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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.


29. Chapter 29 - Summer Interlude

Rating 5/5   Word Count 4294   Review this Chapter

EPOV

Bella's stubbornness would be the death of me yet.

The brilliant morning sun pushed spotlights through the treetops. I blurred through the underbrush, looking like a phantom deer to anyone driving the lonely stretch of road between La Push and Forks. I hung back far from the highway, just in case.

Now that she had her cast off, Bella had insisted on driving Charlie down to La Push to fish with Billy. Afterward, she planned to visit me at our house, where the sun kept me confined. I paced the floor and wore on Emmett's nerves, eventually asking Alice to see when Bella would arrive. Alice’s vision of Bella's sputtering truck pulling off the road froze me in my tracks. She couldn't see the exact stretch of forested highway, and Bella's future was strangely blank after the truck came to halt.

I sped out of the house before Alice finished showing me her thoughts.

How many times had I urged Bella to let me buy her a new car? How many times had I worried that she would be stranded by that ancient truck? And now, on a day when the sun kept me imprisoned in my house, it would finally give out.

I slipped through the trees and skimmed the road, but hadn't seen any sign of Bella or her truck. As I approached the LaPush boundary, I slowed my pace and slunk further from the road to avoid being seen. I strained to hear any sign of her antiquated truck.

A labored rumbling sounded in the distance. I stopped at the invisible barrier that kept us off the Quileute land and waited as she drew closer. A sputtering sound began to rattle deep inside the engine, as though it was misfiring. I paced under the whispering branches, my feet kicking at the blanket of dried leaves and moss that coated the forest floor. For the love of all that was holy, why did Charlie's cruiser have to be in the shop? Why couldn't Bella let me buy her a reasonable mode of transportation? Instead she clung to a rust heap that threatened to strand her on Quileute land, where I couldn't help her even if I dared to step out into the blazing sun for a few moments.

She hadn't yet reached the dividing line, and her engine’s erratic sounds were growing worse. I whipped my cell phone out of my pocket, my thumb hovering over the speed dial. If Bella's lumbering truck stranded her on the reservation, I could at least call a tow-truck and watch over her until it arrived.

Her truck coughed and spat as it neared the border. Over its dying noise, the whine of a motorcycle sounded from the opposite direction. I froze and imagined some motorcycle riding miscreant stopping to help Bella. I glared down the highway. Even the sun wouldn't keep me from Bella's side in that case.

I reached down the road with my mind, searching for the thoughts of the cyclist. I twitched when I found his mind wandering through a list of chores he had just completed in Forks. Black. Of course it would be him.

I clenched my fists as I watched the scene unfold. Bella's truck slowed and eased to the side of the road, tires crunching on the gravel as it reached the edge of the Quileute reservation. Black's rambling thoughts were interrupted when he noticed Bella's truck. He slowed his bike and wondered at his luck, stumbling upon Bella on this beautiful sunny day.

The sun. I glared at the cloudless sky that kept me hidden in the forest and looked on helplessly as Black dismounted from his bike and strode over to Bella. She still sat in the drivers seat, vainly trying to get her recalcitrant truck to turn over.

"Hey, Bella," Black said.

"Jacob! Hey." The relief in Bella's voice twisted the knot in my stomach. "Wow. I can't believe you're ... here. I, uh, don't know what happened. It just stopped." Bella tried to turn over the engine once more. It only sputtered a few times and then stopped.

"Hey!" Black said. "Stop torturing my truck!" He reached in and turned the ignition off.

"Your truck?"

"Well it was running fine when Charlie bought it from Billy."

"I swear, I didn't do anything to it!" Bella must have blushed because Jacob's eyes roamed over her face, thinking she was even lovelier than he remembered. I dug my fingers into a nearby tree trunk.

"Relax, Bella, I'm kidding." He was clearly enjoying her exasperated look. "Pop the hood and let me take a look at it."

Bella complied, and Black walked around to the front, lifting the hood and propping it up. He only half paid attention to the engine, while the other half of his mind wondered how he could prolong his time with Bella. I swallowed down a growl that was rising up in my throat. It didn't take him long to find the loose distributor cap. He quickly pushed the cap into place and secured the spark plug connections, quite certain he would be a hero in Bella's eyes.

He leaned his hands on the edge of the truck and peeked around at Bella. "Try it again."

She cranked the engine and stepped on the gas. The truck choked and died again.

"Ease up on the pedal." Black checked the cap to make sure it hadn't shaken loose. This time Bella cranked the engine without the gas, and after a few coughs the truck roared to life. I could see Black's grin from 100 yards away. He unhooked the prop and let the heavy hood bang shut.

He gloried in Bella's look of amazed gratitude. "Jacob, you're awesome!"

