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The Road Not Taken

Summary:
Epilogue: “She didn’t really seem like that sort of girl,” Tanya commented, her tone just a tad sour, and Demetri quirked a smile.

“I get the feeling there’s a lot more to her than we’ve suspected.”
Sequel to The Road Less Traveled by Daintress of tm_switzerland.The Road Not Taken


Notes:


1. Chapter 1

Rating 5/5   Word Count 1956   Review this Chapter

Edward thought Bella Black might protest when he carried her straight through the house and up to his bedroom. He had never removed the bed from it, though it hurt him to see it. That’s one reason he’d spent so much time away from home in the last twelve years.

He laid her down gently on top of the gold comforter. As he’d carried her away from Jacob’s unmarked grave, he had noticed several things. She didn’t cling to him when he carried her, as she used to. She kept her body distant from his, though in his relief to be holding her again, he held her tightly. Her nose didn’t twitch as she inhaled the scent of his skin, the way he remembered it once had.

Bella rolled away from him as soon as he released her, and he understood this to mean that she wanted to be alone. It hurt. He would have liked to have comforted her. He stood, indecisive, beside the bed for only an instant and then left the room. He went back downstairs to find that his family was conspicuously absent from all the common areas of the house. He turned on the television and stared at it blankly, unmoving. A few minutes later, the usual delegate for Edward cheering appeared behind him. He could hear Emmett’s thoughts long before he could discern the sound of his steps. He ignored him anyway.

“You didn’t honestly expect her to be pleased to see you, after all that’s happened,” Emmett commented finally, when it became clear Edward wasn’t going to answer the thought unless he voiced it.

“No.”

“Do you think someone should stay with her? Just in case...” Emmett trailed off, and Edward suppressed a cringe at the rest of the thought, …she tries to jump off another cliff or something?

“No,” he answered the spoken and unspoken alike. He didn’t think that the Bella he’d seen today would be jumping off any cliffs. The Bella he’d seen today was not a person he was very familiar with. Twelve years had passed and changed nothing about him, but they’d made her almost unrecognizable.

It wasn’t that she looked very different. She could pass for twenty; her skin was still so smooth and pale, her long hair still so shiny. What had changed about her was completely internal. The facial expressions he used to study with more attention than he’d ever given to any other subject were utterly foreign to him now. And the way she’d stared down Jane. As if at any moment Jane couldn’t have torn her to bits and laughed over it! No, this Bella was no one he knew. And yet he loved her. Deeply. Desperately. And hopelessly, as she lay upstairs mourning her dead husband.

Emmett was not generally a thoughtful individual. His easy smile and happy-go-lucky attitude made it difficult for him to engage in these sorts of pep talks. And yet every time Edward had started to sink into depression, every time since the moment Emmett had joined the family, HE was the one they all looked to, to pull him back out. He seated himself beside Edward on the couch and waited until the thoughtful expression on his face fell back into undisguised pain.

“She’s not the girl we remember,” he said quietly, taking a guess at Edward’s thoughts based on his own. Finally, Edward turned to look at him. He wanted to deny that. He wanted to tell Emmett to shut up about Bella, but he couldn’t. Because, as usual, he could tell that Emmett was hurt by the changes in Bella, just as he was. Just as they all were. They had loved her like family, no one more than him, and she had changed. It wasn’t something that any member of the Cullen family had done. Not ever.

“No,” he agreed finally. He turned his eyes back to the television.

Emmett looked at the TV, too. It was Emeril. He smirked. The one type of program that not a soul among them could get any use out of. As he thought it, Edward flipped the remote in his direction. “Here, then.” He stood.

Emmett turned off the TV and stood as well. “Edward, come and hunt with me,” he suggested quickly. He didn’t want to loose him on the rest of the family until he’d at least smiled once. His reputation as Edward-tamer would forever be ruined.

Obligingly, as though he really had nothing else he wanted to be doing anyway, Edward offered him a weak smile at that thought. “Alright.” Emmett gestured toward the back door, and followed Edward out into the chill light of dawn.

As they hunted, Emmett kept silent, but he thought a lot. He thought about what Bella meant to the family, which hadn’t changed even if SHE had. He thought about what a great little sister she was going to make…in a hundred years, when she was free to join them again.

That made Edward wince, but Emmett couldn’t help his next thought, which was that they all ought to go to the Volturi together. At least then, they could still be a family. Having them both gone from the house for the last decade had been hard on everyone, but especially Carlisle and Esme. Emmett wasn’t aware that Edward had been hearing that thought repeated by every member of the family since he'd finished explaining the terms of Bella’s negotiation.

