Stephenie Meyer retains the rights to these characters. Nobody, but nobody, owns Emmett.
A/N: While I was writing the 'Meadow' chapters of Fox Fire, I wondered how the Cullens left at home dealt with the implications of Edward's potentially deadly first date with Bella. Moreover, what did they really think about his obsession with this seemingly ordinary human girl? No one was more surprised than I by the member of the family who stepped up and started answering my questions. Enjoy!
I've got no quarrel with the girl. None of this is her fault . . . Her bad luck, maybe . . .
That's what I tell myself as I take a running leap, vault off the side of one big tree, and swing the axe around to slice another in two. The top half plummets but I'm well clear of it, touching ground in time to feel it whomp the earth beneath me.
If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? I do. I am a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Emmett McCarty was here.
I love the chaos. Instinct kicks in as forest creatures, disturbed by the racket, take flight. But I won't hunt now. Though my gut quickens and venom flows, I just swallow and turn my nose upwind.
My glee's short-lived. I'm here because I'm a coward. Because I can't bear to go back to the house. I don't want to look at their tense faces and breathe that thick air. I don't want to be there if Alice sees Edward fail.
I'm a coward, and in some ways as much a masochist as he is. See, even though I can't stand being in the house, I won't let myself wander far from it. I can just see top of the peaked roof through the trees on the other side of the river; I'm closer than I want to be but close enough for someone to find me if there's news.
There's been no news since this morning. Nothing. Alice saw them drive into the mountains in that shit-box truck, and then her visions went dark. Maybe that was fate's way of telling her to mind her own business, but we have no idea. Things got pretty tense after that. Much wailing and wringing of hands, like being in one Carlisle's operas.
All the waiting and worrying was just making me crazy so I had to get out. Nowhere in particular—just out. I ended up here, on the other side of the river, with my conscience pricking me to do what I should have done in the first place. There's only so far you can go on the one-ten before the road runs out. I'd cover the distance easy enough, and from there the trail would be easy to follow. The girl's scent is like a beacon.
But I'm still here and I hate myself for being passive. I'm compelled to work while I'm stuck in limbo. I'm a practical man and I like to use my hands; I could have used them to build something, but for some reason destruction's more satisfying than construction today. I've been felling trees for hours. I strip this last one of branches and bark and set to chopping. It's not long before sixty feet of Hemlock is kindling at my feet. A whole mountain of it.
I don't even care that she's human. I just wish he'd have his way with her, or have done with her— whatever it is needs doing. When it's out of his system, we can all get on with our lives.
If it's wrong of me to think that, I don't care. He already knows what I think. The skinny bugger hears what's in my head all day long. How else can it end for Edward and the human girl, but badly? Call me a cynic, but I don't think he has the fortitude. I even put money on it. Damn Alice knows I can't refuse a wager.
I'm scouting around for another tree to fell when I catch the scents of milk and honey on the wind. Venom surges again, as always does when I smell my Rosalie—when I think of her, even. God, I love watching her run. I can see her coming now, hair and skin all glowing in the sunlight. And look at her fly. Still my angel after all these years.
But my Rose has thorns and I'm frightened of what she might have to say now. She lands on this side of the river and she's by my side in half a second. There's a furrow in her brow, but no more so than she's been all day. Still no news then. Coward that I am, I sigh with relief.
She looks at me, then at my wood-chip mountain, and just stands there with her hands on her hips and an amused little smirk on her lips. She asks how I plan to get all of this back to the house. Her smirk grows as I scrub my hand through my hair and a cloud of sawdust flies out. I was so busy chopping that I hadn't thought about it. I suppose I could drive the quad over and load it up.
We have enough wood, she says. She's right; we don't need to heat our home. But what she means is she wants me with her. I don't want to go back to the house so I try to take her arm, playful-like. Maybe she wants to—but she just shakes her head and sets off at a run. No joy today. I bring the axe down hard into the stump at my feet and follow her back across the river, resigned. I keep my eye on her swinging ponytail, glistening white-gold.
What she'll never say out loud is how worried she is about Edward. I know she cares for him—loves our brother more than anyone—though she only shows it in the way she cusses and criticizes. And he gives as good as he gets. Madly in love, madly in hate, are Edward and Rose. It's the way our fucked-up little family works. Carlisle changed her for him but could you imagine those two, nitpicking and scrapping together 'til Kingdom Come? Talk about hell. I'm glad it never worked out because I was meant for her, and she for me. Knew it the moment I set eyes on her.
