Nobody controls his own life. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people, by people who love you.
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
I could not leave her side.
It is physically impossible; even as the faintest suggestion materializes in my mind, the muscles in my body lock down as though bracing for an assault, and a sharp sting – the memory of an absent heart, a hollowness that I had endured during those endless months when I tore myself from her – pierces my chest.
So I cease to think of leaving altogether.
She lies there, so still, her breath hissing through clenched teeth in short gasps. I hold her hand between my palms, hoping beyond all hope that she is not in pain – that she can feel me here, beside her.
And I tell myself that this is what she wanted, that it was the only way to save her in the horrific aftermath of our child's birth… and it is what I wanted, if I was completely honest with myself, ever since I realized that I loved her.
I concentrate on the air filtering in and out of my lungs, using the motion to mark time as it passes inexorably, marching towards the moment that will define the remainder of my existence. I will know for certain then, at the inevitable end, whether I have failed or succeeded.
I did everything right – exactly the way that I had planned it, so carefully, inside my head. I did not allow myself to think as I plunged the steel barb into her weakly throbbing heart, flooding the organ with my venom. I did not taste the sweet nectar of her blood as I bit through the tender skin on her throat, her wrists, the creases of her elbows…
She got what she wanted. My venom flows through her bloodstream, changing her, reshaping her from a human to a vampire. Soon, that transformation will be complete. And I'll be able to keep her forever.
I am the most selfish creature that has ever walked this earth.
Footsteps ascend the staircase, composed and purposeful. I recognize the cadence just before my father calls my name with his thoughts. Edward? I'm coming in to check on Bella.
I do not bother to form a reply. I stare, unblinking, at her face – so pale, so empty – and beg every god and power that has ever existed in this universe to grant me just one second of insight into her mind. To give me something, anything, that will let me know if this grand scheme of mine is working – if the morphine has spared her from the indescribable pain… or if she suffers in silence to keep me from blaming myself for subjecting her to such agony.
A whisper of air, and the door opens. My father approaches us, bending over fluidly on Bella's right side, opposite of me, to feel the pulse on her wrist. "Still no change?" he asks quietly while he counts the beats of her heart in his head.
"None." My voice sounds so strange, even to my own ears. All emotion has been leached from it – the word is as lifeless as the definition it implies.
Carlisle leans closer, inhaling the scent of the skin on Bella's forearm. "There's no scent of the morphine left." Her body must have used it all. Or perhaps the venom purged it from her system.
"I know." The answer addresses both his words and his thoughts. My palms press together tightly, sandwiching her small hand, and I feel the smooth metal of her wedding ring against my skin. I will never forgive myself if she is in pain, paying for my selfishness, my inability to go on without her. Never.
"Bella?" Carlisle gently replaces her limp arm on the operating table, and calls, "Can you hear me?"
"Bella? Bella, love? Can you open your eyes?" I watch her frozen face for the slightest flicker of movement, and desperation wells inside my chest, turning my next question into a plea. "Can you squeeze my hand?" I remove my hand from atop hers and intertwine our fingers with the other. But hers remains motionless, even as I stare at the slender digits, silently willing them to twitch in my grasp.
Then my fear makes its presence known. It seizes control of my mouth, forcing out the unbearable thought that my brain has refused to finish contemplating. I lower my head, hiding my face in the curve of Bella's shoulder. "Maybe… Carlisle, maybe I was too late."
My voice, the toneless inflection, shatters like glass on the last word, cutting into my flesh and shredding what remains of my heart. A shudder ripples across my frame as the resurrected pain of loss begins to surface in my crystalline memory.
A large hand touches the crown of my head, resting comfortingly on my hair. "Listen to her heart, Edward," my father murmurs. Of their own accord, my ears attune themselves to the low thrum echoing steadily through the soft body beside me. "It's stronger than even Emmett's was. I've never heard anything so vital. She'll be perfect."
My accursed, perfect memory recalls the sickening crack that had filled this room, the image of her beautiful form crumpling like a rag doll on the table, and I shudder again. A second passes as I inhale the smell – her unique smell – from the skin over her collarbone, using its familiarity to calm my fractured sanity. It occurs to me belatedly that the scent does not cause my throat to burn as fiercely as before. Then, I manage to ask, "And her – her spine?"
"Her injuries weren't so much worse than Esme's. The venom will heal her as it did Esme." Carlisle's hand starts to withdraw, slowly, from my head, while he continues to console me mentally. You mustn't lose yourself in despair, son. Bella will be just fine.
"But she's so still." I pull our interlocked fingers upward, clutching them to my chest. "I must have done something wrong."
Oh, Edward… My father is suddenly at my side, laying a palm on my hunched shoulders. Part of me does not wish to be comforted, especially if my incompetence has caused any harm to befall my Bella… but another part of me – the broken, weeping part – craves the soothing, familial gesture.
"Or something right, Edward," Carlisle says. His tone rings with quiet confidence. "Son, you did everything I could have and more. I'm not sure I would have had the persistence, the faith it took to save her." His hand squeezes my shoulder for a moment. "Stop berating yourself. Bella is going to be fine."
A broken whisper escapes my parted lips. "She must be in agony."
"We don't know that." Carlisle has a gift for speaking so calmly, smoothing the frayed edges of my nerves with the simplest logic. "She had so much morphine in her system. We don't know the effect that will have on her experience." Perhaps I will ask her about it, once she's had time to adjust.
I tune out his speculations. I do not want to think about Bella's 'experience', what she may or may not be enduring in her unusual stillness. Pulling my face away from her shoulder, I place a feather-light kiss on the crease of her elbow, in the same exact spot where my teeth had ruptured her silken flesh. "Bella, I love you." The sentiment wafts over her prone body as a barely audible murmur, and I pray that she hears me. "Bella, I'm sorry."
