AN: This is a sequel. If you haven't read the previous story, it might not make much sense. I'd like to link you to the first story, but apparently that is not allowed. You can, of course, find it easily by visiting my profile. It's called "The Road Less Traveled."
Comments are very much appreciated. Chapter 15 only is rated M. The rest of the story is tame.
Edward thought Bella Black might protest when he carried her straight through the house and up to his bedroom. He had never removed the bed from it, though it hurt him to see it. That's one reason he'd spent so much time away from home in the last twelve years.
He laid her down gently on top of the gold comforter. As he'd carried her away from Jacob's unmarked grave, he had noticed several things. She didn't cling to him when he carried her, as she used to. She kept her body distant from his, though in his relief to be holding her again, he held her tightly. Her nose didn't twitch as she inhaled the scent of his skin, the way he remembered it once had.
Bella rolled away from him as soon as he released her, and he understood this to mean that she wanted to be alone. It hurt. He would have liked to have comforted her. He stood, indecisive, beside the bed for only an instant and then left the room. He went back downstairs to find that his family was conspicuously absent from all the common areas of the house. He turned on the television and stared at it blankly, unmoving. A few minutes later, the usual delegate for IEdward cheering/I appeared behind him. He could hear Emmett's thoughts long before he could discern the sound of his steps. He ignored him anyway.
"You didn't honestly expect her to be pleased to see you, after all that's happened," Emmett commented finally, when it became clear Edward wasn't going to answer the thought unless he voiced it.
"Do you think someone should stay with her? Just in case..." Emmett trailed off, and Edward suppressed a cringe at the rest of the thought, …she tries to jump off another cliff or something?
"No," he answered the spoken and unspoken alike. He didn't think that the Bella he'd seen today would be jumping off any cliffs. The Bella he'd seen today was not a person he was very familiar with. Twelve years had passed and changed nothing about him, but they'd made her almost unrecognizable.
It wasn't that she looked very different. She could pass for twenty; her skin was still so smooth and pale, her long hair still so shiny. What had changed about her was completely internal. The facial expressions he used to study with more attention than he'd ever given to any other subject were utterly foreign to him now. And the way she'd stared down Jane. As if at any moment Jane couldn't have torn her to bits and laughed over it! No, this Bella was no one he knew. And yet he loved her. Deeply. Desperately. And hopelessly, as she lay upstairs mourning her dead husband.
Emmett was not generally a thoughtful individual. His easy smile and happy-go-lucky attitude made it difficult for him to engage in these sorts of pep talks. And yet every time Edward had started to sink into depression, every time since the moment Emmett had joined the family, HE was the one they all looked to, to pull him back out. He seated himself beside Edward on the couch and waited until the thoughtful expression on his face fell back into undisguised pain.
"She's not the girl we remember," he said quietly, taking a guess at Edward's thoughts based on his own. Finally, Edward turned to look at him. He wanted to deny that. He wanted to tell Emmett to shut up about Bella, but he couldn't. Because, as usual, he could tell that Emmett was hurt by the changes in Bella, just as he was. Just as they all were. They had loved her like family, no one more than him, and she had Ichanged/I. It wasn't something that any member of the Cullen family had done. Not ever.
"No," he agreed finally. He turned his eyes back to the television.
Emmett looked at the TV, too. It was Emeril. He smirked. The one type of program that not a soul among them could get any use out of. As he thought it, Edward flipped the remote in his direction. "Here, then." He stood.
Emmett turned off the TV and stood as well. "Edward, come and hunt with me," he suggested quickly. He didn't want to loose him on the rest of the family until he'd at least smiled once. His reputation as Edward-tamer would forever be ruined.
Obligingly, as though he really had nothing else he wanted to be doing anyway, Edward offered him a weak smile at that thought. "Alright." Emmett gestured toward the back door, and followed Edward out into the chill light of dawn.
As they hunted, Emmett kept silent, but he thought a lot. He thought about what Bella meant to the family, which hadn't changed even if SHE had. He thought about what a great little sister she was going to make…in a hundred years, when she was free to join them again.
That made Edward wince, but Emmett couldn't help his next thought, which was that they all ought to go to the Volturi together. At least then, they could still be a family. Having them both gone from the house for the last decade had been hard on everyone, but especially Carlisle and Esme. Emmett wasn't aware that Edward had been hearing that thought repeated by every member of the family since he'd finished explaining the terms of Bella's negotiation.
"Cut it out, Emmett," Edward said through gritted teeth, when he'd had enough. They hadn't seen anything large enough to hunt in an hour, and Edward was getting sick of listening to Emmett's simplistic view of how things would be. He loved his brother, but sometimes the optimism got to him. He, himself, was not feeling particularly optimistic. Bella's pain-filled expression was too clearly imprinted on his mind for any kind of optimism.
