Les Femmes Noires One-Shot Contest
Title: The Valediction
Pen Name: HumanShield
To see other entries in Les Femmes Noires Contest, please visit the C2 page:
Disclaimer: Don't own it, thank the Lord. If I did, everyone would be dead...we all know this by now.
A/N: For Feisty...for understanding the rules of commas, semi-colons, and colons...because I obviously don't. But, much more importantly, for understanding exactly when this story needed John Donne and exactly when it needed KELLY CLARKSON! (Blue can suck it.)
About this little ditty...I don't really know what to say (which is an awesome little bit of info to give out when writing an author's note). If you make it all the way through, you probably won't know what to say either. You probably shouldn't even attempt to write a review. Seriously. It's one of those things I sit down to write and then after a scene or two I'm like "I need to walk this shit off." And that's not because I'm so "awesome" at writing that it "feels" so "real". Just...read it. Finish it if you can. You'll know what I mean.
In any event, ironically, this is the most romantic thing I have ever written.
I couldn't move. Every single muscle in my body was tensed and frozen, as uncomprehending as my mind. Her words didn't make any sense in my head. They blurred together, syllables and sounds mixing and falling apart before I could decipher their meaning.
Maybe it was voluntary, because whatever it was she was saying, I knew I didn't want to understand it.
And I suppose the only reason for that was because I already did.
Finally I asked her to repeat herself. My voice was quiet but steady. I could hear the denial in my own words, the confusion and disbelief.
She stood in the doorway, one hand on her hip, the other stretched above her, forearm lying flat against the plaster of the door jamb. Her eyes were steady on mine, the gold was solid, hardened. Unfeeling.
I had seen her look at me like this so many times.
"I'm leaving," she said slowly, without flinching.
Just like that.
I felt the anger stirring in my chest. Panic and horror and trepidation, all shoved aside mercilessly, and the only thought that went through my head was: finally.
After all the misery. Her insanity and her hate and her bloodlust and her destruction.
That word pounded in my skull, its meaning lost to me, repeating over and over like a heartbeat when I grabbed her arms.
I dragged the warm stone of her closer to me, unsure of what I was going to do. Maybe I just wanted to feel her one last time. Hold her, touch her, assure myself that this was real. That she was leaving or that she was already gone.
Her eyes snapped to my face as I slammed her against me, and she jerked her arms up, throwing me off. She took a step back towards the door.
I flung my body forward and pinned her against the wall. I heard her hiss. Her nails were on me, scratching into my face until I stumbled back.
She stepped with me, crouching low with a warning growl.
I just stood, staring at her, my insides every bit as stone as the flesh of my body.
Her hands were on me then, grasping the front of my shirt. She dragged me closer to her until our chests were pressed against each other again. The sweet of her breath washed across my face, and she looked at me through lowered lashes. I thought she was going to kiss me.
Her eyes were still hard.
I leaned towards her slightly, willing her to breathe life back into me. Willing her to kiss me with tongue and teeth and lies. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. I love you forever. I was less than an inch away from it.
And then I felt her muscles coil against my chest and I was flying backwards, crashing into the wall behind me.
I couldn't feel pain; my body couldn't break.
When I lifted my head, the front door was shut tight, and she was gone.
* * *
I was always going to lose my mind first.
Edward with his guilt, Edward with his self-loathing. With his anger and his angst and his child-bride and his strange, beautiful daughter. Frozen at seventeen with his perfect face and mind and control. Give Edward a couple more centuries of knowing he doesn't deserve happiness and he'll go mad.
It wasn't supposed to be her.
The icy cold of the snow and the air swirled and danced on either side of me, wrapping around my body like an embrace. And I stood, unable to feel it, unable to shiver with pain and self-preservation. The wide empty white before me wasn't so lonely today, the absence of thought in my mind always peaceful after nearly seven hundred years of constant knowing.
Sometimes I felt the emptiness acutely. Sometimes it was unbearable.
Today, I savored it.
I would leave soon. I had lived almost a month in this place, searching and resting and knowing she wouldn't be here. Over a century and still I couldn't help but try and find her.
When I traveled south, I thought she might be here. She might have come, remembering a time we had once talked of living here to keep her safe.
Maybe she would want to isolate herself the same way I had, maybe she craved the loneliness as I was beginning to. But she wasn't a solitary creature anymore. Maybe she never had been. She didn't want to be alone; she just didn't want to be with me. And she wouldn't come here because she knew I would.
I sat down, even though it was unnecessary. I sprawled my legs out before me, resting them on the hard of stone and snow.
Every single day that I looked for her, the memories ate away at me. The logic and the pain and the wanting.
And it never faded.
The inevitable snap that everyone was sure would happen to me first, and it took her.
After five hundred years of the cravings and the hunger and the repression she slowly seemed to lose her grasp on reality. All I could do was watch, helpless, as it slipped further and further from her. She shifted, she changed, and she became someone I didn't know.
That violent upheaval that all vampires knew to be permanent and enduring happened to her in the most horrible, inevitable way. And at the end of it all, she left me.
The clouds rolled grey over my head, stretching over every inch of the blue that I knew was behind them. They were a curtain and a shield and a wall. I didn't want the sun. I didn't want the crash of its rays on my skin or shards of diamond on my arms or the warmth on my face.
I sat, motionless, above the freezing open of my newest home. At the bottom of the world, far away from the war-torn, ravaged land that was once so familiar. Every single one of those people I had left behind, everyone who remained in the world – sucking the earth dry – was a vampire, whether they craved the blood or not.
My arms were wrapped around my legs when I first heard her approaching.
I wasn't surprised. Not for long. I doubt there was much in this world that could surprise me anymore. It was inevitable she would find me, that someone would find me.
I could hear the tenor of her mind so clearly, a rush of memories flowing through me at the sound. I took a deep breath when her footsteps stopped.
It was just her.
He wasn't with her. He was already home, I could hear it in the back of her mind. The part of her that always thought of him, was always with him.
I was glad she was alone.
What she said to me could have been in thought. She could have stood there and told me everything without opening her mouth. Maybe she had to say the words out loud because she hadn't yet, or maybe she knew it had been months since I had heard anyone's voice, or maybe she wanted me out of her head.
Maybe she just wanted to say my name.
"Edward," she said quietly, her voice so much more beautiful than I remembered.
I turned to her slowly, my eyes traveling up her small, familiar body to meet her eyes. They sparked to life when they met mine, and I saw the corner of her mouth lift slightly.
* * *
Her thoughts came in bursts, as if she was having trouble deciding whether or not she wanted me to come to her.
Of course I would come.
I sprinted through the woods, the deep sapphire of midnight tinting my vision as I ran. Flickers of her face, of her hands covered in blood. And then nothing. She was locking me out.
It didn't matter. I could smell her now.
I reached her within moments, halting abruptly at the edge of the clearing.
There was a small stream bubbling next to her, where she knelt on rocks that would have been sharp to a human. Her skin remained unmarred. Effortless and perfect and ivory. I took a small, tentative step towards her, not wanting to startle her.
