25. The Reckoning

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

All as before: against the dining-room windows

Beats the scattered windswept snow,

And I have not changed either,

But a man came to me.

I asked: “What do you want?”

He replied: “To be with you in Hell.”

I laughed: “Oh, you’ll foredoom

Us both to disaster.”

But lifting his dry hand

He lightly touched the flowers:

“Tell me how men kiss you,

Tell me how you kiss men.”

Not a single muscle quivered

On his radiantly evil face.

Oh, I know: his delight

Is the tense and passionate knowledge

That he needs nothing,

That I can refuse him nothing.

The Guest”

(Anna Akhmatova)

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

It is a stern work that fire does.

Heat that has circled for weeks, ravenous and cunning, closes in,

burning frost away layer by layer,

sloughing away the ice like an old skin.

+.+.+.+

“I’m not leaving,” I tell Edward.

That jaw, sharp as a blade, clenches before he speaks. “I’m not going to tell you twice,” he replies sharply, words suspended in the frigid air by breath and fury. He is as cold as he’s ever been, harsh as a winter storm.

Athena stirs, casts a hungry glance at his defiant mouth. “You’ll regret telling me once.”

“Is that a threat?” he asks, those even, elegant features as lethal and distracting as the hood of an angry cobra.

I note the defensiveness of his stance and think, Yes.

But no.

I laughed at him before in New York, watched as he hung his head, bested him at his own game as I pulled his flesh into mine. He was nothing more than a brat prince then, arrogant and careless and spoiled — my once-distant dream, my most prized trophy.

But then there was the rending of the veil, his face as he saw into my holy of holies and the empty echoes of his footsteps as he walked away, leaving me angry and aching from him, for him. Those empty nights in Sainte-Mere-Eglise… the edges of him softening with memory and that hated longing.

And here he is now, everything I want and hate and crave and fear.

Ilse’s words come, a pinch in the midst of the fever dream:

You took the measure of the world too soon and learned to see life as a bloodsport, and people as threats. Or toys.

Breathe,

wait,

and breathe again.

+.+.+.+

I’ve dreamt of seeing him again, and of other things:

Of tracing every plane of him, the angles and contours and flatnesses.

Of taking his face into my small hands, keeping him steady and pressing his mouth to mine, parting lips and gleaming teeth, pink tongues and hot breath as we taste and take, take, take.

Of giving, sliding down the column of his body as his breath comes faster, as I take him in my mouth and keep him captive with a hum and a swallow.

Of claiming him, closing in his strong hips with the pale parentheses of my thighs, parting myself like the skin of a temple offering, taking him in with the hot, wet suck of where I want him most.

Of doing this again and again and again, breathing whispers of the sacred and the carnal as his eyes stare up into my face, wide open, smokeless fires as we move.

Of him coming inside as I flutter around him, whimpering like a schoolgirl who doesn’t know any better.

Of collapsing like a beast well-slain.

Of letting him win.

+.+.+.+

“I wanted to see you,” I tell him.

His expression remains unmoved. “You’ve seen me.”

“Don’t be glib.”

“The game is over. I quit. You won. Now leave.”

“It isn’t a game.”

“It’s never been anything else.”

I hear my own pulse, the steady, thrumming harbinger of an approaching storm but I don’t care, I’ll call to the water like a sea witch, reach for the coming thunder like a sky god, sigh as it sweeps me away. “It’s different now.”

He arches an eyebrow. “Is it?”

“You think I’m lying?”

“I have no reason not to. You’ve manipulated me before. Kept me in the dark.”

“You’re not in the dark anymore.”

“I disagree. You appear at my parents’ home, uninvited, after disappearing for months, and I have no idea why you’re here.”

The truth is quick, words burning as they fall from my lips. “I want you.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’ve never lied to you.”

