Disclaimer: All characters, plot, and dialogue belong to Stephenie Meyer. I'm simply borrowing them for a little bit of fun. This is in no way meant to be a replacement to the original. So, thanks a ton Stephanie!
"No! Edward, look at me!"
Her voice sounded so close. Clear and evocative, the same as always. The same sound that had been in my every thought for the past seven months. Her voice. The one I heard everywhere. It almost felt as though she were here, frantic with the realization of what I was about to do.
My mouth twitched lightly at the thought of her next to me. She wasn't, but the image was enough. Enough to find that last bit of comfort, those last vestiges of warmth that had been taken from me. And enough to break my heart all over again. Enough to make me take the step which would finish what that ugly harpy fate had started when she took away my sun and left the surrounding world in an empty chill.
I'd made a promise. Bella deserved a life. That had been my mantra for so long. It had driven me to keep to my purpose, and now it drove me towards a new purpose. To end it. Because Bella did deserve a life, and I took that away from her. I was her protector and I had failed.
That was my last thought as I stepped into the sunny piazza. She's dead.
I felt something grab at me. It tugged faintly at my waist, pulling me away from this existence. Toward something else, back in the darkness. Toward hell, probably. I could still hear the clock tolling as the darkness tried to pull me in.
I opened my eyes, curious to know what sort of beast was pulling me away. What sort of punishment did it think I deserved? I wasn't in pain. I should be in pain. I'd caused Bella pain. So why did I feel no different? Perhaps it was pulling me into nothing. I'd already been so empty before that I doubted I'd recognized it if pieces of myself began slipping away. Maybe in a moment I wouldn't exist at all. That didn't seem right. I didn't deserve the peace that came with nothingness.
I looked down, meaning to ask the creature what it thought it was doing. Why wasn't I in the pain that I so clearly deserved?
Bella looked up at me.
Heaven. That's what it was. To have given me Bella after all that I had done to her. I had no words to describe my gratitude. I would have to settle with describing my awe.
"Amazing," I said. "Carlisle was right."
This was all I needed. Bella. If this were my existence for the rest of eternity, I would consider it bliss. Everything I'd been missing was back in place, and it felt as though I had never left anything behind in Forks. It was all here. I was whole again.
I took in every detail. The way her lips moved, though I didn't listen to their words. The way her dark hair was tousled and windblown, as though she'd been running. The way her chocolate brown eyes were staring up at me exactly as I'd pictured whenever I'd closed my own. The way her pale skin flushed. She seemed to be making some sort of tremendous effort. I brushed my hand along the pink of her cheek, relieved to feel its warmth. If she hadn't thrown herself from a cliff I could have sworn I was back in Forks again. One moment I was nothing and the next I was here. With Bella.
Somewhere in my consciousness I noticed the worried look on her face. Why was this angel worried? What could she have to be upset about? Surely not my death. Not when it was such a relief. It made everything so much better. Why would she want me in the world when we were both so much happier here?
"I can't believe how quick it was," I assured her. "I didn't feel a thing- they're very good." She should know I wasn't in pain. Just bliss, with her here in my arms and my lips in her hair. My Juliet, back again. "Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, hath had no power yet upon thy beauty." Oh, how true. Nothing had changed. She even smelled like Bella. The same Bella. That same fire in my throat as somewhere in the bliss the familiar thirst made itself known. "You smell just exactly the same as always. So maybe this is hell. I don't care. I'll take it." It was surprisingly easy to ignore the burning, intoxicated as I was just having her here.
My angel interrupted my thoughts with a pleading voice. Why would she be pleading with me? Didn't she know that I would give her anything she asked for?
"I'm not dead," she said, rushing through her words. "And neither are you! Please Edward," -I finally noticed her desperate tugging- "we have to move. They can't be far away!"
"What was that?" I asked. This didn't make sense. She'd jumped off a cliff. I'd been killed by the Volturi. Why wasn't she just content to stay here with me? Why couldn't I simply spend eternity holding her? She was going to have to repeat her request, because this was all too strange. Too many things were wrong with this picture.
"We're not dead, not yet! But we have to get out of here before the Volturi-"
I spun her behind me against the brick wall of the alleyway. Because hearing her say their name made everything snap into place. The reason my throat was burning with thirst. The reason for her anxiety. The reason she was ineffectively struggling to force me back into the shadowed alley. The reason that my thoughts were not the only ones I heard around me. I wasn't confused, only frightened for her safety. Because Rosalie had been wrong. She wasn't dead. Now that the world had reformed around us, I could hear them coming. They were close and they were eager for a fight.