I knew she was aware of me, but I still moved slowly, taking in the scene before me.
Her naked body was flawless in the darkness, rigid and shaking. Across her skin were streaks of red, the smell so potent. Her hands were covered with it, with the blood.
On her lap lay the head of a mountain lion, its tongue lolling out to the side between sharp teeth. One of her hands was tracing a bloody pattern along the fur around its ear. I was pretty sure the movement was unconscious.
I moved to her quickly then.
When I reached her I grabbed the lion's head and threw it away from her. She didn't protest; didn't say anything.
I gripped her arms tightly and yanked her to her feet. She yelped in surprised at the movement, steadying herself on my chest.
My hands closed around her biceps tightly and for several moments we simply stared at each other, completely silent: my eyes questioning, her eyes blank.
And then she started laughing.
A high cackle, an unsettling delirium, and I could feel her in my arms, shaking with the laughing and the joy and the wonder.
I stayed completely still in my shock.
She pulled out of my arms suddenly and twirled away from me. She danced a short distance down the creek, bending over from time to time to brush the ground. Then I saw that it wasn't the ground she was touching. The severed body parts of several other lions, torn up and thrown around casually.
I had seen this before.
The only difference was that she had not taken any of the lions' blood. She was dancing around, all madness and beautiful, scoffing at the temptation. She didn't feel its call like she once had. She had tasted something better.
"Bella?" I called out to her gently, reaching a hand towards her.
She whipped around, the carcass of a small lion cub in her right hand, sliced right down the middle.
"Oh Edward, my love." Her voice was lilting and sweet. She tripped over to me, giddy, her eyes glinting with mischief. I wondered if she knew where she was. "Have some of this, will you? I think I killed too many."
"I'm not hungry," I ground out, swallowing the venom that was pooling in my mouth.
She laughed again, sweeter now, and closed the gap between us, pressing into me. My body immediately reacted to her nearness. Of course she felt it. She wiggled against me, enjoying herself.
"There will be time for that later," she teased with a grin.
I looked down at her, at her small hand pressing the tiny flesh and bone and blood up to my mouth. It was still warm against my lips.
"Come on, beautiful boy," she urged, seeing my hesitation.
I glanced around us, at the slaughter, the unnecessary brutality, the gore and the pain.
"Who are you?" My voice broke on the question.
She smiled at me again, still softer, and the hand that wasn't holding up the cub slid down and pressed itself firmly against my arousal. She leaned forward so that her mouth, her lips and tongue, touched my ear with every breath.
"I'm the love of your life." She whispered the aching cliché.
I looked her square in the eye as I sank my teeth into the flesh and blood in her hand, pulling the warmth from the small limp body before me.
Once again, Bella threw her head back and laughed.
* * *
"I'm glad you agreed to do this."
I glanced at the woman who was once my sister out of the corner of my eye. She was watching me carefully, as if I might leap to my feet, tear the door off the side of the plane and jump out at any second.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered it.
"I should pay my respects," I replied simply, without feeling.
"Still," Alice shrugged and moved her eyes from my face to look at the back of the seat behind her. "You don't have any obligations anymore. It's not like…"
"Don't," I growled.
I could still feel. I still knew when something had to be done, when others deserved my attention and when I had to be willing to give it. That was quite the feat for someone like me. I didn't want her to trivialize the tattered shreds of sanity I could sometimes feel inside me.
I was supposed to lose my mind first.
"Renesmee is there already." Alice's voice was soft and she still wasn't looking at me.
I felt something kick up inside me. Something painful and uncomfortable and a lot like the love I used to feel for that little girl who was my blood.
For a long time, after Bella left, I refused to look at our daughter. I couldn't see her, looking at me with those brown eyes, looking so much like her mother. Then, one day, I just stopped caring. I walked away without turning around, the same way she had.
Abandoned my child.
I didn't know what had happened to Renesmee, where she was before this moment, but the thought that I would see her again in less than twenty four hours affected me more than I thought it would.
I was glad for that.
"What about…" I started, but my voice got caught in my throat.
Alice's eyes snapped to my face, her brow furrowed. I couldn't read her expression, her thoughts were indecipherable.
"She's not coming."
I exhaled slowly, fighting the urge to gasp at the sudden tightness in my chest.
Neither word did justice to what I felt in that moment. Two emotions, so much more acute, so much more painful than either, warred inside me.
She wasn't coming.
"Renesmee saw her a month ago. Talked to her, tried to get her to come home," Alice shrugged. "But…she's beyond…"
She trailed off, unsure of what she was saying.
I knew, though.
She was beyond. Anything, everything. Just…beyond.
When Bella had slowly descended into madness, I was her first victim. Every single thing she had done, everything she said, every one of her actions and words seemed designed to push me away. By the time she left all I felt towards her was loathing and resentment, and when she was gone she was the only thing I ached for.
All the anger and disgust was immediately wiped clean when she walked out the door.
For over a century I had searched, consumed only with thoughts of getting her back. I traveled all over the world, with her always a step ahead of me. And every time I tried to call up that anger, every time I tried to hate her again, I only felt the loss of her deep in my chest.
No matter what she had done, I hadn't stopped loving her. Not for a second.
I couldn't stop loving her.
When we were together, I had told her so many times that she was a constant. That no matter what else changed, how I felt about her never would. And it was the truth. She was an addiction that burned deeper than logic, stronger than choice.
I tried to follow – was still trying to follow – because it never faded.
I couldn't be rid of her.
We had been flying for hours before I finally turned back to Alice and asked her what had happened. Finally made myself care.
She looked at me sharply, her eyes narrowing. Still, her mind was closed off to me…rolling with useless information. After centuries of careful practice, she knew exactly how to keep me out. I couldn't know what she was really thinking. Not ever.
"I don't know," she said at last. "Jasper and I had left the family before all this. Not long after you left, actually. Carlisle and Esme…didn't know where they went. They thought they just left like the rest of us. But then Tanya and her sisters came and told us…I guess they had gone to find Bella, and maybe they never made it; maybe they'd already seen her when…"
Alice's voice trailed off.
There was a small amount of pain in her eyes, even as she shrugged her shoulders, her hair swishing slightly.
I looked down at my hands, trying to summon up pain and quell it at the same time.
Rosalie and Emmett.
I tried to remember the last words I said to them and couldn't think of a single thing.
Our memories never faded.
* * *
I walked up the stairs of the large Plantation house slowly. I felt sluggish and strong from the hunt and I was glad that Jasper had taken Alice away with him. I didn't know how I could handle them both for this conversation.
When I saw her lying on the bed waiting for me, I was pretty sure I couldn't fucking handle just her for this conversation.
Her body was sprawled over the sheets, all legs and arms and skin. Black silk covering her and hair twisted up so that I could see her face, her neck. When she saw me halt at the doorway she leaned forward slightly, her smile soft and innocence.
I felt myself harden as I breathed in the scent of her arousal, sweet and not one fucking bit innocent.
