Wednesday, November 7, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 17

Chapter 17
EDWARD
"Let's talk about dads, shall we?"
The whole house came to a standstill once we realized Kevin had locked himself in Archie's room. I'd seen his mind, seen how he'd hated hearing Archie let something as insignificant as poor parenting wreck him. Kevin, at his heart, was aching for Archie. My newest brother, despite the haughty front he put on, completely understood what it was like to fear a father that had no idea who his son truly was – and wouldn't accept him even if he did.
"Oh hell," Jasper murmured, and we all looked to Carlisle, who couldn't decide whether to be amused or concerned.
Edward, it'll be fine, Alice thought to me in a rush. Kevin will give Archie something to think about...
"Alice says it will be okay," I told them all.
Carlisle, Emmett, and Jasper nodded in acceptance, but Bella simply stared toward the closed hidden stone doorway. Having Archie practically beg her had made my girl sad for him, but she was so very proud that he'd even tried. She and Carlisle were thinking along the same lines on that note. To be honest, I never thought he'd step out the door, so what he had accomplished was nothing short of phenomenal.
"I promise it'll be okay," I whispered against her temple, which earned me a silent nod in response.
My father and brothers ascended the kitchen stairs and left Bella and me behind. Opting to stay close by, I pulled my worried girl down onto the cellar steps, keeping her on the step below mine so that I could wrap my arms around her. She merely wanted to be near should either Kevin or Archie need someone to intervene. The problem was...Kevin never talked about his human family. He made the occasional snide remark, but not one of us truly knew how he'd been treated before we met him. I didn't even know most of it because Kevin guarded that part of himself very closely.
"I get this whole...respect your elders, respect your parents thing that you have going on, Arch," Kevin started, sitting down on the steps of Archie's room that led up to the library.
Archie was in the position we usually found him in when he was upset, only instead of being wrapped around himself on the floor, he was on his full-size bed.
"I mean, Heavy E...erm...Edward explained that shit to me..." Kevin sputtered, and I smirked at his thoughts. He was damn sure that Archie wouldn't understand the origin of that nickname, and I had to agree. "You guys come from a time when you didn't have a choice but to obey your parents, but let me tell you something... Father doesn't always know best. You know?"
From Kevin's viewpoint, Archie hadn't moved, so with a deep sigh, he went on. "Times are different. The child has a voice nowadays. There are places to call, people to report to, and it's okay to be a little...different. You can be you without having to put up with abuse."
Kevin huffed a humorless laugh through his nose, shaking his head slowly. "My mom... She died when I was really young. I had my older sister, but it's not the same. My dad was one of those blue-collar men who thought that his way was the right way. He was narrow-minded, unsympathetic, and downright mean. He believed that what the Bible said was true...that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child, that all homosexuals will burn in hell, and that I should look, act, and speak like him. When I didn't do those things, he'd get pissed."
Kevin went quiet for a moment, thinking he was wasting his time, but Archie was listening.
"He called me every name in the book – pansy, faggot, daffodil, and my favorite...pussyboy." Kevin sneered at the memory. "It got worse as I got older. I'd rather hang out with my sister and her friends than watch sports or fix cars. He lost his ever-lovin' mind once when they put makeup on me one sleepover. They never did it again, and I couldn't sit down without wincing for like four days."
Bella groaned softly, laying her head on my leg, and I ran my fingers slowly through her hair to settle her down. If she thought she hated Mr. Stark before, she really despised him now, despite the fact that the man was dead. But we stayed silent in the cellar.
Kevin took a deep breath before continuing. "As I got closer to college, my dad kept pushing for me to do something...manly for a living. He didn't know that I performed on stage, that I wanted to continue in the theater, because my sister covered for me. He would've kicked me out had he known. I applied to every school that was as far away as I could get. I had the grades, my test scores were high, but I wanted to be as far away from him as possible, which really sucked because the best of the best theaters are in New York. I had no choice. In order to really...live, I needed to get away from the man that told me every day that I would die of AIDS – uhh...that's a long story, Arch. We'll have to tell you about that later. Anyway, he said that fags were drug addicts and fiends, that I'd never make anything of myself, and that he was ashamed to call me his son."
That last statement got Archie's attention, and his head snapped up to glare at Kevin, who smiled warmly at him.
"I see you've heard that, too, huh?" he asked.
"Yes." Archie whispered softly.
Kevin nodded in sympathy and understanding. "Yeah...if he only knew," he snorted, shaking his head. "I'm more of a fiend now than I ever was back then."
Archie smiled softly but sadly, I noted. "Didn't you want him to..."
"I tried, honey," Kevin urged, sitting forward. "I tried everything to get that man to understand me – movies, books, my friends. Hell, even his poker buddies told him it wasn't cool to out me in front of them. They even tried to convince him that I was born...different. Nothing worked."
"He's...gone?"
"Yep," Kevin said with a nod. "He died over a year ago. He was lucky he was already dying. The things he said to me in the hospital almost got him killed by an entire coven of vampires." Kevin grinned when chuckles resounded through the house. "See? And that's when I knew... I knew it was him...not me. I mean, my sister tried to cushion it all, but I always thought I was in the wrong, that what I was, how I felt was just...fucking wrong. The last thing I finally told him was that he truly missed out on knowing the real me. It was his fucking loss, not mine."
I smiled against the top of Bella's head when not even Esme tried to correct his language.
Kevin shrugged. "Your dad was an ass, Archie. He was mean and self-absorbed. He was also kinda sad that your mom died, but he had no right to take it out on you. Understand? You want a dad you can trust? One you can really fucking count on? You look to Dr. Feel...erm...Carlisle."
