Title: A Madman's Mercy (Ch 10)
Authors: Amethyst Jackson and Jacyevans
Category: Angst, Drama
Summary: New Moon AU - After leaving Bella, Edward gradually loses control of his ability. When he is led to believe that she is dead, Edward cracks, leaving Bella as the only one who can pick up the pieces.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Stephenie Meyer. We're just playing in her sandbox.
"I can't believe you beat me," Edward grumbled, even as we were trudging up to the house. We spent some time on the beach, air-drying - easy to do when the water rolled right off your skin.
We stopped on the porch, shaking sand out of our clothes. "That's what you get for challenging a newborn." I was pretty pleased with myself, actually.
Edward shook his head, vaguely irritated, but he looked a little proud, too. "You don't understand. No one has ever beaten me before. Newborn or no."
I stood straighter, feeling pretty proud of myself. "Really? But I was pulling ahead of you when we raced that first day - before I stopped, anyway."
Edward snorted. "Please. It was your first day as a vampire - I was letting you win."
"Oh really?" I crossed my arms and appraised his face. "I think you're lying."
"Lying?" he repeated, incredulous. "You want a rematch? Because you may have beaten me in the water, but I don't think you could do it on foot."
"Oh, you're on, old man," I said, already on the way to the back door.
He followed. "Old man?"
"Uh, yeah," I shot over my right shoulder. "You're a centenarian. I think that qualifies as old."
"Not for a vampire. Carlisle is over three hundred, and he suspects the Volturi have been around since the Roman Empire."
We reached the outdoors again, and I brushed off his argument. "You're way older than me. That means you're old."
"Whatever you say, Bella," he snorted. "Why don't we revisit this conversation in ninety years?"
My heart lodged in my throat. "Ninety years? You expect me to be around in ninety years?"
Edward looked stricken. "I just assumed that you would be joining our family when we left the island. But that is entirely up to you, of course."
"Do you want me to stay with your family?" I hadn't really wanted to ask, but foolish hope forced the words from my throat.
"Are you saying that because you feel obligated, or because you really want me to stay?"
His brow furrowed. "I really want you to stay. Do you want to?"
"Then it's settled," Edward said. He appeared puzzled by the entire exchange. "Now, are we going to have a race or not?"
We decided on the route we would take and the rules - straight across the island to the opposite beach. First to the water would win. I let Edward count us off, and when we started running, I tried to keep my mind on the task at hand. But our conversation kept me distracted. For someone who grew bored with me after mere months, Edward didn't show the slightest hesitation to invite me to stick around for decades. Then again, we weren't in a relationship anymore.
Perhaps that was where Edward had become discontent - being in a relationship with me. Had I been too needy, too clingy? Too desperate in my adoration of him? He never seemed to mind - but then, he always seemed to love me. Until he stopped.
I cleared the trees feet behind Edward, who took on an extra burst of speed to reach the water line well before me. He whirled around, grinning and ready to gloat. I wanted to tell him I thought I could have won if I'd been paying the slightest bit of attention, but I wanted more to keep my thoughts secret, so I merely rolled my eyes and conceded defeat.
"Who were you calling an old man?" Edward asked, eyebrow up high. He stood in the surf, still wearing nothing but those boxers, and I had to swallow an unexpected burst of venom before I spoke.
"Don't get too cocky. It wasn't exactly a blow-out."
He just grinned. "It will be in a hundred years, when iyou're/i an old woman."
I snorted. "We'll see about that."
"Looking forward to it."
We went back to the house to shower. I went first and then waited in the living room for him, listening in spite of myself to the sound of water hitting his body. I thought about going to the den and distracting myself with TV, but I was reluctant to do anything. Edward and I made so much progress today, I thought, and I was paralyzed with indecision, afraid of taking us backward.
Edward walked out wearing jeans and a shirt that he'd neglected to button. I looked away, burrowing deeper into my bulky sweater, as if that would help me hide what the sight of him did to me.
"What are you doing?" he asked, smiling as he buttoned his shirt.
I shrugged. "Just sitting."
Edward nodded absently. "You'll be able to do that for a long time now."
I frowned. "Sit?"
"Mmmhmm. Without moving, without really thinking. You'll find you can be still for hours without even noticing the time passing."
"That sounds kind of sad," I murmured.
He sat down on the other end of the sofa, body angled toward me. "It could be, if we didn't have all the time in the world. At a certain point you have to waste some of it."
I tucked my legs beneath me, settling in for the conversation. "But it doesn't exactly inspire one to seize the day, does it?"
"When something important comes along, we do." His tone was light, but his eyes were serious and focused on me. I swallowed.