Both my father and I tense slightly as a scuffle erupts downstairs. Despite the heartache I feel for the woman lying in front of me, I have the sudden urge to roll my eyes in exasperation. Again, Rosalie and Jacob are arguing over whose turn it is to hold my – our – newborn daughter.
Renesmee has disrupted my family's existence in the most wonderful, profound way, and I love her with a love that is just as strong as what I feel for Bella, only channeled in a different direction. The responsibility of fatherhood is a concept that I thought I would never experience, and now Bella has given me – not only a timeless life with her, my soul mate – but also the gift of seeing myself mirrored in a child's face.
Eternity is not nearly long enough to repay all that Bella has done for me.
A low growl rumbles from below; Rose's thoughts are considerably worse and far more murderous than her wordless warning. Jacob should consider himself very lucky that she is, as of now, only making idle threats on his life. Carlisle glances at me from the corner of his eye. You ought to head downstairs, Edward, and claim your daughter before we have a real war on our hands. I can stay with Bella until you return.
My head is already shaking in the negative before his train of thought draws to a close. "No, I'm staying right here," I whisper fervently, my body unconsciously taut at the notion of removing myself from her side. "They'll sort it out."
"An interesting situation," my father muses. A werewolf imprinting on the half human, half vampire child of the woman he loves. "And I'd thought I'd seen just about everything."
My teeth clench, the muscles in my jaw flexing as I struggle to rein in my animosity towards the dog.
It really is no fault of his own that the imprint happened – he had no control over it.
But did it have to be my daughter?
It was bad enough that Jacob sought for months to steal Bella away from me, and then to have him blame me constantly in his thoughts during her extremely painful pregnancy. Now he is tied to Renesmee, a thirty-six hour old infant that her mother has only seen for a handful of seconds, and I am just supposed to go along with it?
I make a concerted effort to unlock my jaw and ease the tension from my muscles. The decision is not mine alone, if a decision can even be made in this very odd situation. Once I am certain that my voice will not reflect the lingering strain tugging at my mind, I say firmly, "I'll deal with it later. We'll deal with it." I turn over Bella's hand, still twined with mine, and kiss her palm.
Carlisle's thoughts are relatively serene. "I'm sure, between the five of us, we can keep it from turning into bloodshed." Though Rose may be difficult to restrain; she's become awfully territorial. And Jacob is no better, he adds.
I sigh heavily. He is right, of course, but I haven't the slightest idea how to proceed. While I am beyond irritated that the imprinting occurred at all, it has granted Renesmee indisputable protection from Sam's pack. Their laws forbid any wolf to take aggressive action against the object of another wolf's imprint; the loss would destroy not only their brother, but the entire pack, as well.
"I don't know which side to take," I reply truthfully. "I'd love to flog them both." My eyes flick over to Bella's too-still face, and I amend, "Well, later."
"I wonder what Bella will think – whose side she'll take."
Laughter bubbles up inside my throat, leaving my mouth as a low, strained chuckle. Bella is utterly unpredictable, which is part of the reason why I love her so much. Though I would never admit that to her –she tortures me enough with her silent thinking and editing as it is. So I remark with grudging sincerity, "I'm sure she'll surprise me. She always does."
Carlisle laughs inside his head, and then is distracted by Jacob throwing yet another blonde joke in Rosalie's face. He sighs quietly. I'll head down and see if I can diffuse the situation, he tells me. Call me if there is any change in her condition. He does not seem to expect a reply, so I do not offer one. My father moves toward the doorway, and I am left alone once again with my Bella.
Her blood is beginning to slow – I can feel it in the veins just beneath the thin skin of her hand. Her body temperature is cooling, as well, and the ivory contours of her exposed shoulders and throat have a faint sheen – the tender, fragile, human flesh becoming the impenetrable barrier that clothes all vampires.
It is working, then. These subtle differences in her physique are concrete proof that the transformation is proceeding exactly as it should.
I just wish I could be certain how much longer it would take.
As an immortal creature, time is of little consequence, though I will be the first to admit that I am not the most patient vampire in the world. As I had told Bella the night before our wedding – that shining, glorious day and the weeks we spent together on the island have been seared with flawless clarity in my brain – I waited a century to marry her, the woman who, by some strange twist of fate, was meant for me. And the ninety or so years separating us were not 'time well spent', as the saying goes.
I focus once more on slow, even breaths, dredging up as much patience as I can muster.
If I can wait one hundred years for love, I can survive three days.
Hours pass. Bella remains motionless, though the changes in her appearance are more pronounced as the venom continues to spread. Her hair, though it had been tangled and matted with dried blood, is now smooth and lustrous, and the deep brown is faceted with shades of red and dark honey. There is also a slight elongation to her limbs, as though a master sculptor returned to his creation and is in the process of remolding the figure, embellishing on her perfection.
An image surfaces hazily in my mind's eye: a swirl of long, dark hair, racing through the moonlit forest ahead of me, peals of delighted laughter echoing through the night.
Finally! A triumphant exclamation follows the swirling vision. And my sister waltzes merrily into the room, her tiny feet skipping lightly across the wood floor.
"How much longer?" I try to keep my impatience to a minimum, phrasing the question as mildly as possible, considering the present circumstance.
Alice pauses beside me; her bright grin sparkles in the corner of my eye. "It won't be long now," she trills in her high soprano voice. "See how clear she's becoming?" She recalls the vision from before, and I have to agree – the edges are more clearly defined, and the motion no longer turns the image into smudges of color with no discernible shape. "I can see her so much better." She sighs with relief.
My cheek twitches in response. "Still feeling a little bitter?"
