A/N: All characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer. No disrespect or copyright infringement is intended.
"Is it possible?" My body, so impervious to most pain, ached in strange, strained ways. Though I appeared immobile, it was only because I wanted to move in a hundred directions simultaneously.
"Edward, she has all the symptoms, and the movement inside – what else could it be? Just because we haven't heard of it doesn't mean it isn't possible," Carlisle whispered lowly. "I really believed that the differences in DNA and cell structure would reject fertilization at the zygote stage if it ever got that far. I'm so sorry, Edward, I just didn't know. It's uncertain what defenses the organism will take to defend itself, but it is sure to be ravenous, destructive – forbidden, putting us all in jeopardy."
"It's going to be imperative to attend to this before it progresses further. The growth rate is advanced, and its self-protective reflexes will be advanced as well. The stronger its defenses, the more danger to Bella. I'm sure I don't have to tell you this risk this places on her life. It's good that she's a young, healthy woman, strong. She is strong, Edward, you must remember that. Its going to take all her strength and all yours for any kind of successful outcome, whether we can surcease the development or not. We need to minimize whatever trauma her body suffers, and do it as quickly as possible. It's vital that she stay calm, which means you have to be calm for both of you. Get her home as quickly as possible and I'll ready things here. Can you do that?"
Calm? The word had no meaning in this world spinning out of control. "Yes. Yes, I will." I closed the phone, as my earlier elation soured into grief and fear.
"What did he say?" My beloved's voice was burdened with anxiety, and I remembered Carlisle's word: Calm.
"He thinks your pregnant." I swallowed the panicked grief that tore up from chest, threatening to strangle my words. The number to the airlines floated before my unseeing eyes, illuminating the task at hand. Get Bella home. Now.
"Who are you calling now?"
"The airport. We're going home."
"Mr. and Mrs. Cullen? Would you like something to drink?" The flight attendant was chipper and polished as she leaned over the seat. She turned to Bella. "Is this your first flight? You look a little… uneasy."
"We want nothing but our privacy," I snapped, and the attendant straightened immediately.
Bella's hand shot to the woman's arm as she threw an admonishing glance in my direction. "Could I have some club soda, please?" The attendant blinked and nodded, moving away quickly. Bella turned back to me. "You don't have to be rude, Edward. It's a long flight."
I smiled, chagrined, and lifted her hand to my lips. "Forgive me, love." My ill-mannered quip had brought the plea, but it carried a request for so much more, so much I had to regret.
"There's nothing to forgive," she said sweetly, her other hand sweeping to rest on her belly. "I love you, Edward."
My nerves alit with the fire of remorse as I saw her motions to comfort herself. "As I love you, Bella," I said. She watched me with a sad smile, her eyes dark with fatigue. "Would you like to rest?"
"I'm not –," she faltered as a yawn broke off her words. "Well, yes, I guess I am pretty tired. Will you hold me?"
"Of course, love," I said. The attendant returned with Bella's drink, setting it in the cup holder. "Excuse me," I began, trying to keep my tone even, "Could we have a couple blankets and a pillow?" Robotically, she reached to the overhead bin, and handed the items to me with a reflexive smile. "Thank you." The attendant nodded, moving away.
Bella smiled, and for just a moment, a brush of rose painted her cheeks. "See? Not so hard." As she finished the sentence another yawn escaped her with a sharp inhalation. She smacked her lips and rubbed her stomach. "Wow, that was unexpected."
"Are you in pain?" The words tumbled out in a rush of anxiety and fear.
"Edward, I'm okay. I'm just surprised at how tired I am, all of a sudden."
I lifted my arm, allowing her to drape herself across my torso. She snuggled to my chest as I cautiously tucked the blankets around her and pulled her closer. The action seized me with a moment of panic and yearning; I needed her close to me, needed her warmth and love. It took all the will left within me to resist drawing her into my lap and clutching her to my chest protectively as my turmoil burned on. She sighed into her position, her breathing regular and even, slowing into sleep moments later.
