A/N: So here it is: The Edward Epilogue. I took some liberties here, filled in the gaps a bit, and was thrilled to finally have the chance to actually write an Edward and Bella conversation (YAY for Twilight jumping straight to the prom and leaving all that time open for me to play with...). I've had so much fun with this and I appreciate you all so much for your encouragement along the way. Enjoy!

Epilogue – EPOV

During the weeks following Bella's near death experience, things returned to normal much more quickly than I would have anticipated. She was only in the hospital for about a week after waking up and during that time I had all of three conversations with Renee, none of which lasted more than five minutes. Carlisle assured me it was just her protective nature as a mother and that I should simply be happy she was allowing me to stay in Bella's room. Alice promised me she could see Renee and I getting along in the future, and that the next time we met she would genuinely try to get to know me.

The day Bella was discharged, her mother took her out for lunch before our flight left. It was the first time I'd left her side in almost two weeks and it was nearly unbearable. Alice convinced me it would help get Renee on my good side if I allowed them that time alone, and reluctantly I agreed. However it didn't stop me from hovering outside the restaurant and listening in.

For the most part, they avoided the subject of what Renee referred to as "that first big crush." They managed to make it all the way to dessert before my name officially came up.

"Bella, just promise me you'll be careful, okay?" Renee asked, her voice catching slightly.

"I promise, Mom. I'll wear my seatbelt and watch where I walk and all that. And avoid stairs, if possible," she added, her tone teasing.

"Well that's good, honey, but that's not exactly what I meant."

I heard Bella sigh deeply and could almost see her rolling her eyes.

"Yes, I'll be careful. I hope you understand that Edward really cares about me though, and he looks after me. I mean, when I'm not stupidly running away from him and gracefully falling through windows," she laughed. Bella had really embraced the details of her "accident" story, and frequently made jokes about her clumsiness. Maybe it didn't bother like it normally would because at least this time she knew it wasn't actually true.

"Just try to remember that you're young, and you have a lot of life left to live."

Renee and I might not see eye to eye on everything, but at least we agreed on one thing. Bella did have a lot of life to live, and I was certainly going to make sure she got the opportunity. In that moment I vowed not to let Bella miss out on one human experience, no matter how trivial it might seem to me and my hundred odd years. It was with that mindset that I went to Alice to ask her advice.

"Alice, I need your help," I said after reluctantly watching Bella drive off with Charlie. He hadn't spoken a word to me when he met us at the airport, just grunted in my direction and then started thanking Carlisle profusely for making sure Bella was given the best possible medical care.

"Edward, who do you think you're talking to?" Alice chirped. "I've already picked out her dress."

"Of course you have," I sighed. "So you don't think she'll be too angry with me?"

"Not about prom," she said ominously. I waited for her to continue but she just smiled and started to walk away.

"Alice?" I called after her. "A little help?"

"Nope. Sorry," she said, not sounding the least bit sorry. "You're on your own for this one. And good luck with it. Who knows, maybe you'll listen to her for once. That'd be a nice change."

I watched her, perplexed as she and Jasper ran off together. I hadn't picked out anything useful from her mind, seeing as it was completely dominated by thoughts of playing dress up with Bella and finally getting to style her hair the way she'd been wanting to for so long. I tried to focus on the fact that at least it sounded like Bella would enjoy her prom. If she figured out some other reason to be upset with me, I guess I would just deal with it when it came up.

Though we'd only been apart for a few minutes, I was already anxious to get back to Bella. I was sure she was currently being lectured by Charlie, but hoped he got the worst of it out of his system by the time they got home so she and I could relax together and talk about what had happened. We hadn't had any real time alone since she'd first woken up, and I needed to make sure she was really as okay as she seemed to be. I knew how good she was at putting on her brave act for the sake of those she loved. I just hoped she knew she didn't need to pretend for me.

As I approached the house I realized all hopes of being alone with Bella right away had been wishful thinking. Charlie was nowhere near finished.

"And another thing, no more unsupervised dates," he shouted as I took a seat on their porch to listen in. I hoped somehow Bella knew I was there. Maybe it would help comfort her while she listened to Charlie's frustrated rant.

"We weren't unsupervised, Dad. If you'll recall I was with his entire family."

"Oh, right. Well then, no more dates."

"It wasn't Edward's fault I ran off!" she yelled. "It wasn't any of their faults. It was my own. I got scared and I left when I should have stayed and worked things out. Like you told me too," she added, playing on Charlie's pride. "I should have listened when you told me to wait and think things through. It's my fault that I was being stubborn and I don't want you blaming Edward for what happened. It's because of him and his family that I'm here now, that I'm alive. They found me after..." I heard her voice break for a second and I knew what image had been conjured up in her mind. I took a deep breath waiting for her to continue. "After I fell," she finished, all traces of fear once again hidden.

"But you wouldn't have gotten hurt if you hadn't left, and you wouldn't have left if it weren't for him," he spat, saying the last word like it was an explicative.

"I'm home now, Dad. I'm home and I'm safe. And Edward is going to be in my life, so I'd appreciate if you could at least try to be civil to him."

"He'll be in your life if I say he'll be in your life," he said, sounding appropriately fatherly. I couldn't help but smile a little, because as firm as he was being with Bella, I could also hear the wavering in his thoughts. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep us apart and he didn't want to lose Bella's trust and friendship trying to make it happen.

"We'll see each other at school, you know," Bella said.

"Fine. You'll see him at school. And then you'll come right home."

"Are you grounding me, Dad? Seriously?" she asked, exasperated.

Charlie thought about it for a moment, his thoughts growing weary. He was ready for the fight to be over too.

"No, you're not grounded. But I want to know where you are if you're not coming straight home. And I want you home before it gets dark."

"That's fine. You know I'm not much of a night owl anyway," she said, sounding like she was finally smiling again.

"And I guess he can come over here, you know, for...dinner and stuff," he added. The words were forced, but I could tell he was trying.

"Thanks."

"But I want him gone by eight. Evenings are for families and I think you owe your old man some quality time. You put me through a lot, Bells."

"I know, Dad. I'm really sorry."

"I know you are. Just promise me you won't run off on me again?"

"I promise. I'm not going anywhere."