Alice's head whips sideways. I can sense her golden eyes glaring irritably at my profile. "Yes, thanks so much for bringing it up," she grumbles, crossing her arms over her chest. "You would be mortified, too, if you realized that you were handcuffed by your own nature. I see vampires best, because I am one; I see humans okay, because I was one." She grits her teeth in frustration. "But I can't see these odd half-breeds at all because they're nothing I've experienced." A flurry of white erupts next to me as Alice throws up her hands, huffing with annoyance, "Bah!"
A spark of anger flares inside my silent ribcage, burning away my short-lived amusement over Alice's reply. She is so easily distracted – even for a vampire – and I am not in the mood to deal with her quicksilver attention span.
"Focus, Alice." It comes out sounding like a command, which would normally provoke a vehement response from my sister… but she must see something in my expression that causes her to immediately cooperate.
"Right. Bella's almost too easy to see now."
Her mind becomes completely blank for a split second as she focuses, submerging herself in her gift. Then, an image flickers, like old film, in both of our minds.
I see myself, with my entire family gathered loosely around the bedroom, in the arms of my wife. For a moment, I am stunned by the joyous abandon with which my future self is kissing Bella; there is not the faintest shadow of restraint in the way I hold her body tightly against mine.
Before I am able to register all of the feelings bombarding me in that instant, Emmett clears his throat, and Bella jerks backward – the motion too fast for a human to perform. I use the half-second that follows, while she is standing perfectly still as only our kind can, to analyze her condition.
I cannot find one flaw.
But then again, I never could.
The vision swirls away into blackness, like oil spilled upon a rippling pond, and a soft sigh lifts the crushing burden of the unknown from my shoulders. "She's really going to be fine." The words are breathless, colored with immense relief.
Alice replies confidently, her tone almost smug. "Of course she is."
This time I cannot resist; I shoot her a quick sidelong glance, keeping Bella's face in my peripheral view. "You weren't so sanguine two days ago," I inform her, an eyebrow arching high on my forehead.
She rolls her eyes at my remark, snarling at me inside her head. "I couldn't see right two days ago," Alice retorts, perturbed… and then her expression lightens. "But now that she's free of all the blind spots, it's a piece of cake."
Impatience prompts my mouth to form another urgent question as my gaze drifts from Alice to center wholly on Bella. "Could you concentrate for me? On the clock – give me an estimate." A fingertip, lightly as the brush of a feather, smoothes a strand of dark hair from her porcelain cheek.
Honestly… My sister heaves a long-suffering sigh. "So impatient. Fine. Give me a sec –"
A whirlwind of colors, shapes, and sounds race past both of our eyes as Alice repeats to herself the reminder to envision a clock face. Suddenly, four numbers – glowing a dull crimson like the alarm clock in Bella's old room – flash swiftly across our shared vision.
A little over six hours from now.
I hear the small smile in my voice before my brain interprets the expression shaping my features. "Thank you, Alice."
You're welcome. Alice is quiet for a moment, recalling her earlier vision of Bella and I, comparing it to the immobile figure on the table, and marvels at her newest sister's beauty in her thoughts. I always thought she was pretty – for a human – but now… Aloud, she muses with keen enthusiasm, "She's going to be dazzling."
My chest vibrates with a muted growl. Bella, for some reason I cannot fathom, has serious self-esteem issues. One of our very first conversations, in fact, alluded to this long-standing problem: "Well, look at me. I'm absolutely ordinary – well, except for bad things like all the near-death experiences and being so clumsy that I'm almost disabled. And look at you."
She is so amazingly perceptive to the world and the people around her…and yet seems to be incapable of seeing herself clearly. In my eyes, an angel descending from the heavens would be less divine than my Bella.
The growl is still shivering in the air as I retort curtly to Alice, "She always has been." As dazzling as a shooting star – searing into my eyes, a rainbow trail of light in her wake across a black velvet sky…
A delicate snort erupts from the tiny vampire at my side. "You know what I mean. Look at her."
Alice sweeps her tiny hand towards Bella in a dramatic gesture, excitement ricocheting within her mind and igniting a wildfire of half-finished thoughts. She's so perfect. Not as stunning as Rosalie, of course – but then again, no one is… She has a classic beauty, like a Renaissance painting. Oh, I can't wait to buy her some more appropriate clothing! But what she's wearing now looks all right… My sister eyes the ridiculous silk dress that she insisted we put on Bella critically, debating whether or not the fit is right – and I abruptly tune her out. Alice wants our entire family, Bella included, to 'get the full effect' of her transformation; somehow, in her mind, that equals a fitted ice blue designer gown. I told her – repeatedly – that Bella would not like it, but she just called me a spoilsport and stated that her new sister may as well get used to a chic wardrobe.
Alice calls my name mentally, reclaiming my attention. I'm going with Esme for a quick hunt. We'll be back before Bella wakes up. She flits over to the door, and is gone before a full second has passed.
I resume my silent vigil…waiting, always waiting. My awareness – the part that is not permanently fixated on my wife, that is – drifts throughout our home, taking note of several things.
Rose is fighting over holding Renesmee like a petulant child demanding a turn on the merry-go-round, and Jacob snarls in response. His thoughts are astonishingly protective…and yet, there is no claim of ownership darkening his internal rationale. He does not trust Rosalie in the slightest, convinced that she would sooner run off with the baby than give her back to her parents.
And I am inclined to agree, to an extent. I do not trust Rose, either – but she did look after Bella during the pregnancy, and for whatever reason, Bella had turned to her for aid. To honor the trust my wife has placed in my sister, I have not directly addressed the situation. Yet.
When Bella awakens, I suspect that many things will jump into sharper focus for all of us.
Emmett is watching the ball game, and monitoring Rosalie and Jacob in the process. For him, at least, not much has changed. My brother remains as easygoing as the day I met him.
I listen to the game with idle interest, though Emmett's mental notes on baseball strategy for our next family game are far more intriguing than the human players' efforts.
