Running

The wind whipped through my hair and against my face as I ran away from Bella's house toward the east. I was breathing quickly, gasping really, even though I felt no exertion from the run. There was a deep sense of panic within me, and a pain spreading through my chest that jabbed at me sharply. I ignored both of them. It was clear my traitorous body was once again trying to lead me astray. I would not listen to it – it could not be trusted.

The first time I had run from Bella, it was to thwart the monster within me, who would break Bella by killing her and drinking her all-too appealing blood. Now, I was trying to thwart the human within me, who would break Bella by keeping her with me forever. Not just the human forever, but the unnaturally long vampire forever. Oh, dear God, how appealing that was!

The momentary thought of staying with Bella caused a brief spike in the pain in my chest, as if someone was hammering a stake into the middle of it. It was bad enough that it caused me to break stride while running, for just a millisecond. That was a first, I admitted to myself, and I shook my head grimly. I kept going, and even picked up the pace a bit to make sure my body knew I was serious.

This was just the first of many struggles I knew I would face now - physical, mental, and emotional. I knew that I was …well, it wasn't that I was ready for them. More that I was expecting them. They were worth it, of that much I was certain.

There was something so important to me in this world, something so precious to me…. Something that I had to keep safe, such that I would be willing to face this pain a thousand times over and still smile at it. Well, maybe smile was the wrong word. But I would at least be satisfied that I was finally doing what was right.

It wasn't right yet. A vision of Bella's face as I left her in the woods broke across my thoughts, the pain and resignation of my leaving so clear in her eyes. The panic spiked, and I could hear my breath gasping again.

No! I steeled myself against the vision. I could still see it, but I wasn't going to let it stop me. I would never forget the look in her eyes as I said my final goodbye. Instead, I would hold it in front of me to remind myself what my presence in her life had cost her…had almost cost her….

As I ran through the familiar forests of the Olympic Peninsula, I tried to slow my breathing so I could appreciate the cool, subtle scent of them one last time. I would never return here again, not if I lived for thousands of years, I promised myself that. These forests would always remind me of home, I realized. A home where I was loved unconditionally, with warmth that shone unfettered from liquid brown eyes and filled my life with brightness and hope…. I moaned softly to myself. Already my pace was slowing.

Stop it! Sharply now, I commanded myself to focus, and picked back up my pace. I had made it through the first step to keeping Bella safe, the hardest step, I was sure. And now, I just had to make it through the rest of Bella's natural life.

I would start by concentrating on making it through the week. It was going to be…well, there were no words to describe how amazingly painful it was going to be. I had no illusions about that. Already I could feel the pain of it, and I knew it hadn't fully sunken in yet.

My plan was to run straight from Bella's house to where I had stashed the Volvo, and then drive across the country to meet up with my family in upstate New York. Originally, I had planned to drive the Aston-Martin, hoping vainly that the joy of driving would distract me from the pain of leaving my love and my life behind in Forks. Eventually, I had to be honest with myself that there was nothing that would provide any comfort, and I agreed to have it shipped instead. The uninspiring Volvo sat where I had known it would be, and I slowed.

"Hi!" Alice chirped. She had been perched on the hood of the Volvo, and leaped lightly down, dancing over to where I emerged from the woods. She was trying to be her usual excited self, but the glumness couldn't help but shine through anyways.

"Alice, what are you doing here?" Though part of me was glad to see her, I couldn't help the frustration in my tone. I didn't need her to batter my resolve now. I gritted my teeth as the pain in my chest flared at the thought.

She tilted her head to the side. "I'm taking the Volvo to race Rosalie to Ithaca, and then I'm going to sell it." The smile on her face looked a little pained, but she gave it her best shot. She thinks she can take me in the M3, but I know where all the traffic jams are going to be.

"Sell the Volvo?" I paused, confused, and then recovered myself. Of course Alice had seen that the car would hold too many memories. I remembered the darkened streets of Port Angeles, and the fateful conversation on the way back to Forks…. I could feel myself starting to gasp again, and willed myself to keep my breathing even.

Alice waited patiently for me. "I'll take care of it for you. By the way, you'll want these…." She handed me a small silver cell phone, a couple spare cell phone batteries, and a small roll of cash in Canadian currencies.