He moves another step closer; my nostrils flare involuntarily as his scent surrounds me. “Let’s pretend for a moment that that’s true. That I believe you.” The words drip like acid from his tongue. “Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“It seems to matter enough for you to show up at my parents’ home uninvited. Go on,” he urges, smiling coldly. “Tell me why you want me.” He takes a step closer, exhales turned to silver mist by the cold and the moonlight. His sharp smile tightens, tension coiling in the grim line of his mouth. “Are you in love with me?”

Love is never enough, my father told me once.

The pressure inside builds, burns and shifts, the pulsing molten rock of a caldera mounting to a crescendo before it erupts, explodes, spills out inside of me until it is bigger than my bones, decimating fear and prey and posturing until my breath is ash and my skin is too small to contain it.

Because it can’t be love. I don’t want poems or well-wishes and I will not sacrifice for his happiness, I want nothing to do with it if it means letting him go.

“No,” I answer sharply.

His features transform into a blank mask. “It’s good to know some things haven’t changed.”

There is only a foot of space between us now, filled with breath and the quiet roar of blood rushing, singing beneath my skin. Unbidden, my hand reaches up — climbing, climbing until my fingers find the smooth stone of his face. It’s been so long since they’ve felt him.

He flinches away at my touch. “Don’t touch me.”

I touch him anyway. “You’re angry because the truth isn’t what you want to hear. But it’s all I have,” I tell him, feeling his jaw bunch beneath my fingers. “I’m giving it to you now.”

“It’s not enough. It’s not even an apology.”

“It could be enough. And you don’t need an apology.”

“You humiliated me.”

“I know.”

He sighs heavily.

If I listen closely enough, I can hear the clink of glasses from the rooms inside, the chatter of his parents’ guests, so perfectly groomed, raised to their places by a million petty rules, by the captivity of caring for reputation, for convention.

Crazy, crazy, the clouds whisper, and I silence them with a look. “We don’t have to be like everyone else,” I tell him. “They want security. The illusion of power. They’ll spend years laughing and flirting and fucking around, everyone trying to be on top with their money and their connections and their families’ legacies — they’re bored. They’re liars. They’re weak. And that’s not what you want.”

He eyes me warily. “You don’t know what I want.”

But I’m sure I do. Because everyone wants power, but few understand that it isn’t titles or speeches or money — it’s a whisper in a dark place, a kiss in the corner, a shapeless something in the shadows.

It’s in the predatory smile of a young man as he seduces his prey on the cold stone bench of a garden maze.

It’s in the touch of a girl as she leads her lover away from the party, subdues him in the absence of the mindless chatter.

“I see you,” I tell him, echoing words he gave me long ago. “I know you.”

“You knew how to fuck me,” he responds flatly. “You never knew me.”

But he’s wrong.

“You spend your days trapped in a shiny office letting your employees kiss your ass. The women you know would do anything for a little bit of your time, and the ones you’ve had are all the same: beautiful, willing, wet. They’re boring. I know why you carved those words into your piano.” I press myself closer to him, note the jumping pulse barely concealed beneath skin paled by the pearl of the moon. “‘The game still continues, but no one has fun.’ Without even trying, you have the kind of power everyone in there wants to have, and it galls you. It’s made you dull. You’ve fucked or fired half of Manhattan just to feel something.”

“You’re crazy,” he accuses, but foolish man, he’s not as unaffected as he’d like to appear.

“Perhaps,” I concede, digging my fingers further into him just to feel the hardness of his bones, the sharp cut of his body. My blood pulls and sings — desire, rising like the dark of a storm, the stark negative of a memory.

He is the only one who does this, who’s made me subject to the sensation of falling, of flailing, of failing. I can no more let him go than separate the chambers of my weak and angry heart.

I am not enough — but I will be enough.

“I know you,” I say again, and certainty is the shape of every syllable. “And you want this.”

And the stone word fell, Akhmatova wrote.

A flicker, something in his eyes flies free of his will, rising above his impenetrable glare to dig its needy talons into my chest.

Hope, crawling from the ruins of fallen idols, picking across the rubble of every sacred place I have ever demolished. From the pile of discarded temples, I reach for him, cold flesh for cold fingers.

