Four hours until departure.
Four hours to wait in this airport until I can fly east, away from this city that I have been haunting.
I will be moving, for the last time, away from the things that I know.
All I have done for months is run. I have been running from my family and from possibilities. From my unbearable hubris and recklessness. From my love.
But running hasn't solved anything. No matter where I travel, it's never far enough away to forget. I've tried; God knows how hard I've tried to forget, but it's no use. Everything is a reminder. Every sight, smell, and touch, always comes back to the same places and people.
I close my eyes and hear echoes of the lives I've ruined. My family's bright voices, dirtied with sorrow and guilt over the events I brought upon them. Bella's anguished voice following me through the trees when I walked away from her. That broken sound haunts me nearly every moment... how I wish I could answer her.
The reasons I run no longer matter.
I tore my family away from the new daughter they had eagerly welcomed. I exiled them from the lives they had built. I turned my back on them. And I turned my back on Bella. The sins I committed against the gentle girl who loved me are the worst of my life. I tell myself that those sins were the only way to save her, and it tastes like lies.
When I walked away that day in the forest, I was determined to save Bella from my world. I've always been a coward; Bella changed that about me, for a little while. She made me brave. Loving her gave me strength I had never known before. Ironically, that strength helped me find the courage to give her up.
I was beyond redemption, my own salvation squandered decades ago. So I hoped, finally, to do one good thing in return for all of my mistakes. I knew it was for the best that I leave her. It was the right thing, even if it came at the cost of my happiness.
But my love blinded me and made me underestimate everything. The anguish we felt when I struck the blows that severed the bonds tying us together. The emptiness left behind when love was withdrawn. The ghosts of the ones we missed, that lingered everywhere and in everything. My sacrifice broke hearts and minds. And the loss was overwhelming.
The most bitter irony, is that in saving Bella from an eternity of damnation, I lost her. I ran from the pain, as I have run from so many things in my life. Bella, as always, was infinitely braver. She ran forward to meet her despair. And when it became too much, she fell.
Bella's heart, so strong and vibrant at the center of my world, is now still and cold. So many times, she begged me to change her, to seal our destinies together, and I refused. Now I am the one left behind.
In truth, I began to come apart the moment I turned my back on Bella and tried to erase myself from her life. Every moment following was a struggle. I clung to my convictions, and turned inward and away from the world, so that she might have the life she deserved. Every moment, I felt myself slipping further away.
Esme and Carlisle were desperate to hold the family together when we left Forks. Despite my mistakes and the terrible pain I caused them, my family loved me. They wanted me near, and to help assuage my grief. But being with them was unbearable. However hard they tried, Bella was too often in their thoughts as they worried for her well-being. Did she mourn losing Alice and her second family? Was she able to turn to her parents for support? Would she forgive me for my obscene lies?
The family's concern for me ran even deeper; they correctly feared for my reason. They knew the depths of change that falling in love had brought to my life, and how utterly Bella consumed me. They understood what it cost me to turn away from that love. Distress was clear in their thoughts: Carlisle and Esme's anguish, Emmett's concern, and Alices's heartbreak. How long before I would recover from this blow? How long before I would regain some semblance of sanity? Through their eyes, I watched myself slowly buckling under the burden of my sorrow, and my weakness sickened me.
Only Rosalie's barely controlled hostility made sense to me. My sister had every right to despise me; I had upended her life once again after all. She might have felt some consolation knowing how much I despised myself, but I had neither words nor voice to tell her.
Worst of all was Jasper's crippling shame for triggering the events that led us to leave Forks. Guilt overwhelmed him when he understood my plan to crush Bella's hopes and heart. The heady mix of emotions swirling around the family compounded Jasper's sadness a thousand times, until he could hardly move under their weight. I grieved for my brother's pain nearly as much as I did Bella's, and I understood it better than he realized.
More than a century had passed while I walked over the skin of this earth. I had studied and educated myself in every subject that struck my fancy. I earned degrees from prestigious universities and learned from some of the most brilliant people in the world. I was not, nor had ever been, stupid or unobservant. But nothing I learned over the decades of my life prepared me for what happened the night of Bella's birthday party.
