Thank you for your patience. And thank you for joining me on this journey!
EPOV Part XI
At Break of Dawn
I do not recognize anything. Landmark trees have fallen and rotted away. The landscape is broken by roads and footpaths; everywhere the evidence of human occupation. We dash across a two-lane highway, timing our movements to pass between two logging trucks as they head in opposite directions. One is loaded with fresh-cut pines, while the other trailer is empty, rattling raucously with every bump and dip in the road.
Through a space between the trees, I see the Olympic peaks rising up, cold and majestic, unchanged but for a snowpack that is slightly thicker than the year of my incarceration. I pause for a moment to absorb the view; proof that, for all the years I was cut off from the world, very little has changed.
Alice guides me on a path that leads directly toward my singer's plaintive song. Bella's song. I imagine that it is weaker, and a strange sort of desperation pushes me to run faster.
We enter a clearing, and my feet catch on hummocks of unmowed grass. Our home, the last place I remember experiencing joy and peace, hunches in the center of the clearing. Time has, in fact, changed my world much more than I thought possible. My heart breaks to see Esme's masterpiece reduced to such squalor. That thought does not last for more than a split second, for at that moment, I feel the heartbeat, the metronome of my soul, falter.
"Carlisle," I whisper, pleading for him to let me in. I sense a brief moment of recognition before his thoughts become blurred and distant once more.
"She will be okay," Alice reassures me. "Jasper got here in time."
Alice slips her hand into mine and pulls me forward. I am terrified. I feel as if I am trapped in a nightmare, with the inevitability of tragedy hanging like a noose above my head. The house is almost silent, although I sense many minds within. Rosalie, Emmett, Carlisle and Esme… and the newcomer, Jasper.
Pallets of plastic-wrapped building supplies are lined up along the north wall of the house. It would seem my family is back to stay. As my foot strikes the bottom step leading up to the porch, the front door swings open, and Rosalie and Esme step outside to greet me.
"Edward," Esme breathes, and there is no need for any other words. The relief, the anguish, the hope and the worry are written plainly on her face and in her mind.
"I am still who I was before," I reassure her, taking her smaller hands in mine. She steps into the circle of my arms, and I drink in her familiar scent. Her head fits perfectly beneath my chin, and I rock her gently in my arms. "Stop. Stop that right now," I scold her as her thoughts turn to guilt and regret for the pain and isolation I endured, for the years I lost.
"I never stopped praying for you. Not for a single second," she says, stepping back to look into my eyes. They are not the same burnished gold that they used to be. Through her vision I see vermillion swimming in the gold, so my irises appear like red amber. Her thoughts are overflowing with fervent prayers of thanksgiving.
"Thank you," I answer simply. And, as has always been the case with us, the space between our words is rich with simple love and understanding.
I look up and smile at Rosalie. She blinks, her lips turning up into a reluctant grin. She greets me with a blunt but honest observation. "You look like hell."
"You think so? Alice claims she can fix that."
"She'll try. But she can't perform miracles," Rosalie laughs, her voice as dry and ironic as I remember.
"You are wrong, Rose. She can. She does. I am standing here now, am I not?"
"Well, if you want to call that a miracle," she replies, rolling her eyes. And I know that nothing has changed between us. Not really. That makes me smile.
I see Rosalie's movement before the thought of hugging me even crosses her mind, and I glance down at Alice, recognizing the knowing smirk that never quite leaves her painted lips. I surprise us all when I tug Alice into our circle, holding tight to my mother, my sister and the stranger, the savior who, decades ago, fed my mind the only thing that could save it from madness.
I am not sure how her power works, and I cannot be sure if she knows herself, but I am content to accept that it does.
One floor up and forty three feet away, Bella's heartbeat is accelerating. I am struck by conflicting waves of anticipation and dread. The song that flows between us is fainter still, although we are no longer far apart. In its place a new sound is taking hold. I know this sound well. It is pain... a hiss of air forced between clenched teeth, and a long, tortured moan. She does not scream, but her agony is like white hot steel slicing between my ribs.
She is changing. She will be like me soon. Unwittingly, I have shared my curse with an innocent soul. I did that to her. While I have hated what I am since the moment of my rebirth, I find I cannot hate her. Not any part of her. But I fear for her, for us, and for the humans that might stumble unwittingly across our paths.
"Whoa. You look like shit," Emmett appears suddenly, greeting me with his signature poor timing. He stands in the open doorway, covered in sawdust, with an electricity-powered tool in his hand.
"So I've been told," I acknowledge, letting Rosalie and Alice step aside, but keeping Esme close. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah. Hold this rail for me while I tack it into place?"
