Entry #42 - AU

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

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Title: The Vampire Who Thought She Couldn't Love
Picture Prompt Number:
Romance, supernatural
Word Count (minus A/N and Header):

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): For Edward, a dream becomes reality when a life ends. For Bella, a nightmare starts when Edward's dream comes true. And vampires never even sleep. But do they love?

Warnings and Disclaimer: Graphic violence.
Nothing is owned, but much fun is had with borrowed merchandise.

The Vampire Who Thought She Couldn't Love

My fingers ran over the keys on the piano. My touch was too light to make the instrument omit any sounds, but it was soothing just to feel it. In my head, I could hear the music – sad, melancholy, and a perfect fit for my mood.

I had vague memories of playing the piano as a human, but after my transformation I'd had to learn how to play anew, as my memory had been no help. And learning had been easy except for one thing. My new strength had been difficult to manage at first, which meant three broken pianos – one of them halfway crumbled into dust – before I'd learned how to handle the delicate instrument. To learn, I'd taken up the habit of running my fingers across the keys, sometimes with the aim to play, sometimes with the aim not to. The music was there regardless – everyone else just couldn't hear it.

Alice giggled upstairs, and I pressed down hard on the keys in an unsuccessful attempt to drown out the sound. Her thoughts were sickly sweet and nauseatingly full of love, as Jasper for the umpteenth time – and that was a lie, because I remembered the exact number – told her about how he struggled through different wars just so he could one day meet her. I knew what would follow – what always followed – and I stopped playing to stand up and leave the house for a few hours. I'd overheard more sex than I ever wanted to, even if I tried to avoid it. Being the unmated, mindreading seventh wheel of a vampire coven had its disadvantages at times.

I'd barely gotten to my feet when I saw the vision in Alice's thoughts as she was having it. It was horrible and something I never thought I'd see. Not her. Out of everyone, never ever her. "When, Alice?" I asked.

Now! she screamed in her mind, and I was out the door in less than a second. I could hear her and Jasper following me while she breathlessly explained to him what she'd seen. I pushed myself as much as I could and let my instincts take over. Jumping over boulders and ducking under branches, I sped south. I knew the place I'd seen in Alice's thoughts, and as I neared it, I could smell that we were too late.

I took in the scene. Emmett was holding down Rosalie while also holding his breath. My sister, who had fought a brave fight to be better than the rest of us when it came to not feeding on humans, was snarling like a vicious wildcat and clawing at Emmett to get free. Her eyes had a red tinge, and in that moment, she was the most beautiful monster in the world.

Thirty feet away lay a girl bleeding on the forest floor. I'd been holding my breath since I'd first smelled the blood, and from his thoughts, I knew that Jasper had stopped running several miles back. Alice caught up with us then, also holding her breath. Quickly surveying the scene and closing her eyes for a moment to see if the future would reveal itself to her, she sent me a look, and I nodded to let her know that I understood.

While she and Emmett dragged a still very much feral Rosalie away, I went over to the bleeding girl. I'd interned as a doctor a few times, and next after Carlisle, I had built up the best resistance to the smell of human blood. I kneeled down, but I didn't need more than to just look at her to know that the damage had been done. Her heart had been almost completely ripped out and was beyond repair even by the most skilled surgeon. Rosalie's venom had also entered the girl's bloodstream, and soon the burning transformation would start. It was highly unlikely that she would live long enough for it to ever become complete, though. Her heart was pumping out so much blood that she barely had any left. And from the red tinge in Rosalie's eyes, my sister had managed to drain the girl a little, too, before Emmett had been able to get to her.

I sat back on my heels. The girl didn't have long left, and instead of three days of pain and an eternity of being undead, lonely, and struggling with a thirst that was almost impossible to quench with a good conscience, I felt it was better to just let her slip away and be at peace.

Then I looked at her face properly for the first time, and a long-forgotten memory stirred inside of me. It was as if it was within my reach but too slippery to really grasp. Vampires had a perfect memory, so I didn't know why it was so unclear to me. I kept staring at the girl. She was soiled in blood, but I could see that her hair color was that of vile-smelling coffee. Her skin was pale, but that meant nothing since she'd lost so much blood. She was slim and dressed in jeans and boots. Her shirt was torn and bloody, but appeared to be blue underneath the blood. On her neck, on the opposite side of where Rosalie's teeth had also marred her skin, was a small shamrock shaped tattoo, woven in intricate lines.

