Post Reply chapter 22: flight
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Posted 12/4/08
DEMETRI LEFT US IN THE CHEERFULLY OPULENT RECEPTION area,
where the woman Gianna was still at her post behind the polished counter.
Bright, harmless music tinkled from hidden speakers.
"Do not leave until dark," he warned us.
Edward nodded, and Demetri hurried away.
Gianna did not seem at all surprised by the exchange, though she did eye
Edward's borrowed cloak with shrewd speculation.
"Are you all right?" Edward asked under his breath, to low for the human woman
to hear. His voice was rough—if velvet can be rough—with anxiety. Still stressed
by our situation, I imagined.
"You'd better make her sit before she falls," Alice said. "She's going to pieces."
It was only then that I realize I was shaking, shaking hard, my entire frame
vibrating until my teeth chattered and the room around me seemed to wobble and
blur in my eyes. For one wild second, I wondered if this was how Jacob felt just
before exploding into a werewolf.
I heard a sound that didn't make sense, a strange, ripping counterpart to the
otherwise cheery background music. Distracted by the shaking, I couldn't tell
where it was coming from.
"Shh, Bella, shh," Edward said as he pulled me to the sofa farthest away from the
curious human at the desk.
"I think she's having hysterics. Maybe you should slap her," Alice suggested.
Edward threw a frantic glance at her.
Then I understood. Oh. The noise was me. The ripping sound was the sobs
coming from my chest. That's what was shaking me.
"It's all right, you're safe, it's all right," he chanted again and again. He pulled ne
onto his lap and tucked the thick wool cloak around me, protecting me from his
cold skin.
I knew it was stupid to react like this. Who knew how much time I had to look at
his race? He was saved, and I was saved, and he could leave me as soon as we
were free. To have my eyes so filled with tears that I could not see his features
clearly was wasteful—insanity.
But, behind my eyes where the tears could not wash the image away, I could still
see the panicked face of the tiny woman with the rosary.
"All those people," I sobbed.
"I know," he whispered.
"It's so horrible."
"Yes, it is. I wish you hadn't had to see that."
I rested my head against his cold chest, using the thick cloak to wipe my eyes. I
took a few deep breaths, trying to calm myself.
"Is there anything I can get you?" a voice asked politely. It was Gianna, leaning
over Edward's shoulder with a look that was both concerned and yet still
professional and detached at the same time. It didn't seem to bother her that her
face was inches from a hostile vampire. She was either totally oblivious, or very
good at her job.
"No," Edward answered coldly.
She nodded, smiled at me, and then disappeared.
I waited until she was out of hearing range. "Does she know what's going on
here?" I demanded, my voice low and hoarse. I was getting control of myself, my
breathing evening out.
"Yes. She knows everything," Edward told me.
"Does she know they're going to kill her someday?"
"She's knows it's a possibility," he said.
That surprised me.
Edward's face was hard to read. "She's hoping they'll decide to keep her."
I felt the blood leave my face. "She wants to be one of them?"
He nodded once, his eyes sharp on my face, watching my reaction.
I shuddered. "How can she want that?" I whispered, more to myself than really
looking for an answer. "How can she watch those people file through to that
hideous room and want to be a part of that?"
Edward didn't answer. His expression twisted in response to something I'd said.
As I stared at his too beautiful face, trying to understand the change, it suddenly
struck me that I was really here, in Edward's arms, however fleetingly, and that
we were not—at this exact moment—about to be killed.
"Oh, Edward," I cried, and I was sobbing again. It was such a stupid reaction. The
tears were too thick for me to see his face again, and that was inexcusable. I only
had until sunset for sure. Like a fairy tale again, with deadlines that ended the
magic.
"What's wrong?" he asked, still anxious, rubbing my back with gentle pats.
I wrapped my arms around his neck—what was the worst he could do? Just push
me away—and hugged myself closer to him. "Is it really sick for me to be happy
right now?" I asked. My voice broke twice.
He didn't push me away. He pulled me tight against his ice-hard chest, so tight it
was hard to breathe, even with my lungs securely intact. "I know exactly what
you mean," he whispered. "But we have lots of reasons to be happy. For one,
we're alive."
"Yes," I agreed. "That's a good one."
"And together," he breathed. His breath was so sweet it made my head swim.
I just nodded, sure that he did not place the same weight on that consideration as I
did.
"And, with any luck, we'll still be alive tomorrow."
"Hopefully," I said uneasily.
