Note: It took longer than I'd intended, but I found I needed a break from the heartfail. This is the second time I have killed off a character in a story, and like the last time, it didn't hit me until I'd posted it. Posting it makes it somehow real, like I can't take it back anymore. Not even a minute after I posted the first part, I couldn't believe what I'd written, and debated taking it down. But usually once something is out there, that's it for me.
Anyway, here it is. Second and last part of Condemned to Life. I'm kind of glad to put this one behind me.
Carlisle was approaching the end of his third hour of standing at the window, staring out at the starkly beautiful, desolate, snow covered landscape outside the luxurious but cold cabin that the tattered remnants of his family had called home for the last five years. Far removed from civilization, it never saw any human visitors and the trappings of humanity such as heat and light had been mostly abandoned. There was solar and wind-powered electricity, but it was used only to power the technological devices that they could no longer live without, that kept them connected to the human world they had long since left behind. Their home was tastefully decorated and kept scrupulously clean, but it was absolutely devoid of heart and life.
"Is Edward back yet?"
Carlisle turned to his wife with a sad smile. "Not yet," he told Esme. Seeing the worry on her face, he continued. "He'll be back, Esme. He always comes back."
She moved next to him, and his arm automatically reached out to pull her close. "How can you be sure?" She turned, wrapping both arms around his waist and pressing into his side. "What if..." She was unable to continue the thought, and turned her face into the soft cashmere of his turtleneck sweater.
He looked down at her, and reaching for her face, tipped her chin up to press a kiss to her forehead. "He won't," he said smiling at her with more confidence than he felt. "Alice made sure of that."
"Have you heard from her?" she asked hopefully, as she did every day, her lower lip trembling a little. "Have you heard from any of them?"
It tore at his hear to tell her he hadn't. "Nothing since Emmett's call last month," he murmured, holding her a little tighter when a sob caught in her throat. They both fell silent again, staring out of the window, and Carlisle's mind, unbidden, went back to that awful day ten years ago when their lives had been forever changed with that one terrifying vision of Alice's.
He had been in his study when he had heard her scream. The sound, unlike anything he had ever heard coming from her, made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and arms, and by the time he was down in the living room, she was already on the phone with Bella, pleading for Bella's life.
"What..." He didn't even have time to get his words of inquiry out before a terrified Esme had thrown herself at him.
"Carlisle," she cried over the babel of voices, hands pulling and pushing ineffectually at him as if she wanted him to do something but didn't know where to steer him. "Bella...Alice saw her committing suicide! You have to stop her!"
A fear more intense and crippling than he had ever experienced pulsed through his body, rendering him temporarily powerless to move or think straight. He had imagined a dozen different ways in which their abandoning Bella could end badly, for her, for them, but this...he had never, even in his darkest imaginings, thought it could actually come to this.
Before he had managed to pull himself together completely, he had snatched the phone from Alice's hand. "Bella?" he said, relaxing somewhat when he finally heard her voice. As long as he had her on the line, he was convinced he could still talk her out of this most drastic of steps.
It did not take long for hope to fade. Over his many years as a doctor he had come across quite a few people who had lost the will to live, and he'd learned to recognize that stillness in them, the lack of expression on their blank faces and in their tone. He heard that lack of a life-force in Bella now, and cursed himself and even Edward, briefly, for having left her. In the end, though, he knew it was his fault. As the head of the family it had been in his power to override his son, but he hadn't. He had let Edward convince him it was for the best, and now they would, all of them, pay the ultimate price.
Even though a horrified part of him knew it was too late, he did not give up. None of them had. Each and every one of them done absolutely everything in their power to stop her - even Jasper and Rosalie, who mostly cared only because it affected their mates - but it had all been in vain. She hadn't believed a single word of their protestations of love, and why would she? They had left her without notice, without so much as a single word of goodbye. She was right; a true family would not have abandoned her they way they had. It made it all but impossible for them to counter the lies Edward had told her when he left. Their past actions spoke louder than their present words, and there was absolutely no way of convincing Bella that they meant what they said now, that they weren't just saying it to stop her from killing herself.
