Author's Note: This is a glimpse into the future after the conclusion of my multi-chapter fic Tracking Redemption. It's not completely necessary to have read that for this to make sense. All you would need to know if that Edward and Demetri are a couple due to a spin on New Moon where Edward is coerced into staying in Volterra.
After the last chapter of Tracking Redemption, I had several people request to see Bella's death; it was actually the only thing requested more than twice. You guys are so morbid. ;) I hope you enjoy. I'm posting this in two parts because it got ridiculously long.
Disclaimer: Don't own Twilight or the characters. No copyright infringement intended.
"She's dying, Edward," Carlisle said, sounding small and foreign through the tiny earpiece of the phone.
The conversation had started out friendly enough, but Edward had felt odd when it had been initiated. Carlisle's tone had been guarded, his answers clipped.
"Oh," came Edward's numb reply. That was how Edward felt upon hearing the words that he knew would eventually be uttered, but he had not been fully prepared for: numb.
Bella is dying.
"I'm sorry, Son. Bella is eighty-eight. She's had a long life," Carlisle commented further, his voice breaking almost imperceptibly on the word 'life.'
Edward laughed although he did not think it was at all funny. He himself was one hundred and seventy-four years old, and there was no end in sight. He had had a long life. Bella, deserving of a full and rich life, was half his age.
Sitting down when the news weighed heavily upon his immortal legs, his eyes traveled to his feet. They were bare, pale, and strong, the flesh that covered them unmarred and perfect. Edward's body would be frozen as a seventeen-year-old forever, and that beautiful, giving, brazen girl would die, old and used up.
"Edward?" Carlisle said. Edward had gone quiet, contemplative.
"Yes? Oh, right, yes, I'm here. Where are you?" he asked, wondering whether or not Carlisle had already seen Bella.
"Esme and I are in Seattle. We saw her today. Edward, I know you, and I know you want to go see her, b—"
"I'm leaving now. So, there was no problem going into La Push? The pack d—"
"No, there was no problem, but, Edward, you have not seen Bella in almost thirty years. Perhaps it would be b—"
"Has it really been that long?" Edward choked, guilt infecting his body like a disease. He knew he had seen her twice since the day he had committed himself to Demetri, but thirty years since the last time? How could he? Bella had been his first love; she had been what made him realize he could be in love.
Edward had completely forgotten what time meant to a human; it meant inevitable age and subsequent death. Somewhere along the line, being wrapped up in his own blanket of love and contentment, he had forgotten that not everyone lives forever. How very immortal of him.
"Edward…don't. If she herself had not reminded me, I would not have realized either. It had been nearly fifteen since Esme and I had seen her. Nearly ten for the others…"
"Still much, much more recent than me. She was mine, Carlisle. I should have… Why have I not? When I have nothing but time? Even Emmett and Rosalie—"
"Stop. The years cannot be taken back now. Maybe, this is for the best. She is sick, Edward. She is old, and she is dying. Remember her healthy. Remember her in any way you want, but know that if you go see her, it will be exceedingly difficult to remember her in another other way except for sick, old, and dying. Trust me," Carlisle finished, the deep ache he felt for Bella clear in his distraught voice.
"Goddamn it," Edward muttered. Countless times he had thought of needing to visit Bella, let her know of her importance, of how he owed her so much. Instead he had sent letters, made an occasional phone call, and he could not even remember the last time he had done that. Wanting to throw the phone down in disgust, he settled for digging his fingertips into his thigh.
"Edward," Carlisle warned, "pull yourself together. I know that it's pointless to try to talk you out of this, so I'll meet you at the airport. Where are you?"
"Greece," Edward answered tersely. Demetri and he had spent the last several years 'backpacking' throughout the area. More frivolous whims that Edward had requested, thoughts of what he wanted driving them to take their time.
"Still? Okay, then – assuming you can get a flight right away, nonstop – you should be here by the morning. Let me know before you take off."
"Okay," Edward answered, rising to his feet, realizing how lucky it was he had actually had a charged phone, and he was in a place close to an airport.
Alice, he thought. Alice would have known exactly when Carlisle could reach him. He wondered how long Bella had been close to death. "When did Alice go see her?"
Carlisle sighed. "Two weeks ago, Son," he answered, his reluctance obvious. Carlisle knew Edward very well.
