This story was written for JAustenLover and Durameter for The Fandom Gives Back: Eclipse. I can't thank them enough for their generosity, both for donating to such a great cause, and for letting me share this with all of you. They've also been pretty damned patient waiting for me to finish this, if you ask me.
Nominally, this is an expansion of a one-shot I wrote during the Twi25 last year, but it ended up growing into something much larger than that. The finished story will be told in 13 chapters and approximately 50,000 words.
Everything Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Everything Phantom of the Opera belongs to Andrew Lloyd Weber, Charles Hart and Gaston Leroux. (While this is not in any real sense a cross-over fic, the importance of the latter will become clear in the next couple of chapters.)
Thanks to antiaol, bmango and hunterhunting for their help, commas and kind words.
And now, without further ado, I present to you … PhantomWard.
Chapter 1: The Music Of The Night
In 1918, Edward Masen wakes from a sleep of fire and ash, his eyes opening to stare up into a cold, golden gaze. For a moment, there is disorientation. Silence.
And then the world is a cacophony of sound. Voices. Darkness. With his hands over his ears, Edward finds himself in a crouch in a corner of a room he doesn't know, the floor tiles cracking beneath his feet as he shifts. The golden eyes are in front of him again, one voice ringing out just slightly louder than the others. After a few moments that feel like hours, Edward realizes that this voice, alone amongst the hundreds waging war inside his skull, matches the motion of the lips before him.
"Edward? Edward? My name is Carlisle Cullen. You're safe. You were dying, but now you're safe."
The word lifts something to the front of Edward's consciousness, and he scans his body for signs of injury. Finding nothing, he begins to breathe more easily, relaxing slightly, until the sound and sensation of his breath make him notice what he doesn't feel.
Shuddering, Edward sinks even deeper into his crouch, his hands still tight around his ears.
Finally, he finds words for the question pressing hotly against his lungs. "Am I dead?"
On some level, he wishes he was.
The loudest voice says, "No. Not exactly."
But another voice, one that hovers just above the fog of all the others, says, Yes. For this is no real life.
Edward's first year of unlife passes in a rush of blood and the search for blood. He finds an uneasy companionship with Carlisle, who he learns is his creator. Sometimes, Edward stares at the man and mulls over that word.
In another life, it meant a very different thing to him, and while Carlisle may resemble some sort of a god, he is not Edward's God.
But then again, Edward never expects to see his God again.
The two of them quickly depart the city of Edward's birth – the only place that he has ever really known – and they leave behind almost everything that Edward ever thought of as home. As the brick and stone give way to prairie and then woods, the chaos in Edward's head slowly lessens, and the ache that cannot be silenced at least becomes something he can bear.
They take up residence in a cabin far from anything that could tempt Edward's control. Together, they pass many nights in conversation about what it means to be what they are. About vampires. Carlisle explains the difficult truce he has made between his conscience and his desires, and about how animal blood, while unsatisfying, is enough to keep him strong.
Edward says little in response, the taste of grass and earth and thin, weak life leaving a bitter sensation on his tongue. Conversation, which once came so easily to him, is almost impossible now. He hears the words that come from Carlisle's mouth, but he also hears a different, conflicting point of view. The two voices overlap and dovetail, but sometimes they dramatically diverge. In moments of confusion, Edward sometimes answers the wrong one, and he must run far into the surrounding woods to find any sort of peace inside his head.
Alone beneath a canopy of pine and sky, he finds some solace in silence. Swallowing down watery, earthy blood, he buries corpses and exhumes memories that are almost as thin as the liquid he forces down his throat. Carlisle has told him that to hold on to his human memories – and, by turn, his humanity – he should access them as much as possible in this first wild and thirsty year. But it is difficult.
Over and over, he recalls images of a father he watched slip into death and of a mother that, through the fog of fever and fire, he didn't. He tries to remember what it felt like to be home, but the essence of the memory escapes him, time and time again.
One night, he returns from his lonely wandering to his and Carlisle's cabin full of a new set of scents, a strange amalgam of pine and spruce and steel. Carlisle is nowhere to be found, but there is a warmth to a place that Edward is not accustomed to, and he follows the glowing currents of air to the living room to find it occupied.
