it’s mine you stay OUT)

“Traveled west from Kentucky,” he said shortly.

“You know,” Edward said mildly, “I didn’t know you were going to say that.” James stiffened, his face suspicious. “I couldn’t hear it over your insisting that I stay out of your head.”

James’s cheeks darkened as his eyes flashed with anger, but then he looked appraisingly at Edward. “You mean—if I think of something else, you can’t hear what I’m thinking behind it?”

Edward tilted his head. “I’ve…never really thought about it—but that seems reasonable,” he admitted. “As I said before—no one I’ve been around who knew about my ability ever tried to find a way to block me out.” In an attempt to set him at ease, he rather painfully admitted, “It’s given me some grief around married couples.”

There was a moment where James looked at him rather blankly, and then to both their surprise, he laughed. The tension in the air eased a bit. “I can imagine,” he said, and he smiled, and even though his smile was chilly, Edward smiled back.

It was quiet for a moment, and then James asked with slightly forced casualness, “So where were you coming from? How’d you wind up here?”

But Edward didn’t hear that in his head, no—James was singing to himself, he realized, and if he pushed, he could hear more beneath it, but if he deliberately didn’t listen, all he could hear were the inane words to “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

Edward smiled.

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