A/N: Hey all! Hope you all had a nice holiday, hard to believe we're starting a new year yet again. (This project is over four years old now, if I'm calculating that right, I can't believe how the time has flown.)
Definitely a pivotal chapter this time out. Hope you enjoy, and see you at the end! :J
Chapter 9: Strike
I managed to kill the animal before it realized what was happening or had time to fight back, but unlike Edythe, the herd spotted me, and I sent them scattering.
I drank the blood of my fallen prey, again feeling the hot liquid sooth the burn in my throat, only to have it flare up again once I was finished. Again, I couldn't believe I still felt parched.
Edythe approached me, her clothes all straight and perfect, not one hair out of place. "Want to go for another one?" she asked. "I'm sure you could still catch them."
I paused for a second, then shook my head. Even though my throat was still aching, it was duller than before, and my time was running out, before Sulpicia carried through with her promise if I didn't contact her within the correct timeframe. I had to do it now, before it was too late—no matter how I might dread it, no matter how much pain it would cause.
I stood up from where I was still crouching beside the drained carcass of my prey, brushing off my pants. I turned my back on her, shoving my hands—now caked in blood—in my pockets. I listened carefully, and I was relieved when I could hear the rush of river water to the south. Not far, I thought.
I heard the soft sound of Edythe's footsteps as she came up to stand behind me. She drew level with me, then cautiously reached up to brush a strand of hair from my forehead. I didn't look at her, just kept staring out into the depths of the forest. The sun was touching the horizon now—painting the sky in a deep blood red. The color made the venom fill my mouth again.
"Are you all right, Beau?" she asked softly. She hesitated. "I know this must be so much to take in. Would it help to talk about it?"
I was silent. I continued to stare out at the western sky, watching as it darkened by degrees, so gradually my old human eyes wouldn't have been able to detect the change.
I said nothing, and Edythe didn't interrupt, only continued to watch me, with a worried expression I saw out of the corner of my eye.
Finally, I sighed and shook my head. "Sorry," I muttered. "I guess it's all so strange. I've been expecting this, and you've told me all about everything, and I know it's only been a couple of days—but it just feels like years to me. Everything feels so...different. I feel different."
I felt Edythe's fingers against my wrist. Gentle, soothing. But also hesitant, nervous. She didn't know where I might be going with this.
I finally let my eyes turn from the red sky to meet hers.
I knew what I had to say, but it still felt too soon. Too abrupt.
I looked away again, back toward the sky.
"Are you having any regrets?" she asked at last, gently, kindly.
I hesitated. "No," I answered. I paused. "I mean, not exactly."
Edythe said nothing, waiting for me to continue.
I turned partway back, and I gazed at her from the corner of my eye. I saw the apprehension in her eyes—and I knew the time had come.
I closed my eyes, and sighed heavily. "Edythe, what have we been doing all this time?"
She didn't answer.
I shook my head. "Look—I can't keep doing this."
Edythe was still silent, and finally I allowed my eyes to open again. Her eyes were wide, like a frozen forest animal watching an approaching fire, but an incredulous smile was playing on her lips, like she thought I might be telling a joke.
"How long have we been together?" I asked abruptly.
Her slight smile was still in place. "You mean approximately, or are you asking for an exact day count?"
"Just a little over a year," I said, answering for her. "We've known each other for about a year and a half."
"Yes," she said, and though the small smile was still there, her eyes were wider than before, and I saw plainly the growing apprehension in their depths.
"A year and a half," I repeated, "and when it comes right down to it, we still don't know a thing about each other."
Edythe was no longer smiling. "What are you talking about, Beau? Of course we know each other."
I shook my head. "Edythe, I hate to say this, especially now, after everything—but you don't know the real me. And you never did."