Not by someone. But by something.
And by so, so, so many memories.
The sight of the instrument and of the bench set in front of a row of black and white keys opens something strange inside of him, a coolness easing the burn he has suffered since the moment he awoke to this unlife. He feels the phantom of a pulse in the center of his chest, where he used to have a heart, and suddenly there is a picture in his mind.
Inside it, he is a boy. A child, really. A woman with red hair and green eyes sits by his side, and together they move their hands with abandon over keys, creating something beautiful as sound and careless melody blend with laughter and with … love.
The memory of love is one that has eluded Edward in these long, bloodthirsty weeks, and he almost feels his knees give out beneath him, the stone of his new body wanting to melt to flesh and bone beneath the weight of emotions that are too powerful for him to carry alone. Staggering, he makes his way toward the piano and sits too heavily, the hardwood flexing beneath his thighs.
The first note fills the room and his empty chest, but it is accompanied by a crack and the smell of fresh ivory as it is exposed to the air. The second is equally satisfying but more sour, the end distorted by a piece of wire stretching and then snapping. The third hears the breaking of a hammer and the obliteration of a key, and Edward is already relearning all over again that vampires cannot cry by the time his hands move automatically for a chord that he remembers his mother teaching him.
As the three keys depress at once, the entire front of the piano collapses, a host of wires surrendering en masse to the call of non-being, steel and wood all giving. With a dry sob, Edward looks at the destruction his monstrous hands have wrought through the blur of dry, unsatisfying sobs, his fist coming down on the top of the piano as he abruptly stands.
He flees back into the woods, leaving behind him the shattered ruins of the piano, and with it, the broken shards of his lost memory.
Of his love.
And of his humanity.
Edward sits in silence in the parlor of his and Carlisle's new home. Slowly, over the course of three difficult, trying years, he has come to exercise control over himself. The thirst which once consumed him and the voices which nearly drove him mad are all more manageable now, the torment of his throat and of his mind both fading. While he still prefers to spend most of his time in solitude, he has come to recognize a third player in the delicate balance of needs.
In deference to his heart, his throat and his mind have both needed to be tamed.
Time has given him perspective on his relationship with the vampire that created him, and Edward is now at a loss for what he would do without Carlisle's friendship. While he still does not understand all of his companion's compunctions, he knows that the loneliness that lives deep within his heart would fester were it not for Carlisle and for the brushes with humans that they now have in their life on the edge of town.
And so, for the sake of that friendship, he forsakes the blood of humans and tolerates the voices he can never completely silence. He gives up and gives in, and finds that a half-life is better than no life at all, and that the sacrifice of everything he was, and of so much of what, as a vampire, he could be, is acceptable, if not necessarily comfortable.
His ruminations are brought to a sudden end with the sound of voices approaching the house, and Edward instantly abandons his book and falls into a defensive posture near the door. With some concentration, he realizes that one of the silent voices is Carlisle's, but the tenor of the other, unknown mind is so unsettling that he cannot let his guard down completely.
Kill me … Die … Baby … Why?
There is wordless agony in and amongst the disconnected words, and Edward's own abdomen coils in reflex.
He recognizes this agony.
With the memory of flames licking hotly at his heels, he rushes forth from the house to meet Carlisle and a woman whose body is utterly broken. From multiple wounds along her neck and ankles and wrists, she is seeping blood, and there is a taste, too, of venom in the air.
Jumped. Couldn't let her die. Not her.
Carlisle's physical voice is rendered useless by worry, but Edward takes the disjointed thoughts and assembles them in his head. There are memories there, none of which Edward has ever seen in full before, although at times he is certain he has caught passing glances. A girl. A broken leg. Warm thoughts and a feeling of possessiveness.
Already, there is love.
Mate. My mate. Esme.
"Carlisle." Edward's voice is choked and flat. He has been told about the idea of vampires and their mates, and in flashes of memory, Edward has heard that word pass in a ghostly wisp through Carlisle's thoughts.
There is another rush of panic through them both as the woman's body shivers and wracks, the air split by a piercing scream, and Carlisle is also a wreck.