And then it hit me. I'd dreamt of this girl as a human. The girl with the shamrock on her neck. Before I could think about what I was doing, I reached down and took her beating heart in my hand. I could feel how slow it was beating, and while carefully holding my fingers so she wouldn't lose so much blood, I started pumping her heart in a natural rhythm.

I had no idea who she was, where she'd come from, or why she was alone this deep in the forest. I also didn't know what had made Rosalie attack her. As far as I knew, she and Emmett hadn't been hunting, but just spending time alone. What I did know was that I had a very selfish need to keep her from dying. Gone were all noble thoughts about freeing her from the pain. I had to…I had to know her. I had to find out who she was.

After a while, she started thrashing. The burning had started for real, and I had to hold her down with my other hand so I could keep pumping her heart. She didn't start screaming like I remembered Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett doing when they had gone through the transformation. My own change was lost in a hazy fog of pain and burning. Whether I'd screamed or not, I'd never thought much about.

The girl did whimper, though, and struggled against my grip. I straddled her torso so I could keep her arms from flailing with my knees and still have my hand free to hold her head when she thrashed so violently that she hit it against the hard ground.

I'd lost track of time when I sensed Carlisle's scent approaching. When he broke through the trees to my left, I saw him surveying the scene before he kneeled down next to me. "Are you okay, son? Alice and Emmett filled me in on what had happened." He stopped talking, and even without his words or hearing his thoughts, I could see his next question clearly in his eyes.

"I'm okay," I replied, wishing I had as simple an answer for his unspoken question. "I…I couldn't let her slip away. I'd decided to, but I couldn't."

I'm sure you have your reasons, he said to me in his mind. "What can I do to help?" he asked.

"The venom is starting to heal her heart, but I need to keep pumping until it's fully healed. With Rosalie, the skin was the last to heal, so I'm hoping that's the case here, too. Speaking of Rosalie – is she at the house?"

"Yes. She's quite upset." In his thoughts, I could see how true that was, and while part of me felt for her, I was more concerned about the girl whose heart I was holding in my hand.

"I'll keep her out here then until…it's over. Can you get me a shirt for her and a bandage for the wound until she's fully healed? Oh, and some water and a cloth so I can clean off some of the blood."

"Of course," he replied. Then he put his hand on my arm. "When Alice told me what had happened, I was sorry that I wasn't here with you, but I probably wasn't supposed to." I'm proud of you, he added in his thoughts.

It was then I realized that I had no idea when I'd stopped holding my breath. And while the thirst was burning in my throat like the times I'd been an intern, I hadn't even noticed it before I'd started thinking about it. I wasn't sure why Carlisle was proud of me as I hadn't been paying full attention to his thoughts, but it could be because I'd managed to remain calm. I knew from his thoughts that Carlisle had been far from calm from the time he'd bitten me as a human to the moment I'd woken up a vampire, and we'd also not been very calm when Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett had been burning. One bite meant eternity, and just like it felt like the burning would never stop when you were experiencing it, it felt almost the same way when you were witnessing it. Even more so when you'd done the biting. That much was clear to me now, even if my teeth had never touched this girl. By biting someone, you took away a lot of choices from them. You also added some, but they were choices that took some time to fully realize the potential of.

Signing someone up for an eternity of being a blood-thirsty, indestructible, undead, and glittering super-being was not a decision to be taken lightly. I remembered perfectly how it had been to awaken to the realization that my life had ended, but that my existence stretched out before me endlessly. I remembered the anger, the frustration, and the helpless feeling of being a slave to my thirst. I had been a terrible newborn. Rosalie had been the same – Esme, too, but she had been gotten over her anger, grief, and frustration a lot quicker. Emmett had taken to being a vampire like he'd waited all his life for it. I looked at the whimpering girl beneath me and wondered how she was going to react.

Carlisle soon returned with the things I'd asked for.

"Alice can't see anything," he told me. "It's driving her crazy, but she thinks it's because you're too close to the Quileute border."

I nodded. Since the wolves in La Push had started phasing, she'd had more and more difficulties seeing anything around that area. The bigger their pack grew, the bigger the black hole in her visions. Luckily, we were on good terms with them, and even though the border remained, the treaty we had made with them centuries ago was not in effect anymore. After the first young Quileute man had phased and accidentally hurt his girlfriend by marring her face with his claws, the tribe elders had decided that if it could happen to a wolf, it could happen to a vampire, too. So we lived comfortably next to each other, respecting the border out of habit, but meeting up for bonfires and sharing stories of old down at the beach.

