Was she planning to make it out of Forks by nightfall?
I smiled ruefully to myself as I thought of the words that I'd thought a year ago, before I'd left her, before all this had happened…
Bella clutched the steering wheel of her old decrepit truck. She seemed unwilling to shift her eyes to my face. I didn't push her, either. I didn't want to have some sort of accident, because I'd be the only one able to walk away.
At last, we turned onto the path leading to my house.
When we'd reached the end of the winding path, I climbed out of the truck and was at Bella's door before she'd pulled the key from the ignition. I swept her up into my arms with one fluid motion, and I grabbed her overnight bag from the back of the truck with the other. I pulled her lips to mine as I strode into our house. Alice had remembered to leave some of the lights on – that was good.
When we were inside, I let go of the bag, but not Bella. I continued to move my lips with hers, to listen to the sound of her accelerating heart. I crushed her closer to me, her lips to mine – her breathing was almost to the point of hyperventilation. I touched her lips briefly with the tip of my tongue, and let her go. She shuddered once.
"Welcome home," I said, as breathless as she was.
She was still gasping. "That sounds nice," she whispered.
When I set her on her feet, she wrapped her arms around me, refusing to let go. I hugged her tight to my inhuman form.
"I have something for you," I murmured, the present I was going to give her finding its way back into my head.
She sounded surprised for a moment. "Oh?"
I grinned. "Your hand-me-down, remember?" I reminded her. "You said that was allowable."
"Oh, that's right," she muttered. "I guess I did say that."
I chuckled softly. "It's up in my room – shall I go get it?"
Her soft, rosy lips curved upward. "Sure, let's go," she agreed, twisting our hands together.
I swept her up in my arms again and ran up the stairs to my room. I set her down and retrieved her present from the closet. I was back at her side, but she kept walking towards the bed. She sat down in the center of it. I remembered that humans were used to sitting.
"Okay," she murmured reluctantly. "Let me have it."
I laughed, and heard her heart skip around a bit.
"A hand-me-down," I repeated, to clarify things. I attached the diamond to her bracelet, the one Jacob had given her, and dropped her arm back in her lap. She held it up to examine it.
The way her eyes widened, it was as if she'd never owned a diamond before. Then I realized that she indeed might not have. I decided to not tell her that it was a diamond – I didn't want to imagine her reaction.
"It was my mother's," I explained quickly. "I inherited quite a few baubles like this – I've given some to Esme and Alice both…so, clearly, this is not a big deal in any way."
She grinned a smile that took my breath away.
"But I thought it was a good representation," I went on, forcing my voice to be steady. "It's hard. And cold." I chuckled as I remembered another detail. "And it throws rainbows in the sunlight."
"You forgot the most important similarity," she whispered. "It's beautiful."
"My heart is just as silent…and it, too, is yours."
"Thank you," she said. "For both."
Of course, my heart was already hers. It had been hers from the beginning of my true life – my time with her. "No, thank you, it's a relief to have you accept a gift so easily," I teased. "Good practice for you, too," I added.
She dropped her arm and buried herself in my side. I held her tighter with my arms.
Bella seemed to have something on her mind. My mind ached from trying – and failing – to read her thoughts. "Can we discuss something?" she began cautiously. "I'd appreciate it if you could begin by being open-minded."
Oh, what now? "I'll give it my best effort," I agreed, not making any promises.
"I'm not breaking any rules here," she assured me. "This is strictly about you and me." The way she said that, it reminded me of how I'd asked her to forget about everything but us, just for tonight. I was glad to see that she was paying attention to that, at least. "So, I was impressed by how well we were able to compromise the other night. I was thinking I would like to apply the same principle to a different situation." She sounded so detached, so out of it. I fought back a smile.
"What would you like to…negotiate?"
She paused for a moment, and the silence – physical and mental – was deafening.
"Listen to your heart fly – it's fluttering like a hummingbird's wings," I whispered in her ear. Her heart was sprinting – it wasn't loud, but it was fast. "Are you all right?"
"I'm great," she answered, too quickly.
"Please go on then."
"Well, I guess, first, I wanted to talk to you about that whole ridiculous marriage condition thing."
I didn't think it was ridiculous. "It's only ridiculous to you…. What about it?"
"I was wondering – " she hesitated. "Is that open to negotiation.
I scowled a bit. "I've already made the largest concession by far and away. I've agreed to take your life away against my better judgment. And that ought to entitle me to a few compromises on your part."
She shook her head. "No, that part's a done deal. We're not discussing my…renovations right now. I want to hammer out some other details.
Details? "Which details do you mean exactly?"
She looked hesitant. "Let's clarify your prerequisites first."
"You know what I want," I answered.
Her face colored a bit. "Matrimony," she muttered.
I grinned, flashing my teeth. "Yes," I agreed. "To begin with."
The look on her face was priceless. "There's more?"
I chose my words with care. "Well…if you're my wife – " I always reacted to that word, and right now a thrill ran through my mind when I thought of Bella as my…wife… "Then what's mine is yours, like tuition money. So, there would be no problem with Dartmouth."