“Cut it out, Emmett,” Edward said through gritted teeth, when he’d had enough. They hadn’t seen anything large enough to hunt in an hour, and Edward was getting sick of listening to Emmett’s simplistic view of how things would be. He loved his brother, but sometimes the optimism got to him. He, himself, was not feeling particularly optimistic. Bella’s pain-filled expression was too clearly imprinted on his mind for any kind of optimism.

“Edward, do you remember the last time Bella was at the house?” Emmett asked unnecessarily. Of course he remembered. He remembered everything. But that, especially, had been a memorable occasion, because whatever was left of his hope for them had been shattered and restored again, all in the same conversation. She’d come to ask Alice if she would be forfeiting a future with Edward by having Jacob’s children. He’d told himself it meant something that she still hoped they could be together someday. But the thought of her and Jacob Black –

And then she’d disappeared for three days and come back married. He’d run away for another year after that. When he returned, it had been to Carlisle’s description of the birth of Charlie Masen Black. Edward had curled up on the bed Bella now occupied and sobbed so hard he’d thought he might literally pass out. It had been Emmett who’d comforted him then, too. And he hadn’t been able to tell if it was pain making him do it, or relief. She remembered him. She thought of him when she had her first child, although it wasn’t his. Could never have been his.

“I remember.” What a ridiculous understatement.

“She wanted to be with you then, or she would never have come. I’ll wager whatever you’d like that she wants to be with you now. She just needs time.”

“Time, we have.” Edward heaved a sigh. “There’s nothing out here to catch, and I don’t want to go far. Were you very thirsty? I can send Jasper out.”

“No. Let’s go back,” Emmett said, relieved to get more than three words at a time out of Edward. He counted that an improvement. Edward rolled his eyes at him as they turned back toward the house. “Want to race?” Emmett asked after a moment, letting some excitement creep into his tone. Edward neither looked at him nor sped up. And then suddenly, he was gone. Emmett grinned and followed, knowing he had no hope of catching him, but pleased that he’d played along.

Bella was certain Edward would be back as soon as she was asleep. However, when she discovered him gone, she took the opportunity to take off her filthy clothing and crawl under the covers. She kept her eyes carefully averted from the stains on her jeans where she’d wiped Jacob’s blood. Her thoughts were scattered. She didn’t dare think too long about any one thing. Jacob, little Charlie and Will, her parents, Billy. And the pack. Quil, as he’d held her, cried with her. Embry taking charge because it was his nature and he couldn’t deny it. A last hug from Leah. Demetri’s stricken face, which she had first thought she imagined, as she came to stand beside Edward.

She let her mind dwell there for a moment, as it felt relatively safe. Demetri wasn’t like Jane and Felix. Of that she was sure. There was a gentleness about him that the others didn’t share. If Jane had given him the order to kill Jacob, she had no doubt he would have done it. But he wouldn’t have enjoyed it as Felix had done. Felix. She’d never quite hated anyone the way she hated him. Not even back when she’d first thought Sam was stealing Jacob away from her, years upon years ago, it seemed to her now. She had hated him, but it was nothing to this.

Her mind skittered away from that train of thought, and inevitably came back to Jake. Had she really seen his soul? Had he spoken to her? How? It was a mystery that only he knew the answer to, and he was long gone, now. The Quileute legends said he had gone to be with his ancestors. She thought about Carlisle’s vision of heaven and wondered if he was right. If vampires could go to heaven, maybe she could see Jacob again some day, after all...

And Edward. She didn’t know what to do about Edward. She could tell, from the way he held her – from his silence – from the pain in his eyes, that nothing had changed. Every breath she took hurt him for one reason or another, and now they were shackled together for the next hundred years. He hadn’t been able to stay with her six months while she’d worried over Jacob’s disappearance. How was he going to stand her mourning?

Because she needed to mourn, and the way she felt right now, she was sure it would take more than six months. Jacob had been the foundation of her life for so long. Although she loved Edward as truly as she ever had, all her desire had been given to Jake. When Edward touched her now, it meant nothing. Her mind didn’t blank. Her heart didn’t race. There was no guarantee that it ever would again. She wasn’t even sure what it would say about her if it DID. Maybe she’d rather not ever react to him that way again. Maybe if she did, she would be betraying Jacob’s memory.

A few tears trickled from her closed eyes at that thought. Jacob had told her to go with Edward and not look back. Could she do that? Or would she spend the next hundred years as some hideous cross between a zombie and a vampire?

No. She wouldn’t. It was Jacob who’d taught her that she could heal from these sorts of things. The only true betrayal of his memory would be to go back to the state he’d saved her from after Edward had first left. To act as though she’d learned nothing from his role in her life. She rolled onto her other side and looked out through the glass wall at the deep shadows of the forest. She wasn’t going to be that broken girl. Not like before. Not ever again. Jacob had taught her that. And she had learned.