I have no explanation other than life. I do thank each and every one of you...well, with the exception of one...for your kind words, your encouragement, and your willingness to read and wait even though my plans were...not like I planned. I hope you enjoy this last chapter. If time permits, I'll begin another story to follow up. But, as I've learned my lesson, I make no promises.
I honestly can't say enough how much I appreciate you readers. You're the lifeblood for any writer, and I'm going to try to get around to replying to those reviews that have piled up in my absence. I won't mush too much. But know you're -all- appreciated and your words didn't fall on deaf ears. I do have to thank a very special someone for getting this chapter beta'd. She knows who she is.
So, without further groveling (which I -still-think I deserve to do) here is the last chapter in "What if I Told You"
Victoria lunged the second Riley's teeth ripped into Bella's jugular. Edward, unable to move, was thrown back, his body shoved up against a rut of grass and mud. Instincts kicked in, and even though his mind was reeling, his heart breaking to pieces, his body went into fight mode.
Victoria was relentless, sensing she had Edward in a vulnerable state, and volleyed him from all sides, testing his agility and speed. He didn't miss a single blow, and as the battle raged on, his mind became more in sync with his body. The pain he felt began to burn, soon boiling hot into pure rage.
He'd make sure she never made it out of the meadow alive.
Emmett burst through the treeline, his eyes zeroed in on Riley holding a wilting Bella in his grasps, and he immediately moved in that direction.
"NO!" Carlisle shouted, signaling for Emmett to go around.
Emmett nodded, circling around the back of Riley, who cared only for the prey at his hands. As Emmett's fist made contact with the base of his spine, Riley tore his fangs out of Bella's neck, and he screamed in pain. That was all Carlisle needed to wrench Bella from his arms and move her to safety.
Meanwhile, Edward circled Victoria, blocking out everything except her. Hatred and anger coursed through his veins. Edward shivered at his need to end her. She sensed his rage, and her response only made Edward sneer. "I can hear your fear."
"Get out of my fucking head, you freak," she spat. Her movements became jerky, desperate, and the edge she'd held earlier was slipping jab by jab.
Edward sneered, dodging her at every turn. "There is an afterlife for you, and I guarantee you won't see your sick, demented mate when you burn. Isn't that what you fear, Victoria? You know..."
Edward saw her body stiffen, felt her small grip on confidence falter and then fall flat.
"You know, he wasn't thinking of you when we dismembered him piece by piece." Victoria's face fell, her body surged with anger. "In fact, I think Bella was on his mind...and her blood was on his lips."
Victoria screeched and lunged at Edward, fury causing her body to splay itself wide open in haste, and that was all Edward needed. Grabbing her head as she barrelled into him, he twisted till a sick popping sound echoed through the empty space, and her body fell limp at his feet.
When the last bit of feral fight drained out of Edward's body, he turned and surveyed the scene. Emmett was dismembering Riley, already starting a fire to burn his body. Edward looked back down at Victoria's limp form, and just as he was about to haul it over to Emmett's blaze, a shrill scream tore through the meadow. Edward dropped the body and sped towards the sound. He was crouched next to Bella's flailing form before she had time to close her mouth.
Carlisle had propped Bella up on his knees, her back settled against his thighs, while he'd wrapped his arms around her body to hold her limp arm straight. His cheek rested gently against her temple and he whispered words of comfort and assurance, but Edward could see the sorrow in his mind. His thoughts showed him everything he needed to know.
It's too much, Edward. I'm sorry. The major artery took the venom straight to her heart. Carlisle didn't speak out loud, as not to upset Bella, and Edward nodded, his body visibly shaking.
Moving slowly, he straddled her thighs, cupping her face in his hands. Her eyes were unfocused, her breathing shallow and erratic, and sweat coated her forehead, matting her dirty hair to her skin. Edward tore his shirt off, gently wiping away the grime from her skin, dying each time she grimaced at his touch.
