No matter how many times he said he wasn't, Edward was just as stubborn as ever.
It wasn't very often that the subject of my transformation was brought up in our nightly conversations – I'd given up on trying to argue with him, for the most part – but on those rare occasions the subject did slip up.
This was one of those times.
"So eager for eternal damnation…" he muttered for the hundredth time, his perfect face hardly two inches from mine as he lay beside me, his body and mine separated by the barrier of blankets. I was quite sure that had by now become his favorite slogan when the conversation came to this particular subject. It annoyed me to no end.
"Would you stop saying that?" I asked, looking into his amber eyes. I could feel my brows pull together slightly.
"I'm sorry, it still amazes me why you're constantly begging me to inject an extremely potent and painful venom into your bloodstream." he answered rather stonily, his face serene except for the quick flash behind his eyes. He still didn't seem to understand the completely obvious reason why. I could see the question burning in his eyes, though it remained unasked.
"You know why." I said quietly, all traces of annoyance gone as I looked down at my hand resting on his chest and the faint glint of silver and emerald entwined around my ring finger. A 'placeholder', he called it. I felt the cool stone of his body shudder and I looked hurriedly back to his face, catching the last of his silent chuckle.
"And you know why I refuse to change you." he said, grinning widely. My heart jumped for a moment – whether it was because of the perfection of his features or the realization of where this conversation was headed, I didn't know.
"I believe we agreed," he continued, "That we agreed on a bargain, no? That bargain calls for you to hold up your end before I can come through on mine."
Gulp. Okay, so maybe it wasn't such a good idea to look at the ring.
"Edward, please ," I begged, snuggling closer to him and burying my face in his chest so I wouldn't have to see his expression. As the scent of his skin filled my nostrils, I had to concentrate a moment to remember I hadn't finished my sentence yet.
"Let's not do this tonight." I murmured, my words half-muffled by his shirt. He chuckled again, this time allowing the beautiful sound to escape his lips, though it was already amplified because of my ear's proximity to his chest.
"Ah, so now you don't want to talk." he said, his tone light in amusement. His hands came to my shoulders, gently prying me away from his chest with such strength that my feeble struggles to cling to him looked like a baby reaching for its blanket. Like that was a surprise.
He pulled only far enough away so as to be able to look at me. I made the mistake of looking up to meet his gaze – his eyes were smoldering. I tried to look away but knew that it was a pointless effort. I was done for the second I raised my eyes.
"You know I don't like broken deals, Bella." he said, his voice quiet and seductive.
"I do…" I answered, surprised my voice still worked, "But…"
"But what?" he asked.
There was a good answer to that. I knew there was. If only he would look away a moment so I could gather my thoughts…
"You're doing it again." I mumbled, finally forcing my eyes closed.
"Doing what?" he asked innocently. Too innocently.
"Your eyes. The smoldering thing. Dazing me." I clarified. A short chuckle
escaped his lips this time. When I opened my eyes, he was looking just above my head, staring at the wall.
"But what?" he reminded me as I paused to recollect my thoughts. I sighed.
"I just…" I struggled to find the right words; I didn't want it to sound like a flat out rejection. "I…can't—"
"Can't what?" he asked, still staring at the wall. The amused expression was gone, replaced by one of frustration. "You've already begged me to change you multiple times, you've begged Carlisle multiple times, hell, you've begged Alice so many times she's begun asking Carlisle how to do it! You want to sell your soul; you want to become a vampire so you can be with me forever. What difference would it make if we were married or not?"
"Exactly." I replied. Of course, I only got "Exa—" before he barreled on again.
"Are you afraid because of what you've seen between Charlie and Renée? You know perfectly well that the conditions surrounding their relationship and ours are of two completely different natures. I promise you – I swear to you that I would die before I let ourselves fall apart as easily as that."
"Or is it the dog-man?" he asked, his voice a bit heated as he continued without paying any heed to me. "Has he told you something? Or is he still such a big ache in you that you can't say yes to me without feeling like you betrayed him? I've told you before, if it's him that you want, I won't stop you from going to him. I just want you to be happy, Bella. Just give me the word and I'll step aside. I'll melt so far into the shadows—"
I pressed a finger to his lips, silencing him instantly as his eyes flicked down to meet mine.
"Slow down for half a second, please." I said. The talk of him leaving caused an ever-so-subtle ache in my chest. He had been with me for so long now…but I suppose the hole wasn't completely healed yet. I paused for a moment to let it pass before continuing.
"It's not like that, and you know it." I said, looking at him sternly, "I have no fear of us breaking, Jacob is hardly part of the problem, and if you think that I would ever, ever want you to leave me again, then you have some very large issues to take care of."
