Also, as was the case with “The Thorns Remain”, keep your eyes peeled, because the asides aren’t quite over yet! She has already written and finished her last one, which I think will probably be posted more quickly this time, because it is a lot shorter (yes, she did write a short one that will be done in one post! *faints in shock*). But for now, let’s press on and finish Emmett’s story.
Edward hadn’t been able to believe how easily Emmett seemed to reconcile himself to what he had become. Was he insane, not to realize the enormity of what had happened to him? How could he be so blasé about it, regarding it as nothing more than a few minor alterations here and there and never stopping to consider what the change had done to him as a person, that he was now bound by his vampiric nature? That sort of devil-may-care attitude was precisely the sort of thing that could get him into a lot of trouble.
Looking back on it, Edward could admit to himself that a great deal of his indignation over Emmett’s attitude had been rooted in jealousy—Emmett had made it look so easy. Edward had wrestled with the implications of his change for years, with what it meant to his identity, his mind, his body, his soul—still did, really.
But Emmett really wasn’t one for introspection on the nature of man and the soul—as far as he was concerned, he was still himself, maybe a little different on the outside, but otherwise the same. Oh, he’d had his moments of melancholy over the loss of the life he’d known, of his family, but all in all even that wasn’t too overwhelming. His mother was dead, and his father had always been rather distant from his boys, who he generally treated well but simply as work hands for the farm. Their house had been managed by a maiden aunt who was not at all cruel, but nor was she at all kind. He hadn’t been close to either of them, but they were all he’d ever known.
Emmett had been close to his older brothers and he did miss them, and quite a lot some days. But he couldn’t see them anymore, and that was how it would have been even if he had died out there in the woods, and so he was just going to have to get used to the idea. It was just that Emmett had spent twenty years rolling with whatever life happened to throw at him, and while it was a dilly of a curve this time, he still just gamely changed his ways to adapt to his new circumstances.
Yes, Edward had been very jealous—and in all honesty, he still was. He wished he had such an uncomplicated outlook on life. Although a great deal of Emmett’s natural placidity stemmed not from any sort of philosophy, but from his clean conscience, Edward could grimly acknowledge.
The first months with their new addition had been rather uncomfortable. Not like with Rose, whose very presence kept the whole house roiling with sorrow and guilt and her impotent rage. No, with Emmett, it was just a bit…awkward. Carlisle was a scholar, a doctor, a man of learning. Edward and Rose both were born to privilege, from white-collar families and who had never known want, much less had to endure physical labor.
Emmett was, to be frank, an uncultured plowboy. Not that any of them held that against him—it was just that he wasn’t at all from their social cachet, and as such, they simply didn’t have all that much in common with him. They didn’t know him from before he was changed, as Carlisle had with Esme and all of them had with Rose, and they were having trouble coming to know him now, this big, boisterous, rough-hewn young man who was suddenly dropped in the middle of their quiet, relatively genteel existence.
Esme was the one who seemed to relate to him the best—she may have moved to the big city when she was barely sixteen, but she’d spent her early years as one of a hoard of unwashed, barefoot children living in a tiny cabin in the woods of the Ohio River Valley. There was a gap of some fifteen years worth of cultural differences, but Edward supposed her no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude struck a chord with the out-of-place farm boy. And Esme—well, she was always happiest when managing someone, so she was quite willing to take him under her wing and show him the ropes.
Emmett tended to treat Carlisle with a sort of respectful deference; despite the fact that he towered over him and probably outweighed him by a hundred pounds of sheer muscle, Emmett was rather intimidated by the quiet doctor. Edward could understand that—he’d probably have been intimidated by his calm, knowing serenity as well if his gift hadn’t given him a much more intimate view of the man’s mind than most could boast. But that same serenity and kindness quickly won Emmett over; he still deferred to him, with the sort of near reverence one might afford a priest, but he opened up enough to be able to speak to him with a quiet, easy humor and learn about being a vampire from him.
Edward’s relationship with their newest member had been quite uneasy at first. To Emmett, Edward’s “big city manners” and neat dress, along with his penchant for reading and music and the clearly adult sophistication that seemed to out of place with his young appearance, had delineated a clear difference in status in the young man’s mind—and since Edward could hear everything that went on in that mind, he knew it. He was always polite, but Emmett seemed to treat him with…not deference, exactly, but rather a certain sort of wariness. And it was difficult for Edward to warm to him when he could feel Emmett’s constant discomfort at the possibility of looking ignorant or foolish in front of him—along with the occasional derisive thought about him being a pampered little townie snob.
