The infernal hell of transformation stopped. My baptism by fire was over, the furnace turned off. I felt... not relief, merely cessation from pain.
My eyes snapped open.
I took in my surroundings. I felt Edward's presence beside me, out of my immediate field of vision, but there nonetheless. A comforting shadow; he was the one constant in my life since I'd moved to Forks.
A kind of hunger for him roared into my being, stronger than I'd ever felt as a human girl. Pure, animal lust inundated my brain, making me insane with want for him. I wanted to touch him, feel him in ways I never could as a human. I wanted him inside of me with a ferocity bordering on psychosis. I wanted to crawl into his skin and stay cocooned there until the heat-death of the universe. I wanted him so bad, it literally hurt, shaking me to the very core of my being and giving a sweet agony down to my very bones. I wanted... I wanted...
Before my brain had time to calculate, my body surged at him. I kissed him with a ferocity I didn't know I'd possessed, my arms wrapped around him and my feminine curves pressed into all the masculine angles his frame presented. He kissed me back, his lips no longer so stony and cold to me, for my flesh was now the same consistency and temperature. His body now felt warm against mine, and his lips gave slightly against mine.
His response was not as passionate as my fervent overture, but not nearly as cautious as he had been when I was human.
When I was human. It was so strange to realize that my old, human life was officially over now.
It took a moment, but then I knew why he hadn't responded with equal passion. He was worried for me. Worried about how I'd adjust to my new life as a vampire.
But all I knew, all I cared about right at that moment, was that I wanted him. "Edward, please," my voice, very much mine yet more melodious than I ever remembered, pleaded. "Make love to me."
Apparently, he could no longer resist the enticing package my new vampire self presented, either. We tore each other's clothes off in our haste, fabric rent as easily as tissue, and our coupling became reckless. The metal slab I'd been laying on gave under the force of my grip and dented further from his hands slamming against it.
He no longer had to worry about my safety; I was no longer so fragile to take the full force of his lovemaking. And I was more than pleased to discover how much he'd learned from all the time he'd spent reading books and minds, as he demonstrated clearly his ability to put theory into practice.
He seemed incapable of ceasing to touch me, and I him. His skin against mine was a thrill in ways I'd never contemplated before. The way his mouth explored my body, and - oh Lord! - the things he could do with that tongue!
Saying it was nice would be like saying the Titanic was a big boat. Pleasure at even simple contact between us made my head spin, and our completion was so intense, I very nearly blacked out.
I knew it could only get better from here on out.
It wasn't just sex, but every kind of sensation filled me with pleasure. Feeling a warm breeze through one of the massive open windows of the Cullen homestead made me sigh with delight, and the scents of flowers, of trees, of the morning dew, hearing the beats of the tiny hearts of the rabbits and squirrels - the rhythm of life - made me long to be a part of it.
Why had I ever hated Forks? It was a diamond concealed among ordinary, rough stone. There was beauty here, a beauty unlike any other, within the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. I'd just never bothered to see it before.
I wanted to feel the damp on my skin, the grass under my bare feet and the wind playing through my hair as it whistled through the trees. I wanted to stand under a Sitka and bask in its shade. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to be a part of the life teeming out there; I didn't want to be stuck within the artificial divide of a house. Not if I had a choice in the matter.
Edward was watching me, patient and expectant.
"Edward," I had gazed longingly through the open window for so long, that minutes must have passed like hours for him. "Can I go out?"
He smiled. "Of course. You have to learn how to hunt, after all."
He went up to the window, offering his hand. I briefly balked at this manner of exit, as we were on the second story of the house. But... he'd done this before, with me on his back. This time I could jump with him, rather than be his cargo.
"It's all right, Bella. This is an easy one," he said softly, his tone as soothing as a mother comforting a frightened child. "You can do this."
I wrenched off the new shoes Alice had given me, after I'd already destroyed the blue sheath she'd placed me in for my awakening. At least she'd given me a more sensible sweater and slacks for this outing.
I grasped Edward's hand, and together we stepped off into empty air. The ground came up to meet me fast, but my perception of it coming was faster. I landed beside him, my bare feet crunching the dirt and causing a mini-explosion in the mud like I'd landed in water.
It wasn't the most graceful landing, but it wasn't bad either. And the ground felt so soft and warm and wet against the soles of my feet, that I wanted to just stay there and let it squelch further between my toes.
Great. I was a vampire hippie. Oh well. If I was a hippie, then I was a hippie. So what? Who'd dare to bitch at me for it, anyway? Wasn't it, after all, a welcome change from the two main stereotypes of our breed: self-loathing and consumed by regret or one-dimensional, mustache-twirling evil?
Edward laughed, genuinely pleased by my sudden zest for life. Vampire Hippie Bella was a new personality among the Cullen clan, a group replete already with strong, distinctive personalities. I hadn't expected to be anything but a mindless killer in the beginning, and was not-so-secretly pleased that I had a personality to actually enjoy this, instead of the much-vaunted all-consuming thirst taking me over for the first year of my new life.