"Can you give me an example?" I was fishing. I knew I was, even though that hadn't been my intention when I opened my mouth, and from the almost-smile on Edward's lips, I knew he knew I was fishing.
"You must know I'm talking about you," he said softly. "In a century, nothing affected me like you did."
I nodded, believing him, because I could still remember the excitement in his eyes from those early days. But I could remember other things, as well.
"But it wasn't enough, was it?" I pressed, trying not to let accusation color my tone.
Edward leaned toward me, his eyes begging for something - what, I didn't know. "You still don't understand. And that's my fault. But...did you ever consider the possibility that nothing I did after your birthday was for me?"
I looked back at him, unsure what to say. If he hadn't left for his own sake, then whose? What was he telling me? I knew what I hoped...but I was afraid to think it.
"I did what I thought I had to do. What I thought was the only ethical choice at the time," Edward went on, and still, his eyes begged for understanding. "I can tell by the way you're looking at me that you still don't see it," he sighed. "Just...think on it, please. Deep down, you must know - I hope you know, because I don't think anything I do or say will convince you."
"I don't understand," I said helplessly, wishing he would spell it out for me. There were so many things I wanted to hear him say, things that wouldn't make sense - but I would accept them, because I needed them.
"Just think about it," Edward said, standing up. "Think about what happened before I left. Think about what might have driven me to say the things I did if I didn't mean them. And when you're ready, come find me, okay?"
He took my hand, squeezed it, and then retreated to the den.
Torn, confused, I watched him go. I wanted to follow him, perhaps to ask for more clarification, or perhaps merely to sit in his presence. I wanted to call my mom and ask for advice, but that would require all kinds of background explanation I wouldn't be able to give, and besides, she was probably in bed by now.
I grabbed my phone anyway and decided to flee to the other side of the island, where maybe, just maybe, I would be less tempted to follow Edward and more able to actually consider what he said.
Think about what happened before I left. Think about what might have driven me to say the things I did if I didn't mean them.
What exactly had he said? Those awful moments in the forest were growing fuzzier, filtered so dimly through my human memory.
"Bella, I don't want you to come with me."
"You… don't… want me?"
No. That word had echoed in my mind since that day. No, he didn't want me. No, I wasn't going with him. No, I couldn't have the future I'd been dreaming of since he told me I was his life.
But Edward asked me to think about what had happened before those dark moments, and I knew if I was ever going to face the life ahead of me, I had to let the shadows go. I held them close about me to protect my broken heart, but they weren't helping me anymore, and they weren't helping Edward – and helping Edward was the reason we were here.
I cast my thoughts back to my eighteenth birthday: the pain in my wrist, the blood staining the carpet, the stony expression on Edward's face. I remembered the urgency with which he kissed me that night, as though he was saying goodbye. The uncomfortable feeling I had before falling asleep that lingered through the next day – the night he refused to stay with me – and until he asked me to take a walk with him...
"I'm no good for you, Bella."
"Don't be ridiculous. You're the very best part of my life."
"My world is not for you."
"What happened with Jasper – that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!"
"You're right. It was exactly what was to be expected."
"You promised! In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay -"
"As long as that was best for you."
"No! This is about my soul, isn't it? Carlisle told me about that, and I don't care, Edward. I don't care! You can have my soul. I don't want it without you – it's yours already!"
I'd known, I realized. I'd known all along what he was going to do and why. He targeted my own insecurities so perfectly that I did most of the work for him, and after he was gone, I went on believing that he didn't love me anymore. That was easier, somehow, than believing he could love me and leave me, despite all of my protests. That was easier than knowing I was helpless to stop him from doing whatever he wished to me and my heart. Better to believe he was out there somewhere, finding happiness with someone strong and beautiful, than to know we were both in misery. Better to look back on my time with him as the happiest of my life than to know that he was always planning to leave me behind.
But he loved me.
I sat down in the sand, letting it sink in. He loved me. Somehow, the thought didn't feel like a revelation. I knew that he loved me once, perhaps knew that he loved me all along, underneath my attempts to bury anything that could be considered cause for hope.
Edward was back at the house right now, loving me, waiting for me to figure this all out. If I wanted, I could go back and tell him I understood. I could fall into his arms and kiss his face and demand he never leave me again.
I could, if I wanted. I had the choice to let all the pain evaporate and have the life I wanted all along – an eternal, vampire life with Edward. But could I make that choice?
Again, I considered calling my mom. Trying to imagine what she would tell me wasn't the same - I needed to hear her voice.
