Thank you for your wonderfully kind words. Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you Donna. I own nothing.
The world stays dark, but the battle isn't over.
Although the pain is gone, I'm trapped with a demon. I can feel it hovering on the periphery of my consciousness. Occasionally it pushes at me, trying to gain more ground, testing me for weakness. I've allowed it to awaken and grow in my absence, and now I'm too weary to beat it back.
All I can manage is to hold onto the territory I have now.
My name is Isabella, I remind myself. I am wife to Edward and mother to Nessie. I have a family. I have friends. I love them. My name is Isabella Masen – Bella for short.
Time passes in the dark but I am unable to determine how much of it specifically. It feels like lifetimes.
The demon learns new tactics. It whispers in the dark, reminding me what it feels like to have all that power. It tempts me, taunts me, and beckons to me.
Vanessa. Edward. Bella.
I chant my name and those of my loved ones, but as the demon calls to me, I forget their faces. I forget what the names mean and which one belongs to me.
The demon gathers strength and I shrink, barely able to hold on to a tiny little corner in the depths of this mind that once felt so very small. The demon fills up all my spaces and in a fit of desperation I strain to remember my last thought before it all went dark.
Something important lingers there. Someone important.
It's a struggle. I am so very tired. And it would be so easy to give into the demands of the demon. It would be blissfully mindless, and I am so very tired, but something nags at me, prevents me from simply giving in. So I continue to search for those final thoughts before the blackness.
Instantly an image of a girl floods my consciousness.
She is luminous, her brightness causing the demon to cower and hiss. I hold onto the image desperately.
Her eyes she gets from me.
How? Did she take my eyes? Is this why I'm unable to see?
No, that's not right. That is absurd.
The demon attempts to take advantage of my confusion, and I focus on the image in my mind.
The eyes she got from me but the rest she gets from her father. Her father! That makes me her mother. This girl is my daughter. She is the reason for my humanity.
Her name is Vanessa.
The demon shrivels as I regain a century's worth of memories.
Her father is Edward
The moment I remember his name, I am blessed with a mental image so clear, I swear I can see it even in the darkness. The demon shrieks in pain, desperately clawing at me in a futile attempt to stop its own shrinking, but it is powerless now.
Edward and Vanessa love me. They love Bella. This love blooms in my chest and I use it to lock the demon in an iron-clad box, pushing it down, down, down as deep as it will go.
There is no getting rid of it, I'm afraid. But I do all I can to ensure that it never will get out again.
The darkness is quiet and soothing as I – humanity and all – fill up the empty spaces.
Now I rest.
The world becomes a very strange dream.
I relearn how to see and I am looking at a familiar ceiling.
This room is well known, but the colors are less bright, the smells less potent, and the sounds nonexistent. I am still too tired and so unstable in my own mind. The full vibrancy of the world would prove overwhelming and I find myself thankful for this strange, dulled, dream version.
I am lying still on my back. This is the bed in the big house where my parents and siblings live. I am not here often, but I cannot recall where the majority of my nights are spent.
A familiar lanky figure sits next to me, propped up against the headboard. There is a book resting open on his lap, but he is not reading it. Instead he stares out the wall of windows, running his hands through his hair at great frequency.
Minutes pass and I watch him. I'm relieved he actually exists. For a moment there I was not totally sure.
Eventually he glances down at me for a quick moment before he goes back to staring out the window. He does a double take and jumps in surprise, eyes going wide as saucers. He just catches himself from falling off the bed.
After a moment he recovers to lean over me, cradling my face between large, familiar palms. I can't feel his touch. I have not relearned how to do this yet. Smell and sight. These are the senses I've relearned since my battle with the demon.
Again, I'm thankful for this strange dream world. Hearing the words that match the movements of his lips and feeling his skin on mine would be far too much.
Much too much.
Although a moment ago his face was jubilant, now he appears to be terrified.
He coaxes my body into a seated position. I go willingly, but the movements feel strange and they disturb my fragile head, forcing me to close my eyes.
Edward. His name is Edward.
I open my eyes again when I remember his name in time to see him calling something over his shoulder before turning back to me. He runs his palm in front of my face. I track his movements with my eyes, wondering what his intentions are with this strange activity.