Edward bit down on his lower lip, breaking skin and tasting venom. Clenching his eyes, he tried to compose himself. If he could not make it through a phone conversation with Carlisle, he would never make it through a visit with an aged, dying Bella.
"I'll see you in the morning," Edward managed, sounding only slightly tormented, his voice breaking and relaying the tiniest bit of turmoil that paled next to the anguish currently enveloping every piece of everything he was.
Except for one piece. There was one piece of him that remained solid, and he was reminded of that very fact when he felt two firm arms turn him around and hold him close. The cool comfort of Demetri's enduring embrace calmed the fire of guilt that threatened to burn through Edward, and he took a deep breath.
"I know, Edward, I couldn't help but hear. I stepped outside and made some calls. We can leave right now," Demetri said, the vibrations of his words soothing Edward as though he were an infant and not a vampire nearly two centuries old. He squeezed Demetri tighter.
"She's going to die." The words spoken – aloud and by him – cemented the situation in such reality for Edward that even the comfort of Demetri's proximity could not calm him, and he cried in the only way a vampire could. It was unsatisfying, and Bella deserved so much more grief from him.
Abruptly, he pushed Demetri away. "Don't comfort me. I want to feel this. Every ache, every discomfort, every sorrow," Edward mumbled, gathering a few things he would travel with.
"E, let me—"
"Don't start. Please, let me feel this. I don't want you saving me from this," Edward reiterated, not meeting Demetri's gaze, not wanting to see the pity he knew would be gleaming from Demetri's butterscotch eyes.
Demetri put a hand over his face and closed his eyes, breathing through his nose. Every thought he had screamed to gather Edward to him, comfort him, help him, but he pushed them away, attempting to keep to Edward's wishes.
"Whatever you want," Demetri replied, trying his best to keep his hands and thoughts to himself. "Do you want to get a hunt in before we go? Maybe, it would be best since, well, you know, Bella's scent appeals to you so?"
"No. That will be the last thing on my mind," Edward said; he meant it.
"Would you mind if I did? You could watch me hunt." Demetri had begun gathering his own possessions and did not notice Edward's reaction to what he had said.
"Breakfast time," Edward said, trying to impress Bella by letting her know he was aware of her human needs. He smirked at her; she was so sweet, innocent, and lovely.
Bella clutched at her throat, widening her eyes as though she were afraid of him. Edward began shaking his head; the thought of frightening that trusting and giving human girl left him spinning. The short time he had known her he had become completely besotted.
"Kidding!" she laughed. "And you said I couldn't act!"
Edward frowned at her; she was completely unaware of how sickened he was by himself, because, yes, that animal in him – that monster – would love to have her for its next meal. "That wasn't funny."
"It was very funny, and you know it."
"Shall I rephrase? Breakfast time for the human," he finished.
"Oh, okay," Bella replied, Edward picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder, carrying her down the stairs in a very possessive gesture. Bella's giggles spread to him, and he could not help the chuckles that escaped his wide grin. Through her snickers, Bella protested, but Edward knew she was enjoying herself.
Edward wanted Bella to be his, but he also wanted to get as far away from her as possible. He was very conflicted, even after everything he had confessed to her.
Once they were in the kitchen, Edward set Bella in a chair, taking extra care to make sure she had gained her balance before letting her go. He had promised to protect her, even if it was from her own clumsiness.
"What's for breakfast," Bella asked. Edward looked at her, flushed cheeks, bright eyes, open smile, and decided he would spend forever making sure she appeared so joyous everyday of her life. Promising himself again he would care for her, Edward finally answered.
"Er, I'm not sure. What would you like?" Edward's confusion made her smile more. Bella jumped to her feet.
"That's all right. I fend for myself pretty well. Watch me hunt."
"Edward?" Demetri said, hands on either side of Edward's face. Apparently he had been trying to get his attention.
Edward had been standing still in the middle of the room for several moments, unresponsive, completely engrossed in his memory, reliving his failure. He looked at Demetri and shifted his gaze to his hand. The phone that he had still held in his hand had broken into tiny pieces.
That particular memory was one he had not been bothered by in nearly seventy years, but the colors, words, scents, and thoughts that he had experienced that day were just as vivid as if they had recently occurred.