But despite that, his gift also allowed him to hear Emmett’s unvoiced insecurities at being suddenly thrust in amongst people who all seemed so much more educated and refined than he was, and to see his well-meaning if awkward attempts to try to fit in, and Edward’s sympathy was reflexive. So he did his best to be friendly—they were, after all, now brothers, in a way.
Unfortunately, Edward had been an only child, and so had no idea how to act with a brother. In the end it had been Emmett’s natural exuberance that had started them down the road to overcoming their difficulties.
It started with their trips out hunting. They had, as always, found it necessary to move to a remote location to ease their newborn family member into being a vampire without hurting any innocent bystanders—to teach them what they were while still keeping them away from humans. They’d packed up their little household and moved way up north in the Sitkine Region of British Columbia, deep in the coastal forests where Emmett could learn to be a vampire. Edward, of course, had enjoyed that time of his unlife, experiencing the rush of the hunt, experimenting the amazing new strength and speed of his body.
But Emmett didn’t merely enjoy it—he loved it.
From the moment Emmett had realized the extent of the physical changes wrought by his transformation, he had been conducting an ongoing love affair with his new vampiric attributes. He ran everywhere he went. He picked up huge boulders and hurled them into lakes and rivers just to see how far he could throw them and how big a splash he could make. He climbed up the huge cypress and fir trees like a monkey and leapt from treetop to treetop, roaring at the top of his lungs as he went and thumping his chest like King Kong when he landed.
Edward didn’t know what to make of him. Particularly when, flushed with exertion and adrenaline, Emmett would attempt to goad him to race him to the top of a tree, or to the edge of the woods, or back to the house, or try to talk him into a wrestling match or some other pointless demonstration of physical prowess.
“Come on, Edward,” Emmett had wheedled after Edward had stiffly declined to arm wrestle for the privilege of eating first while they were out on a hunting trip. “You’ve got all this amazing power, and you just sit on it—live a little!”
“You do realize we’re dead, don’t you?” Edward had asked flatly.
Emmett snorted. “You’re only dead if you act dead,” he pronounced. And, with a half-amused, half-mocking glint in his eye, he smirked, “Does that explain why you’re such a stiff?” before haring off in the direction of the scent of a herd of elk.
Edward, although rather miffed, could only follow. The same as he’d followed along when Emmett had announced on one of their hunting ventures that he wanted to eat a bear.
“Oh, now, really,” Edward had protested. “We are predators, Emmett—we should eat prey animals, not things like bears. If we denude the rest of the natural predator populations, we’ll overrun the area with their natural prey.”
“Not ‘bears’,” Emmett said stubbornly. “Bear. Just one.”
“Why on earth do you want a bear?” Edward had finally asked in exasperation.
Emmett gave him a bloodthirsty grin. “A bear ate me—now I’m gonna return the favor.”
And sure enough, after a few days worth of searching and despite Edward’s pointing out that he had not, in fact, been eaten by anything, Emmett found a bear—a big, nasty grizzly. He said that was what had mauled him in the woods—first time he’d ever seen one, and he hadn’t thought they even came as far south as Oregon anymore. But one apparently had, and it had been starved and bad-tempered after just waking up for the spring, and it had quite effectively killed the hapless Emmett. “But I got a few shots in first,” he’d defended himself. “It didn’t take me long to figure out that I wasn’t going to get away this time, so I figured I’d try to take him with me.”
He hadn’t succeeded, obviously, but now he was the strong one, he said, and he had just waked up from a long hard sleep and he was pissed off, and now it was his turn. And so Edward had perched in a tree and watched incredulously as Emmett charged at the roaring bear, bellowing right back at it, and proceeded to wrestle with the thing, howling and yammering and swearing and laughing as he went until finally he ended it by pinning it to the ground and draining it dry.
Emmett came trotting over to where Edward had dropped down from his tree when it was all over; he was filthy, his clothes tattered and covered with blood and grass and dirt, but he was grinning hugely, and his delight had been infectious, so much so that it had been a struggle for Edward to remain too terribly disapproving over the spectacle.
Edward had nipped off to find himself something else, and after eating a deer returned to find Emmett still sprawled on the ground beneath that same tree, radiating self-satisfaction. He leapt to his feet when he heard Edward coming, and after eyeing his only slightly dirty clothes, asked, “Did you eat?”
Edward nodded, unable to keep his eye from wandering critically over the remnants of Emmett’s own shirt; Emmett saw it, and Edward heard a spark of irritation in his mind, but it was quickly snuffed beneath a blanket of vaguely condescending amusement and he only grinned back at him. “You know, keeping all neat like that really takes the fun out of it,” he remarked as they started back towards the house.