I took them without question this time. The tiny cell phone and batteries went into my jacket pocket, along with the cash. "I'm not going to Ithaca, am I?" Although it was a question, it sounded like a statement.

Alice peered up at my face, her timeless eyes boring into mine. I don't know where you're going, I can only see that no matter where you go, you'll be in pain. She winced as possible visions of me flashed across her mind.

I took some comfort that in none of those visions was I back in Forks with Bella. I was going to be strong enough to leave her. The panic eased slightly, and the pain in my chest seemed to dull a degree and expand. I ached with emptiness.

"Edward…" she began.

"No, Alice. We're not discussing this again," I ground out emphatically.

"Edward," she plunged on, "once I'm away from Forks, I won't be able to see Bella's future anymore. She's human, and even though I love her dearly, my vision just isn't that sharp for humans. What if something happens to her? What if something's going to happen to her, and I can't let you know…in time…?" Alice's face twisted into a delicate grimace. I don't want to see her get any more hurt than she already is.

I froze in place at the image of Bella's pained face staring at me from my memory, followed quickly by an unclear image of Bella threatened by some unknown danger in the future. I hadn't expected this. Leave it up to Alice to come up with the fatal flaw in my plans. Could I leave Bella with no protection against the human dangers? I could remove the supernatural ones, but of course, Bella just seemed to attract catastrophes….

Alice seemed to consider her words carefully. "I could come back to Forks every once in a while just to check on her.... I could let you know how she was doing, and make sure she was going to be okay...."

"No!" I growled. How desperately I wanted what she was suggesting! Clearly, it had to be wrong, if I wanted it that badly. Eventually, I knew I'd use Alice's reports as a justification to come back myself, just to check on Bella….

Alice could tell I was torn. "How would you feel if we discovered that something dreadful had happened to her, like…." She struggled to come up with some disaster that hadn't yet happened to Bella. "The school cafeteria roof could collapse, and Bella could be trapped inside!" she finally exclaimed, beaming and looking pleased with herself.

Yes, that was a new one even I hadn't thought of. Some part of me wanted to laugh at Alice and her usual antics, but a bigger part of me realized that I couldn't remember how to smile, let alone laugh. I settled for glaring back at her weakly, while the thoughts spun in my head. The pain in my chest seemed to hover uncertainly, disarmed by my slight hesitation.

I'm uneasy about Bella. I keep getting worrying glimpses that say she might not recover from this very well. I'm sure it's going to be tougher for her than you think it is. The smile seemed to melt slowly off of Alice's face. I couldn't help but see some of the glimpses she had seen, and I shut them out instinctively. Meanwhile, the pain in my chest seemed to come crashing down on me again as my resolve strengthened.

Bella would recover. She had to. And she would live out whatever human life she was originally meant to have, before I came into her life and nearly destroyed it. When she died, it would be a human death, and her beautiful, intact soul would be welcomed into heaven, into a place of peace and rest that I would never know.

I had to make this happen! I loved her too much to do otherwise.

Despite my agonizing, I made myself sound certain. "Alice, neither you nor any of the others are to come to Forks again while Bella is there. You make sure everyone knows that. I don't want you looking forward into her future. You can forget looking for mine too, for that matter. It doesn't matter anymore." I sounded convinced, but I couldn't quite meet her concerned, questioning eyes.

There was a long pause while Alice assessed my mood. Eventually, she decided to give in...for the moment, at least. I tried, Bella. Forgive me, she sighed internally. "I will let everyone know your decision. I won't look for your future, but sometimes, I see anyways…." she trailed off.

"I'll be fine. Thank you for coming to see me off." My tone was tightly controlled. The dull painful ache in my chest was swelling now that the hope was gone, cresting like a wave, and I had just about reached the limit of polite conversation that I could handle.

"When will you come home?" she inquired quietly, looking down at the ground.

I looked at Alice, truly my best friend in the world, and I knew I was hurting her by staying away. I didn't want to hurt either her or the others, but it couldn't be helped. I couldn't go home yet. Home had somehow ceased to mean what it had once meant, and I knew I wouldn't find comfort there with my family. Would it ever be home again?

In a gesture I hoped would tell her all the things I wasn't able to say, I pulled Alice into a quick embrace, willing her to understand just how much her support had meant to me, particularly these last six months, the most chaotic and wonderful months of my existence. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated that she loved Bella, too. But now I had to prove my love for Bella by doing what was right, regardless of what it did to me…or my family. I hoped they would understand someday.

