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Eternal Horizon

Summary:
It has been 17 years since Isabella Swan's death, and young Adora has moved to Forks igniting gossip everywhere she turns. As Adora slowly unravels the clues that lead her down a path riddled with even more questions, she begins to realize that it seems to be more than coincidence, drawing her farther away from the life she knows, and into a world, she does not understand. The closer she gets to the truth, the more her own destiny becomes irrevocably entwined with the girl that haunts the small town. She wonders why everything that's happening revolves around the mysterious Edward Cullen, and why he seems to hold the key to the answers she's spent a lifetime searching for.


Notes:
I consider this story to be pretty much the unofficial 5th installment of the Twilight Series, it takes place after Breaking Dawn, it is 100% canon, which means that it does NOT deviate from the storyline of the books, although in the first few chapters it doesn't seem like it is anything close to being like the original Twilight series, but trust me, it is.


11. The Meadow

Rating 0/5   Word Count 22844   Review this Chapter

A/N: So, evidently to leave a review you have to click up here ^^^ next to the chapter name where is says rating and word count. (I just figured this out.) On another note actually related to this chapter, The Meadow is super and I mean SUPER long. Like 45 pages long...why, you ask? Well, because I'm obsessive and don't know when to stop. Because as I was writing it, five pages turned into ten, ten turned into twenty, twenty turned into forty...you get the picture. This chapter got wildly out of control. My poor yet brilliant readers at FanFiction.net and over at Twilighted had to wait weeks because I broke it up into three parts...they haven't even read the last 25 pages yet. So, to be less evil to you all, I'm putting it all together and then the next chapter will lead up to the reunion. To those who e-mailed me, I got them, I will reply, but I'm sort of swamped by life right now. Thank you for your awesome words. Check out Eternal Horizon on the other two sites, just search for it by name, it's easier.

In preparation for this chapter you need a certain song-I promise it is the most perfect soundtrack to this scene-I had it on repeat while I wrote it. It's haunting and beautiful. It's called ‘Can't take my eyes off you' by Cary Brothers. Here are the lyrics:

"I've come to tell you all the truth

Though you always had the proof of it

My arms will grow

Chest expanding

Of all the boys you could have landed

Why'd it have to be me?

You...can't take my eyes off of you

You...can't take my eyes off of you

Wisdom tells me to turn away

Broken once, it's all the same

My arms will grow

Chest expanding

Of all the boys you could have landed

Why'd it have to be me?

You...can't take my eyes off of you

You...can't take my eyes off of you"

I'm sort of begging here, but please, please, listen to it first, or put it on repeat and play it as you read, at a soft volume or loud, but it will haunt you. I love it. I just want you to be in the moment with me-with Edward. It sums Edward up so perfectly ‘Of all the boys you could have landed, why'd it have to be me?'

I'll admit that this chapter contains alot of quotes from the books-in fact, I'd say 80% of it is comprised of bits and pieces of the books-and if you're as in love with them as I am, you will remember them and understand their purpose. By the way...I hope you've read Midnight Sun. ; ) They're what made me fall in love with Edward and Bella's love story. You know, the important things-the ones that were wrongfully left out of the movies, which is why I theorized that the movies didn't hold the same magic. Damn you, Melissa Rosenberg! Okay-not really, but you get my point. So, I give Stephanie Meyer the credit for this chapter-not me, I'm just repeating the story we all already know and love. I hope you like it.

Enjoy!

I ached to be human as the nearly dying sun over the horizon began its descent. The desire to feel my heart beating furiously like a war drum inside of me gripped me fiercely. Instead there was a dull hint of pressure—the imagined sensation of staccato beats thumping erratically in my stone chest—the ghost of my humanity lingering in my body somehow. Even after a century, I still felt the hollow ache of it.

I was waiting for her. I knew somehow that she would come to me here.

The warmth of the sun was fading, bright orange as it began to descend upon the horizon, but it was the perfect moment as the sky began its transformation—the soft blue blending into the warm orange glow, vibrant pinks and violets—mirroring the summer wildflowers that surrounded me as I sat staring unblinkingly as the world continued to turn. I felt the warm beams of light reflecting through the atmosphere on my stone skin as they filtered through the tops of the trees, the line of their shadow steadily approaching me.

“It’s almost twilight.”

The warmth of the sun was incomparable to the sound of her voice as it ran along my skin, like the hum of electricity. I could feel her there beside me staring up into the horizon of the mountains beyond the trees, mirroring me. I slowly turned, my eyes falling upon the beauty of her basked in the glow of the setting sun. Her hair shined with its warmth, reflecting in the soft curls that fell to frame her face. Her eyes were closed, her face serene as she turned her face up to the sky. Even the translucence of her pale skin, leaning back, bracing herself on her delicate palms behind her as the dying sun shone through her to the flowers beneath didn’t diminish her beauty to me.

Her soft pink lips parted. “What was it you told me once?” She murmured with a soft smile. “About twilight?” She opened one eye to peer mischievously at me for a small moment before closing it again.

I furrowed my brows, not understanding why she wanted me to say it. “I don’t remember.” I frowned, leaning back to rest on my elbows so that I could watch her.

You remember everything.” She mumbled wryly a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips.

My hallucination was teasing me now?

I sighed and yielded to her. Even in death, I could deny her nothing. “It’s the safest time of day for us. The easiest time, but also the saddest—in a way—the end of another day, the return of the night.” I whispered and watched as her eyes fluttered open and she slowly turned to watch me, blinking curiously at me. Her brown eyes were clear and bright, despite their transparency. It was the end of another day and the beginning of another night—without her.

After a long pause she twisted and stretched out upon the soft bed of grass and flowers, laying on her side to stare at me, propping up her head on one elbow and sighed in frustration. “Darkness is so predictable, don’t you think?”

I blinked at her then. Of all the conversations that my mind could have conjured for us to have, why this one?

I miss this.” She shrugged as if to answer my silent question. “I miss ‘us’, just being ‘us’—talking about everything and nothing.” Her smile slowly fell then. “There’s no harm in remembering what happiness felt like, Edward. You’ve been remembering all of the bad stuff for so long…I just…I just miss being happy.” I blinked at her as she stared right through me. “I miss how it was—like when we first met.

“Okay,” I nodded, “What do you want to remember?”

She chewed on her bottom lip as she rolled her gaze upwards in contemplation. I wanted to feel the way my heartbeat should have sprang to life and spiked at the sight of her doing that, the way it would have, had I been human and my heart could still beat. She was still thinking, a small ‘v’ forming between her brows as she concentrated. It was maddening and thrilling all the same, that even when I imagined her I still didn’t know what she was thinking or what she would say next. It was just like it was in the beginning.

“How easily frustrated I am.” I sighed recalling my words from our first time in our meadow and her lips slowly pulled into a delighted grin as her eyes fell back to meet mine—their brown depths were shining.

See,” She implored me happily, “You do remember everything.”

I frowned at that. “I wish I didn’t.”

Her grin faded abruptly then. “Why?” Her voice was sad.

“There are some things that I wish I could forget.” I whispered as my grief gripped me fiercely.

Then why don’t you forget me then?” Her words were serious.

“I never want to forget you.”

Then don’t think about those things, just remember me.” She murmured softly.

“I always remember you.” I told her.

Like our first day here in our meadow?” Her brows rose in reminder.

“Yes.” I nodded.

I miss you being like you were that day.” She admitted timidly. “You were so…happy.” She looked down bashfully. “I was happy—really happy—too.” She slid her eyes back to meet mine shyly. “I thought you were so beautiful in the sun…I still do.”

I felt my whole body soften. “So, you’ve told me.” I reminded her in amusement—recalling the dozens of times when she had said those words—as I raised my hand to tilt my wrist into one of the streams of dying light as it reflected the sun in thousands of tiny ruby tinged sparkles, they glittered off of my marble skin fracturing the glow of the sun upon her and through her dancing over the flowers beneath her. I watched as her eyes were held in fascination. She reached out to trace the outline of my wrist in the air in wonderment, never touching me. I missed the way she used to look at me like that. Her eyes turned back to scan my face then, her hand falling back to her side and she erupted into a sudden fit of giggles.

I quirked a brow at her in interest. “What’s funny?”

Well, it’s a little silly isn’t it?” She smiled secretively at me from beneath her lashes.

“What is?”

You spent all of that time in the beginning, expended so much energy trying to convince me of how much of a monster you were…and it turns out that you sparkle.” The giggles resumed. “Not exactly up to par with the scary vampire spiel.”

I rolled my eyes and collapsed to the ground with a soft thud. My hallucination was a perfect replica so I would be, too. “Bella, you are utterly absurd.” I mumbled in exasperation—repeating the rude comment that I’d made about her during one of our earliest conversations as I stared up at the darkening sky. I felt where my mind began to flow then—back to the beginning—to the dozens of times when I had tried to warn her away from me. The sound of her laughter evaporated.

Edward, don’t.” She warned me sadly.

“I should have tried harder.” I swallowed bitterly.

There was nothing you could have done—nothing that you could have said.” She murmured stubbornly from beside me. “None of it would have changed a thing. I still would have fallen in love with you.”

I turned to look at her sharply then. “And look where loving me got you. You’re dead, Bella—you’re dead because of me.” I spat bitterly. My words came out harsher than I had intended, but the harshness wasn’t directed towards her, it was directed towards myself. “I should have never returned to Forks—I should have stayed away from you from the moment I met you, but my pride wouldn’t let me.” The horror stricken expression on her face sent a sharp searing pain slicing through me, but it was short lived as her face darkened angrily.

“Maybe you should have stayed away or maybe you should have just killed me when you wanted to—but you didn’t!” She muttered darkly. “So if you feel that way, then when you came back you should have just spared your stupid pride and just let that stupid van squish me!” She ground out angrily and the image of her suddenly evaporated, rippling like the surface of water.

I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut as guilt washed through me making me pound the back of my head into the soft grass with several soft thuds, berating myself. Good job, Cullen, you’ve somehow managed to piss off even the hallucination of your dead wife.

“Bella, come back,” I pleaded with a sigh, sitting up fluidly to scan the meadow fearfully. “I’m sorry.” I whispered. And I was sorry—not for the words themselves—because they were the truth, but because I had somehow hurt her. Silence echoed loudly in the emptiness. I waited, but she didn’t reappear. I pulled myself upwards to my feet, turning slowly to scan the edge of the meadow, panic starting to build in me as my eyes searched desperately for her.

She wanted me to remember our past…so I did.

“I tried to tell you,” I whispered to the emptiness. “How many times did I say it?” I sighed out loud shaking my head—as if she were somewhere, somehow listening—remembering my words—

“It’s better if we’re not friends.” I had told her. “Trust me.”

Her eyes had tightened, her teeth clenched together—both of us remembering when I had implored her to trust me once before, begging her to let go of her need to know how I had been able to save her from that ridiculous van in the parking lot, promising to explain it to her—but I had gone back on that promise.

“It’s too bad you didn’t figure that out earlier,” She had said angrily. “You could have saved yourself all this regret.”

Her words had shocked me.

“Regret? Regret for what?” I’d demanded.

And then had come her words, uttering a very similar statement, just as my hallucination had moments ago, with the same exact amount of ire—

“For not just letting that stupid van squish me!” She had snapped before.

Back then, her words had frozen me in stunning anger, where as this time they had only filled me with guilt for my inability—once again—to keep from hurting her.

“Regret!” I scoffed with a frown. “You thought in the beginning that I had regretted saving your life.” I sighed softly. “I remember wondering how could you have been thinking that then, especially when saving your life had been the one acceptable thing I’d done since I’d met you—the one thing that I’d not been ashamed of. The one and only thing that had made me glad in that moment that I existed at all.” I’d been fighting to keep her alive since the first moment I’d caught her scent.

I had furiously marveled over how she could have thought that of me—how she could have dared question my one good deed in all of that mess.

“You think I regret saving your life?” I’d asked.

“I know you do,” she’d retorted.

Her estimation of my intentions had left me seething. “You don’t know anything.”

“It’s better if we’re not friends.” I repeated out loud to the emptiness. “I told you that.” I reminded her. “I’ve never regretted saving you that day, Bella—I never will—but even then, I knew that I needed to make you understand, somehow, that I wasn’t good thing for you—that I was the absolute worst thing for you.” I had tried to be honest with her—repeatedly—despite the pain it had caused me in doing so.

I saidit would be better if we weren’t friends, not that I didn’t want to be.” I had corrected her—I had wanted to be her friend…in the beginning at least, but by then—the night before in fact—I had drowned so far in love with her that my statement was almost some form of a lie. In truth, I had wanted far more from her than that—more than I had ever dreamed would be within the realm of possibility—more than I had any right to dare to hope for. I’d tried to warn her—hoping that she would have understood my meaning, because I had been unable to leave her, and a small part of me had hoped that maybe she would have been smart enough to leave me—before it was too late. How could I have known that by then, it was already far too late?