"The outlook is quite good," Alice assured me. She'd been so quiet, I'd almost
forgotten her presence. "I'll see Jasper in less than twenty-four hours," she added
in a satisfied tone.
Lucky Alice. She could trust her future.
I couldn't keep my eyes off of Edward's face for long. I stared at him, wishing
more than anything that the future would never happen. That this moment would
last forever, or, if it couldn't, that I would stop existing when it did.
Edward stared right back at me, his dark eyes soft, and it was easy to pretend that
he felt the same way. So that's what I did. I pretended, to make the moment
sweeter.
His fingertips traced the circles under my eyes. "You look so tired."
"And you look thirsty," I whispered back, studying the purple bruises under his
black irises.
He shrugged. "It's nothing."
"Are you sure? I could sit with Alice," I offered, unwilling; I'd rather he killed me
now than move one inch from where I was.
"Don't be ridiculous." He sighed; his sweet breath caressed my face. "I've never
been in better control of that side of my nature than right now."
I had a million questions for him. One of them bubbled to my lips now, but I held
my tongue. I didn't want to ruin the moment, as imperfect as it was, here in this
room that made me sick, under the eyes of the would-be monster.
Here in his arms, it was so easy to fantasize that he wanted me. I didn't want to
think about his motivations now—about whether he acted this way to keep me
calm while we were still in danger, or if he just felt guilty for where we were and
relieved that he wasn't responsible for my death. Maybe the time apart had been
enough that I didn't bore him for the moment. But it didn't matter. I was so much
happier pretending.
I lay quiet in his arms, re-memorizing his face, pretending…
He stared at my face like he was doing the same, while he and Alice discussed
how to get home. Their voices were so quick and low that I knew Gianna couldn't
understand. I missed half of it myself. It sounded like more theft would be
involved, though. I wondered idly if the yellow Porsche had made it back to its
owner yet.
"What was all that talk about singers?" Alice asked at one point.
"La tua cantante," Edward said. His voice made the words into music.
"Yes, that," Alice said, and I concentrated for a moment. I'd wondered about that,
too, at the time.
I felt Edward shrug around me. "They have a name for someone who smells the
way Bella does to me. They call her my singer—because her blood sings for me."
Alice laughed.
I was tired enough to sleep, but I fought against the weariness. I wasn't going to
miss a second of the time I had with him. Now and then, as he talked with Alice,
he would lean down suddenly and kiss me—his glass-smooth lips brushing
against my hair, my forehead, the tip of my nose. Each time it was like an electric
shock to my long dormant heart. The sound of its beating seemed to fill the entire
room.
It was heaven—right smack in the middle of hell.
I lost track of the time completely. So when Edward's arms tightened around me,
and both he and Alice looked to the back of the room with wary eyes, I panicked.
I cringed into Edward's chest as Alec—his eyes now a vivid ruby, but still
spotless in his light gray suit despite the afternoon meal—walked through the
double doors.
It was good news.
"You're free to leave now," Alec told us, his tone so warm you'd think we were
all lifelong friends. "We ask that you don't linger in the city."
Edward made no answering pretence; his voice was ice cold. "That won't be a
problem."
Alec smiled, nodded, and disappeared again.
"Follow the right hallway around the corner to the first set of elevators," Gianna
told us as Edward helped me to my feet. "The lobby is two floors down, and exits
to the street. Goodbye, now," she added pleasantly. I wondered if her competence
would be enough to save her.
Alice shot her a dark look.
I was relieved there was another way out; I wasn't sure if I could handle another
tour through the underground.
We left through a tastefully luxurious lobby. I was the only one who glanced
back at the medieval castle that housed the elaborate business facade I couldn't
see the turret from here, for which I was grateful.
The party was still in full swing in the streets. The street lamps were just coming
on as we walked swiftly through the narrow, cobbled lanes. The sky was a dull,
fading gray overhead, but the buildings crowded the streets so closely that it felt
darker.
The party was darker, too. Edward's long, trailing cloak did not stand out in the
way it might have on a normal evening in Volterra. There were others in black
satin cloaks now, and the plastic fangs I'd seen on the child in the square today
seemed to be very popular with the adults.
"Ridiculous," Edward muttered once.
I didn't notice when Alice disappeared from beside me. I looked over to ask her a
question, and she was gone.
"Where's Alice?" I whispered in a panic.
"She went to retrieve your bags from where she stashed them this morning."
I'd forgotten that I had access to a toothbrush. It brightened my outlook
considerably.