"I can do that," I say, knowing that there is little else I will be permitted to do until Carlisle and the strange newcomer allow me upstairs.
Esme directs the work as we raise tiles to replace the rotten subfloors, tear down sheetrock, run new wiring and upgrade the plumbing of the old mansion. It is surreal to see the extent of the decay. Just days before my imprisonment, I had serenaded the family with a concert on my beloved grand piano. Yet there it lies in fragments, shoveled into one corner amid the wreckage of decades past. I shake my head every few minutes to chase away the images of a time that no longer exists. The longer I work, the harder it becomes to separate the memories of these rooms from my current surroundings. The change is too great to assimilate. I feel my hands falter, and a tile slips from my grasp to shatter on the floor.
Alice appears by my side, beckoning with a sharp tilt of her head. I obediently follow her outside. I am quickly losing touch with my senses. Everything seems to melt and lose form. The conflict between what I remember and the reality which now surrounds me is staggering.
It is surreal. It is wrong. I cannot trust my eyes.
Alice draws me to the northern edge of the clearing, shaded by towering conifers. The tops tilt and shrink, sucking into themselves. My stomach heaves. I sway and close my eyes to block out the vertiginous images.
Alice takes my hands and places them on her shoulders. It is a sign of trust. Even in my weakened state, I could cause her serious harm, even kill her.
"Look at me," she commands, forcing my eyes up to meet hers. She is real. She is now. There is no conflict in my mind. She is what I see; static, unchanging... immortal.
"Watch. Listen," she instructs, and I passively agree.
Then the true sensory onslaught begins. Images and thoughts stream through my mind, years screaming past in a flood. I see generations of international wars and power struggles, played out on a giant chessboard which tilts and turns, knocking millions of bodies into the abyss like so many pawns. I watch the steady march of technological advancement as it transforms everything from industry to entertainment, and the tools Rose and Emmett wield so easily make sense to me. Satellite communication and space travel, civil rights and cultural revolutions… My mind struggles to drink it in, to digest everything she is telling me. I am reeling by the time Alice shifts her focus to more personal matters. She tells me of her past. Of her mate. Of her visions and her discovery of Carlisle's coven.
She slows down to share with me the first vision in which I appeared. Carlisle had invited the new couple into his study, where hung the family portrait I have always detested, painted in 1935 by his dear friend Carmen. Upon seeing my image on the canvas, Alice had been struck with a series of visions so powerful that she had been unable to stand or speak for hours. Those visions were the key to unlocking my prison and saving Bella's life. And my soul. For in those visions, Alice had learned the truth… that my singer was destined to be my mate, if only I could refrain from draining her.
Alice and Jasper were not bound by the treaty as Carlisle and the others were. Only they could ensure that the terms of the pact remained unbroken and avoid a devastating feud with the shapeshifting Quileute. Our pact prohibited me, or any of our coven, from taking another human life. It also contained the threat of our kind by preventing Carlisle from ever changing another vampire. Only Alice could prevent me from breaking the first. And only Jasper knew how to preserve Carlisle's integrity while saving Bella.
The family devised a plan, a long con, something that only the most patient and disciplined individual could execute. Alice visited me in the graveyard, planting images of my future mate in my mind decades before she was even born. Then, after hanging the portrait in its original place, she subtly manipulated Isabella Swan into finding and uncovering the truth.
I stand, shaking my head in wonder and disbelief. "Impossible," I breathe. How much was luck and how much fate? None of us can say.
"I know," she agrees, still shocked that the plan, decades in the making, seemed to have worked.
"How did you know I would stop? And how did Jasper change her? My venom, I had none… the change could never happen. Did he…?" I try to ask, but the thought is somehow repugnant to me. That another vampire, especially a male, could claim that bond with my beloved… I am speechless.
"He is not her sire. Nobody is. Or rather, we all are. She is your mate, first and foremost. And she is a Cullen."
Alice begins to describe the method by which Jasper and Carlisle saved Bella's life and ensured the change. At that moment, Carlisle, who had been listening as we conversed, relaxes his control, and I can see for myself.
Bella is covered from neck to knee in a blue sheet. She is strapped down to a table constructed of welded steel. At six points around her body, IV bags hang, their dark red contents draining slowly into her body. The blood is… different, somehow. It shimmers as the evening sun shines into the room.
I am not her sire. My family is. All of them. The venom-infused blood, each cell already caught in the throes of the change, is filling her body, replacing what I drained, repairing what I broke. Her heart races on, still human, but it is hardening into crystal one cell at a time. I watch through Carlisle's eyes as he assesses the wound at her throat, already sealed and healing into a thin, silver crescent.
My mark. My mate.
