Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Monster

Summary:
I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.


Notes:
[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.


63. Break

Rating 0/5   Word Count 5731   Review this Chapter

"Just by my left brain,
Just by the side of the Tin man." - Imagine Dragons.

Chapter Sixty Three

Break

A sullen line of shuddering ruffs and slumped shoulders forms at the brink of the forest. I hover, my top half braced against a mound of bracken greens and mud. My paws twitch, coated with thin strips of roots and bark still clinging to the black soil plastered to my fur. Leaning forward, I meet the gaze of the brown wolf across from me for a split second as the line of wolves pulls in and the fog of gentle breaths evaporates.

The towering pair of russet and soft grey appears and halts at the point of the lane, their heads lowering as they close the tips of their teeth around the corners of a soaked tarp. They share a somber look before pushing forward, dragging the layers of black rubber between them. The pack's downcast eyes focus on the shallow track left behind, refusing to acknowledge the mass of a body covered by the heavy covers.

Grant died an animal. A fucking animal, with a person hidden somewhere behind human eyes carved into a wolf's skull. We aren't even here to bury our tribal brother. We're here to push damp soil over the body of the animal living somewhere inside his bones.

Something about it crawls deep in my skin, a billion tiny pricks and bites of rage. But it's not death—I've long since become immune to its poisonous sting.

It's the bloody bastard who's getting away with it.

Night thrives above our heads, a coat of silent black. Even the skies hold back the drizzle, as if it can sense the loss. The pack's heads hang, bodies drooping. They radiate defeat. Weakness. Pathetic, empty hearts.

But not me. There's not a single thing in the deepest pits of this hell that'll ever be able to stamp a symbol of defeat by my name. Losing isn't even a fucking option.

We don't lose.

Grant won't lose.

We are the peak of the food chain. Everything below us kills, wins, and dies. Except for us.

We kill to protect, to preserve life. Anything stealing that life, and any kind of it, dies.

There isn't a damn hair on this body there for any other purpose.

And there's not a damn tooth, claw, or dead wolf that'll ever take that away.

The bundle of wolf and tarp goes down gently into the ground. Jacob and Nicole brace their muddy paws on either edge of the square hole, their heads bent deep inside as they situate the grave. Whimpers spill from the jaws of the runts hanging back, their figures shaken with violent trembles. No head turns. Cuffs of silence lock around every skull, cutting off the pack channel. The regular stream of thoughts is nothing but colors—cold blues, hushed purples, and uneasy smudges of grey. I pin my thoughts in the back of my head, a raging flame of crimson threatening to consume me whole.

Finally, Jacob lifts his broad head, snuffing dirt from his muzzle. He steps back, glancing at Nicole as she sweeps her neck across the ground, pushing the final mound of dirt over the grave. The pair keeps their distance, trying to hide the tremble in their knees. I gaze down from my place on the hill, rumbling low with impatience as the leader's minds join, processing and calculating. Jared takes the chance to jump down from the rise in the ground, loping back to join the rest of the pack without a single word.

Fixing his darkened stare on the back of the pack, Jacob cracks the silence. Jackson, where's Daniel?

I watch a dozen wolves' heads turn simultaneously, all attention zeroing in on the small wolf pressed against the bark of a tree. His bright fur bristles slightly, dark eyes flaring wide. He hacks once, a nervous clear of his throat. Daniel. . . Jackson trails off, his small voice uneasy. He tries to look away, but he finds my steady stare on the hill above and flinches, burrowing his stare into the moist ground at his paws. I flatten my ears as his heart rate spikes.

Nicole huffs impatiently, dipping her head at the younger wolf. Go on, she prompts. The voice inside her head is light, and I swear I see a glisten in the icy blues of her eyes.

Jackson's gaze flickers up sheepishly. Daniel said he wanted to be alone. He couldn't take seeing this happen to . . . to G-Gra—

Jacob cuts the stuttering boy off with a short shake of his head, his neck stiffened. Someone needs to tell his mother about the . . . accident.

