Title: Vicarious (or alternatively: Observations of an Empath)
Setting: The first chapter takes place a little over a year pre-Twilight. This story will weave itself throughout the entire series.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, not even the words. Only the order in which they were placed. That said, the ideas are mine - please do not post this anywhere else without my permission. Everything else belongs to Stephenie Meyer, and no money is being made from this.
Author's Notes: I made it my own personal philosophy a few years ago never to post a multi-chap unless I was finished, or close enough to finishing that delays wouldn't be an issue. However, I'm making an exception for this story since I'm planning on having each chapter, while related, essentially self-contained, so there will be no cliffhangers, etc. In that sense I could probably post any successive chapters separately as sequels, but I want to keep them all together, so I'm not. Just a quick warning though - because I'm treating these chapters are more a series of one-shots, I cannot guarantee when I'll have the next one up.
It should be fairly obvious from the title, if not the first little bit of the chapter, but just in case, this story is from Jasper's POV. This is my first attempt at Twilight fanfiction, and I hope you enjoy it. Any and all feedback is, of course, greatly appreciated. Thanks!
The trees rushed by like a solid emerald curtain. The exhilaration I felt as I ran through the forest was typical, but enhanced so much more by the presence of my brothers. I could feel their own euphoria just as they experienced it, my special ability adding those feelings to my own. I loved to be around my family in this wild, carefree state.
We returned home after having gorged ourselves on the hunt. The sun had made a rare appearance that day, and so my family had refrained from our daily lives – after just over a year in this town, the residents of Forks, Washington had become accustomed to our "family vacations" on such days. After all, Dr. Cullen was practically worshipped in his job, and his adopted children were quiet, perfect students. Only Edward and Alice, playing sophomores, would have any concern tomorrow when the clouds reconvened and we returned to the high school – they had been scheduled for a field trip today. There was no doubt in anyone's mind, however, that they would be able to smooth things over quickly with their teacher.
It had been a day of small group bonding. Alice and Rosalie had jumped at the chance to mount an attack on Seattle's biggest indoor mall, while Esme and Carlisle wanted to take advantage of his day off. Emmett, Edward, and I had decided to let them have the house to themselves for several hours. It was as much for our benefit as it was theirs – we may not have truly been related, and when you came right down to it I was actually older than Esme, but when you had pretended for as long as we had that two people were your parents, you began to see them in that way yourself.
So the three of us decided to take a hunting trip up in the mountains to pass the time. It hadn't been a necessary trip – for Edward and Emmett at least, whereas I had to hunt more frequently than they did – but it had been fun; it had been weeks since we'd spent the day together, just the three of us.
We weren't ready to end the "male bonding" when we arrived back home, so Emmett found a particularly brutal hockey game on satellite. Without any required pretense, we easily began acting the ages we portrayed to the world, cheering and groaning boisterously both at the large flatscreen and at each other. Carlisle joined us briefly while waiting for Esme, and then the two of them left for a night together in Port Angeles.
It wasn't long after that when the sound of Rosalie's approaching car and the garage door opening reached our sensitive ears.
Emmett glanced at Edward. "How much did they spend this time?"
Edward chuckled and shook his head. "Not sure...but they're quite pleased with themselves."
"And you'll be quite pleased with me, too," sang Rosalie as she glided into the room and straight to Emmett's lap. His eyes flashed mischievously.
My attention, however, was captured by the tiny goddess that followed. Immediately the overwhelming emotions I experienced at the sight of my beloved expelled from my body in a wave and enveloped her – I couldn't have stopped it even if I had wanted to. I felt Alice reciprocate with such intensity that, had I been human, I would be suffering the side-effects of lack of oxygen. Our gazes locked and held as she sat beside me, immersed in the emotion.
Dimly, I was aware of my sister's angelic voice as she added, "Would you like me to model my purchases for you?" before planting her lips firmly, and rather obscenely, to Emmett's own. I felt the sudden jolt of excitement and anticipation that coursed its way through my brother's body, and tried my hardest to block it out. Nothing new there.