Edythe didn't look like she knew what to say. She was staring at me, eyes still wide. "I don't understand, Beau." She blinked, and said suddenly, "If this is about how I don't realize how apparently plain and boring you are—"
I shook my head again. "I'm not saying that. I'm saying—look, Edythe, you've never been able to read my mind. I know you think I'm a good person—brave, self-sacrificing, all that. Because of how I moved out of Phoenix to give my mom space, and because I was willing to risk my life being with you. I knew you had this image of me—and I really wanted to live up to it. I tried to will myself into being that great guy you seemed to see in me. But the real truth is, deep down, I'm not any different from anyone else. I'm not. If you only saw Jeremy, or Logan, or any of the other guys at Forks from the outside, they'd probably seem like better people, too."
Edythe was still shaking her head. The incredulous smile was back, only now she looked almost angry. "That is absolutely ridiculous, Beau, and you know it. It wasn't Jeremy or Logan who didn't complain or say a word to anyone after my abominably rude behavior that first day. It wasn't Jeremy or Logan who kept our secret when I saved their life. You did sacrifice your personal comfort for the sake of your mother—I can't see your thoughts, but I've watched your actions. No one has watched you more closely than I have, and I know the kind of person that you are, Beau. I know you better than anyone ever has."
I sighed again, putting a hand to my head, running my fingers through my hair. "You just don't get it," I said quietly, almost to myself.
"What don't I get, Beau?" she challenged, looking me in the eye. "Explain it to me."
I looked back at her evenly. "You remember what you said in the car, as we were driving over here? The thought exercise. About if circumstances had been different, how it would have changed things."
She hesitated. "Yes."
I let my face cloud at the memory. "You said, if you had just been a normal girl, and it had been someone else who had been the vampire—McKayla, maybe, or someone else—maybe I would have fallen for them instead."
Edythe shook her head. "Like I said...pointless speculation."
I kept going. "Well, I hated it when you said that—because I knew immediately it was absolutely true."
Edythe went still for a moment. Then she shook her head again. "I told you, Beau, that doesn't matter now—"
"Because," I continued, talking over her, "it was true. It was because you were a vampire. Because you were special—different. I could tell from the beginning you and your family weren't like the rest of us. And that was exactly what drew me in."
I let my mouth turn up in a faint, twisted smile, though I knew my hard eyes didn't change. "Here's the thing, Edythe. My mom always said I took after my dad. I was the quiet, responsible one. I had to be, to take care of her—my mom was so impractical. She went from one thing to the next, and she had a tendency to get in trouble with money until I took over the finances. I was the stable one. But the truth is, deep down, a part of me took after her. That pull toward adventure, excitement. I forced it down, blocked it out, because someone had to make sure things were taken care of. Then I met you."
Edythe was staring back at me, and this time she didn't interrupt. She didn't look appalled or hurt, but her frame was tense, rigid, like she was waiting for the real blow to hit.
I went on—unraveling the history she had known, reworking it for the lies still to come. "I didn't leave my mom for my mom's sake," I said. "I left because I had to get away from her—after everything I'd sacrificed to take care of her, giving up all the things I really wanted to do, she'd replaced me. She suddenly didn't need me anymore, so I didn't want to need her anymore. I came to Forks out of desperation. I told you I left because her being separated from Phil was making her unhappy—I wasn't lying, there was a part of me that felt that way. But it wasn't the whole truth."
Edythe shook her head slowly, her wide eyes never moving from my face. "I don't believe you," she whispered. "Why are you saying these things, Beau?"
Perhaps I should have felt a stab of panic, at the possibility she might see through my facade. If she saw through my lies enough to realize I must be saying all this for some hidden reason, then all was lost. However, I had slipped so completely into my new role that it almost felt like the truth, and if I was telling the truth, I had no reason to fear anything.
I let my twisted, bitter smile grow wider. "Course you don't believe me. I knew how you saw me—wanted to see me. I was glad when I found out you couldn't read my mind, that you couldn't see how petty I was, how pathetic. Of course you wouldn't believe anything that interferes with the picture you've drawn up of me."
