A/N: This chapter would have been out sooner if not for Fanfail's typical disruptions. I didn't want to post this when there were issues going on.
Wow, a lot of you raked me over the coals for the last chapter! I feel thoroughly poked, prodded, and BBQ'd. Tough crowd. This chapter should make things clearer. I ask that you hold the tomatoes until the end; maybe you'll want to make some pizza instead...
Thanks to my prereaders, Keye and Sandy, for their feedback and awesome assistance with musical inspiration.
Heaps of gratefulness to my lovely betas, wmr1601, Katmom, and Miaokuancha, for all their hard work. Special thanks to Miao for cracking the whip on me, offering a medical consultation (so I didn't make a complete fool of myself), and for inspiring me to go back to the drawing board and rework parts of the chapter. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.
~Romeo and Juliet~
Ain't No Sunshine ~ Bill Withers
Black Days ~ Reboot the Robot
Open Your Eyes ~ Snow Patrol
I Grieve ~ Peter Gabriel
I'd rather have had
One breath of her hair
One kiss of her mouth
One touch of her hand
Than an eternity without it
Excerpt ~ City of Angels
The breathtakingly beautiful sunrise soon morphed into gray cloud cover, and the air became pregnant with moisture that would turn to rain by afternoon. It should rain on the day you bury the love of your life. The few moments of sun made it seem there was hope for renewal, but I knew there was no coming back from this for me. Guilt moved through me like frozen sludge. My reason for living had been taken from me, and I wanted to burn, craved it. Carlisle's venom had burned away my human life, leaving me a half-dead creature. Shouldn't the rest of me be incinerated, now that Bella was gone? Instead, I found myself freeze-dried into a block of ice with no hope of a thaw. I couldn't cry or burn or properly grieve my beloved in any way.
I rose from our place on the boulder and slowly made my way over to the front lawn. The sight of the wooden box filled me with dark feelings of despair, and my muscles rebelled, straining not to approach it. In the end, I knew the time had come, and I placed her inside gently. Unable to keep my eyes closed, I looked down on Bella's body in the casket, her face in peaceful repose. She could have been sleeping; the only sign she was unwell the lack of heartbeat and her colorless lips. I guarded my mind against the memory of claw marks raked across her chest. Her lovely blue dress mercifully hid the angry red lines, and I refused to allow them to mar my last vision of her. The time had come to close it up, and my dead heart knotted in rebellion. Kneeling on the grass beside the wooden box, I ghosted my fingers over the skin of her cheek, which was nearly as cold as mine.
"I failed you so completely." Leaning over, I placed a final kiss on her lips. They didn't feel like my Bella's lips—so cool and firm instead of warm and soft. My angel was no longer there, and that realization is what had me finally grabbing for the lid and fitting it in place.
My hands remained on the lid, the roughness of the sub-standard wood under my fingertips a reminder that Bella should have been buried in a coffin fashioned of the finest materials. And what was I waiting for now? Did I expect to wake up from this nightmare? Was I hoping for a miracle? The only miracle in my twisted world lay dead before me, and it was no mistake. No, I was the mistake, the reason such a gentle soul was taken from this earth too early. I looked forward to the darkness that awaited me. Wherever vampires went after, it would be infinitely better than the purgatory of walking the earth without her—a tormented wraith waiting for the end of time.
I lowered the casket into the grave, placing it down as gently as possible. Still, the thud the wood made against the ground resounded in my ears like the slamming shut of a tomb. Standing up, I dusted the dirt from my knees—more an ingrained habit than actually caring that my pants were coated with the dirt that would close Bella off from me permanently. A gentle rain began to fall, and eventually, I realized I'd been leaning on the handle of the shovel beside her grave for hours just staring into space.
Tossing the first handful of dirt, I cringed at its muffled pattering against the casket. My hold on the handle of the shovel tightened, and it splintered apart beneath my fingers. When I realized there was no other shovel in the shed behind the house, I was forced to get down on my knees again and use my own two hands to scoop dirt into the grave. Somehow it seemed fitting; after all, I'd ruined her life single-handedly.