I couldn't stop my feet from taking me to her, stopping only when I was beside the bed, inches from her. Her smile widened at my proximity, her entire face lighting up at the same time her eyes darkened with unmistakable lust. Always light and dark with her. Walking the line like a damned trapeze artist, dipping from one side to the other with laughter on her lips.
Her hand reached out, fingers curling around the bottom of my shirt. I looked down at her hand as it gripped me. Her smile had turned to a smirk and I was about to open my mouth to speak when I was being pulled towards her.
In a movement characteristically quick and impossible to follow, she twisted her body back, then forward, tossing me down on the bed and then slipping over me, sitting firmly on my thighs, all heat and want just inches from where I needed it.
I gazed up at her, hair escaping in small tendrils that brushed lightly against the skin of her cheeks. So fucking beautiful. I fought the nearly irresistible urge to start writhing beneath her, desperate for friction.
She was smirking at me like she knew.
"Bella, we need to talk about what happened." I wasn't sure how I forced the words out of my mouth. Especially since her fingers were brushing beneath the hem of my shirt, soft and teasing as she inched it higher and higher up my chest.
"Do we, now?" she grinned down at me, pulling my shirt off quickly and gently and tossing it aside.
I swallowed loudly and tried to speak, tried to nod. My body wasn't cooperating. Taking advantage of my silence, Bella crossed her arms over her chest and reached down to opposite hems, bunching the silk of the small gown and then sliding it up and off her.
My hands shot out immediately and instinctively to grab the soft skin and bone of her hips.
She leaned forward slightly and shifted up off my thighs and then she was there, all fire and wet against me, and I could feel her through the fabric of my pants.
My fingers tightened, and I let loose an involuntary groan. "Stop," I whimpered at the same time I bucked upwards slightly, unable to stop myself.
She laughed happiness and lust at the word. Her fingers were stroking my face gently and she leaned forward more, her breasts just barely brushing against the skin of my chest.
"We didn't touch anyone who didn't want it," her words were quiet and sultry, as if she was whispering sex and promises into my ear. Maybe she was. "Alice and I just wanted to help take away the pain."
One of her hands snaked down my chest slowly, leaving a trail of heat. I shivered at the contact as she got closer and closer to the place our bodies met. Her hand was on my zipper and she didn't fumble at all, and then she was holding me. Her fingers gently caressing, watching my face as she continued to rock and touch and breathe.
I was slick with her and panting for it, unable to keep quiet. At last, my eyes rolled shut and I moaned out, "You're both out of control."
I heard her humming gently, as if my words pleased her. My eyes opened slowly, languidly, and she was watching me intently. The lust on her face dominated everything else, and I just wanted to yank her body up and slam her down on me.
I would wait for her, and she knew it.
She smiled at me again and lifted slightly, and then I was inside her, and she was all around me, in every single one of my senses, and I couldn't breathe.
Then she slowly – so fucking slowly – began to move over me.
One of my hands smoothed up her spine and then back down to her hip. I tried to jerk her up faster, but she wouldn't allow it. I tried to thrust upwards – I needed to be deeper – but she pinned me down firmly, not granting me any movement.
"You don't like being out of control?" Her voice was a purr, a taunt.
I gasped as she swirled her hips suddenly, then pressed down, grinding harder onto me and taking me deeper at last. Her eyes met mine in silent challenge.
"Bella…" I warned with a slight growl. "Don't do this."
She heard the tone of my voice and bit her lip, fluttering her eyelashes once, twice. Her hands slid up until they were resting lightly on my shoulders.
Her movements were slow and deliberate, matching the cadence of her words perfectly, grinding out with a coy smile, "Don't you want me, Edward?"
A hiss whirled from my lips, and I threw her off me.
I saw her eyes spark with glee as I stood and yanked my pants violently off my body. Then I was back on the bed, on her, my lips on her neck, biting and everywhere, and I was in her again, pushing, pushing, pushing, and I never wanted to stop.
I could feel her writhing beneath me, and I poured all my frustration out into my fevered movements. She felt it and gave it right back to me with little whimpers and mewls.
I let my body press roughly onto hers, knowing I couldn't crush her. I wanted to feel her hard, so deep inside that she was all I could register in my mind. And then I was there, and all I could feel was the pounding and heavy shoving as I emptied myself into her.
When I relaxed over her, I felt her hand in my hair, stroking softly.
"People are so beautiful when they're begging for death," she whispered, and I could feel her lips curling into a smile around the shell of my ear. I didn't lift my head. "You'll come with us next time, love?"
Silently, without meeting her eyes, I nodded.
* * *
There was nothing to bury. No ashes to spread. We simply stood in a cemetery, over-crowded with old, cracking gravestones, and remembered them.
I didn't know how Carlisle and Esme were still so human. They were numb and unfeeling as I was. Their skin just as translucent, as pale and papery as mine. But they stood there and said words and wrote the names of their children on a stone, and I could hear their grief come in flickers and bursts through the apathy.
They had forgotten how to feel pain so long ago. We all had. But they felt this.
I stood next to Alice and Jasper and across from me I stared into the brown eyes of my daughter.
Next to her was Jacob. Always next to her.
When the words were said and it was all done, everyone embraced me. They told me I should come back and stay with them and pretend I was living and look into their empty eyes every day and listen to their empty thoughts. I said I would think about it, and they didn't care.
Alice touched her forehead to mine, her little hands resting on my shoulders, and then she was gone.
I waited a little longer before moving away from the small crowd of my former family. Waited for my daughter to come to me, as I knew she would. As I knew she had to. And with her came Jacob, always next to her.
We didn't embrace, didn't touch, didn't smile.
I loved her and I wanted her and I didn't want to fucking talk to her or look at her or be near her. She was everything and nothing and I wanted so badly to just turn around and get away from her as fast as I could. But there was no point.
Her voice was so familiar and it was not her own. I wanted to crush her throat for sounding too much like…
I dragged my eyes up along her body, taking mental inventory. The scars were there, all over her face, silver and unnatural. I knew under her clothes lay hundreds more, marring her skin. Still so beautiful. Aging minutely, she had almost six hundred years and appeared to be in her late twenties.
She had one up on me: the frozen teenager man-child. Baby-face father who deserted his daughter because he couldn't make himself give a shit.
She stood before me, studying my expression for a moment, waiting for me to ask.
So I did.
"Do you know where she is?"
She wasn't here and I knew that her daughter had found her. The same way she had found me, unable to understand why everyone around her was leaving her. She was so fucking young, still. And Jacob was always next to her.
"I saw her maybe a month ago," came the simple reply.
I felt a shock of heat and pain and excitement roll through my entire sedentary body for a brief moment before it was gone. More than I had felt in decades.
Because as long as I lived, I would always try to find her again.
"She's in Romania," she replied. Telling me the answer to a century of searching in a word. "She's living with Vladimir and Stefan."
Living with them?
My entire body tensed and relaxed and I fought the urge to sigh and to scream. Mine, theirs, mine, theirs.