"I'll move her when I can," I said. "When she's healed enough and when I've cleaned her up a little."

"That's fine." Do what you think is best, Edward, he added is his mind. "Are any of her thoughts making sense?"

"I don't know. I can't hear them. I figured it was because she was almost dead, but…" I frowned. Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett had been near death, too, when they had been bitten, and I'd been able to hear their agonized thoughts almost as soon as the venom had spread completely in their bodies and they had started to heal. I could feel the panic inside of me. "Carlisle, it's been hours. I should be able to hear her. What's wrong?"

In his mind, he went over every opportunity he could think of, like flipping the pages of a book. Maybe the girl had been too close to death. Maybe there was something unusual about her. Maybe her mind had just simply shut down to deal with the pain like a human in a coma. Maybe my power was starting to be affected by the Quileute wolves like Alice's.

"There doesn't necessarily have to be anything wrong," he finally replied. "It's the only thing that's unusual compared to what we've seen in the past. Let's just wait and see what happens when she wakes up."

There was nothing I could do but agree, and after awhile Carlisle left me alone and went home. He seemed to sense I needed to go through this alone. Sometimes the girl thrashed violently, and other times she was still with only the occasional whimper. I took advantage of her being still and cleaned her up the best I could.

I was almost sad when her heart no longer needed my help to keep beating, and even more so when I placed it back inside her chest. The connection to her had taken the edge off my nerves, and when it was broken, I didn't know how to keep myself from losing it. Something had to be wrong since I couldn't hear her thoughts. I tried to be as clinical as possible – and badly wished I had Carlisle's experience in detaching myself from the individual I was treating – when I removed the girl's torn and bloody shirt and bra. I then cleaned her up and put a bandage around her torso, covering her breasts. A little blood seeped from the wound over her heart, but it would stop soon. Carlisle had brought along one of Esme's shirts, and I gently put it on the girl before she started crying out again.

The three days felt endless. I'd decided not to bring her back to the house until she could make the choice to go there herself. Rosalie would be there, after all, and no matter how much in a vampire's nature it was to feed from humans, I thought it would be a bit harsh on the girl to let her wake up and immediately face the one who'd killed her. This girl hadn't been on the verge of dying when Rosalie had bit her – she'd been healthy and young. It had been different with the rest of us, easy to argue that Carlisle had saved us.

After two days, I heard Rosalie's thoughts from the direction of the house. She was hovering in the distance, unsure if she should approach or not. Her mind was ablaze with self-loathing, concern for the girl, and resentment directed toward herself for losing control, toward Emmett for not getting to her in time, toward the girl for wandering around in the forest with a nosebleed, toward me for taking care of the girl, and toward everyone at the house for their concern. I heard Emmett's thoughts, too, and in their minds I could hear the conversation that ended in them going back home instead of approaching us.

I sat back with my arms around my knees and looked at the mystery girl. She was going to wake up to a very different world than the one she'd left, and I knew that if she wanted, we'd all help her adjust the best we could. Even Rosalie, though how things would play out between them was impossible to guess.

The tattoo on the girl's neck captured my attention again, and I tried to remember more about the dream I'd had as a human. What it had been about was vague and fuzzy at best, but I remembered her. The tattoo and the long, brown hair. In the dream she'd had a beautiful smile and a laugh that had made me want to laugh, too. It didn't make any sense, as this girl hadn't been alive a hundred years ago. I couldn't have known her, and I also couldn't see the future like Alice, so how could I have dreamed about her?

I leaned my forehead against my bended knees and sighed. There were no guarantees that I'd get any answers when the girl woke up. After all, she had no control over what I had dreamed about decades before she had even been born.

Then finally, three days after I'd stormed out of the house after seeing Alice's vision, the transformation was almost complete. She screamed in agony, which startled me and calmed me down at the same time, as it at least was normal, and arched her back as if she was being electrocuted. Her mind was still silent to me, but I could track how close she was to waking up from the way her extremities had cooled down and how fast her heart was beating. Any minute now.

Once again, her back arched, and in the middle of a gasp, her eyes shot open, and she held completely still mid-air. Then she sat up and looked around until her wide eyes landed on me. She gasped again, but I did, too. Her eyes weren't red like other newborn vampires'. They were black. And I still couldn't read her mind.