Bella: young, happy, healthy. Edward had been the reason she was happy; Edward could have kept her young and healthy forever, but he had not. The promises to take care of her, to protect her, to love her had each been broken as easily and thoughtlessly as the electronic gadget he held crumbling in his palm.
Taking a shallow breath, he once again composed himself, willing himself back together. Edward reached out for Demetri and kissed him briefly, chastely, coldly, before telling him, "I'm fine." The lie slipped through his mouth with ease. Perhaps, if he kept lying about it, he would be fine, although he doubted it.
Demetri was doubtful and Edward knew it. There was nothing Edward could keep from him; he might as well have a map of his every thought and feeling laid out. In the past, Edward had always appreciated it, but at that moment, Edward craved ignorance from Demetri. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Demetri, and Edward feared if he were privy to how much the news of Bella's death was twisting his guilt like a knife in his stomach, Demetri would be unable to feel anything but hurt. One thing Demetri was not aware of was that Edward knew how, every once in awhile, he wondered if he were second best. He wondered if Edward would have been much happier with his human. Generally, he dismissed those thoughts because Edward had spent decades proving his affection, but there was always that insecurity, that errant thought.
"I love you," Edward said, noticing that flicker of doubt leap across Demetri's features, pressing his mouth to Demetri's again, that time the way a lover should.
When he pulled away, Demetri brushed his thumb across Edward's lower lip, a frown on his face. "I know."
They flew to Seattle, Edward having taken much interest in the wings of the plane on their journey. As his eyes gazed - unfocused and distant - at the plain-white extension, he thought of Bella. How could he not? Demetri tried to speak with him, but holding true to Edward's request, had quieted when Edward simply stared at him before returning his gaze to the black night.
Edward wanted to know everything about her. Having a busy mind, he had a plethora of questions to ask her. He could not deny how wonderful it felt to ask a question and have to wait on the answer to be willingly given. It had become almost like a game. How many questions could he think up, and how many would be happily answered? It seemed that she would go on as long as he asked, and he relished the affection she must have had for him, to answer so many silly inquiries. Each answer she offered was like a drop, a piece, a sliver of what she was, and she handed them over without hesitation. That is, until he asked - what he thought was - a harmless question.
"What's your favorite gemstone?" Edward asked.
Bella opened her mouth to answer, "Topaz," and closed it quickly, a blush darkening her cheeks. Her scent that had already hung heavily in the air grew stronger, and Edward swallowed three times, the smile fading from his face. Once again, for the thousandth time, he tried to read her mind, finding it just as indecipherable as the first time.
"Why are you embarrassed?" Edward pressed, Bella turning her face away from him. Gently, he placed his index finger on her cheek, her skin searing him, warming him throughout, and he turned her face towards him. "Tell me," he commanded.
"It's the color of your eyes today," she sighed, looking away again and fiddling with her hair. "I suppose if you asked me in two weeks I'd say onyx."
The warmth he had felt when touching her face was doubled by her words. It seemed, when spending time with Bella, everything was intensified by the strange, silent girl. Edward realized he had not spoken in three seconds and continued, composing himself, wanting to keep her unaware of the effect she had on him.
"What kinds of flowers do you prefer?"
Edward only realized they had landed when Demetri elbowed him in the ribs. He shifted his gaze to his mate, his partner, his husband, and thought about everything he had let fall by the wayside in his never-ending search to experience more of him.
For a moment, his wicked nature told him to shift the blame, to lay it on Demetri, but the tender expression that his eyes met when looking at him quickly pushed the urge away.
The thoughts he was having already felt traitorous enough; Edward did not want to add undue criticism of Demetri on top of that.
Demetri slipped his hand in Edward's as they exited the plane and walked through the jetway, and Edward looked at their intertwined fingers, twitching his index finger against Demetri's hand, ensuring the connection, enjoying the solidity and unchanging physicality of him.
Edward had never had to worry about taking Demetri's humanity. Demetri had not been human in well over six centuries.
They emerged into the busy terminal, Edward immediately feeling assaulted by the bright lights and flow of thoughts. He blinked twice and tuned to Carlisle's thoughts, finding him as easily as one can find a familiar voice.
Carlisle's mouth was pulled into a taut, grim expression. Esme stood with him, appearing as though she would burst into tears were she able.
