Huge thanks to Uhyesplease and Onepushyfox,
for betaing, caring and encouraging: you are the best!
Warning to my twiancé MrsVanquish: Don't read this!
If you can't resist, don't hate me! I love you all!
The Black Balloon Contest
Your pen name: BettiGefecht
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. Stephenie Meyer owns everything Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rated M for minor violence and coarse language.
There is joy in the presence of the angels.
Rio de Janeiro, March 2005.
…the sound of his rupturing flesh was music to my ears, as it erased the girl's high-pitched, wordless wailing for a moment. His taste, however, was as disgusting as his rogue mind. And when he snarled at me, I spat a mouthful of his own foul-smelling flesh into his ghastly face. The vampire's hands flew up to cover the gaping hole I had just left in his shoulder, and he hissed. The instinctive movement left him off guard for just a split second; it gave me an eternity to decide what to do next.
God, I want to kill him so badly...
It was creatures like him who made me sick with the nature of my own existence. I refused to accept that we were of the same species. But we were. That alone would have been reason enough for me to want to rip his head off, even if he hadn't just attacked a helpless and utterly innocent human being. She continued to sob and whine behind me – a nerve wrecking sound that had dragged me out my stupor for the first time in months.
The nomad looked up at me with pitch black eyes. It was quite obvious that I had interrupted his meal before it even had begun; he was insane with thirst. In earlier times I probably would have pitied him. But seeing his manic grin only disgusted me more. There wasn't much pity left in me anyway. There wasn't much left in me at all. Only the ever-present pain I had committed myself to.
In midst of my musings, he stirred again, mistakenly sniffing around for a chance to get away. But he was weak and slow because he hadn't fed for so long. I slightly shifted my weight and crushed both of his shins with one unerring kick of my left foot. It was absurdly easy; his bones split like unsound wood. With a hateful growl he dropped down onto his knees which brought his head to a convenient height, right into my reach. My hands closed around his temples all by themselves. Vise-like. Deadly. And he knew it.
"Do it, Cullen," he snarled with bared teeth, "stop shitting yourself and do it, you Bambi-sucking pussy!"
Don't dare me, asshole!!
Of course, he knew who I was; my eyes had given me away. They always did. But it didn't matter. These were the last seconds of his existence anyway. Just one quick twist of my wrists would shut him up. Forever.
But for some reason I hesitated, trying to convince myself he wasn't worth it, shaking with the effort to keep my hands still. I hadn't killed anyone in almost a century; I hadn't even ended James' existence with my own hands. But would it make any difference now? Would it make me more of a monster than I already was?
The girl was silent now. Was she watching? I tried to read her mind, but couldn't find any intelligible thoughts. She was in a deep state of shock and she needed help.
What would Carlisle do?
"You just don't have the balls!" the half-crazy vampire spat. "Fucking traitors, all of you Cullens! You think you're better than me? But you aren't, motherfucker!" I saw my own reflection in his eyes, as I increased the pressure on his skull.
What would Bella want me to do? God, Bella...
I still wanted to be good for her, however ridiculous the idea was. As if I would ever see her again! Unsolicited images flashed through my mind in a lightning sequence, reminding me of the reasons why I wasn't good for her and could never be.
Bella bruised, broken and bitten, her agony multiplied by countless mirrors – because of me. Bella in the hospital, bandages and tubes and needles – because of me. Bella soaked in her blood on the floor, shattered glass all around her – because of me.
Because of me!
Who in his right mind would ever entrust a lamb into a lion's care? Call on the predator for protection? It was pathetic. Releasing her from my presence was the only good thing I'd ever done for Bella. And my nothingness was the price I was willing to pay for her safety and happiness.
The direction my thoughts were taking made me moan involuntarily. The nomad in my death grip snorted. "You prey-petting pansy, what are you waiting for, you –"
"Shut. The Fuck. Up," I hissed at him, giving his head a small but sharp twist with each syllable. His anguished cry elicited another whimper from the girl. I felt a profound sense of relief in that small, helpless sound. If she had been bitten, she would be screaming in agonizing pain by now. Her silence meant she wasn't hurt, just scared to death. I had arrived just in time; she was safe.
It also meant that I didn't have to kill the filthy creature at my feet. I realized that there still was a meaning to it.
This is for you, Bella…
I grabbed a fistful of his hair, roughly dragged him up to bring his ear to my mouth and growled, "Consider this your lucky day. And consider it your only lucky day. You'll get your ass out of Rio, and you'll stay away. If I ever see you again, you piece of shit, you'll end up as a pile of ash." With that said, I dashed his writhing frame to the ground.
