The Black Balloon Contest

Title: Eternal Night

Your pen name: CherBella

Characters: Edward

Disclaimer:All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. (SM) The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.

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A/N: This is my first real non-crackfic attempt at AU-Canon Vamp. It is NOT a happy story, there is not a fluffy moment to be found, so proceed with caution! :)


Like an approaching storm, the sound started low and deep and then grew in timbre and intensity–a pounding, rumbling roar that shook the whole house and rattled the windows.

Four pairs of eyes widened and looked at each other warily. The sound was ear splitting, but even more so to those in the room with highly sensitive hearing. Alice actually covered her ears and Rosalie, her arms full with holding Reneesme, cupped one hand over the child's left ear and gently pressed her other ear into her own shoulder to shield her. Jacob covered his ears as well and moved protectively in front of Rosalie and Reneesme, eyes flitting about, on alert for any danger that might befall them.

And then…just as quickly as it started, the sound stopped and there was just…empty silence. Alice raised her gaze to the ceiling, one quiet word escaping her lips… "Edward!"

She flew up the stairs in a blur and grasped the doorknob but it was locked. She pounded on the door. "Edward...Edward! Are you all right? EDWARD!"

She could have torn a hole in the door or ripped it off its hinges easily, but instead she ceased movement and listened quietly at the door. She couldn't hear…anything. The quiet wasn't right, something was missing. A few more seconds passed before it hit her what she wasn't hearing–Bella's heartbeat. She frowned in confusion–it was too soon, Reneesme had been born only minutes ago, the change could not have happened so quickly. With Jacob and Reneesme downstairs she tried to see if the distance from them was enough to allow her any visions. Everything was very cloudy and murky but eventually some scenes of the future started flashing before her. Her eyes widened and her face crumpled as she slumped against the door. "Bella!" she whispered as her trembling hand reached toward the cell phone in her pocket.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

Hours passed, and no sound, no movement from the room above. The rest of the family had gathered and waited silently downstairs.

It was Carlisle who finally ascended the stairs quietly and unlocked the door. As he stepped inside his eyes saddened at what he saw. Night had fallen and everything was cast in shadows but it didn't matter, the horrors of the room were all still perfectly visible. A scapula…syringe…other medical equipment all strewn about the floor. Splatters of blood, smeared and dried, everywhere. The top of the empty operating table almost completely covered in a think layer of dried, congealing blood, as was the floor surrounding it.

Just enough moonlight was coming in through the window to illuminate the lone figure sitting on the floor against the wall. Cradled in his arms was Bella's limp, broken, lifeless, blood-covered body. He was simply staring down at her face, his only movement being one hand that robotically stroked the hair around her forehead. He also was covered in the dark swaths and streaks of what had been once been her bright red life force–splattered on his arms and his cheek. His hands were completely hidden under the light crust of dried blood.

Carlisle had seen and lived through innumerable horrible and tragic events in his many, many years–that was the price of an eternal existence. But the scene before him almost brought him to his knees. This one would affect his family–irrevocably changing them forever.

After giving himself a moment, he pushed his own thoughts and feelings aside to turn his concern now toward helping his son.

He slowly walked across the room and kneeled down next to the desolate figure, placing a hand on his shoulder, still eliciting no reaction from him.

"Edward? My son…I am so sorry," his voice thick with emotion. There was no answer from Edward…just the continued, monotonous hair stroking.

Carlisle placed his hand firmly over Edward's, halting the movement. He decided to try communicating through his thoughts. Edward…she's gone.

Finally Edward spoke, his voice raspy and barely audible. "I did exactly what you told me to do. I injected the venom into her heart…but it stopped…too soon…I tried…I tried so hard to make it beat again…"

I know you did Edward. No one on this earth would have fought harder for her…we all knew this was a possibility; she knew it was a possibility. Her body and her heart were too weak. The pregnancy, the birth–clearly they were just too much trauma on her system.

He turned his head to look at Carlisle. His eyes were dull and lifeless, and non-focusing, his eyelids barely able to stay open. It pained Carlisle greatly to see the devastation and hopelessness on Edward's face.

"She's gone."

"Yes, son." Carlisle paused and let a few more quiet moments go by as Edward turned his gaze back to Bella.

"Edward, arrangements need to be made. Charlie's been calling, still, and he needs to be told. He'll expect a funeral and a burial. We need to…clean her body up, prepare her so that the funeral home will not…question anything." Carlisle hated every word coming out of his mouth; he never imagined he would ever be saying them. But they were the necessary rituals of human life and they needed to be dealt with.

Edward grimaced in agony and turned his head away from Carlisle's words.

I'm sorry Edward…let me…have her, I will take care of everything, I promise.

Suddenly Edward's head whipped around, as he looked Carlisle straight in the eyes. "No! I will do it! I will take care of her!" He turned and looked down at her face again. "I can at least do that much for her."

Carlisle nodded. As you wish, Edward.