As she slept, my mind splintered into the multitude of directions that had frozen me earlier. Bella, my Bella, my sweet, beautiful love. Only hours before, our entire existence had stretched before us, limitless and abundant with possibility. So much life to live! And now, gone, ruined, destroyed by my own greed and penury.
Though I had at last shaken the dawning nightmare painted with her simple words, I had been less effective compelling her to action. She seemed dazed and yet, somehow, determined. This dichotomy was purely Bella; it was the same stunned resolve that had placed her before James, the bewildered resoluteness with which she derailed Victoria. I had grown too accustomed to her quiet strength; though I had stopped each attack, brought her back from the edge of the most dire of consequences, I never expected her tenacity. These battles defined our lives; why was this so different? Because now, the attack came from within. Because the monster grew within my love, scratching and pushing, eating her alive. Because this time, she would not escape unharmed.
I could not speak the tragedy that awaited her, could not utter the words, could not conceive the outcome, lest I made it real. The thing inside her would kill her inch by inch as it grew, taking more and more of her life, literally draining her dry in its incubation. All pregnancy contained some degree of parasitic growth, but this… this abomination was worse than any vampiric monster that walked the earth. The path was clear; it had to be destroyed. My mind raced with questions, possibilities. Could it be destroyed?
How could I agree to this compromise? I knew it was folly when she had asked. What had made me change my mind? Was it her nearness, the sweetness of her skin, the promise of her body? The dreams of life together as man and wife, without fear, without need to hide… Was it so irresistible that reason and caution had been overcome? Together, forever, or what part of forever we would have - the dream was our destruction.
With focus only available in hindsight, the consequences that abstinence had eclipsed pulled up before me. Longing and want tempted us to foolhardy hope. I should have released the need for complete chastity. I should have allowed contact that did not involve sexual congress, protecting us both while lessening our desire. I should never have bought that bed. I should have left after our first failed kiss. I should have stayed in Alaska. I should never come to Forks all those years ago. I should have died in 1918. I should never have been born.
My path of self-reproach and remorse drew me deeper into guilt and regret. I was a monster; I had created a monster. All the careful embraces, each attempt to keep her safe, protected – all for naught, rendered meaningless by the very nature of the protector himself. How had I fooled myself to believe that I was a man?
The self-loathing was earned and deserved, yet as if to counter my self-abasement, Bella snuggled more deeply into my side. The corners of her mouth curled, casting more angelic qualities into her countenance in spite of its already deathly pallor. Emotion seized me, breaking across my chest. The pain of love possessed me so unexpectedly and deep, I could no longer resist the need to be nearer. Desperation pulled her into my lap; fear watched her breathe. She did not stir or wake as I tucked the blanket around her more fully, swaddling her so she could bear my gelidity.
Self-loathing, no matter how justified, would not serve her now. No, it was a self-indulgence that I could ill afford. She would need whatever strength and persistence remained within me for the trial that would now consume her existence. So much life to live, so many paths. It was impossible to accept that my rashness had so narrowed the course, all left to us now was a certain, hideous, irreversible catastrophe.
The flight attendant moved stiffly through the cabin, alerting the passengers to the landing. She paused near Bella's chair for just a moment. Her practiced speech was never delivered; as she bent to suggest Bella's return to her seat, I growled reflexively, pulling my love closer to my chest. I frightened her, I was sure, but I didn't care. No one was going to take her away from me. No one.
Move forward, I had to keep moving forward. Stopping meant thinking, realizing the hideous level of selfishness within me and the price she now paid for my egoism. Her skin was pale and cool, evidence of the thing festering inside. Several times she gasped loudly and clutched her abdomen as we sped past the lines of weary travelers.
My thoughts pushed me forward in staccato rhythm. Home to safety. Stay calm. Home to Carlisle. Stay calm. Get her to safety. Stay calm.
Each gasping breath, each shivered step, each agonizing lurch – these were the products of my insatiable desire for the fragile woman walking beside me, wide-eyed and terrorized. My mind would not still from the guilt and reproach that weighed on me. I wanted to pick her up, run to our family as they waited; only fear of the unbreakable rule cooled my step. I cursed under my breath for the conventions that slowed our progress: stairs, turnstiles, crowds. Bella and I plodded along, in slow, agonized progress, when I heard the family and saw their anxious faces.