The girl who saved me from the demon appears in the doorway and I stop staring at the hand in favor of staring at her. She is so beautiful and back in this home where she belongs.
Vanessa. She is Vanessa, my daughter. Nessie for short.
I'll keep her safe forever, as soon as I remember how.
She sprints across the room, throwing herself into my body and wrapping her arms around my neck. I do not remember how to return her embrace, nor can I really feel it now, but I close my eyes, remembering thousands of past hugs.
Too soon, Vanessa pulls away. When I open my eyes again, the familiar room is far too full for my comfort. I recognize the ones closet to me. After a brief struggle to sift through the mental fog permeating my mind, I remember names.
This room is far too full. So many watch me. I don't have all their names.
Carlisle is touching my face now, just as Edward was touching it before. His lips move and I focus on them for a moment before my gaze darts around, going from vampire to vampire to werewolf to vampire.
Their continued existence is a good thing, but their presence overwhelms me. They want something from me but I do not know what. I'm ill equipped to give anyone anything in this strange dream world. I do not even know how to move.
I am relearning how to think and remembering how to see, so I have nothing left to give.
Carlisle appears to give an order, pointing insistently towards the bedroom door. A long line of disappointed and concerned creatures file out of this familiar room. Only Edward, Vanessa, and Carlisle remain.
Carlisle runs his finger in front of my face and I track the movement with my eyes for a moment before letting my gaze rest on my daughter. She sits crying at the foot of the bed, but she is still perfect and so beautiful, even in this version of the world with the intensity turned way down. If I could remember how to hug her I would do so now.
Carlisle continues to examine me. I follow his movement with my eyes once more. This is the only part of me that I know how to move. He claps his hands near my ear but I hear nothing. I watch him poke the flesh of my upper arm with a needle, but I feel nothing. He then pulls me out of bed, standing me up by the bed. Again, I don't really feel anything but an odd heaviness where my limbs should be. My arms get extended in front of my torso and when Carlisle let's go of my wrists, my arms stay in the position he leaves them in.
I decide this exercise is beyond ridiculous, so I close my eyes. I'm so very, very tired.
When I open my eyes a moment later I am back in bed, my head resting on Edward's chest. My daughter sits on his other side, legs crossed under her skinny body. She is nodding along to whatever her father says, watching me with big, sad eyes.
Now her lips are moving. Perhaps tomorrow I will relearn how to hear, but for now all this sight is exhausting me. I close my eyes again and rest my head.
When I relearn hearing, the constant buzz of the world alarms me, even though it is as if everything is dampened by cotton balls in my ears. Loud noises make my body jump, but I don't feel it, just as I don't feel fear.
Nothing can harm me in this dream world, this place of healing, but my body seems to react to some things instinctually.
It takes me lifetimes to relearn how to feel touch and how to touch in return. Edward helps, as does Vanessa. Her skin is so warm but Edward's touch seems hotter somehow, despite my chilled skin.
Still, often touching him is too much and I'm forced to close my eyes.
Once a long time ago, I pretended to sleep. I suppose it is the same now, but it seems like the real thing. Maybe in this dream world, even the undead are given the blessing of rest.
When my eyes are open, I work hard to educate myself.
I learn that the slight pressure on the back of my head from Edward's palm means that I should lie against his shoulder. I like it here and learn to find this position without his prompting.
I learn to lace my fingers through hers when Vanessa touches my hand. She does this often – when we walk in my woods, when we sit and she reads, or when Edward tells us stories.
I learn to go through the motions of Carlisle's examinations without him needing to be involved at all. This makes him laugh. I have no idea how to laugh, just as I have no idea how to return my daughter's smiles.
I have no idea how to even start relearning these things.
Expressing emotion and feeling anything proves to be impossible. Sometime in the future I will have to relearn emotions but the prospect proves exhausting. I'm forced to close my eyes when I contemplate it.
I learn to sink my teeth into the soft flesh of furry beasts and drink them dry when Edward holds animals to my lips. Eventually I even relearn how to hold them to my mouth without Edward's assistance.
