Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns everything in the Twiverse. I'm just playing around in New Moon with Rosalie.
A few things before I get to the thing I really need to get to. If you want to skip this and just get to the chapter, feel free to come back:
1. Someone nominated "What Have We Done?" for TWO Twific Fandom Awards last month! I didn't make it past the first round, but I was really touched by the gesture, so thank you!
2. This is a bittersweet update because it's not only the last chapter of WHWD but also my last fic for a while. I know I was working on a high school fic and still have the "Black Ice" saga to finish... someday... but after hitting 40, I realized I can't write the way I do now and pursue my life's main goals at the same time. I had to choose, and I chose to lay down my keyboard for now.
3. This is so bittersweet for me that I've reached the point where I can't even read this chapter anymore without getting sad. So please pardon any editing errors. I just wanted to get this to you as soon as possible.
So with all that in mind, please enjoy this final—and longest—chapter of "What Have We Done?"
Undoing What's Been Done
Part 18 - Conclusion
Bella and Edward sit wrapped in each other's arms on the forest floor, hearts and mind on one accord. The entwined hands on Edward's face have moved down to the space above Bella's chest, and with their foreheads touching, Edward closes his eyes to savor the life-saving music her heart plays.
"What are you doing?" Bella murmurs after a while, her voice drowsy with contentment.
"Breathing." He brushes butterfly kisses against her skin. "For the first time in my life, I am finally breathing."
Bella snuggles closer to him on a sigh. "And I am finally breathing again."
Time seems to stand still out of respect for their reunion, and even the surrounding forest takes the hint. The breeze is gentler, the birdsongs softer, and the hard ground beneath them may as well be a blanket of wildflowers. For these precious moments, there is nothing outside of them, nothing against them, and nothing between them but the tender buds of renewing love.
And right now, that is all they need.
*** W – H – W – D ***
Midafternoon gives way to cooler winds, and when Bella begins to shiver, Edward pats her arms. "Time to get you warm."
She snuggles closer. "I'm plenty warm."
"But you have exams this week." He nuzzles her temple with his nose. "And I know you planned to study today."
She pulls back to look at him. "How do you know?"
"Because I know you."
The words are simple but say so much. And when Bella kisses Edward's cheek in reply, there is no need for him to say anything more. Instead he comes to his feet, extending his hands to help her do the same. Once upright, Bella laces their fingers together, and with sweet smiles, they take the familiar path back to the street.
"I see Charlie's not home yet," Edward says with no small measure of relief. "That's probably best."
"For now." Bella squeezes his hand. "I want the chance to tell him about this on my terms. Not have some showdown in the driveway."
Edward ducks his head. "I'm sorry my showing up the other day made things worse for you. I was only..."
"Stop." Bella places a finger against his lips. "No more apologizing."
"Sorry." He kisses her finger, and she drops her hand, blushing to her roots. He trails a gentle finger along the curve of her jaw, the color on her cheeks deepening. "God, I missed that."
"And there will be plenty more." She sighs into his cupped hand. "But you're right. I do need to go study."
Neither of them makes any move to separate, and Bella shakes her head. "I don't want to ask you to leave."
"And I don't want to go." He strokes her cheek. "But it's much easier knowing that you want me to come back."
"I will always want you to come back."
"And I will always come back." He inches closer. "I will be whatever you want."
"Be here." Bella's gaze drops to his mouth. "Just be you and be here."
Edward hesitates just a moment for bending to meet her. When their lips finally touch, the earth itself breathes a sigh of wonder and relief.
And back at home, Alice squeals so loudly a crystal vase shatters in the foyer.
But for some reason, Esme doesn't seem to mind.
*** W – H – W – D ***
True to her word, Bella ensures that Charlie does not come home to the sight of her and Edward making out on the porch. Though if not for Edward's keen hearing, they surely would have gotten caught. The first kiss of their new lives began chastely, but after months of deprivation, despair, and doubt, it quickly increased in ardor.
Not that anyone could blame them.
Well, anyone except Charlie.
Which is why Edward flies into the forest upon hearing the backfiring police cruiser a quarter-mile away, and Bella rushes upstairs to her room, tossing books, notepads, and pens on her bed in an attempt to look studious.
Charlie buys the ruse when he knocks on her door a few minutes after coming home, offering to pick up something from the diner so she won't have to cook.
"Any requests?" he asks.
"Do they still have mushroom ravioli?"
"Mushroom ravioli?" Charlie blinks in surprise. "I thought you couldn't... or wouldn't... eat that."
Bella nibbles on her bottom lip. "I, um... I didn't think you'd remember that."
"I remember everything about that time in our lives, Bella." Charlie's voice deepens with feeling. "Don't think I'll ever forget it."
"No. Me neither." Charlie turns to walk away, and Bella pauses. "Um, Dad?"
"Do you... do you think that someday you could... maybe be able to move past it?" She folds her hands when he turns around. "Or at least try?"
Charlie stares at Bella for a long time, his brown eyes unreadable. "Does this mean that... that you two have..."
"Yes." She cannot quell a small smile. "Edward and I have worked things out."
Charlie curses under his breath. "I knew this was going to happen."
"I didn't," Bella murmurs. "I never thought I would see him again... let alone want to see him. Let alone forgive him."
"Then why did you?" Charlie looks up with anguished eyes. "Why did you give that boy a chance to hurt you again?"
"Because I love him." She climbs off the bed and comes to stand in front of Charlie. "I know that's hard for you to hear, and I... I wish I could give you another explanation, but that's... that's really what this all comes down to. I love Edward, faults and all, and I want to give us another chance."
"And what if he leaves again?"
"How do you know?"
"Because I believe in him."
"That's not the same as knowing for sure."
"No, but do any of us know anything for sure?"
