24601

Three hundred forty-seven.

Edward kept count.

But he had three years; I had ninety, and well, I never cared to add mine up.

Sure, I remember them. I remember them all. And I’ve gone back for as many as I can. Gone to the libraries, first with the newspapers themselves, wearing gloves even though it’s been a century since my fingers had oil, then with the microfiche machines, scrolling page after page with the light in my eye. And then nowadays it’s all on computer. Portable Document Format. Just type in what you’re looking for, see what comes up.

15 August 1922. Corpus Christi. Marianne Flanders, age 25.
27 April 1897. Flagstaff. Joseph Burnie, age 50.
6 February 1912. Memphis. Caleb O’Toole, age 34.

I find out what I’m able. Who they were, what they did. All those things you don’t know when you’re killing a body, when all of them is fear, sinew singing in agony waiting for the pain to go away. The things you don’t find out even as the fear creeps into you, and you’re scared out of your mind right along with them.

You don’t learn names or occupations. You don’t learn survivors.

So I fix that. I keep it in a notebook, what I find. Family. Friends. Ages. Children.

One by one.

Piece by piece.

Edward thinks it’s stupid, and he’s got no problem telling me. Bygones be bygones, he says. We’re better men, now. But, deep down, I know he thinks he’s a better man because his three hundred forty-seven deserved to die.

Me? I reckon killing is killing, and my bother can tell himself any fairytale he wants.

He thinks he knows people. Figures that getting a fleeting thought tells you all you need to know. Good or bad? Smart or dumb? Innocent or guilty? It’s all there. And the others let him think that. Nobody ever asked if maybe he couldn’t be sure. They all just let him be; Edward the genius; Edward who knows everything. Fed into his infernal idea that you can know a body just by knowing his thoughts.

And that’s why the girl with her silent mind set his whole world all kittywompus.

It was funny, watching him. Running to her bedroom at night, telling us he was just going to watch her sleep. Emmett teased him about going to see her dressing, but I knew that wasn’t his thing. Edward, he’s so caught up in other people’s heads, he’s never gave any time to figuring out his own. I figure if he knew attraction for what it were, maybe he would’ve thought about seeing her naked. But he was confused, and a mundane thing like sex wasn’t even near his mind.

A silly, average, unbelievably human little girl, and she goes and does the one thing for Edward that couldn’t a one of us manage.

Make him think.

He was jealous of me that February. Kept hovering around me like a child without his mama, wringing his hands and whining about how he couldn’t tell anything about her. Was she angry? Was she happy? What did I feel?

I told him what I felt wasn’t his business. And that if he wanted it to be his business, he’d best ask.

Her.

Not me.

And the funny thing was, he did. Oh, there was the bit in Phoenix with that bastard good-for-nothing tracker. But even then, it was her who came up with the idea to outsmart him by going home in the first place.

For once, Edward didn’t know it all. It was good for him.

He hated it.

We talked about it that summer. She all but lived at our house, stomping around in her big cast until Carlisle took it off partway through July. The only time she wouldn’t stay was when we had to go hunt, so it was after a herd of elk and a cougar that I even brought it up.

I was part and parcel to the problem, I thought, since it was my wife that told her about how we get made. But that’s Alice; she doesn’t hold secrets like Edward and I do. And even though Edward hollered like a baby with a stubbed toe when he found out, I knew Alice was right in telling. Because the other problem with Edward Knows It All is that he thinks that means he’s Edward Controls It All, too.

Now pissing and moaning about Alice is going to irritate me on a normal day, and it’s going to irritate me even more when the boy is wrong. So I pressed him about it.

Alice had no right to say it, he said. Bella had no business knowing.

No business knowing? If she was going to love him?

He went quiet.

Did I really think she loved him? he said at last.

Well, he did have a point. Bella Swan, she loved the idea of Edward. She loved the exotic. She loved that we were all beautiful. She loved that we were fast. She loved that we were dangerous.

But she didn’t see Edward any clearer than he saw her.

So that was how we got to a birthday party, in the waxing days of September. How we got to a stubborn girl who wouldn’t accept a gift, and how we got to a CD in place of diamonds or something else that Edward Know It All would’ve bought before his world got messed with and he had to learn to ask.

That was how we got to a paper cut.

That was how we got to me.

Now, I could say a lot of things about that day. The way a human’s blood smells on the air, the way your whole body goes tight. The way it wasn’t just me, but all of them, Edward especially. When he asked, I told him I didn’t know if I’d had a singer. I told him I couldn’t tell the difference. Well that day, I knew the difference, because it was Edward screaming to my body, more than any of them.

Desire.

Heat.

Craving.

Pumping from everywhere, but most importantly pumping from him.

I might have stood it, if it hadn’t been for him.

In that moment, he wasn’t Edward Knows It All. He was Edward The Fool, denying everything about who he was when every nerve cried out to him that this was right, and this was perfect, and this was so much a better idea than “leave her alone.” Everything in that boy’s body gave mine one message:

Attack.

And Edward The Fool, the one who so willingly deprived himself of it all stood firmly in my way.

The outside air was good. Let me get my own bearings. Let me avoid the kitchen, and the living room, and the bit that was the silent girl who drove my brother crazy. Let me remember Edward The Fool as Edward My Brother. The confused one.