I wanted to laugh at his name adjustment, but Carlisle's mind was in utter shock. He also felt a little honored. And Bella cooed just a little at that because she agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, every mind in the house was in agreement.
"Just because William Varner was the sperm donor that brought you into this world, that doesn't mean he was ever worthy of your trust. And he damn sure didn't deserve your respect. He was wrong, Arch. You'd be surprised where you find real family...and it's usually not blood. Okay?"
Kevin stood up, brushing his jeans off. "Oh yeah, and one more thing. This fear you have of stepping outside... Dude, I swear to you that nothing on this fucking Earth will touch you. You've got ten of us really pulling for you. Yeah, sure, bad shit happens, but there's some really amazing stuff out there. Well, maybe not the fine city of Caribou, but still... There's some shit you really should take a peek at, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Archie blinked up at Kevin, all wide-eyed and almost amused at his sarcasm.
"You'll do this, you know. You'll try again, and eventually, you'll get it. Don't sweat this time. It's no big deal, and I certainly don't think any less of you. You know why?"
"Why?" Archie asked.
"Because you're puttin' in a hell of an effort." Kevin stated that as fact, and it wasn't to be argued with, per his tone. "If you were still invisible, scarin' the shit outta Heavy E with your ghost-like antics, still starving yourself, then I'd say no way, but nope. You're here... I can see you, talk to you, and tell you that you're doing fine. No lie."
I buried my chuckle into Bella's hair. I couldn't help it. Kevin had a no-nonsense way of putting things that Archie was absorbing better than I'd originally thought he would.
"I scared Edward?" Archie asked suddenly, and my laughter was cut short.
"Yeah, you didn't know?" Kevin asked, and Archie shook his head slowly.
My eyebrows shot up with that. It seemed Archie was unaware of some of the things he'd seen or done. It had to have been due to his thirst. It had been an extreme case, but I hadn't given it much thought until now. I thought he'd been aware of his actions when we first arrived.
I huffed a laugh to myself because that meant he hadn't witnessed – or at least, he didn't remember – some of the things that had occurred between me and Bella in the library. It also meant that every slip of his cloak, every stray thought I'd heard, and every bit of his fear had been against his will, and he'd barely been conscious of it. And that made perfect sense to me because I'd been fairly close to incoherency when I was apart from Bella, and she had the letter to prove it. Carlisle – in his very beginning – could hardly think. I just hadn't realized until now that Archie had been the same way.
Bella turned to gaze back at me, but I simply shook my head. I signaled silently for her to shield my thoughts – or my decisions, in this case – and she did. I simply kissed her. I'd tell her later because she'd be glad to know that Dirty Edward was still a safe secret.
"Later, beautiful," I barely breathed, chuckling once. "Promise."
"Sorry, Edward," Archie suddenly said, and I asked Bella to remove the shield so that I could hear him once more.
"No blood, no foul," I told him with a smile. "You weren't yourself."
"No, but you did cause Eddie to question his sanity there for a bit, buddy," Emmett boomed from somewhere upstairs, which caused all of them to laugh.
A warm, gentle hand caressed my face. Bella was fighting her smile, but she kissed me softly.
"Hey! What about me?!" Jasper called out. "You have any idea what that shit felt like?"
"Yes!" we all groaned because we'd all felt what Jasper had.
More laughter echoed through the house, but there was one extra: Archie. I smiled at his amusement. A true laugh was rare coming from him.
Bella grinned, looking up at me, and I kissed her forehead.
Is he...she started, but I cut her off with a kiss to her lips this time.
"He's fine," I told her. "But he still needs time."
She nodded in acceptance, sighing a little in relief.
Kevin heard me, so he turned to Archie one last time. "You let us know when you're ready to try again."
Bella stood up at the same time Kevin finally left Archie alone. She tugged me up from my seat on the stairs, wrapping her arms around me. Hugging her back, I kissed the top of her head, but I smiled when Archie's mind started sorting through his human life. Alice was right; Kevin had definitely given him something to think about.
~oOo~
"You know, I don't get it," Jasper said with a grimace as he glanced around. "I mean... How the hell do we go from Halloween immediately into Christmas? When did we start skipping Thanksgiving? It's only the first week of fucking November."
I grinned, sitting back on the bench in the middle of the mall. Cheesy decorations were already up, the tinkling sounds of carols were playing overhead, and the frenzied feel of shoppers' minds were all around me. Jasper's mind flickered through his past holidays, some human, which were interesting, and some with us. Occasionally, it had been all about presents, but mostly, it was about being with each other.
"I'd say it was because Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's make up for the entire holiday season, but...no." I chuckled when he gave me a sardonic look. "Really, it's all about the money. Look around you, Jazz. Stores started their sales already. The earlier they get shoppers inside this mall, the earlier the stores meet their end of the year quotas. It's simple."
He scoffed. "That's not what it should be about."
Laughing, my head fell back. "Do tell, oh wise one."
"I know, right? It sounds fucked up, considering what we are, for me to sit here and say it should be about family and love and all that bullshit, but... Jesus, Ed." He gestured around us. "All of that's lost somewhere. There's not even a blip of it on the radar."
"Jasper, we're sitting here with them," I countered, just to egg him on.
"Stop it." He laughed, shaking his head and sitting forward so that he could rest his elbows on knees. "We had to get out of the house. The girls needed it."
I nodded and sighed at the reality of that. It was just the four of us at the mall. Emmett and Rose had finally caved after Archie's meltdown a few days ago and headed south for a hunting trip, and they'd decided to take Adrian and Kevin with them.
