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

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The Darkest Hour: Part III (2 of 2)

I am at the table in the back bedroom, typing on our laptop. And sitting on the table beside me is a large meatloaf of a cat. That would be Buzz. She's pulling a Janet Jackson--in other words, there is a little nipple hanging out, staring me in the face. Lovely.

Anyway--we're halfway through. End of chapter three of six, not counting the epilogue. That should give you a general idea of how much more we've got going. Don't worry--if we ever get it done, the next ones in the series will be longer. Remember--this was intendened to be a one shot, so it's not SB sized. It's a prologue. A very LONG prologue (HYDE), but a prologue all the same.

Enough of my ramblings. Enjoy The Woobie Edward.

Part III


The night was still, the city lights gleaming on the waterfront. The current was slow, the water almost smooth, and the barges seemed to leave only the tiniest hint of a wake as they pushed their ways up and down the river. The air was motionless, nary even a breath of wind to stir the trees, the quiet broken only by the occasional lowing horn of a ship or the sudden clattering roar of a passing train that burst onto a bridge only to quickly recede into the darkness on the other side of the river.

Edward saw none of it.

Truthfully, he hadn’t seen much of anything for the past few weeks.

Nothing but a pair of sightless, staring eyes burned into his brain, and all he heard were the last terrified shrieks of a dying man as his life was ripped away.

Edward drew his knees up under his chin, huddled high above the Mississippi atop an old and rusting trestle.

It was a long drop to the water below. And he was perched precariously at the very tip-top of the ageing girder. It wouldn’t be surprising for one to fall, to plummet into the river below, landing with a sickening, back-breaking smack and sinking down, down, the water filling his lungs, his vision fading as the last of his oxygen slipped away…

Vision fading, helpless screams growing faint and hoarse, the searing agony of his neck torn open, his hands fighting for purchase against his unrelenting attacker, but his arms growing weaker and weaker, and the sudden terror of realizing that he was about to die—

Edward sucked in a harsh, unnecessary breath, whipping his head to the side in a futile effort to banish the agonies of a death not his own, but so much worse for being brought about by his own hands—the memories, the sensations that had belonged to someone else and that had seemed inconsequential at the time, but had come rushing to the fore after—afterwards, where they had remained since that horrible night in Chicago.

No, not even if he fell—if he jumped—from his place on the bridge would he be free of them. He would hit the water, yes, and his back might even break, but as he sank, his body would right itself, and he had no need to breathe, and so he would hit the bottom whole and awake and aware, and he would still hear the man’s—Reggie’s—screams, feel his struggles, and see through his eyes the mad, monstrous face of the creature that attacked him, that killed him, that ate him.

Edward held up his hands in the dull light of the moon. They were the same hands he’d always had—pale, slender, with narrow palms and long fingers. A pianist’s hands—one day, he’d once hoped, a healer’s hands. His mother’s hands.

They looked no different. There were no lingering bloodstains indelibly branding the skin like Bluebeard’s key. No evidence whatsoever that he’d used them to take a man’s life.

No evidence that he was a murderer.

He wrapped them around his shins and buried his forehead against his knees, slowly rocking where he sat.

Edward didn’t know what day it was. He only knew where he was from the thoughts he would glean from the engineers on the passing trains. St. Louis. Far from Chicago. Far away from what he’d done.

Not far enough. It would never be far enough. He needed no bloodstains on his hands—not when they were permanently seared into his heart

He’d run from Chicago. He’d run, and he hadn’t stopped running all day or all night. He didn’t remember any of it—all he knew was the horror, the crushing guilt of what he’d done.

He’d killed a man and drank his blood.

He hadn’t wanted to. He hadn’t meant to. That wasn’t what he’d gone to do at all. The man had been planning to rape that girl—how could he just stand aside and let it happen? All he’d wanted to do was stop him.

He’d stopped him, all right.

Edward hissed between his teeth. Was it his fault that the man’s perverted lust had whipped him into such a frenzy beforehand? He had no control over the voices in his head—he couldn’t help the fact that just being near the man in the throes of his twisted arousal had sent him into a borrowed state of fevered hunger too.

That hadn’t been the first time that particular individual had set out to rape and murder, either—only the last times he’d managed it. Edward had heard it all, seen it all—the reason Reggie had been so aroused already was not only in anticipation of the act he was about to commit, but from the intense memories of his prior “successes”.