“Hunting isn’t about fun,” said Edward, his mind taking a dark turn as he recalled this conversation from long ago. “It’s about survival.”
Emmett gave a bark of laughter. “So speaks the man who never went huntin’ before,” he said dismissively.
Edward rolled his eyes at the flashes of memory he heard from Emmett, of wearing old clothes to blend in and painting his face with dirt and hiding in the bushes with his rifle, waiting—very different from the way that Edward had hunted before. “Going hunting is different—that’s a sport.”
“What—you think I wasn’t hunting to eat before?” Emmett demanded, and Edward felt his now-familiar flare of indignation at Edward’s attitudes from his cushy background, and that surety that he was being mocked for his simpler upbringing.
“No, no, that’s not what I meant at all,” Edward hurried to correct him, even though he could rather ashamedly acknowledge the fact that the notion of hunting to eat as a human was foreign to him, and no, he hadn’t quite been thinking of it like that. “It’s just—you’re out tracking the animal using your brain, not your nose, and then when you find it, you use a weapon—you don’t just tackle it. And then you dress it and take it home to prepare it, you don’t just—just fall on it right there like—well, like an animal, and—this way is just different, that’s all.”
“Yeah, it’s different—it’s better!”
Edward looked at Emmett in disbelief as he went on, “I feel like some kind of rugged, I dunno, mountain man or something—really one with nature, or living off the land or whatever—killing my own meat with my bare hands.” He laughed at his own pun. “Seriously, though—this is great.” He looked down at his own massive paws, flexing his arms and fingers; the enormous muscles rippled sinuously beneath his skin, and Edward looked away, his face pinched. “I never imagined being this strong,” Emmett was going on. “Imagine all the work I could have done back on the farm.” He tossed Edward another broad smile. “And I bet could take on all three of the Carter triplets at once—with one hand tied behind my back.”
“Easily,” Edward said dryly, and that was true—Emmett was strong. Outrageously so, even for a newborn. Even later, nearly a year after he’d been turned, it hadn’t seemed to have faded as it tended to for most others. Carlisle said he’d seen one or two vampires before who were like that; it seemed that Emmett wasn’t going to ever manifest any extra mental abilities, but he more than made up for it in brute strength and dizzying speed. Luckily, that hadn’t bothered him at all—unlike Rose, he wasn’t at all jealous not to have some additional mental gift, his strength suiting him just fine (really, the only thing he was mad about was that he couldn’t turn into a bat).
Back then, though, when he was newly turned and Edward had first been taking him out to hunt, his strength had not been merely impressive—it had been nothing short of ridiculous. Subsequently, Emmett blundered through his new life like a bull in a china shop, badly underestimating his own power and knocking over and breaking things right and left, leaving chaos in his wake worse than Edward himself or Rose had ever done.
Unlike either of them, though, once he got over his mortification at destroying so many things in their house—once he realized that they expected it and had all done it themselves—he regarded it all as one big joke and endured his clumsiness with merry good humor. It was a small price to pay for his now phenomenal strength, to his mind.
Emmett had chuckled to himself as they emerged from the woods into the clearing with the broad pond behind their house. “You and me together, we could take on just about everybody in Clatskanie in a fight,” he remarked.
“But why on Earth would I want to?” Edward had asked.
“Why not?” Emmett retorted.
Edward just shook his head; his particular sort of insight into Emmett’s mind still hadn’t helped him understand how he could so enjoy fighting. And he did, too—it seemed like every other week in his memories he’d been some sort of scrap or wrestling match with someone. And what was so bewildering about it all was that it had been good-natured fighting—the very idea seemed contradictory to Edward, who had never fought as a child (and whose only real fight later had been in deadly earnest).
“You know, Ed,” Emmett said ponderously, and Edward twitched at the nickname, giving him a frosty look that went unnoticed, “you really should learn to enjoy doing stuff for the fun of it—just because you can.”
Edward frowned. To him, it seemed as though Emmett simply refused to take their situation seriously—they had a responsibility that came with their physical superiority. “There are a lot of things I can do as a vampire but that I won’t do just because I can—because I don’t find them fun,” he said darkly.
“Yeah, but there are a lot of things that would have been fun before and would still be fun now, you know,” Emmett had answered with a rather patronizing chuckle, and he nudged Edward with his shoulder.
