Judges Choice Honorable Mention - 100 Pictures—An Anon Fanfic Competition
Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer
Summary: Edward has returned to Carlisle's side, but what was the price of his return? What secret is he hiding?
Picture #: 10
Picture prompts can be found here: http:/s748(dot)photobucket(dot)com/albums/xx128/Fanficanon/100%20Pictures%20Contest/
Other entries posted here: http:/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/100_Pictures_An_Anon_Fanfic_Competition_Entries/83603/
Another novelty is the tea-party, an extraordinary meal in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment. ~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste
We were sitting on the floor, surrounded by the damage wrought during our argument. Between us, the remains of the item at the centre of our dispute, the wooden lock box, and its contents. He stared at the fragments, his expression changing from one of frustration and anger, to pity and horror.
We arrived at this point as a result of his ever growing frustration at my unwillingness to talk, and the secret that I had concealed within the now shattered container.
Edward! What in heaven's name?
He looked back at the contents with disgust. The odor, concentrated from being confined, permeated the air making him cover his nose and mouth.
I sighed, ashamed that my failure and disgrace was now fully visible for him to see. I shook my head.
He interrupts, speaking aloud he pleads, "Edward, please tell me what happened. Let me help you find some peace." He waved his hand over the debris. "This is not healthy for either of us."
Suddenly angry, I rose and started to pace the small room, my hands pulling at my hair.
"There is no peace for me, Carlisle. I am a monster. I destroyed so many lives. I acted like some sort of God, taking people without thought for mercy using only my own warped sense of justice. Vengeance for what I perceived was their wrongful deeds."
From the moment I had left our home, I knew no peace. I dwelt heavily on the months I had spent sulking and griping at our lifestyle. My final explosion attacked Carlisle at the core of his existence; his respect and reverence for human life. I made sure that I left his life in as dramatic a manner as I had entered it. There was no peace.
I collapsed back on the floor, and mumbled heartbroken, "The worst is…" I paused, looking at the box.
He reached over, placing his hand on my knee. "What is the worst, love?"
I smiled ruefully at his term of endearment, a title that I don't honestly believe I would ever deserve again.
"The worst is…they are still in me." Carlisle goes to interrupt. "They are, Carlisle, my red eyes are testament to that."
He does interrupt, "Edward, that will only last for a while longer; your eyes are already changing, the red is dissipating."
I dropped my head and whispered, "I will never get their thoughts out of my head. They will haunt me forever. The screams and wails, the begging and pleading, the final whimpers of the lives that I took."
Expecting Carlisle to withdraw, I was shocked as he scooted closer and hesitantly placed his arm around my shoulder. Apart from the first week of my return, when we clung to each other, this was the closest we had been in months. He had been desperate to return to the level of intimacy that we had prior to my leaving. Often I would receive a fleeting, despairing thought that his creation had returned, but he had lost his husband. I could not bring myself to allow him to touch me. I could not taint him with my filth.
Lifting my chin to look me in the eye, he pleaded, "Please, Edward! Please tell me something, anything. Let me try and lighten the load you have placed on yourself." I opened my mouth. He placed his fingers gently over it to still my words. "I know it will be hard for me to hear. I know it will be hard for you to tell me. I need this; you need this. If we are ever going to be whole again we need to get past this."
I dropped my head again and mumbled, "You will never forgive me." He sighed and tightened his arms around me.
"I have already forgiven you, love. This is about you starting to forgive yourself."
If only I had known. He waved at the shattered items on the floor.
He pulled me closer. "How about we clean this up and then sit and talk. We don't have to rush. You can take as much time as you want."
He collected a waste-basket and went to pick up the shards from the floor. I whimpered and started to shake at the thought of throwing out the broken keepsake.
He turned his head to look at me, "What?"
I wrapped my arms around myself and whispered, "I can't let you throw it out."
He frowned, perplexed, and gently replied, "It is broken Edward, isn't it better that we get rid of it?"
I shook my head vigorously. I heard a voice crying, "No, no, no, no, no…" It was not until he wrapped me in his tight embrace that I realized the noise was coming from me.
