II. Kyrie eleison
Head bowed, his knees sink into the velvet cushion behind the second pew.
The nave is now empty of its weekday visitors. Three hours have passed since the last morning Mass, and like Carlisle said, it's vacation time for many.
For Edward, it's not empty at all. Instead, the space is filled with color and sound.
The lights are low, the chandeliers above on their dimmest setting. Long shadows dance across the aisles, misshapen dark images of the saints that line the walls. Ahead, however, like a saving beacon, the gilded reredos above the altar shines in the spotlights, casting a rainbow of colors that only his eyes can see. For a long moment, Edward's gaze is trapped by the distracting refraction of gold and mosaic.
Fingering the simple cross that adorns his chest, he closes his eyes and he listens to the ringing taps of sprinkling rain against the slate tiles overhead. Unlike those around him, his mind is vast, his faculties limitless. Edward hears each drop, individual amongst all others. He probably could count them if he chose.
Alone and in the quiet reverence of the empty church, Edward finally finds some measure of solace. The voices inside his head and behind the stone walls are now nothing more than whispers, and for a few brief moments, he can think about who he is and more importantly, what he is not. Here, out in the open, not inside the wooden confessional, is where he prays his own prayers, where he admits the sins he cannot vocalize.
A thousand faces flicker. A thousand voices. A thousand pleas and a thousand deaths. Innocent and guilty, woman and man, young and old, they're all buried there beneath his skin, and their lifeless hearts thump inside his silent chest.
For all time and all ages, they are preserved, frozen in the perfect, crystalline memory of their killer.
Killer. Murderer. Slaughterer. A walking demon myth. Edward is all of these things, and the weight he now bears – the weight of the unforgivable and condemned – is their retribution.
His lips murmur the lines, quietly and swiftly running through the years. In the back of his mind, he hears his own voice say that all sins are forgivable, but that his throat still burns and that venom still drips from his teeth is proof that absolution is not for the soulless.
Edward smiles before he looks up.
"Seth," he answers, shaking away from his silent self-damnation. "You're early."
The boy grins and for a moment, it's full of life and the happiness and naiveté of youth. Like Carlisle, his mind is one of few that are pure and kind of heart. He sees Edward as not only his confessor and teacher of alcolytic duties, but as something of a mentor and friend – albeit older – as well.
That's a rarity for Edward, as most instinctively shy away from casual interaction. Unwilling to acknowledge millennia of human evolution, they resign the natural, inborn drive to escape danger as merely a reaction to the perceived disparity caused by his station. A deep, unfamiliar warmth surges at the notion of a… friend.
"Don't tell me you rode here on that skateboard," he admonishes, nodding toward the colorful board beneath the boy's bony arms. Of course he did, but Edward plays his part with a chuckle.
"Yep. Mom wasn't too happy, but she finally said okay since she had to run to the hospital."
"How's your sister?"
Seth looks down and the toe of his tennis shoe scuffs against the stone floor. His thoughts bloom with the chill and discomfort of the unknown. His grin disappears and in its place is the frown of the aged and the forlorn.
"That bad?" Edward asks softly, gently resting his hand on Seth's narrow shoulder. Surprisingly – or perhaps, unsurprisingly – the boy doesn't flinch away. If anything, he leans, searching for comfort and strength.
"Doc says maybe next week she can come home for a while. She's, I don't know, she's tired." Seth looks up at Edward with wide, glassy eyes. "Dad's gone again, too. He went south to try to find a job. Bills, you know."
That last line is spoken in a voice much older than his mere fourteen years. It reminds Edward of that long ago decade of breadlines and stamps and of the charismatic man in a wheelchair who promised to end it all.
Edward doesn't say that all will be well or any of the shallow things that young priests say to assuage sorrow and worry. Instead, his grip tightens with controlled precision around Seth's shoulder and he nods in quiet empathy. He, too, knows the fear and pain of loss. As they light a candle and watch the wax slowly pool, liquid and dark, Seth's demeanor relaxes and his thoughts spin out to better places. Edward's, on the other hand, drown in the heat of the melted paraffin and turn inward once again.
Later, they walk side by side toward the sacristy. Seth puffs a hot breath of air, aimed at his too-long black bangs. An arm's length away, Edward can still feel the heat from his lungs, and even though he fed only days before, he purposefully thinks of anything and everything but the thump of the boy's heart and the candy-like scent of the blood that runs through his veins.
Distracting him from his remembrance, Seth muses, "Think Father Carlisle will let me help out in the shelter this year? Mom said I could."
"I believe so," Edward replies, looking high above their heads through the painted glass, grateful for distraction. He knows that Carlisle has already decided, but he doesn't say this, sensing that it will mean more coming from the eldest priest. But it's humbling that despite Seth's own turmoil, this fragile human child still thinks of others first. Always others.
Edward smiles. "They're short on staff this season. Want to go ask him now?"
The moment they walk through the swinging doors, Edward knows that something is wrong.
So very, very wrong.
For as soon as Edward inhales a breath, expecting the pungency of meatloaf, spices, and the reek of the streets, his nostrils flare. Venom swamps his mouth, running down his throat in a torrential river of acid and fire.
A perfume like he's never smelled before taints the air and floods his lungs. His throat tightens, flaring to life. Deep down in the pit of his stomach, the river of flowing venom begins to boil and ignite, and its flames climb his throat to the tip of his tongue. It feels as though he's breathing Hell, and his body locks down, his mind emptying of thought.