The only way I could manage to continue my task was by pushing the emotional part of myself aside. I couldn't watch the earth raining down to bury the only woman who'd ever truly mattered to me. I fought to fill my mind with nothingness, and nearly succeeded, but every so often a soft echo of our brief past would fill my mind unbidden, growing in intensity until it became a torrent.
Back in Forks when I would sneak into her room to watch her sleep.
The day she arrived on the island and I recognized the cadence of her heart—a heart that would never beat again.
The night her scent wafted through the vents, and I was transported back to that first day in Biology when her scent had taunted and clawed at me.
Reading her manuscript and realizing she knew what I was and still wanted to find me.
Covering her with the blanket when she fell asleep in front of the fire.
Revealing myself to her.
Confessing to her.
Asking her to be my wife.
Making love to her.
"Stop!" I tore at my hair helplessly with dirt-caked hands as the memories flowed over me.
The grave had been filled and patted down, and I remained on my knees in the freshly turned dirt and bellowed at the sky. I cursed a God who would allow Bella to become involved with the damned—would allow her life to be cut short because of her love for me.
Throwing myself down on top of her burial place, I pressed my cheek to the earth that separated us.
"Bella, my angel." My voice broke on a sob, her name bittersweet acid on my tongue. "You were everything that was beautiful and right in this world. That first day when I fled to Alaska? I should have forced myself to stay there until your natural life had some to an end. My actions, my behavior, caused you to become curious about things you had no business knowing.
"When you arrived here on the island, as soon as I heard the sweet, sweet sound of your heart, I should have fled. After I read your manuscript... when you thought I was a figment of your imagination, there was still a chance. If I didn't want you to find me, you wouldn't have. If only I hadn't been so selfish... you'd still be alive."
My hands curled into claws, digging for purchase in the soft soil, which simply sifted through my fingers as easily as my happiness had drifted away. And who was I kidding? I would never willingly leave here. I would lie on top of Bella's grave until the Volturi came back to find me, and then I'd beg them to burn me and sprinkle the ashes over her. I knew my family would never put me out of my misery in that way, but the arrogant vampire elite could be convinced, I was sure.
"Bella, I was so foolish to think you could be my lover... my wife. Once you accepted me for what I was, there was no going back for me. The temptation to stay with you and make you mine was too great. I was such a fool."
"I'll never feel your warmth again, never touch you... watch you sleep." My voice was a hoarse whisper, the reality of my words causing more pain to flare inside me.
The echo of Bella's heart inside me cut so deep.
It was my favorite sound in the world, now an intermittent staccato that bounced around in my head—taunting me even as I reveled in the gentle thumps.
Tup... tup... tup-tup
Her heartbeat would never be out of reach as long as I continued to exist. Vampires retained total recall of every memory, every sound.
"I lived more in the short time we were together than I have in the past century. For me, it was all worth it—every second."
Tup-tup... tup-tup... tup... tup... tup-tup
My eyes flew open, and I lifted my head. The echoes of her heart faded somewhat, but they still continued. Oh, my God. Is it possible? I pressed my ear to the ground, and the thumps grew in volume.
Wondering if vampires could go insane, I started digging up the coffin just to be sure.
And if it was simply in my mind, a memory, why then was the sound so erratic?
Frantically, I pawed all the dirt out of the grave until I could lie on top of the casket. Her heart was much louder now. I ripped the lid off and gazed down at her. Nothing. No breath.
"Please, am I just going crazy? Hallucinating?" I pressed my ear to her chest.
There was no mistaking that the beats were coming from Bella's heart. I quickly wiped my hands on my pants, the dirt sliding easily off my impermeable skin. Lacing my hands together, I started gentle chest compressions. Tipping her head back and pinching her nose closed, I breathed into her. With a small gasping sound, she started to breathe on her own, albeit erratically.
"Bella!" I shook her lightly.