I watched helplessly as her blood welled up from a tiny paper cut, and the way the room stilled at the sight of it. That single drop carried more power than a thousand bombs. It swept the room with a devastating explosion of her scent. We all felt it, that sudden crash of lust and hunger; the naked need to feed. Jasper broke the hush, lunging and feral, and ready to drain my beloved dry. I saw the monster dancing in his black eyes that night, and in his shining, savage smile. I felt my own monster stirring inside even as I put myself between Jasper and Bella, knocking her aside, and injuring her further.
My brother was obeying instinct that night, the same instinct I, and the rest of the family, had disciplined ourselves against for decades. But we were all playacting. We were well dressed monsters pretending to be more than our natures dictated. In the middle of our finery, a drop of blood stripped Jasper bare of his disguise. We straightened up the mess while Bella bled and trembled. She and Jasper were the least unnatural beings among us all.
I didn't blame Jasper; I told him so when I forgave him. I was the one that repeatedly brought Bella into that house, knowing every moment that she was not truly safe from us. I was the one that could have killed her with one careless sweep of my hand. I was the one that fought an overwhelming impulse to kill her from the very first moment her blood spoke to me.
Three hours until departure.
Just three hours to wait in this terminal, to count the seconds of each minute, and feel myself unravel.
To feel myself burn.
By now, Alice has seen my decision and spoken with the family. My mind tells me they will race to beat me, and that they still hope to save me from myself. They want to bring me back with their love.
I have proven myself unworthy far too often for forgiveness. I have disappointed them sorely through the years, and hurt them in so many ways. A small part of me wants to feel shame for the way I am hurting them now and will soon hurt them again. And then I remember that good sons do not place their family in harm's way with selfishness and arrogance. Good sons do not betray those who love them or damage the innocents left in our dark world. I showed my family just what kind of son I was when I broke Carlisle and Esme's hearts again by leaving.
This will be the last time they will mourn me.
For once, time is on my side. There are not enough hours for my family to catch me before I enter Volterra's walls and find my end. And what's left of my frozen heart hopes their love is strong enough to let me go.
After leaving Forks, I focused on tracking Victoria, chasing her through the southwest with single-minded obsession. My feet slipped over the miles in a haze of dark skies and dusty highways. I hid in motels when it was too bright to risk being outdoors, and sometimes used storage sheds or barns. I held as still as possible to control the tremors that shook my body, and I counted down the seconds of each minute that remained until sundown.
I held a plastic bottle cap in my hand as I counted, running my fingers over the prize I had taken from Bella on a day that seemed a lifetime ago. I remembered the sugared lemonade smell on Bella's lips and breath that afternoon, and how I had spun the plastic cap from her bottle. She watched me with those big, dark eyes and we talked seriously about who and what we were. I loved her already by then. I never dared hope she would return that love.
Whether I was in motion or frozen still, Bella was always in my thoughts. I pictured each precious part of her as I pulled memories from the catalog in my head. The sweep of her dark lashes against her ivory skin. The sweet curves of her chin and jaw, and the graceful lines of her neck. Her delicate wrists and hands, and the warm weight of her dark hair falling over the slope of her shoulders.
I ached to hear her voice, her laughter, the way she whispered my name.
My phone chimed on Christmas Eve with messages from Alice and the others. They asked me to come home. They asked that I call and let them hear my voice. They told me they loved me, and I closed my eyes against the flare of pain I felt at their words, knowing I would disappoint them once again.
I saw lights against the blackness of the desert and found a town slumbering under the stars. The lights came from a tiny church that stood waiting to shelter the lost or weary. Forsaken creatures like me had no business there, but I opened the doors and stole inside to light a votive for the one soul I knew was pure. I watched the candlelight flicker over the plaster face of the Virgin, while useless breaths moved in and out of my lungs. Bella's name was a prayer on my lips. I remembered the way she felt in my arms and shut my eyes against the desolation.
If I felt anything when I stepped back out into the night, it was emptier.
Two hours until departure.
Only two hours of seconds left to wait now, while the crowds of human travelers buzz around me. Inside my pocket, I hold the plastic bottle cap in my hand like a charm.
My God. It has been so long since I drew a breath that did not ache. So long since I felt a smile on my lips. Since I fed.
My Bella is gone and the agony has grown to fill my entire being, consuming me piece by piece. I don't want to run anymore. I don't want to escape, or hide, or dull the torment. I want to close my eyes and sink. I want to surrender. Perhaps, at last, I will find rest.