"Anything else?" she demanded. "While you're already being absurd.
I pursed my lips together. "I wouldn't mind some time," I requested.
She would not be budged at all on that topic. "No. No time," she declared. "That's a deal breaker right there."
I sighed; I wished that I could persuade her that her technical age didn't really matter. I'd already agreed to immortalize her – what was so bad about just a few more years of humanity?
I opened my eyes wide, and stared into her deep, clear brown ones. I was hoping to persuade her by "dazzling" her, as she once put it. "Just a year or two?" I pleaded, showing my longing in my voice. Her pulse sped again but her eyes remained clear, firm.
She shook her head slightly, and her lips were pressed together in a thin, pale line. "Move along to the next one," she said, crossing her arms.
"That's it," I assured her. "Unless you'd like to talk cars…." I would get her in a new car soon enough, I knew that much…though I didn't want to make her snap.
She winced visibly. I held her hand and played with her fingers a little bit, grinning while she tried to erase the pained look from her face.
"I didn't realize there was anything else you wanted besides being transformed into a monster yourself," I murmured, my curiosity burning, deep and painful, in my mind. I cursed the…whatever it was around Bella's mind that prevented me from reading it. "I'm extremely curious."
She seemed to hesitate, and her cheeks began to turn scarlet. The mental silence was absolutely deafening. I kept my eyes on her, trying to decode her thoughts from her expressions. She remained quiet while the blood flowed faster in to her cheeks.
"You're blushing?" I asked her. I tried to lift her face to mine, to gaze into her eyes, but she kept her gaze averted from me. "Please, Bella…the suspense is painful." I knew that the last word would get her talk; she never wanted for me to be in any pain at all.
To my surprise, she remained silent.
"Bella." My voice came out sharper than I expected, and my edginess leaked into it.
Her lips parted. "Well…I'm a little worried," she confessed. "About after." She lifted her gaze to mine.
After? I recalled what had happened after Carlisle had bit me. The tremor of pain, the inability to keep agonized moans from slipping out between my clenched teeth, the fire of it, for three whole days; and after the transformation, the utter, punching thirst that made me go insane, the irresistible scent of blood…just glancing through those memories, I received from myself a punch of guilt. How could I make her go through this? I didn't want Bella to be burned at a stake for three days…. "What has you so worried?"
"All of you just seem so convinced that the only thing I'm going to be interested in, afterward…." She seemed to be looking for words. "Is slaughtering everyone in town." She seemed to regret her choice of words when I cringed visibly.
She continued. "And I'm afraid I'll be so preoccupied with the mayhem that I won't be me anymore, and that I won't – I won't want you the same way I do now." As she said those words, every part of our skin that was touching seemed to burn.
Not be Bella? That would be unendurable.
I tried my best to soothe her, to keep her from becoming agitated. "Bella," I murmured. "That part doesn't last forever." I could always distract her from her thirst if there were any humans nearby, at least…well, I hoped I could.
Her voice was unsteady. "Edward…." She hesitated and looked down again. "There's something that I want to do before I'm not human anymore."
Those words caught me by surprise. Time after time again, she'd made it clear that the only thing she wanted was to live forever with me. I couldn't imagine what aspect of being mortal she hadn't considered yet.
"Whatever you want," I promised, when she didn't speak.
"Do you promise?" she asked, indecision in her voice.
She was unintentionally causing me mental pain. Her emotions did not give away as much as I'd liked them to have, and the black hole in her thoughts was beyond irritating. "Yes, tell me what you want and you can have it," I told her, stroking the back of her hand.
She dropped her head. The sweet blood that circulated throughout her body raced up to her cheeks again, and my hand that still lingered on her face felt warm. "You," she whispered.
"I'm already yours." I was unable to keep a small smile off my face; that fact had been made clear many times over, a long time ago.
She inhaled sharply. She gathered her legs beneath her, and locked her arms around my neck. Pulling me to her, she lifted her mouth to mine. I could taste the conflict in her emotions, and I was sure that she could read the confusion in mine.
Her hands shook the slightest bit as she forced them from the back of my neck to my throat. She dragged them down to my chest and proceeded to slowly unbutton the front of my shirt, while her mouth lingered on mine still.
I pulled her away from me. Everything she'd said up to this point made sense now. Dozens of emotions flowed swiftly through me: understanding, shock, love, caution, want…. Worse, she'd voiced what I'd wanted of her, subconsciously. I now admitted to myself that I'd wanted her in that way, ever since I'd returned from Italy. For a moment, I felt the strong natural urge to comply. I wanted her, I loved her, and I was willing to become one with her. This was the perfect time for it….
Another part of me, the goody-two-shoes part, told me sensibly that it would be wrong. Wrong and immoral, to take her virginity away just like that. I should wait until marriage to do it, I should control my strong emotions for her, I shouldn't put her in danger in this way, when my pleasure might make me incautious. I should wait.