"Bella. Bella, can you look at me?" he asked, encouraged when her eyes met his. His encouragement only lasted seconds, though, because the pain in her eyes tore him to pieces. "I'm so sorry. I'm...I can't..."
Edward hung his head, leaning his forehead against her heaving chest, torturing himself with the accelerated beating of her heart. He heard Carlisle's thoughts, and quickly moved away from Bella, decimating a tree to gather flat pieces of bark to serve as a suitable split. With the venom in her system, the healing wouldn't take long, but it needed to be straight.
Just as he returned, Bella coughed, gagged back the bile in her throat, and Carlisle rolled her over as she emptied the contents of her stomach. She retched hard, clawing at the ground with one hand, her stomach heaving noticeably, until there was nothing more to give. She screamed, clutching her chest, but Carlisle rolled her back over and replaced her hand with his cool touch. She seemed to calm, a bit, but it wasn't without effort that she kept more screams inside.
After she was braced, Carlisle switched places with Edward and began to look her over carefully for any other types of injury. His mind catalogued bruising, a cracked rib or two, and dehydration. But as he palpated her abdomen, Bella's eyes began to flutter closed.
"Bella?" Carlisle called. "Bella. Can you hear me?" Carlisle placed a hand on her forehead, trying to keep her conscious, but as her eyes closed, he gently pulled one eyelid back with his thumb, checking her reaction. Just as suddenly, her breathing slowed down to near nothing, and an eerie wave of calm washed over her, leaving her body slack and loose.
Edward looked at Carlisle, then back at Bella. His eyes were wild, frantic, as he tried to rouse Bella several times with soft jostles. Carlisle stayed calm, checking her over again, but Edward wouldn't relent. Frustrated with Carlisle's passive approach, Edward grabbed Carlisle's forearm forcefully.
"Do something!" he screamed. When Carlisle didn't immediately answer, he shoved him away and attempted to lift Bella up into his arms. Carlisle spoke softly, placing a firm hand on Edward's bicep, reminding Edward that Bella was injured, that she needed to be handled carefully, but he wouldn't be deterred. Finally, Carlisle motioned for Emmett, and when Emmett had him pinned, Carlisle smoothly moved Bella out of Edward's embrace.
Edward roared, struggling against Emmett, and muttering for Carlisle to help her, to save her.
"Don't let her die, Carlisle. Please, don't let her die." Edward sobbed openly as Emmett held him.
"Listen, son. Stop struggling and listen for a moment." Carlisle repeated his words again, seeing recognition come back to Edward's face. "Do you hear her heart? It's beating."
Edward nodded his head, mutely, never taking his eyes off Bella. As each beat reverberated through his eardrums, he gained a measure of control and comfort. She was alive.
And she was dying right before his eyes, but a little part of him was happy about that.
The rest of the family came into hearing range and Edward nodded at Carlisle, holding out his arms, and Carlisle gently moved Bella to him. Edward looked down at her seemingly sleeping form, then back at Carlisle, his thoughts a jumble of theories and hypotheses.
"I don't know. I've never seen anything like it." Carlisle balled his fist and rubbed her sternum, but there was no reaction. Both he and Edward noticed the scent of venom in her veins, but her reaction seemed to be quite the opposite.
Alice was the first to make it to Edward. Her face was grief stricken, confused, and just to make sure she wasn't mistaken, she reached out and laid a hand on Bella's shoulder. Edward stifled a growl, but Alice wouldn't even look at him.
"She...disappeared. I thought...Oh, God, Bella..." Alice laid her forehead against Bella's and sighed, but her head popped up instantly. "She's...did you, Edward?"
Edward shook his head, and Alice placed her tiny hand against his cheek. "It doesn't matter who did it, Edward. You're still her mate."
Edward simply shook his head and pulled Bella's body close to his so that the sprint back wouldn't upset her arm. Then, he took off.
Soft white sheets framed her pallid figure, and no matter how much Edward stared, or hoped, she did not stir.
She did nothing for three days.
Carlisle moved in and out quietly, admonishing Edward in his thoughts to hunt, to get clean, or at least to move from the spot he'd planted himself in after bringing Bella back to their home. He garnered no response.
