Not What I Used to Be
Victoria caught up with her as she walked from her truck to the house. Charlie wouldn't be home for hours, but Bella didn't have time to be thankful for his absence.
6. Chapter 6 of 6
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He was furious about his failure to track Victoria. His family, whether they'd meant to or not, had told him everything they knew about Bella's transformation. And the whole situation was entirely his fault. If he had only caught Victoria on the several occasions when he'd had the opportunity....if he'd not left Bella alone in the first place..... but those sorts of thoughts only made him hurt more than he'd ever thought a vampire could. When Bella had needed him, he'd failed her.
What was especially upsetting, and fitting, if he let himself admit it, was that someone HAD been there for Bella. The only other creature on the planet that could have helped her, and the one creature most likely to kill her. Alice and Esme had tried to hide their suspicions concerning Bella's feelings for Jacob Black but Edward had heard their thoughts. He didn't let himself draw conclusions, though. It hurt badly enough to be away from Bella. Believing that she'd fallen in love with someone else - that she didn't love him anymore - that would be unendurable. It didn't escape him, either, that that is precisely what he'd let her believe for the passed year.
Her bag was sitting under a pine tree, forty miles or so from Tanya's place. He looked around for any sign of Bella, but there was none. Her trail headed South and East, almost back the way he'd come. Before he followed it, he let himself take a few moments to look through the bag. He found her books and clothes. He wasn't sure what to make of the vampire and wolf stories, but Dante's Inferno worried him. Underneath all that, though, he found her pictures and CD. He knelt there for a moment looking at the picture of them together, recalling how he'd thought at the time that nothing could hurt as much as what he was about to do. But he'd been wrong. Each day had been harder than the last. Alice had been right. He would have given in and returned to her eventually. That he'd managed to stay away an entire year seemed miraculous to him. Or, it would have, if it hadn't been totally unnecessary. As things stood now, he was fairly certain he was the stupidest person ever to walk the planet.
He put everything back into her bag exactly the way he'd found it, just in case she returned before he caught up with her. It was reassuring to him that she'd brought the pictures with her. He couldn't help but wonder how she'd found them. If nothing else, though, the pictures proved that she remembered him. And considering that her transformation had taken place before the summer, he counted that as a small victory. Everyone, upon becoming a vampire, forgot portions of their lives, and how quickly that occurred was different from one person to the next.
He followed her trail to the lake, and noticed the clothes, nearly dry on a massive rock. He raised an eyebrow and looked out over the lake. The surface was smooth. He scanned the trees on the shore and noticed no movement. It took five minutes, but he ran all the way around the lake, stopping where the cliff rose from the edge of the water, and then ran back again. Her clothes were exactly where he'd left them. There was no sign of her. Frustrated, he let his head fall back, and when he did, he noticed a flash of light, high up on the cliff face. As he watched, the sparkle moved. He squinted. A pair of legs uncrossed and crossed again in the other direction, but they were inverted. Her toes were pointing toward the sky.
He swallowed hard. Once he knew where to look, he could see what she was doing. Her beautiful hair trailed down the rock, swaying with the gusts of wind that were typical at that altitude. Her eyes were closed, as best he could tell. The sparkle of her skin in the sun made it difficult, but he was sure they would be glinting even more brightly, if they were open. And above her face -
"Bella." Her name passed his lips without his permission, and he could hear the agony in his own voice. He started looking around for the best way to climb up to her, but movement brought his eyes back to where she was perched. She'd heard him. He felt foolish for being surprised, and watched as she quickly stood and dove into the lake. The gentleman in him told him he ought to close his eyes. Instead, he watched her until she broke the surface, and then cast his eyes about anxiously, waiting for her to come up. She never did.
After several long moments it occurred to him that she MIGHT be waiting until he moved so she could get to her clothes. He turned his back. And instant later he heard a splash as she surfaced, and then the whisper of fabric against skin. He closed his eyes and tried to force himself NOT to imagine what he could have seen if he'd turned back around at that moment. "Bella?"
"What are you doing here, Edward?"
He turned, and watched as she rung the water from her long hair, holding it away from her clothes. He didn't quite know what to say in response. She must know why he was here. "I'm here because I made a horrible mistake," he said finally, when the last drops of water had fallen and she'd flung her hair back over her shoulder.
Bella felt hope burgeon in her chest like a helium balloon, and she tried futilely to push it down. He'd been very clear when he left that he didn't want her. How could he possibly have mistaken such a thing? "Did Carlisle send you out here to say that?" she asked, keeping her eyes carefully away from his face. She had no desire to see the truth in his eyes. It had been bad enough hearing it. She tried hard to sound just as cold as he had the day he'd left.
"No. I came because I wanted to see you." Edward watched Bella bite her lip, her eyes still on the ground. He felt hopelessness wash over him when she turned away to look out over the lake. "I came to bring you home. You're part of the family now and - "
"I'm not going to join the family," she said sharply. Edward waited, trying to form the words to the apology he knew she deserved. He was having trouble coming up with anything that sounded right. Instead, he latched onto what she'd just said.
"Bella, won't you just come back to the house with me?" he wheedled.
