A/N: This is dedicated to my dear friend Oxymoronic8, without whom I would have abandoned this story a long time ago.

Thanks are also due:

To Oxymoronic8 and WTVOC, thank you for your beta efforts. This chapter is the better for them.

To Teena, a belated thanks for helping comb typos out of chapters 1-10.

An abbreviated recap for those who can't remember wtf is happening in this story:

Bella ran away to protect Edward, leaving him nothing but her engagement ring and a note. She's been on the run for a few months. While on the run, she had a little help from Jason Jenks. Jason said he was on her side, and warned her to be more careful covering her tracks. At the end of the last chapter, Edward found Bella but said she was in imminent danger. He asked her to come with him, and she agreed.

Also, my chapters usually start with a flashback to Marie's old life, and this one is no different. In our last flashback, Marie realized she was working for criminals. To get more information, she decided to go on a date with Felix.

If you need more than that recap, no hard feelings if you peace out now. It has, after all, been an embarrassingly long while since this story updated.

Fair warning: this chapter tops 10,000 words.

Chapter 23

Friday, January 11, 2008

During our date, Felix took a call from Aro. He didn't say it was Aro, but I knew.

He didn't hide his conversation from me. He probably didn't think he had to. Why would he? I worked in the same area he did. It was while he was talking to Aro that I realized what Felix did for the Volturi and why he was all brawn.

He was the one who made people disappear. Maybe he didn't handle everyone – there were about twenty people in our department, after all – but what he was agreeing to now was a killing. I was sure of it.

The phone volume was high enough that in the quiet car that I could make out enough of Aro's voice to know he was giving Felix personal details about someone. And I definitely heard, I'm glad I can trust you with this. To which Felix replied, "I'll take care of him."

My palms broke into a cold sweat.

Felix ended his call and smiled at me. "Sorry about that."

"Um. It's no problem."

"You know how he is."

Yes, I was rapidly learning how he was. I shuddered. Felix misinterpreted it as a shiver and turned up the heat in the car.

He took me to a decent pizza place, where we were seated at a booth. I sat down on one side, and then Felix slid in next to me, boxing me in. I felt the eyes of other people in the restaurant on us, and I realized we looked like one of those couples—the creepy ones who sit on the same side of the table together. I shrugged off the stares and focused instead on surviving my date.

Our conversation was a blur. I tried to say yes and no in the right places. The pizza was crispy and gooey, and I inhaled it because it gave me something productive to do with my fidgety hands. When Felix put his arm around me, pulled me close to him, and moved to kiss me, I didn't know what to do. I hadn't previously considered how far I was willing to take this charade. I hesitated for a moment, and that was enough to save me. I felt a vibration against my thigh.

"Damn phone," he muttered.

I thought Felix was going to ignore it, but he probably didn't have that luxury with a boss like Aro. Aro never called me after business hours, but I was pretty sure Felix had a different sort of job.

He thrust his hand between us to extract his phone and flipped it open. I was inches from Felix, so I heard every word Aro said to him. But I would have heard the conversation if I had been further away, because Aro was livid.

When I ask you to take someone out, you don't hesitate.

Felix held the phone slightly from his ear and turned the volume down. He gave me an apologetic look as he said to Aro, "I'm not hesitating. I'm in the middle of something. I'll make good on it. I told you I would."

He's at my office, you dimwit, with a dozen of his closest friends.

"Oh," was Felix's stellar reply. Felix wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack. I could see the wheels in his head turning. "So you want me there, right now, don't you?"

Right. Now.

I saw our waiter and gestured to him that we needed the check, and he brought it promptly. I reached into my purse to pay my portion, but Felix stopped me. He was still listening to Aro, so I was surprised he noticed what I was doing. My previous experiences with him led me to believe that he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. Maybe there was more to him than I thought.

Considering that I believed Aro and Felix to be discussing a murder, I was strangely calm. Or maybe I was grateful Felix wasn't kissing me anymore. I folded my hands in my lap as I waited for Felix to end the call.

"Marie, I'm real sorry, but would you mind if we made a quick run to the office?"

"That was Aro on the phone?"

"He's a freakin' drama queen."

I nodded in agreement, which was the best I could manage given the circumstances. Aro was indeed overdramatic, but I was a lot more concerned about his other less-than-sterling qualities.

"We gotta go. I'll drop you off after I take care of this."

"Okay," I replied. It wasn't until I was in the car that I realized I'd agreed to wait patiently while people were murdered.

Oh heck.


This whole thing was spinning out of control. I went on a date with Felix to find out how much he knew, not to become a material witness.

I didn't like Felix, but did I want to send him to jail? I pondered whether there was a covert way to call 9-1-1 from the car. And if I called, what would I tell them? Go to the Volterra headquarters where some people are going to be killed? They haven't been killed yet, but I have it on good authority they will be. That might be a possibility, but how would I call them? Somehow I doubted Felix would fail to notice me making a call.

The pizza sat in my stomach like a rock. I had eaten too much, too fast, and I regretted it keenly. Buildings and trees whizzed by as we tore through downtown.

I chanced a look at the speedometer and realized we were going well over one hundred. Felix had good peripheral vision, which I guess would be an enviable quality for a henchman, because he saw my furtive look without taking his eyes from the road.

"We won't wreck. I got good reflexes."

"But, the cops? If they stop us, we'll be so late."

He chuckled. "You're funny, Marie. I like you."

I wasn't sure how to respond. Was he laughing because he thought I was joking? Or because the cops were a joke?

We arrived in a war zone in the parking garage below the Volterra, Inc. offices. Aro, Caius, and Marcus were all there. Aro and Caius had their guns drawn and cocked, and I worried they might shoot the car on sight. Marcus had a gun held limply in his hand and wore a distant expression, as though he was there in body but not in mind. Felix might have had that same concern, because he parked us behind a cement pillar. When we stepped out of the car, we could see several bleeding bodies on the other side of the pillar. Dead, I presumed. The scents of gunpowder and blood hung in the air.