And the time ticks by with almost maddening slowness. I play my piano inside my head, alternating between Bella's lullaby and a flowing descant that reminds me of Renesmee's cherubic smile – until the heartbeat I am using as my metronome suddenly changes pace. The rhythm is frenzied, almost desperate, as the venom consumes the last human part of Bella's body.
It is nearly finished.
"Carlisle." My father hears me call for him and comes upstairs at once, with Alice on his heels. Each is wearing a similar expression of curiosity and anticipation. "Listen," I instruct, sparing them both a fleeting glance before returning my attention to Bella.
A handful of seconds pass, marked solely by the wild thrumming, and Carlisle says with mild relief, "Ah. It's almost over."
"Soon." Alice is practically beside herself, barely resisting the urge to clap her hands in celebration. "I'll get the others," she volunteers, hovering just inside the threshold. "Should I have Rosalie…?"
She concludes the sentence mentally, and I nod in agreement. "Yes – keep the baby away."
A newborn vampire has very little self-control, and Renesmee is half human. I cannot risk the life of my daughter, even though it means keeping her safe from the uncontrollable instincts of her mother.
The slim white fingers of the small hand cradled inside mine twitch convulsively. I suck in a sharp breath, holding it within my lungs; Alice and Carlisle have frozen, as well, staring at the prone figure on the table.
"Bella?" I squeeze her hand gently, intent on her facial expression – but it is unchanged. "Bella, love?"
Less than a minute, my sister observes as she is struck by another vision. In an urgent tone, she murmurs audibly, "I'll bring them right up," and vanishes from the doorway.
Bella's heart abruptly switches gears yet again, pounding in the air with renewed ferocity and throbbing like a hummingbird's wings. I have the sudden, bizarre fear that her heart will somehow puncture its way out of her chest with its violent palpitations – and then she moves, effectively removing all other thought from my brain.
Her back arches, curving above the table in a violent seizure. It is the first clear sign of pain that I have seen from her, and though she does not scream, the movement is enough for me to cringe in anguish.
Be strong, son, my father soothes. As I watch her body slump lifelessly against the operating table, the rest of the family – minus Rose – files silently into the room. They place themselves by the far wall.
Jasper assumes a defensive stance in front of Alice, advising me with his thoughts that even though Bella is my wife and we all love her, newborns are volatile creatures. He will not let his guard down for a second.
Emmett takes his cue from Jasper; he positions his enormous hulk at point, clearly unworried that his new sister will present the slightest threat to him or anyone else. Esme reaches out a beseeching hand to Carlisle, which he grasps at once, joining her behind Emmett's massive frame. And Alice… she is virtually bouncing in place, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet, counting down inside her head.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…
Bella's heart gives out a deep, hollow thud. It stutters twice, as though refusing to surrender, and beats one final time – a farewell.
No one dares to even breathe. No thoughts invade my skull…save one. Alice is still counting.
…five, four, three, two, one.
Pale lavender eyelids flicker, thick black lashes caress porcelain cheeks – and Bella opens her eyes.
The vivid scarlet of her irises throws me for an instant, but I refuse to let this aspect of her new nature burst the bubble of elation rising within my chest.
She is awake. She is all right.
Her eyes study some unknown object on the ceiling and she inhales in surprise, full lips parting slightly in wonder. She takes in another breath – slower, more measured – and I find myself wishing for the umpteenth time that I could hear her mind.
Her hand, still resting lightly in mine, receives a brief, gentle squeeze. My body automatically tenses, preparing for a reaction from a potentially hazardous newborn vampire, but I forcefully command the corded muscles to loosen. If Bella senses that I am braced for a fight, her instincts may override her common sense. This is the safest place for me to gain some understanding of her lucidity – surrounded by my, our family.
If there is going to be any type of capricious behavior from her, it will happen now.
Bella freezes on the table, eyes popping wide. Jasper internally shouts a warning as he reads the shock rippling off of her, but I do not move. A feral noise hisses through Bella's clenched teeth – and she is twisting away from me, yanking her hand from mine as she leaps off the table. Crouching against the nearest wall, her lithe body curled defensively, I watch as realization and then shame leaks into her brilliant red eyes.
I keep my position – leaning across the operating table, hand outstretched – for a moment, unable to smother my anxiety. Bella's stare darts to our family on the opposite wall, assessing each one's expression and stance. Then her wide-eyed gaze flits back to mine. Impossibly, her eyes grow even larger; a low gasp filters through her lips. I find that I cannot fully interpret her expression, because she is looking at me as if she has never seen me before.
A fraction of a second ticks by and Bella is standing upright, though she lingers hesitantly by the wall.
I decide to make the next move, if only to relieve some of the tension from her slender shoulders. Besides, I can hardly bear to stay this far away from her when she is so close.
Leaving my hand held out in front of me, I approach her slowly, willing my voice to convey tranquility. "Bella?" She continues to stare, unblinking, a strangely bemused glaze over her eyes. "Bella, love?"
My steps carry me to her motionless form. I do not think about anything else, or become distracted by my family's cautioning words or Alice's positive assurances.
Bella is my whole world. That fact has never rang truer than in this moment.
"I'm sorry, I know it's disorienting. But you're all right. Everything is fine."
Something flashes behind her eyes – several emotions that I cannot name – but her face remains a smooth, white marble mask. I will do anything to cast off that mask from my Bella's beautifully expressive face. Tentatively, my hand reaches out, and I brush my fingertips along the curved line of her cheekbone.
Her skin no longer smolders with heat under my touch, but is the same temperature as mine, and as delicately smooth and inviting as satin.
The sensation is beyond description.
Bella's watching gaze softens; it is scarcely noticeable, but I see it, and my fingers tingle from their point of contact with her skin. Unable to resist, I let my palm mold itself to the shape of her face. The softening in her eyes intensifies, and although the color has changed, my mind immediately recognizes the warmth dominating her stare.