"Ah, it's nothing for a car genius like myself." Black mentally cringed. Jeez, that was a stupid thing to say. Now she'll think I'm full of myself.

But Bella just smiled. "Ok, you are a genius. Noted. But what did you do?"

"It was easy. Your distributor cap came loose. This old truck shakes so much, it's a wonder pieces aren’t falling off."

"Hey, don't hate on the truck." Bella must have given Black one of those teasing smiles that make me willing to do anything for her, because for a moment Black was speechless. Wow, she really has a nice smile. I wonder if she's ditched that boyfriend of hers yet. Black thought about the last time he saw Bella, when he delivered his ominous message warning Bella to stay away from me. Maybe this will make up for creeping her out at Prom.

"Well, you know, I loved this truck long before you did."

Bella blazed a smile at him, and my heart twisted as Black basked in her attention.

"Hey, maybe you could bring her down to the rez," Black said. "I can give her a check up, make sure nothing else is about to shake loose." And maybe I could convince you not to waste your time with that weird boyfriend of yours.

I gripped the tree trunk a little harder, physically restraining myself from charging out of the darkness and letting Black know he had no chance with her.

Bella bit her lip. "I'm sure it's fine. But, yeah, maybe. Sometime."

Black tried not to let his disappointment show, and my heart soared at her hesitation.

"Well, uh, just let me know if you have any more problems with it, okay?" Black was still hoping to arrange another chance to see her. "I'd be happy to come up to Charlie's to check it out."

"I'm sure it's fine," said Bella, much to my relief. "But thanks. Really. You totally saved me here."

Black lingered and stared a little too long at the appreciative smile Bella was giving him. He reluctantly waved his goodbye and climbed back on his bike. Before he put on his helmet, he called out to her, "See you around, Bella." Bella waved and waited for him to pass before pulling the truck back on the road.

I started to run back to the house. Even though I was faster than her decrepit vehicle, I had to go the long way around to get back home without being seen.

As the staccato lights of the dappled forest beat against my eyes, I thought about what had almost happened. Bella could have broken down somewhere I couldn't reach her. Her truck could have left her stranded and helpless and someone less benign than Jacob Black could have found her before me. The waves of jealousy Black induced gave way to surges of fear—I could never protect her the way that she needed. She would always be in danger, and it could come from anywhere in the middle of sunny summer day.

The horribly selfish side of me reared up as I flashed through the forest. An immortal Bella would never be in danger from a strange motorist or a broken down car. A transformed Bella would never grow old and eventually die, like her aging truck. A vision of an angelic, eternal Bella filled my mind, luminous and beautiful beyond reason and forever by my side. A fierce longing rose up in me, to hold her, touch her—I stumbled over a log in the forest, rolled through the leaves, and flipped back on my feet. I tried to shake the image from my head, but it was still dizzy with the thought of her.

Jasper must have sensed the emotions roiling off me. He was already at the door when I arrived at our house, his face heavy with concern.

Is Bella alright? he thought. I gave him a quick nod and tried to reel in the ridiculous fantasy that was raging through my head: Bella and I married, living eternally together, equals in every way, and safe. Forever safe. Jasper cocked his head to one side, taking in my appearance with an amused look. I raked my hand through my hair, and it came back with damp leaves from the forest floor.

We both turned at the sound of Bella's truck tires crunching down the long drive to our house. Jasper inclined his head to me and went back inside, giving us a moment of privacy.

As soon as the truck came to a halt, I pulled her out of the cab and buried my face in her cloud of hair. I breathed in the mouth-watering scent that was uniquely her and felt the familiar burn rise up in my throat. The image of an immortal Bella flashed through my mind again, and I realized that the burning would be a memory—gone with her humanity—if she were turned. I released her just enough to nuzzle my way to her ear.

"I missed you." I breathed cool air along her jaw, finding her lips and pressing my cold, hard ones into the softness of hers. When I finally pulled back, she seemed dazed, and I couldn't help but wonder if I would still have that same effect on her, if she were a dazzling undead creature herself. The idea of Bella becoming even more beguiling stupefied me for a moment.

She recovered from her momentary daze, and looked curiously at my blank expression. "I just saw you this morning," she said. My urgent need to hold her had nothing to do with how long we had been separated. Of course I had seen her even more recently than this morning, when I fled the house before Charlie came to collect her.

"I never like being away from you, Bella." I waited to see if she would tell me about her encounter with Black.

"I would have been here sooner, but I had some problems with the truck." She looked angry, which baffled me. Had something else gone wrong?

"What happened?"

"It's getting old." She gave the truck a narrowed-eyed glare. "It's breaking down. Sooner or later, it's going to be useless." She looked like she wanted to strike the vehicle, which made no sense at all.

