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Existence

Summary:
What would have happened had the Volturi decided to grant Edward his wish and kill him? Would Bella have been able to get to him in time? Would the Volturi show mercy on them still? Bella races to save Edward's life, though one thing has changed...Edward will be killed.


Notes:


6. Chapter 6: Amends

Rating 0/5   Word Count 6204   Review this Chapter

It never ceased to amaze me the accommodations Edward was able to get for us--enabling us a completely private flight--just the two of us in the cabin. I don’t care how amazingly beautiful you are; no one should be capable of totally wrecking others’ plans just to put their own to use. That hardly seemed fair.

I held my breath as Edward held me in his arms, during the flight home. I was resting my head against his chest and tried to enjoy this, but it was just so hard. I tensed up involuntarily, terrified that I would wake up any minute now in my empty bed and still be completely alone.

I could hear the nervous anxiety in his voice, as he said, softly, “You seem tense, love…” He rubbed my back soothingly, hoping to comfort me.

“I am.” I admitted, still not looking at him, “I just--I can’t--” I sighed, “I can’t believe this is real. I just can’t. This is usually the part of the dream where I wake up screaming. I just…keep waiting for it to happen.”

“Screaming?” He asked, his voice cracking slightly with emotion, “Why; because I’m here with you? Because I could see your point in that.”

“No!” I said, aggravated, looking to him, scowling irritably, “On the contrary, because you’re not here with me. In reality…you’re not…I mean.”

He shook his head and caressed my face, “You’re not going to wake up, Bella.”

“That’s what you always say. And, then I do wake up. And, it hurts that much more.”

He flinched and I immediately tried to amend my damage, “No, that’s not what I meant; that’s not my point. The point is…how can I really be sure…that this is real and you won’t leave me again?”

He closed his eyes and hung his head, ashamed, “God, I’m so sorry. What the hell have I done to you? Bella, please, tell me what I can do to make you believe me. I will do anything. Please, just…tell me…what I have to do…for you to trust me again.”

I simply stared at him, before saying, “You can answer some questions for me.” I tried to make my tone as light as possible, hoping to rid him of his pain by not letting him see mine.

“Go for it.” He said, desperately, “I’ll answer anything. Anything you want to know. Ask me.”

“Well…” I tried to stall the questions by running the fabric of his t-shirt through my fingers, memorizing it, concentrating on it as I spoke, “I take it that…all things considered…you know, the Volturi…Italy…your absurd death wish…” I broke myself off to glare at him and then returned back to his shirt, unable to handle the pain in his eyes, “…that…your seven months alone was about as fun and terrific as mine were.” I said, sarcastically, looking to him and making a face of feigned appreciation.

“Oh, yeah; yeah, they were the best.” He returned the sarcasm, smiling his crooked smile when I looked at him. “In fact, they were so great that I didn’t hunt the entire time.”

“What?!” I choked out.

He shrugged, smiling a small sad smile, “Had no reason to. I refused to feed at all…the entire…seven months. Carlisle and Esme would beg me to go with them; they even brought the blood to me at one point, but…I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t give in. I didn’t want it. What did I need it for? I had no reason to live; so I figured what was the point, you know? I eventually left…no longer able to cope with their pain. I isolated myself and…basked in my misery, so to speak. It was…the worst kind of hell imaginable. Give me fire and brimstone any day. Damn the blood….damn my life…damn my soul…my existence. What right did I have to exist after I so selfishly destroyed you? I saw no other options; there were no other options but to destroy myself as well. I hoped that, given enough time, that I would die of devastation and starvation.”

Edward!” I reprimanded, but he ignored me and continued on, “To be honest, I didn’t even have the desire to feed. Blood held no appeal for me at the time, whatsoever. The only thing I desired…that I needed…was the one thing that I could never have again. You.”

I shook my head, in disbelief, “Oh, my God…Edward…I--what is the matter with you?”

“What?” He asked, in a nonchalant tone.

“ ‘What?!’ ” I quoted, angrily, “Are you kidding me? How dare you do that to yourself?!”

“It’s not a big deal, Bella, really.” He said, tonelessly.

“Oh! It’s not a big deal? Really? Oh, so it’s not a big deal that while you make me promise to stay safe, you turn around and try to destroy yourself? That is so unfair, you know that? What would you have done if I told you I didn’t eat anything in those seven months?”