Only…Emmett had still been very young, and very, very strong. And still not quite in control of himself. He hadn’t meant to, but it happened all the same—his little “nudge” was anything but.
Edward went flying—straight into the pond.
He landed with a great splash, face down in the mucky, weedy water. Seeing as it was an accident, he’d had not the slightest warning from Emmett’s mind, and so the cold and wet had been an enormous shock, and Edward managed to swallow a great slug of brackish water. He came up, coughing and spluttering and dripping wet, his clothes a disaster and his hair plastered to his head, to see Emmett looking completely horrified (OH SHIT)—before he absolutely exploded with laughter.
Edward stalked squelchily through the pond, wrapping his bruised and bedraggled dignity around him like a coat, and made his way to the bank. He clambered out of the water, crossing his arms and coming to glare down at Emmett, who was by that point rolling on the ground, clutching his stomach, his booming laughter echoing through the clearing. Every time he would seem to be getting a hold of himself, he would look up, see Edward bristling wetly above him, and he would lose it all over again, roaring with great belly laughs the likes of which Edward could barely remember ever having done himself.
Edward stood in silent indignation, just has he had all those years ago when Freddie Nelson had pushed him in a mud puddle ‘cause Freddie was bigger and Edward couldn’t fight back—until suddenly, Edward realized that he could fight back.
And before he was even aware of what he was doing, he’d swooped down, seized Emmett by the arms, and heaved him into the air and right into the pond.
He went with a yell, his arms pinwheeling uselessly as he arced through the air, and then landed with a satisfying ploosh. And when he struggled to his feet, soaked and disbelieving, Edward couldn’t help it—he laughed.
Emmett blinked, and then he grinned (oh yeah that’s it it is ON) and simply launched himself at Edward, tackling him to the ground.
It was indeed on.
Edward had never just…brawled with anyone for the sake of it in his life, and yet he suddenly found himself in a tangle of arms and legs, grappling furiously with Emmett, twisting and yanking and scrabbling and flailing, both of them laughing and swearing like sailors as they fought on the soft ground.
Edward had no idea who “won;” in the end, they both exhausted each other and simply collapsed in the mangled turf at the edge of the pond, laughing weakly, with hardly the energy to get up. They finally did, Emmett heaving his great bulk out of the mud and offering Edward his hand; his tug nearly had Edward airborne again, but his time he just slammed into Emmett, who laughed, and somewhere turned it into a rough clap on the back and then left his heavy arm draped around his shoulder as they staggered towards home.
And, well, after that, everything had been fine. Edward found that he had a lot less trouble shedding his reserve, and there was much less wariness or pushy belligerence from Emmett. Oh, that’s not to say that they were suddenly the best of chums—some days they would revert into their previous stiffness around each other. Emmett still staunchly refused to see his vampirism as anything but a wonderful game. Nothing Edward had said seemed to convince him otherwise—it just caused him to lapse back into considering him an uptight little “pantywaist.” Only now, Emmett had no compunctions about calling him that to his face, which Edward did not appreciate. But despite that, despite their opposing views and opinions and attitudes and ideas of fun, they managed to get along. Even with all that against them, they’d somehow managed to become more or less friends.
Edward didn’t think he’d ever had a friend like Emmett—he certainly never would have had he remained human—but now that he did, he couldn’t deny that he was on the whole enjoying his rough, easy companionship. It was a kind of camaraderie that he’d never really known existed, and as such, he’d never really known what he was missing.
He still couldn’t be sanguine about the idea of creating more vampires, of forcing more people to become what he was—but if it had had to be someone, he thought they could have done much worse than Emmett. Sometimes, reflecting on the way he could brighten the whole room with his jokes and laughter, Edward couldn’t imagine anyone better.
Neither could Rose.
Edward felt his pleasant reminiscing sour a little as his thoughts turned back to his other sibling of sorts, and the reason he was forcing himself to concentrate so hard on his music. She was finally—finally—dressed, Heaven be praised, but her arcane female preening ritual was hardly over. She of course needed no paints to beautify her face, but she was playing with them anyway, and arranging and rearranging her hair, trying to decide which would be best.
Rosalie was the only person in the house with whom Emmett was still awkward. But it wasn’t because she didn’t like him. Quite the opposite, really.
Edward grimaced at the steady flow of silly, bubbly thoughts trickling down from Rosalie’s room and into his ear. Although really, it was difficult to begrudge her her shallow little pleasures. He’d known that Rose had changed since her death, but it hadn’t been thrown in such sharp relief since she’d first been turned. And that was because suddenly, nearly three years since she’d been turned, she was finally reverting back to her old self. She wasn’t just Rose, the angry, bitter girl who spent her days and nights mourning the idyllic life she lost—she had no time for that now. Not when she was busy playing Princess Rosalie, the charming coquette who thrived on attention and who loved all the boys and who all the boys loved.