"I know for sure he doesn't deserve you." Charlie's voice catches. "I know for sure neither that boy nor his family have the first clue about how special you are, and I know for damn sure that it'll be a good long time before I'll be able to stand the sight of any of them except Rosalie."
"I know. And because I know that, I promise I won't flaunt our relationship in your face or try to convince you that Edward has changed. I won't ask you to be nice to him or even to believe in him the way I do. I will only ask you not to stand in our way."
"Bells, I... I would never want to stand in your way. You know that."
"I know. But the minute someone sees us together again, the talk is going to start. And I know you're going to hear it too, especially from people like Billy Black and that busybody, Mrs. Mallory."
"I don't want you worrying about that. I'm a grown man and can take care of myself."
"And so can I, Dad. At least, in this situation, I want to."
Charlie doesn't reply, and Bella steps closer. "Dad, Edward and I have both changed over the past several months, and it's going to take time for us to get to know each other again, to see if it will even work this time. But I don't want to feel like I have to sneak to see him or that I'm doing something wrong when I do see him because you don't approve. I'm not really asking you to approve or even pretend that you do. I just don't want..."
"You just don't want me to stand in your way."
"Yes." Bella searches his eyes. "Is that... I mean, can you do that?"
Charlie stares at his daughter for a long time, seeing not the sad girl he couldn't reach for all those months but the strong woman now asking her father for support. And though he wants to run over that Cullen boy with his cruiser... twice... he cannot ignore the courage it takes for Bella to ask this of him.
To ask this of herself again.
"I can try." Charlie pulls her in for a hug, his eyes watering. "For you, Bells, I will damn sure try."
And he does.
The next day when Edward drives Bella to school for the first time, the news spreads around Forks like wildfire, and Charlie gets singed by the blaze. Several well-meaning townspeople—and a few who just like to gossip—drag him into animated discussions about the reunion and offer the chief unsolicited opinions on what to do about it. By the time Charlie pulls into his driveway that night, he has all but had it with the name "Edward."
But when he finds the so-named boy watching a movie in the living room with Bella and sees the content smile on his daughter's face, Charlie swallows his ire and tosses a gruff-but-not-aggressive grunt in the boy's general direction.
Edward and Bella breathe a sigh of relief, and with that, their reunion seems off to a fine start.
And not just at the Swan residence.
No one in Cullen Country can deny the changes in Edward since his reconciliation with Bella and the work with Eleazar that largely made that possible. Edward is lighter, calmer, and much easier to be around. And every time he meets Bella in their meadow for an afternoon picnic or whisks her to Seattle to explore its nightlife, the whole house could explode with joy.
But no one more than Carlisle, Esme, and Alice.
Seeing Edward comfortable enough with himself to enjoy his life with Bella is everything they have hoped for since realizing he loved the human girl. No, they didn't expect to see it from such a distance, but they are nevertheless grateful for the view.
"She has been more than gracious," Esme says to me after Bella sets off on another date with Edward. "The way we left her was unconscionable, and our attempts to justify it were worse."
"And she has forgiven you for all that."
"Has she?" The pain in her voice betrays her, and Esme looks away. "Forgive me. I don't mean to exploit your friendship with Bella by asking about..."
"You aren't," I reply gently. "And to answer your question, yes. Bella has decided to put the pain of the past behind her."
"But what that looks like going forward is much more difficult to say in some cases."
"You mean for Carlisle, Alice, and me."
I touch her arm. "It's not intentional, Esme. Remember what Carmen said before she went back home: Bella has changed a lot in the past several months, and every close relationship she had before then has been effected. The only reason she and I get along so easily is that I openly despised her before."
"Yet you have become her best friend in the entire world."
"Which means anything can happen." I kiss my mother's cheek. "Just give it time. Things will change for the better, you'll see."
And a few weeks later, they do.
One afternoon, Bella knocks on our door and asks to see Esme and Alice. I hear their gasps of shock and delight from my position in the living room and am impressed when they come downstairs wearing relatively chaste expressions.
"Hello, Bella." Esme smiles. "It's so nice to see you again."
"Hi, Esme. Alice." She nods at both of them. "I, um... I need your help with something."
"Whatever you want, Bella," Alice replies quickly, barely able to contain her excitement.
"Good. Well, as you might know, the Forks High Senior Prom is a few weeks away, and after much consideration, I have decided to go."
"Really?" the three of us cry in unison, and Bella joins our light laughter.
"You can imagine why we're shocked," I say.
"I'm shocked myself." Bella takes a seat on the couch. "And up until yesterday, I'd been dead-set against it."
"What changed?" Esme asks.
Bella huffs. "Lauren Mallory."
A growl rumbles in my chest. "What did that heffa do now?"
"I overheard her in the bathroom talking crap about me, saying it's only a matter of time before Edward gets bored with me again and moves on to someone worthy of him." Bella shakes her head. "Someone more like her."
Alice leans in. "You want us to slash her tires?"
Bella smiles. "No, but I appreciate the offer."
"So you're going to the prom to show Lauren that you and Edward are closer than ever?" Esme asks.
"Yes. To show her, Mike Newton, Coach Clapp, and everyone else in that building that this is my life, I am living it on my terms, and if they don't like it, they can suck it."
"And suck it hard," Esme adds. "Talking about you two like that..."
"Well, this is where you come in." Bella looks at the three of us. "I want you all to come with me."
Three pairs of golden eyes widen. "All of us?" Alice asks.
"All of you. And your mates, too. I want all eight of us to walk into that prom together, daring someone to say something."
"That's..." Esme clears her throat. "That's not what I expected you to ask."
"Me either," Alice says. "Not that I was looking."
Bella notices their tight expressions and frowns. "Is something wrong?"
I turn to Bella. "I think... I think they're worried about someone else's reaction. Someone else who doesn't seem to like them much anymore."
