Author's Note: Thank you toTwilightrocks122and TopazHeartfrom Project Team Beta for doing a wonderful job on this chapter.
Warnings: Character death, direct intent, mild graphic violence, and torture.
"Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death."
- Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast As Thou Art
Immortality was the very purest form of hell.
Of that, I was certain.
My immortality had made me damned and soulless, bound to wander the earth forevermore. Immortality led me to believe I was strong, powerful - that I could rise from the devil's inferno and exist happily with the one I love. It was my immortality and its fatal consequence – blood lust – that made me walk away from my beautiful Bella.
I had been such a fool to believe that I was man, eating the forbidden fruit.
I was much more the serpent.
Selfish regrethad ravaged my insides enduringly since I had left her almost five years ago. I knew my family found it hard to stand my morose countenance…but then, I could hardly stand myself.
These everlasting years – oh, I could count how many seconds I had been away from my Bella – had eventually become more tolerable. After an unsuccessful year and a half of tracking Victoria, I had returned home.
Our new dwelling in Boise, Idaho, had been quite grand even before Esme had added our second storey. Although the city was quite a sunny place, our house was located near several forests – ideal locations for hunting. I had walked through the threshold of the house, seeing my crazed eyes and dirty clothes in the minds of my family, instantly making me uneasy. But then I felt the calm wave of Jasper's power wash over me as Emmett made a crude joke about my appearance, and whilst Alice did not greet me with absolute warmth, Esme hugged me tightly as my father gripped my shoulder, saying, "Welcome home, Edward." Rosalie rolled her eyes and I knew I was back where I belonged.
These years had been hard, slow, and relatively uneventful. Rosalie and Emmett had gone on yet another honeymoon. Esme had painted the interior walls a freshening shade of cream, and Alice and I soon returned to the sense of companionship we had shared before that day in September.
I rarely touched the piano, occasionally bowing to the request of Carlisle to play an old favourite tune, but never her lullaby.
Alice had, for a good three years, honoured my request not to go looking for Bella's future, and Emmett had commented dryly one day that since Alice hadn't received a vision about Bella in three years that the human girl's life mustn't be too exciting. I knew Alice looked occasionally, and I knew she knew that I did, but neither of us ever commented on the hazy, black netting that seemed to hang over her mind whenever she thought to Bella Swan.
I could only hope that this meant nothing negative had happened in her sweet and wonderful life.
I hoped that Bella's birthday would pass unnoticed, but a date wouldn't escape notice in the brain of a vampire, I concluded as I watched the once diluted expanse of sky become saturated with the darkness of night.
She would be twenty-three years old.
I was letting Jasper win at a game of Immortal Chess. His fingers hovered over a pawn for a fraction of a millisecond, debating his next move.
I tried to block his manoeuvre out of my thoughts, hoping to play a fair game. I instead tuned into the contented thoughts of my father and Esme who were watching a favourite film of Esme's, Roman Holiday. Alice and Rosalie were bantering about fashion styles of the 1920's and whether they would make a comeback in the next year. Emmett watched in amusement, reliving the doe he had sucked dry the previous day.
Alice was in the middle of arguing the pros of handkerchief hemlines when her phone rang. Tanya and Kate sometimes rang Alice, relishing in telling her all about their new conquests.
I refocussed on the chess game, inwardly groaning as Alice frowned at the phone number and answered it with, "Hello?" Jasper was strangely hopeless at strategy when it came to games, unlike when to came to ordering attacks.
Checkmate, I thought somewhat amusedly.
And that's when I heard her.
Seven vampires froze simultaneously in shock as the voice on the other end of the line filled the silent room.
"Alice? It's Bella. Don't hang up. I…I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but Victoria is coming to murder you and your family - and you need my help."
My Bella's voice sounded concerned but firm. If my muscles could go slack from shock, I am sure my jaw would have opened
The melodious angel let out a breath before responding. "Um, yeah. As in Bella Swan, from Forks?"
"Bella!" Alice squealed with delight. "How are you? Where are you? Happy Birthday! Oh, how did you get our number? And why can't I see you?"
I realised in that moment, however selfish it was, that I did not want to hear how Bella was. I had wanted her to be happy and live her life, but I did not want to hear about how happy she was without me.
"Alice," I hissed. "Hang up."
However, she just shooed me away with a flick of her wrist as she waited for Bella to reply.