It would be more…prudent for you not to be my friend.” But staring into the melted chocolate depths of her eyes in that moment, I had lost my hold on light. “But I’m tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella.” The words had burned with too much passion—too much truth—I hated them, because looking back on it all, I hadn’t tried hard at all, not as hard as I could have— not as hard as I should have.

Her breathing had stopped, and in the second it took for it to restart, it had worried me. I’d thought that I had frightened her.

“Knowing what I know now, I realize that my words had thrilled you then, in a way that they shouldn’t have.” I felt sorrow pulse through me. “I had paved my own way into your heart unintentionally. I was a monster.” I hissed darkly.

I had renewed my intentions for speaking to her in the first place then—asking her again if she would go to Seattle with me—before she could distract me again.

Moments before she had asked me, “Why won’t you leave me alone?

And, believe me, I had wanted to say. I’ve tried.

Oh, and also, I’m wretchedly in love with you.

“And I was wretchedly in love with you.” I grimaced as I remembered having that thought, cursing myself for it. “But still, I should have left you alone, and believe me…I did try.” I implored the silence, unsure whether I was trying to convince my hallucination or myself. Oh, I hadtried all right, I just hadn’t tried hard enough, I was sure of it.

Her words and my train of thought had reminded me of my purpose then—why I couldn’t leave her alone—selfishly wanting to know then if her rejection of her many human suitors had applied to me as well.

But then she had nodded and my whole world had opened up because she had said yes.

She had said yes to me.

Immediately my conscience had sliced through me—wondering what her acceptance of my offer would cost her.

I knew now what it would cost her—what it had cost her…

Everything.

You really should stay away from me,” I had warned her. Wondering if she had heard me? Wondering then if she would escape the future that I had been threatening her with and if there was anything that I could do to save her from me?

“But I couldn’t save you from me, not when I couldn’t even save you from yourself.” I sighed and searched the meadow again. I’m tired of trying to stay away from you. I winced remembering those foolish words—complete and utter weakness. Tired of trying to stay away from her? I didn’t get ‘tired’, I thought darkly. No, what I had been describing—what the truth was—is that my attempt at staying away from her had been utterly pathetic—unforgivable, in fact. I hadn’t really tried at all when I looked back on it. “I should have tried harder.” I whispered to the nothingness.

Well…” I had said hesitantly in response to her surprise in finding me sitting alone that very same day in the cafeteria, waiting for her. “I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

“To this day I have absolutely no idea what made me say that,” I admitted out loud, but a pang of shame washed through me as I remembered it. Thoroughly, indeed. I had pretty much campaigned for my deserving of hell by my inability—and blatant refusal—to stay away from her. “My words didn’t faze you one bit though, so I had tried again.”

I told you,” I had reminded her. “I got tired of trying to stay away from you. So I’m giving up.”

If I had only known then that I was forfeiting her life in doing so.

Giving up?”

Yes—giving up trying to be good.” And, apparently, I had given up trying to be casual as well, but it was a lie even then, I had never been good. I’m just going to do what I want now, and let the chips fall where they may.”

And they had fallen—like the blade of an ax of an executioner—I had gambled with her life, and I had…lost.

I hated myself as I remembered that moment and my selfishness. Though I had tried once again—more insistent this time—to get through to her when she had asked me—

So, in plain English, are we friends now?”

I had pondered that for a second. “Friends…” I had repeated it, testing it. I hadn’t liked the sound of that. It hadn’t seemed like enough to describe what I had felt for her then—nothing had ever seemed like enough.

Or not,” she had mumbled, looking embarrassed.

Well, we can try, I suppose. But I’m warning you now that I’m not a good friend for you.

It was true.

I hadn’t been a good friend for her—I hadn’t been a good anything for her…ever.

I remembered how I had waited for her response, torn in two—wishing she would finally hear and understand, all the while thinking I might die if she did.

I wish I had died then and I wish she would have actually listened to me.

Her heart had beaten faster then, I had always been so infinitely aware of that sound. I missed it now, after nearly two decades without it.

You say that a lot.” She had commented.

Because it had been true.

Yes, because you’re not listening to me,” I had said, thinking then that it had been too intense. Now I was convinced that I hadn’t been intense enough. “I’m still waiting for you to believe it. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid me.”

I groaned to myself. “But you wouldn’t listen—I tried to explain it to you, as best I could. Remember, Bella?” I whispered to my absent hallucination of her, recalling the rest of that memory—

I’m trying to figure out what you are.” She’d admitted looking at me curiously.

I’d held the smile on my face, locking my features that way, all while panic had twisted through my body. Despite my fear I’d managed to pluck up enough courage to coerce her into sharing a few of her theories about me, quiet sure that they couldn’t have been worse than the truth—no matter what she’d come up with—nothing was worse than that…and she’d been quite sure that I would laugh at them. Though, I hadn’t been able to imagine her coming up with anything that I would have found even remotely humorous at the time.

Thankfully, I’d been wrong about my reaction. Her theories had proved to be amusing—along with being utterly ridiculous—and well off the mark from the truth.

I had laughed—because she had thought I was a superhero—and that had upset her.

I’ll figure it out eventually,” she’d threatened. My laughter had evaporated as her words sobered me, so sure that when she did know the truth, that she would run.

I wish you wouldn’t try,” My voice had been pained as I’d said it, almost pleading.

Because…?” Her brown eyes had clouded with confusion.

Because I hadn’t been able to bear the thought of losing her—of having her look at me the way I thought at the time that she would have—with horror.

I knew better than to have expected that now.

I had sighed and met her gaze knowing full well that I owed her honesty. Still, I’d tried to smile, to make my words sound less threatening than I should have. “What if I’m not a superhero? What if I’m the bad guy?”

Her eyes had widened by a fraction, her lips falling slightly apart. “Oh,” she had said, and then, after another second, “I see.”

I thought that she had finally heard me—had finally understood my warning.

Do you?” I had asked, working to conceal my agony.

You’re dangerous?” She had guessed. Her breathing hitched, and her heart had raced.

I hadn’t been able to answer her—I’d been afraid that it was going to be my last moment with her, wondering if she would run then.

I’d wondered then, if I would be allowed to tell her that I loved her before she left—afterwards concerned that that would have frightened her more.

Her reactions back then made more sense to me now.

But not bad,” she’d whispered, certainty had been clear in her voice as she’d shaken her head in denial, no fear in her warm eyes. “No, I don’t believe that you’re bad.

Agony—so acute and crippling—swept through me now, unlike then.

I had never deserved her faith in me.

Not then, and certainly not now.

You’re wrong,” I had breathed painfully.

Of course I was bad. Hadn’t I rejoiced then, that she had thought better of me than I deserved? If I were a good person, I would have stayed away from her.

I had stretched my hand across the table, reaching for the lid to her lemonade bottle as an excuse. She hadn’t flinched away from my suddenly closer hand. She really hadn’t been afraid of me. Not yet, I had thought in vain.

She never had feared me as she should have, because I hadn’t tried hard enough to make her.

“I should have tried harder.” I repeated those words like a mantra. The story of my life with her—I should have always tried harder.

I hung my head in shame, clenching my eyes shut as the rest of the memory continued behind my eyes—

I’d spun the lid like a top, watching it instead of her. I hated that I’d missed a moment of her beautiful face back then. My thoughts had been in a snarl.

Run, Bella, run. I’d thought, but I hadn’t been able to make myself say the words out loud.

“I should have done the right thing. I should have said them. I should have made you run from me.” I whispered intensely peering up at the vibrant sky.

She’d jumped to her feet then, and before I’d heard her say, “We’re going to be late,” I had worried that she’d somehow heard my silent warning, making me fight to hide the panic in my eyes.

I’m not going to class today.” I’d told her.

Why not?

Because I don’t want to kill you, I’d thought bitterly.

They were blood typing in Biology that day.

It’s healthy to ditch class now and then.” I’d half-lied, giving her a tight smile, and forcing myself to avoid thinking of her blood typing.

Well, I’m going,” she’d said. That hadn’t surprised me. She was responsible—she always did the right thing…even until the very end.

She had always been my opposite, now as well as then.

I’ll see you later then,” I’d said, trying for casual again, as I’d stared down at the whirling lid, all the while wanting to say, And, by the way, I adore you…in frightening, dangerous ways.

She had hesitated, and I’d hoped for one selfish moment that she would have stayed with me after all.

But then the bell had rung and she had hurried away.

I’d waited until she was gone, and then I’d put the lid in my pocket—a souvenir of that most consequential conversation—and had walked through the rain to my car.

“Yes, I remember everything.” I admitted softly, lowering my eyes to the flowers that trembled in the warm air. “Everything I ever said to you—every moment that I was with you—I remember it all.” Slowly I reached in my pocket to reveal that very same bottle cap, faded and worn over the decades from wear, turning it like a coin in between my fingers. I had kept it because it was a reminder of what had once been—a symbol of those early months of our blossoming young love—a talisman then to comfort me in my loneliness in the event that I was condemned to never be worthy of her love…which had been always.

“Which is why I should have tried harder to stay away from you in the beginning—to avoid you all together,” I hissed through my teeth. “Because I just couldn’t seem to force myself to do the right thing when I was with you—whatever it would take to make you see the truth and make you stay away from me. When I was with you, my resolve never stood a chance—it crumbled every time I looked into your eyes—so the right thing to do would have been to have never returned to Forks in the first place.” My voice sounded strangled at the thought of it. “But it was too late by then, because I hadn’t been strong enough to stay away.” I sighed remembering when I’d run from the small town, after the first time I’d smelled her scent, fleeing to Denali.

“The sky above me had been clear, brilliant with stars, glowing blue in some places, and yellow in others. The stars had created majestic, swirling shapes against the black universe—an awesome sight. Exquisitely beautiful.” I described it out loud, garnering some secret pleasure at the thought that perhaps somewhere…I was sharing this with her. “Or rather, it should have been exquisite. Would have been, if I’d been able to really see it.” I smiled wryly to myself. “It wasn’t getting any better then. Six days had passed, six days I’d hidden there in the empty Denali wilderness, but I had been no closer to freedom than I had been since the first moment that I’d caught your scent.” I imagined the sky from back then, saw it over the twilight of the sky here.

“When I had stared up at the jeweled sky, it had been as if there were an obstruction between my eyes and their beauty. The obstruction had been a face, just an unremarkable human face to me at the time, but I hadn’t quite been able to banish it from my mind.” I remembered the image of that face and sighed. I left the part about Tanya out of my recollection—sure that even my hallucination of Bella wouldn’t like the reminder of the one female vampire who had shown a preference towards me once upon a time. “At first I hadn’t been decided upon where I would go next because I hadn’t been able to think of one place on the entire planet that had held any interest for me. There had been nothing that I had wanted to see or do. Because, no matter where I’d gone, I would not have been going to anywhere—I would have only been running from something—and I hated that—because when had I become such a coward?” My mouth twisted angrily.

“My pride had gotten the better of me.” I frowned. “I’d tried to embrace the vision of myself as someone who faced things head on. It had been pleasant to think of myself that way again because I’d never doubted my courage, my ability to face difficulty, at least not before that horrible hour in a high school biology class six days prior.” I grimaced at the reminder. “I could see it then, I could see myself leaving. Being strong enough to go back to the one place where I had wanted to be.” I closed my eyes in agony. “But it was weakness, not strength that had compelled me home.” I whispered opening my eyes to gaze sadly back up at the sky. “When I’d finally made up my mind, I had been suddenly anxious to be on my way, but instead of going immediately I had gazed back up at the stars for one more moment, trying to see past the face in my head.“

“Between me and the brilliant lights in the sky, a pair of bewildered chocolate-brown eyes had stared back at me, seeming to ask what this decision would mean for you. Of course, I couldn’t have been sure if that had really been the information your curious eyes had sought. Even in my imagination, I couldn’t hear your thoughts, just like now.” I frowned at that. “Your eyes had continued to question me, and an unobstructed view of the stars had continued to elude me.” I sighed just as I had then. “With a heavy sigh, I gave up then, and got to my feet.” I shook my head angrily.

“I gave up.” I repeated it pitifully. “I hadn’t been strong enough even in the beginning to stay away from you, and once I returned it became even more difficult to leave you again—impossible really—even after I had saved you from that van.” I sighed. “Even when I knew that it could be dangerous for you and for me if I were to stay. That night, after Alice had seen that I would someday love you, I had resigned myself to ignoring you—all in an attempt to save you from a future that I refused to condemn you to by being in your life.”