Edythe stood tense for one long moment. But then I blinked as Edythe's posture suddenly relaxed. The shock in her face faded, and she sighed, raising her gaze to meet mine.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, gazing at me with eyes filled with remorse. "Of course it would be natural for you to have felt that way. I didn't mean—please, tell me anything. I don't mean to make you feel that you need to put on some kind of facade to satisfy expectations I seem to be projecting. I want you to be yourself, Beau. I have always wanted simply to understand you, the negative as well as the positive, no matter how terrible you may think it is. You never need to feel you have to live up to some perceived fantasy you believe I have of you. I love you—and nothing will change that."
She reached out, offering her hand palm up for me to take.
I stared down at it. Some part of my now expansive brain registered just how incredible the girl standing in front of me really was. Even though what I was saying was threaded with lies, it was true I could never have possibly deserved her—not in any lifetime. Had there ever been anyone so loving, so kind and understanding?
However, the forefront of my mind was deadly focused—this was a game of words, and it would take my full concentration to win.
I stared down at her hand for a long moment more, then let my eyes rise back up to hers. My hands, hanging at my sides, didn't move, and finally she let her hand drop, though her gentle, determined expression didn't change.
I let my eyes wander briefly back up to the trees, before my gaze returned to her.
"Are you sure you want to know everything I'm thinking, Edythe?" I murmured. "Even..."
I was suddenly beside her, without even having to think about it. However, she didn't flinch. Instead, her eyes continued to watch me steadily, never moving from my face, even as I leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"Even if I said...I realized...I don't actually love you after all?"
Quiet. A soft breeze curled through the trees, blowing wisps of Edythe's long bronze hair across her face.
I drew back, to get a look at her expression, but I saw no discernible reaction. She only gazed back at me.
When she finally spoke, her voice was almost polite. "Would you explain that, please?"
I stepped back, folding my arms. "Okay," I said, "it's not that I don't love you. I do love you—it's just, as I was burning, I had a lot of time to think. I could finally see things clearly, so much more than when I was human—and I realized, as much as I thought I loved you, I realized it wasn't a good kind of love. It never was. From the beginning, it's been an obsession more than actual love. It's powerful, but it's not the kind of thing that can last. I wasn't able to see that until now."
Edythe considered. I could see as she worked to pull all the pieces of what I had said together. Her tone was still polite, almost businesslike as she said, "So...what you're saying is, your love is more about physical desire—attraction to my physical appearance—and also attraction to the new and mysterious. Stimulation from that which is strange and different, not unlike your mother's impulses for adventure, new pursuits and passions."
I shrugged. "I guess you could put it that way."
"Hmmm," she said. "I can easily believe that in the beginning—in fact, I was only too aware of the role physical attraction must have played in your tolerance of my initiating inappropriately probing conversations, and my being around you in general. But I have trouble believing that could have carried you through all this. Think of all the danger I have placed you in, which you have never once complained of—though of course, if you have been inwardly harboring resentment on that count, feel free to air it at any time—and even the great sacrifice you have just barely made. You've given up your human life—was it a shallow infatuation that's led you to this?"
I looked away from her, toward the forest. "No," I said evenly.
My eyes returned to her. "But the thing is, Edythe, I didn't change only for you. I thought that was my primary reason, back as a human—or maybe I was just trying to convince myself that. But the truth is, I wanted to be a vampire. Whether you were in the equation or not."
We stared at each other for a long moment, both calm, serious. Then, abruptly, I was standing beside an elm ten feet away. I didn't look at it—I just struck out with one hand. The bark fell in splinters around my fist, and I felt the crater in the trunk—it felt like punching through paper mache. In an instant, I circled around the edge of the forest, coming to a dead stop some distance behind her.
Edythe could have followed my movement easily, but she didn't move at first, only turned slowly.
I stared down at my hands, then clenched them into fists. I slowly raised my gaze to hers.
"If someone saw power like this, who wouldn't want it?" I whispered. "Who wouldn't want to be Superman?"
"Even if it means giving up your humanity?" she asked.
The sun had completely sunk behind the horizon now, and I knew as a human, the air would probably have felt chilly against my skin. But my skin was so much colder than the air around it, and I felt my mouth curl in a smile just as cold. "Humanity is overrated."
Edythe watched me over her shoulder. Again, she did not react.