“Did you?” He challenged.

Yes.” I said, still angry. He simply stared at me, not believing me. “Well…at least I tried. It was hard--I didn’t want to, but I did it. I did it for you. It was all for you; it was only for you, damn it!” I nearly screamed. I was so angry now that I was struggling to remain coherent. “God, I…I just…” I broke off and said, “Fine! Then, so long as we’re sharing secrets, I put myself in danger as much as I could. I got a motorcycle and crashed it on purpose--repeatedly, may I say--and I went back to Port Angeles and looked for those guys, and I jumped off the cliff--although, that wasn’t actually to hurt myself--that was an accident an I--”

“So what; it was to hurt me? Was it to…get back at me?” He challenged, glaring at me.

“Get back at you for what; you didn’t care!” I said, hysterically, unable to control myself.

What are you talking about, Bella?!” Edward demanded, struggling to control his anger now.

“Oh, don’t do that!” I said, angrily, “I knew you never gave a damn about me; it had absolutely nothing to do with you. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“I’d hardly call you jeopardizing your life flattery, Bella.” He said, releasing me now. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Don’t even turn this around on me.” I said, angrily, “You’re the one who left. None of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for you and you know it.”

Pain filled his eyes and facial expressions and I immediately felt guilt. “God...Edward…I’m sorry; I didn’t--”

Don’t, Bella.” He said, firmly, “Just…please…let me do this.”

“Let you do what?” I demanded, not allowing him to do this to himself. Not for me. I wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t his fault that I wasn’t enough for him; he couldn’t help that. No one could. And, I would have to accept that. It killed me, but I did it anyway. I had to fight through my pain so that he could be happy. That was all that mattered. Nothing else mattered.

“I--” he took a deep breath, “I owe you an apology.” Oh, God, here we go. “No, of course I owe you much, much more than that. But, you have to know that I had no idea. I didn’t realize the mess I was leaving behind. I thought it was safe for you. I had no idea that Victoria--” he snarled her name, “--would come back. I’ll admit, when I saw her that one time, I was paying much more attention to James’ thoughts. But, I just didn’t see she had this kind of response in her. That she even had such a tie to him. I think I realize why now--she was so sure of him, the thought of him failing never occurred to her. It was her overconfidence that clouded her feelings about him--that kept me from seeing the depth of them--the bond there. Not that there’s any excuse for what I left you to face. When I heard what you told Alice--what she saw herself--when I realized that you had put you life in the hands of werewolves, immature, volatile, the worst thing out there besides Victoria herself--” he shuddered and hesitated before continuing on. “Please know that I had no idea of any of this. I feel sick, sick to my core, even now when I can see and feel you safe in my arms. I am the most miserable excuse for--”

“Stop,” I interrupted him. “Don’t…don’t…change the subject. I don’t give a damn about Victoria or the werewolves or any of that. This is about us; it has nothing to do with them. Damn them all, okay? Nobody--nothing means more to me than you do…and as of right now, I don’t need your constant reassurances that ‘you’ll take care of them’ or ‘I have nothing to worry about’, because I do. I have to worry about whether or not you are really here. Once I can believe that, I don’t care who or what comes after me. It won’t matter. This has to stop now. You can’t think about things that way. You can’t let this…this guilt…rule your life. You can’t take responsibility for the things that happen to me. None of it is your fault, it’s just part of how life is for me. For you to…go running off to Italy because you felt bad that you didn’t save me…Even if I had jumped off that cliff to die, that would have been my choice and not your fault. I know it’s your…your nature to shoulder the blame for everything, but you really can’t let that make you go to such extremes! It’s very irresponsible--think of Esme and Carlisle and--”

“Isabella Marie Swan,” he was mad, “Do you believe that I asked the Volturi to kill me because I felt guilty?”

“Didn’t you?” I accused.

“Feel guilty? Intensely so. More than you can comprehend.”

“Then…what are you saying? I don’t understand.”