A low growl rumbles in my throat as the male, Jasper, comes into view. He bears the scars of a thousand battles, but his demeanor is cool and professional as he checks the volume in each bag.
"He has done this before…" I observe, and Alice nods.
"We do not speak of that. It is in the past. This will be the last and final change he supervises."
I nod my understanding, repulsed by the thin stream of images that slip past her defenses before she locks them down. The guilt I carry pales in comparison to the torment that sickens his soul.
Soon the IV bags have drained completely. I watch in fascination as Jasper withdraws the needles. The holes close in minutes, leaving smooth, milk-soft skin behind.
"I am grateful. To both of you," I say, and it is the truth.
I feel a burst of gratitude and reassurance wash over me, emotions more pure and undiluted than any natural feeling, and the battle-hardened warrior smiles.
"Yo, Ed! Grab a brush, and get back to work!" Emmett calls from the house.
With my anxiety back under control, I comply. I do not even respond to Emmett's teasing barbs. Esme's piles of supplies dwindle quickly, and the day bleeds into night and back to day again.
The marble tiles lie smooth again, polished until the moonlight glides across the surface like water. The interior smells of fresh-cut lumber and paint. The house, now wired for electricity in every room, it cheerful and charming, but I am restless, anxious to see her. I can no longer think of work. Instead I stand in silence, every sense tuned to monitoring Bella as her human life dwindles to hours…
By midnight of the second night, Bella's heartbeat is no longer recognizable as such. It is now a steady hum, an angry vibration, as valves fuse and chambers freeze into static voids filled with fluid.
She cannot have known what would happen. She will be terrified. What if she hates me for what I did to her, for making her into a monster? She was barely seventeen, just a child, really. Innocent and naive.
Just as I was.
My mother, my human mother, is nothing more than a shadow in my memory. I pray that Bella remembers me when she wakes, that I am more than a shadow. More than a half-remembered dream.
I pray that she remembers that she wanted me. Needed me. Chose me over life itself.
And I pray that she still does.
Bella no longer makes a sound. Her limbs no longer strain against her bonds. Instead, she lies rigid, caught in a rictus of pain that defies description. My feet are drawn inexorably towards her, and I climb the stairs in a trance. I watch through Carlisle's eyes as Jasper releases the straps that bind her. Alice passes me where I stand, glued to the floor outside the closed door. Her arms are wrapped around a large cloth bag, from which a swatch of dark blue fabric peeks out.
"Edward, go to your room. You're behind on your writing."
Cowed, I take the stairs up to the third floor. I have avoided this space, limiting my activities to the first floor and the exterior of the house. I am afraid to revisit the past, to return to the bedroom where I spent so much time before my fall. I cannot even explain my fear, only that I wish to move forward, to look forward, and never remember that day again.
I pause with my hand on the door knob. As pointless as it is, I draw in a deep breath before opening the door and stepping through.
I do not know this room. The dimensions are the same - fourteen by twelve feet, and the windows on the south and east-facing walls look out across the starlit forest, but there is nothing of me or my past here now.
A large platform bed dominates the space, made from polished black wood and dressed in gold linens. That completes the inventory of creature comforts. If it were not for the bed, I would believe I had stepped into a forest glade. Beneath my feet, natural stone spreads, each paver outlined with silver thyme. The perimeter of the room is lined with plants. Orchids and irises nod amid beds of moss and emerald-green grasses. The walls disappear completely, painted to appear like a meadow stretching out for yards and yards in all directions. The sky is blue and nearly cloudless, although I cannot see the sun. Instead, tube-shaped lights, their tops painted to match the backdrop, shine ultraviolet light over the sprawling flora. I inhale the raw scents of dirt and grass, of growing things, of life itself. I shut the door behind me and turn slowly, taking it all in. I will never be closed in again. Never.
A rough sob escapes my lips. "Thank you," I whisper, although I think she already knows.
In the center of the bed I see a brown leather journal and a matching pen case. I open to the first page and begin from the moment that I first laid eyes on Bella, dressed as my bride. I spill out every thought, every fear, and the hope that is woven throughout it all, bleeding my emotions onto the ivory page in black ink.
The sound of Bella's failing heart carries through the walls, resonating in the very bones of the house. I am racing against that final moment, the point when her humanity will cease and she will awaken to a new world, a new dawn. I write until my ink runs dry and the last nib breaks. I reread my final sentence and realize there is nothing more to write. Not until she awakens.
The song is barely a whisper now, little more than the memory of a song, like the notes that echo through the wooden stage long after the encores have ended and the pit has emptied.
The song is no more. I ache inside, my heart wistful and lonely without it.