“Did I love you? I did not think so then. Not yet. Alice’s glimpses of that future had stuck with me, though, and I could see how easy it would be to fall into loving you. Could see that it would be exactly like falling—effortless.” The memory bewildered me, even now. “Not letting myself love you was the opposite of falling—it was pulling myself up a cliff-face, hand over hand, the task as grueling as if I had no more than mortal strength, but still, I had tried—all the while battling how much I wanted to be with you, and to know you.” I sighed remembering my torture.

“More than a month had passed since that day, and every day it had gotten harder. That had made no sense to me—I kept waiting to get over it, to have it get easier.” I furrowed my brows recalling my frustration. “That must have been what Alice had meant when she’d predicted that I would not be able to stay away from you. She had seen the escalation of the pain. But I could handle pain.” I said firmly. “I would not destroy you future. If I was destined to love you, then wasn’t avoiding you the very least I could do? Avoiding you was about the limit of what I could bear, though.” I grimaced. “I could pretend to ignore you, and never look your way. I could pretend that you were of no interest to me. But that was the extent, just pretense and not reality.” It made me feel twisted inside remembering how it had felt trying to keep myself from her.

“I still hung on every breath you took, every word you said.” I sighed. “I lumped my torments into four categories.” I admitted bitterly. “The first two were familiar. Your scent and your silence. Or, rather—to take the responsibility on myself where it belongs—my thirst and my curiosity.” I corrected. “The thirst had been the most primal of my torments. It was my habit then to simply not breathe at all in Biology. Of course, there were always the exceptions—when I’d had to answer a question or something of the sort, and I would need my breath to speak. Each time I’d tasted the air around you, it had been the same as the first day—fire and need and brutal violence desperate to break free. It had been hard to cling even slightly to reason or restraint in those moments. And, just like that first day, the monster in me would roar, so close to the surface.” I shuddered remembering it.

“The curiosity had been the most constant of my torments. The question was never out of my mind, What is she thinking now? When I heard you quietly sigh. When you twisted a lock of hair absently around your finger. When you threw your books down with more force than usual. When you rushed to class late. When you tapped your foot impatiently against the floor. Each movement caught in my peripheral vision had been a maddening mystery. When you spoke to the other human students, I analyzed your every word and tone. Were you speaking your thoughts, or what you thought you should say?” The question was reigniting that old curiosity in me. “It had often sounded to me like you were trying to say what your audience had expected, and this had reminded me of my family and our daily life of illusion—we were better at it than you were. Unless I had been wrong about that, just imagining things. But why would you have had to play a role? You were one of them—a human teenager.”

I gritted my teeth as I thought of my next words. “Mike Newton had been the most surprising of my torments then. Who would have ever dreamed that such a generic, boring mortal could have been so infuriating? To be fair, I should have felt some gratitude to the annoying boy; more than the others, because he’d kept you talking.” I smiled bitterly at that. “I learned so much about you through those conversations—I had still been compiling my list of your character traits—but, contrarily, Mike’s assistance with that project only aggravated me more.” I muttered sourly. “I didn’t want Mike to be the one that unlocked your secrets. I had wanted to do that.”

“It helped that he never noticed your small revelations, your little slips. He knew nothing about you. He’d created a Bella in his head that didn’t exist—a girl just as generic as he was. He hadn’t observed the unselfishness and bravery that set you apart from other humans, he didn’t hear the abnormal maturity of your spoken thoughts. He didn’t perceive that when you spoke of your mother, that you sounded like a parent speaking of a child rather than the other way around—loving, indulgent, slightly amused, and fiercely protective.” I smiled warmly at that. “He didn’t hear the patience in your voice when you feigned interest in his rambling stories, and didn’t guess at the kindness behind that patience. Through your conversations with Mike, I was able to add the most important quality to my list, the most revealing of them all, as simple as it was rare.” I sighed. “You were good.”

“All the other things added up to that whole—kind and self-effacing and unselfish and loving and brave—you were good through and through. Those helpful discoveries did not warm me to the boy, however. The possessive way he viewed you—as if you were an acquisition to be made—provoked me almost as much as his crude fantasies about you. He was becoming more confident of you, too, as the time passed, for you seemed to prefer him over those he considered his rivals—Tyler Crowley, Eric Yorkie, and even, sporadically, myself. He would routinely sit on your side of our table before class began, chattering at you, encouraged by your smiles. Just polite smiles, I told myself.” I smiled, but it was a tight smile.

“All the same, I had frequently amused myself by imagining backhanding him across the room and into the far wall… It probably wouldn’t have injured him fatally…” I assured her, wherever she was. “Mike didn’t often think of me as a rival. After the accident, he’d worried that you and I would bond from the shared experience, but obviously the opposite had resulted. Back then, he had still been bothered that I’d singled you out over your peers for attention. But then I had ignored you just as thoroughly as the others, and he had grown complacent. I wondered what you were thinking then? Did you welcome his attention?”

I shook my head reaching up to wash my palm over the marble skin of my face in frustration. “The last of my torments, the most painful: your indifference. As I ignored you, you ignored me. You never tried to speak to me again. For all I knew then, you never thought about me at all.” That memory made my chest ache. “This might have driven me mad—or even broken my resolution to change the future—except that you sometimes stared at me like you had before. I didn’t see it for myself, as I could not allow myself to look at you, but Alice always warned us when you were about to stare; the others were still wary of your problematic knowledge.” I grimaced remembering the fight I’d had with my family the night I’d saved her—the worst fight we’d ever had.

“It eased some of the pain that you gazed at me from across a distance, every now and then. Of course, you could have just been wondering what kind of a freak I was.” I muttered wryly. “I paid attention to how often you looked my direction. It pleased me, though it should not have, that the frequency did not decline as the time passed. I didn’t know what it meant, but it made me feel better. I wasn’t in a very good mood then—tenser than I let any of my family see. Only Jasper had been aware of how tightly wound I was, feeling the stress emanate out of me with his unique ability to both sense and influence the moods of others. He didn’t understand the reasons behind the moods, though, and—since I was constantly in a foul mood those days—he had disregarded it.”

“Then the day came when I had spoken to you again. That day had been a hard one. Harder than the day before, as was the pattern. Mike Newton, the odious boy whom I could not allow myself to rival, was going to ask you on a date.” My teeth clenched. Even now, jealousy pulsed through me. “I remember when he had sat down on our table that day—comfortable with long familiarity—that I had imagined the sound it would have made if his body had hit the opposite wall with enough force to break most of his bones.” I frowned. “It had been a childish thought, brought on by my envy and rage.” I admitted apologetically. “An unexpected, intense fury made my hands clench into fists as he had asked you, and then in that moment when you hesitated to answer him, I had seen the future more clearly than Alice ever had.”

That memory still came to me in stunning clarity. “I had realized that you might say yes to Mike’s unspoken question then, and you might not, but either way, someday soon, you would say yes to someone. You were lovely and intriguing, and human males were not oblivious to that fact. Whether you would settle for someone in that lackluster crowd, or wait until you were free from Forks, the day would come that you would say yes.” I sighed. “In the end you would say ‘yes’ to me, but I hadn’t known that then.” I frowned though part of me wanted to rejoice in that fact. I beat it back. “No, then I saw your life as I had before—college, career…love, marriage. I saw you on your father’s arm again, dressed in gauzy white, your face flushed with happiness as you moved to the sound of Wagner’s march.” My voice was strangled, even now, the thought of her with another tortured me.

“The pain had been more than anything I’d ever felt before. A human would have had to have been on the point of death to feel such pain—a human would not have lived through it. And not just pain, but outright rage. The fury had ached for some kind of physical outlet. Though that insignificant, undeserving boy might not have been the one that you would say yes to, I had still yearned to crush his skull in my hand, to let him stand as a representative for whoever it would be.” Fury ripped through me. It would be me, and could I go back and crush myself for what I would someday do to her, I would have. “I hadn’t understood that emotion—it had been such a tangle of pain and rage and desire and despair. I had never felt it before—I couldn’t put a name to it then.” I sighed and tried to calm myself.

“Finally, you rejected him and his hopes had plummeted. I would have enjoyed that under other circumstances, but I had been so lost in the aftershock of the pain—and the remorse for what the pain and rage had done to me. Alice had been right. I hadn’t ever been strong enough and that moment had been my undoing.” I sighed. “In that moment, Alice probably had been watching the future spin and twist, becoming mangled again, and would that please her?” I frowned. “When Mike had glanced at me after your rejection of him, suspicious for the first time in many weeks, I had realized that I had betrayed my interest—my head had been inclined in your direction. The wild envy in his thoughts—envy for whoever you had preferred to him—had suddenly put a name to my unnamed emotion. I had been jealous, realizing it only just then.” I frowned in chagrin.

“Through all the remorse and anger, I had felt relief at your words. Suddenly, I began considering my rivals then.” I almost laughed as I recalled my plotting. “I had been quite fickle back then.” I admitted. “And slightly unstable, I remember Mike’s rude words. It had offended me that he had used a tone like that with you. I’d had to bite back a growl.” I suppressed a chuckle. “As I continued listening to your conversation with the idiotic boy, the curiosity had not been as vicious as it would have been before—now that I had been fully intending to find out the answers to everything. I would know the wheres and whys of those new revelations soon enough.” I said it almost proudly, but I should not be proud of that awful moment of weakness of mine. “Mike had been so demoralized by your rejection that I had almost felt pity for him. Almost.” I smiled slyly. “But then he had dropped his eyes from you, cutting off my view of your face in his thoughts.” That made me frown in irritation.

“I wasn’t going to tolerate that. So I had turned to read your face myself, for the first time in more than a month. It had been a sharp relief to allow myself that, like a gasp of air to long-submerged human lungs. Your eyes had been closed, and your hands pressed against the sides of your face. Your shoulders curved inward defensively. You’d shaken your head ever so slightly, as if you’d been trying to push some thought from your mind. It had been frustrating. Fascinating.” I felt the awe in my own voice. She had always brought wonderment out in me, my admiration and curiosity. “When your eyes finally, slowly opened, you had looked at me immediately, perhaps sensing my gaze. You had stared up into my eyes with the same bewildered expression that had haunted me for so long. I hadn’t felt the remorse or the guilt or the rage in that second. I knew that they would come again, and come soon, but for that one moment I rode a strange, jittery high. As if I had triumphed, rather than lost.” I said it bitterly, knowing all too well that that moment had been no triumph at all, but instead an unforgivable failure on my part.

“You hadn’t looked away, though I had stared with inappropriate intensity, trying vainly to read your thoughts through your liquid brown eyes. They had been full of questions, rather than answers.” That memory made the tension in my body soften. “I had seen the reflection of my own eyes, seen that they were black with thirst. It had been nearly two weeks since my last hunting trip; that had not been the safest day for my will to crumble. But the blackness did not seem to frighten you. You still didn’t look away, and a soft, devastatingly appealing pink began to color your skin. I wondered what you were thinking then.” I sighed.

“I almost asked the question aloud, but at that moment Mr. Banner had called my name. I picked the correct answer out of his head while I glanced briefly in his direction. Ah, but I had needed air to speak, so I had been forced to suck in a quick breath.” I held my breath for a quick moment as I remembered it. “Thirst had scorched down my throat—tightening my muscles and filling my mouth with venom—and I had closed my eyes, trying to concentrate through the desire for your blood that raged inside me.” I glared blackly then into the shadows of the surrounding forest, my jaw locked tight in anger.

“The monster in me was stronger than before, then. The monster was rejoicing. He had embraced this dual future that gave him an even, fifty-fifty chance at what he craved so viciously. The third, shaky future I’d tried to construct through willpower alone had crumbled—destroyed by common jealously, of all things—and he was so much closer to his goal.” All consuming guilt pierced me as I remembered it. “The remorse and the guilt burned with the thirst, and, if I’d had the ability to produce tears, they would have filled my eyes then. For what had I done?” I hung my head in shame. “Knowing the battle was already lost, there seemed to be no reason to resist what I wanted; so I had turned to stare at you again.” I frowned. “You had hidden in your hair, but I could see through a parting in the tresses that your cheek was deep crimson then. The monster in me liked that.” I whispered remorsefully.

“You did not meet my gaze again, but instead twisted a strand of your dark hair nervously between your fingers. Your delicate fingers, your fragile wrist—they were so breakable, looking for all the world like just my breath could snap them.” I shook my head. “But, no, no, no. I could not do that. You were too breakable, too good, too precious to deserve that fate. I couldn’t allow my life to collide with yours, to destroy it. But I couldn’t stay away from you either. Alice was right about that.” I pressed my lips together tightly, my eyes falling back to the delicate wild flowers.