“Bella, I went to the Volturi because I thought you were dead,” he said, softly, his eyes fierce. “Even if I’d had no hand in your death--” he shuddered as he whispered the last word, “--even if it wasn’t my fault, I would have gone to Italy. Obviously, I should have been more careful--I should have spoken to Alice directly, rather than accepting it secondhand from Rosalie. But, really, what was I supposed to think when the boy said Charlie was at the funeral? What are the odds? The odds…the odds are always stacked against us.”

“But, I still don’t understand.” I said, “That’s my whole point. So what?”

“Excuse me?”

“So what if I was dead?” I demanded.

He stared at me dubiously for a long moment before answering. “Don’t you remember anything I told you before?”

“I remember everything you told me.” Including the words that had negated all the rest.

He brushed the tip of his finger against my lower lip. “Bella, you seem to be under misapprehension.” He closed his eyes, shaking his head back and forth, with half a smile on his beautiful face--a sad smile. “I thought I’d explained it clearly before. Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist.”

“I am…confused.” What was he trying to say? Stop with the damn cryptic and say what you mean already. God, he was so frustrating.

He stared deep into my eyes, sorrow and regret filling his eyes, “I’m a good liar, Bella, I have to be.”

I froze; my fear consuming me--my fear that I was right. He didn’t love me.

“Let me finish!” He said, immediately, sensing my fear, “I’m a good liar, but still, for you to believe me so quickly.” He winced. “That was…excruciating.” I waited for his explanation, still frozen, not allowing myself to give in. “When we were in the forest, when I was telling you good-bye--”

“Are you going somewhere with this?” I nearly yelled, “I don’t need reminders; we were both there.”

Listen to me!” He said, raising his voice to get my attention. He waited for me to look at him, before continuing on, “You weren’t going to let go,” he whispered. “I could see that. I didn’t want to do it--it felt like it would kill me to do it---but, I knew that if I couldn’t convince you that I didn’t love you anymore, it would just take that much longer to get on with your life. I hoped that, if you thought I’d moved on, so would you.”

“A clean break,” I whispered, realization dawning on me.

“Exactly. But, I never imagined it would be so easy to do! I thought it would be next to impossible--that you would be so sure of the truth that I would have to lie through my teeth for hours to even plant the seed of doubt in your head. I lied, and I’m so sorry--sorry because I hurt you, sorry because it was a worthless effort. Sorry that I couldn’t protect you from what I am. I lied to save you, and it didn’t work. I’m sorry. But, how could you believe me? After all the thousand times I’ve told you I love you, how could you let one words break your faith in me?”

I didn’t answer. Was he kidding me; how could he possibly be asking me that question? I never deserved him. I was never beautiful enough or smart enough or perfect enough or--enough for him. He was this flawless god-like creature and what was I? Some…pathetic human…plain, average--nothing. I was nothing…and he deserved everything. Could he really blame me for having doubts?

“I could see it in your eyes, that you honestly believed that I didn’t want you anymore. The most absurd, ridiculous concept--as if there was anyway that I could exist without needing you!”

I didn’t answer again--simply stared at him, trying to make sense of his preposterous words.

“Bella,” he sighed, shaking my shoulder, as if to snap me out of it, “Really, what were you thinking!” I remained silent, simply staring at him. “Bella!”

I blinked once, to snap myself out of my thoughts, and then rapidly several times. “What?!” He pleaded, growing frustrated with my silence.

“Any minute now…” I finally spoke, the words not sounding real, like I really wasn’t speaking them, “I’m going to wake up…and you’re going to disappear again…where will that leave me? How am I supposed to go on with my life? You have…no idea…how hard it has been for me to simply go on living. To merely breathe in and breathe out required such effort; to keep my heart beating long enough to keep me alive--it was impossible. Knowing what we had; what we could’ve had?”

“And, what we can have again!” He said, still frustrated, waiting for me to speak. When I didn’t, he laughed once--forced and frustrated-- “You’re impossible. How can I put this so that you’ll believe me? You’re not asleep and you’re not dead. I’m here and I love you. I have always loved you and I will always love you. I was thinking of you, seeing your face in my mind every second that I was away. When I told you that I didn’t want you anymore, it was the very blackest kind of blasphemy.”

I shook my head, still not giving in. The more he spoke though, the more I started to believe, and the more I started to believe…the more I hated myself. I hated my inability to resist him--my inability to hate him when it only made sense that I should. But, I couldn’t.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” He whispered, “Why can you believe the lie, but not the truth?”