Let her survive. Let her forgive me. Let her want this life.
Please. Please. Let her want me.
Prayers are no less potent when they bypass frozen lips, and Edward realizes that his friend is suffering with every wracking sob and shudder coming from this woman. From Esme. From Carlisle's mate.
Sucking down the bittern knowledge that, even when seen through the fog of fire, Carlisle was not nearly so destroyed during his transformation, Edward springs into action, moving ahead to open the door to their home and preparing an unused, unnecessary bed. Carlisle's gratitude, while palpable, is only offered silently and without words as he sinks down onto the mattress, Esme's shattered body still held tightly in his arms.
Certain that they are alright and that there is nothing more that he can do, Edward retreats, feeling for the first time that he is unneeded and unwelcome in his own home. For a few hours, he sits in silent support, until the audible and inaudible torrents of Esme's pain become to much for him.
Out in the cool night air, he is alone again.
Uncertain what he is seeking or fleeing, Edward runs. For hundreds and hundreds of miles, he runs.
But the festering feeling of his own obsolescence still chases him.
A year after Esme's scarlet eyes snap open, Edward finds it hard to believe that he ever had a difficult time remembering the concept of love.
Or that he had never, in those three long years before her arrival, considered physical love.
The woods have become more of a home to him than the secluded cottage that the three of them now ostensibly share. Edward winds up in the forest often, seeking escape from the things that his two companions now share, and yet which he feels quite certain that he will never, ever be party to.
Even as he nears the property line, thoughts of all-consuming, passionate love overwhelm him, and in the thoughts he cannot push out, there is a new kind of cacophony. He is bombarded with images of skin and sensations of wet sliding, with open mouths and depraved combinations of lips and hands and sex.
At the unwelcome reaction of his own body, Edward turns, his form soon ensconced again inside the crook of an aging tree. The sounds of love and love-making and mating are out of range, but there is no way to push the images from his mind. He tries, though. In his head, he recites poems and performs the most complex calculations he can manage, but still the pressures inside his body persist until his own need becomes yet another voice he cannot push away.
With reluctance, he takes a hand to unsatisfied flesh, indulging in a necessary but unsavory orgasm, venom spilling uselessly to the forest floor. With the physical act of release, he finds his mind is once more clear.
But still, he does not dare return.
On so many levels, there is already no home for him to go to.
For hours, Edward stares at the painting. It is old, he knows. Older than himself, and already, nine years into his unlife, he feels ancient.
Over the past few years since Esme's transformation, he and the two of them have reached something of an understanding. More than once, he has offered them his absence and their privacy, but each time, they have declined. Slowly, he has come to understand that, while not exactly necessary to their union, he is not entirely unwelcome either.
And so he has continued to make a home with them.
After all, he has nowhere else to go.
This new house that they are settling into is larger than the last few have been, and Carlisle has sent for more of his things with which to fill the space. The most fascinating of them all, for Edward, is the painting.
In it, he recognizes the hard lines of bodies made of stone but hidden beneath silk and brocade. Vampires, all of them, he is sure. As if their postures and complexions were not enough, Edward can tell what they are from the sight of their glowing, crimson eyes. They look regal, he thinks. Commanding. On the cusp of life instead of hidden amongst its shadows.
All of them, that is, except one.
In the back of the scene, Edward recognizes a head of dirty blond hair and a glimmer of gold. Even in the picture, there is a haughtiness to Carlisle's countenance, and a distance that he keeps from everyone around him. Clenching his fists, Edward wonders what it must have been like to choose a life of denial – to live forever in a shadow of humanity in the face of so much glorious and unabashed immortality.
Inside himself, Edward feels a coiling. A strength that he has put such pain to moderating. A chorus of unchecked voices that he has bent his will to ignoring.
And he wonders what it would be like to set all of that free. To become a monster and a god.
To become me.
The thought gives him pause, but he lets it roll around in his mouth for a while. The idea that he could be something other than the shell of a not-quite-man he has become is tempting, and the painting just reminds him that there are others who do not deny temptation and who do not deny themselves.
Edward has become so very, very tired of sacrifice.