"I looked your name up in the phone book," the angel continued to speak. "As strange as it may be. Look, Alice, I don't think you understand."
None of us expected the hard, authoritative tone that laced Bella's sweet voice.
"Victoria was James' mate. She's been trying to kill me for revenge ever since you all left Forks, but she hasn't been too successful. She's now got it into her head that if she can't kill me then she will hunt all of you down."She's been trying to kill me. At those words, I became a burning man, lost in the flame of fury and hatred and jealousy. It took me a moment to compose myself and listen intently to the conversation that was taking place.
Emmett laughed at the idea of us frightened by a solitary vampire, and told Alice to put Bella on loudspeaker. Alice obliged and informed Bella of the change.
"Swan, I think we can take on one hot-headed vampire," he said casually at the phone, chuckling at her ignorance. "Nice to hear from you, by the way. Edward's been pining after you-"
But Bella interrupted him.
"I don't particularly care what he's been doing right now, Emmett. It's not just one vampire; Victoria has an army. An army of newborn vampires."
- And suddenly, Alice's mind was assaulted with visions of torn pale limbs, Esme crying, Jasper enraged, and then, a pack of enormous wolves and a brown-haired woman –
Alice stared at me, wide-eyed. Jasper looked alarmed at the multitude of emotions tormenting his own.
I'm sorry, Edward, Alice directed her apology at me, before a determined expression flashed across her dainty features.
"Do you have our address?" she inquired of Bella.
Bella paused for a moment, probably reading from the phone book, and recited our address.
"Yes, that's it," Alice replied hurriedly. "How long will it take you to get here?"
"A day, if we leave soon. Is...Is it okay if I bring some people with me? I can't help you without them."
"That's fine, Bella. I've just seen something about them. Hey, Bella?"
"No problem," Bella's voice rang out, the hint of nervousness in her tone setting fire to my imagination. I imagined that delicate cherry blush colouring her cheeks. A faint click sounded, Bella's sweet voice gone for the moment as she hung up.
Rosalie was the first to comment.
"Great, the little human girl is back," she muttered.
Carlisle's gentle, sympathetic thoughts went straight to me. My son. "She sounds like a brave woman, Edward, having survived a vampire attack for so long. You should be proud."
I did not speak of the fact that if I had not left the attack wouldn't have been so prolonged. I was too busy being burned alive by the mistaken fires of my own making.
Jacob Black stared at me in amusement. It had been eight hours since I had phoned Alice, and I constantly played our conversation over in my head.
"You chew that lip any longer and you might just put a hole through it," he remarked as he kick-started his motorbike.
I shot him a withering look from the front porch step of Sam and Emily's house. "Very funny, Jake."
"You know I am." he grinned. "Come on, honey, no one here wants to see those bloodsuckers anymore than you do. Isn't that right, Quil?"
Quil made an affirmative noise in response through a mouthful of one of Emily's infamous giant blueberry muffins. Little Claire was feeding them to him, giggling.
I stopped chewing my lip.
"It's not that I don't want to see them, Jacob…I just don't know how they'll react to seeing me."
"You don't look that different, Bella," Jacob replied firmly. We'd had countless arguments over the scars Victoria had left me.
"It's not even about that," I admitted in a tiny voice. "They left me, Jake. They probably don't even like me that much."
Quil's voice rang out from behind me. "That Alice chick sounded pretty happy to hear from you on the phone."
"She's like that with everyone."
I heard a collective sigh from the two werewolves.
Jake swung his leg around and hopped on the bike. "We're fighting a losing battle here, Quil."
Embry and Seth came rumbling downstairs.
"Did someone say battle?" Seth exclaimed eagerly.
Jacob rolled his eyes and explained the situation; with ease, I tuned out.
It had been five years since the Cullens had left Forks – had left me. There had been so much hurt in my life since that day that I could now speak and think of the Cullen family without the gaping hole in my chest being ripped open – as long as he wasn't mentioned. Even to say Edward's name was like sticking my hand in boiling water. Shocking, immediate, and very painful. It made the edges around the hole of my heart pucker and bleed. I had thought that Edward leaving me was as much pain as I could take, and that I would be numb for the rest of my life.
That was until I went cliff diving.
