Sacrificial Lamb Chapter 24

EPOV

That taste. That sweet, glorious taste. There was nothing like Bella's blood. I remembered the flavor every day but to have it, here, now, flowing freely into my mouth was like being given the gift of life. The hot blood was everything I'd ever wanted but now I wanted something else more. The girl, my girl, my very soul. Her life was in my hands; her death was at my lips. I cringed against the beast, the animal that wanted to rear up and drain her. My body shuddered with the effort as I stilled my drinking. I gathered all the venom that had welled up in my mouth and pushed it back into her, taking one long last lick of that intoxicating blood. I pressed my lips to the spot on her neck where I'd made her mine. "Forever, my love," I whispered against her soft skin.

The sight of her body, pale and lifeless below me was enough to send the beast that was still clamoring for another taste away. I slid my hand out of hers and pressed my finger to her wrist, feeling the rapidly slowing beat of her heart below my touch. Her heartbeat, once so strong and vital, was already sporadic, long slow beats followed by a rapid pump and then silence, followed by another slow beat. It sounded so wrong. I could pick her heartbeat out from miles away but that beautiful sound had been replaced by this irregular cacophony. I hated it. I clutched her to me, prepared to run her to Carlisle because something must be wrong when he appeared at my side.

"Carlisle…I messed up. I took too much. Fix it!" I held Bella to me with one arm while gripping him with the other. She felt cooler, already. The love of my existence was dying and I had caused it. I would join her in death; there was no doubt about that. I would go back to the Volturi; they would be more than happy to kill me this time after the near miss months ago. Death was too simple for me though. I'd antagonize Jane, let her torture me for awhile. It was the least I deserved for taking such light from the world. Caius would no doubt delight in having Felix rip off each of my limbs and throwing them in the fire. I had earned such treatment.

"Edward, she's fine." What? How could that be? Her heartbeat was slowing, already. She was cold. I grasped her tighter and began rocking back and forth.

"No, no, I did it wrong, it's too fast. It has to be."

His hand clapped down on my shoulder and he held me in place. "Edward, listen to me. This is perfectly normal. Her heartbeat is erratic because the venom is filtering through her system. It's not evenly spaced, so sometimes the heart beats faster, sometimes slower."

"But she's cold."

"That's the venom. This is a good thing, son." He reached over to take her from me. I didn't mean to, honestly, but a growl ripped out of my throat and he paused. "Alright, why don't you carry her back to the house now, Edward. We'll put her in the bed and you can go get the others…"

"I'm not leaving her! How could you even ask me to? I can't be away from her, Carlisle. I just can't." Was he crazy? I would not leave her side ever again.

"Alright, son, we'll go home now and get her comfortable. The others will be here soon. Alice will see everything is fine and they'll come back. I'm proud of you, you did well."

"Alice? Yes, I need Alice. I need Jasper. Bella needs Jasper. We need him. Where is he? Is she hurting now, Carlisle?" I stroked her silky hair and looked at him imploringly.

"I don't know, son. She may be, but she's quiet right now and that's a good sign. She may have passed out which will keep her more comfortable. Now come with me." I reluctantly got to my feet, cradling Bella against my chest. She was so small, so helpless. I wasn't really aware of following Carlisle but suddenly we were in the guest room and he was motioning me to put Bella in the bed.

I laid her down gently. Looking at her still form spread over the bed scared me like nothing ever had before. She looked dead. When she was in that hospital in Arizona, her heartbeat had been blessedly strong and true, the sound I loved. This foreign sound was not comforting; even though I should be glad her heart was still beating. It fluttered, like a little bird. Bella was fragile but still so strong. Her heart should be strong, as strong as she was which was way stronger than I was. I couldn't live without her. I wouldn't.

"Carlisle…" before I could ask him, again, if everything was really alright, Bella started thrashing on the bed. A moan escaped her lips and I breathed a sigh of relief. She was alive. My relief was short-lived, though, because her moans increased in volume and she started screaming. The sound pierced me to my very core. "What's wrong with her?"

