Stephenie Meyer owns these characters. All dialogue borrowed from Twilight is purely for clarification. No infringement of copyright is intended,
only my admiration.
Many thanks to my fabulous betas: Lezlee, Jules, and kitty_cullen. Thanks also to EdwardsDJ, an insightful and savvy reviewer.
A/N: This story was born before I knew about Midnight Sun. I'd already written several chapters before I found a link to the "First Sight" character development on Stephenie Meyer's website. Had I scrolled up the page, I would have seen the post about the leaked draft and probably abandoned this project entirely. I'm very glad now that I didn't. The more that Edward develops his unique voice, the more I enjoy communing with him. I still haven't read the rest of Midnight Sun, and nor do I plan to until I'm finished writing this.
The plot follows canon very closely until the Meadow chapters, and some of the early chapters contain a lot of canon dialogue-though less so as the story progresses. I was less than enamored with the plot of Twilight after Bella visited Edward's house, so I've taken artistic license with the second half of the book. The shift to AU is deliberately subtle. Finally, I intend to post a version of the "First Sight"-equivalent chapter of Fox Fire that I shelved (once I actually get around to working on it, that is).
For now, I'm delighted to have rediscovered a love for writing that I thought I'd lost, and I thank Edward for bringing it back.
We begin with the flight to Alaska . . .
Playlists: I can't write without listening to music. Sometimes it inspires the prose, other times a piece just fits the words. There are three playlists for this story: Fox Fire (which spans the entire story arc), Lost Weekend (for chapter 9), and Together Alone (for chapters 19 & 20). They're all on Grooveshark if you're inclined to follow them: grooveshark # / user / woodlily / 8617551 / playlists ?src=5.
Playlist Picks for Flight:
Map of the Problematique – Muse
Street Spirit (Fade Out) – Radiohead
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations that propagate fire.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
SONNET XVII ~ PABLO NERUDA
Carlisle was waiting for me in his office at the hospital, as he'd promised in response to my page.
He was late for surgery but neither his voice nor his thoughts betrayed the slightest impatience as he ushered me inside. He knew from my message that something was terribly wrong.
As I gave my disjointed narration of what I'd been through that afternoon, the pity in his eyes grew almost unbearable. And he said everything I'd expected him to:
You don't have to go back to the school, we can work something out. Let us help you.
It was the very last thing I wanted to hear.
"I have to leave."
I realized I'd already made the decision.
There was no other solution. Her blood—just thinking about made me crave it. Conjured the aroma. The taste. I knew what it would taste like and I wanted it. How could I stop myself from hunting her down? What violence might I perpetrate on that innocent girl if I stayed?
Ancient grief and regret washed to the surface of Carlisle's mind—the same grief I'd caused when I'd left him before, all those years ago—and I couldn't bear it.
"Please," I could only beg. "Let me go."
"Go where?" he asked aloud, then continued appeasing me silently. As if anyone else would've been listening anyway.
It doesn't matter. We'll come with you, if that's what you want. We'll get through this as a family.
I couldn't ask them to give up their lives for me—it would have been the height of selfishness. I didn't need the additional burden of that guilt. No, what I needed was clarity of thought, and for that I had to get away. Somewhere. Anywhere.
I needed to be alone.
In the end, he knew better than to argue with me. In fact, it was masterful the way he convinced me that the decision to get out of Forks for a while was actually my own. His car had a full tank of gas so he let me borrow it. It didn't occur to me until later that he had done so to give me incentive to return. At that moment, I was grateful for his promise to break the news of my departure to Esme himself. I would not have had the strength to leave in the face of her grief.
I don't remember much about the drive north. I just knew that I couldn't slow down and I couldn't stop. I didn't want to think, just to get as far away as possible from danger, from evil. From what Bella Swan had awoken in me. I wanted the silence and the endless blackness to numb me but from the depths of the pine forest her dark eyes stared back at me, searing into my soul.
What are you? they seemed to ask.
A monster. My only response.
I just kept driving, and driving. By morning, I found myself at the Alaskan border.
I knew now where I was going.
Home. Sanctuary. Denali.
When I passed through the park gates it was late afternoon and the jagged saw tooth peaks were backlit by a fading winter sun. How I used to take that vista for granted! My perfect recall had not done it justice; it was even more stunning than I'd remembered. But I couldn't marvel at the beauty. With another hour or so left to travel, and a highway that hadn't been ploughed for weeks, I welcomed the opportunity to give my attention to the road. It took my mind off things.
