Edward tried to stay away. He really did. He lasted five months before he needed to see her. He told himself it was to make sure she was safe, that this exile was worthwhile. His long still heart hoped that she would take him back. That she would understand he spoke the blackest blasphemy that afternoon in the woods. That she would forgive him.
He was minutes away from her when he caught a new scent, one that impossibly caught his attention even more than Bella's.
He followed the stale scent, his fear growing with each rapid footfall, to the meadow.
The meadow was a strange cacophony of aromas. Immediately he could detect her bouquet, but was then overwhelmed with an odour he recognized from his first time here, before she even existed. They came together where Laurent's scent ended. It was at this spot he caught up to the horror he had tried to protect her from. It was not the month old smell of his Singer amongst dog and a vampire who may have been friend or foe. No, it was not these things that caused that moment of impossible fear.
It was the new scent, less than an hour old, which polluted the space that Edward once held sacred.
Edward, always the hunter, took off in pursuit of new prey.
He met up with Jasper and Emmet in Texas. Alice had sent them after she assured Edward that Bella was safe. Alice did not mention she had been having visions of Bella recently, of her driving and then vanishing, only to be able to reappear hours later. Alice knew the significance of the geography Bella was heading invisible into.
It was June before they met up with Victoria. The three of them followed her across North and South America, occasionally splitting up or communicating with Alice when she had a vision for them. Victoria was a skilled escape artist and managed to constantly elude them. They had lost count of the times they had followed a fresh trail only to lose her altogether.
The tide turned in Seattle, where the brothers cornered a newborn and Edward plucked a shadow of Victoria's plan from his mind just as Emmet separated it from his body. It was enough though. The next evening was Victoria's last.
Their celebration was a brief collection of whoops and manly hugs, before Emmet and Jasper sent Edward to retrieve his girl.
Edward ran faster than he had ever before. He was closer to his destination than he should have been before he realized the scent of wet dog surrounded her currently empty house.
Edward was forced to wander the shadows of the town, trying to divine her location from unsuspecting pedestrians. He was frustrated by the slowness of it all. Eventually he heard a small group of teens drinking in the park. Immediately he went to the mind of those he recognized. Jessica's was a hurricane: My boobs do look fierce in this dress; What is it with Mike? I know he likes me but he's all moody now she's left again. How the hell does she do it anyway? She's so plain. She must give great head. I wonder if I should go down on Mike, I bet that would get his attention...
That was enough for Edward. Accompanying her crass thoughts were images of Bella. One of them caught his attention more than others; Bella walking away under the arm of a very large male. He quickly jumped from mind to mind trying to deduce who he was. Finally he plucked a name and things fell into place.
Edward used all his predatory skills to track the pair of them down on the outskirts of town, parked at the end of a dark, dead end street. He was being assaulted by her blood, the stench of wolf and a fragrance he remembered from their brief moments of privacy and long sleepless nights in Bella's bedroom. He could hear the soft sighs that use to torture his principals. While he wanted to rush in and save her, he could not move. Foolishly he let himself stay and watch the scene play out from inside Jacob's mind.
His eyes were closed and there were no words but his mind was a series of images repeated: lips, hands, tongue, all of them Bella's.
Jacob opened his eyes. Edward could now see what Jacob was seeing. Jacob was apparently looking at the ceiling of his car. Edward could hear Bella in stereo, her increasing breathing and whimpers reaching his vampire ears at the same time he heard the sounds filtered through Jacob's mind.
Through Jacob he understood that they were in the backseat of his ridiculous car. Bella was straddling his lap and kissing his neck.
Edward was both horrified and relieved. Though it hurt him to see Bella like this with someone else, he took comfort in the knowledge she was doing nothing more with Jacob than she had done with Edward. They could get past this.
Then, as if Jacob cold read his mind, his eyes closed once again and the images changed.
Jacob's hand running up exposed legs, caressing naked thighs, a hand behind the knee, pulling it over his hip.
Jacob's fantasy was increasingly painful to Edward, yet Edward stayed in his mind, reassuring himself it was merely fantasy.
Jacob's mouth on Bella's neck, moving down and then away so that more of Bella's body became exposed.
It was here that Edward felt himself begin to die all over again. He was looking at Bella's naked body through Jacob's eyes. He could see the two small freckles above her right nipple, the faint birthmark that poked through the small patch of dark on her pubic bone. Immediately he compared Jacob's image to one he had accidentally gleamed from Alice; a flash of Bella in the shower, trying to keep her cast dry.
Jacob was not fantasizing.
He was remembering.
Mike thought the years had been kind to Bella, even if life had not. It had been four years since their high school graduation. He had seen her once or twice a summer since then. He always asked her to spend time with him. She always smiled while politely declining his invite. Mike was surprised to see Bella doing so well today. He remembered when she became little more than a zombie in the months after the Cullens left. He had also noticed her breakup with Jacob coincided with her quitting the store and abandoning Forks almost completely. Mike watched her across the room and knew she would always be it for him. He had noticed she was dateless today, that a woman he assumed was her mother sat and held her hand. He watched the back of Bella's head throughout the service. He ached to be able to put his arm around her and be the one she went to when she needed strength. Mike felt guilty for his glee when she smiled gently at him when their eyes met as she followed the casket out of the church. It was in that moment that Mike promised himself he would attempt to woo Bella Swan.
