The Road Not Taken
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.
13. Chapter 13
Rating 5/5 Word Count 2429 Review this Chapter
Carlisle had called Embry, who was on his way, along with the rest of the pack. Russ was seated downstairs at the dining room table, making Jasper nervous and waiting for his relatives to arrive. If Bella concentrated, she could hear the polite conversation Esme was trying to maintain.
Edward stood close behind her, wondering once again what she could be thinking. He put a hand on her shoulder when she spoke. “Everyone downstairs can still hear us,” he reminded her.
“That’s different. They’re family.” Bella smiled, but didn’t continue. Edward squeezed her shoulder in encouragement, and she wished she were capable of crying. Sometimes it felt like she couldn’t trust her own sincerity without the tears that would be natural in a situation like this one. Her lip trembled and she bit down on it lightly.
He had kissed her. She’d been so excited. So sure that things would be right between them, now – that that was all it would take to recapture what they’d had over a decade before. And then she’d ruined it all, over Russ. Or maybe a single kiss never could have been enough. Maybe nothing would be enough to put things right. But she had to try. And preferably before he got impatient with her silence.
“I’m sorry for what I said to you in Peru,” she began haltingly. “I know you better than that. I know you wouldn’t have kept something like that from me, and it was unforgivable for me to accuse you the way I did.”
“Not unforgivable,” he said immediately, his voice warm as he reached around to brush the hair at her temple back away from her face. She realized she’d turned her eyes to the floor. She raised her chin to look out into the forest again, and then turned.
Edward was smiling, remembering an old conversation that had gone much the same way. He ran his hand through her hair again, intending to pull her into a hug when his palm cupped the back of her head, but she resisted. He couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at his own inexplicable surprise when confronted by her strength.
“I have some other things to apologize for,” she explained, looking away. He frowned, unable to think of anything, and dropped his hand. “I – blamed you. For leaving me. When you came back, the first time, I accepted it. But I think a part of me was always a little angry,” she chuckled bitterly. “At first, I was so happy to discover that you loved me – that you’d done it because you thought it was best for me – that I didn’t notice. But once you’d gone again, I realized. You were so arrogant, thinking you knew what was best for me – “
“I’m sorry for that,” Edward whispered. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“You never WANTED to hurt me, but you most certainly meant to. That was part of the plan, but that isn’t the point, and I’m not angry with you for it anymore. The point is that … I’ve been doing the same thing to you these last few years and I’m sorry.” Her enhanced vision could see that he hadn’t actually frozen. Maybe all those times she’d thought that’s what he was doing, he was really vibrating, ever so slightly, as he was now. She continued doggedly. “How many times have you asked me about your soul, and I’ve refused to answer? I don’t even know if there’s any way Aro can use it against you. Maybe there isn’t. But I hate watching you give him your thoughts, and I wanted just to protect whatever of your privacy I could, in case it was important. In case it mattered.”
She stared into his eyes as she spoke, hoping he could understand. “But that wasn’t my decision to make,” she finished, swallowing hard. “It was arrogant of me to keep things from you, to make that choice for you without your input, and I’m so sorry.”
Edward blinked at her once in surprise. “Then you’ll tell me – what you see?” Bella nodded and bit her lip again as he turned his eyes away to consider if that was what he wanted. She watched him pace, far faster than was natural, and waited.
It wasn’t in Edward’s nature to pass up information. He collected it out of habit, in addition to just gleaning it without trying. He could admit to himself that he enjoyed being the most knowledgeable person in every situation. It had irked him on several levels that she wouldn’t discuss his soul, except in the most meaningless terms. It glowed bronze. That was all he knew, except the first thing she’d ever told him on the subject, before she’d clammed up. She’d said it was beautiful. But he knew that couldn’t be true.
He knew what he was – soulless or otherwise, he was a monster. A vampire. And he had done monstrous things. Did he really want to know if she could see the taint of those actions in his soul? Could he even stand to hear the most significant person in his existence relate his sins back to him? And was there something visible to her in his eyes that Aro could use against them? It was not a thought that had occurred to him, but he could acknowledge that it was possible.
The most important question in his mind wasn’t really what his soul looked like, or exactly what she could see of his past misdeeds. He’d barely paced across the room twice before deciding what he really wanted to know. He turned to her again and took in her worried expression, then smiled and took her hand. “There’s always a compromise,” he whispered intensely. “All I really want to know is this: have you seen anything in my soul that makes it impossible for you to love me?”
Bella inhaled sharply in surprise and then smiled shyly back at him. “No. I have only seen things that make it impossible NOT to love you.”
Profoundly relieved with this answer, Edward pulled her into a hug, and she didn’t resist. Her breathing seemed off, and she wondered if THIS was the vampire equivalent of crying – these silent, tearless gasps. She pulled away again. “I’ve got more,” she admitted. He’d been so tolerant. So forgiving. But this, of all the wrongs she’d committed against him, was the worst. She braced herself for rejection again, but when he took her hands in his she let him, and when he pulled her toward the couch to sit down, she followed. He picked her up and sat her in his lap as if she weighed nothing at all. And truthfully, she had no idea whether vampires were denser than humans. Maybe her weight hadn’t changed at all? It was not something to which she’d given much thought, but her overclocked brain seemed able to ponder it while she was trying to think of how to word this most difficult apology.
