Title: Tempt Not A Desperate Man
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Stephenie Meyer. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own Edward and Bella. Instead I own pink grapefruit body butter.
Summary: What if you were too late too save the one you loved? When events in Volterra go awry, Bella's world is changed forever. AU. Entry for 'To Kill A Cullen Contest.'
Submitted for the 'To Kill a Cullen' Contest.
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Includes a snippet of dialogue from New Moon at the start (Chapter 20, pg. 398)
*** In light of recent events this is dedicated to Cassie, who's just suffered a terrible loss. She & her family are in my thoughts & prayers right now. We never know when we'll lose a loved one so we should appreciate them while we can! ***
* Thanks as ever to the brilliant SunKingFF for agreeing to beta this for me at such short notice - I heart you hard, girl. *
Song of the chapter: Could It Be Any Harder - The Calling.
I'd never seen anything more beautiful – even as I ran, gasping and screaming, I could appreciate that. And the last seven months meant nothing. And his words in the forest meant nothing. And it did not matter if he did not want me. I would never want anything but him, no matter how long I lived.
The clock tolled, and he took a large stride towards the light.
"No!" I screamed. "Edward, look at me!"
He wasn't listening.
I gulped in more air as my feet carried me forward, willing myself to go faster. A slight smile played on his lips as he slowly lifted his right foot forward. Without any warning, I lost my balance. I stumbled and crashed headlong into the fountain. I felt a burning pain hit my knees where they'd connected with the fountain's stone edge, but I hardly noticed. Several of the red-cloaked revellers looked askance at this, but I didn't care. I leapt up, dripping wet, my eyes searching for him.
It seemed as if an eternity had passed between him raising his foot and placing it down, but it was over. Edward stepped out into the sun. He was clearly not human, with facets of diamonds glittering on his skin. I could hear the amazed gasps of people in the square as they slowly began to notice him. The sight of him in the sun was breathtaking, but I could only think of stopping him. He was fully out of the alley's shadow, and attracting a great deal of attention. Was it too late, now that he had done it? Were the Volturi about to swoop down and rip him limb from limb at this very moment? Would my clumsiness be responsible for his death? NO.
"Edward!" I yelled, my voice hoarse from screaming. My chest ached, and my knees stung, but I kept going. I hurled myself at his stone body. "I'm here, I'm here, I'm not dead!"
Shock appeared on his face, and in the next second he drew me into his arms. His lips found my hair, pressing soft kisses to each tendril. We whispered to one another, and I managed to finally convince him that he wasn't dead and I was alive and well.
I should have known that this euphoric moment together would be short, but I paid no heed as Edward and I clung to one another.
Edward's arms held me against the wall behind his back, just as two dark-cloaked men emerged from the gloom, their feet making no sound on the marble. "Felix, Demetri," Edward muttered for my benefit.
"Greetings, gentlemen," Edward's tone was falsely polite. "I know why you've come." I shivered, peering round the side of his back to appraise these foes.
The larger one of the pair that I assumed to be Felix silently took a step nearer to us. "You have broken our rules," he spat. "Aro asks that you return to us immediately."
"He did not wish this," said Demetri. "But if you insist on forcing our hand, then..."
Edward turned to face me, and his eyes were wide with a fear I had never seen before.
Felix smiled. "Oh, and Aro insists that you bring the girl."
Next to me, I heard Edward let out a guttural growl. His muscles coiled, and I could see he was preparing to spring.
"No," I murmured, barely audibly but enough for him to hear. With what seemed like great difficulty, he relaxed and drew himself up to his full height.
"I don't see what she has to do with this," he said quietly. I inwardly sighed. I shouldn't have made myself believe that he might want me again, shouldn't have imagined that he felt the same while his arms encircled me and his lips were at my hair. I could pretend, for a time.
I quaked. They wouldn't, would they?
"The girl will come. Otherwise, we may be forced to take matters into our own hands," said Felix. He bared his teeth menacingly at me. "She does smell rather mouth-watering, and I'm thirsty." He winked at me, and I shuddered. Demetri let out a high, cold laugh.
