You don't have to do this, Edward. Alice's quiet voice from a few nights ago rang loudly in my ears as I watched Bella pull into her driveway, the loud roar of her truck doing very little to drown out my conflicted thoughts. I left the fabricated note I'd created for Charlie inside their house, and mailed Bella's envelope to Renee, being careful to remove any photos that included me, and anything in her house that could've reminded her of my existence, of my short-lived presence in her life.

Maybe Alice was right, I didn't have to... leave Bella. My own mind, as sharp as it was after a century of close human observation and commitment to knowledge, could not conceive what my existence would be like after this critical moment. From the moment I watched Bella sleep in her room, when she said my name, I was forever changed. And from this point on, I knew my existence could also never be the same. I would be permanently changed again, this time by her unrecoverable absence, this time of my own doing, this time for the worse.

I could simply be selfish, take what didn't belong to me, and sacrifice the precious life of an innocent woman to fulfill my own desires. I loved her, it was true, more than conceivable, but would that be sufficient, would my love be enough to justify my heinous actions? According to Bella, it was.

I will do anything it takes to protect Bella's life, even at the expense of our happiness together.

So beautiful, I thought sadly as I watched her unbuckle her seatbelt and remove her key from the ancient ignition, and grab her backpack as she stepped out of the truck, her sweet scent hitting me as it wafted toward me through the rolled down window, and this time I was more acutely aware of it. I inhaled deeply, drinking it in, absorbing it within me, committing it to memory, because I knew this would be the last time.

She was wearing a pretty burgundy blouse with lace detailing. It contrasted with her ivory skin and brought out the warmth of her milk chocolate eyes, her long, mahogany hair was lightly curled at the bottom, she'd taken out the twist in her hair that she'd worn to school today. I felt my resolve waver as I took in her appearance. No, no…

Her eyes widened and her delicate eyebrows raised slightly when she saw me sitting still in my Volvo, parked in her driveway, which was unusual of me. She shook her head and took a deep breath. So observant.

Too quickly, I exited out of my car and gingerly took her bookbag from her, setting it in the driver's seat and shutting the door behind her as she stood, staring up at me, her brown eyes were wide, almost suspicious. I wasn't sure what she saw in my topaz eyes, but I had prepared myself for this moment, to look cold, calculated, uncaring, in a twisted way, to make this easier for her.

So soft, and gentle. Vulnerable. She's perceptive, she knows what is coming…

"Come take a walk with me," I said stiffly, gently grabbing her hand as I lead her towards the trail on the east side of her house that led into the forest. She hadn't replied, she hadn't protested. I felt my own panic bubble in my chest, part of me wished she would ask me to stay, that she would dispel my fears about her future, that she'd thought of an alternative way that we could somehow stay together, leaving her unscathed…

But that wasn't reality.

I stopped walking right as the trail began to feed into the trees, not wanting to lead her too far away from the house. I leaned against one of the trees, my eyes scanning her face, she looked apprehensive, but her heartbeat was steady. What are you thinking?

"Okay, let's talk." She said, louder than I was expecting. I braced myself for what I was about to say, and took a deep breath.

Don't do this, don't do this, you don't want this, you can't live without her…

Alice's vision of inhuman, cold Bella flashed before my eyes, and my resolve was set again.

"Bella," I said softly. "We're leaving." Her eyes widened, and she stood stiffly as she took in what I said, her heartbeat sped up anxiously. She seemed to be considering what I said, and took a deep breath.

"Why now? Another year—"

"Bella, it's time. How much longer could we stay in Forks, after all? Carlisle can barely pass for thirty, and he's claiming thirty-three now. We'd have to start over soon regardless." It was a terrible excuse, but it was the simplest, the one that made the most sense and one that was easy to explain to her friends. I stared at her as coldly as I could manage, but I could see the wheels turning in her mind, she was slowly realizing…

"When you say we—," she whispered brokenly. A wave of self-hatred crashed over me.

"I mean my family and myself." I enunciated each word. Her heartbeat was sprinting now, her face began to crumple as she took in my words. I was rooted to the spot as I waited for her to speak.

"Okay," she said finally, looking defiant. "I'll come with you." My breath caught. I'd expected her to suggest this, I knew it wouldn't be easy, and why should it? I deserved the searing pain for what I was about to say to her.

"You can't, Bella. Where we're going… It's not the right place for you." I lied flawlessly. Wrong. So wrong.

"Where you are is the right place for me." She's right.

"I'm no good for you, Bella." I said finally, coldly, wanting to tear my eyes away from the hurt expression on her face, but I stood staring at her, transfixed, feeling like a disfigured monster, hoping my cruel words would finally make her realize it.

"Don't be ridiculous." she pleaded. "You're the very best part of my life." She said with such certainty, such conviction, that I almost believed it myself.

No, Bella, I'm the worst part of your life. The most unstable, volatile, and dangerous.

"My world is not for you," I replied simply. That part was the truth, at least.

"What happened with Jasper—that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!" she said loudly.

"You're right," I agreed. "It was exactly what was to be expected." If I was involved, she was invariably always hurt.

"You promised! In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay—" she argued.

"As long as that was best for you," I corrected her. It was surprisingly easy for me to find flaws in her arguments, now that her mood had shifted to passionate and angry.