I decided to do what the good part of me said. "Be serious, Bella," I murmured, making sure that I put on a superficial show of irritation and disapproval at her request.
"You promised," she whispered, her voice weak. "Whatever I wanted."
I managed the best glare as I could, and focused it on her. Her eyes stared back at me, confused by my sudden show of hostility. Each passing second that I had to glare at her in that manner just tore my heart further apart. I dropped my gaze on her and moved my hands to the front of my shirt, to rebutton it swiftly. "We're not having this discussion," I muttered. I heard her teeth click together.
She moved her hands to the neck of her shirt. "I say we are," she disagreed as she opened the top button. I wrapped my fingers around her wrists and pulled her hands down from her shirt. I kept my eyes on her face; any lower than that, and my resolve would melt.
"You wanted to know," she reminded me.
I sighed and forced the words out from my clenched jaw. "I thought it would be something faintly realistic." I kept my grip on her wrists.
"So you can ask for any stupid, ridiculous thing you want, like getting married," she muttered. "But I'm not allowed to even discuss what I – "
I didn't want to hear any more. I held both her wrists in one hand and covered her mouth with the other. "No."
She breathed deeply; I felt the intake of breath from her. She cast her eyes down again, and her face flushed once more. Her eyes suddenly seemed wet, and she seemed…embarrassed. Hurt.
I did not just do that. I promised myself, long ago, that I would never force her to shed tears again. She pointedly kept her gaze from me, and her face warmed. Even at a time like this, I inhaled to take in the scent of her fragrant blood.
Removing my hand from her mouth, I pulled her face up to look at me.
"What now?" I murmured. Her eyelashes were wet now. I could see the beginnings of a tear forming in her eyes.
The expression on her face made me want to hurl myself off a cliff – not that it would hurt me in any way. Something along those lines, though. The hurt…the rejection…it made me want to hurt myself. Her eyes closed, and a tear slowly started to leak out.
"Did I hurt your feelings?" As if I needed to ask that – I had hurt her beyond imagination.
"No," she mumbled. She was still so brave, even now. She didn't want me to see her cry like that. My heart ached at what I'd just done. If that was what she really wanted….
I immediately swept her to me again. I held her face against my shoulder with one hand, and stroked it gently. My fingertips gently brushed against her eyes, as I yearned to erase any trace of sadness there. The deep chocolate swimming in salt water was unbearable.
I bent my lips to her ear. "You know why I have to say no," I whispered, trying to relieve her from her dejected mood. If only Jasper were here…he could make her feel happier. "You know I want you too." It was too true. I'd never wanted something – or someone – as much as I'd wanted her now. I wanted to feel her warm touch against my icy, stone skin. And I knew that I could never give in.
"Do you?" she murmured, sounding on the verge of tears again.
"Of course I do, you silly, beautiful, oversensitive girl. Doesn't everyone? I feel like there's a line behind me, jockeying for position, waiting for me to make a big enough mistake. You're too desirable for your own good." I frowned as I said those words.
She snorted softly; the sound surprised me. "Who's being silly now?"
My lips moved to her hair. "Do I have to send a petition around to get you to believe?" I asked jokingly. "Shall I tell you whose names would be at the top of the list?" The hit list, I added to myself. Mike Newton, Eric Yorkie, Jacob Black…anyone who had thought of her in that way. "You know a few of them, but some might surprise you."
She buried her face in my chest. "You're just trying to distract me," she accused. "Let's get back to the subject."
I exhaled, and waited patiently for her to continue.
"Tell me if I have anything wrong." Her voice was uncharacteristically monotonous, and her eyes held a detached expression that made me wonder at what was going on through her mind, as always. "Your demands are marriage, paying my tuition, more time, and you wouldn't mind if my vehicle went a little faster." She sighed. "Did I get everything? That's a hefty list."
The expression on her face, eyebrows raised, like a police officer confronting a suspect – I suppose she picked up that look from her father – made the corners of my mouth twitch. "Only the first is a demand," I disagreed. "The others are merely requests."
That didn't make any difference to her; I supposed, if I were the person requesting that, it would be no less resistible than a demand. She picked absently on the edge of the golden-toned comforter. "And my lone, solitary little demand is – "
I cut her off immediately. "Demand?" I asked, wary again.
She inhaled, and her face flushed pink for a second before returning to its normal cream color. "Yes, demand."
My eyes became narrow slits of vision. I stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out why she wanted this so badly, why she couldn't just wait for a few months.
"Getting married is a stretch for me," she defended herself. "I'm not giving in unless I get something in return."
Her logic confused me, but I understood the basic idea. I put my lips right by her ear again. "No, it's not possible now," I said, trying to make her see my side. "Later. When you're less breakable. Be patient, Bella."
She was having a hard time keeping her voice under control. "But that's the problem – I won't be the same when I'm less breakable!" She looked as if she were trying to make me see her side. "I won't be the same when I'm less breakable! I won't be the same…I don't know who I'll be then…." Her voice trailed off, anxious and worried.
