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Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


24. Chapter 24 - The impasse

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Chapter 24 – An impasse

It stole over me slowly. I hardly noticed it, until Renee and I had been occupying the same room for nearly 24 hours. She smelled like Bella.

Not the fiery siren call that Bella's blood held for me, even now—especially now—that I had tasted her. My lips still stung with the ecstasy of it, impossibly sweet and burning like liquid ice. The memory of it seduced me in the way that the next fix called to an addict. Yet, I knew I would never get that fix, as much as my body craved it. I laughed silently, to myself. My need for Bella was complete in every way.

No, Renee's scent—her blood visibly pulsing in her neck as she sat by Bella's side, idly stroking her hand—was a pale echo of her daughter's, and yet the same flavor ran through it. Her perfume seemed as if it had settled, aged into a fine vintage with time, the wilder elements calming and leaving behind only the essence of it. I imagined Bella would smell like this in 20 or 30 years. If she stayed human.

What?

Of course she would stay human. Where had that thought come from? I just had the most wrenching experience of my existence, all to keep Bella alive—warmly, pulsingly, humanly alive. Someday she would be much like Renee, although with a more serious look instead of Renee's relentlessly feckless demeanor. Someday Bella would grow older, and eventually she would die. That was the natural order of things, the way that it should be, and I would spend all of those days with Bella, if she would have me. I knew she would not like the contrast—her aging body and my unchanging one—but that wouldn't matter to me. My life intertwined with hers. And when hers was done, mine would be too. That was the way it was supposed to be. I wondered if she would grow tired of me, as she changed and grew older, more mature. I would be fixed in time, just as I am now. Would she...outgrow me? My heart cringed at the thought, but I had to believe that any couple would face a similar possibility in a lifetime of togetherness. And I could change, if I made a great effort. I would change with her, for her, if she wished it. I would do anything to keep her happy and...mine.

Renee kept a constant vigil at Bella's side, except for coffee runs and meals with Alice. I could only sit with Bella when Renee left the room. I gazed at them from the recliner. I had moved it to the other side of the room, to more easily watch Bella. Renee sat and thought about Bella as a child. I enjoyed the slideshow of Bella's past, through her mother's colored view. Some of the images were strikingly similar to the current Bella, like one where Renee chastised her for bringing home too many books from the library. Some seemed from an alternate Bella, a part of her that had faded away or perhaps I had not yet known—as when Bella came home sobbing to Renee's waiting arms, tender feelings hurt by a cruel classmate. Renee's thoughts flitted between Bella's childhood and Renee's present day concerns. Occasionally, she texted Phil or stared unseeing at the beeping monitors, but she never moved from Bella's side, relegating me to the sidelines. I realized how very little right I had to be in the room at all. I loved Bella beyond all reason, but she had never told her parents about her feelings for me, not really. It was less than a week ago that I had officially met Charlie, and I was certain to be on his list of least favorite people now. Alice had called and reasoned with him, telling him that I had come down to try to bring Bella back to Forks. Considering he believed I was the reason why she left...the cause for her ending up in the hospital...I doubted I would receive a warm welcome in Forks. And he was right.

Bella, lying broken before me, bandages masking the horrors visited upon her, embodied all of my fears. I would cause nothing but harm to come to her. I was dangerous to her. Somehow, the agony of that ripped through me anew, as if I hadn't thought it a thousand times already. As her body slowly mended, I would help her in any way that I could. But, I wouldn't forget that I was the cause of every twinge of pain she felt.

Carlisle stopped in to let us know that they would slowly pull back on the drugs and allow Bella to come out of her deep sleep. Her blood pressure had come back up a little, and she seemed to have stabilized. The worst of the trauma was over and her body was slowly beginning to heal.

He smiled reassuringly at Renee, saying "She's going to be fine. I would expect her to come around sometime in the next few hours."

"Thank you, Dr. Cullen," Renee smiled at him from her station by Bella's side. "I am so grateful you were here to take care of my Bella." She patted Bella's hand as she spoke. I flinched slightly. My Bella.

Carlisle flicked a look to me. "We're just glad Bella will make a full recovery." He smiled once more before leaving us alone, once again.

Renee turned to me, and said a little shyly, "I guess I should thank you as well. You were the first one to find her, right?"

We hadn't spoken much, and her directly addressing me caught me off guard. "Yes," I said, recovering quickly. "I heard the crash and came as quickly as I could." The lying came so easily.

"She fell through a window?" Renee asked. For a moment I thought perhaps she did not believe our cover story. When I simply nodded, she shook her head and added, "Only Bella could manage something like that."

