I just want to warn all of you soft-hearted types that this episode comes with a definite turn for the violent. If you are bothered by things like that (like me, for instance), then just be warned that the action definitely picks up and there is some stuff towards the end that might be a little disturbing. But not necessarily more disturbing than, say, Cars II (Disney, you assholes. If you have young children who love Pixar Cars as much as mine and you follow me on Twitter, you've already heard me bitch about Cars II. BUT I DIGRESS.)
Thanks to those of you who are keeping up with this with me, and thanks for leaving me comments to let me know you care. Thanks again to the generous donors of Fandom Gives Back, and especially to Snarkier Than You who beta'd this even though she has the plague herself this week.
See you on the other side.
Reckoner Part VII
“Walk with me.”
Esme took me by the hand and led me out the back door of the house. It was well past midnight and there was no moon and the dark was soothing, like I might just let my thoughts go swimming out into it, away from me. We were headed to the cemetery, the place she always walked at night, and I already knew any minute she’d be imploring me to do better, to try harder, to not give up on myself. I waited for her to gather her thoughts and focused my attention on the whisper of our tread on the damp grass, trying to stay out of her head.
“There’s only so much Carlisle can take,” she finally said as we reached the gate. Her eyes were sad and serious. “He’s got to look out for the others. And you know better than all of us where drinking human blood will lead. Think of Aro.”
“I know,” I said, considering the shriveled up, depraved leader of the Volturi who even now looked for any and all excuse to come after Carlisle and the rest of us for some obscure violation of the code. He was a powerful mess, though not one to be taken lightly.
“Edward, if Carlisle loses you, it will kill him.”
“I know that.”
We found her favorite headstone, a turn of the century, hand-carved and near illegible tribute to the Ward Thomas family. Esme dusted the top off and then bent to brush some leaves away from the grave.
“You look at all these lives lost here and wonder what they would have been like had they been brought into our world, right?” she asked. “All these people, gone who knows where.”
“These people have been gone a long time. Anyone who remembered them is long gone, too.”
“That’s the real end, right?” Esme shook her head slowly, her hand sliding over the pebbled, worn stone of the marker. “When there’s no one left who can remember the sound of your voice.”
“It sounds relaxing,” I said, attempting to lighten the mood a little, but failing. Hard.
Esme stared at me, stony and silent. Her hair fell about her face and rustled lightly in the night breeze. I am worried sick she said silently. You think of eternity without her as hell on earth, I know you do. But you can’t go on suffering like this or eventually you’ll do something desperate.
Her mind began to scatter and then race as she tried to select which of her thoughts to share with me, and then I heard the remnants of the conversation I didn’t want to have, the one where she would again implore me to seek help, or what I hated even more, to just propose to Mercy, like Mercy even deserved to be saddled with someone who would always be in love with someone he couldn’t have.
“Let’s not discuss it, okay?” I was respectful, but final.
“Are you leaving us again?”
There was an edge to her voice that I recognized as the oldest and most profound of Esme’s injuries. I put my arms around her and she grabbed me around the waist, clinging like I might be carried off by the wind, or that she might.
“I just didn’t want to see the girl get hurt tonight,” I said.
You’ve still got the thirst. I know you do.
“Look, it’s not like I’m not trying, okay? I messed up, that’s all.”
“So you’ll go back to the hospital to work with Carlisle then,” she said. That way, if it gets really bad you can just borrow from the blood supply. Not ideal, but no real harm done, right?
“It’s not the blood I crave,” I said.
What passed through her mind wasn’t a thought, but a deep shudder from the chilling confirmation of her worst fear.
I know, she said, and even her silent communication sounded resigned to me. It’s the kill.
Text me when you dock.
I’d been out for a quick sail that morning, and Mercy’s request flashed across my phone just as I got within range of the marina. I didn’t answer. I’d had enough guilt from Esme and was already re-committing myself to clean living anyway, so I thought I’d spare myself another round of pep talks. I knew she was just worried and I knew that she meant to help me, but she couldn’t help me and I was tired of disappointing people. Especially her.