“The monster inside me hissed with frustration as I wavered, leaning first one way, then the other. My brief hour with you had passed all too quickly, as I vacillated between the rock and the hard place. When the bell had finally rung, you started collecting your things without looking at me. That disappointed me, but I could hardly have expected otherwise. The way I had treated you since the accident had been inexcusable.” I sighed dejectedly.

“So I had said your name, to capture your attention, unable to stop myself because my willpower already lay in shreds at your feet.” I sighed before turning my head finally, scanning the meadow for her again, wondering what it would take to make her reappear.

I grimaced as I imagined her reaction to hearing all of that. “I know you weren’t particularly fond of how I went about things in the beginning, Bella.” I sighed. “But in my mind, staying away from you had been the right thing to do, if only I could have kept it up.” I frowned. “You have to understand, I was trying to save you from this Bella—from this awful fate that I condemned you to in the end—I didn’t want this for you.” I shook my head bitterly as my free hand balled into a fist at my side. “I loved you too much.”

I waited, staring up into the impending twilight but there was nothing—not a word—not a sound from the emptiness. “It was all too clear then that I couldn’t stay away from you, it had become an impossible feat to be without you, but still I had tried to warn you in some small way, even after my will power had succumbed to you.” I sighed in disgust remembering the question I’d asked her as I had driven her home after she had fainted that day during blood typing—

Do you think that I could be scary?” I’d asked her, trying to smile a little.

She’d thought it through before answering me in a serious voice. “Hmm…I think you could be, if you wanted to.

I was serious then, too. “Are you frightened of me now?

She’d answered at once, not thinking that one through. “No.”

I’d smiled more easily, stupidly elated by her sincerity. Though I hadn’t thought that she had been entirely telling the truth, but nor had she been truly lying. I had realized then that she hadn’t been frightened enough to want to leave, at least.

The memory made anger flush though me. “You should have been frightened.” I spat bitterly. “But it seemed as if no matter what I said to you—no matter what I did—you were utterly incapable of fearing me.” I gritted my teeth in frustration—irritated by the fact that perhaps my hallucination may have been correct. Maybe there wasn’t anything that I could have ever done. “What a poor excuse for a vampire I was,” I groaned, “unable to frighten one tiny, fragile human girl—the laughing stock of monsters everywhere, I’m sure.” I sighed remembering Emmett’s teasing—

Maybe you’re not as scary as you think you are,” he had chuckled. “I bet I could have frightened her better than that.”

“And, maybe, I should have let him—seeing as how I had proved to be utterly incapable of doing so.” I muttered sourly. I imagined that somewhere Bella was frowning petulantly at me for saying that—it made a smile tug at the edge of my lips. She never had liked me insisting upon what I’d thought was best for her—even if I’d only been trying to protect her.

As I had stared at her that day, I had begun to feel almost agonized at the thought of saying even a temporary goodbye. She had just been so soft and vulnerable. It had seemed foolhardy to let her out of my sight, where anything could have happened to her. And yet, the worst things that could have happened to her—the worst thing that did happen to her—had resulted from being with me. I’d had no idea then—no comprehension at all—that even the worst things that I’d imagined in that moment hadn’t even come close to being even remotely as horrific or as tragic as what would someday come to pass.

Will you do something for me this weekend?” I’d asked her seriously.

She’d nodded, her eyes wide and bewildered by my intensity.

Keep it light, I’d reminded myself.

Don’t be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So…try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?” I’d smiled ruefully at her, hoping that she couldn’t see the sadness in my eyes. How much I’d wished that she wasn’t so much better off away from me, no matter what might have happen to her there. How much I wished now that it hadn’t ended up being true,

Run, Bella, run, I had screamed at her silently, I love you too much, for your good or mine.

She had been offended by my teasing anyway.

She’d glared at me. “I’ll see what I can do,” she’d snapped, jumping out into the rain and slamming the door as hard as she could behind her.

Just like an angry kitten that believes it’s a tiger.

Despite myself, I chuckled at the memory—onlyBella, had possessed the power to break me from my sadness over the years since I’d lost her, even if only for a few precious moments. They were rare—those exquisite moments of happiness that broke through my darkness—and very fleeting. This one lasted longer than most, but then only a few short moments later my amusement was swept away—replaced once again by the remorse of my existence. No matter what would have happened to her had we never met—had she not been so unfortunate as to have inspired this first and only tragic love of mine—it would never have been as horrific as what had happened to her. Still, the thought of those things shot terror and nearly unendurable anguish through me—those things happening to her without me in her life to protect her—it made me shudder. I’d told Emmett about my fear of those things once.

We’d been hunting together—he’d made a joke in an attempt to lighten my mood…and had failed.

So serious all the time, he’d sighed in his head, what’s bugging you now?

“Thinking about her. Well, worrying, really.” I’d admitted.

“What’s there to worry about? You are here.” He’d laughed loudly in his big booming voice.

I’d ignored his joke again, but answered his question. “Have you ever thought about how fragile they all are? How many bad things there are, that can happen to a mortal?”

Not really. I guess I see what you mean, though. I wasn’t much match for a bear that first time around, was I?” He’d grinned but I hadn’t found it even remotely funny. In fact, it had only panicked me further.

Bears,” I’d muttered miserably, adding a new fear to the pile then—although now, that pile had grown exponentially. I’d had time over the past decades to imagine them all, every possibly horrific scenario. “That would be just her luck, wouldn’t it? Stray bear in town. Of course it would head straight for Bella.

That had made Emmett chuckle. “You sound like a crazy person, do you know that?

Just imagine for one minute that Rosalie was human, Emmett. And she could run into a bear…or get hit by a car…or lightening…or fall down stairs…or get sick—get a disease!” The words had burst from me stormily. It had been a relief to let them out—they’d been festering inside throughout that entire weekend. “Fires and earthquakes and tornados! Ugh! When’s the last time you watched the news? Have you seen the kinds of things that happen to them? Burglaries and homicides…” My teeth had clenched together, and I had been abruptly so infuriated by the idea of another human hurting her that I hadn’t been able to breathe.

There were so many other things that I hadn’t mentioned then—electrocution and explosions, and poison. Human bodies were also so fragile—so easily breakable—all it would take to crush them was the right amount of pressure, the right weight of an object and the speed of its momentum—like that van—and then there were the infinite number of illnesses—heart attacks and cancer, brain aneurysms and strokes. They’re existence was tied to a thousand delicately balanced chemical processes, all so easily disrupted. The rhythmic expansion of their lungs, the flow of oxygen, was life or death to them.

The fluttering cadence of Bella’s fragile heart could have been stopped by so many stupid accidents or illnesses or…by me.

I hadn’t know that in that moment—discussing my fears with Emmett that day—that I had named the very thing that would in the end—even though she had no longer been a fragile human but a vampire like myself—take Bella from me …as a direct result from being with me.

Fire.

Whoa, whoa! Hold up, there, kid.” Emmett had tried to calm me. “She lives in Forks, remember? So she gets rained on.” He’d shrugged.

I think she has some serious bad luck, Emmett, I really do. Look at the evidence. Of all the places in the world she could go, she ends up in a town where vampires make up a significant portion of the population.”

Yeah, but we’re vegetarians. So isn’t that good luck, not bad?

With the way she smells? Definitely bad. And then, more bad luck, the way she smells to me.” I’d glowered at my hands, hating them then, though not nearly as much as I hated them now.

Except that you have more self-control than just about anyone but Carlisle. Good luck again.”

The van?” I’d reminded him.

That was just an accident.

You should have seen it coming for her, Em, again and again. I swear, it was like she had some kind of magnetic pull.”

But you were there. That was good luck.

Was it? Isn’t this the worst luck any human could ever possibly have—to have a vampire fall in love with them?

Yes, that had been the worst luck that any human could have ever had—especially true in Bella’s case because she’d had the worst luck of anyone I’d ever known—of any creature that had ever existed in the universe—to have a vampire fall in love with her, and not just any vampire, but me in particular. I clenched my eyes shut in misery remembering the night I’d followed her to Port Angeles—another affirmation of her appalling bad luck—when a group of human monsters had cornered her on an empty street.

The fury that had gripped me had been so fierce—for how dare they target her—the girl that I so desperately loved.

I had decided then that I would see how he—the group’s vile leader—enjoyed the hunt when he was the prey. I would see what he thought of my style of hunting.

In another compartment of my head, I had already been sorting through the range of tortures I’d born witness to in my vigilante days, searching for the most painful of them. He would suffer for this. He would writhe in agony. The others would merely die for their part, but the monster named Lonnie would beg for death long before I would give him that gift.

Bella had jumped through the open door when I had arrived, without hesitating, pulling the door shut behind her.

And then she had looked up at me with the most trustful expression that I had ever seen on a human face, and all my violent plans had crumbled.

It had taken much, much less than a second then for me to see that I could not leave her in the car in order to deal with the four men in the street.

What would I have told her, not to watch? Ha! When did she ever do what I asked? When did she ever do the safe thing?

I had wondered those things then, but they were just as true now.

Even afterwards—even when she was no longer a fragile human—she’d hardly ever done what I had asked—had even more rarely ever done the safe thing.

Like a magnet, she drew all things dangerous toward herself—including me.

I had realized then that I couldn’t let her out of my sight.

Instead I had accelerated, taking her away from her pursuers so quickly that they had gaped after my car with uncomprehending expressions.

I couldn’t even hit him with my car I had realized disappointedly, because I had been sure that it would have frightened her.

But I had wanted his death so savagely that the need for it had rung in my ears and had clouded my sight and had been a flavor on my tongue. My muscles had been coiled with the urgency, the craving, the necessity of it. I had wanted to kill him—wanted to peel him slowly apart, piece by piece, skin from muscle, muscle from bone…

Except that the girl—the only girl in the world—had been clinging to her seat with both hands, staring at me, her eyes still wide and utterly trusting.

I’d known in that moment that my vengeance would have to wait.

Are you okay?” she had asked me a few moments later.

She had wanted to know if I was okay.

I had thought about her question for a fraction of a second. Not long enough for her to notice the hesitation. Was I okay?

No,” I had realized—I was absolutely not okay—and my tone had seethed with rage.

I’d taken her back to the same unused drive where I’d spent that afternoon engaged in the poorest surveillance ever kept. It was black then under the trees.

She’d told me years later that she had seen a car like mine that day and that it had been what had caused her to not pay attention to where she had been going—infuriated as she was by the reminder of me. I had always seemed to be the cause for her need to be rescued, although unintentionally.

I had been so furious in that moment—glaring violently out the windshield—that my body had frozen in place there, utterly motionless. My icelocked hands had ached to crush her attacker, to grind him into pieces so mangled that his body could never be identified….

But that would have entailed leaving her there alone, unprotected in the dark night, and I just couldn’t do that.

Bella?” I had asked through my teeth.

Yes?” she’d responded huskily before clearing her throat.

Are you all right?” That had really been the most important thing, the first priority.

Retribution had been secondary. I had known that, but my body had been so filled with rage that it had been hard to think.

Yes.” Her voice had still been thick—with fear, no doubt.

And so I could not leave her, I had decided.

Even if she hadn’t been at constant risk for some infuriating reason—some joke the universe had been playing on me—even if I could have been sure that she would have been perfectly safe in my absence, I could not leave her then, alone in the dark.

I had thought then of how she must have been so frightened.

Yet I had been in no condition to comfort her—even if I had known exactly how that could have been accomplished, which I hadn’t. I had been sure that she had to have felt the brutality radiating out of me, sure that that much had been obvious—convinced that I would have frightened her even more if I could not calm the lust for slaughter that had been boiling inside me.

I had needed to think about something else.

Distract me, please,” I had pleaded.

I’m sorry, what?”

I had barely had enough control to try to explain what I had needed.

Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down,” I had instructed her, closing my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger, my jaw still locked.

Only the fact that she needed me had held me inside the car.

Um…” She’d hesitated. “I’m going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?” She had said it like it was a question. My mouth had twitched.

Yes—that had been what I’d needed. Of course Bella would have come up with something unexpected. Like it had been before, the threat of violence coming through her lips had been hilarious to me—so comical it was jarring. If I had not been burning with the urge to kill in that moment, I would have laughed.

And if the past seventeen years of my existence hadn’t been a deep, black void of despair without her then I might have laughed now, too.

Why?

He’s telling everyone that he’s taking me to prom,” she’d said, her voice filled with her tiger-kitten outrage. “Either he’s insane or he’s still trying to make up for almost killing me last…well you remember it,” she’d inserted dryly, “and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we’re even, and he can’t keep trying to make amends. I don’t need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though,” she’d gone on, thoughtful then. “If he doesn’t have a ride he can’t take anyone to prom…

It had been encouraging then to see that she had sometimes gotten things wrong. I had known that Tyler’s persistence had had nothing to do with the accident. She hadn’t seemed to understand the appeal she’d held for the human boys at the high school. I had wondered then if she didn’t see the appeal she’d garnered from me, either.

