A/N: the idea came to me after reading Midnight Sun, and rereading the entire series. This is chapter 20 from Eclipse, Compromise, told from Edward's POV. I was always curious to see his take on the, erm, events in this chapter, so I thought I'd attempt writing it myself. It came out longer than I intended, but everything seemed relevant, so I kept it all in. Comments/feedback are LOVE - happy reading!


Victory

Everything was ready.

I carried Bella's bag to her truck while she was locking up. I almost chuckled at her thoroughness. As if a carefully locked door was the thing to keep danger away. An involuntary shudder went through me. I hoped it wouldn't come to that. I kept my expression composed as I watched her. Charlie had left for La Push earlier that day, and I kept tabs on Angela, Jessica and Mike until they were safely out of town. All her loved ones were safe and away, and still, Bella looked distracted when she finally joined me in the truck. Her expression had never been easier for me to read. Tension was written all over her face. It had taken three tries for her to start the truck. A soft curse escaped her after the second attempt, as if she knew I was watching her every movement. She was a wreck. For once, I had no regrets about sitting out at the fight the next day. I couldn't possibly leave her alone at this state.

"Relax," I pleaded as we were speeding – or something close to it, with her truck's standards – out of town towards my house. I wished I could take her hand, but both of them clutched the wheel so tightly until her knuckles went white. "For this one night, could we try to forget everything besides just you and me?" She stole a side-glance at me when she brought the truck to a halt at a stop sign. I looked at her intently until I recognized the incoherence in her stare. "It seems like I can never get enough time like that. I need to be with you. Just you."

That much was true. It was never just us. There was always someone else, somewhere. During my nightly visits in her room, Charlie's loud snores were enough to remind us we weren't alone. Time was always borrowed; I always had to leave her room at dawn, before Charlie woke up. And in my house, well… it was hard enough to have a psychic as a sister, and Emmett wasn't much help either, with his ongoing teasing and innuendoes. He was ecstatic when he found out I wouldn't be joining them in the fight the following day, and even more ecstatic when it dawned on him that it meant that Bella and I would spend the night at the house by ourselves. I spared his nasty remarks from Bella – he would be long gone before we'd get there.

I didn't remove my eyes from her for the rest of the way. She said nothing at all, looking straight ahead, as if she didn't want to be distracted while driving. I respected that, reading the tension in the way she held herself, and said nothing further. And yet, I couldn't help but wonder what she was thinking. I knew that she was, by the way the crease between her eyes deepened ever so slightly. I wanted to take her hand and give it a little reassuring squeeze. I wanted to tell her not to be anxious, to stop worrying. We had done everything that could be possibly done. I wanted to remind her that tonight was about us, and that thinking otherwise was cheating.

We reached my house after dark. I didn't wait for her to cut the engine; I stepped out of the truck and opened her door for her. She didn't seem surprised. There was this half-smile curling at the corner of her lips, but it looked forced, and that bothered me. She was still distracted. I grabbed her bag with one arm and reached for her in the other, lifting her from the cab, pressing her against me. My lips followed, finding hers as I kicked the truck door shut. It made a strange sound; I hoped I didn't damage it, but at the moment, I couldn't care less.

Her bag carefully hung against my shoulder, I used both arms to cradle her against my chest, brushing my lips against hers more fiercely now. She didn't even notice when I opened the front door. I thought I got her attention by now. I reveled at how good I was getting at this. Her scent was still a distraction, extremely so, especially when she was pressed so tightly against me, and the ache in my throat still lingered, but not as intensely as before. In a rare moment of confidence I leaned even closer, kissing her harder, as passionately as I dared. She responded immediately, her hands tangling in my hair, her lips curling into a smile against mine. A smile of victory, without a doubt. Even I could feel how my self-control was leaking away. I was breaking my own rules. While with her, I had to be constantly on my guard; to say it was not frustrating would be a cruel lie. There was so much more I could give her, there was so much more I wanted to give her, if only…

No. I would not start thinking like her. This was not a good enough reason to take her life away, to turn her into a monster.

The thought distracted me. I pulled away from her slowly, reluctantly. "Welcome home," I said lowly, grinning.

She looked breathless, her cheeks flushed bright pink. "That sounds nice."

I set her on her feet, but her arms came snaking around my neck instantly. Her heat overpowered me. It took me a moment to get my thoughts together. "I have something for you."

"Oh?"

Her eyes looked huge, liquid chocolate. Her expression was curious, childlike. I laughed softly. "Your hand-me-down, remember? You said that was allowable."

The slightest frown clouded her features, but only for a moment. "Oh, that's right. I guess I did say that."