Without another word – and indeed, without even bothering to remove his lips from hers – Emmett stood with Rose in his arms and all but ran from the room, the door to their bedroom upstairs slamming shut less than a second later.
Edward groaned and ran a hand over his eyes, massaging. "I really didn't need to see that," he muttered, and I felt the amused disgust eventually leave him as he concentrated and closed his mind to their thoughts.
Alice's laugh was music. "You should know better than to leave your guard down when they've been apart all day." She turned her eyes back to me, and I didn't need Edward's ability to know that she wasn't just referring to Em and Rose.
He chuckled again. "Must be having an off day."
I felt his eyes on us for only a fraction of a second, before sliding them quickly back to the game on-screen. I felt a jolt of emotion I wasn't expecting, lasting only for a second before it was tamped down. It could only have come from one source.
Edward was right – he was having an off day.
Normally I managed to tune out the minor emotions of my family, just as Edward tried not to pry into the thoughts we didn't purposely send his way. It was impossible to block everything out of course, especially when it was brought about suddenly and with such vigour, as had been the case with Emmett only moments before. But decades of developing concentration and control – without which both Edward and I would surely have gone insane by now – kept out the mundane, everyday feelings of those around me...or at least kept them quiet enough that I was able to ignore it.
So the spike of disappointment that flashed from Edward's direction, so strong for the briefest of moments before he reigned it in – most likely his response upon realizing it was enough of a slip to catch my attention – was so sudden and unexpected that it caused a hiccough in my thought processes. Considering how much attention I had invested on the beautiful creature beside me at the moment, how caught up in our connection I was, the strength necessary for Edward's emotions to unconsciously pierce through was enough to concern me.
Alice noticed my sudden shift in attention towards our brother, who was now completely engrossed in the game. "What are your plans for the evening?" she asked him.
Both Edward and I turned our heads slowly – for our kind, at least – to look at her in disbelief.
"Why would you stoop so low as to actually ask me?" Edward's tone and accompanying grin conveyed his amusement at her attempt at small talk, but I was in a unique position to sense the embarrassment he felt at being found out...at least, now that I was alert enough to look for it. The kid had serious control when he consciously applied it.
Alice and I both chuckled at his words, but fooling a mind-reader – even with decades of practice – was still a difficult task to manoeuvre. "I want to see who wins this game...don't you dare spoil it for me," he cautioned Alice. "After that..." Edward's eyes tightened ever so slightly in contemplation, "Perhaps I'll take my new toy out for a real test-drive."
"I still can't believe you bought yourself an Aston Martin," I replied, grinning.
"I told you he would," Alice gloated. I elbowed her gently in the ribs with mock irritation.
"Hey now, every boy should be indulged just a little on his sixteenth birthday," he explained, air-quoting with his fingers on the last part. According to our latest round of forged ID, the youngest member of the Cullen clan was finally of legal age to have a drivers' license – another forgery just to make life easier. I was grateful – Edward had no qualms about sharing his extreme annoyance when he was forced into the passenger seat.
I raised an eyebrow. "Dude. You bought James Bond's car."
"Your point?" Remarkably, he managed to keep a straight face...that is, until he heard the teasing thought in my head: And you thought Rosalie was being ostentatious? He snorted before answering, "That's why I haven't had a real test-drive – I need to get out of town for that one."
"Where are you planning to take it?" Alice asked. We both looked at her again, but when I noticed the slight frustration on her face, I realized that Edward must not have thought that far ahead. It confirmed my suspicions that his evening plans were reactionary, and my earlier concern crept back up.
He thought for a moment and, at the same time as Alice, said, "Portland." He shook his head at her, amused. "That should be far enough for a good test-run."
Edward's reaction to thoughts of his "new toy" had blocked out any of the earlier negative feelings I had sensed, but I wasn't completely fooled. I knew emotions like he knew thoughts, and the tenor of those emotions emanating from Edward was off. I could not be absolutely certain, but my best guess would be that he was forcing the feelings of anticipation and excitement, probably to cover up what he didn't want me to sense.