The three of them spun to look at the mouth of the alley again, and Alice appeared, her face grave though she was attempting to keep her expression light. "There are ladies present," she said in a voice that suggested we were at a garden party. "Let's behave in a more civilised manner, shall we?"
I sank down the wall a tiny bit. Edward noticed, and he took my arms and gently pulled me up into a standing position. "Don't be afraid," he murmured to me, and I trembled as I felt his lips graze my ear. The roaring sound in my ears was getting louder by the second. I felt far away. I barely heard the approach of a tiny gray-cloaked figure, but learned that she was called Jane. Edward grimaced at the sound of her name, and I wondered what was so fearsome about her.
I found out soon enough.
The ornate room, where all of our lives might end, held unimaginable power. It was clear that the pretence of a trial was drawing to a close, and I felt a sense of foreboding for what was to come. I was in the presence of the most feared immortals in all existence: the Volturi. Though I stood beside Alice and Edward, I felt entirely alone. On the way down, I'd felt Edward's kisses on my forehead, my hair, my cheek as he held on to me. Perhaps it was insanity, but I chose to believe somehow, that he wanted me. Even if he was about to die in an attempt to absolve his guilt at supposedly causing me to end my life, I was with him. Somehow, I knew this might be the only reunion we would get, and I had savoured it, though it was all too short. As I stood in that room, shivering in my cold, wet clothes, I ached to touch the man I loved but knew it was not the time.
I knew at that moment what mattered to me. Watching Edward mentally tortured at the hands of little Jane, as much as it wrenched my heart to watch it, I could handle. Edward telling me that he didn't want me and had to leave again, I could handle. I would trade anything, including my life, if it meant he could live. I didn't care about what he'd said. I only knew that I loved him more than I could ever love anyone, and that was worth anything.
I watched the leader of the coven, Aro, release Alice's hand from his grasp. "I see that she will become one of you," he said in a fascinated tone. Me, a vampire? I was sure there must be some mistake in Alice's vision, for what reason would I have to be immortal if not the love of Edward?
"Aro," Caius's cold voice interrupted, "the law claims them. Edward has committed the most unforgivable crime of all - exposure. Both he and the other have exposed our secrets to the girl, besides. She is a liability."
"Let us be done with this matter. You know what action must be taken," Marcus added in a soporific voice, obviously bored by this whole performance.
"No!" I cried, before I could stop myself. "You must let him live. Kill me instead! Kill me."My heart was thumping in my chest, and the words wrenched themselves from my throat as sobs. Edward must live. He must. Even if I never left that room, I had to know that he would. I prayed they would let Alice live too. I chanced a look at her, and her face was anxious as she scanned through various futures. The Volturi must not have made their final decision yet.
Aro looked up, an expression of mild surprise on his face. "How fascinating," he said in his soft, lilting voice. "Bella, you would forfeit your life in place of a vampire's? A monster, who may even kill you one day?"
"I wouldn't," I heard Edward say. "Never."
"I have seen the depths of your self-control, Edward," Aro agreed, drifting closer towards us. "I would never have believed you were able to resist such tempting blood, had I not seen it in your thoughts." He smiled at me, and I could see the deep purple shadows beneath his crimson eyes that signified thirst. An ice-cold trickle crept down my spine.
Edward tensed beside me, and I placed a hand on his arm, trying to soothe him. Oh, how I prayed that Aro would show mercy and let us all live. The latter watched this exchange with apparent amusement.
"Do continue," Caius advised in a taut voice.
"No need to rush, Caius," Aro replied mildly. "I'm merely trying to see the nuances of Edward and Bella's relationship. Marcus's gift has already detected the strength of their bond." He slowly steepled his fingers. "It is a terrible shame that Alice and Bella have declined to join us," he said, speaking to the three of us. My hand tightened on Edward's arm. "Even you, Bella: I predict that your immortal gifts will be a great asset. However, I think the time for formalities has passed." His expression changed, and it looked wistful. There had been no mention of Edward in his words.