Nicole's grey body presses against Jacob's side as she brushes past him, stepping forward. I'll go with him, Jacob. You take care of the rest.She pads across the small space in the trees, nimbly snaking through the frozen bodies of the pack. My eyes follow her movements, studying the gentle reassurance in her muzzle as she coaxes the trembling runt away from the pack, their minds fading out together.

In Nicole's departure, ten expectant pairs of waiting eyes turn on Jacob. He blinks, snuffing and shaking his shaggy coat. He fills the empty space in the numbness of the pack mind with his voice, pushing himself up to stand taller as he begins to speak, thoughts flashing through his head like whizzing bullets. I fix my unblinking stare on the back of his thick ruff, waiting.

Jared, take a group around the treaty line. Sam, go with him and split into two groups. Jacob nods once to himself as the pack breaks apart, suddenly in motion. Yeah, that's good. Quil, Embry, stay with me. You too, Seth. And Paul. We have a couple things to go over.

The trees empty, their shadows swallowing the wolves loping through them. I snort, running my gaze across the oblivious wolves gathered around Jacob before sauntering into the trees around them. I hold myself still behind Jacob, my claws working deep in the mud. Quil's muzzle twitches, his body tensing as I near.

Uh, Jake? You kinda forgot something.

After that, we— What? Jacob's ears pin back, his neck twisting as he looks over his shoulder. A shadow crosses his expression, his mind going blank for half a second. I burn into him, the dark blue of my stare simmering in his pupils. His mind swirls, twirling and shifting as he thinks. My muscles contract, tightening as the seconds tick by. I feel my lip start to peel back, baring fang, while my heart thuds dangerously hard in my ribs.

You can go home, he decides. With a nod of his large head, he puts his back to me and returns his attention to his patrol.

I don't move at first. I push my paws beneath a layer of soil to prevent slashing them deep into Jacob's flesh. The red flames blaze hotter, melting the thin barrier between self-control and the instinct to take control. Jacob's thoughts continue on, a hum ringing sharp in my ears. I trail my gaze to his throat, narrowing in on the pulse beating rapidly inside his exposed jugular.

Paul's voice cuts through the steam clouding the front of my brain. Really, man?

The spotted wolf shakes his head warily, nudging Paul. Don't bother. Jake knows what he's doing.

Paul scoffs, growling lowly and shoving Embry aside. What the hell are you trying to prove? Yeah, I'm talking to you, Black.

The challenge in Paul's tone strikes a nerve. Jacob rumbles warningly, falling into a crouch. He bares the curves of his teeth, skin pulling back.Can it, Paul. It's time to go.

I ain't goin' nowhere! Paul fumes, a spark of anger growing in his eyes. I'm not gonna move outta this damn spot until this shit stops. God, are you fucking blind? Maybe you wouldn't have to even put any of the pack in the ground if you would open up your ears for two damn seconds and treat your beta like she's worth more than a fucking piss pole!

Seth whines, taking an uneasy step backwards. C'mon, guys. We can settle this without any fighting, right? It's okay, no need to let anybody get hurt . . . Please?

A quiver trembles in Jacob's shoulders, his hackles rising. He doesn't look away, not even for a second. Paul shows the rows of daggers in his jaws, still as stone in his place. The russet wolf pushes his weight forward, his chest heaving with every steaming breath. And what gives you the right to think that? What gives you the right to think that any wolf in this pack is treated in any way other than the way they deserve to be?

Paul advances suddenly, crunching a paw into the ground below him. The shadows pull away from his hulking grey shape. A rippling wave of frustration slams into Jacob's mind, carrying the raised shout of Paul's voice. Damn you! Damn you, for letting that fucker make Jordan seem any less than she is! And you know she's worth it! You know it, we all do! Damn you, and the idiotic, heartless bitch that ever made you think she was any less than anybody!

Jacob's body turns to stone, his blood chilling. There's a heartbeat of silence before he bursts back to life, his thoughts roaring. What did you just call her?

Oooh, yeah, you hear me now, Black! Paul chortles sourly, his tongue rolling over his dripping teeth as he prowls into the shortening space between himself and the trembling alpha. I said it. Idiotic. Heartless. Bi—!