I smiled weakly. Only Bella would be able to draw danger to her like a magnet, and then somehow miraculously survive. Considering she not only attracted dangerous creatures, but she willingly went to them, I had to fight not only fate, but Bella herself, in order to keep her alive. Alice gave me the letter Bella wrote for me, and we pieced together that James had lured her to the ballet studio. James was a fiend, and she willingly went to him. That she similarly came willingly to me, without regard for her own safety, was not lost on me. James had feared I would foil his plans by finally seeing the solution of turning Bella, just as Alice's creator had done. He considered me too weak to do it.

If I had wondered before—if I could turn Bella myself—that question was now thoroughly answered. I could do it. The thought of turning Bella myself tantalized me. I could have another hit of that elixir, and then Bella would be immune from danger and forever mine—unchanging, her pale skin turned alabaster and her warm heart made cold and still. It would be perfect—for me. And monstrously selfish. I would have destroyed her, the one and only thing that made my existence worthwhile. I would have turned her into the very monster that I loathed, bloodthirsty and longing to kill. Most of all, I would be stealing from her all the wonderful parts of being human—her family, her friends, someday maybe children. I realized with a coldness that drilled through me that Bella would not have children if she stayed with me, human or not. Her only hope for a normal life, as wife and mother, was with someone other than me. I despaired as I thought of the eternal agony of Esme, making due with a grown vampire for a substitute son. How could I take that from Bella? And yet, I recoiled from the thought of her with someone else, having children with some other man. I was sure I could not bear it.

"Do you want to take a break? Get something to eat?" Renee's voice floated into my reverie, and my eyes focused on her warm brown ones, so much like Bella's.

"I'm fine, thank you," I said. Then, realizing an opportunity, I added, "Perhaps you should go get something to eat yourself?" I glanced at Bella, lying quietly. "It might be your last chance before she wakes."

Renee looked torn, and I could tell from her thoughts that she was hungry and wanted to quickly call Phil, but didn't want to leave Bella alone.

"I'll be here, in case she comes around," I said, answering her unspoken concerns. She narrowed her eyes slightly, and I realized she didn't like leaving Bella alone with me, not sure of Bella's feelings about me. I understood, once again, I had no right to be here with her. I wasn't her husband, or even her boyfriend, as far as her mother was concerned. My heart ached with the knowledge that I had no right to care for Bella. Regardless, I would not leave. "If she wakes," I said, in my softest honey voice, "I'll tell her you just stepped out and will be right back, all right?"

This had the calming effect I hoped for, and Renee reluctantly left us alone, after giving Bella's hand a final soft squeeze. The instant she left the room, I took her place in the chair by Bella's side. I laid my face down on her upturned hand, cold cheek pressing to her warm palm. I sighed. Not being able to simply touch her, for even a few hours, had tormented me. The feel of her hand on my face soothed me, calm spreading through my body. The effect she had on me continued to amaze me. I moved the chair forward, so that I was nearer her head, and rested my chin on the edge of her pillow, gazing at her and stroking her cheek very lightly with the back of my hand. I wanted to be closer to her, but that was all that the hospital bed, rails and tubes would allow.

She moved slightly under my touch, taking a deep breath and shifting minutely on the bed. My breath caught as I looked at her, her motion sending a fresh waft of her scent over me. She had been still for so long, her small movements thrilled me. I watched as she shifted again, moving her head slightly to the side, pulling on the lines attached to her body as she began to awaken. Her eyelids fluttered and she grimaced without opening them. I reached out and stroked her hair, my face only inches from hers and breathing coolness over her. Just as I hoped, her eyes slowly opened, squinting at the white lights overhead. A smile broke over my face, but she didn't see me yet. She lifted a hand to remove the oxygen tube taped to her face, under her nose.

"No, you don't," I said, catching her hand ever so gently with my fingertips.

"Edward?" she said, turning her head slightly, seeing me for the first time. "Oh, Edward, I'm so sorry!"

"Shhhh," I stopped her with a cool finger lightly across her lips. "Everything's all right now."

"What happened?" she asked. Of course she wouldn't remember, the trauma was too great. It would be a blessing if she didn't remember the pain, the torture James had inflicted on her, the fact that she had nearly died at his hands. Which brought back my agony.

"I was almost too late. I could have been too late," I whispered.

"I was so stupid, Edward. I thought he had my mom."

"He tricked us all," I said, ruefully.

"I need to call Charlie and my mom," she said, sounding like the fog was lifting a little and she was thinking more clearly. Of course her first thoughts would be of others.

"Alice called them," I reassured her. "Renee is here," I said, remembering my promise to her, "well, here in the hospital. She's getting something to eat right now."

"She's here?" Bella tried to sit up, looking alarmed. I gently pushed her back down onto the pillows.

"She'll be back soon," I promised. "And you need to stay still."