Archie was still struggling. His mind changed a thousand times a minute, it seemed, debating whether to go outside again, which weighed on Alice more than she'd admit to anyone but me, and that was only in thought. His self-doubt and disappointment were heavy, causing Jasper to send lighter feelings his way almost on an hourly basis. But his long talks with Carlisle were the hardest on all of us – especially my Bella, because her shield pulled at her constantly to go to him. He was reliving the grief of the death of his mother, the shock of what he'd done to his father, and all that Victoria had put him through.
I had to give credit where credit was due. Archie was trying. He was talking. And he wasn't hiding. However, for those of us with extra senses or talents, we were carrying his burden with him, so Carlisle had offered us a break. It was why we were sitting in an extremely large mall in Bangor. We'd had to get away for the day.
"Yeah, that's true," I murmured, frowning a little.
"Alice sees him drinking from a deer," Jasper whispered because his thoughts were running along the same lines as my own.
"I know. We just can't tell when," I explained, glancing down the long hallway to the main entrance. Snow was falling softly outside, giving the world a gray, blurry look. "We saw snow...so maybe soon?" I grimaced and shrugged my shoulders.
"Maybe," he conceded, glancing up at me. "It all kind of rests on whether he can feed, right? I mean..."
I held my hand up. I could see where his mind was going. When he'd worked with Maria, he'd had to destroy newborns that couldn't fend for themselves. They had to be self-sufficient, strong, and controllable. If they couldn't be those things, or once they'd passed by an immortal year, Jasper had unfortunately had the job of destroying them. He really, really didn't want to think about having to do that to Archie.
"Is that necessary? Really? He's survived this long," I countered, wincing at just what that would do to the family. They were all now completely and emotionally invested in Archie.
"Carlisle would say no. But damn, brother...how much longer until someone really sees him in that house, sees him for what he is? I know Demitri considered it. You can't tell me he didn't think it at least one time."
"He did," I said softly with a nod, looking down at my sneakers. "But he considers this Carlisle's call. Our house. Our family. He'd go with whatever decision the family came to, but yes, he did think it."
"Damn," he sighed. "Don't get me wrong. I really am pulling for the guy."
"We all are. Every last one of us." I gazed over at him, my nose wrinkling. I didn't have to say what it would do to the girls, to Carlisle and Esme if Archie didn't succeed. "Archie's more worried about disappointing us than himself, yet he's extremely irritated with his own weaknesses."
Jasper's mind went into strategy mode, different training sessions he'd done, different personalities that he'd been face to face with, but one stood out above the rest. One method that had worked better than all others. Grinning, I shook my head.
He smacked my shoulder with the back of his hand. "You know it worked with Bells. We could try it on him."
"And here I thought you were just picking on the baby sister at the time," I snorted, giving him a raised eyebrow.
"I was. Totally," he said with an evil grin, which made me laugh. "But that shit worked. Their talents are similar," he mused, rubbing his chin. "She was timid at first. So is he. Pissing her off made her concentrate, focus, and forget what everyone else was thinking or doing."
Nodding, I still shrugged a shoulder. "It couldn't hurt, right?" I asked him, but then frowned. "We'd have to warn everyone, especially Bella. He seems to need her by his side, but if you anger him, he'll be stronger due to his diet as of late."
"Pfft," Jasper scoffed, looking at me like I was crazy. "Like she wouldn't pin him in the blink of an eye just to settle his ass down. In fact, she and I might be the perfect ones to work with him. You and Dad would be there, too, of course."
"Of course." I chuckled, but smiled widely when I caught sight of the girls heading our way. "We'll talk about it on the way home. Okay?" I asked, and he nodded.
When the girls approached, I smirked when my eye caught a familiar pink striped bag. Dragging my tongue along my bottom lip, I raised an eyebrow at my girl.
Don't start, Edward, she thought to me, her mind clearly amused at my expression. I had to replace a certain black and white set. I liked that one!
"My apologies, love," I said, though there was absolutely no way to keep the smug grin off my face.
Jasper eyed her bags, laughing softly. "Victoria's Secret and the bookstore... You know there's a naughty librarian, sexy teacher, off limits personal assistant jibe in there somewhere..."
"Yeah, well...your wife bought you socks. Should I asked if you're stuffing them somewhere or wearing them?" Bella snarked back, but grinned when Jasper simply laughed that much harder.
"Stuffing, my baby sis, is for Thanksgiving," he countered, shooting a wink her way.
"Aaand we're back to the holidays," I sang, standing up from the bench and giving Jasper a grin.
I had to ignore the thoughts he was thinking because books and lingerie did make for an interesting combo. There was a naughty teacher fantasy in there somewhere, but the mall was not the place to even consider exploring it. Though, Jasper was exploring the idea just fine on his own, only with Alice as the lead character. I smacked the back of his head, and he only laughed.
Looking over at my beautiful girl, I opened my mouth to ask a question, but it seemed that Bella could read my mind.
No, baby...that's not the only set I bought. She grinned, rolling her eyes.
Chuckling, I kissed her forehead. "Good," I growled dramatically against her skin, but I turned to look at Alice, who'd been quiet since they'd joined us.
"Whatever you two just decided about Archie...it works!" she gasped, looking between us. "What was it?"
"Just a different approach, darlin', that's all," he crooned to her, poking around in the handful of bags in her hands. She swatted them away, and he chuckled. "You can't tell me you bought Christmas already, Ali. You'll drive me nuts for the next month and a half."
Bella giggled. "I told her to wait. You boys are like kids."
"She likes to tease him," I told Bella, starting to pull open a bag or two she was holding, as well.
She grinned up at me. "You won't find anything, Edward. Although, I did get this..." She pulled out a large book and placed it in my hands. "It's the history of Maine. Caribou is in there, and I thought Archie might find it interesting. His dad is mentioned...in good ways. So is our house."