Just then, the friction of the heated mind cracks my control. I throw my weight, lurching as the barrier cracks and explodes, my ears ringing with the ear-splitting rush of reddened thoughts. It blasts through the pack, bowing every knee and forcing agonized howls out of every throat. My vision swims with smears of bloody scarlet as I teeter, snarling rabid drops of saliva, my neck bent beneath the crushing force of the attack of searing memories that eat away at every part of my mind with the fiery fury of a million hells.

"You're too much of a mess. A blind man could see it."

"We'll always be here for you."

"I'd be right for you! But you don't even know that, because you're his eternal slave! You're enslaved to a leech!"

"Whatever. There's no help for you, you sorry bitch."

The pack mind goes static, zaps and buzzes of pain. Wolves yowl and tumble, writhing in heaps of slashing paws and slack jaws as they burn alive. Through the flames in my eyes, I meet the round shock of Jacob's frozen gaze. He struggles against the strain of the blaze, his front half crumpled to the ground while his hind paws hold up his violently shaking haunches with each round of convulsion. His muzzle slips another inch across the ground, his breath coming in quick, short pants. A heartbeat later, his eyes roll back and the sting of his stare falls away.

A gasp of air punches my lungs as the weight eases. I release a choked growl and retract the storm, packing it away in the corners of my skull. The pack rises slowly, shaken with the tremors of aftershock. Their gleaming eyes roll wildly as reality seeps back into their brains. I glance at Paul, dragging his paws like anchors as he wheezes, his glazed stare set on mine as he pushes past the recovering wolves and staggers toward me. I can only manage a nod before I turn and melt into the forest, gone like a clap of thunder. I stretch my stride into a sprint, the world parting around me as the pack's thoughts blink out.

()()()

I'm past the point of thinking. Past the point of holding back. Past the point of sense and reason.

I'm gone.

I'm red.

I'm fire.

Savage, focused, and deadly.

I fly. The ground and the sky collide, blurred together by the whipping breezes whistling through my fur. My speed has no peak—it climbs, higher and higher and higher as my sprint takes me farther into the dim forest. I rake my senses across every inch of brush and ground. Croaks, caws, and buzzes hum in my ears, while the damp scents of midnight seep into the tingling nerves of my nostrils.

All of it hushes as I tear through brush and bracken, the forest silencing as the feral promise of death hangs heavy in the air.

Paws beat against the leaves behind me. Sparks of foreign thoughts crackle at the edges of my mind, but they never make it through. I race the wind, the hovering shape of Paul a tolerated shadow. Air rushes through my fur, sweeping over my head and along my spine. I listen in to the sound of it, whispering memories flashing behind my lids. Fury buckles deep in my ribs, whipping out a crack of lightning in my veins.

I blast into the clearing, struck with a storm of past scents. The field is torn, scuffed and broken, clots of dirt and grass littering a flat space of torn browns and scattered greens. I curl my lip, my heart thumping as I sharpen my senses, dragging in a shot of scents all at once. My nostrils twitch, grabbing the scent I'm looking for.

Go left!

My shoulders jerk as I throw my weight to the side, mud splattering beneath the sudden push of my paws. Paul snaps his teeth with a snarl, thundering right past me. His claws rake the torn dirt, searching for purchase. I push myself harder, lunging into a dead sprint into the opposite side of the forest. The rhythm of footfalls begins behind me once more as Paul hurls himself back in place.

The forest breaks and snaps around my shape, branches slapping my sides, thorns biting my coat, roots ripped clean out by my claws. Fumes of bloodsucker stench swarm in my lungs, infecting every swallow. The gleam of soft moonlight glows silver, dipping through a break in the treetops. My eyes, burning through a haze of red, catch the broad curve of a shoulder as a masculine figure steps into the open space.

Time slows for a heartbeat as a demon moves forward, its milky skin shimmering in the bright light. Its presence casts a shadow along the trees, tall and looming, and its heels crunch a branch. Paul's breathing quickens behind me, catching before the echoing boom of a bark splits the silence. My jaws spread in a feral warning, paws grazing the ground. A pair of gleaming red eyes snap up, reflecting the glint of my open jaws as I hurl myself through the trees, breaking into the clearing of moonlight.

