[4-08-2013] Edward and Bella are back, with a flashback featuring Tanya...
Life for Her Refuses
Bella didn't leave the building.
After she exited the observation gallery, Edward continued to follow her heartbeat from a distance, moving across the room to better pick up the sounds coming from the corridors she traversed. Instead of heading for the exit, she took the elevator and stopped at the highest level. Edward knew from watching Charlie's mind that he had an apartment up there, where he often stayed overnight.
On an ordinary evening, Edward would have tried to lose himself in his thoughts – sifting through memories, plans that would never come to fruition, and considerations about what actions he could take before Charlie decided to inform the government and give them proof of vampires' existence. But the knowledge that Bella was under the same roof occupied all his thoughts. Edward stretched out on his couch and closed his eyes, wishing he could do more than merely imitate Bella's sleep. He paid close attention to the changes in her breathing and heartbeat as she abandoned herself to slumber. What are you dreaming of? he wondered.
In the middle of the night, she woke abruptly. He held his breath, looking toward the observation gallery. Would she consider coming down for a visit? He heard some voices and after a few seconds realized that she'd switched on the TV. It took him a few lines to recognize a scene from an old movie he'd watched more than ten years before, during his time in Alaska.
Half-hidden beneath the thick cover of snow, the secluded cottage where Tanya lived with her sisters might as well have been invisible to the outside world. If only everyone could be so fortunate. After an animated discussion, Edward and Carlisle, who had been their friends and frequent guests, had to admit that their visits were no longer safe. Technology was becoming more pervasive by the minute, its reach extending to even the most remote areas of the earth; the term 'global village' was already a common—and accurate—description for the new, interconnected world in which they found themselves. All of that was a threat to Edward, who was in many ways a fugitive in the vampire world. Carlisle had lied to the powerful Italian immortals who ruled the Volturi coven, pretending that he'd killed Edward while instead he'd changed him. Edward had to stay hidden, not only because he was intended prey who had managed to escape, but because his mindreading abilities made him too tempting a prize. The globe had been reduced to a village by electronic technology, and the spread of information was faster and faster; Edward and Carlisle knew that their visits to the Alaskan sisters could end up putting their friends in danger—as much danger as if they'd all marched into Volterra to provoke the wrath of the vampires who laid down the law for their kind.
Tanya and her sisters had offered them support and companionship, and they shared their abstinence from human blood; Carlisle and Edward weren't about to repay the sisters' generosity by putting them at risk.
Edward started the DVD player and put on a movie. Perhaps it was ironic that technology was putting them in danger, but he was using it to distract himself.
"Gump! What's your sole purpose in this army?"
"To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!"
"Goddamn it, Gump! You're a goddamn genius! This is the most outstanding answer I have ever heard. You must have a goddamn IQ of 160. You are goddamn gifted, Private Gump. Listen up, people..."
Edward hadn't made it through many scenes of Forrest Gump when the delicate caress of a hand he knew all too well traced his neck. Tanya slid onto the couch beside him, tracing his skin with light touches of her long, elegant fingers. She toyed with the buttons of his shirt, and then, with a sudden light giggle, she tore at the fabric, baring his chest.
She put her hand on his mouth before Edward could make any objection.
"Shhhh," she whispered. "I'll buy you a new shirt as a gift—or you could even think of it as a souvenir..." She nibbled at his earlobe. "But for now, I'd like to give you another gift—one that will help you remember our friendship when we're apart."
He groaned. "Tanya, you know that I–"
Once again she stopped him. "I do know. But I also know that we care for each other, and that pleasure can be found even in the absence of love." She climbed into his lap, looking straight into his eyes, her golden irises matching his. "Tonight I just want to give you pleasure," she murmured. "We both know that you won't be able to visit us as often as you've done so far, and we can only imagine the danger that might find us. But just for tonight, let's forget all of that. Let's forget everything outside this room."
"It isn't fair..." he tried to object.
"It wouldn't be fair if one of us had other expectations," she countered. "But there's no misunderstanding between us. You're still waiting for the love of your life, while I've been around enough to give up searching."
They never finished watching the movie.
Edward sat on the couch, his feet planted on the seat and forearms resting on his bent knees. His head was leaning against the back of the couch, his face turned upward.
