Wednesday, October 17, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 11

Chapter 11
EDWARD
"Yo, Archie!" Emmett bellowed from behind his drum kit. "We're gonna get a little loud, buddy. Just lettin' ya know!"
"He's invisible, not deaf, you dolt!" Jasper snapped, strapping on his electric guitar and giving our grinning brother a scowl, which only caused Adrian, who was sitting on the sofa happily reading a book, to laugh.
Lifting the lid to the piano, I had to laugh because not only had Archie gotten used to my rather large family, he'd grown to enjoy a little rock and roll every now and then. Personally, I think he just liked the energy of the room, though he stayed quiet to my brother's rather loud announcement.
It had been a couple of days since he'd finally sated his thirst completely, finally communicated – with Bella, Carlisle, and me. He was still very shy, still very scared of anyone coming near him, but he'd learned to calm himself down. He remained hidden most of the time, but he'd started coming closer to the library door when we were all in there. I wondered if perhaps Jasper was feeding the room with brave yet mischievous emotions occasionally, but he said no. At least, no more than what we normally put out. He simply said that Archie was curious, and he also said that Archie was feeling a touch of relief. Whether it was from his thirst or from being found, I wasn't sure.
That first night while I played Elaine Varner's compositions, Bella had gone through the things Archie had left on top of the piano. It seemed to be an odd collection. Some of it made me believe he'd taken it because it was loud and had hurt his ears – like radios, Emmett's drill, Bella's iPod, and the violin. Other items didn't make sense – like framed pictures, a hairbrush, a scarf, or a child's doll.
Carlisle's theory was that Archie had taken items of his human victims throughout the decades as a sign of regret, of retribution. Archie didn't deny it in my mind. He remained silent.
His mother's music, however, was given right back as soon as I'd memorized it, which had only taken one run-through. Bella had even been sweet enough to provide him with a sturdy notebook to store it so it wouldn't deteriorate any further. It was beautifully written, inspired by classical pieces as well as contemporary music from the era. And the feelings of nostalgia and calm that had blanketed Archie was well worth it. His feelings of gratefulness once I'd finished were almost overwhelming.
Not wanting to spook Archie any further, Brandon and Catherine were staying in Bangor for the next few days. They were close enough if we needed them, but were well aware that Archie's toughest road lay ahead. And he was rather uncomfortable around the couple. It had everything to do with Brandon's abilities – and Catherine's, for that matter – because Archie couldn't trust what he was really doing around them.
Demitri and Carina, on the other hand, he liked, though he was still timid with them. My theory was that he didn't know them like he'd come to know us. Demitri had a no-nonsense demeanor about him, and Carina was quiet and calm. Like Bella, she opted to speak to Archie, not about him, and he liked it. However, neither of the two forced themselves onto Archie. They opted to stay in other parts of the house or with Carlisle in his off-bedroom study. They were constantly discussing ways to help our guest downstairs.
Peals of laughter wafted down to us from the upstairs bedrooms. Jasper groaned, looking pained as he met my gaze. Halloween was drawing near, and we were absolutely terrified as to what the girls and Kevin were planning for us. Granted, we would've been just as secretive, and most likely just as evil, but it didn't make it any better being on the receiving end of things.
"Dear God almighty," Emmett growled, but really, it was whining. "Please, please tell me you can hear that shit!"
"No. Not a thing." I laughed, shrugging my shoulder. "Not only is Bella shielding every thought up there, but they're typing on the computer so that we can't hear...what they're saying," I told them, but I yelled the last three words just to get my point across, my eyes rolling when the laughter started all over again.
"Oh, I'm gonna end up a fuzzy bunny or some shit. I just know it," Em grumbled, looking forlornly at the drumsticks in his hand.
Jasper and I cracked the hell up, unable not to picture a giant pink rabbit with a disgruntled face. Emmett liked his costumes masculine, heroic, and most times movie characters. The girls were aware of that fact and had been teasing him for the last day or so.
"As tempting as that is, Em... No, you're not dressing as a ginormous rabbit," Rose said, though her laugh was completely contagious.
"Well, at least you didn't look like male stripper," I grumped, rolling my eyes when the giggles upstairs started all over again as I remembered having to don a firefighter costume. The thoughts surrounding me at the festival we'd attended in London had been lurid, filled with crystal clear fantasies involving all sorts of debauchery. At least most of that had been my wife, a thought that made me smile, despite how I'd felt like a piece of meat in front of an entire university.
"Not helping, Ed," Jasper warned, obviously feeling what I was dishing out.
"Sorry." I grinned, looking to Emmett. "What are we playing? Anything to drown out...the laughing!" I growled toward the ceiling.
"Zeppelin or Rush?" he countered, licking his lips as he eyed his drums.
"He's so breaking a drum head. Mark my words," I muttered, taking out a fifty dollar bill and slapping it down onto the piano.
"Nah, but he'll try, especially if he's channeling John Bonham or Neil Peart today," Jasper countered with a laugh and his own money joining mine, only to turn to Emmett. "And let's save Rush for Leather and Lace. Besides, Ed would have to set up his keyboards," he said, jerking his chin to the two electric keyboards that had yet to be unpacked.
"Don't fucking jinx me, you assholes," Emmett snapped, rubbing the snare drum's head with a reverence.
"Emmett!" Esme called from upstairs, which only caused the house to burst into laughter all over again.
"Just play," I said with a chuckle, waving at both of them.
"We need Kev," Jasper stated and then looked to the ceiling. "Come on, man. Let's go. You can plot Emmett's Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume later."
Emmett groaned and shook his head, but Kevin flew into the room, taking the bass guitar that Jasper was holding out to him.
"Basic blues riff, Kev," I instructed, and he nodded. "Go, Em."
Emmett started with Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll," a heavy drum beat all on its own, but Jasper guided Kevin on the basic rhythm before starting to sing, "Been a long time since I rock and rolled..."