My phone buzzed in my hand. I was so surprised that I dropped it, but my vampire reflexes allowed me to catch it well before it hit the ground.
"You can't call your mom right now. You'll say too much. Besides, it's the middle of the night."
"Right. Thanks, Alice," I sighed, disappointed.
"But...if you want to talk, I can listen," Alice said quietly, and I instantly felt guilty. Of course, I should have thought to call Alice. Through all of this, she was still on my side.
"Alice...I don't know what to do," I admitted.
She took a moment to answer. "What do you want to do?"
"I want to pretend the past six months never happened. I want to go in there and kiss him and get on with our lives."
"And why do you feel like you can't do that?" Alice asked gently.
"Because...because it's too easy, isn't it?" I looked out at the waves rolling in. "It still hurts, what he did. What if he leaves again, thinking it's for my own good? How am I supposed to survive that?"
"Maybe you should just take it slow. Don't dive right back into it, but don't let the fear keep you hiding, either. I think you'll find that Edward has learned his lesson, but you'll never know that unless you take the time to trust him again."
"Does it all work out, Alice? Can you see it?" I asked, desperate for reassurance.
"In most of my visions, yes, it works out. I don't mean to scare you, Bella, but it all depends on you now. You have to let him in again. He's not going to push because he knows he doesn't deserve your forgiveness."
"Okay," I murmured, scared anyway. "Okay."
"Relax, Bella, and remember, take it slow. There's no rush."
"Right. Thank you, Alice."
"Get in there," Alice prodded. "Edward's probably going nuts."
"Probably? Can't you see him?" I asked, worried. If Alice couldn't see him clearly, then his condition was worse than he was letting on.
"Oh, I see him. I see him sitting there all night waiting for you. But if I know my brother, he's going crazy."
I laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure you're right. Bye, Alice."
"Bye, Bella. Good luck."
After I disconnected the call, I took a moment to brace myself. The ocean spread out before me, as eternal as I was, and I thought briefly of what it would be like to just swim away, off to some distant shore to start anew...alone...
No, I decided, that fantasy would only be complete if Edward followed after me. My life was never complete without him.
I turned back to the house.
Edward remained in the den where I left him. He was quite silent, but the sound of the TV led me to him. The couch faced away from the door, and when I walked in, Edward twisted his whole body toward me. I wondered how I had missed it before, the riot of emotion in his eyes. Had he hid it well, or had I refused to see?
I didn't know how to tell him what I knew or what it meant - I was still uncertain about those things myself – but he continued to watch me, leaving me to make the first move. Slowly, I made my way around the couch to him and sat down close beside him. He gazed questioningly at me while I lifted his arm around my shoulders and nestled into his side. Edward sucked in a breath, but I pressed my head to his chest, keeping my eyes well away from his face.
I gave part of my attention to the television screen, where a movie I vaguely recognized was playing. After a full agonizing minute passed, I felt Edward press his cheek to the top of my head. I closed my eyes and wrapped myself in the feeling of falling into place, like finding the answer to an oft-asked question or coming home after a long journey.
"What are you watching?" I asked. There was no need to whisper, but still, I kept my voice hushed. This moment seemed to call for tranquility, for stillness, and I would not be the one to break the mood.
"An Affair to Remember. You've seen it, haven't you?" It was a new thing to feel his words vibrate through his body, something I hadn't experienced as a vampire.
"I have, but I don't really remember the story," I murmured.
"It's about two people who fall in love at sea," Edward explained. "They're both attached, so when the boat docks, they decide to part ways, to extricate themselves from their current lives and start anew. They set a date to meet atop the Empire State Building. But she has a crippling accident and doesn't make it – she never gives him any explanation because she fears he won't want her and she doesn't want to be a burden."
"And now he's found her," I surmised, taking in the scene playing out on the television. "Why is she hiding her legs? Why doesn't she just tell him the truth? He came for her – he obviously loves her."
"Because she's already hurt him, and she has even less to offer him than she did before. Because she knows letting someone go hurts less than being rejected by the one you love."
Something in his tone told me he felt more than simple interest in the story. "This reminds you of us, doesn't it?" I guessed.
He let out a breath. "Yes."
I peeked up at him. "Am I supposed to be the cripple on the couch?"
He met my eyes. "No, Bella," he said solemnly. "I'm the cripple on the couch."
"Oh." It took me a moment, but I sorted out the tangled threads of the allegory. Edward was the one who failed to come back to me – he was the one who didn't meet me where he was supposed to, but still, I'd gone after him. What else could I do? And I had found him broken. My change brought him back to reality, but he was still, in a fashion, crippled.