“It never made sense for you to love me.” I said, my voice breaking twice. “I always knew that.”

His eyes narrowed, his jaw tightened. “I’ll prove you’re awake and that I’m here. And that I love you.” He promised, taking my face in his hands and leaning in to kiss me.

What was he doing? “Please don’t.” I whispered, as he stopped his lips just half an inch from mine.

“Why not?” He demanded. His breath blew into my face, making my head whirl, making me lose all will and reason of why I was doing rejecting him in the first place.

“When…you go away…it’s going to be hard enough without this, too.”

He shook me slightly again. “I’m not leaving you again, Bella.” He said, through clenched teeth, “You have to understand…I love you. I love you. Please, please try to grasp that concept…try to at least consider the possibility that despite everything I did, I do love you…and…I can’t…go on…without you anymore.”

He sounded so miserable, so devastated by the mere possibility that I might not take him back that it tore me up inside to see and hear his pain. “This…can never work if you won’t let me in. I know it hurts--God, do I know how much it hurts--” I instinctively clutched my heart to stop it from breaking again-- “But, like it or not, that’s the way it’s got to be. You’ve got to love yourself if you can ever love me.”

He simply stared at me, considering that, before answering, “Bella, please--I’m done playing games. I want you. I need you forever…just, please…tell me the truth…can you still love me?…after all I’ve done to you. Can you?” He whispered, desperately. “I know you deserve much better.” Hah! Like anything better really existed. “But, I am so lost without you…I can’t…I can never find myself. Not without you.”

“That is…totally retarded.” I said, shaking my head.

“Just answer it. Please.” Like he really need my reassurances. He knew my heart would always be his. He tried to give it back to me, but…it couldn’t work without him. It could never belong to anyone else, but him--not even to me.

I stared at him darkly for a moment. “The way I feel about you will never change. Of course I love you--and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

“That’s all I needed to hear.” His lips were now eagerly crushed against mine--crumbling my will to dust--and within seconds, the kiss had melted into one after another after another. Now that I was a vampire too, he no longer exercised such caution, but rather threw himself eagerly into the kiss, holding me tightly against him.

I should have pulled away, but I couldn’t--I had no reason to. Who cared what pain waited for me; this made it all worth it. I whimpered softly as he tightened his hold on me passionately. This was so amazing. I had forgotten what it was like to kiss him.

Our hands memorized the other--tracing our faces, arms, waist, back, stomach--at one point, my hand was on his pec, while his was trailing down the side of my leg to bring it up and hitch it around his hip.

Our tongues entwined together so naturally, so harmoniously, so perfectly…We continued kissing like this until he sighed my name into my mouth and then trailed the bridge of his nose down my lips, to the column of my throat, and he kissed the hollow of my throat three times, before skimming his nose down in between my breasts and resting the side of his head against my heart.

He gradually lowered me down and laid on top of me, simply holding me as we both calmed down. No…no, it couldn’t be over--not yet.

After a moment, he repeated the words, almost sounding as if assuring himself as well as reminding me, “I’m not leaving you. I’m not going anywhere. Not without you.” He looked up to look at me and raised his hand to caress my cheek lightly as he spoke. “I only left you in the first place because I wanted you to have a chance at a normal, happy, human life.”

“I don’t give a damn about a normal life!” I said, firmly, “Who the hell wants a boring human when they can have a special beautiful vampire like you?” I lightened my tone to ease some of the pain in his eyes.

“I could see what I was doing to you--” he said, as if I had never spoken, clearly trying to change the subject, “--keeping you constantly on the edge of danger, taking you away from the world you belonged in, risking your life every moment I was with you. So I had to try. I had to do something, and it seemed like leaving was the only way. If I hadn’t thought you would be better off, I could have never made myself leave. I’m much too selfish. Only you could be more important than what I wanted…what I needed. What I want and need is to be with you, and I know I’ll never be able to leave again. I have too many excuses to stay--thank God for that!”

“Don’t promise me anything,” I whispered. If I let myself hope, and it came to nothing--that would kill me. Where all those merciless vampires had not been able to finish me off, hope would do the job.

“You think I’m lying to you now?” He was angry.