The demon hisses, spitting rage as it spins on its heel and darts into the trees.

I land with a heavy thud, the points of my teeth snapping shut in empty air.

Fuck!

Paul tramples the brush, snapping and gnashing his teeth in frustration. I turn over my shoulder, raising myself above him to pierce the hungry light in his eyes. Our gazes connect, and the forest stills. Paul pauses, his dark eyes fogging over as I invade his thoughts. Hot steam puffs out of my nostrils as I blast thought from Paul's head and fill it with a tingling white buzz. Paul's neck rolls, teeth still clicking as his eyes glaze over. His furred shoulders quake as his body weakens beneath my grip.

With a sharp bark, I push off of the ground and tear through the forest, leaping back into the heated pursuit of the demon shooting through the trees ahead. Paul charges after, sticking close to my flank as he thunders on blindly, led like a puppet under my control.

The ground flows like water beneath my paws, each scrape and claw of the sharp sticks and stones a caress on my toughened pads. I soar, my heart thundering in my ears as the blackened forest whips past, silenced. A tree springs in my path. I dodge it with a swift turn, my side grazing the solid trunk. Paul mimics with a sudden jump of his own, following the thoughts echoed in his emptied skull.

In heartbeats, the terrain roughens to bumpy rock and rolls of slopes and ravines, the greens of the forest dulling to greys and browns in the blink of an eye. I push forward without slowing, scanning the wispy brush and scrambled rock surrounding me as my senses fan out, searching. My ears prick, grabbing the sound of feet whispering over layers of crushed bracken.

A snarl spills through my curving lips as I charge the slope ahead, lunging off the bottom and pummeling toward the top. I jerk my head, sending Paul thundering around the incline without me. Flashing through the trees, I leap out on the edge of a ravine, instantly spotting the blur of grey mirroring the steady pattern of my paws in the trees below.

And just ahead of him, a dash of white streaks through the branches in a zigzag. The scent pushes deep into my nostrils, suffocating. I gnash my teeth, spittle flinging from my jaws. My front slams forward as my speed peaks, driving me deeper into uncharted territory.

I speak through Paul's jaws, releasing a crazed round of rabid barks and spits. My eyes hone in on the head of the demon ghosting through the trees as it twists around, the solid expression of determination split with panic. Its lanky legs pump harder as it pivots and flees for the ravine, spooked by the predator closing in.

Ooh, there we go. Fuck yes!

Yanking clean out of Paul's mind, I shoot ahead, leaving him to stumble behind, queasy as his own thoughts gush into his thoughts. I throw an order from my mind into his, sharp and quick.

Up on the slope! Stupid little 'sucker is gonna about to meet a big bad wolf or two.

Paul tosses his head, clearing this thought with a snuff. He blasts ahead, angling his shoulders to charge the ravine after the demon, his body heat flaming with the burn of the chase. On it!

I close my attention, shutting out the crunch of Paul's heavy paws and zeroing in on the rush of wind as the demon nears. The pounding bass of my heart thumps wildly in my ears as the pale shape lands crouched on the ravine, stilling as it lands. I spread my jaws, a howl searing through the wind, thundering in on my prey. The demon's head snaps up, cold reds meeting my own. The demon's irises slant, its jaw clenching. Its masculine figure zips into motion, darting up the nearest tree.

Bark rains in shavings beneath the sharp kicks grating against it as the demon scrambles into the branches. I throw my neck back, gathering my muscles before launching myself off the ground, leaping at the branches without missing a stride. The world ticks in slow motion, the straight edge of the ravine passing beneath me as the winds whisper through my scalp and skin. I suck in a breath just as my rough hands grip a branch with a crack. I plant my feet against the bare trunk of the tree, snapping my gaze up to the thick branches spread above me. The demon hops from branch to branch, intent on escape. I show my teeth, a deadly grin, before stepping on to the bent branch in my hold and beginning my heated climb.