And was Edward meant for Isabella? Lord knows. All this fuss over one small human…
I know what it is he likes. Rose says she's plain, and I agree she's clumsy as all get out, but I can see the attraction. She's a throwback to his own era. No curves to speak of, but the doe eyes and the rosebud mouth make up for it. Her blush must drive him mad. Have you ever seen a human blush like that? And those ringlets. I can imagine her as a heroine in one of his books, wearing a high-necked gown, hair piled high on her head the way women used to in the old days. She swoons and he's there to catch her. Throw his coat in the mud for her to walk all over.
If it weren't for the blood. Damn her blood! I know what it did to him that day; I was there. I saw him in pain, feral. Not Edward at all. I don't know how he kept himself together. I don't know how he didn't turn the car around and finish her off, there and then.
Could I have resisted had it been me? I want to think so, but I can't be sure. We've all had our slip-ups. It's been a long time for me, but when the scent takes hold of you like that, there's nothing else you can think of, nothing else you want. No: I'd have slit her throat and drained her dry. And then I'd have left for good—taken Rosie with me and never come back.
That's what he should have done, and if he'd been smart he'd have stayed in Denali and had his pick from any of the lovelies up there. They're more than willing to help him rid himself of that damn human morality he clings to, let me tell you. What good does it do an immortal to live like a monk?
But I know why he came back. Tanya's pawing drives him mad, but nothing infuriates our professor more than a mystery. It drives him crazy that he can't hear Bella's thoughts. And he's guilty: coveting sacred knowledge and forbidden fruit, knowing he's not to have either. He's a glutton for misery, my older-younger brother. I've watched it torture him for months now.
And we all know where he goes at night. Even before Alice told us that the girl woke up and spoke to him, we knew. Maybe the first time it was because he was trying to hear her thoughts, but you can't tell me that's why he keeps going back. And what does he do while she sleeps? I can imagine a few things. He's dead, but he's not dead, right? A century of being alone can only warp a man. Too much restraint's not good for the body.
I watch the taut muscles of Rosalie's backside as she halts her run and opens the French doors at the back of the house, leading us back inside. Time for joy later, maybe? Now I'm the guilty one because I shouldn't be thinking about that right now.
The tension engulfs me as soon as I enter. It's quiet, even for a house full of vampires, and it's suffocating. Even with all the light pouring in, it feels dark in here. I want to run away again. Alice looks up from the couch, meets my eyes with a quick shake of her head.
Jasper's not back yet, I see. Like me, he hates inaction. He took off hunting before dawn. We all dispersed then because we knew Edward didn't want us there when he left. How would we have taken our leave of him? With a hug and a thump on the shoulder—reminding him to drive safe, have fun, and try not to kill anyone?
Rose and I take our places in the great room and try to occupy ourselves while we wait. This feels exactly like a vigil but is it one for my brother's immortal soul or a wake for a human girl's? We just don't know.
I can't sit still. Nothing can keep my attention for long. Not even when the game's too close to call, nor books, nor even my wife reaching her fingers into the hair at the nape of my neck in that way that soothes me. I jump up and take to the back window, staring into the forest like I can make the trees part to show me something . . . anything. And when they don't, I take to pacing.
Carlisle shuffles the newspaper he's pretending to read, and Esme frowns at the tread I'm wearing into her expensive throw rug. She chews the skin around her nails and gets up to straighten a picture on the wall. It isn't even hanging askew.
I stop my pacing long enough to ask Alice if she's seen anything. She glares at me and rubs her temple, squinting ahead at possibilities. All she'll say is that there's been no decision. I should know better than to press a stubborn woman, and I can't begrudge her impatience. What must it be like to live your whole life in other people's futures, unable to act until someone else makes a decision?
She's been living in Edward's future since she saw Bella coming. Before Christmas it was—maybe the moment she decided to come back here. Maybe Alice even got a dim gleaning when we decided to come back here. I'd like to know how she kept something like that from him.
Whatever she saw made her greedy. I never reckoned I'd accuse my sister of avarice, but it's true. She grabbed on like the little terrier she is, and she's been pushing for it ever since. Pushing for the future she wants, for the friend she wants. But why this one? Why this human girl who could send us all to hell because her blood smells to Edward like Manna from Heaven?