My largest brother loved complicated rhythms, giving him something really difficult to copy or embellish on, which explained why he loved the two best drummers in the world – Peart and Bonham. Personally, I think he just envied Peart's unbelievable drum set, but both men were respected all over the world for their talent.
We hit the song's bridge pretty well, until the crack and snap caused everything to come to a complete and utter halt.
"Son of a...motherfucker, cocksucker!" Emmett growled, throwing his sticks down as he eyed his split drum head with an absolute feral look on his face.
"Thank you..." I sang, snatching up the two fifties and tucking them into my back jeans pocket with a giant grin because Jasper couldn't even be pissed off that he'd lost, due to his laughter.
Esme suddenly appeared at the door, the rest of the girls right behind her, looking oh-so-amused. "Emmett McCarty Cullen...I don't care if that drum set is on fire. Could you possibly clean up that mouth of yours?"
Emmett grinned, not scared of our mother's rage one bit, and merely shrugged a shoulder as he rummaged around for a replacement head – something he now bought online in bulk.
"He'll never learn," Bella said with a giggle, straddling the piano bench beside me and kissing my cheek. "Sounded good while it lasted, though, boys," she praised, her eyes sweet, happy chocolate.
"Thank you, love." I leaned into her kisses and wrapped an arm around her just to bring her closer. "You know," I whispered in her ear, "I'd be willing to help with your costume decisions. Years of ideas." I tapped my temple, giving her a wink.
Her giggle was priceless. "Nice try, handsome, but I think we got this."
I sighed, giving her the face I knew she couldn't resist, but she simply rolled her eyes, pointing a finger at me.
"Don't start, Cullen. It won't work. And trust me, I think you'll like what we're doing. It suits your...personality," she said cryptically, and I hated that I was completely closed off from her thoughts.
"We tried that already!" Jasper and Emmett said at the same time.
Frowning down at my girl, I sighed, finally just letting it go. It wasn't like I didn't trust her, but the suspense was driving us mad.
Bella laughed softly again, only this time against my lips. "You'll live, Edward. Promise."
The bookcase door, which was now open just about all the time, shifted just a little, and I smiled. Archie had decided to join us – something he was doing more and more often.
"Hey, Archie," Bella called softly, wearing a sweet smile as I assumed her shield was tugging lightly toward him like I knew it had done since the beginning.
"Archie!" everyone chimed in, trying their damnedest to welcome him, make him feel comfortable around us.
I was hoping to watch... he thought to me from the doorway; even his mental speech was tentative.
He'd been working on staying hidden while allowing me to still hear him. And that hadn't taken long once he'd fed completely. At all. Which led me to revisit my theory from before – that Archie was incredibly powerful, talent-wise.
"You'll have to wait. Emmett got a little...heavy-handed," I told him, pointing to my middle finger-waving brother.
Emmett scoffed, mentally sending me all the curses that he couldn't say in front of Esme.
"He's so cussing you out, right?" Kevin asked, laughing when I nodded.
"How's your thirst, Archie?" I asked, knowing that Carlisle, Demitri, and Carina were about to join us. "Carlisle's ready when you are."
It's okay. Could it be later?
"I'm sure that's no problem," I told him, glancing up when Carlisle walked in, the other two right behind him. "Archie's thirsty, but he wants to wait a bit."
"Just let us know, son," Carlisle conceded with a smile toward the open door.
"You must be doing well today," Bella noted aloud. "My shield isn't pulling so hard."
Archie's confusion rang loud and clear, but Jasper felt it more than I heard it.
"He wants to know what you mean, baby girl," Jasper told her, plopping down onto the closest ottoman with his guitar on his lap.
"Umm," she stalled, glancing up at me with a furrowed brow, only to face where he was. "I'm a shield, Archie. And if your talent works like mine, then you know you can feel it...here"—she tapped her chest—"and here." She tapped her temple, trying to figure out how to explain it. "I can protect myself and those around me. I can force things away from me, but I can also detect whether or not someone can be trusted. It's like...I don't know...like a built-in guard that works without me having to think about it. It's how I knew that you needed us."
Thank you, Bella... he thought, and I relayed the message.
"Yup, sure...anytime," she chirped with a smile.
Archie's intrigue only increased as he took in the faces around the room. He was curious as to how we'd all come to be. He was aware of Carlisle's and Bella's beginnings because they'd told him, but he only knew what he'd seen and heard when it came to the rest of us.
"Maybe if we introduced ourselves... Would that help, Archie?" I asked, thinking he knew our names from simply being in the house, but he didn't know our pasts.
Adrian suddenly spoke up. "I was changed two years ago in New York City," he said softly, his mind understanding a little bit of how intimidating this family could appear to someone who didn't truly know us. "I have no...extra talent," he added with a chuckle and a wave of a hand around the rest of the room. "But I do understand what it's like to hate your maker..."
Alice went next, explaining her rather dark beginning. She didn't go into incredible detail, but she did tell him about being from Mississippi, being turned in an asylum, and about her visions. She told him about seeing Jasper and Carlisle, knowing exactly where she needed to be.
"I can see decided futures," she stated. "Edward and Carlisle think that my clairvoyance only became that much more...intense after my change. And by the way...Edward and I are the same age you are..." she said with a grin as she walked by to ruffle my hair.
"Yes, that's true, only she was changed at nineteen, whereas I was seventeen," I grumped, running a hand through my hair with one hand while swinging the other at my smallest sister, who dodged my reach nicely.
Seventeen, really?
"Yes," I answered him. "I was born in Chicago in 1901 and changed in 1918 by Carlisle when I was dying of the Spanish Influenza after my mother begged him to save me in whatever capacity he could."
Bella rested her head on my shoulder, sighing deeply, because to her, that meant everything. Without Carlisle's intervention, we would've never met. And that was the saddest thought she could think of.