His eyes smoldered again, and I didn't resist it this time. His gaze was soft and loving, his perfect lips curled slightly into a subtle smile. His fingers brushed my face again before he answered, his sweet voice drizzled with a tone that set my heart fluttering at once.
"At some point or another, Isabella Swan, you are going to be my wife."
My heart swelled to the point of bursting at the sound of the word. Be my wife…was there ever a more perfect sentence? I couldn't argue with him, because I knew what he said was true. At some point, I was going to give in to that particular demand…but…
"Not now." I said quietly, my fingers fiddling with the cloth of his shirt.
"But some day." he said.
"Some day." I verified.
That seemed to satisfy him. He pulled me to his chest again. I whined slightly as the blankets got in my way, pushing them roughly aside as I struggled to snuggle my body as close to his as possible, my face resting against his cool chest as my fingers clutched to his shirt.
"You should probably try and get some sleep." he whispered, and I could feel his lips move against my hair.
"I don't want to sleep." I protested. He didn't seem to buy it.
"It's two in the morning."
"I've done it before."
He sighed, his sweet breath rippling my hair. Several moments stretched on in comfortable silence, our breathing and Charlie's distant snores the only things audible to me.
He seemed to have been conscious of Charlie's snoring as well, because he asked me, "So…how am I? With Charlie, I mean."
"No better, no worse." I answered truthfully, without thinking. I could almost feel his frown, the infinitesimal sagging of his arms and body not going unnoticed. I buried my head deeper into his chest.
"It'll get better." I promised him, "He just has to get used to the idea that you're not leaving me again…"
"How long will that take?" he asked, his voice hardly loud enough for me to hear.
"I don't know." I answered quietly. I kissed his chest reassuringly, and his arms tightened around me again. Another silence ensued.
"Sleep." he urged me quietly, squeezing my body slightly.
At this point, I had to admit sleep was an option – I think I was already half asleep by the time I realized that. I struggled closer to him, thwarted again by the blankets.
"Get under the covers, will you?" I asked rather blearily, my eyes closed as I poked his chest.
"You'll freeze." he pointed out.
"Do you think I care?"
He sighed again. There was hardly any movement. Just a quick, soft jolt of the mattress and then he was beside me, no covers blocking me from him any more. I shifted my whole body to rest alongside his, and his arms tightened further around me.
"Comfortable?" he asked quietly.
I tucked my head beneath his chin. "Yes."
"Good." he whispered. He pulled an arm from around me for a moment, his body moving as he reached quickly for something. I heard a click and the whirr of the CD player. Next thing I knew, his arm was back around me, and the soft sound of my lullaby filled the room. I sighed.
He shifted slightly so he could kiss the top of my head, then reset his position as he softly hummed along with the CD. It wasn't long before I found myself drifting off in to a comfortable nothingness.
The dreams started again that night.
The emerald light of the sunlit forest filtered down through the trees, Edward's skin catching the light in odd patches where the leaves were absent. I felt his cool skin in my hand as we walked through the peaceful woodland. We weren't far from the house – I could still see my truck when I looked behind me – and it was exceedingly warm for Forks. This surprised me a bit as we walked, but Edward caught my eye and smiled serenely. I didn't think of anything else again.
Then suddenly we were in the meadow. The peace was gone, and I felt an uneasy squirm in the pit of my stomach. Something wasn't right.
Things quickly went downhill from here.
The trees at the edge of the forest shook slightly, and then there was a strange, white light. I was blinded for several seconds, but Edward was already snarling, crouching protectively in front of me. My eyes adjusted, and I quickly realized why. The strange light was a vampire walking in the sun, coming towards us with an easy, cocky gait.
Victoria had found me at last.
A full-out growl rumbled in Edward's throat as she grinned wickedly, continuing closer to us.
"Well now, Bella. It's been a while." she said, and Edward barked a warning. She looked to him and nodded. "It would seem you've returned as well, Edward. Well, there goes my fun."
A branch snapped somewhere in the forest nearby, and both vampires looked up. Their eyes flickered in recognition as the wind blew their way. Edward's eyes narrowed, Victoria's widened in fear. She didn't take another step towards us – rather, she spun on her heel and disappeared into the trees again. And not a second too late, either. A huge, russet wolf stepped into sight, carrying something large and limp in its mouth. Taking one look at us, Jacob dropped his package at our feet. It took a moment for my mind to register what I was seeing, but the tears didn't take so long.
There my dad lay, limp and pale, two blood-stained wounds in the side of his neck. The color drained from my face.
Jacob, now back to human form, looked up at Edward, hate glaring furiously in his eyes.