Still when he kisses my temple or trails his fingertips over my skin it is so dizzying and I have to close my eyes.
I learn to drown out the words of those around me. They talk of memories, of things I should know. Thinking in the past is painful, so I focus instead on my relearning and my rest.
I need so much rest.
The forest is very green.
I relearn how to identify color and there are so many shades of green in this forest: In my forest. My eyes are drawn to the trees often. There is something soothing and familiar about the colors and the smells.
I do not attempt to understand my attraction to the color green, but when Edward takes me walking in the woods I never close my eyes.
We get in a car and leave my woods and our home.
It is a lot greener out in the wide world, so I lay my head on Edward's shoulder and watch what goes on outside the window. I do not know where we are going, but it hardly matters.
Vanessa is in front of me. Edward is by my side. They are safe. Nothing else matters.
Edward guides me out of the vehicle and I stand between my husband and my daughter, staring at an achingly familiar house.
I know this place.
Tilting my head to the side, I attempt to remember through the fog of my dream world. This is the place of my birth as well as my daughter's.
Something stirs in my memory, a place so similar to another place that always makes Vanessa smile. Making Vanessa smile seems extremely important, so I pick her up, intent on bringing her to this place.
Edward and the wolf follow me as I remember what running once made me feel. Once I liked to run. Now I do not understand what it means to like anything, just as I know I love Edward and Vanessa, but what it means to love is not something I am capable of relearning just now.
But making Vanessa smile seems important and our final destination seems to do just that.
They gape at me and an explanation comes out of my mouth.
"The best day of my existence," I hear myself say.
The words taste strange on my tongue and rattle my fragile mind, but I do not give into the instinct to close my eyes. Instead I follow them into the water.
My insides warm when Vanessa smiles.
I relearn how to really remember.
Edward, Nessie, and the wolf called Jacob bring me back to the place that stores our human history. I look at pictures, categorizing and organizing as I really remember.
With each new memory something solidifies in my mind. The world gets a little brighter, each of my senses get a little sharper. I am relearning who I am through these safe memories.
The memories stored here – both good and bad, happy and sad – are safe in that they do not overwhelm me. The only memories off limits are those of the thing I became and the power I sought. Just thinking about all that still lurks inside me makes me close my eyes.
Only safe things are here in my dream world.
Cleanliness is something I relearned long ago, but I pretend ignorance.
I am capable of completing the nightly bathing ritual myself, but then Edward would not join me. His touch is now energizing rather than overwhelming. I've spent hours relearning our memories, thinking about what it's like to really touch him.
I get curious and it makes him nervous, but then it is time to sleep.
I close my eyes and hold my daughter's hand as her breathing gets deep.
Actual sleep turns back into pretend sleep as dawn breaks one day.
My dream world has been slowly but surely clarifying into reality around me until all at once I've relearned everything.
I am Isabella Cullen, mother of Vanessa, wife of Edward, daughter of Carlisle and Esme, sister to Rosalie, Emmett, Alice, and Jasper, friend and ally to countless others.
I am special.
I am great and terrible and my demon has little interest in blood but oh, how it craves power.
I am Bella, but I have no idea where I am.
My eyes fly open as I struggle to comprehend all that's gone on since my daughter was taken.
How long has it been? Weeks? Months? Years? Fucking lifetimes?
It feels like lifetimes.
Edward is looking down at me where I lay against his chest. This does nothing to calm me as I remember stealing from him and demanding his ash, craving his destruction.
How could I want that? Did I succeed? Is this even real? Is he even real?
I scramble up and away, so painfully confused as I attempt to sort through my memory. From the moment I walked through the Denali's front door… none of it feels real.
His lips are moving and I know how to use all my senses now.
"You're alright, love," he says, words sounding so very loud and sharp and real, despite his quiet tones.
"Wha…" This comes out of my mouth, I think. It's almost a word.
"It's me, Bella." That's my name. "It's Edward."
And there it is: the thing to calm me down. My body stills and I know what it's like to love him again.
"Edward," I manage, his name a prayer.
