Imagine, for a moment, reaching a state of lucidity after three days of agonizing pain – pain you did nothing to deserve, as far as you could discern, and would not wish upon anyone – and finding yourself suspecting that you'd died and gone to hell. Imagine attempting to relive those last moments of your life – not because you want to recall the sensation of dying, per se, but because you want to fully understand what just occurred, or at least try to – and being unable to remember anything of your former existence but the way the fire burned in your veins as you became something you no longer recognized.
Imagine, after a certain point, being unable to suspect that you're in hell, because one glimpse at your reflection in the mirror – at your crimson eyes and pallid skin and sharp, foreign features – confirms it. Imagine feeling the fires of eternal damnation singeing your throat in the form of thirst, and being unable to retreat to the confines of your mind to contemplate what you'd just been through – because suddenly, everyone else's thoughts are crowding so insistently into your brain that there's almost no room left for your own.
Imagine being unable to escape from these thoughts, which present themselves to you with perfect clarity at their best and as persistent static at their worst, and finding yourself living vicariously through them in a way. You learn through them; you learn the true nature of the people around you -- the secrets and lies they keep to themselves, their petty preoccupations, the jealousy and resentment they harbour while offering serene smiles on the surface – and you live through them in a way, because the experiences in their minds are the only access you have to things you don't think are obtainable for you. Concepts like love and desire and affection are foreign to you, and you can see them – flashing briefly in someone else's mind, like a singular scene from a movie -- and that's the best way you can think of to describe them, because movies are fantasy, just like the idea of you being able to procure these things for yourself. Imagine being so sure of your damnation that you begin to think of your lonely, tedious existence as the very sort of punishment you deserve, and you resign yourself to this fact, devoting hours and days and years toward absolution you don't think you'll ever really receive.
Imagine, then, falling in love with a girl you aren't worthy of after decades of being convinced that you wouldn't fall in love at all. Imagine a girl whose beauty and vibrancy is unparalleled; whose smiles and kisses and words whispered in her sleep brought meaning and laughter and life to an otherwise monotonous existence; whose quiet tomb of a mind presented the only challenge you could ever remember having. Imagine falling in love with a girl whose natural inclination is to love you unconditionally in kind, despite all of the reservations she should logically have; whose heart thumps a wild staccato in her chest in your presence, reminding you with every beat that you are the most important person in her life, whether you deserve to be or not; whose ability to love so completely and so selflessly reminds you every day that there is good in the world, even if it can't be found within you.
Imagine watching her die.
The time that Bella and I shared together on Isle Esme for the duration of our honeymoon was beyond anything I could have ever hoped for. I was cautious regarding the physical nature of our relationship, as I had always been, but I had to be; our very first experience together left her with smudged bruises in the shape of my fingers along the porcelain surface of her skin, left her muscles aching and joints throbbing. She didn't tell me any of these things, of course, but they were evident in the way she walked and in the strained way she held her mouth as she assured me that it was fine, Edward. Her dark eyes were lit with elation, but they were also tight at their corners, and on more than one occasion, I caught her wincing when she thought I wasn't paying attention.
That first night was my first attempt at getting to know her physically, inside and out, as I'd always yearned to know her mentally. It was also the night our daughter was conceived.
The signs of Bella's pregnancy – despite my two medical degrees, the value of which I questioned in the immediate aftermath of our discovery – were decidedly lost upon me. Of course, I had no reason to attribute her strange cravings, lethargy and vomiting toward a pregnancy; as far as I'd always known, pregnancy between vampires was a medical impossibility. Pregnancy is dependent upon cycles; upon their transformation, female vampires are frozen at whatever point in their cycles they were in before death for eternity. The same was assumed to be true for male vampires; after all, human sperm has a finite life span. Even without any sort of medical research, it could safely be assumed that no vampire could either carry a pregnancy to term or impregnate another; we are, after all, a collection of dead cells, reanimated corpses that aren't bound by aging or sickness or death. In short, our bodies – or so I assumed – are not fertile breeding grounds.
What we failed to consider, however, was the possibility of a male vampire impregnating a human woman – partially because of the reasons I outlined above, and partially because no male vampire had ever gotten close enough to attempt such a feat. What male vampire, after all, had the sort of self restraint to be intimate with a human without killing them in the process?
As far as I could discern, I was the only one.
These were the things I considered when Bella informed me that she thought she was pregnant, counting backwards on her fingers in an attempt to discover how likely it actually was. With her shirt rolled up to reveal a small but defined protuberance between her hips, it certainly appeared likely – but that was only, of course, if I allowed myself to forget all of the facts I thought I knew about my kind. I vaguely remember slipping toward the floor, rendered oddly petrified in my shock, and gazing at what was likely nothing with glassy eyes; I couldn't meet Bella's gaze, nor could I cast my own toward her swollen abdomen. It wasn't the thought of being a father that terrified me; at one point in my natural lifeline, I'd assumed I would become one. It wasn't something in the forefront of my mind, given the fact that I died very young, but it was something that I could easily place in my future – not only because it was expected of me socially, but because it was what I'd genuinely wanted.
What truly terrified me was the thought of having a child growing within Bella that I'd spawned as a vampire, and that realistically, no one – not even Carlisle, for all of his wisdom and medical training – knew exactly what it was.
What I did know – and this became evident within days and weeks of this discovery – was that the creature growing inside of Bella was doing so at an exponential rate, and it was coming at the cost of her life. I cared nothing for its existence; I cared for hers, and my only concern and main priority, initially, was to have it destroyed. After all, the sooner it was killed, the sooner I could be reassured that she was safe; while I knew nothing at the time of what, exactly, I had impregnated her with, I had a vague idea that it likely wouldn't be compatible with her body.