"Huh, really?" I murmured, thumbing through the book. "That's really nice, sweet girl." I handed the book back, thinking he'd eaten up every book she'd downloaded for him and handed him to read. It seemed they shared a love for the written word...or maybe Archie was just damn well determined to catch up with her. "What else did you get?"
Her laughter was like music, echoing around us in the mall, and it was sweeter than the music playing overhead. "You, sir, needed jeans and sneakers. You're lucky I love you. Otherwise, I'd have dragged you with me."
"I know I'm lucky," I grumped, but I smirked when she rolled her eyes again at me. I couldn't help it. I'd never cared for shopping for my own clothes. Alice had always done it for me, and once Bella and I had gotten married, she'd taken over. "You're the best, my Bella," I crooned.
She leaned into the kiss I was pressing to her cheek, giving me a sweet giggle. "Spoiled-ass vampire."
~oOo~
BELLA
"I don't know, Jazz," I sighed, gazing back at him from the front seat. "You really want to hit him with anger? We don't know how he'll react. He may not know how he'll react."
"You can't tell me you're scared he'll hurt you," my brother taunted, but his smile fell when Edward shot him a glare in the rearview mirror.
"This isn't a dare," I argued. "And no...I can protect myself," I said, poking Edward, who grunted but smiled. "I'm just worried that he's already feeling all these things, and you're going to push him over some edge."
"I'm hopin' to push his ass out the door." Jasper chuckled. "Look, he's really comfortable with us – like...almost happy. You were the same way. The only time you truly succeeded was when we pushed you with fear, anger, or frustration. Maybe it's time to do that with Archie."
Edward breathed heavily through his nose but gazed over at me. His nose wrinkled a bit before he said, "As much as I detest the thought of you having to defend yourself, Jasper may have a point."
"It works! I'm telling you people," Alice chimed in, her voice amused and urging. "The number of tries and the method you and Jasper use changes a little, but the outcome is still the same. Archie takes down his own meal. Period."
I grimaced but nodded in acceptance. Our goal was to help Archie learn to hunt – or at least take down his own kill if he couldn't leave the yard – but he seemed so fragile to me.
"He's not fragile, sweet girl. He's stronger than he gives himself credit," Edward stated, linking our fingers together.
"Yeah, well, it wasn't you he was begging now, was it?" I huffed, frowning as I gazed out the side window. Flurries of snow smacked against the window.
"That was heartbreaking," Alice sighed in agreement. "You know, I half-expected him to lose his temper then, but he didn't. He was too scared."
"And too comfortable with Bella," Jasper added, raising an eyebrow at me when I spun to look at him again. "You know it's true. It's why you didn't train against Edward too much. He let you win," he taunted, grinning and giving Edward's shoulder a nudge.
"Not by much," Edward muttered wryly, smiling when I laughed. He picked up our clasped hands, kissing the back of mine. "To be honest, I'd be interested to see the result. We'd need to wait for Emmett, though."
"True," we all agreed, because not only would we need his strength if tempers got out of hand, but we'd need him to help hunt down a deer and hold it for poor Archie. Besides, our biggest brother would be extremely disappointed if he missed this first try.
"They'll be back tonight," Alice said knowingly. "We could try in the morning."
I surrendered, finally saying, "Okay," leaving the rest of the drive home to other subjects – what to teach Archie next, what movies were coming out, what games the boys were interested in, and whether or not we were going to play Truth or Dare at Thanksgiving. That last one earned a round of laughter, because as silly as it was, it was a tradition.
I laughed, my head turning to gaze at my handsome husband. "Maybe there'll still be snow," I teased, letting my mind remember the beauty that was a naked Edward making nineteen snow angels.
"Your turn," he growled sexily, raising an eyebrow my way. "I'm not kidding. You pick dare...and it's on."
The SUV exploded with laughter. That had been our very first Thanksgiving together, and I'd still been human at the time. I'd made him strip bare to make as many snow angels as possible in thirty seconds. It had been a test of my restraint, as well as a test of his speed. It was also in revenge for the teasing touch he'd given me per Emmett's dare.
I gasped dramatically, placing a hand over my heart. "You'd make me get naked in front of the whole damn family?"
Edward grinned. "You made me do it!"
"He wouldn't last through the first angel," Alice said, cracking the fuck up.
"No...probably not," Edward snorted, shrugging when we chuckled at him. "Besides, I think Emmett would enjoy that too much."
"Like I'd pick dare," I countered, looking at my husband like he'd lost his mind. "Not now, anyway. You shouldn't have revealed that, baby."
"Apparently," Jasper chimed in wearing a grin, "we'll have new rules this year."
"Obviously." I laughed, squirming when Edward poked my side.
When we made it back home, the sun was setting. It had been a good day to get away from everything. As much as I liked helping Archie, his constant pull on my shield weighed heavily. And it was no easier on Jasper, Alice, and Edward. We'd never tell Archie that because he already felt like a burden, but Esme and Carlisle had seen it, sending us from the house with sympathy.
I had to smile when we all finally made it inside to the library, because it was Carlisle's turn for teaching Archie – only this time, it was vampire history. It was extremely interesting to hear it coming from the man that seemed to have seen and heard it all.
Books were spread all over the coffee table as Carlisle glanced up at us, wearing a warm smile. "Ah, there they are," he greeted.
Esme got up from her chair, hugging and kissing us all. "Carlisle was hoping you guys would make it back for this lesson. I think he needs help with a few things."
"How's it goin', Arch?" Jasper called as we fell into available chairs and sofas.
Edward pulled me down next to him on the loveseat, wrapping a strong arm around my shoulders.
"It's okay," Archie replied with a smile. "We couldn't decide whether to play chess or go through vampire history."