And I could. I could see that this was something she'd been stressed about for a while now, and I knew that I was a fool for not seeing her worries sooner. I ran my fingers through her hair, trying to calm her down again. "You'll still be Bella." My Bella.
"If I'm so far gone that I'd want to kill Charlie," she contradicted, defensive again, "that I'd drink Jacob's blood – or Angela's, if I got the chance…how can that be true?"
"It will pass," I promised her. "And I doubt you'll want to drink the dog's blood." I grinned, thinking of the too-strong, too-forestlike always coming off Jacob – and Bella, sometimes, when she'd spent the majority of her day with him. "Even as a newborn, you'll have better taste than that."
"But that will always be what I want most, won't it? Blood, blood, and more blood!"
Memories flashed in my mind again, of my first days as a vampire. The thirst…the thirst…the pain…the flames…the thirst! I struggled to compose myself.
"The fact that you are still alive is proof that that is not true," I lied.
She didn't seem convinced. "Over eighty years later," she muttered. "What I meant was physically, though. Intellectually…I know I'll be able to be myself after a while. But just purely physically, I will always be thirsty. More than anything else."
I had nothing to say to that, and she noticed it.
"So I willbe different…because right now, physically, there's nothing I want more than you," she declared, holding my hand in both of hers. I stared at our hands, locked together, hers pale, mine paler. My mind was screaming in protest at what she'd just said. That kind of wanting was unhealthy…just not right. Being the coward that I was, I couldn't bring myself to say anything.
"More than food or water – or oxygen," she continued. "Intellectually, I have my priorities in a slightly more sensible order." A moment of hesitation filled small room, and I was more aware than ever of her heart, and her breathing. "But physically…."
She brought our hands up to her face, and pressed her warm lips against the inside of my palm.
My breath surprised me; it shook. "Bella…." I could think of no easier way to say this. "I could kill you."
A trace of her old defiance, her obstinacy, flashed in her eyes for a brief moment. "I don't think you could."
Shock and disbelief registered on my face. After all we'd been through, after all that she'd seen…how could she still doubt that I was superhumanly strong, and that one twitch of my finger could rip a hole in her skull?
I tore my hand from hers and reached behind me, on the bedpost. My fingers tightened around one of the decorative iron roses that climbed up the bed frame, and yanked it off the post. The bed shook a little. I brought it in front of me and held it up to Bella's eyes for a brief moment. Then my fingers tightened just a tiny bit around the rose, and a millisecond later, all that was remaining was crushed iron, in the shape of my fingers. My hand tightened again, and the lump of metal was reduced to dust.
Her face was heavily disapproving. "That's not what I meant…I already know how strong you are. You didn't have to break the furniture," she complained.
I sighed; this conversation was going around in circles. "What did you mean then?" I muttered, as I flung the metal dust against a wall.
My eyes refocused on her face as I tried to understand the meaning behind her words.
"Obviously…." She hesitated, shook her head slightly, and continued. "Not that you aren't physically able to hurt me, if you…wanted to. More that, you don't want to hurt me, so much so that I don't think that you ever could."
I shook my head. Half of me knew that it was really quite possible; after all, hadn't I gotten over how tasty her blood was for me, because it would just hurt her if the blood had that sort of…appeal to me? And now her blood was merely fragrant, not mouthwatering. Why couldn't the same happen here?
The other half still screamed risky at me.
"It might not work like that, Bella," I said. I didn't bother to use the power of my eyes on her anymore, since it seemed like she was dead set against anything I said.
"Might – you have no more idea what you're talking about than I do.
"Exactly…do you imagine I would ever take that kind of risk with you?"
Her clear eyes stared up into mine. I knew what was happening, and I prepared to refuse anything she said.
"Please," she murmured, her lip trembling just the slightest bit. Her teeth clamped down on it to hold it still. "It's all I want. Please…."
My rock-steady no simply crumbled. Just like that. Seeing her so small, so sad, so vulnerable before me, her head hanging in dejection, her gaze dropping…tears springing to her eyes again, it made refusal impossible. My breath came faster as I realized that my will was weakening at an alarming rate.
The deep, beautiful eyes flashed up to my face again.
"Please…?" Her voice was just a bit stronger as she took in the conflict in my features.
I edged myself slightly away from her. I needed to think, to think this through, but in my stone of a heart I knew that there was nothing to think about.
Her hand reached out to grab mine; the gesture was unexpected and welcome.
"You don't have to make me any guarantees. If it doesn't work out right, well, then that's that." Her words flowed swiftly now, trying to persuade me when my resolve had already melted. I couldn't believe I was giving in to an act that may end her life, an act that all sprang from physical wanting. "Just let us try – only try. "And I'll give you what you want, I'll marry you, I'll let you pay for Dartmouth, and I won't complain about the bribe to get me in. You can even buy me a fast car…if that makes you happy. Just please."
My arms had her in against me in an instant, and I ran my face across her hair, breathing in the scent. I waited for my senses to return to me.