An hour later, she continued to breathe—still slowly, but at least steadily—her heartbeat was almost completely normal, and her body temperature had risen significantly. But she continued to lie there, still as death.
I desperately wanted to call Alice, but I'd destroyed my phone. I didn't want to leave Bella alone and was loath to move her when her condition was so uncertain.
"Angel, please. Come back to me. I don't know what miracle this is... but I need you to hear me. Open those beautiful eyes for me." I picked up her hand, pressing kisses to each knuckle.
And there I sat, in the grave beside her, while she breathed slow, deep breaths and her heart beat regularly. And she slept on like Snow White deep in the woods. I kissed her lips—now warm and soft again—but my princess didn't awaken. I kept pushing back the elation threatening to fill me. If she stopped breathing again, if her heart stopped beating, I knew I would go mad.
Two hours later, she coughed and sputtered. Her lips parted in a desperate gasp for air, a whistling sound rising from her throat. Quickly, I pulled Bella toward me, rolling her on her side. She pressed a hand to her chest, continuing to cough. There was precious little room to maneuver within the confines of the grave, and the walls of dirt cast dark shadows upon us.
"Take it easy, Bella. It's going to be okay." I knew no such thing—I had no idea what was happening—but hoped she would somehow find comfort in my words.
Bella's eyes snapped open and sought out mine. "E...E..." A soft exhalation of air whispered in the air between us. "Ed...wah..."
"Shh... don't try to speak."
Her gaze finally left mine to roam our surroundings. When understanding finally dawned, she clawed at me, and her heart thundered in her chest. "N-no...here. I'm h-here."
"It's okay, Angel. I don't know how, but you're alive. Don't worry about where we are. God, I'm so glad to see those beautiful brown eyes again—to hear your heart beating." My words seemed to calm her. "I'm going to bring you into the house now. Is that okay?"
Mouth working soundlessly, she nodded her head slightly, and I could see the relief in her eyes. As I stood with her in my arms, her eyes slipped closed, and she slept. Her heartbeats were strong and steady.
I leaped to the balcony of her room, remembering the day before, when I'd made the same trip with her lifeless body. Placing her on the bed, I lay beside her and touched her. Softness and warmth everywhere. How was this possible? Part of me didn't care as long as she lived.
I stripped off my dirt encrusted shirt and turned it inside out, swiping it across the front of Bella's dress to remove the loose bits that clung to her. Spying the crisp white dress shirt I'd worn the other night on the floor beside the bed, I pulled it on, leaving it hanging open.
Two hours later as the horizon darkened to midnight blue and the moon rose, a pale silvery crescent in the sky, her lids fluttered open. Her gaze came to rest on me, and tears spilled down her cheeks. I took her hand in mind, squeezing it gently.
"Edward... you're okay. They let you go?" Her voice was a raspy whisper.
"They're gone, Angel. Please don't worry about anything." I stroked my fingers through her hair.
Her other hand smoothed over the silken material of her dress. "Something went wrong. Didn't you speak to Alice?"
"You b-buried me, didn't you?"
"Yes. You were dead! The blood... the mountain lion—your heart wasn't beating." Closing my eyes, I jabbed my fingers into my hair and tugged hard.
"Alice should have called... told you."
"She probably tried to. Bella, I was so distraught, I destroyed the phone." I hung my head, the implications of burying her alive fully dawning. If I'd gone on to Volterra as originally planned, Bella would have awoken six feet below ground, closed up in a casket. "Jesus."
"Oh, my God... oh, my God," she chanted, her fingers clasping and unclasping the heart that hung around her neck.
I cradled Bella to my chest until she calmed, whispering words of love in her ear and placing gentle kisses on her temple. It was surreal to be in her bed, holding her warmth against me, after laying out her cooling body and dressing her for burial not twenty-four hours before.
"How are you feeling? We need to get you medical attention."
"I'm feeling better all the time, Edward. There's no need for a doctor."