But, ah, it had been working. The baffling processes of her mind had always been engrossing. I had begun to gain control of myself, to see something beyond vengeance and torture…

I heard about that,” I’d told her. She had stopped talking, and I had needed her to continue.

You did?” she’d asked incredulously. And then her voice had been angrier than before. “If he’s paralyzed from the neck down, he can’t go to the prom either.”

I had wished that there had been some way I could have asked her to continue with the threats of death and bodily harm without sounding insane. She couldn’t have picked a better way to calm me. And her words—just sarcasm in her case, hyperbole—had been a reminder I had dearly needed in that moment.

I had sighed, and opened my eyes.

Better?” she’d asked timidly.

Not really.

No, I had been calmer, but not better. Because I’d just realized that I could not kill the monster named Lonnie, and I still wanted that more than almost anything else in the world. Almost.

The only thing in that moment that I had wanted more than to commit a highly justifiable murder, had been that girl. And, though I had been sure that I couldn’t ever have her, just the dream of having her had made it impossible for me to go on a killing spree that night—no matter how defensible such a thing might be.

Because Bella deserved better than a killer.

I’d spent seven decades before that moment trying to be something other than that—anything other than a killer. I was certain that those years of effort could never make me worthy of that girl sitting beside me. And yet, I had felt that if I had returned to that life—the life of a killer—for even one night, I would have surely put her out of my reach forever. I had been trying to be good enough for her. It had been an impossible goal. I would keep trying.

I was still trying.

Even though she was gone—even though I’d lost her—I was still trying to deserve her.

I was still trying to keep from putting her out of my reach forever.

I was still trying.

That was why she had appeared to me that first night—the night I’d been so determined to end my existence once and for all—and in turn had stopped me from returning to that life.

I was still trying because I couldn’t bear the thought of damning myself for all eternity by ending my own life or by once again becoming a killer.

I was still trying because I couldn’t bear the thought of never being with her again—wherever she was.

I didn’t know if it were even possible—convinced that no matter how good I tried to be that it would never be enough—but I would keep trying anyway, fight my way through the moments like the one that night when I’d wanted to give in.

What’s wrong?” she had whispered when I had leaned my head back against the seat, staring at the ceiling of the car, my face rigid.

Her breath had filled my nose, and I had been reminded why I could not deserve her then. After all of that, even with as much as I loved her…she had still made my mouth water.

I had given her as much honesty as I could. I had owed her that.

Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella.” I had stared out into the black night, wishing both that she would hear the horror inherent in my words and also that she would not. Mostly that she would not.

Run, Bella, run, I had screamed silently.

Stay, Bella, stay, I had begged.

“But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” Just thinking about it had almost pulled me from the car. I’d taken a deep breath, letting her scent scorch down my throat. “At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.”

Oh.”

She had said nothing else and I had wondered how much she had heard in my words. I glanced at her furtively, but her face had been unreadable. Blank with shock, perhaps. Well, she hadn’t been screaming. Not then, at least.

No, she hadn’t been screaming then, of course, I knew why now.

It was quiet for a moment. I had warred with myself, trying to be what I should have been.

What I could never be.

Jessica and Angela will be worried,” she’d said quietly. Her voice was very calm, and I hadn’t been able to fathom how that could be. I had wondered if she was in shock—that maybe that nights events hadn’t sunk in for her yet. “I was supposed to meet them.”

Did she want to be away from me? Or was she just worried about her friends’ worry?

I had wondered those things.

I didn’t answer her, but I started the car then and took her back. Every inch closer I’d gotten to the town, the harder it had been to hold on to my purpose, because I had just been so close to him…

If it were impossible—if I could never have nor deserve that girl—then where was the sense in letting the man go unpunished? Surely I could allow myself that much…

For one tiny moment I had slipped—for one tiny moment I had wanted to give in.

In the subsequent years since losing her, my mind had often trailed back to that night—one of the many nights that had changed everything—wishing that I could go back and do all of the depraved things that I had wanted to do to him then—to peel him slowly apart, piece by piece, skin from muscle, muscle from bone—to torture that…monster.

And to torture every monster thereafter that had ever threatened to take her from me.

James.

Laurent.

Victoria.

Zachary.

Aro.

I’d wanted to go back and torture each of them.

James’s death had been quicker than he’d deserved—I’d been too concerned with Bella’s life to waste any time when destroying him.

The wolves had taken care of Laurent, robbing me of that pleasure.

Victoria’s death had also been much quicker than she’d deserved, because once again, Bella’s safety had been in the forefront of my mind.

Bella had ended Zachary, sacrificing herself in the process.

With Aro, however, I had gotten my wish, because Bella was gone, and then there had been nothing else that I had wanted more—nothing else that had mattered more—than to make him suffer.

I had often yearned repeatedly for another chance to torture him all over again, I still did.

Then, however—just as it always had, even since losing her—my resolve had returned.

No. I wasn’t giving up. Not yet, I’d decided then. I’d wanted her too much to surrender so easily.

So I had tried to be good—to somehow deserve her.

I had fought to keep her safe from myself for so long, that being confronted with the very real possibility that something—other than myself—was hazardous to her, had made me erect excuse after excuse for staying. I’d thought of several excuses later that night when we had been alone in Port Angeles, but as usual Bella had already been several steps ahead of me—intuitive as she was—knowing that there had been a very embarrassing reason for why I had been able to find her and save her. Like before, I had become a stalker. An obsessed stalker. An obsessed vampire stalker.

She had never reacted to me in the ways that I thought that she ought to have, of course—she’d already ferreted out my secrets, although I’d been unaware at the time.

How did you know where…?” Bella’s unfinished question had interrupted me when I’d pulled up to the restaurant, and I had realized that I had made yet another gaffe. I’d been too distracted to remember to ask her where she was supposed to be meeting her friends.

But, instead of finishing the inquiry and pressing the point, Bella had just shaken her head and half-smiled.

I rolled my eyes thinking of it. “I suppose you garnered some secret pleasure from that, didn’t you?” I sighed, my cool breath mingling with the warm, evening summer air, “Your own little private joke in your head.” I frowned at that. “I had puzzled over your strange acceptance of my even stranger knowledge, wondering what that smile had meant.” I shook my head in disbelief. “But you’d known that entire time about my little secret—that I could read minds—you’d pretty much figured out by then that I was a monster, hadn’t you?” I pressed my lips into a tight line. “Your calmness—your insanely blind trust with being near me—perhaps that’s why I seemed to have been unable to leave you that night, because with you already knowing the truth you had turned the tables on me as your savior, and made me the one who had felt safer in your presence—safe from my violent desires to commit murder.” My lips twitched, half amused and half furious. Violent desires indeed, Some scary vampire I turned out to be.

The dying light of the sun was billowing off of the clouds that rolled in, indicating the impending night, throwing colors into the sky, turning them a vivid, bloody orange, filling me with despair. I sighed. I was running out of light. “Only you could be more important than what I wanted, Bella.” I murmured and that thought made me sad for some unfathomable reason. “Even in the midst of my desire to hunt each of your assailants down back then, my need to keep you safe still overrode everything. So I had attempted to be on my best behavior.” I glared at the darkening colors of the sky in frustration. “Even we scary vampires have manners you know?” I glowered. “But as always, you made it impossible to do so.”

I had opened my door to get out.

What are you doing?” she had asked, sounding startled.

Not letting you out of my sight. Not allowing myself to be alone tonight. In that order, I had answered in my head.

I’m taking you to dinner.” I had said out loud.

Well this should be interesting, I had thought wryly.

And there I was, practically on a date with her. Only it hadn’t counted, because I hadn’t been giving her a chance to say no.

She’d already had her door half open before I’d walked around the car—it wasn’t usually so frustrating to have to move at an inconspicuous speed—instead of waiting for me to get it for her. Was that because she hadn’t been used to being treated like a lady, or because she hadn’t thought of me as a gentleman?

“Sometimes, you drove me absolutely insane, Bella.” I muttered sourly. “I’d tried to be a gentleman then, but I suppose I’m not a gentleman, not really—if I were, then I would have stayed away from you. I still tried though.” I mumbled. “But, every step I took to do the right thing by you, to keep you safe, never seemed to go as planned.” I sighed blinking as my eyes once again scanned the tree line where the sun was still making its slow descent—my hope that she would again appear to me diminishing in turn. “That’s all that ever really mattered to me, you know? To keep you safe.” I murmured softly. “I should have stayed away from you. That was the right thing.”

My eyes flickered to movement in the tree line, and I knew that had I been human, my heart would have begun to race, thrilled so by the idea of the reappearance of my hallucination of her. A moment later I felt my sudden hope shatter when I realized that it had only been an animal moving in the forest. My disappointment made me bitter—made me continue my rant with renewed zeal.

“It was a hard thing to do with the way you appealed to me though. How fiercely I wanted, not only your blood, but you!” I hissed indignantly. “And I shouldn’t have wanted you Bella, not in that way.” My voice was full of denial. “Besides my mother’s love when I had been human, there had been no other love that had made me wish to stay. It was entirely new to me. I had had no parallels to draw, no comparisons to make. The love I had felt for you had come purely, but then the waters had been muddied by desire.” I felt my intense agony rip through me. “Lust,” I spat the word, “The deadly sin that would be my undoing.” I shook my head in disgust at myself. “My deplorable attraction towards you.” I sighed.

“Attraction. It was a problematic thing to contemplate. So many sides to it, so many different meanings and levels. Not the same thing as love, but tied up in it inextricably.” I repeated the thoughts I had had in regards to my attraction towards her in the beginning, remembering when I had first considered her, bemused by the wide range of havoc and upheaval that, despite her ordinary, unthreatening appearance, she had been wreaking upon my life.

I remember that upon first glance I had thought that she had been actually rather pretty…in an unusual way. Better than being beautiful, her face had been interesting. Not quite symmetrical—her narrow chin out of balance with her wide cheekbones—extreme in the coloring due to her blush—the light and dark contrast of her skin and her hair, and then there had been her eyes, brimming over with silent secrets.

Later—when I had still been in denial about the fact I was falling hopelessly in love with her—I had retracted my previous assessment of her. Wondering how I had really once thought her average-looking, not understanding why I had not found her beautiful immediately. It had seemed like an obvious thing then—with her dark hair tangled and wild around her pale face, wearing a threadbare t-shirt full of holes with tatty sweatpants, her features relaxed in unconsciousness, her full lips slightly parted—she had taken my breath away. Or would have, I had thought wryly, if I had been breathing, but I hadn’t been, trying to keep her scent from overpowering my senses.

“Attraction had been an impossible dilemma at the time, because I was already too attracted to you in the worst way.” I admitted softly.

Even after decades without it, I could still remember the scent of her sweet blood, and the memory of it still made my throat tighten and tingle. Not as powerful as before, not an aching burn as it had been in the beginning, when I had imagined her fine, thin, see-through skin and the hot, wet, pulsing blood beneath its surface—because I had been conditioned to shy away from any urges—my thirst most importantly—that could have caused her harm.

Immediately my body went still when I thought of all the times in the beginning when I had allowed my mind to twist with fantasies that had had absolutely nothing to do with her blood. Me with my arms wrapped around her fragile body, pulling her tightly against my chest and then cupping my hand under her chin, brushing the heavy curtain of her hair back from her blushing face, tracing the shape of her full lips with my fingertips, leaning my face closer to hers, where I could feel the heat of her breath on my mouth, and then moving closer still, my lips to her lips, cold stone to warm, yielding silk…

And then she dies.

I shook my head, smiling wryly at myself when I remembered that particular time when I’d thought that. Though, it wasn’t funny, not really. Back then, kissing her could have killed her, but still I had wanted to kiss her…so badly, and memories of her, like that night in Port Angeles, when she had been wearing the soft blue blouse, the fabric clinging to her skin in such an appealing way, cut low enough to reveal the mesmerizing way her collar bones curled away from the hollow beneath her throat—the way the blue had flowed like water along the subtle shape of her body, her slender figure with all of her delicate curves and soft lines, watching the blood spreading under her skin, noticing not how that made my throat flame then, but rather how it brightened her fair face, how it set off the cream of her skin, cream and roses against the deep blue of her shirt—memories like that had made it impossible for me to not want her. I shuddered as desire rippled through me then, closing my eyes and clenching my teeth against the waves that washed over my body, holding still until I could regain control over myself. I was sure that when I opened my eyes again that they were blazing.