Sure enough, as soon as those observations entered my mind, Edward's eyes snapped back to the television and he studiously avoided looking back in our direction as he groaned, with a bit more enthusiasm than was necessary, when a rather intricate and well-executed play resulted in the puck pinging off of the post, rebounding wide of the net.
The pressure of Alice's hand squeezing mine brought my attention back to her, and I was once again enveloped in our connection. She leaned down and captured my lips in a slow, searing kiss. Despite my concern for my brother, my multitasking brain could not help but run away with itself on thoughts of my lover and our plans for the rest of the night.
"Oh, for the love of all that is holy – and in this one instance I'm actually including myself in that category," Edward interrupted us loudly, "Could you please take that somewhere else?"
There was nothing but amusement audible in his voice, and sure enough when I pulled myself away from my wife and looked to him, the exasperation I saw in his face was all mocking and teasing. But because I had attuned myself so closely with him just moments before, I was able to catch what I normally would have missed: the tiny pings of embarrassment and even irritation, and the return of the disappointment that had initially disturbed me. There was a hint of something else, too – something I wasn't unfamiliar with thanks to so much time spent in proximity to high school students, but something I was so unaccustomed to experiencing amongst my own family that it both baffled and troubled me.
Jealousy. Edward was jealous...he was envious.
As I tried to process this, I noted another substance enter into the mix. This was something else I knew quite well, but I didn't have a name for it. Over the years, I had honed my ability to the point where I could not only sense and manipulate the emotional climate of the people around me, but I could tell whether or not their minds were in synch with those climates. Most of the time the synchronicity was there and I noticed nothing out of the ordinary, but whenever an emotion was experienced that the brain could not understand or accept – irrational feelings – I could perceive the mental battle that took place. The individual's consciousness would try either to figure out or understand the root of the issue or – much more commonly – they would try to tamp down and rid themselves of the unwanted feelings, refusing to address that there was a root cause behind it.
And I knew emotions. There was always a root cause.
Within an instant of his emotional broadcast, Edward had begun to fight those aberrant feelings I could sense. But unlike earlier when he had fought simply to keep me from sensing what he knew he was experiencing, now he was fighting not to feel those feelings. He was as vexed as I was...or, to be accurate, he was probably more so, since lately I had begun to notice these slips a little more often – in particular, the disappointment at specific times. Times when the six of us – three marvellously matched couples completely and utterly in love with their other halves – would go off to be alone, leaving the only unattached Cullen to his own devices.
Evidently, this hadn't been as apparent to Edward as it had to me...he always did know the minds of others better than he knew his own.
Edward spent most nights alone, amusing himself with various pursuits. Periodically one of us – Esme in particular – would get a little concerned about this, but he would assure vehemently that it wasn't a problem, that the situation suited him just fine.
It wasn't too long ago that I myself had questioned Edward regarding his rejection of Tanya's advances. And while I had sensed a bit of guilt on his part – aside from Carlisle he had perhaps the most gentlemanly manner of all of us – he had truly seemed content to continue his solitary existence.
But lately...well, this wasn't the first time I had sensed that reluctant disappointment when night-time fell...granted, this time it seemed to be just the bit stronger. And it was especially prevalent on days like today, when hours of bonding and camaraderie came to an abrupt end, and Edward was left alone once again.
However, this was the first time I had ever really sensed any kind of jealousy or envy on his part, even if it was something he didn't seem to be capable of acknowledging at this time. That, more than anything else, was what really concerned me.
All of these thoughts flashed through my mind in a matter of seconds. I considered saying something to him, but I knew from the tension visible in his body and the mental struggle he was engaged in that this wasn't the right time...those types of conversations made him uncomfortable at the best of times.
Besides, he was a mind-reader – he knew that I knew something was wrong, and he knew that I was debating approaching him about it...I didn't really expect him to, but I would give him time to contemplate things and order his thoughts if and when he decided to talk.
Alice stood, taking my arm with her. "You heard the man, Jazz," she sang playfully, and began pulling me up and out of the room. "Have a good night, Edward!"
"Yeah," he muttered quietly, distracted. I glanced back at him as we turned to leave the room, and he had his head thrown back against the top of the couch and his eyes to the ceiling, completely oblivious to the hockey game he had tried so hard to seem interested in just minutes before. Obviously he realized by now that his charade had been a useless endeavour.
