April 19, 2009
10:36 pm
Vacant garage, Port Angeles, Washington

The ground was cold and hard, and it reeked of oil and sweat. It smelled like… cars and grease and metal and tacky rubber. But there was another smell, too, one that mingled in with the grease, something sweet and cloying. It was some strange mixture of scents that she just could not place. But it was familiar and remnants of it still lingered on her clothes. While it was entirely different, it somehow reminded her of Edward.

Edward, she thought, and her mind instantly cleared.

When she opened her eyes, the world was cocked, tipped on its side. A dim, orange glow streamed down from large rectangular windows above, bathing the room in eerie light. While diffuse and weak, it was enough to ascertain her surroundings. Open gunmetal-colored cabinets lined the far wall, and stacks of old tires – piled eight and ten high – decorated the corner and adjacent wall. In the center, there was a wide expanse of empty floor only interrupted by regularly spaced thick steel supports.

Quickly, Bella realized that she was in a garage of sorts, one, judging by its condition, that had been abandoned years prior. But she didn't know how long she had been unaware, and as such, she had no reference point as to where this garage might be located. Considering the vampire speed she'd witnessed, distance held little meaning. She could be in Oregon just as easily as in Forks.

Grit and grime clung to her skin, and every time she moved her head, it felt like sandpaper scraping against her cheek. Her left arm was twisted unnaturally beneath her and sharp daggers of pain radiated from her shoulder and into her back. In truth, her entire body ached, but whether it was from the trauma of the car wreck or some new injury, she did not know. Regardless, for now, she was still alive; considering her present circumstance, however, that realization did little to reassure her.

Gingerly, Bella tested her muscles, slowly pressing her palms to the rough concrete and pushing her torso upward. She gasped as the knife-like stabbing in her shoulder tore through her chest and down her arm and into her fingertips, forcing her to collapse and shift all of her weight to her right side.

Determined, she vowed silently, He won't get that satisfaction. He won't hear me scream.

She sucked in deep breaths through her nose and slowly, the pain weakened and muted to a dull burn. Careful not to jar her shoulder, she rolled and propped herself up on her good elbow. Pausing, she glanced around the space, only to find it empty, devoid of anyone or anything.

It was absolutely silent. There were no voices, no sounds of cars or other evidence of humans. There was nothing but unnerving stillness. But she wasn't foolish enough to think he'd abandoned her here. There was no possible way that James would have gone to so much effort only to leave her.

But she needed to be on her feet. Focusing on the simple task of standing, she cautiously lifted herself to her knees and then finally to her feet. Before she had even a second to process her surroundings, however, she heard his familiar laugh.

"My dear, Isabella," he chuckled, as he walked through the far corner door. "I didn't expect you to wake so soon.

"Thought, I must admit, for a while, I was rather put out with you. You didn't seem to want to come to and you kept murmuring his name over and over. To be honest, it was getting to be a little tiresome."

While his tone and words were meant to instill fear, they resulted in the very opposite. Deep down, she knew she would die, and she was tired of his games. She was angry, livid over the pain and suffering James had caused. So many names she'd read in the papers, heard on the street, listened to on the radio. He and his band had killed so many innocents.

Bloodied images of her mother and father and Jacob flashed across her vision. She could see her mother's bruised body spread out across steel table in the morgue. She could hear her father's voice telling her he loved her that final time over the phone. Her lungs sucked in air, only to smell the copper scent of Jacob's blood. It was so real that she could feel its slick, wet texture coating her bare skin. She could taste it on her tongue.

And then she heard the sound of Edward's neck cleaving, she saw his body, and she felt his mangled flesh beneath her fingertips. It was the purest form of torture, extreme in a way James would never be able to mimic through physical torment. It caused her blood to boil; she could hear her own heartbeat thumping in her ears.

"Where are we? Why did you bring me here? Why didn't you just end it on the side of the road?" she snapped.

"Isabella, tsk, tsk!" he crooned mockingly. "You sound upset! I don't know if I like your tone."

"Go to hell," she growled.

Before she could take her next breath, he was suddenly inches from her face. His hand roughly grabbed her by the chin, forcing her to meet his gaze.