A bitter laugh escaped him. That was one point on which Edward’s conscience didn’t need to bite him. The man had been a menace. Edward had stopped a crime, and brought him to justice.

But who would bring Edward to justice?

That had been his first thought when he came to, huddled and keening under a tree somewhere in a rolling forest. He was a murderer—and he must pay for his crimes. But…to whom would he turn himself in? He couldn’t go to the police—what would he tell them? He had no identification, and there was no evidence to tie him to the crime. And what would he confess to? That he hadn’t meant to, but he’d accidentally drained the man dry? They’d be more likely to put him in an asylum than a prison. And in either case, even if he was incarcerated, it wouldn’t take too long for them to see that he didn’t age—and that was not an option. Human contact to the point of exposure was forbidden by the Imperium. And if Edward exposed himself, he would be taken prisoner and punished. It was no more than he deserved, and for a moment he’d thought that would be the way—until he remembered that the Imperial forces would also wipe out any evidence of him. And that meant wiping out any and all humans who had seen him.

No. He couldn’t do that. Couldn’t condemn them for his crimes.

But he couldn’t just go to the Imperial authority, either. They would do nothing—as far as they were concerned, what he’d done was perfectly natural. His lip curled at the thought. Yes—natural, and quite a tidy job of it, really, feeding on someone who no one would miss, and leaving no evidence even in his haste to escape. They’d not punish him.

And so that left Edward alone to punish himself.

He’d wandered aimlessly, mindlessly, back in amongst the trees of the Midwest. He avoided people at all costs, despite the fact that he was, perversely, not at all hungry. He hid himself in caves and crevices during the days, and roamed the forests at night like a ghost, lost and alone.

What was he to do?

What was he?

He was a vampire.

Edward abruptly rose from his place and ran lightly down the beams as if they were as wide as a road beneath him, his balance effortless, and he dropped onto a passing barge below, landing without a sound, and for the briefest instant, he felt the rush that accompanied moving like he was meant to move.

He hadn’t noticed that for days after leaving Chicago, had taken no pleasure in what he was, until suddenly, he had quite accidentally realized that he was better at what he was. It had been when he’d run across a herd of deer and decided to hunt. Not because he wanted it—he wasn’t hungry at all, and frankly, the thought of eating made him feel ill—but it was habit. He hadn’t eaten in what must have been days, and surely that was just inviting trouble—wasn’t that what he’d done when he’d gone to Chicago? And look how that turned out.

And so he’d gone hunting. He was focused on his prey, to the point that the hunt was over nearly before it had begun, and he was surprised by how—well, how easy it was. He didn’t remember ever being quite so silent, so able to feel every step almost before he took it, nor of moving so fast that the deer didn’t even have time to tense before he was on top of it.

He’d wrestled it to the ground in an instant and pinned it effortlessly, its struggles seeming no more effectual than the beating of a moth’s wings. He felt no hunger—and only then did he realize just how completely his hunger was gone, that the all-too-familiar burning in his throat and twisting in his stomach that he’d lived with every day for ten years was nearly non-existent—but he’d lowered his head to feed all the same.

Edward felt the animal’s heart beating wildly, found a thick artery close to the surface, forced his fangs from their dry sheaths, and then bit down, and the fluid came welling up and he drank deep—

And a gout of horrible boiling ichor surged into his mouth, coating his gullet with putrid slime as it poured into his gut where it burned like molten lead—his throat closed and his stomach rebelled, and he barely had time to throw the creature away from him before he vomited, collapsing to his knees and clutching his stomach, helpless heaves wracking his body, and he scoured his mouth wildly with his fingers even as he retched, desperate to rid himself of the horrible, rancid taste.

He’d left the animal dying where it was in his haste to find the nearest stream, where he swallowed great gulps of water, only vomit it back up, stained red with the noxious remnants of his aborted meal. But he kept at it, until only the ghost of the taste remained, his throat hot and sore and his stomach rolling at the mere memory.

And as he sat under the tree, quivering, trying to regain control of his twitching, spasming body, he suddenly understood why he hadn’t been hungry, and why he’d felt faster and stronger and better than ever before—because he’d been satisfied. No, not even merely satisfied—sated.