“No--not lying.” I shook my head, trying to think it through coherently. To examine the hypothesis that he did love me, while staying objective, clinical, so I wouldn’t fall into the trap of hoping. “You could mean it…now. But, what about tomorrow--” I shook my head, slightly, “God…you should’ve told me. You left to protect me…why didn’t you just…tell me your concerns?”

“Would you have let me leave had I told you the truth?” He challenged.

“No…” I said, “NO! Of course not. Because there was no reason for it. Had we just…worked it out together…this could have all been so easily avoided. Why did you just…run away? You are the strongest person I know--and I do not mean your physical strength--why didn’t you just fight? With me? Of course, alone, we can’t do anything, but together--we can do…everything. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

Yes, I have.” He said, firmly, now sitting up and pulling me with him. “I know that. I made a mistake--the worst one to ever be made. And, I am…so…very, very sorry. That is part of why I went to the Volturi. What right did I have to live for after destroying you like that?”

I closed my eyes and hung my head, angrily, “Stop it!” I said, through clenched teeth. I couldn’t help now but wonder…I thought back over those last days of my life before he left me, tried to see them through the filter of what he was telling me now. From that perspective, imagining that he’d left me while loving me, left me for me, his brooding and cold silences took on a different meaning. “It isn’t as if you hadn’t thought the first decision through, is it?” I guessed, “You’ll end up doing what you think is right.”

“I’m not as strong as you give me credit for,” he contradicted, “Right and wrong have ceased to mean much to me; I was coming back anyway. Before Rosalie told me the news, I was already past trying to live through one week at a time, or even one day. I was fighting to make it through a single hour. It was only a matter of time before I showed up at your window and begged you to take me back. I’d be happy to beg now, if you’d like that.”

I grimaced, “Be serious, please.”

“Oh, I am,” he insisted, glaring now. “Will you please try to hear what I’m telling you? Will you let me attempt to explain what you mean to me?” He waited, studying my face, as he spoke to make sure I was really listening.

“Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars--points of light and reason…And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.”

I wanted to believe him. But, this was my life without him that he was describing, not the other way around. “Your eyes will adjust.” I mumbled.

“That’s just the problem--they can’t.”

“What about your distractions?”

He laughed without a trace of humor. “Just part of the lie, love. There was no distraction from…the agony. My heart hasn’t beat in almost ninety years, but this was different. It was like my heart was gone--like I was hollow. Like I’d left everything that was inside me with you.”

“That’s funny,” I muttered.

“Funny?”

“I mean strange--I thought it was just me. Lots of pieces of me went missing, too. I haven’t been able to really breathe in so long. And, my heart. That was definitely lost.”

He closed his eyes and pressed his ear to my heart again. I let my cheek rest against his hair, felt the texture of it on my skin, smelled the delicious scent of him. “Tracking wasn’t a distraction, then?” I asked, curious, and also needing to distract myself. I was very much in danger of hoping. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself for long. Even though my heart was no longer beating, it felt as if it was throbbing, singing in my chest.

“No.” He sighed, “That was never a distraction. It was an obligation.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that, even though I never expected any danger from Victoria, I wasn’t going to let her get away with…Well, I was horrible at it. I traced her as far as Texas, but then I followed a false lead down to Brazil--and really she came here.” He groaned, “I wasn’t even on the right continent! And, all the while, worse than my worst fears--”

“You were hunting Victoria?” I half-shrieked as soon as I could find my voice, shooting through two octaves.

“Not well,” Edward answered, studying my outraged expression with a confused look. “But, I’ll do better this time. She won’t be tainting perfectly good air by breathing in and out much longer.”

“That is…out of the question.” I managed to choke out. Insanity. Even if he had Emmett or Jasper help him. Even he had Emmett and Jasper help. It was worse than my other imaginings; I couldn’t bear to picture Edward fighting Victoria.

“It’s too late for her. I might have let the other time slide, but not now, not after--”

“I said no!” I said, firmly, “Edward, please, just…let it go. She can’t hurt me now, so just forget it.”

“Absolutely not, I will not let it go; are you kidding me?” He said, angrily.

“I am the farthest thing from kidding. I won’t let you do this. Please, please, don’t.”