Every bird in the forest and every four-legged creature seemed to hold their collective breath along with him as he waited. It was good he didn't need to breathe, because the silence seemed to go on forever. And then, for no reason he could see, Bella's shoulders slumped. "I can't join the family as your sister, Edward." The disgust in her voice cut him. It was so difficult for him to believe that she honestly thought he didn't love her. That she'd believed him so easily was even worse. He'd hardly had to try to convince her.
He put a hand to her shoulder and turned her around. She could easily have resisted, but she didn't try. Part of her didn't want to. Part of her was so full of hope that he would just put his arms around her and tell her it was all a mistake....
"I don't want you to be my sister. I want you to forgive me for being an idiot and love me again the way you used to," he whispered. She didn't look up. "Bella, leaving you was the hardest, and stupidest thing I've ever done. When I left, everything good and decent about me stayed behind with you. I couldn't even function. You were all I wanted, in all the world, and without you, I wasn't anything at all."
Bella's breath was coming in gasps by this time, as if she was crying, though of course, she couldn't. She still hadn't looked up at him. "Then, why?" she asked in an agonized whisper. The helium balloon was out of control. Hope would destroy her where Victoria had failed, if he was lying. She was too afraid to look into his eyes and find out.
Edward swallowed hard. She didn't seem very inclined to forgive him. He couldn't blame her. If he'd ruined their relationship forever, he would never be able to forgive himself, either. Slowly, as if she was a wild animal that might be startled, he trailed his hand down from her shoulder to her fingers, and grasped her other hand as well. Then he got down on his knees in front of her. On the many occasions when he'd considered how he might grovel and beg her to let him back into her life, this was precisely what he'd imagined.
He looked up at her after a moment and tried to meet her eyes but she looked away. That he knew, from a quick discussion with Carlisle, why she was avoiding his gaze did not make it hurt any less. "After James nearly killed you, and then Jasper, too, I was terrified that one day I would be too late. That some vampire - either me, or one of the family, or just another random vagabond - was going to kill you and I wouldn't be fast enough or strong enough to prevent it. There were really only two options left - that I change you, and make you like us, which I believed at the time would take away your soul - or that I leave, and cut you off from any contact with vampires at all." He hung his head, since she wouldn't look at him anyway.
"I couldn't keep putting you in danger, and I couldn't take away your soul. I did the only thing - protected you the only way I could. If I had known -" he shook his head ruefully. "If I had known anything, I wouldn't have let you out of my sight for a moment. I would have changed you the day you first said you loved me." He felt even more foolish than before. Her soul was intact, and so was his. He'd not had much time, yet, to contemplate that fact, but it was starting to sink in. And removing the vampires who loved her had not been sufficient to protect her from the vampires who didn’t. He should have known. He should have realized.
"I'm so sorry." He tried to pull her hands to his lips, but as soon as he moved, she stepped back, taking her hands out of his.
Bella was trying desperately to hold on to some self-control. She wanted to fall into the grass with her arms around his neck and kiss him until they were both blue in the face - not that either of them ever would be, which just made that course of action more attractive to her. She turned away again rather than look at him. It hurt to look at him. "Tell me one more thing, Edward. Tell me how you could believe that I could live without you any more easily than you could live without me. If it was really so hard for you to be away -"
"It was," he said quickly, standing. She glanced at him, annoyed at being interrupted.
"How was I supposed to survive?" she said quietly. "Or did you honestly believe that I didn't feel the same. That I wouldn't be utterly destroyed when you said you didn't want me anymore?"
Edward hung his head again. He deserved this, and he knew it. "I did believe that. I don't anymore."
"Because now I'm a vampire, so I'm finally capable of that kind of love?" she asked bitterly.
"No. Because I've finally realized what an arrogant, self-righteous fool I was, then," he answered, frustrated. "Bella -" He stepped closer, quickly, so she wouldn't have time to move away, and took her face in his hands, forcing her to meet his eyes. Again, she could have resisted, but she didn't. It wasn't much to go on, but if she really hated him for what he'd done, she was perfectly capable of breaking his grip on her. "I love you. I thought of you every second we were apart. Please." His voice fell to a whisper at the end as he leaned down toward her.
The moment Bella looked in his eyes, her resistance melted away. Everything he'd said was true. She could see the depth of his love and it took her breath away. It was good that she wasn't human, or she'd have probably passed out again.
Her eyes fell closed before his, and it felt like permission to Edward. He pressed his lips against hers, finding them cooler than he remembered, and less soft. He didn't mind. He was as gentle as he'd ever been, but after a moment it became clear this was a mistake. "Dammit, Edward, would you kiss me already?" Bella said against his lips. He grinned briefly, joy and conquest erupting inside him, and he tilted his head and kissed her properly. He felt her arms tighten around his neck, and pulled her closer as well.
By the time they'd retrieved her bag from among the pines, Bella smirking knowingly at the scent that clung to it, and returned to Tanya's home, Alice had moved all of Edward's CDs out of storage and into the room she'd prepared for Bella. She'd even had time to set up his stereo. It was good that she had because they disappeared into that room moments after entering the house and didn't come out again for a very, very long time.