She was so full of questions, all vibrant curiosity. Edward would have preferred to sit in silence, or something close to it. Whenever he spoke in answer, he had to pull in air to do it with, and whatever agent of chaos had invented Bella had given her the most outrageous scent in history. He looked at her notebook, through his peripheral vision, wondered if she'd be frightened off if he proposed writing his answers instead? Reducing the danger, but drawing her attention to it...
Better not to suggest it. He would not hurt her - not her of all people - chaos's intent be damned. The fire in his throat was unanswered and would stay that way.
He focused on her questions, devoted his full attention to answering them (and, privately, marveling at her insight). No, he did not know what Jasper did exactly when affecting vampires; no, he was not aware of Alice having a time limit but couldn't call to mind anything she'd predicted more than a few months in advance; no, he didn't know exactly what sort of power Bella had or how it related to the silence of her mind...
Edward wondered what her thoughts would sound like, if only he could hear them. It was a safer wondering than the one about her flavor. Her mind would be like her voice, probably, warm mezzo-soprano charging up and down every pitch on the scale and broadcasting sharp wit or casual flippancy or insistent curiosity.
She wanted to know about the Volturi. About the effects of human blood on vampires (Edward stayed as clinical as he could, and tried not to focus on the bright blush under her near-translucent skin or the steady rhythm of her heart). About vampire cosmetic properties and vampire biology and social structures.
"Do most vampires pair off like your family has, or is that a vegetarian thing?" Bella inquired.
He almost panicked. Only almost. Instead he looked her right in her softly brown eyes and said, "It's reasonably common for vampires to marry. Not universal."
"How long does that usually last? On average," asked Bella.
If you ever lie to her, it will end badly, Alice had said... Alice was worth trusting...
From up the stairs, Alice's thoughts reiterated: Do NOT lie to Bella. Not even about this. See! And Edward listened through her mind's eye, accustomed to the badly-mixed senses by long practice. The look on possible-Bella's face, when she inevitably learned the truth, was intolerable: she (blurrily) looked betrayed, horrified - he tuned his sister out with a wince, the expression passing over his face too fast for Bella to catch.
"Until one of them dies," he said, biting his tongue to hold back the misleading truth as long as they want to. Bella would not appreciate being misled. "In every case I've heard of."
Bella blinked. "After that, do they often remarry?"
"Never," he murmured. How could they? Supposedly, every one of them loves their mate as much as I love you. Are you imagining I could move on if something happened to you, that I could do anything short of go to the Volturi where my family might not dare intervene and beg them to help me follow you? But he didn't speak that thought. She was going to make the inference or ask the question herself: don't push her, Alice said; go slowly, Alice said.
Bella processed this assertion. "How many vampires have you heard of - in enough detail that you'd know if they were exceptions?"
"Thousands," said Edward, "if one includes second- or third-hand cases. Counting them would take a short while, if the ballpark estimate isn't what you had in mind?"
"Ballpark is fine," Bella said faintly. Her heartbeat was speeding up, and there was a distant dazed look on her face, but otherwise she didn't betray the shock or disgust he'd have expected. He was sure she'd figured it out, nevertheless. "So! About those Volturi..."
He made no protest about the new subject.
In the back of his mind, he prayed that if, one day, she had to be afraid of him, it wouldn't be about that. Let her hate him for being a monster, fear him for wanting her blood, object to his driving habits - but if she had to send him away from her, let it be for some reason other than that he loved her and could never stop.
Well, that worked out well, didn't it? Addy commented. She never did leave you at all. Loved you till the day she died.
Edward produced a mental approximation of a snarl, forced back into the moment composed of pain and the absence of Bella. You have all my memories. You can rifle through them at your leisure. Why are you listening in on me while I replay them? You've made it clear I'm not likely to convince you to kill me, and I have no other use for your company. Why?
Bored, she thought back. Only so many times I can run through the same menu without getting that way, and I don't have an assignment pending. I'm not just listening to you, anyway, don't be so self-centered; everybody's thinking of happier times, except Alice, who's watching happier places. Or, not so much happier, I suppose. Her mate's less disassembled than you lot are, at least. I'm not doing it to annoy you. You do tune me out mostly... until I think about Bella without mirroring your own thoughts.
I can tune everyone out, until they think about Bella, Edward returned. You know why. Through Addy's eyes he watched a quarter of his wrist twitch blindly towards another of the same and start gluing back together. They'd feed him in seven, maybe eight days, and then the pain would go away for an hour while Alec kept them docile. Then it would only be Bella's absence and Edward's helpless self-loathing about what they fed the captives plaguing him.
Addy usually ignored the thoughts he didn't formulate as replies, and no differently on this occasion. So, I've been neglecting you for days now. Tell me: are you going in sequence from the time you met her, again, or skipping around - highlights, best-of, greatest hits...? inquired Addy. Marathon of every time she smiled at you, back-to-back with no commercial breaks? Do I get to make a request? Freebird!
Skipping around, he answered. Talking to Addy wasn't entirely voluntary, done this way. She'd hear whatever he thought whether he decided to answer her or not, and unlike his family he'd never developed the skill of refusing to think of something. Nothing systematic. And no requests.
Aw, I was only joking about Freebird, I know you're all about art music, came Addy's laughing reply. Or relive your honeymoon again. You can't be bored of it already; you've only run through it, what...
Ninety-four times Edward answered unwillingly. It was twelve days of concentrated, unadulterated Bella. Twelve days untroubled with the politics and travel and family squabbles and similar interruptions to what should have been an easy, happy life. (Until that damned phone rang.)
If he walked through that indelible memory, or any other, in real time, and concentrated very, very hard, he could forget the physical pain (which was never as bad as turning, anyway). He could almost forget, too, that the woman he remembered was dead.