I choose to believe that he is real and abruptly launch myself at him. Surprised by the suddenness of my attack, Edward is unable to prevent us from tumbling off the edge of the bed. We land on the floor in a tangle of limbs, but I barely even notice. I push my face into his neck and get my arms around his torso. My body shakes as the fear slowly ebbs away.
"I didn't burn you," I chant into his neck. "You're not ash. I didn't burn you."
"You're here," he replies with a chant of his own, rocking us slightly as he strokes my hair. "You came back. You're here."
I lose track of who is comforting who. The relief of both feels palatable. For a few moments I just let myself absorb the knowledge that he's here, that he's unharmed, and that I once more really, truly know what it means to be in love with him.
Crying is not something I'm able to relearn as a vampire, but if it were a possibility, I would be blubbering all over him.
Edward would be blubbering all over me as well, I believe.
With hands cradling my face, Edward pulls me out of the safety of his neck to search my eyes. I look back at his, remembering when they were green.
"It's really you?" he whispers. His expression holds an odd combination of awe and hope and fear.
"Yes." I frown, confused by his question for a moment. "It's me," I say, rapidly deteriorating into hysterics. "I'm not the shield. I'm not the demon. I'm not dreamland Bella."
He probably has no idea what I'm going on about.
"Oh, love," he murmurs.
Panic chokes at me as I struggle to comprehend all that's gone on, all that I truly am. "How long?" I ask him, my fingers digging into his forearms. He still frames my face with his hands and if he lets go I feel like I'll blow away.
"Three months," he replies, understanding my question even through my extreme panic. "Ninety-six days since the battle."
A large shudder runs through my body at the memory. My shaking gets worse. Edward tries to ground me, but there is nothing to be done. I am what I am, and it's evil and dark and too terrible to really contemplate.
"Vanessa?" I manage through my great gasping breaths.
"Listen," Edward says, his voice strong and sure. "That's her heartbeat, Isabella. She's safe and asleep in the yellow room. We got her back."
I calm instantly, my head lolling forward onto his shoulder as the tension leaves my muscles. Edward moves his palm down my neck to rest on my shoulders. I'm thankful that he's sill touching me.
"Her heartbeat," I whisper. Placing my right hand over my long dead heart, I tap out a rhythm that matches Nessie's heartbeat exactly. I pace my breathing to the beat and calm my body, even as the confusion and horror in my head threatens to overwhelm me once more. "Is she alright?"
I continue to simulate the feeling of a heart beating in my chest.
"Physically, she's fine," he says, massaging my shoulders slightly. "She's still shaken and thinks it's all her fault we had to fight at all, but mostly she worries for you. She'll be much better now. Do you remember how you were?"
"Yes," I reply, hating that I caused my daughter undo pain. "I remember everything."
"Hey," he says, lifting my face towards his with a finger under my chin. "It's not your fault. None of it is."
Oh, he's never been more wrong.
I just smile ruefully. I don't have the energy to argue with him at the moment. Removing his hand from my face, I lace my fingers through his. I need to touch him, to have the strength to ask this next question, but I can't bear to look at him.
Thump, thump, thump.
I focus on my daughter's beating heart and my hand on my chest.
"Who is ash?"
The details are hazy and if I think on my state during the battle too long I feel ill. All I can really remember is fire and lust and power.
"The three," Edward says, as if he'd rather say anything but this, "with the exception of Marcus. The guard. All of them but Benjamin, Tia, Felix, Heidi, and Dmitri."
Another shudder runs up my spine as I remember infiltrating Benjamin's body and stealing his gift. God, and I did it to Edward too. If I look at him right I can still see the green glow of his gift. I could take it again if I so chose, and most terrifying of all, part of me wants to.
My fake heartbeat speeds up in tempo.
"Benjamin…" I can't really ask.
"He's regaining his powers," Edward explains. "He gets stronger daily."
At least I didn't burn him.
My fake heartbeat feels like the only thing keeping me from completely losing it. Combined with Edward's touch, it keeps me semi sane.
"I did all that, didn't I?" I whisper, squeezing my eyes shut. The memories are burned into my mind and there's no way to expel them. "I burned them all."
"I suppose so," Edward murmurs. "You saved us."
The beating against my chest gets much faster and much stronger than Nessie's and far more frantic.