"Someone else who..." Bella nods. "You mean Charlie."
"We have the utmost respect for your father, Bella," Esme says. "And would never want to do anything to make him feel affronted."
Bella waves them off. "Don't worry about him. He's coming too!"
"What?" Emmett rushes in from the garage. "Let me find out Chief Swan's gonna bust out his breakdancing moves!"
Bella chuckles. "I don't know about all that, but he's pretty tired of all the wagging tongues in this town as well. When I told him my idea, he said he would put in a brief appearance."
Esme clasps her hands. "What an amazing dad you have."
"Yeah, he's the best." She looks at us. "So does that mean you're in?"
"Of course we're in!" Alice shrieks for the lot of us, coming to her feet with slightly less commotion. "Thank you for inviting us, Bella. This is gonna be awesome!"
And it is.
It is one thing for the entire Cullen clan and Chief Swan to show up at the senior prom. It is quite another for Bella Swan to arrive with Edward Cullen on her arm.
It is something else altogether for Bella to be wearing an electric blue knee-length dress with high-top blue chucks.
"You look divine," Edward whispers in her ear, mindful of the chief's nearness.
"I feel divine," she replies as he kisses her cheek. "Now let's turn this mutha out."
"Don't have to tell me twice!" Emmett cries, twirling me onto the dance floor.
"Shall we?" Jasper asks Alice, and she curtsies her reply.
"After you, Ms. Swan," Edward murmurs.
Bella clasps his hand. "With me, Mr. Cullen."
Charlie hangs back with Carlisle and Esme, their smiles identical as they watch their children enjoy themselves and ignore the great shock of the Forks High populace.
"I never thought this day would come," Charlie says almost to himself. "Was pretty sure I didn't want it to."
Carlisle turns to him and wisely keeps silent.
"She's so young and has already been through so much, and I just want her to be safe and happy and loved." He pauses when Bella's laughter rings out and looks up to see Edward spin and dip her. "But who am I to say who or what she needs in her life?"
"She needs you, Charlie," Carlisle says.
"And she will always have me." Charlie meets Carlisle's eyes before glancing at the dance floor. "But it's pretty clear I'm not the only one she needs. And I am learning to be okay with that. Well, trying to learn anyway." Ms. Cope waves at Charlie from across the room, and he nods in her direction. "I'm gonna say hi to Shelly."
Carlisle watches him go, and when he's out of earshot, Esme releases a heavy sigh. "Oh, thank God."
"Yes." Carlisle rubs her back. "That was a pleasant surprise."
Esme lays a hand over her heart. "And about as much surprise as I'll need for a while."
It turns out, however, that "a while" barely lasts a week.
The following Wednesday, Edward texts Bella during her lunch period, asking her to meet him in the parking lot. She heads out to the Volvo, her smile faltering when she sees him leaned against it with a tight expression. "Edward?"
"I'm sorry to interrupt your day." Edward takes her hands and stands her between his legs. "But this news could not wait."
"What is it?"
Edward meets her eyes. "Victoria is dead."
"What?" Bella blinks, her brain struggling to keep up. "Wh... what happened?"
"She apparently reached out to Laurent, seeking to avenge James' death. Laurent let her believe he wanted to help and instead led her into a trap where Tanya, Kate, and Irina were waiting. Victoria never had a chance."
Bella blinks at Edward, her brain struggling to sort it out. "Why would Laurent do that? I mean, I'm grateful he did. I just don't understand."
"He always resented James and Victoria's recklessness and especially disapproved of James' decision to target you for sport." Edward growls under his breath, and Bella strokes his chest to calm him. "Laurent thought our clan was strange, unorthodox even, but felt it was our right to live as we choose. Once he met Irina and found peace with her in Denali, our family became his family, and he wanted to protect us at all costs. So sometime last year, he worked with Eleazar and Tanya to create a contingency plan for eliminating Victoria in case she ever reached out to him."
"Wow." Bella shakes her head. "And she did."
"She did. And just as Laurent thought, her arrogance and belief in Laurent's gullibility was the key to taking her down."
"So she's dead."
"So that means..." A hesitant smile graces Bella's face. "It's over?"
"It's all over."
"Oh my god." Bella throws her arms around Edward's neck, and a few tears slip out. "I can't believe it. Honestly, I was honestly too depressed to even think about Victoria when you left, but knowing she's dead is still a..." She pulls back to look at him, noting the dejection in his eyes. "I'm not saying that to hurt you."
"I know. And I don't ever want you downplaying the horror of those days for my benefit." He runs his hands up and down her arms. "But it still hurts to think of you in so much pain, especially knowing I caused it."
"I know." Bella rests her forehead against his. "I know."
A bittersweet silence envelops them, and they surrender to it, reveling in the wordless peace of being together. With Victoria dead, they have one less reminder of their worst days and one more reason to believe their best ones lie ahead.
But even at their most optimistic, neither Bella nor Edward could have predicted just how good those best days would be.
Or how they would come about.
*** W – H – W – D ***
For the most part, Bella's high school graduation is just like any other graduation. Ugly robes are worn, trite speeches delivered, and insincere promises to be friends forever are given. Bella poses for obligatory photos with her classmates, and I manage not to throat-punch Lauren Mallory when she asks Bella to sign her yearbook.
Yes, Bella's graduation is pretty typical.
With one notable, surprising exception.
Carmen returns to Forks for Bella's graduation and brings her entire family with her. Carlisle introduces the Denali clan to Bella's parents and cannot help but notice the way Charlie's gaze lingers on Kate, the middle of the three blonde sisters.
Nor does Esme miss how Kate's golden eyes deepen in color as she smiles in the chief's direction.