I chuckled. I couldn't help it. Her stubbornness amused me. "It's up in my room. Shall I go get it?"

She raised an eyebrow, but laced her fingers with mine with no further comment. "Sure, let's go."

I scooped her in my arms again and hurried upstairs. I set her down at the door and headed towards my closet. I found what I was looking for quickly, and I was with her in half a second. She took a seat on the middle of the bed, her knees pressed against her chest and her arms around them. I didn't even notice when she took her shoes off, but there they were by the doorway.

"Okay," she grumbled. "Let me have it."

Her resentment was almost comic. I couldn't help but laugh. She frowned, but I ignored her reluctance as I came to sit by her side. Please, please, please don't let her make a big deal out of it, I thought fiercely as I locked my eyes with hers. The anticipation was there, although well-concealed by her childish resentment. "A hand-me-down," I reminded her sternly, still hoping she wouldn't start freaking out. I could hear her heart, steady at first, and racing ever so slightly as I took her wrist. I ignored my own pang of resentment at the thought of her receiving the silver bracelet from Jacob Black as I placed the small heart-shaped charm across from his. Then I slowly let go of her wrist.

She brought it towards her almost immediately, curiosity written all over her face, betraying her previous composed expression. I watched her closely as she admired my mother's diamond, waiting fretfully for the gasp of realization I knew was coming.

It never did.

I chuckled to myself, so low that the sound escaped her. For someone so observant, she was horribly unobservant at the moment. It was endearing. I eyed her as she moved her arm, watching with fascination at the way the heart-shaped diamond sparkled while encountering the light from the lamp. She let out a low gasp.

"It was my mother's," I said, although I wasn't even sure if she heard me as I explained to her how I got it. She smiled a little as I spoke, but said nothing. "I thought it was a good representation. It's hard and cold, and it throws rainbows in the sunlight," I laughed. Saying that out loud sounded kind of lame.

"You forgot the most important thing," she said lowly. "It's beautiful."

"My heart is just as silent," I murmured in reply, "and it, too, is yours."

She smiled and moved her wrist again to watch the diamond glimmer. "Thank you. For both."

I grinned. "No, thank you. It's a relief to have you accept a gift so easily. Good practice for you, too."

She said nothing. She scooted closer, leaning against me again. My arms tightened around her; it was almost an instinct now. We just sat there, holding one another, saying nothing for a long moment. Her heart was beating slightly faster than usual, but I knew she'd tell me if something was the matter. Since she remained silent, I assumed it was just the closeness that was affecting it.

But then she started speaking, and I understood the silence was hesitation. "Can we discuss something?" she asked slowly, not raising her eyes to meet mine. "I'd appreciate it if you could begin by being open-minded."

I tensed. That, too, was an instinct. Bella had a habit of asking all the wrong questions – or all the right ones. And her tone implied this was one of those frequent moments. "I'll give it my best effort," I said eventually, once again frustrated by my inability to know what was on her mind.

"I'm not breaking any rules here," she promised. "This is strictly about you and me." Still not looking up. In spite of my tension, I was also curious what could she possibly want to discuss. She cleared her throat, stopping me from questioning it aloud. "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."

There was a clear edge to her voice. Nerves? I wasn't sure. "What would you like to negotiate?"

She didn't reply. It felt as if she was hesitating again. And just as before, her heartbeat was soaring. "Listen to your heart fly," I murmured, mostly to myself. "It's fluttering like a hummingbird's wings. Are you alright?"

"I'm great."

"Please go on, then."

"Well, I guess, first, I wanted to talk to you about that whole ridiculous marriage condition thing."

The loathing in her voice amused me. She was still so stubborn about it. "It's only ridiculous to you," I contradicted her. "What about it?"

"I was wondering… is that open to negotiation?"

I frowned, instantly on my guard. Where was she going with this? "I've already made the largest concession by far and away – I've agreed to take your life away against my better judgment." I couldn't keep reluctance out of my tone. I wanted her to know just how much I still disliked this idea. "And that ought to entitle me to a few compromises on your part."

"No," she said, shaking her head. "That part's a done deal. We're not discussing my… renovations right now. I want to hammer out some other details."

Always so mysterious. She was more devious than I had given her credit for. I eyed her curiously, suspiciously. "Which details do you mean exactly?"

"Let's clarify your prerequisites first," she suggested, her expression sealed.

"You know what I want."

"Matrimony."

The way she uttered it was amusing; as if it was a dirty word. I couldn't help the grin that I felt curling on my lips. "Yes, to start with," I said calmly.

