Wow, I can't believe how many wonderful reviews this is getting!
Here we have the final chapter. Perhaps I'll do an outtake from Manoj's point of view. I'll see how it goes. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!
DISCLAIMER: All characters are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Edward raced around the basement, fiddling with valves and the fuse box. "I'm shutting off the power and gas lines, just in case."
As he spoke, the wind suddenly increased to a roar. There was a tremendous crash upstairs that shook the entire house. Bella could feel the pressure build behind her eardrums.
"GET DOWN!" Edward ordered. Instantly she was on her stomach, with Edward over her, shielding her body. Bella heard the windows shatter and the light bulbs in the basement explode. The roar got louder. It really is like a freight train, she thought in panic.
"Shh!" Edward's voice sounded in her ear. "I'm here. It'll be over soon." It was only then that she realized that she'd screamed his name.
Bella had no idea how long they stayed like this. Eventually the sound of the tornado receded, leaving only the pounding of her heart in her ears and the feel of Edward's cool breath against her temple. No rain, no hail, just her and her friend. A few moments later she detected the distant wail of ambulances and fire trucks, and her neighbors' dogs barking.
"Edward?" He didn't respond. "Are you OK?"
"I will be." Edward rolled away from her onto his back. The flashlight had gone out, but in the dim light through the shattered window well Bella could see his intent golden gaze on her.
She instantly missed the contact with him. Without thinking, she shifted over to him on her stomach, her shoulders pressed against his arm.
"I think we just survived a tornado," she said, still in shock at what just occurred. Her mind was only just starting to process it.
Edward chuckled softly. "We did." To her surprise, he tightened his arm around her and pulled her partially on top of him. She stiffened. His body felt as hard and cold as the concrete floor they were laying on, but to Bella it felt like home, and she relaxed against him.
When he didn't say anything more, she looked up and saw him staring at the ceiling, a pained expression on his face. Immediately she tried to pull away from him, but he didn't let her.
"What is it, Edward?" She'd seen that expression before, and what it meant. He needed to be talked down from being too involved in others' thoughts. She could only begin to imagine what he must be hearing right now.
"Hey, Superman." She fought hard for a light-hearted tone. Bella took his face in both of her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Don't you go drifting away now. I need you to help me come up with a plan."
"A plan?" Ah good, that distracted him.
"Yup. By the sound of that crash earlier, my mingy landlord definitely won't give me my security deposit back. I may need to hack into his checking account."
A reluctant smile tugged at the corners of Edward's mouth. "The idea of you committing a criminal act is absolutely absurd."
"See? It's perfect! He'll never suspect me."
Bella watched with relief as her friend's gentle smile emerged like hazy sunshine coming out from behind a cloud. He gently ran the back of his index finger down her cheek. It felt cold, but she anticipated that. What she didn't expect was the trail of fire it seemed to leave behind. She'd never been this close, physically, to him before. Edward was usually very careful about his personal space, and didn't seem to like being touched.
"I almost lost you today," he murmured. "Twice."
Bella sucked in her breath. "That would have been so bad?"
"Unbearable." There was so much pain in his normally smooth voice. On instinct she reached up and pulled his face to hers.
"Well, you didn't. You still have to put up with my irritating self for a while longer."
"Bella…" he practically growled.
He was so close, his full, perfectly-shaped mouth only inches from hers. Move away, her logical self scolded. He doesn't want you like that. You'll only make a fool of yourself. Her emotional self, on the other hand, was ordering Logical Self to shut the hell up.
"Under extreme emotional circumstances like these, we're not responsible for our actions, right?" Bella whispered, moving slightly closer.
"Right," agreed Edward very softly. He seemed to be holding his breath.
Bella closed the distance between them and pressed her lips to his. They were cool and firm, like the rest of him. At first he didn't move, and Bella, feeling like an idiot, made to pull away. Instantly his arms came around her, pulling her up further as he returned her kiss with an intensity she didn't expect. His tongue teased her lips until she opened her mouth to allow him access. Fire spread through her body, and she moaned against his mouth.