He sighed. "Nothing, this is perfectly normal. Don't you remember Esme, Rosalie and Emmett? They all were like this, as were you." But Bella should never hurt. She should never sound like that, as if she'd been tossed into the fires of hell. My Bella would never go to hell, she was too good. I ran my hand over her cheek and she immediately quieted. That was interesting. I felt the electricity of our connection, even now. Maybe she did too?

I took my hand away and she immediately started to whimper again. I put it back and she went silent. I glanced at Carlisle. "Has that ever happened before?"

He looked fascinated, as he always did when presented with something new. "No, I've never seen it, but then again I've never seen a relationship like yours either. A vampire and his singer, falling in love and marrying and being together…it's unheard of. You told me long ago that there's some sort of electricity between you two."

"There is. When I touch her, I feel a spark. She feels it too."

"Well it seems she feels it now and it must be helping her as it's keeping her silent. I think it's best if you keep touching her." Like that would be a problem. I was in bed with her before he finished speaking the words, my arms wrapped around her and her head resting on my shoulder. I remembered the burning…maybe my cold skin would actually be useful for once.

"Carlisle, can you give us a minute?" He left without a word and I removed Bella's clothes gently, leaving her clad only in her underwear and yanked my own off as well. I wanted to give her as much contact with my skin as I possibly could. I turned on my side and pulled her flush to my body, wrapping my arms and a leg around her. She let out a whimper that ended in a sigh and I felt like maybe I was doing something to help her. I threw the covers over us as Carlisle came back into the room. He put his fingers to her wrist and measured her pulse.

"She sounds perfectly normal, the heartbeat is leveling." It may be leveling but it still didn't sound right. It would never sound right again. I'd done that. Yes, she wanted it, yes, I wanted it but seeing it happen, hearing it happen was almost too much for me. I wish I could take the pain for her. I would die all over again for her.

"How long has it been?"

"Half an hour." Only half an hour? We had 71 and a half more hours to endure? Surely Carlisle was wrong. It had been hours. It felt like it'd been days. I groaned and buried my head in her silken tresses, breathing in that strawberry scent that never failed to calm me. "Edward I know how hard this is for you but she will be fine, you will both survive this. I bit back the angry retort that wanted to pass my lips at his words. I wanted to yell at him that he couldn't possibly understand but of course, he could. He'd been through this with Esme.

"How did you endure it?" Please, tell me how I'm supposed to lay here doing nothing while the love of my life suffers next to me.

"I…you just do." It was so different for me. Esme was dying; when I bit her it saved her life. What was three days of pain compared to permanent death? Would I have been able to turn her if she was fine; physically healthy? I just don't have that answer; I can't put myself in his position. I'm glad I didn't have to. His thoughts brought the guilt crashing back down upon me. Had I done the wrong thing? It felt right, even now I knew I wanted her to be with me forever, despite knowing what she was going through. I'm a monster for feeling that way.

"So, you wouldn't have changed her, if you were me?" Please tell me I did the right thing. This can't be wrong, having her with me forever. We belong together.

"Oh no, son, you misunderstand my thoughts." Had I a sense of humor in that moment I might have snorted at his words. "Esme and Bella are very different. Esme didn't have danger lurking in every corner like your Bella does. She was so sad, though, Edward. I didn't know, of course, until after I'd turned her that she'd tried to kill herself over the loss of her son. Had I known she'd always have to live with that…I just don't know if I would have changed her. It took her a long time to get over it, as much as she could. She still feels the ache of that loss even now." Poor Esme, she was meant to be a mother. I knew we could only fill the void so much.

"There's an even bigger distinction as well, Edward. Bella chose this. She went into this knowing exactly what was coming. Esme had no choice, I made it for her. If I were in your situation, if I was you, I would make the same decision you did a hundred times over."

That shocked me. "You would?"

"Yes. She wants it, you want it and you deserve happiness, both of you. It's an easy choice." It hadn't been easy for me. "You struggled with it because of your fear for her soul and because you love her enough to not want to ask her to give up anything for you. But she knows all that and wants it anyway. I have a feeling if the situation was reversed, you'd do the same for her." I would, undoubtedly. Of course it was easy to say that when I barely remembered my family. "Love isn't rational, Edward. You can try to apply thought and logic to it but ultimately you have to listen to your heart. What does your heart tell you?"