I was correct. I begged and pleaded with her to abort the creature – and looking back upon the situation now, I feel guilty for ever thinking of her in such terms – but Bella was characteristically stubborn, fiercely protective of a child I hadn't even known she'd wanted. Day by day, her body grew more and more unrecognizable; I'd barely had time to memorize the curves of her hips and the soft swell of her breasts before it distorted completely. Rather than gain weight, as pregnant women should, she lost it in every place but her protruding stomach; rather than adopt any sort of glow on top of the one she'd once possessed, the light behind her eyes and the vibrancy of her complexion seemed to fade entirely.
Within days she was haggard looking, influenced by a lack of sleep and her complete inability to keep food down; within weeks, her cheekbones were gaunt, her skin pulled tightly over them in an unnatural fashion. Her complexion was nearly ashen; her hair was listless; and her clavicle protruded sharply, jutting against her flesh in a way that appeared almost painful. The fragile bones in her hands and wrists seemed capable of breaking at any moment; and while she'd always seemed frail to me, given my unnatural strength, her appearance had finally begun to reflect that fact. The dark shadows beneath had eyes had begun to mirror the ones beneath mine; and perhaps worst of all, her stomach – a swollen, bulbous mass that was entirely disproportionate toward the rest of her body – was blackened and bruised. The child inside of her was battering her, draining her, killing her; and while my thoughts grew increasingly murderous, inventing new ways to destroy what I assumed was a parasite that was utterly consuming my wife, she grew all the more devoted to it.
It didn't matter to Bella that she would likely die carrying our child because she wanted her so badly; and yet all I could see was the beautiful, effervescent girl I'd fallen utterly in love with fading rapidly before my eyes. She was the quintessential sacrificial lamb, and I could do nothing but observe her deterioration with forlorn eyes. I would have given anything to know what she was thinking during those moments; to fully understand the thought process that would lead her to come to the conclusion that the life of some creature was more valuable than her own.
Where I have often failed to understand the scope of Bella's thoughts, Jacob Black has always succeeded, perhaps infuriatingly so. In his own thoughts, he has often marvelled at the fact that I can't decipher Bella's; to him, her emotions and ideas and deliberations are written plainly across her facial features. He understands her in many ways that I never will; while my ability to hear the thoughts of other has made it so that virtually no one has a secret that I don't know, she's the only person to have ever eluded me – and yet she never eluded him. The connection they shared had often been a source of discomfort, jealousy, and strife for me; and yet now, I found myself relying upon it to save my wife's life. If anyone could convince Bella to end the pregnancy that was killing her, it was Jacob – and while I couldn't count upon him wanting to help me, given the fact that I'd put Bella in this situation, I'd always known I could count upon him wanting to help her.
In his mind, Jacob called me the burning man. He waxed poetic about feeling young when he looked into my eyes; how he would have needed to live and suffer a lot more to fully understand the agony behind them. I didn't fully understand what he meant until I saw my own face reflected in his mind – and in that moment, looking the way I did, I wondered vaguely how I ever could have passed as human.
My eyes burned blackly in their sockets, glazed and unfocused and darting wildly from object to object, as though they couldn't stand to stare at any one face or entity or in any given direction for too long. My eyebrows were knit worriedly, and my lips were a thin, anguished line set against my taut jaw. Torment lined my face, engulfed my perennial adolescence; we were ageless, cursed by vampirism's fountain of youth, and yet watching Bella die slowly in front of me made me appear every bit as old as I was.
The burning man, Jacob had whispered inwardly, the voice of his thoughts sounding as stricken as his facial expression looked. This was the face a man would have if he were burning at the stake.
In more ways than one, I was. I'd always been inclined toward self loathing; the prospect of eternal damnation and attempting to play judge, jury, and executioner in order to justify my desire for human blood had done that to me. But Bella's deterioration and the knowledge that I had caused it had wrought an entirely new level of self loathing; I could barely look her in the eyes, and it took all of my strength not to collapse at her feet and beg for her forgiveness. I've never hidden the fact that I regard Bella with a sort of reverence; she's the only person I've ever truly loved; the most important person in my pitiful existence; the only person capable of bringing me to my knees. The fact that my selfish inability to stay away from her was killing her now was too much to bear. If I was burning at any sort of stake, it was one that I'd built, lit and stoked myself – because I deserved to be punished for what I'd done, and at the very least, I deserved to hurt as badly as she was.
Before attempting to enlist Jacob's help, I'd wrestled with the proposition I was set to pose to him for weeks. Watching Bella waste away had almost completely shattered my psyche; I thought of nothing but keeping her alive, and I was a man acting solely out of desperation, willing to go to any length to do so. If it was a child she wanted, I was willing to let her have one by any means necessary – even if it meant she'd be having it with Jacob. He could offer her the sort of healthy, prototypical pregnancy that I could not; he could give her a baby that was undoubtedly human, a baby that wouldn't break her ribs or bruise her delicate flesh when it kicked her. I'd always been apprehensive about making her a vampire and potentially endangering her soul, but I was downright terrified of destroying her body – and that was exactly what I'd managed to do in exchange for three instances of sexual pleasure.
What I hadn't understood then was that Bella didn't just want a baby; she wanted my baby. And once again, Jacob Black, in his refusal to go along with my plan, proved that in many ways, he knew her far better than I did.
You're really sick, he'd practically snarled, shaking his head with obvious disgust. She'll never listen to this.
He'd hated me violently in that moment, wished death upon me more times than I could count. And yet no matter how much he'd loathed me, it meant little in comparison to how much I'd despised myself.