"What happened?" she asked, frowning when she heard her own voice. Then her attention was grabbed by the soft rain that had started falling. Then a bird in a tree. The smell of a flower. Her heightened senses were overwhelming her.

"Hey, it's okay. You're okay," I said softly.

She looked back at me. "Do I know you? You seem familiar, but I can't place you."

"I don't think so," I replied, honestly.

"What happened?"

"Do you remember anything?" I asked carefully. With me, Carlisle had tried to explain rationally that I'd become a vampire. With Esme, he'd tried to tell her carefully. He'd been blunt with Rosalie and casual with Emmett. None of the approaches had worked as well as he'd hoped, and I didn't know how to proceed. I'd hoped reading her mind would help, but since it was silent, I had nothing to go on.

She frowned and looked down at her arms. "A fire? It felt like I was burning. I can't smell smoke, though. Just…everything else. It's weird."

"I know this is going to be difficult to believe, but you were attacked by a vampire. You were bleeding badly and dying, but the veno-"

"Stop it!" She stood up, apparently not even noticing her own speed. "You're clearly crazy. I'm just going to go, and I swear that if you follow me, I'm going to scream loud enough for someone to hear me."

I sighed to myself. That hadn't worked out so well, either. And she could scream all she wanted, but there was no way I was letting her walk away before she at least understood the ramifications of what she'd become.

"Wait!" I called out.

She whirled around. "Did you drug me or something? This is the weirdest trip ever. It's like I can see and hear and sense everything. What's up with that? What did you give me?"

"You're not drugged," I replied. "Listen, I'm really sorry, but you died. You're a vampire now. I know it sounds crazy, but that's why your senses are heightened."

"All right, I'm not drugged. But you obviously are."

I tried another tactic. "I'll bet you a thousand bucks that you can pull that tree over there up by its roots."

She looked at me like I was certifiable. "Listen, nutcase. I don't care what you're on or what loony bin you escaped from, but I'm warning you. I know karate, and I'll kick your ass if you don't leave me alone."

I didn't doubt it. Newborns were incredibly strong, though normally so crazed by their thirst that they had a difficult time focusing on anything else. Speaking of… "Doesn't your throat burn?" I asked.

"Does my… Seriously? Are you mentally challenged or something?" she sputtered.

My chuckle drowned in a sigh. "No. Just…please answer the question."

She huffed. "No, my throat doesn't burn. My nose isn't runny either. Anything else you want to know?"

"Just one thing. Are you going to take my bet?"

She rolled her eyes. "If it will make you leave me alone. You think I can pull that tree up by its roots? And when I show you that I can't, you pay me a thousand bucks and let me go without anymore stupid questions?"

"That's right," I said, nodding.

"Crazy guy is crazy," she muttered, but went over to the tree. Looking exasperated at it, she put her arms around it and pulled it up without even trying. Then she screamed.

If it hadn't been for the fact that the poor girl had just discovered that she had supernatural powers, I would have laughed. But it wasn't funny, and no matter how she took the news, she had a difficult time ahead of her.

"What did you do to me?"

"Nothing," I replied. "But I can tell you what happened to you if you'll listen."

She looked indecisive for a moment, but then she joined me under the shade of a tree where the soft rain wouldn't soak her. "I feel so weird," she said before she dropped down on the ground with a sigh and covered her face with her hands. "It feels like…I don't know. It just feels strange and unreal."

I sat down opposite her. "What is the last thing you remember?"

"Um…I was hiking, I think. I set up camp and…I don't know."

"You were attacked by a vampire. You had a nosebleed, and the scent of your blood out here where there are rarely any humans around made her lose control."

"A vampire…" It wasn't a question, more like she was trying to get used to the word.

"Yes. She bit you and…well….she drank your blood. But more than that, her venom also entered your bloodstream and made you into a vampire, too." I had no idea if I was explaining it properly, but Carlisle's experience had told me that there was no right way or right words.

Her eyes were wide. "So I'll…drink people's blood now?"

"You'll want to, but you don't have to. Some of us feed on animals, and with enough practice, you can teach yourself so much restraint that you can be around human blood without it bothering you."

"You're a…vampire, too?"

I nodded.

"Can you not attack people?"

"It took a lot of practice, but yes."

She thought this over. "Do I look different? I mean, you look normal enough and nothing like I'd have thought a vampire looked like. You know, if I'd actually believed in them before."

