Enjoy. Edward sure doesn't.
…Oh God…oh God…please…I…no…oh God…
Edward rocked and rocked, huddled in a ball, his fists in his hair, tugging, tugging. The roof tiles bit into his side and his cheek. He didn’t need to breathe, but he did all the same, and it whistled through his nose, his throat closed as if a huge, tight fist had seized him by the neck, and another grabbing hold of his heart in his chest and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing—
Nausea twisted and knotted his stomach; he had no food to vomit. His eyes burned with wretched, horrified remorse; he had no tears to shed. His head throbbed with pain and begged for the oblivion of unconsciousness; he never slept. His heart cried out in agony, but it was still and silent and cold in his chest.
His mind had run in desperate circles even as his knees gave out, buckling under that great, slamming weight of realization. No, no, they were bad, they deserved it, they weren’t innocent, it wasn’t wrong!!!
Who gave you the right to decide who lives or dies, Edward?
His excuses tumbled over one another, each shouted denial weaker than the last, growing feebler even in his own ears, buried under the load of bitter, crushing remorse.
People. He killed and ate people. He stalked them and seized them and ignored their pleas and laughed at their cries and he killed them and he ate them. People.
A helpless noise escaped him—not crying, no, he couldn’t cry—and he yanked on the handfuls of his hair. He could feel the strands that ripped free between his fingers grow back, filling the spaces, leaving him unchanged in his studied perfection. No mark was left on him, no clue as to the blackened core that lay underneath. No hint that the angelic youthfulness masked the face of a killer. No Mark of Cain to brand him a wanderer and an outcast.
He needed no outward sign of his crime.
It was branded indelibly on his heart.
His shoulders shook, his body wracked with the dry, wrenching sobs that were the closest he could come to weeping—and never before had he mourned being unable to cry. The burning misery in his chest ached for release, but he couldn’t cry. He had no tears for Nancy or Reggie or Froggy or Rocko or Lorenzo or Scotty or Martin or any of the others, people who had lived and laughed and loved, and who had died simply so he could feed.
He rocked and he rocked and he rocked.
He opened his mind wide, desperate for some respite, undeserved though it may be, and he heard them, heard them all, and it offered him no peace, because no matter the minds he heard, the heads he filled, he was still himself, and he knew that any one of these people were no different than the ones that he’d killed for their blood. Reggie and Rocko and Froggy had been people, human beings, living people, and he’d no right to hurt them, any more than he had to hurt Adele Toutant, coming home late from a party, her engagement party, and she was so happy, or Theo Oliver, who worked the red-eye shift to earn extra money for his wife Lucille and their new baby on the way, or Henri Duval, who ran the jazz and night club down the way, the floor packed with dancers, the hottest spot in the Quarter, the business his father had run before him, and his son would run when he was gone, or the newly married Desiree Hardy, who was up late and working by low light to put the finishing touches on the new shirt she’d made for her husband Eugene for his first day at his new job tomorrow, or James, who was running over the rooftops, fair bursting with wild anticipation, she would be his, she was his, his Mary, Mary, Mary—
Edward sat bolt upright. He woke his sluggish brain, bullied his headache into submission, wrenched back his searing guilt, and he listened, listened hard, and far, listened for everything, snatched at those wisps of that familiar and unguarded mind.
(Mary myMary will have you)
(sterile walls, the smell of antiseptic, echoing tile)
(little girl come to get you let you out set you free make you mine)
(a tiny figure, slight, the briefest glimpse, the smock and the straightjacket and the cap as she’s led away, and for a moment all the world falls away and there is only HER)
(yesyes ohyes the power so beautiful the POWER)
(the weight of a hand, jerking backwards, and Laveau, his face dark and forbidding, “Not that one.”)
(mine can’t stop me Imperial bastard will have her will bite her will CHANGE her mine be mine Mary Mary MARY)
Edward flew to his feet in horror. No—James was—not a patient—a girl, that little helpless girl, restrained and locked away, and James was going to bite her—to change her! He saw her in the asylum, felt the song of her blood, the surge of wild desire, that focus the likes of which Edward had never felt—that tiny girl blazed with potential, and James wanted it—
Edward flew from atop hotel, racing along the rooftops as if his life depended on it. Her life did depend on it—Mary, Mary Brandon, that poor little girl, locked away in the hospital, with that fiend bearing down on her to bite her, to change her, to force her to become was he was—no. He wouldn’t allow it. Couldn’t allow it.
