Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 1

The Weight of the World vs The Weight of Words

At ten to five Edward's alarm clock began to wail, it's obnoxious screeching rousing him from a dead sleep instantly as his arm shot out from under the blanket and knocked it off the nightstand. His bedroom was still dark, the sun not yet cresting the horizon as he rolled over with a groan, tossing his arms over his face and exhaustedly savoring the few minutes of silence he'd been awarded by the clattering of the clock to the floor. It didn't last as long as the snooze function, though; it never did.

"Tango," he grunted, pushing against the giant white lab that had jumped up on the bed just moments after hearing the alarm; always ready and willing to respond to the deafening tones they heard daily. "Get lost will ya?"

Tango whined and grabbed the edge of the blanket in his muzzle, dragging it to the bottom of the bed and onto the floor as he hopped off with a resounding thud. Not a minute later the alarm's electronic bleats began shrilling yet again. Edward rolled to pick it up off the floor and shut it off, placing it back upon the nightstand before rising from the bed completely and stretching his tired muscles.

The scent of coffee, made so strong it could jumpstart even the weariest of bodies and minds into a state of alertness, wafted up the stairs. He couldn't remember the last time he'd tasted a cup of coffee that wasn't brewed with a triple load of grinds. The liquid he poured into his mug resembled dirty motor oil more closely than the caffeinated beverage he'd known in his days of youth.

Edward opened his back door to let Tango out into the yard and walked out onto the small deck, wearing nothing but the pair of basketball shorts he'd slept in. The balmy July morning air, thick with fog, laid heavily against his bare skin and attempted to coat him in the same moist dew it had settled upon everything surrounding him during the night. He closed his eyes momentarily and deeply inhaled the fresh, albeit humid, air mixed with the pungent smell of his morning brew. He'd barely gotten a chance to release his breath when his eyes snapped back open at the sound of Tango digging in the landscaping — again.

"Hey! Get outta there ya big oaf," he snapped, waving his arm at the dog wildly while keeping his voice down so as not to disturb his still slumbering neighbors. No one should have to be up before the crack of dawn on a Saturday — at least no one who didn't have to work that day.

"Your Nana's gonna whoop your ass if you keep that up," he grumbled as Tango came trotting up to him, tongue hanging out of a goofy canine grin that only his mother and Edward could love.

He downed the rest of his coffee and turned to head back in the house, Tango hot on his heels. Back in the kitchen, he filled Tango's bowls with fresh water and breakfast before refilling his mug and grabbing his cordless phone from the charger. As he listened to the phone ringing, he rinsed his dishes from the previous night and loaded them into the dishwasher.

"Morning sunshine!" his voice sang with a teasing tone and false cheer as a muffled grunt resembling a "hello" filtered across the line. "Get your butt outta bed, bro. You're gonna get your ass suspended if you're late one more time this month."

"No I won't," Emmett scoffed groggily, "I'm the Chief's kid. He ain't gonna suspend me."

"Don't test Pops, Em. He'll do it and he's already warned you once."

Edward's gentle warning was met only with a poorly concealed snort and he sighed, thinking his little brother would one day realize that being the Chief's kid didn't make you untouchable. If anything, it cast you in a spotlight to be made an example of. "Hey speaking of warnings, it's your turn to stock the kitchen at the house. Better get movin' if you're gonna make it to the market and work on time."

"Shiiiit," Emmett groaned, drawing out the word as he rubbed a hand over his face. "Bro, I'll pay you if you do it. Please? I freakin' hate goin' food shoppin'. Rosie always does it and I forgot to ask her to go for me yesterday."

Edward rolled his eyes as he chugged a few sips of coffee and dumped the rest down the drain. "Emmett, one of these days you're going to have to grow up and be a responsible adult. You got a kid on the way, man. I'll go this time, but it's the last time I'm doing this shit for you, got it?"

"Yeah, got it, bro. I'll pay your part when I get there. Any chance I can get you to throw my turnout gear in the wash when you get there? Those things smell like ass," Em asked with a smile in his voice.