My heart told me that I had done the right thing. But that was right now. If she screamed again, though, it would probably tell me I was a selfish, evil being that deserved to rot in hell for causing her even a moment's pain. Carlisle looked at me expectantly so I gave him my answer. "I did the right thing for us. It's hard to deal with it, now, but ultimately it's what we both want and need."

He nodded approvingly. "There you go then. Stop torturing yourself. This is part of the process, it's the hardest part but you'll both be beyond it soon enough." It was amazing how time once was such a nothing concept to me. Since Bella had come into my life it was like a guillotine dangling over my neck, I was always waiting; waiting for her to wake up in the hospital, six months of pure hell when I left her, months of wanting to make love to her, minutes of sweet torture waiting for her to walk down the aisle…time was such a huge factor in my life now, because of her. I wouldn't trade it for the world though.

Before I could formulate the words to express myself, I heard the sweetest sound I could have asked for in that moment. Edward, we're back. We'll be with you in three minutes. "They're almost here." Thank God. Now I would know just how much she was suffering and Jasper would help alleviate it.

Carlisle smiled. "Good. I know Jasper will help and I know Alice will make you feel better. Just remember when the guilt creeps in that you did the right thing."

"I'll try." I had to. I'd lose my mind if I didn't calm down a little. It felt like an anvil was pressing on my skull. We couldn't get headaches but damned if it didn't feel like one was imminent; that or an ulcer. I'm such a mess.

I curled even closer to Bella, tightening my grip on her and willing her to hold on for a few more minutes until my brother could help her. I pressed my lips to her neck, just above the spot where I'd made her mine forever. She felt different already; her skin was cooler and already felt less pliant. Before too long she'd be just like me. I used to dread that so but she'd taught me that being a vampire didn't mean I was a soulless monster. I could never be without my soul as long as she was at my side.

"We're here!" Alice bounded into the room, more exuberant than her norm. If I hadn't been so happy to see her I would have scowled at her happiness in this moment. "Oh, don't be Sullen Cullen, everything is going perfectly!" I did scowl at the return of that nickname, but it wiped away when my brother walked into the room. The look on his face…it was a look of fierce concentration. I'd only seen him look like that when he was preparing for battle with the newborns. His scarred countenance was all the more intimidating with the blank expression on his face and the dead look in his eyes. I watched as the gold went from black back to gold again as he shook his head and cleared it.

"It's not as bad as it should be. I haven't forgotten how it feels and though she's in pain, it's not nearly as strong as I remember. What did you do? Is everything alright?" Jasper leveled me with that flat gaze, looking and sounding almost accusatory.

"I didn't do anything wrong, Carlisle says she's progressing nicely."

"Then why is she not screaming right now? I'm not doing anything yet and she's silent as a church mouse. You must have done something wrong."

"I did nothing wrong, dammit! She was screaming. She stopped when I touched her. That's why I got into bed with her; she hasn't done more than whimper since I joined her." Accuse me of messing it up, humph.

His look of suspicion narrowed to speculation. "Interesting. Well I always said you two were different than the rest of us, it shouldn't surprise me. Let her go."

What? I was not ever letting her go. "I'm not going to let her go. She'll start screaming again. Why would you ask me to do that?"

"I need to know just what kind of difference you're making. It's just for a minute. I want to see what your effect is, what effect I make alone and what the two of us combined can do for her." His words made sense but I didn't have to like it.

Alice danced to my side and held her hand out to me. "It'll be fine, Edward. It's best that he knows. Between the two of you, you're going to make it so much better. Trust me." I always had, I always would. I released my love and gripped Alice's hand, allowing her to pull me from the bed and across the room. "If you're too close she'll still feel you and he won't be able to get a full read on her."

Jasper's look of concentration was back on his face and suddenly his face blanched. His entire body started to shake and he collapsed to the ground. Bella started screaming again, the sound piercing into me. I started to push Alice away but she held her ground. "Just give him a minute, Edward." Jasper crawled toward Bella and took her hand in his. The screaming continued for eighteen more endless seconds and then tapered into quiet moans. I moaned along with her, seeing my Bella suffer was more than I could take.

