Sempre forte.

oh God forgive me for I know I have sinned, pain, fire, scream, kill me, help me, nothing worse, no, no, my baby, my, please Lord…

Any thoughts that were coherent formed a strange jumble of pleas and penitence. My own head was on fire as I felt the flames of Carlisle's venom for the second time.

I did the only thing I could and escaped.

I ran through the woods, following the unmistakable path that Carlisle had taken from the hospital, bathed in both his scent and that of Esme's blood. It was the first time that I had been properly exposed to fresh, flowing, irresistible blood, but the pain in my head drowned the pain in my throat with ease.

Her mental agony shrieked after me for almost a mile:

hell, hell, no, I did not know, no…

Her screaming died out, leaving me with blissful silence for a few short minutes. The thudding of my feet, imperceptible to a human ear, was the only noise and I took a little comfort in its regularity, a clear pulse, not the frantic dotted rhythm of a human heartbeat.

I pushed my legs still faster. Accelerando.

Three years after my final sleep, I still had not grown impervious to the speed with which I ran; it thrilled me as little else could. Neither had I grown insensitive to other aspects of my newfound nature, most obviously my mind-reading. Over three years, however, it had become tolerable and potentially useful, provided it was only Carlisle I could hear, where it had once been an unbearable irritation. I still would have preferred not to be subjected to every passing thought that Carlisle had. I still would have preferred to remain in silence rather than suddenly come into range of the town.

Subito fortissimo. I had to stop.

Where on earth are my glasses how did she manage to rip that I really must go and buy some more milk perhaps she would prefer the red I wish that dog would be quiet nine thirty and I'm already out of coffee these goddamn gossiping women I really cannot work this new-fangled I want pancakes holy cow I'm so late...

The mundane trivialities of the average person's life crashed down on me and I hissed in pain. Not often since Carlisle and I had fled Chicago had I been subjected to so many minds all at once. It was supremely difficult to shut them all out. It wasn't just the words, either.

A half made bed an animal whining a rumbling stomach a rush of air a slamming door...

It was images, sounds, intentions, fleeting sensations and dreams and notions; I saw what they saw, heard what they heard and thought what they thought. I was in range of perhaps twenty people at nine thirty on a completely ordinary weekday morning; I was thinking the thoughts of twenty one people in a mind built only for one.

In a way, I was fiercely proud that I stayed standing, that I merely twisted my fingers into my hair and pulled, that I had enough presence to close my eyes and stop breathing. With no external stimuli it was far easier to process the internal.

Half an hour I stood there, waiting, thinking, attempting to ignore the tumultuous storm that was my mind. I tried to actively shut out the invasive thoughts, but that only made me focus more on them. I tried to make my own thoughts stronger, to pull forward the most potent emotions I could find but at the moment they all concerned a certain suicidal woman, and I would rather not have thought of her. Her remembered pain combined with the pain I was feeling now... I couldn't deal with it. I simply could not...

I gave up. I stood there and let everything have me, rush and wash over me and pull me under. Though logically I knew I could never grow tired, I didn't have the energy required to stop it, or control it, so I didn't even try.


I was not ignoring, but not focusing. I was thinking of next to nothing. And the thoughts... they were still there, still bombarding me, but somehow passing me by. I thought that perhaps I could handle them now. They were fading slightly, as though they were now the support for a concerto for my thoughts, rather than a discordant, clashing symphony. Only once before had I achieved anything near as close, and I had had Carlisle with me then, holding my gaze, reassuring me out loud, encouraging me. I wished he were here now.

Or perhaps not. I didn't want to share my triumph with him; I wanted it to be my own. When living with Carlisle it was impossible not to feel just a little inferior. For all he treated me as a wonder, I could not help my temper, especially not in that first year. Nor could I control my bloodlust. On every hunt I went wild until I had gorged on gallons of blood, leaving me to feel disgusted and ashamed.

The worst aspect was obviously my so-called gift. I'd never managed even a semblance of control over that. Juxtaposed with Carlisle's infinite self-control, I felt like a child, and a stupid child at that. The sensation only made me feel more obstinate and exponentially childish.

I opened my eyes and pressed on. Larghissimo. I moved at almost a human pace as every step brought me into range of yet more minds. Carefully I let them be, without giving them anymore attention that I could possibly help, and found that they didn't hurt. Of course, as soon as I noted it, I was focusing on them and the pain struck once more.

Da capo. I started again.