"She's stealing a car, too, isn't she?" I guessed.
He grinned. "Not till we're outside."
It seemed like a very long way to the entryway. Edward could see that I was
spent; he wound his arm around my waist and supported most of my weight as
we walked.
I shuddered as he pulled me through the dark stone archway. The huge, ancient
portcullis above was like a cage door, threatening to drop on us, to lock us in.
He led me toward a dark car, waiting in a pool of shadow to the right of the gate
with the engine running. To my surprise, he slid into the backseat with me,
instead of insisting on driving.
Alice was apologetic. "I'm sorry." She gestured vaguely toward the dashboard.
"There wasn't much to choose from."
"It's fine, Alice." He grinned. "They can't all be 911 Turbos."
She sighed. "I may have to acquire one of those legally. It was fabulous."
"I'll get you one for Christmas," Edward promised.
Alice turned to beam at him, which worried me, as she was already speeding
down the dark and curvy hillside at the same time.
"Yellow," she told him.
Edward kept me tight in his arms. Inside the gray cloak, I was warm and
comfortable. More than comfortable.
"You can sleep now, Bella," he murmured. "It's over."
I knew he meant the danger, the nightmare in the ancient city, but I still had to
swallow hard before I could answer.
"I don't want to sleep. I'm not tired." Just the second part was a lie. I wasn't about
to close my eyes. The car was only dimly lit by the dashboard controls, but it was
enough that I could see his face.
He pressed his lips to the hollow under my ear. "Try," he encouraged.
I shook my head.
He sighed. "You're still just as stubborn."
I was stubborn; I fought with my heavy lids, and I won.
The dark road was the hardest part; the bright lights at the airport in Florence
made it easier, as did the chance to brush my teeth and change into clean clothes;
Alice bought Edward new clothes, too, and he left the dark cloak on a pile of
trash in an alley. The plane trip to Rome was so short that there wasn't really a
chance for the fatigue to drag me under. I knew the flight from Rome to Atlanta
would be another matter entirely, so I asked the flight attendant if she could bring
me a Coke.
"Bella," Edward said disapprovingly. He knew my low tolerance for caffeine.
Alice was behind us. I could hear her murmuring to Jasper on the phone.
"I don't want to sleep," I reminded him. I gave him an excuse that was believable
because it was true. "If I close my eyes now, I'll see things I don't want to see. I'll
have nightmares."
He didn't argue with me after that.
It would have been a very good time to talk, to get the answers I needed—needed
but not really wanted; I was already despairing at the thought of what I might
hear. We had an uninterrupted block of tirre ahead of us, and he couldn't escape
me on an airplane—well, not easily, at least. No one would hear us except Alice;
it was late, and most of the passengers were turning off lights and asking for
pillows in muted voices. Talk would help me fight off the exhaustion.
But, perversely, I bit my tongue against the flood of questions. My reasoning was
probably flawed by exhaustion, but I hoped that by postponing the discussion, I
could buy a few more hours with him at some later time—spin this out for
another night, Scheherazade-style.
So I kept drinking soda, and resisting even the urge to blink. Edward seemed
perfectly content to hold me in his arms, his fingers tracing my face again and
again. I touched his face, too. I couldn't stop myself, though I was afraid it would
hurt me later, when I was alone again. He continued to kiss my hair, my forehead,
my wrists… but never my lips, and that was good. After all, how many ways can
one heart be mangled and still be expected to keep beating? I'd lived through a lot
that should have finished me in the last few days, but it didn't make me feel
strong. Instead, I felt horribly fragile, like one word could shatter me.
Edward didn't speak. Maybe he was hoping I would sleep. Maybe he had nothing
to say.
I won the fight against my heavy lids. I was awake when we reached the airport
in Atlanta, and I even watched the sun beginning to rise over Seattle's cloud cover
before Edward slid the window shut. I was proud of myself. I hadn't missed one
minute.
Neither Alice nor Edward was surprised by the reception that waited for us at Sea-
Tac airport, but it caught me off guard. Jasper was the first one I saw—he didn't
seem to see me at all. His eyes were only for Alice. She went quickly to his side;
they didn't embrace like other couples meeting there. They only stared into each
other's faces, yet, somehow, the moment was so private that I still felt the need to
look away.
Carlisle and Esme waited in a quiet corner far from the line for the metal
detectors, in the shadow of a wide pillar. Esme reached for me, hugging me
fiercely, yet awkwardly, because Edward kept his arms around me, too.