"Are you alright?" Renesmee asked, her hand lifting slightly as if to touch me. She thought better of it and let it hang limply at her side, once again.
"Did she…when you saw her…did she say anything?" I swallowed, hating the way my voice was shaking. About me, I didn't say.
My daughter arched one eyebrow, exactly like Bella used to. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and kiss the top of her head and claw her face off.
"We didn't talk about you." She shook her head at last, understanding the unspoken words. "I wanted to, but she wasn't hearing it."
I nodded, silently.
I could imagine Bella, yelling and cursing and refusing to listen. Or maybe she just ignored the mention of me. Maybe she still didn't care. It struck me then that I had no idea what she would be like now. She could swing so quickly between passionate and apathetic. The only thing consistent about her was that she wasn't.
When I first met her she had been so even, so steady. Loving me had ignited something within her, something that had been lying dormant and might have forever until I had come into her life. I filled some part of her, something that would have been empty otherwise. The passion became what sustained her. Our love, our desire for each other, and nothing beyond that.
Maybe that was the reason she left: when she stopped loving me, there was nothing.
Renesmee's question broke me out of my musing abruptly.
My eyes snapped up to hers in confusion. "Why what?"
"Why is it so important that you find her now?" Her voice was quiet. There was a slight edge to it, though. Almost threatening.
I looked at her in surprise.
"I've always wanted to find her, always needed to." I held my hands out in front of me, helplessly, a victim. "I've been trying to find her for a hundred years."
"And I found her in two weeks."
Something clenched deep in my chest, causing my breath to stagger and hitch.
The way Renesmee was looking at me now, the way Jacob was looking at me, it was almost…accusatory. I couldn't understand. Not really.
"What are you saying?" I asked slowly, defensively.
"I'm saying maybe she doesn't want to be found." She paused, then added simply, "By you."
I felt my hands clench into fists at my side and then relax again. I fought to keep my whole body from shaking. It wasn't anger coursing through me now. It was fear. What she was saying to me…I felt like I was missing some vital piece.
What had Bella said to her?
I waited, unable to say anything.
My daughter studied my face silently for several moments. Her gaze dropped to my hands, still clenching and unclenching at my side, and then back up to my face. I wondered what expression she saw there. Whatever it was, it caused her own to soften.
"Listen, we all know what happened," she said, her voice very quiet. It was filled with understanding, but there was still that edge to it. Still hard. "We all know you forced her to leave…"
"What?" I cut her off, my eyes opening wide in shock.
How could she say that? Didn't she know what happened? The scars on her skin, on her face…didn't she remember?
God, Bella. What had she said?
"That's a lie."
"Really? So you didn't think she was insane? She didn't disgust you? You didn't hate yourself for loving her?" Renesmee looked at me pointedly now. She was such a contradiction of attack and retreat. So understanding, so condemning. "And you expected her to live like that?"
My mouth opened and closed several times.
It wasn't true.
I had loved her. I still loved her.
When she had left me…right up to the very end, I never stopped. She had chosen to leave, and I never stopped. What she had done, how it made me feel, was irrelevant…because it had never touched how I felt about her.
And, when it came down to it, that was all that mattered, right?
"You don't understand…" I said softly, my voice wavering slightly.
Renesmee cut me off. "I understand more than you think."
I felt the stirrings of anger, of indignation, rising up inside me.
How could she? She had no fucking idea. Not a clue. Jacob was always next to her.
"Listen, you don't know the half of what happened back then," I snapped, my voice a low hiss. "The things she said, the things she did. Just because she's regained some of her sanity now…"
Renesmee threw her head back and laughed as I trailed off.
I watched her incredulously as she shook her lovely head, smiling at me sadly.
"Oh, Daddy." Her hand was on my shoulder then, and she was still smiling. "I never said that."
* * *
Her eyes were trained on me, completely unwavering. The anger in them, the hate, was something I would never get used to, no matter how many days passed.
I dragged my gaze away from hers and let my eyes fall to her arms, twisted up with chains and metal, shackling her to the wall. The only thing keeping her from breaking away was the weakness in her starving limbs and her eyes locked on me.
She knew she couldn't overpower me.
Whatever part of her still answered to reason understood what was happening. It had been almost two months. And she knew that in the basement, sitting across from me on the concrete, she was trapped.
Upstairs I could hear the rest of the family moving around. I could hear Jacob, his thoughts wild with concern for Renesmee. I could hear Carlisle tending her wounds, reassuring her that she would be fine. Her skin was so strong. She was breakable, destructible, but only just. She would survive her mother's attack.
My stomach clenched and if it were possible for me to be sick, I would have been.
When Emmett and Jasper had emerged from the woods dragging a spitting, hissing Bella behind them, I could breathe. We had been searching for hours, where she was almost impossible to track. Eventually Jasper was able to get a feel on her bloodlust.
Seeing her alive, I had actually felt my heart expand with relief.
Then Jacob came carrying a battered Renesmee, and it felt like it was being ripped from my chest.
She had tried to kill her daughter.
I heard her body shift slightly, and I turned my attention back to her.
She was sitting silently, for the most part, still staring at me. When she did this it usually meant she was trying to figure out a way to escape. She probably couldn't, even if I wasn't here to stop her. I could see the bones jutting out from beneath her skin, every line and angle hard and brittle and starving.
It was easier to keep her calm when she was weak.
I focused in on her breathing, on the sounds she made. When I did that I could pretend she was herself again.
As long as I ignored the chains.
"She's going to be all right," I whispered quietly.
Bella's eyes snapped to life. They were intense as they always were, but they weren't complicated. There weren't layers and layers of dimensions in the gold. They were flat black and fire and instinct. Feral and primal and not an inch of the woman I loved, or the woman that loved me back.
I got to my feet slowly, and her eyes followed me: the steady, calculating gaze of a predator.
I crossed the floor slowly, closing the distance between us. When I was just out of her reach, I knelt down in front of her, my fingers itching to touch her.
She looked at me, and her lip curled up suddenly, a snarl ripping from her chest.
"I know you can hear me, Bella. And I know you'd be worried about her, about hurting her."
She was quieter now, fainter, but she was still snarling low from the core of her body. Her face was so fierce.
I met her eyes again. I didn't know what I hoped to see, but the vacancy made my throat constrict painfully.
"I don't know why this is happening," I began slowly. I reached out my left hand and brushed two fingers lightly against the skin of her forehead. "You won't let me in."
She didn't move away from me.
Slowly I reached out a hand and dragged it along the achingly visible bone of her cheek. I heard her hiss, low and warning.
Nodding slightly, I stood.
"I just want you to know, our daughter is going to survive," I whispered, my voice weak. "She's going to be okay."
I turned away from her and began to ascend the stairs slowly.
I had to get out, had to get away from her for just a moment. Willed my heart not to break. Not yet. Not in front of her.
I stopped in my tracks, my hand on the wall next to me, halfway up the stairs. I heard her voice, and nothing could have made me take another step.