Edward let out a tiny sigh beside me. I turned to look at him and his perfect, marble face was etched with pain. I knew he could read Aro's thoughts, and they obviously did not include a favourable outcome for him. No! I thought, and a tear burst from my eye, trickling down my cheek. He gazed down at me and wiped it away with a feather-light touch of his cold finger. A jolt of pleasure surged through me at feeling his touch, but I could not hide my horror at the turn of events. Edward took my hand in his and turned to face Aro again.
"I see that the law has no room for interpretation, does it?" he said lightly, though his face was taut. "As serious as my mistake was, I'm sure those people will forget what they saw today. They'll write it off as some sort of trick: rationalise it in their minds somehow. I have flouted your laws, but please believe me when I say it was borne of desperation." He squeezed my hand gently beside him, and pulled me forward, holding me in front of him. His arms encircled my waist protectively as he stood behind me.
"I thought that Bella was dead, and without her, I would have no reason to live. I know that none of you can begin to understand my love for this human girl, but for me it is as boundless and deep as the sea, as wide and never-ending as immortality itself. I could not see myself existing if she did not. I hope that makes things a little clearer."
Edward's jet-black eyes were burning with a fire I had never seen before: his jaw set. I was reminded of Romeo's line from Act Five of Romeo and Juliet: "Tempt not a desperate man." How tragically apropos that quote seemed right now.
My breath caught in my chest. Could he love me? Why would he say this if not? To save all our skins. Somehow, deep within though, I knew it must be true. Edward loved me. He loved me! All along, when I heard the hallucination of his voice, perhaps I'd been trying to tell myself that he'd never stopped loving me. I let this knowledge sink into me, and leaned my head back into his chest. His arms wrapped around me even tighter, and his lips were suddenly at my ear.
"I have always loved you, Bella. Please believe that, regardless of what I told you," he murmured so quietly that only I could hear.
I trembled at the sound of his pure voice and the sweetness of the scent coming off his skin. Somehow, I believed him. It didn't matter what the explanation was. For the first time, I could tell that his desperate plan had not been hatched out of guilt, but because he had been unable to live without me. And that made this ending even harder to bear. No. No. Please. Edward held me tightly as I began to shake with fear.
"There is something of the romantic hero about you, Edward," Aro said pleasantly, though I knew he was watching the play of emotions across my face. "I do not doubt your love for this girl. I have seen it in your thoughts, even as it baffles me. How very tragic this situation is. However, even I cannot alter your punishment. The law is insuperable on this matter. To keep our existence a secret is the primary rule that we all must live by. I understand that you broke it based on a falsehood, but that does not lessen the seriousness of your crime."
Aro shook his head, appearing to be saddened by his decision and turned away. "Alice and Bella, you are of course free to go. But oh, such a terrible waste," he added, and clicked his fingers.
At once, I was torn from Edward's embrace by a pair of inhumanly strong arms. I was surprised to find it was Alice, and that Edward had let me go willingly. I looked back to see Demetri and Felix gripping Edward's arms like a vice. I met his eyes and bit my lip. His face creased into what seemed to be a silent scream, his mouth open but no sound coming out. I struggled in Alice's arms, desperate to go to him, but she held me fast and I knew I had no chance of freeing myself.
"No, Bella, n-no!" she whispered frantically to me, even as her voice cracked with emotion. "I promised myself that if we were too late for Edward, I'd do my best to get you back to Charlie. And I'm going to keep my promise..." Her voice was not even a flutter now as it trailed off. I chanced a look at Alice's face, and it was set, drawn with pain for her brother. My heart sank. I could see on her face that she knew there was no hope for Edward.
Demetri and Felix dragged Edward toward the foot of the three thrones that were set against the back wall of the turret room. Aro had seamlessly moved back to stand in front of them, and he turned his impassive gaze upon me.
"I am very sorry, Bella," he said, and it almost sounded sincere. I glared at him from the prison of Alice's arms, unable to speak for fear of breaking into a thousand pieces. It was all for nothing, and I'm going to lose Edward. Because I was CLUMSY! I could hear the roaring in my ears again. This couldn't be happening. "Wait a moment, I think," he said, and held up his hand to signal Demetri and Felix to let Edward go. Edward stood still, knowing that with one wrong move, they would massacre him anyway. "Alice, let Bella go for a moment," Aro called, and I felt the iron hands release me. "Of course we must give him a chance to say goodbye to her."
