Prelude to Consequence
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Twilight or the sequels. Still, I wouldn't mind doing a time share for Emmett and Jasper.
The taste of blood lingers on my tongue.
I breathe deeply saturating my lungs with the acrid sent of antiseptic and decay, a deplorable combination that can only be found in a hospital. Still the ghostly flavor remains potent enough to entice my senses like an alluring caress. Like a siren's song.
Stifling a groan, I bring another palm full of faucet water to my mouth and attempt to rinse away the gratifying taste. The water does nothing, but I expected as much. The temptation remains, sweet like chocolate. Maybe. I really wouldn't know.
I turn off the faucet, swipe the water droplets from my lips with the back of my hand and reluctantly meet my wary expression in the mirror above the sink. But I do not see my face. What I see is a monster, a demon straining against its shackles. My eyes give me away. They are no longer as black as my damned soul. Now they are rimmed with the thinnest ribbon of ruby, just a shade darker than the blood I so desperately crave.
Rationally, I know the color will fade by nightfall. Had I sampled enough human blood to stain them for days Bella would not be alive. I would not be in this dismal hospital room with its nondescript décor and garish fluorescent lights that seem to make my alabaster skin all the more startling in its paleness. I bare my teeth at my reflection in agonized frustration.
The face glowering back is not human by any means.
And still I've enough remnants of my human instincts to feel a multitude of emotions. Anger at my carelessness, sorrow for her pain, guilt that she should be the one to suffer for the sin of my existence, repugnance at the animal within hiding behind a cultivate façade…
Yet the most abhorrent emotion of all is the lust for another taste. Just one more sip of the warm, heady nectar that flows through her veins, only to drown myself in that delicate flavor all lavender, freesia and Bella.
NO! I clamp my jaw closed and swallow the venom that floods my mouth. I will not… I could never…
But the harsh, cutting truth is that I could have. My bloody eyes reveal the temptation. A part of me desperately wanted to. My throat burns with the unbearable thirst.
It still does.
Shame, another human sentiment, keeps my stare from shifting in the mirror to Bella's still from lying in the bed behind me. I should not be here, not with the taste of her blood still in my mouth and the heady essence of it ravaging my sanity.
This is lunacy. At any second my tenuous control could slip and I could easily- so very easily- succumb to the beast. The blood lusting wretch that I am is eerily comparable to a shark caught in a feeding frenzy. I've tasted blood and now my every molecule is on the hunt for more.
Always craving more.
I am an idiot. To allow myself to be alone with Bella, now when she is weak and vulnerable is amazingly foolish. A single lapse in discipline and I will destroy someone infinitely precious to me.
I really should leave.
But I'd already said to hell with what I should do the moment I decided to make her a necessity.
Because that is what she is to me- an unholy need, an addiction that bests my control, a sick torture I willingly inflict upon myself, the inducement of my depravity- and for all that… she's the light in my endless pall of darkness. The single thing I strive to be worthy of.
But to what purpose do I court disaster?
I have no inkling. Only that Bella will be the death of me. And if I remain with her, I will be her damnation.
So a compromise then. My life for Bella's future.
Anything to ensure that this never happens again…
The consistent beeping of the heart monitor is only echoed by the faint ticking of the wall clock Even though I've not glanced at the time piece once I know we've been in this confined room little over an hour. Prior to that it was the waiting room where I paced as nameless doctors stabilized her. Through the seemingly endless hours since this morning I've been deliberating my next course of action.
I can not risk exposing Bella in such a way again. Granted James was an accident but with her luck I should have expected it. It seemed harmless enough to include her in our family baseball game- well, as harmless as a human surrounded by vampires can be- and the evening would have been uneventful. If only James' little coven had arrived a day later. Even an hour later...
Rage crashes over me and I grip the edge of the sink hard enough to hear the ceramic begin to crack. It takes resolute effort for me to take deep breath, to relax my fists and step back. Breaking the room apart will not give me what I want and I can not begrudge Emmett and Jasper for putting an end to the bastard.
But I should have been the one to rend James apart. He was mine.
James' audacity as he tracked Bella was insultingly juvenile, as was the game of cat and mouse that ensued. I failed to put an end to him quickly and in turn he came awfully damn close to taking away the most precious person in my life.
He was mine to dismember. I wanted to feel his flesh tear, to hear his bones snap…
I needed to be the one to take his fucking head off.
But Bella needed me more. Naturally her needs will always take priority to my own. Simply another display of the damaging affections I have for her and, ironically, the only safe way I can express them.
Knowing that is the only thing keeping my temper remotely in check. I shudder to think of what I'd do if she were...
I deflect the unwelcome thought before it can bring me to my knees. Alice promised a full recovery. Bella is alive, not well by any stretch of the imagination, but very much alive and on the mend. I have to trust in that.