"But what did you tell her?" She started to panic. "Why did you tell her I'm here?"

"You fell down two flights of stairs and through a window." I paused and barely contained a smirk. "You have to admit, it could happen."

She sighed and then winced, obviously in pain. My smirk faded as she stared down at her body under the sheet, where a large cast encased her broken leg.

"How bad am I?" she asked.

"You have a broken leg, four broken ribs, some cracks in your skull, bruises covering every inch of your skin, and you've lost a lot of blood." I grimaced as I catalogued her injuries. All my fault. "They gave you a few transfusions. I didn't like it—it made you smell all wrong for a while."

"That must have been a nice change for you."

"No, I like how you smell." I frowned at her.

"How did you do it?" she asked quietly. So…she did remember.

"I'm not sure," I said, looking away from her soft, penetrating eyes. I lifted her gauze-wrapped hand from the bed and held it gently in mine. I sighed. "It was impossible...to stop," I continued in a whisper. "Impossible. But I did." I looked up into her eyes, searching for mine, with a small smile. "I must love you."

"Don't I taste as good as I smell?" she teased in response. I suppressed a groan.

"Even better—better than I'd imagined."

"I'm sorry," she apologized. I rolled my eyes.

"Of all the things to apologize for."

"What should I apologize for?"

"For very nearly taking yourself away from me forever."

"I'm sorry," she apologized again.

"I know why you did it," I said, so she would know I didn't blame her. None of this was her fault. "It was still irrational, of course. You should have waited for me, you should have told me."

"You wouldn't have let me go."

"No," I agreed, grimly. "I wouldn't." A shadow passed across her face and she shuddered, suddenly looking paler. She winced, as if her slight tremor had caused her pain.

"Bella, what's wrong?" I asked, startled. Perhaps she should sleep some more, or have more morphine. I realized suddenly that seeing her in pain was much, much worse than watching her lie still while she slept in a drug induced coma. She ignored my question.

"What happened to James?"

I eyed her warily, as she brushed off my concerns. I sighed, giving up. "After I pulled him off you, Emmett and Jasper took care of him." I regretted fiercely not being able to destroy him myself, but I had Bella to take care of.

"I didn't see Emmett and Jasper there," she said, confused.

"They had to leave the room...there was a lot of blood."

"But you stayed."

"Yes, I stayed."

"And Alice, and Carlisle..." she said, obviously remembering everything now. She seemed amazed that they could have endured being with her.

"They love you, too, you know," I said softly.

Bella thought for a moment. "Did Alice see the tape?" she asked, worry clear in her voice.

"Yes." I couldn't keep my loathing of James, and what he did to Alice and her maker, out of my voice.

"She was always in the dark, that's why she didn't remember."

"I know," I nodded. "She understands now." The black anger in my voice must have concerned her, because Bella tried to reach my face, but the IV pulled at her hand and stopped her.

"Ugh," she winced.

"What is it?" I asked, concerned again that she was in pain.

"Needles," she explained, looking away from the IV needle taped to her hand. She stared at the ceiling and seemed to be trying to breathe deeply.

"Afraid of a needle," I muttered, shaking my head. "Oh, a sadistic vampire, intent on torturing her to death, sure, no problem, she runs off to meet him. An IV, on the other hand..."

She rolled her eyes and then asked, "Why are you here?"

Her question was so unexpected, I just stared at her for a moment, confused. Then I realized that, maybe, she didn't want me here any longer. I was the source of all the pain and agony she felt now, and I truly had no right to be there. I simply couldn't bring myself to leave.

"Do you want me to leave?" I asked, frowning. I wasn't sure if I could go, even if she asked me to.

"No!" she protested. "No, I meant, why does my mother think you're here? I need to have my story straight before she gets back."

"Oh," I said, exhaling in relief. "I came to Phoenix to talk some sense into you, to convince you to come back to Forks." I repeated the cover story as convincingly as I could. "You agreed to see me, and you drove out to the hotel where I was staying with Carlisle and Alice—of course I was here with parental supervision," I smiled briefly at that, "but you tripped on the stairs on the way to my room and...well, you know the rest. You don't need to remember any details, though; you have a good excuse to be a little muddled about the finer points."

She mulled it over for a moment, and then said, "There are a few flaws with that story. Like no broken windows."

"Not really. Alice had a bit too much fun fabricating evidence. It's all been taken care of very convincingly—you could probably sue the hotel if you wanted to. You have nothing to worry about," I promised, stroking her cheek lightly, trying to allay her concerns. "Your only job now is to heal."

As I touched her face, the monitor's beeping sound started to jump around erratically, in time with the familiar stuttering of her heart. I smirked as she muttered, "That's going to be embarrassing."