The entire room needed cleansing, but for now, Carlisle focused on the table, cleaning and sanitizing it as quickly as he could, leaving Edward to go back to his mechanical staring and stroking of Bella's hair.

When everything was prepared, Carlisle roused Edward and they placed her body back on the table. Rigor mortis was starting to set in but with a little pressure they gently were able to position her body flat.

Carlisle handed Edward a washcloth and a couple of basins of water and Edward slowly and reverently began the gentle process of washing every drop if dried blood from her skin and hair. Carefully he hung her hair over the edge of the table and used one basin to rinse her hair. Oh how he loved her long, beautiful hair. It was the first thing that ever tempted him. Flashes of a memory crashed through his brain.

It was her first day at Forks. Everyone was talking and thinking about the new girl. He had seen her face over and over in the minds of the students all morning long. Lunchtime afforded him his first chance to see her for himself and she seemed rather unremarkable, other than the fact that he hadn't been able to hear any of her thoughts. She was…strangely silent and it irritated and confounded him.

He had just spread his books out on his lab table when she walked in with Angela Weber. Mr. Banner pointed toward his table and he immediately started to clear space on what would be her side of the table. As she walked toward him she passed in front of the heating vent, causing her long mahogany hair to swirl up and around her face…and wafting her scent toward him. Her scent hit him with the force of a Mack truck, the constant dull burn in his throat ripping into a three-alarm fire. He had never in his entire existence as a vampire ever smelled anyone so sweet, so intoxicating. The monster in him took over and he very nearly killed her right on the spot. Somehow, some way he had found the will to fight against his nature to take her…to sink his teeth into her creamy white skin…to drink of her sweet, alluring blood…

The basin clattered to the floor as Edward doubled over, the pain from the memory stabbing his chest. He gagged and began taking in big breaths of air. It tortured him to think that he had almost taken her life that day…and yet he was just as responsible for her death today as he would have been that first day.

"Edward!" Carlisle rushed over, breaking him out of his thoughts. "Edward are you okay? Take deep breaths, son. You don't have to do this, I can finish up."

Edward forced himself under control. "No, I'm fine." He stood up quickly and grabbed the other basin to continue. Reverently and lovingly he stroked the washcloth over her face, her lips; down her arms and her breasts. He delicately washed her feet and up her legs. He shut a trap door on his mind to keep all memories buried, focusing determinedly on his task. He washed every inch of her body until the water in the basin was a deep dark red.

Carlisle took care of cleaning and stitching up the incision on her abdomen and once he was done he slipped quietly out of the room to let Edward finish in peace.

As he stepped out into the hallway, he found Esme waiting there for him, pain and agony in her eyes as she searched his. He did not need to speak; his mate understood the despair on his face. She wordlessly opened her arms and they clung to each other in sorrow, in support, in love. Knowing they would need to be the strength for Edward and the rest of their family later, they leaned on each other now.

Finally the door opened and Edward, head down, walked out, quietly shutting the door behind him. He looked up at Carlisle and whispered, "She's ready." Carlisle stepped forward and grasped Edward in a hug, speaking to him silently through his thoughts. You did well Edward, she would be proud.

Once Carlisle stepped away Edward looked into Esme's sad eyes as she reached up and embraced him as well. Oh Edward…I'm so, so sorry. Edward let his body relax into her compassionate touch, clinging to her for a few minutes, needing a mother's comfort.

He finally pulled away, his eyes still cast downward and as a group they all headed downstairs.

In the living room four pairs of dry but sad golden eyes and one pair of wet chocolate brown ones looked up at the three as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Emmett sat with Rosalie enfolded in his large sturdy arms and Alice was curled up almost in a ball in Jasper's lap, her head buried in his chest. They all jumped up the minute they saw him but it didn't matter. He had already witnessed the couples and the now constant ache in his chest twisted a little more, knowing he could never again hold her in his arms like they did.

They just stared at him, sadness and anguish in their eyes and in their expressions. Rosalie spoke first.

"Reneesme is doing well. I…I had to put her down, she fell asleep."

Reneesme…yes, Reneesme…it would be natural that Rose would think his first concern would be Reneesme's welfare, she was his daughter after all. But frankly he hadn't even thought of her and he didn't have any desire to see her right now.

Edward nodded absently at her. Politeness was still somehow functioning in his brain and he managed a "Thank you," to her.

As he scanned the room his empty gaze met Jacob's. He saw the boy struggling to hold in the tears but not being very successful. He felt jealous of him in that moment, being able to shed tears, being able to allow his body some kind of physical release of his grief. He wasn't sure why Jacob wasn't trying to kill him right now, to avenge her death. Then again he hadn't bitten her so technically the treaty hadn't been broken. To Jacob he simply said, "I'm sorry," in a voice so low he hoped the human could even hear him. But that was all he could manage at the moment.

Next he came upon Jasper and Alice, in the farthest corner of the room. Alice, always the ray of sunshine, looked utterly broken herself. "Oh Edward!" He saw her start toward him, but he was faster, a storm of fury suddenly erupting in him.

