A/N: This is NOT the follow up that I have planned for this story (which I am working on), but it was a loose end that I felt needed to be tied up before we get to the follow-up. One of my pre-readers of the original o/s asked about the Cullens. More specifically, she asked why Alice didn't see everything that was happening in Forks, why she didn't tell Edward about it, and why Edward didn't just come back and save Bella himself. At the time, I joked that maybe Alice did see everything, but just chose not to tell him. Or worse, that she saw the kiss with Sam and showed that to Edward. The only thing that was important in the o/s is that the Cullens didn't come back. Yet, after I made that declaration, all kinds of possible scenarios started running through my mind, and I realized that I needed to write out that particular exchange, and the resulting events, just so I could have closure of that side-storyline in my own mind. And now that I've written it all down, I realize that this really does help to set up/deepen the conflict I envision for the follow up story.
So… Call this a "bonus" chapter, or a second, parallel epilog to the ending of the original o/s.
Welcome back, Edward!
Thanks to areao for the beta and BellasExecutioner for the pre-read.
Even with Alice's warning, Edward was in no way prepared for the agony he was currently experiencing.
It was even more painful than when he'd left Bella in the first place. When he'd lied to her that afternoon in the forest, Edward hadn't expected her to believe the colossal untruth. He'd expected her to put up a fight. Instead, he'd witnessed the immediate acceptance of his dishonest words in the slump of her shoulders and the waning fire in her eyes. Even as they left his lips, Edward knew that the most blasphemous words he'd ever uttered had wounded Bella to the soul. In his defense, he truly had believed that his family's departure was the best for her. But even though he'd counseled her to forget him, he'd never realized that one day he would actually witness her taking those words at face value.
Of course, that particular sword cut two ways. He'd also told her that she'd only been a distraction and promised that he would forget her.
For the last six months, Edward had spent every day in a depression-filled haze. He'd neglected himself and his nutritional needs, thinking only of Bella and everything he'd given up when he left her standing there in the woods. It had been anything but easy to not go back to her. Over time, it had become even harder to ignore his deepest instincts, which had screamed at him to return, beg for her forgiveness, and spend the rest of her life making it up to her. Protecting her from all the dangers to which her fragile human body was susceptible.
Four days ago, he'd reached his breaking point. But as soon as he'd made up his mind to return, Alice had called.
"Edward… Don't," she whispered.
"Don't what, Alice?'
"Go back to Forks."
"What? Why not? Weren't you the one to beg me not to leave in the first place?"
"I was," she hedged.
"But…" he prodded.
"But a lot has changed in six months, Edward. While I was mad at you for leaving, for making us all leave—and, to be totally honest, I'm still mad at you about that—you can't go back. Not now."
Edward gritted his teeth. "Why not?"
He heard her huff. If his heart had still been beating in his chest, it would have stopped in anxious anticipation. Suddenly, he knew.
"What did you see, Alice?" Edward demanded.
Another angry breath tickled his ear.
"Let's just say that you got your wish, Edward," she stated bitterly.
"What do you mean?" he asked. His mind probed hers even from several thousand miles away, but he came up against a blank wall.
"She's moved on. Just like you wanted her to," Alice snapped.
A flood of images accompanied her angry words. Disjointed images of Bella in multiple scenarios, most of them dangerous: talking with a strange group of men; riding motorcycles with Jacob; cliff diving… Then the black haze re-descended, blinding him to subsequent visions.
"What the hell has she been doing?" Edward growled. "She promised to be careful!"
"She's been living." Alice laughed humorlessly. "Or trying to, at least."
"More like chasing death," Edward spat.
"You said it," Alice grumbled.
"Why didn't you say something, do something?"
"You told me not to," she retorted.
"I also asked you not to watch her, but you obviously didn't follow that order, either!"
"I didn't intentionally look for her, Edward. I'd just… see things… every now and then. I always watched long enough to make sure she was okay."
"And if she hadn't been?"
"I would have gone for her." She sighed. "And I would have let you know," she stated softly.
Edward squeezed his eyes shut and took a calming breath. "So she's okay?"
Edward heard the hesitation in Alice's voice, causing him to probe her mind yet again. A hazy image flashed through her thoughts; Alice was obviously trying to suppress it. Unfortunately, in the split-second vision that he was able to intercept, one detail was clear: Bella was kissing someone else. A feral growl rumbled through Edward's chest.
"This is what you wanted," she reminded him angrily.
"No it isn't," he stated, defeated. "It might have been what I told her, but it was never, never what I wanted."
"Of course it wasn't, you stupid idiot! But it was what you convinced her you wanted. And now that you've finally taken your head out of your ass and realize how wrong you were, it's too late! She finally took you up on that suggestion and moved on to someone else."