I told her how she looked slightly different – more beautiful and attractive because we were designed to attract our prey. She asked question after question – surprisingly calmly – and I answered patiently. Yes, I had been serious when I asked about her burning throat, and I was still surprised that she wasn't thirsty. No, much of the vampire lore was not true, but some was. Yes, she would have to leave her old life behind. I told her about my family, how we hunted in the forest and interacted with humans on a daily basis.

"What am I supposed to do now?" she asked after processing the things I'd told her.

"In theory, you can do almost anything. But even though your thirst isn't bothering you and your eyes aren't red like other newborns, I'd still suggest that you spend some time with my family to get used to everything. Of course, I'm sure everyone will welcome you if you wanted to stay with us, but you're free to go wherever you like."

"Will she be there – the vampire who bit me? Wait. Where did she bite me? I don't see any wounds."

"Yes, she'll be there. However, if you'd prefer it, I can take you up to some others of our kind up in Alaska, who also feed from animals," I replied, confident that Eleazar would find this new, unusual vampire interesting and take her under his wing. "And Rosalie bit you in the neck and breast. In fact, you almost didn't stay alive long enough for the venom to start healing you. It does that, which is also why you don't have any wounds."

She blew out a breath. "There are so many strange things about this. And I'm not going to lie – just thinking the word 'vampire' makes me want to laugh. I don't think I believe it yet."

"You will," I promised her, which just made her sigh.

Completely unlike any other newborn I'd ever heard about, she kept insisting that her throat was fine. Her eyes told a different story, but I decided not to press until later. She told me as much of her life as she remembered, and together we made a plan for how to fake her death.

She remembered that she'd come up to this part of the state after finding out that her biological father had been from Forks. He'd died a long time ago, and she'd never known him. She had a strained relationship with her mother and stepfather, and she assured me that both she and they would get over the loss. She didn't remember many friends, and admitted that it was because she'd preferred the company of a good book most of the time. She'd been in college for a year, and when I told her about the various degrees I'd taken over the years, she wasn't disappointed about giving that up, either.

When we went to find her campsite, I couldn't help but wonder when her real reaction would set in. She'd been much too calm about the whole thing, but perhaps the anger would set in when she met Rosalie. At the camp site, we left her bloody and torn shirt along with the content of her backpack strewn out all over. We hoped to make it look like an animal attack.

With only a few personal items, she followed me back to the house. We took a detour so I could show her how to hunt. She seemed oddly unenthusiastic, but when she'd taken down a deer and tasted the blood, I saw the first sign of something feral inside of her.

"That's revolting!" she exclaimed when she'd drained the deer, getting blood on her clean shirt. "But I get the whole burning throat thing now. Can I get another one?"

"Go nuts," I told her, chuckling.

She took down another two deer before she came back to me. "And to think I didn't like black pudding. I feel like I'll wake up any minute and all of this will just have been a dream. I can smell, hear, and see everything! Unreal…"

"I'm not sure if it's a comfort or not, but you'll have plenty of time to deal with everything," I said, realizing with great relief that the same was true for me. I'd need some time to get my head around what had happened and my actions. I was used to just plucking whatever information I needed from people's minds, and having to work for everything was mentally exhausting. And then something hit me.

"What's you name?" I asked.

She stared at me for a second before she laughed – the same infectious laugh I remembered from my dream. "We've been over everything, but we never thought of names? That's classic. My name's Isabella Swan, but I go by Bella."

"Edward Cullen. Edward Masen when I was human. The Cullen name is Carlisle's, and we're all fond of using it from time to time. We have to switch names every so often to avoid detection."

"Makes sense. God, there must be many things to learn and remember."

"You have a perfect memory now, except for your time as a human," I said.

"Of course I do," she muttered and pulled at a strand of hair.

"I know it's overwhelming, but I promise that it will get easier."

She looked like she didn't believe me, but that was okay – she'd realize soon enough.

Introducing Bella to everyone back at the house went fine since Rosalie wasn't there. From Emmett's mind, I saw her request for solitude. Esme offered Bella an unused bedroom where she could freshen up, and Alice had clothes ready. Everyone was curious, and I told them the short version, figuring Bella should be allowed to tell her own story. So I just told about the transformation, how we'd dealt with the campsite, and a little about her silent mind, her lack of thirst initially, and her unusual eyes.

"I can't feel her emotions either," Jasper, our resident empath, told me.

"And I can't see her in the future," Alice supplied.