Neglecting for the moment that she hadn't mentioned Black, I said, "The truck is only made to last so long, Bella."

"Exactly!" Her eyes flashed and mine flew wide in confusion. "The truck. Me. We're both getting old, and eventually we'll both stop working." Tears shimmered in her eyes, and my arms went automatically around her.

"You're not getting old, Bella." But a lump rose in my throat. Eventually she would die, and my existence would no longer have any meaning.

"I'm getting older," she said. "But I don't have to." She pulled back and looked meaningfully into my eyes.

I couldn't speak. In that moment, I wanted to give her the very thing she was asking for—and the one thing that I couldn't without becoming even more monstrous. I couldn’t kill her just so that she could live forever with me.

Every moment seemed to slip away from us, one after another, adding up into numbered days that would soon end. I didn't want to waste any of it, not even one minute. I swallowed and found my voice again. "Come with me. To the meadow. Today."

Her eyebrows hiked up on her forehead. "Right now?"

"Yes. Right now."

"But ... it's too sunny out."

"We'll take the Mercedes—the tint is dark enough that no one will see." She mulled it over and my agitation grew. Why would she say no?

"Okay," she finally said. "But I need to be back before Billy brings Charlie home from fishing."

I grinned, swept her up in my arms, and flew us to the Mercedes, which was parked in garage next to Rose's outrageous M3.

"Shouldn't we tell your family we're leaving?" she asked.

"They already know." I grinned and the car jostled as we rolled down the gravel driveway. The ride smoothed as we took the main road through Forks and sped toward the 101. In the silence of the darkened car, I snuck my hand over to hold hers and gently ran my thumb across her fingertips.

The last time I had taken Bella to the meadow, we had driven in her heap of a truck and I was afraid to spend time alone with her. I feared the beast within me would come out and claim her life. This time, as we sped along in Carlisle's car, I was afraid a different beast—the selfish, lonely beast that would be lost without her—wanted to end her life for an entirely different reason. To keep her forever.

I swallowed my worries and withdrew my hand as we turned off the 101 to the one-ten. The silence stretched between us.

"When you said that you were getting older . . ." I peered at her to see if she wanted to talk about this and she nodded. "You know that doesn’t matter to me, right?" She made a face, but I pressed on. "I find you impossible to resist, Bella, but it's not because of your blood or your beauty." I picked up her hand and pressed it to my lips, kissing it and inhaling her scent at the same time. "I love you, and when you have lived your full life, there will be nothing left for me to live for."

"Don't talk like that, Edward." Worry tugged at her eyes, but it was the simple truth.

The road had come to an end, and I parked the car at the trail marker. When I first brought Bella here on that long ago day, I was angry that she had come so willingly. She put herself in danger simply by being in my presence. Now her lovely face was marred with worry about what would happen to me after she was gone.

She should know by now that didn't matter to me.

I forced a smile. "Can you handle a piggy back ride?"

She grimaced. "I'll manage."

Her feather weight on my back felt like carrying a dream. The sun beat down and warmed the forest, causing steam from the damp underbrush to drift past as we wove through the trees. I was concerned it might be too warm for her and was certain she would never tell me if she was uncomfortable.

When we reached the meadow, it was in full glory. A myriad flowers fought and tangled their way out of the ground, seeking the sun's life-giving rays. When I set her down, Bella was entranced. Small beads of perspiration had formed on her forehead, so I tugged her hand toward a shady spot at the edge and pulled her down on the blanket I had brought.

With her lying close to me, the earthy smell of the meadow rose up and combined with the heady scent of her blood to make an intoxicating perfume that pulled me in. I kissed her just behind the ear. Her hair was slightly damp and the wetness clung to my lips. I ran my tongue across them and they tasted like her. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to tame to burning that had burst to life in my throat.

"It's so beautiful." She was still looking at the meadow. I had long forgotten where we were.

"Not as beautiful as you." I brushed her neck softly with my lips.

"How do you see it?" she asked.

"Hmm?" I replied, not much interested in talking. Her scent had captured me, along with the smoothness of her bare arm under my hand.

"What does the meadow look like to you?" She pulled away slightly and my lips felt the immediate loss of contact. I pursed them and followed her gaze. The scarlet and yellow flowers jumped out from the rich emerald green background. Each minute petal and stem sang for attention and glistened with the dewy heat of the day. The heat itself shimmered in wavelengths that I knew Bella couldn't see, adding an ethereal quality to the palette of colors brushed across the ground.

"It's like a dream." I turned to look at her and found her studying me. "A beautiful dream swimming in color and light."

She reached her hand up to my cheek, and I leaned into it, the warmth of her palm pulsing against my cold skin. "I want to see it the way you do," she whispered. The soft puffs of her breath washed over my face. I wanted to share so much more than the meadow with her. I pulled her close again, brushing my icy lips along the pulse point of her neck.