Her eyebrows creased, betraying her composed expression for just a moment. "There's more?"

"Well," I replied, the thoughts forming themselves in my mind as I went along. Two could play her game. "If you're my wife, then what's mine is yours… like tuition money. So there should be no problem with Dartmouth."

Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Anything else? While you're already being absurd?"

Seeing her try to pull off an angry face had always amused me. She just wasn't capable of it. Now was no different. "I wouldn't mind some time," I said, laying all jokes aside.

She hardly let me finish, shaking her head fiercely. "No. No time. That's a deal breaker right there."

I sighed. She was impossible. But it was worth trying again. "Just a year or two?"

"Move along to the next one," she replied solemnly, her face expressionless again.

I shrugged. "That's it. Unless you'd like to talk cars…"

I was just pushing my luck now. It was fun teasing her; she never did what I expected her to do. This time was rather anticipated though; she tensed in my arms, obviously displeased with the suggestion. I smiled to myself as I took her hand, absentmindedly playing with her fingers. "I didn't realize there was anything else you wanted besides being transformed into a monster yourself. I'm extremely curious." Which I was. My mind was working furiously as I tried to think of what she could possibly want that didn't fit with my own requisites. Perhaps she wanted to change Charlie, too…?

But she didn't say anything for a long time. She sat there, hesitating, staring at our joined hands. Although she knew I was watching her closely, she didn't look up to return my gaze. Needless to say, my curiosity increased. And then I detected something against the faint light in the room… a rush of blood against her fair skin. I brushed a finger against her cheek. "You're blushing?" That was odd. Had I done something, said something, to enhance this? "Please, Bella, the suspense is painful." Her color deepened as she bit her lip. The familiar ache down my throat increased, but I ignored it as I kept my eyes on her. "Bella…"

Finally, she looked up. She was blushing madly now. I was still wondering what brought this up when she started speaking. "Well, I'm a little worried… about after."

My body tensed reflexively; I tried to conceal it as a hug. "What has you worried?"

"All of you seem so convinced that the only thing I'm going to be interested in, afterwards, is slaughtering everyone in town." I winced at her choice of words. "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."

I held back a sigh, feeling like we had had this discussion dozens of times before. "Bella, that part doesn't last forever," I reassured her once more, but her statement had ignited the tiniest spark of hope. Surely, her having second thoughts was a good sign, wasn't it?

"Edward," she said, not looking at me again. "There's something that I want to do before I'm not human anymore."

She was speaking in codes again. I wasn't following. I waited for her to say more, but she didn't. Her heart was racing. "Whatever you want," I said, hoping it would encourage her to speak again.

"Do you promise?" There was this strange urgency to her voice.

"Yes." She raised her eyes to meet mine. The question remained hanging there, in spite of my reassurances. "Tell me what you want, and you can have it."

There was another long pause. It was as if she debated how to start. I tried to push back the alarm that was slowly creeping in. This was not about second thoughts or cold feet. What could she possibly want that was so difficult for her to ask?

"You," she said suddenly, so quietly I almost missed it.

I wanted to laugh at how absurd she was; she couldn't want what she had already had. I settled on smiling at her. "I'm yours."

But it didn't seem to be what she was expecting to hear. She huffed, in frustration, it seemed, and shifted a bit so that she was kneeling in front of me. I watched her as she slowly wrapped her arms around my neck. My lips met hers halfway. Returning her kisses had become an instinct, and if this was what she wanted at the moment, who was I to deny it from her? But there was something else there… there had to be something further… what did it all mean, the blush, the hesitations, the erratic rhythm of her heart?

We kept a slow pace as our lips brushed against one another's. It wasn't the kiss at the threshold. This one was lingering, intoxicating with its sweetness. I was so overpowered by her heat, her scent, her closeness, that I hardly felt it when her arms slid from around my neck and down my chest, when they settled on the front of my shirt and fiddled with the buttons of –

I froze when it all finally made sense to me. Suddenly I could think about nothing but Emmett's teasing goodbye before he left earlier that day. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, he winked, or don't do anything I would. And now when I was putting together the hints of the last 15 minutes or so, I almost laughed at my own obliviousness.

She didn't seem surprised when I pushed her away, gently yet persistently. "Be reasonable, Bella."

Her expression screamed betrayal. It was excruciating. "You promised – whatever I wanted."

I glared in response, refastening the two buttons she had managed to get opened. "We're not having this discussion."

"I say we are," she challenged, yanking the top button of her blouse open. There was a new edge to her voice, a tone I had never heard before. It was as if she tried to sound intimidating, but failed.

Infuriated, I grabbed her wrists and held them to her sides. "I say we're not."