Alice's anger loosed her control on her mind. Suddenly, an image of a half-drowned Bella filled Edward's mind. But what captured his morbid fascination wasn't her state of near-death. It was the young man who revived her. He was tall, handsome, and… human. Just what Edward had said he wanted for her. Alice replayed the entire interaction in her mind, and Edward was forced to watch Bella connecting with someone else, talking about him to someone else, holding hands as she walked on the beach with someone else. His jaw clenched. It should have been him. Of course, if he hadn't left in the first place, she wouldn't have been cliff-diving at all; he wouldn't have allowed her to do so.
His thoughts were interrupted by Alice's shrill voice.
"I'll have you know, Edward, that it hasn't been all sunshine and daisies for Bella, either. She was just as miserable as you for the first several months. I showed you a few things that you consider dangerous. But far more dangerous than a few dare-devil actions was the three months she spent doing nothing. And by nothing, I mean, truly, nothing. She was alive, but she wasn't making an attempt to live. I could have killed you for doing that to her, but I wasn't supposed to be watching," she snipped. "Not that you were answering your phone..."
Edward groaned again.
"So, no, Edward. Don't go back to Forks," she stated firmly. "Not now. You've missed your chance. She's moved on. I've seen the proof…"
Another image invaded his mind, this one of Bella sitting on her front porch with the same man that he had seen with her with at the beach. He recognized it as the fragment of memory that Alice had attempted to hide earlier. This time, she allowed the entire vision to play out, and Edward watched Bella and the man talk, laugh, talk some more, then kiss. When he deepened the kiss into something that Edward had never trusted himself enough to do—crushing her face to his, pushing his tongue into her mouth, and tugging at her hair in a desperate manner—Edward groaned again.
"You did this, Edward!" Alice cried. "You ruined everything. She was supposed to be one of us. I saw it! She was your mate, and you pushed her away. You only have yourself to blame." She paused, and when she spoke again, her voice was softer, yet at the same time, even more resolved. "I sat on the sidelines when you destroyed her life last fall, Edward. She was my best friend, and I still allowed you to do that to her. I'll never forgive myself for that. Therefore, I won't allow you to do it again.
"Leave her alone, Edward…"
The call ended before he could get in another word.
For two days, he'd contemplated the information with which Alice had provided him, vacillating between abject misery and irrational anger over the fact that Bella had obviously chosen to move on. Even though he had truly intended for her do just that—to live her life without him—now that she was doing so, he was at a loss as to how he should respond. For two days, he'd fought with himself over what was the right thing to do. If what Alice had shown him was truly meant to be, Edward knew that he should do as he promised… He'd sworn that Bella would never see him again. He'd promised to never come back. He'd told her to go on with her life as if he'd never existed.
Edward cursed himself for being that ridiculously and idiotically noble.
In the end, he decided that he needed to see it for himself. If Bella had truly found happiness with someone else, he would stick to his promise and leave her be.
So, here he was.
It was Sunday evening, and Edward was waiting in the forest outside the Swan house. He'd arrived about an hour ago, running straight through from the airport in Seattle in his haste to get back to her. Bella hadn't been home, but her father was, and Edward had shamelessly invaded Charlie's mind in search of answers. The majority of the images he'd gleaned from Charlie were vague at best—as was usual for the Chief—but the sense that was strongest in the other man's mind was relief. He was relieved that Bella finally seemed to be getting better, healthier. For a moment, that sentiment caused Edward to frown, but then the reasoning was revealed; Edward was shocked by Charlie's detailed memories of Bella wasting away in bed, refusing to eat, screaming in her sleep. Surprisingly, those images had been crystal clear.
Even with Alice's warning, it had been worse than Edward had comprehended, and he had crumpled to the ground in desolation at the realization. That he had done this to her was reinforced by Charlie's spate of anger when the thought of Edward flashed through his mind during the sequence. If Edward hadn't been so devastated, he would have laughed at Charlie's vision of the shotgun standing by the front door. As it was, Edward wished that the weapon could actually harm him.
His self-flagellation was cut short by the deep growl of an old engine. Lifting his head, Edward watched as a classic, low-slung, black car pulled into the driveway in front of Bella's house. As soon as the door opened, the breeze blowing gently across the yard carried her scent to him. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, reacquainting himself with her glorious aroma. When he opened his eyes again, the tall man from Alice's vision was ushering Bella to the front porch. They both sat down, and began to talk. While he listened, he probed the other man's mind.
For a moment, Edward was confused by a discussion of vampires. But as soon as he recognized Laurent and Victoria in the man's thoughts, and saw their deaths reenacted, the severity of the situation hit home. Bella had been threatened, twice, by others of his kind—others that had known who she was and where she was because of him—and he'd had no knowledge of the danger. His fists clenched. The man only provided brief glimpses of the attacks, but both had ended in the destruction of the offending vampires, which came as a surprise.