"Sweet girl," I whispered with a soft laugh on the top of her head.
The rest joined in, telling about themselves. Rose didn't go into detail about the rape, but she told him that she'd been attacked in Rochester, New York, and that Carlisle had found her in the street dying. Esme, who Archie had grown quite attached to, told her story without editing anything. She was completely honest about her attempted suicide and why. Emmett had no shame, either. Spinning dramatic tales of his bear attack and rescues by blonde angels as he repaired his drum, he made it seem like it was perfectly fine what had happened to him. He was happy in this life, and it showed.
Demitri was different...and so much older than we'd expected. He'd been changed in the late seventeen hundreds, though he didn't name the exact year. He also didn't explain how he'd come to be in this life. He did, however, explain his tracking talent, the Volturi, and a little of how he'd changed Carina. From what I could see in his mind, Demitri's early years were extremely violent under Aro's rule, and he despised it, was embarrassed by it, especially compared to the life he had now. The last few years more than made up for his first few centuries.
Jasper held a solemn face when he set his guitar aside. Alice joined him on the ottoman, though she said nothing to him. Of all of us, Jasper's life prior to becoming a Cullen was the most horrific. He'd been a pawn, he'd been a demon, and he'd enjoyed it, for the most part, and that was the part of himself that he struggled to forgive every day since meeting Alice. He loathed that he'd been with another woman, wishing he'd only ever known his mate – something that he envied of those of us that only knew our significant others. It was a secret only I knew, and I never made mention of it.
He spoke softly of the Civil War, of being an officer and a God-fearing gentleman, commanding the attention of the room. He also spoke of Maria, though like Archie, he despised uttering his sire's name. When he finished his tale of fighting, blood, and betrayal, he nodded once to himself, like he'd gotten it all out correctly.
Scars? His whole body? Archie noted, though not really to me specifically. Like the ones on his face and arms?
"Yes," was the only answer I gave.
Lastly, Kevin sighed, smiling a little. He stood up from his chair with a flourish, taking a deep bow like he was on stage of one of his former Broadway plays. "This is like a meeting...Vampires Anonymous. My name's Kevin, and I'm a gay, mated vampire. I've been changed for a little over a year..."
All the tension, all the sadness left over from everyone's stories faded away instantly as we all chuckled at him. My first worry was that Archie wouldn't understand Kevin, that his blatant, in-your-face attitude concerning his sexual preference would be a shock to him. Despite the fact that they were mated, Adrian wasn't as flamboyant about it. During the time in which Archie and I had grown up, homosexuality was kept close to the vest and cornered into the darker parts of bigger cities as something considered taboo. The fact that Archie had spent his whole human life – not to mention his immortal one – right in that very house led me to believe he was ignorant of certain things.
My anxiousness was only obvious to Bella, who soothed my hand silently. And it was all for nothing because Archie connected the dots quickly, which also told me he'd been way more observant in this house than we were willing to acknowledge. His mind flickered through recent memories of Adrian and Kevin holding hands, stealing kisses, and exchanging words of love. These were things he'd witnessed in the house, both before and after we'd found him, but they were also things he'd witnessed between every mated couple in the room.
But what Archie saw, whether he noted Kevin's statement or not, was Kevin himself. He saw someone completely at ease in his own skin, someone quick to laugh, and someone that was accepted by everyone surrounding him. And now that he knew Kevin had only been changed a year, and to see him so calm, gave Archie yet someone else to look up to.
Kevin quieted down, his smile softer, his mind trying to determine the best way to tell his story without getting emotional. He fiddled with the strings of the bass guitar in his hand as a distraction, only to take a deep breath and let it out.
"I think my story is closest to Bella's," he started, giving his Goddess a wink. "I was human when I met this...this..." He waved his hand around the room.
"Careful," Carlisle warned with a laugh when Kevin grinned.
"When I met my real family," he finished solemnly. "I grew up in New York City. My dad and I didn't get along because I'd disappointed him on many, many levels. He wanted someone to follow in his engineering footsteps, and I wanted Broadway. He wanted me to go to school in New York, but I chose London, just to get as far away from him as possible. It was there that I first met Alice and then Bella."
Alice stood up, wrapping Kevin in a rough hug and leaving her arms around him.
"Anyway," he continued, smiling again, "I was changed in New York after getting pretty damn hurt. I'd already met Adrian, so I knew what I wanted. I'm one of the rare vamps that wasn't changed against my will." He chuckled, and to break up his own emotions, he sang the last line from a song I hadn't heard in years. "I thank the Lord for the people I have found..."
Flickers of different parts of the song went through Archie's mind, but when he hummed a part of it, I chuckled.
"You paid more attention than I thought," I told him with a grin, and the room stayed quiet as I talked to him.
He showed me a brief memory from the mid- to late-seventies. A family had recently moved in, but like us, they'd played music all the time because the two kids were teenagers. The record player was constantly playing something, and one of the girls loved Elton John. Of course, back then, the extremely talented piano player just about put out two albums a year. And I'd owned them all myself.
Archie couldn't control where his thoughts led, so I had no other alternative but to see his bloodlust take over. He'd tried with all that he had not to take one of the girls, but he'd unfortunately lost control. When I flinched and grimaced, he started to get nervous, thinking it was wrong, the word "monster" floating up to the surface once more.
"Archie, stop," I said, trying to keep my voice calm because he was considering his basement for solace. "You're in room filled with people that have made the same mistakes. Please trust me."
Not Bella, not Kevin, not Rose...and most definitely not Carlisle!
"They are so rare, Archie. Those names you just mentioned are the only immortals I've ever met that have truly abstained from human blood. We are what we are, but some are just...much stronger than the rest of us," I told him, placing a hand on Bella's shoulder at the same time I jerked my chin to Carlisle and Rose. "No one blames you for any of it because you had no one to show you." My tone concerning Victoria might've come across a bit harsh, but my hate for her had reemerged since finding out she'd been the one that not only changed him, but abandoned him, as well.
