Bella was currently lying on her back embracing death.
It was raining, of course it was raining, and Bella was soaked to the bone. If she wasn't set on dying, she'd probably be worried about that.
Well, set on dying was a strong term. Bella hadn't woken up today deciding it was a good day to die.
Quite the contrary.
Bella had woken up determined that if Jacob wasn't going to take her to the meadow, she would take herself.
She'd driven out, and after hours of searching and getting lost, accidentally happened upon it. She hadn't known what she was expecting from the place. It was beautiful, as always, but it was duller than she remembered. Without Edward there, waiting in the sun, the grass wasn't as green and the flowers not as bright. It was only a place, something she might have as a screensaver.
On reaching it, she'd suddenly realized that she'd never been looking for the meadow, she'd been searching for him.
Seeing the meadow like this, wan and colorless, simply another clearing in the forest with no magic of its own, had made Edward's memory seem that much more distant to her. Like a child looking at something that used to be magical, but now she had grown up and the wand was just a stick. Edward was gone, had never been a part of this world at all, and now even the meadow was just another meadow.
Perhaps it wasn't so bad, then, that Laurent had shown up.
She had told Edward that she didn't want a life without him, and she'd meant it. He'd implored her, half-heartedly and almost as an after-thought, to live for Charlie's sake but- She'd lost something vital when he left, lost even the strength to pretend she still had it. These past few weeks, with Jake, she'd started searching for it again but that didn't make it feel any more real to her. Her life had been pointless before Edward, she'd be the first to recognize that, and it was just as pointless afterwards.
If lives were films, with beginnings and endings, then the credits would have rolled the second Edward left.
As Laurent had advanced towards her, any other human would have started begging, or maybe even tried to run.
She'd whispered, "Edward, I love you," and closed her eyes.
And then nothing had happened.
She'd squeezed her eyes shut even tighter, suddenly worried Laurent was going to make some type of game out of it. Maybe he'd wanted her to watch him do it. James, after all, had been very set on making a show of Bella's death.
Several seconds had passed.
She'd tentatively opened her eyes.
Laurent was gone.
It wasn't just Laurent either.
The air around her was different, crisper, that dreaded cold mist that always came before the deluge of rain in Forks. Which, of course, was odd as moments ago while overcast there'd been no hint of rain.
The meadow was gone as well. There was a tree right in front of her where there had been planes of grass just moments earlier. The vegetation looked different too, Bella couldn't quite put her finger on how, there were still trees, still moss, and everything was still that almost alien green she'd come to associate with Forks but-Something about it didn't look quite right.
Where was she?
Bella would have started walking, away from the tree and presumably back the way she came. Except, as she turned her head to look behind her, the way she'd come had changed dramatically too.
She turned in a slow circle, looking for some kind of path, any kind of clue as to which direction she should walk in.
There were only trees, endless trees.
She eventually started walking in the direction that looked easiest to traverse. She regularly tripped while walking on flat asphalt, she didn't want to push her luck.
When she tripped over a root and twisted her ankle only a few minutes later, she wasn't even surprised, just resigned. Of course she would trip. She was just glad Jacob wasn't here to see this.
Of course, if Jake had come with her then this probably never would have happened. Well, no, he probably would have been eaten. Maybe it was a good thing that Jake had joined Sam Uley's weird cult of shirtless muscular dude-bros on roids.
Bella would have gotten back up, really she would, even though her ankle was quickly swelling and throbbing in pain. But, just as she was preparing to get back up and hop onwards, it started raining.
And not just a pleasant drizzle she could have ignored, either.
No, it started pouring.
Bella looked around to see if there was any kind of shelter nearby. She'd take a tree branch at this point.
Unfortunately, there was nothing she could use. The trees were all those stupid carniforous trees that were hideously tall and only had those dinky little branches at the very top. Otherwise, there was nothing nearby except rocks.
Bella wasn't exactly the religious type, Renee had gone through too many strange phases for Bella to take any religion seriously, but it was around this point that Bella realized God wanted her to die. Maybe not God, but the Universe was clearly conspiring against her.