I let the smile fade from my face, and my hands dropped. "So...now you know," I said quietly.
The last vestiges of color were fading from the sky, leaving only darkness behind. Even though my vampire sight could see with perfect clarity, and the night was full of color as the day, somehow it seemed to close around me, heavy and suffocating.
Edythe gazed at me for a moment longer. Then, wordlessly, she stretched her hand back for me to take. The kindness and understanding in her eyes was unchanged.
Before I had time to think, I felt my own hand automatically raise halfway—then I stopped myself. No, this bit of playacting wasn't done. The ending was already set, and it wasn't going to be a happy one.
I clenched my fist, and I wrenched my gaze away from hers. I sighed. "Look, Edythe, I'm not telling you all this because I'm looking for forgiveness."
Her hand was still raised toward me, palm up. "There's nothing to forgive," she answered.
"I don't love you," I said. "Not the way I should. Not the way you deserve to be loved."
"That doesn't matter," she insisted. "If you don't feel like you love me enough, I will make you fall in love with me again. I will win you over. I have all of eternity, and I can be patient—" A hint of a smile touched her lips. "If I make a great effort."
I stared back at her for a second, and then I shook my head. "I'm sorry, Edythe."
"You don't have to apologize."
The expression in my eyes didn't change. "Yes, I do," I said softly.
Edythe gazed back at me, at the expression on my face.
"We've both said we didn't like there to be secrets standing between us," I said. "But I was a hypocrite when I said that, because that's not the reason I'm telling you all this now. I would never have told you any of this—if I was going to stay with you."
There was a moment of silence. Edythe said nothing. Her eyes never moved from my face, and I watched as her hand slowly dropped back to her side.
"I decided," I said. "After everything we've been through, if I was going to leave, you deserved to know the reasons why."
Edythe continued to gaze at my face. When she spoke, her voice was faint, disjointed. "Leave? But surely... I don't see...I mean..." She shook her head slowly.
I sighed. "It's too late, Edythe. All my flaws, all the bad things about me I knew you couldn't see—I tried to push them down. I thought if I just loved you enough, I could be the guy you saw. I wanted to be. But... now that I've seen my love for you for what it is, I just don't have the willpower anymore. I don't think I can live Carine's way like you do. Now that I know the difference between what you eat, and what our kind is meant to eat—"
My mouth twisted with the memory of the elk's pungent smell in my nostrils, and the unpleasant taste of its blood. I continued, "I know what I was planning to be before I changed, but I don't think I can do that now. I still care about you, Edythe, and I hope you do okay—but I can't take the moral high road like you do if my heart's not in it. I'm going to go out and find myself a new coven, and live like a normal vampire. This is goodbye, Edythe."
I took a slow step back.
For the first time, Edythe's calm cracked.
She took a staggering step forward, gold eyes wide and wild, her hands outstretched. "Don't," she whispered. "Please, don't. I'll do anything."
The torture in her voice nearly shook my resolve. I had to picture Jules, chained by Sulpicia, and then Sulpicia breaking Edythe to pieces, to keep my thoughts steady. "I'm going," I said. "I'm sorry, Edythe. I know it's bad, selfish—but I have to."
Edythe moved so fast she was a blur. She was suddenly standing right in front of me, her hand gripping my wrist.
My newborn instincts kicked in at the abrupt movement, and I snarled, automatically stepping back and trying to rip my arm from her grip.
However, she held on, and she stepped with me. She gazed up at me, face full of agony, pleading. "Don't," she whispered again. "Don't leave."
I still wasn't fully recovered from the shock of her sudden approach, and I heard myself saying in a cold voice—a voice that wasn't mine, but the beautiful, hard voice of a new vampire, "If you wanted to keep me in a cage, you shouldn't have changed me."
Edythe drew back in shock, as if I had struck her. However, her hand didn't release my wrist. "Please," she whispered. "If you can't live Carine's way—take me with you. You can choose how we live. I can help—I told you how I lived on criminals. I can do it again. We can hunt like that together..."