The only difference now was that there was only one boy she was angling for.
Rosalie had spent the past two years closeted away with wise, fatherly Carlisle, brisk, matronly Esme, and Edward, who wasn’t the least bit interested in playing the suitor (and who she hated anyway). But now, there was Emmett, young, happy, and handsome—and who had called her an angel.
Edward didn’t even try to suppress his snort this time as he shuffled his music, looking for something classical again to drown out the soppy mental rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” coming from upstairs. It was utterly ridiculous, the nearly overnight transformation of Rosalie back into the sweet, smiling flirt.
Fat lot of good it was doing her. Rosalie’s obvious efforts alone would have been amusing enough, but what pushed the whole thing into the realm of the absurd was Emmett himself.
The minute Rosalie came into a room, her face wreathed in smiles, the laughing, lively Emmett would suddenly get very, very quiet. He would fiddle with his sleeves and speak in monosyllables and only when addressed, and keep his eyes firmly on the floor—except for the quick, furtive peeks at Rosalie when he thought no one was looking.
In all his thirty-five years, Edward didn’t think he’d ever seen anything quite so silly.
Edward didn’t think he could take much more of their dancing around each other. Well—if you could call it that. Rosalie wasn’t so much dancing as she was charging—Emmett wouldn’t have stood a chance against her relentless pursuit, if it weren’t for this ridiculous case of shyness he seemed to develop whenever Rose was around. Edward had heard his nebulous angst over the situation enough times to know that it was only around Rose that he truly felt himself inadequate: His rough, uncultured upbringing rendered him in no way fit for any attempts in that direction. Not with pretty “Miss Rosalie,” former Princess of Kemmerer, Wyoming.
And he’d so convinced himself of his inferiority that he couldn’t even see her blatant invitation. Frankly, Edward didn’t think she could get any more obvious in her intentions. She was clearly on the make and had pulled out all the stops—short of wearing a sandwich board proclaiming that she was would welcome his flirtatious advances, she’d spared no trick in her arsenal of Ways to Attract Boys. She was smiling, bright, flirtatious, wearing all her prettiest dresses, putting the radio on to listen to romantic tunes, hinting about how much she missed dancing, asking Emmett all about himself his opinions and listening with rapt attention, fluttering around him to make sure that he was comfortable and entertained—Edward half expected her to try to cook him dinner.
Carlisle and Esme simply stood aside, watching the whole tableau with a sort of indulgent amusement. They were sure that things would work out in time, what with the pair being so obviously smitten with each other; they needed to work through their current standstill on their own, and then everything would be fine.
Edward didn’t think he would survive long enough for them to sort themselves out without going mad. Carlisle and Esme had the luxury of indulgence—they didn’t have to live out both sides of this farce day in and day out. Just being in the same room with the two of them left Edward feeling lightheaded and jittery, anxious over imagined insecurities about not being good enough for Rose, frustrations about looking pretty enough for Emmett, and worst of all, in a fluttering, lovesick stupor that left him woolly-headed and out of sorts. The only thing worse was the helpless and awful vicarious attraction (to both of them!) that was foisted on him as well.
He couldn’t take much more of this. Sitting in on Esme and Carlisle’s courtship had been a walk in the park compared to this—at least they were sensible about it! But this was ridiculous! For the sake of his own sanity, Edward was this far from sitting Emmett down and explaining to him that Rosalie was dead gone on him and that he really needed to get over whatever strange ideas he had about class—they were vampires now, and none of that mattered—so would he please just go along with Rosalie’s little game, so he wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore?
Edward shook his head, sighing as he leaned his head on his elbow against the piano, idly picking out the base line of “Canon in D.” No, he’d probably go on as he had, leaving well enough alone even as he went quietly insane. This wasn’t at all his territory—Emmett would simply have to fend for himself.
Shaking off all thoughts of Emmett and Rose and their childish little mating dances, he righted his posture, curled his fingers over the keys, and began to play the first bars of the Pachelbel in front of him.
Edward looked up, his brow furrowing slightly, his fingers frozen on the first chords. What was that?
There. Distant, the words and the mind behind them hovering at the periphery of his range, tickling the edge of his conscious. Edward closed his eyes and opened his mind wide; he shoved aside the suddenly booming mental voices of Rose and Esme and Carlisle and just listened.