"I don't know," I finally replied, and I pulled away from her. The need to move took over. I picked up speed, angling to the north, now that I knew where I was going. I was going to run. I just didn't know when I was going to stop.

The scenery raced past me in a blur, and I barely noted the changes - from forest to mountains to prairie and eventually back to forest again. My body kept up a nearly even pace as I flew across the uneven ground, not braking for rivers or steep terrain, and only barely acknowledging the existence of lakes. I tended to detour around those, at least the bigger ones. Steep mountains were especially appreciated when they came along, as I beat my body into submission against them, scaling impossible cliffs at a breakneck pace.

After a while, I really didn't notice my body anymore, except for the pain in my chest. I now knew the pain for what it was – a ghostly wound located exactly where my heart had been. Sometimes the pain was sharp, like the jabbing of a knife. Sometimes it was dull, and spread out from my chest to the rest of my body. Then it throbbed, almost like the heartbeat I had been missing for so long.

I was also wracked with a suffocating panic that caused me to gasp for breath on occasion. The panic came and went, and as time went on, it subsided slowly into something else.

Shortly after departing Forks, I had felt a weak sense of victory. I had finally been strong enough to leave Bella, as I had promised myself I would do all along. As this sense of victory wore off, the realization of what my life would be from now on settled deeper into my bones. The panic was gradually replaced by a deep depression that seemed to smother me. When the waves of depression threatened to engulf me, breathing became difficult again, more torturous, like trying to breathe deep underwater. Sometimes, I didn't bother to fight it, and gave up breathing for minutes, even hours at a time.

For all this, my body was actually under better control than my mind. I could not keep it silent, as much as I wished to do so!

A small part of my mind was busy scanning my surroundings for conscious thought. It would be best to completely avoid the company of humans at this point. I was moving way too fast, and for once, I was not bothering to notice whether the sun shined on my cold, hard, inhuman skin. Some reckless part of me didn't care. So what if I was spotted? What was the worst that could happen? The Volturi would descend upon me and cease this wretched existence of mine. Except for the effect that would have on my family, I would have welcomed that. So, to avoid tempting fate, for my family alone, I took a wide detour around any thoughts detected in the lonely countryside through which I ran.

Another part of my mind kept tabs on Bella. Obviously, there was no way to know what was really happening with her. But I knew enough about her schedule this year to know approximately where she'd be at any given moment. In my mind, I watched her go to school, chat with Angela at lunch, make dinner for her father, do her homework, and e-mail her mother. These thoughts were the most calming for me. With me gone, her life could return to its previous rhythm. She was the most beautiful, kind, and fascinating person in existence. Surely, many wonderful opportunities would open themselves up for her, and I passed the time envisioning some of them. Her shining future – intact, whole, and human. The last and greatest gift I could ever give her.

In contrast to the peace that the thought of her future brought me, the last part of my mind was engaged in a furious debate, desperate longing against iron-willed conscience. I replayed every minute of my time with Bella, cursed as I was with my perfect recall. I tormented myself with both the most wonderful moments of our time together and the moments of danger and despair that made me cringe. It seemed like neither side could win. Just when I would remember a quiet evening, Bella sighing in her sleep next to me, then I would remember Bella lying bandaged and broken in the hospital. Or worse - my own brother poised to kill her. The agony of the debate just went on and on….

A week passed this way. I had made it through the first week. Now I had to concentrate on making it through the second week. It didn't seem to be getting any easier, and I recalled the time I had tried to stay away from Bella in the beginning. I had failed her then. I would not fail her now! I just had to keep going. As long as I kept running, I kept her safe.

I could smell it before I could hear it. And I could hear it before I could see it. When I saw it, I slowed down, and abruptly came to a halt. Part of me wanted to keep going anyways.

The North Atlantic Ocean spread out before me - angry grey-blue waves with rolling white caps atop them. The wild surf broke against a harsh rocky beach littered with boulders and driftwood, deserted except for a couple of seagulls, which quickly took flight when they sensed my presence. I moved forward the last few feet to stand close to where the waves battered the shoreline.