Felix's thoughts were louder than Demetri's, and definitely more eager, but both were loaded with threat. I vaguely recognized the two members of the guard. Felix was looking from me to Bella expectantly while Demetri concentrated on trying to find the unique essence of her mind, in case he ever needed to track her. I could hear his confused frustration when he found nothing. I spread my arms in a protective gesture, but I registered the meaning behind what had happened. Bella's mind was just as inaccessible to him as it was to me. If he couldn't find her mind then he couldn't track her. And if he couldn't track her, I could protect her. I buried my relief and kept my guard up.
"Greetings, gentlemen," I said, polite to an excess. "I don't think I'll be requiring your services today. I would appreciate it very much, however, if you would send my thanks to your masters."
"Shall we take this conversation to a more appropriate venue?" Felix asked, his voice threatening. Just give me a reason, and I'd be more than happy to… introduce myself to your sweet smelling human.
"I don't believe that will be necessary. I know your instructions, Felix. I haven't broken any rules."
"Felix merely meant to point out the proximity of the sun," Demetri broke in, his voice less eager, but just as serious. "Let us seek better cover."
I didn't have much of a choice. Either I went with them, or this would turn into a fight. As reluctant as I was to part from Bella I didn't want her near that. Someone must have brought her to Italy. Who ever it was would stay with her. As long as I was with the city's vampires I could keep their focus off of her.
"I'll be right behind you," I spoke as casually as I could manage. "Bella, why don't you go back to the square and enjoy the festival?" She was safe as long as she was in the sun.
I believe Aro will want to meet this one, Felix thought. I couldn't let her run screaming into the city, now could I? That would be disastrous…for her. He added the last bit for my benefit, remembering what Aro had told him about my abilities.
"No, bring the girl," Felix said out loud, adding as much menace as he could to his voice. He was hoping to see Bella cower.
"I don't think so." I sunk into my crouch, ready to spring the second he decided to attack. Behind me I sensed Bella tense and out of the corner on my eye I saw her mouth "no".
"Shh," I muttered. The last thing I needed was Bella pulling one of her typical self-sacrificing stunts. She seemed to take the hint.
"Felix," Demetri warned. "Not here." His thoughts were on Aro's instructions and the resulting anger if they weren't followed. He turned to me. "Aro would simply like to speak to you again, if you have decided not to force out hand after all."
"Certainly, but the girl goes free."
"I'm afraid that's not possible." –Felix's eyes glinted in approval- "We do have rules to obey."
"Then I'm afraid that I'll be unable to accept Aro's invitation, Demetri."
I could hear Felix's delighted thoughts.
"That's just fine," he said. If they resist, Aro can't blame me for taking the human's life.
"Aro will be disappointed," Demetri sighed. He wanted you alive.
"I'm sure he'll survive the letdown," I said as they began to try and herd us into the alleyway. There was no doubt of a fight now. It was narrow enough here that I could hold them off while Bella ran. They wouldn't get past me. I could probably even beat them. But that didn't matter. Bella's safety was foremost. Get her out of here.
Edward! I froze and snapped to face the mental reprimand that had come from darkness behind me. Don't.
"Let's behave ourselves, shall we?" Alice said. "There are ladies present." She came to stand by my side, threatening, despite her tiny stature. Let's see them get to Bella through the two of us. They didn't stand a chance.
"We're not alone," she added, reminding them of the nearby humans. I hadn't noticed until now how close the human family actually was. Close enough to notice the tension in the alleyway. Demetri clearly didn't like the proximity.
"Please, Edward, let's be reasonable," he said, uneasy now that he no longer had the advantage in numbers. Probably not in skill either. The talents of Alice and I together could be quite intimidating.
"Let's," I said. "And we'll leave quietly now, with no one the wiser."
"At least let us discuss this more privately." He turned slightly to eye the nearby family which had doubled in size since his last glance.
If I let Demetri take the vampires, Felix thought, I'll bet no one would miss the human. Heidi's taking forever to get back, and this one smells good.
I very nearly launched myself at him. Felix's smile set me over the edge. I was just about to attack when I heard her approach.