"How long, Alice? How long?" He growled menacingly through gritted teeth as he stalked toward her, his eyes dark and enraged. She stopped midstride and her eyes widened. "How long have you known this was going to happen, Alice? Since we got home from the island? Since the wedding, hmm? Or does it go farther back than that? Have you known this since that first day of school? Well Alice? Which is it? How long have you been hiding this? We could have done something! She could still be alive!" Carlisle and Emmett had sprung into action and had a vice-like grip on him, but he struggled and strained against their hold as he roared the hurtful words at Alice. Jasper had immediately stepped protectively in front of Alice and she was trying to peek around him, her face twisted in agony.

"I didn't Edward, I swear to you! I didn't see this, not anything at all like this! You know I wouldn't have allowed this to happen! She was my sister!" Alice collapsed to the floor and Jasper moved to curl her into his arms again. "I loved her too!" Her usual lilting voice was strangled with sorrow.

He continued swinging and fighting, but it was no longer about Alice. The anger in him needed a physical release. It took all of Carlisle and Emmett's strength to restrain him.

"Edward…Edward!" Carlisle's voice was harsh and Edward finally slowed, wrenching from their arms once his father and brother loosened their grip.

"Edward, you know this was not Alice's fault…it was no one's fault."

But Edward knew Carlisle was wrong on that point. It was someone's fault…it was his fault.

He started backing away, running his hand through his hair, tugging forcefully at the tufts and individual hairs. He kept shaking his head back and forth, an almost maniacal smirk on his face before he finally spun around and fled out the back door.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

Running was all he could think about right now, running as far away from the house, from Forks, from everything he knew and just getting away from everything. He didn't make it very far though before stopping. Vampires never tired…but he suddenly felt drained, his limbs felt heavy, hard to move. It had been a while since he'd last hunted but it wasn't just that. It was the ache in his chest…it consumed him. He took in several big lungfuls of fresh clean air…and suddenly his head snapped toward the east. Her…her scent…it was faint but it was definitely her.

He tore through the trees and the underbrush, battering his way through, scaring small animals until he came upon the source of the scent. Of course this would explain the scent…the pain twisted a little more. His eyes stared at the cottage. Their cottage. The family fixed it up as a gift for he and Bella; it was to be theirs, to give them some private time, some time alone from the family…after she was turned of course.

Esme and Alice had already moved all of his belongings and hers into the cottage. That was why he could still smell her. He stopped in front of the door. Closing his eyes he breathed deeply…letting her scent consume him, letting it swim around him. His throat burned and for the first time he actually welcomed it. It was all he had left of her…and eventually, with time…it would fade. He took another deep breath and let his whole body revel in the burn.

He reached out at some point, grasping the door handle so hard it disintegrated in his hand. When he realized he held nothing but dust he let out a roar and grabbed the door, ripping it off its hinges and throwing it far off into the forest so hard its force knocked over a tree.

He placed both hands on the doorjamb and paused. Esme and Alice had kept him away from the cottage while they were working on it, wanting it to be a surprise for him as well as for…her. It hadn't been easy, the two of them tried their hardest to keep all thoughts and images of the cottage from their thoughts when he was near. He'd caught a few flashes while it was "in progress," but he hadn't seen anything of its completion.

As he looked around, he was overwhelmed with love…they had done an amazing job, she would absolutely love it, it was so her. Eclectic pieces, different time periods and patterns and yet all fitting together into a cozy, comfortable, charming environment. And then as he stepped through the doorway, pain ripped through him again. He shouldn't be entering their home alone…she was supposed to be with him, in his arms as he carried her over the threshold into their new life. And that's when it hit him again…she would never get to see this, never get to see all of the hard work and love they put into restoring and decorating this little house just for her. This home…would never be theirs. Because there was no them anymore.

The grief and agony rolled over him like an unending tidal wave, battering him again and again. He let out a roar of pain and doubled over. In a frenzy he began tearing through the cottage, ripping apart furniture, smashing the pictures and paintings on the walls. He recognized them as some of her favorites from the big house and he didn't care how priceless they were…he would never be able to look at them again, day after day after insufferable day.

He whirled upon the bookshelf next, emptying the shelves in mere seconds, flinging the books around the room, scattering other knick-knacks and items he had barely paid any attention, from the shelves.

When there was nothing left to destroy he stood, shoulders slumped, surveying the carnage.

It was perfectly silent except for the barely audible sound of something rattling and rolling around on the floor. Fixated on it he knelt down, following it's sound, tracking it so he could destroy whatever it was as well. He finally trapped the offending object and as his hand curled around it, the familiarity of it pierced him like a dagger through his non-existent heart. He didn't even need to remove his hand or turn the object over to look at it…he knew it simply through its shape, it's circular hollowness, the ridges all around the edge. He had held it so many times in his fingers, his souvenir of one of the best days of his long empty life…a turning point of sorts.