Eventually she was forced to pull back to breathe. They both lay, panting, staring at each other.
"Oh my God," Bella murmured, suddenly realizing what she'd done. She'd seduced Edward. Her friend. "Edward, I shouldn't have…you don't want…I mean…oh God…" She buried her face against his shoulder. He still wasn't letting her pull away from him.
"Bella love, look at me." He gently lifted her face. "I do want, and I'm glad you did…we did. I've been wanting to do that for ages."
He smiled widely. "Really."
For a while they lay there, grinning stupidly at each other, both basking in their new-found harmony.
"I suppose we'd better go upstairs and see what's happened," Bella sighed. Somehow, she'd almost forgotten the tornado.
Edward reluctantly agreed. "Be prepared," he warned. "It's bad."
The first thing Bella saw was shattered glass everywhere. The blinds on the kitchen window had literally been ripped off the wall. The window itself was blocked by a wall of pine branches. What the heck? She grasped Edward's hand tightly and dodge debris in the way to what was left of her bedroom. An enormous pine has blown over and crashed through the roof and ceiling.
"Holy crow," she whispered.
Edward was frowning anxiously. "Bella, which one of your neighbors has an infant daughter?"
"The Hoxworths, two houses down that way." She pointed. "Shannon and Andrew both work, and so she picks up her daughter from daycare…' A feeling of horror washed over her. The tornado hit around rush hour. They would have just been getting home…
"I'm going to need your help," Edward declared rapidly, already opening the door. "The house was almost leveled, and they're trapped."
"Please Bella," he begged as they ran. "You've handled finding out about my strangeness so well up to now. I need you to stay with me, at least until this is over."
She nodded. His "strangeness" didn't matter to her, especially not right now.
Some people were walking dazedly along the street, weaving their way through downed trees, damaged cars, and pieces of homes. The hazing sun glinted eerily off the wet pavement and the devastation surrounding them.
No one was near what remained of the Hoxworth's white brick home. "Be careful," he warned her as they picked their way around, searching for a way through the rubble. "This is likely to collapse."
Bella strained her ears, and thought she heard a baby crying. "That's Annabelle."
Edward nodded. "Shannon and Annabelle are trapped under the basement stairs." He cast an expert eye over the pieces of wall and roof strewn on top of the foundation. It looked like the Hoxworth's car had been thrown a couple of houses down. Without a word, her friend began hauling enormous pieces of roof away, eventually revealing the basement. Bella watched him leap down into the gaping darkness and disappear. She could hear him pulling away what she assumed were pieces of trunking and drywall.
"Please be careful, Edward," she pleaded, knowing he could hear her.
A couple of minutes later she saw him below her, carrying a screaming infant. Somehow he managed to jump up next to Bella, handing her little Annabelle. His wild reddish-brown hair was covered in white drywall dust.
"She's OK, just frightened. Shannon is heavily bruised and scratched, but otherwise alright. I'm getting her."
He disappeared down the hole to the basement again, while Bella did her best to soothe the baby. She heard the sound of tearing sheet metal, and moments later Edward appeared by her side carrying a young, frightened woman with long blonde hair.
"Andrew…" she choked out. Edward frowned as he sat Shannon carefully on the grass.
"Was he home?" Edward asked gently.
Shannon nodded tearfully.
Bella and Edward exchanged grim looks. Clearly Edward couldn't hear Andrew's mind. Still, he leapt down into the basement again, trying to find Shannon's husband based on her thoughts of where he was last.
"Bella!" he called up to her after a while. "Can you help me, please?"
She assured Shannon that should would be right back, and let Edward lift her into the dark basement.
"I can hear Andrew's heartbeat," he told her quietly. "He's unconscious, probably pinned under one of the I-beams. Shannon remembered that he was at the top of the basement stairs when the tornado hit."