My guilt, however, will not be assailed by reassurances. It is far too late for that. I am to blame for her condition, not matter how inadvertently.
If I were human like Mike Newton, Bella would be safe with me. She would be in the best of health and I would not be lamenting my inability to do right by her. I could kiss her without being afraid that in the next breath I will rip her throat out with my razor sharp teeth.
If I were human I would deserve her trust. Maybe even her love.
But I am immeasurably unworthy. How can Bella not see that? Because Alice can. She's seen Bella's future and the possibility of transformation…
It makes me sick just to imagine my beautiful, endearing Bella condemned to a soulless existence. I will not destroy her chances at heaven. I could not bear to banish her from her family. Bella will remain human, I don't care what Alice says. I'll cut out my silent heart first.
It's hard to breathe as I turn to Bella, bracing myself for the gravity of what I've done. It is agony to look at her, so heart-wrenchingly fragile and swallowed by tubes and wires. The bruises on her arms and face are just starting to darken. In another few hours her skin will turn that sickly shade of black-ish blue. I want to touch her but I don't dare.
For the duration of my immortal existence I will take with me the image of Bella as I found her, broken and lifeless lying amidst shards of glass in a growing pool of her own blood. For one excruciating moment I had thought she was dead.
Her painful screams still ring in my ears just like the sweetness of her blood still teases my tongue.
Swallowing hard against fresh venom, I close the distance to her bedside. A bone-deep weariness, that has nothing to do with exhaustion, seeps through the soulless carcass I refer to as a body and I sink into the customary chair arranged beside her narrow bed.
The inexpensive vinyl creaks in protest as I lean forward to cover Bella's limp hand with my own. Her skin is cold, lacking its usual vibrant warmth.
I jerk my hand away.
The quick motion stirs the air and her scent washes over me. Only it is wrong. Her blood is diluted, a derivative of the transfusions that saved her life. I can barely detect her essence, that sweetly provocative fragrance that is my fix.
I'd explained to Bella as best I could, that to me her blood was like heroine to an addict. A fair comparison, when using human terms, for Bella is very much an unhealthy habit that I can not kick.
Perhaps habit is not the right word. Bella is far more like a compulsion, a need fundamentally irrational yet as unyielding as the detrimental obsession of a madman.
Madness is quite accurate. Our unorthodox relationship is utter madness. Both Jasper and Emmett said as much. I did listen to their warnings. I even agreed with their evaluation of my mental state. Still… how do I explain the complex feelings Bella rouses inside me?
I can not translate what I feel when Bella smiles at me or when she breathes my name in her sleep. Euphoric. Humbled. Smitten. Vulnerable. Invincible. Undeserving.
Such a pure creature can not be meant for me. She's… she's like… the sun. How do you hold the sun?
"You can't." I say to no one in particular, my voice nothing more than a sigh.
A burning, aching knot of anguish rises in my chest as I face an unavoidable certainty. As much as I love her, as many times as I will turn myself inside out for her and despite every precaution I could take, it will never be enough. She will always be at a disadvantage because of me until I will inevitably ruin her life.
It is that fear that keeps me company during my vigil. The minutes pass as my eyes scrutinize the rise and fall of Bella's chest, each breath as steady as the last. It's only when I hear the faintest footsteps approaching the door that I wish I could remain alone nursing my black musings.
I grunt a response knowing that Alice can hear me well enough. Her concern for me is dancing around the corners of my mind.
Can I come in?
My first impulse is to snarl and wish her to the devil. Alice growls softly. She must have seen it too.
"What the hell." I sigh. "Misery loves company."
The door opens silently and there is Alice, her pixy's face corpse pale and her dark eyes pinched with worry. Her probing gaze holds mine for a long moment but she refrains from asking the usual trite questions. I hear them just the same.
"Save your concern for Bella." I mutter.
Alice comes to my side perching her tiny form on the arm of my chair. Always the most affectionate of my family, she places her arm around my shoulders and rests her head atop mine. It's a measure of comfort that I can not refuse. Slowly the tension coiled in my muscles begins to relax.
Reaching up, I give her hand an affectionate pat. "I apologize for being rude. It is wrong of me to lash out at you. Forgive me."
"Naturally." She quips, giving my shoulders a squeeze. Of course I forgive you. We're family after all.
This is why Alice is my favorite sister.
Oh! I almost forgot. Renée will be here soon. Just so you know.
I expected as much. "How soon?"
An hour. Maybe less. Her plane will be landing in twenty minutes.
I nod and we both lapse into a comfortable silence. I try to tune out Alice's thoughts as she ponders Bella's injuries with honest sympathy but they echo in my head reluctantly.
Not for the first time I am glad that Alice's gift is different than mine. She does not need privy to the chaotic mess circling about in my mind.