She didn't argue, nor did she try to pull her hands free. She sat there, defeated, and glowered at me, but I only returned the glare. "You wanted to know," she said eventually, accusingly.

"I thought it would be something faintly realistic." And as I said so, I wondered why I thought so. I should have known better. Was there anything faintly realistic about this girl?

Now she looked furious, and I knew I was in for trouble. "So you can ask for any stupid, ridiculous thing you want – like getting married – but I'm not allowed to even discuss what I – "

I covered her mouth with my hand. "No," I almost barked at her. If my eyes hadn't scared her, I hoped my tone would.

But when she responded, it wasn't in shrinking away from me as I expected her to. Her eyes grew huge with some mysterious realization, and then she looked away – anywhere but at me.

I sighed and – when I decided there was no danger for the other issue to rise – removed my hand from her mouth. "What now?"

"Nothing," she mumbled. Suddenly, the golden comforter on the bed was extremely interesting. I watched her closely, and she seemed all too aware of my gaze. It was almost as if she wished to disappear… but again, from all the wrong reasons. "Did I hurt your feelings?"

"No."

She was a rotten liar. I knew as much. So I knew I did hurt her, but I wasn't sure how. Surely she knew I would refuse. Her… request was more than ludicrous; it was utterly absurd, and she seemed to know as much, or she wouldn't have hesitated the way she had done. But from there to hurting her… I would never do that, not intentionally at least. But then I remembered that I had intentionally hurt her before… I threw my arms around her to shield myself from the intensity of the memory. I brushed a finger against her cheek, hoping this movement would reassure her. "You know why I have to say no," I murmured. Every word stung. Rejecting her was agonizing. "You know that I want you, too."

"Do you?"

Her voice trembled, almost as if she doubted it. And then I realized to my complete astonishment that that was precisely the case. But I thought she wouldn't appreciate it if I burst into laughter. "Of course I do, you silly, beautiful, oversensitive girl," I said, squeezing her shoulder once. "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."

"Who's being silly now?" she mumbled bitterly into my shirt, not looking up.

I smiled. Her lack of self-awareness never ceased to amaze me. "Do I have to send a petition around to get you to believe? Shall I tell you whose names would be on the top of the list? You know a few of them, but some might surprise you."

She shook her head. "You're just trying to distract me," she complained. "Let's get back to the subject."

I sighed. She was so stubborn.

"Tell me if I have anything wrong," she continued. "Your demands are marriage," her face screwed up involuntarily. It would have been funny, if I was not trying to stay on my guard better this time, "paying my tuition, more time, and you wouldn't mind if my vehicle went a little faster." She stopped for breath, and raised an eyebrow. "Did I get everything? That's a hefty list."

"Only the first is a demand," I said, fighting to conceal my grin now. She looked too cute for her own good when she was trying to be furious. "The others are merely requests."

"And my lone, solitary little demand is – "

Amusement quickly melted into horror. "Demand?"

"Yes, demand." My eyes narrowed, and that got the necessary impact. She paused, momentarily intimidated, but then went on. "Getting married is a stretch for me. I'm not giving in unless I get something in return."

Why wouldn't she get it? Why, for once, couldn't she step away from danger instead of walking right towards it? I couldn't bear the thought of hurting her, and she was so delicate, so fragile; I was bound to do so if we… "No," I said again, speaking against the horrific visions that distracted me now. "It's not possible now. Later, when you're less breakable. Be patient, Bella."

"But that's the problem," she argued. "It 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."

"You'll still be Bella."

She frowned, unconvinced. "If I'm so far gone that I'd want to kill Charlie – that I'd drink Jacob's blood or Angela's if I got the chance – how can that be true?"

"It will pass. And I doubt you'll want to drink the dog's blood." I couldn't help the instinctive disgust that sneaked into my voice at that. "Even as a newborn, you'll have better taste than that." At least, I hoped so.

"But that will always be what I want most, won't it?" she pressed. "Blood, blood, and more blood!"

"The fact that you are still alive is proof that that is not true," I said quietly. It was still painful to think of the first several months, the irresistible urge to kill her, and the enormous efforts in not doing so.

"Over eighty years later," she countered. "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 said nothing. She was right, or at least partly right. She'd heard enough stories from the rest of us to know that this was to be the case. Her cold analysis unnerved me. She had chosen to become a monster knowingly of the consequences, and still, marriage seemed to frighten her more than that. Absurd.

