Fate Worse Than Death

Summary: New Moon AU. After Edward leaves her, Bella's haze and her danger magnet lead her down a path of abandonment, insanity, and the very edge of death. How do the pieces of her life fit back together again? A tale of salvation, family, fear, recovery, forgiveness, justice, and mercy.

Pairing: E/B
Rating: M for Mature, including language and descriptions of abuse
Disclaimer: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Midnight Sun, as well as all characters therein, are all intellectual property of Stephenie Meyer. Portions of her work are reprinted, but no copyright infringement is intended. All other copyrighted material will be credited at the end of the chapter in which it appears. References to St. Vincent de Paul Mental Hospital are fictitious, and are not representative of the St. Vincent de Paul Society or any other real hospital by that name.
A/N: Special thanks to sirah87 for beta services and always being willing to hash stuff out with me!
This chapter inspired by "My Immortal" by Evanescence.

Chapter 1 The Haze

My grief lies all within, and these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul.

~William Shakespeare

I don't think I can live through seeing you try harder. I've never seen anyone trying so hard. It hurts to watch.

Despite my attempts to distract myself with Calculus, snatches of this morning's conversation with Charlie sprouted in my mind like fast-growing weeds.

I want you to be happy—no, not even that much. I just want you not to be miserable.

If my charade hadn't fooled him after all this time, then Charlie was just out of luck. I didn't know how to be anything else, and his wellbeing was the only reason I'd bothered to pretend in the first place.

I think you'll have a better chance if you get out of Forks.

He had a snowball's chance in hell of making me leave, of that much I could be certain. I hadn't asked Charlie for anything but grocery money in months. I did everything that needed to be done without complaint. He owed me this one thing, didn't he? To just let me be, to not push me away?

But if he did try to send me away again, what would I do? I couldn't leave Forks. It was all I had.

It's been months. No calls, no letters, no contact. You can't keep waiting for him.

I hadn't even been lying when I told him I wasn't waiting for anything. And I truly had no expectations.

I just had to hold on to this one thing, to this one place, to this last shred of meaning. If Charlie didn't want me around anymore, I could deal with it. Living on my own would be difficult, certainly, but I would manage. It wouldn't be the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

But not being in Forks would erase the last of the magic. The last thing keeping me alive.

I was getting too close to painful memories, thinking like that. The ripping sensation in my chest began to make its presence known. I uselessly bit my lip.

Redirecting my thoughts, I decided not to make plans with anyone this evening, though I'd told Charlie I would. Instead I would just drive to Port Angeles, sit on a bench for a while, and then come home. I would tell Charlie I met some local kids my own age. I would tell him I walked around the boardwalk, or that I went to dinner. Something typical for a Friday night.

I double checked that I'd written my name on today's assignment.

Bella Swan

January 15th

Or I'd just go home and not worry about it. What did it matter? Charlie had already seen through my pretense of normality. Was there even a point to it anymore?

Calculus. Stave off the pain with calculus.

The derivative of x^3 + 3x^2 + 9 is 3x^2 + 6x.

The familiar haze crept back, numbing the ache, and I could go on with my afternoon.

And then it was Saturday, and according to my watch my shift at Newton's was over. I didn't really care that I had no memory of the previous night or the last eight hours. I didn't care why I seemed to have a bruise forming on my shin. Losing track of time was the best way to avoid all forms of pain, which was the central point to the haze in the first place.

After work I did the grocery shopping. Not much produce in season, especially this far north, but I could make do with what was there. Charlie didn't need anything fancy. I stumbled through the store and tossed a bag of frozen broccoli into the cart, which suddenly seemed to be half-full. Life on autopilot may not be fun, but it certainly was efficient.

And then it was Sunday morning, and I was up to my elbows in bathtub cleaner, rubbing the spot where I'd just bumped my funny bone. I sighed and continued the mundane task.

And then it was Sunday afternoon, and I had just finished a paper for my Economics class and was about to start on physics homework.

And then it was Sunday night, and the gaping hole in my chest screamed; the burning cold was too much, just too much after three days of numbness. Tears fell fast and hot, and I clutched myself with all the strength I could muster to keep from ripping apart and bleeding out, but it didn't matter. I couldn't feel my lungs expanding or my heart thudding. I bit my lip until it bled, but this did nothing to distract me from the agony. This wasn't death, it was slow torture. Sobs shook my body for hours before sleep found me.

Then came the nightmare, same as always but no less potent. A cruel, silent game of hide and seek with no winner. Trees everywhere, giving no clues, sharing no secrets, until there were no secrets, and no one to seek, and nobody who might seek after me, and an eternity of solitude stretched out before me as it closed in on me…

And I was screaming, and I couldn't be sure it was Monday morning.

Charlie looked more worried than usual today. I wondered idly if I'd forgotten to take my towel off the bathroom mirror again. Renee had lost a friend to pancreatic cancer when I was nine, and at that age I hadn't understood the Jewish custom of covering the mirrors when sitting shivah, why anyone would not want to see their own face.