It was necessary to leave the car at a ranger station a few miles out; in winter the settlement was only accessible by four-wheel drive or snowmobile. Neither snow nor cold were considerations for me, but it was annoying that I hadn't thought to bring decent footwear.
I realized just how much I'd missed the place as I rounded the switchback cresting a lip of terminal moraine, and caught my first view of the gracious chalets below. Had it really only been two years? The garage-like service buildings had been expanded in our absence. The weather station too, was more extensive. It was housed in its own building now, and the new satellite dish was much larger than its predecessor.
My three cousins―sisters in name only, like my siblings and I―along with their companions, Carmen and Eleazar, had made their home here for well over a century. Thanks to Eleazar's recent connections with the University of Alaska, they continued to reside in this national park, undisturbed, under the auspices of a weather monitoring station. High speed Internet allowed the entire project to be accessed remotely, though the scientists who made the infrequent visits for equipment repairs were never in any danger. Indeed, many of the males had become extremely fond of Tanya, Kate and Irina.
The first time my father brought me to meet this coven of like-minded vampires I was a skittish newling, only a year into my new life, and still learning to navigate this strange new existence. There were times during that first year that I truly felt the sights, the sounds, and the overwhelming, unceasing thirst for human blood would drive me mad.
From my father and my cousins, I learned that I wasn't doomed to an eternal half-life feeding on humans. I embraced their moral alternative, enjoying, even excelling at the hunt. I strove to emulate them, to make them proud of me. But the monster inside was never silenced, only kept at bay. How many times had I disappointed my father? One hundred and eight, to be precise. Their faces and names were as clear to me now as they ever were. I had almost added twenty more names to that list of failures yesterday.
We'd returned to the residence we kept here many times over the decades. Carlisle built it before he met my 'mother', but it was she who turned the large house into a home, one that grew incrementally larger as my other siblings and their mates were welcomed into the fold.
Food was plentiful: a migrating buffet of big game and big predators. We had the company of kindred spirits, and the freedom to come and go as we pleased without fear of being seen. You cannot imagine the luxury of being able to go out in the sunlight―to feel it warm your skin―after spending so many years in twilight. We had been sybarites here.
But a dozen sparkly people roaming the tundra couldn't remain incognito forever, nor could two covens of vampires occupy one territory without friction. When the hordes of summer tourists discovered the feeding habits of the local grizzlies, we knew it was time to move on.
We'd parted from my cousins with regret and, to be honest, some relief. There'd been awkwardness between Tanya and I over the years. She'd become nearly as adept as Carlisle about hiding her thoughts around me so her objections to my departure for Washington were unexpected, and a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, she remained a good friend. I trusted she'd understand I was looking for peace while I was here.
The perimeter's bear alarm announced my arrival―I deliberately tripped it―and Tanya's thoughts were immediately clear and close by. I could sense no other vampires in the compound, but she'd been expecting me.
It only took moments for her shadow to emerge from the swirling snow, strawberry blonde hair whipping about her face and white skin shimmering in the dying rays of afternoon sunlight. Eternally beautiful and forever twenty-five, she was old enough to have seen the passing of nearly two millennia. After all this time, she still scared the hell out of me.
She was delighted to see me, but deliberately kept her thoughts low-key. She never took my ability lightly.
"My dear, it has been too long!" She planted her customary kisses on both sides of my face, and then pushed me away a little, her gaze raking me up and down. I could barely return it. "You look like hell, Edward," she declared.
I shrugged. "Sorry I didn't call ahead. This trip was kind of spontaneous. The rain . . . gets a bit much this time of year."
"And you were looking for some sun." To her credit, she went along with my sham. "You would like to stay for a while? Yes?"
Her accent was the one thing about her that didn't totally intimidate me. It always became more pronounced when she was excited, making her sound a bit like a character from a Boris Karloff movie.
She smiled broadly and took me by the arm. "Oh, you must! Irina's away; you can use her rooms. Everyone will be so pleased to see you. Carmen and Eleazar will be back from Anchorage later tonight but Kate's here now. She, uh, has a new boyfriend, did you know that?"
She smirked. "Some miner she picked up in the Yukon. I can't stand him; you'll see why. Just don't say anything if you meet him, all right?"
I nodded, not really paying attention to her chatter.
He really does look awful. I wonder what's wrong. "So, where is this road trip taking you?"
"What? Oh. Nahanni."