I arch one eyebrow, waiting for her to speak, while the rest of me is utterly baffled.
All that newborns crave is blood. They exist that way for a few years – animalistic, ruled by their needs – until the more civil, human tendencies begin to resurface.
I was prepared to deal with those rough months at Bella's side, helping her combat the darker part of herself, and wait for the day when she would be more like…Bella.
I should know better than to underestimate her.
A rush of air, a blur of motion – and thin arms stronger than iron are wrapped around me, so tight that it actually causes pain to register in my nerves. Bella presses her face into my chest, inhaling deeply as she used to when she was human, and her grip tightens. The pain flares, twisting my features into a grimace, and I shift my weight to lean away.
Her head lifts at once, looking up at me in confusion and fear. A dull ache throbs in my dead heart at the notion that she is afraid I might reject her; I need to clarify without alarming her – and to free myself from her increasingly constricting embrace. "Um…carefully, Bella." I wince. "Ow."
Horror washes across her face and she pulls away, clasping her arms behind her back. "Oops," she mouths, her full lips forming a perfect "o". She remembers from my and Jasper's explanations months ago that newborns are considerably stronger than mature vampires. I take that as a good sign.
I smile at her crookedly, the pain fading from my limbs, and touch her rounded lips with my fingers. "Don't panic, love. You're just a bit stronger than I am for the moment."
Her brow furrows, a little crease appearing in the center of her forehead. I turn my hand – the one touching her mouth – sideways, and softly stroke her cheek with my knuckles. Warmth, like blazing embers, fills her eyes and sends an electric jolt into the pit of my stomach.
Bella unlocks her arms and brings her right hand forward with deliberate care. Eyes never straying from mine, she places her palm against my face as if I am made of glass. A shudder quivers down my spine in response to the familiar, and yet so different, caress.
She speaks, and my accustomed ears immediately pick out the subtle, musical overtones now coloring the voice that I know as well as my own.
"I love you."
My answering smile glitters in the reflection inside her pupils. I am made whole by those three small words, issuing from her mouth, and my gaze bores into hers, energy fizzling between us like the charged atmosphere before a lightning storm.
"As I love you," I say in reply, and frame her face with my hands. Leaning down slowly as she tilts her chin upward, I press my lips to hers gently – a near-perfect imitation of our very first kiss.
Bella's response is exactly the same. She gasps throatily, parting her lips, and links her arms around my neck. Rising on her tiptoes, her hands tangle into my hair as she presses herself against me, and I nearly break off – an old habit, to keep myself from hurting her.
But the friction caused by our meshing mouths, the resiliency of the soft body in my arms, reminds me that I do not have to be careful anymore. I will not harm her ever again by not harnessing my inhuman strength or my monstrous urges. I can finally, at long last, give myself completely to her.
My hands leave her face simultaneously. One cups the back of her head, my long fingers threading into her silky dark hair – and the other snakes around her waist, my palm nestling into the small of her back, pulling her closer. I open my mouth to hers, tasting her breath on my tongue, and she throws herself into our kiss with fresh vigor. She yanks us into the wall, using the flat surface as momentum, and wraps her leg around mine, pushing our hips together. A growl ripples past my teeth, and is echoed within her mouth as I nibble along the curve of her lower lip.
Her scent is everywhere. The scalding burn brought on by the smell of her blood is absent from my throat, but Bella's unique aroma is surprisingly the same as before. Freesia, of course, is the dominant flavor – but there is also a mixture of orange blossom, mimosa, and a light fragrance that brings to mind a spring rain soaking the forests on the mountaintop.
As much as I am enjoying this reunion with my wife, it becomes apparent that the members of our family who are witnesses to our intimacy are growing uncomfortable. Jeez, get a room already, Emmett teases, and clears his throat loudly.
Bella's lips pause on mine; her eyes snap open, widening in mortification. She lowers her leg and takes a half step away, dropping her arms from my shoulders. Looking down, shamefaced, she bites her lip – and I am certain that if she could still blush, her entire face would be a deep red.
I chuckle at her antics, but do not allow her to escape from my embrace. I move with her, my arms encircling her waist, and turn our bodies so that we both can see the others by the opposite wall. My mouth seems to be incapable of producing any expression besides a smile; with Bella finally assuming a permanent role in the endlessness of my existence, it is like everything we have borne to reach this moment is actually worth it – worth all the anguish and fear and uncertainty.
She is still averting her eyes, inhaling a slow breath, and I feel her settle down. Her gaze flicks up to my face, studying the expression on it, and her eyes narrow the tiniest bit. "You've been holding out on me," she accuses, pursing her lips.
Laughter, warm and relieved, bursts out of me. I am pleased, even a little smug, that she noticed the difference in my response during our kiss. It was the way I always wished that I could respond to her… but it was too dangerous to allow myself that much freedom with her breakable body.
"It was sort of necessary at the time," I remark, offering her a broad grin. "Now it's your turn to not break me." And I trail off into laughter again while she frowns worriedly. A low chime of mirth joins in with mine, and Bella's head whips sideways as footsteps approach us.
Carlisle steps around Emmett's bulk with a slight smile, though his eyes and his thoughts are slightly wary. Jasper shadows my father's advance, as guarded as ever in the presence of a newborn. I fight the impulse to roll my eyes at my brother; Bella is no threat. While I will admit that certain precautions must be implemented to avoid any carnage, I firmly believe that all of us together are able to help Bella control herself.
But that will make little difference to Jasper – he is set in his ways.
My father comes to a stop less than a foot from Bella and I, his attention locked on her, measuring her condition with his wise golden eyes. "How do you feel, Bella?" he asks.
"Overwhelmed," she answers, looking at him in awe. "There's so much…"
Carlisle nods somberly. "Yes, it can be quite confusing."