Edward slammed the dishwasher door shut, gritting his teeth as he shook his head and breathed deeply through his nose. It wasn't enough to contain his irritation, however. He was sick and tired of constantly being walked all over by his younger siblings.

"What the fuck, Emmett! You've been off for two goddamn days now, why didn't you do that shit while you were off? What the fuck are you gonna wear if we get called to a fire?"

"Your old gear? It's still at the station right?" he proceeded hesitantly, knowing it was only quarter after five in the morning and he'd already pushed his eldest brother over the edge. That wasn't really the best way to start a day in which they'd be spending a full twenty four hours together nonstop.

Edward rubbed circles on his temples, reminding himself over and over again that this was his baby brother and it was his duty to make sure he was taken care of. And part of taking care of him meant taking care of his turnout gear so it'd protect him when it needed to on a call.

"You're a pain in my ass, Em. You're lucky we're blood related or I would have hosed you by now...not saying I won't," Edward grumped as he climbs the stairs towards the shower.

" that a yes? You'll wash my gear?" he asked, holding in his victory punch until he received confirmation.

"Sure...after I let Tango piss all over it, ya lazy shit," Edward smirked, though in the back of his mind it really didn't seem like all that bad of an idea.

"Thanks, bro...but don't let..."

"Yeah, yeah...I gotta go," Edward cut him off, not wanting to hear his whining that would inevitably turn into him asking for yet another favor before six am.

"Pick Jasper up on your way in since I won't be able to do it now. His car's in the shop again and Alice has to work today, and I swear to God, Emmett, be on time or I will hose your ass!" he warned before hanging up the phone.

As Edward stood under the steaming spray of the shower, he wondered if his brothers would ever stop acting like irresponsible little kids. He often felt like their second father, always having to do everything for them and try to keep them in line. His shoulders sagged with the realization that if anything ever happened to both him and their father while on the job, his brothers would be tossed into the deep end of the swimming pool without so much as a pair of kiddie swimmies to share to help keep them both afloat.

At twenty nine, Edward was a completely independent, responsible adult. He owned a new Toyota Tundra crew cab pick-up truck and his own home - a nice little three bedroom colonial on a quiet tree lined street, complete with a wrap around privacy fence and neatly manicured lawn. He'd scraped by and saved every penny he'd earned for years, working overtime as often as he could to buy the home he'd hoped to one day fill with a family of his own - something which had yet to happen.

But it would, when he met the right person and the timing was right — at least that's what he always told himself. And when it did, he'd be ready. He was financially secure, his mortgage was just a few years short of being paid off, and his savings account had finally been built back up after the cringe worthy hit it had taken in helping Emmett and Rose buy their townhome a year ago.

It wasn't the only hit his savings account had taken over the years either.

Three years prior, he'd forked out over four grand to keep Jasper's Mustang from being repossessed — only for him to again not make the payments six months later and have it taken in the middle of the night from his and Alice's apartment parking lot. After that, it was impossible for Jas to get another loan for a car without having an astronomically high interest rate on top of needing a surreal down payment, so Edward and their parents went in together and bought him a decent pre-owned car; which he'd, in turn, beaten to shit over the years.

At twenty-six and twenty-two, Jasper and Emmett were two of the most irresponsible people Edward had ever known. He often found himself wondering how they were both settled down and married, yet, practically still living the lives of bachelors. It was infrequent, mainly only for major sports events, that Edward ever joined his station brothers for drinks at the bar on their nights off, but it had been the weekly routine for his siblings and Emmett's wife for what seemed like a lifetime. The only thing that had changed over the years was that Rosalie had currently been exchanging her customary Jack & Cokes for just plain soda.

As he got dressed, donning the work uniform he'd ironed the night before, he wondered how long it would take for Emmett and Rosalie's ship to sink after his niece or nephew was born.

On his way out of his house, Edward made sure all the lights and the coffee pot were turned off and grabbed his spare gear bag from the garage. He tossed it into the bed of the truck and opened the driver's side door for Tango, who promptly and proudly took his shotgun seat beside Edward.

"You ready, boy?" he asked as he started up the truck. He reached over to rub the top of his head playfully, earning a happy bark as his wagging tail thumped against the truck door. "Maybe we should hose you down along with your Uncle Emmett, Tango, cause you stink, buddy."