I am here, alone in this moment. On the horizon, the promise of a new day glows, soft as honey sweetening the eastern sky. The sound of Bella's heart has reached a fevered pitch as the final bastion of human cells strain to expand and contract against the walls of crystal that surround and imprison them. One by one they burn and transform.
My feet carry me downstairs and to her open door. I realize with a start that the house is empty. It is only me and my beloved, balanced on the razor-thin line between life and eternity.
The metal table is gone, as are all traces of medical paraphernalia. She is laid out on a narrow bed. The bedspread is white lace, the perfect backdrop for her delicate beauty. Alice has washed away all signs of dirt and blood, combed Bella's hair and dressed her in a blue gown. She wears no makeup, no jewelry, no artificial embellishments. She needs none. Her skin glows like moonlight, and I drink in her perfection.
I hesitate on the threshold, nervous and unsure. Will she want me here when she wakes?
Suddenly, she inhales sharply, back arching and fingers curling into fists. Her heart contracts with one, final desperate beat. I am struck by a wave of sound, like a hammer coming down on a gong.
She does not move. I step closer, my feet brushing softly over the thick carpet. I come to a stop at the foot of her bed, terrified to speak, but desperate for any sound, any motion to cut through the suspense.
She lies as still as death. Her eyes open, the irises red as rubies. Then she exhales and draws in another breath. A look of wonder brightens her features, but her mind is as silent as ever. I shift my weight, leaning one inch closer. My knee brushes against the bed spread, and she is no longer lying before me. In a flash of movement visible only to the undead, she is standing against the bedroom wall, hands pressed against rose-colored wall paper, eyes wide and mouth panting.
"Bella?" I ask, heartbroken by the terror in her eyes.
"Edward…" she breathes in recognition, and I sink to my knees in wonder.
I am almost knocked off balance when an image strikes me. It appears dim and flat, like a human thought or memory, but far more powerful. I see a painting, Carmen's family portrait, hanging in a dark and dusty room. It is not just the unexpected vision that robs me of my strength, but the thoughts, the feelings that accompany the images. My chest aches with the adoration and desire.
Dozens of other thoughts and memories flicker by, then I see the monolith, hidden beneath tree branches, sinister and cold. Suddenly I am trapped again, imprisoned as much by my guilt and self-loathing as the iron and stone. The feeling only lasts a second, because I am not inside, I am outside, looking up, completely enthralled by the song that owns my heart and infects my soul. I am desperate to be closer, to be consumed.
I squeeze my eyes shut and grip my head with both hands, fingers digging into my skull to stop the foreign invasion. "Stop… Please…" I groan helplessly. For days and days I begged to hear her thoughts, but the intensity is too much. I no longer know where I begin or where I end.
The visions do not stop, but they do change. I am no longer in the cemetery. Now I am in a small boutique. I feel fabric - silk and lace, slipping between my fingers. I am choosing white flowers and weaving them into a delicate wreath of ivy. I am staring into a mirror, seeing the woman that I love, dressed in white, nervous but determined. Words ring through my mind. We will be one, 'til death do us part.
I am standing in a room of roses and cream, looking down at myself. My mind and heart swell with compassion and empathy, with love and desire. Two cool hands join mine, fingers slipping between my own to loosen my grip on my hair. I return to myself, although her thoughts and feelings swim around me; warm, beautiful, so lovely to behold. I am shaking, and so is she.
"Am I dreaming?" she asks in the voice from my fantasies.
"You are awake," I reply, lifting my eyes to hers.
"Edward Anthony Masen Cullen… I almost can't believe it. You are real."
"As real as you."
Her hands caress my face, feather-soft touches gliding over my eyelids, my nose, trembling as they pass over my lips. She tastes of honeysuckle and roses.
Her fingers twine into my hair once more, and I bury my face in the softness of her belly. I wrap my arms around her. My sacrificial lamb. My savior.
I am sobbing dry, wrenching gasps of relief and love. For so long… so long… I dreamed of her. Now, to touch her, to belong to her… my heart cannot contain so much joy. I feel as if it will burst into flames.
Bella sinks to her knees before me, her arms clinging to my neck and shoulders, pressing my lips to the crescent scar at her throat.
Today, I feel her touch. She whispers my name, a loving sigh against my cheek. Today I taste her on my lips. Today… she is mine.
Marking a story 'complete' is always a bittersweet thing. I have so enjoyed revisiting Stephenie Meyer's original characters and twisting their story to suit my purposes. Many thanks to Ninkita for her incredible Beta work. The original one-shot would never have seen the light of day without her! Thank you also to the organizers of the 2015 Red-Eyed Edward Contest. Thank you to everybody who has read, reviewed, rec'd or raved about this story. I love and appreciate every one of you!