Many, many thanks to all the wonderful people who reviewed my last fic! Your support and feedback is immensely helpful :-)
Another one-shot, Edward's point of view. Oh, and apologies for the massive sap of the flower bit (you'll understand when you read it) - I can't help it, Edward's hopelessly sappy :-P
Disclaimer: The Twilight series and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer - she's just good enough to share them.
I gazed out the small window of the back chapel, my whole body tense. Muted sunlight shattered through the stained glass in a hundred different colours. I grinned nervously. For once the rainbows weren't coming from me. I hadn't been in a church in a long time. It made me think of the past. The sense of history here had a taste on the air. Though we were in Seattle, the majesty of the structure, the finely crafted, surreally glowing figures in the windows reminded me eerily of the church I had attended twice a week as a boy, and then a young man, the church where I had sat with my parents and learned to be a good Christian…I laughed sadly at the thought. A good Christian vampire. How foolish the arbitrary preachings and self-important pomp of my Chicago parish sounded now, distant in the memories of a century's experience. Today, however, the thought could not distract me long. Today, the similarities between this church and the one I had known long ago made me smile at one thing. This church was so like the one where my parents had been married. There had been only a few photos, with the clumsy technology of the time, dim sepia and contrived in their settings. One expensively hand-tinted to show the pink blush of skin, the too bright pastels of flowers in hair and photo furniture we didn't own. I had none of them now—the photos had been lost—and my memories were faint. But as I watched the light stream through the varicoloured Madonna in the window, it was my mother's sepia face I saw, smiling serenely, the ecstasy of youth and love and longing poorly concealed beneath carefully ladylike poses. A long veil pulled back from her face, my father's hand resting on her shoulder. Smiling through the ageless image of a faded photograph. Watching me through the gentle, empty eyes of the stained glass window. I resisted the urge to turn around. I knew that what I would find was so similar it made my breath catch in my throat. In 1918, I'd lost my fantasies of a wedding and a woman of my own, fantasies that always looked like my mother's wedding photos, but with a girl I could never quite picture standing beside me in flowers and white lace. And now, the reality was more wonderful than anything my human mind had imagined. Like storybook pictures and boyhood dreams brought to life in ways more glorious than a dream could conceive of. As a young man, I had gazed with my father upon his wedding pictures and agreed wholeheartedly that no girl in the world could be more beautiful that my mother on her wedding day. And in all my long life, I had seen nothing to convince me I was wrong…until Bella. This time, I was absolutely certain. My mother may have fallen to second place, but there was definitely no girl in the world nearly as beautiful as Bella.
Still. I had eternity to gaze upon the loveliness of my sweet, awkward angel, seated behind me, across the room, and I had not felt this close to my mother in longer than a human would remember. There was something I wanted to settle before I turned away. I held onto the dim sepia a moment longer. The dust was thick in the air. The smell of old books and memory. Candles along the back wall, laid for prayer, reaching out to the watchful dead. I kept my voice quiet, barely a whisper, too soft for Bella to hear. "I hope you're watching, mother." I glanced down at the candles then back to the hollow eyes of the Virgin, wondering whether I was being foolish. "I know I have caused you pain, but if you can still bear to look to me…I finally did something right. I picked well. You'd like her. I gave her your ring." I could almost imagine a faint smile beyond the window. "I wish you could be here. You'd enjoy today." I sighed, feeling the image, the brief, impossible sense of connection fading already. If the dead really could watch over us from a distant heaven, I doubted my mother would still listen to the son who had become a monster and shamed everything she had hoped to teach me. Who had lied and killed and lusted…who had destroyed so much and hurt even the one person I wanted to protect above all else…I sighed again and tried to shake my head clear. I raised my eyes to rest again on the glass Madonna. Today was going to be the best day of my life. However much I might not deserve it myself, I was not going to ruin it for Bella by being miserable. I smiled weakly at the face I could still see floating in my mind beyond the coloured panels. "If you can hear me, mother…I hope this makes you happy." At last, I shut my eyes and turned away from the window, sure to return the smile to my face before Bella could see my thoughts. When I opened my eyes, however, two things happened almost at once. First, it became impossible not to smile as my gaze rested on Bella sitting before me, my mother's engagement ring on her finger, more beautiful than any angel in white lace and orange blossom, the long veil not yet lowered to cover the face I so loved. And a moment later, it became abundantly clear that my last words had not, in fact, been quite as silent as I had remembered to make my first.