The morning was gray and misty and damp as I tied Reckoner in her slip. I was planning to go back to the Cullen House to brush up on the Physicians Desk Reference in preparation for my first shift at the hospital. There weren’t all that many new afflictions but plenty of new drugs to learn and paperwork to forge since I’d last medically treated anyone. I jumped into my Volvo and started her up, unhappy about a strange knocking coming from under the hood and then I hit the stereo. My mind was almost steady when the phone rang and it was Mercy again. I still didn’t feel like talking, but I felt too much like an asshole to hit ignore, so I picked up.
“There’s no sense in trying to surprise you, so let me tell you exactly what’s going to happen, in case your sister hasn’t yet.” Allston Kaine’s voice was controlled rage.
“What the hell? Where is Mercy?”
“She’s with me,” he said. “And you and I are going to have a serious talk, right fucking now, about who’s entitled to what hunting in Portland. So get your ass over here and so help me if you bring Emmett and Jasper this time she will be without both her hands before you get through my front gate.”
“You fucking asshole,” I roared. “You squirming, petulant fuck. Nobody hunted anyone in your territory.”
“The Chief of Police’s oldest son was drained dead last night!” Allston yelled through the phone. “I’ve had an agreement with the Portland Police Department since 1948, and in one night, you’ve destroyed it!”
Rosalie, I thought. Shit, shit, shit.
“We’re giving him an offering,” Allston said. “And it’s not going to be one of mine. If you don’t man up, I’m giving him Mercy.”
Alice. Call waiting. I really wanted to know what she knew, but I couldn’t pick up until I knew Mercy wasn’t hurt.
“Put Mercy on,” I said. There was a shuffle and in the background I heard her cursing and stamping her feet.
“Edward?” Her voice was strained, like she was trying not to sound upset, but the edge in her tone was unmistakable. She was frightened. “Look, I’m all right. He hasn’t hurt me.”
“I’m on my way,” I said. “If anyone touches you, take their eyes out first. It’ll buy time.”
“All ten Kaines are here,” she said. “And more are coming.”
“I’m on my way.”
“You’d better be,” Allston said over Mercy’s protest in the background. And then the line went dead.
I didn’t have time to call Alice back before the phone rang again, and it was her.
“What the hell is going on?” she screamed.
“What did you see?” I tried to stay even and controlled, even as panic filled my lungs like sand filling a glass bottle.
“You’re dead, that’s what!” She was hysterical, her voice shaking and I could hear her moving frantically around the room as she spoke quickly. “You’re in pieces, on a pile of ashes, burning to death. Now tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Can you see Mercy?”
“No! Edward…” The line went quiet as Alice put her sight on Mercy. “My God—What the hell have you two gotten into?”
“It’s complicated,” I said. “I fucked up, Alice. Badly.”
“Emmett and Jasper are on their way to the Kaines’ right now. Let them take care of it, whatever it is.”
“They can’t!” I hollered. “Call them and tell them to back off or they’ll walk right into a fight outnumbered. The entire coven is there and they’ve called for backup.”
“You can’t do this!” she cried. “If you do this, you end up dead, do you understand me? You’ve got to turn the car around!”
“If I turn the car around, that dead vampire you’re seeing will be Mercy, and there’s no way, Alice. No way.”
“Please, please don’t do this!”
“I don’t have any better ideas right now!” I yelled. “What am I supposed to do, leave her?”
“I…I’m getting Carlisle,” she said, almost absently and I knew she was trying to see the different lines of probability for each of us on the trajectory we were on. “He’ll know what to do.”
Carlisle would be beyond enraged once he found out I’d given Rosalie the cop’s son’s address, and so would Emmett, but there was no way in hell their anger would rival the rage I felt at myself for my own stupidity, my own reckless self-indulgence.
I hung up the phone as I heard Alice pleading, “Edward just wait a minute. Wait…”
I slammed the gas again, but even at full power the car was too fucking slow. I punched it going into another curve and then saw Emmett’s Jeep pull across the road, cutting me off at the last second. It was a still-life to me as my favorite antique car bid fond farewell, crumpling into the side of that behemoth SUV and I was launched what felt like seventy-five feet up into the air. The ground shook violently as I landed, making a deep crater in the asphalt 100 yards north of where we collided. I pulled myself to my feet in time to see Jasper and Emmett running towards me at top speed and I took off to the north through the thickest part of the woods.
