Okay – here it is – the last chapter. Only the epi is left. Hang on – things get a bit wild below.
Thanks to TwilightMomofTwo for her amazing beta skills.
"Emmett, stop." Rose sounded so far away, but between her voice and a few hands pulling me away from Caius, I came to my senses. My fists had been moving of their own accord. I was covered in blood, and Caius' face was barely recognizable after the beating I'd given him. My breath was coming out in gasping pants; it felt like I'd spent the day at the gym working the heavy bag.
Rose's hand drifted down my arm, urging me to look at her instead of the mutilated face lying on the floor. "Thank you," she whispered, kissing me softly on the cheek before letting me go.
I turned around; trying to see who else had witnessed the humiliation Rose had to endure. Behind me stood Felix, his hands still poised to pull me back if he had to. Aro was dialing the phone while Royce stood beside him, begging him not to do something. My mind was foggy, making it hard for me to process everything that was going on in the room.
Finally getting my wits about me, I urged Rose to walk behind the bar to get redressed and wandered over to where Aro had turned his back on Royce, trying to explain to the 911 operators that we needed an ambulance. My stomach dropped, and I spun back to see Felix kneeling on the floor beside Caius and checking for a pulse. I had done that. I had pummeled a man so fiercely that I'd almost killed him. Of course, I probably would have if Rose hadn't stopped me, but still, the reality of it all came crashing down on me. I also recognized that I'd beaten a very, very powerful man. Someone who I knew you didn't really want to make enemies with.
"Wanna tell me what the hell is going on?" Aro growled once he hung up the phone, glowering between Royce, a now dressed Rose and myself.
The three of us looked between us, and all started talking at once.
This only seemed to infuriate Aro more, saying he wanted each of us to go down to his office and give our statements one by one to him in his office. "I called the police. I'm sorry, Emmett, but Caius has been a longtime friend of mine, and even though he is still unconscious, I know he will press charges, no matter who was at fault. I imagine we only have a few minutes before the police arrive, so I'd like to speak with you first." Ending all discussion, he turned his back on us while directing Felix to stay with Caius until the ambulance arrived.
As soon as Aro was out the door, I grabbed Royce by the shirt and snarled, "You still owe me a fucking explanation for all of this." I wanted to scream and punch him until he told me why Rose was in that position in the first place, and let the fucker know what I thought about the prospect of doing time to save his ass, but I just didn't have that kind of time. The police were coming, and if I wanted Aro to help back me up, I had to give him reasons.
"Emmett, there's so much more than you know. Please don't be angry with Royce. I'm the one that was trying to help him out. I didn't have to say yes," Rose pleaded with me as we made our way down to Aro's office.
My mind was spinning. I wanted them both to tell me just what they'd gotten themselves into, but I knew it wasn't going to happen. "We'll talk about it all later. I need to try to worm my way out of spending the night in the slammer, so if you'll excuse me." I pushed open the door to Aro's office, leaving Royce and Rose standing on the other side of the slammed door.
Sitting heavily in the chair, I explained what I'd witnessed; Royce pleading with me to help Rose, and what I'd walked in on. Aro sat stoically behind his desk, fingers tented in front of his face, listening to the entire story before replying.
"I'm still baffled as to what Royce and Rose were doing with Caius, but since you don't know, I think we're finished for now. Please wait for the police and give them your statement. I'm not sure if I can save you from being charged, but I'll come bail you out as soon as I'm able."
Recognizing that I'd been dismissed, I stood to leave when he spoke up, "and thank you. For helping Rose. She's been through a lot in her life, and I appreciate you stepping in to help her. I'm not sure how many people would have."
I left the office with a curt nod and walked right into two officers about to knock on Aro's door.
"Are you Emmett McCarty?" the beefy guy on the right asked, raising an eyebrow at the blood splattered on my shirt.
I nodded again, knowing it was better to not speak until they gave me the go ahead, or read me my Miranda rights.
"Please have a seat while we speak with Mr. Vivenzio."