"I nearly destroyed everything," I hiss out, looking at my lap.
"But you didn't," he says, sounding painfully heartbroken.
No, no. I can't argue about this now. I can't even think about it.
Thump, thump, thump.
"Who else? The ones I didn't burn?" I ask, not really wanting to know.
Edward sighs. He doesn't want to do this, thinks I'm too fragile, and I don't want to do it either, but I've got to know.
"Irina," he begrudgingly replies. "Siobhan. All of Vic's newborns save for Riley and Bree. Stephan. And Jared."
A little sob escapes my throat.
"Oh, God," I croak out, my voice breaking as my shoulders shake. "Poor Kate and Tanya. Poor Kim," I murmur, thinking of the wolf's wife, of the ones left behind.
"She's holding in there," he assures me. "Nessie has been visiting La Push weekly. It helps."
The rhythmic beating of my hand against my chest gets more violent as I rock in time and close my eyes. In the face of all this guilt and sorrow it is a struggle to maintain my sanity.
Is this how Edward feels? Do the memories of the hiker and countless others sit heavily on his chest? Do they plague his mind and tempt him to give over to the demon?
If I locked away my humanity in a box like the demon nothing would hurt now. Does he think about this like I do?
"Bella?" Edward says. I can hear the panic in his voice. He thinks I'm going to leave him again, slip back into the dream world or become my shield. He doesn't understand how hard I fought to get back to him, but I don't have the words to explain right now.
I'm too busy drowning in guilt.
"God, Edward." I sob, pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes. His arms come around me and I allow him to pull me into his lap. "What happened? God, what did I do? What did I do?"
He has no answers, but he holds me for a very long time until my body stops shaking.
Somehow I'm able to calm my mind enough to once more focus on that heartbeat, my daughter's miracle heartbeat. Lifting my head off Edward' chest, I turn in the direction of his face.
"We can wake her," he murmurs.
"No," I reply. "I'm so tired. Can I just go lie down with her for a bit?"
Edward doesn't reply. He simply gets to his feet before pulling me to mine.
I have to pause in the doorway of the yellow room because seeing my daughter sleeping just where she belongs is too perfect. After a few minutes, Edward gives me a gentle nudge and an encouraging smile.
Her bed is narrow, but she's curled up on one side, leaving room for me to crawl in next to her. With fingertips barely touching her back, I assure myself that she is really right here.
I close my eyes, focus on her heartbeat only and let my mind rest.
It doesn't feel like real sleep as it did while in the dream world, but it's damn close.
When Nessie starts to wake two hours later, my mind feels steady. I'm not okay. I will probably never be okay with the knowledge of my horrible capabilities, but for the first time in months I manage to scrape out a little mental clarity.
As my daughter stirs, I sit up. She rolls on her back, stretching her arms and yawning. I push her hair off her forehead and her brow furrows.
"Ten more minutes, Mom," she mumbles into her pillow, turning towards me. Behind me Edward chuckles and I smile, stifling a sob in my throat. If I could I'd cry happy tears because she is so blessedly perfect.
Nessie sighs and for one moment her body relaxes into the mattress as if she's about to fall back to sleep but then her eyes fly open.
"Mom," she whispers into the pillow. She bolts upright, searching out my gaze. "Mom?" It's a wary question as she regards me with suspicion.
I manage a smile and a nod and a choked out "hi."
"Mom!" she shrieks through, tears immediately flooring her eyes. Her skinny little arms come around my neck as the rest of her collides with my torso. I worry that she'll hurt herself, but I return her hug just the same.
"Vanessa," I say, stroking her hair as hot tears soak my neck.
I close my eyes and rock us as Nessie cries, her fragile frame quaking nearly as badly as my own. I tell her I love her, so relieved to understand what this means. She commands me to never leave again.
Eventually we both calm slightly. Nessie lifts her head from my shoulder and turns to look at the doorway where my husband still lurks. I meet his gaze, giving him a real smile. He looks so stunned and happy for a moment I worry his knees will give out.
"Daddy," Nessie manages through her tears, extending a hand towards him. The ragged whisper has my cold, dead heart lurching in my chest. I lose composure once more as Edward joins us.