"You've broken the treaty." he said, his voice surprisingly calm.
"We've done no such thing." Edward answered, also managing a flat, easy tone. I saw him glance at me over his shoulder, as if to be sure that I was alright. I felt like I was going to be sick.
"A human's been killed. By a bloodsucker." Jacob wasn't so calm anymore. His fists shook as his eyes flashed dangerously. "Bella can't continue to sit on the fence anymore."
I looked up, suddenly drawn into the conversation again. I could hardly comprehend what Jacob had said.
"Wh-what?" I asked, my eyes burning as I tried unsuccessfully to stem the flow of tears.
"The peace is broken." Edward answered for him, his eyes not leaving Jake, "He means that you can't continue to be at peace with both my family and his… pack at the same time."
"You need to choose." Jake said, nodding.
"To…choose?" my voice wavered. I couldn't understand why. They'd gotten along fine enough up to that point…admittedly, neither of them had ever met face to face without an argument ensuing, but…
"You know I can't do that." I said, my voice hardly more than a whisper. They both heard me. They both frowned.
"Bella, it can't work like this anymore." Edward said quietly, "You need to completely sever ties with one of us. There's not going to be any more peace soon – it has to be one or the other."
"You have to choose." Jacob added, "Either me, him, or neither. There is no both."
I sat for several minutes, looking between the two of them. The tears bean to come harder as I realized just how much my decision was going to hurt Jacob. He looked at me, his eyes filled with such desperate begging. I wasn't sure I'd be able to live with myself.
Edward stood up from his crouch, and turned to look at me. His eyes were hurt when they met mine, and he started to walk by me.
"Edward--!" I said, catching his arm, but he shrugged my hand off.
"I can't stay here anymore." he said quietly, "Come find me when you've made your decision."
The horrible, splitting pain returned to my chest as the hole that was nearly healed reopened itself, threatening to tear my chest in two. I collapsed to the ground –
And woke up in my room, clutching at my chest and gasping erratically, my face wet with tears.
Edward's worried voice was loud in my ear, his hands gripping my shoulders tightly. "Bella! Are you alright? What is it, what happened?"
For a moment, I just looked up at him, the breathing already beginning to return to normal as his eyes melted my fears. He was still here, with me. Very real; very solid. This was no dream. I sighed with relief, noticing with a slight pang that my subconscious hardly did him justice.
"Bella?" his voice was softer now, most of the anxiety no longer noticeable as he calmed, seeing that I wasn't in trouble. I felt his cool hand against my face, stroking away the tears. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I said, still breathless. Feeling him stroke away the tears had absolutely nothing to do with that, of course, but I held completely still nonetheless. "It was just a dream."
This seemed to placate him. His brows smoothed, his tensed muscles relaxed. He continued to drag his knuckles across my cheek bone, soothing me.
"Did you want to talk about it?" he asked, his voice soft and musical.
I hesitated a moment before gently shaking my head. I didn't want to ruin this moment of quiet peace. We were silent for several moments, his amber eyes winking at me from the darkness, pulling me into them.
He spoke eventually. "How long has it been since your last nightmare?"
"I haven't had one since you came back." I answered, closing my eyes. This had been the first in…weeks? Months? The thought sent a chill down my spine and I felt his arms tighten around me in response.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"Fine." I reassured, "I've dealt with nightmares before."
His lips pressed to my forehead again and, despite the coolness of his skin, tingling warmth spread to every inch of my body. I smiled and sighed contentedly.
"Then you're positive that you don't want to talk—"
"Edward." I said gently, my smile becoming one of amusement. "I've been through worse, and I'm fine." There wasn't a whole lot to testify to that statement…
He looked at me carefully, trying to discern whether or not I was telling him the whole truth. He was as frustrated as ever by the fact that he couldn't read my mind, and I knew it worried him. I reached up to lightly touch my lips to his.
"Trust me." I whispered.
His hand was instantly at the back of my head, stopping me from pulling away any further than an inch from him.
"A quick peck is all I get?" he asked quietly, his eyes shinning with a different light now. He looked at me, a hunger burning in the entrancing amber eyes that made my stomach knot. His mood swings were just as sudden as ever.
"I hardly find that fair." he murmured before tightening his hold on me and pulling my face to his.
My breath caught in my chest before his lips even came close to touching mine. But when his cool lips pressed against mine, it was completely gone. He seemed to completely ignore the careful guidelines I had become so used to as he practically attacked my lips, his hand holding me to him as my head spun. I eagerly kissed him back, a soft moan escaping as I leaned towards him, my hands knotting in the hair at the back of his neck.
When we pulled apart, I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only one breathless.