God, Edward thought. How long has it been since I've seen Carlisle and Esme?
"Edward," Carlisle greeted, holding an arm out. "It's been far too long."
That confirmed it for Edward. He was so selfish, so self-absorbed. Taking Carlisle's offered hand, he pulled him flush against himself, squeezing his unyielding frame.
"I'm sorry," Edward whispered.
Carlisle dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand and a small smile. "We have ages, Son. We can catch up anytime."
The words Carlisle spoke reminded Edward once again of time, and how the seconds were ticking, falling away, mortality all around him. Esme picked up on Edward's mood, pulling him towards her, hugging him and giving him a peck on the cheek.
"Let's get going," she said, embracing Demetri before the four of them turned to leave. They only had carry-on bags, so they need not wait on their luggage to come around the carousel. It was a small comfort to Edward that he would not have to waste any more moments on needless things.
Although they tried to hide it, Edward was aware of all three vampires in his company cutting their eyes at him, each making sidelong glances, waiting on him to fall apart and ready to pick up the pieces.
The drive to Forks had never felt so long to Edward; the familiar scenery of evergreens and moss covered trunks did nothing but twist the knife in further for him.
It's too green.
The rain fell lightly on the car's exterior, thumping out a rhythm that seemed to contrast the emptiness, the lack of sound which resonated in Edward's chest. Moments like those, when grief was insurmountable, should he not be gasping for air? Should he not be attempting to swallow around the thunderous pounding of his heart? Perhaps, he should have been sweating, clammy hands and flushed cheeks, or freezing, chill bumps erupting on his flesh.
Instead he was unchangeable, his body temperature never shifting, his flesh cool and smooth, his body still. He was already dead.
Demetri had never been so quiet; it made the somber mood even more so, and Edward felt that they had already begun mourning. Carlisle drove while he and Demetri sat in the backseat like children, clasping hands as Edward leaned into Demetri.
Edward might have asked Demetri not to comfort him, but Demetri exuded comfort, regardless. Edward could not deny himself the comfort of physical proximity, as minute as it might have been.
The drive might have taken ages, but Edward was still not prepared when they pulled up to the beaten up red house in La Push. The window boxes, which had been filled with beautiful flowers, contained shriveled and dead plants, weeds making up the majority of the greenery in them. It was only another cruel reminder of how Bella's health had deteriorated. He had not been there since Bella's first child was born. The lines that had been set up in the treaty between the Cullens and the wolves had been somewhat blurred after their forced camaraderie when the battle took place with the newborns so long before, and Edward had been allowed to visit the new baby boy when he was three days old.
Edward remembered how cozy Bella had made the tiny home, formerly belonging to Billy Black. It had radiated everything that she was. Pictures of family and friends adorned the walls, each smiling in welcome. Edward had felt so happy for her, so glad she was human and experiencing life the way it should have been experienced.
Laughing quietly to himself, Edward thought of how cautious Jacob had been, wondering if the tiny baby's scent would have the same call to Edward that Bella's had. Edward admitted that, although baby Owen smelled very nice as far as babies were concerned, there was no chance he might accidentally eat him.
"Edward," Bella said, smiling as she answered the door. "I'm so glad you could make it." She pulled him into a hug, and Edward breathed in her distinctive aroma. He could smell the blood that she was losing after childbirth, and although it made him a bit uncomfortable, the concern he had overrode any of his more feral urges.
"What are you doing up and about?" Edward asked. "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"That's exactly what I've been telling her," Jacob chimed, coming to the door and putting an arm around Bella. "She won't listen to a word I say."
"Stop it you two," she chided. "What kind of mother would I be if I didn't take care of my son? I can't just hand him over to any old person."
All three of them smiled at Bella's protectiveness; of course, it was only natural, or so Edward had heard.
Jacob leaned down to kiss Bella's forehead, and Edward missed Demetri. He had travelled to La Push alone, knowing that there had already been large concessions made allowing him to visit, not only by the pack but also by Aro.
"Come on in, Edward," Bella invited, gesturing for Edward to enter.
"Yeah, Edward, you'd think that whole 'You have to be invited in' thing for bloodsuckers were true the way you're standing in the door like that," Jacob added, and Bella playfully punched him in the shoulder.