So it comes as no great surprise to my parents when Kate decides to stay in Forks longer than the rest of the family, citing an interest in fauna unavailable in Alaska. Nor do they wonder why we find the chief's cruiser pulling out of our driveway one night the following week.
They do wonder, though, how Bella is completely unaware of what's happening.
Sure, she's too wrapped up in Edward—and the freedom escaping high school can bring—to be aware of much else, but surely she must notice Charlie whistling throughout the day, spending less time in front of the television, and smelling like something other than eau de Miller Lite.
But she does not.
So I'm the one deputized—if you'll pardon the pun—to call Bella in the middle of July and warn her after Charlie has a certain conversation with Kate that changes his perspective on everything and everyone he thinks he knows.
"Wait, wait..." Bella stammers through my hasty explanation. "Charlie and Kate are dating?"
"Kate, your vegetarian cousin from Alaska?"
I huff in amused exasperation. "Yes!"
"This whole time?" Bella turns to Edward who is sitting on her bed. "Did you know about this?"
He nods. "I just didn't know how to..."
"Focus, Bella!" I shout into the phone to regain her attention. "Charlie and Kate have been dating since your graduation, but that is not tonight's headline."
"Right. Sorry." Bella closes her eyes and exhales. "How did this happen? Kate's confession, I mean."
"Well, like his daughter, Chief Swan is very observant—shifts in eye color with Kate's mood, her constant lack of appetite, certain movements that were just too quick."
"But what made her tell him the truth?"
"Because like my brother, Kate is in love with a human and didn't want to lie anymore."
"Wow." Bella sinks onto the bed beside Edward. "So she told him everything?"
"Oh my god." Bella sinks onto her bed. "Did she mention your family?"
"She didn't have to," I reply. "Once Kate described her lifestyle and habits, Charlie outed us on his own."
"Was he angry?"
"Not exactly. Kate said he was shocked, of course, confused, and overwhelmed. And that he needed some time to process."
"I know the feeling."
"He also said he needed to see you right away."
A car door slams in the Swan driveway, and Bella winces. "He's here."
"It'll be okay," I tell her. "Stay calm, let him lead the conversation, and whatever happens... know that we'll be here to help you get through it. Edward?"
He takes the phone from Bella as they rush downstairs. "Yes?"
"That goes for you, too. Okay?"
"I know, Rose. We love you, too."
They enter the living room just as Charlie bursts into the house. "Bella! Bella, I need to talk to you!"
"I'm here, Dad." Bella steps into the hallway, folding her hands in front of her. "We both are."
"You both are." Charlie looks behind her at Edward, his eyes wide. "Is it true?"
Edward holds Charlie's gaze. "Yes."
"Yes." Charlie drags a hand down his face, failing to hide its tremor. "So you're... you're a..."
"A vampire," Edward says calmly. "Yes."
"Yes. Right." Charlie looks at Bella. "How long have you known?"
"Since Jess and I went prom dress shopping in Port Angeles..."
"Port Angeles," Charlie echoes.
"...last year," Bella says.
"Last year!" Charlie cries. "You've known that he and... and his whole family were... that they were... God, I can't even say it..."
"I've known for more than a year, yes," Bella says. "But I wasn't allowed to say anything to you or anyone else. Truthfully, neither is Kate. She just put herself in great danger."
"What do you mean?"
"Humans are not supposed to know of our existence," Edward says quietly. "It is the most important rule for our kind. And breaking that rule is a capital offense."
"A capital offen..." Charlie's eyes widen. "You mean, Kate could lose her life for telling me the truth?"
"If our governing body learns that she told you, yes."
He throws up his hands. "Then why would she tell me?"
"Didn't Kate explain why she told you, Dad?" Bella asks.
"I don't know! I mean, everything after 'I'm a vampire' is kind of a blur."
"Of course," Bella says. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize, honey." Charlie looks at her tenderly. "I just... when I realized the truth about her also applied to... to them, all I could think about was getting home and making sure you were safe. The thought of you being here alone with a vampire was..."
"Terrifying," Edward says. "I understand that fear better than you think."
Charlie snorts. "I seriously doubt that."
"He does, Dad." Bella stands beside Edward and laces their fingers together. "I know it might sound crazy, but the fear of something happening to me is what almost tore us apart."
Charlie gapes at Edward. "Is... is that why you left her?"
"Yes." Edward strokes the back of Bella's hand. "I was wrong to do what I did, but yes, I left because I thought she would be safer without me, and I couldn't take the risk anymore."
Charlie stares at Edward, words failing as his perspective on the past completely shifts. He drags himself to the living room and plops into his recliner. "Son, I... I think you'd better start from the beginning."
Edward looks at Bella who nods. "Okay," he says. "But it's a long story."
Charlie chuckles dryly. "Well, from what I understand, you've got the time."
*** W – H – W – D ***
"My god." By the time Edward describes his return to Forks, Charlie is standing by the window shaking his head. "That was... well, it was a hell of a lot more than I expected."
"I'm sure." Edward still holds to Bella's hand. "And I'm sure you have questions."
"That's an understatement."
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you, Dad." Bella goes to her father, stopping just behind him. "Knowing all of this, any of this, would have made things so much easier on you sometimes, but it..."
"It also would have put me in danger." He turns to half-smile at his daughter. "I understand that, Bells."
"But I'm really glad you know now. And I'm happy to answer any questions you might have."
Edward comes to his feet. "We both are."
"I appreciate that. Especially since I have no one else to talk to about this." He shakes his head. "I can only imagine what Billy would say if I told him. Good thing it's a secret, huh?"
"Yeah." Bella tucks her hair behind her ears. "Good thing."
Edward groans inside as Bella's nervous tone does not go unnoticed by her father. "What do you mean by that?"
Bella looks at Charlie. "By what?"
"By what you just..." Charlie turns sharply to Edward. "The Quileutes don't like your family. Never have."