Her head jerks up and down once. "But I feel like me. Sort of." She seems confused and thankful that this is the case. "I didn't expect that."
I tighten my arms around her. Bending down so that my lips are by her ear, I whisper into her hair, "I told you so."
Bella had been so worried that she would lose her sense of identity as a newborn vampire, living only as a bloodthirsty animal for several years until she was mature enough to rediscover herself and curb her appetite.
I tried to tell her many times that she would still be Bella, but it never really seemed to sink in and penetrate her limited understanding of a vampire's true disposition.
Now, she has solid confirmation that she is still the same woman who makes up half of all that I am.
I must say that I am impressed, my father muses inwardly – and I am inclined to agree. "You are quite controlled," he continues aloud, addressing Bella. "More so than I expected, even with the time you had to prepare yourself mentally for this."
Bella's expression crumples a bit, darkening with insecurity. "I'm not sure about that," she whispers.
Carlisle lowers his head, acquiescing to her analysis. Newborns are unstable, he says to me, but I stand by what I said earlier – she is amazingly controlled. Then his train of thought shifts in a new direction. I wonder if… "It seems like we did something right with the morphine this time," he observes with interest. My jaw tenses just a fraction, but neither he or Bella seem to notice. "Tell me," my father inquires, hoping to appease his undying curiosity, "what do you remember of the transformation process?"
She hesitates briefly. I watch her expression intently, my emotions warring between hope that she did not experience the intense pain and the morphine did its job – and terror that she may have suffered as we all had, despite my best efforts to ease her way.
She begins haltingly, faint lines forming on her brow as she recalls. "Everything was…very dim before. I remember the baby couldn't breathe…" Her face flashes up, awash with fear as she stares at me.
"Renesmee is healthy and well," I assure her, my own memory drifting back to the first time I gazed into my daughter's rich brown eyes – the exact same eyes as her mother. I want so badly to take Bella to her right now… but it would not be safe, for either of them.
I refocus on the present situation, and ask Bella, "What do you remember after that?"
Her expression smoothes, wiping away the lines marring her forehead, and becomes politely blank.
A twinge of suspicion worms its way into my brain. It is the perfect poker face – a replica of the level gaze I employ when I do not want to reveal to her what I am thinking or feeling for a variety of reasons. Is she trying to hide something from me? But why?
I try to read her eyes, to gain some insight into her thoughts – but she turns her head, glancing over at Carlisle. My suspicion grows, coiling like a snake around my spinal column.
"It's hard to remember," Bella replies, a faint inflection in her tone that puzzles me. Usually, I can tell immediately when she is lying, but she seems so sincere.
Perhaps I am overreacting – which, I am told, I do quite often.
She resumes her account in a quiet voice, "It was so dark before. And then… I opened my eyes and I could see everything."
"Amazing." Carlisle is aglow, his thoughts spiraling in a million different directions. Think of what this could mean for any future transformations… to be free from the pain and just wake up as a vampire – as though one has merely been asleep. The possibilities are limitless…
He leans toward Bella, eager for more information. "I want you to think – to tell me everything you remember," he urges excitedly.
Bella grimaces, flinching infinitesimally into my chest. I glare at my father, preparing to rebuke him for badgering my wife, forcing her to relay an event that she would obviously like to forget just to satisfy his insatiable thirst for knowledge.
But he detects her discomfort at once, the eagerness in his eyes softening instantly with remorse, and I feel a pang of guilt for being ready to snap at my perpetually compassionate father.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Bella," Carlisle apologizes. "Of course your thirst must be very uncomfortable. This conversation can wait."
The pang of guilt intensifies tenfold, redirecting its concentration from my father to Bella. In all honesty, I had not given the smallest consideration to the unquenchable burn that Bella no doubt is feeling in the back of her throat. My selfishness, it seems, has no bounds.
Bella's head tilts to the side for a second, like she is unsure as to what Carlisle is referring. Then, she swallows – and her hand flies to her neck, cupping the slender column as her expression mirrors her sudden realization of the ache in her throat.
Lowering my arms, I grasp her free hand and tug gently. "Let's hunt, Bella." I will not allow another second to pass with her in pain; we will take care of her needs first, now and forever.
Impossibly, her wide, ruby-colored eyes widen even further, and her mouth hangs open in shock. I can tell what she is thinking – for once – as I decipher the alarm brimming in her stare. I give her an encouraging smile. "It's quite easy, love. Instinctual. Don't worry, I'll show you." She remains immobile, so I slant my mouth into her favorite crooked grin, raising my eyebrows. "I was under the impression that you'd always wanted to see me hunt." Indeed, since that first uncensored exchange in the high school cafeteria, Bella had pled on numerous occasions to observe me hunting. No matter how many times I told her that it was too dangerous, she would come up with a new suggestion: Alice or one of the others could guard her – or my favorite, and the most ridiculous, someone could videotape the hunt and she would watch it later.
She giggles, the sound sparkling pleasantly in the air and ringing like music in my ears, and her rigid stance melts away. "Shall we?" I ask, and reach up to softly remove the hand from her neck. Running my fingers lightly down the silken skin of her throat, I add in a low murmur, "I don't want you to be hurting."
"I'm fine," she returns – a habitual response – and a new light enters her eyes. "Wait. First."
"Yes?" My father replies before I can.
Bella lifts her chin fractionally; whatever she is about to ask, she has made up her mind that it is what she wants – and she wants it now. I brace myself internally. There is only one thing I can think of that she could possibly want more than the opportunity to go on a hunt with me.
"I want to see her." Her tone is solemn, resolved. "Renesmee." Her small hands slide from mine and fall to her stomach, pressing the palms against the blue silk. She looks down at herself, and clutches the fabric in her fists – then her gaze flicks over to me as she peers through lowered eyelashes.