"So I will be different," she continued, her voice softer now, more persistent. "Because right now, physically, there's nothing I want more than you. More than food or water or oxygen. Intellectually, I have my priorities in a slightly more sensible order. But physically…"

She let her voice trail off, thick with implications, as she softly kissed my palm. I closed my eyes, trying to resist the warmth of her lips against my skin. I took a deep breath, trying to process her confession. Of course, I knew she felt that way; I did too. But I wasn't aware of the intensity of it until I heard it in her voice. That I loved her enough to keep her alive I had already known. But I wasn't sure I was ready for that further step, because to be honest, I couldn't anticipate my reactions, not on this. I assumed I wouldn't hurt her, but I wasn't sure of it, and I wasn't intending on doing anything until I was absolutely certain. Because if something happened, I knew I wouldn't be able to live with the consequences. But rejecting her was even more painful; incredibly more so, because I wanted her, too. "Bella, I could kill you."

"I don't think you could."

I felt like growling at her, doing anything that would frighten her and shake her back into the real world, where I was dangerous. I wished she would grasp that. Well, there was nothing like a reminder. I reached behind me and grabbed one of the bed posts. One of the metal flowers that decorated it was easily detached beneath my touch. Wordlessly, I handed it to her, hoping that would remind her of what I was capable of.

But instead of looking frightened, she glared at me. "That's not what I meant. I already know how strong you are. You didn't have to break the furniture."

"What did you mean then?" I asked, suddenly frustrated by her persistence. I wished she would just let it go. I tossed the piece of metal; it crushed against the opposite wall. I felt her cringe in my embrace. Finally, some impact? I looked down at her, as darkly as I managed.

"Obviously 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."

Too trusting again. I was shaking my head in protest before she was finished. "It might not work that way, Bella."

"Might," she pointed out. "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?"

She didn't reply for a moment, but it was as if she could read her loss in my eyes. I didn't intend to give up this one. She was not going to win.

And then she suddenly changed her tactic.

"Please?" she pleaded, her voice a soft whisper in the silence of the room. "It's all I want. Please." I was too overwhelmed by the emotion in her voice to even cut her off with a refusal. It was as if refusing her would be letting her down again, hurting her, and that was more painful to me than risking her life by even considering it. But how could I consent to the ridicule?

She opened her eyes to look at me. Whatever she found in my eyes, it seemed to encourage her. "Please?" she whispered again. "You don't have to make me any guarantees. If it doesn't work out right, well, then that's that. Just let us try… only try. And I'll give you what you want." Her breath came in short pants now, her heart accelerating. "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 tightened around her. I clenched my teeth together, trying to resist her. "This is unbearable," I whispered, my lips brushing her ear. I felt her shiver. "So many things I've wanted to give you – and this is what you decide to demand." As always, she had never done what I expected her to. I wasn't even sure why I was surprised. "Do you have any idea how painful it is, trying to refuse you when you plead with me this way?"

"Then don't refuse." I closed my eyes against the torture of her breathless whisper. "Please."

Resistance was melting away, too fast for me to try and hold on to it. Her blood pulsed in her veins, warm and distracting. My lips moved out of their own accord, brushing against her throat. Her heart was racing now, making the movement of my lips hastier, making my thoughts incoherent altogether. Was that how surrender felt? I wasn't sure; I was sure of nothing. Only that I didn't want to refuse her, not now, not ever.

She shifted a bit, and her lips came crushing against mine, putting an end to my torturing indecision. I let my hands cup her face, bringing her impossibly closer, slowly laying her back. I didn't want to let her go, ever. I kissed her roughly, desperately. Even this closeness wasn't close enough, not now. I felt her arms snake around my neck again, her warm body trembling against mine. She was the first to break the kiss, and her urgent pants reminded me that she did need to breathe every now and again. But even then, I couldn't let her go. I let my lips drift against her skin, her cheek, her collarbone, her throat, as her hands moved between us. My shirt suddenly hung loose on my body, unfastened. I held back a smirk, which soon turned into a gasp when her fingers traced along my chest. There was a whole new level of intensity between us. She was bolder, as if drunk with victory, with my lack of resistance. It was a whole new side of her I wasn't quite familiar with yet.

We were kissing again, and I held her tighter against me. It was intoxicating. Who ever wanted to resist that?

But I had to. I had to be wiser than that. I knew the risks. If we were going to try, I had to make sure I had everything considered. I didn't struggle to keep her alive all this time just to sacrifice it all for a few frenzied moments.

She was working her way down the buttons of her blouse when I came back to my senses. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. Gently, so I wouldn't scare her, yet persistently so she wouldn't get more ideas, I grabbed her wrists. "Bella," I murmured, "would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?"

She looked confused and slightly disoriented. "Do you want to do that part?"