We sit together for a long time. I want more. I am so very tired, but Nessie doesn't have the attention span for sitting. She bounds to her feet as I readjust to lean against my husband with my head pillowed against his shoulder. Edward stokes my hair and answers Nessie's questions.
"What happened? How did this happen? This is great! But what happened?"
I smile slightly, enjoying the feel of the rumble in Edward's chest as he speaks. "It just happened, Nessie," he explains for me. "You've seen her progress. We were fake sleeping and she just woke up."
"Is it really you, Mom?" Nessie asks, unsure now, probably because I'm so quiet.
"It's really me," I assure her, giving her what I hope is a normal smile. It is difficult for me to keep my eyes open. I am so very tired and a dull ache emanates from my temples. "I woke up."
"What was it like? Do you remember everything? Where did you go?"
"I was there," I say, my eyes flickering closed. "I remember."
"Vanessa," Edward interrupts, gently massaging my temple with one hand. "Your mom is tired. It's been a rough couple of months."
"Are you tired, Mom?" Nessie whispers.
I manage to open my eyes and smile at my now concerned daughter.
"Yes," I admit. "But I'm okay, Ness. I promise. It's me and I'm not going anywhere again."
And she's beaming at me again. "Okay. Good. I'll just ask less questions for awhile."
"Thank you, darling daughter."
She is absolutely glowing with pure joy. I wish I could feel that way – happy to be safe with my family – but now I can't manage to do much more than smile softly at her.
"So you're probably not up for going up to the big house to see Rosalie and Esme. They're still here and they're going to be so happy!"
I try to be that happy but my head is too full of terrors.
"Soon, Ness," Edward says. "Let Mom rest a bit, calm her head."
I brace myself for Nessie's disappointment, but my daughter doesn't even pout.
"So, a couple episodes of Buffy then?"
I grin at her. "Sounds perfect."
"Can we get you anything? A deer perhaps? Or a nice mountain lion? You like mountain lion."
I drag my gaze away from the window and the green, green forest beyond to look back at Esme. She is ever the doting mother, and I manage an appreciative smile.
We've been here in the big house with Rosalie and Esme. I can feel the questions on the tip of their tongues, but Edward must have given them some sort of warning because they do not ask for the details of my months as a vegetable or my stint as a psychotic disembodied tyrant, but they want too.
Still, I'm pleased that they hold back.
"I'm fine, Esme," I murmur. "Edward took me hunting before we came over."
"Oh," says my mother, deflating slightly. "Okay. Well, is there anything else I can get you?"
I chuckle slightly, finding her 'Esmeness' endearing.
"You look like shit," Rosalie corrects.
I'm glad that Nessie got bored with the lack of entertainment down here and is currently at the piano. Next to me on the sofa, Edward growls at my sister, gripping my hand that much tighter.
"I feel a bit like shit, to be honest. Vampires aren't supposed to be this achy," I reply. Edward, Esme, and Rosalie all wince at my statement. "I'll be okay. It's just… a lot."
Eventually, I'm going to have to start processing what happened three months ago. Eventually, I'm going to need to come to terms with my capabilities and the absolute evil that lurks just beneath the surface.
But for now I'm too tired and still so badly shaken.
Rosalie's phone rings. She sighs and pulls the thing from her pocket.
"Alice?" I guess.
"Yeah," replies Rose. "She's been calling every half hour since you woke up."
With a sigh of my own, I extend my palm. She places the device in my hand and I answer.
The squeal I get in reply hurts my head. I hold the phone as far as possible from my ear until she stops.
"Oh, it is you. I knew you'd come back to us. I just knew it!"
"Well, that's the nice part of being able to tell the future," I tease.
"Oh, Bella." She gets choked up and apparently is forced to hand the phone off because the next voice I hear is Carlisle. My heart does something funny in response to his familiar tones.
"Bella." He breathes out my name with such total relief.
"Father-mine," I whisper in response.
"I do not know what to say," he replies, sounding almost as upset as Alice. "I don't think any sound has brought me such joy as your voice in this moment. I can hear you in it."
"It's me. I'm here. I'm okay."