It was because of James that Nancy got killed—Edward wouldn’t let him get away with it again, not this time. James would pay—and Edward knew just how to stop him—just how to punish him.
He shinnied down the back wall in the alley off Royal Street and dashed out and across it. Vincent, Laveau’s doorman, was still standing stiff at uniformed attention, and didn’t so much as bat an eye when Edward came tearing up to the curb, just opened the door and ushered him in.
Jules came quickly out into the hall as Edward flew inside. “I have to speak to Laveau—it’s urgent!” he said, and shoved past him, running down the hall to the study, where he could hear Laveau’s warm, sated thoughts, relaxed and full of blood.
He careened around the corner, sailing into the room and skidding to a halt in front of the desk. Laveau was surprised to see him again—unpleasantly so. His mouth twisted with bilious disgust at the sight of him—at the smell of him—and his raised eyebrows furrowed. Edward was leaving—and good riddance—what was he still doing here?
“It’s James!” Edward blurted. “I was—was leaving and I—I ran into him, he—he’s going back to where you were, the hospital, back after some girl—you told him not to, but he’s gone out after her anyway, a Mary, Mary Brandon, he’s—”
Laveau was on his feet in an instant, towering over him. “What?” he demanded, his voice a low rumble, his face a mask of barely restrained rage.
Vindictive relief flooded Edward. “Yes—he lied, he snuck out, and he’s going there to change her!”
(that son of a BITCH he’s DEAD and I’ll KILL him she’s mine she’s mine she’s MINE)
(prowling the halls, sight unseen, and then THERE SHE WAS oh, yes, THERE, so much, so little but so much, so much POWER and he would HAVE HER)
Edward recoiled, stricken. “What?” he squeaked. “You—?”
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” said Laveau, his voice low and dangerous, and then he swept from the room, bunting Edward aside, and was gone.
What? He—? NO!
No! Laveau wasn’t protecting her—Laveau wanted her for himself! He’d seen her before and he was keeping her, he was saving her until she was older, and he was going to change her!
And Edward had given her to him!
“No.” It came out as nothing but a weak little sound, barely more than a whisper. No. Not again. Because of me. Just like before. Just like Nancy.
“NO!” he roared, and he turned, and he ran, flying down the hall and out of the door and into the street, running to the nearest alley to climb the building unseen and leap onto the rooftops, there where he could run faster than human eyes could follow, run as a vampire, and run towards James.
It was too late for Nancy. It was too late for Reggie and Rocko and all the others. It was too late for him. But it wasn’t too late for Mary, the poor little girl who had no idea what was coming for her, no idea what would happen to her, the innocent pawn who was about to have her choice and free will torn away from her by the selfish ambition and lust for power of a vampire. Too late for the others—but not for her. Not this time. Not this one. Just this one…if he could save just this one…
He ran north, pushing himself faster and faster, forcing himself not to slow, not to lag, despite the horrible, suffocating burning in his chest, his body crying out for sustenance. He followed James’s trail, James’s mind, the paths laid out in his and Laveau’s heads, to the Oakland Mental Hospital, up north and west in Mid-City.
There. The building stood tall and forbidding among the surrounding neighborhoods, a black behemoth against a distant flash of lighting, the few lighted windows bright squares in its blank brick face. He dropped down from the roof as the roll of the thunder reached his ears and ran desperately across the street and the surrounding lawn, his breath coming in helpless, pointless pants as his body begged for oxygen, filling his lungs with air that he couldn’t breathe. The building rose up, taller and taller as he neared, and his head began to swirl with the thoughts inside, a rushing babble of mindless minds, a great surge of madness stabbing like knives in his brain, and he fought it, desperately, listening.
James was already here. He’d beaten him. Panic clawed up his throat as he listened, listened over the babble of surrounding voices, made all the harder over the strange, abnormal minds that filled this place, tearing his way through the web of their delusions and imaginings and paranoias trying to find James—yes, there he was, and thank God, he didn’t have her, no, but he was looking, he was tracking her, he would find her soon, yes, little Mary, where are you?
Edward ran to the fire exit on the side of the building and yanked it open, the lock shrieking as it gave way, and he raced up the stairs, nearly falling down in his haste to get up, and the din in his head was deafening, all those people, but he had to go, had to run, faster, James was here, was on the fourth floor, closer, closer now, getting warmer, and yes, there she was!
