James, snapping my leg under his foot. That was nothing. That was a soft place to rest on a feather bed. I'd take that now, a hundred times. A hundred snaps. I'd take it and be grateful.

The baby, kicking my ribs apart, breaking her way through me piece by piece. That was nothing. That was floating in a pool of cool water. I'd take it a thousand times. Take it and be grateful.

The fire blazed hotter and I wanted to scream. To beg for someone to kill me now, before I lived one more second in this pain. But I couldn't move my lips. The weight was still there, pressing on me.

I realized it wasn't the darkness holding me down; it was my body. So heavy. Burying me in the flames that were chewing their way out from my heart now, spreading with impossible pain through my shoulders and stomach, scalding their way up my throat, licking at my face.

Why couldn't I move? Why couldn't I scream? This wasn't part of the stories.

My mind was unbearably clear - sharpened by the fierce pain - and I saw the answer almost as soon as I could form the questions.

The morphine.

It seemed like a million deaths ago that we'd discussed it - Edward, Carlisle, and I. Edward and Carlisle had hoped that enough painkillers would help fight the pain of the venom. Carlisle had tried with Emmett, but the venom had burned ahead of the medicine, sealing his veins. There hadn't been time for it to spread.

I'd kept my face smooth and nodded and thanked my rarely lucky stars that Edward could not read my mind.

Because I'd had morphine and venom together in my system before, and I knew the truth. I knew the numbness of the medicine was completely irrelevant while the venom seared through my veins. But there'd been no way I was going to mention that fact. Nothing that would make him more unwilling to change me.

I hadn't guessed that the morphine would have this effect - that it would pin me down and gag me. Hold me paralyzed while I burned.

I knew all the stories. I knew that Carlisle had kept quiet enough to avoid discovery while he burned. I knew that, according to Rosalie, it did no good to scream. And I'd hoped that maybe I could be like Carlisle. That I would believe Rosalie's words and keep my mouth shut. Because I knew that every scream that escaped my lips would torment Edward.

Now it seemed like a hideous joke that i was getting my wish fulfilled.

If I couldn't scream, how could I tell them to kill me?

All I wanted was to die. To never have been born. The whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. Wasn't worth living through it for one more heartbeat.

Let me die, let me die, let me die.

And, for a never-ending space, that was all there was. Just the fiery torture, and my soundless shrieks, pleading for death to come. Nothing else, not even time. So that made it infinite, with no beginning and no end. One infinite moment of pain.

The only change came when suddenly, impossibly, my pain was doubled. The lower half of my body, deadened since before the morphine, was suddenly on fire, too. Some broken connection had been healed - knitted together by the scorching fingers of the flame.

The endless burn raqed on.

It could have been seconds or days, weeks or years, but, eventually, time came to mean something again.

Three things happened together, grew from each other so that I didn't know which came first: time restarted, the morphine's weight faded, and I got stronger.

I could feel the control of my body come back to me in increments, and those increments were my first markers of the time passing. I knew it when I was able to twitch my toes and twist my fingers into fists. I knew it, but I did not act on it.

Though the fire did not decrease one tiny degree - in fact, I began to develop a new capacity for experiencing it, a new sensitivity to appreciate, separately, each blistering tongue of flame that licked through my veins - I discovered that I could think around it.

I could remember why I shouldn't scream. I could remember the reason why I'd committed to enduring this unendurable agony. I could remember that, though it felt impossible now, there was something that might be worth the torture.

This happened just in time for me to hold on when the weights left my body. To anyone watching me,

there would be no change. But for me, as I struggled to keep the screams and thrashing locked up inside my body, where they couldn't hurt anyone else, it felt like I'd gone from being tied to the stake as I burned, to gripping that stake to hold myself in the fire.

I had just enough strength to lie there unmoving while I was charred alive.

My hearing got clearer and clearer, and I could count the frantic, pounding beats of my heart to mark the time.

I could count the shallow breaths that gasped through my teeth.

I could count the low, even breaths that came from somewhere close beside me. These moved slowest, so I concentrated on them. They meant the most time passing. More even than a clock's pendulum, those breaths pulled me through the burning seconds toward the end.

I continued to get stronger, my thoughts clearer. When new noises came, I could listen.

There were light footsteps, the whisper of air stirred by an opening door. The footsteps gotcloser, and I felt pressure against the inside of my wrist. I couldn't feel the coolness of the fingers. The fire blistered away every memory of cool.

"Still no change?"

"None."

The lightest pressure, breath against my scorched skin.

"There's no scent of the morphine left."

"I know."

"Bella? Can you hear me?"

I knew, beyond all doubt, that if I unlocked my teeth I would lose it - I would shriek and screech and writhe and

thrash. If I opened my eyes, if I so much as twitched a finger - any change at all would be the end of my control.

"Bella? Bella, love? Can you open your eyes? Can you squeeze my hand?"

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