I crossed my arms across my chest and glared at the unforgiving sea. I was going to have to admit defeat, or at the least, a temporary truce. I had run as long as I could, and time had caught up with me, as I had known that it would eventually. I needed to stop and assess.

Physically, my body showed no strain from my recent exertions - it never would. My clothes hadn't fared as well. I noticed for the first time that I had lost my shoes and socks at some point. The rest of my clothes were ripped and torn where they'd come between the harsh wilderness and my unyielding body. For once, I looked like a nomad, and I frowned at the similarity. I still had the cell phone, batteries, and money Alice had given me. I still had my wallet and ID. And of course, I had a pretty good idea of where I was, even though I had never been here before.

Mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck. I knew that. But I needed to focus now. I should let my family know where I was. That was the responsible thing to do. They had been worried these past few weeks, no doubt.

I slotted a fresh battery into the phone and saw with surprise that I was able to get a signal where I was standing. After a moment's consideration, I dialed Carlisle's number. It would be safe to talk to Carlisle.

"Hi, Edward! I'm so glad to hear from you." Alice trilled.

I groaned audibly. "Alice, I told you not to check up on me," I growled back at her.

"I knew about this call well before you took off. I also know when you're coming home, so don't give me grief when I'm here waiting for you to arrive." Alice sounded offended, as if I'd besmirched her honor, which I suppose I had.

I apologized. "I'm sorry. I'm not in the best frame of mind at the moment." That was an understatement.

Her voice softened. "I know."

"What's happening? Why do you have Carlisle's phone?" I asked, a little worried. As Carlisle was almost always on call for the hospital, wherever he worked, he was rarely parted from it.

Alice's voice was soothing. "Don't be concerned. We're all fine here." I didn't miss the emphasis she added to the last word. "Jasper's in class. Esme's working on one of her restoration projects. Emmett and Rosalie are out shopping. Carlisle's up in his study." She paused, and went on a touch more quietly. "I was a little worried that if you spoke to him first, you wouldn't bother to talk to anyone else, and I really wanted to hear your voice. It's been…hard…here…without you." She sighed softly to herself.

I closed my eyes in sadness. I hated to cause my favorite sister such pain. "Alice," I mumbled, "I don't want to hurt you or anyone else with my madness. I'm so sorry." My voice hitched as I said it.

A little dam of emotion broke inside me, and a wave of grief seemed to wash over me. There was nothing left to me – my love, my life, my family. Nothing. I fell to my knees without being conscious of doing so. My head swam in a strange way, and I lowered it down to the rocks without meaning to do so. I felt so heavy. The grief of my empty existence overpowered me for a time.

At some point, I realized I could hear Alice yelling, and I opened my eyes again. It took a minute to recognize that the phone hung limply in one hand against the rocks. I pushed it back up against my ear. "I'm here. I just…needed a moment." I struggled to reorganize my thoughts.

"Edward, I'm going to go get Carlisle." Alice must be really worried about me, I realized. Otherwise, she wouldn't have given up on me so quickly. I wondered how bad I sounded to her.

Only a moment passed. "Edward." Carlisle's sincere and measured tone reassured me to no end, helped me to find myself. Yes, he was definitely the one I needed to talk to now.

"Carlisle." As I said his name, my memory flashed back to a time when it was just the two of us, trying to make our way in a world not meant for us. I'd asked him for advice so many times since then, almost always seeking to do what he deemed right. He hadn't agreed with my decision to leave Bella, but he had understood that I needed to follow my conscience. And he had vowed to support me in that.

"Edward, are you in danger? Have you come to any harm?"

"No, I've spent some time in the wilderness. I haven't run across anyone or anything." First and foremost, I needed to reassure him that I was being responsible. I wasn't endangering myself or the family. No matter how I felt, I owed them that.

His voice was more relaxed, but by only the slightest degree. "Is there anything you need?"

There was nothing I needed that he could give me. My eyes closed again, and I could envision what I needed so clearly, I could see it shimmer behind my eyelids. A dark house at night, a rusted red pickup in front…. I gasped once or twice, and quickly got a better grip on myself. Surely, he had noticed my hesitation. "No, I don't need anything."

"How are you holding up?" His quiet question had many layers of meaning to it.