"Holy shit," Felix muttered under his breath. In a slightly louder voice, he added, "Marie, is your car in the deck?"


Two shots rang out, and I saw that Aro and Caius had both fired into a corner. I looked where they had aimed and saw a body fall. My breaths came too fast, and the edge of my vision seemed to darken. Or maybe it was just dark down here. I hoped it was dark enough to obscure us, because otherwise, Marcus was looking right at us.

"Why don't you get outta here? We can try another date tomorrow, but I got to take care of this mess."

I stiffly nodded my agreement as I watched him take off toward the three leaders of Volterra, Inc.

I had self-preservation enough to want to go to my car and enough presence of mind to be disturbed that Felix seemed to think I'd be perfectly okay postponing our date until tomorrow while he did his bloody business. Yes, my car was in the deck, but I'd have to walk past the men with guns to get to it. I wasn't sure I could walk steadily. I might have been in shock. My feet moved, taking me to the stairwell. I opened the door and ducked inside. I curled up in a corner and waited.

There was a skinny window on either side of the door to the stairwell. I was shielded from the view of the people in the parking lot, but I could still see what was happening. I saw all the Volterra men fire their guns. I heard screams. It was a nightmare, and I couldn't look away. I knew I needed to go call the cops, but I was frozen in place. After the gunshots were over, I heard yelling, and I presumed it was Caius giving Felix a hard time for being late.

I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I was somewhere else. I don't know how long I waited there, curled into a little ball at the bottom of the stairwell, on the verge of puking. I waited until my eyesight cleared, my breathing evened out, and I couldn't hear any noises. When I finally chanced another look through the window by the door, nobody was out there. The bodies were gone, too, though the blood stains remained.

I wanted to freak out, but I'd already done that, and I couldn't sit in the stairwell all night. I cracked open the stairwell door, determined to make a mad dash to my car, but the scene was too real. The smell of sulfur, the smears of blood—that was all I could take. I lost my dinner all over the stairwell. I needed to be away from the scene. I took the steps up one level to get away from the puke and the everything else.

There was vomit on my arm. I wiped my sleeve against the wall, but it was to no avail. I felt like Lady Macbeth trying to wash the blood off her hands, except she didn't have real blood on her hands, and I still had puke on me. And my nose was running. Instead of going to my car (that I wasn't fit to drive anyway), I made a decision. I took the elevator up to the office. By now, surely Felix told Aro he was with me. If Aro was at the office, I would play dumb. If he wasn't up there, I was getting my sweater, a tissue, and a cup of coffee.

I meandered through the catacomb of hallways until I reached the annex, the part where Aro, Caius, Marcus, Heidi, Felix, and a few others of us had our offices. I walked slowly and quietly, listening for stray noises. There was nothing but eerie silence. This was the first time I'd ever been in the office alone. Just this morning, I'd wanted to know what Volterra was up to, and now I knew murder was involved. The phone on the corner of my desk was within easy reach. I could call the police right now.

But it would be stupid to call the police from my own extension, wouldn't it? Without thinking on it too hard, I pulled the sweater from the back of my desk chair, blew my nose on a tissue, and then I walked next door into Aro's office to use his phone. I'd been in his office before, but never without him in it. And tonight was different, because he'd obviously been in his office before the killings went down. His gloves were on his desk, along with his hat and a silver key that I knew would open his filing cabinets.

I closed my eyes again and willed myself calm. I could call the police right now, from Aro's phone, like I planned, or I could open the filing cabinets and find out what Volterra really did. Aro might come back at any moment, and if he caught me here...

Curiosity was going to be the death of me, I knew, but I opened those filing cabinets anyway. Who knew if I would ever have another opportunity like this one? I stayed there, in Aro's office, reading by the dim light for longer than I intended. I heard a few faint noises. It was the wee hours of the morning, and it was probably a cleaning crew, but I didn't want to be seen. I grabbed several of the files, relocked the filing cabinet, and sneaked out of the office. I passed a man with a mop, but I don't think he saw me. By the time I reached my car, I was shaking so hard I almost couldn't open the car door.

When I finally managed to collapse into the driver's seat, I didn't drive home. I didn't call the cops. I drove to the nearest FBI field office.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The needle on the speedometer kept inching forward. The car may not have stood out, but Edward was weaving through traffic in a way that would proclaim to anyone that he was in a hurry. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and it was the first time I ever saw him drive with both hands on the wheel.

Things were happening too fast. I forced myself to breathe while I kept my eyes glued on the mirror in the passenger seat sun visor.

We were being followed, and I had a feeling it wasn't Jason Jenks behind us. Edward was better at this game than I was, because he didn't end up driving into any blind alleys. He worked his way through the city methodically, changing lanes seemingly at random and taking fast turns.

It took fifteen heart-wrenching minutes, but he lost the car tailing us.

Relieved, I shot him a tentative smile. "Nice driving."

Edward didn't comment. He still had a death grip on the steering wheel.

"We lost them, right?" I was suddenly unsure.

"There are two more behind us."

"Two?" I repeated, dumbly. "Should I keep my head down?"

Edward didn't answer. Instead, he made a hard left turn into oncoming traffic that was so tight, I thought the Volturi wouldn't need to kill me. I stared, horrified, as we missed being t-boned by a Hummer by inches.

As soon as I assured myself I was indeed alive, a terrible thought occurred to me. "Do they know you have a plane waiting at the airport?"

"Hope not."

"If they found us here, mightn't they guess…?"

"It's not waiting at this airport," he said distractedly. "Shit."

Edward glanced in his blind spot, swerved, and then floored the accelerator. The car jumped forward so fast my back melded to the seatback.