I am not looking at Bella; Carlisle is speaking quickly to me with his thoughts, his eyes careful.
We cannot allow her to be in the same room as Renesmee – not until we can be sure that she will not attack. I know how much it would mean to Bella – and to you, Edward – but it's just not possible now.
I lower my eyelids with slow deliberation – a wordless agreement. Of course I will not risk my daughter's life, and I know that Bella will feel the same way once she understands the danger.
"What?" she demands, eyes shifting from me to Carlisle and back again.
"Bella," I begin softly, adopting a tender, calming tone that has worked miracles in the past. "That's not really a good idea." Sparks ignite red fire in her glare, and I continue, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, "She's half human, love. Her heart beats, and blood runs in her veins. Until your thirst is positively under control… You don't want to put her in danger, do you?"
She frowns deeply, her lowered brow creating shadowed hollows around her crimson eyes. "Where is she?" Tilting her head to one side, she listens to the sounds echoing from downstairs – and swallows thickly when the rhythm of Jacob's heart triggers a wash of venom in her mouth. The dull luster of acceptance somewhat cools the eager glow in her gaze, and I breathe an inward sigh of relief. Bella recognizes that she has to be patient, learn to control herself, before she is ready to see our daughter.
"Is Rosalie with her?" she questions, inadvertently provoking my lingering antipathy for the blonde vampire.
"Yes." The monosyllabic answer is clipped, terse. Bella's frown twists as she scrutinizes my face curiously. Before she can ask another stalling question, I grasp her hands and tug gently. She needs to hunt.
"Wait," the protest comes out loudly, and she holds her place as though her feet are cemented to the wood floor. "What about Jacob? And Charlie? Tell me everything that I missed. How long was I…unconscious?"
This time, I look over at Carlisle, warning him to be quiet with my eyes. We cannot keep her in the dark forever, Edward, he sends in reply. A general overview will suffice for the time being, until you feel that she is ready to hear the whole story.
"What's wrong?" Bella whispers, eyeing the two of us warily.
My father instantly shifts his attention to her, his lips curved in a small, comforting arc. "Nothing is wrong. Nothing has changed much, actually – you were only unaware for just over two days." She blinks at him in surprise. "It was very fast, as these things go. Edward did an excellent job. Quite innovative – the venom injection straight to your heart was his idea." Carlisle beams at me with pride. You continue to surpass me in nearly every way, son. That is hardly true – but now is not the time to contradict him.
Then he sighs, returning to the business at hand. "Jacob is still here, and Charlie still believes that you are sick. He thinks you're in Atlanta right now, undergoing tests at the CDC." His expression fills with apology. "We gave him a bad number, and he's frustrated. He's been speaking to Esme."
The poor man is at his wit's end, my mother laments to herself.
Esme has a great deal of sympathy for Charlie; the pain of losing a child makes her feel a bond with Bella's father that goes deeper than the link our marriage forged between our families. Every time he calls, she wants to offer him some consolation… but the only thing that would allay his fears is the truth. And that is the one thing she is unable to give.
"I should call him…" Bella begins to suggest, and trails off, sadly shaking her head. She knows as well as I that Charlie must remain oblivious for as long as possible, for his own safety.
"Hold on –" her forehead wrinkles slightly. "Jacob is still here?"
Carlisle and I glance at one another simultaneously. This is not something that I wish to discuss with Bella at the moment. I would prefer not to discuss it ever, in fact. But…
"Bella," I reply swiftly, "there's much to discuss, but we should take care of you first." I tug again on her hands, feeling a tiny surge of victory when she staggers forward a few steps. "You have to be in pain…"
The muscles in her slim throat undulate as she swallows hard – yet she still remains as obstinate as ever. "But Jacob –"
"We have all the time in the world for explanations, love."
The stubborn line of her mouth evaporates in response to the gentle reminder, and she nods. "Okay."
"Wait, wait, wait!"
I throw an aggravated glower at Alice as she glides across the room, but she ignores it, pointing a deceptively fragile-looking finger in my face and shaking it like I am a disobedient child. "You promised I could be there the first time! What if you two run past something reflective?"
"Alice –" My objection is marred slightly by my gritted teeth.
"It will only take a second!" She dashes through the doorway, and a heavy sigh retreats from my lungs.
Bella is totally at sea, staring at the place where Alice had just been standing in utter bewilderment. "What is she talking about?"
As the last word is leaving her mouth, Alice is back, holding Rosalie's enormous gilded mirror. The overall image is vaguely comical; the mirror is double her height and at least five times wider. She supports its weight from the bottom, and it practically floats towards Bella and I as though suspended from the ceiling by invisible wires.
Jasper follows in Alice's wake, hovering beside her, while his keen stare is fixated on Bella. She stiffens, her hands turning into frozen stone in mine, and I glance over to see her gazing wide-eyed at Jasper. I realize what she must be seeing – the battle scars decorating my brother's neck and jaw are impossible for any vampire to completely ignore. Bella would not have seen them clearly with her human eyes.
The silk draping the contours of her body shifts as the muscles underneath tense instinctively. Jasper reads her emotional state for a brief moment, and smiles down at her wryly.
Alice's pixie-like face appears suddenly on the left side of the mirror. She seems to not have noticed the exchange between her husband and her favorite sister. "Edward gave me grief for not getting you to a mirror before the wedding," she explains cheerily. "I'm not going to be chewed out again."
I quirk an eyebrow, dubious. "Chewed out?"
Her face disappears behind the mirror, adjusting its position so that Bella is fully visible in the reflective glass. "Maybe I'm overstating things," she comments in an absentminded tone.
"And maybe this has solely to do with your own voyeuristic gratification," I counter, dropping Bella's hands to fold my arms across my chest. The top half of my sister's head pops up beside the mirror's gilt frame, and she winks one twinkling gold eye.