"Fuck you, Cullen!" he gasped. I watched in disgust as the vampire crawled away from me, cursing under his breath, until he disappeared in the darkness at the end of the dirty alley. His smell lingered, it was nauseating and I wanted to wash my hands clean of him. His stink on my own skin was a reminder of how close I had been to giving in to the monster inside of me, and it made my stomach turn.
He was hidden from human eyes back there in the crook of the alley, but I could still see his shattered form squirm in the dark. He would wait there for his body to heal, which would take a bit longer than usual, considering the miserable condition he was in. I decided to give him an hour before checking on him again and turned my attention to the girl. It was quiet now in the corner behind the trash bins where she squatted; I closed my eyes and focused on her mind.
I still didn't receive any coherent thoughts from her. She was chanting to herself, it sounded like 'adeem… adeem… adeem…'. I turned around and walked over to the shaking bundle. I slowly kneeled down where she lay, curled into a ball with her face hidden under long streaks of sleek blonde hair. Her scent bore a waft of strawberry, strangely familiar and… delicious. Venom flooded my mouth and I immediately hated myself for it. I swallowed it down and stopped breathing, which brought instant relief. I really wanted to help her. It felt good to care about someone again, for a change.
See, Bella? I'm still trying, my love...
"Hey," I said softly, using my 'good' voice, "It's over. He's gone now, you are safe."
She didn't react, nor did the litany falter.
'adeem… adeem… adeem…'
I briefly considered to stroke her hair, but there was no way I could touch her now, with these hands. "Listen," I tried again, "I'm here to help you. Are you hurt?"
'adeem… adeem… adeem…'
This was bad. And strange – even if the shock was deep, she should have reacted to my voice by now. I carefully wiped my hands off on my pants and then gently patted her shoulder. She winced, and her whining grew louder and lost its steady rhythm.
'adeem… abadeem… abadeem… iddis… adeem…'
I was whispering now, "Can you please look at me?" Slowly, very slowly she raised her head and turned her gaze to me. If I hadn't stopped breathing before, I would have now. Her eyes were a pale, watery blue, and as soon as they met mine, her mind opened up to me, and the inarticulate chanting turned into words, 'a dream… a bad dream… it is a dream…' – and then it stopped abruptly.
In the next three seconds I processed three different things. First – in spite of her small form and the pink Hello Kitty hoody she wore, she wasn't a little girl but a grown woman. It was hard though to estimate her age because… Second – her facial features showed that she had Down's Syndrome; she could be in her twenties or thirties. To know that the vampire, who was probably still pitying himself back there in the darkness, had attacked this vulnerable human being made me regret letting him go.
But it was realization number three that startled me – there was a fresh wound on her neck, in the clear shape of teeth, the verges still glistening with venom.
She had been bitten.
My mind was racing… how could she still be so calm? Why didn't she feel the excruciating torments of the changing yet? Maybe the vampire's venom was weak; maybe the bite didn't go deep? Was that possible? Could she still be saved if I acted quickly enough? Would she let me touch her and take care of it?
I shifted my body an inch closer, "You don't need to be scared. I won't hurt you. I am a friend, ok?"
"Wend?" she said. 'Friend?' she thought.
"Yes, I'm your friend. And I would like to have a look at your –" I stopped mid-sentence and froze, because something was happening!
I stared at the round face before me and watched the almond-shaped eyes turn into small slits. The little nose crumpled up, and her cheeks, which were littered with nervous reddish spots and smeared with snot, grew even rounder. Her mouth opened widely, her tongue poking out over a row of tiny teeth.
She smiled at me.
Her face lit up with pure joy, as if she hadn't just faced the most intense horror of her life.
And then my world turned upside down.
I felt the hair on my forearms raise, incredulously recognizing the sensation as I don't get goose bumps. I haven't had goose bumps since I was changed in 1918; it was impossible. As impossible as the warmth that suddenly rushed through my body. It felt utterly wrong. It felt unbelievably good. It felt like I was…
– with Bella –
…alive! I was overwhelmed by the unbearable urge to suck in some air. I inhaled deeply, and the relief was intense. Her sweet scent hit me with might, but the stimulating effect on my venom glands was close to zero. The onslaught of all these 'human' sensations made me dizzy and euphoric at the same time. And the source of it was unmistakably the human in front of me.
I gasped. "How do you do that?!" Her smile grew wider, and I shivered with another hot rush.
"Wend!" she giggled. 'Friend!'