Bella could barely see anything, stumbling beside Edward as he held onto her arm. "I've cleared some of the debris," he told her, "But I need you to hold him while I free him from the wall and beam. Can you do that?"
"Yes." She wasn't sure if he could see her nodding in the dark. She could vaguely make out Andrew's inert form, hanging out at an odd angle from the debris. Edward guided her hands where he wanted her to hold Andrew.
"Ready? On the count of three. One, two, THREE!" He grunted with exertion, and Bella heard the sound of the I-beam being bent and lifted. Andrew was no light-weight, so Bella had to use her body to keep him propped up as Edward extracted him. Soon the weight was gone when Edward took over.
"What now?" Bella asked. "Should we move him?"
"No," Edward gritted. It sounded like he was trying to hold his breath. "Internal bleeding, crushed legs. Can you call 911 and stay here while I clear the road for the ambulance?"
She really didn't have a choice. At her assent, Edward disappeared in a gust of air. Bella made the 911 call, grateful that the cell tower was still active, and waited. It seemed like hours that Edward was gone, so she spoke soothingly to the unconscious Andrew in an effort to keep herself calm. Thankfully, his breathing remained stable, and she kept her finger on his pulse, monitoring his heart rate.
Bella thought of Edward, probably dragging enormous trees out of the roadways. Provided no one saw him.
Eventually she heard the welcome sound of several ambulances and fire trucks. At least one was driving up her street, stopping right outside where the Hoxworth's house once stood. Soon there were voices – lots of them. She could hear Shannon talking with someone, and more people setting up a ladder and entering the basement.
"They're over here!" one of the firemen shouted, flashing his strobe light around the basement. Soon the entire area was illuminated, and Andrew was being strapped to a stretcher and given oxygen.
"They're taking all three of them to the hospital," a beloved voice breathed into her ear. Bella whirled around.
"How did you get here? I didn't even hear you!"
"It's not my fault that you're unobservant," teased Edward. "Seriously, I'm surprised. You normally miss nothing…unfortunately."
Bella impulsively hugged her friend. Was he still her friend?
"Come on," he said gently, disengaging her arms. "Let's get out of here."
They walked further down Bella's street in silence, holding hands. Edward, she knew, was listening for the thoughts of trapped and injured individuals, as well as using his heightened senses to detect heartbeats and scan for casualties. Pain flitted across his face. She suspected that he needed the comfort of her hand in his even more that she did.
Although most of the homes in her subdivision sustained major damage, it looked as if her other neighbours made it through relatively unscathed. They were all out, talking, assessing, finding precious belongings in the debris, and assisting each other. Bella and Edward stopped every so often to help someone move some heavy object, or check to see if families were alright. One elderly lady hugged both of them gratefully after Edward and another man lifted a section of wall off her car. At first Edward look astonished at the gesture, then hugged her back warmly.
"You have a very nice young man there, dear," the small, grey-haired lady informed her with a twinkle. "Handsome, too. He's a keeper."
Bella blushed, exchanging glances with Edward.
Walking back to Bella's house—at human speed, she mentally added – she wondered at how much her life had changed in just a few hours. A memory niggled at the back of her mind. Something her mother had mentioned during her exploration of Far Eastern mythology and folklore. For some reason, "rakshasa" was ringing a bell.
"Are you still willing to go to my apartment?" Edward asked. "The hotels are bound to be full, but I'm certain we can find somewhere for you to stay. Or you can stay there, and I'll go somewhere else."
Uh-oh. He didn't want her? He was regretting what happened?
"No!" he said quickly. Drat, she must have said that out loud. Big mouth.
He sighed. They were inside her garage now, standing between his shiny silver Volvo and her faded red Chevy pick-up. When he spoke again his voice sounded heartbreakingly vulnerable. "I do want you, but I'm afraid that when you find out more about me, you'll run away screaming. I wouldn't try to stop you, either. I'm not good for you."