"Hmmm, I wonder..." I leaned in slowly, intending to kiss her, but the beeping noise accelerated wildly before my lips even touched her. I chuckled just before softly pressing them against her...and the beeping stopped altogether, as did her heart. I pulled back abruptly, concern turning to relief as the monitor reported the restarting of her heart. "It seems that I'm going to have to be even more careful with you than usual," I said, frowning.

"I was not finished kissing you," she complained. "Don't make me come over there."

Fearing she might actually do something so silly, and wickedly enjoying the fact that she wanted me, I grinned and bent to press my lips to hers again. The monitor went wild. Unfortunately, that happened to be the point that Renee checked back into the nurse's station before returning to Bella's room. She began berating the nurses for not keeping a closer eye on Bella. I pulled back and grinned. "I think I hear your mother."

"Don't leave me," she cried. She startled me with her wide eyed panic.

"I won't," I vowed, seriously, and then grinned. "I'll take a nap." I assumed my position on the recliner, leaning it all the way back and closing my eyes. I lay unnaturally still, waiting for Renee's arrival.

"Don't forget to breathe," Bella said sarcastically. I took a deep breath, eyes still closed, and fought back a grin.

Renee was just outside the door, talking angrily to a nurse. After sufficient chastisement, Renee slowly cracked open the door and peeked through. She saw Bella awake and her anger flashed for a moment that she had missed Bella's waking.

"Mom!" Bella whispered, in full theatrics for my 'nap'. Renee glanced at me, wondering how I had slept through Bella waking and that she had been foolish to leave me in charge. I forced my face to stay calm and smoothly 'asleep'. Renee tiptoed across the room.

"He never leaves, does he?" she mumbled.

"Mom, I'm so glad to see you!" Bella whispered again, and Renee bent down to hug her gently, around the lines and bandages. Her tears fell freely on Bella's face.

"Bella, I was so upset!"

"I'm sorry, Mom, But everything's fine now, it's okay."

"I'm just glad to finally see your eyes open," Renee said as she sat on the edge of the bed. The sound of her daughter's voice calmed Renee, and she relaxed, gently holding Bella’s hand.

"How long have they been closed?" Bella asked.

"It's Friday, hon, you've been out for a while."

"Friday?" Bella seemed shocked.

"They had to keep you sedated for a while, honey—you've got a lot of injuries."

"I know."

"You're lucky Dr. Cullen was there. He's such a nice man...very young, though. And he looks more like a model than a doctor..."

"You met Carlisle?"

"And Edward's sister Alice. She's a lovely girl."

"She is," Bella agreed.

Renee threw me a suspicious look, checking that I was still asleep. "You didn't tell me you had such good friends in Forks."

Bella made a moaning sound that alarmed me. "What hurts?" Renee demanded anxiously. My eyes flashed involuntarily open to look.

"It's fine," she assured us both. "I just have to remember not to move." I quickly closed my eyes again, feigning slumber. "Where's Phil?" Bella continued.

"Florida—oh, Bella! You'll never guess! Just when we were about to leave, the best news!"

"Phil got signed?"

"Yes! How did you guess! The Suns, can you believe it?"

"That's great, Mom," Bella said with an enthusiasm that rang hollow, at least to my ears.

"And you'll like Jacksonville so much," Renee gushed, and my heart started sinking. "I was a little bit worried when Phil started talking about Akron, what with the snow and everything because you know how I hate the cold, but now Jacksonville! It's always sunny, and the humidity really isn't that bad. We found the cutest house, yellow, with white trim, and a porch just like an old movie, and this huge oak tree, and it's just a few minutes from the ocean, and you'll have your own bathroom—"

My jaw clenched, and I felt like I would snap with the tension building up inside me. Jacksonville. Bella would be safe there, in the brilliant sun away from vampires of all types. She would find someone to have a happy, human life with.

A black hole of misery was about to swallow me, when Bella cut her mom off. "Wait, Mom! What are you talking about? I'm not going to Florida. I live in Forks." A jolt went through me and I felt like Bella had just restarted my long dead heart, saving me once again from sinking into the abyss.

"But you don't have to anymore, silly," Renee laughed, thinking Bella misunderstood her. "Phil will be able to be around so much more now...we've talked about it a lot, and what I'm going to do is trade off on the away games, half the time with you, half the time with him." Renee seemed to think she was making a tremendous sacrifice in order to spend time with Bella. My jaw ground tighter.

"Mom." Bella hesitated. "I want to live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have a couple of girlfriends..." Renee threw me another wary look. "...and Charlie needs me. He's just all alone up there, and he can't cook at all."

"You want to stay in Forks?" Renee was bewildered, but then her thoughts and eyes flicked back to me. "Why?"