"Thank you so much," she said in my ear.
Then she threw her arms around Edward, and she looked like she would be
crying if that were possible.
"You will never put me through :hat again," she nearly growled.
Edward grinned, repentant. "Sorry, Mom."
"Thank you, Bella," Carlisle said. "We owe you."
"Hardly," I mumbled. The sleepless night was suddenly overpowering. My head
felt disconnected from my body.
"She's dead on her feet," Esme scolded Edward. "Let's get her home."
Not sure if home was what I wanted at this point, I stumbled, half-blind, through
the airport, Edward dragging me on one side and Esme on the other. I didn't know
if Alice and Jasper were behind us or not, and I was too exhausted to look.
I think I was mostly asleep, though I was still walking, when we reached their
car. The surprise of seeing Emmett and Rosalie leaning against the black sedan
under the dim lights of the parking garage revived me some. Edward stiffened.
"Don't," Esme whispered. "She feels awful."
"She should," Edward said, making no attempt to keep his voice down.
"It's not her fault," I said, my words garbled with exhaustion.
"Let her make amends," Esme pleaded. "We'll ride with Alice and Jasper."
Edward glowered at the absurdly lovely blond vampire waiting for us.
"Please, Edward," I said. I didn't want to ride with Rosalie any more than he
seemed to, but I'd caused more than enough discord in his family.
He sighed, and towed me toward the car.
Emmett and Rosalie got in the front seat without speaking, while Edward pulled
me in the back again. I knew I wasn't going to be able to fight my eyelids
anymore, and I laid my head against his chest in defeat, letting them close. I felt
the car purr to life.
"Edward," Rosalie began.
"I know." Edward's brusque tone was not generous.
"Bella?" Rosalie asked softly.
My eyelids fluttered open in shock. It was the first time she'd ever spoken directly
to me.
"Yes, Rosalie?" I asked, hesitant.
"I'm so very sorry, Bella. I feel wretched about every part of this, and so grateful
that you were brave enough to go save my brother after what I did. Please say
you'll forgive me."
The words were awkward, stilted because of her embarrassment, but they seemed
sincere.
"Of course, Rosalie," I mumbled, grasping at any chance to make her hate me a
little less. "It's not your fault at all. I'm the one who jumped off the damn cliff. Of
course I forgive you."
The words came out like mush.
"It doesn't count until she's conscious, Rose," Emmett chuckled.
"I'm conscious," I said; it just sounded like a garbled sigh.
"Let her sleep," Edward insisted, but his voice was a little warmer.
It was quiet then, except for the gentle thrum of the engine. I must have fallen
asleep, because it seemed like seconds later when the door opened and Edward
was carrying me from the car. My eyes wouldn't open. At first I thought we were
still at the airport.
And then I heard Charlie.
"Bella!" he shouted from some distance.
"Charlie," I mumbled, trying to shake off the stupor.
"Shh," Edward whispered. "It's okay; you're home and safe. Just sleep."
"I can't believe you have the nerve to show your face here." Charlie bellowed at
Edward, his voice much closer now.
"Stop it, Dad," I groaned. He didn't hear me.
"What's wrong with her?" Charlie demanded.
"She's just very tired, Charlie," Edward assured him quietly. "Please let her rest."
"Don't tell me what to do!" Charlie yelled. "Give her to me. Get your hands off
her!"
Edward tried to pass me to Charlie, but I clung to him with locked, tenacious
fingers. I could feel my dad yanking on my arm.
"Cut it out, Dad," I said with more volume. I managed to drag my lids back to
stare at Charlie with bleary eyes. "Be mad at me."
We were in front of my house. The front door was standing open. The cloud
cover overhead was too thick to guess at a time of day.
"You bet I will be," Charlie promised. "Get inside." i'"Kay. Let me down," I
sighed.
Edward set me on my feet. I could see that I was upright, but I couldn't feel my
legs. I trudged forward anyway, until the sidewalk swirled up toward my face.
Edward's arms caught me before I hit the concrete.
"Just let me get her upstairs," Edward said. "Then I'll leave."
"No," I cried, panicking. I hadn't got my answers yet. He had to stay for at least
that much, didn't he?
"I won't be far," Edward promised, whispering so low in my ear that Charlie
didn't have a hope of hearing.
I didn't hear Charlie answer, but Edward headed into the house. My open eyes
only made it till the stairs. The last thing I felt was Edward's cool hands prying
my fingers loose from his shirt.
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