The one who that girl forced to think.

Maybe forty years ago, Carlisle gave me a book. Now, I was never a reader, before I came to the Cullens. If Edward asks about it, or Alice, sometimes I blame it on the way I grew up. Emmett, he’s the same. Raised where there wasn’t time for being idle. There were the hogs to kill, and the cattle to drive, and there wasn’t use in sitting around with your nose in some fairytale in the midst of all that work to be done.

And then there was the human war, and then the vampire war, and then the running, and the courting Alice, and well, my life was pretty full. So I was never a reader until the day Carlisle shoved a book in my hands. I thought it was going to be the Bible, which tells you how much I didn’t know Carlisle back then. Oh, he’s got religion. More than he ought to, I think. Keeps him from trusting that he’s okay, because he’s always waiting to get sent to Hell just for walking around. But he carries that cross of his all quiet; he’s not in anybody’s business about it. You want to read a Bible, he’s got them, but if he’s giving you a book? It’s more than that.

The book was in French, and I couldn’t so much as read the title. And I just looked at him, and even though he doesn’t have an ounce of Edward’s gift, I knew he knew my thinking, ’cause he just smiled and said, “You’ll master the French.”

It took ten years. Alice and Edward, they’re the ones who go on in Tibetan and Czech, talking in another language just because. Me, I’ve always figured English was good enough for everybody around, and it was more than enough for me. Don’t need to know a language unless I’m going to need to use it.

Carlisle, he was going to make me need to use it.

So Alice taught me a little, and Esme taught me some more. And a lot of it I just sat on my own, with a dictionary, going through the story page by page. It took me a year to read it, and I still couldn’t read it to you aloud, but I got it. I got the yellow passport. I got the bishop giving the thief more silver. I got the undercover, because isn’t that what we’re all doing? Pretending to run a factory and do good in the world when deep down we’re all scarred by what we’ve done before.

And I got the part I think Carlisle wanted me to get. The part where he gives up the fake name. The part where he says, Yes, I am the criminal. The part where he owns what he’s done, and becomes the hero anyway.

Isabella Swan, all Edward ever let her see was the fake name and the factory owner. She didn’t see the thieves, or the yellow passports. But there was a part of me, six months ago, when Edward Knows It All stood at the head of our table, carrying on about how she wasn’t safe and how we had to Go with a capital G, that thought maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing, what happened. That our leaving would only let her live in the world with no thieves some more.

If we’d stayed, she might have kept him asking questions, not as Edward Knows It All, but just as Edward. She might have seen the yellow passports and she might have known us for who we really were.

She might even have grown to understand the three hundred forty-seven.

But we Went. All the way across the country. I worked on the list, while we ran from Bella and Edward ran from himself. Alice ducked down to Mississippi, and me, I just kept searching. At Cornell. At Dartmouth. In ProQuest and Lexxis-Nexus.

23 July 1934. Greensboro. Catherine MacLeod, age 23.
30 November 1926. Augusta. Daniel Joffrey, age 54.
6 March 1915. Baltimore. Sophie Zuckerman, age 49.

Edward always asked me if the list meant I’m sorry.

I said the list means I’m honest.

The thing that Edward can’t admit is that you don’t let go of who you are. That what you have to do is let somebody know about the three hundred forty-seven. That what you have to do is let them accept you, even though they’ve seen your list.

What my brother ran from wasn’t a girl. He didn’t run to keep her safe. He ran from having to tell. He ran from finally having to be someone to someone else.

He ran from being the hero.

But I know how to keep the list, how to live in the knowledge of what you did and who you are, and be someone anyway.

I know how not to run.

Because in the end, the measure isn’t what you did, or whether they were crooks or not. It isn’t three hundred forty-seven, and it isn’t a list of names and dates.

The measure of who you are is whether you can look another man in the eye and say, “Yes, I am the criminal.”

So when Alice grabs me, and tells me what happens, when she flies out the door for a bush plane and a helicopter to take her back to Washington, I know what I’m to do.

The notebook goes with me everywhere, and it’s in my bedroom here in Denali. It takes me only a second to find it.

14 May 1914. Tallahassee. Morgan Davies, age 37

is the last entry.

I pick up a pen, and add:

16 March 2006. Forks. Isabella Swan, age 18.

Because what started at a birthday party ended at a cliff.

Because I was the beginning.

Because I am He.

Yes, I am the criminal.

§ 2 Responses to 24601"

  • D. Poe says:

    Wow!
    Somehow I never thought about this aspect of the story, despite having read it a million times. I love Jasper’s voice here. You truly captured something very special. In some ways, his voice reminds me of Mal on Firefly–also a soldier.
    Well done!

    • giselle says:

      How interesting! Maybe I was accidentally channeling a little Mal–I love Firefly.

      And yes–how Jasper felt about the whole thing has always fascinated me. The form of this fic (and the fact that I wrote it at the wire) meant I took a little different tack than I might have otherwise…I would really like to dive into what his state was like that night as he hit the cool air and regained his senses. What did his apology to Edward look like? What was their relationship like afterward?

      These are the things that keep me coming back to write Twific…

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