His nearness wasn't helping her thought processes.
"You're dazzling me again," she accused. "Give me a moment, please." He looked pained in response.
Bella was still trying to recall what a "rakshasa" was. Somehow she knew that this was the key. She turned from him, staring at the floor as she paced between the vehicles.
"You're not good for me?"
"I don't believe it."
"Believe it." His tone was flat, almost hopeless.
"Bitten by a radioactive spider? Exposed to some strange toxin? From another planet?"
"I'm not a superhero, Bella. And I was born in Chicago."
"Are you human?"
Edward sucked in a sharp breath. "No."
Bella's dark eyes snapped to his. She'd never seen such anguish in them before.
"Something more than human? Angel?" He certainly looked he could be one.
"Something less than human. Quite the opposite of angel. Bella, I can't tell you directly what I am. There are those like me who would kill us both. When I first met you, I almost killed you myself."
Bella's mind worked furiously, sifting through possibilities. Some sort of demon? They had been friends for almost five years. He'd saved her life twice today, as well as the lives of her neighbors and probably several others. He couldn't be a demon. The more she thought about it, the more she realized…
"It doesn't matter."
For once she'd truly taken him by surprise. "It doesn't matter?"
"No," Bella responded firmly. "It doesn't matter what you are. You are Edward, one of my dearest friends and the man I…" Whoops, not the time to let that slip, Swan.
He wasn't about to let her get away with that one. "The man you…?"
Bella's face turned bright red, and she refused to look at him. Come up with a plausible answer, she urged herself. Fast!
Edward stepped toward her slowly, almost as if he were afraid of frightening her. "I'm not being fair to you, am I? I'm asking you to completely open up to me when I'm not being forthcoming with you." He paused, trying to gauge her reaction. "Your heart is racing. I can't read your mind, so I don't know if it is because you're scared of me, or just afraid of being rejected. Would it help if I told you what I hope you meant to say?"
She nodded, rooted to the spot, watching him.
"The selfish side of me hopes that you meant, 'the man I love.' On the other hand, the side of me that loves you is terrified that you may feel that way." He swallowed convulsively.
Bella took her courage in both hands. Edward wasn't exaggerating; she could see it in his beautiful face. She took the final step forward and grasped his forearms. Like the rest of him, they felt cold and hard. The man…or whatever he was…in front of her flinched slightly but didn't move away. She slid her fingers down his arms until she clasped his hands.
"That's what I meant," she responded softly. She was trembling. Edward said that he loved her. She smiled, hardly able to believe it was true. Edward wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him. She laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes, letting it wash over her.
Bella heard his breath moving in and out of his lungs, and slowly her heart and breathing calmed. Wait, where's his heartbeat? She listened more carefully, pressing her ear against his chest. Nothing. She glanced up at him questioningly.
"You won't find it," he informed her. He'd stiffened in her arms, expecting her to pull away. But she stayed put.
Laying against him, several facts began to gel in her mind. Edward was telepathic. He never ate in front of her. His eyes changed color, and his body was hard. His skin was always extraordinarily pale, and cold. No, not cold. Room temperature – the temperature of the environment. Was he cold-blooded? He had no heartbeat. In fact, he was like a breathing, walking corpse. A corpse with supernatural strength, speed, and senses. He was a zombie?
Edward had already dropped his arms. This time Bella released him and stepped back to look at her friend properly. He stared at her, the pained expression back in his eyes.
No, not a zombie. Edward's eyes were expressive and alive. Then she remembered. Rakshasa. In Hindu mythology, a superior race of humanoid, shape-shifting demons, also known as …
'Edward, what do you eat?"
He tensed further, if that were possible. "I'm on a liquid diet," he responded warily. "You figured it out, didn't you?"
She nodded. "I think so. So did Manoj?"
Edward smiled wryly. "Hindus are generally closer to their legends and folklore than you are in the West. So what is your conclusion?"
"Vampire. You are a vampire."