"Now, Edward," Jasper's voice was no stronger than a whisper. I was back in the bed with her a second later, wrapped around her again. The moans died off almost instantly and Jasper raised his head. His voice was somewhat raspy but he looked like himself again. "The difference is amazing. I think your touch reduces the pain by more than half. With my help, it's going to be minimal. It's actually pretty tolerable without." Relief washed over me. Alice pulled a chair over to the bed and Jasper sat down next to Bella, keeping her hand in his. His eyes narrowed and he focused his attention on Bella. His face contorted for a moment but then smoothed out. "I think I'm going to be able to sit with you for longer than I thought. Several hours at a time at least."

"Jas, I don't know how to thank you for this."

"You already have."

"I know, but…"

"How many times have you used your ability to help me? You've stopped me from killing humans several times, Edward. I could never thank you enough for that." He glanced at Alice. "I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I ever disappointed Alice by slipping again. This is the very least I could do."

"Jazz, you could never disappoint me," Alice chirped, dancing over to give him a kiss on the top of his head and then ruffling his dirty blond hair before heading upstairs. He grinned over at me and rolled his eyes. Sure, they say that but we both know that we're more than capable of disappointing them and they're more than capable of reminding us of the fact that we did for years. I stifled a laugh, shocked that I could even begin to feel humor while Bella was still changing. I truly had the best family in the world.

"Where are the others?"

"Em's with Rose still." Jasper frowned. "That stuff she said to Bella…it was really out of line. It hurt Emmett too." I nodded. Emmett was good for Rose, he'd softened her quite a bit but he couldn't give her everything she wanted and she never let him forget it, even though she didn't mean to. "Esme's picking some flowers for Bella; she wanted her to have something to wake up to." I smiled at that, Bella would like to be greeted by flowers. I ran my finger over her cheek.

"She's changing already."

"I know, I can feel it. Her heartbeat has slowed and I can feel the hardening beneath her skin. A part of her is aware of it too." I frowned at that news. "That's actually good, Edward. All she should feel is searing pain. Actually being aware of the changes is a lot better than the alternative." I suppose that was true.

"How are you doing?"

"It's tolerable. I've had way worse." I had no doubt about that. His scars were an everyday reminder that Jasper had suffered beyond the imagination. "It's interesting, the effect you have on her. I wonder if it would be similar for me and Alice had one of us been changed while the other was around."

"I don't know. It didn't work that way for Esme or Emmett when they were changed but who can say? Carlisle thinks maybe it has to do with her being my singer and the electricity we seem to have between us."

Jasper chuckled. "You know he's dying to do some kind of experiment on the two of you."

"Yeah, vampire guinea pigs. I think we'll pass."

"At least he can't do any poking and prodding, not now." Yes, Bella's skin would soon be as impenetrable as the rest of ours. I was conflicted about that. It would be much harder for her to be injured now but I would miss her softness.

A voice from a ways out caught my attention. "I'm going to check on Bella, Rose. She's our sister now and I want to make sure she's okay. You go ahead and stay out here as long as you need." I couldn't hear her response, she was out of range.

"Em's on his way, he wants to see Bella." I wanted to see him. Nobody could make me laugh like Emmett could.

"He loves her, you know. He truly views her as a little sister." I did know that and it made me love him all the more. Both of my brothers were fiercely protective of my wife, in some cases to their own detriment. Here was Jasper, willingly exposing himself to discomfort for her, while Emmett was willing to face the wrath of his wife by wholeheartedly accepting Bella into the family. I could not have two better brothers if I handpicked them.

"I know. The way you all have accepted her, well, it means the world to me. To Bella as well. You've made it so easy for her to become one of us. I have to wonder if she would have chosen this life with me if you all weren't a part of it."

"Ha! You know she would have, she was determined to be with you no matter how much you resisted. We're just the icing on the cake."

"Cake? She can't have any cake anymore or I'd totally make her one for her birthday. I'm sure it's easier to make than those stupid eggs." Emmett charged into the room, boisterous as always. He walked over to the bed and ran his eyes over Bella. "She's gotten paler…who knew that was possible?" He was right, her peaches and cream skin was just cream now. He reached over and tugged the blanket back for a second. "Ahhh, my eyes! Where are her clothes? I don't want to see my sister naked."

I glared up at him. "Why in the hell were you pulling back the blanket?"