He waited for her in the school parking lot that morning, watched her as she got out of her truck. She dropped her keys and, chivalrous vampire that he was, he rushed over to snag them just as they fell into a puddle. "How do you do that?" she had asked. She wanted to know how he appeared out of thin air–she always was so exceptionally observant.

All of the human boys had been asking her to go to the dance and she had turned them all down. He tried a different approach, asking instead if she wanted company on her trip to Seattle. At first she looked like she was going to kill him, but once she realized he wasn't asking her to the dance…she said yes. He above all the others, was the one she said yes to. He was both thrilled and a little angry. She shouldn't be around him, she didn't know what she might be getting herself into.

Later at lunchtime she had also said yes to sitting with him. That was when he had confiscated the cap from her lemonade bottle. They talked and it was the first time he heard her outrageous theories about what she thought he was. And the first time she told him that she believed he wasn't bad. She didn't scare easily and she didn't shy away form him. He began to hope that maybe, just maybe…she liked him too.

He lifted his hand to hurl the cap away from him…but he just couldn't bring himself to let go of the cap. Furious, he stuffed it into his pocket, and tore into the other rooms of the cottage. When he came to the bedroom, he stopped in shock and agony. Esme and Alice had tried to duplicate the bedroom from the house in Isle Esme.

So many images assaulted him, so many memories…their first night together, truly, as man and wife. He had been so nervous, so worried he wouldn't be able to control himself. And then…my God how wonderful and amazing it was, how beautiful and amazing she was. He couldn't believe how lucky he was to have her for his wife. But then when she had awoken the next morning he was ashamed of all the bruises he had left on her body. He vowed to not let it happen again…but she grew frustrated, and eventually he gave in. Every time was better than the last and he got better at controlling himself.

He ripped into the bed, tearing the comforter and sheets to shreds. He tore apart the wooden bed frame, leaving it in pieces and dust. He should never have given in to her, they should have waited until she was turned…hell they probably never should have gotten married in the first place. He cried out as the ache in him sharpened at the thought. But it was true. If she hadn't gotten pregnant, she would still be here. For as hard as he fought that first day in class to not kill her, it turned out to be futile. Her death was still his fault, in the end.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

The others wanted to give Edward the time and space he needed to deal with everything he was feeling. Alice would search her visions every few hours to keep track of him. She'd had to endure watching him take out his anger and frustration as he tore up the contents of the cottage. And then for two days he simply sat on the floor, unmoving amidst the mess. At first she thought something was wrong with her visions, that they were "stuck" somehow on pause, and she tried physically going to different rooms of the house and outside–by the river, by the forest, north, south–but the sad, morose picture was always the same.

Carlisle finally went to see him. As he walked through the open doorway of the cottage, he felt a twist of compassion and fear for his son. He was a cold, marble, unmoving, unfeeling statue. His eyes fixed and lifeless, staring straight ahead, unfocused. He was still wearing the same dirty, blood stained clothing, her blood still in smears on his arms and hands.

As Carlisle stepped carefully through the rubble there was still no sign of life. "Edward?" When there was no response he knelt down in front of him. He decided to speak to him through his thoughts. Edward? Finally there was movement as Edward looked at him. Son, I know you're in pain… he paused to glance around sadly. I wish there were some way I could change this for you, we all do. He sighed. Edward, the funeral is in a few hours…

Edward stopped him before he could continue. "I'm not going."

Edward, I know it's hard but you will be expected to be there, you're her husband. People will ask questions.

Edward laughed hollowly, grimacing. "And how will it look if her cold, unfeeling husband can't even shed one tear over her grave?"

Carlisle frowned. Yes I suppose that is true…are you sure about this though? You might look back one day and regret that you weren't there.

"No, Carlisle." And that was all he would say on the subject. His eyes moved from Carlisle back to the floor.

"Alright…I understand. But you can't withdraw from everything, son. It won't bring her back. You have Reneesme to think about now. She has been asking about you and her mother, she wants to know where you both are." He stood and placed his hand on Edward's shoulder. You know we're all here for you, son. Whatever you need, whatever we can help with, we are here when you're ready.

Carlisle caught a brief flicker of eye movement; enough to let him know Edward had heard him. It pained him to see Edward like this…he feared that Edward could not come back from this. Not that he blamed him. The loss of a mate was a deep and devastating event for a vampire.

After he left, Edward was happy to be alone again but it wasn't long before he heard another family member approach. She stood quietly in the doorway looking down at him. Unlike Carlisle she didn't force him to acknowledge her, she simply glided over and sat down next on the floor next to him. They both sat, Indian style, side by side for an hour, before Edward finally spoke.

"I am sorry for my behavior the other day. I know you loved her too. I know you wouldn't have let this happen if you had known."

Alice tilted her head as she smiled at him sadly. I know Edward, I've already forgiven and forgotten. Jasper of course, she sighed, is another story.