Shock snapped me from the anger triggered by self-defense. Was she saying she would go back—back to hunting humans—for me?
I shook it off. "Edythe," I said in a low, almost cruelly gentle voice, "haven't you heard what I've been saying? I don't love you. I don't want to be with you."
Her grip on my wrist tightened. "You didn't say that. You said you don't love me the right way—but I'm yours, Beau. I'll give you whatever part of me that you might still want."
I shook my head. "I don't want you, Edythe—not anymore. Becoming a vampire, wanting blood more than anything—that's what helped me see myself clearly for the first time. It's gone, Edythe. My obsession. My feelings were flimsy from the start, and they're all gone now. They won't come back." I hesitated. "What I said before, about you constructing a fantasy version of me—I finally realized, that's what I've been doing too. I constructed a fantasy version of you, and I was obsessed with it—but unlike you, when I let go of the perfect fantasy, I couldn't want to stay."
Edythe didn't let go, only redoubled her grip, pressing so hard my old human bones would have snapped like twigs under the pressure. "Take me with you," she whispered. "I will help you find a new coven. You won't know if you can really trust them without me. You are still so new, you need help from someone older, more experienced. Take me as your servant, your tool—I promise I won't speak to you except as your aid, when you need something."
I stared at her. I was in danger of losing my concentration, with all these things pouring from her mouth I wasn't sure what to make of.
"You'd be in the way," I said at last. "I don't want to be alone forever—I'll want to find a mate eventually. With you there, shadowing along behind me, I couldn't."
She stared back at me, and I hesitated—though my voice came out smooth and even, I was letting my distraction get to me. I couldn't let myself sound like a cheap villain—everything I said had to sound authentic, like something I would say.
I backtracked a little. "Sorry," I muttered, shaking my head. "I'm sorry, Edythe, it's just—it's over. It's too late to go back, and I think the best thing for both of us is just to move on to the next stage of our lives. I'm sorry to be a jerk, but I have to be honest, and I don't want you to come with me. You think I can be happy with—with my former wife from my human life there in the background? You think I could be happy torturing you like that? It wouldn't work for you to come with me as some kind of slave, and you know it."
Edythe didn't let go of my arm. "You don't know the dangers out there, Beau," she said softly, pleadingly. "Especially for a new, inexperienced vampire. Take me with you. Once you find a new coven—I promise, I'll leave. I'll disappear, and I won't ever bother you again."
I felt a chill down my spine. However, I forced my voice to be hard as I said, "Disappear? What, you're going to go to the Volturi again?"
Shock flitted across her face at my harsh, derisive tone, and I had to fight with everything I was to keep the hard look in place.
"No," she whispered. "No, I...as long as you're alive, Beau, somewhere in this world, I will stay alive. Just in case you have some need of me." She added quietly, pleadingly, "Take me with you, Beau. Let me help you. I will do anything you ask."
My insides were twisting—I could no longer hold her gaze, as she looked at me with eyes so filled with such acute torment. I was doing all this because I wanted to save Jules while keeping her safe, but in this moment, I felt like I was burying her.
I closed my eyes. I concentrated one more time on what would happen if I failed, to her, to Jules, and I built up my resolve for my final attack. When I opened my eyes again, I looked back into hers, my gaze as hard as flint.
"You know," I said in a low voice, "you were right—how little things can completely change the way things turn out. I fantasized about you from the beginning, but if you had never looked at me, it probably would have stayed as nothing but a fantasy. I never expected anything, you know—if you hadn't looked at me, I probably would have just lived out my life like normal. Maybe I would be getting ready to go to college now. Maybe Jules and I would be seeing each other, or there would be some other girl. I would be my responsible self, and all the bad things about me I didn't want to take over would never have been allowed to come to the surface. Maybe it wouldn't have turned out like this."
Edythe gazed up at me. For a moment her features seemed frozen in time, face white as bone with a horror and guilt she must have relived a thousand, thousand times in the past year, the very regret that had most tormented her.
At last, the tense fear and desperation in her face slowly faded. She looked up at me with eyes that were suddenly dull, and her face held no expression. For the first time, her grip on my wrist slackened.