"Don't play Edward or Alice at chess, buddy," I warned him, tapping my temple. "It's a losing battle. They use their talents to cheat." I smacked at Edward's tickling fingers.
"No kidding." Jasper chuckled and gave a jerk of his chin toward Carlisle. "Dad, though, will straight up level you, simply with strategy."
"Well, it's the one thing I do know," Archie said, and it was awesome to watch him grin with pride.
"However, you should watch Edward and Alice play. It's hysterical," Esme piped up with a laugh. "I'm not sure they even bother moving the pieces."
"We don't," Edward and Alice said together.
"It's all in their minds," Carlisle explained. "It's a vicious circle with the two of them." He shot a giggling Alice a wink. "Alice sees Edward's decisions, but Edward can see her visions and her plotted move, so he alters his decisions again just to counter. By the time they've thought through every possible move, one of them is calling out, 'Checkmate.' It's over before it's begun."
Archie laughed, looking between the two in question before looking to me. "But you can play them."
"I can," I agreed with a smile. "I shield them, but even without Edward's cheating, he's good." That earned me a kiss to the top of my head. "Chess isn't my best game. I'd rather play video games against Emmett and Jasper. But if you wanted to challenge Edward, I could shield your thoughts from him."
Edward chuckled. "Challenge accepted, Archie. We'll play once Carlisle is finished."
"Oh, now we've got us a competition!" Jasper rubbed his hands together, looking to me. "Fifty on Archie. New brain, new moves, and he'll be unreadable."
I laughed. "Yeah, can't take that...gonna have to go with Edward. He beat Carlisle the last time we did this..."
"You're so biased, love," Edward growled softly against my temple.
Shrugging a shoulder, I huffed, "Sue me." I rolled my eyes to Carlisle and Archie, both of whom were highly amused. "Please, go on."
Carlisle grinned and nodded. "Let's begin, shall we?"
Carlisle started with some truths that even I had wondered about. He explained that there was no way of knowing how vampires actually began, like who was the father of us all. There were rumors and legends, speculations and theories, but none of them could be proven true. Some books and movies and even folklore experts had tried to trace us, and even the oldest among us didn't know.
Archie asked about Dracula, who was rumored to have been Vlad the Impaler, but considering that the Romanians dated back further than that, it wasn't true. Some people believed that the original vampire was Judas Iscariot – that when he'd hung himself after selling out Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, God himself had saved him, only to curse him with immortality on Earth. That would've explained some things like the need for blood, due to the cursing of his soul, but not others – like the myths about sunlight, silver, and religious items. None of those things were true.
Then there was the theory of a dark ritual gone horribly wrong, where a man was forced to drink the blood of the strongest, the fastest, and the smartest, which changed his internal makeup, but Carlisle said that didn't explain our venom, our skin, or our immortality.
And of course, there was the legend that we were the sons and daughters of Lucifer himself – the snake in the Garden of Eden – but in all reality, we didn't know.
"There are so many regions on this Earth that have a legend that matches up to what we are," he went on to explain. "But no one truly knows where we came from." He paused for a moment, studying Archie's curious face. "It's kind of like Christianity. There are several beliefs that are similar. For example... In Egypt, Horace was born to a virgin, sacrificed himself for the benefit of others, and rose three days later. Sound familiar?" When Archie nodded, Carlisle smiled. "So, we may never know...about either, actually – religion or where vampires come from. Perhaps when we leave this world, we'll finally know."
Carlisle then turned his attention to the books on the table in front of them. He told about the ruling brothers of our kind – the Volturi. He described Aro, Caius, and Marcus, how they governed, what they guarded, and how things had turned sour not so long ago. Carlisle told of his time there and how he'd tried to teach them that there was more to humans than just treating them like a food source. They'd allowed him his strange diet but would never really listen.
Eventually, the desire for power and the abundance of corruption had caused the death of Aro and Caius by their own people. Carlisle then moved into the history that I knew. Marcus's escape from Italy, finding us, and our fight against Felix, who had been responsible for many, many immortal deaths, including Aro and Caius.
"Marcus still rules the Volturi to this day, but our friend Demitri has stepped up to his side to help him," Carlisle finished.
"Marcus rocks," Emmett boomed, walking in the door with Rose, Adrian, and Kevin right behind him. "Vamp 101!" He grinned, nodding to Carlisle. "Excellent."
Carlisle laughed a little and turned back to Archie. "Marcus has always been the fairest of the brothers. But yes, he is our friend. He still maintains the rules with a heavy hand, but that is for our protection as much as it is for the humans. We feel that humans would react...poorly if they knew most of the scary monsters they watch in movies are real."
Archie grinned, but turned toward Edward and me. "You stopped Felix."
"He tried to kill Bella," Edward stated without any emotion. "He deserved his fate."
"He tried to kill all of us," Jasper added with a nod.
Edward closed his eyes to get his temper under control, inhaling deeply the scent of my hair.
"There would've been no stopping Eddie," Emmett said calmly, wearing a serious expression as he watched his brother bury his nose in my hair. "I don't blame him. Bella was a young vampire, and Felix had fought with her, hurting her badly, but before he could finish the job, Edward took care of it."
To me, that hadn't been the worst of it, but I wasn't going to say it out loud. I even shielded my thoughts for a moment as I remembered not only the pain of Felix tearing my arm badly, but the pain that had sent me reeling when Edward had chased him too far. Our connection had stretched tightly, so the added agony had caused me to completely melt down. And that was the memory that Edward was most likely reliving – my cries for him, not the physical injury I'd sustained. I was easily fixed, but Edward had hated the sound of my wails, calling for him, panicking at the thought that something had happened to him.
Jasper swirled calm around me and Edward, and I turned to kiss my husband's cheek.