I put everything I had into getting away from them. I might have led Rosalie to commit murder, but I wasn’t going to lead Jasper and Emmett to an unwinnable battle with the most ruthless vampire coven in the northeast.
Sun filtered down through the trees and the pounding of our feet sounded like a herd of racing elk. They wouldn’t catch me, I knew, not even Jasper. They called after me, cursed me, begged me to stop or even just slow down so they could figure out what the hell had happened.
“Does this have something to do with that asshole from last night?” Emmett called from twenty yards behind me.
“You’re being a real prick, you know that?” Jasper called. “Alice is practically in a coma.”
“Go home!” I called back to them. “Take the coven back to Forks!”
I heard a phone, not my own since I’d lost it in the wreck, and then I heard the abrupt absence of their feet pounding the ground. They’d stopped following me. Alice must have called them, I figured. No idea what she might have seen, what she might have said, and I might never know. Good, I thought. Maybe I can take care of this without risking any more lives of people I love. Now if I could only save Mercy.
I ran faster until I was well inside Kaine territory. The woods seemed quiet and dusty here, and reeked of something sinister I couldn’t name. Maybe there were witches gathering. But I smelled no trace of humans.
I worried about Mercy, about what Allston might do to her, because I understood what he was capable of. She’d never taken me seriously enough when I warned her to stay away from him, even though tears ago he’d beheaded and burned the leader of a small, wandering coven out of Montréal for making a kill in Portland without his clearance. I cursed her in my head for not listening to me, then felt guilty as I realize the only reason she was in danger now was because of my own stupidity. Maybe Allston would just start by taking her fingers, to punish her for ever leaving him. More than 30 years later and he still hadn’t really gotten over her. It was no surprise to me that he’d found an excuse to hurt her, but it was unbearable that I’d been the cause of it. What she had ever seen in that parasite was beyond me, but that was Mercy--always selling herself short.
My stride grew longer, the woods streamed by in a blur of filtered sunlight and earthy tones. I was getting closer. But then I heard something I couldn’t understand—thoughts in some language I’d never heard before. Distressed, angry thoughts from in front of me, behind me, next to me, keeping pace and then I saw them.
Black bears. They were everywhere, swarming around me like angry hornets. But these were no ordinary bears. They were too large, too fast, and they were talking to each other, silently, though I had no idea what they were saying. They had to be shape shifters. And I had just rocketed right through their tribe.
I’d known shapeshifters before, and I was no fan. The feeling tended to be mutual. The Quileute tribe out on the Olympic Peninsula were known for their prowess in hunting vampires, and we’d had plenty of run-ins with them as we established territory out there. Once we joined them to rid the rest of the peninsula of predatory vampires we had no further problems from them, but they were a far cry from friendly. Shape-shifting black bears were something I’d encountered in the lore, but never in person. I was sorry to have made their acquaintance now.
I ran faster, but three of them kept pace with me, and soon they were on me, tearing into my back with great claws and dropping me to the ground. I rolled to my back and gnashed my teeth into the neck of the tallest one, tasted what was most definitely human blood and spat it out immediately. If I had any chance of escape, it would be destroyed by indulging my lust. He clawed at my face and I kicked him in the gut, sent him hurtling through the air into a tree. I sprang to my feet and was tackled by two more bears who threw me back to the ground and held me there as I thrashed against them. Wild thoughts of Mercy being tortured began to race through my mind as I fought to free myself from their hold, but I stopped thrashing when I realized they were no longer trying to kill me—they were just holding onto me. I closed my eyes and tried to rummage through the voices I heard, looking for patterns of language, impressions of feeling to figure out what they wanted, and then I was suddenly confused, because someone—one of them—was showing me something. And it was her.
Dark hair, piled elegantly, but loosely on top of her head, brown eyes and flushed face, soft lips that broke into a familiar smile as I held her in the light of the fading sun. What was this?