He scoffs at this. "I am sure you are most certainly not okay, given what you've been through in the last few months, but we do not have to discuss it now, unless you'd like to?"
"No," I say. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Is that Bella?"
"Holy fuck, is she back in the world of the unliving?"
"Bella? Bella! Motherfucking Bella!"
The trio of voices comes through the phone as if they are standing right next to me. I smile a genuine smile when I hear Jasper, Garrett, and Emmett all jockeying for possession of the phone in the background. Why they even want to hold the phone is beyond me given they can clearly hear anything I say.
"Hey guys," I reply, still grinning.
There is hooting and hollering and celebrating that I'm no longer a vegetable. They promise to see me soon and assure me that everything is being taken care of in Italy before Carlisle shoos them away. They depart to spread the news of my recovery.
"We are establishing a sort of government here, Bella. Really, it is all quite exciting. Very United Nations."
I hum in acknowledgement but really I don't have much room in my head for anything Italy.
"How are you?" he whispers, trying to give me a little privacy.
"I feel shaky, Carlisle."
"We'll get through this, Bella," he says.
"Yes." The conviction I hear in his voice makes me smile. "We're at the healing part now, Bella. Your trials are at an end. Now is the time to go about the business of enjoying your daughter and your husband. You can all be together now. He isn't going anywhere, nor is Nessie, nor are you."
I glance at Edward.
"I'm not going anywhere," he tells me, taking my hand and kissing my knuckles. "And neither are you."
For once my smile isn't strained.
"Would you like to hear about our progress establishing a new world order?" asks my father.
"No," I reply, closing my eyes. "Just make it right, Carlisle."
Nessie holds my hand as we walk back to the cabin in the moonlight. This is not something she's allowed me to do in years, but perhaps she got used to it when I was lost in my mind. Perhaps she holds my hand to reassure herself that I'm really here.
Whatever the reason, I enjoy her little fingers woven through mine.
She holds Edward's hand too and it makes me feel like we are making up for something that should have been done when she was small. If I had the height, I would consider lifting her off her feet, letting her swing through the air as I've seen so many parents do with their small children.
My little family is right here, connected by hands, and I try to do as Carlisle says. I try to push down the fear that threatens to choke me and just enjoy. Carlisle says this is the good part, that my trials are over.
I think everyday is going to be a little bit of a trial – to keep the demon locked away, to ignore the call of all that power – but what can I do but weather it?
How can I learn to live, or unlive, knowing what I really am. I've discovered horrors within myself and I cannot unlearn it now.
"Tomorrow we'll go see Jake?" she asks as dried leaves crunch beneath her feet. This is my forest. These are my smells. "You just missed Nahuel. He went back to the Amazon, but we can go see Jake, right?"
I share a look with Edward over our daughter's head. "How about he comes here?" Edward suggests. I sigh with relief. Edward knows I'm not ready to face all the wolves yet. I couldn't save Jared and I can't face those left behind, not now.
"Okay," says my daughter. She glances at me and I know she understands. Ever perceptive, is my little Nessie.
As we get home, she chats about all that's gone on in my three months as a zombie as if I wasn't there. I don't bother to tell her that I know all this already. Her voice is soothing.
We go through the bedtime routine as if nothing changed, as if I never let them take her and I never discovered my inner demon. I'm transported back to those few months between her acceptance of Edward as her father and her kidnapping.
It could be just the same.
Except I'm not the same.
I will never be the same again.
"What did I do?" I murmur into the dark. My eyes are closed, but I can feel him looking at me, just as I feel his breath from his sigh.
This hurts him. I know it does and that makes the whole thing that much worse.
I want to be normal for him, to be happy, but I can't quite manage it.
Is he scared of me like I'm scared of me? He heard how badly the demon wanted his ash. How could he not be scared and revolted by what lingers just below the surface.
But he's not going anywhere.
"You saved us all."
I growl impatiently, hating how he refuses to acknowledge that I'm anything but some sort of savior.
We lie facing each other, legs tangled together beneath the blanket. We're naked from our shower – a routine established during my zombie state that I'm unwilling to let go of – but as much as I want Edward to make my body sing, to make me forget the pleasure of power with the pleasure of something much more potent, I'm just too tired.