You!? He seemed shocked, which only cause a snort of derision to escape me.
"That's a long story, and I promise to tell you all about it," I vowed, but I didn't feel like airing my rebellious time with the entire room. It was a time I was not proud of.
My eyes locked with Carlisle's as he asked me a silent question. He's showing you some of his past, isn't he?
With a quick nod to him, I turned back to Archie. "Would you like to hear the song?" I asked him, smiling when he said yes. "I'm sure Kevin knows it."
"Hells, yes. We used to sing it in my music classes because it was about my home town," he said with a laugh, but a wicked gleam crawled over his face, and he folded his arms across his chest. "But I'd like to see my audience."
I laughed, shrugging a shoulder and pointing toward Archie. "That's up to him."
"It's a fair request," Carlisle stated, his mind hoping that the give and take we'd started with him would continue to work. "We've all given up our stories, so it's only fair, Archie. If you do this, then when the boys are done, I'll get you fed," he bargained.
The room held its breath as Archie debated. I wasn't sure if he'd reveal himself, and Alice's visions were sporadic, at best, because he changed his mind many, many times. He'd only just started getting comfortable around Carlisle, Bella, and myself, so the rest were way beyond curious as to what the poor man looked like. But it was Esme's motherly tone that really worked on him.
"You know, Archie," Esme suddenly piped up with a soothing voice. "I like to see all my kids inside this house. It's how I make sure they're okay." Her smile was sweet, but she meant it, and it may have been the only thing that changed his mind because he had been leaning toward leaving the room.
Oh, he's gonna do it! Alice squealed in my head, and I rolled my eyes her way as I saw his decision in her mind.
It's only fair, it's only fair... Archie chanted to himself. He kept thinking if we could tell such personal things, offer all our help, then the least he could do was act civil and sit in the room like the rest of us. Again, Bella's sharp-tongued comment about manners flickered to the forefront – something that made me kiss the top of her brilliant head. He'd forgotten what he'd been taught, even though he'd come from a time when propriety and conduct had to be at their best.
There was a brief flicker at the basement entryway, and then there he was. He was wrapped around himself in the usual manner, knees up, but he was leaning back against the open bookcase door away from everyone else. He looked so damn nervous that if he'd had the capability of sweating, he'd have been drenched.
Several thoughts hit me all at once. Carlisle was proud of Archie for facing his fears. Demitri was eying the immortal up, but shook his head at his fear-filled body language. Carina, Esme, and Rose all "aww'ed" at him because, like Bella, they found him to be "cute." All of my brothers gazed at him in non-judgmental sympathy, but the biggest of us was the first to speak.
"Oh there you are!" Emmett gushed, grinning widely. "Nice to meet you, dude. Don't you sweat anything," he said, puffing out his chest as he placed a hand over his heart. "No one's gonna mess with you. I got your back."
Bella giggled but covered it up with her hand. Having seen Archie before, she simply gave him a silent once-over, making sure he was okay before saying, "Hey, Archie."
"Gracious," Kevin whispered. He was more shocked at poor Archie's appearance than actually seeing him.
"Oh, sweet pea, you need some serious cleaning up," Alice stated the obvious, but her gaze snapped to Bella.
"Leave him. He's not ready for a full on makeover!" Bella growled protectively, rolling her eyes. "He doesn't need name brands." Her temper only made Alice and Kevin grin like fools, not offended whatsoever.
Jasper chuckled, the first sound he'd made in a while, and stood up from his ottoman. Archie flinched and kept a wary eye on him as he traded out his electric guitar for a smaller instrument that was hanging on the wall – a mandolin.
He returned to his former seat, tugging Alice down next to him without saying a word to her. "We doing this Elton John song or not?" He grinned when we all stared at him. "What? The man's a poet...and God knows you played him enough in the seventies, Ed..."
Chuckling when Bella barked a laugh and glanced up at me, I said, "Sue me."
But Jasper quickly switched to thoughts. Damn, brother... You really gotta hand it to him. He's doing his damnedest, isn't he?
I nodded to let him know that yes, Archie was really pushing his limits at this point.
"Oh sure!" Emmett huffed, pouting like a child. "I get my shit fixed, and you pick a song without drums."
"Shut up," Kevin huffed, rolling his eyes. "It's not all about you, drummer boy."
Archie rested his chin on his arms that were folded atop his knees. This was something he wasn't used to, and he loved to witness it. The sibling bickering was entertaining to him, and he found some sort of comfort in it. It reminded him of human friends and their families. Bella had always said that even when she was human, she loved to just absorb the family dynamic, even if she had nothing to add. It was insulting and filled with jibes, but the love in the room was absolutely palpable to her.
"You all right, son?" Carlisle asked Archie, and he nodded once. "They can be obnoxious. Don't judge us all on the actions of my children."
That statement caused us all to call out, "Hey!"
"Hush, Dr. Feel Good. We gotta song to play," Kevin scoffed, waving him away with a flick of his fingers, but he adjusted the bass guitar across his shoulder before looking to me. "Ready, Heavy E? You'll sing harmony?"
"Yeah..." I nodded, starting the song on the piano.
Kevin's voice was perfect for the song "Mona Lisas and Madhatters" by Elton John, though it was in a deeper key than he usually sang. But I could see why he liked the song. It was about the busiest city in the world, about broken dreams and being grateful for friends and family. It had shown the change in times back then to me, talking about people who donned masks just to get through the day, about being so busy that they didn't know whether it was night or day.
And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew,
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City
Kevin smiled when he added the bass softly, but it was the next verse that meant something to him because at the time that he'd learned the song, his father was hating that he was in the theater.
Until you've seen this trash can dream come true,
You stand at the edge while people run you through.
And I thank the Lord that there's people out there like you.