And if he was that woman on the couch, so conscious of his unworthiness, so afraid of telling me the whole truth and losing me, then I was the one who had to throw the blanket back and tell him that I knew what he was and loved him still.
"Crippled or not," I said quietly, "You're the only one I've ever wanted."
His hand cupped my cheek and lifted my face. I met his penetrating gaze without flinching.
"Can I say it?" Edward asked – begged, even. I knew the words he wanted to say, could hear them ringing in my ears, but I hesitated. As much as I longed to hear from his lips how he felt about me, I wasn't sure I was ready.
To his credit, Edward revealed his disappointment only in his eyes. "Okay."
"But you can show me," I said.
The corners of his eyes crinkled with the beginnings of amusement, and his lips slid into a teasing smirk. "How would I do that?"
"However you want to." Though I didn't mean to sound suggestive, Edward's raised eyebrow told me that I most certainly did.
"Really? However I want?"
I nodded, curious as to what he would do.
Edward raised his hand to join the other that still cupped my cheek; holding me in place, he leaned in to kiss me. As soon as his lips parted against mine, I realized that I'd never once truly kissed him before this moment. He'd held so much back, even when he was out of his mind. In this kiss, he gave me everything – his passion, his abandon, his adoration, everything. His kisses had always made me burn, but this was something else altogether.
Understanding came with both awe and sorrow. At once I saw both the possibilities for the future and the limitations of our past. How could Edward have ever been content with the meager pecks we exchanged before? How could that have been enough?
Edward pulled away with concern in his eyes. "Are you okay? Should I not have done that?"
"No, no – it was fine. It was more than fine. It's just the first time we've kissed since I became a vampire."
Edward nodded his understanding. "Was it very different for you?"
He tilted his head. "In a good way or a bad way?"
"A good way," I said, suddenly shy. "Was it different for you?"
"Good or bad?" I asked him. In spite of myself, I feared his answer. Some insecurities would not be tamed. Perhaps they would never fade, were now a permanent part of my identity.
"Good," he confirmed.
"What? Bella, what is it?" he asked, and the worry in his expression brought to mind Alice's warnings. I knew I couldn't hide any longer. For better or worse, I had to let Edward see what I most wanted to keep covered.
"How was it ever enough for you before? Barely kissing, barely touching?"
"Bella...it was enough. It was more than I'd ever thought I would have, more than I deserved. Was it not enough for you?"
Guilty as it made me feel, I had to be honest. "I always wanted more. I wanted everything with you."
He bowed his head. "I wanted to give you everything, Bella. But if you'd been in my position – alone for almost a century, unwilling to condemn the one you loved – wouldn't it have been enough for you? If you'd been the vampire and I the human, wouldn't it have been enough?"
I tried to imagine the picture he painted. Could I have been satisfied with careful kisses, if that were the only option? Yes. With Edward, yes. But he always had another option, an option I'd been willing to embrace.
"Were you ever even tempted to change me? As much as I begged you, was it so easy to resist?"
"Easy?" Everything from his tone to his posture screamed incredulity. "Not for a moment. I'm sorry I never told you as much, but of course, for myself, I wanted it more than anything. To have you forever, without limits? That was my deepest and most selfish desire."
"Was?" I asked uncertainly.
"Is. Of course it still is. But somehow, it seems even less likely now than it did when your humanity was the biggest obstacle."
"I don't think it's all that unlikely," I murmured. His golden eyes appraised me and his hand clasped mine.
"I know you don't want me to say the words yet, but I do need you to know that my leaving had nothing to do with not loving you. I never could have left if I didn't love you so much. It would have been easier by far to stay, easier to change you, but I didn't believe I, or my world, was good for you. I didn't leave because you weren't enough, or because I was unsatisfied in any way. I want to make that perfectly clear."
How could I respond to that? Edward made his own interpretation of my pause.
"You think you would have chosen differently, I know. Maybe you would have. You've always been smarter than me. But you did the same thing I did, in your own way – you would never have believed the lies I told you if you didn't believe all along that you weren't enough to hold me. And when I said I wanted to go, you didn't put up a fight. You gave me what you thought I needed, just as I gave you what I thought you needed."
"You're right," I said, feeling the truth of his words. "If I fought you, would you have stayed?"
"I don't know." His fingers brushed over mine. "If you'd been persistent enough, you might have talked me out of it. But I was prepared for resistance."
"I hate to think I could have prevented it and didn't."
Edward shook his head. "Please, don't think that way. I brought this upon us. The question now is whether you can forgive me for what I've done."
I met his eyes again, seeing the anxiety and hope with which he gazed at me. "I already have."