(ohgod no god no)
Edward frowned. Emmett?
Edward’s eyes snapped open, his stomach leaping up in his throat to choke him, his own sick terror welling up inside him and overwhelming that tiny whimper of despair he heard from outside. He shot out of his seat, sending the stool skittering off behind him, and stood rigid and trembling as his hands flew up to his mouth, clenched in tight fists even as he heard it, felt it again.
Oh, God, no. He flew out from behind his piano and hurdled through the back door and out of the house, the screen door flapping noisily behind him, and he ran blindly towards the swelling sound of that voice, that mind—
His feet slid on the wet carpet of fallen leaves that covered the forest floor as he ran, darting around the dark wet trunks of trees, his eyes burning, his breath coming in quick pants, desperate, no, no, not that, anything but that, no, not Emmett, no, no—
“Emmett!” he shouted, his voice stricken with grief, running towards the sound of the sudden recognition, the realization, and then the explosion of horrified shame and remorse, he would know, of course he would know, would know what he did—
There he was—Edward could see him between the trees, the huge, hulking form hunched in on himself, on his knees on the rain-soaked ground, his shoulders shaking, his eyes smarting, his stomach clenching with nausea even against the living, molten delight that filled it, and as Edward skidded to a halt across the slippery leaves, Emmett looked up, with eyes that glowed as bright as the morning sun, and Edward could only stare at him in horror.
And then he was pulled, no, yanked into Emmett’s mind, into his memory of ambling through the trees, whistling tunelessly on his way home, passing by a tiny house buried in the forest, of cutting to the side and around the back so no one would see him, but then hearing the sound of rough humming, seeing the limp fluttering of wet bedsheets, and then a particularly strong gust had sent them flying high so Emmett could see the woman hanging them on the line, her graying hair pulled up in a bundle, her sun-browned face broad and careworn, and then her scent—
And then his vision telescoped down to a pinpoint, there was nothing else, no sight, no sound, no world, nothing but her smell, that smell, and her, her, HER—
Dimly, Edward heard a strangled sound escape him, helplessly reeling against the remembered madness, but it was no use; his stomach seized as though in a vice, fire scorching along his gullet as if a red-hot poker had been rammed down his throat, his fangs all but leaping out, jutting painfully long in his mouth as long ropes of venom dangled from his lips, and he was driven to his knees by the mere memory of that smell, of HER—
(HER HER HER)
—and then there was nothing, nothing but that taste, and the gush of that thick red heat in his mouth and his mind as he frantically bit and gnawed and sucked and drank he had to have it all of it would die if he didn’t he had to had to HAD TO and he drank and he drank and he DRANK and stars and light and it burned through him and in him in fire and ecstasy and breath and life and I want it want it want more more MORE—
As though from a great distance Edward heard himself cry out, barely aware of the sudden spasm and wetness in his trousers as he clenched his arms around his knotted insides, panting and gasping as he tried to force it down, not to hear it, not to see it, not to taste it, biting his own lip and focusing on that sudden sharp pain to focus him now, and he looked up.
Emmett stared at him, shaking, his eyes huge and bloodshot and yet brighter, more blindingly golden than he had ever seen on any vampire, and Edward managed to croak his name, when Emmett’s broad, open face simply crumpled. “I didn’t mean to!” he wailed. “I don’t—I didn’t want—I was—I couldn’t—she—I just—I didn’t mean to!”
His agony slammed into Edward’s brain like a battering ram, and even as he felt it rising up to strangle him, and with it his own, he used the force of it to push aside the memory of—of that—and he lurched forward on his knees to catch Emmet in his arms as he collapsed.
“I didn’t mean to!”
He kept sobbing, bawling the words over and over again, and Edward held him, held him tight, his own eyes burning but without tears, Not Emmett, God, why did it have to happen to Emmett? But he didn’t speak, just held him and rocked him as he cried.
Emmett’s massive hands came up, clutching at him desperately, and Edward grunted at the blind force behind them, feeling his bones creak and shudder beneath their mindless strength. “I didn’t—Edward, you have to believe me—I didn’t—” His voice was broken, helpless.
“I know—I know you didn’t,” Edward managed, his lungs barely able to inflate beneath that crushing embrace.
“I was just—just walking—I—wasn’t hungry, just—just walking—I’ve never—”
The hands on his back clenched tight, tighter, and Edward tasted the bitter, day-old blood in his veins as he bit his lip through to keep from crying out as he felt his shoulder blades crack beneath that blundering force, and Edward felt the ball of anguish, white hot, that boiled up in his gut as Emmett sobbed, “I murdered her.”