"How generous of you," Edward snapped, his face strained.
"Do come, my dear," Aro said, beckoning to me, and he was almost cooing. I let my feet carry me forward to where Edward waited, my breath catching in my chest. I didn't care that we had a large audience, or that this might be a trick of Aro's. That seemed unlikely, though, as Edward made no move to stop me. There was only him. His taut muscular body clad in the smoky-grey cloak, his soft eyes, dark with thirst but still mesmerising, his perfect, pale face, his cold lips that I wished were on mine...
I knew I never deserved to be loved by a being so perfect as Edward. It seemed almost fitting that he was now being taken from me, for mere mortals such as myself were not meant to experience such perfection.
I had reached him, and he captured my hands in his, stroking them tenderly. "Bella, please let me explain." I glanced around the room briefly, and the others were fascinated, their gazes fixed on us. Alice's eyes were soft with grief, and she looked away, trying to give us a semblance of privacy. I turned my eyes back to Edward, barely able to breathe as I took in the lines of his angelic, sculpted features once more.
I nodded, and he fixed his eyes on mine, continuing to stroke my hands as he did so. "It was unforgivable, what I told you that day in the forest. I told the blackest, lowest lie, and you believed me so easily."
"You – you love me?" I whispered, casting my eyes down to the floor as I flushed, unable to meet his eyes. He reached down and tipped my chin up so I could see him again.
"Of course I do," he said, and his fingers traced my jaw line as he spoke. I sighed.
"But then why did you lie?" I heard myself ask. I knew he loved me, but at the same time, I wanted to understand the reasoning that had led to that terrible discussion in the woods.
"I knew I had to convince you I didn't love you any more, or you'd take that much longer to get over me. I hoped that you would forget me."
"Never," I whispered, and my eyes filled with tears. He wiped them away with the pad of his thumb and continued.
"I am so, so, sorry, Bella. I never meant to hurt you. I'm despicable. I felt I wasn't good for you. I thought you should have a chance at a normal, happy, human life. I didn't want to take you away from all of that, to put you in danger constantly because of what I am. I spent my time tracking Victoria while I was apart from you, but I followed a false lead to Brazil and in reality, she was practically on your doorstep!" He shook his head in utter anguish. "To think that I'd left you to her! Don't you know how much it kills me, how -"
"I thought we were going to do that," Caius interjected maliciously, a malevolent glare in his eyes. Edward spat a snarl from between his teeth as Aro shot a warning look at Caius. I ignored them all, turning back to the man I loved. I wasn't going to waste a single second of this last moment with him if I could help it.
"Edward, stop," I said, pressing a finger to his lips. "You don't have to explain. I -"
"Bella, shh," he murmured, one of his hands now trailing down my arm. I looked up at him, trying to memorise every wondrous inch of him. Because soon, memories would be all I had. I choked back a sob.
"I hope you don't think that I came here out of guilt." His eyes smouldered. "What I told Aro was true. I came here, begging to die, because I knew that I could not live in a world where you don't exist. I've spent seven months in abject misery without you, and I've counted every hour, every minute, every second. I was past trying to make it through a single hour without you. It was only a matter of time before I returned and implored you to take me back. If I was afforded a second chance and allowed to leave this place, I wouldn't hesitate to make you immortal whenever you asked me to. I'm much too selfish to want anything except you at my side for all eternity."
My head was reeling at this revelation: I was losing a whole future that I didn't know I could have had. He pulled me closer to him now, and I wrapped my arms around, breathing in his heady scent as I leaned against his chest. "Just tell me one thing," he said. "I know that I'm about to die, but I have to know, can you still love me, after everything I've done?"
"Of course I love you," I breathed, tilting my head up to look into his face. "I'll always love you, and I knew I always would, whether you loved me or not. I forgive you."