Edward appreciated his attempts at joking with him as he could sense the unease that Jacob felt.
As soon as Edward walked through the door, he saw Bella walking over to a blue bassinet, decorated with a ruffle that featured cross-stitched animals. She reached her arms in and started talking in a silly baby voice as she scooped up a squirming bundle. Edward's smile grew, hearing the tiny grunts of the child as he stretched.
Bella started walking towards Edward with the baby, and she finally tore her eyes from his scrunched up face to tell Edward to sit. He obeyed, and Bella promptly handed over the newborn.
"Oh, wait, give me a moment," Edward protested as Bella plopped the baby into his arms. She was always so trusting, so sure of Edward despite his lack of trust in himself. Feeling bolstered by her confidence in him, he held the child in acquiescence, concentrating on being as gentle with baby Owen as he would a piece of spun sugar or the petals of a flower.
Edward felt the fluttering of his tiny heart against his palm, felt the rush of blood throughout his brand new body, smelt his sweet breath as he inhaled and exhaled and felt that everything was right. Everything was as it should be. Never could he have given Bella something as precious as the life he held in his arms. Feeling overwhelmed with gratitude he looked up at Bella and Jacob, cuddled together on the sofa across from him, as he beamed like a fool.
"Thank you for letting me visit," he said.
"I'm so happy that you have," Bella replied. Jacob nodded.
"You are so happy aren't you?" Edward asked, loving Bella's words of contentment.
"Yes, I am."
"We can still leave, Edward. I called Jacob to tell him you were coming, but he hasn't told Bella," Carlisle said, noticing the faraway look on Edward's face as well as sensing his reluctance.
"I'm not changing my mind Carlisle," Edward huffed, opening the door and sliding out. He heard Demetri doing the same.
Edward took a few steps towards the house and saw the curtains ruffle as someone peeked out. Turning back towards the car, he noticed that Carlisle and Esme had not gotten out.
"Aren't you coming?" Edward asked.
"No, we've already said what we needed to," Carlisle replied, glancing at Esme. "It was difficult enough the first time."
Esme put her face in her hands, and Carlisle reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "We're not used to this sort of thing, Edward," Esme said, her voice shaking.
"No, of course you're not," Edward said, nodding. "Thanks for bringing us. We can find our own way back to Seattle. Will you still be around for a bit?"
"We will," Carlisle said. "We want to be here. For…the funeral."
"Oh. Yes, of course you do," Edward agreed, putting his hands in his pockets and toeing the dirt.
"See you soon, Esme, Carlisle," Demetri piped in.
Edward looked towards Demetri, noticing how uncomfortable he appeared. The whole situation must have been very strange for him, not at all ideal. Demetri had always been willing to put himself in uncomfortable situations for Edward's benefit. It was one of the many, countless reasons Edward was in love with him.
"Goodbye," Edward added, waving at the car as Carlisle and Esme backed up.
"We love you, Son," Carlisle added before putting the car in drive and pulling away.
"Love you, too," Edward said.
"Do you want me to stay out here or go in with you, Edward?" Demetri asked, thinking of how he did not want to leave Edward's side but would do whatever he asked.
"Please, come in with me," Edward asked selfishly. He was a coward and was unsure of how he would react once faced with Bella.
Jacob opened the door before they got to it. Edward could feel the hostility dripping off of him; he was angry that Edward would show up after so many years between visits.
Trying not to show any shock at Jacob's appearance, Edward held out his hand. Jacob's hair was completely white and tied back in a low ponytail. It was thinning on top, but still in good shape for a man his age. Edward could never have pictured Jacob Black as an old man, even though he had obviously aged well; he did not look to be eighty-six, but perhaps maybe a man in his late sixties or early seventies.
"I'm so sorry, Jacob," Edward said, speaking the first words that came to mind.
"For what? For the fact that my wife is dying, or for being completely absent for almost thirty years?" Jacob growled, time and grief coloring his voice, taking the offered hand anyway. Edward could not look at him. "Forget it, Edward. It doesn't matter now. She's not mad at you." It was strange to Edward, how the once stubborn and unforgiving boy had grown into an easy to calm elderly man. Reading his thoughts, he could almost see the anger ebbing away, replaced by an undulating sadness that almost physically hurt Edward to read.