She looks so ill, Esme thought. Her loving kindness kept her thoughts open and bare, never able to truly hide how she felt. In contrast, Alice and Jasper were quiet, carefully guarding their thoughts. They stood in front of Emmett, heads bowed as if in prayer.
I tuned into my father's concentrated focus on my wife. Carlisle was making medical assessments, watching the rise and flow of her chest, and visually measuring the bump of her belly. His gaze shot to my eyes. She's farther along than I'd imagined, Edward. My heart began to sink, weighing the tenor of his mind as his thoughts heightened my anxiety and concern.
Suddenly, Rosalie's shouting thoughts wrenched my attention away from my worry. I glanced over the heads of my family to see her moving to the front of the crowd. Rosalie's expression bright and ebullient, shone incongruous against the grave and mournful expressions of the rest. She pushed her way past Carlisle, her smile breaking across her face, as she bounced on her toes.
It was unbalancing, perplexing. Bella! Bella! Bella!, rang in her thoughts, further stunning and confusing me, another nightmare element in an ever-increasing world of disorientation and angst. I couldn't understand what was happening, and relaxed my hold on Bella's arm.
Bella plunged forward with such force, I thought she was falling. I lurched, stretching to reach her, when Rose's outstretched arms swept her from my grasp. Bella sobbed Rose's name as she clung to her neck, and abruptly, Rose's thoughts were clear.
I gasped in surprised horror. How could she want this? Didn't she understand? Did she realize Bella would… I couldn't finish the thought.
Carlisle rushed to me, holding my arms. "Edward, what is it? Edward?" As he shook me gently, I realized my mouth hung open in astonishment as the full tableau of Rosalie's mind opened before me.
"Bella," I whispered, as Rosalie pulled Bella outside, through the wide automatic doors.
Every day, every hour, every moment, I see her slipping further and further away.
Carlisle and Alice have attempted to counsel me as she sleeps, but their words barely reach me. I am flung far into the pit of despair and remorse, my guilt ravaging my nerves and sinew. The moments move by, each pronouncing her mortality as a death sentence, stealing her from me as time wears on.
Rosalie is another matter all together. She is a monster of another kind, encouraging and abetting Bella on this misguided course. Her thoughts hold little hope for Bella, and all aspiration for herself. She sees the growth as the panacea to all loss and sorrow, but only for her designs. For her, Bella is the host, the service, the platter to dish up her most fervent desire. Though I impugn her entirely, I cannot rebuke her singly.
Bella chose this path, chose her advocate. My everlasting regret falls to the depths of my shame that I was not that champion. My sweet girl turned to the one who had treated her monstrously for protection, so completely had I precluded her desires. Even now as she sleeps, discomforted and dolorous in repose, I am seized by the disappointment she must have felt.
Did she see me disrespectful of life, as Rosalie would have her believe? Did she see me as villain, monster, and Rosalie as savior?
My orchestrations of our life together have been disastrous. I worry, I plan, calculate and try to control, yet each outcome is worst than the last, and none speak my love for her. Though I sought to beat chance, Bella has always confounded my expectations, blinding me with her beauty and love. Were she not the center of my universe, my air, my soul, my beating heart, were these things untrue, would I then discover the ability to live and love? I can't tell.
All is now lost for my Bella, and I must resign myself to this end. I have no gift to give, no salvation to deliver, no remedy to brighten our horizons. My failure must not besmirch her dreams; my dejection, guilt and remorse must not paint her final days. As the monster grows, so grows her joy and pain. I can change neither. To end her pain, I would deprive her of her joy, and that, more than any other atrocity I have committed in the name of love, would paint me monster in her eyes. No, I will not allow it.
Her pain is my agony. Her joy is my death. These are gifts; these are her final days. She will see my love and nothing more while she breathes; her heartbeat will command my smile. Until she is free of this realm, I will give her no grief, no controlled rage, no regret. Let tomorrow find me destroyed; she will live with joy for as long as she may.