Even in the low light, Bella could see the deep red hue to his irises; they were chilling and full of malice. His eyes told her the truth; he would not hesitate to drink her dry, and he would draw it out as long as possible. He would relish her agony.

His touch was ice cold, and his fingers dug painfully into her flesh. But she shoved those feelings away, knowing that that was what he wanted. He wanted her fear and her pain. As long as she could, she swore to herself that she would not give in, would not give him that pleasure.

"My dear, it won't be me going to hell. At least not tonight. Cullen, on the other hand…"

"What did you do to him? Leave him alone! He took your Alice and now you're taking me. What else is there?" she spat.

James sighed in irritation, his icy breath rolling across her skin, sending an involuntary shiver down her spine. His fingers tensed and tightened once more, and his lips peeled back into a vicious sneer. Reflecting and catching the light, the venom coating his teeth shone and gleamed. Briefly, Bella wondered how badly it would really hurt; she knew whatever he had planned for her would be excruciating.

"Oh, it's so much more than that now. Don't you see, Isabella? It's his very existence, the very essence of who he is. He is nothing but a hypocrite, a weakling who denies his very nature. They all do. That whole, wretched family of his is an embarrassment to the species.

"And yes, he took what was mine, what I can only have once. He took her and hid her away. He stole my blood. Mine. Do you understand that? She was mine. And now, she's nothing, a waste.

"In my world, there is no greater offense. I won't just take you, my pet. I won't just kill you and drink you. I'll make you both suffer before I destroy him."

His voice shifted to an almost delighted singsong. "Because you know, he is coming for you. That was the plan all along. He would never be able to resist coming after you; I know him far, far too well. And when he arrives, I'll incapacitate him just as I've done before. You should have seen what I did to him twenty years ago," he said almost wistfully.

"And then, he'll… watch and hear your cries. Maybe, I'll even give him a little taste of you... so that he can see what he forewent. But we'll take our time, have no worry about that. I'd never rush this. For eight decades, I've been waiting."

With a cruel smile and a wink, he continued his rant, "After I'm done with him, I'll go back for those two lovely women you managed to temporarily save with your little distraction."

His words shook Bella to the core, turning her blood to ice. She felt as cold as his touch. Fear, fear for Edward and his family laced and weaved with her fury, and she scrambled for some way to alter his course.

Kill me now, she begged. Then, Edward… he can escape from here. He can come back with the rest of them and chase James down. He won't have to endure what James has planned. He won't sacrifice himself for me.

The thought of Edward facing James again, all alone, at the risk of death and worse, was too much to handle, more than her sanity would allow.

"How would you like to die, Isabella? Where would you like my teeth?" he purred, as his free hand came up and traced the column of her throat.

"Here?" he whispered, pausing at her pulse point.

His finger drifted down over the thin cotton of her shirt, settling between her breasts. "Or here, at your heart? That would be ironic, no? Piercing both your literal and figurative heart at once?"

Her heart pounded in her chest as he traced lower. With exaggerated slowness, he ghosted across her belly and leaned in. "Or perhaps, lower. You know, it can take so long to bleed out from a gut wound. And they are so painful. I hear that there is nothing like it."

"But I suppose I'd never be able to contain myself," he mused. "You must know how divine you smell. While you are no Alice, you are so mouthwateringly sweet. Floral somehow. God, Cullen was a fool not to take you."

When his hand continued its downward descent toward her inner thigh, tracing the path she recognized to be her femoral artery, she shuddered, and the heat of her anger resurfaced.

"Kill me, you bastard. Just do it now!" she yelled, shaking from both terror and fury.

Trying to pull away from his iron grasp, she jerked her head back and spat in his face. Knowing it was a fruitless effort, she lifted her uninjured arm and punched with all her strength, targeting his chest.

Of course, he was so much faster and easily swatted her hand away with an amused chuckle. But he released her, shoving her until her backbone hit the wall with a dull thud. He wiped her saliva from his cheek with an entertained smirk. Almost casually, he then turned and walked to the center of the garage, glaring up at the exposed i-beams spanning the ceiling.