"I told you—school, Charlie—ouch!" My eyes flew open again to see Renee fluttering her hands helplessly over Bella, trying to find a safe place to pat. Bella winced in pain, but seemed all right. I closed my eyes again as Renee patted Bella's forehead.

"Bella, honey, you hate Forks."

"It's not so bad."

Renee was convinced at this point that I was the source of Bella's sudden change of heart about Forks. She frowned, looking back and forth between Bella and I. "Is it this boy?" she whispered, searching Bella's face for the truth.

Bella opened her mouth, then shut it, then tried again. "He's part of it," she admitted. Equal parts pleasure and guilt ran through me and I wished I could touch her, kiss her, tell her how much I loved her. I continued my simulated nap. "So, have you had a chance to talk with Edward?"

"Yes." Renee hesitated, wondering how much to share with Bella, and eyeing me again. "And I want to talk to you about that."

"What about?" Bella asked.

"I think that boy is in love with you," she accused, keeping her voice low. I waited until Renee looked away before allowing a small smile on my lips.

"I think so, too," Bella said.

"And how do you feel about him?" Renee asked, the question that had been raging through her mind since shortly after she arrived.

Bella sighed. "I'm pretty crazy about him." My smile flashed, but I reigned it in, just in case Renee looked my way again.

"Well, he seems very nice, and my goodness, he's incredibly good-looking, but you're so young, Bella..." Renee was unsure now—she felt she had very little room to lecture Bella, with the crazy life she had led, yet she needed to ensure Bella didn't make any mistakes.

"I know that, Mom," Bella said, saving Renee from her inner turmoil. "Don't worry about it. It's just a crush."

"That's right," Renee agreed easily. Of course it would make sense that Bella would simply have a crush—she was so young. But my heart sank, nonetheless, knowing the underlying truth of that thought. Someday, Bella might decide she didn't love me after all, or perhaps outgrow her crush, her fascination with the seductive vampire that drew her in with all his deadly lures. She would change and grow, but I would not, and then she would be ready for something more. Something I couldn't give her. I shuddered at the thought of it.

Renee sighed, glancing at the clock. She had made her call to Phil, but he was supposed to call her back.

"Do you need to go?" Bella asked.

"Phil's supposed to call in a little while...I didn't know you were going to wake up..."

"No problem, Mom. I won't be alone."

This did not mollify Renee. "I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know," she announced, proud of herself.

"Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home—I'll never notice."

"I was too nervous," Renee admitted sheepishly. "There's been some crime in the neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone." I was relieved to find that her concern with leaving me alone with Bella wasn't the only reason keeping her here.

"Crime?" Bella asked in alarm.

"Someone broke into that dance studio around the corner from the house and burned it to the ground—there's nothing left at all! And they left a stolen car right out front. Do you remember when you used to dance there, honey?"

"I remember," Bella said, flatly.

"I can stay, baby, if you need me," Renee said, sensing the anguish in Bella's response.

"No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me."

Renee threw me another look. "I'll be back tonight," she said, clearly as a warning to me, although I still pretended to be asleep. I wondered if she sensed how dangerous I was to her daughter, but her thoughts seemed to be mostly concerned about having a young man spending so much time in her daughter's room unchaperoned. It certainly did seem improper. Regardless, again, I would stay.

"I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Bella. Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, I don't want to lose you." I kept my eyes shut, but a wide grin flashed involuntarily across my face. I wiped it off before Renee could see. A nurse came bustling in to check on Bella. Renee kissed Bella goodbye, patted her hand, and left. The nurse was concerned about Bella's erratic heartbeat, examining the history of it on Bella's monitor tape.

"Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there."

"I'm fine," Bella assured her.

"I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in a minute."

As soon as the nurse closed the door, I flew to Bella's side, anxious to be touching her again. I laid my hand softly on hers, careful not to put any weight on it.

"You stole a car?" she asked, eyebrows raised.

I smiled. I had many things to be sorry for, but that wasn't among them. "It was a good car, very fast."

"How was your nap?"

"Interesting." I narrowed my eyes, wanting to know but terrified to speak it.

"What?"

I looked down at our hands lying together on her bed. "I'm surprised. I thought Florida...and your mother...well, I thought that's what you would want."

I felt Bella's stare, but couldn't look at her. "But you'd be stuck inside all day in Florida. You'd only be able to come out at night, just like a real vampire."

I almost smiled, and would have if my heart wasn't breaking inside. I was a real vampire, something Bella still didn't seem to grasp. And this was her out, her way to get away from me, if she chose. She should choose it. It was the best way for her, and she should take it. Of course, it would be the end of me. I looked steadily into her eyes. "I would stay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it. Someplace where I couldn't hurt you anymore." Until I could find a way to end my misery...