So, Bella lay down and accepted death.
(It did occur to her that if she wanted this to happen faster, she should maybe get up and walk some more, so she'd get more injured. However, given how things had worked out for her so far, she had little doubt something would happen to her soon enough to speed the process along. In the meantime, she'd lie back and think of Edward, thank you very much.)
It was funny, Bella had contemplated her death a number of times now, and this wasn't how she saw it coming.
Given the van, given the vampires, she thought it'd be something horrific and bloody where the only thing left of her might be a few artful blood splatters on the wall. There was that other time she'd been lost in the woods, when Edward had-
But she hadn't thought she was going to die then. No, she'd felt as if she'd already died that night, and that Sam Uley had simply found her walking corpse.
She hoped Charlie would be alright. He had his friends and fishing trips, so he'd carry on as he had after Renée left. Still, she hoped those first few months wouldn't be too rough on him. Renée had Phil, she'd move on too. Jake had already left for Sam Uley's gang. Edward-Well, he'd already carried on.
She felt a sense of peace at this last thought.
Her number had been up for some time now, since that day she'd first moved to Forks. The Universe was only collecting its due.
All things considered, this was starting to seem like a pretty good way to go. Sure, it might be a little slow, but the cold would probably kill her before starvation. Lying out here, staring up at the grey and rainy sky, she'd probably be lucky if she lasted the night. It was a peaceful death.
Unless she was eaten by one of those giant bears Charlie had mentioned. That would suck.
Was she already dead? That was fast. She still felt alive.
Her eyes snapped open. She hadn't realized she'd closed them.
It was still cold, her ankle, while growing steadily more numb with the rain still hurt, and the sky above her was as gray and rainy as ever. She'd expected death to be… less cold and wet.
But that was definitely Edward's voice.
She sat up, and looked around.
There, to her right, sitting on a rock like he was posing for a Barbour catalog, was Edward. He was untouched by the rain, his clothes perfectly dry, and not a single droplet on his perfect face. He met her gaze with a fierce scowl that hardly matched his pale, golden, eyes.
"You're not real," she told him.
"Nevermind that," he said, as if she'd told him his shoes didn't match. They did, for the record. They were as perfect as the rest of him. "Bella, you need to get up and move."
Not only was Bella not going to do anything that would make Edward leave, content with a job well done, but she didn't feel like moving either. Moving had proved hazardous in a matter of minutes, she was still reaping the consequences of moving.
She was perfectly fine where she was, even better now that she got to look at Edward while she died.
"No." She told him stubbornly, crossing her arms.
Edward glared, and wordlessly, he got up. He walked in the left direction, weaving between the trees.
Bella sat up straighter. He'd never done that before.
When he appeared, it was to warn her, to incessantly tell her what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
He didn't just glare at her and then leave.
Was this how she would die? First left by the real Edward, now the one conjured up by her mind was leaving her as well?
Edward stopped. "Follow me," he said, in a tone that left no room for debate.
Hesitantly, Bella got up.
Her ankle instantly protested, as expected. Sharp, stabbing, pain shot up through her leg. She grit her teeth and clenched her fits as she fought not to break out into screams or else a deluge of curses.
Edward, of course, watched her with a dull expression, as if Bella was being purposefully slow.
"It hurts!" Bella told him in an accusatory tone. This was his fault, after all, she'd have been fine if he hadn't made her get up.
"You've had worse," he noted dryly.
She just glared, and hopped on one leg towards him.
He didn't move to help her, probably because he couldn't, being a figment of her imagination and all. Still, while it was always wonderful to see him, he could at least look a little more sympathetic.
"I can't hop back to Forks!" Bella protested when she finally reached him.
Perfectly sculpted bronze eyebrows raised upwards sardonically. "No, you'll never make it to Forks."
"Then where are we-"
"Help is close by," Edward interrupted.
Help? Oh, people must be looking for her again. It'd been several hours and the sky was dark. Charlie was probably not taking any chances after last time. Bella was now somewhat surprised she hadn't seen any of them already.