His dimples flashed impishly at me. "Well, now that Rose isn't around, I thought I could get a better look at that bellybutton ring." Jasper joined me in laughing at him. "What? It's hot! But I don't want to see my sister naked! I just want to see the bellybutton ring and imagine it on someone else!"

"She's not naked."

"Close enough. You wouldn't want to see Alice or Rose in their underwear would you?"

"I've seen far worse than that thanks to your thoughts, Em." He snickered and sent me a flash of Rosalie naked. "Dammit, stop that."

"That's what you get for having a wife with sexy stomach accessories that will torment me forever." I couldn't stop the smile at that, having my Bella and her pretty bellybutton ring for an eternity. "Did you see all the jewelry Alice got her? Handcuffs! That's just so sexy." Handcuffs? My sister was keeping secrets from me, but they were ones that Bella would reveal. Hmm…I could wait, I suppose. "Jasper likes it too, you know."

"I do, but you don't see me trying to sneak peeks at it."

"That's only cause you're busy burning. Speaking of that, how in the hell are you so coherent right now?"

"It's not as bad as it was for the rest of us. Edward's touching her seems to do something to her system. I can't understand it but she was in half the pain of the rest of us. Between the two of us, she basically feels like has a bad fever right now instead of feeling like she's been tossed in a burning fire."

Emmett clapped a hand down on my shoulder. "You two are so weird. It's going to be fun watching you over the next couple of centuries."

"I'm glad we'll be able to provide you with amusement."

"No doubt Bella will! Too bad she'll lose her clumsiness. That was always fun!" I would miss that as well, though I wouldn't miss the inevitable bruises and God forbid the cuts and scrapes that tormented me.

I looked at my brothers and had to ask them the same question I'd asked Carlisle. "If you were me, would you have done it?"

Emmett's jovial expression turned speculative and his body tensed. "You mean, turned her? I would have if I were you. It's different if you're talking about me and Rose though. I wouldn't have done that to her because of her need for children and a family of her own. I wish I could give her that every day." His expression turned wistful and then his face fell.

"I'm sorry, Em, I didn't mean to bring that up. I just wanted to make sure I'd done the right thing for Bella."

He straightened his shoulders and the sadness fell away. "You gave her what she wants, bro. Of course you did the right thing, for her and for all us. I wouldn't want to deal with your emo self after human Bella died or something. The thought of that is terrifying. And I love Bella. She belongs with us."

Jasper looked at us both and nodded. "Yes, I would do the same thing you did." He didn't say any more than that, he really didn't have to. A few words from Jasper were like an epic novel from another man.

"Do you…are you guys sure she'll remember me?" There, I voiced it, the one thing I hadn't allowed myself to really think about since I'd bit her.

Emmett let out a jovial laugh. "Dude, is that what you're so worried about? Of course she'll remember you. We woke up with our memories intact; it was only after years that it faded."

"I know, but what if her feelings change?"

"Vampires, unchanging, you know all this!" Emmett gently cuffed my head. Sure I knew it but I was still scared, it scared me nearly as much as the thought of killing her had.

"Edward, I don't have the ability to help you both at the same time so put a lid on the fear, will you? You're being ridiculous; Bella will still be the same as she was before she changed. She'll remember all of us and you in particular."

"Alice didn't have any memories."

His jaw tightened and his eyes flashed with anger. "Yes, and thanks to our run-in with James we know why. My Alice had foresight and maybe that's all she was able to bring with her. From what we have pieced together, maybe that's all she needed to bring with her. I don't know for sure what her family was like but I'm positive they weren't good enough for her. She's better off not remembering what led to her being in that asylum. I thank God everyday that she didn't have to live like that for long. Bella has nothing but good memories to bring with her and you gave her those books to help her keep them. You couldn't have come up with a better gift." And just like that, he'd comforted me without using his abilities.

I trailed my fingers over Bella's jaw and heard an almost imperceptible sigh escape her lips. "Thanks Jas, she's really doing okay, right?"

"Better than we could have hoped for, honestly. I'm going to have to leave soon but I'll be back within an hour and I'm pretty sure with your help she'll be fine." I noticed his eyes had darkened over the past few hours, now more of a dark brown than his usual honey. It was the only sign of any discomfort he'd given since he first walked in the room.