The door came off its hinges this time as Edward wrenched it open, leaving it hanging drunkenly into the stairwell as he ran out into the corridor, buffeted on either side by rantings and ravings and madness, but there, down at the end of the hall, there was that bastard James, standing by a door in the darkened hallway, the night guard was dead, and his blood was sweet, would keep him sated for what he had to do, and he had his keys, and the door was open, and MARY.
Edward flew down the hall, desperate, panicked, he had to stop him!
(oh Mary Mary little lamb here comes the big bad wolf)
James swung out of the padded cell behind him, and flopped in his arms was a tiny, shapeless little form in a rough gown, her lolling head tightly covered by a course cloth cap, and her face pressed against James’s neck—and Edward was nearly knocked off his feet by the sudden wild desire that coursed through him at the sight of her, the smell of her, the power of her, flare-bright behind his eyes, a beacon in the darkness, and his head rang with it, even as the world seemed to tilt, his brain filled up with a dizzying reel of disjointed images, and he swayed where he stood beneath the onslaught. But he straightened, forced himself to be here and now, and looked James dead in the eye and said, “Let her go.”
James’s face was, for the briefest instant, a study in surprise at the sudden sight of him (what in the ever loving hell?), but then his mouth twisted in an angry sneer, even as his head suddenly filled with “Roll Your Leg Over”. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Let her go, James,” Edward commanded again, his jaw tight against his teeth.
James’s eyes narrowed, and his lips curled upwards at the corner. “Relax, Robin Hood—I’m not gonna eat the poor, sweet little human.”
“You put her down and you leave her alone,” Edward said coldly over the strange, tuneless humming coming from the girl, who seemed to have no idea what was going on; she didn’t even have any idea she was being carried, or even where she was, if the horrible, disorienting welter that was battering at Edward’s mind was anything to go by. “You’re not going to do anything to her.”
James went perfectly still, one eyebrow lifting slowly. “Is that so?” he asked softly. “And I suppose you’re going to stop me, is that it?”
“You aren’t going to hurt her—and you aren’t going to change her, either.”
James shifted, slinging Mary over his shoulder and lowering into a crouch. “Wrong, Edward,” he said, his eyes never leaving him. “She’s coming with me.”
“You think that’s how you’ll get an Imperial appointment?” Edward asked scornfully, stalling, keeping his attention. “By making yourself a powerful ally? The Imperials wouldn’t take you—they don’t want low-class scum with no brain or self control.”
“Oh—so they want faggoty little cocksuckers who like treat humans like pets and fuck animals on the side?” James shot back, sliding out of the cell doorway, keeping his back away from Edward, his grip tight around Mary’s tiny waist.
A growl rumbled up from Edward’s middle. “Let her go, James.”
“Get the fuck out of my way, asshole,” James hissed in response. “She’s mine, and if I have to break you to get it, so much the better for me.”
Edward lowered his body, dropping into a tense half-crouch, ready. He opened his mind, pushing, forcing past James’s barriers—and then flinched, withdrawing, and watched him, very still.
He couldn’t hear him. Not over the sick fantasies of murder from behind the cell next door, or the one on the other side where Sid was strapped in for the night and silently screaming because the ants were crawling all over him. Edward couldn’t hear.
But he didn’t need to hear—he still wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. “You aren’t going to touch her, James—and I don’t care what it takes, but you aren’t getting out of here with her.”
James bared his teeth in a snarl, ducking low to the ground—and he bolted.
Edward leapt with a howl, tackling him, landing hard on his back, and the force of it sent all three of them tumbling to the ground. James bellowed with anger, thrashing wildly, and Edward squeezed tight with his thighs, wrapping one arm around his neck and grabbing at Mary with the other, he had to get her away, get her safe.
Flailing wildly, James lurched to his feet, grabbed Mary, and yanked her away; the cloth of her smock tore beneath Edward’s gripping fingers, and then James threw himself backwards, and sudden stars burst into Edward’s vision as he was slammed into the wall, smashed between James and the buckling tile beneath him.
But Edward hung on, had to hang on, and James was bucking like a crazed horse, and Mary swung and jiggled in his arms as he yammered furiously, he wouldn’t let her go, and then he was running backwards again, and wham, into the other wall, and Edward felt his shoulder break this time, but still he clung to him like a burr, reaching up and clawing, and he felt flesh give way beneath his fingers, and James howled as his face was slashed open.
Edward fought wildly to get to Mary, to get her away, but James roared with fury and was running, running, building up speed to smash him again, and in desperation Edward moved to hook his foot between James’s pumping legs and got him!