Edward's contemplation of the battles against the other vampires was interrupted when he watched Bella lean in to kiss the man. The agony that that particular action caused was nothing compared to her next statement.
"Thank you," she said.
"For what?" he asked, obviously confused.
"For saving me. And for helping me feel again."
Edward didn't need to be able to read Bella's mind to know what that meant. The fiery blush on her cheeks spoke volumes. His anguish expanded when she spoke again.
"For the first time in more than six months, I feel alive. I owe that to you."
Edward groaned. And when Bella mentioned her "vampire ex-boyfriend", laughed about it even, he knew that Alice had seen the truth. But that wasn't the worst… Bella was talking about choices, and how he, Edward had taken them from her. Is that really what she believed? He had only been acting in the way that he thought was best for her. His uneasiness deepened at her next statement.
"For a long time, I've blamed myself for all that went wrong. I mean, I obviously wasn't enough for him. That's my fault, right?"
NO! Edward wanted to shout. The other man beat him to it.
"Of course not!"
The metaphorical dagger in his heart twisted even further when Bella encouraged the man—Sam—to move on and live his life. To not do what she'd done. And that it was okay to hurt… because that's what made them both human.
And with that one word reminder, Edward knew for certain that Bella had moved on, accepted her life without him. And she'd obviously found a human warrior who was perfectly capable of protecting her, apparently even from immortals, and who wouldn't kill her with a simple touch. Edward dropped his head in defeat as much as in an effort to not witness the kiss now taking place on Bella's front porch. He'd already seen it in Alice's vision, so there was no need to witness it firsthand. He also didn't need to use his eyes to know how much the man kissing Bella felt for her. Sam's care, concern, admiration and… love… for Bella screamed loudly within his head.
Edward couldn't escape fast enough. Whirling away, he ran blindly through the woods in his desperate need to escape. He hadn't gone very far when Alice joined him, suddenly appearing at his side.
"Edward?" she called, urging him to stop.
He increased his pace, quickly outdistancing her. Only when he was deep into the surrounding forest, well away from the thoughts or hearing-range of any resident of Forks, did he stop. Then he fell to his knees and screamed in agony.
"I'm sorry, Edward," Alice stated softly when she finally caught up with him.
Then she waited—quiet and unmoving—offering silent companionship and commiseration for her broken brother.
"What now?" he finally asked.
"I don't know."
"What do you see?"
"Nothing yet. She hasn't made any new decisions that affect the current trajectory of her future. I just know that from what I've seen—and heard—she finally seems to be living again. She looks good, happy, which is nice considering how she looked a few months back."
The words were like another knife twisting in his gut. But even despite the pain that they caused, Edward couldn't deny her claim. Bella did look good. But… He paused to re-examine every word she'd spoken, every motion she'd made, every clue her body had provided him. There was something different about her now, something… older and less naïve, maybe. Something more guarded, a bit harder than he recalled her being in the past. That was only to be expected—a human's broken heart could heal, although it would inevitably be marked by scars.
A vampire, however….
Edward screamed again. Then he straightened his spine and rose to his feet, a plan forming in his mind.
"No!" Alice cried, reaching out to grab his arm.
"Why not?" he asked, bitterly. "She's moved on, but I can't. And even if I could, I wouldn't want to. I'd rather die."
"That's the coward's way out, Edward," Alice scolded. "Besides, Aro can read minds. Only unlike you, he reads everything that you've ever seen or thought. There are no secrets."
"So? Maybe he'll see something that will ensure my death."
"Why would he kill Bella?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "She and Sam were talking about vampires, Edward. And not just you... Laurent and Victoria, too. They've both seen too much. Don't forget that Sam and his brother killed two vampires. Aro can't allow them to live, not with that knowledge. They'll all be doomed. And then everything that you sacrifice will be for nothing, because she'll be dead. Once again by your hand—just as you feared—even if you weren't the one to physically destroy her."
Edward's knees buckled, and he sank back to the ground. He buried his head in his hands.
"What the hell am I supposed to do, Alice?"
"I don't know," she stated again. "But we'll figure it out. Together. We'll keep an eye on Bella, and if there's ever an opportunity…"
Edward chest heaved in desolation. He couldn't imagine his life without Bella in it, but now it appeared as if he had no choice. Despite the absolute falsehood in every word he'd spoken to her, he was now reaping the rewards of the seeds he'd sown that afternoon in the forest. And it was his own fault…
He'd lied to Bella, and he couldn't take it back. It was too late. He couldn't take the advice that he'd given her, either. For vampires, everything was eternal, including his love for Bella. That would never fade or die, even though he had most definitely killed the chance to be happy with her. He also couldn't ask for the only out he knew of without endangering her further than he already had.
He was stuck.
Lifting despondent eyes to Alice, he nodded.
A small, sad smile touched the corners of Alice's lips.
"It's time to go home, Edward."