And my own words are granite, burned out of my still-living breast but I cast them at his feet, rocks as my ransom. “I want it, too.”

+.+.+.+

A breeze stirs, climbs, crescendos,

picking at discarded petals of a dying bloom.

Whipping itself into the frenzy of a gale

pulling everything down, down, down

until all that is left are stigma and style,

red and raw and naked in the cold.

+.+.+.+

Edward stares down at me.

His jaw flexes before he speaks: “Prove it.”

I fight the urge to fight or flee, fire and ash spilling from the gaping wound between my lungs. It is the challenge of a torero, the wave of a scarlet cape.

“Sit down,” he commands, hard eyes and bold words.

I hesitate, fighting the tremor of unholy anticipation running through my limbs.

How has it come to this? Ammut snarls, wings disintegrating into gossamer and flame. Fool, fool—

But then breathe,

breathe again,

and follow the thread,

the brazen skein of color tied behind the apex of my lungs,

and fastened around the pulse that jumps inside his throat.

I sit.

I am not afraid of you, Edward once told me, and here is the proof, staring down at me boldly as I swallow back the reflex of defiance, the trouble of control.

He will best you, betray you, Artemis hisses, the hem of her hunting gown ablaze.

I silence her, waiting, watching him.

After several long moments he moves closer.

Cold hands cup my jaw, his breath hitching slightly as slowly, one of his hands moves up from his side, elegant fingers reaching to touch the small hollow between the sharp cut of my collarbones before moving up, up, around until he holds my throat in his hand. Strong fingers press into my neck, pushing against the fragile bones almost painfully. His scent surrounds me, soap and something expensive.

I hold his gaze, my shoulders stiff and straight in the face of the manic winds behind his eyes, their light surging, flickering.

“Tell me how this ends,” he demands. “Do you leave?”

I can’t, I want to say, but cannot. I shake my head.

“I’ve thought about this,” he confesses in a low voice, seemingly transfixed by the sight of his hand against me. “I’m always thinking about it.”

Those well-formed fingers flex convulsively; he struggles to control them.

“But I could end all of this right now,” he mutters harshly. “For all the times you’ve made me beg… made me want.”

I press into his hand, wanting more, hating the way my voice won’t form words that are not enough to calm the wildness of his eyes. I remember the Normandy cliffs, crooked bluffs against an angry sea.

“You want me?” he demands.

I nod. His fingers tighten again.

“Ask me what I want, Isabella.”

Fall and we’ll catch you, the rocks in the water cry.

“What do you want?” I whisper.

“I want…” he begins quietly, his eyes far away for a moment before sliding down to my lap. “I want to know what’s under your dress.”

The whisper of nights spent aching for him gathers in my head, a storm-cloud building to break. My pulse sounds the thunderclap from behind its gilded cage.

Fool, fool.

“Show me,” he commands: a dare to refuse.

His eyes are sharp as I reach cold hands to gather my skirt, lifting the clinging shadow of silk up, up, up until my my legs are bare to the tops of my thighs, my nakedness displayed. I hold the gathered fabric to my waist as his scorching gaze and the chill of the night air cut like a whip across my skin.

Eyes on bare flesh, Edward’s hand moves across the jut of my collarbone, skimming down, down, down, sliding beneath my dress, grazing the top of my breast, down further to its peak as he gently squeezes, teases. I do not look away from his face.

Gravity pulls against my pulse, roots me to the earth as light shimmers against the surface of my skin like a current. I am the child who cried for the moon and got it, arms open to clutch the mystery of its thrill and glow to my frail chest as I breathe his name—

Suddenly, with a ragged curse, he retreats, and the cold air caresses where his hand held me a moment before.

I frown, shivering at the ghost of him against me.

Several feet away now, he watches me, chest heaving like he’s carried something heavy, dropped it at my feet.

There is still a question that hangs in the ether between us, unformed and unanswered.

Is this real?