"This is unbearable," I muttered. "So many things I've wanted to give you, and this is what you decide to demand. Do you have any idea how painful it is, trying to refuse you when you plead with me this way?"
Her voice was ragged. "Then don't refuse," she said.
Suddenly, that didn't seem like such a bad idea.
I just held her tighter.
I bent my lips to her throat. I brushed them back and forth across her neck, and I knew that I had given in. "Bella," I breathed. I couldn't believe I was doing this again. I was putting myself in her power, once more. I would become one with her before I made her one of us.
I turned my head slowly toward her, and she grasped me and pulled me closer. My hands held her face just inches from mine as I stared into her eyes. I could catch no sign of indecision in them. That was it for my self-control
With an inaudible intake of breath, I crushed my lips against hers. I could feel her pleasure burning at me through my skin, as I pushed myself on top of her. My lips stayed connected to hers, and her hands were locked around my neck again. Her breath came quicker, but I did not stop kissing her. She was just too precious to me – too important. I could not lose her. And I didn't want to make love to her yet. Compromise flashed in my mind. No, I could not hand myself over to my passionate instincts. I would make us wait.
Eventually, she unlocked her arms from me, and pushed against me. I could feel that she was using her full strength, though she didn't make me budge at all. I trailed my mouth down along her jaw, and back down to her throat. I let the scent fill me, knowing that we would not go too far tonight. Not if I could strengthen my will.
Her fingers made their way to my shirt again, and I bowed my head before her. She kissed my hair softly, and utter pleasure filled my mind. I felt the front of my shirt give way to her hands. It was all right – I would stop her if she tried to go too far. She pushed me down, and I complied. My shirt was open, and my bare chest was exposed to her. She lay next to me, and ran her fingers along every line on my pale, cold chest, and I shuddered from her warm touch, so real, so comfortable, so blissful.
Throughout all this, there was no sound at all but for our breaths, coming faster and more ragged.
I sat back up, and she clutched my face to hers with a strong passion that I didn't know she contained. That released my human feelings too, stronger than ever. I pulled her body to mine, moving my lips with hers, tracing her warm mouth with my tongue. The taste of her lips – it was delicious, and exquisite.
I clasped both my arms around her, behind her back. Her soft, malleable body shaped itself around my cold, inflexible one. I could feel her fingers trail down my back to her chest, trying to open the front of her blouse.
I pushed her down quickly on a pillow, before she could get any further. My hands were around her wrists, holding them above her head. I'd been prepared to draw the line at this tonight, and yet, I couldn't help but to be aware of the fact that my chest was pressed on hers, of the way I was holding myself above her. And her half-open shirt was no help, either. My eyes couldn't stop wandering to her chest.
I pushed myself over so that I could whisper in her ear. "Bella, would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?"
She blinked in bewilderment, oblivious to my new resolve. "Do you want to do that part?"
As much as I would have loved to say yes, I couldn't. "Not tonight," I disagreed. I moved my lips to press against her face, to draw across her cheek, down her jaw, and over her nose. They were gentler now, the passion used up on her mouth.
"Edward," she murmured, the longing back in her voice. "Don't…."
I silenced her with another kiss. "I'm not saying no." Far from it. "I'm just saying, not tonight."
She remained quiet while I listened to her breathing steady itself. Maybe I'd pushed her too far. I seemed to have affected her pulse a little too much this time.
"Give me one good reason why tonight is not as good as any other night," she demanded, the glint of argument back in her eyes. I groaned inwardly. Of course I would win; this just seemed like a really bad way to spend the precious time we had, together, alone.
I laughed gently, and pulled her up against me. "I wasn't born yesterday." Thank goodness for that. "Out of the two of us, which to you think is more unwilling to give the other what they want? You just promised to marry me before you do any changing, but if I give in tonight, what guarantee do you have that you won't go running off to Carlisle in the morning?" I flinched mentally as I said those words; I should have made them softer, more gentle. Instead, what I had just said sounded like accusations. "I am clearly much less reluctant to give you what you want. Therefore, you first." I told myself that it made sense, even though I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. She obviously didn't want to be my wife, so – I grinned to myself – her attraction for me, in that way, would make the pace pick up. I relished the thought that I would have my mother's ring on my dear Bella's finger soon. Ahh…I could see it already. Bella and I, facing each other and saying our vows. And afterwards, I would kiss her so strongly that it would melt any doubts she might have harbored concerning matrimony.
Bella didn't seem so happy that I was doubting her. "I have to marry you first?"
"That's the deal. Take it or leave it."
She seemed to go rigid again.
"Compromise, remember?" I reminded her, in a gentler tone.
I crushed her – not literally – in my arms once more, and put my mouth on hers. I could nearly see her head spin as I tried to make her forget what she was thinking in this way. I caressed her cheek, I stroked her hair, I pulled her close to me….
I pulled my mouth from hers; any more of that and I would self-combust. I remembered wryly her allusion to that the last time we were on this bed.
"I think that's a really bad idea," she breathed.