"Okay?" I asked softly against his jaw. When he nodded, I smiled, kissing him again. "Good."
Now that Adrian and Kevin were in the room, they talked about how Italy operated now. How Marcus kept things civil and open and honest. There was no dissension, no one more powerful than the other, and no more dark plots. Humans still worked in the castle – that hadn't changed, but Marcus gave them choices, options. He now had new powers under his control – one of them being a girl that could erase short term memories. She was new, having been found by our friend Brody. He'd been with us during the fight against Tanya.
Jasper gave Archie the details about the territory wars in the south. He explained why they happened, who had fought in them, and what his true job entailed. They'd been violent, bloody times. Archie hadn't really liked the story, but he accepted it as a part of the whole thing.
Carlisle then went on to discuss the Cullens' personal and family history. It was the filling in of the blanks for Archie. He knew some of it, but most of us joined in on this discussion. What started as a simple story really just turned into tall tales on one another that Esme finally called an end to.
"Okay, that's enough. Archie doesn't need to know just how many car races you guys had, or that Emmett streaked naked down a football field, or even that Jasper made a teacher orgasm in class. Just tell it right!" she chided with a laugh.
Archie had smacked his forehead with that last statement, causing the boys to roar with laughter.
Edward nodded at her with a big smile. "Yes, ma'am," he conceded, turning to Archie. "In order to live the way we do, Archie, we have to move after so many years. We've explained some of that to you. We also have to play rolls in order to fit in wherever we go, so we pose as high school or college students. Right now, here in Caribou, we're claiming that we're being taught at home. But all in all, it helps us maintain a long-term residence."
"Well, as long-term as we can get," Rose added. "We can only stay as long as the humans believe the lie. It's usually Carlisle that has the issue. It's hard to make him look closer to thirty when he's truly twenty-three."
"That's true," Carlisle agreed. "And that's where every member of the family comes into play. Edward hears what people are thinking. Alice can see decisions on what they decide to ask me. Jasper can feel doubt." Archie nodded with a smile, and Carlisle went on. "The rest are defense. Bella's talent is most effective because her shield will react if someone poses a threat – to herself specifically, but sometimes, the rest of us."
Edward tilted his head and a soft laugh escaped him. "Interesting, Archie," he praised, ignoring how the rest of us kept glancing between them. "It would work, but you're a long way from that point. I'd certainly be interested to see how that turned out."
"What?!" Rose, Emmett, and Jasper all yelled.
Edward laughed again. "Archie was thinking how his own talent would help. How he could listen to humans and not be seen."
"The master eavesdropper! That is awesome!" Emmett cheered, grinning over at Archie.
"Edward's right, though. I can't even..." Archie sighed, shaking his head.
"You will, son," Carlisle soothed, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Now...I believe there's a chess game to be played."
That changed Archie's frown. He glanced up when Edward got up to grab the chess set from the shelf and then waved us all into the dining room in order to set it up on the table.
"Oh, hell no! Archie's takin' on Ed?" Emmett gasped, rubbing his hands together and looking to me. "You shielding him?"
"Of course. Can't let Edward cheat now, can we?" I asked, getting a sexy wink from my smug man as he set all the pieces up onto the board.
Suddenly, poor Archie was overrun with advice – Edward was an aggressive player, don't start out using a specific move, make sure to guard your...whatever. It didn't matter. Edward took all of it in stride, and Archie just smiled and nodded politely.
Once the boys had sat down opposite each other, we all gathered around them.
"Okay. Ready, buddy?" I asked him, giving him a smile when he nodded. "Good. I'm going to shield you and Alice because she'll unavoidably show Edward your moves."
"Got it," he said, gazing down at the board while I gently wrapped my shield around him and my sister.
Edward had given him white, which gave him the first move. Before the first pawn had been touched, more bets were slammed onto the table.
"Rock this, Heavy E," Kevin said, tossing a fifty onto Jasper's and my antes.
"No, no, no...I'm thinkin' Archie's got some tricks up his sleeve," Emmett added, tossing his own bet in.
Soon, everyone was in on the bet. Rose chose Edward, Esme was willing to give Archie a shot, and Carlisle had a difficult time choosing, but ultimately, he picked Edward. Adrian couldn't decide, so he opted to bet on a draw. Alice was the last to cast her bet; she wasn't normally allowed in on these things, but since I was shielding her from Edward's side of the decision-making, she opted to root for Archie. That made it a split bet right down the middle of the family – four to four. Four hundred and fifty dollars rested on the shoulders of the players.
"Go get 'em, baby," I whispered against the top of Edward's head.
He shot me a sweet smile when I sat down next to him but then turned his attention to the game. And what a game it was! Without the ability to cheat, Edward seemed to have found a pretty even match in Archie. There were close calls, groans when pieces were removed from the board, and I was damn sure that Carlisle was giving Edward all sorts of silent advice.
But when it all came down to it, Archie knocked over Edward's black queen. "Checkmate," he said with a grin.
Groans and cheers erupted throughout the dining room, but I leaned in to give a kiss to Edward's cheek. "Good game, baby," I told him, but smirked at the look on his face. You let him win, I surmised silently, keeping my face void of that assumption.
His only answer was a quick kiss to my lips and a glance over at a very happy, very proud Archie, who had Jasper, Emmett, Esme, and Alice all congratulating him for their win of the bet. Carlisle slapped him gently on the back, telling him well done. The whole family was proud of him, but most of all, Archie was proud of himself.
I love you, I gushed, kissing him again. That was a really, really sweet thing you just did.
"It was a really close game," he said aloud, reaching to shake Archie's hand.
