Author's Notes: This is based on a "what if?" question. It picks up in the middle of New Moon Chapter 10 ("The Meadow") and goes sideways from there, leaving canon. The question is: During Bella's run in with Laurent, what if the wolves hadn't shown up when they did? What if they had shown up just a few minutes later?
The first part of Chapter 1 comes directly out of New Moon, to provide context – no infringement intended.
Chapter 1 – The Meadow
The step forward Laurent took now was quite deliberate.
"Did Victoria ever find you?" I asked, breathless, desperate to distract him. It was the first question that popped into my head, and I regretted it as soon as the words were spoken. Victoria – who had hunted me with James, and then disappeared – was not someone I wanted to think of at this particular moment.
But the question did stop him.
"Yes," he said, hesitating on that step. "I actually came here as a favor to her." He made a face. "She won't be happy about this."
"About what?" I said eagerly, inviting him to continue. He was glaring into the trees, away from me. I took advantage of his diversion, taking a furtive step back.
He looked back at me and smiled – the expression made him look like a black-haired angel.
"About me killing you," he answered in a seductive purr.
I staggered back another step. The frantic growling in my head made it hard to hear.
"She wanted to save that part for herself," he went on blithely. "She's sort of… put out with you, Bella."
"Me?" I squeaked.
He shook his head and chuckled. "I know, it seems a little backward to me, too. But James was her mate, and your Edward killed him."
Even here, on the point of death, his name tore against my unhealed wounds like a serrated edge.
Laurent was oblivious to my reaction. "She thought it more appropriate to kill you than Edward – fair turnabout, mate for mate. She asked me to get the lay of the land for her, so to speak. I didn't imagine you would be so easy to get to. So maybe her plan was flawed – apparently it wouldn't be the revenge she imagined, since you must not mean very much to him if he left you here unprotected."
Another blow, another tear through my chest.
Laurent's weight shifted slightly, and I stumbled another step back.
He frowned. "I suppose she'll be angry, all the same."
"Then why not wait for her?" I choked out.
A mischievous grin rearranged his features. "Well, you've caught me at a bad time, Bella. I didn't come to this place on Victoria's mission – I was hunting. I'm quite thirsty, and you do smell… simply mouthwatering."
Laurent looked at me with approval, as if he meant it as a compliment.
"Threaten him," the beautiful delusion ordered, his voice distorted with dread.
"He'll know it was you," I whispered obediently. "You won't get away with this."
"And why not?" Laurent's smile widened. He gazed around the small opening in the trees. "The scent will wash away with the next rain. No one will find your body – you'll simply go missing, like so many, many other humans. There's no reason for Edward to think of me, if he cares enough to investigate. This is nothing personal, let me assure you, Bella. Just thirst."
"Beg," my hallucination begged.
"Please," I gasped.
Laurent shook his head, his face kind. "Look at it this way, Bella. You're very lucky I was the one to find you."
"Am I?" I mouthed, faltering another step back.
Laurent followed, lithe and graceful.
"Yes," he assured me. "I'll be very quick. You won't feel a thing, I promise. Oh, I'll lie to Victoria about that later, naturally, just to placate her. But if you knew what she had planned for you, Bella…" He shook his head with a slow movement, almost as if in disgust. "I swear you'd be thanking me for this."
I stared at him in horror.
He sniffed at the breeze that blew threads of my hair in his direction. "Mouthwatering," he repeated, inhaling deeply.
I tensed for the spring, my eyes squeezing shut as I cringed away, and the sound of Edward's furious roar echoed distantly in the back of my head. His name burst through all the walls I'd built to contain it. Edward, Edward, Edward. I was going to die. It shouldn't matter if I thought of him now. Edward, I love you.
I didn't feel the impact. The wind whistled past my ears and then I was on the ground, Laurent's cold hands on my upper arms and a searing pain in my neck. This was it, I was really going to die. There was no one coming to save me this time. The panic built up in my chest, and I tried to fight against Laurent's iron-hard grip. No one to save me, no one who even knew I was out here. No one who cared enough to stay—
The panic bubble in my chest seemed to pop. No one who cared enough to stay. I felt all my muscles go lax.
"Don't give up!" the Edward in my head shouted at me, his beautiful voice full of panic.
I wanted to tell him not to worry, but my head felt so light. This was going to be so easy, finally giving in to death. Laurent had been right, it was nearly painless. My neck burned, but it felt very far away.
"Fight!" Edward commanded. I could see his face behind my lids, his golden eyes furious and frantic.
Why? I managed to pull the thought together.
"For me," he pleaded. "Fight for me. This doesn't have to be the end!"
What choice is there now?
"There is always a choice! Fight, Bella! Please!"
"Please," I echoed, my voice less than a whisper.
And suddenly Laurent was gone, his cold hands no longer on my arms, his cold face no longer pressed against my jaw.
"Don't quit now, Bella! Fight!" Edward yelled.
