*****Chapter 2: Decisions*****
Edward contemplated his alternatives as he walked away from the Volturi and their decision. If they would not help him voluntarily, then he would give them no other option. The easiest, the quickest, way to get their attention and earn their anger was to hunt in their sacred city. Even the ancients did not dare, and it was that tradition that had kept the city safe for them for so many centuries.
Yes, hunting in Volterra would be the easiest way to get their attention. They would destroy him before they could remember their arguments against doing so. "A waste," Edward snorted as he walked through the dark streets of the ancient city. Edward knew that his existence was the waste, not his meaningless power. It hadn't saved Bella. He would not let it save him. Even more than the Volturi wanted to avoid angering Carlisle, they wanted Edward's power.
Joining the Volturi was the last thing Edward would do, even if somehow he had to live without Bella in the endless days and weeks and years to come. No, that was not an option.
Death was the only way out now.
Bella had chosen it, even though he had begged her not to do so. Now he would join her, if not in whatever came after death, then in leaving this world behind. If Bella was not here, Edward had no interest in staying. He might have been able to survive somehow if he had known that she was happily living out her life somewhere, the life she had deserved and been destined for before he had arrived. It would have almost killed him, but it would have been the best thing for Bella.
He had tried to make that choice for her, and the only result had been tragedy.
So, it was clear now that he must put an ending to all of it. A hunt then. Even the maddeningly reluctant Volturi could not ignore such a blatant disregard for the most sacrosanct of their rules. But even as he stalked through the city, searching for that one perfect victim, the one who deserved death, he could not completely banish Carlisle's face from his mind.
His father's kind and compassionate gaze, the unending patience in his wise counsel, the understanding that he had for those not as strong as he was. Carlisle had never faltered, never fallen. Not once. What would he think when he found out that Edward was dead. And why he had been condemned by the Volturi?
Would his disappointment cloud his other, prouder memories of the son he had created? Or would he forgive Edward, knowing that only a desperate need could have driven him to such an act?
Edward could only hope for the latter.
Still, it did not feel right. The choice rankled, even though it would be the quickest, most efficient way to rouse the wrath of the Volturi.
No. Not even for the blessed release of death could he disappoint Carlisle so utterly. There had to be other ways, other paths to his ultimate destination. Edward just had to find one of them.
There were many ways to get the attention of the Volturi, and Edward conceived – and ultimately rejected – more than a dozen plans. In the end, he decided that simplicity was best. It had the added appeal of no collateral damage. No more humans would die because of him.
Bella Swan would be his last victim.
Sunlight then, a simple journey into the bright and forbidden sunshine. How often had he longed to feel that warmth on his face without feeling like a freak? He had, for a short time, been able to do so with Bella at his side. She had known him, known all his dark and terrible secrets.
And she had loved him anyway.
He had ruined that, but he could still treasure, for the few hours that were left to him, the memories of their time together. Of all those memories, their hours in their meadow seemed to glow in his mind with their own translucent light. Perhaps because it was there that he had first felt the sun on his face and the warmth of her hand touching his at the same time.
Warmed from within and without. She had reached into his cold, stone heart and brought him to life again, if only for a moment. In her eyes, he had glimpsed his long lost humanity. She had changed him irrevocably. He had been one man before that moment, and another by the time they left that meadow. Not human, perhaps, but something more and better than he had been before Bella.
Now, with the regret of a million decisions and choices outweighed by the simple regret of losing her, he could wish fiercely that he had had the strength – the courage – to be closer to her physically.
What heaven might it have been if he could have let his tongue sweep in to dance with hers? What joy might he have found in the yielding warmth of her body, making way for him as he, for once, felt like man? She would have said yes, he knew that. Her longing, her desire, had been there in every stuttered beat of her heart, in every breath that caught in her throat, in the trembling of her limbs as she embraced him, and in the sweet blush of her cheek.
If he had been human, or just stronger, he could have completed their union. Their hearts had already been bound, one to the other, for all eternity. Bella had shown him that. All that had been lacking was that last physical manifestation of love, the expression of the passion he carried so carefully in his heart. Fear had made him hesitate, his desperate longing always hidden away so that she would never guess the high price of his control.
But if he had surrendered to the need, he would have made love to her, shown her how much he loved and adored her. And she would have taken him into herself with joy and exultation.
Instead, he had pushed her away, so afraid he might hurt her. He had shunned her touch again and again. He had hurt and refused her.
And all for nothing.
In the end, he had killed her anyway.
"I'm sorry, Bella," he whispered, wishing that he would be given just a brief moment with her so that he might tell her how terribly sorry he was for all he had done to her.
Now, with his fate just moments away, he closed his eyes and imagined her face once more. It didn't take much to call her beloved features to mind in perfect, heartbreaking detail. She had been foremost in his thoughts since the day he'd met her. He smiled, seeing her eyes alight with laughter and heard once more the frantic beat of her heart as he pulled her closer.
He could almost hear her voice, calling out to him.
God, it was so real. Maybe, just maybe, he would have a chance to apologize before he was dragged to hell to atone for all he had done, for what he was. Maybe God would grant him that single mercy, the chance to tell Bella that he loved her and that he was sorry…for everything. That single moment, that slim possibility of absolution, would make an eternity of suffering worth it.
He could hear her more clearly now. Almost as if she was running toward him. How typical of Bella to want to save him, when she was the one in need of saving. But he was too late to save her. Instead, there was this. The shirt slipped from his shoulders and his arms fell to his sides. The shirt pooled at his feet and he felt a strange peace descend upon him.
"NO! Edward, look at me!"
She was still here with him, he mused. Even now, after all he had done. Perhaps she was waiting to greet him, to grant him forgiveness, somehow having seen into the darkest recesses of his heart. Maybe she knew now how completely and imperfectly he had loved her. Her mercy and gracious heart had always surprised him, moved him to speechless wonder.
His foot raised and there was only one step left and the sun would warm his face one last time.
Something slammed into him, soft and warm and yielding and fragrant. Automatically, his arms reached out to embrace her, his body already recognizing what his mind had not yet grasped. His eyes opened and he gazed down at her in wonder.
"Amazing," he murmured. "Carlisle was right." A smile tugged at his lips and he wished he could tell Carlisle what waited on the other side.
Bliss. She blinked up at him, her eyes as full of secrets as they had been in life.
"I can't believe how quick it was. I didn't feel a thing – they're very good." He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to her hair, inhaling the familiar fire of her scent. "Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, hath had no power yet upon thy beauty." Romeo's words, another doomed lover of legend. Their story would be told by no one, but its beauty was staggering to him, even now, when all was lost. "You smell just exactly the same as always. So maybe this IS hell. I don't care. I'll take it."
It was such a small price to pay to have her back in his arms.
"I'm not dead," she whispered urgently. "And neither are you. Please Edward, we have to move. They can't be far away."
She moved in his arms and he tightened his embrace. He was never going to let her go again, no matter what torments awaited.
"What was that?" he asked, still taking in her unique beauty with hungry eyes.
"We're not dead, not yet! But we have to get out of here before the Volturi-"
And the darkest night was pierced by the bright rays of unbearable beauty.
And so it begins.