What is it, love? If these are connected to bad memories are we not best to remove them?
"You don't understand," I wailed.
What don't I understand?
"This!" I cried, bending over and picking up the pieces of shattered china. "This is the reason I came back to you."
He held me for the longest time, soothing and murmuring into my ear, rubbing his hand up and down my back. I forgot how much I missed his touch, the feel of his breath on my skin, his scent enveloping me along with his arms. I felt warm, loved, and safe.
Reality would hit again soon but for now, I felt like the past year was a hideous nightmare, and Carlisle and I were as much in love today as we ever had been.
I slowly calmed down and allowed him to lead me to the sofa. Fetching a silver tray from the dining room, he carefully laid out the broken pieces of delicate china. Carlisle then placed the tray in the center of the low table. Sitting beside me, he turned so we were facing each other.
"Edward, tell me, what happened?" His voice was soft and calm, but it was no less a demand. His thoughts made it clear that there would be no more stalling.
I had to tell him.
I took a deep breath, the scent of Carlisle infused my senses, tainted only by the repulsive smell of death and desiccation emanating from the objects on the silver platter.
Sitting up straight, I turned to face him. Knowing that by the end of my tale, Carlisle would probably evict me from the house and his life, permanently.
I sighed. "It will probably come as a surprise to you, that for the six months I was away from you, four of those months I spent living in one place… New York City, to be precise."
He raised his eyebrows, and I could hear from his thoughts that this was a surprise. I had clearly not been living the nomadic lifestyle he had presumed. He nodded for me to continue.
It had never been my intention to stay in one place very long. I had journeyed towards New York as Carlisle's memories had intrigued me enough to want to visit. It was ironic. Despite what I said the night I left, that I still valued his knowledge and opinions and was therefore excited about seeing a city that had so captured his interest.
I spent my nights walking the streets, becoming familiar with my new 'hunting grounds'. I had procured an apartment and necessary clothing from one of my 'victims' and was settling into life in New York, feeding every week or so. The plan was, at that stage, to stay a maximum of six weeks and then move on to Canada.
One sunny day, that all changed.
It was my own stupidity, really. While I had continued to keep an eye on the weather, the buildings that surrounded me usually meant that I would be able to find cover.
I did not believe I needed to stay indoors on sunny days. My tailored suit and hat left little exposed skin. A pair of blue tinted sunglasses, that I found within one of my victim's possessions, were perfect for disguising my red eyes; the tinting making them appear violet in color.
I became overconfident.
I was wandering through Central Park, enjoying the sights and sounds. In a city of such a large population, I had found the park provided a limited buffer against the torrential noise in my head.
I had reached the southern edge of the park when the sun emerged in its full glory. Unable to reach the subway safely, I kept my head down, hands in my pockets and slipped into the nearest building - the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
I had hoped to mingle with the guests and then sneak out the back alley, or if this was not possible, hide in a back room to wait out the sun.
Avoiding the front desk, I strolled into the parlor where afternoon tea was being served. I was well dressed so should not have stood out, but the concierge had spotted me and was about to approach. Just as he reached me, my arm was clasped from behind.
"There you are, dear, you have kept me waiting!" Too shocked to move, I allowed the elderly woman to wrap her arm in mine.
She turned to the concierge, "It is alright, Charles, this young gentleman is with me." The concierge nodded as if this was not an unusual occurrence and left me in the care of the bold woman. She led me to a table in the rear of the parlor that was positioned on a raised section, allowing for a full view of the room and the street outside.
She paused. I suddenly realized she was expecting something of me. Rummaging through my memories, I moved too swiftly, pulling her chair out and assisting her to sit. Once she settled, I took my own seat. We gazed across the small table at each other.
Without any though for propriety, I blurt out the question at the forefront of my mind.
She raised an eyebrow and replied just as quickly, "Why not? You looked like you needed assistance, and it was no trouble for me to provide it."
Watching myself in her thoughts, I could see that I had unwittingly started to lose the human façade. I could see that I sat too still in my chair, and my movements were too quick, too fluid. Her memory of seeing me in the hotel foyer was that of a cornered animal. This was not good. If I could not blend in with humans, I would be less successful at hunting. I groped through my memories, retrieving all I had learned in the past about appearing human.