I stared out at the rocks of the eastern shore, which weren't the comforting forests of home. I answered the easiest part of his question. "I am holding fast to my resolve. I won't be heading back to Forks anytime soon." I wondered if Carlisle was hoping that I would continue to follow my conscience, or succumb to my selfish desires and provide him with another daughter to love. I knew he had begun to love her already….

"Do you think you could come home instead?" He loved me too, and always had. I didn't deserve it. He had fought for me even when I wouldn't fight for myself. He had given me a home and a family through his determination and unbending goodness. He didn't realize that home to me no longer meant where my family lived.

"I'm not really good company at the moment. If Esme sees me this way, she'll worry, and there's really nothing she can do. I'll just make the others sad or angry, depending."

Carlisle's tone was direct, not pleading or badgering as the others' might have been. "Do you think she's less worried not knowing where you are or what you're up to?"

I sighed. Why couldn't I stop hurting the people I loved most? "Of course not," I admitted, "but all the same, I won't be coming home any time soon."

"Can you give us a call once in a while, just to check in? It would give all of us considerable peace of mind."

It was a reasonable request, and I remembered the remaining cell phone battery Alice had given me when we'd parted. "Yes, I'll try to remember," I indicated to Carlisle. I wondered if the number was significant, that it meant I would make one more call before I headed home. Alice was always so good at that sort of thing.

"When was the last time you hunted?" Carlisle's voice had just a hint of concern left. Of course Carlisle would worry about something like that – that in my pain I would forget to satiate my thirst and inadvertently attack some human I encountered in the woods. I couldn't imagine being thirsty right now, even though I was undeniably so. It had been over two weeks since I last hunted.

"I'll hunt today, I promise." I was being responsible, I reminded myself, even though I didn't want any blood right now, no matter what the type. My mind drifted back to a scent that aroused all kinds of hungers within me, and I shuddered with longing. Yes, it was important that I hunt regularly to keep the monster fettered. I would not allow it to hurt another human again.

"Edward!" Carlisle had apparently been calling to me, and I hadn't noticed.

"I'm here."

"I just said, we'll miss you. Be safe," he requested.

"I'll do my best." I pressed the end key.

My hand flung back out against the rocks, and I sighed deeply. I had done my duty and now I was free from the interference of my well-meaning family for at least a little while. It was probably too much to ask for that I would get away with mostly talking to Carlisle again. I'd probably end up getting an earful from Rosalie and a drubbing from Emmett next time I called.

I lay there amongst the rocks for a while. The angry waves seemed to mirror my mood as they crashed and pulled at the shore. The sun was setting behind me, and gray shadows were stealing over the beach. Pink clouds floated away in the eastern sky.

I was alone - there was no way I could do anything dangerous to anyone in my current state. I had expended all of the energy I had for being responsible for the moment. I couldn't stop myself any longer. I let my mind take me where it willed.

I checked in with Bella. It was about 2 PM back home – she was just getting out of Spanish and heading to Chemistry.

She wouldn't like this beach, I knew - too cold for her. Maybe she would go to college in Florida, where she could lay out on the warm sands, with a beach towel and a book… Part of my mind spun a beautiful fantasy life for her there amongst the palm trees, and I dwelled there with her for a while. I was allowed, I argued with myself – it was my leaving that made it possible. Surely now that she was safe, I could be allowed just this one moment of happiness. The pain in my chest lifted again, and I filled my lungs full of sweet ocean air….

Suddenly, the fantasy disappeared, and my lungs collapsed with a whoosh. What if something happened to Bella in Chemistry class? I had been her lab partner before. Someone as clumsy as Bella in a lab class that required working with acids and flame – it was a recipe for disaster. I'd caught numerous flasks and beakers as they'd tumbled from our workbench already, and the school year had barely started. The human dangers, as Alice had warned me….

No, Edward, don't even start. You are the danger to her, not Chemistry class. You're not going back to Forks, and you will never see Bella again.

As I thought those fateful words, the pain crashed back upon me. It pierced my chest, sucked at my limbs, and clouded my head. I curled in tighter, and gritted my teeth as it washed through me. I held on. It felt like it would carry me away.

I couldn't rein in the debate that raged its way back and forth across my skull, and the infinitely powerful emotions that warred in my chest as a result. I didn't notice the time again until the waves started licking at my hair. The tide was coming in, and I couldn't stay here forever. The sun had set, and a heavy cloud cover seemed to be flowing in from the west.

