Chapter Forty-Five (epilogue)
Word Count: 2,802
Edward hovered over Bella's thrashing body, his hands sporadically darting from her shoulder to her stomach to her thigh to her face; he'd never felt so entirely helpless in his entire existence. His heart was twisting in his chest, contorting itself every time she screamed in pain or twitched uncontrollably. His palm grazed her skin and he yanked his hand back, his skin burning where it had touched hers. Panic rose up in his throat, what was a vampire doing with burning skin?
The whisper of frantic thoughts reached James' mind like a breath of smoke. Her skin would only be burning for one reason, and if Edward was close enough to feel the heat, he was close enough to catch fire.
'Run, you fool!' was all James could offer, his consciousness exhausted with the damage to his skull starting to really develop.
Edward didn't hesitate at the order, somehow having found a strange trust for the man that remained in the crumbling building; a respect that had somehow grown deep in his subconscious. James was risking his life, was very likely about to die, for Bella's sake - that was something Edward could have nothing but respect and admiration for.
A man who shared his ideals, that was worthy of respect and trust and friendship; he didn't know when he'd realized that.
He leaped to his feet and scooped up Delia and Jasper as he fled the vicinity of Bella's igniting body. The farther he got, the more his body felt stretched and torn; the desperate desire to return to her tugged at his consciousness and his heart. He ran on, stopping only when all noise of James' mind faded. He fell to his knees facing the direction of the two he'd left behind. Delia stared out towards them beside him, her breath coming in slow, regulated inhales and exhales. Jasper remained where he was set, scooting only enough to lean back on a tree, and stared blankly in a different direction.
The flames seemed to shoot out deliberately in a single direction, seeking out Acanthus with voracious hunger and licking up his body. James heard the snapping and crackling of flame consuming oxygen and listened desperately to the last thoughts of his enemy. Acanthus' mind was filled with nothing except expletives and words like searing and flesh. The scent of burning organs filled James' nostrils and he allowed himself to feel accomplished for a mere moment. The flames would reach him shortly and he had to move, he had to get up. Get out of the demolished, and now burning, building. He urged his limbs to move, his hands to lift and move the rock that was crushing his ribs. He mentally pleaded with his telekinesis to have enough power to lift the stone, just that and he would be satisfied. He would ask no more of his gift.
But nothing lifted and despite his best efforts to move his appendages, nothing shifted. He remained pinned beneath the fragment of ceiling and felt a sick, dark warning creep into his head.
He might actually die.
And what was worse: he might actually die due to the power of the very person he sought to live for.
The tragedy was ironic.
Bella rolled over coughing, her coherent mind finally able to kick in once she'd ignited. Somehow, releasing the flames drew her away from the crushing pain in her chest and she lifted her torso from the hard ground as she coughed harder and harder, her sore throat scratching and rough with pain every time she tried to breathe. She righted herself and kneeled as she got her balance. Standing, she scanned the area to find no one in sight; she turned to the inflamed building and inhaled through her nose. Beneath the thick smell of smoke and burning flesh, she could smell something else, something deeper. She sniffed again, sorting through the smells quickly.
She could smell him. James was in the burning building.
James opened his eyes and watched the fire eat everything around him. The desperation gradually receded and became resignation; he simply could not move his body no matter how hard he tried. If Edward was smart he'd already fled, no one would be able to come after him. Bella had been entirely unconscious the last time he'd seen her; he had no way of knowing whether or not she was consciously catching fire. He didn't have enough energy to reach out to her telepathically; or perhaps it wasn't a matter of energy as much as it was a matter of ability to draw on his power. His consciousness was slipping further away every second.
The silhouette of a small, feminine figure appeared behind the wall of flame, a flickering, dancing shadow of a woman. James fought to keep his eyes open. Bella stepped through the fire that burned beneath her, the pads of her feet pressing on hot ash without feeling.