I could hear the wheels turning in Carlisle's mind. "Perhaps she was a private person. We all know that human traits get pronounced after the transformation. And I think I have an explanation of why her eyes weren't red. It's the human blood that makes them read, at first our own when we're changed, and she had very little left in her body. Emmett was also bleeding to death when Rosalie brought him to me, and his eyes didn't take as long to change to golden as Edward's, for instance, who hadn't lost any blood when I changed him. The lack of thirst at first, however, is strange. Maybe she's just a little unusual. Nothing wrong with that."

Over the following weeks, Bella did fairly well at acclimatizing to her new existence and bonded amazingly well with everyone. Like all newborn vampires, she easily grew frustrated when she forgot about her own strength or when she had a messy kill while hunting. But there was hardly any anger, which both baffled and worried me.

I came to some startling realizations myself, but I did my best to pretend nothing had happened. If Jasper and Alice had sensed the tsunami of emotions inside of me, they never mentioned it or let anything slip in their thoughts. I'd done my best to try and remember the dream I'd had long ago about Bella, but I still only remembered her and nothing else. I had a theory, however.

I was pretty sure I'd dreamed about the only woman I'd ever love.

I wasn't sure how I knew this to be true, but nothing had ever felt so right. The depths of her eyes, her rich and tinkling laugh, and the way she had made the best of her situation had brought me a peace I'd never had. I wanted that…I craved it. But I wasn't sure how I'd convince Bella that her happiness was something I'd spend the rest of my existence trying to gain.

In the middle of all of it, Rosalie returned from wherever she'd run off to. She approached the house slowly, and I could hear her uncertain thoughts long before the others could sense her. Alice had told us hours earlier that Rosalie was on her way, and I'd once again offered to take Bella to Alaska, but she'd refused and said nothing more on the topic.

A snarl broke from Bella's lips the moment Rosalie crossed the threshold. Bella had sunk into a crouch, watching my sister closely. An answering growl reverberated through the room, and seconds later, I saw Jasper wrap his arms around Emmett and drag him out the door. I stood frozen, unable to decide if I should wait and see what Bella would do, or if I should take a protective stance in front of Rosalie. My warring thoughts were silenced by my need to make Bella happy, and I backed away.

Rosalie hadn't made a single movement since she'd entered, deciding to not draw attention to herself. It was a horribly thought out plan, because Bella seemed to have a one track mind, never moving her eyes from the spot Rose stood in.

"Why?" Bella growled, inching a few feet closer to her prey.

"I didn't mean…." Rosalie backed away as she saw Bella advancing.

A dark chuckle escaped my love's lips. "Oh, well, that explains everything." Bella scowled and crept closer.

"Bella…" Alice said, raising her arms in surrender and placing herself in front of Bella. "You don't want to do this. Rosalie meant no harm. It was an accident…a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless."

A loud wailing sound erupted from Bella, and then I watched as she pushed Alice out of the way, causing her to fly through the air. Seconds later, Alice hit the wall with a crash and broke through the plaster and metal until she was outside.

Rosalie turned and began to run, only making it to a few steps outside the door. Bella was on her quickly, biting and clawing at her face, neck, and chest. Rosalie was able to keep her from making contact, twisting out of Bella's grasp. Before any of us could move, Rosalie had her in a death grip, tilting her head back.

"No!" I screamed, lunging forward to stop Rosalie. I was unable to move, though, and thrashed against Carlisle's grasp.

"It's best if you let them work this out, son."

For the first time since I'd become a vampire, I didn't agree with my father's words. Rosalie's thoughts only showed her anger at the "newborn's" audacity to attack her, erasing all guilt toward being the cause of her change. I couldn't—no, I wouldn't—let Rose's tendency to make a situation about her ruin the only chance at love I'd ever have.

"Please," I begged, struggling in my father's arms.

Locking eyes with me, Rose paused for a moment. Her face twisted in hate, and then she released Bella. Seconds later I had her in my arms while Rose headed back into the forest. Releasing a deep breath, I looked down at Bella.

"How could you?" she asked, tears that would never fall filling her eyes.

I stared at her blankly, wondering what she was thinking. "How could I what?"

"Why did you stop her?"

Her words made me stop short, feeling like someone had poured acid in my veins. I'd had no way of knowing that while I had been falling in love with her, she'd been cursing the fact that she'd been turned into a vampire. It was a cruel twist of fate I'd never entertained that the one person I'd ever loved and wanted would never feel the same way.