He neither denied nor confirmed this, which led Bella to believe that she'd guessed correctly.
"Then why aren't you running away?"
Bella managed to shrug nonchalantly. "What's the point? You'd catch me anyway. Besides, if you wanted to harm me you would have done so already."
"I would let you go," he promised. "If you wanted to. You would never see me again. In fact, that's probably the best choice for you."
Bella moved closer to him, backing him against the side of the Volvo. "I'm not running, Edward."
Unable to help himself, Edward gently grasped her bare upper arms, stroking them with his thumbs. "You don't understand. I am an immortal undead demon of the night who wants to drink your blood – badly. I won't do it, because the thought of losing you forever is…" He swallowed again, his grip tightening slightly. "My family and I are strange, even for vampires. We drink only the blood of animals. We try very hard to be more human…sometimes we slip."
"You want to drink my blood?"
Edward immediately released her, although he was unable to step back with his car behind him. He refused to look at her. "Yes, although over time I have become mostly desensitized to it."
Well, thank goodness for that. "Edward, meant what you said? You love me?"
His eyes shot up to meet hers. "Yes."
She pressed herself against him, running her hands down his sides to his lean hips. "And you want me? Not my blood, but…me?" Her hands wandered forward, and Edward let out a soft hiss.
"I'm still a man, Bella," he managed to say. His eyes were rapidly darkening.
"Good." Wondering idly where all this bravado came was coming from, she immediately decided it wasn't important and reached up to kiss the firm mouth hovering just above her own. His reaction was instantaneous. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself with her back to her truck, Edward's hard body pinning her there as his mouth plundered hers. She clung to him, fire coursing through her body. This need was nothing like she'd experienced before. When she pulled away for air, he kissed her jaw, down her neck, making her shiver.
"Are you alright?" he asked, stopping to look at Bella's flushed face and glowing brown eyes. His own eyes now glittered like black onyx.
"No," she whispered. "I want you closer."
His low growl went straight to her core. Bella lifted her legs and hooked them around his hips. In response, he rocked against her, eliciting an embarrassing moan that she couldn't suppress.
"Bella," he whispered roughly. He moved away slightly.. "We shouldn't be doing this. You deserve…" He gasped when she grabbed his hips and pulled him against her. "Let's at least get to my apartment."
Just then, Bella's cell phone rang. Edward chuckled at her muffled curse. "I'm going to kill Ricardo."
"He's probably checking to make sure we're alright."
"I was better before he called," she grumbled. Edward carefully helped her stand, and she picked up her phone.
"Hi Ricardo," she said, forcing her voice to sound friendly.
"It's Manoj. Ricardo just stepped out to see what's happening. Are you two OK?"
Bella activated the speaker phone. "We're fine, Manu," Edward answered for her. "There's a tree in Bella's bedroom, but otherwise essentially unscathed."
"Edward managed to rescue my neighbours," added Bella. "He lifted a house off of them."
"He…" Manoj's voice sounded faint. "Edward, she knows…?"
"Yes, she does, and by some miracle it doesn't matter to her. She loves me anyway."
"WHAT? You mean that you two…?"
"We were," Bella told him grumpily, "Until you interrupted, that is."
There was a joyful whoop through the microphone. "It's about time, woman!" Bella glared at Edward, who was unsuccessfully trying to contain his laughter.
"Well, if that's the case, I'll hang up and leave you to it."
Bella clicked off the phone and put it down, allowing Edward to catch her 'round the waist and pull her toward him. "So, Miss Swan," he teased, "Where were we?"
She melted against him. She knew that her and Edward's relationship wouldn't be easy, even without the vampire aspect added in. Five years of friendship taught her that he could be overprotective, sometimes overbearing, and always stubborn. Of course, she was even more obstinate. They had a lot of adjusting to do. However, here in his arms, she knew that somehow they would make it work.
Well, that's it! Please review. If I did another POV, whose should I choose - Edward's or Manoj's?