She leaned over and placed her hand on my knee. "You are welcome to sit with me for as long as you need and then be on your way. I don't get much company, so it will be a nice change."
Pondering my options, I reasoned that there were worse ways to wait out the sun. This situation would give me a unique opportunity to hone my ability to blend in. Additionally, I admitted to myself, it would be nice to interact with someone in idle conversation, something I had not done since leaving Carlisle.
"I would love to join you." I made no move to take off my glasses, and her eyes flickered to them briefly. I could see her decision not to mention them, but instead held out her hand to me.
"I am pleased to meet you Mr…"
Taking her hand, and being very careful to hold my breath, I brushed my lips against her skin. "Masen… Edward Masen."
"Well, Mr. Masen, I am Madame Agee, but you may call me Madame," I raised an eyebrow at the request but made no comment, lest I offend my unusual benefactor. At this point, the tea server arrived. I watched, bemused, as Madame and I were served from a delicate floral china set that had been hidden within the trolley, clearly set aside solely for Madame's use.
The tea was poured and a small plate of food left in the center of the table.
Sensing that I would be unwilling, or unable to talk about myself, my hostess started to talk about anything and everything, from the weather, the changing fashions in Paris, and her views on prohibition and the women's suffrage movement. I leaned back, pretending to drink my tea, watching and listening to the eccentric woman.
During our conversation that very first day, I discovered that she was a single woman in her sixties, whose only living relative was a niece who lived on a horse ranch in Texas with her husband and two sons. Madame lived in apartments within the hotel, a lifestyle she was able to fund due to her earlier life as the owner and operator of a number of high class brothels.
I was amazed at her openness and honesty regarding her life and how unapologetic she was for her past. When I left that evening, I felt almost light, and as I followed my next victim out of the hotel, I was grateful to Madame for the brief respite.
Three days later, I visited the hotel, convincing myself it was a good base for hunting. However, after regularly finding excuses to visit, when I did not need to hunt, I had to accept that I was visiting just to talk to Madame.
After the forth week, my visits were almost every second day. At which point, while discussing our shared love of the artwork of Gustav Klimt, Madame interrupted our conversation to insist that I call her by her first name.
Not wishing to give myself away, I quizzically replied, "I would be most happy to; however I do not know your name."
She looked pointedly at me and replied, "Do you not?" tapping her fan against her temple in a seemingly unconscious gesture.
Too shocked to respond, I simply stared at her. She sighed. "My name is Violet, but if you call me that I will rebuke you firmly, young man. You may, however, call me Vi. Although, I am sure you already knew that."
Raising her chin, she dared me to argue with her last statement. Instead, I turned away from her gaze, trying to recall when I would have given myself away.
"Just as I thought," she murmured.
Placing a hand on my arm she soothed, "It was not one thing, just many, many, small things. Things that would be unremarkable on their own, but once put together…" she broke off. "You are quite the gentleman, your mother would have been proud."
It was at that point I realized she knew I was not human. Nevertheless, to her, the fact that I was not of her species was merely an interesting personal detail, like my hair color or birthplace. It had little impact on her opinion of me in the here and now.
I sat in my chair stunned, only half listening, as Vi resumed her opinion on Klimt's 'The Kiss', a small smile on her lips as she watched me out of the corner of her eye.
From that day on, I joined her every day for afternoon tea. We would sit and talk for hours. She would regale me of her times as the owner of a brothel, including details of the murder she committed while protecting one of her girls. She harbored no remorse for either her employment or crime, and I felt ashamed to think that had she been a man with such thoughts, I would not have hesitated to make her my next meal.
I got extremely angry when she told me of the day she quit her businesses. She had received threats from the local priest who was apparently annoyed that she was able to bring in more of his parishioners than he was. One night she was out visiting a friend, and returned to find the building on fire and the priest standing in front, reciting scripture. On seeing her, he ran towards her, screaming that next time he would ensure that he cleansed her filth from the earth. Vi, ever the diplomat, had brought him to the ground with a single blow.