James tripped, and the three of them went flying, sailing through the air to land on a tray of instruments, the pieces scattering, ringing like bells as they struck the ground and they landed in a heap and then THERE WAS BLOOD!!
Blood, pumping, flowing, yes, so hungry, at last there it was so much so red I WANT IT—
“Get off her, you son of a bitch!”
Edward was yanked backwards, his shoulder popping from its socket with the force of the pull against his fighting to get forward, to get to her, to the blood, her sweet blood, to eat, to drink—
“She’s mine, you shit-sucker!”
WHAM. A fist plowed into Edward’s face, and his cheek shattered beneath it as he flew backwards, and in the wild pain there was a moment of perfect clarity—
Edward threw himself to the side, away, huddling on his knees on the floor, jamming his fist in his mouth, panting wildly, long ropes of venom dripping from his mouth, no, no, he couldn’t, not her, not again, not another one, not ever, but they’d hurt her, she was crying, she was bleeding, and no!
“Just look at yourself.” Edward looked up to find James standing over him, his face twisted with disgust. “And I’m the one with no self-control? The one who acts like an animal?” he said contemptuously. “Face it, Edward—for all your airs, all that you think you’re better somehow—when the chips are down, you’re just as driven by the thirst as the rest of us.”
James spat on the floor, spared him one last derisive sneer, and then turned. Turned and walked away—back towards Mary, where she lay in the floor, flinging her head back and forth and writhing as she cried, her sobs as blameless and confused as a baby’s, lying there, helpless and wailing and bleeding in great pulsing spurts from where she’d been stabbed in the thigh, and James knelt down and picked her up.
Edward leapt. He threw himself through the air and landed right on James, heard his strangled shout as they all went down again, tumbling over one another in a wild roll, Edward fighting furiously to get her away from him, to save her, she was bleeding, she would die, had to save her, and James was baying wild threats and curses and they slammed into the wall—and Mary went silent.
No more crying. No more rocking and wailing. No more disjointed jumble in her mind.
“No!” Edward lurched to his knees, crawling desperately over James, no, no, not again, they couldn’t, they didn’t, not again, not like Nancy, no, no, not again, no no no!
“YOU GODDAMN MOTHERFUCKING SHIT!”
Edward was seized by the back of his shirt and flung down the hall, flying near the length of the corridor and shouting with surprised pain as he hit the wall, his back catching the edge of a doorway, and he felt and heard an ominous crack and a ripple of numbness in his legs before his back began to right itself. No—no—Mary, please, no—
But it didn’t have time to right itself completely, not before James was there, standing over him in a frothing rage. “You did it again, you dickless assfucker!” he roared.
“No—she can’t—I didn’t—”
James dropped down, jerked Edward up by his collar, and slammed his fist into his face.
His nose shattered, his head snapping back, and even as he shouted with pain he was lifted into the air, and James threw him across the hall.
The opposite door flew open with the force of his hit, and there was a jangle of breaking glass, raining down all around him as he crashed against the shelves within.
And there was James again, already there, so fast, and Edward flailed wildly as he was hauled upwards again, but even when he caught James in the jaw, smashing his mouth and breaking his teeth, his grip never faltered and he swung Edward again and slammed him against the shelves; glass broke and stabbed his face, his hands, and then James threw him, and he tried to catch himself but he couldn’t and he landed head first into the wall, oh God, it hurt, but he had to get to Mary—
With a howl of fury, James grabbed an entire shelf and hurled it at him, the bottles rattling and shattering and then it hit—and it exploded.
Edward shrieked, scrambling away, frantically twisting to get out of his coat, soaked with the burning ether and up in flames, tossing it away and batting wildly at his singed shirt, and bottles were popping, flaring up, feeding the blaze, liquid fire pouring out across the floor, and the flames on the shelf were licking at the ceiling, blackening, burning.
Edward stared, horrified—and then was grabbed bodily around the waist and flung head-first into the desk at the corner of the hall, and then James was there and he raised the enormous metal typewriter high, and Edward rolled desperately away before he smashed it into his head.
“I’ll kill you, fucker! I’ll kill you this time!”
The flames were dancing overhead, flickering bright, creeping along the ceiling, and Edward saw them spreading to the desk, hungrily kindling the wood, catching on the spilled papers, spreading through the corridor.
“James—no—the fire—we have to—”
James leapt, and Edward went down with a shout as James pummeled him with wild punches, catching him everywhere, all over, faster than he could fight off, and he thrashed, trying to get away, they had put it out, had to warn someone, the fire!