He’d only ever met one other vampire besides Carlisle and Esme—it had been when he and Carlisle had been crossing through Ohio one night after leaving South Bend, before Esme had even joined them. She’d been a nomad—her name was Susannah, and Edward had been alerted to her presence as she came in the opposite direction through the forest. He’d been excited at the prospect, curious and eager to see another member of this strange, shadowy species that he was now a part of.

He’d told Carlisle that she was there, and had been surprised at the hardening of Carlisle’s mouth; he’d said it would be best if they avoided her, as other vampires rather looked down upon their way of life. But Edward supposed that his crestfallen expression had been more than enough to give away his disappointment, and despite the childishness of it, Carlisle had relented, and they’d changed their course. Edward’s enthusiasm had made him quick, and with the sound of her thoughts leading him, it hadn’t taken them long to meet her in the woods.

As she burst into the clearing, Edward had felt her recognition of what they were, felt the strange wariness in her mind, saw it in her stance as they regarded each other across the grassy space, but Edward had, naïvely, waved to her anyway and called hello. She returned it stiffly, but after a moment came towards them, her face pleasant but her mind hard, and Edward had been vaguely perplexed by her obvious distrust. What did she have to fear from them? Weren’t they all the same kind?

As she neared, he could see that she was pretty. The unnatural allure of a vampire only affected humans, not others of their kind, and nor did the uncanny beauty of their chiseled faces, but beneath all that Edward could see that she had been attractive before she’d been turned. Her hair was wild and golden, her mouth red, and Edward had been embarrassed at the rather large amount of skin her worn and tattered clothing revealed.

But that had been nothing compared to his discomfiture when she first opened her mouth to greet them, but had suddenly paused, her face twisting oddly for a moment. Edward heard it loud in her mind—(Dear God, what is that smell?)—and he knew in a moment more than she was thinking about them.

Edward felt his face prickling in discomfort—she thought they stank? Why? He had barely managed to keep from sniffing himself—he smelled nothing in the air around him, smelled no different than he always did.

Susannah, meanwhile, had schooled her face into a cautious smile again and held out her hand in greeting, but her eyes, for all that they were a brilliantly warm gold, were coldly guarded.

And Edward had been forced to admit, when he’d taken her cool hand in his own and introduced himself to her, that while he didn’t smell anything bad, certainly not that cloying, rancid smell that seemed to fill her nose, he couldn’t deny that she smelled good. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was no doubt that he could smell a rich, warm, sweet scent coming from her, one that was notably absent from Carlisle and himself.

They’d exchanged pleasantries for a while, asking where the other had been and where they were going, and the woman seemed to relax marginally. Edward had exerted himself to be charming, the way his mother had taught him and as he hadn’t had occasion to do since before he’d fallen ill with the ‘flu, and despite herself he felt Susannah unbending a little. At least, until she told them that she was planning to hunt here.

It had taken Edward a moment to realize that she didn’t mean that like they did—she meant she was going to hunt a human here, and he’d been unable to hide the way he blanched at the obvious meaning he’d felt in her words, and the relish with which she was anticipating the event.

She’d noticed, of course, and her eyes had narrowed. “Do you intend to stop me?” she’d asked defiantly. “Is this your territory, or something?” And the way she’d said it had been ever so slightly contemptuous, and Edward knew she was daring them to try and run her off. Edward had suddenly understood her distrust then, and it had given him a rather unpleasant turn—was infighting over territory and the like expected? Were he and Carlisle the norm or the exception, traveling together as friends and family?

Carlisle had stepped in then, in the face of her sudden belligerence and Edward’s uncertain discomfort. He told her firmly that the two of them were only passing through and had no claim here, and that she was free to do as she wished—but his voice, though carefully controlled, was still noticeably cool, and Susannah had stiffened at the tone.

“But you still don’t want me to hunt here?” she challenged.

“I would rather you not,” Carlisle had answered honestly.

“And why not? What’s it to you—it isn’t yours, and you’re not staying.”

Carlisle closed his eyes briefly, and Edward could see him struggling with the words that wanted to come, but he simply said, “I would prefer you not hunt at all, miss.”

That brought her up short; Edward would have known that even if he hadn’t been able to hear her thoughts. She stared at him for a moment, before demanding, “Just what do you mean by that?” (What—he thinks I should just go starve?)

