Edward had hoped that as the burning sensation of thirst had increased, it may somehow distract him from the unending torture. At first, he’d thought movement might draw his attention away from the need pulsating throughout him, but he’d only continued the chase for Victoria to protect Bella, thousands of things could occupy his mind, but he would still feel the void by his side. He imagined that purgatory would be quite like this, of course, he deserved hell, but so long as she continued to breathe in the same world as him, he was not in hell. A being such as him should have been satisfied to exist on the same planet as Bella, but his greed knew no bounds. He was not happy that he had met an angel, Edward wanted more than that, not just her affection, not just her love, he wanted her eyes to be filled with his reflection. He wanted her to smile up at him while they lay in the grass, under the sunlight, without a care in the world.
For weeks he’d felt his resolve beginning to wear away, Edward had hoped that his thirst might in some way take precedent over his need to be with Bella, but his hopes now seemed laughable. Finally, he abandoned his stillness and sat up, within an hour, he’d purchased a new set of clothes and a plane ticket to Forks, Washington. Once he boarded the flight, Edward steeled himself for the seventeen-hour flight. It had been 4,032 hours since he’d last seen her, but now that he had something to look forward to, the once unbearably slow passage of time was even more torturous. Edward was only taking this trip to check up on Bella, he had promised himself that he would only take a look and then leave, yet his mind was already concocting his apology. Five months and fifteen days was a long time for humans, she may have already moved up, or perhaps she wouldn’t forgive him. Still, he was fairly confident that even if the initial reception was cold, he’d be able to win her over. He knew that, in all likelihood, she hadn’t moved on yet, even if humans were fickle, their first loves often lingered in their minds. Instead, Edward feared how she would react when he confessed his lie to her. He deserved whatever she did to him. Perhaps she’d make him kneel down and beg at her feet, or maybe she would hate him. All Edward could hope was that she wouldn’t tell him to leave. After everything he’d done to her, Edward would be unable to refuse any of her requests.
Silently he reprimanded himself. If Bella was happy without him, then he’d have to leave.
Perhaps he could keep an eye on her from a distance. Even without his presence threatening her life, Bella had always been accident-prone. He could watch over her, keep any danger away. Watch as she went off to college, started her career, and got married. He’d watch as she aged and the life slowly bled out of her small frame as the years took their toll. Then after he watched them lower her into the ground, he would go to Volterra and join her. He fantasized about asking Alice to bury what was left of him next to Bella for a moment.
Once the plane landed, he forced himself not to go to her immediately; instead, he broke into the school and checked her records. Certainly, academics wouldn’t tell him everything about her current state, but he’d use any information available to determine if he could stay with her. Bella’s grades were slightly higher than before he left, but nothing too out of the ordinary. She had perfect attendance for the past four months, and then his eyes skimmed past the week after he and his family left. Bella missed all five days. She’d been distraught or perhaps furious with him, and she may have spent the week getting over him.
Edward finally made his way to the Swan residence, for a moment, he noted everything that had changed, the change of seasons left the trees bare of their leaves, and the constantly blowing wind had chipped a bit more of the paint. Inside he could hear Charlie’s snores and Bella’s light breath.
After making sure no one was looking, he took his familiar yet unfamiliar route to Bella’s bedroom. He’d been expecting the scent to be overwhelming; in the past, he’d always struggled more after being away from it, so now, after five months, the burn should have been excruciating. In a way, it still was, but the familiar burning sensation felt like another reassurance of Bella’s presence instead of a temptation. He realized at that moment that he should have hunted first, Edward should not be around Bella in such a starved state, but he knew that he was in no danger of harming her.
He noted that her room was far less cluttered than he remembered it, the stacks of books and CDs were nowhere to be found. Bella’s bedroom had never been messy, but it always had the hallmarks of being lived in, now, it looked more like a guest room.
Slowly he approached her bed, Bella had never been a particularly calm sleeper, but she’d clearly gotten worse, she lay in a contorted position, with the blanket tangled up in her limbs. Her breathing pattern assured him that she was deep asleep, so he slowly rearranged her and tucked her back into bed, then he settled back into her rocking chair. He longed to join her, but Edward no longer knew if he was welcome. Now that the pain of separation had been eased, he balked at the thought of leaving her again. Even as his mind began dreading parting from her again, he reveled in her presence. The image of Bella in his mind shifted slightly to accommodate her recent changes, and she looked tired, there was a stretched weariness on her face that he didn’t recognize, and her paler seemed to have developed a slightly unhealthy tinge. Edward could detect no signs of illness in her scent or pulse, but she may be recovering from a recent cold.
A few hours after his arrival, Bella began to stir; it wasn’t her normal movement before she started talking in her sleep or when she was about to wake up. He stooped down at her side carefully, Bella’s expression was twisted into a deep frown as she moved around restlessly, and she began making distressed sounds. Edward reached out to comfort her, he ignored that his presence might be causing her discomfort, but he feared that his cool touch might have become unfamiliar to her. He placed his hand down on the pillow beside her and began humming her lullaby. The tension on her face eased almost instantly, and she settled back into bed.
