Part V.

"I'm a monster," Edward heaved, and the gun scraped against Bella's skin as his arm shook.

"No," she whispered, barely audible to her own ears. She wondered if she even thought the word in the first place, or if it was a ghost of the long ago past.

"Yes." Edward's voice was a desperate wheeze, a sick, frightening sound. "Oh, Bella, I know I've hurt you... and my family."

"Edward, please. Listen to reason," Bella begged. Not because of the gun at her face, but because of the sadness in his. She could hardly bear to see him this way.

"And..." Edward's lips trembled. "Jasper and Rose."

The knuckles of Edward's free hand cracked, infusing the almost silent air with anticipation. Tears slipped from pale cheeks and onto the wooden floor, landing with splashes not heard over the ticking of the wall clock.

Bella realized that it wasn't only Edward. She cried, too, her eyes casting wild blurs across the things in front of her. Bella's vision swam like the air in her head.

"I'm no better than them," he mumbled, looking now at his feet. Bella glanced down with him, and noticed, so close now, blood on the hems of his jeans.

She lifted her eyes and gazed at him in confusion. "How can you think that?" she asked of him lightly. "Those people are hardly people. What they did to you–"

"Are exactly the things I've done, Bella... I've killed. And tortured. I– I don't want to be in someone's nightmares the way they are in mine."

"Oh, Edward, it's okay. After the things you've been through..."

"That's no excuse. Bella, people shouldn't have to live in pain." The gun pressed further into her forehead, and she squirmed, pushing herself against and towards it– closer to Edward, always closer to Edward.

"Yet so many do. Because of me. And so many don't live at all. I've hurt more people than I can count. People I don't even know." Edward breathed in deeply, as if to regain his composure– except that he only seemed to be falling further apart. "But most importantly, and worst of all, I've hurt the ones I love."

"Edward, what's happened in the past doesn't affect the way I feel for you. I'll love you forever. Despite everything that's happened."

"You shouldn't have to! I shouldn't have–" Edward faltered, and the hand at his side stretched out to Bella's face. He caressed her cheek gently but firmly. He flexed his fingers, and his joints crackled near her ears.

"I've hurt you, Bella."

"I love you," she told him shakily, full lower lip drawing up above her other.

"Oh, sweetheart, I know I'm the one making you cry–"

"Not for the reason you think."

"Believe me, Bella!" Edward spat at her, suddenly harsh, his eyes feverish and crazed. "I would do anything to reverse this."

"Edward?" Bella hunched her shoulders, wary now of the look on his face.

"I know it's all my fault, baby, but if I could turn back time... If I could only change the things I've done..."

Edward really was her soul mate. They only wanted the same thing.

They both wanted the past, Bella thought, crossing her eyes to look directly at the metal above and between them.

No, she thought then. I don't want the past.

"Edward," she told him then, more firmly than any words she had spoken that night. "You don't need to do that for me."

His face seemed to fold in upon itself, his features contorting. His voice a horrid blank, he asked, "You don't want to go back to what we had? Don't you miss–"

"I don't miss you, Edward." His fist tightened around the gun. Bella swallowed. "I don't need to. You're right here."

He regarded her cautiously, angrily– and with an immense loneliness Bella could barely comprehend.

"We don't need the past, Edward; we could have the future. Together."

His eyebrows pulled together even as he breathed out with relief softening the set of his lips.

"I don't deserve that," Edward muttered finally, lowering the gun to his side as he did.

Bella moved forward by inches, burying her face in his jeans.

"But I need you, Edward. Can't you accept it anyways, for me?"

"Bella. I love you. I don't want you to have to deal with... Like I said, no one should have to live in pain."

"No one," Bella agreed.

Edward's fingers curled around Bella's hair, freezing against her warm skull. There was relative silence amidst their heavy breathing, Edward's teardrops, and always, always that damn–

A blast shattered the air. Bella felt her muscles still, maybe even her heart. She waited for what could have been forever, but a single sound told her was only a second. Edward's hand loosened its grip on her, and slowly his body fell backwards, landing before her spread-eagle, arms out to the side, toes touching her knees, the gun tumbling from his tight grip.

She crawled on top of him, peering horrified into the face she recognized and dreamed about at night. Through his gaping mouth she saw the slick bloody floor, the hole in his bones and his pulverized brain.

Trembling, Bella looked around with vapid eyes. She reached out to touch his warm arm, and let her fingers journey downward to the smoking metal.

No one should have to live in pain. Not even a man who killed hundreds, or the woman he loved. Bella gripped the gun fiercely, snuggling herself into Edward's side.

If a tree falls in a forest, does anyone hear it?

The explosive sound of gunshot and cracking human bones may as well have been the tiniest of clicks.

Clicks like that of the clock on the wall, moving time always forward.