He resigned himself to just being her friend for today. That's what she would need the day she buried her father.
Mike had no way of knowing Edward Cullen was hiding in the woods listening to his every thought. There was no way to know that his memories of her as a broken teenager, along with his internal declaration of his love and commitment to Bella Swan, had sent Edward running again.
Mike spent the better part of the next year simply being there for Bella. He was there to help in plumbing emergencies; she held the ladder while he repainted the second story of her house. Each Sunday morning Bella woke up to the sound of Mike mowing the lawn and she would make him a hearty breakfast to reward his efforts. Not once did he make a move on Bella. He knew she would need time to fall in love with him and he was willing to wait for her.
He lasted eleven months.
When Bella took care of Mike during the five days his parents were missing he was grateful for his friendship with Bella. While she slept down the hall in his bed he laid on his sofa and let himself indulge in the fantasy of living with Bella as man and wife. On the fifth day Bella put her arm around his shoulders as he listened to Seth explain they had found his parents just off the hiking trail, the victims of an apparent bear attack.
In his shock he mistook Bella's panicked face as grief. He didn't question why Seth shook his head while he said "really Bella, just a bear attack."
While he fell apart in Bella's arms he came to decision that life was too short to waste. It wasn't a surprise to either of them when Mike pressed his lips to Bella's. Although they were both surprised by the enthusiasm with which she kissed him back. Bella, it seemed, had come to the same conclusion.
To the Cullens, it began to seem as if Bella never existed. Alice was their last connection to her and over time her visions became less and less frequent. When they did appear it was like trying to watch a scrambled tv channel. Alice's last vision, a Forks police cruiser losing control on an icy highway before disappearing under a logging truck, sent Edward flying off to Forks. He returned within the week.
The remorse and devastation Edward felt on his return knocked Jasper off his feet.
"I was too late." Was all he said as he retreated to his room, where he would remain, except to hunt, for the next few years.
When the family moved away from the remote wilds of northern Alberta to the grand landscape of Wyoming, Edward slowly began to spend more time with his family. A smile from him was still a rarity and they thought it likely his laughter had gone extinct. It was an unacknowledged truth in the house: he was existing until he had word of Bella's death.
They spent nearly ten years in this state. Never mentioning Bella, guarding their thoughts so that their time in that small, rainy Washington town could never stray in, the delicate pretence that life was good remained.
So it was with quite a shock one evening as the family lounged about the living room that Alice sat up, wide eyed.
"We have to go to Forks!" The family stared, trying to understand why she looked so confused and yet spoke so certainly.
"A vision?" Esme asked. Before she could stop herself she thought of Bella and saw Edward wince. Alice and Edward shook their head in unison.
"No... a feeling. I see nothing, but suddenly, I just feel like we have to go."
Rosalie, of course, was the one to protest. "We've been gone too long, we can't just show up out of the blue." She hadn't finished her sentence when Alice's eyes glazed over and Edward leaned towards her, as if he could see more if only he had a closer proximity.
"Carlisle you are going to make a donation to the library... They will build a new children's library, they'll name it after Esme." She smiled at them. "It will be fine. I don't foresee any problems. But I feel if we don't go, if we don't all go, things could get very bad."
"But you see nothing?" Edward asked harshly from his corner of the room.
"You know I can't see her anymore Edward. " She whispered, "But I do think this is about her. We must go. I don't think there is a choice."
Mike and Bella shared a sweet love. While it lacked a certain degree of passion Bella was content with its easy stability. For the first time in her life Bella was confident the boy she chose loved her. Perhaps this spoke to her maturity, perhaps to his mortality. Bella did not find herself over thinking her relationship with Mike. She was pleased on her 25th birthday when he got down on one knee and expressed his desire to share the rest of his life with her.
Their wedding followed a year later. Those that knew the happy couple raised their glasses to toast a pair so obviously destined to be together. Only Jacob noticed Bella falter during the groom's toast when Mike professed his eternal love to his soul mate.
Bella continued on in her happy, human life. She continued to work at the library while Mike tried to keep his family's business afloat. It was the day after her 28th birthday she received word she would be working with a large donation to establish a children's library.
Ten years is a long time in a brief human life. Bella was shocked to see the name associated with the donation only because she knew they didn't usually leave a paper trail. She remembered they were generous, but veiled their gifts with various charitable organizations and trusts, so as not to be remembered individually over centuries of giving. Always the professional, she eagerly got to work, briefly wondering if they would attend the dedication ceremony.
This was not something Bella would lose sleep over. She rarely thought of the Cullens, of Edward, at all these days. Long ago Bella had taken the seed of his lie to heart where it had initially destroyed her, but over time it sprouted roots and began to grow into a new truth. The original seed had told her not only that she was unloved, but that she was unlovable. Soon it tempered to become nothing more than a solemn place in her heart she went to in moments of melancholy. Once she loved a remarkable boy, but in the end he didn't love her.