Nothing quite like this

Sometimes he tries to remember a life before all of this, when death was easy and life rode on every minute of every day. He wants to remember how to feel hurried and fragile and normal. Instead he ends up thinking about everything since then—the poison, the thirst, the slaughter—and the shame running through it all like pulsing, human veins, sometimes quieter and slower but never still. It's the shame that keeps the body count alive and fresh in his head, and it's stayed persistent even after (especially after) Alice. When she puts her small hand against his chest, steadies him with her eyes (so loving, she must have a soul), he feels it even more strongly, rushing almost warmly under his skin as a reminder that he isn't, will never be good enough.

It's Edward who helps him feel something better, like he actually wants to acknowledge the spaces that make up each minute even when he has no heartbeat keeping time. When Edward curls long fingers around his shoulder, he feels—relief. In those moments he stops wrestling with self-control, self-doubt, self-loathing, and wonders if he might just make it through eternity. It's something close to hope, different than the kind Alice gives him because there's no expectation, no anticipation—just a bright quiet (like morning sun streaming through windows still cold with night) he can sink into without the need to hold on.

He wonders if it's entirely selfish, until Edward comes home smelling like Bella (mouth tight, muscles tense) and they go for a run—sometimes all the way to the Canadian border and more slowly on the way back so they can catch the dawn. When they're skimming the ground with their bare feet, shoulders a perfect thumbs-width apart, they're both trying to shake something loose. (He imagines that for Edward, it's the thunder of Bella's pulse telling him that he isn't, will never be good enough). And when Edward finally smiles—teeth sharp and gleaming like a wild thing—is when he knows that he also gives his brother a certain relief, pulls him back to where it's safe. Safe to run harder, push deeper, and touch, feel, collide as carelessly as he chooses.

The first time Edward grasps his jaw, gently even though he can't break, he squeezes his eyes shut.

"Alice knows."

He keeps quiet because he doesn't think Edward is looking for an answer.

"Are you—ashamed?"

The question, fluttering under a curious weight, makes his eyes fly open.

"Are you?" He doesn't project, pulls the channels in until he's sure they won't leak, and then hums a little tune in his head. He wants this to be normal, two people trying to understand each other the way they're meant to, and he thinks Edward will understand.

Edward doesn't say anything, just leans in with lips parted and eyes half-lidded, the color of burnt gold. And for a slow-moving second, he remembers another life, one that might've been his for a short while.