My body was so tense that I was just barely able to get out a meaningful "no". These new thoughts were more forceful than the other two. We would either follow her or she would make us follow her. And she could.
I reluctantly relaxed my defensive stance, still making sure to keep in front of Bella as she peeked around me. Demetri and Felix drew back, confident in Jane's power.
"Jane," I sighed. One of the Volturi's strongest weapons. We were out of options. It was clearly a case of follow or die. Because even if Bella was immune to Jane's powers in the same way that she was to mine, and I wasn't willing to test that theory, Alice and I were still vulnerable. If we were incapacitated, Bella didn't stand a chance.
In Alice's mind I saw flickers of us in the large room used when they fed. I couldn't let them take Bella there. My mind sifted through every possible alternative. But with Jane here there was nothing I could do.
It might be best to just play along and see where this leads, Alice thought. The Volturi are bound by their own laws like the rest of us. If we can reason with them, it might be our only chance.
"Follow me," Jane commanded and walked away down they alley, not looking back to see if we obeyed.
After you, Felix gestured us forward with a smirk. Unless you'd prefer me to take the human myself? My fingers twitched, just begging me to ball them into a fist.
Alice was already following behind Jane. I pulled Bella close to me by the waist and we continued the procession into the alley. Despite the threat hanging over our heads, part of me wanted yell out in joy. I had my Bella back, and I would never leave her.
She looked up at me with questioning eyes. True to my request, she'd been quiet throughout the entire exchange. Even now, when I shook my head 'no', unable to give her the answers she wanted with three of the Volturi guard surrounding us, she only nodded her head in understanding. I didn't deserve her. I had brought this down on her through my own carelessness and she was bearing all of it with an overwhelming amount of bravery. After I'd left her. Betrayed her love. And now I'd put her life in the hands of the most powerful vampires our world knew. How could she endure this when I had betrayed her so completely?
"Well Alice," I said, working to keep my tone light. My poker face. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see you here."
"It was my mistake," Alice said calmly. "It was my job to set it right." I'm so sorry Edward. Can you ever forgive me? I didn't realize- her thoughts turned into a jumble of images.
I nodded ever so slightly. "What happened?"
"It's a long story. In summary, she did jump off a cliff, but she wasn't trying to kill herself. Bella's all about the extreme sports these days."
Alice toyed vaguely with the idea of hiding what she knew, probably trying to spare me the pain that I deserved. But she decided against it. You need to know, she thought. Besides, knowing Aro and his powers, you'll probably find out anyways. I caught glimpses of conversations with Charlie and Bella. Werewolves. Bella was spending all of her time with werewolves. I could see this Jacob's face through Alice's memories as he tried to control his temper. And worse, Victoria. Again, she had slipped away from me, finding her way back to Forks with revenge as her foremost thought. This was what I'd left Bella with?
Alice's thoughts flickered to a conversation with Charlie, trying to filter what she should and should not let me see. She skipped over most of the conversation quickly, but I caught enough to see why she felt the need to edit.
"I thought I was going to have to hospitalize her…"
"…words like 'catatonic'…"
The memories made me want to curl into a ball again in some random corner of South America. I wished them away, wanting none of it to be real. And yet, they kept coming. The worst image was of Bella. Her tears when she'd seen Alice again. I struggled to stay composed as Alice remembered Bella clinging desperately around her neck, not able to handle another goodbye. Bella had always been glass, so fragile. But here, she looked like she would shatter at any moment. Like the only thing holding her together was Alice's arms.
I was the one who had done that to her.
"Hm," was all I could manage. If I said anymore, I might lose my last shred of self-control and simply succumb to the simultaneous joy and mind-numbing grief that I felt having her here. Bella followed my lead and kept quiet as well.
I wondered if her thoughts were also on those months of separation. For the first time it occurred to me that as wrong a plan as it might have been, perhaps it had worked. Had she moved on? Obviously she still cared about me; enough to risk the Volturi to keep me alive. But she couldn't possibly trust me. She was probably as conflicted as I was, torn between joy that we were together and fury at what I had done. When the sweetness of our reunion had worn off, would she hate me?
We walked through the alley in silence for a time until Jane lowered herself agilely through a drain near the wall. Alice followed behind her.