I smiled as their conversation drew to a close, running around to the back of the house and up through her window. She'd promised Charlie she wasn't leaving anytime soon. I would definitely remind her of that when the inevitable conversation about changing her came up again. I hoped that her dedication to her father would keep the subject at bay for a long time, but somewhere in the back of my mind was the nagging reminder that Bella was more stubborn that that.

When Bella opened the door and saw me lying on her bed, she gasped and looked like she was going to faint. I couldn't understand her not expecting me to be there. I thought she realized that after nearly losing her, I was never going to be far away.

"Edward, you'll give me a heart attack one of these days," she whispered.

Instead of answering her, I reached my arms out and pleaded with my eyes for her to come join me. Without a moment's hesitation, Bella had crawled onto the bed and was resting her head against my chest. We didn't speak. We just basked in the love we could both feel radiating from one another. I'd thought we would talk about everything, spend the evening reliving and reassuring, but the way Bella snuggled into me as if I were her safe harbor was all the convincing we seemed to need. We were back where we belonged, together and content.

I'd missed the feeling of wrapping my arms around her and watching her steady breaths as she curled up against me. Logically I knew Bella was safe and we were home, yet I was having a hard time convincing myself it was true. I was glad to be incapable of sleep, because I knew if I were able to dream, I would be forever haunted by nightmares of Bella lying broken and bleeding. I hadn't realized how much I needed to feel her warmth again, have her sleep peacefully beside me so I could begin to convince myself the nightmare was truly over.

"Bella?" I finally whispered as the sun started to set. "Are you asleep?"

"Mmmm," she mumbled drowsily, pressing herself more tightly into me.

"Sleep, my love. I'm here and nothing's ever going to hurt you again."

Then I waited while her breathing slowed and I felt her drift off completely. She barely spoke that night, and the few times she did her words were incoherent. I heard her mumble what sounded like my name once, which was then followed by a warm and loving sigh. I cherished it and hugged her tighter, watching her in the darkness as I hummed her lullaby the rest of the night.

Early the next morning, I heard Charlie gently turning the door handle. I slid out from beneath Bella's embrace as carefully as possible, just in time to hide in the closet. Charlie watched her for a few moments, a tender smile spreading across his face, then he softly closed the door and retreated down the stairs. I waited until I heard his car pull away, then found my place once more at Bella's side. I glanced at the clock and noticing how late it was, wondered if Bella had planned on returning to school today. None of us had talked about it, and in the grand scheme of things it didn't seem like one more day would matter.

Instead of waking her to ask, I decided to enjoy her peaceful sleep a little while longer. As the hours passed I was glad I'd let her sleep. She clearly needed it because it was almost noon by the time she woke up. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she turned to look up at me.

"Wow," she said, grinning widely. "Even better than my dream."

I smiled down at her at kissed her forehead, and when her cheeks grew pink I just had to kiss those too.

"Thanks for staying," she whispered when I finally pulled my lips away.

"There's nowhere I want to be besides here with you."

"School!" she cried, suddenly sitting up straight and diving for the clock beside the bed.

"I think it's a little late for that now," I said, feeling a twinge of guilt for not waking her earlier so she could decide. "Don't worry though, I don't think anyone expected you back today. You only just got home. Give yourself one more day off."

"I guess," she mumbled, not entirely convinced.

"Besides, with all of Charlie's new rules who knows the next chance we'll have to spend a whole day together."

"So you heard all that, huh?" I nodded and she let herself fall back onto the bed. "I hate that he's blaming you for everything that happened."

"He's right, you know," I said sadly. "I am to blame. For everything."
"Would you please stop that, Edward? I'm tired of you always thinking everything is your fault."

"Well whose fault is it then?"

She paused for a second and then said with a smile, "James."

I rolled my eyes. "That's not what I meant, Bella."

"Well it's true. James is to blame for all of this. Him and his stupid game of hide, seek and kill the human girl."

"Bella," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "Can you please not talk about your almost death so nonchalantly? It makes me really nervous."

"Why? Everything worked out fine. I'm here, you're here. Both of our families are safe. James is gone. Can't we just move on?"

I laughed, though I was still feeling terribly uncomfortable by how indifferent she seemed to be about the whole thing. I hated to think that Bella was passing the events off as just part of the territory. Fall in love with a vampire, eventually someone's going to end up trying to kill you. No big deal.

"Bella, I want to move on. I do. I want to forget that you were ever in danger, that you were ever hurt the way you were. But can't you see how difficult it is for me to forgive myself for allowing it to happen?"

"No, I can't. I don't understand why you blame yourself. You didn't know they were coming. Alice didn't even know they were coming until it was too late. You didn't purposely put me in danger, and in the end it was you who saved me. Against all odds, by the way. Miraculously. By doing something we both thought was impossible."

"But don't you see? If we weren't together, you would have never been exposed to that danger to begin with. If I didn't exist, monsters would still only be myth and legend to you, rather than real life threats."

"Stop it," she said fiercely, sitting up again and turning towards me. "I don't ever want to hear you talk about not existing again. Edward, can't you see it breaks my heart when you say things like that? The thought of a world without you in it is worse than any of the supposed nightmares you think you've subjected me to. I love you, and whatever I have to face for us to be together, that's my choice. It's worth it, you're worth it, because without you in it my life doesn't make any sense. You think I don't belong in your world, but the truth is I never really belonged in mine. Being with you, being loved by you, that's the first thing that's ever made me feel truly whole. So please, no more talk about taking that away from me. I may not have known what my heart was missing, but now that I know what it feels like, I don't know how I would survive without it."

All I could do was stare at her, amazed that she had just put into words everything I'd been feeling but didn't know how to express. I never knew how empty my existence was, because it was all I had ever known. Now that I had Bella, thinking about going back to the way things were seemed incomprehensible. I simply couldn't believe that she felt the same way, that I was to her everything she was to me. Yet there she sat, eyes filled with tears and nearly trembling, pleading with me to understand.

Not knowing what to say, I did the only thing that made any sense in such a moment. I kissed her. I felt her breath catch as I pressed my lips to hers, more passionately than I had ever allowed myself. I felt her fingers tangle in my hair, but I wasn't afraid as I reached up to cup her face in my hands. My thumbs traced idly along her cheeks as her breathing sped up. She locked her arms around my neck and her body pressed against mine. Something in the back of mind was telling me I should stop her, but as I felt her heart racing against my chest I found it impossible to let go. I poured all the love I had for her into that kiss, hoping it would be enough, that she would know I felt exactly as she did. There was nothing in this world worth living for except her. And now I knew she felt the same way.

