Minutes turned into hours, hours to days. Before I knew it, it had been three months since the day James… died. A melancholy frown seemed to be permanently etched upon my face. The guilt that I felt didn't seem to lessen. I pushed everyone away. I could see that it hurt them. Especially Edward. He seemed to sense that I didn't want him near. It was a constant battle within me. I needed him… I'd always needed him. But my years away had deceived me of that. I thought I was alright, that I was functional. But the truth was that I always knew a part of me was missing.
I couldn't reconcile the amount of damage that I had done. If I hadn't let my petty jealousy and martyrdom take over, I would have never gone back to James. Edward and I would be happy, and James would still be thriving somewhere. Instead I seemed to have caused the maximum amount of destruction possible.
Edward didn't touch me, but he always watched me. Around the house, I was almost entirely quiet. He was, too. My siblings would try to engage me in conversation, but I almost never answered. It wasn't out of spite or fear… I just lacked the desire to convey anything. I felt so empty all of the time.
It wasn't as if I couldn't hear them. I heard their conversations, their whispers.
"I can't stand it, Alice. It's constant guilt, pain, regret, shame."
"I know, Jazz. She'll get better. She has to."
The most painful were the ones regarding Edward, or to Edward. His voice especially reverberated from anywhere in the house.
"Edward, maybe you should talk to her. You're the only one that could possibly get through-" Esme began, timidly.
"She'll come to me when she's ready."
He always sounded so sad, so… defeated. It made me feel even worse. I slowly got to my feet, craving nourishment. Hunting was the only thing that I smoothly adjusted to. Hunting animals came naturally and offered me single moments where I could focus my mind on the hunt, and nothing else. I went downstairs, not surprised to find that all talking ceased as soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs.
They were all seated in the family room, all looking up at me with various expressions. Esme concerned, Carlisle and Rosalie wary, Edward loving yet unbelievably sad, Emmett worried, Jasper flinching (my emotions were rarely kept in check) and Alice… hopeful? I cocked my head to the side slightly. It was rare for her to look anything but worried or depressed when I was around, regardless of how much she tried to be happy around me.
"Going hunting?" Carlisle asked carefully. I gave a curt nod as I headed to the door. Edward automatically moved to stand up. He still seemed to think that if I was left alone, I would disappear. It had taken weeks for the family to convince him that I could go hunting without supervision. I'm sure Alice's talents came in handy in that respect. Carlisle had been helping me learn to master my gift. I was at the point where I could physically extend or withdraw a field around me at will. When it was up, I would disappear from Alice's visions. I kept it down, though, mostly to keep Alice off my back.
"Yes." I answered, flinching at the rough sound of my voice. I spoke so infrequently that it was raspier than usual. Edward quickly sat down at a look (or a thought) from Alice. He looked at her, furrowing his brow. Shrugging, I walked through the door. I breathed in the air, savoring the earthy scents. It was twilight… still my favorite time of day.
I ran quicker than usual. I smelled a herd of deer about a mile ahead, so I took off into the trees. Arriving within what felt like a few moments, I quickly pounced. I efficiently drained four deer before reaching my fill. I paused, a trail of blood still trickling from the corner of my mouth. As the rest of the deer fled, I took in a deep breath as I realized where I was. The meadow. Our meadow.
I'd intentionally refrained from coming here, afraid and wary of the emotions that it would bring. I settled down on the grass, wiping my mouth and letting my other hand skim over the smooth strands of grass. Laying here reminded me how I was, who I used to be. How wonderful Edward had looked in my eyes. How desperate and unworthy I felt. The ecstasy that he inspired by just holding me in his arms.
The main source of my grief was the conflict between my lasting feelings for Edward, and my actions with James. And I had no way to make amends, seemingly with either. I was afraid to talk to Edward, and a conversation with James was obviously impossible. I suddenly remembered a lesson from one of Renee's many guru-inspired tapes that she kept around the house in Phoenix: to write a letter to someone who's gone, telling them everything you wanted to.
I laid down on the grass, comforted as I looked up to the clear, steadily darkening sky. Without pen and paper, I could only try to say what I wanted to tell James. It was worth a try.