She just stared at me, blankly. And then her heart started to pound, as if she were running, and she began breathing hard, almost hyperventilating, as the breaths came faster and shorter. I watched her warily, wondering what she would choose. Could she choose...to walk away from me? I felt an icy knife poised above my heart, when another nurse strode into the room. I held completely still, expression blank, as the nurse surveyed Bella's expression and turned to the monitors.

"Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?" she asked kindly, tapping the IV feed to ensure the drip was still flowing.

"No, no," Bella mumbled. "I don't need anything."

"No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressed out; you need to rest." The nurse waited, but Bella just shook her head. I realized with horror that I was causing Bella to panic, compounding her injuries with stress. "Okay," the nurse sighed. "Hit the call button when you're ready." She flashed me a stern look, checked the machinery once more and then left.

As soon as the door closed, my hands were on Bella's face, soothing her, stroking her cheeks and whispering, "Shhh, Bella, calm down."

"Don't leave me," she begged in a broken voice. Why had I done that to her? What kind of monster was I?

"I won't," I promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate you." But her heart continued to pound in her chest. "Bella." I stroked her face again, anguished that I had caused her pain, once again. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here as long as you need me."

"Do you swear you won't leave me?" she whispered, between gasps that heaved her broken ribs in a way that had to be stabbing her with pain. I had to calm her, reassure her, or she would injure herself. I put my hands gently but firmly on either side of her face and brought my face close to hers, staring seriously into her eyes.

"I swear." My cool breath floated over her face, and her body slowly relaxed. Her breathing slowed and the monitor resumed beeping at a normal pace. "Better?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, cautiously. I shook my head, relieved and frustrated. I muttered under my breath about how Bella's overreactions would be the death of us both.

"Why did you say that?" she whispered, her voice still shaky. "Are you tired of having to save me all the time? Do you want me to go away?"

"No, I don't want to be without you, Bella, of course not. Be rational. And I have no problem with saving you, either—if it weren't for the fact that I was the one putting you in danger...that I'm the reason that you're here."

"Yes, you are the reason," she said, frowning. "The reason I'm here—alive."

"Barely," I eked out. "Covered in gauze and plaster and hardly able to move."

"I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," she said, irritably. "I was thinking of the others—you can take your pick. If it weren't for you, I would be rotting away in the Forks cemetery." Her words, and the image of a dead Bella, hit me like slap.

I pushed the thought of a dead Bella, eternal or otherwise, far from my mind. "That's not the worst part, though," I continued, still whispering. "Not seeing you there on the floor...crumpled and broken." I choked at that image, but pressed on. "Not thinking I was too late. Not even hearing you scream in pain—all those unbearable memories that I'll carry with me for the rest of eternity. No, the very worst was feeling...knowing that I couldn't stop. Believing that I was going to kill you myself."

"But you didn't."

"I could have. So easily." She had to know the depth of the danger that I was to her, in so many ways. She would be so much better off without me, even if she would miss me, perhaps, for a while. She had to see that Jacksonville was a better choice for her than...me. There was no life for her with me...only death, and pain, and eternal damnation.

"Promise me," she whispered.

"What?"

"You know what," she insisted. She wanted me to promise I wouldn't leave, again. I had said that to calm her, to keep her from hurting herself. But I knew it was horribly wrong.

I looked warily at her. "I don't seem to be strong enough to stay away from you, so I suppose that you'll get your way...whether it kills you or not." My voice was rough with anger. She was asking me for the one thing that would doom her.

"Good." I could hear the anger rising in her voice. "You told me how you stopped...now I want to know why," she demanded.

"Why?" I repeated. What did she mean by that?

"Why you did it. Why didn't you just let the venom spread? By now I would be just like you."

She knew? She KNEW?? Hot fury filled me. Alice had promised she would not share her visions of Bella as an immortal...monster. She had given me her word, and now...now Bella thought she knew how to become like me. She thought I should have simply let the venom spread and she would join me in my eternal night. My nostrils flared under my labored breath. Alice would pay for this, dearly.

"I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships," she prattled on. "But it just seems logical...a man and a woman have to be somewhat equal...as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally."

I folded my arms on the side of her bed, leaning forward to rest my chin on my arms, studying her. She found it logical, that I should turn her into a bloodthirsty monster. Well, then I could use reason to convince her that this was not a possibility for her. I would deal with Alice later.

First, I needed to set her straight her on this saving business. "You have saved me," I said quietly.

"I can't always be Lois Lane," she insisted. "I want to be Superman, too."