Time seemed to stand still, and I had no idea how long we stayed locked in our embrace. I couldn't bring myself to care. Eventually our lips parted and our breathing returned to normal, and before either of us could say a word, Bella's stomach growled. So out of place in our blissful moment, we both laughed before coming back for one more quick kiss.

"I'm neglecting your human needs," I teased.

"Not all of them," she said shyly, blushing and turning away. Before I let myself think about that too much, I'd picked her up and was carrying her downstairs as I had our first morning waking up together. She laughed as I set her down and mimicked what she had done that morning, filling a bowl with cereal and milk. Technically it wasn't the right time of day for breakfast, but the gesture felt right somehow, like we were going back in time to when things had been simple. Before James and nightmares, before pain and fear. Everything was right again and there was only our love for each other and my desire to take care of her.

We talked the rest of the day, about every trivial and unimportant thing we could think of. We were making it clear that both of us had every intention of moving on and putting it all behind us. Deciding we didn't want to ruin our day together by watching Charlie glare at me all night, I left when I heard his car pull up. The only thing making it possible for me to leave was knowing that in a few hours, night would fall and I'd be in her room and in her arms again.

After another peaceful night Bella insisted on returning to school the next day, unwilling to fall any farther behind. She hated the cast she was stuck in, but said it helped her remember the importance of sticking to the details of her false story. The hand James had bitten remained bandaged until all that remained was a slightly raised scar. I cringed when she told me she could tell it was colder than the rest of her skin, a constant reminder that it was a scar like none other.

Listening in on all our fellow classmate's minds as Bella explained what had happened was fascinating. Most of them passed it off as just another example of the clumsy Bella they all knew so well, though some of them had an inkling that there was more to it than that. Fortunately, none of them had nearly creative enough imaginations to come up with anything that would cause problems for either of us.

As the end of the year drew closer and thoughts of taking Bella to prom came back into my mind, Alice became increasingly more persistent.

How are you going to ask her? Oh, can I tell her please? When can she come over so she can try on her dress? Do you think she'll let me practice on her hair first, you know, to make sure it's perfect? Hurry up, Edward, only a few days left.

After awhile I stopped responding, though it didn't slow her down any. I sifted through a dozen different scenarios of how I would ask Bella, hoping to distract her. Eventually though, she realized I wasn't planning on telling Bella where we were going until we got there.

"This is completely unfair, Edward," she said once during the brief time I came home each evening. Bella got to spend time with Charlie and I was able to see my family, though somehow they usually managed to find something to bicker about.

"To you or to Bella?" I asked, frustrated as ever. "Because I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be about her."

"To either of us. I was looking forward to spending the extra time with her, you know, bonding."

"You can still do that. She still has to get ready even if she doesn't know what she's getting ready for."

"Well I say it isn't fair to her, because essentially you're taking the choice away from her. Again. I don't think that's the best way to start the evening."

"You already told me she wouldn't be mad about it."

"That's when I saw you actually asking her to go with you."

"And now?"

She closed her eyes for a moment before sighing. "You'll have a bit more trouble convincing her to go along with it, but in the end I guess it doesn't change anything." Then after a dramatic pause she repeated, "Anything."

She'd been hinting for weeks that something other than the actual prom was going to upset Bella, but refused to tell me what. It's your own stupid fault, she'd mutter, and that would be the end of it. I'd accepted that she wasn't going to give me any insight so I let it go yet again.

Charlie had grown somewhat more tolerant of me, mostly because I was obeying his rules so diligently. Of course he didn't know that I spent every night in Bella's room, holding her while she slept and counting the minutes until she kissed me good morning. By the time I got up the nerve to ask his permission to take Bella to prom, he merely sighed and recited a new list of rules in a manner that made me think he'd been waiting for me to ask.

"Straight to the prom and straight back home. No little side trips, got it? I need to know where you kids are. Have her home by midnight. And if Alice insists on putting her in heels, promise me you won't let her fall and break the other leg, okay?"

"Of course, sir. I won't let anything happen to her. Ever again."

"You know, I believe you kid. Just don't give me a reason to doubt it."

"I won't."

Pleased to have Charlie's consent and excited that I could finally start hinting to Bella that I had something special planned, I found it difficult to keep my tone casual. I hoped she wouldn't immediately figure our my plan, although it wouldn't have surprised me. Prom was all anyone could talk about lately, and while the subject wasn't of particular interest to Bella, I assumed she'd been paying at least enough attention to know when it was.

"Bella?" I asked the following afternoon during our drive home. "Do you have any plans this Saturday?"

"Saturday?" she said, not a hint of comprehension in her voice. "No, I don't think so. Why?"

"I wondered if you wanted to spend it with me?"

"Don't I always?" she teased.

"Well yes, but I was thinking of doing something different. Special."

Her eyes grew wide for a moment and I was sure she'd figured it out. Then her expression softened again and she smiled kindly at me.

"Whatever you have planned will be wonderful, I'm sure."

She looked somewhat nervous when I told her Alice was looking forward to helping her get ready, but she reluctantly agreed to let her have free reign. I fought the urge to eavesdrop through the medium of Alice's mind while Bella was having her hair and makeup done. I was curious how she was handling it, but decided the two of them deserved to have the "girl time" Alice was so excited about, without my intruding.

When Bella emerged hours later, I was stunned into silence by her beauty, even if it was momentarily tainted by the furious expression pointed in my direction. Alice was beaming but Bella was shaking her head at me, mouthing never again. I stifled my laugh and ran up the stairs to meet her.

"Sorry," I whispered, then kissed the spot right below her ear. She relaxed into me slightly and let out a soft hum.

"You're forgiven," she said with a small giggle as I stepped back, really taking her in.

"You're too beautiful for words, my love," I told her, grinning as she blushed through the makeup she wasn't used to having on.

"It's all Alice, I swear. I have no idea what she did, but whatever makes me pretty I guess."

"You're far more than pretty, Bella. Just as you always are. All Alice did was make you stand out a little more than usual. You deserve to stand out tonight."

"You're not exactly blending in either," she said, eying the tuxedo I was wearing. "You look really nice."