In no particular hurry, we began to mount the stairs. About halfway up, Alice suddenly stopped in mid-step. I whipped my head back to her and noted the frown marring her delicate features.
"San Fran?" she murmured quietly. Then she shrugged, her features smoothing, and moved to continue on up the stairs.
I tugged on her wrist gently, bringing her to a stop once again. "What was that?"
"Oh...he's not stopping in Portland. He decided to make a test-run all the way to San Francisco."
"What's in San Francisco?"
She shrugged again. "Nothing. I guess it's one way to pass the time, though. It should take him all night."
My concern mounted yet again, and I turned my head back in the direction of where we had left our brother, even though I couldn't see him through the walls. I could hear, however, and I noted when he turned off the television – clearly not waiting to see who won the game – and stood, making his way quickly to the front of the house. The sound of keys being snatched up from the credenza near the front door was followed a second later by said door being shut with a bit more force than was necessary. With inhuman speed I heard the garage door open, the revving of the Vanquish's formidable engine, and the racing of tires down the long drive and onto the nearby highway.
Whether the decision to take off right away was a result of him trying to get away from the concern he heard in my mind, to get away from the conflict between his own mind and his emotions, or to get away from the house where he was surrounded by family but still isolated, I couldn't know. But no matter the reason, he was trying to get away from something, and apparently he planned it so that he wouldn't return until just before it was time for us all to resume our "human" lives the next morning.
Caught up in my own thoughts, it took me a few seconds to realize that the concern I was experiencing was being amplified. I turned to Alice and noticed her gaze was also pointed in the direction mine had just been, as if trying to catch a glimpse of our wayward brother through the walls and the trees. She frowned again, and a look of dejected acceptance graced her elfin features.
"It won't do any good," she said, turning to me. "He won't talk about it until he can acknowledge that there's something wrong, and I don't see him admitting that to himself anytime soon."
I looked at her in amazement, but at the same time I wondered why I was so surprised. If anyone knew about any conflicts raging within the exceedingly controlled psyche of Edward Cullen, it was Alice. Even without her gift, the close kinship they shared allowed her to understand Edward in ways that only Carlisle could surpass. It was no wonder she could sense something off about his conduct in the present.
"Is there anything we can do?" I asked, knowing that simply trying to make ourselves more available for companionship during the night wouldn't work. Not only would it be obvious and extremely out of character, but once again Edward could read our thoughts – he would instantly know the motivations behind our actions. I was in a unique position to know what kinds of thoughts and actions caused him embarrassment and led to his closing off, and this would definitely be among them.
Alice pursed her lips and shook her head dolefully. "No. It's up to him to figure out what he really wants. He's convinced himself for eight decades that he's better off alone, that he doesn't need anyone else. It will take something quite exceptional to challenge that conviction."
Her words triggered my thoughts in a new direction, and I brought my hand up to caress her silken cheek. "It's amazing how the right person can come along and wreak havoc, fundamentally altering your own personal philosophy."
She smiled at me lovingly, and just a little smugly. She brought her own hand up to cover the one I had cupped to her face, holding it there for a few seconds before pulling my hand away and interlacing our fingers. We began to ascend the stairs once again.
"He'll be okay," she affirmed as we reached the upper hallway and headed in the direction of our bedroom.
I nodded and looked at my love's profile out of the corner of my eye as we walked. I hoped so. I loved my brother just as much as anyone in our family, and he was a good person no matter what he might think of himself. He could hear our thoughts, but he would never truly understand the feelings of euphoria and bliss we experienced with our other halves until he finally felt it himself.
I doubted if I could ever really do anything, but I vowed that if somehow there was a way for me to help Edward find the unfathomable happiness that had touched every member of our family save for him, I would do what was in my power. I owed him that much.
I spared one last moment of reflexive thought on my brother, but as we rounded the threshold into our room I found myself once again drawn into the all-consuming power of the connection I shared with the one woman who had ever truly justified my bizarre existence. Edward would be okay...we would make sure of it.