My arms went slack, falling to my sides. Bella ran into the forest, in the opposite direction Rosalie had gone. I couldn't find the will to chase her, realizing I would not be welcome. Yet, my eyes did not move from her exit point into the trees as I collapsed to the ground.

I wasn't sure how long I sat there in the dirt, staring after Bella. Nor did I care. How arrogant I'd been before, thinking my afterlife had no meaning, because it was in that moment I'd come to see I was nothing without her. She may not ever feel it, but I did. She was the light of a bright, shining star I wished to bask in. Being denied her brightness and cast back into the unyielding dark brought a pain I hadn't thought possible.

"She'll come around, Edward. Just give her time."

I hadn't noticed my mother was embracing me until her words cut through my despair. Oh, how I wished she was right, but I wasn't so sure. "Maybe."

"How could she not love you? You're a wonderful man. She'd be a fool to not see it." Esme hugged me tighter.

"Thank you," I replied, meaning every word. Esme had always been the one to bring me back from my dark moods in the past, somehow making me see what I couldn't. It was with that thought I decided to try.

I kissed her forehead and stood up, running in the direction Bella had gone. The wind whipped past my face as I followed her scent, hoping I could make her see just how beautiful she was to me. I stopped at the edge of a clearing, a perfect circle that seemed to be cut into the forest. Bella was sitting on a large rock with her head in her hands. I wanted to comfort her, take her pain away forever, but I wasn't sure how my actions would be perceived. So, instead, I walked slowly toward her.

Bella's head rose up at the sound of my steps, closely watching my approach. It wasn't until I reached her that she opened her mouth. "No matter how hard I try, my mind can't grasp eternity. And the more I think about, the less I think I want it. I don't know what to do with the next half hour – what use do I have for the rest of all time?"

"Bella, I'm really sorry that we took the choice away from you. Rosalie might have been the one to bite you, but it was me who decided to save you," I said, watching her closely as several emotions flickered in her eyes.

"Why?" There was so much misery and hopelessness in that small word.

I felt bad for giving her another explanation that would be difficult to understand. "I have very few memories from when I was human. If it wasn't for a photo Carlisle secured for me, I wouldn't be able to see my parents' faces in my mind. Despite that, I vaguely remember having a dream back when I still had the ability to sleep. I don't even remember what the dream was about, only that there was a girl with long brown hair, a shamrock on her neck, and the most infectious laugh I've ever heard."

I scrubbed a hand over my face, feeling frustration like I'd never experienced before. I couldn't mess this up. "I know for a fact that we've never met before. You weren't alive when I was human, and if I'd met you while I was a vampire, I would remember it. But I recognized you. You were in my dream long before you or your parents were even born. And I can't explain it. I can't see the future like Alice. I just…when I saw it was you, I couldn't let you fade away into nothingness."

"What did you do?" she whispered. "You said that her venom had already spread in my blood. I don't understand."

"I…uh, I was the one who kept your heart going until the transformation started."

The look of betrayal on her face as my words registered punched me in the gut.

"Why couldn't you have just let me die? I can't…I don't…" Bella's knees buckled as she sobbed. I moved quickly, catching her before she hit the ground and placing her on my lap. Her face was inches from my own.

"Because I love you." The admission ripped through my soul. My eyes closed as I waited for her response, for her to confirm she felt nothing for me and deal the final blow.

A hysterical laugh echoed through the clearing. "Love? You've got to be joking. There is no way you could love me."

She pulled back and started to stand up. I grabbed the tops of her arms tightly, refusing to let her go. Anger and hurt bubbled up inside of me from her words, and they tumbled from my lips in a hiss. "I get it, Bella. You wish I'd let you die, and I'm sorry I couldn't let that happen. But how dare you try to tell me how I feel.

"You want to push everyone away and deny anyone the chance to get close to you? That's fine. I love you, and I'll keep loving you no matter if you want me to or not. Burying your head in the sand and refusing to open yourself up is your right. But you don't get to dictate my feelings."

Bella sat there for a few moments, glaring at me. My eyes never left hers as I watched them harden.

"Vampires have no hearts, Edward." The way she said my name sounded like a curse. "It just sits inside our chests, dead. Mine is even so useless that it needed your help to beat. So, tell me. How can I love anything without a fucking heart?"