"You don't know what you are asking," I said, softly. Of this, I was certain. She had no idea what she would be giving up, and I despaired that I would be able to explain it to her adequately. I stared intently at the edge of pillowcase, trying to think of how to start.

"I think I do."

"Bella, you don't know. I've had almost ninety years to think about this, and I'm still not sure."

"Do you wish that Carlisle hadn't saved you?"

"No, I don't wish that." I paused. Carlisle had saved my life, well, my existence, but at what cost? I was still uncertain as to the state of my soul. But I was sure that taking Bella's life would be one way to extinguish any hope of saving it. "But my life was over. I wasn't giving anything up."

"You are my life. You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose."

She may truly believe that, and her panic earlier certainly showed that she feared losing me, almost as much as the thought of losing her terrified me. But this—turning Bella—was not an option.

"I can't do it, Bella," I lied calmly. "I won't do that to you." That, at least, was the truth.

"Why not?" she said, softly. "Don't tell me it's too hard! After today, or I guess it was a few days ago...anyway, after that, it should be nothing."

I glared at her. Her understanding that I had been able to stop myself from...killing her, somehow was working to my disadvantage. But she simply did not understand the cost, all that she would forfeit...

"And the pain?" I asked.

I could see her grow slightly paler while she tried to keep a brave face on. She must have some idea of the burning, the horrific dying of the human self that occurs—she had felt a small taste of it when James bit her.

"That's my problem," she said. "I can handle it."

"It's possible to take bravery to the point where it becomes insanity."

"It's not an issue," she insisted. "Three days. Big deal."

Three days? I grimaced as I realized Alice had told her much, much more than I wanted—more than I had ever intended for her to know. What did Alice think she would accomplish with this? Would she try to undermine my wishes in this? Did she think she could bring about her vision, the eternal friend that she wanted in Bella, by giving her the step-by-step how-to manual? My anger seethed in me, but it would have to wait until I saw Alice again. For now, I needed to convince Bella that she had no idea what she was giving up.

I arched my eyebrows. "Charlie?" I asked, curtly. "Renee?" She would have to leave them behind. She opened her mouth, and closed it again, making no sound. I was sure she imagined, as I did, a distraught Renee, mourning the loss of her daughter. And Charlie...she had already had a taste of how hard it was to hurt him. Could she do it again, by leaving permanently? Minutes passed with no answer from her, and her silence was my triumph. She could no more hurt her family, for her own gain, than she could fly.

"Look, that's not an issue either," she finally muttered, unconvincingly. "Renee has always made the choices that work for her—she'd want me to do the same. And Charlie's resilient, he's used to being on his own. I can't take care of them forever. I have my own life to live."

"Exactly," I snapped, glad she finally made my point for me. "And I won't end it for you."

"If you're waiting for me to be on my deathbed, I've got news for you! I was just there!"

"You're going to recover," I reminded her.

She took a deep breath and stared at me. I stared back. I would not back down from this. She could stare as long as she liked. I was quite certain I could outlast her.

"No," she said slowly. "I'm not."

I frowned. What was she talking about? "Of course you are. You may have a scar or two..."

"You're wrong," she insisted. "I'm going to die."

"Really, Bella. You'll be out of here in a few days. Two weeks at most." Did she think I would lie to her about this?

She glared at me. "I may not die now...but I'm going to die sometime. Every minute of the day, I get closer. And I'm going to get old."

I frowned as I realized what she meant. I pressed my fingers into my temples and closed my eyes. I didn't want to think about that inevitable day when I would lose her—when she would cease to live and I would go on, forever trapped in this unchanging body. It was my greatest weakness, and she had zeroed in on it, cutting to the heart of me, as she always did. I would do anything...almost anything...to not have to lose her. The temptation was tremendous, agonizingly so, but I knew it was horribly, monstrously, wrong. "That's how it's supposed to happen. How it should happen. How it would have happened if I didn't exist—and I shouldn't exist."

She snorted, and my eyes flew open in surprise. "That's stupid," she said. "That's like going to someone who's just won the lottery, taking their money, and saying, 'Look, let's just go back to how things should be. It's better that way.' And I'm not buying it."

"I'm hardly a lottery prize," I growled. She had this completely backwards.

"That's right. You're much better."

I rolled my eyes. I was not going to give her any hope that I would back down on this. "Bella, we're not having this discussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night and that's the end of it."

"If you think that's the end, then you don't know me very well," she warned me. "You're not the only vampire I know."

My face went blank. If Alice had offered to change her...I didn't care if I loved her like a sister. I would kill her before I let her touch Bella. "Alice wouldn't dare," I said icily.

"Alice already saw it, didn't she?" she guessed. "That's why the things she says upset you. She knows I'm going to be like you...someday."