He wondered what it would be like to watch a movie with Bella. He pictured her petite form beside him, with her legs curled under her and a blanket covering her shoulders.
It had nothing to do with the time he'd spent with Tanya, nor with any of the women he'd met at college or work, who had so often entertained tedious fantasies about him.
He would have encircled Bella in his arms, lazily caressing her hair, and if she'd fallen asleep, he would have taken her to bed and tucked her in. For him that image was more intimate than his sexual encounter with Tanya or the daydreams other women had involuntarily shown him through their thoughts. Speaking of daydreams...He gritted his teeth, silently chastising himself. Even if you were in full control over your bloodlust, why would Bella ever come so close to you?
The sound of Bella shutting off the TV put an end to his pointless fantasies. Her heartbeat was still fast, and another hour passed before she fell asleep.
The strong aroma of coffee filled the kitchen on the following morning as Bella stepped in, eager to get a cup that could help her to start her day. Stifling a yawn, she reached for the coffee pot.
"Good morning," Charlie quietly greeted her. He was sitting at the tiny table, flipping through a magazine. "Were you in the mood for a night in the quiet woods where your retired old man lives like a hermit?"
"That's the official version, I suppose."
"And the real one?"
"Rachel asked me to do some work for her, just as a favor. Believe it or not, the equipment you have here is even better than what she has in her office or what I've got at home."
"I see," he muttered, not buying Bella's explanation. "I would be happy to get you a complete set of new equipment as an incentive for you to go back to work with Rachel. My treat."
Bella shrugged. "I guess I just need more time."
"To be ready again?"
Charlie took a sip of coffee. "A part of me wants to tell you that you're right. But I won't lie to you, Bells, no matter what." He recalled the first conference he'd agreed to deliver after the loss of Renée. He'd felt like a traitor because he was taking part in something that had belonged to his previous life with her. He'd thought he would have a breakdown in front of his audience, but in the end he'd made it. "Buy that new equipment right now, then call your colleague and tell her you'll be back tomorrow. It will hurt like hell, and you'll tell yourself that you won't make it, but that's just part of the deal. Whether you do it a year or a decade from now, the pain will still be there. But you..." He shook his head. "The longer you hesitate, the more you'll end up regretting it. There's no way to get that time back."
Bella stood up and went to look out of the window. It was raining, and she wondered if Edward had taken inspiration for his drawing of Florence from the rain that fell so often in Washington.
You brought the sun, he'd told her.
As if any light could come from the black hole I'm living in, she scoffed to herself. "How are your projects going?"
Charlie quirked an eyebrow at her. "Have you been listening to a word I've said?"
"I have. Coming here is helping me...sort of."
"Sort of? Care to explain how you can go back to living when you spend your time here? I've dealt with pain and death all my life long. How can you think even for a second that you'll find anything different here?"
"So why are you still doing this job, while you tell me to leave and go back to the life I've lost?"
"Because you can. I owe you and Renée an answer, and I won't stop until I find it. But as rough as it's been for you, you already have your answers about Garrett." His voice softened as he mentioned that name.
Bella flinched, and Charlie moved toward her, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'd do anything to help you, but instead it seems like I only make things worse."
She shook her head. "I forced myself to stay here last night, because if I'd gone back home, I wouldn't have been able to resist. I would have gone to visit him."
"How often do you..."
"Once a week."
Edward wondered if these mysterious visits had anything to do with Bella's absence on Saturday. Mind your own business, he told himself.
Charlie retrieved a piece of paper from the kitchen counter. "I almost forgot...this is for you."
Bella forced her expression to remain neutral as she accepted Edward's drawing from her father; a smile would have given her away. But when she studied it more closely, she realized something was wrong. It wasn't the original drawing, but a photocopy. "What is it?"
Charlie looked down. "The subject gave it to me, as a present for you. The drawing might be significant. I'm going to analyze it."
"Am I part of your analysis, too?" she snapped. "What else are you doing to Edward?"
"Are you his defense attorney now?"
"Maybe he could use one."
Charlie barked a laugh. "About as much as one of your computers. Don't you see? It's like interacting with an artificial intelligence project. I understand it can be fascinating, because it goes beyond anything we've seen so far, but that's it. Edward isn't human. Don't let yourself be fooled."