"Edward, do you remember the last time Bella was at the house?" Emmett asked unnecessarily. Of course he remembered. He remembered everything. But that, especially, had been a memorable occasion, because whatever was left of his hope for them had been shattered and restored again, all in the same conversation. She'd come to ask Alice if she would be forfeiting a future with Edward by having Jacob's children. He'd told himself it meant something that she still hoped they could be together someday. But the thought of her and Jacob Black –
And then she'd disappeared for three days and come back married. He'd run away for another year after that. When he returned, it had been to Carlisle's description of the birth of Charlie Masen Black. Edward had curled up on the bed Bella now occupied and sobbed so hard he'd thought he might literally pass out. It had been Emmett who'd comforted him then, too. And he hadn't been able to tell if it was pain making him do it, or relief. She remembered him. She thought of him when she had her first child, although it wasn't his. Could never have been his.
"I remember." What a ridiculous understatement.
"She wanted to be with you then, or she would never have come. I'll wager whatever you'd like that she wants to be with you now. She just needs time."
"Time, we have." Edward heaved a sigh. "There's nothing out here to catch, and I don't want to go far. Were you very thirsty? I can send Jasper out."
"No. Let's go back," Emmett said, relieved to get more than three words at a time out of Edward. He counted that an improvement. Edward rolled his eyes at him as they turned back toward the house. "Want to race?" Emmett asked after a moment, letting some excitement creep into his tone. Edward neither looked at him nor sped up. And then suddenly, he was gone. Emmett grinned and followed, knowing he had no hope of catching him, but pleased that he'd played along.
Bella was certain Edward would be back as soon as she was asleep. However, when she discovered him gone, she took the opportunity to take off her filthy clothing and crawl under the covers. She kept her eyes carefully averted from the stains on her jeans where she'd wiped Jacob's blood. Her thoughts were scattered. She didn't dare think too long about any one thing. Jacob, little Charlie and Will, her parents, Billy. And the pack. Quil, as he'd held her, cried with her. Embry taking charge because it was his nature and he couldn't deny it. A last hug from Leah. Demetri's stricken face, which she had first thought she imagined, as she came to stand beside Edward.
She let her mind dwell there for a moment, as it felt relatively safe. Demetri wasn't like Jane and Felix. Of that she was sure. There was a gentleness about him that the others didn't share. If Jane had given him the order to kill Jacob, she had no doubt he would have done it. But he wouldn't have enjoyed it as Felix had done. Felix. She'd never quite hated anyone the way she hated him. Not even back when she'd first thought Sam was stealing Jacob away from her, years upon years ago, it seemed to her now. She had hated him, but it was nothing to this.
Her mind skittered away from that train of thought, and inevitably came back to Jake. Had she really seen his soul? Had he spoken to her? How? It was a mystery that only he knew the answer to, and he was long gone, now. The Quileute legends said he had gone to be with his ancestors. She thought about Carlisle's vision of heaven and wondered if he was right. If vampires could go to heaven, maybe she could see Jacob again some day, after all...
And Edward. She didn't know what to do about Edward. She could tell, from the way he held her – from his silence – from the pain in his eyes, that nothing had changed. Every breath she took hurt him for one reason or another, and now they were shackled together for the next hundred years. He hadn't been able to stay with her six months while she'd worried over Jacob's disappearance. How was he going to stand her mourning?
Because she needed to mourn, and the way she felt right now, she was sure it would take more than six months. Jacob had been the foundation of her life for so long. Although she loved Edward as truly as she ever had, all her desire had been given to Jake. When Edward touched her now, it meant nothing. Her mind didn't blank. Her heart didn't race. There was no guarantee that it ever would again. She wasn't even sure what it would say about her if it DID. Maybe she'd rather not ever react to him that way again. Maybe if she did, she would be betraying Jacob's memory.
A few tears trickled from her closed eyes at that thought. Jacob had told her to go with Edward and not look back. Could she do that? Or would she spend the next hundred years as some hideous cross between a zombie and a vampire?
No. She wouldn't. It was Jacob who'd taught her that she could heal from these sorts of things. The only true betrayal of his memory would be to go back to the state he'd saved her from after Edward had first left. To act as though she'd learned nothing from his role in her life. She rolled onto her other side and looked out through the glass wall at the deep shadows of the forest. She wasn't going to be that broken girl. Not like before. Not ever again. Jacob had taught her that. And she had learned.