Until of course, I learned to control it. And I would control it. For Renesmee's sake, for my own, for the family who so loved me they wanted to spend eternity with me, for the people of Forks who slept in the town miles from here, for my wonderful loving Edward...
I didn't want to think about what would happen if I couldn't control my thirst. I knew I'd never hold my daughter in my arms; my own family wouldn't be able to trust me in my daughter's presence. I would be a menace to everything with a pulse.
I couldn't let that happen. Renesmee was just a child; she needed her Mommy, and I would not forfeit on that account.
I would not.
We had been running for some time. I'd followed Edward, happy to shadow his footsteps as we raced in bullet-time across clearings and through the trees and vaulted over ravines, playing "catch me if you can."
It was damn awesome, to borrow a verdict that Emmett would give. I felt like Trinity in the Matrix; reality couldn't contain me anymore, and I was capable of anything.
Why had Edward spent so much time in existential pain when he had this? Was it because of me that he'd been miserable, because he'd been unable to share this with me? Was it because he'd been surrounded by happy couples all this time, and longed for that connection himself? Was loneliness really that crippling to a vampire? Was being able to read a girl's mind that much of a deal-breaker?
Given a vampire's natural love of sensation, as well as the constant influx of information Edward's gift no doubt gave him (whether he wanted it or not), I'd have to go with "yes" on all the above.
No wonder he'd been a virgin for a century. He really had been waiting all that time for me, the one girl whose mind was closed to him. The silence I provided must have been quite a respite from the constant din of humanity.
I felt pained for him. My poor, beloved Edward. How lonely he must have been!
I saw clearly now; his behavior towards me had been awkward, rather than the natural confidence of our kind. It was one thing to try to put theory into practice when you already had won the woman's heart. It was another thing entirely to try to win her on no actual, in-the-trenches experience.
No wonder he'd vacillated so wildly. He hadn't a clue what to do, and was afraid to admit it. Men!
Well, lucky for him, I'd had no experience in romance, either, and so was quick to forgive his mistakes as swiftly as I made my own. He'd been my first. Jacob had never been anything more than a friend, who refused to see the utter futility of trying to woo a heart that had already been claimed by another.
Oh, Jacob. Why were the connections forged by friendship so consistently underrated? Come to think of it, why had I never fully appreciated it, myself?
I'd had some very good friends in Angela, Jessica, Mike and Eric. I should have been better to them, when they were nothing but kind to me. Even after my freakout sessions over Edward, they were still loyal.
There was nothing I could do for them at this point; giving up my humanity meant severing all ties to my human life. I would have to live with that.
But for now, I would enjoy running through the forest with Edward.
It happened rather quickly, the smell of hot blood pulsing through veins and the musky perfume of sweaty skin. The smell was so sweet, so divine, that I could feel the venom flooding my mouth like saliva used to for a particularly yummy meal.
Now, my dinner had legs and could try to run from me.
Edward attempted to tackle me, to stop me from zeroing on my prey, but I would have none of it. I struggled against him, snarling, and finally shoved him away. I didn't know my own strength yet, and the force my newborn prowess gave knocked him back more than fifty feet, into an ancient oak that had been there for thousands of years. The force of his colliding with it stripped it of its bark, poor thing.
I took off, following my nose. Hunger drove me through hundreds of yards of trees. I heard Edward get up and pursue, but I'd had the advantage and was upon my quarry before he could stop me.
I ripped away fabric - fabric? - and bit down into my prey. My teeth tore into soft flesh that gave like butter, and hot blood jetted onto my face and down my throat. I fully devoured my kill, not stopping until I was interrupted.
I heard a sound, a scream, and looked up. My eyes saw a human woman, gasping and crying at her lover lying in strips like so many pieces of jerky from my attack. But my primitive, predator's brain only contained one thought at that moment: FOOD!
She was dead, drained and in pieces, in a matter of seconds. Edward arrived, and the reasoning portion of my brain made itself known; but it was all far too late. The damage was done.
It had taken only a few short minutes to destroy what had been a happy couple backpacking in the forest.
The hunger was gone, and I was myself again. But not myself; I had killed. Edward had warned me this would happen. They all had. But I had not listened.
I had taken two innocent lives. Two people who had loved, laughed, cried and had dreams had paid for my decision to become a vampire with their very lives.
I sobbed, but the sweet balm of tears would not come; vampires could not produce the necessary fluid. My crying was as dry as the Sahara, and I could only make a series of odd choking and whimpering sounds.
I had killed. No, not merely killed. Murdered.
Truly, I was one of the damned.
I was so consumed by grief over the lives I'd taken, that Edward had to carry me back home. Silence descended upon the Cullen homestead, sepulchral and the nearest to absolute that vampire senses were capable of perceiving.
The life teeming in the forest around me now seemed to mock me.