“I mean no offense, miss,” Carlisle said patiently. “I’d simply rather you didn’t survive at the expense of human life.”

Susannah had looked at him as though he’d grown horns. “What in the hell are you talking about?” she’d finally growled.

Carlisle’s voice was soft, gentle. “We need not kill humans to survive, Susannah,” he said. “We need not take others’ lives in order to sustain our own. There are other options.”

“What?” Susannah was looking confused and angry. “We’re vampires, man—we have to feed to survive—and that is what humans are for.”

Edward felt himself bristling, and at that point, his head filling up with her contempt and disgust, he had been unable to keep silent. “Humans aren’t animals!” he said, outraged—humans weren’t simply food or cattle or there for the sole purpose of serving vampires in that single capacity! Vampires had been human, once—how could she think that? “They’re our equals!”

She’d laughed mockingly, her lip curling. “Let’s see how long you survive with that attitude, little boy,” she sneered. “You’ll wither away to nothing inside of a month.”

“I’ve lived over two hundred years without killing a human,” Carlisle said quietly.

Susannah’s jaw dropped as if on a hinge, and she stared at him, before finally managing to ask, “How?” And Edward could hear that she was confused—(how did he manage not to eat?—and how could he want to give it up?) And in her mind, Edward felt a surge of memory of what it felt like to feed, of the taste—the first time he’d experienced such a thing as a vampire, having only eaten animals before—and he’d had to turn away from her, mortified by the sudden wild bloodlust that seized him, settling in his mouth and his throat and his stomach and his groin, and nearly missed Carlisle explaining, “We need blood, yes—but we can survive without taking it from humans. We need not kill people to survive—we can subsist on other sources.”

Edward had wrestled control of himself by then and looked up, panting slightly and fighting his fangs back down, shocked, appalled, and still shaking off the lingering effects of the vicarious feedings, to find her regarding them blankly. “Animal sources,” Carlisle clarified.

She blinked, and then her face contorted with horror, and she recoiled violently, as if struck. “You—you eat animals?!” she shrilled, and Edward once again felt in her mind the borrowed ecstasy of the hunt that he had never felt, and with it felt her sudden horrified assumption that eating animals brought them that same wild rapture, and he felt cool blood pooling in his cheeks at the thought.

“It is a means for survival,” Carlisle said, raising his voice with something like supplication, but she was backing away, staring at them as thought they were lepers.

Her mouth worked for a moment, and then she dropped into a crouch and hissed. “Freaks!” she snarled, and she was ready to fight them—(just try and keep me from hunting, you sick bastards, what is wrong with you, that’s disgusting, keep away from me!)—and then she wheeled where she stood and hurtled away from the clearing, and away from them.

Edward had been very quiet and subdued after that encounter. Disgust was never a pleasant thing to have directed towards oneself, even if you yourself didn’t approve of the habits of the person in question—but he’d realized what Carlisle meant about being looked down on.

And he’d realized that all other vampires would think that way of him.

It had not been a pleasant revelation. Carlisle hadn’t said anything about it, but that was Carlisle, so of course was ready to discuss it, but he waited until Edward brought it up on his own, later when they were hitching a ride together on the back of a hay wagon.

“I am sorry, Edward,” he said, being so typically Carlisle to apologize for something that wasn’t his fault. “I never truly explained to you the way I am regarded by others of our kind.” His face had been sad as he gazed up at the oncoming night. “The others, they think that it makes us…weaker. That we are diminished by our choice of diet.” His mouth twisted. “Most I’ve met seem to regard me as some sort of deviant.”

Edward had shifted, uncomfortable—knowing then what he’d heard in Susannah’s mind, he’d understood even better than Carlisle just what sort of deviant other vampires thought him to be. But there, sitting under the tree with the cooling deer carcass nearby as he tried to soothe the itching burn that its blood had awakened in his throat, he realized that even he hadn’t truly understood the revulsion that their way of life brought others—but he did now.

He shuddered a little against the rough burlap of the sacks against his back. Oh, yes, he knew now—knew the wild, frenzied ecstasy of feeding, knew the intoxication of thick, red human blood, and knew the feeling of life and near agonizing rapture of being full and sated—and the thought of…of those sorts of feelings over an animal turned his stomach as well.