I pulled from her limp hand, taking a step back. "Sorry," I said.
Her expression didn't change. As I slowly started to turn away, she called after me, her voice low, "Be careful. You know our laws. Don't do anything to attract Sulpicia's notice."
I froze for the barest fraction of a second, but it was too short for her to notice. "Yeah," I said. "I know. Don't worry about me."
She added softly, "Remember, if you ever need anything...if there's anything you ever want...you know where to find me."
I turned my head partway to stare back into her eyes, empty with resignation, and for the first time, I saw my own reflection there. I gazed into her eyes, and I saw a pale monster with bright crimson eyes looking back at me.
I nearly broke then—I nearly took it all back, and told her everything, that it was all Sulpicia's doing, that she had Jules captive and I was just playing her game for the chance of saving her.
But I knew I couldn't. I knew Edythe too well, knew that while she might let me go like this, thinking I was just going to be traveling on my own, she would never let me go alone to the danger of the likes of Sulpicia. This was the only thing I could do to protect her.
"Sure," I said quietly. I stood there for a moment longer, the only sound that of the woods around us, the chirping of birds in the distance, the scramble of small animals in the trees, the rustle of foliage in the light wind. The sun was gone, and darkness had fallen like a curtain of black smoke after a fire. I raised my left hand and, gently, tugged the small gold band off my finger. I held it out for a moment, then let it slip through my fingers, where it fell to the hard packed earth below, amid dead twigs and torn leaves. It bounced once, then settled there, a glittering bit of gold barely visible in the darkness.
Then I turned and walked away, leaving Edythe gazing after me, with the hopeless torment of her lost dreams and knowledge of the monster she had created in her eyes.
I took off running. I pushed my feet through the forest with everything I had, and I was little more than a breath of wind, dodging in and out between the thick trunks. It was easy—like second nature. I'd always wondered how Edythe could run through the woods without ever hitting anything, but now I knew. My reaction time was so fast it felt like everything had slowed down around me. I had plenty of time to dodge as the trees came up slowly before me.
I tried to focus on the running, and not think—but of course, that was impossible. My mind was too quick, and the conversation continued to play, bits and pieces snapping at me again and again, like the lightning fast strikes of poisonous snakes, sinking their fangs into my skin.
I don't want you.
I leaped over a tree root and ducked a low branch without breaking stride.
It wasn't a good kind of love. It never was.
Images of Edythe's pained face filled my mind. Her kind words in the face of my brutality. But it was her offer to come with me, to hunt like me, that made my stomach turn in on itself until it was nearly a physical pain. Edythe loved me, far more than I could have ever known—so much that I, more than anyone else, had the power to turn her into a monster.
I reached the river. Without pausing to consider, I plunged into the current. For a moment I tread there, holding onto a rock by the bank as the current battered against me. I could swim upstream if I chose—my weak human body wouldn't have stood a chance, but I felt in my limbs that I could do it with ease now.
As I hung there a moment longer, my mind flashed back to that moment by the cliffs in La Push, when I had nearly drowned, and Jules had rescued me. It was a dim memory now, hard to see through my old weak human eyes. However, I didn't let it slip away, holding onto it tightly. I knew I didn't have time to waste—I had to save Jules, the way she had saved me.
After a moment's more consideration, I let go of the rock, and I turned and powered down the river with the current. I could swim upstream if I needed to, but I thought it was better to go west, with the flow. I didn't have an exact map in my head, but I thought if I went east the river would eventually turn south, and take me directly into the heart of the park, and I might be in danger of running into hikers again. I only hoped I wouldn't run into any stray rafters this far north.
Just in case, I held my breath and dove down deep into the river, hoping the black of night and white foam of the rapids would hide me from sight if anyone happened by. I couldn't smell anything above down here, and perhaps that would keep me from going crazy again.