Bella rotates slowly, watching herself in the polished glass. The porcelain mask is once again concealing her expressions, and her eyes do not stay in one place long enough for me to construe her thoughts as she examines her new self.
Staring into her reflection's unblinking red gaze, she whispers faintly, "The eyes? How long?"
I slide closer, looking at her face in the mirror, and murmur in a soft, placating voice, "They'll darken up in a few months. Animal blood dilutes the color more quickly than a diet of human blood. They'll turn amber first, then gold."
The mask starts to crack; frightened disbelief rounds her scarlet-colored eyes. "Months?" she squeaks, eyebrows arching high on her forehead.
She's losing it, Jasper states, grimly positive. He walks forward with one long stride. Alice and I lock stares; she plunges into her visions, rooting for the thread of the immediate future, while I observe intently.
But we see nothing – nothing that indicates any aggression on Bella's part.
Alice shrugs mentally, and we are both called back to the present moment when Bella inhales a deep, slow breath through her nose, releasing it with her mouth.
"No," she says evenly. "I'm fine." Glancing at the mirror, her gaze flicks over her reflection – then returns to the three of us in less than a second. "It's just…a lot to take in."
This is…strange. Jasper's scarred brow puckers as he savors Bella's emotions. She stemmed off an outburst all on her own; now she's perfectly calm, controlled. No newborn should be able to curb their emotions like that. How on earth is she doing it?
"I don't know," I say in regard to his puzzled thoughts.
Bella frowns at me, watching through her reflection. "What question did I miss?"
A broad grin lights up my face in the mirror. "Jasper wonders how you're doing it," I tell her.
"Controlling your emotions, Bella." Jasper leans sideways, his tall countenance filling the bright glass on Bella's right side, opposite of me. Though he is not looking at her reflection; he stares down at the crown of her dark head, still monitoring her feelings with his unusual gift.
"I've never seen a newborn do that – stop an emotion in its tracks that way," he continues. "You were upset, but when you saw our concern, you reined it in, regained power over yourself. I was prepared to help, but you didn't need it."
She stares at his profile in the mirror anxiously. "Is that wrong?"
"No." I just don't understand how it is even possible for her to do that. It's not normal. His thoughts are just as uncertain as his reply.
I stretch out my hand, stroking along her arm from shoulder to wrist. "It's very impressive, Bella, but we don't understand it. We don't know how long it can hold." The barest shiver trembles in the smooth skin under my palm, but the lovely face in the mirror does not change.
Alice points to Bella's reflection with mild impatience. "But what do you think?" she insists.
"I'm not sure," Bella shrugs minutely, her nose scrunching up the tiniest bit. She studies herself again – and raises a hand to her face, touching a pale cheek, and then her full upper lip. The flame-red of her irises blazes with wary concern, like she sees only a stranger in the mirror.
In spite of the fact that I have not tried for many months, I cannot resist the temptation to attempt it one more time. The vain hope that perhaps because she is a vampire, I will be able to hear her thoughts, motivates me to focus my gift, pushing against the thick wall containing her mysterious mind.
There is only silence. As always.
I sigh – a low, forlorn sound.
Bella turns from the mirror to glance at me, one eyebrow cocked. "Disappointed?" she inquires coolly.
A low chuckle quivers in my throat. "Yes," I admit sheepishly, smiling at her.
The porcelain mask completely shatters as shock and then hurt paints her heart-shaped face. Alice snarls – a deep, guttural noise that does not fit her petite, elfin frame – and hurls insults at me inside her head; Jasper tenses, leaning forward, expecting Bella to snap.
I pay no heed to either of them. Wrapping my arms tightly around Bella's frozen body, I pull her into my chest, sweeping her hair aside as I bend down to press my lips to her cheek. "I was rather hoping that I'd be able to hear your mind, now that it is more similar to my own," I clarify in a soft murmur, breathing in her delightful scent as my nose brushes against her skin. "And here I am, as frustrated as ever, wondering what could possibly be going on inside your head."
She thaws at once, relaxing into my embrace. "Oh well," she says flippantly, gazing at me from the corner of her eye. "I guess my brain will never work right. At least I'm pretty."
I growl in her ear; wayward strands of her hair tickle the side of my face. "Bella, you have never been merely pretty."
Edward, please… Jasper groans at me. Take her hunting. She's stretched too tight as it is, and it's making me nervous. You're not helping, either, he adds irritably.
Pulling away from Bella and her intoxicating smell, I heave a sigh. "All right, all right," I mumble to him, closing my eyes briefly. I know exactly what my brother feels emanating from me. I will always want Bella – more than blood, more than anything else in this world or any other. We have not been together since the island, and now that she is no longer restricted by mortality… I choke off that line of thought abruptly. Jasper is right; I need to take Bella hunting. Everything else will happen in due course.
"What?" Bella asks, wondering as with whom I am speaking.
Looking at her ruefully, I say, "You're making Jasper more edgy by the second. He may relax a little when you've hunted."
She shoots a quick glance at Jasper, who continues to watch her worriedly, and then nods at me. "Okay, let's hunt." Bella unwinds my arms from around her waist, and keeps one of my hands tucked firmly in hers. A thread of excitement curls through my brain, causing my nerve endings to tingle. There are so many things that I want to share with my Bella, and now that we are finally on equal ground, all of those experiences are, at last, attainable.
One thing is for certain, I muse to myself, acutely aware of the small, slim hand clasping my fingers, and the delightfully alluring perfume of the alabaster skin that now matches mine.
This will be a night to remember.
All characters, references, quotes, and all things related to the Twilight universe are the property of Stephenie Meyer. All spoken dialogue is cited directly from Breaking Dawn, copyright © 2008 by Stephenie Meyer, pages 379-406.