Edward laughed as Tango rumbled out a groan while he backed the truck out of the driveway. It was a short trip to the market and Tango let his ears and jowls flap in the wind the entire way. It was an even shorter trip inside the store as Edward methodically worked his way up and down all the aisles, grabbing everything the station would need for the week and making sure not to forget the two giant tubs of Folgers coffee grinds. He only made it three steps away before he turned around to grab a third one — just to be on the safe side.

By the time he made it to the station house, it was just after six-thirty and the sun was already beginning to shine brightly as the last remnants of the night's fog dissipated. He made his way toward the building, Tango running circles around his legs in excitement. The bay door had barely opened before Cash, Edward's best friend's black lab and collie mix, squeezed himself out from underneath it. The two dogs chased each other around the parking lot, barking up a storm and jumping all over each other playfully. Edward chuckled, shaking his head at them as he headed toward the kitchen, his arms weighed down with the bags of a cart-full of purchases.

"Hey Chief, you're up early."

He was surprised to see his father standing in the kitchen, watching sludge even stronger than Edward's ooze into a coffee pot intently, as if watching it would make it brew faster.

If Edward's brew could put hair on your chest, Carlisle's could burn it off with the heartburn you'd inevitably get after just three sips.

"Late's more like it," Carlisle sighed, turning to lean against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest. "Car spun off the road and flipped into a ditch just after four this morning. We just got back from the scene about twenty minutes ago. Took us an hour and a half to extricate the vics. I don't think a one of us has gotten more than forty minutes of sleep in the last twenty-four."

Edward nodded as he listened, moving around the kitchen efficiently as he put everything away and wondered what kind of shift his crew would have. If it was anything close to what it sounded like the guys getting ready to come off shift just had, he was grateful for the solid ten hours of sleep he'd managed to get the previous night.

"Listen, I hate to ask this of you with how many shifts you've been pulling recently, but do you think you can cover for Tyler tomorrow and I'll have Eric cover you Monday?" Carlisle asked hesitantly, hating that he was working his son half to death, but knowing he was the only reliable one to ask at the moment. "I'll work something out for his shifts for the remainder of the month..."

"Rest of the month?" Edward interrupted, halting in the middle of the kitchen and facing his father with furrowed brows.

"Yeah, he slipped off a the rung of a ladder propped against a building last night and dislocated his shoulder. He'll be out for the next three weeks at least, but he's lucky that was the only injury he sustained from it aside from a few minor bumps and bruises. He had to be at least seven feet up in the air when he fell straight down onto the concrete," Carlisle nodded as he spoke, scratching his two day old stubble.

"Sure, I'll cover tomorrow. And if you can't get anyone else to cover his other shifts I'll cover them as well...on one condition," Edward smirked as he quirked a brow at his father and leaned back against the counter across from him.

"What's the condition?" Carlisle asked, unable to keep his amused smile at bay.

"You give me the last three weeks of August off."

A grin made its way across his face as Carlisle laughed as he turned to pour himself a cup of tar, shaking his head as he responded.

"I'd have to anyhow sometime soon because you're approaching your PTO cap...that is unless you were planning on cashing in some of those hours?" he asked with concern. He'd sincerely rather Edward took the much needed break than cash in his vacation hours. Carlisle feared that if he kept pulling such grueling hours, the exhaustion and stress would take its toll on his ability to make sound decisions. The last thing he needed was to have his first born son get hurt on the job because he'd placed himself in increased danger with an err in judgment.

"Not a fat chance in hell," Edward laughed, shaking his head incredulously.

"I've been working an average of twenty-plus shifts a month for the last six months running when I should've only been pulling thirteen to fifteen. Sometimes I wonder why I even bought a house when it feels like I live here most of the time anyway."

While Edward had returned to putting away the groceries, he'd missed the pained look on his father's face with his words. Carlisle had known he'd been working way too many shifts, but he hadn't realized it had been for so long. It was no wonder the boy hadn't found himself a nice woman to settle down with when he was working practically twenty-four-seven. He was certain that on the few days Edward managed to not be at the station, he was tending to his home and running errands that had been neglected during his absence.