Edward quickly looked back at Jacob, scanning over his wrinkled face and furrowed brow. He was relieved but only a bit. So what if Bella was not angry with him? She would still die, and he would still feel guilty. He supposed he should be glad she was not upset, although he wanted her ire because he felt deserving of it.
"Really, forget it. I think she'll be glad to see you now. She's been…in and out these past few days," Jacob said, gulping as his voice became gravelly. "Talking a lot about the past…wanting to hear and share stories." Jacob looked down at his feet. "She knows it won't be long. Say…has Alice seen anything? Does she know when…?"
"No, Jacob, you know she can't see around you," Edward replied, saddened that he could be of no help. Edward had asked the same question, and he saw from Jacob that he had also asked Alice when she had been to visit a few weeks prior. It had not stopped him from hoping he could get an approximation of how much time he had left with his wife. "Would you really want to know?"
"Yes. I want to know. I want to know how many more times I can tell her I love her. I want to know how many more breaths I can count. I want to know how many minutes I have to hold her hand, to look in her eyes and see life there. Without a doubt, I want to know," Jacob said, his voice clear and firm.
Jacob was tortured. Edward read it; he felt it. Being in Jacob's presence coupled with his own grief was worse than being ripped apart at the joints. He would have preferred, at that moment, for each of his fingers to be plucked off and snapped, his legs bent the wrong way at his knees, his head yanked from his body. Feeling those things, feeling that physical pain, would have been such a relief.
"Edward," Demetri said, placing a hand on the small of Edward's back. Demetri worried over Edward; apparently his expression bordered on mad.
"I'm fine," Edward repeated, willing himself to be fine.
"Well, come on in," Jacob said, ushering the two vampires inside. "You've already been invited, bloodsucker." Jacob chuckled, remembering the same visit that Edward had reflected upon only moments before. His humor did not last long as he led the Edward and Demetri to Bella's bedside.
Edward's first glance at Bella took the remaining bit of composure he had, and without meaning to, he moaned – low and pained. He had been foolish to think he could hold himself together, to think he could pretend to be fine. The woman in front of him could not be his Bella. The Bella he knew was vibrant and warm. Maybe Carlisle had been right.
Jacob gave Edward a warning look. Don't, Edward. I'll make you leave if you upset her, he thought.
Edward nodded once, breathing as deeply as his lung capacity would allow, and then he pushed it a bit further. He found that it was painful, so he did it again so that he could feel.
Bella was lying on her back underneath a worn quilt. Several pillows had her elevated, and many surrounded her frail body. Her hair, like Jacob's, was white, her skin a map of wrinkles and spots. She was sleeping, her mouth slightly open as she took shallow breaths.
Edward looked at her, noticing her lips trembling and moving as though shaping words every few moments. Bella still talked in her sleep, but no longer had the strength to push the sound past her lips while unconscious.
"She fell last month," Jacob whispered, eyes never leaving his wife. "Broke her hip. She never got over that awkward clumsy stage. Anyway, after that things just got worse. There's nothing going on with her medically. I think she's just tired." As he finished, he walked over to Bella, smoothing her hair from her face, reverently tracing the evidence of her age across her brow. He bent down, his own age apparent as he moved slowly and awkwardly, to kiss her forehead and murmur love to her softly. Edward suddenly felt intrusive, and he looked over at Demetri who was politely staring out the window.
"Bells," Jacob whispered. "You have some young men here that couldn't wait to see you."
Training his eyes on his feet, Edward noticed his left shoe was untied. He wanted to tie it, occupy himself, because he was not sure he could look her in the eye.
"Hmm?" he heard her hum in confusion. "Is it Chuck?" Bella asked, her voice scratchy and quiet, looking around the room, not seeing Edward clearly. Apparently - Edward gathered from Jacob - Chuck was their great grandson.
"No, babe," Jacob smiled. "It's Edward. Edward and Demetri. Remember you were talking about them a few days ago? Well, they've come to see you." He groaned as he straightened his back and moved out of the way so that Bella could see her visitors.
"Edward? Come here," Bella requested, swallowing loudly. She tried to sit up further.
"No, don't sit up," Edward said, appearing by her side in an instant. "I'm here."