It felt like I was underwater. Things were happening, but time slowed down so I could experience every split second. Traffic was whizzing by all around, but I could see details I would normally miss: the girl in the Beetle texting while she drove, a man smoking in his car, a child making faces at us through a window, the black car that was still tailing us.

Edward tried to lose that last car, but he couldn't. He made sharp turns. He ran red lights. He wove through traffic. Nothing worked. His mouth was set in a grim line.

"If we can't lose them soon," he ground out, "we might need to try and lose them on foot."

That sounded precarious, but I didn't say anything. My stomach was turning over, and I wanted to puke. I couldn't tell if it was carsickness from the jerky driving or guilt for putting Edward in danger. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

We were almost to the city limits. Traffic was thinning, and in the distance a sign raised the speed limit from 35 to 45 mph. If we couldn't lose them downtown, how could we lose them on the city straight-aways?

I closed my eyes, so I missed what happened behind us, but I heard the crunch of metal and felt the car jump forward as Edward floored the accelerator again.

"What happened?" I asked, whipping my head back, straining to see. Receding in the distance was a car accident.

"The last one just got smashed by another car." Edward said, his eyes still glued to the road. "It wasn't a lucky coincidence."

I frowned. "You think someone hit the guy chasing us on purpose?"

"While I'd like to believe it was divine intervention, I'm positive the red car hit our pursuer on purpose."


"No, he's doing something else."

"Then who?" Surely not Jason Jenks. He hadn't struck me as a car chase type. And if it wasn't Emmett, I was at a loss.

"This car is no good to us anymore. In a few miles, there's a car rental place next door to a repair shop. I want you to take this car in for an oil change. Tell them you'll pick up the car tomorrow, and ask to pay in advance. While you're doing that, I'll rent us a car and then come pick you up."

I nodded my agreement, and five minutes later I was finally able to get out of the car. I'd never been so happy to put my feet on solid ground and breathe fresh air. My stomach was still a little queasy from the chase, but I was so relieved to be out of the car that I was able to take deep breaths and let go of some of the stress. Edward took our suitcases out of the trunk and set them next to me. He gave me the keys and then walked briskly toward the Enterprise Rent-a-Car next door. I waited by the car for a service technician.

By the time I handed over my keys and paid, Edward was already pulling in. He had a sleek black sedan with leather seats.

"I guess you ditched the American car, hmm?" I tried for a teasing tone, but my voice wobbled. It didn't help that this was the first time he'd looked me full in the face since the laundromat incident, and I could see his eyes were still inflamed from the Spray N Wash.

"This Inifiniti is the best they had," he said as he threw our stuff in the back seat. He then climbed back into the driver's seat and put us on the road again.

We pulled through a McDonald's drive-through to get lunch and got onto the highway. I expected not to be hungry, especially not for junk food, but I surprised myself. I munched my chicken nuggets and watched as Edward drove with one hand and scarfed down a quarter pounder with the other.

"Pass me some fries?" Edward asked.

I reached into the bag and pulled out a few fries. Edward didn't really have any way to hold them, so I fed them to him. His lips brushed my fingers as he took the last bite, and I forgot all about the Volturi. This was Edward, my Edward, and being with him again was a balm for my soul.

I popped a nugget into my mouth and consciously forced my shoulder muscles to relax. For the moment we were safe, and I was with Edward. I couldn't ask for more than that.

Edward finished his burger, and I handed him a napkin. He used it without taking his eyes off the road, handed it back to me, and then pulled something black and square from his pocket.

"Disposable phone," he said, when he noticed me staring at it. "Can you dial the number on this piece of paper and tell Emmett we're okay?"

He handed me the phone and a wrinkled piece of paper with his neat handwriting on it.

I dialed with a shaky hand. The phone rang once, twice, three times, and then Emmett's voice boomed into my ear.

Took your time calling, didn't you? Give me a status update.

"Emmett, hi." His voice was welcome, even though I was pretty sure he was going to chew me out for sneaking off.

I was right. Emmett started cursing a blue streak, and I held the phone away from my ear. I wasn't sure where the volume was on this stripped down phone.

Edward smirked next to me, but he didn't comment.

When Emmett's tirade paused, I put the phone up to my ear and said tentatively, "The status is that we lost the people chasing us and we're now on the highway going to an airport."

Did you change cars after the chase?


Edward cut in, "Ask him if he sent someone out here to help us."

I dutifully repeated the question and then repeated it again when Emmett didn't answer right away.

No, I didn't send anyone. Why?

"The last car tailing us had a suspicious accident."

After another long pause, where I wondered if the call had been dropped, Emmett replied. Tell Edward to make sure he changes cars again tonight.


And you. You!


This isn't over. You better fucking stay alive long enough for me to make you understand how fucking idiotic it was for you to go off on your own.

"Emmett, I'm sorry you were worried, but I…"

Save it. We'll talk later. Unless something goes wrong, I don't plan to hear from you two until February.

Emmett ended the call, and I just sat there, holding the phone as I processed that last comment.

"Emmett said you two like we were going to be together until the trial," I said slowly to Edward.

"Unless you run away again," Edward said, "that's the plan."

I swallowed back tears, and I wasn't sure whether they were happy or sad.

The blue-green water shimmered in the late afternoon sun. The sky was blue all around us, and wisps of clouds dotted the horizon.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere sunny."


"Not now, Amy."

I belatedly realized I'd called him the wrong name. We weren't Edward and Bella or even Edward and Marie. We were Steven and Amy, and we had the pilot as an audience. Since he was in the cockpit, I didn't think he could hear us over the noise of the engine, but my carelessness was scary.

I regretted boarding the plane. Well, part of me did. The other part of me was too happy to see Edward to be rational.

In the Laundromat, I'd been so overjoyed to see Edward that I hadn't stopped to think. He'd asked me to get on a plane, so I did. In retrospect, I could see that I'd erased everything I'd worked for. It wasn't only me who was in danger; now, it was Edward, too.