When the smoke cleared, those killed were two of the maids and the kitchen boy. The priest was not charged, as there were no witnesses to him actually starting the fire. Vi declared that the only good thing to come out of it was that she had been excommunicated.
In return for the tales of her youth, I told her of my passion for vehicles, reading, and music. She was saddened to hear that my circumstances, at that time, meant that I was unable to indulge in any of those pastimes, and she was particularly keen to hear me play.
We swapped stories of our travels. She loved to hear of my travels to Paris, having lived there herself as a child before immigrating to America. I, in return, was amazed to hear of her long voyage to Australia.
During these conversations, Carlisle was spoken of more and more. I mainly referred to him as my traveling companion, or sometimes as a friend or mentor, but never by name.
Speaking his name gave me great pain; I didn't feel I had the right to speak it.
During one tale where I was regaling Vi about my love of boats and being on the water. I mentioned my very first boat, and how he had built it for me from a wreck he had found on the shore. I told her how much I had loved that boat, and the wrenching loss I'd felt when I had needed to leave it behind.
At this point, she interrupted me, a small frown on her face.
"This person that you refer to, can you tell me more of them? Clearly they hold a special place in your heart."
I frowned, trying to bide myself some time by appearing confused.
Vi saw through my ploy. "Oh please, Edward, do not insult me! The way you talk of your friend and companion, you obviously share more than a love of travel and adventure." I nodded, too afraid to say anything.
Quietly she asked, "What is his name?"
No longer surprised at her ability to deduce things from our conversations, I replied quietly, "Carlisle. His name is Carlisle."
"Where is he?"
"Home…maybe. He may have left by now, I don't know." I placed my head in my hands, trying to hold back the wave of sorrow and despair that was starting to overwhelm me.
Vi placed her hand on my head. "What happened between you?"
I sighed. Then I told her. I told her of my frustration with his lifestyle, my growing anger at Carlisle limiting me. I confessed to the loneliness I'd felt when he went off to work and left me at home, and then finally, I recounted the explosion that resulted in my leaving him to find my own way.
It was difficult to not refer to us as being vampires, but she would wait patiently as I stopped to censor my thoughts, seeming to know that there was information she was safer to be ignorant of.
A couple of weeks later, on my way to and from the hotel, I felt a sensation in the back of my mind, an almost feather-light brush of thought. Concerned that I had picked up a tracker, having had previous experience of being followed by one of my kind looking to steal an easy meal, I varied my route to and from the Ritz. After a couple of days, it appeared I had lost my pursuer.
The more time I spent with Vi, the less I wished to pursue my hunting activities. She had reawakened a longing for conversation, culture, and companionship that I had not experienced since leaving Carlisle. She was, however, a master manipulator; her way of twisting conversations led me to speak more and more of Carlisle and about our relationship.
She had some insight in this as well, commenting that she could understand why I had been confused.
Considering Carlisle was part father, mentor, friend, lover, husband, and teacher, she could see where I could get frustrated and confused as he morphed between the different roles.
I became uncomfortable when she'd commented that considering my age, it was unsurprising that I'd rebelled against him. It was almost as if he had made me into the person I was today. There was little I could say to refute it, therefore, I said nothing.
My time with Vi altered my perception of who I was and who and where I wanted to be. I found that I fed less and less, and was soon unable to tolerate the end-of-life thoughts of even the vilest criminals.
Vi noticed the resulting alteration to my demeanor and eye color. So much so, that she crossed her own unspoken line one day and asked when I had last 'hunted?' I was so shocked by her question that I got up and left. Upon returning two days later, neither of us referred to the incident and we continued as if nothing had occurred.
Vi quietly watched me sink further into deprivation and depression. Finally, she took me by both hands and spoke firmly, "Edward, you cannot continue like this! You must go home."
"I can't," I sobbed. "It is no longer my home. He will hate me for what I have done. I want to go back, but I am so afraid. What if my home is…he is…gone? What if I cannot find my way back to him?"
Taking my face in her hands, she looked me in the eye. "There are many paths to finding your way home. Many are not pleasant, but all are worth it in the end, and no one has the right to criticize the means you take to get there."