Edward’s own breath hitched. “Emmett—”
He jerked away, his eyes blazing. “I murdered her!” he howled, and he seized Edward by the shoulders and shook him, shaking so hard that his teeth rattled like hailstones on glass, but Emmett didn’t seem to notice. “You—you told me—you told me not to be—you told me what I was, what I could do, and I didn’t—didn’t listen, and I killed her and ate her and murdered her—”
Edward’s own hands came up, gripping Emmett’s shoulders, holding him firmly. “No, Emmett,” he said, his voice low and steady. “You didn’t.”
His head flew up, his face twisted with pain. “Damn you, I killed her!” he shouted.
“Yes,” Edward said with a calm he didn’t feel. Emmett stared at him, his golden eyes rimmed with red from his dry tears. “I know—I know you killed her, Emmett.” Edward met his eyes, didn’t look away, didn’t blink.
Emmett released him; Edward’s lungs reflexively filled without that constriction, and he fought to stay upright and strong as his bones knitted back together. Emmett did not—he simply seemed to fold in on himself, his eyes clenching shut, his arms wrapped tight around his middle, huddling low to the ground. Edward had never seen him look so small and lost.
“You told me,” he whispered again. “You said—so many times—that it wasn’t a game.” His voice cracked. “And I just laughed.” Emmett’s whole body seemed to quake, wracked with a bone-deep shudder. “And now I’m a murderer.”
Edward shut his eyes tightly for a moment, clenching his fists, before scooting closer to him and putting one hand on his shoulder. Emmett flinched away, but Edward grabbed him again, holding him still. “Emmett,” he said. “I don’t know—what happened. I’ve never—”
“I’ve smelled humans before!” Emmett jerked away again. “But that one—I went crazy—I didn’t even know—what I’d done until—until I’d done it!
Edward turned away, shoving his fist into his mouth and biting down, anything to drive away the sudden upsurge of that memory, of that smell, of that taste—
“I know, Emmett,” he forced out. He clamped his lips shut for a moment, breathed in the smell of rotting leaves and wet earth and fallen rain, before opening his eyes to look at him again. “I was a newborn too, once,” he said slowly, shaking his head, still trying to clear it. “But even then I never smelled anyone—never felt anything—like that.”
Emmett blinked owlishly at him. Edward swallowed once. “I don't know what that was, but I’m not a newborn anymore—and I don’t think even now I could have resisted that either.”
Emmett turned away, and Edward could feel that he didn’t believe that, because Edward was better, better at everything, and he had told him so and he was right and Emmett was nothing but a fuck-up—and a murderer. “I didn’t mean to.” The words came out as little more than a whisper, his voice thin and defeated.
“I know you didn’t,” Edward answered quietly. “And that’s why you’re not a murderer.”
Emmett’s head jerked up, his face suddenly alight with rage. “Don’t you tell me I’m not a murderer!” he roared, leaping to his feet. “I killed and ate that woman, you son of a bitch, you don’t know anything about it, so high and mighty and perfect all the time, you don’t know anything—”
“Yes I do.” His words were soft, but his voice was hard, and he looked up at Emmett from where he still knelt on the ground. He swallowed again, his throat tight. “I know that you’re not a murderer—because I am.”
Emmett stared. Edward closed his eyes and took a slow unneeded breath before rising to his feet, his trousers sticking to his knees where they were wetted through from the rain-soaked earth. “Once,” he began, his voice halting “when I was—young and foolish and angry—and very hungry—I smelled fresh blood on a man—and before I even knew what I had done, I attacked him, and I killed him, and I ate him.”
He looked Emmett straight in his disbelieving eye, and saw his own pale, bloodless face looking back from them. “But that—that wasn’t murder.” And in that moment, Edward knew it, and he believed it, and knew he was right. “It was a horrible, horrible accident, and I’ll never forgive myself for it—but I didn’t mean to do it, didn’t mean to kill him, and didn’t even know what I had done until it was too late.”
Emmett started to open his mouth, but Edward went relentlessly on, raising his voice to speak over him, “And I know that that was just an accident—because what I did afterward was murder.”
Now he looked away, couldn’t meet his eyes, even as he could feel Emmett’s own horror and remorse over what he had done, because Edward knew that that very remorse he hadn’t felt all those years ago was what set them apart. “It was a terrible thing, to take another man’s life—but it was an accident. I didn’t mean to do it.” He looked at his own tightly clenched hands. “But I did mean to do the one after it. And the one after that. And the one after that.” He closed his eyes. “I stalked them, I attacked them, and I deliberately killed them in cold blood—and all just because I was hungry. And that,” he said, looking up at Emmett’s stunned expression, “was murder.”