“So I couldn’t afford to make mistakes with you,” My voice was thick with the desire that that memory had evoked, I tried to shake it off, clearing my throat. “And it would have been a monumental mistake to dwell on the strange hungers that thoughts of your lips…your skin…your body…were shaking loose inside of me. Hungers that had evaded me for a hundred years.” I murmured. “I couldn’t keep myself from wanting you, Bella,” I sighed miserably. “Even though it only encouraged me to yearn for you to want me in return—and to search for ways to make it so.” I remember wishing foolishly to have the same effect on Bella that I had seemed to have on the other human females who had responded so…enthusiastically towards me, wondering then if it were even possible.

“Once, I had tried to compare your physical responses to me, like the school secretary and Jessica Stanley, but the comparison had been inconclusive.” The same markers—changes in heart rate and breathing patterns—could just have easily meant fear or shock or anxiety as they did interest. “But no, I had realized, I shouldn’t have wanted you to be attracted to me that way. Because I was not a human man, and that wouldn’t have been fair to you.” I frowned.

“And, yet, with every fiber of my being, I had ached to be a normal man, so that I could have held you in my arms without risking your life.” I moaned solemnly. Wishing that I could have been free back then to spin my own fantasies, fantasies that wouldn’t have ended with her blood on my hands, her blood glowing in my eyes. My pursuit of her had been indefensible. What kind of relationship could I have offered her, I had thought, when I couldn’t even risk touching her? I had hung my head in my hands then, just as I almost did now, because I still ached to be human, to have been human then, for her.

“I had never felt more human before that night,” I whispered. “Because I had never dreamed that you would ever feel that way towards me in return Bella, but I had wanted you to.” I sighed trying to keep the swell of happiness from breaking free of my sadness. “Even though it was wrong.” I muttered.

Somehow, that night in Port Angeles, she had sent her friends away, truly wanting to be alone with me—even then, after witnessing my homicidal rage.

“I remember how the hostess of the restaurant had responded blatantly to me in front of you. It had seemed to be my night to turn heads. Or had I only been noticing it more then, because I had wished so much that you would have seen me that way?” I frowned. “We are always attractive to our prey. I’d never thought so much about it before then. Usually—unless, as it had been with people like Shelly Cope and Jessica Stanley, there had always been constant repetition to dull the horror—the fear had always kicked in fairly quickly after the initial attraction.” My mouth twisted in frustration.

“Human eyes were clouded—they saw nothing clearly. The hostess had been dismissive of your presence and I had wondered how that small-minded woman could have found my physical lures—snares for prey—so attractive, and yet had been unable to see the soft perfection of you beside me?” That memory still irritated me. “I had been slightly annoyed by her resentful attitude towards you, so had I smiled widely at her, baring my teeth. Letting her see me clearly. But oddly, she still hadn’t been frightened of me. I had thought that perhaps Emmett had been right, perhaps I was losing my edge.” I frowned remembering when I had thought that.

“And then you had said those words…” I trailed off my voice having an almost dream-like quality to it as slowly the memory changed, filling me with a silent overpowering awe.

You really shouldn’t do that to people,” Bella had interrupted my thoughts then in a disapproving tone. “It’s hardly fair.

I had stared at her critical expression not understanding what she had meant—after all, I hadn’t frightened the hostess, despite my intentions.

Do what?

Dazzle them like that—she’s probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now.”

Bella had very nearly been right. The hostess had been only semi-coherent at that moment, describing her incorrect assessment of me to her friend on the wait staff.

Oh, come on,” Bella had chided me when I hadn’t answered immediately. “You have to know the effect you have on people.”

I dazzle people?” That had been an interesting way of phrasing it. Accurate enough for that night. I had wondered why the difference…

You haven’t noticed?” she had asked, still critical. “Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?

Do I dazzle you?” I had voiced my curiosity impulsively, and then the words had been out, and it had been too late to recall them.

But before I had had time to too deeply regret speaking the words aloud she had answered, “Frequently.” And her cheeks had taken on a faint pink glow.

I had dazzled her.

And my silent heart had swelled with a hope more intense than I could ever remember having felt before that moment.

I shook off the feeling of wonderment, not allowing myself to remember how it felt to hope. “Later, in a sudden moment of perception, hearing the way my voice sounded in the inconsequential human head of the waitress, I had realized why I’d seemed to be attracting so much admiration that night—unmarred by the usual fear. It had been because of you, Bella.” I sighed sadly. “Trying so hard to be safe for you, to be less frightening, to be human, I truly had lost my edge. The other humans saw only beauty then, with my innate horror so carefully under control.”

It had been sort of humorous, when I had finally understood the reason back then.

It wasn’t funny to me now.

“I’d once thought of your temper like a kitten that believed it was a tiger but you had flipped that around on me, and turned me into a harmless boy instead of the violent monster I truly was. Everything dangerous became backwards around you.” I shook my head remembering the absurdity of it. “That night also explains why perhaps there would have never been anything that I could have ever said or done to save you—to convince you that I wasn’t good for you—short of leaving you, and of course, I had been incapable at the time of doing that too.” I frowned darkly when for a split second my mind flashed back to the day when I had finally found the strength to leave her…

I shook it off. I would get to that part later—mentally torture myself for it for the billionth time, but now—now I was back to Bella…and to the strange, unfathomable workings of her mind.

I began turning the bottle cap over and again in my palm, using it as an anchor to hold me in place, to keep me focused. “I had been sure that you were going into shock as I sat there watching you—waiting for it after what you had been through that night.” I shook my head in frustration. “But then you told me that you’d ‘always been good at repressing unpleasant things’.” I quit turning to bottle cap for a moment as a thought struck me. “Strange, I’ve never really recalled that moment again before now.” I replayed it in my head curiously. “And to think, it had practically been a warning in itself to me—that your life always had been and always would be so…hazardous.” My head tilted thoughtfully and it made me smile knowingly. “Perhaps we were both terrible at warning the other of the truth, though to be fair, I tried much harder than you did to get my point across.” I almost chuckled.

“I had a bad habit of underestimating you back then, Bella. I think if sometimes I could have known what you were thinking then I may not have used such poor judgment when trying to keep you safe all of the time.” I shook my head in amusement. “And at least then I wouldn’t have been so shocked by some of the things that you’d said to me in the beginning.”

Really,” she’d objected as she sat across the table from me. “I’m not going into shock.”

You should be—a normal person would be. You don’t even look shaken.” I had stared at her, disapproving, wondering why she couldn’t be normal and then wondering if I really wanted her to be that way.

I feel very safe with you,” she’d said, her eyes, had again, filled with trust. Trust I hadn’t deserved.

“Your instincts had been all wrong—backwards. That must have been the problem. You hadn’t recognized danger the way a human being should have been able to. You always had the opposite reaction. Instead of running, you always lingered, drawn to what should have frightened you. How could I have protected you from myself when neither of us had wanted that?” I asked my voice full of incredulity.

I sighed. “I’d thought that perhaps we had been about to have a simple conversation that night, but again, everything was backwards with you, nothing went the way it was supposed to when you were around.” I murmured dryly. “And, you’d always been very observant, so I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when you brought to my attention that you’d noticed the change in my eye color. Back then it had left me reeling, caught me off guard and had filled me with a deep sense of dread, wondering how close you’d come to figuring out the truth about me.” I grimaced as I remembered the memory of my fear. “Of course, your behavior that night makes perfect sense to me now. There you were, entirely nonchalant, talking with me as if you weren’t discussing the aspects of a monster with the monster himself.” I glared at nothing in particular. “I’d thought that surely you wouldn’t have been speaking so calmly that night if you’d been about to scream, if you had really known the truth all along.” I frowned at my mistake. “But you had known, which is why you then refused to tell me your theories until later in the car, unwilling to speak your guesses around others, and although I couldn’t have been sure of how much you really knew, I had been sure then that it was going to be very bad.”

I rolled my eyes in aggravation as I remembered the conversation. “Then you’d qualified your theories under certain conditions and I had known then, that your questions would probably be enough to tell me where your thoughts were heading. But how would I answer them I’d wondered? With responsible lies? Or would I drive you away with truth? Or would I say nothing, unable to decide? Back then, I hadn’t been sure as to what to do, mostly because I didn’t know what you were thinking.” I growled in frustration. “And then you did it…admitted to knowing about my…ability—my mind reading.” I huffed indignantly. “It could have been worse I suppose.” I shrugged helplessly. “You were quick—no one else had ever guessed that about me. Except for Carlisle, and it had been rather obvious then, in the beginning, when I’d answered all his thoughts as if he’d spoken them to me. He’d understood before I had.” I contemplated that for a moment. “That revelation of yours hadn’t been so bad. While it had been clear that you knew that there was something wrong with me, it wasn’t as serious as I’d thought that it could have been. Mind-reading is, after all, not a facet of the vampire cannon.” I smirked at that.

“I went along with your hypothesis—played along with your little game, not understanding your enthusiasm because how could you have really thought that the truth would be a good thing? After all, if my secrets were pleasant, why would I have been keeping them from you?” I sighed. “I’d wanted to tell you. I’d wanted to deserve the trust I could still see on your face then.”

You can trust me, you know,” she’d whispered, and she’d reached one hand forward as if to touch my hands where they’d rested on top of the empty table before me. I had pulled them back—hating the thought of her reaction then to my frigid stone skin—and she had dropped hers. I’d known then that I could trust her with protecting my secrets—she’d been entirely trustworthy, good to the core. But I couldn’t trust her not to be horrified by me.

She should have been horrified. The truth was horror.

I don’t know if I have a choice anymore,” I’d murmured and remembered that I’d once teased her by calling her ‘exceptionally unobservant.’ and had offended her—if I’d been judging her expression correctly. Well, I knew that I could right that one injustice then, at least. “I was wrong—you’re much more observant than I gave you credit for.” And, though she might not have realized it then, I’d given her plenty of credit already. She had missed nothing.

I thought you were always right,” she’d said, smiling as she teased me.

I used to be.

“I used to know what I was doing. I used to always be sure of my course. And then everything had been chaos and tumult once you entered my life.” I murmured in frustration. “The strange magnetic pull of Murphy’s Law that surrounded you seemed to have infected my life as well.” I let a tight smile slip out as I remembered what I’d said next.

I was wrong about you on one other thing as well,” I’d gone on, setting the record straight on another point. “You’re not a magnet for accidents—that’s not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten mile radius, it will invariably find you.

The truth of those words twisted through my chest. “Why you? I wanted to know then. What had you done to deserve any of that?” I pleaded to the emptiness of the meadow. “What did you ever do to deserve what I put you through?” I sighed. “I tried to tell you, our entire conversation that night had been filled with every single warning that I could think of.”

Her face had turned serious again. “And you put yourself into that category?

Honesty had been more important in regards to that question than any other.

Unequivocally.

Her eyes had narrowed slightly—not suspicious then, but oddly concerned. Then she’d reached her hand across the table again, slowly and deliberately. So, I had pulled my hands an inch away from her, but she had ignored that, determined to touch me. I’d held my breath—not because of her scent then, but because of the sudden, overwhelming tension. Fear. I’d been sure that my skin would disgust her. The she would have run away then.

“But you didn’t run.” That fact still amazed and bewildered me.

She’d brushed her fingertips lightly across the back of my hand. The heat of her gentle, willing touch had been like nothing I’d ever felt before. It had almost been pure pleasure. Would have been, except for my fear. I’d watched her face as she’d felt the cold stone of my skin, still unable to breathe.

A half-smile had turned up the corners of her lips.

Thank you,” she’d said, meeting my stare with an intense gaze of her own. “That’s twice now.” Her soft fingers had lingered on my hand as if they’d found it pleasant to be there.

I’d answered her as casually as I’d been able to. “Let’s not try for three, agreed?

She grimaced at that, but had nodded.

I’d pulled my hands out from under hers then. As exquisite as her touch had felt, I wasn’t going to wait for the magic of her tolerance to pass, to turn to revulsion. I’d hid my hands under the table.

I’d read her eyes then—though her mind was silent, I perceived both trust and wonder there and I had realized in that moment that I’d wanted to answer her questions. Not because I had owed it to her. Not because I’d wanted her to trust me.

I’d wanted her to know me.

“Then the words had spilled out too quickly for me to edit them as I admitted to following you to Port Angeles. I’d known the danger of the truth, the risk I’d been taking. At any moment, your unnatural calm could have shatter into hysterics. Contrarily, knowing that only had me talking faster.” I sighed wearily.

I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before and it’s much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that’s probably just because it’s you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes.”

“I’d just admitted to stalking you and you were smiling.” I rolled my eyes, shaking my head in disbelief.

Did you ever think that maybe my number was up that first time, with the van, and that you’ve been interfering with fate?” she’d asked.

That wasn’t the first time,” I’d replied. My barriers were down then, the truth spilling free recklessly. “Your number was up the first time I met you.”