Silent voices and the quiet opening and closing of doors alerts Edward to the fact that he is no longer alone with his musings, and he takes the few moments before Carlisle joins him to check his thoughts and to regather his wits and his restraint around him.
Carlisle's footsteps move up the stairs , and Edward feels the rush of air as his only friend enters the room and joins him.
Troubled, Edward? Carlisle thinks. Through Carlisle's eyes, Edward takes in a shifting vision of the room, until finally the sight matches that of his own eyes. Ah, I see. The Volturi.
Carlisle has spoken to Edward before about his time in Italy with that oldest and most powerful coven of vampires, but it is only since this painting arrived that Edward has begun to regard Carlisle's memories with something like envy.
You remember them, Edward.
"Of course, I do."
Pure decadence. Excess. But a tight respect for the law. Theirs is a fascinating society.
"Excess," Edward scoffs. The untapped strength in his joints tightens again.
Yes, Edward. Excess. How else would you describe a complete disregard for human life?
There is a high chuckle in Edward's ears, and too late he acknowledges to himself that it is his own. He cannot hold the irony back from his voice. "Oh, I don't know, Carlisle. Perhaps I might call it 'being a vampire.'"
"Edward." Carlisle's spoken voice is even enough, but his thoughts, Edward realizes, are chaos. Memories churn past his inner eyes. Memories of blood and thirst and denial. Of being the only one in a room to still be wanting when everyone else is sated.
It's a feeling that, in other, equally carnal ways, Edward knows far too well.
It's a feeling he is tired of.
Another rush of air shifts through the room, and Esme appears at Carlisle's side. Edward can read in her thoughts that she was surprised to hear Carlisle's voice, since typically he prefers to speak to Edward through his thoughts alone. In silent support, she wraps herself around her mate's pliant, willing body, and already their thoughts are starting to turn.
To stone and wet and to loving in the dark.
And suddenly, the twin visions of the two of them, arm in arm, heart in heart, maddeningly and utterly in love, strikes Edward cold. He lets his gaze dart from their golden eyes to the ruby ones that seem to stare at him from the surface of the picture.
It is as if Edward is surrounded, and if he still needed air, it would alarm him that he is markedly unable to breathe. All around him, all he can see are the things he cannot have. The pieces of humanity that are forbidden to him and the joys of vampirism that he has never given into.
Love. Sex. Blood.
And suddenly, his half-life is nowhere near enough. His throat and his mind and his heart all speak as one when they tell him that it is. Not. Enough.
A new thirst opens up as he stares at bewildered golden eyes and at knowing, satiated scarlet ones.
For the first time, Edward wants.
And he will no longer be denied.
He will no longer deny everything that could make this life enough.
His eyes widen, and he laughs.
"Carlisle, my friend," he says quietly. "Esme."
Edward pauses, looking around himself one more time.
And then, finally, he whispers, "Goodbye."
For the first time in ten long years, Edward Masen feels alive.
Pushing the chalk-white corpse away from him, he runs his tongue across his lips, feeling flushed and full and strong. The lush taste of the most potent blood still lingers on his teeth, and he is greedy, seeking, after so much time of self-denial, to catch it all.
There is only the tiniest twitch of remorse as he drags the lifeless shell of a man on whom he has fed over a ragged road of cobblestones. If anything, he deposits the body into the sewer with calculated efficiency, his mind already bent to the next hunt. His next feast.
Edward always wants more.
Sticking to the shadows which no longer confine but which embolden him, Edward listens to the night, life coursing through him with a warm and spreading flush. He lets the blood that he has stolen strengthen him, making him run faster and jump farther, taking to the rooftops of buildings for no reason beyond the simple joy of doing so.
And of being what he is now.
Laughing, he spreads his arms to the sky and takes in the stars with blood-red eyes. Nights like this, high on the lust and on the kill, it is easy to convince himself that it is all worthwhile. That he does not miss his friend or the clarity in his mind when he practiced some level of restraint. That the loss of human life means nothing to him.
That he does not feel every single victim's pain.
His thoughts are cut off by the silent voice inside his mind. There is a flash of panic and a jolt of pain. Another voice. Triumph. Sadistic exultation. The pleasure of a bone snapping and of hardened flesh meeting air and then an unwilling, straining thigh.