I ached to tell him everything. To explain how I wanted, no needed, him to be safe. But none of the words I could say were ones that we could afford to have overheard. So I sat and stared out the window at the beautiful water.

Hours later, we touched down in a small, island airport. We said goodbye to the pilot, and I plastered a fake smile on my face. Edward led me through the streets where people spoke accented English and then into a cab that took us to a harbor.

I hated boats. The boat Edward led me to was not a yacht, but it wasn't small. It was big enough to have an interior room sheltered from the sea spray, which was a little bit of a relief.

Edward helped me step onto the boat and then proceeded to untie it from the pier.

"Aren't we going to wait for a captain?"

Edward grinned, the first true grin I had seen from him since we reconnected.

"That would be me." He laughed at the look on my face. "Don't worry, I've steered many a boat through water fiercer than this." He gestured out to the water, where barely existent waves lapped against the dock.

We started to drift in the harbor, and my queasiness returned.

Instead of focusing on the water, I turned my attention to Edward. He moved through the cabin with ease, checking gauges and making sure the life jackets were where they were supposed to be. When we started moving, I closed my eyes so as not to see the shore moving.

When we were on the water, it was better. I left the cabin to go up on deck. The wind whipped my hair, which had grown out enough to brush my shoulders. I was bursting with my desire to talk to Edward, so I was a little surprised that he didn't even turn around when I approached him. The Edward I remembered would have already been engaging me in conversation.

I approached him and tapped his shoulder hesitantly because I wanted to be near him and talk to him. He turned around to face me, but seeing his expression stopped the words on my tongue. The inflammation in his eyes had faded, but his brow was furrowed and his lips were pressed into a thin line.

This was not the joyful reunion of lovers I anticipated. I missed the way his love could warm me to the tips of my toes, the way his passion could light me up inside. Somehow, I assumed being near him would bring back those things as though no time passed. And they were back… for me.

"Did you need something, Marie?" Edward asked.

I blinked quickly to keep tears from welling because he was talking to me like I was a stranger. He wasn't being unkind, but no easy familiarity graced his tone. It reminded me of the first time we met; that awkward introduction we had in front of Jake and Emmett the day I arrived at his house.

Instead of words of undying love and affection, I found myself saying instead, "How long are we on the boat?"

"We have another couple of hours, so make yourself comfortable."

I heard the words he didn't say. He didn't say, Make yourself comfortable with me or come sit with me and tell me everything. No. He was dismissing me. The sting was too much. I fled before he could see the tears spill over.

Eventually we pulled into a narrow inlet, and Edward helped me climb out of the boat. The island was more than secluded; it was deserted.

"Where are we?"

"An island I borrowed."

I blinked. "You can borrow an island?"

Edward looked around appraisingly. "It's not as nice my family's island, but it will do."

There was a time when hearing Edward say something like that would unnerve me, but by now I was well used to the excesses of the Cullen family.

It was a short but brutal hike uphill from the inlet to a small house. Edward turned on the generator, and we spent the first fifteen minutes of our arrival turning things on and making things livable. The kitchen was filled with top-of-the-line cooking implements, but there was no perishable food.

"Um, Edward?" I opened an empty pantry and frowned. "I don't mean to difficult, but do you know what we'll eat while we're here?"

Edward sighed. "I wanted us to have real food, but that was too risky. There's a huge stash of camping food in the cellar, and we'll live off that."

"Like, you just add water?"

"Heat is involved too, but that's the basic concept. Even I can cook it."

"So I guess that means we can share kitchen duty," I said, trying to keep things light.

He didn't respond.

The thing I wanted more than anything was to be close to Edward. So of course, my luck being what it was, it was completely out of reach. He avoided me after we arrived, spending his time focused on his laptop instead. He even put us in separate bedrooms. We were face-to-face for dinner, but it was an awkward affair. Shortly after we ate, Edward said he had to work and disappeared into his bedroom.

I was sinking back into depression. Though I knew he would move on after I was gone, his love had been an anchor for me. Now I felt myself drifting and alone. I went to bed early, the sound of the surf lulling me into an uneasy slumber.

The next morning at breakfast, I decided the current state of affairs was unacceptable. I could barely handle being alienated from Edward yesterday, and there was no way I was going to be able to handle it for the duration of our time in this house. Each time I picked up my Tang to take a sip, I set the cup back on the table with more force than necessary, trying to goad Edward into paying attention to me. When that failed, I took to letting the spoon to my strawberries and cream oatmeal clatter onto the glass table. Edward remained impassive in the face of my childish display of temper.

There was no course of action left but to talk.

"That's it! I can't take it anymore. Why can't you treat me like a person?"

Slowly, Edward looked up from his book. He gave me a long look that made me feel ungrateful.

"I wasn't aware you were being mistreated," he said, piercing me with his gaze.

I blushed with shame in spite of his frosty tone. I suddenly couldn't remember if I'd thanked him for his efforts on my behalf. Confrontations were not my strong suit. "Of course I'm not mistreated. What I mean is, why are you being so distant?"

Edward kept eye contact with me, but he didn't speak immediately. I wasn't sure he was going to speak. I wanted to look away from him, but if all he was going to give me was eye contact, I was going to savor it. Two days ago, I would have given anything to see his face again, friendly or not.

Edward looked away first. He closed his book with authority and stood up. "Are you asking why things are different between us now than they were when you left?"

"Yes," I blurted.

"Could it be you've forgotten you broke up with me?"

"But surely you knew I couldn't stop loving you." At his impassive expression, I added desperately, "I left to protect you."

"You left an impersonal letter and your engagement ring on the kitchen table. What was I supposed to think?"

"You were supposed to have faith in us." As I said the words, I realized how incredibly unfair I was being. He was supposed to move on and get over our relationship. My days were numbered, and he deserved to be happy.