“I refuse to let this go. I will not stop until she is dead--and no one can stop me from doing this--especially not you. So just forget about it.” We glowered at each other for a long moment and he finally sighed and said, “Will you please tell me what you’re thinking?”

I nodded once, before saying, “Fine…but, if you fight, I’m fighting with you.”

His eyes widened in fear and realization, “Are you insane? No, you cannot fight with me. End of discussion.”

Oh, how little he knew me if he really thought that this was the end of it. “Oh, no, it’s not. It is no where near over. I am just as strong and fast as you are now. There is no way I’m going to let you do this alone. You have protected me long enough; now it’s my turn to protect you.”

“Over my dead body,” he threatened.

“That is not funny.” I said, through clenched teeth.

“Who’s laughing?” He said, raising his voice, “Bella, I will not stand by and let you put yourself in danger like that. I don’t care who or what the hell you are now; that changes absolutely nothing. You don’t have the skill required to fight Victoria; you have no skill at all.”

“Okay, now I’m confused; are you trying to insult me or protect me?”

“You tell me. Bella, it has been so long since I could hold my head up high and stand on my own two feet. I just…stretched myself beyond my pain to force myself through. I have to do this. If there is anything in this world that I know that I am destined to do--my purpose for being alive--is to keep you alive and safe.”

I rolled my eyes, “You know, I never thought you one for drama.”

He scoffed, “Ugh, you know, for once, could you please stop being so stubborn?”

I’m stubborn? Oh, please, you could get the award for being the most stubborn person in the universe. Look, Edward, I’m not asking for much--if we just hold onto each other and not everything else, we can start over…we can fight this together. And, together we will prevail. What other option is there?”

He caught that it was a rhetorical question and simply stared at me, shaking his head slightly. “Bella, I--” he broke himself off and grimaced painfully.

“I’m not asking much.” I said, firmly, “I’m just asking you to please, please not do this. I don’t want--I cannot lose you again. I will not let you risk your life for me again--if you fight, I fight. No questions asked. You have two options: either you let it go and just…forget about Victoria or we track her down together and fight her together. Either way, it’s you and me--not you, not me--us. We will deal with this all…together.”

I stepped in closer to him and he slowly wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me against him, and rested his forehead against mine. I trembled in delight as he held me in his arms, revelling in the marvel of his touch, and I hesitated slightly before pressing my lips lightly to his. I trailed my lips down to his neck, inhaling his scent deeply, rememorizing it, and I parted my lips slightly, before kissing the skin of his perfect neck.

“God…” I mumbled, against his skin, my voice cracking with emotion. I buried my face into his neck and breathed in and out deeply.

“Thank you,” he said, softly, now laying his cheek against my hair, “ Does that mean you’ve decided you’re awake?”

I laughed--easy, natural, effortless. It sounded right. It was right. “Not really. More that, either way, I’m not trying to wake up. Not tonight.”

“I’ll earn your trust back somehow.” He promised, “If it’s my final act.”

“I trust you,” I assured him, “It’s me I don’t trust.”

“Explain that, please.”

I pulled back and turned away so I didn’t have to look at him as I said the next words. “Well--I don’t trust myself to be…enough. To deserve you. There’s nothing about me that could hold you.”

He was silent for a moment before turning me around and taking my face in his hands, locking his eyes with mine. “Your hold on me is permanent and unbreakable,” he whispered, “Never doubt that.”

But, how could I not? Still, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was trying really hard to convince me, and despite my better judgment, I was starting to believe him. “So--since you’re staying. Can I have my stuff back?”

He laughed. “Your things were never gone,” he told me. “I knew it was wrong, since I promised you peace without reminders. It was stupid and childish, but I wanted to leave something of myself with you. The CD, the pictures, the tickets--they’re all under your floorboards.”

Really?” He nodded, seeming slightly cheered by my obvious pleasure in this trivial fact. “I think,” I said, slowly, “I’m not sure, but I wonder…I think maybe I knew it the whole time.”

“What did you know?”

As I spoke my next words, they sounded truer than I expected they would. “Some part of me, my subconscious maybe, never stopped believing that you still cared whether I lived or died. That’s probably why I was hearing the voices.” Oops. I really shouldn’t mention that to him; he’d think I was insane. Which, truthfully, I was, but still--he didn’t have to know that.