I really did forgive him. Recalling his cold silence in the days before it happened, I realised that it wasn't as if he hadn't thought his decision through, and I knew he'd done it in my best interest. And yet, there we were. We loved each other so much that his plan had only resulted in disaster for us both. Sadly, this would be our end. It somehow stanched the pain to know that he loved me too, but barely.
I was dragged from my thoughts as Edward brought his lips to mine. He kissed me fiercely, harder than he'd ever kissed me before. I gasped as I tasted his luscious scent on my tongue, his intoxicating breath fanning my face as my lips moved against his in an unfamiliar way. He wasn't nearly as careful as he usually was, as eager to push me away. His lips moved against mine insistently, but there was an edge of finality to the kiss. It was too urgent, too passionate. The best kiss he'd ever given me, and the last. I knotted my fingers in his hair, pulling his marble body against mine, refusing to tear my lips from his. He groaned softly into my mouth, and his hands trailed up and down my back, sending shivers down my spine.
Why? Why did I have to lose him? As unlucky as we'd been thus far, I'd foolishly allowed myself the hope that Edward might be allowed to live. However, I knew now that I could not count on these cold, calculating vampires to spare him an ounce of mercy. He was going to die, and it was my fault. If I'd only waited for Jacob before I'd foolishly gone cliff diving, this fate would have been averted. I absorbed myself in the kiss, the sensation of being in Edward's arms, drinking in all the affection that he was giving me. All too soon, he took my face in his hands and gently pushed it away from his. No, please, that can't be all, I...
He pinned my arms to my sides, stepping back and murmured "Forever."
"Edward, don't..." I said, tears glistening on my lashes. His eyes were sorrowful as he looked at me, and then nodded to Aro, who had an expectant look in his eyes.
"Yes, terribly sad," Aro said, furrowing his brow. "I don't think any of us doubt your love after that display. Yet, this must be done. Our laws exist for a good reason, and cannot be ignored."
I let out a strangled cry, but managed to find my voice again. "Edward, I'm sorry!" I cried. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't jumped off that cliff, none of this would have happened."
"You don't have to be sorry for anything, Bella," he said earnestly, his eyes soft. "At least I was able to see you again. To me, that's worth death." I opened my mouth to protest, but he shook his head and I fell silent. He turned to look at Alice, who was standing in the corner of the room, her face in her hands. She glanced up, letting her hands fall to her sides, and her face was contorted with pain.
"Please don't blame yourself, Alice," he told her. She winced, and I could tell she didn't believe him, but that she would try."And don't let Rosalie blame herself either. She believed it to be true and rightly thought I would want to know. Tell her I forgive her. The odds were stacked against me on this one. Just like the hapless Romeo," he mused.
"Edward, I -" Alice said, her high, clear voice quavering as she tried to speak. "You'll always be my brother, and I love you. I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't your fault, Alice. And I love you too," he said quietly, and I saw how much this hurt him, such was the closeness of his relationship with his sister. "And Carlisle, Esme, Emmett and Jasper. Tell them I love them too. Tell Carlisle I'm sorry I failed him."
Alice shook her head. "Oh, Edward-" she began, but then fell silent, and I knew that she would honour his wishes. "I'll miss you."
Edward smiled sadly, and then turned back to me. Caius cleared his throat ominously, and I knew it was coming.
"Please," I whispered, more to myself than anyone else, but I knew Aro heard. "Please...don't." Aro sighed heavily, but I knew he would not change his mind.
"Edward, I love you!" I told him, my voice ringing out through the tall, echoing room.
"I love you too, Bella." His eyes were molten onyx as they held my gaze, full of his sincere love for me.
Then it all happened so fast. Alice came and dragged me away. I was unwilling to go, but she carried me as easily as if I was a rag doll. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Felix and Demetri secure Edward's arms in their grasp once more. That was the last time I ever saw him.
Little Jane hissed, and I bit back a cry as I saw the obvious pleasure in her expression. Alice forcibly turned me so my face was pressed into her neck and I was unable to see.
The next thing I heard was a blood-curdling scream - a scream that would surely haunt me for the rest of my days. It was not his lovely, pure voice, but a twisted and strangled version of it.
I heard a ripping sound that brought bile to my throat and the lush tearing of skin. The screaming trailed off.