Adrenaline punctures my veins, surging through my bloodstream and shocking my body with wave after wave. Heat shimmers down my spine, my breath exiting my dry mouth in light puffs. The demon's attempts grow more desperate. It shoots panicked glimpses over its shoulder, frantically looking for another branch to find. I laugh, a dry, bitter sort of noise, hearing the impatient grunts and rumbles of the wolf prowling at the base some thirty feet below.

And with a final snarl, my bare feet push off from the crook of the steady branch. I throw out an arm, reaching, before closing my hand around a rock of an ankle. Heat sears audibly on contact, a sheet of dry ice on living flame. The demon cries out, deep like a roar. I yank back, throwing my dead weight into empty air, tumbling and bringing the bastard down with me.

Branches snap and crack, the tree's claws lashing at my eyes and mouth, unable to mark my skin. I open my hand, bracing my shoulders as the ground rises to meet me. I land heavy on the solid form of my prey with a thud, rolling off in three quick spins.

I twist my head through the leaves, my lungs emptying as the glow around the edge of my vision pulses brighter. Paul's massive grey shoulders close in, pinning the demon to the tree. My neck rolls, trapped in the momentum of my final turn, though I catch a final glimpse of pleading crimson circles.

"No! Please, don't do thi—"

The shout cuts off, shattered by the thunder of animalistic snaps and snarls. I slow, my fingers digging into the damp soil before I push up on all fours. The energy of Paul's excitement connects into my mind just as I take in the sight of Paul over my kill, flesh flying like wood shavings beneath gnashing jaws.

My hot eyes blaze, set on the exposed ruff of Paul's neck. MINE!

Dark eyes dart in my direction. Paul hesitates for a second, his movements ceasing as he absorbs the heat simmering off my gaze like the sun's fiery beams gleaned off pavement. I rush the kill, snapping and growling as Paul reluctantly retreats with a longing glance.

Chuffing, I bring myself down on the marred, lifeless lump of ice. I peel off the demon's cracked, screaming expression, the beautiful echoes of the scream whispering in my beating eardrums. Every part of me buzzes like wire as I bow the body back and split it clean open, exposing rib and bone in a low bow. Clamping down on the throat split with billions of centimeter cracks, I ram my weight against the tree, sending a tremor deep in its trunk.

The demon's body cracks and falls apart, scattering in chunks.

It's not enough to satisfy. The wolf's hunger gnaws in my stomach, though she looks through my frozen gaze with triumph. I inhale, filling my lungs with the sweet scent of victory before tossing my head back and letting the wolf's voice roll into the sky, raising the announcement far into the heavens.

After it falls, I shake my fur clean and step over my kill, turning my attention on Paul. He stands perked a good distance away, his muzzle cracked in a cocky grin. Damn. Turned that thing to burger.

I rumble low and deep, my eyes slanting as my lips turn upward. Torch that bastard.

Paul doesn't question. He dips his head to tug the lighter free with his teeth, turning away to draw himself onto two legs. He makes quick work, muttering smug boasts to himself as he piles the white hunks of demon into a pile. He crouches, hitching his cutoffs into place on his hips before rolling his thumb over the lighter with a click. The orange light flickers in my pupils as it catches, setting the kill ablaze.

I stick around for a few breaths, just long enough to watch Paul step back and sling a bent arm over his nose to block out the stench of smoldering bloodsucker and the purple fumes to start to swirl into the silent sky above. As another breeze stirs, I slip into the shadows, disappearing into another world like the black dust of the demon's remains.

*Meanwhile*

Winds scream and howl over the snowy mountaintops, carrying blasts of icy air and pounding spurts of heavy snowfall. The dark sky above rages, burying the world in its furious storm. Far, far below, a tent shudders beneath the batters of precipitation, nearly torn apart by each gust of wind.

Edward holds his breath against the white-hot burn branded in his throat. He reaches across the rough fibers of the tent's floor, picking up the last sleeping bag available. A shadow crosses his expression as he gazes helplessly at the human girl shivering in a cocoon of blankets in front of him.

She's right. She always has been right. Victoria's taken her chance, and nearly killed her—nearly killed the only light in Edward's eternal hell and crushed him right here in this very clearing. Edward has been given the chance to destroy the threat and free them of their worries.

But it went to waste.