Edward nods. "The fissure between us runs deep."
"So do they... do they know what you are?"
"And that's why they don't like you."
Edward hesitates but only Bella notices. "That is the simplest explanation, yes."
"But there's more to it than that."
Charlie studies Edward. "And I don't want to know what that is, do I?"
"Whether you do or not," Edward replies. "It isn't my place to say more than I have already said."
"Wow. I... I don't even know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," Bella says. "This is a lot, and it'll take some time to all make sense."
"Yeah, I know." Charlie rubs his chest. "It's just... I feel so strange."
"You have heard a lot of strange things tonight," Edward says.
"No, that's not... I mean, yes, I've heard some strange things. Some really, really strange things, but I... I'm not..." Charlie blows out a harsh breath. "I guess I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Bella snorts. "Other than the fact that your girlfriend and your daughter's boyfriend are both vampires?"
"I mean for me, emotionally. Because yeah, I was alarmed and scared and confused when Kate first told me, and I needed to see you just to help myself get anchored, I guess. But now that I've heard the truth from Edward too... I keep waiting to freak out."
"So you're not freaked out?" Edward asks.
Charlie shakes his head. "Not that I can tell anyway."
Edward and Bella share a glance, and a tender smile spreads across Bella's face. "Wow."
"Well..." Bella begins. "I don't want to assume anything or put words in your mouth, but when I found out the truth about Edward, I wasn't scared either."
"Not at all. He and his entire family kept waiting for me to flip out or want to get as far away from him as humanly possible, but..." She smiles at Edward who goes to stand beside her. "They finally realized that wasn't going to happen."
"Why not? How can you be so sure?"
Bella looks at her father. "Because he's my mate."
"Your mate?" Charlie breathes the word. "I've... I've heard that term before."
Charlie nods. "Right before she told me, she was talking about your parents, Edward. Well, Carlisle and Esme. How Esme was... was human when Carlisle first met her?"
"And how Carlisle felt being away from Esme once he knew he loved her." Charlie looked down. "Kate said lying to your mate is the second only to the pain of being away from them."
"It is excruciating," Edward murmurs. "You feel as if you're being burned alive and ripped apart all at once. Few are they who survive it for long."
Bella kisses the back of Edward's hand while Charlie turns to the window again. The room falls thickly silent, Charlie eventually breaking it with a sigh.
"My rational mind wants to object," Charlie says. "To grab my daughter and get the hell away from this town, this truth, and... and everything that comes with both. That's what logic demands, what any sane person would do. Hell, what I would tell someone else to do if I was on the outside looking in."
"And that makes sense," Bella says.
"But the thought of leaving Kate, of never seeing her again... I don't think I could bear it. Whether she's human or a vampire or moonlights as leviathan, I just want to be with her." He faces them with glassy eyes. "So I think... I think I have to go."
"Oh, Dad..." Bella rushes across the room and hugs him. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Bells." He looks over her shoulder at Edward. "And even though I'm sure about Kate, I'm also sure this isn't the last conversation we'll be having about this."
And it isn't.
Not by a long shot.
Charlie's natural curiosity results in many random calls—usually to Kate or me—about one aspect of our nature or another. Questions about Bella and Edward's relationship are directed only at his daughter, while Cullen-specific inquiries are addressed to Carlisle. So intense and varied are the chief's queries that Carlisle asks Edward to warn him when Charlie's thoughts are particularly inquisitive so our sire has time to prepare.
"If I thought Aro would allow it," Carlisle confides to me. "I would tell Charlie to call him!"
As it stands, mention of the Volturi leads to the next looming decision on the horizon:
To become or not to become.
For Charlie, there is no debate. He loves Kate and wants a full life with her. With Bella finished high school and few other commitments to speak of, there is nothing stop Charlie from making the ultimate commitment.
Bella, however, is not as ready.
"I love you," she tells Edward when the subject is broached. "But I also want to enjoy college without fighting the urge to drink my classmates. I just... I need a little more time."
"There's no rush," Edward replies. "As long as you're with me, it doesn't matter what form you're in."
"I do want to be near Charlie, though. Even though I won't be able to see him while he gets adjusted, I won't be able to focus at Dartmouth for worrying about what's happening in Denali."
"So what do you want to do?"
Bella grins. "They have schools in Alaska, don't they?"
And thanks to Jasper's occasional clerk, Mr. Jenks, the Class of 2010 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has a new student. Jenks asks no questions when Jasper not only requests off-campus housing but also asks that another student be admitted as well.
A ballsy blonde student who likes to hang out in trees.
"I never enjoyed college in the past because I never had a friend there. It'd be nice to do things differently this time around." I gently blow air across my fingertips as Bella finishes my manicure. "No offense, Alice."
"None taken." Alice wiggles her freshly painted toes. "We don't do well in academic settings."
I smile at my sister then turn to Bella. "Is everything all set with Renee?"
"Yep. She gets here Friday to help me pack and will stay with us for the first few days on campus. I think she's more excited about this than I am."
"What did you tell her about the house in Forks?" Alice asks.
"That Charlie has decided to retire and wants to do so in a new place." She tightens the cap on the nail polish bottle. "With a new woman."
Alice shakes her head. "I still can't believe he and Kate are mated. Even I didn't see that coming."
"Me either. But knowing I'll get to keep Charlie in my life forever is about the best thing that could have happened." She glances at Alice. "Do you think he'll change much afterwards?"
"He'll definitely change," Alice says gently. "But not in a bad way."
"And there's one important thing that will never change." I put my arm around Bella. "No matter what else happens, I will always be his favorite Cullen."
Alice rolls her eyes as Bella shrugs out of my embrace, and they exit the room together.
"I don't hear anyone disagreeing with me though!" I call after them.