I thank the Lord that there's people out there like you.
I joined him on the chorus, smiling down at Bella when she gazed up at me. She didn't know the song, but she liked it, and she thought that Kevin's and my voices sounded good together.
While Mona Lisas and Madhatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night.
For unless they see the sky,
But they can't and that is why,
They know not if it's dark outside or light.
Smiling when Jasper started with a light, easy sound on the mandolin, I nodded to him. The sound was good. Really good. And it was completely different than anything we'd played.
This Broadway's got,
It's got a lot of songs to sing.
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I'll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seed shall be sown in New York City.
Subway's no way for good man to go down.
Rich man can ride, and the hobo, he can drown.
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found.
I thank the Lord for the people I have found.
Kevin and I ran through the chorus one more time, but when we ended the song, the room was lighter, easier. However, the song had brought back Archie's memories, and he swallowed hard.
"You're thirsty, Archie," Jasper simply said with a nod. "You don't have to fight it, buddy."
Archie nodded, looking to me. He can feel it?
"Yes, he can feel your thirst," I answered. "And he has no other alternative but to push it back out to all of us, so we all feel it."
"Okay, so let's get you fed, Archie," Carlisle stated, starting to stand.
By now, everyone knew the drill. Adrian and Kevin needed to leave the house, and usually the rest went with them. Guitars were put away, Archie vanished but made his way downstairs, and soon it was only Carlisle, Bella, and me left in the library. I glanced out at the backyard, where a small game of football was breaking out.
"I'll do it," I sighed, getting up from the piano. "He wants to hear about me," I said softly, knowing the two left in the room would know what I was talking about.
"About when you left?" Bella asked, looking between me and Carlisle.
I huffed a humorless, dark laugh as I gazed down at my beautiful girl, a snarky question about which time on the tip of my tongue. I let out a breath and nodded when her eyebrow raised up in a warning, her mind telling me that all was still forgiven and she knew which time I'd meant.
A firm hand gripped my shoulder, and I knew that Carlisle would know what I was feeling. His thoughts were comforting, even though they were something I'd already realized. Like you told him...we've all made mistakes, my son. You have come so far since then. Perhaps him knowing us will help him to trust us that much more.
"Can I stay with you?" she asked, and I chuckled at her eager expression.
"Like I'd say no, my Bella," I told her with a laugh, dropping a heavy kiss to her forehead and inhaling deeply the scent of her. How just that simple act could calm me, soothe my prickling nerves about the upcoming conversation, I had no idea, but it did. Completely.
"Guys against girls again!" we heard Alice yell outside, and Bella and I laughed.
"Go," I growled dramatically, pushing at a chuckling Carlisle. "See if you can win that. I want to know what these crazies are doing to us for Halloween..."
"Edward," Bella snorted into an adorable giggle, shaking her head a little as her thoughts cut off abruptly.
"What?" I asked innocently. "Without us, they're even."
"I'll see what I can do, son, because heaven forbid they dress you inappropriately," Carlisle teased with a raised eyebrow as he remembered Bella in a Catholic school girl costume in London.
I laughed, my head falling back. "Exactly!"
Bella and I followed him through the house, stopping at the kitchen.
Before he left out the back door, he turned to me. "Good luck, and give him as much as he needs. His thirst will be sharper this time, I think."
"Yes, sir," I agreed, and he left us to it.
I decided it was best to just take a handful of bags downstairs, and Bella held her hands out silently to carry a few. Her mind was still closed to me – whether on purpose or without thinking, I wasn't sure. There was a part of me that guessed that maybe she was just giving me time to sort my thoughts before having this conversation.
We descended the steps together, and Bella smiled as we caught Archie gazing out the small window at the ongoing football game outside. He was standing at his full height, and I'd been correct. He was just a little shorter than myself. He was lean, though his muscle-tone had improved greatly since he'd been feeding well. Laughter and catcalls wafted in as rules were laid down, bets were made, and coins were tossed.
"I don't know why they bother with rules. We all cheat anyway," Bella said with a giggle.
Archie turned away from the window, and I had to chuckle at the wry smile he was fighting as he slid down the wall into a sitting position. He really liked my wife, and not in a way that was disrespectful. He appreciated her candor, her bravery, and her sense of right and wrong. He thought she was beautiful, of course, but he thought that of every woman in the house. But what he noticed most was that she treated him no differently than she treated her brothers, and that made him feel welcome, wanted. Human.
And therefore, when she poured his first cup, walked to him, and handed it over, he barely even flinched. He was improving. But he also noted her eyes were brown.
"She keeps them that way on purpose," I said aloud. "For me, mostly, but it does help her blend in when we're out in public. Her shield allows it."
Bella smirked, glancing between us. "My eyes?" she asked, and Archie nodded, holding out the cup when he was finished with the first bag. "Yeah, forgot to mention that when I explained my shield. I don't even think about it anymore." She poured another cup for him, smiling a little wider. "Underneath, they're gold, like everyone else's, but Edward's spoiled and likes my original color, so I leave them brown," she teased, giving me a wink.
Grinning, I shook my head. I couldn't deny any of that, so I said nothing.
Spoiled? Archie asked, taking the next cup from her.
"Very." I laughed, shrugging a shoulder. My laugh died quickly as I watched my girl. "I didn't deserve her when we met – I still don't deserve her – but I try to earn her love every day."
Bella's head snapped up, her face unreadable, but her mind was like a blossoming flower. You deserve more than you think, Edward.
"Thank you, sweet girl," I sighed, running my hand through my hair because Archie wanted to know why I thought that. "I guess it's a good time to tell you about my mistakes."
When Archie finished off the bags of blood, Bella disappeared upstairs to discard the garbage, only to reappear just as quickly by my side. She sat next to me, her mind quiet.