"She's wrong. She also saw you dead, but that didn't happen, either." Damn Alice and her loose lips!

"You'll never catch me betting against Alice."

We stared at each other for a long time. I would not relent in my determination that she would live. And I would not allow anyone else, Alice included, to change her. She could spend the rest of her years trying to convince me that I should kill her, but she would fail. In fact, I hoped that she would, because at least then I would still have her, and she would still be alive. Perhaps, in time, she would grow to understand. Maybe, if I could just delay long enough, she would come to see all that she would be giving up to spend an eternity with me. She might choose to leave, then. I swallowed unevenly. That was a chance I would have to take. My stare softened into a gaze and under the bandages I saw her...so young and fragile, barely old enough to have any idea what the future would hold for her. Even if I did not love her so thoroughly, I couldn't steal the soul of someone barely more than a child, an innocent in the world. It wasn't right, and no matter how much I might want it—just as I craved her blood beyond all measure—I wouldn't give in.

"So where does that leave us?" she asked.

I laughed without humor. "I believe it's called an impasse."

She sighed. "Ouch," she muttered.

"How are you feeling?" I asked, glancing at the button for the nurse.

"I'm fine," she lied.

"I don't believe you," I said, gently.

"I'm not going back to sleep."

"You need rest. All this arguing isn't good for you."

"So give in," she said. I didn't bother to smile.

"Nice try." I reached for the button.

"No!" I ignored her.

"Yes?" the speaker on the wall squawked.

"I think we're ready for more pain medication," I said calmly, ignoring her kittenish anger.

"I'll send in the nurse," said the wall.

"I won't take it," she threatened.

Glancing over at the IV fluids hanging beside her bed, I said, "I don't think they're going to ask you to swallow anything."

Her heart started to pound in her chest again, and I sighed in frustration. "Bella, you're in pain. You need to relax so you can heal. Why are you being so difficult? They're not going to put any more needles in you now."

"I'm not afraid of the needles. I'm afraid to close my eyes." She wanted to make sure I would be there when she awoke. Well, that much I could assure her, as I could no more leave her than I could become human again. I smiled crookedly at her and took her face between my hands. "I told you I'm not going anywhere. Don't be afraid. As long as it makes you happy, I'll be here."

She smiled. "You're talking about forever, you know."

"Oh, you'll get over it—it's just a crush," I teased her.

She shook her head and her eyes unfocussed for a moment, and then came back. "I was shocked when Renee swallowed that one. I know you know better."

"That's the beautiful thing about being human," I told her. "Things change."

She narrowed her eyes. "Don't hold your breath."

I laughed. She so easily charmed me. I was doomed.

The nurse came in, brandishing a syringe. "Excuse me," she said brusquely. I got up out of her way and crossed to the end of the room, leaning against the wall and folding my arms to wait. Bella watched me and I returned her gaze calmly.

"Here you go, honey." The nurse smiled as she injected the medicine into her tube. "You'll feel better now."

"Thanks," Bella grumbled.

"That ought to do it," the nurse said, as Bella's eyelids started to droop almost immediately. When the nurse left, I returned to Bella's side, gently sliding my fingers along the warmth of her cheek. I hoped that she wasn't too angry with me.

"Stay," she slurred without opening her eyes.

"I will," I promised. "Like I said, as long as it makes you happy...as long as it's what's best for you."

She slowly shook her head back and forth. The medicine was taking hold. "'S not the same thing," she mumbled. I laughed. Even half conscious she still wanted to fight me.

"Don't worry about that now, Bella. You can argue with me when you wake up." As long as she fought me, she was still alive...and that was what mattered most to me.

She smiled a hazy, drug-filled grin. "Kay."

I bent down, my lips whispering at her ear. "I love you."

"Me, too."

"I know," I laughed quietly, loving the nearness of her. Two days of worrying, waiting. It felt incredibly good to be close to her again. She turned her head toward me, and my lips found hers, where they belonged.

"Thanks."

"Anytime."

She seemed to fade out and then struggled against the drugs one last time. "Edward," she slurred.

"Yes?" I smiled.

"I'm betting on Alice," she mumbled and then her head slowly rolled to the side, the drugs finally winning. My smile faded. I leaned forward, touching my forehead gently to hers, feeling her warmth penetrating me.

It would take more than one small pixie, no matter how determined and ferocious, to end Bella's life. I would not allow her to destroy the one thing that mattered to me in this world. I would not allow Bella to forfeit her life, her soul—the only one she had to give. I would not turn Bella into a bloodthirsty fiend. I would give Bella everything and anything but that—no matter how much she argued. I would not give in.

"Don't bet against me, Bella," I whispered softly into her unhearing ear. "This is one I'm going to win."