*** W – H – W – D ***
Charlie and Bella plan to leave Forks in the middle of August, soundtracked by Renee's prattling about one item or another. She and Charlie have an amicable if awkward post-divorce relationship, the latter due almost entirely to Renee's inability to edit before she speaks. Every thought that pops into her head finds its way out of her mouth, and Charlie has been too long out of practice to find the trait endearing. He practically kisses me when I arrive on the second day to run interference. Living with Alice for the past fifty-plus years has numbed my annoyance with mindless chatter.
But don't tell her I said that.
At his makeshift farewell party at the station, Charlie leaves a forwarding address should anyone decide to keep in touch, wisely using a PO Box to discourage the possibility of visitors. His retirement comes as a great shock to the entire town, as does the minimal notice, but no one can deny the light in his eyes when he talks about his future in Alaska or looks at Kate.
Well, almost no one.
Aware of Billy Black's attitude toward the Cullens, Charlie opts to inform him of his permanent departure in person, thinking the courtesy would curry some favor with his oldest friend.
But when Charlie mentions the Cullen cousin who has stolen his heart, Billy slams his hand on the kitchen table between them.
"You cannot do this." Billy practically growls the words. "If you knew what kind of people they really were..."
"I do know," Charlie whispers fiercely. "And I respect how carefully they live and how hard they work not to become the monsters they could be."
Billy stares blankly at his friend, his mouth working without sound for some time. "They... they told you? Everything?"
"They told me the truth about themselves." Charlie holds Billy's gaze. "And nothing more."
"They had that decency at least," he mutters.
"I don't want to part on bad terms here, Billy," Charlie says. "Whatever animosity lies between your families doesn't have to ruin our relationship, does it?"
Billy leans forward. "Are you planning to join that woman in immortality?"
Billy looks at Charlie coldly. "Then there is no more to say."
He backs away from the table and turns sharply toward the rear of the house, slamming the bedroom door behind him. Pulling out a pad from his pocket with a heavy sigh, Charlie scribbles his new address and phone number.
"Just in case you change your mind," he writes.
But as he tears the page out of his notepad, Charlie already knows Billy won't. He closes the door on his old friend's house and on that part of his life for the final time.
And if the chief sheds a few tears on the drive home, well, that's between him and the road.
*** W – H – W – D ***
The new family residence is only two miles from the Denali compound, but our college campus is more than two hours away by car-driven-at-human-speed. During a pre-semester test run, I manage to get us home in a half hour, but Bella nearly loses her lunch because I drive so fast.
And Edward nearly loses his mind.
So our parents buy a place in town where Edward and Emmett plan to spend most of their time. Renee, to my surprise, is totally fine with this arrangement when she comes to help us set up our apartment, thinking it completely natural for our boyfriends to want to be so close.
"Besides." She fluffs yet another throw pillow for our couch. "You'll need their protection up here."
"From what?" Bella asks.
"Polar bears. I watch the Discovery Channel! I know what kind of creatures like the cold, and you don't have the coordination to outrun anything, sweetie."
I smirk at Bella. "That's true."
"So with the boys only a few blocks away," Renee continues, "there's no need to fear anything that might go bump in the night."
I try not to laugh at the double entendre, and Bella looks at her mother. "Mom, you do know that Rose and I are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves."
"Of course I know that!" She gives the pillow a final pat before facing her daughter. "You were raised by a modern woman who taught you how to be independent. But you don't want your boyfriend to know that, at least not to the point where he feels unnecessary."
"Gotta that take care of that fragile male ego," I say.
"Exactly. So let the boys come over every now and then to 'protect you.' " She grins through the air quotes. "It'll do wonders for your relationship."
Bella straightens the ottoman. "Any other advice?"
"Yes. Find yourself a good tanning salon. Everyone here is so washed out." She looks between us. "And Rose, you may want to go with her. You're starting to look at little pale yourself, honey."
"Am I?" I gasp and cover my cheeks. "Do you think it's contagious?"
Bella rolls her eyes at me, but Renee looks concerned. "Well, if it is, I suppose there are worse things in life. Now, let's go hang curtains in the bedrooms."
Renee whistles her way down the hall, and I sidle up to Bella. "You're welcome."
"For planting the idea that paleness is contagious," I whisper. "So the next time Renee sees Charlie, she won't be wondering what happened to him. Or to you, whenever you decide to change."
Bella's brow wrinkles. "Is that why you said that?"
"Yes. I needed to see how gullible she is."
"Because human naïveté helps us keep our secret. Most humans notice the things that make us different, but most of them believe whatever we say to explain those oddities. You didn't, and Charlie didn't, so I needed to know if Renee would."
"You're a goddess." Bella wraps her arms around me. "Thank you."
"Thank Edward. It was his idea to test her, see if she'd be a problem after your change."
"Wow." Bella blushes. "I can't believe he's thinking of that now."
"He's always thinking of that, of anything that has anything to do with you." I shake my head. "You'd think he was in love with you or something."
"Girls!" Renee calls from down the hall. "These drapes won't hang themselves."
"Coming!" we yell back.
*** W – H – W – D ***
Bella and I settle into college life with relative ease, our respective majors in English and psychology landing us in many of the same basic courses. Whatever insecurities Bella might have in other areas of her life completely disappear in the lecture hall, and I am often astounded by the quickness and nuance of her thoughts.
No wonder Edward wishes he could read her mind.
We sail through the first semester without a hitch, our matching perfect GPAs giving Bella no small measure of satisfaction. But as the Christmas holiday approaches, her yuletide cheer is a bit subdued.
"I want to be there," she says for the umpteenth time. "This is the biggest decision you will ever make, and I cannot believe you're trying to shut me out of it."
"This is not about shutting you out," Charlie replies patiently. "But from what I understand, this transition will be excruciating for me, and I do not want you there to see it."