He often wondered how he and his wife had raised such a hard working, responsible, and down to Earth kid when his brothers were his complete polar opposite.

"I hadn't realized it's been that long you've been working such an overloaded schedule," Carlisle said as he crossed the kitchen and gripped the back of Edward's neck. "Tomorrow is the only shift I'll ask you to cover. Your brothers and I owe you a few dozen and so does everyone else around here so as soon as Tyler's cleared to come back, you'll get your three weeks off...and another three come December."

"Pop," Edward sighed as he shook his head. "August is enough for me. I can head up to the cabin with Tango and decompress while spending my days fishing and drinking beer."

He didn't need the extra time away from the job. He just wanted to be able to get away from everything for a week or two, and managing to make it up to the cabin just once before the summer ended was just the ticket he needed to unwind, but his father felt otherwise. With his son's mental and physical wellbeing on the line, he'd force him to take the time away if need be, though he'd rather not have to resort to suspending him.

"Three weeks in December, Edward," Carlisle reiterated sternly, his tone telling Edward he wouldn't take no for an answer. "I'll even pay you out of my own vacation hours and you and I can make a trip up to Alaska for some ice fishing before Christmas like we used to do when you were a kid. It's been a while since we've been."

"Ten years to be exact. We haven't made that trip since I graduated the fire academy," Edward nodded with a half grin. He hadn't had the time since then to make the annual trip with his father, and it wasn't until his father had brought it up that he'd acknowledged how much he'd missed having that time away from the stresses in his life — including his brothers. "Ice fishing it is, then."

Carlisle parted with a clap on Edward's shoulder as he informed him he was heading home for some much needed sleep, but that he'd check in sometime later that evening. Within minutes of his departure, the station was bustling with activity. Guys were heading down the stairwell with bags tossed over their shoulders, fist bumping each other and the guys coming in the door as their relief before exhaustedly schlepping toward their vehicles to head home.

Edward stood in the kitchen and lifted the coffee pot to his nose. Just one whiff of Carlisle's coffee contorted his face into a disgusted grimace as he quickly dumped it down the drain to make a new pot for himself and the guys. Even he couldn't stomach that questionable liquid with soggy grounds mixed in. It looked like mud in the sink basin as Edward rinsed it down the drain and refilled it with fresh water. With the coffee brewing, he headed off to toss Emmett's gear into the industrial sized washer and replaced the gear in his locker with his old set.

Emmett was lucky they shared the same first initial, making the backs of their coats identical, reading E. Cullen, because had they had differing first initials, wearing his old gear would have been forbidden. It would have caused too much confusion on scene. As it stood, when Emmett had joined, Carlisle had ordered Edward new turnout gear just to be able to differentiate his sons on scene. Emmett got the standard issued black ensemble with yellow reflective bands and Edward got a new set with silver bands. The different colors were the only way to tell them apart from a distance because they were roughly the same height and build.

"Hey, Ed! We left ya thirty a piece on the table, is that enough?" Alec's voice shouted from inside the truck bay, his voice echoing in the large open expanse.

"Yeah, man. That's plenty," Edward answered as he made his way toward him, cutting around the back of their ladder truck and between it and their rescue tanker.

"Where the hell are Emmett and Jasper? It's quarter after seven already," Alec asked after glancing down at his watch.

" usual. Can you do me a favor and pull all the trucks out of the bay? We need to do a quick scrub n' rinse while it's still calm around here," Edward said as he walked over to the garage door control panel to open the other three bay doors.

"You got it, Lieutenant," Alec nodded, turning immediately to follow through with his orders.

Edward grabbed a baseball out of a bucket near the side entrance door and headed outside to play fetch with Tango and Cash while he waited for his brothers to make their appearance. The peacefulness of the early morning was broken moments later by the sound of diesel engines starting up and pulling out of the garage, but the ruckus didn't bother him a bit.

He loved the deep rumble of their trucks and the wail of their sirens and air horns just as much. To anyone else, to people who don't live to fight fires the way he does, those noises might be obnoxiously irritating, but to him they're simultaneously invigorating and comforting. They reminded him of when he was a little boy and his father would let him ride in the front seat with him during parades.