Expecting to be assaulted by her scent with the closer proximity, Edward was surprised at how sick she smelled, like a wilted flower thrown to waste. It had never saddened him so much that he did not, in the least, want to drain her. That only meant she was very close to death, but the scent of her still brought forth more memories that he had long ago stored away - memories that a large part of him wished he could forget.
Bella reached out to him, and he took her hand, frail and bony, covered in paper thin flesh. The warmth of her had lessened with age; it was a noticeable difference.
"Oh," Bella blurted. "I'd forgotten how cold you were."
Opening her eyes wide to look at Edward, the corners of her lips perked up the smallest bit; she was trying to smile at him. Staring into her brown eyes, Edward saw her: his Bella. There she was, swaddled inside an old and tired body, but her eyes were the same. He returned her smile and knelt down on the floor next to her bed so that he could be face to face with her.
"Bella," Edward whispered, unsure of what to say.
"Edward," she replied. "You didn't have to," she paused to take a deep breath, "come all this way for me. I'm glad you came for a visit, though."
Edward could not get used to the years on her face, in her hands, marring her voice. "Of course. I should have been for a visit long before this."
Even dying, lying in a bed she would likely never leave again, Bella was unendingly patient and kind. She rolled her eyes – as close to an eye roll she could achieve – and said, "Don't be silly. You're here right now."
The room fell quiet, and Edward listened to Bella's heart and lungs, laboring to keep her alive. He heard her vital organs protesting, pressing, trying to keep her living just a little bit longer: preservation in its purest form.
"Jacob," Demetri said, breaking the silence. "I have a craving for some peanuts and soda. Would you mind too horribly taking me to get some?"
Jacob looked at Demetri incredulously. "You don't eat that stuff, do you? Why would you…?" he stopped, realizing what Demetri was doing. Comprehension fell over Jacob's features and he looked crestfallen but agreed. "That's fine. Sure, sure, no reason… No reason not to run to the store. If…that's okay with you, Bells?" His thoughts turned a bit hopeful, thinking that maybe Alice might see something while he was gone.
"Call Alice, Demetri. On the way to the store," Edward said. Jacob exhaled, giving Edward a tight-lipped smile.
Edward knew it was not easy for Demetri to leave him there; Bella was Edward's first love, but Demetri loved Edward, and would do what he needed.
Jacob continued to look at Bella expectantly, waiting to get her okay before he left.
"Go ahead, Jake," she said with a knowing glance. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Bells," Jacob replied. They shared a long look before he left, Demetri following him quietly.
Edward shifted his gaze back to Bella, forcing a smile to his face.
"Do you still want to kill me?" Bella smiled. "Make your mouth water and all that?" Every word she spoke sounded forced and slow, but Edward waited; he owed it to her to be patient.
"Yes," Edward lied, bringing her hand to his nose and inhaling, pressing his lips to the back of it. "Are you comfortable?"
"As much as I can be," she answered. For the smallest moment she looked sad, but Edward could see her make the decision to push it away. Trying to smile at him again, she whispered, "You have a perfect memory, right?"
"God, Edward, you look exactly the same," her eyes travelled across the perfection of his features. Bella had known Edward would not age, but she was still awed by it. She looked at his youthful flesh matched against hers and said, "Tell me what I looked like. I must look awful to you."
"You look like a human. Not awful," he started. "You…you, Bella, were the most exquisite creature I ever had the pleasure of seeing."
"Except for Demetri," Bella interjected, coughing a bit as she struggled to speak. Edward tried not to fuss over her, knowing she would not want that, but waited until she stopped coughing.
"Well, don't tell him, but I think you win by a bit," Edward leaned in to Bella, whispering as though passing a secret. She chuckled; it sounded dry and reminded Edward of snapping twigs.
"You have always been such a sweet boy," she said.
Feeling strange that Bella called him a boy, he shook his head, and started tracing a pattern on the back of her hand. He counted the blue veins that were plainly displayed. Traversing the expanse of her skin with his eyes, he wondered what stories each of her imperfections told. Putting his palm on her cheek, she looked at him with those eyes that were so familiar, and he traced the lines of her wrinkles with his fingertips, trying to decipher, trying to read about her mortality. He wanted to know that she had had a life full of joy, a life of contentment and love. Even though he had not kept his promise to see to it himself, it did not lessen the fact he wanted to make sure she had had it. In fact, he was sure it intensified the need to know.