... had I known I would never have done it, had I known, I did not know, oh God forgive my foolishness, my naivety, I never knew it could hurt this much, more than grief, more than grief, surely it isn't possible, oh Lord, I am sorry, sorry, sorry, Charles stop it, please, please, please...

Reaching Esme Platt's apartment was not difficult. I stayed in the shadows, moving at speed, out of sight and hearing and thought, and didn't once dare listen to a mind to help me find the place. Entering her rooms was even simpler; the window was open a crack and it was only on the first floor, round the back of the building where there were no curious humans to see. It was almost too easy.

The more interesting part came once inside.

Carlisle theorised that I had the power of mind-reading because I had already been gifted in the art of reading people. If truth be told, I couldn't remember my human life well enough to say if that were the case. Nevertheless, I did sweep her bedchamber with an analytical glance, and quickly realised that this was not a woman of earthly means. Perhaps widowhood had been hard on her financially, perhaps her husband had not been a rich man. The only furniture was a small table with a mirror, a bed, a closet and a baby's cot, now abandoned. A more thorough look confirmed that she had few clothes in the closet, and those which did hang there were practical and presentable, nothing more. With my unpractised eye, I couldn't identify her Sunday clothes, if indeed she made an effort on Sundays. Neither was there any jewellery in the room, save for one ring.

This ring did capture my attention, because it was clearly a wedding ring. I didn't know when Mr Evenson had passed away, but through common sense it had to have been recent—her newborn child had only just died, according to Carlisle's thoughts. At the most ten months or so. Social etiquette round these parts would demand that Mrs Evenson at least wear the ring on her right hand or on a necklace. Presumably she did during the day. Why would she leave it behind on the day where she was attempting to meet her husband in death?

My religious conviction was not that of Carlisle's passionate faith, but it was a fact, in my mind. My mother's family had been of Catholic Irish descent, which showed itself in my Gaelic colouring, but I had been raised Methodist. Becoming a vampire hadn't shaken my belief in God, more it had strengthened my belief in the Devil. Still, I doubted this woman had really been aiming for hell in her self-destructive leap. I couldn't really tell when her thoughts were already so incoherent with pain, but I had assumed she was dying in a misguided attempt to meet her husband and child again.

The abandoned wedding ring suggested otherwise.

Still, I picked it up along with her hairbrush and other feminine articles, gathering the entirety of her wardrobe. There was not enough for it to be a problem to carry the lot. Just in case a human happened to spot me, though, I took up a carpet bag she had stowed neatly in the bottom of the closet and placed the garments within.

I paused. Did I take her baby's shawl, folded neatly on the desolate cot? There was no memento of her husband besides her ring, but there was that of her child. In the end, I decided that yes, I would. I would give her the choice of what she was going to keep.

What would the landlord think of the sudden lack of belongings? Was the obvious conclusion theft or that Esme had taken the things herself and disposed of them as she disposed of her life? Either way, the night shift doctor would never be implicated, and few knew that I even existed. No problem was posed there.

Somewhere below me, there was a knock on the door and the sound of bones clicking as someone stood to answer it. Instinctively, I focused on the thoughts of the visitor.

Mistake. I had done a brilliant job so far of ignoring the myriad minds around me but now they all came crashing in. Thank God there's who can that next of kin inconvenient moment I don't get he's gone and goodness this stain is this is going on for there's only a landlord Esme left her key again.

Miraculously, I managed not to drop the bag and so alert the occupants of the building to my presence, but the pain was horrendous. Even worse than before, now that I was in the middle of a town. I knew how to deal with it, I knew now how to counter it, that I had to relax and let it be, but I was also now aware that there was a constable at the door to inform the landlord that Esme Evenson was dead. Even this I could only discern in snatches of sentences and impressions, but I was relatively sure that I was right. In the event that they wanted to look around her room, I could not be found here. The stress made it impossible to stop focusing on the mental maelstrom.

Gritting my teeth and flexing the fingers of my free hand, I staggered over to the window. Time was potentially not on my side; although I had no real idea of how long the officer would wait before asking to view the supposedly dead woman's rooms, I knew that it would take far longer to control my gift again. Thus I didn't bother to try, just attempting to make my way out as quickly and as noiselessly as possible.

My escape was less than graceful, but escape I did, and within two minutes of first slipping, I was bolting for home, blindly following my own scent. The ground flew underneath my feet.


let this fly from me, oh Lord, Charles, let me go, Charles, it's not my fault! Leave Sean, oh, please, please, leave Sean alone.