And now there's the possibility that the threat of Victoria will return.

Edward burns, remembering. A dash of fiery hair appearing out of thin air; a boy not much older than him, closing in, driven to kill him through the lies of false love. A feline-like dance of swipes and hisses and cracks. The stream of blood, wet, thick and scarlet through the spaces of pale fingers. The thirst shattering focus and leading to pull the trigger of a secondary instinct; the instinct to flee. Edward, standing alone in the clearing, a strip of his shirt wrapped securely around Bella's wound.

The relief—Bella has survived.

The dread—so has the threat that will come back, again and again and again, until she doesn't.

And after that, a storm to roll in out of nowhere and bury the distraught pair in harsh weather and the crushing knowledge of what could have been.

Edward's long, white fingers gingerly tuck the sleeping bag around Bella's collar. Her trembles shudder through the bundle around her, vibrating against his fingertips. Edward breathes in sharply, his nostrils flaring, and quickly darts into his place in the far corner of the tent.

Edward sinks into a crouch and braces his arms against the side of the tent, pushing them out as they press in closer, threatening to collapse. He studies the convulsing shape of Bella lost in the mountain of blankets, wincing internally at each shudder following her shallow breaths. Her brown gaze holds his for a long moment before her mouth opens, releasing a precious breath of warmth.

"V-Vic . . . Victoria," Bella chatters.

Edward's expression tightens. It's painful enough to watch her suffer, but to worry her further. . . He can't allow himself to think like that. She's so vulnerable—the wrong words could shatter her. He swallows thickly, composing himself before he speaks to her, his words smooth as glass.

"She's dead, Bella." Edward's mouth dries around the lie rolling effortlessly off his tongue. "The wolves got her."

Bella's shoulders relax into her bundle. Edward's neck loosens ever so slightly, his spine straightening as the weight of worry evaporates. It's wrong, but necessary. Her condition is deteriorating rapidly, and the risk of added stress could break her. Edward glances toward the exit, once again considering flight, but quickly shakes off the thought. The cold will grab her the second they hit the slopes.

In the silence, Edward watches her, feeling himself slowly cracking beneath the pressure of his love's pain. The rough surface of the tent wraps over his skin, fitting to his shape. A tremor rocks through Bella's body. Her eyes squeeze shut before snapping open again, lit with a near panic.

Bella slips a quivering hand free, grabbing the edge of the sleeping bag. It takes a few tries, but she manages to yank it away from her chin, giving her room to speak. "J-J-Jake?"

Sighing lightly, Edward reaches out to wrap the sleeping bags around her again. Icy air blasts through the sides of the tent, the unsteady poles creaking against its strength. Edward's jaw clenches as Bella shudders violently, her teeth clenching.

"He's fine, Bella. If you value any part of my sanity. . . Please rest."

Stubborn even while slowly turning to ice, Bella's fingers work the edge of the sleeping bag again. Edward's chest tightens as she wiggles her mouth through, gasping against the cold. Her eyes settle into him as she meets his gaze, her words striking his heart.

"I w-w-wou-wouldn't b-be like th-this if y-you would ch-ch-change m-me."

Edward pinches the bridge of his nose, exhaling slowly. He leans back on his heels, hunched below the tent's ceiling. "Bella. . ."

"P-Please. . . Th-There's n-nothing left, Ed-Edward."

Edward's darkening eyes flicker to the tent entrance. He scowls as he shifts his body over to hover over the shuddering shape of Bella, his body shielding the wind away from her. He reaches out to her, the pads of his fingers resting on the side of her cheek. "You don't want to be what I am," he whispers. The words come hushed, weighted with pained honesty.

Bella frowns, her body stiff as a board. She meets Edward's topaz stare, small tears swelling on the brims of her eyes. "P-Plea-Please?"

Edward studies Bella's bluing lips, stricken with cold. So fragile. Images attack his mind—Victoria's scarlet eyes, wild and hungry, watching from a perch in the branches just outside the tent. The Volturi, black cloaks and glittering teeth, swarming around Bella, helpless as powdery hands snatch her neck and snap it clean with a single twist. His Bella, lowered into the grave, abandoning him in his eternal hell. He snaps his eyes shut for the briefest second as the strongest of the pictures stretch behind his closed lids.