Rose and Royce were still seated around the table, each looking like terrified children in the way they cowered at the officer's entrance.
I kept my mouth shut; knowing whatever I was going to say to the pair wasn't probably going to help our situation. Instead, I sat at the far end of the table and awaited my fate.
"Emmett," Rose started, but I waved a dismissive hand in her direction. I was still full of adrenaline and a thousand questions, neither of which was a good combination with the mood of the room.
"I'm sorry," she finished, her voice wavering, and I could finally hear fragility behind her tough exterior.
We each were interviewed individually by the police in Aro's office, before I was cuffed and taken to the precinct to be processed. My attack, while provoked, couldn't exactly be called self-defense, and therefore they had to process me for assault, even though they said they understood my reasons.
True to his word, Aro bailed me out as soon as I'd pleaded not-guilty to the charge when the judge finally got around to my case.
"Thanks for bailing me out. I appreciate it, Aro."
"Do you remember when you started working for me?" He paused on the steps, ensuring I was listening to his words. "I told you that all of my employees are like family to me. After what you did for Rose, you more than exceeded that qualification."
The sun blinded me when we walked out of the decrepit building, and I was surprisingly relieved to see Rose standing across the street, wearing jeans and thick sweater that covered just about every inch of her. "She wanted you to hear the story from her and asked if she could come when I bailed you out." Aro walked off without waiting for my reply, just saying that he'd like to meet with me at the club later today.
"Hi," she said, looking just as tired as I felt. "I hope you didn't mind me tagging along? I figured I owed you some answers?"
After spending most of the morning in a holding cell, her question sounded ridiculously simple, and I couldn't hold back my sarcastic reply. "You think?"
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Her eyes welled with tears that slowly trickled down her cheeks, and she sputtered, "I'm sorry, I know I should have told you everything, but with Royce getting in deep, I didn't know who I could trust—"
She was rattling off things so quickly, I had to stop her. I didn't want to hear her story prattled off to me like a grocery list on the street corner. "Rose. Let's go somewhere more private, and you can tell me everything, okay?"
Her face suddenly cleared up, like the cloud had floated away, taking the rain with it. "Right, private." She stood up straight and asked, "Do you want to grab some coffee? My place isn't nearby, and I just really need to get all of this off my chest. Now that the police know everything, I can't really protect you by keeping quiet anymore."
"My apartment isn't too far. Is that okay?" After witnessing her on her knees last night, I wasn't sure how she'd feel about being alone with a man right now. Even if I wasn't a threat to her.
She cocked her head to the side, looking vaguely like my old cocker spaniel from childhood who would tilt his head as if trying to sort out what we were saying to him. "Your place? Sure." I couldn't believe how the mask snapped so quickly into place when she needed to pretend to be the tough girl. I wasn't sure what she'd seen in her life, but I had a hunch it hadn't been all Barbies and princesses.
The quick walk to my place was mostly silent; I gave her various tidbits about some of the more interesting shops in my neighborhood, but wasn't in the mood to chat. I was impatient to find out what was going on, and how I could help her.
"It's on the fourth floor. Sorry, but there's no elevator," I confessed as I opened the steel door that led up to my grungy loft apartment.
"That's okay. I live in a third floor walk-up, so no big deal." She shrugged, taking the steps two at a time.
Unlocking the three locks I had, I opened the door and was immediately relieved to see that it wasn't as messy as I thought. "Come on in. It's not much, but I don't have a roommate, so to me, that's worth its weight in gold." I was stalling, but couldn't help as I rattled off the quick tour, showing her areas I'd sectioned off as different rooms.
I was about to offer to make her some coffee when I caught her holding a photo of me with my mom and sister. "Is this your family?" Her voice was soft, bordering on reverent. Her fingertip moved across the photo, tracing the outline of each of us.
"Yeah, that was taken a few months before my mom died." I took the photo from her and placed it gently back on the shelf where she'd got it. It was one of my most treasured items, and I didn't really feel like sharing my family with Rose right now. "Sit? Do you want coffee?" I asked, pointing to my threadbare sofa.