All he can think about is finding the source of this luscious smell and devouring it with unimaginable brutality.
Vaguely, Edward recognizes the voice. But he inhales again, and it's lost.
"Edward! Seth, my boy! Come on over!"
Edward's eyes scan the room, a predator's gaze flitting from prey to prey, searching for its mark. There are no more than two dozen people in the room, all of whom he's met before. His shoulders tense and flex, rolling beneath black fabric. Edward could strike them all down in no more than thirty seconds.
"Father Edward? Are you okay?"
Mechanical in its motion, Edward's head turns, stone grating against stone. The boy's lips are moving, but sound doesn't register. When a low growl tumbles from Edward's lips, Seth's eyes widen and his feet propel him backward.
Edward flinches when he sees those innocent eyes. They startle him, and the barrage of the boy's questioning thoughts stills him from reaching forth. Swallowing acid, Edward merely nods, not trusting the solidity of his voice, and he balls his fists to contain the claws.
Seth's head tilts in confusion, but before he has time to ask again, Carlisle abruptly interrupts, slapping Edward across the shoulder. Even though it could never cause him pain, the impact is jarring, and coupled with Seth's worry, some measure of cogency returns.
Edward stops breathing.
"I hear you and Seth have been talking. If you think he's okay to volunteer here in the dining area… I guess that's good enough for me. His mom okayed it Sunday." Carlisle winks, teasing Seth for all he's worth.
How Carlisle doesn't see the raging creature in front of him, Edward doesn't know.
There's a long pause, and Carlisle looks to him for response. Edward doesn't want to breathe, but he can't stand the thought of Seth's fear in Carlisle as well.
"He'll be fine," Edward finally grates. The push of air through his lungs burns his tongue, nearly wiping away the remaining threads of sanity to which he holds so dear.
Still as if nothing at all is amiss, Carlisle grins a wide, indulgent grin and turns. "All right then, it's settled," he says to Seth. "Why don't you go on and help Jake out with the dishes."
They watch instantaneous joy spread across the boy's sun-kissed face as he jumps toward the kitchen. Edward marvels as Seth's thoughts immediately shun his prior disquiet, forgetting Edward's strange countenance and behavior. He believes that he saw something else. Everything is forgotten in the way humans always file away the unpleasant.
"Seth's a true blessing." Carlisle sighs and smoothes the front of his dark waistcoat. Through the haze of bloodlust, Edward hears gentle adoration, something so pure and so exceptional that it momentarily stuns him. "I've never seen such a kind soul."
"I know," Edward manages, fighting back another wave of fire. It's dampened now that he no longer breathes, but he needs to escape this room so that he can kill. He needs to hunt, to do something to douse these flames that he doesn't understand. Everyone in this room is at risk, and Edward can't bear the consequences if he were to slip now after so many decades – here, of all places.
With what little air he has left, he adds, "He's a good kid."
Carlisle chuckles. "He's still a boy, though. I think he's already got eyes for our other new volunteer." He laughs again, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Can't say I blame him. Bella's a catch. Forty years ago, I might have given up the cloth for a girl like her."
Following the line of Carlisle's gnarled forefinger, Edward's head slowly swivels, his mind instantly processing something very significant. There's someone here he didn't hear, someone who he would not have known was present had Carlisle not spoken.
His eyes catch immediately.
Across the room, there is a pale girl he's never seen before. Standing close to the door and busy serving one of the aged, she doesn't notice the scrutiny she's being paid.
Slight of build and smiling softly, this Bella is quietly beautiful, and without thought, he takes her in, cataloging. With flawless recall, he memorizes every last detail, from the long waves of dark hair that frame her face to the inward curve at her waist hidden by a kitchen apron to the lines of slender, feminine legs and thighs.
The voices in the room turn down into a low clamor, and Edward is not sure why, but his eyes won't leave her form. It's almost as though his vision is paralyzed, caught by something he can't comprehend, and there's a tug somewhere deep inside.
Only vaguely is Edward aware that the burning in his throat is intensifying again and that venom is seeping into his mouth in anticipation. But the longer he stares, the more he burns, and he hasn't even taken another breath.
"Now there's something I didn't think I'd see," Carlisle murmurs. He eyes Edward and laughs. "She's sucked you in, too. You be careful, son. Don't forget your vows over that one."
As if summoned somehow, Bella abruptly looks up. Seeing Carlisle, she waves and her teeth flash bright white. When her surprised gaze slides left and lands on him, Edward's body freezes. In his ears, there is a sudden stampede of wet, gurgling claps – quickened heartbeats – and the slosh of oh-so-perfect blood gushing through arteries and valves. The muscles in his throat twitch in demand, teasing for air, as if they know.
Automatically, speeding through a dozen prayers, Edward clutches the cross around his neck, but neither it nor God is any match for his demons.
Edward's fist closes, pulverizing metal, as his lungs betray him and suck in the most glorious scent he's ever smelled. It's perfect, and now that he knows his prey, bloodlust rages, overtaking all sensibility. Speech or clarity is impossible.
In less time than he can blink, everything Edward has built up shatters into a million pieces of raw hunger, abolishing his attempts at humanity and repentance. As his golden eyes blacken to the darkest night, his last centuries mean nothing. His restraint means nothing. The guilt he harbors is forgotten and meaningless.
In this moment, he is violence. His monster has awoken.
And the only thing he can do is run.