"Go ahead now, Jas, you've done plenty. We'll be alright." He watched me steadily for a few moments and nodded, pushing off the chair and placing Bella's hand gently back on the bed.

"See you soon." Emmett followed him out and she and I were alone again. I pressed my lips to her cheek, noting that she was even cooler. I closed my eyes and held her, letting my mind drift ahead to a few days from now, when she'd be back at my side smiling and blessedly alive again. Right now she didn't feel like my Bella. She still looked like her, although subtle changes were already taking place. Her cheekbones seemed more prominent, some of the baby softness gone from her face. Bella had always been thin and without much muscle tone but I could see the beginnings of definition entering her arms, legs and abdominals. Alice was right, she was going to be stunning, not that she hadn't been already.

The hours passed, my family coming and going, keeping me company when it was clear that I was getting a little insane and leaving me alone when I needed alone time with Bella. I held her and stroked her and talked to her, telling her all the places we'd go when she was back with me and all the things I longed to see and do with her. I told her about the dark time without her and reminded her that we'd never be apart again after she returned.

Jasper was a constant presence over the next couple of days, sitting with us for hours at a time and making me feel calmer. I didn't know if he was using his gift on me or if it was just the fact that he was there, though I assumed the latter as all his concentration was on Bella. Finally, after an interminable amount of time, Alice danced into the room with a soft blue linen dress and a huge smile on her face.

"It's almost time." I'd been begging her to tell me when Bella would wake up but she'd been unable to pinpoint it. "Get up, Edward; I can't get her dressed with you draped all over her." I started to protest but Jasper nodded at me, letting me know that he'd help her. I got out of bed but kept my hand on her cheek, longing to keep her from feeling the worst of the pain again. She remained still as a corpse and kept silent as Alice quickly slid the dress up her body. It molded beautifully to her curves.

I'd felt every change as it happened, her skin had become impenetrable about six hours ago. All the color had left her four hours ago, leaving a pale luminescence to her skin that hadn't been there prior to her change. Her body was lean and muscular now; all the softness limited to just the lightest touches on her skin. She felt like silk over steel now. Her hair was shinier and thicker. She still looked like my Bella but had changed enough that it would probably make her happy. She refused to see just how beautiful she really was, much to my endless consternation.

Carlisle came into the room and put his fingers to her wrist. Her heartbeat had slowed to the point that I could barely hear it anymore so I knew Alice was right. "Any moment now son." I took hold of her hand and lay back at her side; longing to be the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes. I had another moment of panic, fearing she'd forgot about me despite what my brothers said. Maybe she'd wake up like Alice had, with no memory of her prior life. Could I make her remember me? Would she fall in love with me again or would she reject me for having made her into a monster? No, Bella would never be a monster, but would she think me one?

Jasper sensed my emotions and sent a wave of calm my way. "No, help Bella."

"She doesn't need help anymore, the burn is almost gone. You need to get it under control, man. I need to concentrate on her when she wakes up, not worry about you having a panic attack." I took an unnecessarily deep breath, willing myself to calm. Jasper was right; he needed to worry about her, not me.

The rest of the family filed in, even Rosalie was there. We all listened as Bella's heart began to stutter, giving a couple last pumps and then stilling forever. I gripped her hand tightly, willing her to open her eyes and remember me. I didn't know what I'd do if she didn't. Her hand jerked in mine and I watched as her eyes opened; the chocolate irises now replaced by crimson. It was disconcerting but she was still gorgeous. Her eyes darted around the room and then landed on me. She licked her ruby lips and quietly uttered the most beautiful word she could have said in that moment. "Edward."

A/N She's awake and she remembers! I just wanted to give a quick thank you to all my readers this week, new and old, for making my day (months actually) by coming along this journey with me. Remember, a review equals a preview of the next chapter.

Are you reading Tilt by lambcullen? You should be! 52 sex cards and a very inexperienced Bella and Edward fumbling their way through the deck. It's worth it for the read just to hear Edward's attempt to talk dirty.

Also, The Caged Bird by Kristen Nicole is about to wrap up and I adore Religious Bella and her bad boy Edward. Their love is sweet and adorable.