It was the first time she had said my name in almost two months.
I whipped around.
She was still sitting, her entire body wrapped in chains, the weight of them rubbing against bones that couldn't feel pain. But there was anguish in every inch of her.
"Edward, won't I be okay?"
Without hesitating I flung myself forward, almost tripping with my need to get to her. My hands closed tightly around her shoulders first, then one stretched around her back and the other dug into her hair. With her entire body pressed against mine, I met her eyes.
There she was.
Still bereft, still in pain, but she was Bella. And she could see me.
"Oh, Bella," I murmured, dropping my face into her neck, letting my lips brush lightly over her shoulder.
I could feel her arms struggling against weakness and metal to wrap around me, her hands fisting my shirt on either side of me, pressing into my ribs desperately.
"Help me," I heard her whispering, her voice trembling. "Please, God, help me."
* * *
I stood in the bright of the house and paced back and forth.
It wasn't large, as I had expected. If three of them lived here, it would be fairly intimate. Without much privacy. My fingers dug into the palms of my hands as I struggled to remain calm. Tried to gather my thoughts and listen to theirs.
Everything was all abstraction and image and not even a hint of her. They hadn't smelled me yet, or heard me. But they weren't listening, weren't paying attention. It had been a long time since anyone had bothered them in this place.
The trees around the house were beautiful, something that even I could still appreciate. They were some of the last on earth. This forest was almost entirely untouched by war and famine and climate, large and undisturbed. And the wooden house in front of me seemed to grow out of the trees. It belonged there.
Bella had helped them build it. I was certain.
My feet were almost completely silent against the porch stairs, dirty and bare and impervious. I walked up, drifting out of the light cast from the open windows into the shadow of the entrance. I stopped at the door, unsure.
As I stood, staring at the doorknob, my daughter's words pounded behind my eyes; echoed in my ears.
It wasn't fucking true.
How could it be?
She had left me. Walked out on me and left me alone to search for her, futilely, for over a century. Wanting her without reason. Loving her from a distance with only anger and passion.
Renesmee was crazy to think that I could ever hate her for anything.
Even though she deserted me, deserted her family, even though she killed without reason or remorse, used sex as a power play and a means to an end, even though she took the sick and begging from hospitals with Alice, destroyed beauty where she touched it, even though she had tried to kill our child, even though she had stopped loving me when she promised me forever…
I ran my fingers through my hair, suddenly at a loss.
I had. At the end, I had hated her. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't deny it. Not to my daughter and not to myself.
I had hated her back then and if anyone had asked I would have told them that Bella didn't even notice. Or maybe I just didn't think she cared. She had been so out of touch with reality, so oblivious to everything and everyone around her – myself included – that I was positive it never occurred to her how I felt.
When she left me it was because she wanted to. It had been her choice. I couldn't believe it had anything to do with me, that I had driven her away, because most of the time she didn't acknowledge my existence.
Was it really the opposite? Was the apathy mine, not hers?
I had no idea what it meant if that was the truth.
And I was beginning to think that it was.
I stretched out my arm and knocked loudly, twice.
The door opened almost immediately, and I was greeted with the man I recognized as Stefan. Tall and blonde, skin papery frail moth wings. His eyes were very black, but he didn't look hungry. Just infinitely tired.
Seeing him again, I felt a lingering, sensory memory. I was back in that forest in Washington, hundreds of years ago. Back when I felt things so acutely, with so much passion. There was pain and anguish and love, and I remembered every second of it perfectly. None of it had faded. I could almost see it; it was so close.
He motioned me inside without saying a word. I wondered if he knew who I was.
There were several lights on in the house, but it was still dark. All the wood of the walls deep and rich and well cared for. In front of me was a large staircase leading to a second floor. On either side of me was a large, open room, filled with people.
Stefan led me into the larger room on my left.
There was furniture everywhere, skewed across the dark room haphazardly. There was a flickering of candles that was responsible for the light I knew was pouring out of the windows and onto the grass of the yard.
All around me, vampires fed greedily on dying bodies, lifting their heads only to watch me enter with fire crimson eyes. I could smell the blood and the death and the boredom.
Many of them were very young, still fresh with thirst and violence. Their thoughts were alive and vivid, like an electric shock to my brain.
Vladimir was sitting lazily, waiting for me on his throne, dressed like a king.
The room was darker than it had been before and Bella wasn't in it.
I could see Vladimir's mind, so different than the one I remembered. Vladimir and Stefan were old. Their minds were just as stagnated as those of everyone I had seen at the funeral. They had never mated, never felt that call, and so they were just existing.
Maybe they were the lucky ones.
I saw their view of me, saw them look me up and down with the calculated look of respect that one uses to acknowledge a sibling.
Time passing had made us family.
And then Bella's face flashed in Stefan's mind. That one, singular image was so much more effective than fire.
"I've come to see her," I said simply, not bothering to explain anything beyond that. As if I needed further explanation.
"She'll be down soon," Stefan nodded. "You can wait in the other room."
He motioned behind me, to the room across the hall.
No pomp or circumstance or dancing or playing like they didn't know what I wanted, no pretending they wouldn't give it to me because they enjoyed watching me suffer. There was no reason for any of those games anymore. Not between us. Not between the damned.
I took a step towards the door and then turned back.
There was something else.
There was something beyond the simplicity of our reunion, the steady acceptance that took neither of us off guard. There was something that needed to be said or explained or reasoned out because it was something that possibly still mattered, if anything did.
"Rosalie and Emmett," I said without thinking about it. "Do you know what happened to them?"
Vladimir nodded. His smile was soft and small, but still there.
He knew exactly what I was talking about, exactly what I had said when I brought up their names. He knew what I didn't, and he wasn't going to deny anything.
"You?" I needed to know.
That smile was his only reply.
"Why? What did they do that they deserved to die?"
Vladimir studied me intently for few more moments. There was a hint of amusement on his face now, though I knew it had nothing to do with lack of sympathy. Hell, I didn't need his sympathy or his remorse or anything from him. I just needed to know why.
I needed to know because they were my family and I had loved them, and even though I couldn't grieve for them I could still acknowledge they had lived and died, and they deserved their truth.
At last, Vladimir opened his mouth to speak, his eyes lighting up.
"Perhaps you should ask your wife. She's the one who killed them."
I felt my stomach clench in surprise and fear.
Vladimir's eyes had moved past me, and he was talking to someone over my shoulder now, his smile growing wider.
I could hear her and smell her and feel her there, behind me.
I was terrified to turn around.
Vladimir's words fogged and echoed in my mind as I stood, paralyzed.
She had killed them. She had killed Rosalie and Emmett. Her family. Stopped loving them, taken their lives for a reason that was neither sane nor comprehensible. She had done to them what she had done to me.
Over a century, and she was still exactly the same.
And then I heard her.
Her voice drifted over me, wrapping around my name in greeting.
* * *
It was all pain and guilt, the ripping and tearing of sanity inside her head. I could hear everything in her; she wanted me to hear it all. On some level she wanted me to understand. I didn't know if she was conscious of the choice.