It had taken a lot of willpower, but somehow I found the strength to master it. "Not tonight." I kissed her cheek softly, to reassure her that this was not a rejection.

She tensed beneath me. Disappointment was written all over her beautiful face. "Edward, don't – "

"I'm not saying no," I clarified, because apparently that wasn't clear enough. "I'm just saying not tonight."

I braced myself against the attack. Of course, she didn't let me down. "Give me one good reason why tonight is not as good as any other night."

I chuckled at her frustration, but now that I was more composed, it was easy to see through her eagerness, to see reason. "I wasn't born yesterday. Out of the two of us, which do 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 I have that you won't go running off to Carlisle in the morning? I am – clearly – much less reluctant to give you what you want. Therefore," I concluded, holding back a grin, "You first."

She gasped, and her eyes widened with realization. "I have to marry you first?"

"That's the deal – take it or leave it. Compromise, remember?"

I didn't give her a chance to respond. I pressed my lips against hers again, silencing any possible protest, reminding her that it was her who had gotten us into this unnecessary discussion in the first place. She tried to resist, as if she realized what I was trying to do, but I knew how to be persuasive.

"I think that's a very bad idea," she gasped when I pulled away from her.

"I'm not surprised you feel that way," I replied, chuckling. "You have a one-track mind."

She looked displeased, but endearingly so. "How did this happen?" she asked, clearly frustrated. "I thought I was holding my own tonight – for once – and now, all of a sudden – "

"You're engaged." I couldn't help grinning in satisfaction. She looked appalled.

"Ew! Please don't say that out loud!"

"Are you going back on your word?" I asked, pulling away. Her eyes narrowed when she seemed to notice my amusement. But she couldn't fool me; I heard the flutter her heart made when I smiled at her. "Are you?"

"Ugh!" She groaned, defeated. "No. I'm not. Are you happy now?"

"Exceptionally." She groaned again, noticing my wide smile. "Aren't you happy at all?" I didn't wait for her reply. By her expression, I thought she deserved a little help, so I kissed her again, as persuasively as before.

"A little bit," she managed eventually, "but not about getting married."

I smiled and kissed her again, not even disappointed. She'd get used to it soon enough. "Do you get the feeling that everything is backwards?" I asked, laughing softly close to her ear. "Traditionally, shouldn't you be arguing my side, and I yours?"

"There isn't much that's traditional about you and me."

"True," I agreed, leaning down to kiss her again. I couldn't help it. Relief washed over me all of a sudden, sending the torturing doubts away. I could afford a little bit of carelessness now that I was under control again. I pulled away only when her heart was speeding up, letting her get herself together.

"Look, 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."

"Not funny," I murmured, my lips to her wrist.

"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? – and you've provided this very large and comfortable bed…"

She was pushing her luck again. And I thought I was careless. "Not tonight."

"Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I do."

She reached for my face, holding it closer to hers. "Then what's the problem? It's not like you didn't know you were going to win in the end." She made a face. "You always win."

"Just hedging my bets," I declared, keeping my face composed.

Her eyes drilled holes in me, as if she could read my mind. "There's something else," she determined, her eyes narrowing. "Are you planning to go back on your word?"

"No. I swear to you, we will try. After you marry me."

She shook her head and laughed bitterly. "You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama – twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl's virtue."

I looked away. I kept forgetting how little credit I was giving her sense of observation. She didn't even seem aware of how close she had gotten with that innocent analogy. I kept my eyes away from her, not willing to reveal myself. I pressed my lips to her collarbone. But by then it was too late. "That's it, isn't it?" she asked, laughing, as realization seemed to hit her. "You're trying to protect your virtue!"

I tried to ignore the funny things her stifled giggled made for my still heart. Trust Bella to get things backwards. "No, silly girl, I'm trying to protect yours. And you're making it shockingly difficult."

She was giggling openly now. I tried not to cringe. "Of all the ridiculous – "

"Let me ask you something," I cut her off, mostly to distract myself. "We've had this discussion before, but humor me. How many people in this room have a soul? A shot at heaven, or whatever there is after this life?"

"Two," she replied at once, looking smug and extremely proud of herself.

"All right. 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."

"Vampire rules aren't enough for you? You want to worry about the human ones too?"

"It couldn't hurt, just in case," I shrugged. Her only response was a glare. "Now, of course, it might be too late for me, even if you are right about my soul."

"No, it isn't." She looked genuinely angry now.

"'Thou shalt not kill' is commonly accepted by most major belief systems," I pointed out. "And I've killed a lot of people, Bella."

"Only the bad ones."