"I couldn't let you have all the fun by yourself," I said.

She rolled her eyes, muttering, "Fun, right..." under her breath.

"Just one more thing," I said, running to my room and back in less than a second. I held up the small handful of freesia I'd picked out earlier and clipped several blossoms into her cascading curls. "There," I sighed, tracing my finger down her cheek and enjoying the small shiver than ran through her. "Now everyone who's near you will get a small hint of the divine scent I get to enjoy every day."

Her cheeks turned impossibly redder, but she smiled at me as I leaned in to kiss them. Alice giggled beside us, then reached out to give Bella a quick hug as I pulled away.

"Thanks for putting up with me, Bella," she grinned. "You do look lovely. Smell lovely too." She turned to me with a stern look. "Don't forget to say good night to Carlisle and Esme," she reminded me. "They'll be disappointed if they don't get to see her all dressed up."

"Of course," I said, trying to ignore the confused look on Bella's face. We'd come this far, I wasn't going to answer any questions now. She'd figure it out soon enough.

"I'll see you guys later," Alice added with a wink, which only seemed to intensify Bella's baffled expression. I waited for her to ask me something, anything, but she seemed to bite her tongue and instead simply followed me into the living room.

"Oh, Bella!" Esme said, reaching out to hug her. "You're absolutely stunning!"

"Thanks," she said shyly, returning the embrace.

"You do look marvelous," Carlisle added, walking to Esme's side. "And it was really nice of you to let Alice have her fun. I know she can be a bit overwhelming at times, but she always has the best intentions."

"No problem. Any time," she said, though her quick squeeze of my hand told me there wasn't going to be a repeat experience any time soon.

"Will we see you two again later tonight?"

"Probably not," I said. "What with the Charlie imposed curfew and all."

"Well in that case, let me just say again how wonderful you both look. Have fun, and Bella, as always you are welcome here any time."

"Thank you," she said again, smiling as we turned to walk to the door.

During our brief conversation, Alice had gotten herself ready and she and Jasper were already on their way.

See you soon! Rose and Emmett are already there so don't take too long, she thought as they'd made their soundless exit.

Though Bella had appreciated Carlisle and Esme's kind words, the smile on her face had nearly disappeared by the time we stepped outside. She was looking increasingly irritated every second and I wondered if she had finally discerned what my plans were.

I held her hand tightly and steadied her as we walked down the stairs, just as I'd promised Charlie. I had tried to talk Alice out of the heels – well, heel I should say – but she insisted it completed the outfit, even if there was only one. When we reached the car, I lifted Bella up and placed her in the seat. I fastened her seatbelt for her and just barely resisted the urge to plant one soft kiss on her neck. Unfortunately, Bella's expression told me even that wouldn't have improved her mood any.

"At what point exactly are you going to tell me what's going on?" she asked as we drove away.

"I'm shocked that you haven't figured it out yet," I said, smiling teasingly toward her. I was glad when her expression shifted, though I couldn't read the new look on her face.

"I did mention that you looked very nice, didn't I?"

"Yes," I answered simply, happy she approved and hoping she felt as proud to have me at her side as I was to have her.

She glanced down again at the dress, as if she couldn't believe she was actually wearing it. After a few moments, the irritation crept back onto her face.

"I'm not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea Pig Barbie when I do," she said flatly.

I held my smile as I waited for her to put the pieces together. If she had any guesses she certainly wasn't letting on, though I did wonder what thought had crossed her mind and caused her heart to suddenly start racing. I was about to ask if she was feeling alright when my phone rang. I glanced at it, hoping I could ignore whoever it was, and was a little concerned when I saw Charlie's name flash across the screen.

"Hello, Charlie," I answered, looking over at Bella.

"Charlie?"

I gave her a reassuring smile while I listened to Charlie's voice. I could tell he was amused, even before he explained why.

"So it seems you're not the only one vying for Bella's attention tonight. Tyler is standing on our porch and seems to be under the impression he's her date for the evening."

"You're kidding!" I said, laughing at the absurdity of it. I'll say one thing for Tyler. He was persistent.

"What is it?" Bella asked, frustrated to be out of the loop.

"Why don't you let me talk to him?" I told Charlie, who laughed loudly as he passed the phone to Tyler.

"Who is this and what do you think you're doing taking Bella out tonight?" Tyler yelled. I could hear Charlie's laughter get louder in the background. "Not cool, man. I asked her months ago!"

"Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen," I said as pleasantly as I could manage. He was delusional and it was rather amusing, but that didn't change the fact that he was still trying to lay some kind of claim to Bella when everyone knew she and I were together.

"I'm sorry if there's been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is unavailable tonight." As long as we were clearing things up, it seemed as good a time as any to make things extremely clear to him. "To be perfectly honest, she'll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offense. And I'm sorry about your evening."

With that I shut the phone with a smile, feeling quite accomplished. However all my happiness dissolved when I saw the look on Bella's face. Her eyes were filled with tears and she was bright red, though I knew the color of her blush well enough to know it was not embarrassment that was causing it. She was angry. She had realized where we were heading.

"Was that last part a bit too much? I didn't mean to offend you," I said gently, knowing that wasn't what she was upset about but figuring an apology of any sort couldn't hurt.

"You're taking me to the prom!" she spat as if it were an offensive word. I knew the idea of dancing, especially in public wasn't her first choice for any evening, but really I couldn't understand why she was so opposed to the idea. I thought she would want to see her friends, celebrate the end of the school year with them all.

"Don't be difficult, Bella," I begged.

"Why are you doing this to me?" she asked angrily.

"Honestly, Bella, what did you think we were doing?" I asked, pointing at my tuxedo. Suddenly I remembered what I was going to ask her before the phone rang and now given her over the top reaction, I really needed to know. What had she been expecting tonight?

I watched her, my mind racing through different possibilities but none of them making any sense. When tears started streaking down her cheeks I felt positively miserable. This wasn't how the night was supposed to go. And Alice had said she wouldn't be mad about prom, which meant...

"This is completely ridiculous. Why are you crying?" I asked, now more than a little worried about what was truly upsetting her if not the prom.

"Because I'm mad!" she spat. I tried to remember exactly what Alice had said. It would be more difficult convincing her to go along with it, but it didn't change anything.