It felt like I was swimming up from very deep water, the dark and the cold holding me down and making it hard to breathe. I forced my eyes open, forced them to focus. Laurent was still there after all, crouched over me in a defensive position, his nostrils flared.
"I don't believe it," he said, his voice so low that I barely heard it.
We were flying through the forest then, away from the meadow. After a moment I realized that Laurent had me pressed to his chest and he was running – running from something.
"Edward," I mouthed, feeling the smile tugging at my lips. Was he here to save me? Had he been watching all along…?
"Werewolves!" Laurent spat the word out like a curse.
The world crashed down around me. Even that one moment of hope sent the edges of the hole in my chest burning, so much worse than the fire that was spreading from my neck down my right arm. He wasn't here. He hadn't come to save me. I was hallucinating again – my vampires weren't here to save me so I had invented werewolves instead? Exactly how crazy was I? I started to let the dark water close over me again.
"Stay conscious!" Edward's voice pleaded with me. "You're almost free, just hold on!"
Free? I couldn't make any sense of the word. But the darkness made it harder to hear his perfect voice, so I forced my eyes open once again. Above me, trees rushed by in a blur of green and brown, making me feel dizzy and sick. I twisted in Laurent's arms, squirming around to see his face rather than the rushing forest. In the split second before he looked down at me, he looked truly terrified. When his bright red eyes met mine, he looked annoyed.
"I'm sorry Bella," he said, his voice strained. "I wanted to save you for later," he grimaced, "but I need all my strength now."
His arms were suddenly no longer beneath me, and I went crashing to the forest floor. I heard a sharp snap, and a completely new pain shot up my left arm.
Laurent lingered over me half a second longer. "Best of luck to you, Bella," he said. "It really wasn't anything personal." And then he was gone, rushing through the forest so fast my eyes couldn't follow.
I laid there in a crumpled heap, my neck and right arm on fire, my left arm screaming in pain, and the hole in my chest still managing to drown out everything else.
"Get up," Edward said fervently in my ear.
"I can't!" I moaned. How could he expect me to drag this battered, broken body one step further?
"You have to move Bella! Now!"
And then I was standing. I had no memory of getting to my feet, but I was suddenly standing in the too-quiet forest, clutching my broken left arm to my chest as I swayed, my vision black.
"Bella," Edward's voice whispered, and I could smell his sweet breath, feel the cold breeze of it on my skin. My vision began to clear, and for one moment I could see his golden eyes in front of me, just out of my grasp. I took one lurching step forward.
"Not that way!" His voice was fervent, desperate. It seemed to be coming from my right. "You must separate your trail from his! Quickly, while there's still time!"
I turned to my right, stumbling forward. Twenty feet ahead of me, in a bright beam of sunlight, his skin sparkling and sending rainbows dancing across the forest floor, stood my Edward, beckoning to me.
"This way, quickly!"
My legs were numb and my whole chest was on fire now, but somehow I found the strength to move towards him. He reached his hand out to me, his eyes anxious and wild. My vision narrowed until I could see nothing but him in the bright sunlight. It suddenly occurred to me that I had to be losing pints of blood by the second. With my left arm still cradled to my chest, I pressed the palm of my right hand to the brightest point of the fire on my neck.
"Hurry, Bella!" he pleaded with me, and I made my numb legs move faster and stretch further with each step. I was almost to him…
And then he was gone, the sunbeam empty just as I reached it. Before I could panic, I caught sight of him, twenty feet ahead again and waving me forward. The fire had reached my thighs now, and I couldn't feel the pain in my left arm over the burning agony. I could feel the searing moving further through my veins with each heart beat; the hole in my chest throbbed in tempo with it.
I forced my feet to move, focusing on this point in my body where the fire had not yet reached. As I stumbled through the forest underbrush, a corner of my mind screamed out, Why? Why keep moving? Why keep trying? I was alone in the forest, hallucinating, bleeding profusely, and infected with vampire venom. Where could I possibly get to, following my hallucination through the forest, that would save me from this?
But I forced that thought out and locked it away. There was no salvation now. There were only these last few moments, and as long as I kept moving, I could see his face.
Edward continued to lead me deeper into the forest, twenty feet at a time, as my vision dimmed and my body burned. I lost track of the time, lost track of the number of times he darted ahead of me to show me the way. I focused only on his face and on the tearing pain in my chest, and willed myself not to think about the venom coursing through my veins, or the blood that had to be gushing from my neck, though I couldn't feel it, or what this would do to Charlie…
But of course my clumsiness caught up with me. My foot slipped, and it all came crashing down on me. Out of instinct I stuck my right arm out to catch myself as I tumbled to the ground, and for one second the pain of a sharp rock piercing the soft skin of my palm cut through all the other pain.
My sobs sounded loud in the empty forest. I was going to die here, right here by this rock red with my blood, and I was going to die alone. Another cry bubbled up from my chest.