A small gasp escaped her, and it sent a shudder of pleasure through me. My lips glided over the warmth of her cheeks, and as my lips found hers, I thought how the skin of an immortal Bella wouldn't scorch mine. I wouldn't have to hold back for fear of breaking her with my passion. I could show Bella the love I had for her, with the intensity of my kiss and the fierce hold of my hands. But as long as she was mortal, we would have nothing but feather kisses.

My longing for her rose up like a rush of water about to crest over a dam. The icy fortress I had used to lock up the vampire within me did nothing to hold back this surge of need for her as a man. As a husband. I wanted to count an eternity of weddings together, and my need to have her forever threatened to loosen the beast inside.

My lips dropped back down to the life pulsing in her neck. I knew I could stop. I had already tasted her blood when James had nearly stolen her from me, and I knew that I could stop before draining her. I nuzzled her and the memory of her taste lingered on my tongue, making the venom surge into my mouth. I only had to open my mouth and touch my teeth to her tender skin. They would cut right through. She wouldn't feel a thing until the venom and blood mixed.

For three days she would burn and then she would be mine forever.

The monstrosity of it made me jerk away from her, breathing in gulps of meadow air to clear the venom from my mouth. When I met her gaze again, she seemed disappointed. If I had simply bit her in that moment of temptation, she probably would have forgiven me. We had argued endlessly about it since Prom, and I knew she would throw her humanity away—if I let her.

As if reading my thoughts she pulled my face back to hers and gently kissed me. The urge to seize her and give in to her wish and my secret desire gripped me. I ran my fingers along the pulsing in her neck that forever called to me. Just as the venom threatened to surge into my mouth again, someone crashed through the forest on the far side of the meadow.

I flung myself away from Bella and dashed into the woods.

A young girl stumbled into the sunlight, followed by her father. They were day hikers that had somehow discovered my secret lair. The girl stopped and waved at Bella, her small hand tipped with tiny fingers. Bella gave her a wide smile and waved back. The girl was then distracted by the flowers, bending down to snatch them up one by one, until her hands could barely hold them all.

"Don't pick the flowers, honey," her father said. "We need to leave the forest the way we found it." But the father's tone was indulgent and filled with love. He was having a hard time making himself stop her.

The girl dutifully straightened up and then took off across the meadow, straight toward Bella. I slunk further into the forest, lest she saw me. The girl slowed as she neared Bella, who was still sitting where I had hastily left her on the blanket.

"Why are you all alone?" the girl asked, her high pitched voice innocent.

"I . . . I'm just enjoying the sunshine today," Bella replied.

The girl nodded sagely, as though that was a perfectly understandable reason. She handed the clutch of flowers to Bella, gave her a small smile, and turned to run back to her father.

Bella held the flowers to her face, inhaling their scent as she watched the retreating figure of the girl. The father waved at Bella and took his daughter by the hand, leading her back into the shade of the forest. When I was sure they were gone, with no intention of returning, I dragged myself back to the blanket.

Bella was idly winding the flower stems into a wreath. I slowly sank into the blanket opposite her. The brief encounter with the girl and the effervescent look on Bella's face just reminded me of the things we would never had, even if I gave in to my monstrous selfishness.

Making Bella my immortal wife wouldn’t only rob her of a beating heart and possibly her soul. I would be stealing everything that her humanity offered her, including the hope of a daughter with tiny flower-gathering fingers. And I knew she would never understand this until it was too late.

She smiled up at me, but she must have seen the sadness in my face because her smile faded into a frown. She glanced in the direction of the hikers, but they were long gone.

"Did they see you?"

"No."

She gave me a perplexed look. Of course she couldn’t understand my sudden change in demeanor. And I would never tell her of my fleeting temptation to change her. It would only make it more difficult to deny her again and again.

I took the flower wreath from her hands and finished it, twining the stems together to make a perfect circle, like the meadow they came from. I placed it on her head and for a moment she was transformed into a nymph, an innocent that belonged to nature. Beautiful, young, and utterly human.

I smiled and her confusion seemed to melt away. The smile she gave me in return captured my heart in a prison of no escape. I should walk away—no run away—and leave her now. Keep her safe from the monster inside me, the one that wanted to claim her and keep her forever by my side.

Even if I had to destroy all that was good and human within her.

Even if I had to kill the dreams she didn't even know she had.

I knew that I would be tempted again and again to steal her humanity. And someday the soft lure of forever with Bella would be too much to resist. I should leave now, before it was too late.

But as long as she imprisoned me with her smile and her love, I couldn’t leave. I didn’t have the strength to do the right thing.

And one day it would be the death of us both.