"I didn't want this life," I stated, hating admitting that because now, I loved every second of the day. "When Carlisle changed me, I fought it. My personality and my newborn phase must have driven him crazy, but he kept me focused. I woke up to..." I grimaced, pointing a finger toward my head. "The voices were loud, and they didn't make sense, especially when Carlisle was the only person in the room. I could hear so many things, see so many things, but they didn't seem real. It took a long time for me to realize that it was thoughts I was hearing. I'd answer Carlisle's internal question instead of the one he was actually asking me.
"I could hear neighbors, the mailman, people driving by on the street. I thought I was going insane," I groaned, gripping my hair. "By the time Esme came along, I was just starting to get used to it, but then she added another element to my life. I love her like my human mother, but there is only so much you want to hear in the minds of a newly mated couple." I sighed deeply, shaking my head. "Actually," I said with a chuckle, "there's nothing you should hear in the minds of a newly mated couple." I shot my smirking girl a wink and then turned back to Archie.
I gazed down at my hands, taking a deep breath. "I understood what Carlisle's diet meant. We didn't want to be monsters," I stated, raising an eyebrow at Archie, who nodded one time. "But with this life, and added talents, comes a growing ego. And my talent gave my ego quite the boost. I didn't even have it completely under control yet. Now, I can filter out faraway minds, even narrow it down to one person in a full room of people, but then... Then, I heard everything. And I thought...I thought I'd figured how to use that to two advantages."
Standing up, I started to pace in the open space of his room. I could feel both sets of eyes following my every move, but I ignored them. I knew Bella was letting me tell this at my own leisure; she'd heard it all before and merely wanted to be supportive. Archie, on the other hand, couldn't decide if my talent was a curse or a blessing.
"It's both," I told him, shrugging a shoulder. "It helps me monitor our surroundings, keeps us safe and protected, but then again, I can hear every lie, every foul idea, and every disgusting fantasy about every member of my family." I stopped in the middle of the room and gazed down at the floor. "Knowing that, though, I thought I could provide us a regular diet of human blood while destroying the evil of the world. And I set off to do just that. I left Carlisle and Esme for several years and hunted the lowest of the low."
Archie's mind reacted like most people that had heard this story – that it seemed perfect.
"That's where the ego comes into play, Archie." I huffed a humorless laugh. "I told myself that I was giving Carlisle and Esme space, that I was just in the way, but really, I wanted to hunt humans. I was merely rationalizing it.I'd stalk rapists, murderers, and child molesters. I'd take them out just as they were about to do whatever it was that they did, freeing their victim. But I thought..." I held up a finger, smiling ruefully. "I thought I could do better. I thought that if I caught them before they'd even approached their prey, then I could prevent scaring the innocent."
What's wrong with that? Archie asked, tilting his head up at me.
"The problem with that was I'd started policing their minds. Once they'd thought about the act, I became their executioner, and therefore, I was playing God. A thought isn't the act, and I'd forgotten that. I was killing humans for merely thinking stray thoughts. I also took away their chance to change, confess their own sins, and face the consequences of their actions. It wasn't my place to step in." I grimaced because this next part was what shamed me. "I liked it, and I honed my skill to get better at it, but it suddenly became more than just killers and rapists. I started to contemplate thieves, drug dealers, and con artists. I became a vigilante against crime in general. And it all warranted a death sentence."
Oh. Archie nodded, now understanding where I'd gone wrong.
Bella bit her tongue, believing I saved more lives in the long run than I'd taken, but I wasn't so sure because I'd ended more lives than I cared to admit. I sighed heavily, sitting down next to her.
"It took about ten years of living that way, of hearing every disgusting, vile thing going through every foul human I came across for me to finally cave and go crawling back to Carlisle with my tail between my legs. It was too much. It was never ending. And it still continues today – probably worse – but in order to maintain my sanity, I've had to turn a blind eye to most of it." I clawed at my hair because the next thing out of my mouth was something that had taken decades for me to learn. "We aren't the only monsters out there, Archie. That term isn't reserved for just vampires."
My hands balled up into fists on my lap, and Bella's smaller hand covered them. She tilted my head her way so that I locked with warm, soothing brown.
"I love you," she stated simply, and the three most important words grounded me like nothing else. She turned to Archie, her fingers never leaving my face. "You're not the only one that feels guilt. And feels it strongly, from what Jasper can feel."
You don't, Archie countered.
I smirked, my eyes raking over her beautiful face. "He says you don't."
"It's true; I haven't taken a human life, but look at my support system. Do you think he'd let me go through that?" she asked gently, her fingers running through my hair. "Or anyone else in my family for that matter?"
The love that radiated off my calm, sweet girl was practically visible in the room. Archie could see it and was having a hard time reconciling that deep of a connection with what we were. He could see that as beautiful and somewhat innocent as she seemed, it didn't matter what we were. His envy was palpable. He felt jilted and forsaken. Under different circumstances, he might have been normal...or as normal as an immortal could be.
He locked gazes with me, shaking his head slowly. I didn't want this. She didn't tell me anything.
"I know," I said softly, trying to soothe him.
She left me, but then again...I didn't give her much choice, he sighed, gazing around the room.
"What happened? Show me," I requested, linking my fingers with Bella's.
It's only fair...it's only fair... he chanted again, remembering what Carlisle had said earlier.
His memory started blurry, as most human ones tend to be. Archie was nineteen when he and his mother were hiking in the woods the day she fell, hurting her leg. The snow started to fall and didn't stop.
Archie had a better relationship with her than he'd ever had with his father. William Varner preferred books, science, and politics to hunting, hiking, and providing for his family. It was Elaine Varner that taught their son how to track, trap, and hunt. And they did it together, leaving Archie's father alone in his workshop most days.
As a human, Archie wasn't big, wasn't all that strong, but he was fairly quick on his feet. He tried his best to help his mother back to their house, but they'd walked several miles that day. He didn't feel right just leaving her to run for help, so he opted to wait out the storm, doing his best to keep a fire going, but the winds were too harsh, the snow too heavy.