"Please get up," Edward's voice whispered in my ear, fervent and anxious again.
I shook my head back and forth violently, making myself dizzy and sick in the process. "It hurts too much!" I moaned, not sure if I meant the physical or emotional pain at this point.
"You're almost there, it's just a little further."
"Almost where?" I wailed. But then I heard it, a rushing sound from just ahead. The highway? Had he really led me to civilization, to help?
I wrenched myself to my feet, leaving bloody handprints as I grasped a nearby sapling for support – blood from the wound on my neck or the new gash on my hand I wasn't sure. I couldn't see Edward anymore, but I focused instead on the rushing noise as I pushed off from the tree and trudged forward. It felt like my body was made out of flame. Every inch of me was burning in agony, and I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep this one sane corner of my mind focused on moving forward.
The sound grew as I stumbled along, so close now. This must be a busy section of highway, given the noise level. I would have to flag down a car, get them to take me to a hospital. I would need them to stop the bleeding, and I would need a blood transfusion at the hospital. Maybe the transfusion would clear the venom out. Maybe snake anti-venom would work. Maybe…
I broke through the last of the trees, the rushing sound filling my ears. I had done it, I had made it to the highway—
The broad empty space in front of me wasn't the highway. It was a river, the water rushing fast and white over rocks and fallen branches. I felt my whole body sag, and I clutched at a tree to keep myself upright, there on the bank of the river. Why had he brought me here? There was no salvation here.
I closed my eyes, my hand starting to loosen around the tree. This was it. I had followed my hallucination deeper into the forest, where no help would find me. I was going to die on the bank of this river. The flames had engulfed my body, and were starting to lick at this one last corner of my mind. This was it.
"Bella," he said then, his voice soft and urgent, and sad somehow. The hole in my chest throbbed at the sound; that pain would not be drowned out, not even in death. I forced my eyes open.
Edward was standing in the middle of the rushing river, hip deep in the white water. Illogically, I noticed that his eyes were dark now, not gold, and there were deep bruise-like shadows under them. He stretched his hand out to me, and I knew what he wanted.
This would be better, I thought with a sigh. I could climb into the icy water and go numb to everything, just drift away with the cold caressing me. My feet stumbled forward of their own accord as I reached my bloody right hand out to him. Would my hallucination hold up long enough to get me through these last moments, I wondered numbly.
The icy water was torture on my searing skin, like an ice bath used to break a fever, but I kept moving, the current starting to tug at me as I waded towards Edward. The flames drove all conscious thought out of my mind other than being able to touch him, one last time.
Edward's hand was solid under mine, but my brain couldn't register that as wrong. His skin was as cold as the water and just as painful, but I clung to it as he pulled me further into the water, until I stood next to him, the freezing water splashing at my waist.
Carefully, as though he was worried I would break into a million pieces, he reached his free hand up towards my face. He brushed his cold fingertips along my cheekbone in a feather-light touch, and then wound his hand through my hair to the back of my neck, his cold fingers branding my burning skin there.
His dark eyes never left mine as he slowly lowered me into the icy water, one hand still holding mine and the other cradling my head. I gasped as the water hit my neck, and my teeth began to chatter.
"I'm sorry, Bella," he whispered, his gaze still locked with mine. He knelt down beside me in the water until his head was level with mine, and then wrapped his arms around me. "Just a little further now, love," he said, his cold cheek pressed against mine.
And then we were floating, being pulled down river by the current. The fire still raged in my body, unquenched by the freezing water. I could feel the burning agony in every vein in my body, and I wondered how much longer death would wait to claim me. My tears of pain were quickly washed away by the river.
"Bella," Edward whispered in my ear, his arms tightening around me. "When I say, you need to stick your hand out and grab onto the tree root. Do you understand?"
I didn't understand, couldn't put together the sense behind his words through the burning, but I nodded anyway.
"Now!" he said sharply a moment later.
I reached my right arm out and forced my fingers opened. At first all I could feel was the freezing water rushing past my flaming skin, but half a second later something rough and solid pressed into the sensitive skin of my palm. I closed my hand around it convulsively, with all the strength left in my body, and the current of the river swung us around this last solid thing in my world.
"You can let go now, love," Edward breathed against my cheek.
One by one I unclenched my fingers and finally let the root go, my arm falling limply into the water. The current seemed calmer here, and it gently pushed me up against what felt like more tree roots, rocking me as the water gurgled past. I couldn't find the strength to open my eyes to see where we were.
The pain was intensifying now with each beat of my heart, glowing white hot through every inch of my body. A low sob escaped my lips, and Edward's arms tightened around my shoulders.
His ice cold lips brushed my cheek. "I'm here, Bella," he whispered as I sobbed again.
The last thing I felt over the burning was Edward's breath on my cheek as he whispered to me, "Bella, I love you. Bella, I'm sorry."
And then everything went black.