Edward let out a mirthless chuckle. "Faith? Where was your faith in us? I would have taken you away to keep you safe, Marie, but you couldn't wait for that. You preferred to sneak away with the damn gardener and stay in cheap motels."

I was speechless.

Edward picked up his book and walked away from me.

"Stop calling me Marie!" I called out after his retreating form, but he kept walking. You would have thought, after all the things that had happened, that I would be thrilled to hear my real name on his lips, but all it did was push us further apart. I'd really grown fond of being Bella. Sad as it was, Bella had more of a life with the Cullens than Marie had ever had on her own.

My oatmeal looked lumpy and unappetizing, and the Tang coated my throat in a way that made me want to gag. I'd assumed when I left that Edward would know why I was leaving. It never occurred to me he would doubt my love for him. All this time, I'd been out suffering, but at least I knew he loved me. He'd had no such assurances from me.

How long were his nights, if he spent our whole time apart wondering if what we'd had was real or fake?

Sometimes the way life works is funny. I don't mean funny, as in haha; no, I mean funny like cruel. When I first moved into Edward's house, I was full of doubts and second guessed everything. I never knew what was real and what was fake when I dealt with Edward. And just when I started to think things were real, he went off and kissed Tanya in the middle of a dance floor.

But things had been real between us. They always were; I could see that now. It took months for me to accept it and for our love to bloom. Maybe communication wasn't our strong suit, but time was ticking away. I couldn't waste what little we had without Edward knowing the depth of my love for him.

I chased after him.

In the movies, whenever someone chases after their one true love, they always catch up with them and have a touching reunion. And then everyone cheers. Two problems with this: 1) I chased after Edward, but I couldn't find him, and 2) no one was around to cheer even if I did. Flush with my desire to straighten out Edward, I consoled myself that he'd turn up for dinner.

Except he didn't. I searched the house for him. When I couldn't find him, I located a flashlight and checked near the house. I thought of going down the steep hill to the beach, but that seemed unwise in the dark. It wouldn't do anyone any good if I broke my ankle going down the hill. As far as I knew, Edward and I were the only souls on the island.

I had another restless night. Edward was still gone in the morning, and I started to worry that maybe he fell and broke his leg on that hill. After breakfast, I put on my tennis shoes, which were my only shoes, and went outside.

The first thing I realized was that fall/winter clothes were not appropriate on a tropical island.

The next thing I realized was that the hill the house was set upon was really, really steep. I thought it was a challenge to go up the hill yesterday, but I quickly realized going down was more dangerous. After making it a few steps, I went back to the house to grab water and snack food. Who knew how long it would take me to make it back up the hill once I made it down?

After several slips, one trip, but no serious falls, I was on the beach. The sand was powdery white, though the occasional piece of seaweed had washed up on the shore. After being sheltered by the cover of the trees, the glare of the mid-morning sun on the water was almost too much.

It took me a while, but I eventually spotted Edward in a cove just off the beach. He was sprawled out on a rock like he was dead. His torso draped over the rock, and his legs dangled in the water. There was no way a dead person could have made it to the rock, so I took heart from that. And he had no shirt on, which affected my heart in a different way. The cove was filled with water, and the rock was in the middle of a shallow pool. I would have to get wet to make it out to him.

I kicked off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pant legs. The first step into the water was a pleasant surprise. Water was supposed to be cold, but this water was warm. There were no rocks to speak of. The bottom was all sand.

It was my first time in the ocean. At least, I assumed this was the ocean. My pants were rolled up to my knees, but they were wet anyway. Most of the waves were tiny, lapping innocently at my shins, but every so often a slightly more ambitious wave would come up above my knees.

I tried to be quiet as I made my way over to Edward. I didn't want to startle him, and I definitely wanted him to be around long enough to hear me out.

He heard me coming. The sound of the surf was negligible once I made it into the shelter of the cove, and my small splashes were magnified as I made my way forward. He didn't move, but I was close enough that I could see his body tense as I closed in on his location.

"Edward," I started.

His arm was over his face, so I couldn't see his eyes.

"Marie," he replied, his voice drawing out the two syllables. Was he drunk?

Marie. The name was strange coming from his lips. Either he didn't hear me when I said I didn't want to be called Marie, or he didn't care. The latter seemed more likely—he was putting distance between us.

I wasn't sure how to start, so I said the first thing that came to mind. "Did you sleep out here?"

At this, he moved his arm so I could see one green eye lit by the harsh sun. "What if I did?" He moved his arm back, obscuring his face again.

His voice slurred a little on the last word. He was drunk. This was new. I'd seen him drunk once before, but we were both drinking heavily that night. A smile tugged at my lips as I remembered the drunken game of Truth or Dare we played together. It felt like ages ago, because it was before the deposition. It was back when the trial seemed far away.

I wasn't sure how to respond to drunk Edward, so I took the time to look around. The cove was partially sheltered by a rock overhang. The water was clear and still. Morning sun streamed in, illuminating part of the cove. Small yellow fish darted around my ankles. Sand squished between my toes. Edward brought me here, wherever here was. He knew I'd always dreamed of coming somewhere like this, and he brought me here even though he wasn't sure I still loved him. My heart melted into a puddle for him, drunk or not.

I approached Edward and set the water bottle on the rock next to him. "I brought you some water."

The sun illuminated a piece of his arm bright white, as well as part of his forehead. The rest of him was in shadow. Perhaps he was in the cove to take shelter from the sun? The sun was bright and fierce as noon approached, and if I had been thinking, sunscreen would have been a good idea before I came out here.

Edward moved his arm, revealing his beautiful eyes to me again. "What are you doing down here?" he asked.

"I came to apologize."

He arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"I've been living in my head so much since I left, I didn't think very much about where your head must be. I'm sorry I broke up with you in a letter. I did it because I love you, and I couldn't bear the idea that you and your family might be in danger because of me. My intentions were good, but I see now how it hurt you that I didn't come to you and talk to you first. But I was afraid if I told you my plan, you would stop me."

"I would have."

"So that was why I did it."

"That's what Rosalie said."

"She was right."

"I'm sure she'll rub it in when we get home."

I winced at his choice of words. We were staying here until the trial, and after the trial, well, there was no reality I could envision where it would be safe for me to spend time with Rosalie and the rest of Edward's family.

"And I thought you'd be better off without me," I added softly. Whether he heard me over the ambient noise was unclear.

I had nothing left to say, though, so silence stretched between us, long and taut like a rubber band waiting to snap. When I couldn't take the tension anymore, I turned to go back to the house. I wanted him more than anything, but if he didn't want me, I'd respect his desire for distance.

I took two steps away, and the water splashed around my calves. Edward flung an arm out and grabbed my wrist. I turned back to look at him. He was looking at me, too.

"I wasn't," he said.

"Huh?" I was transfixed by his face. I'd missed him so much, and the shadows in the cove emphasized every contour of his face.

"I wasn't better off without you."

I turned around and went back to him. Before I could stop myself, I kissed him. He smelled like tequila and tasted worse, but I didn't care. He was Edward, and I loved him. His hands moved to grip my waist, and he pulled me closer to him.

There was a splash next to me. The water bottle had fallen off the rock into the water. I didn't pick it up, as I was afraid to move away from Edward. If this kiss was the last one we had, I wasn't going to miss out on it.

Edward broke the kiss but didn't release me. I rested my head on his chest. His heart thumped beneath my ear. My fingers trailed over his abs. He'd lost some weight, as though maybe he wasn't eating properly, but he still felt strong and solid.

"Are you wearing sunscreen?" he murmured.


"Me neither. Let's go in the house before you burn."

"Okay." I stood up and looked down at him, still splayed on the rock. I retrieved the water bottle from the water and put it in the crook of Edward's arm, where a few drops of salt water landed. The droplets meandered down the curve of his bicep. I'd always considered myself an astute observer of Edward Cullen, but our time apart brought everything about him into even sharper relief.

He propped himself up on an elbow and gave me a lopsided grin. "Thanks for the water." He twisted off the cap and took a long swig. I watched his Adam's apple as he drank. He downed the water faster than I would have thought possible. He stood and offered me his arm, and we splashed out of the cove together.

Hot and sweaty, we entered the house. It had been designed to let crosswinds flow through, but no crosswind was going to cool me off after that hard hike up the hill.

"Shower?" I asked with what I hoped was a suggestive yet sexy look.

Edward shook his head. "I need some time to think, Bella."

I tried not to look too crestfallen. He'd called me Bella again, and that was enough.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I didn't realize it was Christmas until I came down the stairs and discovered Edward had decorated the house with island greenery. It looked more tropical than Christmassy, but I was touched anyway. We didn't exchange gifts, but in honor of the holiday, we pulled out a whole selection of freeze-dried desserts from the pantry. The raspberry cobbler was better than I expected.

Things between us were not tense, but they weren't normal, either. We chatted with each other like we used to, but there was no touching. Several times that day I stopped myself from brushing Edward's hair off his forehead. It wasn't something I remembered doing that often when we were together, and I couldn't figure out if my desire to do it now was because his hair was longer or because I wanted an excuse to touch him.

He wanted time to think. I could appreciate that, rationally, but time was ticking down at an alarming rate. How many days did we have together? I didn't want to spend them this way, but I accepted it was my fault he needed time. How would I have felt if he'd left me with a note? I would have been broken. I never could have imagined Edward broken, and the idea that something I did upset his equilibrium so much shocked me. Maybe he really had loved me as much as I loved him.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009. The year I would testify against the Volturi. Possibly the last year of my life. Not that I was morbid or anything. Even if it weren't the last year of my life, it was the last year of my acquaintance with Edward. The trial would change everything between us, and so I selfishly made a New Year's resolution that this was the day I would win Edward back. I craved him, and I was pretty sure he craved me, too. Two days ago, I caught him watching me as I waded out into the water. When he saw me notice, he looked away. Yesterday, he reached out like he was going to touch my shoulder but then pulled back.

We were like dry twigs rubbing together, except there was nowhere near enough rubbing for my taste. There was the occasional spark, but it was just going to take a little bit more friction to turn us into a roaring blaze of passion. Maybe roaring blaze of passion was a bit of an overstatement, but by this point I not only craved Edward, but I was desperate for the physical release of sex. After years of living without sex, it seemed odd that just a few short months of having sex could change me so profoundly, but now that I'd had it, I didn't want to live without it. And sex with Edward, well, I didn't want to think about it too much until I knew for sure it was going to happen again.

As I trekked down the stairs, I mentally prepared myself for two things. The first was that I wasn't going to throw myself at Edward. The ball was in his court. If he still wanted me, he had to let me know. The second was that it was another day of freeze-dried meals. They'd seemed perfectly adequate at first, and some of them were even decent, but now I'd sampled all the different kinds we had. The idea of more freeze-dried food today was unappetizing, and the idea of eating freeze-dried food until the trial turned my stomach.

I expected to see Edward in the kitchen, but the kitchen was empty.

"Edward?" I called out. He had to be somewhere. He never overslept. I was never the first one awake.

There was no reply.

Maybe he was still in bed. I considered going up to check his bedroom, but that seemed like a breach of privacy. He was entitled to sleep in, right? Right.

I ate my pasty oatmeal with flecks of fruit in it at the table by myself and then found a book to read. After another hour, I started to get worried. There was no way Edward could still be sleeping.

I crept upstairs and opened his door as quietly as possible to peer into his room. The bed was made, which either meant he'd never slept in it last night or he made it this morning.