They hadn't packed for more than an afternoon of walking, so when a few days had gone by, their stores were gone. Using melted snow for water, Archie did his best to take care of his mother, even going as far as moving her to the open mouth of a cave. But it had all been for naught.
Archie wouldn't have known it, but I could see through his memory that Elaine Varner was suffering not only from shock due to her injured leg, but from hypothermia. She wouldn't make it, even when William and a few of his town friends found them. While Archie suffered with chills and fever for days after being rescued, Elaine Varner passed quietly in the middle of the second night back home.
And that began the deterioration of the relationship between father and son.
William Varner became withdrawn at first, stomping about the house like an angry bear. He barely checked on the health of his son, and when he did, his face, his voice, and his words were harsh and abusive. Once Archie had recovered, he avoided his father at all costs, trying his best to stay quiet, stay hidden, because one noise, one word, and William lost his temper instantly. Archie felt like a prisoner in his own home because he wasn't comfortable inside, nor was he comfortable outside. The memories of his mother – both good and bad – swarmed him every time he tried to set foot out the door.
Poor Archie buried his face in his arms as he continued to reconcile everything we'd learned from his father's journal with what actually happened. Archie and William, both frozen in grief and anger, could not find any common ground whatsoever, though at first, Archie had tried.
The first time he went to check his traps, Archie dropped to his knees, getting sick with what I wanted to tell him was an anxiety attack, but he'd only felt weakness. He was successful in bringing home two rabbits, but that was also the first time he'd felt like he was being watched. Whether that was part of his grieving or not, I wasn't sure. It was quite possible. In fact, his next several attempts at hunting went that same way.
Through Archie's mind, I watched the last fight. William was adamant that his son bring home more than just "worthless rabbits." He threatened him with everything that he had, and that included locking him up in the workshop. At this point, I could see that Archie's father had lost all reason. Nothing his son said to him mattered. Pleas of fear, statements of intruders on their property, and declarations of evil walking on Earth all fell on deaf ears.
My fingers gripped Bella's hand fiercely, and she let me, because watching a father actually chain his son to a tree like a stray dog made my temper flare hot and crackling. Archie let go all pretenses of being strong in front of William and was a blubbering mess by the time that he walked away, stating he'd be back the next day to check Archie's progress, but the boy couldn't come home without a deer. There was no option for failure. Archie was going to "become a man, or he could use the shotgun on himself."
It took all I had not to rage in that basement because I knew it was taking everything Archie had to reveal this part of himself to me. I could see it in his mind. It was in the very way he was curling in on himself as his mind continued. He hadn't trusted a single soul in over a hundred years. To mess that up at this point would be tragic. My jaw clenched, my eyes squeezed closed, and my breathing was heavy, but I settled a little when gentle fingers swept through my hair.
When I had stated that William had led his son like a pig to slaughter, I hadn't been far from the truth. As night fell on that first day, there wouldn't have been enough chains to stop what had happened next.
My hatred for Victoria flared anew at the sight of her pale face, her flaming red hair, and the ruthless smirk that she carried. She was exactly the same as the day I'd met her, of course, though her clothes represented the times. Archie's self-preservation saw her for exactly what she was – evil. He noted her beauty, noted how quickly she moved, and noted that she looked at him like he was her next meal. And he was.
She toyed with him, flirted with him, and even was able to calm him a bit. It was the absolute best example of what we were created to do – stalk, hunt, kill humans. Her scent drew him in, her beauty mesmerized him, and her voice was a sensual cadence that not many could resist. She spoke to him of revenge against whatever had chained him to that tree. And his first mistake was telling her.
Knowing Victoria the way I did, I knew that at that moment that she saw not one, but two meals served up on a silver platter. I had to hand it to Archie, though. He tried to escape, tried to defend himself. Just about sunrise,Victoria reached down and shattered the chain around his ankle into dust, freeing him. The moment he scurried away from her, he brought that gun up to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. Only her clothes were harmed, and there was nothing he could've done to stop her. She was atop of him in the blink of an eye, and his human mind was slow to react. By the time it registered that he was being attacked, she was already drinking from him.
His memories became just a bit more hazy due to his loss of blood, but I saw where she'd been stopped. Something had called her attention away from draining him, and she'd stepped away for several minutes. By the time she came back, the venom was already burning him.
It true Victoria fashion, she pitched a fit at the loss of her meal. She kicked him, threw him, and screamed at him. As she watched him howl in pain, a smile crossed her features, and she picked him up effortlessly.
Like all of us, Archie remembered just about every second he burned, though he couldn't remember what happened around him. And just like all of us, he tried his best to negotiate with the Devil himself to make it stop.
When the pain, the burning, and the heartbeats came to an end, Archie woke up angry, confused, and very, very thirsty. My mouth gaped at what Victoria had waiting for him when his newborn eyes finally opened. She had subdued William Varner, beaten him to the point of blood and bruises, and tied him to a chair, using the same damn chain that he'd used on his son. Despite my hatred for her, something about that seemed justifiable.
The cuts and scrapes called to Archie like nothing he could compare it to, and his body now reacted on pure instinct. He launched himself at William, draining him quickly. His father never said a single word before his death.
Archie had been stunned at the aftermath, looking to Victoria for answers. She gave him none. She simply offered him a hand to lead him outside, and that caused a multitude of issues. He refused, she snapped, and suddenly, he disappeared...right in front of her eyes. The fact that he had a talent merely pleased Victoria all the more, so she actually attempted to speak to him.
The very second the word "vampire" left her mouth, Archie couldn't wrap his new mind around it. The only thing he could compare it to was the book Dracula, which had come out just a little over twenty years prior. Over the next several days, she tried everything to tempt him. Everything. She tried seducing him, teasing him, and finally, she left, only to bring back the one thing he couldn't resist. Humans.