I had no trouble with the concept now. My bedroom mirror had a sheet permanently in place.

"Do you need a note for school?" Charlie asked.

What a strange question. "Note?" I echoed.

"For yesterday, sweetie," Charlie said gently. "Are you still feeling sick? I can stay home with you."

I bit my lip and glanced briefly at the digital watch Charlie had given me. The Timex Ironman Triathlon. Law enforcement and military personnel swore by it. It even had a date display.

6:45 AM


January 19

I had lost an entire day. Monday just…wasn't.

"No thanks, Dad," I said carefully. Or at least I thought I said it carefully. Was my voice still as lifeless as he'd accused? "I should get caught up on what I missed."

I should. But did I want to, truly?

"Are you sure, Bella?"

Not really. I didn't see a need for it.

"I'm sure. Thanks for the offer, though."

I shook my head to clear it.

And I was standing in front of a bathroom mirror at school.

Somewhere, in a corner of my mind, it bothered me that the haze was taking more of my time than it had before.

But just now it was a secondary concern to the person in the mirror, the person I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid looking at.

Her skin wasn't just pale. It was bleached, nearly transparent, and it hung from the bones of her face like torn spider webs. The eyes, dull and murky, appeared to have been punched recently, so dark were the bags underneath them. The hair wasn't a mess, but it had no shine and lay flat and ugly, like moth-eaten curtains against the sunken cheeks.

No wonder he left.

Quickly, foolishly, I shut my eyes to that errant thought.

And a different pale face appeared behind my eyelids. An angel's face, with unruly, bronze hair, his beautiful golden eyes cold and distant, his expression hard…indifferent.

With no warning whatsoever, the hole shredded through me with so much force I actually cried out.

At that moment, Angela Weber walked into the restroom.

"Bella?" She sounded tentative.

I couldn't see her, but I knew her voice. Trying to tell her I was fine, I found that my voice was lost to choking sounds.

"Bella!" I heard her scream. Her voice came from above me. Why?

"Somebody call the nurse! Bella? Can you hear me?"

Someone was wheezing. It took an unknown length of time to realize it was me; I didn't feel it. The hole seemed to grow larger while I tried to make sense of things, so I stopped trying.

I felt someone lifting me—I must have fallen—and I was being strapped onto some kind of bed. Something covered my face and blew air at me.

It was all nothing to the stabbing in my torso.

Someone screamed. Me again. Sirens screeched.

New voices, stressed but controlled, fired off letters and numbers as they poked and prodded.

The derivative of x^3 + 3x^2 + 4x + 7 is 3x^2 + 6x + 4.

Hands pried my arms away from my chest. I hadn't remembered grabbing at it, but it was such an automatic motion by now that it was simply muscle memory, like a violinist placing her fingers in exactly the right location on the neck of her instrument to obtain an E note.

More screams that sounded like me. Wailing.

Something pricked my arm, and a rush of cold and itchiness shot up my vein. The pain dulled slightly. Just enough for all the noise to quiet, not enough to vanquish the misery.

No nightmares this time. Just the hollow aching and blackness.

The derivative of x^4 + 3x^2 is 4x^3 + 6x.

And then there was dim light. I heard the low volume of a television and familiar snores near my left side. My bed had rails.

My watch was gone, so I couldn't check the day.

But the TV was on. CNN. I scanned the bottom of the screen. No luck with the day of the week, but…

I looked again, alternating between widening my eyes and squinting. I tried to wrap my mind around what I was seeing.

11:30 PM

February 2

How long had I been here?

Had I been in a coma for two weeks? How was that even possible?

The snoring next to me got louder. "Charlie?"

Still snoring.

"Charlie," I tried again, louder this time. He heard nothing, and he was too far from the bed for me to reach without getting up.

Could I get up? I flexed the muscles in my legs. Stiff, but usable.

I swung my legs toward my father and tried to sit up. "Dad!" I said loudly.

Charlie snorted himself awake, blinking rapidly before he focused on me. "Bella? What is it? Do you need the nurse?"

Confusion swirled in my head. Hadn't I been comatose for the last two weeks? Shouldn't Charlie be overjoyed that I was sitting up and speaking?

"What happened?" I asked.

Why did Charlie look confused now?

"What do you mean, Bella? What happened when?"

"Exactly," I said. "When did I get here? How long have I been out?"

"Out?" Charlie repeated. Clearly my father was too sleepy to carry on a conversation.

I felt around the bed until I found the nurse call button. "Yes?" a bored voice answered.

"Could you send a nurse, please?" I asked. "I don't understand what's going on."

"Yes, ma'am," the voice droned.

Charlie stared at me, mouth agape.

"Go back to sleep, Dad. I'll figure this thing out."

A night nurse stepped into the room a minute later, her expression professionally detached. "What can I do for you, Miss Swan?"

"How long have I been unconscious?"