I shrugged, unimpressed. "Maybe that counts, maybe it doesn't. But you haven't killed anyone – "

"That you know about," she grumbled. I couldn't help the smile that curled on my lips. She really didn't understand how hilarious it sounded. She couldn't hurt a soul. "And I'm going to do my best to keep you out of temptation's way."

"Okay. But we weren't fighting over committing murder."

"The same principle applies – 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?"

She raised an eyebrow. "One?"

"You know that I've stolen, I've lied, I've coveted… my virtue is all I have left," I reasoned.

"I lie all the time," she said dismissively.

"Yes, but you're such a bad liar that it doesn't really count," I said fondly. This instinctive tendency to honestly was one of many things I loved about her. "Nobody believes you."

"I really hope you're wrong about that, because otherwise Charlie is about to burst through the door with a loaded gun."

"Charlie is happier when he pretends to swallow your stories," I informed her. "He'd rather lie to himself than look too closely."

"But what did you covet? You have everything."

My smile darkened. "I coveted you," I said. "I had no right to want you – but I reached out and took you anyway. And now look what's become of you! Trying to seduce a vampire." Saying it out loud was even more ridiculous. I shook my head.

"You can't covet what's already yours," she said, flashing the sweetest smile at me. "Besides, I thought it was my virtue you were worried about."

"It is. 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," she said very seriously. "That's my definition of hell. Anyway, I have an easy solution to all this: let's never die, all right?"

"Sounds simple enough. Why didn't I think of that?" I teased, laughing softly at her.

She held my gaze for a moment, as if she was hoping for something more, and then let out a frustrated sigh. "So that's it. You won't sleep with me until we're married."

Again, this disgust. It was comical. "Technically, I can't ever sleep with you."

She rolled her eyes. "Very mature, Edward."

"But, other than that detail, yes, you've got it right."

"I think you have an ulterior motive."

I held back a chuckle. She was unbelievable. "Another one?"

"You know this will speed things up."

Hiding the wide grin that formed on my face was getting harder. "There is only one thing I want to speed up, and the rest can wait forever… but for that, it's true, your impatient human hormones are my most powerful ally at this point."

"I can't believe I'm going along with this," she said, looking horrified. "When I think of Charlie… and Renée! Can you imagine what Angela will think? Or Jessica? Ugh. I can hear the gossip now."

I raised an eyebrow. I didn't expect her to be unnerved by gossip. She had never cared for what others thought. She chose me, for heaven's sake, she didn't have a problem to be seen with me at school, and now she was bothered by what other people would say?

But this was not what I wanted. I didn't want her to be bothered by it, no more than I wanted to force things on her. I wouldn't marry her unless I was certain she was 100% complete with the decision. It was not a step to be taken alone. Perhaps I wasn't doing it right. Perhaps it was the fuss around the occasion that made it so startling for her. Perhaps – and that wouldn't surprise me one bit – she was fretting from all the wrong reasons. "It doesn't have to be a big production," I said. "I don't need any fanfare. You won't have to tell anyone or make any changes. We'll go to Vegas – you can wear 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." Although deep down, a part of me did want the fanfare. If not the production, at least the chance to see her dressed all in white, blushing as she walked down the aisle, leaning against Charlie's arm. But I was willing to give that up if that would ease her resentment.

"It couldn't be any more official than it already is," she mumbled.

"We'll see about that," I smiled. Her bitterness was amusing. It was fun to tease her when she was like that. Endearing. I thought I'd give it a try. "I suppose you don't want your ring now?"

She didn't disappoint. "You suppose correctly."

Her face was a mask. I couldn't help laughing. "That's fine. I'll get it on your finger soon enough."

Composure was gone. She was glaring at me now. "You talk like you already have one," she said, the tiniest notion of accusation in her tone.

"I do," I replied calmly, ignoring the horror that spread across her angelic face. "Ready to force upon you at the first sign of weakness."

"You're unbelievable."

I knew I was pushing it, but I didn't care. A wave of excitement surged through me. "Do you want to see it?"

"No!"

I guess she didn't realize how abrupt her refusal sounded. I cringed involuntarily, although her reaction was probably my fault. I knew how she felt and still I pushed my luck.

"Unless you really want to show it to me," she said then, her tone softer, as if she noticed my reaction.

I appreciated the gesture, no matter how forced, but shook my head. "That's all right," I said, shrugging. "It can wait."

"Show me the damn ring, Edward."

I forced back a smirk, keeping my face composed. Let her wriggle a bit. "No."

"Please?" she asked then, doing me in with one smoldering look, her fingers fluttering softly against my face. "Please can I see it?"