I grinned. "I'm not surprised you feel that way; you have a one-track mind."
She buried her face in my neck, and her breathing tickled. "How did happen? I thought I was holding my own tonight…for once…and now, all of a sudden…."
"You're engaged," I interrupted.
"Ew. Please, don't say that out loud.
"Are you going back on your word?" I was purely joking, of course.
She shot me the most murderous look she could muster up. It was very amusing.
"Ugh…no, I'm not! Are you happy now?"
I leaned in to her. I could feel her attitude melt again as I pressed my nose to the dent in her collarbone. "Exceptionally," I whispered, pulling my face up to look at her again.
And then I was kissing her again. "Aren't you happy at all?" I questioned, when I let her breathe. And then our lips were busy again.
"A little bit. But not about being married."
I held her close as I kissed her some more. "Do you get the feeling that everything is backward?" She didn't respond. "Traditionally, shouldn't you be arguing my side, and I yours?"
"There isn't much that's traditional about you and me," she replied.
"True," I admitted.
I kissed her again. And again. I didn't stop until she was straining for air, and her heartbeat was off again. "Look…." She paused for a moment. "Edward, I said I would marry you. And I will. I promise…I swear…if you want, I'll sign a contract in my own blood."
Ah. Her blood. I held her wrist to my lips. "Not funny."
She sighed. "What I'm saying is this – I'm not going to trick you or anything. You know me better than that, so there's really no reason to wait. We're completely alone – how often does that happen?"
I could see her point. I've never spent so much time with her when my siblings weren't within hearing distance, or when Charlie wasn't snoring two doors down.
"And you've provided this very large and comfortable bed – "
"Not tonight," I repeated.
"Don't you trust me?" she asked with a hint of sadness in it.
"Of course I do," I assured her.
I kissed her hand again, but I felt her strain to see my expression. I looked up in her face.
"Then what's the problem?" she asked. "It's not like you didn't know you were going to win in the end – you always win."
I grinned. "Just hedging my bets."
She seemed to think that over. "There's something else." I hoped that she wasn't going to accuse me of trying to force her to marry me, for that certainly wasn't the case. "Are you planning to go back on your word?"
"No – I swear to you, we will try, after you marry me.
She laughed bitterly, without much humor. "I feel like a villain in a melodrama, twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl's virtue."
I glanced at her sharply, and as her face registered my expression, I quickly pushed my face in to kiss her collarbone and throat.
She laughed. "That's it, isn't it? You're trying to protect your virtue!"
My virtue, indeed. What was that worth, when I didn't even have a soul anymore? "No, silly girl, I'm trying to protect yours. And you're making it shockingly difficult."
She didn't like that. "Of all the ridiculous…."
"Let me ask you something – we've had this discussion before, but humor me," I requested. "How many people in this room have a soul, a shot at heaven, or whatever there is after this life?"
I knew that she wasn't going to go along with my speech. "Two," she responded.
"All right," I conceded. "Maybe that's true. Now, there's a world full of dissension about this, but the vast majority seem to think that there are some…rules that have to be followed."
This displeased her. "Vampire rules aren't enough for you? You want to worry about the human ones too?"
"It couldn't hurt, just in case. Now, of course, it might be too late for me, even if you are right about my soul." My nonexistent soul.
Unhappiness overwhelmed her lovely features. "No, it isn't."
I tried to get her to listen. " 'Thou shall not kill' is commonly accepted by most major belief systems – and I've killed a lot of people, Bella."
"Only the bad ones," she contradicted.
"Maybe that counts. Maybe it doesn't. But you haven't killed anyone…."
"That you know about," she griped. I couldn't help but smirk.
"And I'm going to do my best to keep you out of temptation's way."
"Okay," she murmured. "But we weren't fighting over committing murder."
"The same principle applies," I whispered. "The only difference is that this is the one area in which I'm just as spotless as you are. Can't I leave one rule unbroken?" Even though it really didn't matter for me, I needed for Bella to do this the human way, the right way. Didn't health ed classes always preach about keeping your virginity until marriage? I didn't want to forcibly exclude my one and only love from that rule.
"I've stolen," I admitted, though she already knew that. "I've lied. I've coveted. My virtue is all I have left."
"I lie all the time," she muttered.
"Yes…but you're such a bad liar that it doesn't really count; nobody believes you."
She sighed. "I really hope you're wrong about that." She dropped her gaze to her hand, and I automatically reached out and took it, and held it between both of mine. "Because otherwise, Charlie is about to burst through the door with a loaded gun."
The corners of my mouth twitched when I thought about the views I'd had of Charlie's mind. I pitied him, really; he would rather have Bella not go into the…specifics of our relationship, so he would take any explanation she gave him, true or not. "Charlie is happier when he pretends to swallow your stories," I assured her. "He'd rather lie to himself than look to closely.
She seemed to think that over, and then came up with a new question for me.
"But what did you ever covet?" she asked, and I knew what she was thinking. What would I have coveted? It seemed like a question someone insightful like Bella would ask.