"I wouldn't expect anything less. I'm surprised he even let you come here alone to see me."

She rolled her eyes. He wasn't happy. I had to convince him that I had searched out all possible scenarios and that you wouldn't hurt me.

They returned to silence as she leaned her head against his shoulder. You don't know how much I've wished I could turn back time, how horrible I feel that I didn't see this. I keep going back over the last week, trying to remember things I saw or thought I saw and trying to figure out if I just deciphered them wrong. Between Reneesme and Jacob it was just so hard to see…

Edward reached over and took her hand. "Alice, it's not your fault."

It's not yours either.

He didn't respond.

I know you're going to leave again.

"There's nothing left for me, Alice."

I know, I won't try to stop you…but please remember it's not all about you anymore. Reneesme needs you too. I mean she has Jacob, and all of us, but she needs her father more.

His usually quick mind was so clouded with his grief it took him a second to register her thoughts.

"Wait, what do you mean she has…Jacob?" He turned to her, a questioning scowl on his face.

She lifted her head up and looked him in the eye, grimacing slightly. "Well…he sort of imprinted on Reneesme. Apparently that is why he had such a strong connection to Bella, it just turned out in the end that it wasn't Bella he was really attracted to."

Jacob Black…and his daughter? He frowned and waited…but surprisingly no hatred, no rage came forth. Instead he felt…relief. From what he knew, the bonds of imprinting were strong. Jacob would always look out for her, take care of her. He may have been her father, but he had failed to take care of her mother, so why should he be entrusted to take care of her?

Alice returned to silent communication. You're okay with that?

"It's not altogether the worst thing in the world, I suppose. I often thought her mother would have had it easier if she had chosen him."

Edward! She loved YOU, she chose YOU and she chose this life. She didn't want Jacob or anyone else.

"Yes and look where it got her."

Alice sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder again. There's no changing your mind is there? You'll never believe you weren't responsible will you?

No response from Edward this time.

You know, she would hate to see you wallowing like this.

Do you want to see the funeral?

Visions from Alice's mind started playing in his…There are a lot of people there, of course, Bella was so well-liked and because she was the Police chief's daughter–all of their human classmates, teachers, other people in the community, friends of Charlie, Billy Black and others from the reservation. The wolf pack are there standing tensely on one side, at the back, as far away as they can get from the Cullens. Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Jasper and Emmett are off to one side.

Everyone gathers around the casket that appears to be hovering over the hole in the ground that will be Bella's eternal home now. A clergyman starts to speak just as Alice's vision flashes to Charlie's face. He is trying to be strong but his face is twisted in pain. Suddenly he breaks down, ducking his head into his hand, his body shaking with emotion.

Edward leans away from Alice, and grips his head in his hands. "Stop, stop, Alice…I can't…please…"

Alice leaned back toward him, putting her arm around his shoulders. I'm sorry…

This time he was the one who leaned his head on her shoulder.

Another hour passed as they just sat together, silently supporting each other in their grief. Finally Alice sighed again.

"It's okay Alice, go, I know being at the cemetery is important to you. I'll be fine, really."

She kissed him gently on the cheek and then rose from her folded position. As she walked out the door she called out to him through her thoughts again.

I left a clean change of clothes in the upstairs bathroom for you.

He frowned…he supposed she was insinuating that he should clean up.

And then an hour later he realized what she had foreseen as he finally decided what he wanted to do.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

Everyone was still at the funeral when Edward snuck into the house. He could hear a voice that he recognized as Rosalie cooing to Reneesme, she must have stayed home to take care of her. He ignored them and headed to the upstairs bathroom. He saw the pants and shirt that Alice had placed there earlier. He closed the door and caught a look at himself in the large mirror above the vanity. He actually looked as bad as a human might look in his condition–there were heavy dark circles under his eyes, his shirt was dirty and torn, his hair was a complete mess. The blood that was still streaked and caked on his arms and across his cheek made him look like either an accident victim or a murderer. Not far from the truth, he grimaced.

Once in the shower he had trouble forcing those bloodied arms under the water. Sick as it might seem it was her blood, the last thing he had left of her. He wanted to keep it on him forever, like a tattoo or a battle scar–a reminder of the one battle he had lost. In the end he finally eased his arms under the jets of water, gritting his teeth against the pain that ripped through him. He stood and watched every river of red that ran off of his arms until it was all gone. He leaned his forehead on the tile of the shower wall and took in several deep breaths. He wanted to punch the shower wall in anger and frustration but he finally managed to control himself.

He didn't know how long he stood there but finally he turned back around and finished his task, He needed to clean himself up for her, like Alice had said she wouldn't like to see him like this. It was the only thing that kept him moving and not going back to completely locking himself up in the cottage.

Once done and dressed, he left the house again and took off at a run. His energy was severely sapped, and he could actually feel it. He needed to hunt; he didn't even know how long it had been. For now though he had another mission.

