The car slammed to a stop and I was into the studio before he could reach her throat. He barely had a chance to turn when he heard the pure hate that escaped my lips. I threw him off her – into the hands of Jasper and Emmett behind me. As much as I'd wanted to dispatch him myself, I couldn't spare another moment of concentration on him. Emmett tore at his arms, then Jasper's teeth found James' neck, but I wasn't paying attention anymore…
As I leaned over my love I couldn't help but sob and beg her to stay with me. She was so broken, so still. I could hear her heart beating fast and shallow, and watched in horror as each beat forced more of her life's blood out on to the floor around us. Her breathing was also shallow, and her face twitched with pain every time she inhaled. And her face… her once beautiful face… was swelling quickly, covered in her own blood.
"Bella, please…" I whimpered.
I heard a car pull up. Bella still didn't move, didn't recognize me. "Carlisle!" I cried.
As Carlisle examined Bella she cried out in pain at his touch, tormenting me further. He succinctly listed every injury that James had given her. Every word pierced my chest, and when he warned me about her broken leg the anguish was too much and I cried out. It was like I'd done all this damage myself, and in truth I had. My poor Bella…
But I'd made it – I had saved her. She would heal and live. She started to rouse, to come back to me. Her first words were slurred, but then she said my name clearly, "Edward." Her voice was so weak.
"Yes, I'm here." I tried to keep my voice calm, soothing.
"It hurts." Her voice was that of a little child. I felt so helpless; seeing her in so much misery and unable to ease it. I pleaded with Carlisle to do something.
Alice helped Carlisle administer the morphine while I tried to comfort Bella, but it wasn't working. Something was wrong. Then Bella's eyes snapped open and she screamed "My hand is burning!"
She kept screaming as I fought to keep from panicking. I looked at her hand with horror as I recognized a red bite mark on her perfect hand. He didn't kill her – he'd done much worse. He'd poisoned her. Bella had begun the process of becoming a vampire. How much more torture could I take?
"Edward, you have to do it," Alice said. The image of Bella with golden eyes flashed through her mind again. She reminded me that I could speed the process for Bella by biting her myself, adding more venom to her body. Keep her forever…
"NO!" I yelled, at myself as much as her. But it was already too late – James had done what I couldn't do. If left alone, Bella would eventually join me in this damned existence, something I'd fought so hard to avoid. Forever wasn't for us, I reminded myself, she deserved much, much more. The only other option was to free her, let her go to the place I only dreamed of. I fought to think the words… to take her life, to kill her myself. My heart disappeared in that instant, leaving an empty void in my chest. I tried to imagine how I could do it – kill my one and only love – and I couldn't. My breath left me again.
"There may be a chance," Carlisle said.
"What?" I tried not to hope, but my heart returned at his words.
"See if you can suck the venom back out…" Carlisle continued speaking, but I didn't hear the words. The thought of placing my lips on her skin, tasting her blood, brought the monster in me back in a flash. I'd controlled it so well, kept it locked up even while surrounded by her blood in this evil place. But now the burn in my throat rose to blast-furnace proportions and I tried to swallow.
"Carlisle, I…" I looked down at Bella, now starting to twist in pain. "I don't know if I can do that." Once I tasted her, the monster would take over. I would do what I couldn't even imagine just a few seconds earlier. She would die at my hand. I looked at my father, pleading for help.
"It's your decision, Edward, either way. I can't help you…" Carlisle's voice faded from my consciousness again as he continued to pick fragments of glass out of Bella's blood-soaked hair.
"Edward!" Bella screamed and stared straight in my eyes. The sound of her voice was like a sword running through me, her eyes pleading for relief from the pain. I knew the pain she was feeling, the fire. I had seen only two choices before, let her suffer, or end it by killing her. Now there was a third, but I wasn't strong enough. The venom that had come unbidden to my mouth dripped slowly down my throat, fanning the flames of my thirst. The monster in me rejoiced at the prospect of her taste, begging me to bring my lips to her skin.
"Edward, you must do it now or it will be too late." Carlisle's voice was urgent.
Bella's face constricted in agony as I gazed down, and she thrashed violently with the pain of the transformation. With every twitch of her frame a small part of me died, watching her soul slip from her being. But I can save her from my hell – she doesn't have to be doomed to endless night. Part of me longed for her to join me, to stay with me forever, but that only solidified my resolve. My selfish desires had no place here. Not for me. As I stared into her eyes I searched for the strength I needed. I can save her… I will save her…
I took Bella's hand as Carlisle and Alice held her down and placed my mouth over the red crescent where James' teeth had been only a moment before. Her skin was so warm against my lips. As I drew the first drops into my mouth Bella screamed even louder, undermining my resolve. At first I could only taste the sourness of his venom, but then I was overcome by the sweet taste of her.
The monster in me took control as her blood flowed down my scorched throat. The fire had never been so hot, nor the satisfaction so complete. The taste of her blood was indescribable – it was so much more than just flavor; it was a whole new world. She quenched every thirst I'd ever had, filling me with a euphoria that was so intense that I felt dizzy. The venom was gone now, and I slowly savored every drop of her pure crimson bliss. My eyes closed as I tuned out everything but the heaven I'd found. I never wanted to lose this feeling.
Only one gentle sound interrupted my ecstasy.
"Edward," she murmured.
I managed to open my eyes. Bella's face was calm now; damaged, but still angelic. Save her, a voice whispered in my mind… and I knew what I had to do. The perfect flavor now had the unpalatable sting of morphine, giving me the help I needed to stop. The monster cried out, beseeching me to continue. The fire in my throat was tamed as it never had been before, and it too asked for more. One last swallow…
"Stay, Edward, stay with me," she pleaded softly.
Her voice was weak, yet had the strength to silence my internal demon. I forced my head up, pulling my lips from her hand. Carefully I closed her fingers over her palm, covering the source of my narcotic paradise. The euphoria now started to fade as I carefully pressed her fist against my silent heart.
"I will," I said quietly as I gazed down at her. I'd done it; she would live the human life she was meant to. Carlisle continued to work, but Bella was relaxed and calm, now that the morphine had completely saturated her system. Carlisle said something to me, and I think I answered, but my world was Bella.
"Thank you, Edward," she sighed, her words starting to slur.
I leaned close to her. "I love you," I said. I still held her hand to my heart, afraid to let go.
"I know," she whispered, and the ghost of a smile touched her lips. A strained chuckle escaped my lips as I started to relax. She was going to be fine – this time.
Bella started drifting into unconsciousness as Carlisle questioned her about Renée. I was relieved to hear that she was fine. Carlisle was finishing up on Bella's head wound as Alice started spreading gasoline around the perimeter of the room. It was comforting to know that this place of such horror would no longer exist, serving in the end as James' funeral pyre. Carlisle nodded to me, "It's time to move her."
"No, I want to sleep," Bella moaned.
"You can sleep, sweetheart, I'll carry you." I carefully lifted her from the floor, holding her close to my chest. Even though she was so broken, I finally felt whole again with her in my arms.
"Sleep now, Bella," I whispered in her ear as I slipped into Carlisle's back seat with her. She was finally safe.