I wondered how close it was, truly. Was the end so close that Edward had allowed Archie to take the win? Or did Edward see that Archie needed this boost? Or had Edward known he was losing and just let it happen? That last thought caused my husband to shoot a wink and a grin my way.
Whatever, handsome, I thought to him. It turned out great. Look at him.
"Next time, Archie," Edward taunted him.
"Now," Carlisle clapped his hands together one time. "Who's next?"
~oOo~
Edward, are you sure we should do it this way? I asked him silently, worried about how we were about to approach Archie.
He glanced up from the guitar in his hands and nodded. His eyes were like warm, light honey, filled with understanding. He set the guitar to the side of the chaise and waved me over. I wanted to roll my eyes at the sight of his licking lips. He really did love me in his clothes. I was wearing his white button down shirt and nothing else.
After several games of chess the night before – and the exchanging of several hundred dollars at won and lost bets – Edward and Carlisle had talked quietly about Jasper's idea. They ultimately decided that it would be best not to tell Archie how we were handling it, but merely that he was going to give going outside another shot. Archie had agreed to try.
I came to stand next to Edward, and he reached out to trail his fingers up the sides of my legs. Lifting one foot to rest on his stomach, he leaned in to press a wicked kiss to the inside of my thigh.
"Yes, love," he whispered, barely allowing out any sound to his voice. "It should work. Alice sees no other way," he told me, looking up at me through his long, beautiful eyelashes.
Smirking, I shook my head at him. We were an endless cycle, the two of us. He was reveling in the sight of me in his shirt, but I wasn't fairing any better at the fact that he was only in a pair of dark jeans. A shirtless Edward was very, very sexy.
He grinned, nipping his teeth against my thigh, which caused me to squeal. He pulled me down sideways into his lap, smiling down at me.
Pressing his lips to mine, he then whispered really softly, "Use your shield, watch your back, and stay calm. Got me? He's stronger than you."
He's not stronger than Emmett, I countered.
"We'll all be there," Edward simply said, kissing me one more time before watching his fingers graze up and down my bare legs. "Or...we could just stay up here."
He grinned when I laughed, and teasing fingers became more aggressive fingers. They started to tickle, and I couldn't fight him. I merely writhed in a breathless, giggling heap in his lap. Finally, having no other alternative, I captured his hands with my shield, pinning them above his head on the chaise. I smiled in victory, changing my position so that I was straddling his lap. An evil smirk crossed his handsome face as I pressed my forehead to his.
"We have to get downstairs," I told him softly, brushing my lips across his.
"I know," he breathed in reply. "But you were teasing me in my shirt, beautiful."
Edward, I could be wearing a full snowsuit, and you'd still say that, I thought to him with a laugh.
He cracked up, his head falling back to the chair behind him, and I couldn't help but press a kiss to his delicious neck.
"That's probably true. Okay, okay...let's get down there," he conceded sadly, and I let his hands go free of my shield. He captured my face, kissing me almost stupid. "You're still really sexy in my shirt, though, baby. Just so you know."
"Behave, Cullen," I growled against his lips before I scrambled off of his lap.
He pouted like child who'd had all his favorite toys taken away, and it was completely adorable. "Yes, ma'am," he grumbled, getting up from the chair to pull a white T-shirt and black sweater on.
Once I'd gotten dressed in my own jeans and sweater, we descended the stairs and joined Carlisle and Archie in Archie's room. I could see Archie was trying to ready himself for this, but he glanced up at me.
"I'm nervous," he stated, his brow wrinkling.
"It's understandable," Edward soothed in the voice that always seemed calm.
"We're going to do something different this time, son," Carlisle told him. "You're going to work with Jasper and Bella together. We think they will be able to help you."
Archie frowned and turned toward the stone doorway where Jasper had appeared. "Won't it be...not me if you give me a false emotion?"
"I'm merely going to adjust your levels, man, not manipulate you completely. I may add in a few other things to help you, but there's more than just stepping outside involved today," Jasper stated, sounding like the major he once was – a touch commanding and firm, not allowing an argument. It brought back memories of how he'd helped me in the beginning.
"More?" Archie asked, looking skeptical.
Edward nodded. "You trust us that we have your best interest at heart, right, Archie?"
"Yes, of course, but..."
"Good, then come with us," he said, gesturing toward the stone entry that led to the cellar doors outside. "I want to show you something."
Jasper had opened the doors already, so the pale light of day bled down into the cellar. Carlisle went ahead and stepped outside, eying the snow-covered backyard, only to turn to Edward.
With a single nod, Edward turned to Archie. "When Bella wraps her shield around you, Archie, I want you to let your instincts rise to the surface. There will be four of you inside her shield, okay?" Edward asked as he held up four long fingers.
"Who else?" Archie asked, trying to glance outside, but Carlisle, Jasper, and Emmett were purposefully standing in his line of sight.
"You'll see," Jasper told him.
Archie looked so damned nervous that I couldn't help but take his hand in mine to soothe him.
Edward backed up out of the cellar to stand next to Carlisle. Jasper came to stand on Archie's other side. With a quick glance out to the backyard, I saw my other brothers out there, the largest of which was holding a rather large buck by the neck. He must have bitten him just enough for the venom to stun him because the animal wasn't fighting as much as I would've expected.
Turning to Archie and Jasper, I asked, "Ready?"
Both nodded, and I shot my shield around them, but also sent it clear across the backyard to encompass Emmett and the buck. Kevin and Adrian stood well off to either side, and Rose, Alice, and Esme were closer to the side of the house. We were all rooting for Archie.
Leaning to Archie's ear, I asked, "Tell me what you smell. Tell me what you hear."
As he inhaled, Jasper sent him calm, soothing feelings, along with enough bravery that it barely took much tugging on my part to pull Archie off that last step and onto the crunchy ice just outside the house. It helped that Archie's eyes were closed.