The mental shriek cut through Edward’s brain like a knife, even over James’s yowling rage, and with a great sudden strength, Edward threw him away, because the fire, it was spreading, and it was in one of the rooms, in Eva’s room, and she couldn’t get out, it was getting closer, help me, oh God, help!
Edward flew to his feet and he ran, despite his broken ribs and his cut and oozing face and the blood in his eyes because he had to get to her, to save her and—
A weight slammed into his back; James wrapped arms like iron around him and yanked his head back, and Edward yelled as he sank his teeth into his neck, which blazed with white-hot pain as his venom burned like acid in his skin, and then he couldn’t help the scream that escaped him when James tore out the great mouthful of flesh as he wrestled him to the ground, and then he was whaling on him again, his fists everywhere, and Edward couldn’t get away, but he had to, had to get up, get him off, the fire, it was burning!
“Get off me, we’re killing them!” he howled. “We have to save them!”
Edward lashed out with his legs, a last ditch effort, and he caught James square in the crotch. With a thready yowl and pain that exploded through his head and Edward’s, he let go, and Edward scrambled away, running, she was burning, the fire, and he could feel her skin blister, the agony, no, no, he had to save her—
The gurney came whizzing through the air caught him in the back and he went down, sliding across the floor, his skin burning (oh the fire oh the fire fire FIRE!) with the friction as he slid (help fire help fire building on fire get me out of here!), but he clawed his way up, panting, and then cried out as he was slammed down again, and it was James (BURNINGBURINGFIREYFIREBURNING!), and he raised the gurney high and wham, he brought it down again (HELPMEHELPMEITHURTSITHURTSITBURNSOHGODH
“No, James! Please! They’re dying, please!”
Desperate, he scrabbled across the floor, had to get away, but he couldn’t, his lungs were filled with smoke, and his skin, it was crackling, blackening, burning, blistering, peeling away, the AGONY, it BURNED, the FIRE, no, the FIRE, he was on FIRE, his nerves ablaze, they were burning, he was burning, the fire, they were dying—
And James was laughing. He could hear him, laughing, and Edward was flattened, crushed by the gurney again (CAN’TBREATHECAN’TBREATHECHOKINGCAN’TBRE
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!”
And Edward was lifted, hauled so high in the air that his feet no longer touched the ground, and James was too, and he could see the huge black hand holding him ‘round the neck and then WHAM, with a sickening crunch of bone and a world that teetered on the edge of a blessed blackness but refused to let him succumb, his skull was stove in, and so was James’s as their heads were bashed together, and Edward heard a bellow of fury and he was thrown, further and faster than James had thrown him, and James was thrown too, and the window shattered and for an instant they were flying, and then ground was rushing up to meet them and then WHUMP, they landed, and Edward screamed helplessly as his back broke again, and his legs too, and his body burned with pain, his body burned, it was burning, the world was burning, the sky was burning—
Laveau came sailing out of the window and landed on the grass, and he stood, huge and tall and terrible, and he seized them both and he picked them up and shook them, their teeth rattling in their heads. “You maggot-dick motherfuckers!” he thundered, and he threw them, and the bricks of the hospital wall crunched beneath him, and Edward felt his arm break, and he was burning, and then Laveau grabbed him and smashed his face with his fist, and Edward flailed against his hand, and Laveau dropped him, and Edward clawed at his own skin, the burning, anything to stop the burning, oh, God, he was on fire!
“You son of a bitch!”
Edward rolled and thrashed, burning, and Laveau was beating James, pounding him with his fists, and James was howling with agony, fighting back, but Laveau was bigger, he was stronger, he was smarter, and he was enraged, and he was GOING TO KILL THEM ALL—
Dimly, Edward heard a wailing sound—sirens. Laveau straightened and stepped on James’s neck, and Edward heard him gagging, saw him fighting wildly to get up, but Laveau held him pinned, and he leaned over him and roared, “You get the fuck out of here, you goddamn pieces of shit! The Heads will have your asses for this, and if you ever, ever so much as set foot back in my town again, I’ll tear you into so many pieces even the buzzards couldn’t find ‘em, and then I’ll burn what’s left, piss out the fire, and sow the ashes with salt! Do you hear me?!”
Laveau picked up James and he threw him, threw him hard, and he sailed out of sight, and then he turned, his face contorted with rage, and he bore down on Edward, and he was limp as Laveau grabbed him by the neck and hurled him in the opposite direction. Edward arced through the air and landed hard in the street, the pavement shredding his skin, and his eyes filled with light and his ears with squealing rubber and the blast of a horn and a car skidded by him, jerked aside at the last minute, and the driver shouted a curse at him as he passed.