"Your eyes are the same," Edward whispered. She closed them, a small tear squeezing from underneath her clenched eyelid, rolling down her face and falling to the bed.
"I love you, Edward. Don't tell Jake, but I've always had a different kind of love for you." She sighed. "I loved you first. Not more or less, but… different."
Edward furrowed his brow, a half-smile tickling the corner of his mouth. "I know just what you mean, Bella. I loved you first, too. I love you now."
"You looked beautiful in the sun," she laughed. "Do you think, that maybe, I'll sparkle when I get to Heaven? I would love to be as beautiful as one of you."
"Isabella," Edward said, ruffling her hair, causing the waves to bounce around her face, creating the perfect frame. Unable to believe she was still with him, he could not help but touch her to make sure she was real. "Bella, I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me." He looked down at his hand intertwined with hers. She was so warm. He was ashamed of the way he had behaved, actually contemplating murdering the girl. "The thought of you, still, white, cold…to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses…it would be unendurable." He lifted his agonized eyes to hers. "You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever."
"You already know how I feel, of course," she replied. "I'm here…which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you." She frowned. "I'm an idiot."
"You are an idiot," he agreed with a laugh.
"Bella," Edward chided. "You're much, much more beautiful than any of us." His voice broke, because she was, even at that moment. Bella blushed.
"The blush on your cheeks is lovely," he murmured, bringing both hands to her cheeks, holding her face between his marble hands.
"Be very still," he whispered.
Slowly, never moving his eyes from hers, he leaned towards her. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of her throat. Her breathing was strong and steady, not erratic or frightened, and he once again was overwhelmed with affection.
"But, I'm sure you'll be the brightest piece of Heaven," Edward breathed. Bella did not acknowledge what he had said, and he did not think she had heard him.
Eyes still closed, Bella struggled for breath, and Edward thought that she might have fallen asleep. Bringing his hand down from her face, he rested his palm over her heart, the rhythm still steady. Cautiously, Edward rose up and laid the side of his face over Bella's chest. Each thump pressed against his temple, and he closed his eyes, enjoying each life-sustaining beat.
"This is like that dream I had but different," she said suddenly, placing a hand in his hair. Edward felt her shaky fingers sweep easily across his head in a very motherly gesture. "I forgot how soft your hair was. Such a strange color…"
"What dream, Bella?" Edward asked, perplexed.
"Oh…that. The night before my eighteenth birthday. I was old, and you were still young, except when I dreamt it, I wasn't happy about it," she said.
"You're happy about it now?"
"Yes," she answered, and Edward sighed with relief.
"Did you do everything you wanted to do, Bella?" he asked, turning his head to look at her again.
She looked back at him, seeming much more coherent compared to moments before. "Yes, I have." Edward closed his eyes, returning to his previous position.
"Bella," Edward started. "Do you ever wish that I had—"
"No," she interrupted, not waiting on him to complete the question. Edward was surprised at how forceful and sure her voice was when she had been struggling earlier. He was grateful for her quick response.
They stayed that way – huddled together - for long moments until Edward heard Demetri and Jacob returning.
"Edward," Bella said. "Would you send Jake in? I'm cold."
"Of course," he answered, the end of his reply cut off by the shrill ring of the phone.
Edward heard Jacob answer it, and he heard Alice on the other end. He also heard as Jacob tried to keep down the volume of his weeping when Alice told him Bella would die the next day.
Edward wanted to wait outside until it happened. Jacob gave his permission. Demetri sat with Edward in silence for nineteen hours, twenty-one minutes, and seventeen seconds.
Edward counted each beat of her heart.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Sliding his hands deliberately and slowly, they traveled down the sides of her neck and rested lightly on her shoulders. Bella shivered, and Edward held his breath. He let it out, allowing his face to drift, skimming his nose across her collarbone, inhaling her heady scent. He finally came to rest with the side of his face pressed tenderly against her chest.
Listening to her heart.
"Ah," he sighed.
Whispered words of love, words of forever, a sigh, a goodbye, a forced breath, a sob, then quiet.
The silence hurt his ears. The sound that had once been the most important thing in Edward's world had stopped.
The second part will be up in the next few days. Thanks so much to ms-ambrosia and TwilightMundi for the beta work.