I felt Bella stiffen at my side and I looked down to see her staring at the drain in horror. I'd almost forgotten how terrified she must be. To her, there was no way of knowing what was on the other side. More darkness. More of the unknown. And Jane.
I, too, was reluctant to let her go. I wanted show her there was nothing to fear. That I wouldn't let anything ever hurt her again. I had caused her so much pain that all of me was aching to sooth away her fear. But Felix's steady mental stream of threatening notions continued behind us.
"It's all right, Bella," I whispered in her ear. The soft brush of her hair against my face was going to make it particularly difficult to let go. "Alice will catch you."
She nervously dangled her legs into the drain.
"Alice?" she whispered. She sounded like a child.
"I'm right here, Bella," Alice called back.
I grabbed her wrists gently and lowered her down as far as I could.
"Ready?" I asked.
"Drop her," Alice said, more for Bella's benefit than mine.
I reluctantly let her go. Not a half second later I heard a soft 'oomph' as Alice caught her and placed her on the ground. I gave Felix and Demetri a brief warning glare and hopped through the grate after Bella.
The second I landed I pulled Bella back to me, and we continued forward. I knew that once the grate was closed behind us that Bella would probably not be able to see and I wanted her to be in my arms when that happened. She wouldn't have to face the darkness alone again.
As we walked I baffled, once again, at the feeling of having her back in my arms. There were so many things I wanted to tell her. How much I loved her. How I had missed her smell and her softness. I had missed her warmth and the sound of her heart beating. I had missed holding her and kissing her.
I brought my free hand up to her cheek, savoring the feel of it after so many months. I brushed my thumb across her lips, wishing I could kiss away her fear. If it weren't for the red-eyed vampires surrounding us I would have been kissing her, boundaries be damned, at that very instant. I remembered telling her once that being around her more often made the thirst easier, but I could never remember being less thirsty than I was now.
I pressed my face to her hair and inhaled. My throat was burning like always, but I didn't mind. It was just one more reminder that she was alive. She was alive and I was determined to keep her that way. Fate had made me her protector and I would never again fail at that.
I could feel her tremble slightly with fear, and I kissed her forehead reassuringly. She had nothing to fear. She would be home in Forks before she knew it. Having her next to me made me sure. I felt stronger. Purposeful.
In front of us, Alice was sifting through our shaky future. We would at least live to see Aro, so there was little danger until we had actually arrived at our destination. After that, our futures were shifting quickly. It was a hazy fog, but every once in a while Alice could see something solid before is faded again. She saw me looking at her as I absently stroked Bella's face.
Aro is uncertain of what to do with us, she explained to me. I think we can convince him, but he wants you and your abilities. What were you thinking coming here? Forget me, what would Carlisle think? Or Esme? You know what this would do to her! She worked to control her frustration.
I did know, and now that I had Bella back, I was slightly more rational. Not to say that I wouldn't act the same way again if anything were to happen to her. But I could at least see the pain I would leave behind. Could I do no good in this world?
As we approached the end of the storm drain, and the darkness began to lift, I felt Bella shaking beside me. As her teeth started to chatter it dawned on me that she wasn't shaking with fear, but with cold. Somehow she had gotten wet, and here underneath the city she must be freezing. And of course my ice cold skin wasn't helping. I dropped my arms and settled with just holding her hand. There was no way I could let her go completely.
Bella's reaction was vehement, to say the least. She threw herself at me, locking her arms tightly around my waist.
"N-n-no," she said forcefully through chattering teeth, and I smiled wryly. Somewhere in me a dull ache wondered how long this would last. How long would she be grateful for my presence? Probably until we were safe again. Then she would remember all the pain. Neither of us could forgive me for all the horrible things I'd done. I would leave if she asked, of course, but for now she wanted me and I would be content with that.
The closer we got to the light, the more I could here Felix grumble.
Almost there, he thought. Once we're inside, maybe then Aro will let me have her. Demetri knows; I've got dibs.
He rushed us through the doorway and into the fluorescent lit basement of the Volturi's home, locking the grate behind us. There was no way back now that they had us inside. The walls were too thick and the guard too big. The only way out was if they let us go.
If Felix were anything to judge by, we didn't stand a chance.
Author's Note: I'm in the process of running back through and making small little changes (in both grammar and content). This was just written as a bit of fun. I uploaded it in case anyone else might enjoy it as well. Critiques are encouraged, but please be respectful. And try to use proper grammar. :)