"Please. A little sugar if you have it?" She sat gingerly on the corner, looking as if she was afraid to get too comfortable.
Fetching the coffee, I spoke to her from the kitchen, "It doesn't look like much, but that old thing is really comfortable." I wanted her to feel safe and her sitting tensely at the edge of my couch made me nervous.
After brewing two cups, I headed back in to see her curled up in the middle, her long legs tucked up beneath her, appearing much more at ease than a few moments ago.
"I have a lot to tell you," she blurted, taking the steaming cup I offered. "Some of it won't make much sense to you, but can you just let me finish the whole story before you interrupt? I'm just afraid if I don't get it all out for you now, I won't ever."
Sitting beside her, I told her that she could start whenever she was ready and I'd try to hold my tongue.
"When I was thirteen, my mom remarried a man named Joseph King. If the name sounds familiar, it's because he is—or rather was- Royce's dad."
"Wait. You and Royce are stepbrother and sister?" My mind reeled at that little gross tidbit, but from the glare she gave me, I remembered my vow of silence a beat too late.
After a dramatic sigh, she continued, "Yes, Royce is my stepbrother." Holding up her hand, she told me she knew what I was thinking, "We aren't, nor have we ever dated. He just happens to be a very overbearing brother, which for a long time was out of necessity." Her eyes examined my expression, waiting for the news to sink in.
My mouth opened again, wanting to ask so many questions, but I clamped it shut before she gave me the death glare again.
She settled further into the sofa, taking a long swallow from her coffee and continued. "It wasn't long after we moved in that his dad became interested in me." She raised her eyebrows when she said interested, and as much as I wanted her to expand on that notion, I knew it was probably better for my blood pressure to let it go.
"He started coming into my room the night of my fourteenth birthday and continued to abuse me for almost two years before Royce realized what was happening." She shrugged, as if this news was no big deal. "I don't blame him for not noticing. He was in high school and didn't have the time of day for his bratty new stepsister. The person who I really blame would be my mom, but she was so deep into the bottle by that time, she barely remembered I existed most days."
My heart was breaking and we hadn't even gotten through her teen years yet. I grasped her hand, squeezing it to let her know it was okay to keep going, and one I hoped she felt was one of support and kindness.
"Anyhow, Royce hit his dad over the head with a chair one night when he caught him coming into my room, which got the police involved. He'd only just turned eighteen a few weeks before. I bet he never imagined he'd be saddled with caring for a sister when he dreamed of his college days. But he was good to me. He stuck around, trying to keep my mom sober and me focused on finishing high school. Once I turned eighteen, we moved in to a tiny apartment. We survived. You know? " Her eyes sparkled with accomplishment, and I couldn't help but smile softly at her. "I'm still not sure how my mom got DCF to believe she didn't know about the abuse, but staying there was better than the foster system."
She'd had to grow up so quickly and endure so much.
I tugged her into my side, unable to not comfort her for a moment longer. She might barely call me a friend, but at this moment, I needed to show her that some men were worthy and could provide a shoulder when it was needed.
She snuggled into my side, and I was happy she was accepting my simple gesture.
"We moved to the city when Uncle Aro offered us both a job. We lived together out of necessity, and-" She shrugged, telling me that you did what you had to do when it came to living in Manhattan. She pulled away to look up at me through her eyes, free of her usual mask of makeup. "Royce wasn't always this way. He took care of me, helped get me into free support groups and into community college. I owe him my life."
My mind spiked with anger at the mention of Royce, even though her statement was contradicting everything I knew about the repulsive man. "Then what the fuck happened to him?" I couldn't hide my revulsion from the tone of my voice.