"Yes, I am your friend." I could hardly speak, because of the lump in my throat. I smiled back at her, despite myself, while at the same time my eyes started tingling with tears they weren't able to shed.
Time is running out - get a grip!
"Sweetheart, let me see your neck, ok? You are hurt." I reached out to push her hair out of the way, but she covered the bite mark with her hand.
"Uh-uh, adeem!" she declared. "Gone now, 'afe!"
"Yes, sweetheart, I said you are safe now, but I didn't know you were hurt then. So I –"
"Uh-uh!!" she objected even louder and shook her head ferociously. Her hair whirled around, and when she noticed it, she started laughing out loud. She continued to shake her head frantically, trying different ways to move it up and down and around in a wild dance, enjoying the effect it created. Before I knew it I had joined in her joyful laughter. I felt like I had lost my mind but I couldn't help it.
I had no idea why, but the bite seemed not to have harmed her at all. And she had got over the shock of the attack. Still laughing, I reached for her shoulders and she stilled under my touch, smiling widely at me, her new friend. I took the opportunity to quickly examine the wound. It had already closed.
I gazed at the thin, silverish scar in total disbelief, trying to wrap my mind around the impossibility of it. This was wrong. The venom should have blocked the blood clotting, but it hadn't. Was this good or bad? Was there anything I should do? Was there anything I still could do??
Without premonition, she threw herself onto my chest and wound her arms around my neck, her mind literally screaming, 'FRIEND!!' I put my arms around her instinctively, and there it was…
The sudden absence of pain made my head swim. I was so accustomed to the constant hurt that at first I didn't understand what had changed. The girl was covering my cheeks with little pecks. Her laughter was as clear as a silver bell.
"Wait… stop," I cupped her sweet baby face and gingerly pulled her away from me to look her in the eye, "What are you? What in heaven's name are you doing to me, angel?" I asked, grinning against my will.
"Gone now, 'afe!" she declared again, beaming at me. I assumed she was still talking about the aggressor I had put to flight, but just when I wanted to repeat my question, she poked her little index finger in my chest, right over my silent heart, and repeated, "Gone now, izzid?"
She had a gift, I realized in bewilderment. And she knew it!
It was similar to Jasper's ability to manipulate peoples' moods, but many times more powerful. Aro would be absolutely smitten, I thought sarcastically, only that she could not be changed into a vampire; as apparently she was immune to our venom. I had never heard of anything like this, but here we were… I shook my head. "Yes, it is gone now, angel," I confirmed.
She clapped her hands and laughed so blissfully that I couldn't suppress the urge to giggle. This was insane – how could I giggle? I was supposed to be suffering, wasn't I? It felt as though I was betraying my love for Bella. The torture of her loss shouldn't be erased this easily, it shouldn't be erased at all… it was all that was left of me, my only bond to her. It was wrong to let this gifted human work her magic on me, but I had no defence for it. In this very moment I loved the little angel before me deeply, and it just made me happy. "How do you do this?" I whispered to her.
"Wend!" she shrugged and yawned extensively. She looked so cute and funny that I couldn't help but chuckle and she again responded with a laugh of her own.
"Haha! Wanna googgie?" she asked. It was surreal. In her mind, she formed the words correctly, accompanied by images of a yellow, heart-scattered lunchbox. Surprisingly, that was all there was – except for my face. I couldn't find any traces of the traumatizing experience she'd just gone through. As if it was completely erased from her memory.
"No thanks, love. No cookie for me," I answered her.
She pouted and started to stroke my cheek. Nodding fiercely, she insisted, "Uh-uh…wend. Wanna googgie!! Googgies are home." She yawned again, and blinked a few times.
A faint notion of sadness began to well up inside of me and was gone again before I could name it, followed by a brief sting of fear. I tried to ignore it. She was okay, I assured myself. It was just a fatigue, the natural aftermath of the shock. Maybe her gift didn't work if she wasn't conscious, so it became less powerful because she was tired.
"Do you want to go home, angel? Can you tell me where you live?" She shook her head no. Her eyes shut for a moment, and her upper body began swaying back and forth. She was really tired now. After another extended yawn, she asked, "Wadda name?"
"My name is Edward. What is yours?"
"Eddod," she said. And once again she hugged me with all that she had. "Eddod, Eddod, Eddod!" Then she released me again, squeezed her little almond-eyes shut and puckered her mouth. 'Kiss kiss', her mind demanded. She was adorable, I almost choked with the love I felt for her. And I was deeply thankful I had saved her. I carefully covered my teeth with my lips, closed my eyes, and gave her a small kiss, barely touching her.