"I feel a pull toward you, a tugging in my chest that screams at me each time you're not by my side," I said through clenched teeth. "I've never felt it before, but I've seen it in the thoughts of my family when they are with their mates…and when they are not with them. The drive to protect you, to make you happy at all costs, and the longing I feel for you is love, Bella. Don't you see? A beating heart has nothing to do with love. It just shows itself when you find the one you're supposed to be with."

Bella sat there, stunned. I'd let out everything that had been boiling inside of me since I'd followed her into the clearing. I knew it was time to let her go. I'd done what I'd set out to do and told her I loved her. I could find solace in the fact I'd not let her walk away from me before she was aware of my feelings.

The thought of living without her scared me, because I wasn't sure how I was going to do it. Yet, her happiness was most important to me, and if leaving was what would give her peace, then it was the only thing I could do for her. Maybe the only thing I'd ever do for her. I loosened my grip on her arms and let my hands fall to my sides.

"Is…is that what this feeling means?" Bella spoke in a low voice. "This…ache I feel is love?"

A shaky breath escaped my lips. I tried to squash the ember of hope that had been ignited by her admission. I wouldn't dare give in to it. It would surely destroy me if I did. "It depends." I didn't dare say it was, because I couldn't read her thoughts. "Tell me about it."

"The closer I am to you…the better I feel. Edward, I'm scared. What if…what if you decide one day you want someone else, or I do? I don't think I could survive being hurt like that. Or even hurting you. And I don't know why the thought of causing you pain makes me feel like razorblades are shredding me from the inside."

"That's exactly how I feel about hurting you. Vampires mate for life, so I'd never leave you." I ran my nose against her cheek, trying to hide my smile.

Pulling back, I looked at her and could see the fear in her eyes. My promises of love and fidelity were not going to be enough, I gathered. So, I did the only thing I could think of to prove I was being truthful. I showed her.

Inch by inch, I moved closer, never moving my eyes away from her. I wanted her to see the love I had for her in my eyes as I went to, finally, claim what was mine. What I'd been waiting for more than a century. Her eyes closed as my lips made contact with hers, and I relished in the victory of kissing her for the first time.

What started out slow became heated and passionate in a matter of seconds. The sound of clothes ripping filled the air as we refused to break the connection our mouths had created. A loud hiss reverberated from one of us as our skin touched for the first time. My hands caressed the silky smoothness of her back, and I gently pushed her forward.

I could feel her hands weaving into my hair when I broke away from her lips, staring down at the beautiful creature before me. She smiled, and I felt like I wanted to cry. I'd never thought I'd find the one that was meant for me, but despite the odds, I had. Sliding my hand up her thigh, I spread her legs and thrust inside her warmth.

I felt like I was having an out of body experience as we moved together, consummating and strengthening our bond. I knew, after the act was complete, I'd never be able to let her go. I'd follow her to the ends of the earth and back again just to be able to bask in her presence.

A snarl escaped me as I found bliss, pulsing and coursing through my body. Bella answered with a whimper, her feminine walls contracting around me. Collapsing on top of her, I wondered if the feeling of being totally and completely bound to my mate after sharing our intense coupling was something every vampire experienced, or if it was something that only Bella and I shared. It didn't matter, though. No one would ever bring that out of me besides her.

We lay there listening to the sounds of the forest for hours, content to just be. I played with the strands of her hair as my thoughts drifted. It was only her voice that brought me back to the present.

"Eternity still frightens me, Edward," she whispered into the darkness, the sun having set during our silence. "How do you wrap your head around living forever?"

"The hardest part to overcome, being a creature that lives forever, is change. The world moves on, changes around us, yet we stay the same. However, we get to watch the amazing and wonderful things humans discover, build, design, and so on. For me, learning to accept it and watch the future unfold before your eyes is what keeps me going. Plus, the fact that we have time to travel anywhere and see everything helps, too." I chuckled.

She was quiet for a few moments, letting the words turn in her head.

"So, what if I wanted to see something you already had? Wouldn't it bore you?"

"No, because just having you with me would make it new."

She let out a happy sigh and snuggled closer to me, obviously now convinced that even hearts that didn't beat could love.

Even though Alice wouldn't be able to tell me how my future would turn out, I was still excited at what was to come. For the first time in my life, the unknown didn't scare me, and the fact that I couldn't hear every thought that flowed through her mind didn't make me feel off balance. Bella was a true mystery. A mystery I would enjoy uncovering for the rest of my existence.