Edward descends from the rooftop and follows the shadows to the source of the voices. He takes in the scene and the impending murder and rape with detached and calculating eyes.
Falling into a crouch, for just one moment, he pauses. And then the strength in all his limbs is releasing, his hands closing around an arm, snapping it, and he revels in the power.
There is a certain sadistic … joy in it.
A pleasure, even.
A tiny itch appears in the back of his skull as he recognizes that one similarity between himself and his prey, but he shrugs it off nonchalantly, not choosing to hear his old friend's voice in his ear. Instead, he lets the blood and the call of blood sing through him, letting his prey's victim fall backward as surprised and dying hands release her. Edward is only cognizant enough of her frantic eyes and of the need for discretion to retreat a few steps back before he drains the man.
Back into the shadows.
Back into memories of pain.
The same thoughts that called him to the scene echo through his head as he lets his teeth rest against warm and pulsing flesh. Edward savors the aroma of lust and life beneath that thin layer of skin and tries not to listen.
But there is only so much he can do.
As always, Edward experiences the kill from two different points of view. The strongest is his own, a delicious feeling of power and of flesh, rent and tearing. A taste of hot, rich blood across his tongue.
Even as Edward is biting, sucking, feeding, living, he acutely feels the dying. The bite is in his own flesh. The stolen essence is his own, and even as he is filling, he experiences the sensation of being drained.
And for that moment – that one, slim instant – he can hear Carlisle's voice amongst the hundreds all fighting for position in his head.
No respect for human life.
Edward drinks the last hot gulp of blood and then lets the corpse fall.
Supernaturally stable hands want to tremble. His throat wants to gag.
Just like the taste of copper and salt, the scent of pain lingers like a fog.
There is a moment of darkness as he looks at himself and at what he has wrought. He never thought that he would fall so far. That he would become the silent evil that he hunts. That he would become the sort of man his only friend would refuse to speak to.
That he would reach the point of no longer being a man at all.
And then a trickle of steadily flowing light.
In a tidal wave of relief, warmth rushes over him.
Moving swiftly through crystalline vessels, blood infuses his every limb and finger and cell, and he can feel them all.
For the first time in so long, Edward Masen feels alive.
Pushing the chalk-white corpse away from him, he runs his tongue across his lips, feeling flushed and full and strong. The dark thoughts that always accompany the kill recede, leaving him with only the faintest twitch of remorse as he drags the lifeless shell of a man over a ragged road of cobblestones. If anything, he deposits the body into the sewer with calculated efficiency, his mind already bent to the next hunt. His next feast.
Edward always wants more.
But in the back of his mind, there is still that itch. With all his new-found strength, he denies it, but still, he knows.
He knows that the more he drinks, the more the borrowed memories of pain seem to linger.
And even he can see the slight shakiness to his gait as, once again, he stalks off into a bloody, monstrous night.
The corpse is barely drained before Edward is pushing it away from him, recoiling in horror, his eyes and ears and mind awash in pain. Agony. Fear. The voices join together now in an echoing call that washes out behind him in an ocean of blood and death, and all of it is dripping from his trembling hands.
Three years' worth of blood.
Three years' worth of murder and death.
And he wants more.
He wants it almost as much as he wants to die.
The skin of the throat against his teeth is warm, the blood so close.
But the screams are even closer.
As if they are pressed against his own burning, aching own throat, Edward can feel the pressure of razor-sharp teeth and the first prickling stings of venom on tight-wound nerves.
And it's too much.
Convulsing against the cries and the fear and the pain and the death, Edward doubles in on himself, releasing his prey to that lonely night and falling to his knees. A thousand voices scream out at him in memory until the blood itself is tainted with a suffering that lives inside him now. It courses through his veins and through his ears and through his crimson, murderous hands.
The city streets fly by him in a blur. He does not even know where he is going, except that it is away from the voices.
So many voices.
There are voices of lovers and of lonely, angry people. As he runs, Edward hears passion and laughter and life, and none of it is meant for him. Their blood is not meant for him either, though, the very idea of it tainted now with pain.