"My, my, you are so feisty. You really have no idea what you are asking, do you? Pain, Isabella. Pain is what I will give you. If I were you, I would not be so impatient. I think you will change your mind very soon."

Still backed up against the wall, in her near periphery, Bella noted a small cabinet to her right with open drawers. Once, it had been an old tool chest; she could still see the greasy outlines of wrenches and ratchets staining the black drawer liners. It was empty but for scattered papers and debris. And a small rubber-gripped screwdriver.

While it would do nothing to his skin, offer no defense whatsoever, the tip would easily pierce hers with little force. His words resounded in her ears.

But I suppose I'd never be able to contain myself. You must know how divine you smell.

James was still gazing upward as she silently reached across and grabbed the small tool.

It ends now, she resolved, hoping that his words were true, that he would not be able to resist her spilt blood. With what strength she could muster, Bella lifted her injured arm, grimacing at the sharp twinges running down her ribs. Slowly, she flipped it over, exposing the smooth, pale skin covering the inside of her forearm.

Pressing the tip to her skin, she prayed a silent prayer and murmured a soft goodbye.

I love you, Edward, she chanted, as she pushed the tip down beneath the thin veil of flesh and then dragged it up her arm.

For a moment, everything was still. Thick, viscous beads of crimson bubbled up and rolled down her arm, dripping off her fingertip and onto the floor in heavy splats. Her heart thudded an irregular, pounding rhythm, and she gasped from the unexpected fire in her arm.

Bella dizzily glanced up and found James staring at her wide-eyed and bewildered. Suddenly, his chest began heaving, and his nostrils flared. A deep, low snarl ripped out from his chest as his expression transformed into that of a feral beast, a hungry predator seeing its weakened prey.

"Come get me, James," she whispered.

April 19, 2009
10:14 pm
Somewhere in the forest north of the Cullen family home, Forks, Washington

As he ran, he thought of nothing but reaching her. Everything else was lost in a blur of shadowy blacks and grays and greens and browns. By instinct and in blind rage, he ran, forcing his body to its absolute maximum in speed. His velocity was unprecedented, so fast that his own senses had difficulties keeping pace.

With perfect clarity, his mind saw only her, his Bella, the entire and singular purpose of his long existence, the only reason he had for it to continue. As if she were physically there beside him, he could see the way her eyes flickered in amusement when she cut through his pretenses, the way they gleamed when she questioned him without hesitation, the way they had flashed when she had confronted him with alarming bravery that day at the store. He could see them wide and innocent, accepting and forgiving. He could see the way they stared unflinchingly into his, knowing all his darkest secrets and demons, knowing him.

He watched her lips curl up into the shy smile that had branded his soul. Over and over, he replayed that smile, her expression as she looked up at him, mirroring the adoration that consumed his entire being.

Her bouquet filled his lungs; he could smell her as acutely as if he were holding her in his arms. His mind knew every shade and aroma that blended to make up the finest wine he'd ever encountered, that ambrosial perfection that sang to him. Her heartbeat, the rhythm that he could pinpoint a mile away, thundered in his memories, vibrating and echoing through his dead veins.

His fingertips burned, remembering the warmth of her skin and the softness of her curves. He could feel her moist lips pressed against his, and his scalp prickled at the memory of her slender fingers wound in his hair. He could feel her body molded around him, quivering as they joined.

I have to make it in time. She cannot die; she is all that matters, he whimpered.

A mile away from the house, he focused his mind and listened for any signs of Bella or his family, for any sign that they had not left as they'd all planned. When he heard nothing, he pressed on. He knew James would go there first, that he would follow their flight.

As he crossed the drive, he caught the faint but persistent odor of exhaust and kicked up earth and gravel. But more importantly, he caught James's scent. He'd followed their trail. Without slowing, Edward turned and raced on, trying desperately to make up for his delay. James would be several minutes ahead, and if he pressed, he could catch up to their vehicle.

When he'd almost reached the main county road, he heard cries, both mental and audible. They were high-pitched sopranos, smooth and musical, even in their pain. He knew these voices. And their tenor hit him like a brick wall.