The meadow was still in bloom though he could see many plants starting to fade for the season. He lay down. Reaching his hand out for her but of course she wasn't there

The day they were supposed to go to Seattle he instead convinced her to come here with him. She had been dubious about hiking but she loved it when they finally came out of the trees into the meadow. He tried to show how dangerous and strong he was, but she still didn't shy away. And when he revealed himself in the sun, how the light sparkled off of his cold hard skin…instead of being repulsed she thought he was beautiful.

That was the day they kissed for the first time. It took great control on his part…but he managed. And he began to hope that maybe, just maybe they could be together.

He roared in agony and tore a huge limb from a nearby tree, hurtling it across the meadow. He collapsed on the ground, lying down and wallowing in the beauty of the meadow and the beautiful moments he had shared with her there.

Night finally began to fall. He forced himself up and after picking a large handful of the largest flower blooms and grasses, he took off running again.

It was barely a blink of an eye before he had reached his destination. He walked right in through the open gates. Thanks to Alice's vision this afternoon, he knew exactly where to head.

Mourners long gone, the casket had been lowered into the ground and all that remained was a mound of fresh dirt, covered with a pile of leftover, droopy flowers. The pain pierced throughout his entire body, like jabbing knives, consuming him. He fell to his knees and clutched the earth. "Oh Bella," he whispered, his voice thick and strangled. "I'm so sorry love…I'm so sorry I couldn't save you." Somehow Carlisle had managed to get a stone marker in place quickly, and Edward lightly brushed his fingers across the letters carved into the smooth granite. ISABELLA MARIE SWAN CULLEN.

"I'm sorry I brought you into my world. Alice says it was your own decision. You chose this life; you chose to be with me. But if I had never come back…after that first day in Biology, when I left, I should have stayed away. I would have only been a brief memory to you…the strange boy who sat next to you for one day. In a day, a week, a month…you would have completely forgotten about me," he sighed. "You would have gone on with your life, you would have gone to college, you would probably do something brilliant or noble with your life. You would have friends and boyfriends and ex-boyfriends and…someday a husband." The searing pain in his chest twisted again and he had trouble breathing at the thought, but he pushed it away, trying to ignore it for now. "You would have had kids, and grandkids and grown old together."

He dropped his fingers from the stone and instead dug his hand deep into the dark moist earth.

"If only I had been stronger…to stay away." He smiled wistfully. "But you were too appealing to me. I was weak. The problem was that it became more than just your blood and your scent, it was you. Your beauty, and your mind. Your mind was always such an intriguing puzzle to me, not only could I not hear your thoughts, but I could never predict what you would do or what you would say next." He chuckled. "Like how most humans would have freaked out and run away screaming at finding out they were talking to a vampire–but not you. You were so brave, so trusting of me."

Edward's smile faded quickly. "Oh Bella, why didn't you run away?" He bowed his head and covered it up with his hands. "I can't go on Bella, you know that…I can't live with the guilt and the knowledge that you died because of me." His voice dipped even lower. "And I can't live without you. It's killing me and it's only been two days. How am I supposed to go on existing, day after day after wretched day of forever without you?"

He sat there all night, on her grave. Remembering her, remembering…everything, including his life before her. He couldn't go back, wouldn't go back to his life before. She brought a part of him to life that he had never known existed, and now not only was that part of him gone, it felt like it had been torn and ripped away, leaving only jagged pieces that were burning in some black pit of emptiness…and that could never be put back together again.

Dawn was just starting to break when he remembered one of the last conversations the two of them had.

She was lying on the couch and he was kneeling on the floor next to her. Both of them with smiles as they talked to their baby in her belly, as they discussed what they might name him, and what it would be like to be parents. They couldn't have been happier. And suddenly her mood changed, she grew serious as she gripped his arm.

"Edward, I know you and Carlisle have been discussing what might happen when the baby is born…how to turn me…but I just want you to know that if something happens…"

"Bella, don't even…" he tried in vain to interrupt her but she continued on.

"No Edward! We have to think of this…if something should happen to me…you have to be strong, for our baby, you have to take care of him for us. I know Rosalie and Esme and even Alice will shower him with love and attention and take wonderful care of him. But YOU'RE his father. He will need YOU. Please Edward. Just forget about me…but please promise me you'll take care of our baby."

Edward closed his eyes at the memory. Of course he had promised her, he could never deny her anything she asked. He had been so sure that scenario would never happen that he had agreed and then immediately pushed it out of his mind.

He looked back at her grave. "You were such a good mother, even then weren't you my love? Always thinking of the baby first, always making sure she would be taken care of. Did you know then Bella? Did you know you…weren't going to…" He had to stop; he couldn't even bear to say the words.

He felt even more weighted down. He would not be able to leave now. He had promised her. Honoring his promise was the last thing he could do for her. And she was his daughter too. That sounded so strange – he had a daughter. It was Bella's last gift to him; he couldn't shirk his responsibility, his commitment to both of them. He could do that much, they deserved that much from him.