For him, there is nothing.
He is nothing.
Eventually, Edward finds himself again in the middle of a twisted, knotted wood, alone but for his memories, and the freshest among them are of murder and blood.
So much blood.
And he is thirsty.
Yet still, he runs.
A watery scent of life hits his nose, his black eyes narrowing, his feet stilling as he falls into a crouch. There is a defensive closing in his mind, a reaction against what he knows will sustain him, but which is now so inextricably entwined with visions of fear and pain. He tastes the adrenaline on his tongue, a heartbeat lush and wet just to his side.
Liquid flows through the arid desert of his throat, watering the parts of him that have grown desiccated and old. The anticipation of terror winds a sticky ribbon around his heart, but for once his thirst is slaked without fear, and he drops the frozen, lifeless body of the elk at his feet. The blood coursing through his limbs is unsatisfying.
But Carlisle was right.
It is enough to keep him strong.
For months, Edward pretends he doesn't know where he is going. In wandering circles, he closes in on the place, drawn there as if there is a magnet at its center.
Surprisingly, Carlisle's and Esme's scents are still all over the town, moving in glowing arcs through its streets. Edward had always assumed that they would have moved on by now, but as he approached the house they all once briefly shared, there can be no doubt. They are still there.
Everything inside of him is tense as he approaches, the very walls of the house thick with memories of his own foolish betrayal.
But then, there are sounds.
Edward physically cringes away from the familiar bombardment. Flashes of ecstasy make his stone body harden, his mind fascinated and repulsed. But inside, the lonely center of his being is once again melting.
Love. Sex. Blood.
He is denied all of them.
He doesn't even pass close enough to the house for the mated, mating pair to hear him. He wonders idly, as he is turning, if when they finally emerge, they will catch his scent and know that he was here.
If they will remember him. If maybe, just maybe, they even miss him.
But it does not matter.
Because in a flash, he is already gone.
In 1933, Edward Masen awakens from a sleep of cold, grey mourning. His eyes have been open for fifteen years, and they have drifted from crimson to gold and back, again and again. Most often, these days, they are black.
No more than a ghost, he wanders from the woods whose quiet company he keeps to cities where the constant onslaught of spoken and silent voices splits his mind. He stays there, amidst so many walls of misery and stone, for as long as he can at any given time, grateful that the ocean of thoughts and sound at least drowns out the voices from his memory.
That the grey of industrial skies is enough to blur a river of flowing red.
The hour is late as he finds his way into another town, the stink of poverty assailing him, along with that of dead, stale blood. He is so hungry in his body and so hopeless in his spirit that he does not know what to do with the heady scent, and when he finds a near-dead man, lying prone in the middle of the street, he is tempted.
He can count on his two murderous hands the number of times he has given into his lingering desires for human blood in the last few years, and each time has proven worse than the last, screams echoing inside his silent, aching heart for months.
But he is thirsty.
And the whole place stinks of death in any case.
The man scarcely stirs as Edward pulls his limp form behind the corner of a house. Edward lets the dull thump of the man's heart warm his coldest parts, but winces against the memories that are awakened, too. With his jaw and throat both open, his teeth scraping indelicately against skin, Edward hesitates, waiting for pain.
And when it comes, it is overwhelming.
Edward drops the man and disappears in a whirl of spinning dust, his heavy footfalls taking him anywhere except back.
He can never go back.
He is just wandering past the general store when suddenly, Edward feels his stone skin becoming warmed. The heat is so intense that it almost feels like life, and Edward flexes his fingers with the unfamiliarity of that sensation. Too late, he looks down at his hands, brilliant in their motions.
And then he looks up at the sun.
Horror and fear are a thick spike running hotly through Edward's already desperate throat as he is impelled into motion. Storefronts blur and then there is shadow, instinct leading him to the darkest places available, a relative silence guiding him away from curious eyes.
When his flesh finally feels cool again, the voices in his head receding as much as they can inside a town, he finally stops. The burst of panic has left him more drained than usual, a weakness settling heavily into his limbs as he looks around.
Leaning heavily against the closed doors through which he entered, Edward takes in a huge and darkened room, dusty floors that were once bright with polish. Staggered rows of plush seats. A stage.