Unfortunately, he couldn't deny the call of blood, so he showed himself immediately, giving Victoria one more weakness she could exploit. She turned poor Archie into a game, a plaything. She took his fear of going outside, and instead of showing him that he was twenty times stronger than he used to be, she manipulated him into making it worse. She left him for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. She never taught him to hunt, never told him what he truly was capable of doing, and she enjoyed bringing humans in to feed him. She thrived on their fear, his weakness, and treated it all like a game she had complete control over.
But just like everything else Victoria ever did, she lost interest quickly. Instead of gaining a companion, she'd created herself a pet. He hid from her at all times, except when he couldn't resist feeding. He refused conversation, refused her sexual advances, and refused to leave the house. If he'd been withdrawn as a human, it was a thousand times worse as a vampire. In fact, the last words he'd said aloud to her were "kill me, and be done with it." She'd merely laughed at him.
The last time Victoria set foot in the house had been filled with violence and bloodshed. She made the mistake of bringing a human that resembled Elaine Varner way too much to Archie's liking. His restraint, his temper, and his sanity just about came apart at the seams. He absolutely refused to touch the poor woman, which resulted in Victoria killing her in front him. Archie, using his newfound talent, attacked his maker. The fight carried itself down into his father's workshop, where everything in there was destroyed.
I had to give credit where credit was due. Archie came really close to killing her all on his own. But her own talent of escape and his ignorance of how to actually destroy her were the only things that saved her. She left him, never to return.
"Damn, Archie," I seethed, my hands sinking into my hair as my elbows rested on my knees. "Believe me when I tell you that if I hadn't already destroyed her, I would hunt her down just to do it in front of you."
His gaze snapped up from where he'd been sitting. I wanted to die. I tried to die. Nothing works... I tried to undo what she did.
His mind raced forward through many years. Victoria had left him clueless. Just like Carlisle, he tried to starve himself, tried to hang himself, and tried to burn himself in the sun, thinking Dracula had been the key. Nothing worked. He fought what he was every day, unable to deny it when humans would encroach on the property. He fed any way he could, but his fear of leaving the house was engrained in him almost to the point of madness. Throughout the decades, he drank from the homeless passing through, trying to use the empty house for shelter, from children that had lived here when it was an orphanage, from construction workers, new tenants, and animals that he could reach from the back cellar door as he laid in silent invisibility.
Archie had learned to cope, but it was never enough. He never wanted to kill humans – in fact, he preferred to take the animals – but there were times that he was just too thirsty, just too far gone into his bloodlust to stop it. He did all he could to scare humans away, learning to live with the ache, the need as punishment for merely existing, but it didn't always work.
The last time he'd failed was with Lisa Dixon.
He'd forced himself to drain several rats, a cat, and even a lynx, but nothing could stave off what triggered her demise. Lisa Dixon was cooking dinner in the kitchen, and all it took was a slip of the knife, the scent of one single drop of her blood, and the empty house, and she was never heard from again. Her blood only staved him off for so long, but watching Tim and Caroline worry endlessly for almost a year had been the only thing that had stopped Archie from emptying the house completely of humans.
He did the only thing he could do; he begged Tim to get out. He revealed himself to scare him, though in all reality, he'd been unbelievably close to taking the life of a little girl.
I shot up from where I was sitting, beginning to pace again. My hand clawed at my hair as Archie claimed that his rightful place should be in hell.
"No!" I snapped, and he vanished in front of my eyes. "Don't you see? Don't you get it? You had no choice! You didn't know!"I growled through gritted teeth.
"Edward, you scared him," Bella chastised gently, but I could hear in her mind that she was more worried about me than him.
"I know!" I sighed, shaking my head. "I know," I said a little softer, "and I'm sorry."
"Archie, it's okay," Bella tried to soothe him. "He's just...upset," she stated warily, approaching me. Her hands on my face, her scent surrounding me calmed me a little, but I knew I needed to get out of the house because the injustice of it all was just too much. He hadn't deserved a single thing that had happened to him. And his endless circle of fear and ignorance and bloodlust hadn't helped him. At all.
Archie reappeared in the exact same place that he'd been sitting throughout the entire story, gazing up at us.
"I'm sorry," I said again, though this time, I was pretty sure it was for his whole life in general. I shook my head, my gaze landing on Carlisle, who must've heard my yelling.
"Son?"
I shook my head again, silently begging him to do something, but I didn't know what. "I have to get out of here."
I could see his conflict, making sure I was okay versus checking on the weakest of us.
"Edward," Bella whispered, forcing my gaze to hers. "Come with me. Carlisle will make sure Archie's got everything he needs. I'm sure he'll catch up. Okay?" she asked, though she shot a quick glance to Carlisle to make sure he was nodding in agreement, both of them thinking I was bearing the weight of Archie's pain on my shoulders, which was something I hadn't done in a very long time.
Nodding, I let her lead me to the stairs, where I locked gazes with my father. "We have... There's..." I struggled to speak. Gritting my teeth, I finally sighed, "We have to clean out that trap door."
Carlisle's face morphed into shock, his thoughts filled with sadness. They're all down there, aren't they? Every missing person?
"He had no choice," I stated in a whisper with no emotion, giving Archie one last look. "But he does now."
I left the house, ignoring every thought around me. I could hear Carlisle ask Archie if he was still thirsty and heard the answer well before Carlisle agreed to get him more blood.
But just before I reached the kitchen, I heard my father say, "Archie, we need to talk about cleaning out this room...and maybe yourself, too, son..."
The football game had come to a stop outside, every face filled with worry as I stepped out the back door. The very second the chilly October air hit my lungs, I bolted straight for the woods. I knew Bella was behind me every step of the way, and I knew that if I outran her, she'd track me just fine, but I needed to rage, to break something, because I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Archie would never rage for himself.

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