I tried to turn, but Alice held me to her, not wanting me to see this. I could feel her stone body trembling as she clutched me to her, and we were both shaking.
"I suppose we ought to have had Alec anaesthetise him beforehand," I could hear Aro saying matter-of-factly, as if he were debating an entirely normal matter. "In all the drama, I just didn't think of it. I think it best that we start the bonfire." He clicked his fingers, and I heard the movement of something being brought in, and then the crackle of flames being kindled.
Alice continued to hold me against her with all her strength, but there was no need for it. There was no way I would be able to turn and see the torn, lifeless body of the man I loved burning on a pyre. I felt her hold loosen slightly, and she pushed me forward. We burst through the doors out into the corridor and then we were running, with Alice holding me up to balance the sudden weakness of my legs. Aro must have known we had gone, but he did not try to stop us. Eventually, we reached the green-carpeted reception area with the leather couches. Gianna's eyes widened when she took in both our faces and the absence of Edward, and I could see the comprehension flicker on her face.
"I'm sorry," she said, very genuinely. She brought a cloak over and handed it to Alice. "For her."
"Thank you," Alice managed, and Gianna retreated to her post behind the desk.
For the next few moments, we clung to each other on one of the sofas, united in our grief for Edward. Alice had a better hold on herself than I did, however, as she had enough sense to wrap the cloak around me so that she wouldn't make me too cold. I couldn't cry: I was still too numb for that., but I was unable to control my body, which would not stop shaking from the cold. I gratefully breathed in Alice's sweet scent that reminded me of him so much, though it was not exactly the same. A few minutes later, I registered the sound of footsteps, but I did not raise my head. There was a commotion as they entered, and I could hear excited chatter in many different languages.
"Got a tour group coming through, Gi," said a seductive, female voice that could only belong to a vampire. Tour group? Oh, no...they must be...I couldn't believe it.
"Go straight through, Heidi," Gianna said smoothly, only a slight tremor in her voice. "They're waiting."
I couldn't hide my horror at the fate all these innocent people were about to face, but I was unable to turn to look at them, or the vampire who led them. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a cold voice said: "Excuse me." I looked up to see Demetri.
"What is it you want now?" Alice enquired warily, her eyes narrowing.
"I come to pass on a message. Aro requests that you stay here until nightfall, when darkness will provide better cover. We ask that you don't linger in the city."
"Oh, we weren't planning to," Alice said coldly.
"I guess I'd better get back to dinner," he said, his eyes glinting wickedly. He turned on his heel and headed back through the double doors, presumably to drink his fill from the tourists. I shuddered. Thank God we were far enough way from the turret room not to hear the screams.
"I'm sorry you had to see that, Bella." Alice sighed heavily. She dropped her voice. "The worst of our kind. Oh, they might fancy themselves as patrons of the arts and culture, and they have the best, most gifted fighters, but they still have no regard for human life. That cancels out any of their supposed attributes." I nodded weakly, still unable to speak.
I sat under the cloak, wrapped in her arms, and we both remained silent. Alice knew I couldn't talk, and her patient vampire nature stopped her from coaxing me. It must have been hours that I sat there, leaning against her hard chest, but as we were underground, there was no indication of time passing.
I was too late to save Edward, and it was all because of one innocuous human flaw: clumsiness. The one I loved was dead, and it was all my fault. The dam inside me broke, and I wept for the future that had been lost in an instant.
Edward, if you hear me somehow, know that I will gladly suffer for a lifetime for not getting to you in time. I wish that I hadn't been a weak, defenceless human – that I could have been fast and strong enough to save you from your maligned fate. My punishment is to remain on this Earth while you are gone, and I will bear it every day that is left of my life. I'll never forget you, and I'll never stop missing you.
Tissue time folks – was that as sad for you to read as it was for me to write? Sniffle...this was kind of hard to do, as it required re-writing of certain parts of New Moon (and I'm not sure I did that entirely successfully) – I tried to merely hint at things that we know happened in the book choosing instead to focus on my own AU version of events. This is my first contest entry so I hope you all like it – and please click the review button. xxx