I opened my eyes and towering over me was a massive dirty-white bear, fur yellowing around the eyes, stained at the paws with grass and soil. He was flanked by twenty slightly smaller black bears, all larger than me, most even larger than Emmett. I jumped to my feet and took a defensive stance.
Midor the bear thought, and somehow I understood this was his name. He was the leader of this tribe, whatever it was, and I got the distinct feeling he didn’t want to kill me. And then Midor pictured her again—my dead love—in that same vision that had plagued me every day for fifty two years.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice pleading, confused. “Are you reading my mind?”
Midor pulled the vision back and I saw the sunset and the top half of myself in a tuxedo, waltzing this woman slowly, looking down at her with all of the love and longing I already knew I felt. But then it was gone, and in its place there was an image of Mercy and Allston and several Kaines in a heated argument.
“Please let me go,” I said, flooded with anxiety that I’d already been detained too long. “She’s in terrible danger.”
As I said it, I imagined Mercy having her fingers cut off by Allston flashed and recoiled at the thought. But then, so did Midor.
You can read my mind? I asked, and watched as the great bear tipped his head slightly. Then I silently said, Let me go or she will be murdered. Though I had little hope that a shapeshifter would take pity on a vampire, I just didn’t know what else to do.
Midor reared up on his hind legs and pawed into the air like he was fighting, and the wind began to blow leaves from the forest floor into a swirling column around us. Clouds came to darken the sky overhead and then, in my mind, I saw a fire with twenty vampires and ten humans. Mercy and I were held captives in front of it, my head was covered in some canvas wrap and as I looked to Midor, I understood this was my immediate future. This bear was a gifted seer, and I did not like what he was seeing. At all.
I wasn’t afraid of death, or even of pain and suffering. There had been days—plenty of them—I’d thought I wanted annihilation. Cessation. Not living an eternity as a being of stone, trapped in a withering world, unable to sleep, to dream or even to rest, or to discover what, if anything existed beyond the doors of death. I’d spent plenty of time alone touring cemeteries, not just to surround myself with the morose, but to imagine what an eternal rest might actually feel like. But now that I was confronted with what appeared to be my real exit from this world, I felt cold. I let the cold feeling take me, first in the chest, then out to my arms and legs. But as it crept up my neck and into my head I thought of Mercy again.
Let me go, I said. Let me go or they will kill her.
The bear reared up into the air again and roared ferociously, and then landed on its front paws, scratched angrily in the ground and then gave a mournful cry. It felt like a lightning bolt had hit me and my vision blacked out, and all I could see was the brown haired woman again, smiling up at me. What it all meant, I had no way to know but it didn’t matter in the face of what I had to do.
“Let me go!” I yelled in his hairy, white face.
He took several steps back from me, and all of the bears parted like a small black sea.
He roared again as I turned and bolted away.
The Kaine estate was on 450 acres outside of Portland, rimmed by the woods I now ran through. I broke out of them into the southern pasture, where the main herd of Allston’s champion thoroughbreds grazed and then took off toward the barn when I came flying through. There was an enormous restored farmhouse on the hill with several smaller dwellings for the ten regular members of Allston’s coven, all of them with shades drawn against the bright mid-morning sun.
I was passing the cottages on my way to the main house when I heard Mercy’s frantic train of thought.
I’m in the third cottage, the third one from the left. Don’t go into the house… Oh please I hope you’re not coming from the roadfront. Where are you, Edward? Please hear me. Please…
And then, the inner thoughts of Timothy Kaine, I hope Allston lets us have at her before we burn her tonight. He shouldn’t have kept her all for himself. Asshole.
On hearing that, and without much of a plan, I busted in through the front door of the small structure to see Timothy leering at Mercy, who was peering out the back window. They both snapped their heads around to find me fuming in the entryway. I throttled Timothy and then dropped him to the ground and had my foot on his neck, ready to snap his head off when Joseph and Mark Kaine grabbed me by the shoulders and dragged me out of the cottage, into the back door of the main house. Mercy ran after us and jumped onto Mark’s back and gave him a nasty bite on the back of his neck, digging her fingers into his eye but he single-arm hurled her to the ground. They grabbed me around the neck and dragged me inside.