Bella and him, together, hand in hand. Bella, the same but different—stronger, brighter, and unstoppable. Edward and his Bella, safe and united in their forever at last, with the haunting threat of Bella's mortality no longer looming over their shoulders.

Closing his eyes, Edward exhales again. An anchor settles in the pit of his stomach, weighing him down with early regret. He swallows against the venom pooling around his tongue before opening his eyes and meeting Bella's dulling stare. "Fine. I will—I'll change you. But I need you to promise me one thing."

Edward shifts closer, hovering over her. Bloodlust rakes its blazing claws down the sides of his throat as he leans in, pressing his nose in the crook of her jaw. He inhales, deep and slow, before speaking soft words.

"Promise me that after you change, you'll stay with me. Forever."

A small smile curves Bella's chapped, cracked lips. Her pulse races beneath the pressure of Edward's touch. "F-Fore-ever," she murmurs.

Edward's throat thickens. "I love you, Bella Swan."

The whisper of Edward's words disappear, swept into a roaring wind. His eyes fall shut, his hand a tender comfort on the nape of Bella's neck. His lips spread over his teeth, and with a delicate care, he commits the strongest of all sins.

His teeth slide through Bella's neck like butter, latching deep in fragile flesh. A blush of warmth blooms on the pale skin caught in his jaws, and his vision wavers. A burst of sweet heaven coats his tongue and throat as he releases his poison, his venom clashing with the scarlet flooding his mouth. Edward's throat bobs, his hand pressing hard into the back of Bella's skull as crimson honey flourishes down his throat and spreads through him, heating every nerve in his dead body.

In a flash, reality strikes him. Edward's eyes snap open, his breathing catching as he throws himself into the side of the tent. His hands shoot up to catch the sides as they waver. After a heartbeat, Edward shifts, running his tongue over his lips to catch stray drops of scarlet.

Bella's blood.

Edward's chest throbs. His eyes gravitate toward the limp body tangled in the sleeping bags, but he can't bring himself to look. With each passing moment, the sensation of floating grows stronger beneath his feet, as if he has left his body and has been transported to another world full of inescapable regret. Only the pulsing of his throat, slick with the lingering flavor of Bella's crimson treasure, ties him to reality. Edward sucks in a deep breath through his teeth, dragging the dry, flat taste of the wintery air into his lungs, mixed in with the vile stench of something too strong to be brushed off.

Edward's head twists to the entrance of the tent. It flaps in the wind, the zipper torn, seeming to have been captured in the rough winds. Edward's senses heighten, fanning out across the clearing. He freezes, becoming a crouched statue as thoughts stricken with the weight of a dozen pounds of grief shock his thoughts.

In a sudden movement, Edward breezes through the flap, positioning himself outside the tent. His gaze scans the dark line of the trees. It isn't long before his searching stare lands on a watchful glittering glare.

The wolf, a cowering, brown little thing, stands hesitant, its head lowered as it peers through a tangle of snow-stripped twigs. Its nostrils twitch, drawing in the flavors of the winds with a short whistle. Edward tenses, instinctually settling into a defensive crouch. A hiss spits through his lips, warning. The wolf's lips twitch, its gaze hardening as it ponders, but there's no time to react. In a heartbeat, the wolf flags its ears and is gone in a kickback of clumsy paws and crushed brush, disappearing like the final sliver of amber in Edward's blackened eyes.

In the wolf's departure, the roar of the winds mutes. Edward's lungs close as an agonized scream shatters the last thread of sanity dangling in Edward's grasp. Bella's pleads and cries echo the scream, ripping through his skin and piercing his soul. Edward pushes a hand through his rusty hair, his tongue thick and fuzzy with the lingering taste of Bella coating his tongue.

With a clench of his jaw and a final darting glance over his taut shoulders, Edward ducks back into the tent to suffer through the thousand fiery hells with his mate. Even in the shelter of the tent, the warning howl rising over the trees in the depths of the dense forest sing above the pleading shouts, breaking Edward to pieces.