She moved swiftly, dancing through the flames with the agile grace of smoke, twisting around fallen beams and the still falling rubble. James' still form lay a few yards ahead, a pile of stones crushing his entire chest and upper legs; she couldn't hear him breathing and his eyes appeared to be rolled into the back of his head. Her breath caught in her throat and she nearly cried out as she dove for him, her knees buckling beneath her as she reached him. A sob roughly wiggling in her throat, she whimpered his name as her hand caressed his cheek. His eyelids fluttered but he didn't seem able to move his eyes. Her hand touched his hair and came back coated in his dark blood; not understanding the situation, she moved her fingers along his skull in search of the break and found it where his head met the concrete beneath him. She felt around it, murmuring soft apologies for fingering his wound, and estimated it to be dangerously large. Her finger slipped into the crack in bone and she nearly screamed.
She turned and roughly shoved the stones and broken pieces of wood off of him, moving her attention to James as soon as everything was tossed aside. The sight of his crushed body and pooling blood filled her with a disturbing sense of dread, like the blackest of shadows moving across her body she felt the terror of losing him envelop her. She pressed her hands to each side of his face and whispered his name desperately. To her surprise, his eyes shifted and she was staring into his transfixing emerald orbs with a joy that swelled so rapidly in her chest she thought she might explode. But the way he stared at her as if he couldn't see her frightened her and she couldn't help but feel that he was living his last few seconds of life.
Edward stayed a good ten feet back from James' eerily still body, feelings he couldn't come to grips with were bombarding him from all angles. Delia seemed to understand that now was not the time to be cooing at Bella's feet and instead she hung herself delicate around Edward, burying her nose into his neck and silently watching the scene before them. Bella had ripped into the flesh of her own wrist with her teeth and was pressing the wound to James' paling lips. He remained unresponsive, and a knot formed in Edward's stomach as he searched fruitlessly for the sounds of James' thoughts.
Bella sighed, the soft sound stirring the night air around them, but James didn't move. He hadn't moved, not for a while now. She'd pressed her wrist to his lips until it clotted and stopped bleeding. In the stillness, Bella could hear the quiet breathing of the three other vampires keeping their distance from Bella as she hunched over James. Soft murmurs of her voice floated on the breeze between them.
"I still sketch you; I draw the smooth lines of your face from memory. I can remember the way your eyes crinkle slightly when you would smile at me, if I think about it hard enough I can even recall the exact melody of your laugh. I know I left on my own, I know I walked out of that door without any outside encouragement; and I'll say it a thousand times: I've never made a bigger mistake in my life.
I have so much to tell you, so many things I need to say." She lifted her eyes from her twisting fingers and studied his face. "I know you've been around a long time, James; I know you're probably tired of the routine of living, I know you're probably thinking that we're not worth saving - and I'm sorry for the things I've done and I know my apology is empty and lifeless and doesn't mean anything right now in the face of what's happening, but I need to say it. Please wake up.
You've shown me everything worth living for. Everything that I think about every day, I think about because of you. Because of you, I know what it feels like to really miss someone. To long for the physical nearness of someone else so desperately that a part of you is missing. I've felt the overwhelming desolation that bombards me merely at the thought of never hearing your voice again. I know what emptiness is; I know what it feels like to be without you and I can't do that anymore. I know I've been selfish, I know I'm being selfish by wanting you to live - but you're everything to me.
I need you to know how desperately paralyzed I am when I think about not seeing you every day. I need you to know the important things I've realized since I left, I need you to be able to look in my eyes as I tell you everything that I should have been telling you before. I don't want to sit at your grave and whisper these confessions to you - I want you to hear them, I want you to hold my hand. I want you to yell at me and tell me I'm horrid for breaking your heart, I want you to be furious and I don't even care if you stop speaking to me.
You just can't die. I have to know you're out there somewhere; I have to know you're alive. I have to know these things to keep going, even if you won't be with me. I just want you to get up, I'm only asking for you to keep living. That's all I'll ever ask of you.
I've heard people say that you don't know what you have until it's gone more times than I can count but I've never understood it so well. The memory of you teases at my senses, a ghost of a past reality that I'd do anything to return to; I can remember with brilliant clarity the way your arms would wrap around my shoulders and the warm pressure of your lips on my hair." Her voice started to crack, the heaviness of her thoughts finally breaking her monologue into fragmented hiccups of air.