Bella looks at Edward. "But don't you think I should know what to expect? To prepare me for my turn?"
"Everyone's experience is different, Bella." Edward can literally hear Charlie demanding his support. "And there's no guarantee your father's transition will in any way..."
"That's crap, and you know it." She rolls her eyes at Edward. "You're just trying to score points with my dad."
Charlie chuckles lightly. "Don't be mad at him, Bells. He's just looking out for you."
"I'm looking out for me, too! Dad, look. There is no way I'll be able to focus on anything else while this is happening to you. I'll be worried and anxious and just no good to anybody." She reaches for his hand and gives it a squeeze. "Please just let me be there."
Charlie looks at his daughter and shakes his head. "I don't know why I bother arguing with you."
Bella leaps up and hugs him. "Thank you, Daddy. This means the world to me."
"I know." He pats her back. "I just hope seeing me like that doesn't traumatize you."
Bella chuckles. "Compared to a childhood with Renee, this will be a piece of cake."
Charlie chooses the day after Christmas for his change, wanting to spend one last holiday as a human. We all spend his last human day at the Denali compound, Charlie eating his favorite foods and taking one last, long nap. Carlisle talks Kate through the process again, as she's quite nervous about changing someone for the first time, while Esme, Emmett, and I take turns sharing our memories. We are explicit and honest per Charlie's request, but Esme and Emmett soothe the savagery by describing the relief of awakening to the sight of their mates.
"And that is all I care about." Charlie takes Kate's hand as she comes to sit beside him. "Waking up for the last time to your beautiful face."
"So no matter how much I scream or kick when you bite me." He holds her gaze when she tries to look away. "Don't punk out."
Kate rolls her eyes with a worried laugh. "I won't."
And she doesn't. Even when Charlie screams his way through the actual piercing, causing Bella to cry out in fright, Kate persists, licking his wound closed and kissing his forehead before taking her seat beside him. Bella soon takes her position on the other side of the bed, and Edward does not let go of her hand as he stands behind her.
And together they wait.
True to her word, Bella keeps a steady vigil for the first 36 hours. Aside from human moments and brief, infrequent naps, Bella witnesses the entire first half of Charlie's transition.
But as Edward strokes her hand in the middle of the second day, Bella looks at Kate—her golden eyes ablaze with love and concern—and comes to her feet.
"Call me when he wakes up," Bella says, startling Kate and Edward both. "I'm going back to the house."
"Why?" Kate asks. "Is something wrong?"
"Not at all. I just realized that although I am his daughter, you are his mate. And you should spend these last moments of his human life together because you will be facing the rest of your entire lives together."
Kate blurs around the bed and gives Bella a hug, nearly crushing her with a rush of affection.
"You are every bit as amazing as Charlie said you are." She cups Bella's cheeks with a watery smile. "Thank you."
Bella and Edward take their leave from the room, and as soon as Edward closes the door, he presses Bella against the nearest wall and kisses the daylights out of her.
Startled and more than a little dazed, Bella blinks up at him when they finally come up for air. "What was that for?"
"For you." He kisses her again, soft but sure. "Just because you're you."
"Your bias is totally out of control right now."
Edward takes her hands. "I know how worried you are about your dad, how much you want to see him through this. So for you to let Kate spend this time alone with him is just... it's beautiful, Bella. Just as beautiful as you are."
"Oh." Bella blushes. "Well, if that's how you feel about it..."
She stands on tiptoe to meet his lips and banishes all worries about Charlie's change to the back of her mind.
At least for the moment.
*** W – H – W – D ***
Charlie awakens on the third day to a rousing reception from his impatient mate. His transition to immortality is smooth, outside of his initial panic that he might hunt down Bella and drain her.
"Only because you're the only human in a ten-mile radius," Kate reassures Bella over the phone. "Most vampires experience some form of this anxiety in the first weeks of their change. It will pass."
Through twice daily video chats and constant reassurance from his mate, Charlie makes it through the roughest patch of his transition, and after five months, he is finally strong enough to see Bella. Their happy tears are well-earned and a joy to see.
And more tears are shed a few weeks later when Kate officially becomes Mrs. Charlie Swan, much to the delight of her new stepdaughter. The ceremony is lavish and beautiful, and Kate has zero regrets about giving Alice and Tanya free designing reign.
"We should go into business together!" Alice coos as Kate's diamond-dusted dress glimmers during her first dance with Charlie.
"Who could afford you?" Irina asks. "That dress alone cost a million dollars!"
"We could just throw weddings for each other!" Tanya cries. "Carmen and Eleazar will be next then you and Jasper."
"That's a great idea!" Alice cries then frowns. "But who will you marry?"
"Myself!" Tanya tosses her hair over her shoulder. "A true match made in heaven."
As Charlie spent his entire life in Forks, he cannot wait to see the world through immortal eyes. So he and his bride set off on an extended honeymoon, sending postcards and trinkets from all over the world. Their tales of adventure ignite a latent wanderlust in Carlisle and Esme, and they eagerly join the Swans in Europe, leaving Alice and Jasper in charge.
Well, Jasper, mainly. The only charge Alice can handle is her platinum card.
(And you can tell her I said that.)
About three years later, Bella and I finish college on time and with zero debt. And when I cross the stage with my diploma in hand, I am struck with a tremendous sense of pride. Not only in my own accomplishments but in the confident brunette I am privileged to call my best friend.
Bella Swan has surprised us all with her poise, determination, and strength. The girl who once fretted about the age difference between her and Edward is completely indifferent to it now, finding a delightful kind of pleasure in being older than he is.
Even when Emmett calls her a cougar.
And even to the point of opting for graduate school at Oxford in lieu of spending the summer burning from the inside out. Edward is nothing but supportive of her plans—and not just for the thrill of living near Carlisle and Esme again in merry old England—and thinks he might do a little studying himself.