I am numb to everything but the fire of my grief and my memories.
During the weeks I pursued Victoria deeper south, I hoped for little. Only that Bella was well and happy. That she had learned to smile and laugh again, and was readying herself to begin the next stage of her life. I sometimes dared to hope she didn't hate me too much or that she might someday smile when she remembered our happier times together. I even hoped that Bella didn't forget me; it was at those times that I hated myself the most.
Finding Victoria was a penance through which I would repay some of my sins; destroying her was my only goal. The chase was also a distraction that gave me purpose, and tethered me to a world of which I had grown weary. The pain never ceased, but when I was moving, I could focus on something more than dying by slow degrees.
I didn't plan beyond finding the nomad. I didn't plan beyond the hour I was navigating, because each moment grew increasingly difficult to endure. I wondered sometimes what I would do when the chase ended. If the pain would finally lessen when Victoria ceased to exist. If I could go back to my family again. If I could put the short, blissful time I had spent with Bella behind me.
When Victoria's trail vanished somewhere before I entered Brazil, the last remnant of my composure disappeared with it. Half a world away from my love, I found myself without the fragile safety net I had been counting on. I felt myself fall away into the void, and a part of me was relieved finally to let go.
Memories of my beloved were the only thing I needed. I hid in dark corners and lost track of days and nights. I closed my eyes to be with Bella. I heard the music in her voice and felt the silk of her hair between my fingers. I tightened my arms around her and she was bright and alive, her smiling lips whispering beneath mine. The thump of her heart and the thrum of her blood vibrated beneath my fingers when I laid my hands on her skin. Her lips and fingers trailed gentle fire over my face. And her scent, so sweet and devastating, left me weak with need.
I held the plastic bottle cap in my fingers so gently, just as I used to hold Bella's warm hand. I fooled myself for precious moments at a time that Bella was still within my reach. That she still loved me.
When my phone chimed in the filthy crawl space where I lay hiding, I was tempted to let it go unanswered again. It was always Alice or Esme, and sometimes Carlisle, at the other end of the phone. Their soft voices and words rolled off me like raindrops.
I wanted only one voice to tell me it was time to come back, that I was loved. That I had a home waiting for me. Bella's voice. I knew very well that she would never call me. I made sure of it when I spoke the lies that tore the fabric of her heart more deeply than my teeth ever could. I wanted so badly to beg her forgiveness, to admit that this parody of life was nothing without her. But I couldn't bring myself to move beyond my despair and cowardice.
I'm not sure what made me accept Rosalie's call. Perhaps I hoped one harsh word among the thousands my sister had for me would be the one to force my hand. Or perhaps it was simply fate.
My sister's voice was soft when she told me that my Bella was dead. That she had fallen alone into the cold darkness, carrying her memories of my careless cruelty.
Rosalie's words thawed my apathy in an instant, and crushed me with their weight and finality. Even as the last parts of me died, I was finally able to move and react. I called the Swan's and let a stranger's voice tell me that Bella was gone. And a fire was unleased inside me that will blaze until I find my place in the darkness with my love.
Sixty minutes until departure.
So little time now before I will finally be free.
I sit in a corner of the terminal, as far from the crowds as I can manage. Avoiding humans has been my habit since leaving Forks. Their thoughts are all around me, always, swirling like a murmuring wind that I can almost ignore. But I hear shades of Bella's voice in their throats and smell wisps of her scent in their sweat. Those little traces madden me, and make my throat and lungs throb with foolish hope. My dead heart cracks every time I remind myself that they are not Bella. And now my Bella is in the ground.
The quiet tick of heels grows louder as someone approaches my corner and takes a seat across the aisle from me. I keep my eyes closed, smelling notes of apple, rose, and sandalwood. Soft, high-pitched breaths tell me it is a woman and for a time, it is quiet. There are no cell phone chimes or keypad taps, not even the whispering of music through earbuds. There is only the subtle scratch of a pencil moving over paper and the sounds of a soft body shifting against the plastic seat. The human's rambling thoughts fade into the white noise of the terminal.