She rose slowly, concern for me in her eyes. She was nervous in the fine layers of fabric, clearly worried about upsetting the image into which she had been so carefully arranged. I held back a laugh as she nearly tripped over the dress' long train, grabbed the chair for support, causing her to drop her bouquet, and almost toppled over altogether trying to catch it in her heeled shoes. It took her a moment to realise that I'd already caught both her and the flowers. She breathed an embarrassed sigh of relief, blushing furiously. The red in her pale cheeks only made her all the more lovely. I carefully righted her and stepped reluctantly away. She'd insisted, rather against tradition, that she be allowed to wait with me while the guests filed in, and not with her father and Alice, who would no doubt have made her too nervous to walk down the aisle at all. I was not, however, going to let myself kiss my fiancée in the back of the church while the priest waited to marry us. I was not even going to touch her more than necessary to keep her upright. It felt like the right thing to do. I smiled reassuringly at Bella as she concentrated on standing unassisted by the chair. The smile she returned when she didn't fall could almost have started my heart beating once more. I was about to marry the most beautiful girl in the world. I could not smile any wider—I could not possibly be any happier. Had the archangel appeared from heaven and bestowed a halo on her head, I could not have believed Bella more an angel than I did as she stood before me in her wedding gown, golden light dancing across her nervous smile and smiling eyes. Then, as I watched, she seemed to falter. The flood of worry was immediate. I forced myself not to frown. "Bella?"
I could see her thinking, confusion telling in her eyes. I tried to think what I could have done to make her unsure. Was she upset that her difficulty standing had amused me? Surely she knew that I would never let her fall…and then I remembered, a too-brief second before she spoke. "How could any mother not be happy with a son like you?" I had spoken too loudly. Her voice was soft, puzzled, and it echoed quietly in the vaulted chapel.
I kept my face serene, my smile untarnished, and let myself take only the smallest step towards my soon-to-be-wife. "It was nothing, love. The church is similar to one I knew as a child. I was reminded of my mother. She'd be pleased to see me marry."
Bella shook her head, realising half way through the movement that her hair was elaborately adorned with flowers and trying to straighten her raised veil with her free hand. It hadn't moved. Alice had been sure to fix it too securely for Bella to shift in her stumbling. Had Bella's gaze not been fixed on me in frustration, it would have been amusing. I tried to make my smile comforting, but concern was now spread clearly across her face. "No." Her denial was firm. "You sounded sad."
It had become near impossible to hide things from Bella over the past months. She had always been too observant, too perceptive, but now she picked up even the few things I still wanted to hide, the fears, the misery that I wanted to protect her from. I supposed it was the way things should be. That did not mean, however, that I had to like the constant argument between her perfect, pure forgiveness and my unforgivable sins—between my impossible pain and the pleasure of absolution she so willingly offered. I planted my feet. I doubted that moving closer would distract her for long, anyway. Her patient, persistent argument with my pain would come back soon enough. I could hear from the echoes in the main chamber that the church was only beginning to fill. Plenty of time. I chose my words carefully. "My mother always tried to instil in me strong Christian values. I doubt she would be impressed by the way I have conducted my life since her death, or by what I have become. Every thing that's happened since 1918—the things I have done—even the way I have desired you…I worry that I must horrify her."
Honesty was so easy with Bella, too easy, even when I didn't intend it. I hoped, at least, that by ending with the desire I felt for her, I might have distracted her from my more pressing indiscretions—murder, bloodlust, the lack of a soul…but her answer, for once, was exactly as I knew it would be.
"I don't believe that." Her eyes fierce, her jaw set, even while her voice stayed so quiet.