The airport was crowded. Alice and Bella disappeared into a restroom and Bella changed into the clothes Alice had insisted on purchasing for her. It wouldn't be very inconspicuous to try and board a plane in blood-smeared jeans when she was supposed to be dead. Edward knew she'd kept them, though. He could smell them from inside the suitcase Bella was borrowing from Esme. They all could, but no one commented.
Everyone was remarkably quiet as they stood near the security station that would admit Edward and Bella to their gate. Even Emmett looked solemn. The fight that morning had been a surprise to them all. It had seemed only fitting that they all go to Volterra. The family wanted to be with her when she made the change. To support her, and hunt with her. And really, they were long overdue to move on from Forks. But Bella wasn't having it. She'd argued calmly, and had some very good points. But Carlisle's diplomacy and Esme's patience only dragged out the inevitable.
"You don't understand!" she'd finally yelled. "This was MY negotiation. And they aren't getting ANYTHING more than what they agreed to. I will NOT put any of you in their power. Either you stay home, or we ALL stay home, and prepare for them to come." The wild fear in her eyes as she spoke was worse than tears. She knew if she and Edward didn't go to Volterra, her children's lives were forfeit. Everyone she loved in La Push would die, and the Cullens would die trying to prevent it.
Edward said nothing as Carlisle and Esme gave in. He didn't look at Emmett, though he knew he was trying to catch his eye. And he knew why. One thing, at least, had not changed about Bella. Everyone else's safety still came before hers, in her mind.
When she and Alice emerged from the restroom, Bella with a fixed, and sad looking smile, and Alice talking at full speed about how cool it would be to have a pen pal, he began saying his goodbyes. He hugged Emmett first and Carlisle last. When Esme finally let go of Bella, he warily offered her his hand, and tried not to look surprised when she took it. He felt his family's satisfaction, but his only emotion was sadness. It wasn't like it had been. There was no stutter in her heartbeat at his touch, no hitch in her breathing. She let him lead her through the security line, an empty expression on her face, as though whatever force generally animated it was broken. He supposed that was very literally the case.
They got onto the plane, and Edward stashed their luggage in silence. The flight was full, and there were people everywhere. Anything he had hoped to say to her would have to wait. The flight to Seattle was silent. She didn't speak until their flight to New York had taken off.
"I've been trying very hard to think of a way to make this more bearable for you," Bella whispered.
Edward opened his eyes and lifted his head from the back of his seat, turning to look at her in surprise, though he was careful not to meet her eyes. There was something about the dead expression in them that hurt. Still, she'd been thinking about HIM? "Time will make it bearable." He could hear the pain in his own voice and regretted speaking.
Bella shook her head. "After you left, I thought long and hard about what I'd done. How I'd acted. You were right when you said I'd been quiet and distant. But I think – " she paused. "Edward?" she asked, and waited until he met her eyes. "I think you might have assumed I was thinking about him more often than I really was."
Edward froze, his eyes locked on hers. They didn't look so dead, anymore. In fact, she looked – vaguely hopeful. He felt his expression slowly change to match hers as she continued.
"I did think about him a lot. I was worried for him, and I missed him. And I imagine I'll think of him quite a lot for the next few years, too. But looking back, there were times when you seemed sad and I didn't know why. After you were gone – long after, when I could finally look at things objectively – I realized that it might have been that you thought I was thinking of him when I wasn't. I wondered, if I'd been more open with you about my thoughts, if maybe you wouldn't have left."
Bella swallowed and waited for some response. But Edward was simply staring at her with an unfathomable expression on his face. She looked away, wondering if it was already too late for this conversation. "When?" he whispered finally. When she turned back to him, startled. But he was leaning back in his seat again, his eyes closed, and his mouth twisted into a sad parody of a smile. She understood his question. He wanted specifics. He remembered it all – every conversation. Every silence. He wanted to know if knowing her thoughts would have made a difference.
She took a minute to wall off part of her heart. This was the difficult part, and the fastest way to ensure that they never moved beyond this stilted conversation was to burst into tears over Jacob in the middle of it. In her mind she offered an apology to him, with no way to know if he could hear.
"The first time was the night after the newborns came," she whispered. "I never told you – I never explained which of those tears were for what I'd given up and which were –" she stopped abruptly, shaking her head. Edward's brow furrowed, but he didn't open his eyes.
"That morning, when I sent you to bring him back, I regretted it as soon as you were gone. I already knew that I was going to tell him I'd chosen you. I didn't understand why I had to see him again. I thought there was something wrong with me, especially when I realized how much it cost you to go after him. I swore to myself that I would never shed another tear for him. That I'd never make you watch me cry over him again. The pain in your eyes!" She choked on the words, surprised at the depth of her own emotion on this topic, after so many years.