"Please... I need to know what's going on, Bella. You were dead. I held you in my arms." I tightened my hold on her, my fingers tangling desperately in her hair, and listened to the comforting sound of her heart. "I bathed you, dressed you, and put flowers in your hair." My voice broke.
Bella let out a shuddering sigh. "I'm so sorry, Edward. It wasn't supposed to happen this way."
"Supposed to? Are you saying you knew this was going to happen?"
"N-no... not exactly. I knew it was coming but not when."
"How, though? How could you... Alice. It was Alice."
"Tell me. You have to tell me what's going on," I whispered against her hair. "Do you realize that I nearly left for Italy... that you would have been buried alive? And where's Alice? Where the hell is she?" My voice rose with frustration toward the end, although my constricted throat made it difficult for the words to escape.
"When Alice and Jasper were here a few weeks ago, we had a long talk about what was coming. Alice said we drew the attention of the Volturi, that it was too late to do damage control. They were coming... and we had to be prepared." Bella paused, swallowing hard. She was pressed so closely to me, I could feel her throat working against my chest.
"I agree it would be important to be prepared... so what the hell happened? How were we caught unaware?"
"We weren't." Her voice was a hushed whisper.
We weren't. We weren't. Just me then. Alice knew, Bella knew—hell, probably even Jasper—which could explain my sister's shifty behavior and why she fled the island so abruptly. And here I'd thought she was just hiding information about the budding intimacy between Bella and me.
There were so many emotions fighting for dominance inside me: relief, love, confusion, dread, the beginnings of anger. The urge to break things was bubbling just below the surface, but the need to remain calm and take care of Bella took precedence over all else.
"Please, just tell me what happened."
"O-okay. Well, Alice said they were coming. No matter what she decided to have us try, it always ended in tragedy—my death, your death... both of us. What she came up with was a last resort plan, the only one that had a chance of working." Bella's fingers shook as they traced my jaw lightly, but her head remained burrowed in my chest as if in shame. "Edward, I didn't want to h-hide anything from you, but Alice said... she said you would never go along with it. That if I told you, we'd both end up d-dead." She shuddered, letting out a soft whimper.
I clasped her hand in mine, pressing a quick kiss into her palm. "It's okay. You can tell me anything, my love."
"I'm so sorry, Edward. I didn't want to deceive you, but it was the only way. Alice t-told me a day would come when we were on the other side of the island. She said the Volturi would show up, and I needed to d-die for them to be satisfied." She hesitated, taking deep gulping breaths.
"And then?" I prompted gently.
"Alice gave me the heart necklaces, remember? The liquid inside it was an herbal concoction to make it appear..." She choked on her words.
"Romeo and Juliet. O my love, my wife! Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath hath had no power yet upon thy beauty. Dear God." I held her so tightly, surely it must have been uncomfortable, but she didn't complain. "Alice was right—I never would have agreed to that. How could I, knowing so many things could have gone wrong?"
"I know, Edward, but it was the only way. Oh!" Bella gasped in pain, and a second later I smelled fresh blood. Her blood.
Rolling away from her, I glanced down to see a deep purple stain spreading over the material of her dress. "Bella, you're bleeding!"
"Go! Just go, Edward!"
"Why would I go?"
"I can handle it." I clenched my jaw, hoping that was true. Her blood shouldn't be a temptation to me after she'd almost died, but the suddenness of the sweet fragrant scent in the air had venom flooding my mouth, and my teeth ached to sink into her petal soft skin.
Tearing open her dress, I was faced with four slashes just below her left collar bone, which were freely bleeding. Each pump of her heart sent more blood flowing until it was nearly impossible to identify the fact that they were claw marks.
Bella looked down at herself. "Oh, dear God..." Her eyes rolled back, and she went limp in my arms. Thankfully, she remained conscious, although just barely.
The resumption of her heart pumping, in addition to all the recent jostling, had reopened the wound. The subclavian vein and artery ran beneath where Bella had been clawed. If I didn't act quickly, she could bleed to death in my arms. I tore off my shirt and balled it up, pressing it against the flow of blood. In less than a minute, it had soaked through, and I knew my choices were limited. Actually, there was only one: I had to close the claw marks using my venom. Which meant tasting her blood.