Edward allowed Alice and Rose to clean Bella up, only growling when he felt they were causing her pain or handling her too much. They ignored him but did not begrudge him his expression of ownership. He treated Carlisle with the same regard, combing his thoughts as he periodically examined Bella's well healed injuries, her still, silent body, though Edward showed no outward sign he was listening. It was just understood.
An eerie silence hung in the house; her heart beat steadily, and it was the most deafening sound any of them had ever heard. Edward's eyes, almost constantly trained on Bella's still body, had catalogued nearly every second of her immortal change. The flush beneath her skin had cooled, hardened, and the frailty that was a constant reminder to Edward of his transgression had faded as Bella's musculature developed, filled out, molding her body into a perfect weapon.
A perfect, seductive weapon.
Edward couldn't stop his eyes from roaming...or staring, whatever...at her breasts, the curve of her hip and the swell of her ass, as she lay on the bed in nothing more than a heather gray t-shirt and a snug pair of gym shorts. She'd likely gone up a cup size, and if Edward contemplated that too much, he found himself having to control his bodily reaction. Her ass had literally drawn up into a perfect apple-bottom, a healthy handful, Edward had thought in his pondering, and her hips had widened proportionate to her now-toned thighs.
But those times of sensual contemplation were brief and few because the second he let himself revel in the beauty of his mate, it was as if his mind countered with the guilt of her death, for lack of a better word. Though there were better words, as Edward observed in his family's minds, no one said them out loud because...no one knew if she'd wake up to her immortal life.
And that haunting fact kept Edward exactly where he had been for these long, agonizing three days.
Alice couldn't assured him with visions and glimpses into the future that Bella would be fine, that she'd wake more glorious than he'd ever known her, and no words of comfort penetrated his silent vigil. Edward struggled with the concept of God, of eternity, being what he was, but while he sat beside her bed, her hand in his, he prayed. It didn't matter who answered. He prayed for time. He prayed for forgiveness. He prayed for the grace that was, he felt, undeserved. But most of all he prayed for her.
Though she made no sound, Bella wasn't resting peacefully. Edward knew the pain of transition. He'd experienced it first hand, seen his family writhing as the venom scorched away their humanity, and the thought that Bella was feeling even a fraction of that hurt weighed so heavily on him that at times he felt he couldn't hold his frame straight. He'd imagined her change a million times, and when he made the decision that he'd give her eternal life himself, he began to mentally prepare to hear her scream out and beg for relief. He could have never imagined, though, that her silence would cut deeper.
This third day was thick with anticipation, anxiety, but most of all fear. Alice flitted around as if she was unaffected, but she had no vision of Bella's awakening to share. Even still, when she felt Edward at his lowest, she'd whisper from wherever she was for him to have faith. Eleazar and Carmen spent countless hours with Carlisle, digging through ancient texts of their kind, searching for an answer to Bella's condition, but in the end they found nothing. Tanya, Irina, and Kate tried their best to help the family pass the time with small conversation, reminiscing of times past, and helping keep everyone hunted so that Edward could keep his watch.
Late in the evening, the day about to pass without Bella's presence, the house was so silent that the sound of Bella's heart beginning to hammer seemed to echo off the walls.
"Carlisle!" Edward yelled, though there was no need, pushing off the chair and scrambling to Bella's side holding her hand tightly. His eyes roamed madly over Bella's body, but when he found no sign of movement, his heart sank.
Carlisle came through the door before Edward could finish calling. He walked calmly in, running over Bella's vitals, and began to touch and press on her body, confusion and hope in his thoughts.
When he finally stepped back, he looked at Edward, Carlisle's eyes flitting up to the audience at the doorway. "It's almost done."
Edward shook his head, his free hand planting firmly in his matted hair as he pulled, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. There were no words right now that didn't contain questions with no answers or pleas that no one could help. Instead he held her hand. If that was all he could do for eternity, he'd reside himself to that task just to be near her.