Because I'm not paying complete attention, I'm a little out of sorts when Alice says, "I know I said it before… I truly am sorry. If I'd stayed by Bella's side in the airport none of this would have happened."
"This is not your burden Alice."
It's not yours either.
My brow wrinkles with a fierce scowl. "How can you say that?"
Because James was the one that nearly killed Bella, not you.
"You don't underst-."
My response is cut off by Alice's impatient reasoning. This time she's speaking out loud.
"On the contrary, I understand perfectly. You're a brooder, Edward, with a really annoying tendency to be overtly dramatic. You assume the blame for anything and everything. That's just part of who you are. But I refuse to let you sulk this time. So knock it off!"
I resent the things she is saying only because of their truth. It reignites my anger and biting sarcasm. "I believe I'm cured. Thank you for the enlightening psycho analysis. Now go away."
I hiss at her, the menacing sound coming from deep within my throat. She remains unimpressed.
It hurts me to see you put yourself through this, especially when there is no need.
"Can't you let me be miserable in peace, damn it!"
"Not everything is about you." Alice snaps, sounding more like Rosalie than I'm certain she'd appreciate. She takes a deep breath and gives my shoulders another supportive squeeze. "James was a real bastard. He used Bella to get to you. If you let that come between the two of you then he still wins. Don't do that to her Edward."
"What did you see, Alice?" I ask, catching the inflection in her plea.
Nothing definite. Just the possibility of you leaving.
I suppose I'd been preparing for that all along. There is only a hollow ache in the region of my still heart in reaction to her admission. "Anything else?"
If you leave you will break more than just her heart.
That hits the mark and I wince.
Bella loves you.
Because I love her I will do the right thing, even if it kills me.
"She will survive. In fact, I've done nothing but complicate her life. Bella will be much better off once I'm no longer around." I say, but whether to convince Alice or myself I'm not sure.
She needs you, Edward. More than you can imagine.
I want to believe Alice but… "I'm inclined to disagree."
A humorless smile curves my lips. I have no right to cling to Alice's observations like a lifeline and yet I am unable to prevent myself from doing exactly that. I'm selfish enough to exploit any excuse to remain with Bella.
"I'm not going anywhere until Bella is coherent, at the very least, and probably not even then. I haven't been able to stay away from her as of yet. It is highly unlikely that will suddenly change."
But if my absence would keep her safe...
"Alice I need a few minutes if I'm to be on my best behavior once Renée arrives." Considering that I have never met Bella's mother, my statement was not a lie. I could only hope I would make a favorable first impression.
Alice leans away from me, giving me another measuring look. I'm not sure what my expression reveals, perhaps a hint of resignation and a touch of wry humor, but the satisfaction oozing from her thoughts is enough to put an impish smile on her face.
"All right, I'm going. Just remember, Bella is the best thing that has ever happened to you. Don't screw it up."
I stare after Alice, bemused. She is an odd one, I have to give her that. Only Alice would try and find a bright outlook to this bleak situation.
I am not sure how I should feel. With my good intentions in opposition to my desire, I remain ambivalent. My thoughts are convoluted to the point of being tedious, and now is not the opportune time to disassemble them into sensible order.
I shift my focus back to Bella and take her small hand in both of mine, mindful of the IV tubes. My fingertips caress her wrist seeking her steady pulse. Unable to resist, I press a gentle kiss to her palm and then another directly to her pulse point.
My lips linger against her skin longer than necessary as I close my eyes and breathe her in as deeply as possible. Her scent is still off, but it is enough to send my head spinning and my mouth watering. I draw in another breath stealing a bit more of her for myself.
Still, I am in control. Even the haunting taste of her exquisite blood is not undermining my resistance.
So I acquiesce and seize this moment greedily, knowing that once Renée arrives the chance to be alone with Bella will be unlikely. I can not afford to be indiscreet regarding my true nature.
Kissing Bella's sallow skin a final time, I put a prudent distance between her wrist and my teeth. But I keep hold of her hand, unwilling to relinquish the contact.
Because of Bella, for the first time in ninety years my existence consists of more than blood and death. She induced an awakening of the humanity I believed was lost to me. Sometimes, when I'm with her, I feel more like a man than a monster.
After all of that, how could I manage without her?
I have no answer. For now, I suppose that will have to be enough. When she is healed… well, I'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Bella is my life now, for better or worse. Nothing else is certain but that fact.
A.N. – This is what I'm doing when I should be sleeping. I am totally Team Edward. Can't you tell?
I started this piece about a month ago. I was curious to see a scene in which Alice and Edward show their sibling affection and I figured what better moment than when Bella is in the hospital in Phoenix. Of course it sort of snowballed from there into an angsty end result.
Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.