Where was he? I went into my own room and changed into a swimsuit and shorts. Life was much better since I discovered a small selection of summery clothes in the closet. The hike down to the beach seemed slightly less treacherous this time around, and I wondered if I would get used to it. Edward had to be down here somewhere. It was an island, after all. The first place I checked was the cove I found him in the other day. I hoped he wasn't drinking on that rock again.


After I prowled the beach for a while looking, I saw a boat approaching the inlet.

My first instinct was panic. Could whoever was on the boat see me on the shore? I made it as far as the trees to hide before recognizing the boat. It was the boat that brought us here.

Even knowing it was our boat, I was still nervous. I stuck to the cover of the trees until I saw Edward disembark. He was wearing a hat and carrying a cooler.

I was walking toward him before I realized I was moving.

"There you are!"

At my voice, Edward turned and grinned. It was the happiest expression I'd seen from him since he rescued me. His looked like himself again. I sped up so I could reach him faster. He set down the cooler and caught me up in his arms.

"Happy New Year, Bella," he said into my ear.

The dual sensation from his long-denied touch and his soft voice in my ear made me shudder in happiness.

He set me down and picked up the cooler.

"Where were you?"

He grinned again, and his eyes twinkled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

I laughed then, because his mood was infectious. "Okay then. Keep your secrets. I'll find out eventually."

"All in good time," he said.

Edward asked me to give him a head start up the hill so he could put away whatever surprise was in the cooler. I dutifully walked along the beach for a little while before heading back up to the house. As I climbed the hill, I realized it was the first time I'd managed to do so without getting winded. I was getting strong again. That made me smile, though anything would have made me smile after seeing Edward look like himself again.

I stepped into the house and gave a happy sigh as crosswinds blew the house and cooled the light sheen of perspiration that had gathered on my skin during my hike back up the hill. Mellow jazz music was playing, and Edward was reading a newspaper in a leather chair in the corner of the living room. His shoes were off, and his ankle was balanced on his knee. He should have looked at ease, but instead he was vibrating with energy.

My lips twitched into an almost-smile. Something was different. Something good. "What's gotten into you?"

His eyes met mine over the top of the newspaper. They were the lightest green I'd ever seen them, and I wondered if it was just because of the tropical sunlight filtering through the sheer curtains or if it was more a function of his mood. The latter seemed more likely, but we never had this kind of sun in Seattle, so it was hard for me to know for sure.

We ate more freeze-dried food for lunch. We didn't talk to each other, but it wasn't a bad silence. It was more thoughtful, though I confess I wasn't thinking about much other than whether it would be inappropriate to throw myself at Edward. I wanted to touch him again.

I pushed my chair out to leave the dining room table, but Edward laid his hand on my wrist. That was all I needed. I was done waiting.

I pulled my hand out from under his and cradled his face with my hands. "I love you, Edward Cullen, and I always, always will."

Then I kissed him. Initially, he didn't respond, and I wondered if maybe I had read everything wrong. I stopped the kiss to pull back and look into his beautiful eyes. This was a time for clarity if ever there was one. I wanted to leave no shade of doubt to fester in his mind.

"There is no one else. There will never be anyone else. I treasure all the time we've spent together, and I would give anything to spend the rest of our time together in blissful—"

Edward pulled my head back to his. Our mouths crashed together, drowning out my words. The kiss was alternately hard and yielding. His mouth was warm and soft and much more appealing than the tequila-soaked kiss I'd been replaying in my head for the last several days. My hands tangled into his hair; his fingertips pressed into the side of my face. I soaked in all the sensations, my breath coming faster than necessary.

Abruptly, Edward stopped kissing me and pulled me to my feet. "We're not going to do this at the table."

A giggle burbled out of me. Of course we wouldn't do it at the table. It wouldn't be proper, not when we could sex each other to oblivion on the couch or the bed or somewhere more comfortable. Sex was going to happen, and my whole body thrummed in anticipation.

"And yes," Edward said as he pulled me along into the living room.

"Yes?" I queried, so lost in the thrill of the moment that I couldn't fathom what he might mean.

"Yes," Edward murmured again in my ear, "to everything you said before."

The words flooded me with warmth, but his fingers trailing on my neck and down to the buttons on my shirt made me shiver. The combination of the two was almost overwhelming, and we'd barely begun.

One button opened, and then two more. I was transfixed watching his fingers. The cool breeze from the crosswinds raised gooseflesh on my skin. With the last button, my shirt fluttered open. While Edward stared at my bra, I started to work on his buttons. He wore a Hawaiian shirt that I had seen him wear a few times. I'd always admired it on him, but now the buttons made my fingers clumsy.

Edward didn't seem to mind my fumbling. He was grinning as he watched me, and that made me even clumsier. As I got down toward the last two buttons and I was confronted with his muscled chest in my line of sight, I gave the shirt a sharp yank, and the last two buttons popped off.

Edward gave a throaty laugh that made my stomach somersault. With a shove, I pushed him down so he was sitting on the couch. I straddled his lap and kissed him.

"Impatient, are you?" he teased.

"You've kept me waiting long enough," I said between kisses. I could feel him underneath me through my skirt, and each shift in position brought me a bit closer to nirvana.

Suddenly, there was more than just Edward's torso under my skirt. His fingers were there, too, pulling off my underwear. I leaned back and let his fingers caress me. I was so warm, so happy, and I arched my back into the sensations rushing through me. His other hand was busy unfastening my bra, and when his mouth closed over my nipple, I was gone.

All the uncertainties and miseries since I'd met Edward fell away.

When Edward entered me, I felt something new and different. I felt bliss. And when he hit that spot inside of me over and over again, I was carried completely away.