Independently, of course. Attending some professor's lecture holds no thrill for a telepath.
But a year into her masters courses, Bella finds herself more fascinated by her conversations with Edward than anything assigned in her customized curriculum. The more she talks to him, the more time she wants to spend with him... and the more time she wants to spend with him, the more she sees the futility of pretending she has a human future.
"I just wanted to know I could do it," she tells Edward one night. "That I could handle Oxford and keep up with my human peers. Now that I know that, I can peacefully say goodbye to this Bella."
"Are you..." Edward swallows hard. "Are you saying you're ready? To change?"
"Yes." She blushes at the sheer joy on his face. "I am ready to change, to become your supernatural equal and your wife."
"My wife?" His eyes nearly pop out of his head. "What?"
"I want it all with you, Edward." Bella takes his hands. "The same body, the same life, the same last name. We can do it in any order you want, but this... this is the life what I want, and you are the one I want it with."
Once Edward picks his jaw off the floor, he lifts Bella from her feet and twirls her around, his golden eyes alight with love. He calls Carlisle, Bella calls me, and together our family raises a collective shout of joy.
At last, our clan will be fully complete.
*** W – H – W – D ***
Bella decides to marry Edward before becoming a vampire so Renee can enjoy the last major event of her daughter's human life. Though tempted to have the wedding in their meadow in Forks, Bella opts for candlelight at twilight in an ancient British castle. Eleazar performs the brief but lovely ceremony, and when Renee bursts into tears as Edward kisses her daughter, none of us can blame her.
(But I'm not crying. Vampires can't do that, you know.)
"Thank you, Rose," Edward whispers as we waltz at his wedding. "Thank you so much."
"I'm eventually going to get tired of your gratitude. But not for a very long time."
I look over his shoulder to see Emmett doing the twist with Bella. "In all honesty," I continue. "Going to see Bella changed my life just as much as it changed yours. It helped me appreciate Emmett more, for one thing."
"And it brought you and Carlisle closer."
"Yeah." I smile over at my sire who is now dancing with Renee. "It's nice to not be so angry at him all the time."
"And it helped me see you as more than a prissy pain in the ass who is too spoiled for his own good." I grin at him. "Most of the time."
Edward nods thoughtfully. "In other words, this has been all about you."
The music comes to an end, and I bop him upside the head. "Duh."
Once Renee is safely back in the states, we immediately prepare for Bella's change. Though Edward is willing to give her a real honeymoon while she's human, Bella prefers to wait.
"I don't want anything holding us back," she tells him. "Nothing to make us nervous or fearful or anything except together. If we wait until I'm immortal, we can make love for weeks on end without even getting tired."
Edward's eyes darken. "Shall I just bite you right now?"
"Tempting." She kisses the tip of his nose. "But I want to make sure we're both adequately supported."
To do so, Bella enlists Carlisle, Charlie, and me to be in the room when it happens. We pretend I'm only there for Bella, but I know she wants me here for Charlie too. After all this time, I'm still his favorite Cullen, and knowing that warms my heart as nothing else quite does.
Edward lays Bella atop a huge bed in the middle of a room in what amounts to an old stable on the edge of the property surrounding Cullen Castle, surrounding her with pillows, blankets, and every material comfort. They share a long, passionate kiss before Edward takes a deep breath, turns her head to one side, and sinks his teeth into her neck.
I grip Charlie's hand as Bella screams, and Carlisle supports Edward as he tearlessly weeps into her skin.
"I'm sorry, love." He seals the wound shut with a final kiss. "I am so sorry."
Carlisle pulls away Edward just as Bella's body goes into convulsions, and we stand silently by, knowing there is nothing to be done. Edward is far too nervous to sit still, so we take turns pacing with him. Watching my best friend suffering this way is borderline unbearable—though powerfully reminded of Emmett's transition, I cannot imagine how Bella's father and mate are feeling right now—and I wonder how we will survive the next three days.
But because she's Bella, she does something unexpected.
On the morning of the third day, with another fifteen hours to go, Bella stops moving. She suddenly sits up, opens her eyes, and fixes her crimson gaze on Edward.
"Hey, you," she says.
Edward gapes at her for a full ten seconds before he finds his voice. "Bella?"
She comes elegantly to her feet, sweeping her wavy, chocolate hair out of her face. "In the frozen flesh."
"That's our cue," Charlie mutters, waving once at Bella before he, Carlisle, and I fly out of the room. And from the sensual sound of things, Bella and Edward won't be coming out of there for a long time.
And for two people with eternity stretching out in front of them, I mean a really, really long time.
"Hey, there." Emmett meets me outside our family's home. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." I come to a stop, grinning up at my husband. "Better than okay."
Emmett kisses me tenderly. "That's all I needed to hear."
He takes me by the hand and leads me inside, closing the heavy door behind us. Bella and Edward will join us later—like a few days later—and we will teach her how to enjoy her new body and make the most of her new life. There will ups and downs, setbacks and successes, and a host of crazy experiences even Alice won't see coming.
But for this moment... this moment right here, everything is perfect. We are happy, we are together, and everything is perfect.
And considering all other possibilities, I can't think of a better place to end a story.
Thank you all SO MUCH for your rousing support for this story. It would only be half as good—and nowhere near as long—if not for your enthusiasm for these characters and my writing. So many recs, favorites, and nearly 5,000 reviews (as this last chapter posts), all of which is UNHEARD OF for a canon-based, drabblish, Rose/Bella friendship fic in which Edward barely appears. I could never thank you enough for making this story so successful, but I hope you all know just how grateful I am.
My older children don't like saying "goodbye," so I'll follow their example and simply say, "See you."
LOVE AND LIGHT TO YOU ALL!
Completed: March 16, 2018