Alice had tried to call Charlie while he was talking to Bella, but the chief didn't answer his phone. Desperate, she called the Forks Police Department. It wasn't until Carlisle took over, using his standing as the respected Dr. Cullen to convince them, that they believed Alice's story of a premonition and subsequent phone call to the Chief's daughter, only to find her on the the verge of taking her own life. They dispatched a squad car, but by the time they had roused their chief from his bed, Bella had disappeared.
The Cullens had waited on tenterhooks, all assembled together in the living room, still as statues and not a word spoken until the news they had been both dreading and expecting came shortly before noon.
Bella was dead.
She had been found in a clearing deep in the woods by a troubled young man from the nearby Quilleute reservation. Though an autopsy would be performed, everyone knew an empty bottle of painkillers had been found on the sink in the bathroom. There was no doubt in anyones mind that Bella had taken her own life, and there was no doubt as to why. Carlisle had tried to call Charlie with his condolences, but the conversation, such as it was, had not gone well.
"Your daughter's 'premonition' came a bit late, Dr. Cullen," Charlie sneered coldly. "Where were her premonitions after that son of yours dumped Bella and you all left without so much as a word? You have no idea how much that hurt her. It broke her, and she never recovered from it." Carlisle tried to speak, but the Chief either ignored him or didn't hear. "I blame Edward for this, Doctor. He has good as killed her with his own two hands, and you and your family as good as helped him, and if I ever see him again, I will kill him myself. Don't think that I won't. He took the only thing I cared about away from me, and I would happily go to jail for the rest of my life if I could wipe him off the face of the planet." His voice shook. "Your family is no longer welcome in this town, Dr. Cullen. I can't legally stop you from coming back, but know that you are not welcome. You will never be welcome again." There was a click as Chief Swan hung up. Carlisle did not try to contact him again.
It was the beginning of the end of the Cullens as a family unit. Jasper and Alice were the first to leave, mainly for Jasper's sake. Their collected grief - and Rosalie's anger at the disruption Bella had wrought on their lives - were simply too much for him to handle. Though their departure was never meant to be permanent, that's the way it ended up. For Alice, it brought back too many painful memories. Aside from brief visits, they would never live with Carlisle and Esme again.
Rosalie and Emmett were the next to go. They started taking extended vacations that grew in length until they weren't there much more than Alice and Jasper, though they still maintained rooms and technically resided wherever Carlisle and Esme ended up.
As for Edward, he remained ignorant of the devastation he had left in his wake until about five years after Bella's death, and he would have continued to remain ignorant if he hadn't crossed paths with Alice and Jasper in Milan one frigid winter night.
They had all tried to call him while they were trying to talk Bella down from the metaphorical ledge, hoping there was something he could do to stop her. Unfortunately, by then Edward had long since discarded his phone, to avoid their endless attempts to contact him and talk him into coming back home. They had had no way of contacting him at all during those five years, and Edward had resisted all temptation to look his soulmate up and find out how she was doing, though he'd almost caved a hundred times a day, every day.
When Alice told him the news, right there on an empty, night-shrouded street, he dropped to his knees on the snow-covered sidewalk, felled by the awful knowledge that the love of his life was no more, that she hadn't even made it a year after he left her. All his hopes for her over the last five years, hopes of a wonderful college experience, of a happy life with friends, family and eventually children somewhere on the same continent he occupied, had been for naught. Every hour of every day he had imagined what she was doing at that very moment, wherever she was, and he had taken comfort from the fact that she was finally living the normal, human life that she would have had if they'd never met. All those hopes and dreams were reduced to bitter ash in a single brutal instant with a few words from Alice. She'd been dead the whole time he had imagined her mumbling in her sleep, going to classes, studying at the library, even holding hands with some shadowy, faceless man as they strolled across the quad on some campus, somewhere. So powerful was Edward's shock and loss, so overwhelming his grief, that Jasper lost consciousness for the first and last time in his vampire existence. Alice, kneeling in the snow with her mate's head cradled in her lap, saw Edward's plan to go to the Volturi to have them kill him, and immediately, viciously put a stop to it.
"No," she said with more contempt in her tone than he had ever heard. "You don't get to die, Edward. It's too easy. Death is too good for you. You will not do that to Carlisle and Esme, they've been through enough. No...you deserve to live for centuries more with every ounce of pain and grief you now feel." Her voice broke on a sob, but she went on. "You and your damned martyr complex get to live with the what-ifs and the I-should-have-dones, and with the knowledge that you had it all and threw it all away because you thought you knew better than everybody else. Oh God," she wailed, "why did I listen to you? Why did I let you talk me into this? Why couldn't I see?"