Being with Jacob had lessened the immediacy of her feelings for Edward, but hadn't lessened the emotions themselves. Talking about it now seemed to bring them closer to the surface. She was thankful, at least, that her eyes were still dry. She had used up all her tears the day before, she supposed.
Edward fidgeted slightly, and she recalled how he hated to be kept waiting while she struggled to put her thoughts into words. She continued quickly, "That night, when I thought I'd finally cried myself out; when the pain in the part of my heart that was missing seemed to have faded to the point where I might be able to sleep, it occurred to me that I'd broken that vow. That morning, I'd sworn I would never hurt you that way again, and then I spent the whole night doing just that." She looked away, turning her eyes to the window, though the sun had long since set and there was nothing to see. "I'm sure you recall the resulting hysterics," she finished dryly.
Edward kept his eyes closed. He hadn't known that any of those tears had been for him. For his pain. And it would have Imattered/I. He wondered, if he had tears to shed, would he be crying them now? He thought he probably would. He kept his eyes shut, but his breathing had picked up. He certainly FELT like crying.
Bella watched him for a long time before beginning again. "And the day I told you the wedding was off. That was horrible. I didn't know how to make you understand that it wasn't because I didn't want you. I just couldn't make myself have a party when I didn't know if my best friend was dead or alive. Because, whatever else he was to me then, he WAS my best friend, and that was reason enough." She leaned back in her seat, too, troubled by the stillness of Edward's face. She closed her eyes as well, and continued in a whisper.
"I knew you were nearby, that you could hear me crying that night. I was so angry with myself for hurting you. I wanted to put my head out the window and scream that I was sorry. That I'd been an idiot, and I wanted to marry you right then. To beg you to forgive me. But I didn't. I couldn't bear to ruin our wedding for you by being so worried over him. I couldn't exchange vows with you when I knew Jake would be on my mind the whole time. It didn't feel right, somehow. But I should have told you that was why. I should have found a way to explain that it was YOUR pain I cried for, not my own. I just – didn't know how," she finished lamely.
"I was on the roof all night, and the window was open," Edward whispered immediately. "But I was too proud to comfort you. I gave you no opportunity to tell me. The fault is mine." He swallowed hard, out of discomfort rather than necessity.
There were more. Dozens of times when Bella had failed to communicate and hundreds when Edward had made the wrong assumptions. It was a long flight to New York, and they covered many of them, one after another. It was an even more intense conversation than the days-long quiz sessions they'd had while first getting to know one another. When the plane finally landed, they fell silent, still not looking at one another.
Bella felt exhausted, and wondered desperately if there was a way to avoid resuming their talk during the next, and longer, leg of the trip. As they walked together into the airport, she realized there certainly was a way. "Edward? I think we've talked this topic to death. I hope, now that we both understand what was happening, that we can avoid doing it again."
He glanced over at her. She walked further from him than he'd like, as he was carrying a suitcase in each hand, but she was looking at him earnestly. "I hope so, too," he said solemnly. He'd wanted to find out more. Exactly how many times had he been mistaken? Which blank expressions were Jacob's and which were his? He felt driven to know. But he saw her hide a yawn behind her hand, and restrained himself. She was clearly exhausted, and he shouldn't be surprised. She'd been through hell the last two days, and here he was expecting her to relive, in grave detail, the LAST time she'd been put through hell. It wasn't fair to her.
They walked through the airport to the counter that accepted baggage for the last part of their trip, and he checked them both, this time. They wouldn't need to change airlines again, so it was unlikely that doing so would delay their arrival. Their layover was a few hours long. "Is there anything you want to look at?" he asked her as they walked back into the main section, full of shops.
"Actually, I was thinking I might want to get something to write in," Bella said hesitantly. "You told me once that memories of your life start to fade soon after the change," she added. "I'd like to write about my life while I still remember. So I can look back on it – all of it," she added, when she noticed his miserable expression. His face cleared immediately, but she couldn't be sure if that was only because he'd caught her looking or if her words had made him feel better.
They found the nearest bookstore, and she saw a journal she liked. There were three on the shelf. She thought about how fast Edward had been able to write notes to her in class, and wondered how many notebooks she could fill if she dedicated her first few days as a vampire to writing her life's story. She picked one up and approached the register.
"I need a dozen of these, do you have more in the back?" she asked bluntly. The woman looked at her like she was crazy for a second.
"I – I'll check," she replied, hurrying through a door at the back of the store. She reappeared a moment later carrying a box. Edward paid for it, expecting opposition, but Bella only said thank you. She had no money, anymore. Technically, she didn't even exist. She wondered how Charlie and the boys were taking the news of her death, and shuddered. Quil would write. She would find out.