The whole day was a blur, capped off by real food for dinner. Edward's little trip in the boat this morning had been to buy us food. It wasn't a lot of food, since that might draw attention, but there was lasagna and bread and a flourless chocolate cake—and it was all so good that we did end up having sex in the dining room. Who would have though food could taste so good? And with food and Edward together, it was all even better.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

We subsisted on orgasms and proclamations of love for approximately seventy-two hours. We could only shut everything out for so long. I gladly would have continued to live in denial, because other than the camping food, things were practically perfect. The Beatles said love is all you need, and I was inclined to agree.

It was Edward who let reality intrude into our bed.

We were together, tangled in the sheets after a post-lunch sexing, when he said, "You can never leave me like that again."

"Hmm?" I wasn't at all in the mood to discuss reality, and I hoped we could maybe skip this conversation.

"I mean it, Bella. You can't do that to me again."

I swallowed and took a deep, calming breath. Yes, I felt guilt, lots of guilt about leaving Edward. And, in retrospect, now that I knew we could have been here on this island this whole time, I wondered if maybe I'd made a mistake, but he didn't seem to understand. My days were dwindling, and I loved him too much to drag him down with me. I also loved him too much to let him go, and that was how I'd ended up in bed with him now. There was no clear right thing for me to do, and it would destroy me if I thought about it too hard.

"Edward, I'm so sorry I left you that way." I could say that much. That much was true. "But you can't ask me not to do whatever I think is right. I'm pretty much doomed, but you could still escape this mess and be okay."

Edward chuckled darkly. "Will you listen to yourself? You think I can 'escape' and 'be okay.'" He ran his fingers through his hair and let out an explosive sigh that I cringed back from. "Bella, I don't want to be 'okay.' I love you. Letting go of you so you can be doomed, or whatever you want to call it, is not an option. I need to know you'll let me help you and be with you all the way until the end."

"Edward…" my voice trailed off, uncertain. "You know I love you. I would do anything for you."

Edward rolled out of bed, and I felt the chill of his absence. I stared at his backside as he left the room, unsure if he was coming back.

Could I really let myself pull him completely into the mess? A little voice in my head told me he was already knee-deep in it, so why not let him all the way in?

Edward reappeared in the doorway a couple minutes later with a package in his hand. I didn't know what he was holding, but my heart beat a little faster because of the purposeful way he was looking at me. He walked slowly over to the bed and pulled me to a sitting position. The sheet fell away from me, exposing me completely to his view. Then he knelt on the floor, naked and beautiful. My heart was in my throat.

"I wasn't going to do this until later, but I think now is the time."

I stared down him, trying to keep my breathing steady. He pulled up the package, and from the package he extracted a navy blue velvet box.

Edward looked up at me earnestly and said in a clear, soft voice, "Bella Marie Swan, will you marry me?"

He opened the box and to reveal a ring.

I was too dumbstruck to say anything immediately. And I kind of loved the way Bella Marie Swan sounded. I was simultaneously touched and horrified all at once. I blurted, "You don't want to marry me."

Edward sighed. "If this is going to work between us, you need to stop telling me what I want and what I can do. We're adults. We make our own choices." He reached up a hand to angle my chin so we held eye contact. "I choose you."

My eyes closed. He was offering me something I wanted more than anything, but what kind of person would I be to take it?

"Edward, even after the trial, no matter how it goes, I'll never be free."

"Bella," Edward said softly, insistently, "I don't want to be apart from you. Even if the worst were to happen and all we would have is right now, I would want this. I want you."

Tears threatened to spill out, so I kept my eyes shut tightly as I gave my last rebuttal. "But your life is in Seattle, with your family."

"I choose you."

A tear escaped, and I opened my eyes to look down into his sure, unwavering gaze. "You know you're giving up everything."

"Not everything."

His words slowly sunk in, and I responded with the only three words that convey the depth of my feelings: "I love you."

He crooked up a corner of his mouth in a cocky grin, "So is that a yes?"

I tried to say yes, but my voice came out all soft and broken. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Yes!"

"Now that's more like it." Edward's eyes sparkled. "Why don't you try it on?"

I turned my attention to the ring, which I had barely glanced at, having assumed it was the same ring I'd been wearing before. This ring was nothing like my old ring. My old ring had been huge and sparkly and modern looking, and this one was obviously from a different era. There was complicated filigree work flecked with tiny diamonds, and a modest but sparkly center stone.

"Oh," I said, still not having regained all my faculties.

"You can have your old ring if you'd prefer, but I picked that one out for a stranger. This one was my grandmother's, and I thought you might like it better. It's smaller, but—"

I cut him off. "I love it. I'll treasure it."

He smiled at me then, a real smile that lit up his eyes.

"You're crazy, you know that?" I told him with a shake of my head, because he was. Only a crazy person would see my mess as an opportunity to make a life-long commitment.

"I disagree. This is the first sane, rational thing I've done. I should have proposed long ago, when I first realized I wanted forever with you."

"Forever might not be very long, Edward."

He sighed. "We really need to work on your outlook on life."

"Edward," I started, but he put his finger over my lips.

"Don't. I don't want to hear another negative word about the future cross your lips while we're here. We've got a little time now before the trial. If this is the last time we'll have together, let's not waste it. And while we're on that subject, I see no reason to assume this is the last time we'll have together. You're going to become a Cullen in the near future, and Cullens don't lose."

I digested that for a moment, letting my eyes roam over his face. He really believed we would have a future. He was either deluded or had reason for confidence. I let myself bask in his confidence.

"Does this mean that we're not going to talk about the Volturi at all? Because there are some things I haven't had a chance to tell you yet." I thought about my suspected relationship to Aro and winced. Maybe I should have mentioned that nasty tidbit before I accepted his proposal.

"Of course we're still going to talk about it," Edward said. "I have things to tell you, too. But I want us to operate from the perspective that winning is possible. Because if this is a game, and winning means having a happily ever after with you..."

He kissed my nose, smiled, and said, "I intend to win."