Waves surge, smashing against those white, crumbling cliffs, catching them as they collapse into the rabid surf,

the wind blows the flame into a wildfire,

the thread tightens,

and my silent yes flies free, though the muscle of my throat tries to catch it.

Then he is close again.

We crash into each other, ravenous beasts at the end of a winter hunt.

+.+.+.+

Dormant things stir beneath old scars, waking to turn waiting faces up to the warmth.

All of nature groans, reawakens, shakes off the sterile cloak of winter to renew itself,

changing to adapt,

to survive.

+.+.+.+

Edward’s fingers pull and travel, restless against the curves and hollows of my body. I cling to him, shivering, pulling at his tie and clawing at his collar until more of his flesh is exposed to my seeking lips.

I suck and bite and kiss his skin, inhaling salt and his scent into the caverns of my mouth, letting him fill the lonely places between my breasts, my thighs as he pushes me back, pulls me down until I am laid upon this cold stone altar, a weak and burning sacrifice to a vengeful god.

He is cruel in his fervor, handling my skin with the insouciant roughness of a man with his whore, ripping the silk of my dress and rending the straps like an impatient child. He curses, tears and pulls until the frigid night air slashes my bare skin, the fire inside roaring with indignation at the chill. My breasts bare beneath the moon for only a moment before he covers them with his mouth.

I gasp, crying out as my flesh is warmed with his lips, the pull of his suck and the sting of his teeth. His eyes are closed tightly but my hands are angry against his face, fingers telling him to look, to look up and then he does, gives me wide and wild eyes and I cannot breathe anymore, I am burning, burning, burning.

Exultant, uncaring, my fingers pull errant handfuls of his hair as the hot silk of his mouth moves across my stomach. His knees hit the ground as he pulls me forward, arms beneath my legs, hands grasping at the juncture of hip and thigh, pushing and pulling until his breath comes hot against the inside of my thigh.

His fingers find me where I am hot and wet, split me open like a ripe peach and he freezes. I look down after a long moment of nothing to find his eyes closed, lips moving soundlessly with the fervor of a holy man.

A small, questioning noise escapes my throat. He groans at the sound.

And then he is against me, angry lips and tongue and teeth pressing into me once, five, ten times and the noises ripping their way out of my throat are as much as pain as pleasure as he ruts against nothing, presses his face into me and it is violence and beauty, flying and drowning as I buck, gasp, muscles tightening almost to the point of agony.

“Fuck,” he breathes, over and over as he covers me again, greedy hands moving across my ribs, rungs on a ladder of bone, grasping the slight weight of my breasts, gathering them up like a manna to his seeking mouth as it tastes the acrid need of my skin.

“Tell me how this ends,” he demands against my skin, but I am beyond words.

We are clumsy, graceless, rough: kissing, sucking, biting,

his fingers grabbing and pulling, one hand roaming down to the waistband of his trousers before he releases himself and then I feel him, heavy against my leg and it has been too long.

Closer, closer, closer—

I find the pulse of his neck with my mouth, teeth bared against flesh as his arm snakes roughly beneath me, bends me back and I can feel the angry heat of his cock against me as we both cry out at the contact. His hand moves to my leg, pulls it up, around until I am rubbing myself against him like an animal in heat, panting my pleasure as he flexes his hips.

We are frantic, panting wild when he lines himself up, the hot head of him against me, pushing in and I am tight around him, gasping and gaping as the silk of his black tie touches my breasts.

“God,” he grunts, face twisted in what looks like anger and he cannot hold still, he cannot be gentle and I am already tensing again, squeezing around him.

He freezes as I come, closing his eyes. His hands curl into fists on either side of me. We are still for a moment as my body comes down, caressing his length before I urge him to move again.

Over and over and over, advancing and retreating, flesh against flesh against stone as I writhe like a flame around him, our breaths mingling into a litany of the sacred and profane.

Soon, he is close; I recognize the tightening of his eyes, the soundless gape of his mouth and I pull him flush against me, fire and sweat and fluttering around his cock with another cry.