His footfalls faltered, slowing his gait. A loud, keening whine bubbled up from his chest and echoed in the night. His chest suddenly felt swollen and bloated, as if he were about to explode. Anguish, pure, unadulterated anguish, theirs and his, flooded his mind.

Edward! He has her! He hit the truck. I'm so sorry; we couldn't outrun him, Esme sobbed.

No! he screamed. Not her. Not yet!

Rationally, he knew James wanted to be found, that he would wait to… kill her. They were back to playing the game they'd played many times before: James's sadistic sport of 'find the girl before I kill her'.

Edward gulped, trying to force down the expanding knot at the base of his throat as he focused and tried to glean what he could from his family. By concentrating on them, he battled the desolation that threatened to overtake him and knock him to the ground.

Rosalie's thoughts were far less coherent than Esme's, and he recognized why immediately. Through Esme's eyes, he saw the damage that James had inflicted. Rosalie's blonde hair was matted and dirty, and her skin was caked with debris. Jagged gashes stretched across her upper body, and there was a gaping crescent-shaped wound at her neck. Her knee and hip were warped outward.

Her mind was riddled with pain, but the few sparks of lucidity told him that Esme was in only slightly better shape. They had clearly put up a fierce fight, but despite outnumbering him, they had had far too little training and did not have the strength to fight him off. He was too strong and too cunning.

Bella, Rosalie murmured. Find her, Edward. Please. I don't want to lose her either.

We'll be fine. Just go! Esme intoned, demanding that he run on.

Hearing Esme's voice stabbed at his conscience. How do I explain to her that Carlisle has been lost? That her mate, her soulmate, no longer walks this earth? That he died at the hands of my enemy, not his? All because of what I did so many years ago. How can she ever forgive me? How can any of them ever forgive me?

But those were thoughts on which he could not afford to dwell. Were he to allow himself to think about that, coupled with the crippling despair he was already fighting, he would surely collapse. Afterward, he would face any and all consequences. And if Bella no longer breathed… his decision was already made. He knew that he was too weak to be without her. If James succeeded in killing her, he had little reason to fight back.

Blindly, he followed James's scent, now coupled with the scent he knew better than his own. As he passed the mangled remains of their SUV, he forced himself to repress the anxiety that wanted to blossom. He told himself over and over that Bella's blood had not been shed. Of that, he was absolutely certain.

Minutes seemed like hours, but he did not slow. Chasing her perfume, he cut back through the trees, extending his strides into long, reckless leaps, bounding over logs and streams, clipping trees and limbs as he flew. Heedless, he whirred past seldom-visited cabins and campsites; no human eyes could hope to follow his flight. Again, his surroundings blurred into nothing but streaking colors and distorted sounds. Scenery merged with scenery; his only guide was smell.

With no hesitation or deceleration, he broke through the tree line outside of Port Angeles onto the main highway. If people were present, it did not matter. If cars or trucks crossed his path, it did not matter. His feet slammed into the pavement with inhuman force, and he felt the surface give beneath his weight, no doubt leaving behind permanent evidence of his footrace.

As he approached the old warehouse district, signs of humanity waned. The asphalt was still wet from an early-evening scattered shower, and the orange glow from the few streetlamps glared back at him. This section of town was virtually abandoned; the streets were empty and dark, only populated by dated automobiles meeting with other dated automobiles, most likely for unseemly business. The bitter odors of rotted human food and waste swirled in the air, tinged with smoke and industrial pollutants.

But her scent was so strong; he was so very close. He strained his ears, searching for her telltale rhythmic thump and James's malevolent thoughts amongst the streaming voices of the town.

Damned human girl! Does she really think she can fight me? Does she think her pitiable attempts are more than a gnat's buzz to me? Foolish girl. Why, oh, why do I wait? She is delectable after all and I am so thirsty. .

And then, his voice rang out, hissing and spitting with contempt.

"My, my, you are so feisty. You really have no idea what you are asking, do you? Pain, Isabella. Pain is what I will give you. If I were you, I would not be so impatient. I think you will change your mind very soon."

And then silence.