At seven forty-five, Emmett's battered and outdated Jeep Cherokee with bald tires came flying into the parking lot. Edward waited patiently against the side of the building for his brothers to exit the vehicle, and the moment they did and began to approach him with apologies and excuses on the tips of their tongues, he pulled the fire hose from behind his back and unleashed a steady stream of water onto the pair of them, knocking them both clear off their feet. Curses and enraged shouts echoed between the buildings as his brothers flopped around on the ground trying to escape the powerful spray. The rest of their crew came flying around the corner at the sounds of the commotion and cracked up hysterically at the sight that greeted them as Edward turned the nozzle off.

"I warned you I'd hose your ass if you were late again," Edward grinned smugly as they picked themselves up off the blacktop.

"It wasn't my fault!" Emmett roared, pissed off for getting hosed down like that. "This prick got kicked out onto the couch last night and Alice wouldn't let him in the bathroom to shower this morning!"

"There's showers here. What else ya got, Em?" Edward taunted as he dropped the hose, squaring his shoulders and taking slow steps toward his seething brother. Emmett didn't bother to answer him, choosing instead just to clench his jaw and tighten his lips as his eyes narrowed angrily.

"Edward, it really wasn't his fault. Ali locked me out of the bedroom last night and wouldn't even let me in just to grab my uniform much less shower," Jasper panted breathlessly, trying to ease the tension between his brothers.

Edward tilted his head slightly as he glared at Emmett, silently issuing a confirmation that he'd throw down with him if that was what he really wanted, but while Em was notorious for being a hothead, it would take more than a pool full of water hitting him with bruising force to ever raise his fists to his brother again. Not after disgracing himself and his family by assaulting the one person who always put everyone else before himself.

The memory of the bar brawl instigated by Emmett's mix of extreme intoxication and short temper when Edward tried to drag him out of the joint at the bartender's request, had Em backing down and relaxing his threatening stance instantly. The memory of that night was just as sobering as the beat down he'd received at the hands of the one he'd unjustifiably assaulted to start with.

"What'd you do this time?" Edward cocked an eyebrow at Jasper, ending his stare down with Emmett. He knew it must have been something good for Alice to have booted him from the bedroom.

"I...uh, shit...I went to the casino last week with the guys and dropped about a grand and yesterday we found out that it's gonna cost over double that to replace the transmission in the car...and we don't have it," he muttered, rubbing his neck in shamed unease.

"Oh that's priceless," Edward barked out a humorless laugh. Inside, he was boiling with anger because no matter how many times people have bailed Jasper out of his self-created financial disasters, he never learned.

"I didn't know the goddamn transmission was gonna go in the car, bro. I'm not a fuckin' psychic," Jasper bristled as Edward shook his head and started backing away.

"One of these days you two are gonna have to grow the hell up and join the rest of the world in adulthood because there may come a day when neither Pops or me are around to bail your asses out," Edward warned sternly before turning on his heel and stalking into the house. He made his way into the Chief's office and slammed the door shut behind him.

After pacing the office floor for all of five minutes, Edward snatched the phone up out of its cradle and dialed his parent's number. When his mother answered, he briskly asked for his father. Upon hearing the strain in his voice, she woke Carlisle urgently, her concern for her first born mounting exponentially with every passing second. She feared the level of stress he carried daily would one day take him from her, and she couldn't bear the thought of ever losing him.

"Edward? What's wrong? Did something happen?" Carlisle rambled, his voice gruff from sleep.

"When Tyler comes back, I want off this shift. I'll swap with him or any guy not on this crew. I can't...I can't..."

"Son, relax please. Just sit down and take some deep breaths," Carlisle pleaded, sitting up in bed as Edward plopped down into the office chair.

Minutes of silence passed over the line as Edward tried to tame his temper and Carlisle resolved himself to make the decision he should have made long ago. He'd purposely put his younger boys on that shift together, knowing full well that Edward would do everything he could to keep them out of harm's way — even when they put themselves there with their own thoughtless actions. But the time had come to acknowledge that his sons were no longer rookies. They were grown adults and it wasn't Edward's job to be their babysitter nor was it fair to have had him act as such either.