I shuddered as the very first moment I’d smelled her crashed over me. “The memory of that moment is branded into my memory, as permanently embedded in my mind as the fiery torture of my transformation. It’s something that the monster I am will never…ever…forget.” My voice was tight as the thirst ignited into flames, scorching my throat just from the memory. “You walked into the flow of the heated air that had been blowing towards me from the vent and your scent had hit me like wrecking ball, like a battering ram.” It hit me all over again making me choke on invisible tears.

“There is no image violent enough to encapsulate the force of what happened to me in that moment.” I whispered hoarsely as it cracked from the wave of anguish that flooded me. “In that instant, I had been nothing close to the human I’d once been—no trace of the shreds of humanity I’d managed to cloak myself in had remained.” My voice was barely a whisper, strangled so viciously in agony. “I was a predator. You were my prey. There had been nothing else in the whole world but that truth.” I convulsed violently and collapsed to my knees, bracing myself with one hand as the other covered my face, my fingers like claws wanting to rip it away.

“There’d been no room full of witnesses to me then—they’d already become collateral damage in my head. The mystery of your thoughts had been forgotten as well. Your thoughts had meant nothing then, for you would not go on thinking them much longer.” I clenched my eyes shut as my fingers raked over my face as if I could scrape the image out of my eyes. “I was a vampire, and you had the sweetest blood I’d smelled in eighty years.” My voice was mangled by the vileness of the words as I sucked in a shaky breath between my teeth.

The force of my pain left me gasping for air that I did not need to breathe, and I was afraid to uncover my eyes, afraid that I would see her standing before me again and that finally she would run screaming in horror as I always believed that she someday would. I wasn’t a coward. I slid my hand away and blinked up at the unobstructed view of the kaleidoscope of colors blending seamlessly into the sky.

I swallowed harshly and pushed the memory of that moment as far away as I could muster—forcing it back into the darkest corner of my mind and the thirst receded with it. It was all true, and I hated it. From the beginning I had been positioned over her life like the blade of a guillotine. It was as if she had been marked for death by some cruel, unjust fate, and—since I’d proved an unwilling tool in the beginning—that same fate had continued to try to execute her then, until finally it had succeeded.

“I’d admitted to wanting to kill you, Bella,” I shuddered, “Waiting for the screams—yet there you sat, calmly watching me, as I wondered how you could care about the rest of anything with that glaring truth on the table.” I worked hard to make my voice calm and even again. “My thirst then only reminded me that the pain meant that you were alive. As long as I burned, you were safe. You were too vulnerable for this world. You needed a protector. And, through some twisted mismanagement of destiny, I had been the closest thing available.” I shook my head and slowly climbed to my feet again. Experiencing the inability to maintain the mental strength to remain standing was always an unsettling feeling, one that only my feelings for Bella ever caused.

“Later on that evening, when we were finally returning to Forks I knew that I would be unable to delay the inevitable—that sooner or later you would know the truth about what I am, all the while two sides of myself were warring with that knowledge. The selfish part of me wanted you to know, to know me, and the part of me that loved you feared your horror that would accompany that truth, feared losing you as well as placing you in more danger with that truth than I ever had before.” I sighed sadly. “We were still discussing how my abilities worked, and why I theorized that I couldn’t hear your thoughts.”

My mind doesn’t work right?” she’d asked, her voice rising with chagrin. “I’m a

freak?”

I hear voices in my mind and you’re worried that you’re the freak.” I’d laughed at that.

“You’d always understood all the small things, and yet the big ones you got backwards. Always the wrong instincts.” I sighed. “You were sitting in a car with a vampire who had just admitted to wanting to kill you, but my driving, just a bit of speed, had had you shouting in fear.” I rolled my eyes. “You made no sense at all that night, even when I’d finally pressed for you to reveal what you knew about me.”

She’d bit her lip again, and her expression had become upset, almost pained.

I won’t laugh,” I’d promised, wishing that it had only been embarrassment that had made her unwilling to talk.

I’m more afraid that you’ll be angry with me,” she’d whispered.

I’d forced my voice to stay even then. “Is it that bad?

Pretty much, yeah.

“You were afraid that I would be angry.” I scoffed. “Angry, Bella, really?” I asked the emptiness. “Terrified, was more like it.” I frowned. “You began to explain that you’d heard something when you’d been at the beach, I hadn’t expected that. The local gossip about my family and I had never strayed into anything too bizarre—or too precise, and then you’d mentioned Jacob.” My jaw clenched.

I ran into an old family friend—Jacob Black,” she’d gone on. “His dad and Charlie have been friends since I was a baby.

Jacob Black—the name had not been familiar to me then, yet that had been the first moment that I’d ever heard his name, the boy who would become an integral part of my world, the boy who for months would try to lure her heart from me. I’d lost time with her. I wanted to hate him for that, but how could I when I had been the one who had made his prominence in her life necessary?

His dad is one of the Quileute elders,” she’d finally said.

Jacob Black. Ephraim Black. A descendant, no doubt.

“I knew that it was as bad as it could get then. You knew the truth. What had had my mind reeling then was that…if you’d learned the truth Saturday…then you’d known it all evening long, although I hadn’t known that before, so the only mystery left had been why were you still there with me then.” My body went rigid. “Then you said it…vampires,” I hissed the word between my teeth. “Somehow, it had been even worse than knowing that you knew, hearing you speak the word aloud.” I grimaced. “You didn’t see my reaction then, the way it made me flinch, you were already on to explaining how the source of my exposure had occurred.”

“So I got Jacob alone and I tricked it out of him.” Her head had dropped even lower as she’d admitted this, and her expression had looked…guilty.

I’d looked away from her and laughed out loud wondering what she could have possibly done to deserve censure of any kind.

“Tricked him how?” I’d asked.

I tried to flirt—it worked better than I thought it would,” she’d explained, and her voice turned incredulous at the memory of that success.

I could just imagine it then—considering the attraction she seemed to garner from all things male, totally unconscious on her part—how overwhelming she would be when she tried to be attractive. I had suddenly been full of pity for the unsuspecting boy she’d unleashed such a potent force on.

I’d like to have seen that,” I’d said, and then I’d laughed again with black humor. I’d wished that I could have heard the boy’s reaction then, witnessed the devastation for myself. “And you accused me of dazzling people—poor Jacob Black.”

“Poor Jacob Black, indeed.” I muttered sourly. No. I did not feel any pity for Jacob Black in this moment. Remembering Bella’s next words sent a jolt of longing and agony through me.

I decided it didn’t matter.

“Shock had frozen my thoughts for a half-second, and then it all fit together. Why you’d sent your friends away that night rather than escape with them. Why you’d gotten into my car with me again instead of running, screaming for the police.” I gritted my teeth, mimicking my reaction then. “Your reactions were always so wrong!” I growled angrily.

It didn’t matter?” I’d said through my teeth, anger filling me.

“How was I supposed to protect someone so…so…so determined to be unprotected?” I stammered in frustration.

No,” she’d said in a low voice that had been inexplicably tender. “It doesn’t matter to me what you are.”

“You were impossible!” I hissed throwing my hands up.

You don’t care if I’m a monster? If I’m not human?

No.

“I’d started to wonder then if you were entirely stable.” I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration. “I supposed that I could have arranged for you to receive the best care available—Carlisle would have had the connections to find you the most skilled doctors, the most talented therapists. I’d thought that perhaps something could have been done to fix whatever it was that was wrong with you, whatever it was that had made you content to sit beside a vampire with your heart beating calmly and steadily. I would watch over the facility, naturally, and visit as often as I was allowed.” I sighed in exasperation fighting an amused smile. Bella would probably not find this information amusing at all.

“It didn’t really matter to you. You didn’t care. You knew I was inhuman, a monster, and it didn’t really matter to you. Honestly, Bella, what was wrong with you?” I growled. “I brought up my thirst. I knew you had to be forced to understand. At some point, you would have to realize what you were doing. You had to be made to see that that did matter—more than any other consideration. Considerations like the fact that I loved you. Even when you’d admitted to being told that we weren’t dangerous I had to make you see…”

Don’t let that make you complacent, though,” I’d said quickly. “They’re right to keep their distance from us. We are still dangerous.

“But no, you didn’t understand and how could I make you see?” I murmured painfully.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you.” There had been no denying that my body still yearned toward her for the wrong reason. My mouth had been swimming with venom.

This is a mistake?” she’d asked, and there had been heartbreak in her voice. The sound of it had disarmed me.

“I tried to tell you but still, you’d wanted to be with me—despite everything.” I closed my eyes in pain.

A very dangerous one,” I’d answered her truthfully, wishing then that the truth could have really somehow ceased to matter.

When she’d spoken finally, her voice had been distorted by anguish.

I’d examined her carefully.

She’d been in pain and I’d wondered how I could have allowed that.

She should not have hurt. I couldn’t let her be hurt.

“You were so casual then, as we spoke, and I’d been astonished that you’d really been able to accept so much in stride. In fact, I think I’d been closer to shock than you’d seemed to be.” I admitted begrudgingly. “I’d wondered then, if I loved you enough yet to be able to bear leaving you. I wish I had.” I whispered mournfully. “And then you said it…” I winced.

I didn’t like it,” she’d said shyly, the skin over her cheekbones warming. “Not seeing you. It makes me anxious, too.

“Well, there had been my reward for hoping.” I muttered, angry with myself. “I’d been bewildered, elated, horrified—mostly horrified—to realize that all my wildest imaginings had been not so far off the mark. That was why it hadn’t mattered to you that I was a monster. It had been exactly the same reason that the rules had no longer mattered to me. Why right and wrong had no longer been compelling influences. Why all my priorities had shifted one rung down to make room for you at the very top. You cared for me, too.” I whispered miserably. “I knew it could be nothing in comparison to how I loved you—sure that such an overpowering, all-consuming, crushing love would probably break you fragile body. But you felt strongly enough. Enough to subdue the instinctive fear. Enough to want to be with me. Enough for you to risk your life to sit there with me. To do so gladly.” I smiled sadly. “Enough to cause you pain if I did the right thing and left you. Was there anything I could have done then that would not have hurt you? Anything at all? Would that stop me from staying then? From making it worse?” I murmured anxiously. “The way I felt in that moment, feeling your warmth against my skin…” I sucked in a harsh breath. “No. Nothing would stop me.” I shook my head angrily. “I should have stayed away. I should never have come back to Forks. I caused you nothing but pain.” I whispered sorrowfully and I felt the twinge of what oncoming tears had once felt like. “You had to understand! I had to make you!” I growled angrily the tension nearly making my body vibrate with rage.

It’s wrong. It’s not safe. I’m dangerous, Bella—please, grasp that.” I’d told her.

I balled my hands into fists. “But you were so damn stubborn.” I growled angrily at the vacant, darkening meadow. “You just wouldn’t listen—even when you finally knew the truth about me!” I railed, my voice nearly strangled in outrage as I hissed through my teeth.

No.” Her lips had pouted out petulantly.

I’m serious.” I had been battling with myself so strongly—half desperate for her to accept, half desperate to keep the warnings from escaping—that the words came through my teeth as a growl.

So am I,” she’d insisted stubbornly. “I told you, it doesn’t matter what you are. It’s too late.

“You’d said that it was too late.” My voiced was strained against the urge to do what my body was incapable of—to cry. “In that moment the world became bleakly black and white for one endless second as I watched the shadows crawl across the sunny lawn toward your sleeping form in my memory.” I wanted to look away but I couldn’t stop my thoughts. “Inevitable, unstoppable. They stole the color from your skin, and plunged you into darkness.” I shuddered. “Alice’s vision swirled in my head then, your blood red eyes staring back at me impassively. Expressionless—and I’d been sure that there had been no way that you could not hate me for that future. Hate me for stealing everything from you. Stealing your life and your soul. It could not be too late.” I choked out the words.

Never say that,” I’d hissed.

She’d stared out her window then, and her teeth had bit into her lip again. Her hands had been balled into tight fists in her lap. Her breathing had hitched and then broken.

What are you thinking?” I had to know then.

She’d shaken her head without looking at me and I’d seen something glisten, like a crystal, on her cheek.

Agony. “Are you crying?

“I made you cry. I hurt you that much by saying that.” I whispered my voice a ghost of what it once was. “But it was too late…because even after all of that…you still wanted me.” I hissed the words through my teeth trying to will myself to calm down. I felt panic ripping through me at the thought of it. “You always took me by surprise. You figured me out so easily, and understood things about me that it took me meeting you to grasp. You saw this light in me that I had never seen before. You didn’t care if I was a monster…you just loved me anyway.” I sighed and cursed the sky. The memories of those moments hit me like a wrecking ball, spilling into me and I wished my frozen body would for once let my emotions spill out of my eyes. I ached to be human. To cry for my lost love.