“I’ve been so ungrateful. Three years ago, you gave up your freedom – your family – everything – to save the people I love.” The catches in her breathing came faster, deeper. “And I never once thanked you. I never told you how much it meant that you would – that you – would – “
“Shhh,” Edward said soothingly, when it was clear she couldn’t go on anyway. Her whole frame shook with tearless sobs, and he held her tightly against him. “You know I didn’t do it for your gratitude,” he whispered, his hands rubbing circles on her back and arm. The sound of her pain tore something inside of him, and he pressed his face into her hair, inhaling. She didn’t smell human, but something of that scent had translated into what clung to her now. It was comforting, in the same way that her distress was comforting – because it was for him this time. “You know I would have done anything to protect your sons.” He didn’t add that he would have died protecting Jacob as well, if he could have managed it. He wasn’t sure she’d believe him, firstly, and he also didn’t want to bring up his name. Not now, when it seemed like they might finally have a chance to be together again.
Bella let herself be comforted. So often since her change she had longed for this – that he would just hold her. That she could somehow relieve the pain and guilt and fear she’d felt on and off all this time. Tears weren’t possible. But this had been a release, of sorts. And it felt wonderful just to be held. He was gentle with her, still, but not constantly on his guard as he’d been when she was alive. That was a relief as well.
“I know,” she whispered in return. “And Embry told me what happened before I could get there that day, too. He was near enough to hear.” She pulled away to look into his eyes, and smiled. “I know you, Edward Cullen. And I owe you so much. Thank you.”
Edward stared back at her, taking in the expression on her face. They were discussing the day Jacob had died and she … didn’t look sad. He put his palm to her smooth, perfect cheek. “I love you,” he whispered simply, before he could think better of it.
Bella felt her lips pull into a smile, and she brought a hand to his face as well, tracing his lips with her thumb as she’d so often done when they were first together, back when she couldn’t kiss him properly. “And I love you. And it’s going to be alright,” she said quietly.
“Yes,” he agreed, his eyes falling to her lips when he noticed her leaning toward him. He didn’t move, waiting for her to come to him, as he had waited in Volterra. As he had waited since the day he’d left Dartmouth. And this time, finally, she came. Her lips weren’t soft or warm anymore, but they were gentle, and this time he had a chance to really appreciate the differences.
He’d long since noted the change in her scent. He didn’t have to struggle against the bloodlust, anymore, to be with her. At first, he’d almost missed it. But now, as he held her, he could appreciate the freedom of it. He didn’t have to worry. He didn’t have to think about anything except the feel of her lips on his.
The taste of her was different as well. He didn’t mind. It was still Bella. She squirmed in his lap, and he dimly noted that difference as well. Her body was no longer soft and breakable. In fact, as she shifted again, turning towards him and putting a knee on either side of his legs, she felt anything but fragile.
Out of habit, his hands had come up to her cheeks, intending to push her away as emotion welled up in him that made him feel a little out of control. But he realized there wasn’t any point. Even if she did tempt him beyond what he could stand, there would be no danger to her. He let his hands drift back into her hair and pulled her closer instead, resolving not to suppress his desire for her anymore. She was perfectly capable of stopping him now, if that’s what she wanted.
Bella whimpered in response. She, too, was taking time to note the differences. Her senses were so much more acute. Every touch, every taste was intense in a way it hadn’t been for her as a human. In Volterra, when he’d kissed her so heatedly, she had been concentrating on the gravity of the moment, not the sensations. Now she could feel everything, and she forgot to breathe, it was so sweet.
Though they moved languidly, the intensity got to them both. When Bella pulled away, there was wonder and joy in her expression, and Edward stared, panting slightly. She was always beautiful, but never as much so as when she looked at him that way. It was like the years they’d spent apart had fallen away, and they were finally starting over. He felt her shift her weight away from him and grinned, realizing why.
Bella looked away to hide the shock on her face, pleased she could no longer blush to give away her surprise. It took less than a second to get her face under control, but she didn’t look back – she wasn’t sure what expression she ought to be wearing.
Edward grinned at her obvious embarrassment. He might miss the pink flush in her cheeks, but at least he could still read the expression clearly enough. “I used to work so hard to make sure that never happened,” he whispered. Finally she met his eyes again, and he was shocked by the wicked smirk that had come over her face. Not at all an expression he recognized from their time together. In the same instant, though, he realized how much he liked it.
“It’s good you did. I don’t think I’d have left you alone for a second, if I’d known you were as affected by it as I was.” To prove her point, she shifted her weight again. Edward’s mouth fell open at the contact, and he exhaled in surprise. He’d just decided that she was going to pay for teasing him when they both heard soft footsteps on the stairs.
“Carlisle,” he whispered as she pulled away, and it was almost a groan. “The pack is arriving.” Bella resumed her more innocent position in his arms, though with a good deal more squirming than he thought was necessary. They were both grinning like Cheshire cats when Carlisle paused outside the door. “Come in,” Edward invited him quietly.
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