It was time.

There were no goodbyes – some members of the family had more confidence in Edward than others, but none of them would admit that this could be the end. But when the sun began to set, the house began to clear out. Emmett and Rosalie disappeared without a trace, and Esme stopped only to tenderly touch my cheek before she flew out the door. Jasper I saw only for a moment, his eyes burning with worry, before he slinked into the shadows.

The house was still and dark, and we were finally alone. There were no words – I could not even imagine communicating what I was feeling to him as Edward gently took me into his arms and walked up the stairs. He gently laid me onto the golden bed in his room, tucking the pillows under me carefully. I was still fragile, still breakable. My heart thumped erratically as fear overtook me – the end was so close.

There was a small motion next to me and I turned to see Alice, who had as usual appeared out of nowhere, sitting beside me, so light she barely made a dent in the covers. She silently took my hand in hers, soothingly brushing the hair off my sweaty forehead. It took me a moment to find my voice.

"Alice?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. You don't have to be here. You know, if it gets … difficult."

She widened her eyes; they were the lightest gold I had seen yet. "Don't worry, Bella. I'm sure I can do it." I heard the door open quietly at Carlisle walked in, pulling an IV drip and various scary-looking medical apparatuses.

I tensed, and Edward was at my other side, his face tortured but his voice still soothing. "Bella, I promise everything's going to be okay. We're hoping the morphine will take away the pain …"

I nodded mutely, and Carlisle appeared at my elbow, his face kind. "It will just be a moment, Bella." I heard their breathing stop, and Edward averted his eyes. Alice subtly moved in between us to block my view, and then my arm was in Carlisle's cold grip for an instant before there was a stabbing pain in the crook of my arm.

I gasped slightly – not from the pain, but from the expression on Edward's face as he stared into the shadows. I had never seen him in so much pain before.

"Don't look like that," I whispered, pulling him closer to me by his collar. "Everything's going to be fine." I averted my eyes from the needle in my arm, instead looking into his bright gold eyes with all my might. "It doesn't hurt," I lied. Was that what was bothering him?

He smiled wryly, then sighed. "Carlisle doesn't think the venom will sting with the morphine. How is it feeling?"

My body was beginning to feel numb and lethargic, but I was still mentally alert. Alert enough to know that "sting" would be an understatement if the morphine didn't work. "I can't really feel my limbs," I commented, shifting uncomfortably.

I saw Carlisle nod, his face excited. "We'll wait about ten minutes for it to absorb into the bloodstream before we begin," he said. I tensed in shock – ten minutes? – and Edward leaned closer to me, soothingly rubbing my cheek with his finger. Carlisle briefly turned to look once more at the IV drip, and then turned to his son. "Will you come outside with me for a moment, Edward?"

Edward frowned, clearly loathe to leave the room, but he kissed me on the forehead and followed Carlisle silently out the door, leaving me alone with Alice.

I felt my heart pick up again. Ten minutes left to be human.

Alice squeezed my hand, looking pained. "Don't be frightened, Bella."

"I'm not." It came out as a gargle, and she laughed softly. "Are you sure you want to stay, Alice?" I asked again, remembering my eighteenth birthday. At the sight of my blood, everyone had to leave – everyone except for Carlisle and Edward. Alice had stayed, but not for long. Even Edward had left …

"You said transformation was painful," I whispered. "For both sides. The thirst … it will be painful for you to stay."

She nodded. "It will be. More than I've ever felt."

"Then why …"

"You're my sister, Bella," she said simply. "I'd do anything for you."

And she was so candid and unpretentious and loving that I felt tears well in my eyes, blurring her beautiful white face out of my sight. She wiped them away quickly. "I don't want you looking like that for Edward. This whole affair is killing him, Bella. Can't you see that? Your pain is his pain." She paused thoughtfully. "Living with him for the next three days is going to be hell …"

"I can't help it," I blubbered. "I'm … feeling too much."