I shot like a javelin through the water, and with each powerful kick of my legs, I seemed to go faster. My confidence Edythe would no longer be able to catch up to me, even if she changed her mind and tried to follow, grew. I had discovered during our hunting trip that she was a faster runner than I was, even with my newborn strength, but I doubted she could be as fast as this in the water. I'd been a good swimmer as a human, and I could feel it now with every stroke of my arms. And of course, she wouldn't be able to follow my scent.
However, as I planned, I very much doubted she would follow me, at least for a while. I'd been convincing, of that much I was sure. By the time doubts started to creep in, if they ever did, I would be with Sulpicia, and Jules.
I swam, and swam. My clothes would have felt like lead if I were human, but they were nothing as I powered onward, continuing to head west. At some point, I took a fork off the main river, but I regretted it as, after a few miles, the water narrowed to barely more than a stream. It was filled with rocks and debris, and as it grew more shallow, eventually it forced me to stand up. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised—it was late summer, and natural that the water levels would be low.
Although the sky was still black, I had been keeping track of the time, of each passing minute, and I knew the sun would be breaching the horizon in barely a few hours' time. I would be exposed here. I kept walking through the stream to conceal my scent, until I reached a deep forested area, where I finally stopped.
I should be far enough away here. There would be no way Edythe could track me this far.
Crouching beside a tree, I drew the cell phone from my pocket. I was relieved to find that the plastic disposable bag had done its work, and the phone was perfectly dry.
Holding it gingerly, I carefully opened it.
For a second, I saw my own reflection in the black, empty screen. I hadn't really taken time to look at my new appearance, hadn't seen more than a glimpse in Edythe's haunted eyes—now I froze.
It was a face I barely recognized. My head was vaguely the same shape, the features all in approximately the same place, but now the planes all had hard angles, like someone had taken a chisel to them. It was a good-looking face, no doubt about that, but it was alien, a stranger.
However, most of all, it was the eyes that paralyzed me where I was. They glowed a brilliant crimson in the darkness, the color of freshly spilled blood.
It was a monster staring back at me. I knew if I had met this creature down an alley as a human, I would have been terrified. And as I thought about my reaction to the smell of human as I hunted, I knew I would have had a right to be.
I suddenly wondered what Jules would think, when she saw this face. Would she rather see me dead? Would it be to her as though I was? Worse yet—when I saw her, smelled her, was there a chance I might try to attack her?
I closed my eyes. I couldn't worry about all that now. I still wanted to save her—that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was still a large part of me that was myself, and I just had to count on that. If it turned out Jules hated me, then she hated me, but I would still do everything I could to save her.
I reached up with my thumb, and held down the button to turn on the phone. After a moment, the screen lit up. I opened the history, and selected Sulpicia's number. I took a silent breath, then put the phone to my ear.
The phone barely had time to ring once before someone answered.
"Hello?" said a polite, gentle voice.
I stared straight ahead, at the dark forest. I listened to the rapids of the narrow, nearly dry stream behind me beating against the sharp rocks. At the sound of that voice, something pulsed through me. Something burned in my veins, in my mouth, that had nothing to do with thirst. Here was the one—the one who was hurting everyone I cared about.
When I spoke, my new, beautiful vampire's voice was cold as ice.
A/N: And, there you have it. This one's been a long time in coming, there are lots of aspects I kept fiddling with and some things I might wish I'd changed, but it's exciting to finally get to this point. I think of it a bit as the long conversation that didn't happen in New Moon.
On another note, email notifications for pms are still not working. I tried emailing ffnet support but never heard back, so I went on the forums and found out it seems ffnet has intentionally turned the function off to combat spam. (I've linked to the discussion in my profile if you're interested. Sounds like we have no idea when email notifications for pms are coming back, definitely a major inconvenience, as many people only check the site or their profile once in a great while, if at all, and without pm email notifications, there's no easy way to contact them.) We'll just have to keep hoping it will be resolved soon.
Thank you all so, so much for all your support all this time, and for your thoughts and comments. It means so much to me you've been able to enjoy this story even a little, I've had so much fun working on it, it's hard to believe we've been going for four years now. Thanks again, if you have a moment, let me know what you thought, and see you in the next chapter! :J