His fangs, which had been protruding slightly at just the memory of feeding as he sat there on the boat, shrank back into their sheaths with the disgusting notion. Other vampires thought that they enjoyed it, that animals were what brought them to that plateau of bliss—although nothing could be further than the truth. Carlisle had told him that he’d managed to explain at least that much to a few, but even they didn’t understand why someone would choose to live like that—particularly not when one considered what they were giving up for it.

Although, in Edward’s defense, he hadn’t really chosen it. Carlisle had told him that was the way he lived, and Edward had followed his example. Edward had never had a chance to give anything up at all—it was simply the way things were.

And the worst part about it was that in some ways, Susannah had been right. Carlisle had dismissed her prejudices as simply that—preconceived notions about something that she didn’t understand. Except now, Edward knew that he had been diminished by his diet. When he’d finally regained awareness of himself after his mad flight from Chicago, he’d slowly begun to realize that he was faster, stronger—and just generally more alive than he had been. The Saharan burn in his mouth and throat and the endless hunger that he’d assumed was simply part of being a vampire were all but gone, tamped down into a blissful quiescence that was such a relief it was nearly a pleasure.

And when he looked down at his face in the water as he washed the deer blood from his mouth, he’d seen his flushed, near rosy skin, his plump cheeks, and the lack of dark circles under his eyes—eyes that flamed gold, rather than the brassy, sickly orange that he’d become accustomed to.

…And just what other advantages had he been robbed of? What other agonies had he been forced to endure by eating animal blood?

Edward shook himself—those were dangerous thoughts to be thinking, to the point that the smell of the approaching deckhand was becoming quite unbearable. Although was it really wiser to leave the relative safety of the water to go ashore? He rose silently from his seat against the cargo, stood briefly on the edge of the boat, waiting for…what? Anything? No. Nothing. So he jumped nimbly to the buoy on the river before the hand could spot him, and from there vaulted to the nearby dock.

Edward firmed his jaw. He wasn’t coming here to eat anything—anyone. Despite the fact that the brief, disgusting mouthful of deer had awakened his hunger once more, he felt in no danger of losing control. He wasn’t constantly left panting around his fangs at the merest whiff of a passing human—and, to his delighted surprise, was no longer behaving like a bitch in heat, now much more able to control and suppress the infuriating sexual desires that so consistently seized him at inopportune moments.

He could handle simply walking in the city.

But why did he want to?

He was bored and he was lonely, yes, but he was used to that—he deserved that. No, what he wanted was to show himself that he could walk among people again, that he was not a slave to his bloodlust, that he was not a monster. He had made a mistake. A terrible mistake, yes, but a mistake nonetheless, an act that he had in no way meant to perpetrate, and had no intention to repeat. And now he was doing his penance, going in among the people here to show them and himself that he was not a danger. Chicago had been an accident. Here, he was in control.

Edward strolled leisurely along the wharf, his hands in his jacket pockets, fingering the hole in one of them. He briefly thought of trying to find a needle and thread to mend it—but then laughed darkly to himself at the idea. Yes, mend the hole in your coat pocket, Edward, while leaving the elbows and the knees of your pants in tatters. He shook his head at himself as he walked—he wasn’t Edward Mason anymore. He wasn’t even human anymore. He should let go of all the silly minutiae of human life—they no longer mattered to him.

For all that it was night, the city was still brightly lit, and the docks were no exception. Well, at least here on the waterfront where the ships came in. Like all of the more industrial areas, the shadows grew quite quickly, bubbling up from the spaces between the ships and the warehouses and swallowing up the buildings just back from the river.

But darkness aside, they were still teeming with life, from the rats that Edward could hear and smell and see as they scuttled along the ground, to the dock workers that scuttled along in their wakes, broadcasting their thoughts to the sky for Edward to hear as clearly as the sounds from the rats. Elton Morris was sneaking out early because his foreman wasn’t there and no one would know, and Walt Jerzysk, who everyone called “Booger” behind his back because of his compulsive nose-picking, was indulging himself in his habit as he thought eagerly about making a stop at the blind pig on his way home, and Rolly Drew was agonizing over sneaking back to the Pink Dolphin to meet that pretty young boy with the talented tongue, even as he was terrified that his mother would find out about it, and Froggy McBain was loading a crate on the back of the truck, and damn, there looked like there was some good shit in there, and as soon as he got his share he was going to hit it and hit it hard, and damn but hadn’t they been lucky to hear about this shipment, and those bastards had better not try to short him or they’d be wearing their balls for earrings if he didn’t get his cut.

