"Ms. Monroe, may we have a word?" The professor's words startled Wil, who jumped slightly as she zipped her coat. Edward saw the disappointment and concern in the man's mind as he watched her turn to him, taking in her shaking hands and drawn expression. Glancing at her himself, he picked up the details the professor had missed – her elevated heart rate, the subtle red rims around her eyes – and felt a stab of sympathy for the woman that he tried to hide by turning away and reaching for his jacket.
"Yes, of course Dr. Jackson," Wil said calmly, her voice betraying the faintest quiver. He heard her reach into her pocket and assumed she was replacing her headpiece once again. Whatever call she was waiting for, it had her thoroughly distracted. He was waiting for a similar call, but he left the headpiece in his pocket. Both of the professors slipped into the rehearsal room, closing the door behind them.
"If I may ask – what happened out there?" Dr. Jackson asked, looking the young woman over again. He was concerned after her dreadful performance, more for her than for the recital itself, though Dr. Reinholdt was more focused on the success of the coming display. Her thoughts were nearly spiteful toward the young composer who might ruin their evening. Edward sighed softly enough that none of the humans would hear him, sliding on his gloves and leaning against the wall by the door. In truth, he was curious as well.
Wil sighed. "I lost my focus, I'm sorry," she told them. "I'll have myself together for Sunday, I promise." She said it firmly, and her hands clenched into fists by her side, as though she was trying to convince herself.
"Willa, we have placed a lot of faith in you and your fellow performers," Dr. Reinholdt said in a tone far more gentle than her thoughts. "If there is something going on outside of the recital that prevents you from performing, we understand and can modify the program."
"No!" Wil nearly shouted, taking a step forward. When she caught herself, she said in a calmer voice, "No, Dr. Reinholdt, Dr. Jackson. I will be fine on Sunday." The professors studied her for a moment before Dr. Jackson nodded, giving her a grandfatherly smile.
Clapping her on the shoulder, he said, "If something changes, let us know. Good night." The two of them shared a glance before letting themselves out. With a gust of breath, Wil sat in the nearest chair, placing her face in her hands. Not for the first time that evening, Edward tried to read her thoughts, and could barely make out a hum of fear and a stream of thought he could not make out. Predictably, once the door was shut, Wil lifted a hand to her ear and mumbled, "Check messages."
A look of disgust crossed her face as Edward heard the phone tell her there were none.
Sitting and dwelling would do her no good, and Edward needed to get going. Stepping away from the wall, he went to her and cleared his throat softly.
"Come on," he said with a nod toward the door. When she didn't rise, he offered her a hand, and she took it hesitantly. Once she was on her feet, she grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder. Holding the door for her, Edward watched her go, then followed her out of the building.
"You didn't need to wait for me," she told him. "Your performance was perfect – as always."
"I know," he smirked. The expression didn't last long, however, when he thought of his reasons for waiting. Just that morning, Alice had seen their visitor on the Dartmouth campus after days of being unable to see anything at all. They weren't sure when he had arrived, but she was certain he was already here…somewhere. "I don't like the thought of a young woman out here alone right now. It's not safe." He frowned, listening carefully for anything that was amiss, but there was only silence as they made their way through the parking lot. Everyone else had left; both professors had been pulling out of the lot as they got out of the building, and it had locked behind Edward when the door closed. There were a few other students some distance away, but no one was nearby. Still, he was tense, ready for a fight if it arose.
"So I've heard," Wil muttered, looking down. There were two cars left in the lot, his BMW and a car he had seen parked in the lot beside Wil's apartment building countless times. The lights flashed as they neared, confirming it was hers.
"See you Sunday, then." She stopped at the car door, setting her free hand on the handle. Edward nodded.
"Sunday," he agreed, turning to walk away. He didn't like turning his back to her; he didn't like her leaving his sight at all. The realizing disturbed him, though he should have been used to the duality of his thoughts by now. All the time they had spent together had endeared her to him – in a way. Familiarity, he supposed. That was all it could be.
Over his shoulder, he said quietly, "Be safe."
He strode quickly to her car, sliding in and turning it on smoothly. The engine hummed quietly, though he didn't pull out yet. Instead, he sat watching Wil as she got into her own car and turned it on. She pulled off her gloves, rubbing her hands together in front of the air vents for a moment, then leaned back in the seat.