Bella's face appeared on the screen that was the inside of my eyelids, and she was smiling. Smiling like I hoped she would. Living her life the way she should, the way she deserved it... happily.
And for the first time in forever, seeing her again, I didn't feel like my chest was bursting with anguish.
The strange angel I'd rescued snuggled into my chest. She was warm and soft and very human.
I needed to find out where she belonged and get her there, but maybe not yet – whatever it was she was doing to me, it soothed my shattered heart. Was it so wrong that I just wanted to enjoy it for a little while? Even knowing, it wasn't really… real? Even knowing I had to return to my broken self eventually? She was a painkiller, but I knew the effect wouldn't last.
As she was humming drowsily against my neck, I noticed that these long lost feelings of peace, love and gratefulness were beginning to fade. The warmth that was flooding through me began to diminish, as she slowly fell asleep.
"Angel," I said softly, "you are tired, aren't you?"
"Dire, yeah," she muttered, and her voice broke a little. Of course, she had to be exhausted. It was selfish of me to prolong her stay here.
Couldn't I do anything right? Damn it!
The cold crept back into me sooner and faster than I had hoped or expected, I was however thankful for the miracle I had encountered. I really shouldn't wait for my dark demons to return before I cared for her safe trip home.
"I know you're very tired, but you can't sleep now. Not yet. I need to see you home, angel." I put one hand under her tiny chin to make her look up at me. "Don't you want to get ho –" I froze as she lifted her head.
What the hell…?
No, no, no, no, no…
The sight that met my eyes threw me back into the deepest abyss of despair. This couldn't be true! Her skin that had been immaculate and soft just minutes ago, had suddenly turned grey, and her lips chapped. The rosy spots on her cheeks had wasted away into nothingness.
No – please, please no…
She was… withering in my arms!
And yet she still smiled at me, and whispered, "Uh-uh, don wanna go 'ome. Wanna be wi' wend." Horrified, I watched a single drop of blood appear in one of her nostrils. It stuck there for a second until it came loose and slowly ran down to her mouth where she licked it away. A burning, familiar and hated, was building in my throat, and I tasted venom.
I wanted to scream, overwhelmed with guilt and disgust with myself. How could I have been so blind? She couldn't be changed, but of course she wasn't immune either. I hadn't saved her. I had killed her, selfishly basking in feelings I didn't deserve, while the nomad's venom was destroying her from the inside out. The miracle was over, she was dying.
"I'm not your friend, angel, I was wrong." So wrong! How could I relapse into the delusion that I could be close to anyone without killing them sooner or later? "I'm so sorry. I am nobody's friend…" I spoke so low knowing that her human ears couldn't hear me, and yet she responded.
Her blue eyes widened; they were bloodshot. And then she talked to me. Not with her mouth that refused to serve her in the way it should… not with her voice that wouldn't comply with her will anymore… but with her mind.
Holding my gaze with every ounce of strength she had left, she thought, 'Don't be sorry, I love you.'
"I don't deserve to be loved," I moaned. Another drop of blood ran from her nose. I stopped breathing and wiped it away with my thumb. "Look what I did to you."
'Deserve, yes! Friend!' She almost sounded scandalized. With noticeable effort, she moved her hand and placed it over my dead heart. 'Much love here, so much. Don't waste. Give.'
"I can't. I must stay away from my love, or else she will get hurt… just like you." Had I really just spoken about Bella to the dying angel? It didn't make any sense; I was out of my mind.
'No, stay with me,' she pleaded, weaker now.
She was beyond help. All I could do for her was just that. "I won't leave you," I promised.
'That's good. Yes good. Bad friend leaves. Good friend stays.'
When she suddenly opened her mouth again, her chapped bottom lip ripped open and started to bleed too. I closed my eyes, unable to bear the image. "Wadda name?" I heard her croak.
"My name is Edward, angel. Did you forget?"
'Not your name, silly! Her name. Name of love.' She snorted, her nose released a fine spray of blood. She was dying, but she was also apparently amused about me.
I could only whisper, "Bella. Her name is Bella."
'You go, you stay with Bella. Is good. Yes, good.' She couldn't keep her eyes open anymore. Her head rolled against my shoulder, and she coughed a few times, obviously having trouble breathing. Her heartbeat stumbled.
"I can never go back to her. It is not safe if –"
"Uh-uh!" She threw her head back and her eyes flew open.