He cleared away the wilted funeral flowers and placed the flowers he picked from the meadow on the dirt. He smiled suddenly. "And speaking of our daughter, you'll never guess what Alice told me. Apparently I am still not rid of Jacob…"

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

The sun had just come up as Edward walked into the house. Jacob was sitting at the kitchen table eating some disgusting-smelling human food and Rosalie was standing by the counter, holding Reneesme and trying to get her to drink out of a sippy cup. They all looked up, surprised to see Edward. He walked over to Jacob first.

"Alice told me…er…about your imprinting with my daughter."

I will not leave her, you can't make me. I will fight you if that's what it takes!

Jacob's thoughts started spewing forth and Edward held up his hands in surrender to stop them.

"I'm not going to deny you would not be at the top of my list…but I know you will take care of her and protect her. And for that I couldn't ask for anyone better…I will be eternally grateful."

Jacob's mouth fell open. I will...I will always take care of her, you have my word.

Edward nodded at him and then turned to Rosalie. Reneesme started squirming in her arms, reaching out her chubby little arms to him. She recognizes me, he thought with amazement.

"Yes my baby girl, I am here now. Rosalie, let me have my beautiful daughter please." He held his arms out for her.

Rosalie squinted at him. Are you sure?

"Yes Rosalie, please…"

She passed Reneesme over to him and he was rewarded with the most beautiful, most jubilant smile from her. She apparently didn't care that he hadn't been around for the first few days of her life. She placed her hand on his cheek and immediately his mind was assaulted with images flashing through his mind. He jerked away from her in shock, breaking contact with her hand and the images stopped. He looked over at Rosalie.

She smirked at him. "She's talented isn't she? But then why not, she is your child. She communicates through touch. She can replay her memories and her thoughts for you. She also prefers blood as her main food source, though Carlisle is trying to get her to eat some human baby food. And she grows at an exceptionally quick rate…but Carlisle can tell you all about that later."

Edward looked at his daughter as he carried her into the living room. "So you're special are you? Of course you are, your mother certainly was, he thought sadly. As he sat down on the couch still cradling her in his arms, she touched his cheek again. This time he saw murky images…and then his face, with a look of pure joy. He realized, amazingly that she was showing him images from the day she was born. He remembered holding her up and looking at her in amazement, this beautiful, living, breathing creature that was part him and part Bella.

"Da-ddy!" She apparently was speaking already too…and she knew him, she knew that man in her memories was her father.

He smiled at her in wonderment. "Yes, that's me, I'm your daddy." The words felt so foreign on his lips…and yet so right.

She touched him again and her vision continued, moving from his face to…Bella's. Edward closed his eyes in pain but of course the image was still there. Bella had still been awake after the birth, just long enough to be able to see and hold her daughter briefly. He saw her lips mouth the word "Reneesme" and a huge smile break out on her tired face. She looked so happy and she held out her limp arms, cradling her baby.

Edward couldn't take any more and he gently pushed Reneesme's hand away.

"Mo-mmy?" He opened his eyes in surprise, looking into the deep chocolate brown eyes of his daughter. Her mother's eyes…oh God help him she had her mother's eyes. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. For a moment he wavered, he wanted to leap off the couch and give Reneesme to Rosalie and just…run. He didn't know if he could handle this. Her bottom lip jutted out in a pout as she stared up at him, waiting for him to tell her where her mommy was. He sighed and stroked his fingers through her bronze curls, lightly brushing them off of her face. She deserved to have her mommy…but all she had was him, and he knew, in that moment staring at his little girl who was depending on him, that he would stay. No matter how painful, he would be here for her as long as she needed him.

"Yes, that was your mommy. She couldn't stay with us, but you should know, you should always remember that she loved you so very, very much. From the moment she found out about you, she loved you. And if she could, she would be here with us right now. Because she wanted you more than anything in this world."

Edward's voice broke and he couldn't continue. Reneesme seemed to sense that he was sad. She threw her arms around his neck and burrowed her warm body into his chest. Eventually she fell asleep and Edward sat there the whole time she napped, not moving, just holding tight to his precious daughter.

Carlisle had done a lot of research in the early days of Reneesme's life, because she was growing so rapidly. They had never known of a half human-half vampire baby and they didn't know what was happening, or how she would mature. Eventually they found another half human-half vampire in South America. He was able to give them all the information they needed. Assuming she was just like him, she would continue to grow at a rapid pace, coming into full immortal maturity in seven years.

Except Alice, no one else knew that Edward actually felt a sense of relief knowing they had a concrete timeline. Yes of course he was happy that she would get to have a long and hopefully happy existence. But the relief was purely selfish.

He loved his daughter very much, and did all he could to take care of her and help her whenever she needed him. He tried to teach her and impart all the things a good parent should impart to their child. He especially tried to give her everything he thought Bella would have wanted to teach her. And he also made sure she knew who Bella was and what she was like. It nearly destroyed him, but, when she was old enough, he told Reneesme the entire story of he and Bella and how they met and fell in love, and the obstacles they had to overcome. Afterward he had to leave for a few days, it was too painful reliving all of those memories. He very nearly didn't come back, but he forced himself to, for Reneesme…and for Bella, because he had promised.