Get up, Edward. You're going to be responsible again. It's time to feed the monster.

I picked myself up off the rocky beach that had become a wayside for me for a few hours. I headed inland, back into the woods. I hunted carefully, but indiscriminately. I didn't care if the monster enjoyed the feast or not. I made sure it was adequate to last me a couple of weeks.

When I decided I was done, I was standing alone in the dark, moonless night, with nowhere to go.

Part of me answered that this had gone on long enough. If I found an airport, even a small one, I could be back in Forks tomorrow. I could find Bella at school, pull her out of class, and take her away somewhere we could be alone together. I'd beg her to forgive me – my lies, my foolishness. And as little as I deserved it, I knew she'd come willingly into my open arms, all soft and fragrant. She'd reach her hands up to shape themselves around my face, so warm….

A string of profanities, words I had very rarely ever used, wandered through my conscious mind, as I realized how far I'd let my desires get this time. Not now, not ever!

I couldn't be still. I had to do something. Like the run I'd taken across the continent. Otherwise, the debate would consume me, and temptation would eventually overcome my control.

Of course, I could just run back west - to the north, of course, not anywhere near Washington. I'd head for Alaska, ultimately. I'd have to make a wide detour around Denali. I didn't want to face Tanya and her sisters any more than I wanted to face my own family.

As soon as I had decided, I was underway again. It took only a few minutes to settle back into the groove I'd set on my way east. It wasn't comfortable, but it was bearable. As the sun set on my face almost a day later, I smiled grimly, thinking that I'd finally found a way to keep myself safe for Bella. I could keep this up for years.

I ghosted northwest to the northernmost point of Quebec, crossed the Hudson Strait and kept going west across the inhospitable but mostly unpopulated northern Canadian provinces. Another week and a half passed, and my pace kept steady. This run was very different from the last – instead of forests and prairie, I was crossing tundra and snowfields. I beat my way back west across the mountains, indifferent to the cold, and found myself crossing into Alaska. I flew across the North Slope to the western coast, and slowly ground to a halt on a frozen cliff, looking down at a very different sea.

This one was, if possible, even less hospitable than the last. The waves were huge and choppy, the wind was fierce, and the sea spray constantly blew up past me to freeze as it hit my skin. I wiped it off indifferently as it formed. I couldn't call my family from here, I decided. No one could possibly hear me over the racket the sea was making.

However, as I had before, I took stock of my condition. My clothes were even more ragged, the pain and the panic just as insistent, and my mind just as frenzied as it had been before. Well, I supposed I needed to get some new clothes at some point. That meant coming into contact with civilization. I wasn't quite certain how I was going to manage that.

I briefly considered crossing into Russia and continuing my run from there. It was a possibility for the future. This time, I decided I wasn't going to let the coastline stop me. After less than a minute's pause, I turned to run south following the coast, eventually turning more to the east. Days passed as I crossed back into Canada on my third journey across the continent.

However, something was different this time. Every once in a while, a new thought flashed across my busy mind. Brief, but insistent. You're getting closer to Bella. Without thinking about it, my body swayed just a bit to the south. I deliberately corrected myself when this happened. It doesn't matter how close you get to Bella, I told myself. But somehow, I didn't believe it. I knew that I'd feel better just being closer to her, even if I didn't get close enough to see her.

It had now been almost exactly a month since I had left Bella's side in the misty forests of home. September was over and October well underway. Nothing had changed for me except that my clothes were slowly shredding into rags. My thoughts and emotions were still ravaged by pain and regret. And here I was, running through some very familiar-feeling forests not too many miles to the north of where I started.

I could remember our last parting with perfect clarity. I could feel the heat of her body standing close to mine, and the pull of her nearly overpowering scent. I could see the look in her eyes as she listened to my traitorous lies and believed them with all her heart. No! Bella, how could you believe them? Don't you know that you're the most marvelous woman alive, that my whole existence revolves around you, that every breath, every step means nothing without you to give them meaning? How could I leave you thinking so little of your hold on me?

This line of thought was dangerous, and the furious debate in my mind was starting to tip in the wrong direction. My arguments for returning seemed to be getting stronger, and my arguments for staying away seemed to be getting weaker.