The only thing I knew for sure was that the only way to stop her would be to kill her.
Her lips – delicious and full, I'd kissed them a thousand, million times – closed over the fragile skin of a young girl's neck. She wasn't any older than sixteen, so young and surprised. She didn't cry out when her skin was pierced by the woman behind her, strong muscled arms wrapped around her shoulders.
The only way to stop her would be to kill her.
So I stood there and watched.
Three bodies already lay on the floor, drained of their blood and torn to pieces. These people who trusted us, who we had watched over and loved, who we had followed back through time all the way to her mother and stepfather – her family. We had loved them, and they had loved us, and they were paying for it now.
We always warned them we were dangerous.
But I never actually believed…
We were so practiced. So in control. Five hundred twenty-seven years of getting to know generation after generation, of never tasting human blood and these were the unlucky ones.
The red pooled around them, the slight drain of what she hadn't finished, what she'd discarded before moving onto the next one. Impatient at first, but now she was slowing. I could hear her hunger abating, her thoughts becoming clearer and clearer.
Flickering images of coherency and blind desperation. I couldn't keep up. But she was slowly returning; I could feel her there now.
Not like before.
When she pulled away from the young girl, letting her sink to the floor silently, her eyes were immediately on mine.
I could hear her mind in swirling images behind her eyes. The hunger and the anger and the taste permeated her thoughts. I ignored the burn I felt in my own throat at her memory.
Her hair was a tangled mess, knotted and wild from the hours, the days she spent tugging at it in frustration. My fingers itched to touch it, to smooth it back out of her face, caress softness back into every strand until it curled and shined like it had once.
Her cheeks were flushed from the blood, no hint of circles beneath her eyes; her skin was flawless and stone. My eyes followed it down her neck to the line of her collarbone that was visible. Her shirt, once white, was now stained red.
I took a small step towards her, and her mind slammed shut, locking me out when she registered the movement.
Taking another step I watched as her left hand inched slowly up from her side, skimming up her stomach, over her breast, until it came to rest around her own throat gently. Her eyes widened.
What was she thinking?
But she didn't let me back in.
Instead, her breath hitched as pain etched itself across her delicate features. I took a larger step, reaching my arms out. She backed away from me slightly, her chest heaving and jerking with each ragged, labored breath.
"Bella…" I said her name soothingly.
I wasn't sure if she would be able to hear me. But she had. Her tearless sobs only increased in strength and intensity as her eyes slowly pulled away from mine and dragged slowly over the gory scene that lay before us.
Her eyes returned to mine, wider and panicked now.
"Edward," she choked at the same time she sank down to her knees beside the young girl and her family, not really seeing them.
I moved to her in an instant, my arms wrapping around her as she shook and moaned and couldn't cry. She simply looked at me, still shaking. Her mouth was moving, the same word refusing to pass her lips over and over.
Killer. Killer. Killer.
I sank to my knees beside her and gathered her to me. She didn't resist. Her hands came up automatically and clung fiercely to my hair, tightening and loosening with each violent shake.
I wanted to tell her it would all be okay, that she hadn't done anything wrong, that I loved her still and always would. These truths seemed so irrelevant, though. There was nothing I could do.
Then the words died on her lips after a moment, and she was still again.
I sat, holding her, as the cold blood on the floor seeped into my pants, staining them with dark rust and salt.
We sat there for hours, I think. Just like that.
Finally, her shaking stopped. When it did it was abrupt and sudden, as if it was nothing more than a decision she'd made. I didn't know if I had helped at all.
When I felt her begin to pull away I felt the need to stop her. But then her eyes were on me and she was staring at me intensely, as if she was realizing for the first time that I was there.
"How could you do it?" Her voice was a whisper. It was sad and imploring and curious.
"Do what, Bella?" I asked, reaching my hand up to stroke the top of her head.
She growled low from the back of her throat and one of her hands was in my hair again, and she had jerked my mouth to hers.
The heat of her kiss chased away confusion in a flash of insatiable lust for her. Her body under my hands, slick with blood.
She pulled away just as suddenly, her eyes flashing. "How could you do this to me?" she bit out, and I didn't understand. I couldn't keep up.
I was supposed to lose my mind first. Not her.
"Bella?" I didn't know what I was asking. I just wanted to say her name.
"I'm damned forever," she said, as if she hadn't heard me. Her eyes were burning into mine, her voice laced with both hate and love. "You're the one who did this."
I reared back, flinging myself away from her. In my shock, she was able to move with me easily. She was on her feet, her face only inches from mine, in the same motion. I was caught in her stare, unable to move.
"You…you wanted this." My voice was quiet, my words stuttered.
But I knew.
I knew very suddenly what she was saying.
It was what we had been starting to realize more and more every day.
She loved me enough to love me forever, just as she always had. She hadn't been lying about that. But it was slowly dawning on both of us that there was something more important than love, more important than life. Maybe leaving her human would have eventually killed us both, but turning her…
I had been a hundred years old then. We had been children. We couldn't even begin to understand what went wrong, neither of us prepared for the truth of immortality.
She had asked me for it, but I had given it to her.
She leaned closer and snapped her teeth together, threateningly biting at air just a breath from my lips.
"We wanted this."
* * *
I stared at her, unsure of when I had turned around. All I knew was that I was there and she was there and she was looking right at me.
She looked exactly like I remembered, of course. Our memories were flawless and our bodies unchanged. My eyes traveled up her legs, slowly dragging up every single glorious inch of her, before resting on her face. Beautiful features that I had memorized and kissed and killed for.
My eyes resting on her, and I felt like a huge weight was being lifted from me.
Still, she was different.
Her gaze was fixed on mine as she remained standing by the entrance to the room, leaning against the doorjamb in a way that was so familiar.
I remained completely silent, not responding to her greeting.
What was I supposed to say?
She seemed to realize after a moment that I wasn't going to reply, that I wasn't going to greet her as if everything was all right between us. As if nothing of the past six hundred years had ever happened.
She walked forward, closing the distance between us easily, effortlessly. It wasn't a strain for her to be near me. She stopped when she was less than a foot away. Had she always been so small? She had to tilt her head to look up at me.
Her face was hardened and blank, her mind closed.
Then she was reaching out her hand to me, and for one horrible moment I thought she was going to touch me. I thought I was going to rip her arm off. But she left it in the space between us, waiting.
She wanted me to take her hand.
I shook my head.
Her brows furrowed slightly, but she didn't seem upset.
Her mind was so silent.
She turned around, and I knew I was meant to follow her.
So I did.
I didn't look at Vladimir or Stefan, didn't look at the other vampires who had lifted their heads curiously at the handsome stranger who commanded Bella's attention, didn't look at anyone as I followed her out of the room.
She led me up the grand staircase in the hall, not speaking.
My eyes rested on her small waist, the shape her shoulder blades visible beneath her shirt, the rich sheen of her hair that rippled red when she walked. She wasn't wearing the robes of the old world. She wasn't wearing a silken dress or a seductive corset or the regal gown of royalty. She wasn't dripping with gems, untouchable. Not sheer black lace and opal. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a plain white shirt.