For Edward those seven years were a tortuous dichotomy. A slippery tightrope. Watching Reneesme grow and flourish was an absolute joy and he wouldn't have missed the time with her for the world. But the rest of the time…was hell for him. It was hard to put on the façade of caring, of happiness, when there was an emptiness inside, a painful ache that never went away. He hunted only when he absolutely had to, and usually only after prodding from Carlisle or Esme or Alice. The heavy purple circles under his eyes were permanent fixtures.

The nights were the worst. Reneesme would sleep and Edward was stuck with himself again, with his thoughts and his memories. Often he would sit and watch her sleep just as he had her mother for so many nights. He usually couldn't last a whole night though before the pain of his loss would be too much and he would have to leave. Many of those nights found him at Bella's grave. Of all the places he could possibly go he would have thought this would cause him the most pain, but it turned out to be the opposite. It was the one place he felt some semblance of peace. The only place he could truly still be with her.

Reneesme grew into a beautiful, smart, strong young woman. Bella would have been so proud. It was difficult to watch her with Jacob, but he could see that she felt the same pull to Jacob as he felt toward her. He knew what that bond felt like…and he hoped she never ever had to experience what it felt like when that bond was broken.

Eventually the old cottage was cleaned up and redecorated and presented to Jacob and Reneesme. Edward could never set foot in it, but Reneesme loved every inch of it. She was after all, her mother's daughter.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

And so finally the day had come. Reneesme was grown and didn't need him anymore. He loved her fiercely but he could not bear another day of pain, he could not bear another day of this unending dark hell. The day he left Alice was the only one who knew he was leaving and the only one to say goodbye. He found her, waiting in the garage for him, perched on his car. She looked at him in sadness but also in understanding. She wrapped him in a fierce hug. I love you, and I hope you finally find the peace you are looking for. You deserve it. I'll wait until you're gone to tell the others.

Before he could say anything in response she was gone in a flash, not even looking at him one more time.

As he was starting the car, she threw one more thought out to him–

You did good, Edward, she would be proud.

~O~X~O~X~O~X~O~

Felix and Demetri escorted Edward into the great hall to present himself to the Volturi.

"Why Edward, how lovely to see you again! How is my dear friend Carlisle doing? And the rest of your 'family?' I'm surprised to see you without your precious Bella at your side."

Edward clenched his jaw tightly to keep his rage at Aro under control. If he wanted his wish, he needed to not make waves. Instead he simply held his hand out to Aro. Aro grasped it and made his way through Edward's memories.

"Oh," Aro's eyebrows raised in surprise, "I see. I am truly so sorry for your loss Edward. Humans are such fragile creatures, though."

He continued on and his expression hardened when he saw Reneesme. "You had a child? A half-vampire baby? How were we not notified of this?"

Then his expression eased. "She is quite gifted isn't she? Oh and she actually matured into an adult…vampire! Or is she considered human? So difficult I would imagine…"

Suddenly his nose crinkled in disgust as he let out a loud laugh. "A werewolf as her mate? Oh my what cruel fate for you!"

As the images ended he released Edward's hand. "I understand your despair, Edward, however my decision remains the same as it was all those years ago. Your gift is too valuable to destroy Edward. But you are more than welcome to stay with us here, we would be delighted to have you as an addition to our little group." He smiled leeringly.

Edward was led down a dark, damp hallway into a small room with no window and only a cot. He sat for hours just waiting, pondering what would happen now. He did not relish being a part of the Volturi, but…he could not go back home either. The hell would continue either way.

Unexpectedly he heard footsteps and then the door to his dungeon was thrown open. Two more guards he had never met before filled up the doorway. "Your presence has been requested," was all one of them said, as they loomed in the tiny space, waiting on him.

They led him through more a maze of more dark hallways and tunnels, finally emerging into another room. It was completely empty and barren and Edward wondered why he had been brought here. He tried sifting through the guards' thoughts but they must have been warned of his gift because they were completely silent.

Finally the door at the opposite end opened and Edward was surprised to see Marcus emerge.

As he slowly made his way over to where Edward was standing, the two guards that had been standing behind Edward also moved closer to him.

Marcus looked at Edward and he swore he saw empathy from him.

"My dear boy, you have suffered so. I know the agony, the crushing pain of losing one's mate. I know what it is like to live an eternity in such wretched misery and loss. I would not wish it on my worst enemy."

The two guards grasped Edward's arms roughly and forced him to his knees, as Marcus raised his hands.

"Aro will not be happy with me, but then when has he ever? I am here to grant you the peace you so desperately want, my son. Let all pain end now."

Marcus grasped Edward's head and twisted.

There was snapping and ripping and severe, brutal, pain…and then peaceful nothingness.

At last.