"Bella," I said, staring deeply into her eyes and probably using what some might call an unfair tactic. I didn't break our gaze as her heart fluttered erratically.

"What?" she asked, already sounding less upset.

"Humor me," I pleaded, hoping she could somehow put aside whatever had been boiling underneath the surface long enough to enjoy herself. At least a little.

"Fine," she sighed. "I'll go quietly. But you'll see. I'm way overdue for more bad luck. I'll probably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It's a death trap!"

As she spoke the words, she lifted her leg and pointed her toe to illustrate the point. My eyes traveled of their own free will from her foot up her calf, to where the ruffles of her dress bounced off her knee. The way the dark silk and chiffon contrasted her creamy skin made a wide grin spread across my face.

"Hmmm," I breathed. "Remind me to thank Alice for that tonight."

"Alice is going to be there?" she asked, sounding moderately more at ease.

"With Jasper, and Emmett...and Rosalie," I added, hoping that wouldn't bring her rage back.

I watched her expression go from angry, to nervous, to curious. She cocked her head to one side, eyes tightening and asked, "Is Charlie in on this?"

"Of course," I laughed. Did she really think I wouldn't be gentlemanly enough to ask his consent? Then I added wryly, "Apparently Tyler wasn't, though."

Another angry look flashed across her face, but it was quickly overtaken by anxiety as we pulled into the school's parking lot. She made no attempt to move when I turned the engine off, so I moved at an acceptably human pace around the car and opened her door, reaching my hand out and hoping she wouldn't put up too much of a fight.

Bella sat, arms crossed and lips in full pout mode. She really wasn't going to make this easy.

"When someone wants to kill you, you're brave as a lion – and then when someone mentions dancing..." I sighed. I heard her take a deep breath as if she needed to calm herself. I simply couldn't understand what was so terrible about taking part in a very normal, traditional teenage experience.

"Bella, I won't let anything hurt you – not even yourself. I won't let go of you once, I promise." I smiled at the thought of having my arms around her all night, helping her overcome her fears and proving what a good time she could have if she just relaxed and trusted me. The idea seemed to appeal to her as well, because after a few seconds her scowl softened into an almost grin and her arms unclenched and dropped to her side.

"There, now, it won't be so bad," I said softly, reaching down and locking my arm gently but firmly around her waist. She took my hand and allowed me to help her out of the car. Supporting most of her body weight for her, we walked slowly toward the gym.

In all honesty I would have much rather taken her ballroom dancing, somewhere formal and luxurious. But this wasn't about me, I reminded myself. This was a human experience she deserved to have. We had the rest of our lives for formal. This night belonged to balloons and crepe paper, which incidentally made both of us laugh the moment we stepped inside.

"This looks like a horror movie waiting to happen," she chuckled, and I breathed a sigh of relief that if nothing else the night would be entertaining for her.

"Well, there are more than enough vampires present," I teased, spotting my siblings who seemed to have claimed the dance floor as their own. Apparently tonight none of us were concerned with blending in.

"Do you want me to bolt the doors so you can massacre the unsuspecting townsfolk?" she said softly, a slight twinkle in her eye. I decided then and there that she got far too much enjoyment out of making me uncomfortable.

"And where do you fit into that scheme?" I asked, staring at her wide eyed. Of course I already knew the answer.

"Oh, I'm with the vampires, of course."

I forced a smile onto my face, trying to focus on the fact that she was having a good time, even if it was at my expense. "Anything to get out of dancing," I sighed.

"Anything."

After buying our tickets and officially making ourselves part of the event, I tried to gently steer Bella toward the dance floor. She tugged on my arm and stopped in her tracks, as if she could deter my intentions by sheer force of will.

"I've got all night," I assured her, and reluctantly she resumed walking. Very, very slowly. Several minutes later, we'd made it to the center of the room where Alice and Jasper, and Emmett and Rosalie, were gliding around and making everyone else in the room think incredibly nervous thoughts.

How come when they do it, it looks so easy?

Stupid, show off Cullens. Now I'm gonna look like an idiot.

They know how to dance. I mean, they actually know what they're doing. I'm doomed.

People in high school aren't supposed to know how to waltz.

I knew I should have taken lessons.

I'm totally getting dumped when she realizes I have no idea what I'm doing.

I laughed under my breath, thinking they were all a little foolish for letting it bother them so much, until I realized Bella was thinking the exact same thing. I felt her tense at my side, gripping my hand tightly as her heart raced.

"Edward," she whispered painfully. "I honestly can't dance!"

"Don't worry, silly," I said, smiling warmly at her. "I can." I lifted her arms up to lock around my neck and raised her up just enough to slip my feet beneath hers. With a rush of excitement I realized all the jealous thoughts that had been aimed at my oblivious siblings were about to be turned toward us. I knew Bella had spent most of her life being embarrassed by her natural clumsiness and I was thrilled that now, with a little help from myself, everyone would watch in awe of her grace.

At first she looked a little nervous about letting me sweep us across the floor, but by the second song she laughed, clearly relaxing and beginning to enjoy herself.

"I feel like I'm five years old," she said, giggling and looking lovingly up into my eyes. She was the picture of beauty.

"You don't look five," I assured her, hugging her tightly to me with a deep sigh to emphasize the point.

She hadn't taken her eyes off of me since we'd begun dancing, which was probably best. I didn't want her getting overly dizzy. Then, as Alice flew by us I saw Bella flash a quick smile in her direction.

You two look divine together. She's really having fun, isn't she? Alice thought with a grin. I smiled widely at her before Jasper swept her into another turn. Looking once again into Bella's eyes, I was pleased to see that she truly did look joyful. There was no trace of irritation or nervousness. Only excitement, happiness, and love. Above all, I felt the love in her stare.

Then something interrupted my own happiness, a dark cloud descending on our otherwise beautiful night. Jacob Black was standing just inside the doors, staring directly at Bella and thinking a string of inexcusable thoughts. They ranged from irritation and jealousy toward me to affection toward Bella, both emotions fighting for dominance in his mind. Neither one had any place in my evening with Bella, and I grew furious as he began his slow but determined walk across the floor.

The closer he got to us the more anxious his thoughts became, and I was surprised by what I heard next.

Stupid superstitions, can't believe he's making me do this. Bella's never going to forgive me. Ruining any chance I might have had...