And if she really saw her coming, then why didn't she realize—why didn't she give him fair warning that day?
That look in his eyes. It wasn't Edward at all. What the hell happened to you? I asked, but I should have known. He was gasping for breath—struggling for control. He'd seen me like that more times than I cared to remember, but I never thought the tables could turn so quickly. I never want to see him like that again . . .
My sister lives in Edward's future, but he lives in other people's heads. Now, what must that be like? I've never envied Alice her gift, but there's been times I'd give my left one to have just a little of his. But I don't need it now to know that my family and I are of one and the same mind.
We want Edward home and safe. We want that girl to live another day.
Esme, bless her, hopes for the best but fears the worst. It's there in the tense little lines around her mouth—in the way she folds and refolds table settings that we never use. She saw Edward off this morning. He wouldn't have tolerated anyone else there but her. He was nervous, but she's hopeful. More than most, she's seen the changes in him since he met Bella.
That's why she's more fearful of what'll happen if he succumbs. He'll run again; that's how he deals. The first time it happened was before I even came to live with this family. I've only got an inkling of what it must have been like for her and Carlisle to live those empty years without him. It must have felt like losing her firstborn all over again.
I know that's how she thinks of him. They both do. They love him best because of it, and I'm all right with that. I was the firstborn of a large family myself and I've kept enough human memories to understand the way they feel.
Edward is many things to Carlisle: student, teacher, brother, son. Every failure of Edward's he sees as his own. This must be hell for him, but how can he just sit there behind that newspaper, impassive like? He just bides his time as always. He's seen our family through many moments like this, but there's something this time that he's not telling us. He's holding back.
Maybe it's different this time because it's Edward playing with fire, and he never does that. Not our cautious, tightly wound Edward who can't put a foot wrong—who loves to be there to remind us of our mistakes. The problem with folks who are wound as tight as him is that they come undone some day.
And that gets me all riled up again . . . thinking . . . worrying. How I hate this uncertainty. Why aren't all of us up there in the mountains, keeping watch? Because Carlisle won't allow it, and I hate to admit he's right. What good would it do being nearby? Edward would hear our thoughts and know we don't trust him. But it's not that. I'd trust him with my own life but I don't think it's right for him to experiment with the girl's.
Jasper returns. I worry about him: his tactician's mind is still fighting a war his human body died for long ago. He sees threats around every corner. He fears the Volturi's wrath, but why would they bother with a coven as small and isolated as ours? If one human girl knows of our existence, so what?
I still don't think Alice has convinced him Bella's the force for good she claims her to be. The night Edward fled to Alaska, I knew what was on Jasper's mind. I admit, I thought about helping him do it. I sided with him after the accident with the van, even though it went against every fibre of my being to kill an innocent.
Of course he knows there's been no news. He senses what we're all feeling and tries to throw calming energy into the room. It's a half-hearted attempt. As he crosses the room to stand by Alice's side, she looks up from her visions and answers his questioning gaze with one of her own. They embrace. I'd love to know what they talk about in that private language of theirs. Rose and I don't have gifts like that. We've only got each other.
I hate what this business has done to my Rose. She's an insecure thing to begin with, and her death marked her hard. No one can blame her for that. Oh, but she's filthy angry with Edward right now. She's jealous too, even though she never wanted him in that way. It didn't bother her when he was alone, but she hates that his eyes shine for someone else. For a human! It kills her. Bella reminds her of everything she lost when her life was cut short. With the promise of life and youth on her side, she'll have those things that I can never give Rosalie. But not if she chooses Edward. Not if she chooses the immortal life that Alice has forseen.
I know all this, but it doesn't matter. Call me a sap, but I'll always love her. When this blows over, and we're done with high school for good, I'm going to take her to Africa. I've always fancied wrestling water buffalo. I'd like to watch her hunting lions.
And Isabella? I have no problem with her—I really don't. I could probably even get to like her. I want her to be everything that Alice believes she'll be, for Edward's sake. But how is it that a force for good can cause so much strife?
One small human. Sometimes, I can't help wishing that she'd never come here. I don't want my brother to fail, but I'll stand by him no matter what.
And so we wait . . . and we worry . . . and if Edward's not back by dawn, we head to the woods together to bring him—to bring both of them—home.