"Cocaine." I watched as she stood and started pacing. "First using, then dealing. When Caius asked him for help getting his business into the club, he asked me to be a spotter of sorts. We knew there were other people dealing, so between Demetri, Royce and I, we kept our eyes open to see who the players were. Then one by one, they stopped showing up at the club." She looked over her shoulder at me, appearing completely despondent over her actions, and I hated that I couldn't help her. "I never asked what had happened to them, but deep down, I know Caius is responsible for getting them out of the way." She knelt down, taking my hands in her own and begged me to understand why she helped him. "I never dealt. That was Demetri and Royce. I was only a spotter and to cause a distraction if someone was about to interrupt a deal. We used another channel on our earpieces to keep in touch when a big score was about to go down. Then Caius decided to convince Aro to allow him to use bouncers as voyeurs during his little sex parties, which helped to get rid of one more set of eyes on the deals."
My mind reeled; I'd been used as a pawn in Caius' game of drug lord chess. How had I been so stupid and unobservant? "Then why'd you get so upset when I'd go up to the secret room? I mean, if you were trying to get us all out of the way anyhow?"
"Because for the first time in a long time, there was someone who seemed to be a pretty decent guy. I didn't want you mixed up in all of it. And when you came to my rescue in the cooler, I just didn't want you involved, you know?"
At the mention of the cooler incident, I had to ask her about Royce. "Does he hit you often? I figured after what his dad did, you'd be a bit more unforgiving about being slapped around." I knew I sounded a bit flippant, but I couldn't stand men who hit women, especially when the woman still spoke highly of the person.
"Yeah." Her face fell at my words, and she rubbed the back of her neck, looking uncomfortable. "That was one of the few times he did that. I won't excuse his behavior, but when he gets high, he gets paranoid. When he saw me speaking to you at the bar, he thought I was going to rat us out and took a very firm hand at squashing any idea I had about it."
My heart ached for this strong but broken woman. I wanted to tell her to stop, that I couldn't take hearing any more about her tragic past, but I needed to hear why she'd traded herself to save Royce. "Okay, so how did you end up on the kneeling end of Caius' debauchery? What was so important that you traded that away for your brother?"
She blew out a hot breath of air, her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she began telling me all about how Royce had ended up missing fifty thousand dollars that he owed Caius. He didn't have the money, and Caius had threatened to have Royce killed unless he came up with what he owed him. Rose had walked in on the tail end of the confrontation and offered herself up to Caius' mercy in exchange for her brother's life.
"He was going to expunge Royce's debt for one night with you?" I was honestly baffled. I wasn't a girl by the hour kind of guy, but I had a feeling Rose wasn't exactly worth fifty thousand, no matter how amazing I thought she was.
"Ha! No." Rose laughed sardonically. "I was expected to spend the week with him. That is, until you came to my rescue."
I pulled her into my chest, unable to think about what Caius could have done to her over the course of a week. Pushing the thought from my mind, I had to find out where things stood. "So what now? You spoke with the police, are you being charged?"
She sighed heavily in my arms but to my relief, the DA wanted to talk to both her and Royce to see if they could use their testimony towards putting Caius away. She didn't know yet what sort of deal she might be able to get, but Aro had already offered for them to use his attorney, and Aro would help out financially any way he could.
"I may still have to go to jail, but hopefully, if I help the prosecution, it won't be for too long."
We talked for little bit before finally settling back into the sofa. I held Rose tight to my chest, still unable to imagine what her life had been like up until now. We were both silent for a while, and I could feel my lids getting heavy against the strain of not sleeping for the last thirty six hours.
"Would you do something for me?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, but my eyes were immediately alert and turned to see her snuggled into my chest, apparently drowsy herself.
Not caring what this meant, I leaned in and kissed her gently, and - if she could have read my mind- reverently. I didn't push, a mere peck, but she responded by wrapping her arms around my neck and tucking her face against my neck. She thanked me through her tears, and it wasn't until after I'd let her cry herself to sleep, that I found out she was crying because she was relieved to not have to hide anymore. She did say she wasn't going to become a mushy girl just because I kissed her, but she did ask if I was free for dinner after my meeting with Aro.
"Sure, I'll text you when I'm done. Where did you have in mind?"
"Max's on seventh? I am craving those pancakes something fierce."
That's it. Hope to have an epi written soon. Thanks for reading & would love your thoughts and comments if you feel like leaving me some.