"That's a long way," she said, eyeing the very obvious fact that I carried no luggage. She made no further comment, and her stride picked up to match pace with her speech. "You will hunt with us tonight, won't you? Are you up for some climbing?"
"That sounds good."
"Thought you'd like that." She indicated towards one of the chalets with a jut of her chin. "If we'd known you were coming, we'd have got your old place ready for you. I could, if you like
"No, there's no point. I'm not staying." I felt badly, seeing her take a step back at my brusque tone of voice.
"I mean, I'm not staying long," I muttered. "Sorry."
"Don't be silly, pet. You're always welcome, you know that."
I've not seen him like this since- her thoughts raced -Not again, please. I only made it worse for him before . . .
"Forks is treating you well?" she asked aloud, saving me from responding to her thoughts.
"For the most part. Carlisle's practicing at the hospital, Esme's joined the country club, and the rest of us have gone back to high school."
"High school!" She snorted. "You're not going through that ridiculous charade again? What is this―the fourth time?"
She rolled her eyes. "Such a waste . . . Is everyone well?"
"Oh, yes. They all send their regards," I fibbed.
They don't even know where he is, do they? "How thoughtful. Might Carlisle and Esme visit soon, do you think?"
"They've been talking about it. You never know."
Her chatter had taken us all the way to the porch of her gracious home, but there were still dozens of questions flying through her quick mind. She knew better than to voice any of them just yet.
We left our wet footwear in the foyer, and I was immediately grateful for the heat billowing from the massive fireplace in the great room. She paused at the foot of the staircase to hug me once more.
"It really is good to see you, Edward."
"It's good to see you, too." I meant it.
"Go get cleaned up. We'll be waiting for you."
Vast curtains of purple and green pulsated in the sky above the Ruth River gorge. The Aurora Borealis, the Spirit Dance, Fox Fire―whatever you chose to call it―was glorious. I'd been sitting on this ridge watching the light show for hours. I felt like I was waking up.
This was my third day in Alaska. The hunt that first night, and subsequent hikes on my own in the clear, frigid air had helped to pull me out of my funk. I could think clearly now. And clearly I'd been doing too much thinking. As usual, it wasn't helping.
The overpowering thirst and the ensuing panic had faded, trailing the lingering emotions of a violent nightmare in their wake. The monster that had so meticulously planned Bella's death had been left behind, yet I could still conjure her scent in my head without even thinking about it. It had grabbed hold of me on some fundamental level. It should have been a relief that I no longer wanted to devour her. But this new fixation: I wanted that scent again; I needed it. There was no rationality about what I felt. And, if I couldn't rationalize it, how could I control it?
Like Tanya, the others quickly realized that something was very wrong with me. Carmen noticed right away how withdrawn I was. She had tried to draw me out during the gathering around after the hunt, but I'd avoided her solicitous advances. I'd have to apologize to her for being so rude. Still, if I stuck around much longer, a grilling would be unavoidable. I knew that I should probably leave soon.
But where would I go? The idea of repeating those rootless, soulless years of depravity during the Depression was not an option. The very idea sickened me. It had taken me just as many years to come back to myself.
And I so very much missed my family. Esme, especially, would be devastated. I could well imagine her fears for the future as she recalled waiting fruitlessly for me to come home during that same dark period of my life. I hated upsetting her. I wanted to call and reassure her that I was all right, but I couldn't bear listening to her beg me to come home.
A flash of anger resurfaced―I had allowed that stupid human girl to drive me away! How could I? Just as quickly, I realized that it was myself I was angry with. For nearly three days, I'd avoided thinking about what might happen when I returned . . . If I returned . . .
I let the first snowball hit me on the side of the head. I ducked the others that followed in quick succession. It appeared that the aforementioned grilling was to happen sooner, rather than later. I resigned myself to it.
"Hah! You weren't paying attention." Tanya laughed, jumping onto the precipice beside me. She was as subtle as an axe in the head.
"Look at you, all covered in snow. Trying to petrify yourself?" She tossed me a jacket. "Here. I see you didn't exactly dress for the weather."
"Thanks." I put it on to be polite.
She was uncharacteristically nervous; she still didn't know where to start.
"Do you remember when you and Jasper started the avalanche on that ridge over there?" she asked. "The one that buried Emmett? When he finally dug himself out, I thought he was going to rip your arms off."
"If I remember correctly, you're the one who put us up to it."
"Did he ever get his revenge?"