My mind searched desperately for an alternative. I angled farther north, making sure that my trajectory didn't take me any closer to Bella as I ran. Eventually I left the forests and entered the mountains again. This seemed to help.

However, the fight against Bella's pull had weakened my resolve to keep going, and belatedly, I remembered that I was supposed to be keeping in touch with my family. I sighed, eventually coming to rest on a rocky outcropping. I whipped the cell phone back out of my pocket, and replaced the battery. Once again, amazingly, I could get a signal. I really needed to thank Alice for that. I dialed her number.

"Edward." It was Jasper's voice. He'd known it would be me.

"Jasper? What are you doing with Alice's phone?" My family seemed to be playing tricks on me. This was hardly fair – my mind was already scrambled enough.

"She got the impression from your last conversation that you didn't want to talk to her. So she gave me her phone today." He sounded disapproving. Clearly I'd hurt her feelings, which he had picked up on, of course.

"Why would I call her number then, if I didn't want to talk to her?" As much as I loved her, Alice was often hard to predict. Bella had been just as hard to predict, and some of the things she'd done had made my mind whirl, they were so strange to me. I drifted, as I thought of a few.

Finally, I heard an exasperated sigh. Jasper had been trying to get my attention, it seemed.

"Sorry about that. I'm here." I said, still a bit dazed.

"Are you coming home now? You know how much Esme would love to hear that." Jasper's voice was carefully controlled, but I knew him well enough to know that he was also hoping that I'd return.

I could keep running forever and never see my family again. If that was what it took to keep Bella safe, I would do it. But my family missed me – that much was clear. Could I handle being still long enough for a visit? Could I handle their comments and criticisms? Worse, could I handle their silence as they tried to avoid reminding me of my pain – pretending nothing was different, that nothing had changed? I held my breath for a moment, considering.

It would be the responsible thing to do, of course. If it got to be too much for my self-control, I could just take off running again. I hesitated again, gazing at the steep mountains surrounding me, and wondered what I had to lose in giving it a try.

"Yes," I nearly spat out the word, feeling a bit begrudging about it. Why did they all have to be so pleased about having my worthless self nearby? "I'm on my way. I'll need to get myself cleaned up and changed, and I'll be on foot, so it will be a while until I arrive."

"That's good to hear." There was a long pause between us. "Edward…" Jasper began, and stopped.

I waited for him. Sometimes it took Jasper a bit longer than the rest of us to find just the right words.

"I want to help you." He sounded a bit pained, which surprised me.

"What do you mean?" What could he possibly do for me?

"Edward…I've got a bit more ability to influence emotion than perhaps I've always let on. I know you know that I occasionally hold back." Jasper sounded even more hesitant, as he continued. "But if you were to consent, I could help you bury some of the conflict you're feeling for a while. It might make it easier to…be at peace with yourself, while you're home."

As I processed this unusual offer from my brother, he continued in a low voice. "I want to do what I can."

"Thank you, Jasper. This…means a lot to me." And it did. Jasper rarely went this far out on a limb for the family, except for Alice. He'd use his abilities for us, certainly. Fight for us anytime. But, unless it was for Alice, he'd always hold just a little bit of himself back. He was always saving one last trick in case it was needed for an escape for the two of them, or at the very least, for Alice. But the tone in his voice now was different – he clearly meant that he would use all of his abilities for me.

I guess I'd always known that Jasper felt a bond for me – a brother who understood more than anyone else did about the perils of our somewhat similar gifts - gifts that connected us to the people surrounding us in such intimate ways. But I don't think I'd realized until now that he felt close enough to me to trust me quite this deeply. I felt guilty that I hadn't seen it earlier.

"We'll see you soon, then," he finished, perhaps a bit embarrassed himself.

"Yes, soon." I confirmed, and hit the end key. I hopped up off my perch, and once again, I was off.

I was amazed enough that I was going to accept his offer. I'd often wondered just how powerful his gifts could be. And it was tempting to have someone try to erase some of the pain that held on to me, even in my most peaceful moments. Would it work? Did I want it to? Would losing the pain of separation from Bella be akin to losing what little I had left of Bella in me?

As Ithaca loomed closer and closer, for the first time since leaving Bella, I was looking forward to something. To what, I had no idea.

© 2009 K. Snead; Editor, C. Burton