Alice had not foreseen this; her gift was based on the decisions of the parties involved and, as I had not actively chosen to take human lives, she saw no decision being made and thus believed all would be well.
Her vision had failed, yet again. If I had known death was lying in wait to meet me, I would not have gone out. I wanted to be a Cullen, content with eating the animals who were at most risk of overrunning the local wildlife population, doing my part to keep the delicate balance of the natural world; I hadn't wanted to kill anyone!
I wished vainly for the healing of sleep that would never come.
Edward bathed me and dressed me in a new frock with tender, loving care. He held me close on his daybed, as my dry sobs ripped through my vocal chords. He said nothing, knowing nothing would be enough to calm me. Only time might aid me, with its promise of scabbing over wounds.
Perhaps, in time, this would be merely an unpleasant footnote in a long, rewarding life. But I hoped it would not be just a footnote. My perfect vampire memory would keep this day in mind forever.
I would find out the names of the people I'd killed, so they would not have died in vain, forgotten by all. I would always remember this. I would always remember the power of the killing instinct, how it could sneak up on you unawares, how it could make you destroy all you held precious, and I would fight it with everything I had so this would not happen again.
I would not lose my grip on what remained of my humanity. Until time itself passed away, I would never take a human life again.
And, when I was capable of control, I would do whatever I could to aid the humans around me. Like Carlisle could. I needed his guidance, more than I ever thought possible.
I swallowed hard and looked up at Edward. "I... need to talk to Carlisle."
Edward nodded; of course, he'd known that would be my request. Carlisle was the father figure among us. Surely, he'd have answers. Surely, he'd know what to say to comfort me.
"I can offer you no words of comfort, Bella," Carlisle told me. "But know that you are not alone in this struggle. This is why we've all chosen to live as we have."
I nodded. Of course, I knew better than I'd ever imagined I would. "You kill animals to avoid taking human life." I gave a shaky sigh, vocal chords still remembering my crying. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"How do you do it?" I wondered aloud. As far as I'd known, and as far as Edward had told me, Carlisle had never taken a human life.
"Years and years of practice," he reminded me, quoting himself from the conversation we'd had as he'd stitched up my arm on my birthday. It had sounded so simple the first time he'd said it, but now I knew it was anything but.
Only now did I fully appreciate how much effort that had to have taken, to be around bleeding and suffering humans constantly, and how truly committed he was to a just and honorable life. If Carlisle had a superpower, then surely it was his remarkable self-control and how it functioned in tandem with his sense of compassion for all living things.
I would be just like him, I vowed to myself. I would find a way to be the good, vegetarian, hippie vampire I'd imagined myself to be mere hours before.
"Carlisle," I took a breath, then plunged onward into my proposition. "Do you think you and Esme can come with me on my next hunt? I... I think I need all the positive reinforcement I can get."
Esme chose that moment to walk in. "We'd be delighted, Bella." She gently ran a hand through my hair - a loving maternal gesture she was always good at providing - and I purred like a kitten in response. She kissed the crown of my head affectionately. "We'll be with you every step of the way, I promise."
"...stupid to go off on your own like that!" I didn't need vampire hearing to detect Rosalie's angry growl, when I'd opened the door to Carlisle's soundproofed office. "Didn't you think about what could happen?"
"I thought she could handle it!" Edward snarled back. No wonder they'd never gotten along; they tended to fight like cats and dogs. In this instance, and probably not for the first time, they were fighting over me.
"You thought wrong! She's a newborn, Edward!" Rosalie screeched. Blonde though she may be, she certainly had a redhead's temper. "Don't you remember what it was like for all of us?" He huffed indignantly, but she'd have none of it. "If you had let Emmett and I join you, this wouldn't have happened!"
"Possibly," Edward snapped. "There was no way to determine this as an outcome. She seemed completely aware..."
"...before she tore into two hikers?" Rosalie replied hotly. "That's the point, Edward! You make contingency plans in the event the worst-case scenario comes to pass! You spend so much time in people's heads, it's a wonder that thinking is so alien to you!"
"Shut up, Rosalie!"
"I will do no such thing!" she roared. "And this isn't just about your newly undead main squeeze, over there! This completely obliterates the truce with the wolves! After more than sixty years of peace, we're the enemy now! And this is the second time in as many months you've jeopardized the cease-fire we've worked so hard to maintain!" She was on the warpath, and there was no stopping her. "You IDIOT!"
"Rosalie, she can hear you!"
"LET HER! She knew this could happen! We all told her, and now she - and you - have to learn to live with it! Get over yourself, you pompous ass, and try to be decent for once! The rules apply to you too, you know!"
"Rosalie what?" she sneered. "Don't start with me, Edward. You will lose."
Any rejoinder he may have had was cut short by the sound of wolves howling outside. Everyone froze at the sudden cacophony. The ensuing silence was only broken by Edward.
"They're coming for Bella."