“Voices?” He asked, flatly.

“Well, just one voice. Yours. It’s a long story.” Please, God, do not push it any further--please let it go.

“I’ve got time.” His voice was unnaturally even.

“It’s pretty pathetic.” He waited. “Okay…I, um…you remember how I told you about the--the motorcycle and the guys in Port Angeles and the cliff thing--” he stiffened up-- “Of course you do; I don’t need to remind you--” I grimaced apologetically, “See, I found that…when I was doing something dangerous or stupid…I could remember you more clearly.” I confessed.

“Wait a minute, when you say the Port Angeles guys, do you mean the same guys that--” he broke himself off, not able to say it out loud.

I just stared at him sheepishly, before nodding slightly, “Yeah, see, I hoped that, given the right luck--my luck--where you hadn’t killed me quite yet, that they would grant me the favor…and now I wish I was dead.” I said, stiffening up, as he glared at me. “Please don’t hate me.” I said, in a small voice.

There was a moment of silence before he shook his head, and said, softly, “I don’t hate you; I hate myself. No; no--I loathe myself.”

“Oh, God, I knew it. I shouldn’t have told you anything.”

“Why not?” He said, confused.

“Because now you blame yourself for it. Edward, it was my choice to make. Not yours.”

“You never would have had to make it if it wasn’t for me.”

I rolled my eyes, “Edward, please, stop. Stop. Okay? Listen to me.” I hesitated before taking his face in my hands and continued on, “I could remember how your voice sounded when you were angry. I could hear it like you were standing right there next to me. Mostly I tried not to think about you, but this didn’t hurt so much--it was like you were protecting me again. Like you didn’t want me to be hurt. And, well, I wonder if the reason I could hear you so clearly was because, underneath it all, I always knew that you hadn’t stopped loving me.”

Again, as I spoke, the words brought with them a sense of conviction. Of rightness. Some deep place inside me recognized the truth.

Regret filled his eyes as he said, half-strangled, “I can’t believe--I--I put you here…you…were…risking your life…to hear--”

“Shh,” I interrupted him. “Hold on a second. I think I’m having an epiphany here.”

The past seven months, I had chalked my delusions up to either insanity or wish fulfillment. There were no other options. Nothing else made sense. I’d seen no third option. But, what if…what if you sincerely believed something was true, but you were dead wrong? What if you were so stubbornly sure that you were right, that you wouldn’t even consider the truth? Would the truth be silenced or would it try to break through?

Option three: Edward loved me. The bond forged between us was not one that could be broken by absence, distance, or time. And no matter how much more special or beautiful or brilliant or perfect than me he might be, he was as irreversibly altered as I was. As I would always belong to him, so would he always be mine. Was that what I had been trying to tell myself?

“Oh!”

“Bella?”

“Oh. Okay. I see.”

“Your epiphany?” He asked, his voice uneven and strained.

“You love me,” I marveled. The sense of conviction and rightness washed through me again.

Though his eyes were still anxious, he smiled his crooked smile, “Truly, I do.” He really did want me the way I wanted him--forever. “I do…I love you so much. See, I…allowed the venom to spread this time for you. I allowed you to go through the change so that I can be with you forever.”

Relief washed through me. Compared to the fear that he didn’t want me, this hurdle--my soul--seemed almost insignificant.

He smiled slightly, took my face tightly in his hands, and kissed me until we were both so dizzy that had I been human, I definitely would’ve collapsed. He leaned his forehead against mine, and we were both breathing heavily. “You were better at it than I was, you know,” he told me.

“Better at what?”

“Surviving. You, at least, made an effort. You got up in the morning, tried to be normal for Charlie, followed the pattern of your life. When I wasn’t actively tracking, I was totally useless. Aside from never feeding and my inability to be around even my own family--I’m embarrassed to admit that I more or less curled up into a ball and let the misery have me. It was much more pathetic than hearing voices. And, of course, you know I do that, too.”

I was deeply relieved that he really seemed to understand--comforted that this all made sense to him. At any rate, he wasn’t looking at me like I was crazy. He was looking at me like…he loved me. “I only heard one voice,” I corrected him.

He laughed and pulled me in tight against his side, holding me against his side for the duration of the entire rest of the flight.