She looked like a child.
Every inch of her still Bella.
When we reached the top of the stairs she halted and opened a wooden door on her left. Whipping around to face me, she motioned me inside.
When I paused – wondering whether I should turn my back to her, walk past her – she said nothing. She didn't shrug or roll her eyes or pretend to be offended or insist I go in before her.
She moved past me and stepped inside; her scent, stirred by air and motion, crushed me. I should have gone first.
I followed her in, looking around warily as I stepped into what appeared to be a bedroom.
The light stone walls were covered with feathered charcoal etchings and indecipherable writing, black against the grey. The floor was covered with a large, thin oriental rug that had been worn down from years of endless pacing. There were two desks shoved against the wall. One of them I recognized from one of our earlier homes in New York.
Had she gone back for it?
On my right was a fireplace and three chairs that didn't look comfortable, but were very beautiful. Expertly crafted. I recognized the work immediately, the details, the mistakes, the movement of the carving knife in even, smooth stokes. I saw the bodies and shapes of mahogany wolves snarling out at me from the arms and legs.
In the center of the room, there was her bed. It was small and modest – unused – nothing grand and luxurious like the beds that had graced our houses over the centuries. Never wanting to be spoiled, never wanting to spoil herself. There was something so familiar about it, about the wooden headboard. Like I had seen it in a dream.
Then I saw the cracks, the breaks in it that had been thrown back together. They had not been sanded down. They stood out like bright, new scars stretched across smooth dark skin even though they were hundreds of years old.
It was the headboard from the island.
At last, I shifted my attention back to the woman in front of me. She had turned back around to face me, her eyes watching me carefully as I took in her room for the first time: the place she had run to when she couldn't stand to be with me anymore.
"I knew you would come," she said simply, after several moments of silence.
"Well, that makes one of us." My voice was quiet and sharp.
Bella blinked at me for a moment, surprised, and then a light chuckle escaped her lips.
"Oh, beautiful boy." She closed the already small distance between us with two steps, all swagger and confidence. She reached out her hand and dragged her fingernails down my cheek and along my jaw. "Still wasting your time being angry?"
I wanted so badly to push her hand away, to stifle the want that had begun to burn along my skin, down into my bones.
"At least I feel something," I snapped, feeling my anger and resentment returning to me as I looked at the bed.
How was it possible that I still fucking wanted her?
She pursed her lips, amused.
"You think I don't feel anything?" Her voice was light and teasing, as if I should know better.
Without warning she stepped forward again, this time closing the gap between us as she pressed her small body along the entire length of mine.
It was as if every inch of me started to hum at the contact.
This is all you need. This is where you belong.
My body remembered hers.
"Can you smell that?" Bella purred, her mouth at my ear, whispering to me like she used to. Of course I could smell her, the arousal between her legs, pressed tightly against my own. "It used to drive you insane. Tell me, Edward. Is that apathy?"
I placed my hands on her arms, wrapping my fingers firmly around her biceps, and forced her body away from mine. I held her there in front of me, and she allowed it, watching me carefully.
"Involuntary physical reaction," I replied calmly.
She rolled her eyes and plucked my fingers from her arms as if I was a child. She turned around, tossing her hair over her shoulder in annoyance as she made her way back across the room.
"You know I still love you every bit as much as you love me," she sighed impatiently, as if I was being ridiculous for suggesting otherwise. Then she smirked at me and gave me a quick wink, adding, "Involuntary emotional reaction."
I curled my hands into fist, trying to dispel the electric feeling from when I had put my hands on her. I watched as she walked over to a chair near the fireplace and plopped down easily, still smirking up at me.
God help me, she was still Bella.
I walked over to stand before her, my hands clenched into tight fists at my sides. She simply looked up at me, watching and waiting.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" I demanded of her, my voice raw.
She chuckled quietly, her eyes dancing with amusement at the frustration I was sure was written plainly across my face.
"Existing," she shrugged. "Wasting time."
"Until what?" I asked, confused by her response.
Now she was smirking again.
"Until you found me," she replied simply.
My body was jolted by her words. Shock and elation and anger.
"You left me," I hissed, imploring.
She sighed and stood. She still had to look up at me, but she wasn't smirking anymore.
"You don't honestly think that matters, do you?" she asked me plainly, her eyes teasing me.
Her hand was on my face again. Her fingers trailed from my jaw, down along my neck to my shoulder, and then she was touching my chest, exactly where my heart should be.
I took a deep, shuddering breath.
"You killed them."
Her hand froze on me. Her eyes snapped to my face and the emptiness was gone.
I could see only annoyance now.
She pulled her hand away from me and turned, walking a couple steps away, not allowing me to see her face as she made her way over to one of the desks. "Yes, I did."
"How could you do it, Bella?" I rasped.
She whipped around, her annoyance was anger now. Fire and passion and indignation.
"How could I not do it?" she demanded, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.
I felt my own anger respond to hers.
Anger because she had touched me again and looked at me and smiled at me and I still didn't fucking know her. She was still beautiful and insane and I just wanted to be done with all of this.
"Whoever you are now…they were your family once," I insisted with a growl. "And you just…"
She cut me off, "They were my family."
"So what? You didn't feel any loyalty to them still? Any love?"
I thought for sure she would open her mouth to tear into me, to spout more of her crazy justifications. Slather her rage and bloodlust and violence all over me until I couldn't breathe.
Instead she shook her head and smiled that angel's smile. Poor, lost boy, it seemed to say.
"Should I have?" she asked me, arching one eyebrow.
The expression made wish that I was just as gone as my siblings.
"How could you do it?" I pleaded with a whisper.
She sighed and walked back over to me. She didn't touch me this time. I was glad, I didn't think I could fucking handle the feel of her again.
"You really don't understand do you?" She crossed her arms and glared up at me expectantly, like I was missing something that was completely obvious.
"No," I cried, my body tensing again. "I don't fucking understand, actually. You fucking murdered them!"
She waited, her lips a thin, impatient line.
"Just like your family…" I hissed as an afterthought, one final jab.
Before I could even register the movement, Bella cocked her hand back and slapped me across the face as hard as she could, all burning and stone.
I rocked back from the impact, the sound reverberating in my ears as I pressed my hand to my cheek, reveling in the pain.
Then she was in my face, her finger pressed threateningly into my chest.
"I love you, Edward," she ground out. "But don't fucking push me."
I love you, Edward.
I leaned into her finger, challenging her, my face centimeters from hers.
"Why not?" I snapped, bitterly. "What the fuck are you going to do?"
With a snarl I felt both her hands on my chest, replacing her finger, and then she was pushing me, throwing me across the room.
I crashed into the wall behind me, right next to the bed.
Leaping to my feet, I rushed back at her.
She tried to twist away from me in time, to escape my grasp, but I was too fast, anger pulsing through every inch of me. I gripped her shoulders hard enough to leave scars, and then I was tossing her into one of the desks.