"I can call Jasper in," she suggested. She paused again. "Of course, he'd have to leave before …"

"No, no." I wiped my tears away hastily. No need to retrieve more of the family to witness my breakdown. "How long do we have until Edward and Carlisle comes back?"

Her eyes became blank for a moment before refocusing. "Five minutes."

My hands started shaking, and I twisted my fingers together in an effort to still them. "Five minutes. Okay." I wiped my nose. "Gosh, I look like a wreck. Edward's going to die when he sees me."

She smiled but did not correct me, and pressed her icy fingers over my eyes. "This will stop the redness, at least."

"Thanks, Alice," I said, and took a deep, shuddering breath to calm myself.

We both sat silently for a moment, her hands gently cooling my overheated eyes, and then she spoke in a soft voice.

"Did I ever tell you how long I knew?"

"Knew what?"

"Knew that we were going to be friends."

I paused – that had never occurred to me before. But knowing Alice … "You knew before Edward and I …"

She laughed again. "I knew a long time before that." She removed her hands so I could look at her. "My first vision of you was the two of us together, laughing. Edward was furious." She smiled at the memory, her perfect features lighting up with a radiance that took my breath away. Would I ever look like that? "And now we're sisters."

"Sisters," I repeated, the thought making me smile too. "Alice, I'm so …"

I never got a chance to finish. "They're coming in," she whispered suddenly, her body becoming immobile with stress. A second later, Edward and Carlisle walked into the bedroom. Edward's face was rigid, his hands balled up slightly. He looked at me with burning eyes, and I tried to smile at him.

Carlisle stood next to me and took my pulse – merely a formality, as I'm sure they could all hear my heart beating. Yet I couldn't help thinking how I wouldn't have a pulse for long – my very minutes were numbered now. "How are you feeling, Bella? Numb?" Carlisle asked, gently placing my hand back on the bed.

"Yeah," I managed. My entire body felt stiff.

"Can you move your legs?"

"I don't think so."

"Any of your limbs?"

"I can barely move my mouth," I murmured in frustration, and he chuckled quietly.

"You didn't put too much in her, did you?" asked Edward, looking worried.

"She's fine," Carlisle said, placing a hand on his son's shoulder.

Edward sat next to me on the bed, the coldness from his body leaking through my clothes. My heart responded even more wildly – from fear or desire, I wasn't sure. Carlisle frowned at the sound that was surely echoing around the room, but Alice merely looked politely at the wall, pretending she couldn't hear it.

"Are you ready for this, Bella?" asked Edward, his gaze intense, his face close to mine. "If you've changed your mind …"

"Never," I whispered fiercely.

Edward turned to Alice, a question in his eyes, and she paused before nodding slightly. Then he looked at Carlisle and, seeming to hear his confirmation, turned to me.

The world stopped except for his beautiful face an inch from mine. "Bella," he said tenderly, his golden eyes afire. Very softly, he kissed my lips – I saw Alice and Carlisle turn away slightly in an attempt to give us privacy, but my thoughts were very far from them at that moment. My body sprung to life, begging for more, but my limbs felt too heavy to move. So strange.

He kissed my forehead tenderly. "I love you more than I can say," he whispered softly, his cool breath washing gently over my face.

"I love you too," I managed.

And he looked at me, one last question in his eyes. A million things passed between us in an instant. Worry, hope, fear, trust, love …

Love. We would be together forever – it was all I had ever wanted. And suddenly, there was no doubt. Nothing could be more perfect and right.

Slowly, I nodded.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, and closed his eyes for a moment in fierce concentration. Then he kissed me again, his hands coming up to gently hold my shoulders. I could hardly breathe as I felt his cold lips travel slowly from my lips, to my chin, down to my throat, as they had so many times before.

Then I could feel Alice's hand grip mine tighter, the brush of Carlisle's coat as he moved closer to me by the bed. I could even feel the static electricity in the air as everything and everyone became perfectly still in anticipation. But the feeling of his cold lips drowned out all other thought as he paused by my throat, feeling the sweet pulse of humanity for one last moment.

I felt a slicing pain, and the blazing fire begin.