A hushed throat clearing catches my ear. I know at once that something I have done or not done has caught the human's eye. The months alone have meant my falling out of practice acting human and I wonder idly what she sees when she looks me over. Does the pallor behind my sunglasses catch her attention or is it my extreme stillness? What do I look like to her beneath my threadbare clothing, the careless cap on my head, and my dusty shoes? If I meet her gaze, what will she see in my glittering black eyes?
Jesus, he can't be well, she thinks. The English words are somewhat surprising after many weeks of Portuguese. Her scent grows minutely stronger, telling me she is leaning forward to see me more clearly. I know I must acknowledge her before she moves to sit at my side.
A young woman dressed in black is shifting in her seat when I open my eyes, and I watch her through my tinted lenses. She is tall and slim, with a curtain of long, light colored hair falling over her right shoulder. Silver bangles on her wrist clink together when she hooks an errant lock of hair behind her ear.
No one can be that pale... he looks half-dead. Concern is evident in the tone of her thoughts and I can see she is fighting the impulse to draw closer. The overhead lights flash against the lenses of her glasses, partially concealing her eyes.
"What is it?" My voice is pleasant enough to soften the edge of my words.
"I'm sorry," she says. Her fingers knit together in her lap as she speaks. "I don't mean to bother you, but I couldn't help noticing you sitting here."
"This is an airport terminal," I remind her gently, and she grimaces with understanding. "Like you and the other people here, I'm waiting to board a flight."
"Well, yes, of course," she mutters with a shrug. "I don't mean to put you on the spot like this. I really hate it when strangers bother me but I... I couldn't... are you all right?"
"Yes, thank you," I reply with a nod that I mean to dismiss her, and stifle a sigh when she leans forward again.
A falling star with so many scars, she thinks.
I freeze for a second, the thought taking me completely by surprise. Her words are quiet, almost sad, and her face is troubled as she watches me. Without warning, the corner of my mouth trembles in a half smile at her strange whimsy. As one-sided as it is, this is the strangest conversation I have had since I left Forks.
I know she mistakes my smile for derision when she glances down at her hands. She is clearly embarrassed, and I can do nothing but watch in slow horror as the tips of her ears grow pink and her cheeks flush with blood.
Oh. To see that rose bloom in my love's cheeks again... to lay my lips on that warmth.
But Bella would lie as cold and silent as stone in my arms now. My grief rears its head again, thick and choking in my lungs and throat until I am nearly gasping.
Some noise must escape me because the woman across the aisle looks up, her brows drawing together. Her kindness and worried frown catch me off guard. I find myself wanting to tell her something of my sorrow. To spill just a few of the millions of words that describes the emotions coursing through me.
There isn't time to tell this stranger that everything I knew and trusted died when Bella did. There is no way to make her understand the extent of my guilt or loss, and most of all, my misery. Even if she understood, what could this human say or do in response? How could I accept words of consolation or forgiveness from her? From anyone?
It is her kindness that rouses the monster inside me. Her unbearably tender thoughts and voice cause him to stir, and I hear his gleeful growl of hunger. The monster wants her, this blushing human before me, and he is so much stronger than I am right now. He can smell her, apples and salt, and that sweetness makes our mouth wet with venom. The monster wants to tear her throat and drink her dry, and we will laugh when the blood is gone.
Why shouldn't we want this lovely creature? We have not fed in so long, either of us. There is nothing now to stop him or deny my nature. I have no reason to abstain, with oblivion finally within reach. Not even the specters of my family are enough to break through the haze of the bloodlust settling over me. Perhaps Carlisle has it in him to forgive me one last time. I'll never know.
It would be so easy. To speak the few words that will overpower any apprehension this woman might have. To sit beside her, letting my scent fill her head and make her drunk. It would only take a moment to convince her to follow me outside, walk willingly into my embrace, and give herself to me, to death. She is my prey. Broken as I am, I can take her effortlessly.
Mine. Heat and flames scream in my throat. If only we were inside Volterra now, with punishment for this sin within striking distance.
But there is time now for sinning, too. And for rage. My Bella is dead. My whole being begs for a love that was never mine to take and is now gone forever. I am thirsty, craving the only blood that will truly fill me. The blood will halt the pain and let me feel pleasure again, if only for a few seconds. I want to feel something, anything, besides this abyss inside me.
Yes. This is right. It is right to have this blood again after so many years of denial, and to be one with the monster again. My noble intentions have only brought disappointment, loss, and heartbreak. In the end, there has only been pain.