A sting of cold lanced his cheek, and then another. He tried to stand, whimpering as his legs, still slowing knitting, cried out in protest. Wet drops were falling faster now, and as Edward lurched to his feet, his body singing with pain, the sky above finally opened up, pouring down buckets of rain on the flames—all too late.
Edward turned his back on the blazing building and staggered away.
Edward didn’t know how long he wandered, which direction he was going. His body was a study in pain, trying to heal itself, lacking the resources to do so. And yet he was numb, no longer burning—but his nose was still filled with smoke and searing flesh, his eyes sightless as he shuffled along the sidewalks like an old man, no idea where he was—no idea who he was.
He shambled down the streets, taking turns left and right at random as the city slowly began to rouse itself from its peaceful night’s rest. The sky was growing brighter with the soft gray light that filled the sky just before dawn.
A passing car threw up a sheet of water over him, blinding him, and he lurched to the side, his foot catching in the grating of the sewer and he fell, landing with a wet smack on the pavement, and he lay there, hollow, with no strength or even will to get up.
“Hello? Um—sir? Are you okay?”
A warm hand touched his shoulder, and Edward looked up into the clear green eyes of Kelly Magee, who blushed prettily when she saw his face, even as she shivered at the look of him (oh, my…he’s so beautiful). “Are you—are you hurt?” she asked, her heart thudding deliciously in her chest as she looked coyly at him from under her red lashes.
He shook his head woodenly, his mouth slack, dragging himself to his feet. She stayed by him a moment, reaching out a trembling hand to steady him, torn between the desire to stay and the urge to flee, before she finally gave him one last nervous, longing smile and walked away, her umbrella bobbing in the pale light of the early morning.
Blinking, Edward looked around.
He knew where he was. He’d passed this way before—had it been really been mere hours ago that he’d walked through the city? He remembered. This was the American Quarter—and the river wasn’t far. He could get to the shore—get to a barge—get out.
He turned, wiping water from his eyes, and he stopped.
Across the street stood St. Patrick’s Church, a great stone obelisk standing sentinel on the skyline, the flat gray face streaked with rain, the soaring bell tower stark against rolling clouds.
He stared, and without knowing why, his feet began to move, lurching him across the street, through the water-filled gutters to the opposite sidewalk.
Edward craned his head back, looking up and up at the towering edifice that gazed impassively down at him. God’s house.
He moved up the steps, slowly, hesitantly, and he stopped.
A demon? No.
But he did feed on the blood of the living.
Slowly, despite the fear that crawled up his throat, he reached out a shaking hand toward the face of the church. Reached forward, even though he knew that he would be struck down, knew that he was unclean, knew that he would burn.
His hand touched the stone.
It was cold.
Cold and hard and unyielding, and wet with the falling rain. As if in a dream, he moved his left hand to rest flat beside the right, and then, his eyes falling closed, leaned forward, pressing his cheek against the cool roughness of the church.
His legs trembled, and he let them go, sliding down against the face of the building, crumpling to his knees on the steps.
God. Oh, God. Please. I’m sorry. So sorry. Forgive me.
God didn’t answer.
But why should He?
Why would God speak to a creature like him?
A hand fell on his shoulder. “My son?”
Edward leapt to his feet and whirled around. Standing behind him beneath his umbrella was Father O’Grady, coming over to ready for Mass. He recoiled for a moment, seeing the deadened eyes, the bags beneath them, the chalk-white face, but then he rallied. (a boy, just a boy). “Can I help you, my son?” he asked.
“No.” Edward’s voice was dull. “No one can help me.”
(poor boy, what has happened to him?) “God is a stronghold in times of trouble, my son,” he said firmly. Despite the instinctual fear twisting his belly, Father O’Grady brought a warm, comforting hand to rest on Edward’s shoulder. “Why don’t you come inside?”
Edward pulled away, swallowing, his mouth dry. “No, I—I’m not welcome here.”
“Oh, no, son, no,” said O’Grady, and his eyes were soft with pity and compassion that Edward didn’t deserve. “All of God’s children are welcome in His house.”
Edward looked at him, and he looked up at the church behind him, and tall and cold and pitiless and gray. “Yes,” he said at last. “Yes, they are.”
And he turned, his shoulders hunched, and he walked away.
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