And finally, terrifyingly, a set of ivory and ebony keys.
It is the first instrument of its kind that he has seen since the one he ruined all those lonely years ago, back before he knew his own strength, and he is surprised to find the memory of that failure so fresh. He can smell the broken ivory and the fresh steel of snapping strings.
And he can see his mother's hair.
The steps that take him to the bench are silent and swift, and his unsteady breathing is calmed slightly when he manages to sit without incident, the wood failing to creak or to crack under his weight. Edward does not even dare to blink as he lifts a cold white hand to off-white keys, pressing down so subtly. So gently.
The warmth that moves through him at the resulting note is almost as powerful as that of the sun, and Edward exhales raggedly, unnecessarily, with the lifting of a weight that has hindered him for so long. A second soft, musical tone rings out, and then a third and a fourth. Stinging with venom, his eyes cloud and close as finally he dares to make a chord. And then another.
And before he knows it, lost in memories of his mother and of love and of home, Edward is playing. There are old songs and silly songs. Songs that haven't even been written, but which flow from his hands like water. Like blood.
And like blood, the music sustains him. Beneath the slowly rising notes, there is a silence he has never known, the thoughts and voices outside of the theatre slowly fading until it is just him and his memory.
It is enough.
So absorbed is he that he does not notice the day slipping away, or the opening of a door. Even the scent and sound of a living, beating heart does not rouse him from his revery and his sudden, surprising joy.
But the clapping does.
Damn fine playing. Damn fine.
The cover slams down over the keys with a dull clap, the bench scraping across the floor as Edward turns and stands.
Wide, surprised eyes look up at him. They feel like the first eyes to really see him in years, and Edward is staggered by the sight of his own haggard visage in the man's mind's eye. To his own eyes, Edward appears hungry. Angry.
A sudden shiver of fear rushes harshly down the man's spine, and Edward can sense his uncertainty and his sudden doubt.
How did he get in here, anyway? I was sure I locked the place last night.
"I'm sorry," Edward says, responding to the unspoken question without fully thinking it through. It has been so long since he has spoken that his own voice shocks him, but still he soldiers on. "I did not mean to trespass. I'll be going now."
No sooner has Edward turned away from the man than a warm hand closes around his arm, a lush scent scorching his already burning lungs.
"Now, hold on just one minute, son."
Freezing his body and his breath, Edward turns thirsty, black eyes on the man. But then, in his mind, he sees a vision. A proposal.
And the theatre rings with the improbable, near-forgotten sound of Edward's laughter.
The first time Edward plays in front of an audience, his mouth is a flood of venom, his mind a chaotic swell of voices and thoughts as he hovers, near-panicked in the wings.
Poor boy looks nervous. He's so pale.
"You alright, son?"
Edward swallows a half dozen times and nods. It is a terrible plan. It must be. To be here, a monster among men is unthinkable, really.
But then again, so is the idea of living without the music that brought him such solace, rising up around him like the arms he has so long been denied, cradling him against thoughts in a blanket of sound.
He moves forward, his mind full of a myriad of images of his own pale face, cast in a strange glow by the hot intensity of the stage lights. There is a natural reaction of recoil, and Edward has to work hard to restrain a snarl, instinct pushing him to confirm his otherness to his prey.
Only they are not his prey. Not tonight.
The bench scrapes backward, Edward's body bending as he settles his hands so carefully on ivory keys.
The hall echoes with soft tones. Music.
And everything else – all the voices and memories and fears – all float away.
An unbearable lightness settles over Edward's being, with just the faintest of thoughts pushing through the warm edges of the music he is now surrounded in.
Edward feels a stabbing pressure in his chest, and he knows that it is right where his heart would be if only his heart still beat. Playing on, he is surrounded by joy.
He marvels at the word. The feeling.
His music has brought people not pain. Not fear.
Edward closes his eyes against the tears he cannot shed.
Stone shifts. A life changes.
And he knows.
Music is not only his salvation.
It is finally his chance to atone.
A/N: Chapters will post every other Thursday until my other WIP, Our Lives Unbound, is complete. Then every Thursday after that.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think?