“What—why did you—what happened?” Emmett finally managed, still staring at him in shock.
Edward sighed and looked away. “I was…angry. Stupid.” It was easier to speak when he looked at the silent trees that surrounded them, not at Emmett’s confused and hurting face. “I—I had it in my head that some people—that some people deserved it—deserved to be hunted down like dogs for what they would do. Murderers, rapists—I convinced myself that it was okay when it was men like that.”
He wrapped his hands uselessly around his arms, having no heat to warm himself against the shiver that moved down his spine. “I somehow managed to overlook the fact that what I was doing was no different than what they did—telling myself that it was for the good of society, or something…when in the end, it didn’t matter what good I might have been doing—I was in it for no one but myself. It was a nothing but a—a premeditated act of violence. I killed people for my own selfish gain.”
He swallowed the bile that filled his throat and looked up. Emmett was standing still, just staring at him, the whirl of thoughts behind his eyes making Edward’s head hurt. They looked at each other, Edward didn’t know how long, the heavy silence broken only by the sounds of the woods around them, until Edward spoke again. “You killed that woman, Emmett,” he said quietly, and Emmett flinched, but Edward went on. “She’s dead, and it is a terrible thing, and you’ll remember what you did for the rest of your life.” He looked him straight in the eye. “But you are not a murderer.”
They both stood there, not speaking, Emmett’s gut still roiling with guilt and sorrow, and Edward’s chest hollow with his own shame and regret, until Emmett’s eyes closed and he slumped where he stood, falling heavily against the tree trunk behind him and sliding down to sit at its base, his shoulders bent and his head bowed. “But—I killed her, Edward,” he said softly.
“I know,” Edward answered, his voice gentle now as he came over to crouch next to him. “And I know it’ll take some time—and I can tell you now that it isn’t something you get over.”
“I shouldn’t get over it,” Emmett said harshly.
“No,” he agreed. “You shouldn’t—and you won’t.” He put one hand on Emmett’s shoulder, and this time he didn’t jerk away. “I know you, Emmett,” he said. “You’re a good man—and I know you’re a good man because you won’t get over it.” Emmett looked up at him, and Edward felt a wave of penitence from him, of shame and sorrow for the teasing, the derision, and Edward couldn’t help the small, sad smile that touched the corner of his mouth. “A murderer wouldn’t care what he did, wouldn’t feel remorse for what he did—but you do.” Edward squeezed his shoulder. “And that is why you aren’t a murderer, Emmett.”
Emmett just looked at him, and Edward fancied he saw a glimmer of something like hope in his eyes, before he sighed and dropped his head, scrubbing at his eyes like a child. Edward looked away for a moment before turning back. “You need some time?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“Yeah. I just—yeah.”
“Okay.” He rose to his feet. “I—I’ll head on home, then.”
Emmett’s head shot up, his eyes suddenly terrified, and Edward felt the way his stomach contracted into a tight ball, saw the faces of the others flash thought his mind, Carlisle and Esme and Rosalie, especially Rosalie, and his voice was almost panicky as he said, “You won’t—you won’t tell—”
“It’s not my story—and it’s not their business,” Edward said kindly. “I’ll cover for you—you just get yourself together and then come home.”
Emmett sagged again, a mix of relief and shame filling up his mind, and Edward turned to go, but stopped when he heard Emmett’s hesitant voice.
He turned, and saw Emmett looking at him, his eyes bright, and he gnawed at his lip as Edward felt him trying to order his thoughts, wrestling with the revelations of the day and the newly-formed glimmer of respect that Edward didn’t deserve but that was nonetheless rising in Emmett’s breast. His mouth worked for a moment as he tried to put into words what he was feeling, to express the warm swell of gratitude that he felt. “I—” he started, but his throat seemed to close and his eyes stung. Emmett looked away and swallowed thickly, and then just said, “Thank you.”
Edward nodded. “You’re welcome.” Then, “I’ll see you later.”
Emmett exhaled. “Yeah. Later.”
“Okay.” Edward nodded again, and then he turned away and started the walk back through the forest and towards the house. His motionless heart was heavy in his chest, but despite that, he had the comfort of knowing that in the end, Emmett would find his way home.
Table of Contents | Part I
Be sure to check out the last of the “Hours” asides, “Curiouser & Curiouser”.