"I...I smell you...Jasper..." He inhaled deeply again. "Emmett...and..." His eyes snapped open, and instead of the deep red, they were black. "Blood. Heartbeat."
I glanced up at Jasper, who was smirking and nodding. "Good. Now look across the yard, Archie. Emmett has something for you."
Archie's head snapped up at a speed that was purely instinctual. His nostrils flared, his eyes darkened further, and his breathing picked up, but he was completely and unnaturally still.
Emmett wasn't that far away. He was just on the closest edge of what we considered the football field. An immortal could've jumped it in one leap. My eyes widened when Archie didn't move. He started to shake, his hand gripping mine.
"No, no, no," he growled, though his eyes never left Emmett.
This next part would be tricky with my shield. I had to shield myself from Jasper's power but keep Emmett inside at the same time Archie was hit with everything – anger, bravery, determination.
Jasper stepped between Archie and Emmett, his eyes fierce. "Go with it, buddy. Let it take you over."
"No!" Archie growled, looking to me.
"There's nothing wrong with what you're feeling, sweetie," I told him. "Nothing it all. It's how you hunt. That urge, that pull, that burn you're feeling in your throat? That's a good thing. Let go."
He shook his head profusely, but glared when Emmett called out to him.
"Fine, Arch...I'll keep it," he taunted, fighting his grin when Archie growled.
Carlisle stepped up to the side. "Son, you're stronger than you think. You think something bad happens when you let go, but it doesn't always. You can stay partially aware of your surroundings at the same time you're hunting."
I took a deep breath, locking gazes with Jasper. When he nodded, I braced myself for what I was about to say because he really needed to hear it.
"Archie, look at me," I snapped just enough to get his attention. Black eyes locked with mine, though they kept flickering to his intended meal. "Your dad... Sweetie, he deserved what you did to him. Victoria? She was an idiot. This...this is nothing compared to what you've survived. Your dad deserved ten times what you did to him." It was the next part that hurt me to say it, but with Jasper's help, it was the key to what we were trying to do. "Or maybe you'll just let them all win. You'll just waste away..." I let go of his hand when Jasper hit him with fury, stepping toward Emmett. "Fine, then...I'll take it from you."
There's a moment when we're hunting that instinct takes completely over. That the civility of our human side tends to slip away. We were banking on that with Archie. He wanted so badly to get better, but he was allowing his fear of the things he'd done to rule him so much that he wouldn't let his other side take over. The need to take, to protect one's kill was one of the first things Edward had taught me. It didn't matter that my soulmate was holding my meal for me because if I wanted it badly enough, I'd fight anyone for it.
I took two or three steps away, my boots squishing into the snow, and the anger that Jasper was sending out combined with the instinct Archie was fighting suddenly boiled over. He growled low, launching himself at me, but I'd expected it, so with my shield, I wrapped him up and put him to the ground on his back. A small drift gathered up behind his back as we slid a few feet.
"Do you want it?" I growled in his face.
"Yes!" he snarled, giving the buck a quick glance. "The heartbeat..."
"Right. Now...take it! Think only on that heartbeat, and take it."
I barely had to use my shield to push him along, though I did gather it in tighter around me, Emmett, and Archie. Emmett dropped the buck with a grin, backing away as much as my shield would allow as Archie landed, bit, and drank almost in one fell swoop.
"Aw, hells yes!" Emmett cheerfully hissed, punching the air.
"That's what I'm talkin' about," Jasper praised.
I looked back to Carlisle and Edward, and both shot me winks, wearing proud smiles on their faces.
Once Archie had drained the buck, he sat back on his heels and stared down at the animal in shock. Emmett and Jasper stood to the side, but Carlisle and Edward came to kneel in front him. Just in case he reacted poorly, I kept my shield around him and sat down next to him.
"Hey," I whispered, touching his shoulder. I smiled at him when his eyes locked onto mine. He looked shocked, a little wary of me, but he stayed quiet. "Look where you are, buddy," I told him, gesturing with a finger around us.
His eyes widened, his mouth fell open, but he didn't move as he realized that not only that he was out of the house, but that he was just about in the middle of the backyard.
"Really, really well done, son," Carlisle praised with a big warm smile.
Archie shook his head, looking to Edward.
"Nope...not a single bad thing happened, Archie," Edward answered with a grin. "And attacking Bella doesn't count. She wanted you to do that."
"Really?" he barely breathed, looking to me with wide eyes.
"Yep," I said with a nod.
Jasper sat down as Emmett pulled away the carcass, saying, "We needed to let you see that instincts are good, man."
Emmett plopped down with us, and soon, the entire family was in a circle around him. Archie gazed around him, and I could see that he seemed nervous because he shot the cellar doors a long glance.
He looked to Jasper. "Are you doing this?"
Jasper grinned. "Nope. All you."
"It's the blood, Archie," Edward explained, taking a spot next to me. "It calms you, especially when it's fresh like that."
"Exactly," Carlisle agreed. "While the donated blood was keeping you fed, it wasn't giving you everything you needed. It's better if it comes directly from the source."
Archie huffed a single laugh, which caused the whole family to chuckle.
Kevin grinned, patting Archie on the back. "Helluva damn job, Arch."
Archie suddenly looked like he'd be blushing if he were able, but he looked to Carlisle. "I'm outside."
I grinned, leaning into Edward as Carlisle agreed that he was.
"You are, sweetie," Alice chimed in. "And no, we don't have to go back in yet."
Archie grinned, and for the first time ever, he truly seemed happy. "Just for a minute."
Carlisle chuckled, squeezing his shoulder. "Take your time, son. Take your time."

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