"I coveted you. I had no right to want you, but I reached out and took you anyway. And now look what's become of you!" I smiled while gesturing toward her with my free hand. "Trying to seduce a vampire!"
"You can covet what's already yours; besides, I thought it was my virtue you were worried about."
"It is," I answered. "If it's too late for me, well, I'll be damned, no pun intended, if I'll let them keep you out, too."
"You can't make me go somewhere you won't be. That's my definition of hell." When she put it that way…. "Anyway, I have an easy solution to all this: let's never die, all right?"
Bella's world was so black-and-white, so simple. I pitied her; when the day comes for her to step into my world, her clear-cut lines would blur. I could only wish that my views were so simple.
I grinned, trying not to let my sadness show through. "Sounds simple enough, why didn't I think of that?"
We stared into each other's eyes for a long moment. Finally, Bella sighed.
"So that's it: you won't sleep with me until we're married."
"Technically…." I was having a hard time keeping my face straight as the word sleep caught my attention. "I can't ever sleep with you."
Bella rolled her eyes. "Very mature, Edward."
"But other than that detail…yes, you've got it right."
She slanted her eyes at me. "I think you have an ulterior motive." She said this in a quiet, dull voice, but she was grinning slightly.
I tried to look innocent. "Another one?"
"You know this will speed things up," she muttered.
"There is only one thing I want to speed up," I murmured intently to her, looking into her eyes. "And the rest…can wait forever. But for that, it's true, you're impatient human hormones are my most powerful ally at the moment." Humans. I smiled softly.
"I can't believe I'm going along with this," she moaned. "When I think of Charlie! And Renée! Can you imagine what Angela will think?" I knew that she was incessantly torturing herself with these thoughts, which would never happen. Angela's mind was almost always kind – almost, because she was human, after all – and I knew for sure that she would always accept Bella, no matter what. "Or Jessica!" she continued. For that, I wasn't so certain anymore.
"Ugh. I can hear the gossip already."
What was wrong with her mind? Why would she care what other people thought if we were married? She didn't mind at all when our relationship became public, when I made it clear that I was with her…in fact, she actually thought it wasn't enough. What did she care about now?
She shuddered as she thought through some terrifying mental image. I would love for Alice to do our wedding, except for the fact that Bella would be the youngest heart attack victim in Forks.
"It doesn't have to be a big production," I soothed her. I didn't like the idea of being married secretly, but…. Whatever she wants, I reminded myself. "I don't need any fanfare. You won't have to tell anyone or make any changes. We'll go to Vegas." I smiled as I thought about the plan of action that she would prefer. "You can wear old jeans and we'll go to the chapel with the drive-through window. I just want it to be official, that you belong to me and no one else."
Normally, I would have refrained from saying that she belonged to me, or anything like that, but under this atmosphere, I'd made a small verbal slip. But she had already belonged to me, so…no, I had always belonged to her. I was hers. Forever.
"It couldn't be more official than it already is," she muttered, giving in.
"We'll see about that…I suppose you don't want your ring now."
She swallowed. I watched in amusement as her heart quickened again. "You suppose correctly," she answered.
I chuckled at the martyred expression on Bella's face. It was one that was amusing…and yet made me want to clutch her tightly to me, again. "That's fine, I'll get it on your finger soon enough."
"You talk like you already have one."
"I do. Ready to force upon you at the first
sign of weakness." I smiled gently down at her.
"You're…" she muttered under her breath. "Unbelievable."
Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. The last thing I would want is for me to get down on one knee before my Bella, only to find that the ring didn't fit. "Do you want to see it?" I asked eagerly.
"NO!" she shouted.
Was she really that averse to the thought of being my wife? I was sure my disappointment showed, but I tried to smooth it over.
"Unless you really want to show it to me," she added.
I didn't want to see that reaction again. "That's all right. It can wait."
She sighed. I didn't have to be able to read her mind to know what she was thinking: might as well get this over with. "Show me the damn ring, Edward," she demanded.
If the fact that she wanted to see the ring was not one hundred percent willing, voluntary, then I wouldn't push her to it. "No."
She placed her hands on my face to lift my gaze to hers. "Please? Please can I see it?" she asked, staring into mine.
How could I resist?
"You're the most dangerous creature I've ever met," I grumbled under my breath. But I went to the bed table that held the only muted light in the whole room: my semi-antique lamp. I'd owned it for twenty-nine years, and that had been the only light I'd ever needed. My dead heart seemed to thump as I realized that in this whole night, we'd been conversing under the lowest light in the house. Finally, I saw Bella's point, and how the atmosphere may have caused her to make her request – demand – in such a way.
I retrieved the small, black jewelry box and was at her side again. I placed the box on her leg, and then wrapped my arm around her as she took the box.
"Go ahead and look then." I nodded toward the box, my tone a little too sharp.
Her hands shaking, she picked up the box, and stroked the black satin slowly.
"You didn't spend a lot of money, did you?" she asked, a note of worry in her voice. "Lie to me if you did."