The emotions that crossed her face enthralled him. She couldn't know that he was watching her; no human would be able to see her through the windshield. In her solitude, she seems to unravel. Grief, fear, confusion, and a deep set pain all washed over her as her public façade fell away, leaving her to her own thoughts. He knew he should turn away, let her be alone in such a private moment, but the glimpse into her mind was priceless to him. It reminded him so much of his own solitude, and he recognized many of her expressions from his sibling's minds in memories of him.
When her tears began to fall, Edward finally pulled his eyes away from her, staring instead at the hood of her car. Each one seemed to pierce him, and the urge to rush to her was nearly overwhelming. He wanted to wipe her tears from her cheeks and try to take the pain from her, add it to his own somehow so she would not need to shoulder such a burden.
"No," he whispered fiercely, taking his hands off of the steering wheel so that, when they flexed, they would not crush it. He remembered the last time he'd felt so strongly, the sound of the breaks squealing to try to stop the van, skidding of rubber on ice.
What had he done?
This was wrong. This was terribly, terribly wrong. Move on, Bella had told him, and he knew it was completely impossible, and yet here he was. No wonder Jasper had been avoiding him, blocking his thoughts from him so studiously. He must have seen it, felt it, long before now. A flash of anger lit through Edward; he should have warned him, should have said something.
No, nothing was happening. It was fine, it was fine. In a few days, he would be done with the recital, done with Willa Monroe and everything she represented. He had loosened up over their time together, and that had been his undoing; he would make it clear to her at the recital that he wanted nothing more to do with her, and then it would be over.
Stubborn vampire, Bella's voice taunted him. For the first time in a decade, he ignored her.
Wil's car began to move, and he watched it without another glance at her through the windshield. Slowly she backed out, then made her way out of the lot. He followed her to the street, then turned the opposite direction as she did, refusing to glance in the rearview mirror no matter how strong the urge was.
A tone chirped in his ear, followed by Alice's voice. "Behind Molly's," she said, her voice oddly flat. "Soon. Now. I just saw it."
Reaching over, he pulled up the nav system and tapped the preset for Molly's. Alice had loaded his nav with a number of different locations around town, though he'd never used any of them – until now. The car's cruise control took over. As he settled back in the seat, the phone rang.
"Edward," Alice said as soon as he picked it up, not giving him a chance to speak. "You don't have time to drive. Someone's going to see him, Edward, and if we show up too late it will get…complicated."
"Complicated?" he asked as his mind started to put the pieces together.
"National news complicated," she told him. "Photos. They won't make it to press, but they won't need to."
Edward sighed. No, they wouldn't need to get published to get attention. There were enough spies in enough places to make them go away, and to make sure everyone involved went away with them. He tapped the nav off and took control of the car again. "Who else is coming?"
"Em will get there first, and you won't be far behind. Rose will be there too, but she's going to run interference in the restaurant." Pulling into a gas station, he drove around the side and parked in the shadows, turning the car off. "I can't tell how he'll react; there may be a fight."
"Fine," Edward acknowledged as he got out of the car. "Thanks, Alice."
The car locked behind him as he touched his headpiece, ending the connection. He circled the car for a moment, for all appearances checking his tires, and when he knew no one was looking slipped behind the building and took off running.
Crossing town on foot was far more difficult than it was in most of the places they settled. Often, like Forks, they preferred areas with a great deal of forest and wilderness mingled in with a small town. The cover allowed them more freedom, but the urban set up was necessary for college. There were very few universities left without dense population around them, and even fewer in appropriate climates. Edward had to dart from alley to alley, changing direction frequently and stopping from time to time to avoid notice. It took most of his concentration to stay aware of all the minds nearby and take the best route around them.
By the time he got to Molly's, he was almost relieved to drop into the alley behind it and let his awareness collapse back down. It was impossible for him to get tired, but there was a mental drain to keeping so many minds in his own for so long.
"Dude, you missed it!" Emmett announced as Edward landed beside him. His brother clapped him on the back strongly. "That kid is slippery, Eddie. I almost had him pinned."
Edward glanced over, raising an eyebrow. "Almost?"