I breathe his name, and it falls from my lips like a curse.

He freezes, eyes boring into me with an emotion I am too far gone to read.

“Say it again,” he demands, and it is gravel and rust, the twist and grind of the oldest machinery in the universe.

Fool, comes Ammut’s dying cry.

“Edward,” comes my own.

He presses himself into me, hands in my hair, teeth against my neck as his hips rut against me in a tattoo of short and violent thrusts. He pushes and pushes and spills inside me with a desperate growl against my skin.

There is panting, the chill of coming down.

And then we are still.

He is finished and I am finished and we both breathe with the harsh bursts of hunted animals, the death rattles of a sacrifice laid upon this cold, stone altar.

Predator, prey — what does it matter when each circles the other in an ourobourous of blade and flame?

Blade and flame.

The sun god, grounded.

And the last of pieces of me melt, slipping away like floes of ice upon a stormy sea.

+.+.+.+

Beneath pale skin, blood resumes its journey,

rushing forward in the primal rhythm of a pulse,

filling numb and lifeless limbs.

+.+.+.+

We are statues entwined in the darkness, an obscene satire of Rodin’s Kiss. Cold skin faded to shades of stone amidst carcasses of discarded deities and heavy words.

Dazed, I lift a hand to examine its silhouette against the full moon, flexing empty fingers and marveling at every small perfection of their movement, their strength, these tiny bones that held him to me only moments ago. My flesh is painted with the shadows of every moan and suck and bite. My inner thighs ache from the force of him.

Eventually, Edward pulls away and out, sitting on the ground with his back to me as the moonlight bathes my naked, shivering thighs. A chill from the cold stone of the bench shudders through me but I pay it no mind, revelling in the lightness, the heat within — this delicious, restless warmth. This foreign hope.

On the ground, Edward is motionless, silently staring at the maze wall. I stretch, reach my shaking hand to rest in the perfect tangle of his hair.

He turns his head. The full moon casts his profile in shadow, accenting every angle of his arrogant features in silver and white.

“You’re cold,” he absently notes.

I exhale into the night, savoring the smoke of my own breath. “Perhaps.”

“You don’t have a coat?”

My lips curve into a smile. “I have a car.”

The meaning of my words is not lost on him. There is distance in his eyes as they meet mine. “Isabella.”

I freeze. “Don’t,” I tell him.

“This was a mistake,” he finishes quietly.

All around us is silence, nature suspended as we breathe.

“I came back for you,” I spit.

“You shouldn’t have.”

The altar is burning, but I do not climb down. “Why are you saying this?”

He looks at me for a moment before shaking his head, his brow bearing the exhausted furrows of a man conquered twice. “You can’t be serious.”

“Answer me.”

“This…” he gestures to our surroundings. “This is why. You’re toxic, Isabella. I can’t think straight around you.”

“We talked about this,” I seethe. “We don’t have to be like those people—”

“We are those people,” he interrupts sharply.

“So that’s it, then?” I demand, my face tightening indignantly, humiliation and desperation seeping through my words as he stands.

“How did you think this would end?” he asks. “Did you think choosing to come here would erase the past?”

There is a sudden pull, a painful twist, a rip between my lungs.

“There is no choice,” I choke out. “There’s nothing else.”

He looks away. “I won’t let you ruin me.”

It is iron on iron, the slam of a door and the click of a lock.

Fury surges with this realization: how pitiful I must seem, staring at him with the hopeful anticipation of a dumb animal that does not know the price of its own hide.

This is my sun god, after all these years,

the monster in the maze whose rutting silhouette has shown me my own desire:

to own, to be free.

But now, there is nothing. All that is left of him was spilled inside of me moments ago. I do not have him; I will not be free.

He’s won, and I have let him. I smile stiffly as I think this, the veneer of ice atop a lake of fire as I stand.

Edward sighs, his expression unreadable. “‘The game still continues,'” he mutters, running a hand through his hair.

I open my mouth to correct him.

But there is no sound.

Was there ever a man who followed a selkie into the sea?