Her expression steeled. "Either you choose to go home, or you don't, but either way, I will not have you visit me again until you agree to speak to him."
I gasped. She couldn't do that to me! Vi was my lifeline and she knew it.
She ran her thumbs over my cheeks. "I do not do this to hurt you, Edward, but you need to move on. Sitting here, having tea with me is not moving on. You are pretending to be someone, something, that you are not."
I groaned. She was right. "Can I see you one last time?" I whispered.
Vi sighed. "Of course, come to me tomorrow and tell me your intentions. I will be here." She grabbed me into an almost fierce embrace.
Holding my breath as her scent surrounded me, I returned her embrace. "Please, Edward, go back to him, back to your Carlisle."
It was a whisper of thought as if on the breeze. I whipped my head around in an attempt to pinpoint the source.
I turned back to Vi to find her staring at me questioning. I shrugged my shoulders, not actually confident as to what I had heard.
Vi moved away from the table, indicating that she was finished for the day.
Kissing me on the cheek, she simply said, "I will see you tomorrow," then headed into the lobby. I watched her dignified figure, parting the sea of people, her stature, and strength of personality leaving all in her wake.
"Truly marvellous!" I murmured. I donned my hat and disappeared into the evening.
Thinking on Vi's plea and ultimatum, I'd wandered the streets, finding myself at the water's edge. Surveying the bank I spotted a row-boat tied to a mooring point. On a whim I pushed the boat into the water, boarded it and began rowing. I stopped a short way off the shore and sat, enjoying the movement of the boat and the sounds of the water slapping against the side.
Closing my eyes, I floated, recalling memories of my first months with Carlisle. He would look at me as if I was the most amazing being in the world.
I missed him. I loved him. I had to return, if only to tell him those two things.
The next afternoon, I made my way to the hotel to find it quieter than normal. The parlor was closed and there were very few guests in the foyer. I made my way to the front desk, the concierge looked up at me, and instantly I knew something was very wrong.
"Mr. Masen, I am so sorry to inform you that Madame Vi passed away last night in her sleep."
I stepped back in shock. "She can't have died! She promised to see me again today."
The concierge thoughts became worried, concerned that I might become overwrought with grief. He came out from behind the desk and tried to lead me to a sofa. I shook my head. "I am alright. It is just a shock."
I turned to leave, when he interrupted, "Excuse me, Mr. Masen, but Madame's lawyer has asked to speak with you. I advised him that you joined Madame for afternoon tea at this time, so he has been waiting for you in the parlor." I paused, confused. Why would her lawyer wish to speak to me? Vi had willed her entire fortune to her niece and grand nephews. Reaching out to identify the person's thoughts, I encountered the feather-light sensation that I recognized from earlier in the month.
As I walked toward the parlor, a feeling of dread overtook me. The room was dark and quiet; the only light available was from gas lamps on the walls. Sitting at Vi's table was a man in a gray suit. The table was set for tea with Vi's china. The being at the table was sipping delicately from one of the fragile cups.
I could smell blood, human blood. It was not fresh, but no more than a day old. I knew instantly whose blood it was, and who he was.
The Volturi guardsman directed me to sit at the table.
"Well, Mr. Cullen."
"Masen," I corrected.
"My apologies, Mr. Masen," he conceded, a bit annoyed at the interruption.
"It appears you have been less than discrete with your interactions with humans of late, befriending one of them."
I interrupted, "There is nothing within the law that forbids interactions of a friendly nature. I well remember from my time in Volterra, there were a number of..."
The guard raised his hand. "Ah yes, your time at Volterra, we all remember it well. You and your creator made quite an impact. Some still believe you should not have been allowed to leave…or continue to live."
I stayed silent.
"Now I presume that you only befriended the human to allow yourself to feed from her later. Therefore, as you had no plan to keep her alive, in defiance of the law, I have assisted you by making the kill and suggest you prove your original intentions by joining me in a quiet repast." He waved his hands over the tea set.
I looked down at the liquid and back to the guard. "And if I choose to decline?"