"I…" I began, feeling silly, "I'm sorry about what happened. You didn't deserve it." I paused, a small smile tugging at my lips, "Or maybe you did. You always were so confrontational. Had to get what you want. I know they told me the truth, that you provoked them. I still don't know why. You were the best fighter I've ever seen. You had to know that you were outnumbered, that the odds were against you." Sadness clutched at my heart as I tried to picture what his final moments looked like.
"I do miss you. I miss your company, and… the distraction. I know that you loved me. I never doubted that. I know you know that I wanted to love you back." If I could cry, tears would have been pouring down my face. "You deserved to be loved. I don't care what they say. Sure, you were a monster. You killed unrepentantly. But somehow you found a part of yourself that was capable of love, and you wasted it on me." I sniffed, wiping at my face instinctively.
"I wanted to love you, but I see now why I couldn't. My heart was already spoken for. In some ways I think you knew it, too. Sometimes I get angry with you. If you really loved me, would you have let me leave Edward? Run from the Cullens? But there are different kinds of love, and I know you needed me near you." I sighed, running a hand through my hair.
"I'm mostly sad because of all the things I never got to say to you. I forgave you for killing me and turning me. But I don't think I can forgive myself. I took the cowardly way out. I gave myself to you… my body, at least. I tried to pretend that I wasn't already broken." I tugged on the grass, frustrated, "I think they want me to regret it, and of course I do in some ways. But in others, you helped me find myself. You forced me to think about what it is I want."
I paused, glaring up at the sky again. "I can't take anything back, and it's useless to try. But I can't help from thinking of so many 'what if's.' I don't know what to do now. I love him. I always have, and I always will. But what have I done? He couldn't possibly want me the same way now. Every time I was with you, I was betraying him." I closed my eyes, "And it hurts. It makes me even more unworthy of him than when I was human." I laughed ruefully.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. I think I need to be on my own, away from them. I already hurt you. I don't want to ruin them, too." A small crackle caused me to open my eyes and jump to my feet within a millisecond. My mouth dropped open, shocked. I said the name I hadn't in so long.
My life was heaven and hell. Hell because I couldn't touch her or reach for her. Heaven because she was here. The past months had me doubting that any feelings she had for me remained at all. She avoided everyone, but especially me, at any cost. When she wasn't hunting she was locked away in her room.
When she came down the stairs, I instinctively drank her appearance in. She was still so heartbreakingly beautiful. When I heard she was going hunting, I moved to follow. It was still there, the deep and threatening fear that she may leave and never come back. Alice stopped me with a thought.
Edward, wait a moment. Please.
I frowned as I sat back down, trying to look into her mind. Besides that thought, she was blocking me out. She started to recite the preamble to the Constitution. I huffed angrily. She hadn't blocked me for years. What had changed now?
As soon as Bella breezed out of the door, I snapped my head towards Alice.
"What is it?" I asked, annoyed. I usually followed Bella from a distance, even when she thought she was hunting alone.
"Wait…." Alice said, a small smile on her face. She paused for another twenty seconds before beaming. "Okay, go. But stay out of her view, at least until she's killed the fourth deer." She shoved me out of the door before I had the chance to reply. I shrugged, moving to follow Bella's scent through the forest.
I almost ran into a tree when I realized where she was. Our meadow. Hope burst through my chest as I watched her drop the fourth carcass, looking around her. I stayed out of view, wanting to see what she'd do.
I didn't expect her to start talking.
What she said was both exhilarating and devastating. I knew she had grieved for James, but I didn't consider his feelings for her. Didn't want to. She obviously had a connection with him, and I felt a momentary stab of remorse for taking anyone away from her, even that bastard. I realized that he loved her, too. For a moment I didn't hate him. I couldn't really hate him anymore. How could I, when the same feelings he felt were the ones currently throbbing in my chest? Love for Bella.
My hope grew sky high as I heard her describe her love for me. She still loves me. I almost purred. I frowned when I heard her speak so poorly of herself. She couldn't possibly think we were better off without her? That I was better off without her? Lost in my thought, I accidentally brushed up against a tree, cracking a small branch beneath my foot. In a moment she was up and looking at me. Then she said my name. I stopped breathing. She said it like a prayer.