Or your daughter, suggested Addy. You never think about her except in terms of Bella.
Why would I? he thought. You took her from me. I'm not even clear on why. Didn't want to round out a hat trick of torture making me miss her too? Uncharacteristic.
Just thoroughness. That's hardly uncharacteristic. Your feelings on the matter were irrelevant, I'm sure you recall. Oh - I don't remember if anyone even notified you when we learned some news, Addy thought lightly. Elspeth's been missing from home for years now. Eleazar called us on his cousins' behalf, asking if we'd heard anything, but we didn't know where she'd gotten to either.
I don't care, Edward said.
I know, Addy sang. Just making conversation.
Edward couldn't see, his ears were fractionated into uselessness, and his nerves were reporting only confusion and pain.
But he could hear.
No doubt his brain was in - no, he didn't have to guess, one of the wolves was looking right at him. Brain in nine pieces. But somehow it functioned. And he could listen through others' senses and know what was going on.
Other wolves were looking at Bella, also - he wanted to scream, but that was impossible - also scattered. Their pieces were mingled together, bending and quivering. Bella's mind was silent as ever and Edward didn't know if he was glad of it or not. If he'd been able to hear her, he would have been with her - in some small way - at that moment.
If he'd been able to hear her, he would have been listening to her scream.
It was hard to keep hold of the present moment, taken apart, but he kept time by the thoughts of others. Wolves, thinking in twin choruses linked by the alphas, thoughts sterilized with Chelsea's cauterizing cuts. Fewer than there would have been: the wolf called Jacob who'd called Bella was away safely with some others. Vampires: Jane and Alec. Afton and Chelsea. Demetri. Aro and Renata. Addy, the new element in the coven, the one he'd misunderstood until too late. The reason they didn't want to kill him but had no qualms about killing Bella.
Harry and Sue, the couple Bella had helped, were already dead; Edward couldn't hear them, but he could see their ashes and pick up the knowledge of who they were from the wolves.
And then Addy drew closer, to sort out the pieces of him and his mate, and Edward heard: anticipation, and hunger. She might want to keep Bella alive too. She might have enough pull to manage it.
Addy laid a hand on part of Bella's arm, and then when it repelled her gift, she hissed furiously and hurled the piece against a tree. The sharp edge of it lodged in the wood, where it quivered. "No!" she snapped.
"No?" inquired Aro, following Addy with his bodyguard in tow.
"Immune to me too!" snarled the copier. "Ugh. Do I have to sort them? It's like biting down on tinfoil - here -" She touched Aro's hand, imparting the sensation.
"I can, if it's so disagreeable to you," said Aro lightly, every inch the monarch condescendng to assist a subject, and Addy played her part too, but there was a flare of something else - blackmail? That didn't make sense - Edward couldn't read it deeper than that, as it wasn't on the surface.
Aro couldn't affect Bella any more than Addy could, but his failures were not uncomfortable; he separated the parts of each, telling them apart by whether he could read thoughts from them or not.
Not Bella! howled Edward as loudly as he could with no intact mouth. Don't kill her, please, don't kill my Bella -
Aro ignored him.
The two vampires were sorted out in minutes, collected in boxes. "This one is our shield," Aro said, handing a box to Afton. "Dispose of her, please, she'll be of no use and has demonstrated that she is a danger. And this, Addy, is for you." He handed the box that contained Edward to her.
Edward focused tightly on Afton, wishing he could do anything else but watch his wife die. But he couldn't close out the stream of input, and Bella compelled his attention even at the end. He ignored Addy's glee over his flavor (root beer), ignored what Aro said to his minions and the wolves, and just - heard -
Afton poured Bella into the pit they'd made to protect the wolves from smoke. He struck the last match out of his box.
And he tossed it in after her, and leaned in to make sure she'd caught, and Edward despaired.
There was Elspeth, still - Carlisle and Esme and Rosalie and Emmett had Elspeth, safe, she was safe, she had Bella's eyes -
Afton wasn't watching Bella burn anymore. Once he reported to Aro that her death was underway, no one gave her a second thought. A pocket of rage burst open in Edward's mind, but soon burned itself out and was replaced by despair.
Addy thought, quite deliberately: Hi! I'm Addy. I'll be profiting from your imprisonment. Yum. Ooh! Forgot to Chelsea you. Not likely to be important, but...
His connection to Bella was safe, that he knew. Nothing could touch that...
Right, Addy thought, can't do a thing about that. But we can do everything else. "Chelsea!" she called aloud.
"Coming," called Chelsea. She appeared at Addy's side. "Will you do it, or should I?" No, Edward thought, before Addy lost his power and couldn't hear. No. No. I'm already in a thousand pieces and my mate is dead, I can't go anywhere, you don't have to do anything more, I'm as destroyed as it should be possible to be, no, no -
"I will," Addy offered, paying no attention to what he wailed at her. "I don't think he likes you very much. Or me, but it bothers you."
Chelsea nodded fervently, touched Addy's hand, and then went back to her ongoing work with the wolves, cutting and pulling and weaving. NO, thought Edward again, but she could no longer hear. No, not my daughter, no, leave me something, just something!
Addy hovered a hand over the box, and waved it left to right. Edward felt the threads tear like paper against her skin, all in series: ... There, she thought. And now to put you on the plane.
Edward scrabbled mentally for the lost connections, more out of duty than emotion, but whenever he recovered a wisp of one, Addy waved her hand again and it was gone.
Eventually he stopped trying and his thoughts went back to making circles around Bella.
Edward did his best not to reply that he'd visited the memory specifically to remind himself that he hated Addy and shouldn't be chatting civilly with her. At least he tried to avoid thinking of it on a high enough level that she'd hear.
He revisited his honeymoon again, instead.