“Even if there was nothing that I could have ever done to save you, you know I had to try, Bella.” I murmured. “Even if I had known that I would always be strong enough to keep from killing you when you were human, knowing the horrors that you would have to endure regardless is reason enough for why I should have stayed away from you.” I felt cold suddenly, numbness sweeping through me as the truth settled upon me. “After all, like I told you—you only had to risk your life every second you spent with me. You only had to turn your back on nature, on humanity…you only had to give up your soul.” I whispered as the waves of my grief began to return. I’d somehow managed to shed my guilt the entire time that I’d been having a one sided conversation with the emptiness, and now it was crawling back inside of me.

“Countless dangers,” I muttered, “How many creatures attempted to hurt you during our brief years together?” I asked painfully. “Do you know? Because I’ve lost count, Bella.” I sighed. “First me, then those men in Port Angeles, James—even Jasper—Laurent and Victoria, Riley and the entire newborn army.” I felt the reminders strangle me. “Even the wolves at one point and then the Volturi.” I growled the last part. “It was never just you that attracted danger—it was us—you being with me. After all, you survived seventeen years before you met me without an incident—a fatal one anyway.” I frowned and my own words haunted me. “Of all the girls in all of the world, in all of time and age, it just had to be you who had the misfortune of having me—of all creatures—fall in love with you. You, who seemed to be fated for tragedy—you, who ignored and never feared what you should have run from.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the first moment that I had ever seen her face through my own eyes, staring curiously at me from across that cafeteria, meeting my gaze head on.

Edward Cullen.

I had been a reflex reaction. I had turned to the sound of my name being called, though it hadn’t been called, just thought.

My eyes had locked for a small portion of a second with a pair of wide, chocolate-brown human eyes set in a pale, heart-shaped face.

…and I had looked away, bored.

Bored—I scoffed at the thought as I remembered it—but how could I have known that in that moment I had just looked into the eyes of the girl who would come to mean everything to me? My love. My future wife. My soul mate.

“Why did it have to be me, Bella? You were supposed to live and die like a normal human. That’s how it was supposed to happen. How it should have happened. How it would have happened if I hadn’t existed—and I shouldn’t have exist—I’ve told you this before, but with my selfishness—my insufferable weakness I couldn’t let you go, even when I’d tried to.” My attention was once again drawn back to the bottle cap that I was still mindlessly turning over in my palm. “Even if I combined every moment of my inability to stay away from you—my inability to save your life—and counted them all together as my greatest failure…that day—the day that I left you and the subsequent months that followed—will forever be a close second to being the greatest regret of my entire existence.” I admitted it out loud for the first time ever.

I had thought that eventually my guilt over that horrible decision would have subsided, but it hadn’t. I wasn’t sure that it ever would. During our months apart—after that tragic September night—I had taken the bottle cap with me, selfishly allowing myself to carry some small part of her with me whereas I had taken all proof of my existence from her. It had been a cruel double standard but I had thought that it would have been better for her that way. How wrong I had been.

I sighed and blinked up at the sky where the last sliver of the sun was fading. “After that, in my arrogance I thought that I could have willed you to live the way I wanted you to. Only you could be more important than what I wanted…what I needed. What I wanted and needed—what I still want and need—is to be with you. Still, I knew back then that I would never be strong enough to leave you again. I thought that I would never forgive myself for leaving you that September.” I spat the words like they were acid on my tongue. “Not if I lived a hundred thousand years—but it’s the opposite now—I’ll never forgive myself for staying.” I trembled as I said it. “I made myself believe that I had too many excuses to stay and I thought ‘Thank heaven for that!’” I scoffed. “It seems you couldn’t be safe, no matter how many miles I put between us. So, I didn’t want my presence to take anything away from you, if I could help it. I wanted you to be human. I wanted your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have. I thought that you needed me—I thanked heaven for that.” I said in disgust.

“What a fool I was.” I whispered. “You thought I was worth it but I’m not worth it, I was never worth it, Bella.” I heaved a deep breath and shuddered. “I suppose it didn’t matter in the end.” I muttered bitterly. “I wasn’t strong enough.” I choked. “You wanted to be a monster like me and I caved to my need for you far more easily than I should have. I was selfish—careless!” I wanted to beg her for forgiveness. “How can I ever tell you how sorry I am?” I pleaded. “Sorry for all the stupid mistakes I made. Sorry for my never-ending selfishness. Sorry that a monster like me fell in love with you. Sorry that it was always going to be me that would end your life in one way or another.” I raised my gaze to where the sun was close to fully disappearing beyond the horizon. “I took your soul, Bella. I damned you to be like me. I’m so sorry for that, more than anything else.” My whole body shook as I remembered my words, having to focus to keep from crushing to cap in my fist.

‘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.’.

I sank to the ground as my knees gave way. “And it did kill you.” I moaned. “It didn’t matter if you were human or not…I was fighting fate trying to keep you alive.” My voice was bleak. “But it was all for nothing.” I sucked in a harrowing breath. “Because it was true all along…” Just then, the sun disappeared fully over the horizon and there was nothing but twilight.

She was there then, I didn’t have to see her standing before me—I could feel her. My gaze rose slowly until I was staring into her warm brown eyes once more—filled with pain, and compassion and longing.

“Your number was up from the moment that I laid eyes on you.” It was a ghost of a whisper as I admitted the horrifying truth out loud. “Why—out of all the boys you could have made fall in love with you—why did it have to be me, Bella?” I pleaded. “Why did you have to fall in love with me?” I whispered in agony.

She stared at me for a long moment, her eyes searching my face, a flicker of sadness crossing her expression.

Would you take it all back if you could?” She asked in a soft mournful voice. “Would you undo it all—stop us from ever meeting—if you could escape the pain it has caused you? Would you trade it? Is that what you want, Edward? To have never known me?” She paused and blinked at me with an unfathomable expression in her eyes. “Do you think that your life might have been easier if you hadn’t ever loved me?”

I gaped at her wordlessly—she was throwing my own words back at me. I remembered when I had asked her once, “Do you ever think that your life might be easier if you weren’t in love with me?

And what did I tell you?” She whispered staring down at me. I couldn’t speak—in that moment I couldn’t even recall the words. “I said, ‘Maybe. It wouldn’t be much of life, though.’” She shrugged simply. “It wouldn’t have been much of a life, Edward.” She murmured, her lips curving into a sad smile.

How could she remember…when I couldn’t?

I’m the part of you that remembers why everything we shared was worth it—why we would never give up what we have for anything. I’m the part of you that remembers what our love was like.” She whispered. “Unlike any love that ever existed.” She murmured smiling softly as she knelt to the ground and my gaze followed her, unable to take my eyes off of her. “No one has ever loved anyone as much as you love me—as much as I love you.” She breathed, her eyes shining with undying love for me. “That’s why it had to be you, Edward.” Her words stole my breath, tightening my chest and it made me want to weep. “It was always you.”

I stared into her eyes and yearned for sleep once again. Not for oblivion, as I had in the hour before she had existed in my world—not to escape boredom—but because I wanted to dream again. Not the same as before, to fulfill my desire to imagine a world where she would love me in return. I had lived that dream already, and that dream had distorted into a horrible nightmare when she’d been taken from me. I wanted desperately to cling to this—if I could dream, if this is what dreaming was—to live in a world where she and I could be together once more.

This moment, and the previous moments like it—when she was here before me like a ghost, a reflection of my memory of her—they were as close as I would ever come to getting my hearts now only desire—to dream…of her.

This isn’t a dream, Edward.” She murmured sadly, watching me, knowing where my thoughts had gone.

“A dream will never be able to take the place of you.” I mused aloud to myself. “But thisthis is close enough to dreaming of you.” I stared at her as longing welled in me. “I wish I could stay this way forever—if this is all I can ever have of what’s left of you from now on.” This had been the most amount of time that I had ever been able to talk with my hallucination of her like this—it had almost been as if she were alive again. My eyes flickered to the growing darkness—the fading twilight.

Yes, I suppose it’s time for me to go.” She sighed dejectedly.

Panic jolted through me. “Not yet!” I pleaded.

No, not just yet.” She assured me. “But very soon.” She warned and I nodded in understanding, clinging to any time I had left, wanting to delay her absence as long as possible, because when it came, it would engulf me. “You can’t stay like this forever, Edward.” She murmured. “You have to let me go.”

“I can’t.” I cried shakily.

You must.” Her voice was urgent and soft at the same time. “This can’t last. You know that.” She dipped her face to make sure she caught my gaze but it was unnecessary, I hadn’t taken my eyes off of her since she’d reappeared. “It’s time, Edward.” There was something in her voice that frightened me, the cold chill of realization slid over me.

“You’re not coming back.” The words broke, choking me—my mouth was suddenly unbearably dry.

She shook her head sadly. “No,” She whispered. “I’m not. This is the last time.” I was frozen, unable to move. “Good-bye, Edward.” She whispered and suddenly, grief and pain unlike I had ever known before seized me.

“Wait!” I pleaded, crying out desperately, reaching for her but my fingers passed right through her as she continued to stare impassively, never reacting—making me recoil in horror. “No! Please don’t leave me, Bella!” I begged. “Please, don’t go!” I shouted it shrilly, my voice shattering. “Please, please…” I sobbed hysterically. “You have to come back!” My chest was heaving, as my fingers reached to grip fistfuls of my hair in desperate panic. “I can’t…I can’t do this…no, I can’t lose you…please don’t go…no, no, please…” I felt the ghost of tears in my eyes, felt them spilling down my face though they weren’t really there. “Don’t, please don’t! Please!” I tried to scream it as loud as I could but the harrowing agony piercing me strangled it.

Her eyes softened then finally. “I’m always here.” Her voice was so soft, a sharp contrast to mine as her left hand reached forward slowly, one finger pointing to the space of my chest over my frozen heart, never touching me. My hands lowered limply my entire body slumping in defeat. “I’m in the twilight.” She whispered looking up to the sky above us, and my eyes rose to follow hers, to the brilliant canvas of colors more beautiful than I had ever seen it before. I blinked, staring up for a long moment trying to picture her face and when my gaze fell back to the space before me, I’d known before I even looked that she would be gone…and she was.

It was like losing her all over again.

Again and again and again.

Every facet and point of pain was multiplied.

The floodgates of agony exploded around me ripping the tidal wave of grief free, shredding me from the inside out as every single time I’d lost her swallowed me.

Finding her lying bent and broken at an odd angle—her screams in the dark.

“My hand is burning!”

“The fire! Someone stop the fire!”

“Edward!”

“He bit her.”

Then the blackness coming to swallow me as I ran away from all that would ever matter, all that would ever give me mean for anything and towards the rest of forever without her, letting the heart-wrenching pain engulf me now as it did then.

“She’s dead, Edward.”

“Bella...threw herself off a cliff two days ago.

It was like time had ended.

Like the universe had stopped.

“He’s at the funeral.”

Love.

Life.

Meaning.

Over.

Every single word condemned me.

“I can’t believe you have the nerve to show your face here.”

“Get your hands off of her.”

“You miserable excuse for a human being.”

Every syllable was damning.

“It’s a monster. Just like its father. I always knew he would kill her.”

“It’s killing her, right? She’s dying?”

“Of course, die for the monster spawn. It was so Bella.”

“You should have left Bella with me.”

I was a succubus, destroying the very person I loved.

“I didn’t realize they had a special name for what you are.”

“Why do you always have to love the wrong things, Bella?”

The wrong things…a monster.

There was the horrific sound of Bella’s heart faltering—the last thick, wet ga-lump—echoing sickly in my head, and then the sluggish thump of the muscle, artificially pumping inside her body.

I killed her.

Bella, I love you. Bella, I’m sorry.

Her golden eyes locking on mine across the pool of fire, the last time I would ever look into them, and then the last image I would ever have of her as she plummeted into the flames, disappearing forever.

“There’s nothing you can do for her.”

“She’s gone.”

All hope evaporated, dragging me under, away from the light, the onslaught of horrific despair devouring all I had left.

She’d died to save something that I had inflicted upon her with my weakness.

I had killed her.

I screamed then—screamed in rage and despair, hopeless shuddering sobs of agony—screamed for her over and over again. She was gone, my dream of her was dead and she wasn’t ever…coming…back. I had nothing left. I screamed for hours, well past when the twilight had faded until an endless blackness enveloped the sky, demolishing trees in my fury, breaking them in half, splintering them to pieces, screaming as I delved deeper into the darkened forest, pulverizing boulders to dust, tossing them violently leaving pathways of destruction in my wake as I went. I screamed until I was numb, until I couldn’t bear to scream anymore, until all I could do was collapse to the ground and shake, holding my head in my hands as I curled into myself. I stayed that way for what seemed like a very long time.