Jacob had saved me from even jumping with news of Harry Clearwater's sudden heart attack – and after a brief scolding about the dangers of the weather, Jacob and I had driven back to his house. We went there to hear the latest news from Billy and to give the Clearwaters some space at what was sure to be an overcrowded waiting room. Most of the wolf pack was at the hospital.
It had been six o'clock at night when I had driven home alone. I was content with the news that Harry had survived with no permanent damage and that Charlie would be back at home, probably eating pizza. I was imagining luxuriously washing my hair with my favourite strawberry scented shampoo as I opened the front door and smelt it. That metallic, strange scent.
My whole being went into panic mode, and I threw myself over the threshold and down the hallway. Was Charlie hurt? What if he'd had a heart attack like Harry?
Then, a pair of inhumanely cold hands gripped me. Before I had time to scream, Victoria had thrown me across the room. I hit the kitchen bench, hard.
Her childish, high voice froze my insides as I struggled to get up.
"Bella, Bella, Bella…" she sang. "What a silly girl you are."
I shakily brought myself to a standing position, ignoring the way my left wrist dangled at an obscene angle painfully.
Then I saw the source of the blood.
Victoria had Charlie on his side, his face smashed up against the linoleum. Her mouth was covered with the cerise liquid from an opening in my father's neck. He was in shock, his mouth opening, gagging to form coherent words.
Victoria told me that she would not kill me. Her revenge for me killing her lover would be slow and steady. Instead, she forced me to watch as she drank my father dry.
I don't know how long we were there for, in my dad's tiny living room. I hope that halfway, when Charlie's eyes closed, that he lost consciousness. Victoria alternated between Charlie's limp body and my tear stricken self. She held me in place, unable to escape, as she grazed her vampire-strong teeth and nails along my skin. She never drew blood as she ran them along my forearms, neck, and chest; just enough to cause immense pain and leave me disfigured with scars that glittered just like the one from James' bite. Victoria gleefully prided herself on her self-control. She had taunted me with questions about Edward: why wasn't he here to save me? How long had their house been unoccupied?
I was too horrified to answer. Every time I opened my mouth, a strange, strangled sob would come out. I cried so much that the saltine tears stung my eyes.
Victoria had left the house as quickly as she had come.
The next part was a sickening blur of Jacob, the police and the hospital. Charlie's funeral had been beautiful. I had refused to go to Florida with Renee. The wolf pack increased in size over time as we gained the upper hand against Victoria.
For those first few weeks, Edward had been the furthest thing from my mind.
"…so the plan is…"
Oops. I realised I better listen to what Jacob was saying. I blinked a couple of times in succession, wondering how I had failed to notice Sam and Leah had arrived. Emily must be with –
"Bella, are you listening?"
"Um, now I am," I replied cheekily with a smile.
"Okay. So, Bella and I will head up to the bloodsuckers' place and tell them what they need to know. You guys will follow in an hour and check into a nearby hotel. Nessie reckons that Victoria will attack two weeks from now so we need to be prepared."
Nessie, or Renesmee, was a vampire that had surrendered during Victoria's last attack on us, which was a little over eight months ago. Renesmee was Victoria's youngest creation in what was then a small army – she had had six other vampires at that point. Victoria hadn't been too discreet with her plans, and Renesmee had secretly held a grudge with Victoria for killing her parents and sister before her eyes when she was changed. The little caramel-haired vampire was now one of us; the 'wolf girls' as Leah, Emily and I were known, saw her as the little sister we never had.
I secretly suspected Jacob thought of the nine year old as something else, but I knew he was never going to bring up the subject of imprinting with me of all people. Our own relationship had once been headed towards the girlfriend and boyfriend mark, years ago, until Jacob finally kissed me and we both realised it really wasn't going to work. We were the best of friends.
The little meeting broke, and everyone wished Jacob and I a sombre 'good luck.' I got up and wobbled a little as I ran down the rest of the porch steps. I now prided myself that I didn't trip over thin air anymore; being physically prepared to ward off a vampire attack had put my equilibrium into place. I hopped on the back of Jake's motorcycle and wrapped my arms around his waist. I was glad I was wearing jeans in this windy weather.
The familiar roar of the engine almost made me smile as he headed out towards the highway. My long, straight brown hair whipped and darted against the pressure of the cool wind.
My uncontrollable life had forced me to move past my own hurt and insecurities about Edward, and although I was always surrounded by the people I loved, the thought of seeing the one who was once was my golden-eyed vampire made me feel astonishingly alone.