"I'll take you off of it as soon as possible, Edward. Just...whatever happened today to set you off...don't let it affect the rest of your crew. The last thing we need is more of you getting hurt because the tension between the three of you makes it impossible for everyone to function together as a team," Carlisle conceded after sighing.

Edward said nothing in response right away, his eyes casting down to the floor as he heard the disappointment in his father's tone. He wasn't sure when, but at some point it just seemed that he had begun to let his parents down continuously. He'd lost track of how many times he'd heard that disappointment in his father's voice directed at him, and frankly, he was growing tired of it.

"Ya know what?" he asked rhetorically as he ran a hand through his short cropped hair atop his head agitatedly, "Forget it. I'll deal with it, I'm sorry for waking you."

"Edward," Carlisle breathed, a pang shooting through his chest at the hurt tone in his son's voice followed rapidly by the click of the line going dead.

He tried to call back immediately but received no answer and quickly dialed Edward's cell phone, only to get the same result. By the time he dialed the number for the station house itself, Felix answered and informed him that Edward and Alec had just left to go refill the tanker truck's water reservoir.

Emmett, realizing his father was on the phone when Felix said the word Chief, rose from the table and held his hand out for the phone. Venom was already spewing from his lips by the time the receiver was fully pressed to his ear.

"Pop, you and your boy need to have a little sit down. I'm gettin' sick and tired of his bullshit..."

"Emmett, what time did you show up today?" Carlisle interrupted, barely keeping his anger concealed.

" fifteen minutes ago or so?" he replied questioningly and hurried to try to explain, "But it wasn't my fault. See, Jasper dropped a shitload of cash last week and then his car broke down and the transmission needed to be replaced and they just found out yesterday that it's gonna cost like two and a half grand to fix it and now they don't have the money so Alice got pissed and made him..."

"Emmett!" Carlisle yelled after his first three attempts to interrupt him failed. "I don't give a shit what caused you to be late today. You've been late for nearly every shift for the last three weeks..."

"It's because Rosie and her damn cravings have me running all over the place in the middle of the night. She won't let me sleep for shit..."

"That's no excuse, Emmett. I had to do that for a combined twenty some odd months when your mother was pregnant with the three of you. I was never late for a shift," Carlisle scolded, interrupting him again. "I'm not going to suspend you because it's unfeasible for me to do so at the moment."

"I knew you'd understand," Emmett grinned, feeling victorious. He'd told Edward that very morning that the Chief would never suspend him.

"Understand nothing, son. In lieu of suspension, you and Jasper are going to be covering Tyler's shifts for the rest of the month. Your brother's been killing himself filling in for everyone for the last six months. It's only fair for you two to try walking in his shoes for a little while. Maybe then you'll appreciate how much he does for both of you and how hard he works to able to do so," Carlisle explained, ignoring the choking sounds filtering through the line.

"Are you shitting me? He fuckin' hoses us down this morning and I'm the one getting lectured and punished like a damn five year old?" Emmett barked heatedly.

"If you don't want to be treated like one, stop acting like one!" Carlisle hollered. "Do you ever stop to think about how much Edward does for you before you start trample right over him, hells bent on doing whatever it is you feel like at the moment? Did you ever actually thank him for the fifteen grand he gave you for the home you and Rosalie now live in, or for the baby furniture he bought both of you?..."

As Emmett listened to his father's ranting and raving for a half hour on the phone over each and every one of the instances in which his brother had helped them, no questions asked and nothing expected in return, Emmett's pride began to dwindle as shame overwhelmed him. He never really had thanked him for any of it and it shamed him even deeper that over the years, he'd pretty much come to expect his brother to always be there ready and willing to help him.

The news that he'd requested to be taken off their shift had nearly knocked the wind right out of him with the weight of the underlying reason for his request. The acknowledgement of it sank like a cinder block in his gut, right along with the realization that Edward had truly meant what he'd said earlier.

He really wouldn't always be there to bail them out.

No comments:

Post a Comment