"Okay, this isn't half bad," Bella said casually. I wished I could have responded but my eyes were locked on Jacob, trying to figure out exactly what he was planning on saying. As much as I liked the idea of letting him take himself down a notch on Bella's friendship meter, I would not allow him to ruin this night for her.

"What is it?" Bella asked nervously, noticing the way I was glaring, but before I could answer she saw for herself.

Wonder if Cullen will be able to detach himself long enough for me to get a word in. I mean really, can't he go bother someone else for awhile?

Without meaning to, a low growl escaped from me and Bella's expression turned furious.

"Behave!" she snapped at me.

"He wants to chat with you," I told her dryly. And I decided I would let him. He was obviously nervous about whatever he was planning on saying. Wouldn't want to stand in the way of him digging his own grave.

"Hey, Bella, I was hoping you would be here," he said, fidgeting with his collar.

Seriously what was Dad thinking? Why here, why now? With all these people around. With Cullen around, he thought icily.

"Hi, Jacob," Bella said sweetly. "What's up?"

"Can I cut in?" he asked warily, eyes meeting mine. What if he says no? Just tell Dad I tried, I guess.

Curious what the conversation would hold and figuring the child couldn't do too much harm, I set Bella down and took a reluctant step backward.

"Thanks," Jacob said, obviously slightly stunned that I had allowed it.

I nodded at him, though I didn't attempt a smile. Then I turned and stared deeply into Bella's eyes, hoping she realized I would be no more than a few feet away, ready to intervene if anything he said upset her.

What's going on, Edward? Alice thought as I walked away, slowing down her dance enough to glance at the scene. I gave her a slight shrug, listening closely while Jacob and Bella went through the usual small talk. I smirked a little, watching him dance with her the way most of the other young couples were dancing. Awkward and clueless.

"So, how did you end up here tonight?" Bella asked.

"Can you believe my dad paid me twenty bucks to come to your prom?"

And then I understood perfectly. Billy was doing his part, interfering with my relationship with Bella without causing a scene, using Jacob like a pawn.

"Yes, I can," Bella said. "Well, I hope you're enjoying yourself, at least. Seen anything you like?"

"Yeah," he said, looking down at his feet. "But she's taken."

Another soft snarl ripped through me and Alice was instantly at my side.

Relax, Edward. He's just a kid. Bella is here with you, she's simply humoring him.

"Uh huh," I muttered, cringing as I heard Jacob tell Bella how pretty she looked. Pretty. He really was just a stupid child. Calling Bella pretty was like staring at a masterpiece and calling it a nice painting. Idiot.

I listened while Jacob babbled about the bribe Billy had made him, car parts for agreeing to talk to Bella in what he considered a "safe place." What exactly did Billy think he was going to accomplish? Did he think she would walk out on me then and there because Jacob told her to?

"Don't get mad, okay?" Jacob asked, finally working up the nerve to say what he'd been paid to say.

"There's no way I'll be mad at you, Jacob," she said, far more kindly than I felt he deserved. No, technically it wasn't his fault. He didn't believe any of the stories about us the way Billy did. That of course didn't change the fact that he was thinking inappropriate thoughts about stealing Bella away from me.

"Well – this is so stupid, I'm sorry Bella – he wants you to break up with your boyfriend. He asked me to tell you 'please.'" Please, Bella.

"He's still superstitious, eh?" Bella asked, and I could tell she was fishing for information. She was as curious as I was to know how much Billy had shared with Jacob, and more importantly how much Jacob believed.

"Yeah. He was...kind of over the top when you got hurt down in Phoenix. He didn't believe..." Oh, don't make me say it out loud. She's gonna hate me.

"I fell," Bella said firmly, irritation creeping into her voice for the first time in their conversation.

"I know that," Jacob said. Don't like him, doesn't mean I think he could hurt her.

"He thinks Edward had something to do with me getting hurt," Bella said, and the ire in her eyes almost made me go to them right then and stop him from upsetting her further.

Shouldn't have come, shouldn't have said anything. So not worth it. What am I doing?

"Look, Jacob, I know Billy probably won't believe this, but just so you know, Edward really did save my life. If it weren't for Edward and his father, I'd be dead." I smiled at the earnestness of her voice, her desperation to defend me even to Jacob.

"I know," he said softly. Geez, I could have really lost her. Guess I owe the guy after all.

"Hey, I'm sorry you had to come do this, Jacob. At any rate, you get your parts, right?" Bella said, obviously trying to end the conversation. I took a deep breath, ready to rush to her side again.
"Yeah," he mumbled. Not worth it, not worth it. Going home, not gonna say another word. Dad can fight his own battles from now on.

"There's more?" Bella asked. Of course there was.

"Forget it. I'll get a job and save the money myself."

"Just spit it out, Jacob," Bella said, frustrated.

"It's so bad." I'm just gonna look like an even bigger idiot. Don't make me do it.

"I don't care," Bella persisted. "Tell me."

"Okay...but, geez, this sounds bad." All Dad's fault. This is so all his fault. Couldn't he have just let me do this my way, "may the best man win" and all that? "He said to tell you, no, to warn you, that – and this is his plural, not mine – 'We'll be watching.'" Air quotes. I actually used air quotes in front of Bella. Just kill me now.

Okay.

I took two deliberate steps in their direction before Alice pulled me back.

What do you think you're doing? The gym is packed, you can't just throw him out into the street. Besides, you heard him. This is all Billy's idea. Jacob doesn't even want to be here.

"Good, at least he and I agree on something. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe my date is minus a dance partner who can actually dance."

Ridiculous, overreacting...

But I didn't let her thoughts slow me down. The song had ended, Bella's arms were at her side, yet Jacob had to audacity to still be touching her.

"Do you want to dance again? Or can I help you get somewhere?" he asked.

"That's all right, Jacob. I'll take it from here," I said, using the calmest tone I could muster. Jacob was eying me nervously as I took my place at Bella's side.

"Hey, I didn't see you there," he muttered, turning his gaze back to Bella. "I guess I'll see you around, Bella." Then he slowly backed away as if he could sense my urge to reach out and toss him across the room. Bella just smiled.

"Yeah, I'll see you later."

"Sorry," he repeated before turning around. Seriously, what does she see in Cullen? Overprotective, brooding...downright creepy if you ask me.