"Bella." I breathed out, taking a step towards her. She retreated a step, fear and something else in her eyes. I kept going forward.
"Bella." I repeated, "Please." I stood in front of her. She was shaking.
"I can't." She whispered, her voice wavering, "I can't hurt you anymore." I shook my head.
"Then don't leave. Stay. The past is the past, and I love you. Be with me." I spoke, extending a hand to her. She closed her eyes tightly, still shaking like a leaf. Following my instincts, I reached to take her in my arms. She stiffened for a moment before melting against me.
Feeling after feeling assaulted me as I held her tightly. Grief for the time we had lost, but mostly joy and peace that I was finally holding her. She gripped around my neck tightly, burying her face in my neck.
"I love you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" She whispered against my skin. I squeezed her tighter, looking up to the sky in thanks.
"No more apologies, Bella. On either side." She nodded, bringing her face next to mine. Her amber eyes shined as she slowly leaned forward. Before she could reach my lips, I closed the difference. I poured everything I had into the kiss. As my lips traced hers, my body sang with delight and content. I nipped at her bottom lip before the kiss turned more passionate. Our teeth clashed as she raised her legs to grip around my waist, our tongues battling for dominance. She let out a throaty groan before rubbing up against me. Once, twice… Ah. Every thrust of her tongue was accompanied by her legs and arms tightening around me. I lowered my hands to cup her ass as I unsteadily walked us up against a tree.
Pressing her against the rough bark, I never stopped kissing her. I ran my hands smoothly down her sides and back up, caressing her arms, stomach, breasts- anything I could touch. The skirt she was wearing rippled between us, and I suddenly saw all clothing as an obstacle. I ripped at her shirt, tearing it into pieces as I dug my fingers into her smooth lower back. She responded in kind, putting her hands in every place imaginable until every scrap of clothing had fluttered past to my feet.
We backed up from the tree, and I carried her to the ground. Still fused to my mouth, she immediately gripped my already throbbing cock. I hissed in pleasure but drew back from her. "Bella, love. Let's take it slow." She eyed me then, fear in her expression. I understood what she was thinking. That this would be my first time… and not hers.
Even though I'd guessed as much, hurt and jealousy still came, unbidden. I shook my head to get rid of them and she began to scramble away, muttering "I'm sorry…" I sighed before grabbing her ankle and jerking her back under me. Breathing heavily, she looked up at me, a question and longing in her eyes.
"Was that an apology, Bella?" I murmured, my previous hurt forgotten as I lowered myself onto her, propping myself up by my hands. I dipped my mouth and began licking a trail from her neck, ever so slowly down to her navel.
"Y-Yes." She stuttered, squirming under me.
"No more of those, didn't we say?" I said lowly against the soft skin of her stomach. She nodded, biting her lip as she threaded her fingers through my hair. I breathed in the heady scent of her arousal. I'd never wanted anything so much.
"Stop teasing, please. I need you. Now." She spoke, groaning near the end. I nodded, positioning myself by her glistening entrance.
"Bella…" I said, looking her in the eyes. She smiled softly at me before kissing me once more, bringing her hips up to meet mine until I was buried in her to the hilt. I gasped into her mouth as she moaned against me, running her fingers from my hair down my back. Warm, soft, wet. I tentatively drew back before pushing back in. She moaned her approval, urging me to go on.
As I found a rhythm, I could feel a slow burn began to tingle near my stomach. I breathed heavily, leaning to bite her affectionately on the ear. "Bella, I'm-"
"Me too. So close. Please…" She whispered harshly in my ear. I grit my teeth before I thrust in one last time. I bit her breast and growled as I reached my peak, blackness taking over my sight and my fingers and toes tingling. I could feel her tremble around my cock as she threw her head back, taking a deep rasping breath. I moved to lay next to her, reaching for her hand and entwining her fingers with mine. We both looked to the night sky, still breathing hard. She slowly moved to nestle against me, her head in the crook of my neck and with an arm and a leg thrown over my body. She closed her eyes, purring in contentment.
She is home. She is back. She is mine, and I am hers.