I stand and remove my sunglasses, letting the full weight of my lying eyes fall on the young woman across the aisle. My mouth is stiff and the grin feels wrong, but she tilts her head back to watch me, the corners of her lips trembling up. Another flush splashes across the thin skin of her breastbone and neck, and I swallow against the venom rushing over my tongue.
I smile wider, and watch the human tumbling like rag doll under my spell. A cobra works to lure its prey; all I have to do is smile. The razor's edge of control remaining to me crumbles and I feel blissfully, finally free. I bite back a low laugh as lust and loathing rush through me with the force of a freight train.
Two steps take me across the aisle to sit beside this delicate young woman, so I can guide her toward her own death. I want to make her fall in love for just a moment, and watch her eyes grow glazed and sleepy. She will shiver at my cold touch when I take her hand, and blindly follow wherever I lead. When I draw her close, she will rest her face against my neck. I will lose myself in her warm embrace before I lay my mouth on her throat. Perhaps she will feel, if only fleetingly, like Bella in my arms.
I see her eyes clearly for the first time when she removes her glasses. They are large and limpid, dancing with expression, and framed with silky lashes. Her eyes are a beautiful, warm brown, and lit with golden flecks, like amber. They shock me into complete stillness.
Everything around us fades and mutes as I gaze into the eyes locked on mine. I cannot speak or move and the earth gives way beneath me. I once fell headlong into a pair of eyes very much like these, and I lost myself in their depths.
But the eyes I yearn to see are closed forever. Bella will never look on me again, her lovely eyes showing me acceptance, pain, fear, joy... and, always, love.
The wide eyes gazing into mine blink once in surprise, and the spell is broken. The idea of crushing this human's tender throat while those brown eyes widen in terror disgusts me. Hatred sweeps through me, so intense it obliterates even my grief. I feel sick and weak, and so incredibly small.
The young woman gasps when I stand suddenly, nearly knocking her out of her seat. Some inarticulate noise of shock escapes me before I walk away, moving far too quickly and without a glance or word. I manage not to run, though my body screams for release and my teeth grind against the sobs that fill my chest. A strangled laugh catches in my throat when I think of the story the young woman in black will tell her friends about the strange, pale man in the airport. She will never know how close she came to dying.
The boarding call for my flight is the only thing that keeps me from fleeing the terminal altogether. I am trembling when I cross the jet way with my boarding pass, and I take deep breaths to calm myself. I manage a few pleasantries with the flight attendants and make my lips curl in a way that charms them. They cluck in sympathy when I feed them my story about a migraine and the need for quiet and sleep. Helpful hands produce extra pillows and blankets, and the passenger behind me is reseated so I may recline my seat back even further.
I hide in the darkened row, pulling a blanket over my face. I hold my breath and lie perfectly still to keep myself from tearing apart the plane. I count the seconds of each minute and run my fingers over the plastic bottle cap in my pocket.
Twelve hours until we land.
Twelve hours to wait until there is ground beneath my feet, and I can make my way to Volterra.
To finally find the way out of this world.
I spent a hundred years searching, spent so many decades alone in the midst of many, wondering if I was meant to love. I found my answer in a tiny, wet corner of the world when I met Bella. And with swift, sure strokes, I killed that love. I killed her, as surely as if I had pushed her over the edge of that godforsaken cliff with my own hands.
When I left Forks, I knew I was nothing without Bella. But knowing now that the world is without her has left me broken and burning and falling.
The humans around me settle into slumber as the night deepens and the miles slip by beneath us. I lay still and count the seconds. I wonder what death will be like. Will I see it coming? Will it be still and dark?
Oh, my beautiful girl. My eyes ache with the need to weep. My arms are empty without her. My mouth is hard without her lips against mine. I remember her laugh, her strength, and the stubborn streak that always surprised me. I remember the nights I sat beside her as she slept, watching dreams play over her face. And the feeling of amazement to know I had found her and that she loved me in return.
If I believed in salvation and heaven, Bella would be there. She would look at me with clear eyes that held no anger. Her smile would be blessedly free of pain. Bella would forgive me with soft words and gentle touches. She would fill my arms, the softest substance imaginable, silk and warmth and tenderness. And I would feel love again.
I want her and nothing else. I want to be home.