Edward turned abruptly in his course and ducked down into the space between two warehouses, his eyes narrowing in the dark as he darted his gaze toward the ill-lit back door at the end of the alley.

He could see the broken lock where the door had been forced, could see the dark man-shapes slinking underneath it and out again, laden with crates that were clearly marked as medical supplies, which they were piling on the back of a waiting truck while a lookout kept his eyes peeled.

They couldn’t see Edward, of course, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they had, because Edward could hear them all, hear their filthy thoughts as they tumbled over one another, feel their eagerness, their addictions that leapt at the thought of the opiates in the crates, their excitement at the money sales would bring, and of the cigarettes and liquor and girls that the money would buy, and wasn’t this just a lucky break, and he felt the slimy black insides of their skulls, of their memories of selfishness and crime and murder, and a boiling fury filled his stomach.

“I don’t think that belongs to you,” he said, his voice clear and pleasant and as loud as a crack of thunder in the furtive silence of the alley.

They all jumped satisfactorily, and while he felt a familiar impotent anger when they all relaxed at the sight of the kid who stepped out from the deepest shadows, it was largely surmounted by a sense of amusement.

They really have no idea.

“This don’t concern you, punk,” one of them sneered. “So why don’t you run home to your mamma, boy, before the booger man gets you?”

Even as his jaw clenched with reflexive resentment, Edward felt his lips curling into a small smile—small, in that he kept his fangs hidden as they tried to extend. “I’m not the one who needs to be worried about that,” he said. “Now, those items are meant for people who need them, not a bunch of cheap, two-penny hoodlums—so why don’t you run home to your mothers, before I am forced to do something unpleasant?”

There was a ripple of disbelieving laughter, and Edward knew his intentions before Arnie even had time to draw his knife.

His tiny smile grew large, his fangs jutting over his teeth and a low growl rumbling up from his middle as he moved, faster than their eyes could follow, and then he felt their shock as he was suddenly standing right in front of the man, and none of them had any idea how he got there. And then there was that delicious surge of fear when his cold fingers clamped down on the hand that held the knife, and then with an effortless swing of his arm, Arnie, who was nearly a foot taller than him and at least a hundred pounds heavier, went sailing through the air with a howl of fright, over their heads in a graceful arc, his arms and legs pinwheeling uselessly before he landed with a thud on a tarp-covered pile of pallets in the corner.

Edward laughed, and then spun on his heel. “Who’s next?” he demanded to the alleyway, his teeth bared in the moonlight as he grinned.

They stared, their mouths hanging open, before they all glanced at each other and without a word rushed him.

Edward laughed again, leaping straight up at the last moment, watching with glee as they all plowed straight into each other before letting himself drop right in the middle of the melee, and he felt them all crumple beneath his weight, and in the confusion he began seizing arms and legs all around him and hurling their respective owners away. “I warned you!” he bayed happily as he slammed Vince against the wall—who was the boy now? “This is what happens to naughty little boys who take things that don’t belong to them!”

It was over too soon, much too soon for Edward’s liking. He could have gone on all night, loosing his fury on this pack of hyenas, proving over and over again that he was no boy, and that he was the one with the advantage, and to make them pay for their actions, for underestimating him. But while they may have been nothing but a bunch of dumb common criminals, they weren’t stupid—they could tell when they’d been bested.

Well, one of them was stupid—or rather, his desperation for the morphine they’d been trying to steal made him stupid, for while the others ran away, scattering like geese, good old Froggy ran straight for a dropped crate, and Edward could feel his wild panic, no, he was this close, he had to get some—

Edward’s lip curled in disgust, and before Froggy could blink he was between him and the crate; the pitiful excuse for a man made some sound, half between a whine and a roar, and then he turned and he dashed for the half-loaded truck. A dark chuckle escaped Edward at the pathetic desperation that he could both see and hear.

(so close, so close, needed it, was right here, not about to let some sorry little son of a bitch kid keep me from it, no, it’s mine, do the same thing like with the last one who tried)

Edward had only just had time to turn, and even as he heard Froggy’s thoughts, felt his memories of burying the knife in the stomach of the kid who wouldn’t give him his money, he could see him drawing the gun, and then KA-WHAM!