"Then I, and my colleagues waiting upstairs, will escort you to Italy…by force if necessary. In addition, your creator will also be 'retrieved'."
He leaned forward and hissed at me, "Make no mistake boy, you remain alive only at the Masters sufferance. When leaving your life with the 'aberration', you should not have presumed you had the right to go nomad. You were obligated to return to those to whom you owe your allegiance." He leaned back. "Make your decision, now!"
The decision tore me in two. I looked down at the congealing liquid in front of me. This was Vi's life, taken from her because she was nice to me, had helped me.
She was dead.
While I had not killed her, I had just as surely made her a target.
If I refused to drink, and accepted my fate of a life of horror in Volterra, what then of Carlisle?
What of the lover and mate of whom, only moments ago, I was fantasizing about returning to?
Was I willing to accept the consequences of my refusal to drink this small amount of human blood, considering the many pints that I had readily consumed over the past six months?
Would I condemn him to a life of deprivation and torture in Italy?
Could I let that happen?
I would not let that happen!
Picking up the china cup, I murmured for Vi and Carlisle to forgive me and drank the contents in one gulp.
She had tasted as good as she had smelled, and for that thought, I would be eternally ashamed.
Placing the cup down gently, I looked the guard in the eye, speaking firmly, "It is done. Now leave!"
The guard stood. "I will leave, but know that we are always watching you. The Masters will have you return one day."
Turning to leave he stopped. Looking down at the stained china, he mused as if an afterthought, "I will let you deal with that. Such good china can only be used once, it is impossible to get the blood stain out."
He was gone before I could reply. I moved to the side unit where the hotel stored its silverware and emptied a wooden box of its contents. Returning to the table, I gently nestled the tea set in the velvet lining of the box, locked it, and stored the key in my breast pocket.
I made my way back to the front desk. There was only one person on duty, and the young man did not notice the wooden box tucked under my arm. I was met with sympathy as they were all aware of Mr. Masen's close attachment to Madame Vi, and were curious to know if the nature of the relationship would be revealed.
I preempted the young man's inquiry. "I would like to send a telegram, if you don't mind." I took the slip offered and wrote six words – New York. Returning overnight train. Edward.
As there was nothing that I needed from the apartment, or elsewhere, I made my way to the train station, stopping only to purchase a newspaper. Boarding the train, I opened the paper to the obituaries. There it was, in black and white –
Madame Violet (Vi) Agee.
Died in her sleep. Aged 62.
I threw the paper to the floor. Clasping the wooden box to my chest, my body started to shake with great wracking sobs that only stopped a few miles from my destination, when I could hear Carlisle's thoughts.
I finished speaking and looked up at him, waiting for the denouncement, the fury, the order to leave his sight.
Instead, he looked at me calmly. "Thank you for telling me."
He opened his arms.
Sobbing hysterically, I crawled onto his lap and clung to him.
He let me mourn for a while before turning my face toward him.
Edward, love, why don't we finally lay Vi to rest? Give both her, and you, some peace.
He kissed my forehead, lingering a little too long for it to be purely for comfort. We rose, and taking the silver tray, I followed him into the night.
Standing beside Carlisle, we both looked down at the small patch of recently disturbed earth where we had buried the last remains of Vi, along with her favorite tea set, all delicately arranged on Carlisle's silver tray. We had snuck into the local parish churchyard and set Vi's plot at the base of a large tree. I had explained to Carlisle, when choosing the site, that Vi had mentioned how she'd enjoyed the dappled light of the sun through the trees.
I started to laugh quietly to myself. Carlisle looked over with one eyebrow raised.
"I was thinking how much Vi would have enjoyed the irony. A brothel owner, buried on consecrated ground, by two homosexual vampires." I dropped my head and whispered, "She would have loved this."
I started to shake, the events of the past few hours catching up with me.
Suddenly his arms wrapped around me, supporting me, and I realized I had been an idiot for concealing all of this from Carlisle for so long.
We still had much to discuss. The murders I had committed, the Volturi's interference in our lives, and our plans for the future.
But for now, none of that mattered.
Madame Violet was right. There are many ways to find it.
Here I was. In Carlisle's arms.