“Don’t kill him yet,” Allston barked from the library. “Jesus Christ.”
They brought me to the library where Allston stood waiting, smug. He wore a grey suit with a yellow paisley tie, like he might be going to a board meeting. In the 1980s.
“Let him go,” Allston said, and they dropped me to the floor but I sprang to my feet.
“Edward!” Mercy ran over and threw her arms around me. The scent of her fear, mixed with the all-too-fresh scent of the sex she’d had with someone who wasn’t me hit me as I held her, and I took a step back and caught the smirk on Allston’s face. She wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered, he thought directly to me. Sort of a let down, really.
Mercy’s face was drawn and pinched, her eyes wide with worry.
I’m sorry, she thought at me. I thought I could placate him for you, but why didn’t you tell me about the murder? I would have never come over here…
“Let Mercy go,” I said. “This has nothing to do with her.”
“He didn’t kill him,” Mercy said, looking up into my eyes, down into my gut where her special sense confirmed the truth. “I told you he didn’t do it! So it was definitely a Kaine, then.”
“My coven knows better than to kill any member of the Reynolds family,” Allston said. “It was certainly not one of us.”
“Look at his eyes!” Mercy insisted. “You know it wasn’t him!”
“Mercy…” I started to say something, but stopped. Then I took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes, hoping she’d read something there I couldn’t say. “You need to go home now, okay?”
“Are you insane?” she said, shaking her head. “Do you understand what they plan to do to you?”
“They’re giving me to the cop,” I said. “I know.”
“Edward, the Chief of the Portland Police Department is not your typical traffic cop,” she said. “You’re not going to be arrested and thrown into a jail cell you can just walk out of. This man has knowledge, and he is violently enraged right now. They will torture you and burn you to death."
“Why are you so worried about a cop?” I challenged Allston. “So you’ve got a treaty—what can he do to you that you can’t just crush the vengeance out of him?”
“Now why would I do that?” Allston said. “I happen to like the man, and how would you feel if your son was murdered?”
“He was a rapist,” I said.
“So you knew him, then,” Allston said.
“You have no right to hand Edward to them!” Mercy pulled away from me and got right in Allston’s face. “If you want to indulge the man’s vengeance, at least give him the right vampire.”
“No,” I said and Mercy snapped her head to me, eyeing my brain to see what she might glean from the stern tone of voice.
“So it definitely was a Cullen then,” Allston said with a nod. “Who was it? Jasper?”
“You’ve wanted me dead for thirty years, so what do you care who it was?”
“Edward, no,” Mercy said, her voice breaking. “This is suicide.”
The sound of the doorbell surprised me, but not nearly as much as whose broken and confused thoughts I heard on the other side of the door. Joseph Kaine went to answer and a moment later I met the widened stares of my brothers, appearing heavy with burden.
What the fuck did you do? Emmett’s voice was forlorn in my head and Jasper didn’t even attempt to intervene with his mood altering energy. He turned his dark gaze to Allston, staring him down with the intensity of a sniper eyeing an empty street for signs of a target.
“We have a message from Carlisle,” Jasper said, his voice dead in the room.
“Is that so?” Allston said sharply. “It can’t be that important if he couldn’t be bothered to come here himself.”
Jasper’s eyes were dark and drained as he stared right at me. I can’t even tell you how this is killing me, Edward. What on earth happened out there last night?
I almost wanted to answer him, to take him aside and explain the whole fuck up with Rosalie and the heavy consequence I was about to pay, but there was little I could do but just shake my head.
“Well? What is it?” Allston demanded.
“You can have Edward,” Jasper said, his mind a flurry. “Carlisle doesn’t want him back.”
I’d been clinically dead for 91 years, but it wasn’t until that moment that I finally truly felt dead. More dead than I imagined all those dead and gone bodies in Gray’s cemetery to be. But I understood why he did it. It was one thing for me to transgress against him, and quite another for me to lead his children astray. I’d become much more than a problem of poor impulse control and unrequited obsessive love. I’d become viral.
“What? No!” Mercy cried and threw her arms around my neck. “Carlisle’s not giving up Edward. He would never do this.”