"Yes. I still have the scars."
"And remember the musk-ox stampede?"
"How I've missed my little brothers." Her teeth glinted in the icy light as she beamed, reminiscing. "Those were good times."
"The best. You were a bad influence on me, though."
"I was just trying to get you to notice me. I still wonder what a girl has to do to get noticed by you."
Funny you should ask that . . .
She sat down very close to me. Too close. I hugged my knees tighter.
"You never have to do anything. You know that."
"Not usually." She sighed. Modesty wasn't one of her virtues, either. "Except when it comes to you. I hate you, Edward." She pouted. "You don't care about me at all."
I couldn't have this conversation with her again. Not now. I glanced over to see if I had room to shuffle away but she had effectively pinned me. There was only a fifty metre drop to the sharp rocks below.
"Tanya, you can have anyone you want."
"Well, that's the problem, isn't it, pet? There's no challenge in it."
I hated her nickname for me, the same one she gave to all her conquests. I hated it because of her assumption that sooner or later I'd be one of them.
"You like the chase better than the victory, anyway," I reminded her.
"True . . . But, I have to admit that when you came back, I hoped that it was because you had changed your mind."
"I don't suppose there's any chance of that, is there?" she persisted, her golden eyes mesmerizing, her voice modulating to the pleading playful pitch that she had used to reel in her prey for a millennia. She reached to smooth one of my cowlicks down.
"You know there's not."
I dodged, shifting my gaze back to the horizon. The disappointment stung her as she recalled, word for word, our last conversation before I moved to Forks. She hated it when she didn't get her own way, but she knew I was as stubborn as she was.
"Of course not," she agreed. Still so upstanding and moral. And where has that got you, my dear?
She leaped gracefully to an adjoining ledge. She'd been dying to let fly for days―years! I deserved it. I should never have let her think that there was anything between us beyond friendship. I hadn't meant to; I just wasn't very good at these things.
As if in response to my thoughts, her face cleared, and she sighed. "I don't want to fight with you, Edward. You're too good a friend to me."
"No, it's my fault. I'm probably defective in some way." And, I'm not a good friend to anybody.
She laughed, though I hadn't meant to amuse her. "It's nobody's fault. I just don't like dealing with this"- she gestured into the air between us -"It doesn't do my ego much good, you know, admitting there might actually have been one that got away."
I knew her better than to assume she would ever admit to that.
"But, that's not the point right now," she continued. "You're in trouble, aren't you?"
"No. I told you; I'm taking a road trip."
"Uh-uh. You can do better than that. What's really got you hiding out here, sulking on a mountain top?"
"I'm not hiding."
"You're definitely sulking."
"I don't want to talk about it," I insisted.
"I can see that. Must be something bad, then."
"No. It's . . . stupid . . . "
"Stupid? Even better! I'm listening." She sat down beside me again, cross-legged, in the snow.
"I don't want you to listen."
"You might feel better if you talk about it."
I shook my head. She just glared at me stubbornly. She wasn't going away.
"If I tell you, will you leave me alone?"
"I'm not promising anything." She smiled, showing her teeth.
She was infuriatingly nosey. Worse than Alice. I should have known not to come here.
"I won't tell the others. I'll promise you that much."
Once I started, it came out in a rush. The only part I left out was the fact that I couldn't read the girl's mind. I wasn't prepared to admit that weakness to anyone yet.
"That's it?" she asked at the end, sounding more disappointed than anything else.
"What do you mean? I came this close to killing everyone in that room. I almost ruined everything. You, of all people, should appreciate that."
"But you didn't."
"It doesn't matter. The intention was there."
"Yes, it does matter. That girl―and the rest of them―they're alive right now, aren't they? You did the right thing."
"I ran away." I snorted.
"You should give yourself more credit. You have more self-control than anyone I know."
Despite her double-entendre, she was earnest; I knew that. But this life was effortless for her in a way that it never had been for me. She and her sisters moved so easily between the human and immortal worlds.
Like Carlisle, their own mother had discovered how to live without subsisting on human blood on her own, and she'd set them a good example. She'd been a remarkably compassionate woman, considering the violent times in which she'd lived. But her compassion became her undoing, and the story of her death still sent shivers down my spine. It was little wonder the sisters so rarely spoke of her. No one deserved an end like that, no matter what the reason.
We watched the last of the auroras flicker and recede. The Milky Way emerged, a pulsating bed of light taking the foreground. You never saw the stars that way in Forks―they seemed so alive here.