The wood shattered around her body, giving immediately to the force of the stone of her.
She stood, her chest heaving with exertion or anger. She looked around her, down at the jagged splinters of wood. It was the desk that had been in our New York house.
Then her eyes snapped up to me again and darkened.
With a hiss she threw herself at me with abandon.
The movement was slower than it should have been, and I could have dodged her easily. Instead I caught her as she slammed into me, the stone of our chests cracking together in the silence of breathing and passion.
The force of her lunge sent us both toppling backwards onto the floor at the foot of the bed.
* * *
She was sitting on the front stairs to the house, completely still. The family was inside, eating dinner. She told me she was going to join them, spend time with them, talk with them. She suggested I go for a hunt while she was there, that I meet her after.
But she hadn't moved.
I had been gone for over an hour and she hadn't made a step towards the door to go inside.
I walked over to the stairs and sat next to her. She didn't move, her eyes fixed straight ahead, like she couldn't see me. I knew she could – of course she could. We were always aware of each other.
Her mind was silent tonight.
"What are you thinking?" I asked the old question, smiling a little.
I watched her blink slightly at my words, and I waited for her to lift her shield, knock down the wall so that I could hear her like she always did when I asked.
She was still silent.
I furrowed my brows slightly in confusion.
Her hands were on either side of her, pressed flat against the wood. Her legs were bent and resting on the step right below where she sat, her knees almost pressed to her chest. She wasn't looking at me.
"Edward?" she said at last.
I was relieved to hear her voice.
Her head turned then, her eyes meeting mine. They were wide and staring, unreadable. So very black. I thought back to the last time she had hunted. It had been too long.
"If I asked you to do something for me, something important, would you do it?" she asked, her voice quiet and serious.
"You know I would." I raised my eyebrows questioningly. "Anything."
"Even if it was something you didn't want to do?" she pressed, her eyes intent on me now.
"What do you need?"
"Please, just answer the question."
I stared back at her, my hand scrubbing at my chin as I tried to work out what she was talking about, what she could possibly want. She knew whatever it was, she would have it. Staying with her in Forks, kissing her torturous mouth, making love to her fragile human body, watching her carry a child that would kill her, ripping through her skin with my teeth, letting the venom spread…
"I want what you want," I replied simply, with a shrug.
Bella looked at me for a long time.
At last, she sighed and turned away from me. She dropped her chin to her knees, her thin arms coming up to wrap around her legs as she, once again, stared out into the night.
I wanted so badly to brush my fingers along her arm, to feel her skin against mine. But there was something…
She wasn't letting me in.
I wasn't sure how long we sat there. I wasn't sure…and I knew it was nearly an hour. I could calculate time in my head perfectly, tick off seconds as easily and precisely as a clock. But her presence, her silence, distorted everything inside me as I struggled to understand.
Then I felt movement beside me as she stood, the air around her swirling up against me. I breathed in deeply and looked up at her. She was holding her hand out to me.
With a small smile, I let her pull me to my feet.
She didn't release my hand right away. Instead, we stood quietly facing each other, clasping hands tightly for several moments.
"It's the only thing I can give them, Edward," she said suddenly, her eyes hard with a determination I didn't understand.
"What?" I asked her, cocking my head, baffled. "Who?"
She continued like she hadn't heard me, "You have to let me give this to them. It's the only thing that…"
Her voice trailed off quietly, and I still didn't understand.
She shook her head.
"You can't stop me, my love." Her voice was a whisper. "This is what I am."
Then she was smiling sweetly, and her lips were against mine for just a breath. Before I could even react, she had released my hand and she was opening the front door.
I stood there, unmoving, puzzling over her words.
I stood there until I heard fear in their thoughts and smelled blood in the air.
I stood there until the screaming began.
* * *
Her fingers were in my hair where the bed had struck.
Her body was stretched across mine, every curve of her pressed against me.
She was that warm, familiar weight, and her eyes were soft now.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, she rolled off me. My arms around her waist relaxed and I let her move away, my fingers releasing their grasp on her shirt.
We lay there for several silent minutes, side by side, on our backs. I could hear her breathing begin to steady and slow, matching mine exactly. Then I felt her left hand slowly snake to my right, between our bodies. She placed her palm on the outside of my hand, over my knuckles, and she gripped gently.
I allowed it, but I didn't turn my palm to hers, weave our fingers together.
That would have been too much.
"You left," I said at last.
"You know why."
I couldn't know for sure.
What she became had been killing me. Every second I spent around her back then was her insanity eating away at mine. I hadn't seen it then, but it was possible she had. I couldn't know for sure. And she would never tell me.
I knew enough to be grateful of that.
Without thinking about it, I rolled over, my gaze desperately seeking hers as I hovered over her.
Instinctively, her left hand fisted into my shirt, right at the collar. I could feel her thumb lightly brushing against the bare skin of my throat. Her right hand reached over my shoulder and gripped my hair gently, neither pressing nor pulling.
"I missed you," I whispered, my face so close to hers.
The hand that held my shirt tightened slightly; I could feel the fabric go taut on my skin.
"Every day," she nodded, her voice just as quiet as mine.
At long last, I brought my left hand up and brushed it across her lips, her chin, her cheeks, her eyes. She was motionless under my touch, but her eyes danced at the contact. My fingers hummed over her skin, alive with the feel of her.
"Why did you do it?" I had to ask. "Why did you kill Rosalie and Emmett?"
She smiled at me and was silent. There was no hesitation in the silence, no tension. Just peace, endless amounts of time.
I knew the answer before she said it.
"They asked me to."
There was only quiet then. I stopped breathing as she said the words.
Slowly I nodded, bringing my face closer to hers. Every breath she took whispered across my face, all sweet smelling and promises.
I asked her to.
What she had done to me, she did also to them. But this wasn't about me. It never had been. It hadn't been because she had stopped loving me, stopped caring, stopping noticing. She loved me with as much infinite, unwilling passion as I loved her.
I had given her eternal life, and she took theirs away. Which one of us was wrong?
I swallowed, my hand on her face falling lightly to her throat. The skin there was so soft, untouched for so long.
As my fingers danced along her skin a veil was lifted, and I could see; I could comprehend at last. When she killed, it wasn't insanity. Or maybe it was. But it was also mercy. After six hundred years it was the one thing she had come to desire and the one thing she could never have.
But she could have it.
When I spoke again, my lips touched hers lightly with every word.
"You were waiting for me," I whispered.
Her smile was breathtaking as she looked up at me.
Her mind was open to me then, filled with relief and happiness and the purity of a love I thought I had lost centuries ago.
She could have it, but not without me.
The breaths that separated us were infinite, our eyes locked and focused on each other. All she could see was me; all I could see was her.
I want what you want.
"Yes, Bella." I breathed seduction and calm and love. "Anything."
Her head lifted slightly and in that small movement her lips were firm against me, thanking me and loving me and kissing me for the last time.
* * *