Of course not.

Stupid, stupid girl.

My feet fall into footsteps long ago disappeared,

I fly past the break of the hedge, the lights of the house,

ignoring the shivers that wrack my body as the valet retrieves the car.

Cold, my mother called me, but I did not feel it. Marked, a man on the street once declared. The luckiest, unlucky passionate one.

Look at this dress, at the wealth on my back. Look at the deference with which the Masens’ valet addresses me.

And look at these bare arms, too slender for the cold — how they shake! Shivering, though fire runs through the veins within. They are overtaken by the fever of emptiness, the pain of No.

Hours later, I am one of many again, a dot in the stream of people hurrying toward their various destinations. Heathrow has never seemed so busy.

Fool, fool, Ammut whispers.

And it’s true.

I am a fool. For provoking the petty, indignant rage of my father, the vindictive whispers of my mother’s ghost. A fool for abandoning the gods of before, for wanting something that couldn’t be touched: freedom and the foreign warmth of him.

A fool for jumping, for falling, for thinking I might survive.

+.+.+.+

It is a stern work that fire does.

Heat: a force as unstoppable as time,

wreaking havoc,

petals bleeding across the snow,

a landscape melting into nothing,

as the words of an old dream echo across the glacial remains:

It is the thaw,

and only a fool would fight it.

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

Feeling pretty content/grateful right about now, so this list may be a little longer than usual:

Thanks to the writers whose stories made me want to write this one, including (but not limited to) Myg, Rochelle Allison, miaokuancha, plummy, WhatsMyNom, badjujube, quothme, Helenah Jay, WildRedPoppies, etc etc. (there are many more). If memory serves, quothme was the first author I loved to rec this story, which gave me enough self-esteem to keep writing until Myg came along…

And Myg gets her own paragraph. She’s the best, and I probably would have abandoned this ten chapters ago if she didn’t take the time out of her busy life to constructively critique the majority of these chapters. Props to her for being awesome, and if you haven’t read her Osa Bella/Reckoner stories THEN WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO READ THEM RIGHT THE HELL NOW.

And thanks to the friends I’ve made in the fandom, people like Jada and Karen who make me laugh with gifs, snark, and so on.

Last, but not least, I have had some of the loveliest reviews. I can’t tell you what a shot in the arm they’ve been. Thank you all for being so kind. I will do my best to update around this time next week, but will tweet if anything changes.

One more chapter and an epilogue to go…

 

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About hollelujah
meh.

6 Responses to 25. The Reckoning

  1. SLKerouac says:

    Bella knows that it will always be Edward. She goes back home. Arranges to be at a party because she knows that Edward will be there. They meet in the maze. They come together. It is what Bella wants but what does Edward want? Things are said and Bella leaves. What does Bella do now? Will Edward follow her? Will he let her go? What will hapen next? Will Bella and Edward talk through all the past hurts? Will they be able to love each other and forget about what others in their lives say? Next chapter!!!

  2. Ang says:

    Wow! Amazing and heart breaking!

  3. annettedavis says:

    I loved the chapter but I was so hoping that Bella’s epiphany would mean a softening on her part. If she could have shown Edward just a tiny bit of give things might have been different.

    I have enjoyed this story so much. I went back and reread it last week and it is so brilliant. Thank you for continuing it, for sticking to your guns, for being brave. Your writing has given me a lot of pleasure.

    Thank you.

  4. That'sMzPeachesTYVM says:

    I wonder if Edward knows what HE wants?
    Together they are gasoline and matches.

  5. xxxxxxx says:

    Are you familiar with Kieslowski?
    Your story reminded me of this film and it seems that music matches as well:

    I cannot find right words to describe how I feel in this moment…
    I have no clue how this all ends in your mind but I do know how it ends in mine 🙂
    And this is not a happy end…
    Thank you so much…

  6. Joni Webb says:

    oh. i was dreading this. i really was. i want them together. scared to read the next chapter. wondering if she will let him escape with his life?

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