"What are you going to do?" she asked after a while.
"I don't know."
"I wish I could help you. But, I can't say I've ever experienced anything like this."
"Never in all my years." She chuckled. "Sometimes I forget how very young you still are. It must be very hard for you, this life."
Just like that, I was the little brother again. That both annoyed and relieved me. I wondered how long it would last.
"I was doing just fine until the other day," I replied, ruefully.
She became lost in thought. "There have been times when the scent has been more enticing than others," she eventually acknowledged. "But never with the intensity that you've described. Neither with human nor vampire."
The fact was, before the pity and guilt they felt for their victims moved them to abstain from human blood, my Denali cousins had been man-eaters in the most literal sense of the word. They were the very source behind the myth of the succubus.
"My experiences with humans have been satisfying, but also . . . limiting. No matter how much you love them, no matter how brilliant the mind, how passionate the soul, you can't forget their fragility." She picked up a pebble, pulverizing it to dust between her fingers. "And then, of course, they die . . ." And you're alone . . .
"I think we're speaking at cross-purposes now, Tanya." I scoffed, though I shivered at the images that resurfaced in my memory. Beneath the violence lurked a disturbing sensuality that frightened me.
She shrugged. "Then maybe it's something else. You've denied your instincts for a long time. Maybe it is a resurgence of the thirst. Why don't you talk to Eleazar? He's very wise. He . . . helped you before."
How well I remembered what Eleazar had done for me. I could never begin to repay the debt I owed him, and the last thing I desired was to divulge that his faith in my so-called humanity was misplaced. I was ashamed enough about what I'd already let Tanya extricate from me. Only with hindsight did I come to realize that he was exactly the person to whom I should have unburdened myself.
"No, I think I need to work through this on my own."
She pondered for another moment. When she looked back at me her face was tender.
"We all fight it, you know. Even me, after all this time. We aren't all lucky enough to have a loving family like yours, though." She jumped up and brushed the accumulated snow off herself.
"Look: you're welcome to stay as long as you want. But I think Carlisle probably wants his car back soon." She grinned, impishly. "I'm sure that driving your Volkswagen must cramp his style."
"Volvo." I corrected her, smiling for the first time in days. I didn't flinch when she reached to brush the cowlick down this time.
"I think you know what to do. Whatever it is, just make sure you come say goodbye before you leave, okay?"
She left no draft behind her as she darted into the falling snow.
Just make a decision, Edward. Flip a coin, whatever. You can't stay here.
I weighed the facts. Removing myself from a dangerous situation had been the right thing to do; I knew that. But it had been weak to run away―I knew that, too. Yes, I had run to protect my family from being implicated if I made the wrong choice―oh, stop the psychobabble!―if I killed that girl.
I had run because I was afraid of appearing weak. That clean record that I was so proud of―no murders in seven decades―it meant nothing. How arrogant I'd been! When it came down to it, I was afraid of asking for help. There was another, deeper reason for my flight that I could not articulate then. It percolated in the recesses of my consciousness, only becoming clear with the passage of time.
There was no 'aha' moment for me. In the end, I made my decision because I was sick of myself. Absolutely. I couldn't stand myself a moment longer.
Tanya was right. I did know what to do.
It was necessary to face this. I'd dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude―not even close―but it wasn't Bella Swan's fault that hers was the most horrifyingly appealing scent I'd ever breathed in my life. I didn't have to let it under my skin. I didn't have to let it keep me away from my home and the family that I loved. The thirst need not control me.
Everyone was at home, waiting. I could hear snippets of thoughts and conversations as I turned off the highway onto the gravel drive. Alice was in a tizzy.
Quick, Jazz, he's almost here! He'll need you.
When I got to the house, Esme was waiting on the porch, alone.
I couldn't meet her eyes.
It was a good thing no one else heard the reprimand she gave me because by the time she'd finished, I felt smaller than Alice.
I just stood there and took it, knowing I deserved every word.
When she finished, she hugged me as if she'd never let go.
"Never, ever do that again," she commanded, releasing me at last. Tenderly, she reached up to smooth the hair on my forehead.
When she pushed me back gently and turned to now open front door, Jasper stood on the top step. I could feel him analyzing the atmosphere, judging the emotions of everyone in the home now that I was back. Our family was whole again. Complete. But for how long?
"You were missed, brother," he said, finally. Satisfied by his appraisal, he gave me an one-armed hug.
"We should talk."