Even though I'm angry with him, I grip his hands.
"Edward," I whine. "Please."
"You did save us," he continues. "And we are all immensely lucky that was it."
I wanted him to acknowledge how close I came to destroying everything important, but his words still seem to slice at me.
"It will be okay, Bella," he assures me. "I know it doesn't seem like it now, but you won't feel like this forever."
With a frustrated huff, I sit up in bed, taking the sheet with me to cover my nudity. "You don't understand," I wail, digging my palms into my eye sockets. I rock slightly, wishing I could calm down. "Even now I could steal your gift. I could push my essence into your head and take everything, leaving you shaken and drained and without what makes you special for months."
I open my eyes to see Edward regarding me with a sort of sad understanding he couldn't possibly possess. He has no idea. How could he have any idea?
"Your gift is a green mist, floating all around. It's thicker and darker around your head. The farther away it gets the lighter its color. It fills up this room, goes beyond this room, beyond this cabin, and it would be so easy to take it from you."
Edward just keeps staring at me with sympathy and it makes me irrationally angry.
"If I thought it would help at all I'd gladly give you all, Isabella," he says. I let out a startled little hiss, but he keeps going. "Whatever I have is yours. Surely you know that, but my gift won't help you."
With a frustrated growl I cover my face with my hands.
"You don't understand," I tell him again.
Edward is up and moving. He pulls on a pair of athletic shorts before pacing out his frustration on our conversation that has us talking in circles.
"Bella," he says with a growl. I jump slightly, surprised by his tone, and lift my head at him again. "Do you feel it in the back of your mind constantly?"
His tone takes on something dark and pained. It makes my skin crawl.
"Do you feel that desire for something so totally repugnant you hate yourself for wanting it at all?" he asks, looking so painfully vampire. I don't breathe. I don't move. My eyes never leave his slow moving, prowling figure. "Do you think about how easy it would be to get what you crave? You have to work every minute to keep yourself in check. The denied desire makes your skin hurt."
I shudder because it's scary, both in its accuracy and presentation. He pauses for a long moment but doesn't stop his pacing. I wish he would look at me, but understand why he won't.
"I relive the moment my teeth sunk into that hiker's neck over and over." His words are a confession and I know it pains him to admit this. "Worse even than the crippling guilt and sorrow is the call of the demon that remembers this one moment of blinding pleasure and wants it again. Wants it always."
He stops his catlike movement, facing me where I remain seated on my bed, but continuing to look at the floor.
"I spend every day reliving their final, fearful thoughts and tasting their blood on my tongue. Everyday the guilt threatens to drown me and the very worst part is on some level I still want it. I'll always want it. I feel vile and disgusting and bad because I want it, but that's only part of me, Bella."
On his knees he walks across the mattress to cradle my face between his hands.
"It's part of you too, Bella," he murmurs. He doesn't let my gaze leave his. "But only one part. With all our other parts we'll fight everyday to be the best possible versions of ourselves. For our daughter, for each other, and for our family."
A strangled sob bubbles out between my lips. "I'm so sorry."
Edward's gaze immediately softens and he wraps me up in his arms. I push my nose into his neck.
"Hush," he murmurs, dropping a kiss on my temple. "I shouldn't have been so harsh."
"But you're totally right."
"Still, I should've handled this better. Despite your strength, in this you are like a newborn," he says.
I lift my head to frown at him. "How so?" I ask.
"You're an addict now," he says, stroking my hair. "It may not be blood you crave, but the rest is the same. You are so new and those feelings will never go away entirely, but I promise you it will get easier to live with. You'll get better."
For the first time in months, I feel hope.
"I'll get better," I murmur, giving my husband a shy smile. He kisses my temple. "Still, I wanted to burn you."
"You weren't yourself."
"It was so freaky!"
He chuckles. "You didn't really want that."
"Never again," I say. "I can't get that far gone ever again."
"Well," Edward says with a sad smile. "I will be here forever. No matter what."
"No matter what."
It feels like a promise we're both more than willing to keep.
So there you go. She's back. One more and an epi. They should be a little more fluffy.
Thanks for reading!