Keeping the pressure on her injury, I laid my cheek against hers and spoke gently. "Bella, you're bleeding heavily. I have to close the wounds using my venom."
"Maybe you should use the Vicks. Won't it be too hard for you?"
"Once your blood is on my tongue, Vicks won't make a difference. This is the only way. By the time I could get you to a doctor, you might bleed out."
"Change me. Edward, just change me!"
"Please! I never had the chance to tell you before... before they came. But I made up my mind—it's what I want."
Her words should have made me gloriously happy, but they fell flat. With no idea how much blood she'd lost, what lingering side effects Alice's concoction might have, or the condition of Bella's heart, I couldn't risk it.
"Angel, I can't change you right now. Not that I won't—I can't. I don't know if your body is strong enough to withstand the process. Believe me; I want you forever. We just have to make it through this and get you healed, then we can talk about that."
"O-okay. Edward, if anything goes wrong... just remember I love you more than anything."
Steeling myself, I raised my head to look into her beautiful eyes. They were slightly glassy and her pupils were dilated. The increase in adrenaline, rapid heart rate, and panting breaths did nothing to stanch the flow of blood, which was now pouring between my fingers. I'll be damned if we get this far and I lose her now!
Wiping away as much of the spilled blood as possible with my soaked shirt, I leaned in. "This might sting, Angel, but there won't be enough venom to initiate the change. Hold onto me."
"I—I trust you, Edward."
"I love you," I whispered, lowering my head.
Her blood bloomed on my tongue, the taste beyond anything I'd ever experienced as a human or a vampire. The melody, the harmony, the sweetness—all worked together to create a delicacy that was designed specifically for my taste buds. Oh, God. The flavor is heaven, perfection. Nothing so sweet and satisfying has ever been tasted by anyone.
Bella's screams snapped me back to reality, and I knew if she'd passed out, I probably wouldn't have been able to stop. The torture was akin to taking a heroin addict, strapping him down with a needle in his vein, and asking him to press the plunger only a fraction of the way.
Bella's hands gripped me: one at my shoulder, the other clawing at my hair. Her presence and my love for her were all that held me, hovering between heaven and hell. I had to remember if I killed her, there would be no happily ever after.
"Edward, it hurts! Omigod, omigod, omigod..." Her back arched off the bed, and her fingernails tore under the force of her fingers digging for purchase against my impenetrable skin.
"Two more to go. Just hold on, Angel." My voice was a raspy growl, which I hoped wouldn't scare her more.
It didn't. The sting of my venom had her completely occupied, and her cries and whimpers, along with a healthy dose of shame, kept me from falling over the edge and biting her.
One more. One more long swipe and it would be done. I'd like to say it grew easier with each taste, but it didn't. Every single drop created a tug of war within me. Even as the vampire enjoyed the flavor, was satisfied as the burn in his throat was slaked, the man inside me was devastated to be hurting the one person who gave his life meaning.
"Please... Edward, please!"
The saltiness of her tears wafted up my nose, and a wave of guilt followed. I dragged my tongue over the last claw mark, feeling it seal up.
I left her for ten seconds, rushing into the en suite to grab a washcloth and basin of water. With gentle strokes, I cleansed the blood away until all that remained were four thin, reddish lines that would be gone in a day or so. I whispered calming words to her, and by the time I'd finished, the tears had subsided and her heart rate was close to normal.
The nearly dried blood held no temptation for me, but I tore her dress the rest of the way down the front so I could remove it. I grabbed new sheets and carefully rolled her to each side as I deftly changed them. Leaving her bare, I pulled up the clean sheet, tucking it around her.
"Do you want the comforter over you, too?"
Her hands reached for me, and I allowed her to pull me down beside her. She turned her head to gaze at me and gasped, her heart stuttering.
"Edward, your eyes!"