"I didn't spend anything. It's just another hand-me-down. This is the ring my father gave to my mother." A thrill raced through me as I planned my next move. Why shouldn't I ask her to marry me tonight? It was as good as any night. If the ring fit on her finger, I would surely sink to one knee. Yes, I told myself. I would do it.
Bella, oblivious to my plans for the next ten minutes or so, was still clutching the box.
"I suppose it's a little…outdated." I laughed, since I knew she was fond of old things. Like her Chevy, I thought with a mental sigh. "Old-fashioned. Just like me. I can get you something more modern, something from Tiffany's?" My words were beginning to sound odd on my own tongue. For the first time in who-knows-how-long, I was feeling anxiety. Nervousness.
"I like old-fashioned things." My heart seemed to squeeze tightly as she slowly opened the box.
Her breath caught as she gazed at the small, oval diamonds embedded on the solid gold chain. She reached out to brush over the jewels with one finger. "It's so pretty," she whispered.
"Do you like it?" I asked, relieved at this turn of events.
"It's beautiful; what's not to like?" She faked casualness, grinning.
"See if it fits."
Reflexively, her hand tightened into a fist.
I sighed patiently. "Bella, I'm not going to solder it to your finger," I promised. "Just try it on so I can see if it needs to be sized…then you can take it right off.
"Fine," she conceded.
She reached for it, but I already had it in my fingers. The cold metal felt just like my skin – cool and hard. I held her extended hand in mine and slid the ring onto her third finger.
We both gazed at the shimmering gemstones for a moment. The ring looked so…natural, so right on her hand. At the moment, I felt infinitely grateful to the Spanish Influenza for nearly taking my life away in 1918, to Carlisle, for making me immortal. If I had lived like I might have if the influenza hadn't come, then the ring would have belonged to someone else. The very thought made me cringe slightly. The ring would never belong to anyone else now. Just Bella. Just my love.
I didn't want to show her how I felt, because I was afraid that she would overreact yet again. "A perfect fit. That's nice. Saves me a trip to the jeweler's." I spoke with painful nonchalance.
Her head jerked up, and her eyes searched mine. I knew that she could tell that I was overcome with a dozen human emotions at that moment. "You like that, don't you?" she murmured, as she fluttered her beautiful, perfect fingers to see the stones sparkle.
"Sure." Why not. "It looks very nice on you."
She kept her eyes on mine.
I simply couldn't keep up the mask anymore. My expression changed instantaneously, and I couldn't keep from throwing myself at her, while being careful not to hurt her. I kissed her with much more love than I ever had, my lips straining to be gentle – yet passionate – on hers. Our breathing quickened together, and when I had to let her gather herself, my mouth stayed on her skin. I rested my lips on her earlobe, and I whispered "Yes, I like it…you have no idea," to answer her previous question.
"I believe you," she whispered back.
This was the right time. I knew that I was ready to take this next long stride in our relationship. Every time I'd kissed her, every embrace she'd given me, every tear she'd shed, every time she'd said that she loved me…all those times came bubbling to the surface now.
"I believe you," she whispered back.
Holding her even tighter, as if I would never let her go again, I bent down to her again. "Do you mind if I do something?" I asked, my voice soft and gentle.
"Anything you want," she answered instantly.
I hugged her close to my chest once more, and then released her.
She'd finally caught on to my thoughts. "Anything but that!"
I ignored her. She would never regret this, I told myself. Be gentle, don't push.
We got off the bed – she was still wearing the ring – and I rested my hands on her shoulders, cupping her neck.
"Now…I want to do this right. Please, please keep in mind that you've already agreed to this, and don't ruin it for me." For both of us.
"Oh, no," she whispered as my hands came down from her shoulders to her left hand, and I sank down to one knee.
"Be nice," I whispered back.
I closed my eyes and thought once more about how much I loved her, and how much I wanted to be with her forever. This was it. The step that would bring me to her forever.
This was it.
I had no doubts; I was sure of that. I would do this, and do this right.
I opened my eyes and parted my lips to speak at the same time. Feeling the speed of her pulse, I stroked the back of her hand with one finger.
"Isabella Swan?" I spoke formally, with her full name. I stared deep into her warm, chocolate-brown, depthless eyes that now showed me how much she loved me. "I promise to love you forever," I continued, feeling the weight of the words. "Every single day of forever."
I took a deep breath. The words were coming; no, they were already on my tongue. All I had to do now was to utter them.
"Will you marry me?"
Her eyes shone with a joy that I had not anticipated. "Yes," she whispered.
Relief washed through me at her simple acceptance.
Rather than to elaborate with a speech, I murmured, "Thank you." I kissed each of her fingers, and then I kissed my mother's ring, which belonged now to the love of my existence.
Her hand urged me up. With my lips still pressed to the ring, I rose to my feet again. The look in her eyes was one I will cherish forever. Her eyes brimming with tears of joy, she wrapped her arms around my neck. My fingers knotted in her hair, and I bent down to kiss her again.