Deciding it wasn't worth it to spend one more second of our evening thinking about Jacob, I chose to ignore his parting thoughts. I pulled Bella close to me, and sighed as she leaned in to rest her head on my chest.

"Feeling better?" she said through a grin.

"Not really," I admitted, though I wasn't about to tell her why.

"Don't be mad at Billy," she said sweetly. "He just worries about me for Charlie's sake. It's nothing personal."

"I'm not mad at Billy," I said calmly. It wasn't entirely true, but at the moment all I could think about was Jacob and the attachment he seemed to have developed toward Bella. "But his son is irritating me."

Bella took a step back, staring at me as if my words made no sense. She really had no idea how he felt, which I guess shouldn't have surprised me. It took her a long time to believe I loved her, and I told her all the time. Why would she be able to read any of Jacob's pitiful signals?

"Why?" she asked, and I quickly wracked my brain for the safest possible explanation.

"First of all, he made me break my promise," I said and Bella continued to stare at me, confused. "I promised I wouldn't let go of you tonight," I explained softly, truly regretting that I'd had to break my word.

"Oh," she said, relaxing again. "Well, I forgive you."

"Thanks. But there's something else." I suddenly felt the need to hint at the true source of my irritation, without actually having to voice it. "He called you pretty," I finally sighed, expecting a blush, a laugh, anything. Her expression didn't change in the slightest, no blush, not even an eye roll. It was as if she hadn't even registered that he'd been trying to compliment her.

"That's practically an insult, the way you look right now," I continued, eager to remind her just how magnificent she was. At least she usually seemed to appreciate it coming from my lips. "You're much more than beautiful."

Still unable to take a compliment, Bella laughed. "You might be a little biased," she teased.

"I don't think that's it. Besides, I have excellent eyesight." I watched as the familiar blush colored her cheeks again, and pulled her in closer as we resumed our dance.

"So are you going to explain the reason for all of this?" she said a moment later. I stared at her, wondering what explanation she was searching for, when she shifted her gaze to the absurd decorations that surrounded us. I thought for a moment about the best way to explain it to her, my uncontrollable need to make sure she enjoyed life to the fullest. Deciding it was a conversation best had away from people, I spun us around and led her outside.

Once I was sure we were far enough away that no one would see, I scooped her up and carried her to a bench that sat beneath the long line of trees lining the school. How could I explain it so she would truly understand, when I knew everything I said would conflict with what she thought her heart wanted most?

"The point?" she repeated, but I wasn't ready quite yet. Between her anger about being forced to go to the prom and Jacob's interruption, I felt we'd barely had time to enjoy ourselves tonight. And I could tell she was enjoying herself, for the brief time when it was just she and I, dancing and holding each other close. If only all our moments could be as simple as that. Things seemed to make sense when we only had each other to think about. Yet somehow we kept getting stopped us in our tracks, forced back into reality where we had to worry about appearances and fitting into each other's very different worlds.

"Twilight again," I finally whispered, staring up at the moon. "Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end."

"Some things don't have to end," she murmured, her voice quivering. I sighed, knowing what she must be hinting at. Why did she insist on bringing it up tonight of all nights? Hoping to distract her, I tried to answer the question that had brought us here as best I could.

"I brought you to the prom because I don't want you to miss anything. I don't want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I'd died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have."

As soon as I'd said the words I regretted them. Remembering the passion and fervor she'd spoken to me with the last time I made reference to my not existing, I realized that this must be what Alice had refused to warn me about. She'd said Bella would be upset about something other than prom, and that it was my own fault. I watched Bella's eyes grow furious and silently cursed myself for speaking so foolishly.

"In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren't a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this."

I tried to smile, though I still felt incredibly guilty for having upset her needlessly. "It wasn't so bad, you said so yourself."

"That's because I was with you."

Miserably I looked away from her, hating to see the anger on her face. Anger that I caused. Anger that I could have avoided.

"Will you tell me something?" I finally asked, hoping to change the subject quickly.

"Don't I always?" she sighed, sounding defeated but more like herself.

"Just promise you'll tell me," I said, smiling as she seemed to sift through possibilities of what I might ask.

"Fine."

"You seemed honestly surprised when you figured out that I was taking you here."

"I was," she interrupted.

"Exactly. But you must have had some other theory...I'm curious – what did you think I was dressing you up for?"

Her expression froze and she grew unmistakably nervous. "I don't want to tell you."

"You promised," I reminded her.

"I know."

"What's the problem?" I asked, wondering what silly theory could have her looking so embarrassed. I was reminded of our early days together, when I pushed her to share all the creations of her imagination, trying to figure me out. Of course in that case she'd been right, seeing through my facade to what I truly was. I couldn't understand how that had come to her more easily than deciphering my plans for this evening.

"I think it will make you mad – or sad," she said, looking at the ground.

I wanted to believe that there was nothing Bella could ever do or say that would make me angry, but the look on her face was telling me I might be wrong. Forcing myself to stay calm, whatever she told me, I softly said, "I still want to know. Please?"

She let out a long breath as if preparing herself, which only served to make me more nervous.

"Well..." she said, struggling for words. "I assumed it was some kind of...occasion. But I didn't think it would be some trite human thing...prom!"

She tried to gloss over it, but I'd heard it. The utter disgust in her voice at the word human, like she no longer considered herself one of them and wondered why she should still be subjected to their silly traditions. It took most of my family years to feel that kind of apathy to the world we were still somehow trying to fit into.

"Human?" I repeated, not really wanting to hear more but knowing I'd started it and I would need to finish it. She looked down, embarrassed again, and tugged at the edges of her dress like they offended her. I know she was waiting for me to say more, but until I knew exactly where the conversation was going I was keeping my mouth shut.

"Okay," she finally said, her voice shaking. "So I was hoping that you might have changed your mind...that you were going to change me, after all."

Alice! Suddenly all her cryptic messages made sense. Really though, couldn't she have given me a little heads up about this? Bella's irrational desire to cast aside her humanity had been joyfully pushed to the back of my mind these past few weeks. I'd watched her grow closer to her father, become more outgoing at school. She looked like she was actually taking her mother's advice, remembering that she was young and really trying to live her life.