The nurse looked confused. Not a good sign at all.

"It's about 11:30, so I imagine you've only been sleeping a few hours."

This answer made no sense, so I decided to try a different question. "How long have I been in the hospital?"

Now her expression was alarmed. "You arrived yesterday afternoon. Don't you remember?"

Only one day? What happened to the other thirteen days?

"And I haven't been in a coma?"

Charlie decided to join the conversation. "Bella, what are you talking about? You had dinner a few hours ago."

"I'm paging Dr. Snow," the nurse told us, and she was gone.

"Bella?" Charlie tried again in a strained voice.

"Let's wait for the doctor, Dad," I said, biting my lip.

If I could stay awake that long.

I tried to remain focused on the particulars of the news, something I'd not done in months. It was mostly political, which was not helpful.

Fortunately, Dr. Snow was not far, and there were apparently no patients with more pressing needs at the moment. I'd managed to stay aware for ten whole minutes when Dr. Snow and my night nurse strode into the room.

"Bella, what's the last thing you remember?" Ah, so the nurse had already filled him in.

"I was in the bathroom at school…" I began, then stopped. Skipping over the worst part would be best. "Then I remember sirens. And the emergency room."

"Anything else?" he prompted.

"No, I just woke up fifteen or twenty minutes ago."

Dr. Snow exchanged a glance with Charlie before turning to the nurse.

"Has she been responsive?"

"The day nurse said she woke up screaming from a nightmare, but she's been quiet otherwise. She ate her meals and was cooperative and compliant during her tests. I haven't had any problems getting a response from her."

I'd had a nightmare during the haze? Why didn't I remember?

"But she won't do anything," Charlie piped up. "She just leaves the TV on and zones out. She won't even carry on a conversation anymore. Even before this," he gestured around the room. "It's like she's not there."

Well, they were all talking about me as if I weren't here. I cleared my throat and cocked an eyebrow at Charlie. "I'm right here, Dad." I meant for it to come out acidly, but my attempt fell a little flat.

Charlie stared into my face for ten full seconds, searching.

"Yes, you are." Another glance at Dr. Snow. "For the moment."

I was about to form a hollow protest when Dr. Snow interrupted my thought. "Bella, what's the last thing you remember before the incident at school?"

I sighed. It wasn't as though I hadn't been thinking about this a little while ago, and I was curious about this phenomenon like I hadn't been curious about anything else in months.

"I remember having breakfast with Charlie. He asked me if I needed a note for school."

Charlie's eyes grew wide with alarm. "Bella, that was two weeks ago."

Turning my eyes back to the date and time stamp on CNN, I murmured back, "Yes, I know."

Dr. Snow turned back to Charlie. "Has she shown any signs of being catatonic in the last two weeks, like Dr. Gerandy said she was the last time?"

I noted the anger in Charlie's face. "No. She cooks and cleans and goes to school and work. She's completely functional. She's just empty."

I didn't want to listen to this particular conversation now that it had taken a familiar turn. The images on CNN were quite colorful. But before I could focus on them too much, I needed something.

"Dad," I asked dully, "can I have my watch back?"

Silently, Charlie stood up and pulled my watch from his pocket and handed it to me. I started to wrap the band around my left wrist, but there was an IV inserted there.

"Ugh. Needles."

So I placed the watch on my right wrist. As I twisted it and stared at the unusual sight, my eyes fell on my crescent-shaped scar. Unable to resist, I traced it lightly with my finger. It was several degrees colder than the rest of my body.

It will be as if I'd never existed.

Television. I hated television, but the little people looked so funny when I squinted. Blurry shapes. So funny.

And then a commercial. Child-sized shapes, all dressed in pink. Synchronized. Graceful.

Ballet dancers.

My arms wrapped themselves across my torso without a conscious thought.

I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself—for him.

I must not let Charlie see.

But the throbbing had already begun.

No. No. No.

The derivative of 7x^4 – 2x^3 + 8x is 28x^3 – 6x + 8. The derivative of 28x^3 – 6x + 8 is…twenty-eight times three is ninety minus six…84x^2 – 12 x. Twenty-eight times three is eighty-four. Twenty-eight times four is one-twelve. Twenty-eight times five is one-forty.

"Bella?" a faraway voice called. I dimly registered that it was Dr. Snow.

"Yes?" I answered.

"Can you remember anything else?"

I might have answered him, but I had no idea what I said.

A tiny voice whispered, "…since the Cullens left."

Twenty-eight times six is…


Twenty-eight times six is…




Acute agony. No air. Spinning. Freezing. Burning. Bleeding. Sobbing.

The hole was, impossibly, larger.

Serrated knives carved me into pieces, and I could not hear anything but my own screams.

I was trapped in a green maze of trees, and this time I could remember who I was searching for. My blood dripped a trail on the ground, and it should have been enough to draw him out. Death at his hands would be welcome, but he was never coming back. No one would ever come back for me, no matter how much I bled, so I might as well let it all drain away.