I closed them, the realization of what they must look like to her dawning. It would be a while before I could stand to see myself in a mirror; my eyes would be a constant reminder that Bella's blood was inside me, that I could have lost control so easily.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, you know." Soft lips brushed along my jaw. "You saved me." Her lips pressed to mine, but my mouth remained hard, frozen.
"It was so much harder than I thought it would be, Angel. I'm ashamed of how badly I wanted to..."
"But you didn't. You wouldn't."
Bella had such confidence in me, and I wished it was deserved. The truth is, if she'd passed out... I would have lost it. Did she really need to hear about that right now, though? No.
"I never want to hurt you. I'm going to do whatever I can to ensure that never happens." With my eyes still closed, I kissed her lips gently before pulling away to appraise her. "How are you feeling now?"
"Better. I'm a little weak. Thank God that awful stinging is gone!"
I swallowed hard, tamping back the urge to tell her she would have to survive three days of that stinging inferno if she wanted to become like me. That before the time was up, she would beg me for death. And I would selfishly refuse her pleas because I wanted her to be mine for eternity.
"Why don't you get some sleep? We can talk more later."
"No. I don't want to sleep."
Stroking her hair lightly, I tucked her head under my chin. "Bella, what happened out there? Those claw marks..."
"W-Well, after they d-dragged you away, I broke the necklace and drank the liquid inside it. Then I waited... for it to take effect, b-but before it did, a mountain lion climbed up there with me. She looked at me oddly, with her head tilted to the side, and wrinkled her nose, sniffing at the air. She came c-closer and nudged my hand with her head, almost as if she wanted me to pet her. Naturally, I was paralyzed with fear.
"All of a sudden, she f-froze and started to growl low in her throat. I thought it was at me, but she seemed far more interested in something behind me. Th-there was another mountain lion, and it bared its teeth at her. And then they were growling and s-snarling at each other. I didn't know what to do! I was between them, and I stumbled, falling back. My sudden movement seemed t-to prompt them into action. I—" Her voice was strangled, the scent of fresh tears filling the air around us.
"Shh... it's okay. It's over." I continued to run my fingers through her hair, and it was as much for me as for her. The thought of her being caught between two mountain lions was terrifying.
"They lunged at each other, and as I fell, one of their c-claws slashed me. The drug was starting to take effect right about that time, and my breathing and heart rate slowed even though I was so damn scared. This sleepiness overtook me, and I just had to lie down on the blanket. The next thing I knew, I woke up with you n-next to me in a g-grave."
"Oh, Bella. I'm so sorry you had to go through this."
"It wasn't supposed to be this way. A-Alice was supposed to call you and let you know I wasn't d-dead. I expected to wake up on my bed with you next to me, waiting for me. What went wrong?"
"I did. I went wrong. I thought you were dead, and I crushed the phone. It's up in my room shattered into a thousand pieces all over the floor. And then I couldn't bear the thought of speaking to anyone, and my intention was to lie there on top of your grave until the Volturi came back for me. I—I just couldn't leave you."
"Why would you wait for the Volturi?"
"Because I was going to beg them to scatter my ashes over your grave," I answered quietly.
Bella gasped. "Oh, Edward. We almost were Romeo and Juliet, weren't we?"
"Yes. Too close for comfort. And I still wonder where the hell Alice is. Surely she would have headed straight here once she realized what was happening." My teeth ground together.
"There has to be a good explanation. Alice wouldn't let us down if she could help it."
I realized Bella was right, and despite having the love of my life tucked safely in my arms, a feeling of foreboding shuddered through me.
A/N: Okay, now I can say that I'm shocked at how many of you thought I was going to kill Bella off! Ye of so little faith, LOL. I sure hope I get as many comments for this chapter as the last one... Let me know what you're thinking now. I hope you're all feeling a bit better about where this is going.
We're almost at the end of this story, guys. Another chapter or two and maybe some outtakes/epilogues. *sniffle* Well, it was only supposed to be 2-4 chapters...
Thank you for reading!
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