I moved my face consciously, deliberately finding the smile I knew would find one in return. I kept my eyes locked on hers, doing my best to—as she so adorably put it—dazzle her, my voice soft. "If only all angels were as unreasonably forgiving as you." Smiling became easier as the hurt dissolved from her eyes. Hurt that she felt for me. I held her gaze until the blush at my words faded from her cheeks. "Edward…"
I raised a hand to quiet her argument, and she waited uncertainly for me to speak. Her unwarranted belief in me, the trust I found deep in her eyes never failed to humble me. I was so undeserving of her love, and yet within hours she would take my name as her own. My smile now was genuine. I did my best to ease her worries, smiling the more at the truth of my words. "This, at least, would please my mother. She would be happy that I'm marrying you. And she'd be very happy with my choice of a bride."
But the worry on her face only intensified. "Really?"
Why could I never understand Bella's reactions? "Of course." I couldn't keep the surprise out of my voice.
"You really think she'd like me?" Bella's voice shook, so slightly. My eyes widened in disbelief. Surely she wasn't worried about...
Bella's words came in a rush. "That wasn't what you were sad about? You weren't afraid that…that if your parents were alive…that people might…that I'm not good enough for you?"
I forgot all about keeping my distance. I was on my knees, her hands in mine. I kissed her hand, shaking my head in disbelief. "Bella, my love…if my parents could ever have met you, they would think me as undeserving of your love as I do. They most certainly would not have thought for a moment that you were—" my voice twisted round the words "—not good enough for me." I let my thumb move over the ring that had sparkled in my mother's sepia photo as I kissed Bella's hand again, keeping myself from taking her in my arms. "Bella, love, I count myself the luckiest man ever to have lived that I am marrying you."
And in typical, absurdly unpredictable Bella fashion, she giggled. I stood uncertainly. She held a hand over her mouth, trying to stop her laughter. "Sorry…" she managed, cringing through her now apparently uncontrollable giggling "…it's just…when you said…"
Her whole body was shaking. It was getting worse rather than stopping. She gasped for breath, unable to force out a word. I waited, unsure whether I should be concerned. She was having difficulty composing herself. I tried to attribute it to normal pre-wedding nerves and not anything else. Could these borderline hysterics be fear? What if she was having second thoughts? Could she have finally realised what she had agreed to? That she was marrying a vampire? A monster? Could what I had told her of my worries have changed her mind about me? Could the talk of my mother have disturbed her at the technicality of my age? It had never done before…My thoughts spiralled out of control as I began to panic. If only I could see inside her head. If only I knew what she was thinking…
She took a deep breath and I listened intently as she tried to get all her words out before she could start laughing again. "You don't normally refer to yourself as a man. It made me think of you saying 'luckiest vampire alive', and then the inherent contradiction in 'vampire alive' made me laugh, and then you said 'ever to have lived' so that you didn't say 'vampire alive', so I knew you'd thought of it too, and that made me laugh more, and…" She paused. Shutting her mouth tightly to stop the last strains of laughter. I was right, she had been thinking about my inhumanity, but she didn't seem disturbed. She really seemed to be…laughing at vampire puns. I couldn't believe it. At last she managed to look at me. The heat rose suddenly in her cheeks. She looked down her hands. "I suppose it wasn't really that funny." Her eyes flickered to my face and away. "It seemed funny a moment ago…I didn't mean to upset you…" She smiled uncertainly at me, clearly afraid that I had been upset by the mention of my being technically dead.
I stared shamelessly at her, wide eyed. One part of my mind marvelled at how lovely she looked, blushing and nervous, and all for me. That part longed to brush my fingers across her cheek, to touch the softness of her lips, to kiss along the vein down her neck that would make her shiver deliciously in my arms, to taste the hollow of her throat with my tongue… Most of my mind, however, was busy somewhere between astonishment and deep, swelling relief. It took me a few moments to speak. "Bella…only you could find the fact that your fiancée is an undead monster amusing."
"Sorry?" She grinned hesitantly
I shook my head slowly, grateful beyond belief that the problem was, after all, only what Alice and Rosalie called 'pre-wedding jitters'. "No. Thankyou."
I laughed quietly. "For you. For today. For everything."