I narrowed my eyes against her newly-discovered tactic. "You are the most dangerous creature I've ever met." I untangled myself from her with difficulty. I fetched the little box from its place and joined her soon afterwards, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to regain the lost warmth. I laid the box on her knee. "Go ahead and look, then."

And she did. There was something almost painful in the slowness in which she moved, picking up the box, letting her fingers caress it, but she didn't open it, as if she was afraid to do so. "You didn't spend a lot of money, did you? Lie to me, if you did."

"I didn't spend anything," I said, hoping it would reassure her a little. "It's just another hand-me-down. This is the ring my father gave to my mother."

"Oh," she murmured in a new, softer tone.

"I supposed it's a little outdated," I said when she had difficulty to open it. "Old-fashioned, just like me. I can get you something more modern. Something from Tiffany's?"

"I like old-fashioned things," she protested as she slowly, hesitantly, lifted the lid. A little gasp escaped her when she first caught sight of the ring and the way its shimmering diamonds were contrasted with the black satin in which it was nestled. I said nothing, just watched her. It was as if suddenly she was unaware of my existence. She looked fascinated, caressing the surface of the ring absent-mindedly. "It's so pretty," she said, but it sounded as if she was talking to herself, as if she completely forgot I was sitting there watching her.

"Do you like it?"

"It's beautiful," she shrugged indifferently. "What's not to like?"

On with the attitude. I chuckled. "See if it fits." She made a horrified face and clenched her hand. I sighed. "Bella, I'm not going to solder it to your finger. Just try it on so I can see if it needs to be sized. Then you can take it right off."

She grumbled her agreement; I reached for the ring faster than she did. I kept my expression composed when I took her hand in mine. If I had a heartbeat, it would have been soaring by now. I fought to keep my breathing even as I slid the ring on my fiancée's finger. I held her hand out and rested my chin against her shoulder as we both examined the ring.

"A perfect fit," I said, hoping my voice didn't betray the indifference I was trying to feign. I didn't want her to see how stirred I truly was by seeing her wear my mother's ring. "That's nice – saves me a trip to the jeweler's."

She peeked at my face then, and her eyes widened slightly as if she could read something in my expression. "You like that, don't you?" she asked, her voice a combination of suspicion and accusation.

"Sure," I shrugged, still indifferent. "It looks very nice on you." But then I suddenly couldn't contain it. The enormity of the moment, of my victory, had finally dawned on me. Even if she didn't officially say yes yet, that much was clear from her expression, the way she was leaning against me, the fact the ring was still on her finger, that she didn't throw it in my face yet or didn't seem as if she was going to. She had my ring on her finger, really and truly. It was happening.

It was surreal.

Acting on pure impulse, I leaned to capture her lips with mine, swallowing her gasp of surprise. I savored her taste, the warm rush of her blood, the scent of it, before I forced our lips apart and settled them close to her ear. "Yes, I like it," I breathed. "You have no idea."

She laughed breathlessly. "I believe you."

A thought invaded my mind just then, and I tried to push it off. Surely, I couldn't push my luck any further tonight. She would truly freak out if I did that… but now that I thought about it, I couldn't possibly let it go. I cradled her tighter against me. "Do you mine if I do something?"

"Anything you want." But then, as I unwound my arms from her, she pouted, as if she guessed it. "Anything but that."

I laughed, but ignored her. I was too far gone to listen to her resentment, to comply the hidden request in her voice. I pulled her off the bed in one swift motion and kept my hands on her shoulders, making sure she wasn't going anywhere. "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."

I didn't wait for her response as I knelt in front of her. She gasped and murmured something; in my tumble of emotions I couldn't quite make it out. As I raised my eyes to meet hers, her lips still formed an astounded 'O' as she stared at me intently, resentfully.

"Be nice," I pleaded. She took a deep breath, as if bracing herself for what was about to come. For a moment, I couldn't understand how we got there. Surely I had no intention of making our engagement official tonight, and yet here I was, on one knee, doing what I had seen so frequently in my daydreams. "Isabella Swan?" I heard myself whisper as I locked my eyes with hers. "I promise to love you forever – every single day of forever. Will you marry me?"

She said nothing for the longest time; I was still half-expecting her to make an escape. But she didn't. Whether it was how she truly felt, or the pressing terms of our most recent compromise, she made the tiniest nod with her head. "Yes."

I held back a smile, knowing that she wouldn't appreciate it. Now I was the one feeling drunk with victory. "Thank you."

And taking her left hand in mine, I kissed each of her fingers before I pressed my lips against the ring that was finally hers.