"Do you really believe that? If Edward has no feelings, if he's just a thing or a robot, why haven't you destroyed him yet? Or why haven't you called your friends at the Bureau?"
He didn't reply.
"There was something I was considering asking Edward about the homicides."
Charlie narrowed his eyes as he leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. "Do you think that if you made him trust you, he would reveal something he's kept from us so far?"
"Maybe it was just a stupid idea. Forget I said it. It's not like I plan on visiting him again soon."
Edward stilled in his seat. He'd had to lie for centuries to keep the secret about his nature, but no one had been able to lie to him. Until now. The silence of Bella's mind had never been so unsettling. Why did the one person who could lie to him have to be the one he liked most?
Charlie's thoughts told Edward that he didn't have much time left at the prison. The Bureau had summoned Charlie, asking for a consultation on a case and a meeting in a few weeks, but Edward had immediately suspected that it might have something to do with his private research at the lodge. Chances were that he would come back from his next trip to Quantico with his former colleagues in tow, and Edward would be delivered to them.
Edward was relieved when he heard Bella's car leave. If she had come to visit him right after her conversation with Charlie, he wasn't sure if he'd have been able to keep his face a blank mask. Like leaves carried by an autumn wind, snippets from all the people he'd met passed through his memory. He recalled the lies he'd told, the good reasons he'd always found to justify himself, the belief that he had to. He'd never tried any other way, because he'd known it would mean his destruction.
But now said destruction was arriving. He recalled a passage from Dante he'd read when he was still human.
He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear,
As knoweth he who life for her refuses.
In that canto, Virgil was introducing Dante to Cato, who had killed himself in order not to lose his freedom under Caesar's tyranny. Forgive me, Carlisle, Edward thought. Carlisle had been his Virgil through the inferno of the vampire life he'd been damned to. His mentor had made him believe that, even if Heaven was lost, they weren't condemned to be demons. They could still rise above, retaining their humanity, and Edward had tried to do that in the myriad of days that had made up the decades of his existence, following Carlisle's example.
But now Edward was going to follow a different example. His sire had given everything to save his adoptive son's life, but if sacrificing that life was the only way to regain his freedom, Edward would do so.
He had no more intention of allowing Charlie to deliver him to the government than he would have had to go quietly with the Volturi, should they suddenly turn up on his doorstep. Both problems had the same solution. Edward would destroy himself by making the guards use the prison's security system, or he would provoke the Volturi to the point that they would prefer to annihilate him instead of keeping him as one of their talented slaves.
No more lies, Edward vowed. If these were to be the final weeks of his long existence, he didn't want to die a liar.
I won't lie to you. I've already made my choice, Bella had promised him.
So have I, Isabella, he swore.
Bella came back the following morning, and she wasn't alone. Edward clenched his teeth when Walsh met her in the parking lot and offered to walk her toward the lodge's hall.
"I brought some donuts," he told her. "I'd be willing to share, if you're interested."
Through the weasel's mind, Edward saw Bella walking more quickly. "Thanks, but I can't."
"Come on, don't tell me you're one of those girls who're obsessed with their figures."
Her expression soured, and Edward wondered why she wasn't telling Walsh about her celiac disease.
"By the way, you've lost weight since you worked here," he remarked.
Edward rolled his eyes. Couldn't that fool see that she was in pain, and her too-slim figure wasn't the result of a diet? Once again, he asked himself why he knew more about Bella than what she had revealed to Walsh–a human like her, a person Charlie trusted, and probably one of her former colleagues at the lodge.
She cut the conversation short. "Gotta go. I left some books here yesterday, and I have to get home as soon as possible."
Edward didn't linger on Walsh's thoughts. He got ready for what he was going to do when Bella entered the observation gallery.
She came in with her laptop. "I brought you more pictures," she announced.
"Isabella." He took a deep breath. No way back from here. "I have to tell you something about your mother."
Thanks for reading!
I promised you more about Italy, and so Dante (and his Divine Comedy) made an appearance in this story.
Thank you! to Snare's fantastic prereaders/betas: Camilla10, SatinCoveredSteel, and Marlena516.
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