For a long moment we stood and watched each other. I watched her take in my carefully chosen suit, the three tiny red and white flowers at my breast, matching the bouquet that I had deliberated over for weeks before settling on ten types of white and a few red roses. A ring of white heather and holly flowers for the protection she would always have in me, and the happy home we would share. A circlet of orange blossom like that in her hair, declaring eternal love, proclaiming innocence and purity, wishing for a fruitful marriage. An inner ring of white and red roses, and these I was particularly pleased with. Alone, the red stood for love, passion, respect, beauty…the classic expression of devotion. White was for her worthiness, for the heaven we found in each other, for a spiritual, transcendent love…and also, in the note only she and I would catch, for the secrecy and silence that had always been part of our relationship. For the secrecy implicit in the pews full of oblivious humans, unaware that today's date had been chosen to allow for Bella's life to be taken before her birthday. Together, the tightly packed, sweet scented ring of red and white stood for unity – the unbreakable unity that we confirmed today. And in the centre of the bouquet, a profusion of white blossoms. Freesias for trust, for innocence and for the way Bella's scent was like freesias at dawn after the rain—pure, sweet and sensual. A few white lilies for our own personal heaven and the virginity that it was probably a miracle either of us still had. Stephanotis for happiness in marriage, and Star of Bethlehem for purity and hope. And, at Bella's request, white camellias—the first flowers I had given her, in the first glorious summer we spent together. White camellias to say 'you are adorable'. Together, the arrangement into which I had put so much work spoke of our innocence and our love, of our willingness to sacrifice dreams of a distant heaven for heaven in each other. Of hopes for happiness in marriage, and of trust in our devotion—in our union. The bouquet was stunning. Alice had arranged most of the ceremony, and I was pleased that my small input seemed worthy of my bride. She clutched the flowers too tightly, like she did everything, unconsciously afraid of dropping it. The pale blush on her pale cheeks put red roses on white to shame. Had I a heart or breath, the look in her eyes as she watched me would have stopped both. As it was, I simply smiled, and allowed myself the quiet indulgence of listening to her heartbeat speed and slow.
When she spoke, it was quiet. "You really think your mother would like me? I…I know how much her memory means to you."
I held her gaze. "She'd love you, Bella."
She wasn't convinced. "I mean, if I'd met you back when you were human, and your mother was here, and we were…getting married…" her voice quavered on the words. I waited. "You really think she would have accepted me? She wouldn't have tried to talk you out of it? I mean…do you really think I was what your mother imagined for you? She wouldn't have thought…"
I touched one finger to her lips, her words too rushed. She had so little idea how I adored her. I tried my best to give an honest answer. "Bella, our distance from that time is so great, our world is so remote from that in which my mother lived, that I doubt she could ever have imagined a girl quite like you. But if she is still watching over me, after all I've done, I have no doubt that you make her happier than any girl she could have dreamed up for me in 1918."
For a few moments, Bella stared into my eyes as though searching for something. Finally, she nodded, the smallest of movements. Her eyes rested on her left hand. "If there is a heaven up there, and if she really could see us…I hope she's happy with me. I hope she's happy that I'm wearing her ring."
I took her hands in mine once more, kissing each finger before letting my lips rest on the ring that told the world that Bella had given herself to me. That somehow, miraculously, Isabella Marie Swan loved me. I drew back to catch her eyes once more. "Bella, you're beautiful, sweet, intelligent, kind…" her face was bright red and I stopped myself before it could make me laugh. "And if we're still discussing my mother, I believe you have the most important qualification of all…" I took a deep breath, smiling at the question in her eyes, willing my voice not to shake, "unless I'm mistaken, you love her son." This was heaven. I was sure of it.
Bella grinned. "Even more than her son loves me."
I raised my hands, slowly, and lowered her veil gently over her face, her eyes still shining through the delicate fabric. Now safe from the temptation to give in and kiss her, I lowered my face to rest my brow against hers. Bella's warmth seeped into me as I gazed into her endless, beautiful eyes. She shivered happily at the touch of my breath through the veil that so soon I would lift to kiss her for the first time as my wife. My voice was a whisper on her skin. "Impossible."