Knowing that at the first sign of my giving into her foolish request, she'd give up everything made me miserable and guilty. What lengths was she willing to go to in order to convince me to help her throw her life away? She'd even let Alice dress her up and cover her in makeup. Apparently she thought looking her best was a requirement for vampire transformation. This only proved to me further her misguided and glorified vision of what the experience would be like. If it wasn't so infuriating, it might have been somewhat entertaining.

"You thought that would be a black tie occasion, did you?" I said, deciding it was easier to keep my frustration at bay if I joked about it.

"I don't know how these things work," she said angrily, admitting the very same conclusion I'd just come to. She didn't understand what she was asking at all. "To me, at least, it seems more rational than prom does," she added, then noticing my smile she snapped, "It's not funny."

"No, you're right, it's not," I said flatly, anger seeping back into my voice. "I'd rather treat it like a joke, though, than believe you're serious."

"But I am serious."

She said the words with such conviction, sadness quickly took over anger as my dominant emotion. I could reason with her, I could give her all the things in life I thought she wanted, but in the end I would always end up denying the thing she truly believed would make her happy. How long would it take her to lose faith in me, falling out of love because she could never understand my refusal?

"I know," I breathed, trying unsuccessfully to hide the misery behind the words. "And you're really that willing?" I knew the answer but glutton for punishment that I was, I needed her to say it in uncertain terms. She nodded, and I took small comfort in the nervousness I could read in her eyes.

"So ready for this to be the end," I whispered, "for this to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barely started. You're ready to give up everything." I always thought it was my thirst for her that made me a monster, but now I understood. This was why I was a monster. Though my love for her had brought me back to life, her love for me was making her chose death. Yet I couldn't make myself leave. I needed her too much.

"It's not the end, it's the beginning," she said softly.

"I'm not worth it," I assured her.

"Do you remember when you told me that I didn't see myself very clearly? You obviously have the same blindness." Her eyes were fixed, stubborn, daring me to disagree with her.

"I know what I am." Stone cold, dead heart, the only life in me existing because of Bella, who now sat beside me asking me to make us the same.

Alone together with only the moonlight illuminating her face, I watched Bella closely, looking for any sign of doubt. For the first time, I longed to see a glimmer of fear in her eyes, but they were nothing but determined. As I fought against my opposing emotions, Alice's warning floated through my mind.

Who knows, maybe you'll listen to her for once. That'd be a nice change.

Ha ha. Very funny.

"You're ready now, then?" I asked, hoping she would finally let her guard down and show her fear, giving me a reason to deny her that didn't make her hate me for it.

"Um," she said, swallowing a gulp of air as if it were last. "Yes?"

I smiled widely as the word came out like a question. Though I wasn't foolish enough to think she would give up, at least in that moment I could tell her mind wasn't entirely made up. She was afraid, though she'd never admit it to me. She didn't want to give me any more reason to refuse.

I leaned forward until my lips were pressed against the tender skin that barely concealed her throbbing pulse. She stood her ground but I could hear the way her heart sped up, smell the fear induced adrenaline start to pump through her veins.

"Right now?" I repeated, and I watched the shiver run down her body.

"Yes," she breathed, all her bravery suddenly vanishing. Her fists were clenched and she was breathing so hard I thought she might hyperventilate. While I'd actually started to quite enjoy myself, I figured I'd made my point. I didn't like frightening her, but I did hope the terror of having the moment upon her would weaken her resolve, at least for a time.

With a laugh I pulled my lips away, and muttered, "You can't really believe that I would give in so easily." I expected her to be angry or frustrated, instantly bounce back to that practiced facade that showed no fear. Yet her next words were soft, disappointed but not upset. In a way it was worse, because with all the other emotions gone I could once again see the longing in her eyes.

"A girl can dream."

"Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?" I knew she hated when I called myself that, but it was the truth. I was a monster and she thought she wanted to be just like me. By the time she realized what we both were, it would be too late.

"Not exactly," she said sadly. "Mostly I dream about being with you forever."

I felt a dull ache wash over me as I took in her words. Though I could not justify what would have to be done in order to make that happen, Bella had just stumbled onto the only thought that ever made my resolve falter. Being with her forever was what I wanted more than anything. I couldn't make myself think about a time when she wouldn't be beside me. It was more than painful, it was unfathomable. Yet I couldn't see the need to dwell on things that were far into her future when she was young and healthy and only just beginning to live. I would keep her safe from any dangers, and old age was decades away. We both had a lot of life to live, together.

"Bella," I said, gently touching her lips with my icy fingertips. "I will stay with you – isn't that enough?"

She forced a weak smile onto her face and gave me the only assurance I could have asked for. It was as far as even my own mind allowed me to go.

"Enough for now."

I felt my expression shift in the dim light, though I was determined not to upset her further. Breathing deeply and fighting against the pain that was building in me, thoughts of Bella and I together, forever, swirled around in my mind.

"Look," she said, reaching out to me and pressing her warm hands to my cheeks. "I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn't that enough?"

"Yes, it is enough," I breathed, her perfect love momentarily taking over my sense of reason. "Enough for forever."

Then I kissed her throat once more, savoring her scent, her taste, her very being. As her fingers brushed lightly through my hair I allowed my mind to wander, as close to dreaming as I would ever get, and silently wished for things that could never be.

A/N: Hope everyone is happy with the way I ended it. I thought about taking it further, but decided that was probably all they would have said on the subject that night. I will be going back to write the chapter bridging the gap between Midnight Sun and where I started, though I think I have to add it to the end which is kind of annoying.

I've had many people asking me if I plan on writing the other books from Edward's POV and at this point in time I have to say probably not. Honestly, I think writing Edward's New Moon would just about break my heart, though I think Eclipse and Breaking Dawn would be really interesting and I'll keep it in mind for the future. If you've enjoyed my story, please keep me on author alert though, because I will probably eventually end up doing some Edward "one shots," writing his POV on some of my favorite chapters throughout the series. I really want to write his take on the wedding, and possibly Bella's transformation and early vampire days. I also have a couple of ideas swirling around for alternate story lines, so I might end up writing my own fiction at some point (though I swear I'm never going to finish my novel if I keep letting Edward distract me...).

Once again thanks to everyone, the reviews and encouragement have really kept me going. And thanks to LEstelle for pointing out the missed line of dialogue in chapter 15. I fixed it! :) Also special thanks to those who have PM'ed me, I feel lucky to have found such great new friends because of this story. Until next time, (((vampire hugs))) to all!