His head whipped around toward the direction he'd heard James's voice. To the right, down the vacant service alley, Edward saw it. An old concrete and cinderblock garage, a remnant of the early 1950s, jutted out between its neighboring boarded up buildings. It was dark and deserted, isolated and hidden from the main roads.

"Come get me, James," he heard her say.

"NO!" he bellowed, as he sped toward the building.

James's mind was suddenly filled with raging bloodlust and was almost unintelligible. But his intent was clear. Edward had seconds at most. Her heartbeat suddenly exploded in his ears and jolted his body, pulling him forward.

Unthinkingly, with a primal roar, he barreled through the nearest bay door, sending a wide swath of splintering wood and broken glass. As soon as he cleared the space, Edward's eyes immediately searched and trained to James's crouched form standing in the center of the garage. Their gaze met for but a fraction of a second. James's irises were pitch black and wild, as if he'd been caught mid-hunt. His spine was bent low, ready to pounce, and his hands were twitching and curled.

Bella's scream tore through the air and Edward's eyes shot to her. She was leaning against the side wall, one arm clutching the other. Her expression was a mask of terror and pain and shock. And then, he saw the rivulets of scarlet trailing down her forearm and dripping into a small red pool on the dirtied floor. The air was saturated with her. But all he could think of was that he was not too late; she was alive. And she would stay that way as long as he was still standing.

James's growl ripped through the empty space, pulling Edward's attention away from Bella. James's motions and stance belied his instinctual debate: to take down his prey or to defend his prey. He turned slightly, facing Edward.

He hissed through clenched teeth, "Cullen, I see you did make it. Isabella and I were just talking about you."

Edward watched James's blackened eyes madly flicker back and forth between him and Bella. His bloodlust was still strong, but some coherency surfaced. He wanted the fight; James wanted nothing more than Edward's destruction. Everything, even his own instincts, came second.

Coldly, flatly almost, Edward snapped, "You will not have her, James. She is mine. You will never have her; you will never touch her."

He stood stark still, watching every fidget and movement, listening for James's intentions, waiting for any sign. In the back of his mind, Jasper's words and visions played, still coaching him.

Attack first, surprise him. Don't wait to defend. Take him out quickly and painfully. Knees, hamstrings, back, throat. Don't give him a chance to rise again. No mercy, Jasper's clipped voice lectured.

"That's where you are wrong, Cullen. You can't defeat me. You were never strong enough. You were just lucky. But now? Look at you. You're weak and wounded. And me? I have more than enough to take you down. I'm better than you. Face it. I will win and I will suck that perfumed wench dry."

Fury reigned king, overtaking everything else. Edward's body hummed with white-hot wrath in the name of all of them, the women James had killed before, Carlisle, Esme, and more than anything else, for the torture to which he had subjected Bella. Her words and command were like a whip, cracking and scarring his mind and flesh.

As in the field, brilliant, pulsing red painted Edward's vision as he listened to James's thoughts and watched the gruesome scenes he had plotted. The acts he envisioned were… brutal and nauseating in their vibrancy and detail. The tortures that he had planned were bloody and atrocious, aimed at delivering as much physical torment as possible. As Edward listened, unrelenting, cold hatred coursed through him, unfathomable in its depths. Nothing remained but sheer, icy determination.

Kill him. Make him suffer for me.

In a blurred rush, Edward darted forward, arms outstretched in attack. His body hurtled across the garage seemingly driven solely by rage and emotion. But it was pretense; knowing James's skills, Edward honed in on James's thoughts, waiting for the minute signs of intent. Just before he struck, James's thoughts gave away his counter. When he sidestepped to the left, Edward suddenly was there, too. With an ear-splitting crack, his fists connected with James's ribcage.

Their momentum knocked both to the floor with a spray of shattered concrete debris. Edward's fingers curled and gripped onto James's shoulders just as he shifted his weight, sending them rolling into a nearby steel support. At impact, the building shook and groaned, and cracks danced up the metal beam.

Almost instantly they were upright again, and Edward immediately attacked. His foot planted into James's thigh just as he grappled with his forearms. Edward spun on his heel, whipping his hips around and pulling James along through the air. At the apex of his arc, Edward released him, slinging him across the room and into a stack of metal cabinets. Clanging and screeching metal reverberated and bounced off the walls as he crashed.