Edward pitched forward under the onslaught of her accusations and recriminations, bracing himself on his hands, his face contorted in anguish, his lips peeled back in a silent cry, but still Alice berated him, lashing out in both anger at him and anger at herself, laying the whole rest of his miserable existence out before him until her visions told her he had changed his mind about ending his life. She was right, he thought. Death would be a liberation from the horror that he had wrought, and he didn't deserve to be freed from the consequences of his actions. There would be no relief for him; he decided right then and there that he would live with what he'd done, until somebody killed him or the world came to an end. That would be his penance for the sins he had committed against Bella.
"Go home, Edward," Alice hissed, helping a groggy Jasper to his feet. "Go back to Carlisle and Esme. Live, for them if nothing else." As she looked down at the crumpled, broken form of her brother, she finally thawed a little. "Go home," she repeated, softly and gently this time, putting her hand on his bowed head for a moment in a kind of twisted benediction. "We'll see you there some day."
With those words, they walked away, leaving him behind for good. Just before they turned the corner, they looked back at him one last time, still caved in on himself and kneeling in the snow on that silent, empty sidewalk, centered in the pool of light from the street lamp. Snowflakes drifted gently down.
It would be a very long time before they saw him again.
At the sound of the front door opening, Esme and Carlisle turned away from the window, clinging to each other and waiting with aching hearts for their son to drift into the room like the ghost he had become.
Esme tore herself away from her husband and floated toward Edward with her arms outstretched, folding him into a motherly hug that seemed to go on forever. She eventually pulled back, holding him at arms length to look at him searchingly, her heart breaking anew. He was a faint echo of the handsome, brooding young man he'd been so many years ago. Unrelenting sorrow had left its mark of hollow cheeks and sunken, lifeless eyes, making the purple shadows beneath them permanent.
How was it?
"The flowers are looking really lovely, Esme," he replied in a barely-there voice. "They've really started filling in. They've grown and are spreading toward the center of the clearing..." He stopped, and swallowed convulsively. "Somebody...somebody planted a tree in the center, where...where she..." He still couldn't bring himself to say the words. As for Esme, words had failed her a long time ago and she had none left to comfort him. There was nothing, not a single thing she could say or do to make this better for him.
After Edward had picked himself up from that sidewalk in Italy, he immediately visited the clearing, and continued to do so every year on the anniversary of her passing. He felt closer to her there than at her gravesite. It was reminiscent of their meadow and the first heady days of their burgeoning love, and the memories were sweet torture, exactly as he deserved. It was Esme who suggested that instead of bringing flowers he should plant some, turning the clearing into a living, colorful memorial to his lost love.
He finally managed to speak again. "I planted crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops underneath..." Once more, his voice petered out and he stared sightlessly into the middle distance, lost in what tortured thoughts, she could only imagine. That was the way of conversations with Edward these days - these years. His attention wandered a lot, and he so often needed to be gently steered back to the subject at hand.
She placed her hands on either side of Edward's dear, gaunt face, drawn downward in unendurable sadness. "That's lovely, Edward." She spoke gently, stroking his cheek to recapture his attention. "They bloom very early in the Spring, so they will provide color before the other plants do."
"Yes, I..." He didn't finish, raising his hand to hers and giving it a weak squeeze, then simply turned and left the room. She listened until she heard the door to his room open and shut, then turned back to Carlisle, who had been morosely watching their exchange. They did not speak, their eyes saying it all, and met in the middle of the room, each taking what small comfort they could in the other's embrace.
Alone in his bedroom, Edward took up his customary position at the window and did what he had condemned himself to do when Alice had told him he didn't deserve to die: he lived. He lived through every perfect second of his life with Bella, he lived through the horror of what he'd done to her and the misery of his years without her, and he lived through the agony of her death. Then he did it all again, hour after hour, day after day, his existence a meaningless blur of past and present, interrupted only by forced interactions with his adoptive parents, or the need to feed, until it was time to visit the clearing again. Such were the decades after Bella was no more; an endless stretch of perpetual twilight in which he was sentenced to a prison of his own devising.
He lived. But that was all he did.