“Edward,” she muttered, still asleep.
To think that such a simple string of syllables would mean so much to him. Cautiously he placed a hand very gently on her cheek, ready to withdraw at any time, with a surprising amount of speed for a sleeping human. Bella moved closer to his hand. Unable to deny her anything, Edward relinquished his hand, which was immediately grasped in Bella’s hands; as she continued to lean toward him, his limited self-control collapsed, and he settled into the familiar bed and gathered Bella into his arms. The slight smile on her lips and the sigh of relief both gave him hope that she still had feelings for him. He’d missed her warmth. For a moment, he was impressed that he’d managed to stay away from such bliss for so long, but immediately his mind supplied him with reminders of why he’d left. He saw her broken form in that hospital room in Arizona. Still, part of him wanted to abandon all reason and bring her back into his life.
After his first night free from purgatory, he struggled to force himself to leave, but Bella would wake soon, and he still wasn’t sure his return would be good for her. Slowly he removed himself from her; first, he had the monumental task of forcing himself to withdraw from her, and then he had the even worse task of getting her to release him. It was easy enough to slide out from under her leg, but her hands remained tightly fisted into his shirt. Unwilling to be the slightest bit rough with her, he could only lull her back to sleep with the lullaby, finally, her hands loosened, and he forced himself out of the window. He did not even consider leaving the area; he would watch her for the next few days and evaluate her condition.
When Bella’s eyes fluttered open, and her sluggish brain reoriented, she realized he was still gone. She’d dreamt of him. Not in the usual way where she remembered him leaving her; instead, she’d imagined that he’d never left. Even if she was glad she hadn’t woken Charlie with her usual screaming; the hole at the center of her chest felt worse. It was as though she’d grown so desensitized to the constant emptiness that the return was even more unbearable when her mind pulled her away from it temporarily. Bella rarely thought of the times before he left when she’d been whole for this exact reason. She’d woken up earlier than usual. Blearily she walked into the bathroom and mindlessly went about her routine. It wasn’t until she stepped into the shower that she let herself go. Bella slowly slid into the fetal position as the sobs wracked through her body. She didn’t stop until she heard Charlie’s alarm go off. Quickly she finished up and went downstairs to make Charlie breakfast, and she wasn’t in control enough to be around Charlie, so she left the food warming in the oven and wrote a note telling him she was finishing up paper. Once in her room, Bella sat on her bed and waited for Charlie to leave for work. A little over an hour later, she finally heard the cruiser pulling out of the driveway. Quickly she ran downstairs; as she cleared his dishes, she noticed a note left by Charlie thanking her and telling her to have a good day. Bella washed the dishes and put them away, then began marinating the steak she’d make Charlie for dinner, then dusted the living room. A half-hour later, Bella stood motionless in the middle of the kitchen, struggling to come up with more tasks. Last week was light on homework, so the entire house had been deep cleaned, and there wasn’t any laundry.
She’d only just that Jake was a Werewolf a couple of days prior and the wolves had training that day, so she was alone for the day. She got dressed, grabbed her keys, and set off to find the meadow. Charlie had gone fishing, so he’d be gone for hours; she had plenty of time to find it today. Despite her normal inclinations, the trek through the woods was a welcome distraction, and the firm belief that she’d find the meadow today was a powerful motivator.
After a month of searching, Bella finally found the meadow. It looked nothing like she remembered, the change wasn’t just in the surrounding, Bella realized that even if the meadow had been the same, she still wouldn’t have been happy. Everything that the meadow meant to her had just been an extension of what he meant to her, and now that he was gone, the meadow served only as a cruel reminder of what had once been.
As the despair settled over her, Bella’s attention was drawn to the other side of the meadow.
“Laurent,” she called out an equal mix of surprised and delighted.
“Bella?” he sounded similarly surprised, “I’d thought you’d moved on with the rest of the Cullens.”
The pain at the reminder seemed to hardly register; something about the vampire’s presence made her feel closer to him. After they left, she’d had nothing to remember them by; sometimes, in the dead of night, she doubted that any of it had been real. Laurent was living proof that even if he had left her, she hadn’t imagined him. Even if he didn’t love her anymore, he’d loved her in the past.
“It really is unfortunate that I ran into you,” drawled Laurent, “You see, Victoria wants you dead. A mate for a mate, she says. Personally, I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t she want to kill the man who killed him, Your Edward? I’m sure she had quite the death in plan for you, so perhaps you are lucky to have met me ahead of her.”
Bella very quickly realized the implications of his words.
“I thought you weren’t drinking human blood anymore. Aren’t you staying with the Denali’s?”
Her question seemed to fall on deaf ears; instead, Laurent’s gaze was fixed behind her.