A flinch of Bella's index finger, though, jolted Edward back to the present.
"Bella?" Edward called softly as he raised his eyes to hers, but he was only met with closed lids. The seconds that passed felt like years, but when her eyelashes fluttered, everyone refused to breathe.
Edward blocked out the swirling thoughts around him, leaned close to Bella's face, then slipped down closer, laying his cheek against hers and whispering low into her ear, "Come back to me, Isabella."
The whisper hid his cracking voice, but it couldn't mask the pain, the longing, or the fragile hope mixed in with his words.
Esme, hand over her mouth and now buried in Carlisle's side, gasped when Bella's heart stuttered, beat once more, then...stopped.
"No..." Edward choked on that small word, closing his eyes and swallowing thickly, barely holding himself together.
He began to mumble, his lips moving at a blinding speed as words tumbled out, but no one could make out what he said. When he was done, though, he laid his forehead on her shoulder and turned his face into her neck.
Slowly, Edward pulled Bella's hand close to his heart, flattening her palm against his body and held it there covered by his hand. He took in a long breath, memorizing every complexity of her scent, and he realized she...still sang to him.
And as he took his second breath in, so did Bella.
Edward smiled, his eyes still shut, and took another breath as Bella did the same. Her fingers curled softly against his chest, her face turned into him, and she gave a soft groan.
"Hi," Edward whispered. He didn't have the courage to lift his head and look her in the eye. What if he was hallucinating? What if he'd created an alternate reality because he couldn't deal with the fact that he'd just watched his mate die? No, Edward stayed, eyes closed and happy in his delusion.
"Hi...," Bella's voice rang in her own ears, sweet and soft, surrounded by the only thing that could ever bring her peace...Edward. She didn't dare open her eyes. What if she was dead? What if this was heaven and she and Edward were there together? She...just didn't want to know. All she needed was to stay in his arms, hear his voice, and she'd be fine...completely fine.
The family's eyes darted between Edward and Bella, not quite sure what to do, but Jasper's slight clearing of the throat drew everyone's attention...everyone except Edward and Bella's. Emmett snorted a laugh, thinking they looked ridiculous sniffing each other like they were, and when Edward growled, Rose put two and two together...then put Emmett's balls together with her fist. He gave a small whimper but took it like a man, silently swearing to beat the hell out of Edward when he wasn't so distraught.
"I missed you," Edward whispered, still not raising his eyes, still not sure that she was really there. He tested the waters, turning his head slightly, and laid a soft kiss on her neck. When she moaned, her cool breath brushing over his own skin, his grin widened and he chuckled once.
"Edward?" Bella's own voice sounded strange, foreign, to her.
"Yes, Bella?" Edward answered quickly. His voice also sounded new, more amazing than Bella remembered.
Her contemplation on the sounds of their voices almost deterred her from her task...almost. But as Edward lay against her, as ecstatic as she was to be here, in his arms, surrounded by family, she couldn't ignore it any longer.
"Edward...you smell horrible," Bella groaned, trying to turn away from him in mock disgust.
The peanut gallery, barely holding themselves back, erupted in laughter and applause. Emmett gave a loud shout, and Jasper pressed two fingers between his lips and gave a good 'ole cowboy whistle.
Bella, not really bothered by the smell, hid her face further in Edward's embrace, laughing a bit herself. When she peeked out, the emotions in the eyes she met filled her with assurance that, even though things didn't go as planned, even though there would be difficulties to come, that no matter what she was loved.
Edward leaned up, bringing his eyes to hers for the first time. Their ruby glow seemed to tinge Bella's own brown eyes, and he'd never seen a sight more magnificent. Brushing a finger over her face, moving a few wisps of hair and tucking them behind her ear, he mouthed the words I love you and she whispered them back.
Life was not perfect at the Cullen house now. This was not the magic fix for their family, but at that moment, it didn't matter.
"We gather here today to lay to rest a beloved daughter and friend, Isabella Marie Swan."
That was the only line Bella could bear to listen to before she made her way slowly back to the house.