The bullet tore through him, a blaze of fiery pain as the flesh of his side all but exploded outward. As he doubled over, howling in pain and disbelief—no, dammit, I was winning, and I am going to show them!—he saw and smelled the thick, weeks-old blood of his last meal splash out onto the pavement.

His howl spiraled upward into a roar of fury, the loss of his blood penetrating even the fog of his pain, and Froggy had just enough time to whirl around in shock as Edward leapt, his side mending itself midair—you sorry little bastard, how DARE you?! But then the gun came up again, and Edward was midair and couldn’t dodge and BLAM!

He was blasted out of the air, a sheet of agony ripping through him even as the bullet tore through his body, blasting a hole right in his chest, and no! The blood! His blood! His life, all leaking out onto the ground, and with it his strength and his speed and his power, no, no, no!

Panting, he pushed himself to his feet, his mouth contorted in a snarl, venom dripping from his teeth, and there was Froggy, staggering under the weight of the crate, standing stock still, staring at him, his eyes wide with shock as saw Edward heaving himself to his feet.

(Goddammit, why won’t you die?!)

“I can’t die, Froggy,” Edward hissed, and he lurched forward, his throat burning, his skin clammy and his hands curled into claws. He felt his shattered ribs and gaping chest wound closing, albeit sluggishly, and his body cried out for food, for blood, for life.

Froggy’s face contorted with terror as Edward advanced, and the scum’s sense of self-preservation finally seemed to win out, and he dropped the crate and tried to run, but in his panic he slipped, falling hard against the ground, trying to catch himself again the side of the rusting truck, and inside his head Edward felt him fall, saw the pavement rushing up to meet him, felt the tearing of the flesh of his hand, and felt the blood well up, smelled the blood well up, hot and red and alive

And he leapt.

Lieutenant Jerry Lynch prodded at the body with his toe in disgust.

“They sure did a number on him, sir,” remarked Wiley, his voice shaky—he was a young, fresh-faced kid new on the force, and this was his first homicide—and it wasn’t pretty. Oh, well—better he get used to it sooner rather than later.

“I’ve seen worse, I’m afraid, kid,” Jerry answered. “People like this—they’re animals. They’ll tear each other to pieces without thinkin’ twice, and over stupid shit, like how to divide up the haul—but better each other than honest citizens, that’s what I say.” He spat on the filthy ground next to the stiffening corpse and looked up.

Poor Wiley was still pale, unable to tear his eyes away from the tattered throat on the obviously broken neck of the stiff, and Jerry took pity on him. “Don’t let it get to you, Mert—you’ll see this kind of thing near every day, now—you’ll get used to it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and cast his eyes around him, up at the dull red reflection of the city lights on the cloudy sky. “The way this city’s going to the dogs, you can’t help it. But I promise, it’s a hundred times worse when it’s just some poor hardworking sap who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Believe me—no one is going to miss this guy.”

Wiley looked up, and Jerry smiled at him. “We ran his records—did you know this guy is wanted for murder down in Arkansas? Killed some kid over ten dollars.” He patted Wiley’s his shoulder and then headed for the squad car, Wiley near leaping after him; their work here was nearly over—time to let the ambulance do its job and take the body down to the morgue. “And here he was, he and his buddies trying to steal medicine meant for the children’s hospital downtown.” He shook his head, half rueful, half amused. “Trust me, kid—when you’ve been at this job as long as I have, you’ll see that our friend here was only getting what he deserved.”

Yes, thought Edward, the sound of the slamming doors of the ambulance echoing through the alley as he watched from his perch in the shadows of the rooftop above. He was nothing more than an animal—and he has only gotten what he deserved.

He rose to his feet as the ambulance turned out onto the street, its lights dim and its siren silent; its occupant was in no hurry. He turned away, looking out over the winking lights of the city at night, and let his thoughts carry him across the winds, and he could hear them all, all the scum and filth and crime of St. Louis, skulking and creeping through the city’s underbelly as they went about their sordid business.

Yes—he has only gotten what he deserved—and the world is full of more who deserve the same.

And as silent as a shadow, Edward leapt from his place and headed down into the city.

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