Before Edward could turn, James was back on his feet and sprinting toward him. Edward raced forward to meet him, but just before collision, he leaped up, twisting and arching his back mid-air, skirting over James's assault. As James passed underneath, Edward reached down and latched onto him by the arms and yanked him back. With the abrupt jerk, they both lurched and stumbled to the ground in a jumbled gnarl of limbs and snapping teeth.

Edward's knee crashed into James's hip, knocking it from his socket. James howled in pain and launched himself at Edward's throat, a frenzied, enraged beast. His teeth cut through vampire skin and ripped away chunks of meaty, white flesh. But Edward never ceased his assault. His fists rained down a flurry of blows, targeting James's ribs and gut. His razor-sharp nails sliced open James's skin, leaving wide, gaping gashes.

Edward saw the older, now-healing wounds he'd delivered in the field. Deftly, he jammed his fingers deep into the slashes and pulled the flesh open again with a metallic shriek. James roared and kicked Edward away, sending him skidding across the greased floor. As James's foot connected, Edward felt the give and fracture of his bones and flesh. But any pain was lost in his concentration.

Undaunted and lightning-fast, Edward bolted back up and dashed toward James. Not slowing, he slammed into James, sending him careening through one of the bay doors. Glass shattered and rained down, and wood split and blasted outward.

But James was unfazed and charged back into the building. When he saw Edward crouched low and waiting, he paused and faced off. Slowly, he stalked forward, bent low and ready for attack. They circled, both watching for signs, for any motion or indication. When James feinted left, Edward was a fraction of a second ahead. When he jerked right, Edward was there. Each motion Edward read before it was taken. His eyes never left James's.

Edward whispered, low and seductive, almost hypnotic, "I told you, James. You will not have her. That will never happen."

His arm extended and his fingers curled up and motioned him forward in provocation. "Let's end this, shall we? Your time is through because I am strong enough to kill you."

In that moment, space and time seemed to halt. Edward could see with perfect precision James's intent. He watched the vampire rock forward, and then race across the short span between them. Patient and calculating, Edward remained in place, waiting for the exact moment. A split second before impact, he twisted to the side, and James just brushed his shoulder. Edward whipped around and caught James by the throat, wrenching him to an abrupt, staggering stop. Edward unfurled his tightly wound body and spun, releasing James's throat only to instantaneously come around with a bone-shattering backfist to James's spine.

The sound of James's body breaking resounded in the open space, reverberating and clapping like thunder. He lay contorted and writhing in pain, spitting curses and epithets. In an almost human manner, his chest rose and fell with his shallow pants. With every movement, he grunted and moaned.

Kill him. Make him suffer for me.

No mercy.

Edward's mind was suddenly clouded with black wrath and anguish; ice-cold, determined fury was replaced with hot, seething insanity. A deep, angry growl roared in his chest and he descended on James, attacking him anew. With animalistic ferocity, he tore James's limbs away, cleaving them from their sockets. His nails and teeth ripped into the body, rending the flesh and slashing it to jagged pieces. It was as though his mind were lost, as though all Edward could see were the faces of those James had murdered. All he could hear was Bella sobbing and begging for her father. James's tortured shrieks were lost to his madness.

Somewhere in the distance, he heard a quiet and shaking feminine voice, a voice his mind recognized and clung to. "Edward, we're better than this. You are better than him."

He looked up and his eyes met Bella's. They were wide and filled with tears, and his motions instantly halted in response.

At the sight of her frightened and pleading, his rage dissipated immediately. He nodded, his mind suddenly clearing. Without breaking their gaze, he reached down and gripped James's head on either side. With a simple twist and jerk, he ended James's screams.

Silently, he rose and numbly gathered James's scattered body parts into a pile. Once he was satisfied that he'd found everything, he reached inside his jeans pocket and located the small lighter he'd carried from the house.

James's body lit up in a blazing ball of fire and plum-black smoke billowed upward and out through the broken glass windows. But he didn't notice. It was over.