In the days after she'd woken up, Bella had worked on patching the damage that Victoria and Riley had done. Sadly, through the process, Bella learned how apt the Cullens were at ending a life and beginning a new one. Just as Jasper planned, Bella's truck had been found at the bottom of the river after a passerby noticed the railing of the bridge had been damaged. The Cullens spoke with police, gave their statements, comforted Charlie, and attended her funeral...and no one suspected a thing.
A mysterious life insurance policy had been taken out on Bella, her father the beneficiary, by a distant, deceased relative. Edward's absence from it all was easily explained by his overwhelming grief, and when the Cullens made their decision known that they'd be taking a family trip so soon after her death, no one questioned them. Charlie even offered to check in on the house while they were gone. In fact, the talk around town was that Edward needed to get away, and everyone could sympathize with that.
Edward was waiting on her to walk through the doors of the house, and he was expecting the worst. When Bella had asked to go alone, he'd only agreed because his family would be there, along with the Denalis, if Bella had trouble. But he knew she wouldn't, and he also knew that if she'd needed his presence there, she'd have asked.
So instead, he sat at home, not so calmly, and waited. At the first click on the doorknob, Edward was on his feet in had her in his arms when she took her first step inside the door. He held her as tightly as he wanted now, not minding his strength, and she did the same, winding her arms around his back and laying her cheek on his chest.
"I'm okay." Bella's voice was feeble, but resolved, and Edward kissed the top of her head and held her a moment longer before leading her to the couch. He sat and pulled her onto his lap, a gesture she didn't fight one bit.
"You didn't stay the whole time," Edward stated. He'd expected her gone much longer considering that Carlisle had texted him when the graveside service began.
"No," Bella mumbled, drawing her legs up into Edward's lap, "I didn't need to. I saw Charlie and Renee, Phil, and a few other people. That's all I wanted."
Edward pursed his lips at her matter-of-fact explanation, but decided today wasn't the day to press her for more. Instead, he stretched and grabbed a blanket, bundling both of them up in front of a roaring fire, not caring if it wasn't quite cold enough outside to warrant one.
She'd been quieter lately, not withdrawn, but more stoic in the face of what she woke up to. Her joke had broken the ice, but there was so much more underneath. After her first hunt, which she did surprisingly well at, Carlisle couldn't contain his curiosity any longer
"Bella, do you remember much from your transition?" Carlisle's question was honest, and there was no malice behind his intentions, but as soon as he asked, Bella stiffened in Edward's arms. The question hung in the air for a few tense moments.
"No." And that was all she said. As if he had no empathy at all, which they all knew wasn't the case, Carlise clarified his question.
"I'm not sure if you're aware, or if we ever explained what is involved in a vampire's transition, but..." Carlisle gave a lengthy, detailed recount of what transition typically looked like, the possible medical reasons for such a reaction, and the general feelings of the person in transition. Curiously, no one tried to stop him. Edward sat, Bella in his lap, his jaw clenched in anger.
Bella nodded, listened, and when he finished, she simply replied, "I don't remember."
When Carlisle -still- persisted, Esme even laid a hand gently on his knee, but he was in his own head by that time, explaining to Bella how her transition was so surprising.
"I SAID I DON'T REMEMBER!" Bella yelled out of nowhere, her fists balled at her side, and Edward froze. Emmett stood, Jasper locking down the mood, quickly neutralizing the sudden spike, and just as quickly as Bella lost her shit, she took a deep breath and nodded. "But if I remember anything, I'll be sure to let you know, Carlisle."
"Sure, sweetheart, I..." Bella held a hand up to Carlisle as be started to apologize, and he simply nodded.
And that was all she had to say on the subject of her transition, of her time with Victoria and Riley, and no one pushed her to talk.
There would be more time for talking later. The curious case of Bella's change could wait till the distant future. Edward's frustration that he still couldn't hear her thoughts needed to be explored. Her odd control over her newborn tendencies was also a subject they'd shelved for the time being, but all would come in time.