She must be very lost.
It was strange, she almost felt… dejected.
Here she'd been, so ready for death, at peace with it all. This felt like the cop-out end to a bad movie.
But Bella supposed she always did survive, even the most unlikely situations. Usually followed by an extended stay in the ICU, but who was counting?
Still. She felt disappointed.
"That way, you said?" She eventually sighed, pointing in the direction Edward had walked in.
He nodded, and graced her with a luminous half-smile. "I'll walk with you."
And so they walked. Well, he walked, she hobbled.
"Root," he'd say every now and then, pointing to the ground, or "that's slippery." She was grateful he did, or she would definitely have fallen on her way.
After what felt like at least an hour of walking, but was probably only about twenty minutes or so, Bella noticed the woods growing thinner. She was approaching some kind of clearing.
As she stepped into it, it took her a moment to recognize there was anything in it other than moss and heath.
At first she thought somebody had died.
It was that instinctual response, that moment where you spot something and your brain has recognized it before your mind fully registers it. Bella was looking at a person, she knew the second she spotted the clothes and the shoes, and the person was not alive.
She froze for a long second, before hopping forward.
"Oh my god," she said out loud, "Edward, he's-"
The person was suddenly sitting up, so quickly that Bella hadn't actually seen the movement. She yelped in surprise.
Then she recognized him.
"Carlisle?!" she gasped.
It couldn't be, not here, not in Forks, not like this.
And certainly not in those clothes.
He looked like he'd escaped from a renaissance fair and then gone to a month long mud wrestling competition. Even his hair, usually in perfect condition and shining gold, was now dirty and tangled up like a bird's nest, with leaves and mud stuck in it.
His expression was one of bewildered desolation and growing horror.
What had happened since the Cullens left Forks?
Carlisle certainly looked like he had fallen on hard times. Hard times that seemed to involve cosplay and a lot of dirt, but hard times nonetheless.
She was starting to wonder if vampires could get drunk. That might explain Carlisle going to Renfest and waking up in Forks, as well as why he seemed so mortified to be caught in this predicament by Bella.
She wondered if Edward was in similar condition. Or Alice, or Rosalie. She struggled to imagine it. But then, she never would have guessed Carlisle either. Emmett, maybe, probably. Definitely.
She couldn't tell what color his eyes were, they didn't look their typical gold, but what shade of black they were was difficult to tell at this distance.
"Carlisle," she said again, hopping towards him, unable to help the stupid grin growing on her face. Her heart felt lighter, practically bursting with joy, and even in the miserable downpour it felt like everything was covered in a golden glow.
Carlisle Cullen was here, he'd come back, and if he'd come back then-
Carlisle's eyes grew wide with horror, and before she got any closer, he'd disappeared.
"Carlisle?" she said questioningly, looking at the spot he'd just been in.
Oh, god, had he really just left her? Again?
Just when she thought the Cullens couldn't abandon her anymore, Carlisle drops in after a vampire party gone wrong, and then runs for the hills at the mere sight of her. She wanted to tell herself he was just embarrassed, this was pretty embarrassing, but something told her it wasn't that.
He'd looked so horrified, like she was the last person on this earth he wanted to see.
The hole in her chest felt somehow more jagged than ever, like Carlisle had stuck both hands in it and ripped it open even further.
She looked back, where Edward was.
She knew even as she turned what she would see.
Sure enough, he was gone as well.
She was alone.
For several minutes, she waited. The Cullens weren't coming back, she knew, but she waited nonetheless.
Then she hobbled over to the spot Carlisle had just vacated, laid down in the middle, and curled up on her side.
As she closed her eyes and embraced death again, she could only mentally kick herself for letting Edward make her walk all this way for nothing.
A/N: Carlisle, meanwhile, is lying on the ground waiting for death.
If you happen to notice this story in two places, that's because rather than make a joint account Vinelle and The Carnivorous Muffin just decided to hell with it and posted it straight to both of our profiles. As well as Ao3, so that's three places.
Thanks to readers, reviews are much appreciated.