"But I can't remember the way your lips feel against mine, like my body is rejecting the memory in the hopes that it could move on if only I didn't have you to compare someone else to. But that's not true; I couldn't move on - with or without your memory. You're everything to me and if you go, nothing else exists. I need you to get up, James; I need to see the way your eyes light up when you see me. I can feel myself falling apart; piece by piece I'm crumbling to the floor without you. How am I supposed to go on like this?
I can't go on like this, James. I need you; please, wake up. Just shake this off, please. I don't want you to leave me; I don't want to do this without you. Things are changing, I know you know they are; I need you to get through this. I need you at my side, baby, please get up.
There's so much I need to say to you; there are so many things I would die to hear you say. I've missed you something tragic, James; please don't leave me like this, not with all of these things left unsaid.
If there's no getting you out of this, just tell me. Please, just tell me if there's no other way and then you can die. And I'll die too, I promise; I'll die too."
"If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks,
then i will follow you into the dark."
"If there's no getting you out of this, just tell me. Please, just tell me if there's no other way and then you can die. And I'll die too, I promise; I'll die too. Without you, I'm just breathing in sequence, baby; going through the motions of a life I've already left behind. Please, don't leave me behind."
Somewhere in the darkness there was a tiny voice, soft as a whisper and desperate like he'd never heard anyone. In the distant reaches of his awareness, James could feel the buzzing of pain dancing on the edge of his senses. There was a flaring beacon set far ahead of him, burning as white hot as the sun; he could feel its warm rays humming along his skin. And then the voice again, "James!"
The sound of his name, the common syllables of it, rang through his bones, shaking him awake somewhere in the depths of his mind. She was calling to him.It was natural that his body react instantly to her call, fingers twitching and bringing the distant pain closer to his senses. The hot pressure burned through his torso with every twitch and flick of his hand. "James, open your eyes!"
His eyes snapped open and the brightness stunned his retinas for a moment; when they adjusted, James realized it was nearly midnight and the sky was a clouded black that only broke apart in small spaces. The darkness of night was too bright for him.
He looked around quickly, trying to assess the environment, and he realized he couldn't breathe. He made an attempted to suck in air but the hot pressure on his chest exploded into shards of ice-hot needles. The crack of voice tore from his throat and the noise rang in his ears. Then the static started, the constant buzzing hum of the thoughts of those around him; whizzing partial words and half sentences clouded his own thoughts.
Then one clear thought, echoed by a deep, startled voice piercing his eardrums, "he hears you! Feed him again!"
A shift of brown hair in his peripheral vision grabbed his attention, granting him a single blissful second of painless thought; and he only thought one thing.
And then he tasted her; the heavy copper and lavender taste of her blood filled his mouth and he whimpered pleadingly somewhere low in his throat. He could feel his lips massaging at flesh, quietly begging for more. He swallowed hungrily, each mouthful easier to devour than the last.
In a sudden realization of who was actually beside him, he shifted his eyes quickly and found himself gazing lazily up into eyes that could incinerate the sun. Her eyes burned white like thousand-Fahrenheit bulbs and he sucked in a breath of air at the startling glow; the realization of his breathing dawning on him merely a fragment of a second later. Suddenly alerted to changes in his physical condition, he searched for the pain that had been consuming his chest not long before. The agony of it was gone; though there was a strange discomfort that wriggled beneath his skin.
His crushed bones were knitting themselves back together, shifting and turning until they were locked back into place. With the flood gates opened on his breathing, he was sucking in air the way a drowning man would; big, fat gulps that entered and exited his body in loud gasps. His back arched beneath him as his spine corrected itself; it felt as if his entire body expanded all at once with a massive swallow of air, filling his veins and pressing against the inside of his skin to stretch him back out to size.
Fresh color flushed back into his vision in a rush, enhancing and enlivening his surroundings; his eyes shot to and from every angle, absorbing the vibrancy. A delicate cry of relief roared through his ears just before the small figure of Bella collapsed onto his healed chest with dry weepings and murmurs of gratitude.