"No! This is about my soul, isn't it?" she shouted angrily. "Carlisle told me about that, and I don't care, Edward. I don't care! You can have my soul. I don't want it without you—it's yours already!" Her eyes were bright, staring up at me, imploring as she pleaded with me, shining with the moisture of her unshed tears.

I inhaled sharply at her expression, at her words, and looked away. Inside, I cringed. I wanted nothing more than to hold her, comfort her, to wipe away her tear, to destroy the person who was causing her such pain and emotional distress.

That person was me. And in leaving her, I was destroying myself. I knew that I would not heal. I would learn to live with the permanent hole, the empty reservoir in my existence. But she shouldn't know this. I knew that leaving her would make her feel this way too, but the difference was that time healed human inflictions, she would move on. Part of me knew that she had always doubted the depth of my feelings for her, as she viewed herself as an ordinary human girl, which was far from the truth. I knew this would make it easier for her to believe what was coming, the final blow.

"Bella, I don't want you to come with me." I said slowly, watching her expression carefully as the words slowly sank in. Lies, lies, lies.

"You… don't… want me?" she said after a few moments, her tone confused, but believing as she stared into my dark eyes. I stared back. I was shocked, but concealed my expression—was it so easy for her to believe my lies, almost immediately? Did she doubt my prior love and adoration for her to that extent?

"No." As soon as I'd said it, I could tell that she believed me.

I love you more than anything, Bella.

"Well, that changes things." She said in a low voice, sounding surprisingly calm, but her eyes betrayed her tone, she still looked pained. Again, I was taken aback. She always surprised me, so why should I expect anything different now?

I looked away, unable to bear the pain in her sad, brown eyes, pain that I'd caused.

"Of course, I'll always love you… in a way. But what happened the other night made me realize that it's time for a change. Because I'm… tired of pretending to be something I'm not, Bella. I am not human." I looked back at her after I regained my composure. "I've let this go on much too long, and I'm sorry for that." I said, masking my face of any emotion. I could see that she realized I was being serious about leaving, and panic started to set into her features.

"You're not good for me, Bella." The final blow. She exhaled, and her shoulders slouched forward, her posture defeated, all of her earlier defiance was gone. I'd emotionally drained her.

Monster.

"If… that's what you want." It's never what I'll want, but it's what I must do...

I simply nodded. She stood, rooted to the spot, but her eyes were hectic, scanning the trees as her panic increased and heartbeat raced. She was far away in her thoughts now.

"I would like to ask one favor, though, if that's not too much," I asked quietly, interrupting her reverie. She looked stricken as looked back and stared up at me, her eyes glistening. Her expression was the most vulnerable I'd ever seen, and it almost completely shook my resolve—her brown eyes were so wide, so accepting, like she would've done anything I'd asked of her in that moment, despite how much I'd just hurt her, despite all the pain I've put her through, she was incredible, still Bella, self-sacrificial as always…

My mask slipped for a moment, but I'd carefully recomposed my features before she could notice.

"Anything," she promised fervently. I locked eyes with her intensely.

"Don't do anything reckless or stupid," I said, an authoritative edge to my voice. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" Promise me, Bella.

She nodded immediately. I relaxed minutely.

"I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself—for him." I said, despising myself for being so manipulative.

She nodded again without question.

"I will," she whispered.

"And I'll make you a promise in return," I said. "I promise that this will be the last time you'll see me. I won't come back. I won't put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from me. It will be as if I'd never existed." You can reclaim your life as your own, uninterrupted and whole.

Her breath came faster, her heart was pounding harder now. I was worried she might be feeling light-headed, because her legs started to shake. I wanted to reach my arm out to steady her—

Instead I tried to say something that would hopefully comfort her, as it had comforted me.

"Don't worry. You're human—your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind."

"And your memories?" she asked, her voice was rough, surprising me again. And you, Edward? Will you heal?

No. I will never.

"Well"—I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I should tell her this, but I wanted to share some truths with her, even if it was pointless amongst all the lies—"I won't forget. But my kind… we're very easily distracted." I smiled tightly again, trying to calm her down, and ease the pain if I could, I thought sardonically, but it wasn't working.

I took a step back, indicating that I was about to leave. I don't think I could've stayed longer without trying to touch her and comfort her.

"That's everything, I suppose. We won't bother you again."

"Alice isn't coming back." she realized, her breath caught in her throat. I shook my head, watching her carefully as she digested, blow after blow…

"No. They're all gone. I staved behind to tell you goodbye." And because it was the hardest for me to leave…

"Alice is gone?" she said incredulously.

"She wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced her that a clean break would be better for you." Another hollow truth that I wasn't sure would comfort her or not.

"Goodbye, Bella," I said as calmly as I could, but my mind felt twisted, deranged…

"Wait!" she choked out, reaching for me. Instinctively, I wanted to hug her, hold her in my arms, and lull her to sleep…

Instead, I gently grasped her delicate wrists, feeling her pulse, wild and racing, and placed her arms back at her sides. Her scent overwhelmed my senses, I inhaled deeply one last time, and against my will, I found myself bending down to gently kiss her forehead, unable to resist, a last farewell, an end to our journey together.

"Take care of yourself," I said quietly, my breath fanning across her face.

I love you, Bella.

And I ran.

I was gone. Physically and emotionally, I was deadened and empty, feeling more inhuman now than ever. Hoping to return to how it was before I'd met Bella was futile. Bella had brought light, hope and change into my existence, but she was gone, and twilight had returned, and it would bleed into an endless, starless night.