He met Bella's stunned gaze and approached her with exaggerated slowness, fearful of scaring her. Her shoulders were hunched forward, and her back was pressed firmly against the cinderblock wall behind her. An old rag was wrapped around her forearm, and her free hand held it tightly. On the floor by her feet was a small screwdriver, its pointed tip stained red. The floor itself was splattered with dark splotches of her still-wet blood. Again, as before, strangely, his mind barely processed the aroma of her perfume. His body recoiled, acknowledging that she was so much more important. He craved her, not her blood.

Surely, she is terrified. But of whom? James? Me? Both? he lamented, watching her trembling frame. This is too much for her.

"Bella?" he murmured softly. "Bella, I won't hurt you. I need to take you away from here. The building will be lost soon and people will arrive. We need to go. I won't touch you if you don't want me to."

While the idea that she would spurn him was painful, a deep swelling of relief filled his being. For the first time in eighty years, the threat of James was gone. It's over, he repeated silently.

But at what price? he sighed, fighting the images he needed to stem for just a little bit longer.

Interrupting him, her voice rang out, stuttering and breathy, "You-, are you hurt?"

Her brows were high and arched, and her lips quivered. There was hurt and dread in her words, and wet and gurgling tears marred her normally melodic voice. She sounded almost panicked, and her fear stabbed him in the chest. Again, he begged to hear her thoughts, to know why she sounded so tortured.

"No, Bella. No, I'm not. No more than will heal," he replied, softly and soothingly, trying to assuage her.

He stopped a few feet from her, unsure of what to do. Gently, Edward whispered, "I'm so sorry, Bella. I'm so sorry that you had to see me like that. I'm sorry you had to witness me losing control. I swear, I swear to you that I will not hurt you. I cannot hurt you."

But his apologies were cut short by her throwing herself into his chest. His breath caught and his eyes clenched shut as he tightly wrapped his arms around her shaking body. Carefully, Edward lifted her up, almost as one would a child. Bella's slender legs wrapped around his waist, and she buried her face between his shoulder and neck while her uninjured hand fisted his shirt. For a moment, all he could do was hold her, feeling her warmth and softness. Her heartbeat thrummed, echoing through her body and into his. His body vibrated to her cadence, and his lungs greedily sucked in her essence. A low burn in his throat ignited, and he nearly laughed.

The smell of charring vampire flesh reminded Edward that they had to exit the building quickly. He murmured into her hair, and Bella responded with a garbled acknowledgment. Swiftly, but careful not to jostle her injured arm, he carried her out into the dark streets of Port Angeles.

As he walked, he felt her lips peppering hot, moist kisses along his neck, and he heard her sighs. Some emotion, or some mixture of emotions boiled inside of him, and he gasped from its intensity. It was relief and joy mixed with the all-encompassing love he felt only for her. But buried beneath was angst and sorrow, knowing that the joy he felt had been borne from suffering and death.

Blocks away from the burning building, he stopped and leaned against a crumbling brick wall. Bella lifted her head and met his gaze; her skin was dirty and streaked from her tears. Sudden exhaustion overtook him and he sank, sliding down the wall, holding her in his lap. Desperately, he threaded his fingers into her hair, holding her face between his hands. For a long moment, they stared, neither willing to break or look away.

Her features inexplicably relaxed and her eyes warmed, glinting in the low light from the nearby streetlamp. Like tinkling bells, her voice sang, "It's over now?"

He could only mouth a simple 'yes' before her lips crashed into his. But this kiss was different than all the others before. This kiss was hot and messy, filled and fraught with emotion that neither could express in any other way. Frantically almost, their tongues twined and their hands clutched and explored, as if they were testing reality. He palmed her back beneath her shirt, running his hands up and down her bare skin, memorizing its silken texture and gradation. Wanting more, more contact, more warmth, more her, he pulled her body as close as physically possible, aligning their chests. Her heat flooded him, her fire to his ice.

Her fingers pawed at his chest through the fabric as she sighed against his mouth. As if in baptismal cleansing, her breath washed over him, and he felt the soothing stillness of peace and solace that only her presence could grant.

And for those moments, all else fell away in a dark, hazy blur. There was only her.