'Bad friend leaves, is bad dream. Good friend stays. You go stay with Bella, make bad dreams go away. Promise, promise!' The sudden force of her thoughts almost made me gasp. But there was a thin rivulet of blood emerging from the crease of her mouth, and I didn't dare to breathe.
'Promise!!' Her heart was beating incredibly fast, and light as the heart of a sparrow. These were the last moments of her life.
"I promise," I lied.
"Badeem gone, 'afe…" she said, her voice barely above a whisper. And then her entire body went limp. She took one deep breath, exhaled at length, and her heart stopped its effort.
"Aah…!" I groaned and crouched over her body, trying to keep my chest from exploding. The onslaught of the pain, returning with double force, was more than I could stand – it ripped me apart.
I don't remember how long I stayed this way, rocking back and forth with the nameless angel in my arms. Incoherent sounds escaped me every once in a while, like a mortally wounded animal. I wished I was only half as human as she had made me feel in the last minutes of her life. I wished I could be granted the mercy to pass out and find oblivion instead of bearing this hurt. But I couldn't.
I didn't know what to do with her body, other than carry her to a place outside the dark alley where she would be found and cared for. I didn't bother to check for the nomad, my senses told me he was gone.
When I took a last glance on her face, so cruelly corroded by the venom, all I could see was the faint smile that still lingered. Even then, it was still there, as if she had died happily. Surprisingly, the thought was somewhat comforting. At least I had stayed with her and made her 'bad dream' go away like she had asked me to; her strange wisdom holding onto the idea that I was her friend. Maybe she had died happy.
It was time to return to my own personal purgatory again, to welcome the agony that was the cross I had to bear for Bella's safety and happiness. Time to get accustomed to the hurt again, and to resume the state of numb grief I had been in the last months.
Back in my filthy lair, I unavailingly tried to engulf myself into the calm sea of sorrow and meaninglessness I had been drifting in before the 'angel incident'. The phone in my pocket vibrated for the umpteenth time. I didn't care. I didn't move. I was too occupied fighting the temptation that was torturing me more powerfully than ever before.
The deeply buried part of me that would never stop debating whether to go back to Forks – back to my only true home… back to Bella – wouldn't give me a break any more. No matter how hard I tried, her face continued to haunt me each time I closed my eyes. The vision radiated the promise of forgiveness and unconditional love; everything I ever dreamed of was written all over her beautiful features.
This was absurd; I knew it… or was it not? Had the artless angel been sent to me to make me see a truth I'd been denying in a misguided attempt to do the right thing? Or had she just planted another seed of doubt into my mind to raise the price I had to pay?
'Good friend stays,' she had said. 'Bad friend leaves, is bad dream.'
Could the truth be that simple? God, how easy it would be to believe it! The demons inside of me were already screaming at me… they would take the faintest chance to make my selfish desire to be with Bella look like the right thing to do.
But what if my absence was a 'bad dream' for her? What if she still suffered with the loss of me? What if she hadn't been able to move on and find the happiness I had meant to give her by my decision to leave? All these what-if's were devastating; the doubt was eating me up from the inside, but…
'You stay with Bella, make bad dreams go away.'
… I could do it, right? Maybe just to check? If she was happy and safe, as she was supposed to be… she wouldn't even need to know I was there. But God help me – if she wasn't happy, and if it really was in my power to change that, I would make it go away!
The idea made me dizzy as I embraced it, and I realized that my unconscious had already made its decision. I would go back, and if she still wanted me… I shuddered with the mere thought… I would spent the rest of my existence on my knees if necessary, to make her forgive me. The resolve alone was healing, anaesthetic, an instant relief.
The phone vibrated again. It was probably Carlisle or Esme. I flipped it open; suddenly eager to tell them I'd be coming home. I didn't even hesitate or wonder when the display showed Rosalie's number instead, and took the call.
In my newfound state of budding excitement, however fragile it still was, I enjoyed hearing a familiar voice. It was like a first glimpse of 'home', even if it was the only person who I assumed was glad with my absence. I listened to her ramblings, grinning idiotically and not really paying attention to what she was saying.
Until she stopped and asked, "Are you still there, Edward?"
"Yes, of course. Listen, please tell Esme and Carlisle I'm –"
"They didn't want to tell you, but I thought you had a right to know. I'm sorry, Edward…"
Rosalie was sorry? What… had I just missed something important? Her words didn't make any sense to me, but something inside me came to an abrupt halt, and then it just… broke.
I tried to fight back the new, nameless horror that started to creep into my thoughts.
"Rose," I closed my eyes and swallowed, "What are you talking about?"
- - - - - - -
Thanks for reading.
Love – Betti.