I should have said something to let Jasper and Emmett know I understood. I should have told them not to be angry with Carlisle, but I couldn’t speak. I just nodded and watched them shift their eyes around to the vampires in the room, taking stock as they each individually tried to decide whether it would be totally impossible to fight their way out of a brawl there, should they defy Carlisle and get me out. There was no way we could have won, and I didn’t want them defecting on my account. I subtly shook my head and locked eyes with each of my brothers. No, I said to them. Don’t even think it.
“As you can see,” Allston said, “I already have Edward. So that’s not a very generous gift.”
“Carlisle said for you to come with us, Mercy,” Jasper said, again not using any of his soothing power on her, which I found strange until I realized that he couldn’t. He was too unravelled to use it.
“Well, tell him I’m not coming,” Mercy said. “I’m not leaving Edward here to be slaughtered and for what? Which one of you killed that man?!”
“What?” Emmett asked. “What man?”
“You can’t stay here, do you understand me, Mercy?” I whispered into her hair. “I’ll find get out of this, don’t worry.”
“Good luck with that,” Allston said, all cool and smug and I wanted nothing more than to beat the living shit out of him just once before I died. “And Jasper, tell Carlisle I expect a proper meeting tomorrow, after Edward is disposed of. A Cullen murdered someone last night and destroyed a sixty year old treaty of mine, and while I’ll happily kill Edward as restitution, we’ve got some business to discuss if you plan to stay in Portland.”
Oh Jesus… So that’s where Rose has been… Emmett thought. Edward, I will fucking kill you myself.
Nothing would change Mercy’s mind, she and her misplaced affections were staying with me until the bitter end. It was almost enough to make me wish I’d never met her, and not because I wasn’t moved or that I didn’t appreciate her sentiment or her loyalty. She would have just been much better off had she never met me. I’d thought it plenty over the years, but never felt it as painfully as I did then.
“Take them to the cellar,” Allston said after the heavy door closed and Emmett and Jasper were on their way back to Gray. Then with the demeanor of a banker late to work, he adjusted the hang of his suit and walked back to the library, two faded females flanking him.
The last thing Mercy managed to tell me before the real shitstorm started was “I love you, Edward. It doesn’t matter that you don’t love me back. It never did.” Coming from her it was another hell to endure, because I knew it was the first time she’d ever said, or ever imagined saying those words to anyone, and she knew better than anyone how little I deserved to hear them from her.
“I love you too,” I said, and I was glad I’d said it because it was probably the last thing I’d ever say to anyone, or so I believed as six Kaines dragged me down into the basement and shoved a gasoline-soaked rag in my mouth. They poured the rest of the can out over my head, all over my clothes and then wrapped duct tape around my mouth, nose and eyes. And then I felt the canvas bag, rough against what my face, and a wire wrapped around my neck. I started to buck and swing blindly at them, clocking someone who briefly stuttered before pinning me down to the concrete floor. When I realized my struggle was causing Mercy more distress and made me look more desperate and frightened than I even was, I stopped and took what was coming as the Kaines began to beat me and break me over and over. It hurt, but not nearly as much as hearing Mercy’s frantic reaction as she trained her insight on my body, keeping tabs on how I was faring.
Left leg, fracture. Hairline, in a minute that will be... Oh dear God—lumbar spine. Crushed. Skull fractured. That’s okay. It will regenerate, Edward, just let your body take over. Try to put your mind elsewhere. We’re on Reckoner then, all right? We’re not even here. They’re just playing with you now, but your brain Edward… your brain. Do NOT quit, do you hear me? Don’t you dare.
With Mercy’s prompt I managed to see the horizon and how empty and calm it looked from Reckoner’s bow when I was deep in the Pacific. All the voices in that room finally disappeared and a soft, lilting guitar melody took their place, now scoring the dance I was in with my lost love. Maybe there was another life after this one, I began to hope. Maybe there was some remote chance I’d see her after all, in the next world. As her serene smile came into view, I felt the soft shuffle of her feet in time with mine and focused on nothing but the quiet calm of her gaze as she held me close in some alternate reality calling me home.