A sheepish look came over Emmett's face, and he gave a self-conscious shrug. "Yeah. I was just…distracted, thinking of Rosie in there with all those guys."
"Right," Edward agreed, trying to let his brother save face. "What happened?"
"He came out of Molly's just as we got here with some pretty piece of-"
"Emmett!" Rosalie chastised, striding up to them as a quick human pace and smacking the back of her husband's head. "God, have a little respect."
"Yes, babe," Emmett said, head hanging. "Anyway, Rosie put some moves on him, and he ditched the other woman real quick. I mean, who wouldn't, right? The chick took off in a huff and Rosie brought him back here…" He trailed off with an excited grin, and Edward could see the fight in his mind. The newcomer was quick, and seemed to somehow stay a step ahead of Emmett, though his brother was right – he did almost have him.
One thing bothered Edward, though. Alice had said he would be late if he drove, and that he would be just in time if he ran. What had changed?
A low growl echoed through the alley just as he had that thought, and the three of them froze, spinning toward the sound. At the far end of the alley, a silhouette crouched. For a moment, Edward listened, but he heard only a din of confused thought and bloodlust, easily ignored if he hadn't been looking for it.
Here was the newborn.
The nomad had chosen a beautiful young woman, a redhead that vaguely reminded Edward of Victoria so many years ago. Of course, her eyes were too red, the vibrant crimson of the newly changed, and her face was too angular, but the similarities were there. She wore a tore white tank top and a black leather miniskirt that had seen better days, patches stained a dull burgundy from blood spilled. As the three of them studied her, she snarled at them, and a single thought crossed her mind: Mine!
She rushed them with vicious speed, going straight for Emmett. She was possessive of the nomad they had chased off, and she had seen the fight; the same echoes of it were in her mind as Emmett's, from a slightly skewed perspective. When she lunged for Emmett, Rosalie growled, jumping and intercepting her.
"Get you bitch hands off of him!" she spat, throwing the newborn down the alley. The woman landed with a thunderous crash and rolled into a green garbage bin, leaving an impression. She rebounded quickly, though, and the three siblings descended on her.
It was a poorly matched fight. For all the speed and strength a newborn has, there was no way to beat three well practiced vampires, especially when they worked as a team. Edward whispered the newborn's moves right before she made them, and each blow that they blocked and stepped out of infuriated her further. Rosalie grabbed her arm at one point and spun her around, launching her toward Emmett, who caught her easily and pinned her in his massive arms. She fought, spat, kicked, and scratched at him, but he did not budge until she'd managed to place a swift kick back into his groin. He howled, releasing her to clutch at himself, but Edward was there to keep her from darting off. With a lunge, he landed on top of her, slamming her into the pavement.
"Rose!" he said with urgency as he held her down. He winced as she landed a kick to his leg, but managed to hold her as his sister sped over and grasped the woman's head.
It was over quickly, and the three of them stood and watched as the fire they'd lit in the garbage bin began to burn in earnest. The telltale purple plume of smoke wafted from the bin, and the three of them dipped their heads for a moment of respects. None of them liked what had to be done, but there was no denying the necessity.
Voices spoke in Edward's mind, a whisper of curiosity and concern.
"They're coming out to investigate," he told the others, and they both nodded.
"We can slip in the back," Rosalie suggested with a glance toward Molly's back door. "A lot of people saw me in there earlier, so it won't raise suspicion."
Emmett slipped an arm around his wife as Edward tried the door, which was conveniently unlocked. He heard no one behind it, so they slipped inside, and the door settled closed just as the first people started around the corner to investigate the noises they'd heard.
At least the newborn was dealt with, Edward decided as he made his way down the hallway. He ducked into the men's room when he passed it, going to a sink and splashing water on his face. There were smears of dirt on his cheeks that he rinsed away, then scrubbed his hands and dried them under an ancient electric blower.
The newborn was dealt with, but not the nomad. They would have to step everything up now, to find him and stop him before he decided to replace the companion he'd lost. Hopefully, tonight had done away with the gruesome visions of Alice's, though. If they were lucky, they could now deal with the situation quietly.
Why did things have to be so complicated?
Edward sighed and left the men's room, the door shutting firmly behind him.