Disclaimer: Twilight, its universe and characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Not moi.


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Epilogue: A Light with No Flame

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+ l + l +

December 1, 2005

+ l + l +

Edward leaped to stand on a high rock.

His eyes raked across the forest below, but the landscape was still—and then—a sudden flicker in the trees to the south. Edward almost lunged in that direction, except that the wind swept up, and the smell from that direction was...

Empty.

He searched out again, trying to sort out which sounds were which until the ruckus of a chase suddenly erupted from the east.

Edward dove ahead. He dove, and then he had to climb again, scrambling up another rocky embankment. At the top, he threw his legs over the wall of boulders and creeping evergreen and landed with a cloud of dust in the glade below. His nostrils immediately flared as he drew in the eastward scent, and then he was sprinting ahead, concentrating on the sounds and flickers of movement ahead, the chase of predator and prey.

Edward drew short when he reached the clearing.

Through the veil of green, he could make out a blur of white and brown.

+ l + l +

March 19, 2005

+ l + l +

After the first bite, Edward sealed Bella's other wounds with venom-coated licks. He scanned over her entire body, brushing away every last speckle of dust and dot of dried blood. He combed his fingers through her hair and straightened out the wrinkles in her clothes.

His hackles rose when he felt the approach of his siblings, but then he relaxed because there was no threat. Bella's smell was... it was changing. She no longer smelled like food, and there was no reason for him to go on the defensive.

Alice convinced him to let go the first time.

Edward let go of Bella with a reluctant final squeeze of her hand. There were deeds to be done. Business to be finished.

+ l + l +

Edward found John making out with his Jeremy on the front porch.

Given the fervent noise-making and tugging-ons of fabric, Edward almost thought about knocking on the railing and suggesting that "they get a room," but then Jeremy chose to be sensible (one of them had to be), and the front door was kicked open. They disappeared with a slam.

+ l + l +

Edward located Ben and Angela's minds at the hospital, sitting at the bedside of Ben's father, who was excitedly making plans. "...and you can get a decent engineering degree at the University of Washington, although you might want to look at MIT or Caltech for some post-graduate work."

"Dad!" Ben cut in, gripping his father's forearm just above the IV line. "I know. I'll do what feels right, okay? You don't need to worry about me right now. Just focus on getting better."

But I almost lost... Ben's dad opened his mouth to speak, but then he closed it again. "I just want the best for you—and I..." he trailed off again. I want you to be happy, too.

Ben, seeing both warmth and reluctance on his father's face, shook his head and smiled at him. "It's okay, I know."

Ben's dad nodded back at him.

Angela stood then. "I think I'm going down for a quick bite."

"Oh, I can—" Ben made to stand.

"No, no, no!" She pressed gently down on his shoulder. "I'll be alright alone."

"But Bella and..."

"It's okay, Ben. You spend some time with your dad," she insisted with a meaningful look.

Ben finally acquiesced and sat back down.

After Angela shut the door, Ben's father said, "I like her. She's a good girl—reminds me of your mother."

Ben smiled but wrinkled up his nose as he regarded his father. "I don't know if I'd go that far... dad, but yeah, Angela is the best," he finished in a soft voice.

Ben's father smiled. He loves her...

Exiting the elevator on the first floor, Angela walked into the same empty park area. It was the same park where Edward sat behind a frazzled looking topiary hedge. Angela sat down on an empty bench.

Her grief was evident. Images shot through her head. The headlines from the previous morning's newspaper. Serial Killer Attacks Olympic Peninsula. Attorney Assaulted in Home. Forks Town Sheriff and Local Woman Murdered in Savage Attack in Port Angeles. Sheriff's Daughter Still Missing, Presumed Dead. And then the other worries, Bella's mom. Angela had spoken with Renee the day before. They both had sobbed into their receivers. Angela had wanted to tell Renee about Bella. She wanted to tell Renee how happy Bella had seemed the last month. She wanted to tell Renee how she'd been so happy to know her daughter, but instead words failed her, so they both sobbed, finding comfort in their mutual loss.

But then, when she least expected it, there were the ironic bursts of cheer through the melancholy. Ben's getting on so much better with his dad now. Sometimes tragedy brings about good things too... She smiled even as the tears streaked down her cheeks.

Listening to Angela's thoughts was painful for Edward. It hurt because Bella was so lively and human in all of Angela's memories. In those memories, Bella wasn't as she was now—burning through the pain of the transition.

Edward shook his head though and focused himself, and then he reached down to drop a bacon treat for the small animal at his side. Howdy still growled slightly at his movements but then snatched at the treat and greedily wolfed it down.

He and the puppy had come to something of an understanding. As long as Edward fed him and didn't threaten to eat him, Howdy would tolerate Edward without barking, but time had arrived for their brief acquaintance to end. Edward took a treat out of his pocket, held it up for the puppy to sniff, and then gave the treat a good toss across the yard.

It landed in the grass beside Angela's bench. She didn't hear its fall.

Edward let Howdy go then. The pup raced across the yard, eager for both its treat and its escape from the cold puppy-drinking demon. Howdy ground to a halt in front of Angela's bench, realizing for the first time there was a human there.

Angela, rubbing her eyes and wondering at the sudden appearance of the puppy, leaned forward. Smiling softly, she called to him, "Hey there, boy."

Howdy completely forgot about his treat and jumped into her arms.

Angela, laughing, snuggled the happy puppy closer to her. By her thoughts, Edward knew that Angela would keep him. It would be alright.

Edward ran home.

+ l + l +

When Bella first awoke, the days were driven by instinct, a constant whirl of hunting, fevered lovemaking, and questions and questions and more questions.

Then one day, she asked the final question: "Do you regret it?"

He thought about avoiding her question, about asking her to clarify, but he knew exactly what she meant, so he answered, "Yes, I regret taking your humanity. No, I don't regret a single extra moment with you."

"You shouldn't regret either."

"But maybe it's not so bad to regret. Is it bad to regret the loss of something beautiful?"

"You mean you wish I was still human."

"I don't. I just regret not being able to give you everything, but I had to make a choice."

"I think you made the right choice," Bella muttered even as she leaned into him.

+ l + l +

The next day he played the song for her. He had to work himself up to it. They were seated side-by-side on the piano bench, and Edward's hands were moving, and he softly began to sing:

If love could light a candle,
If fire could soothe the nightmares,
If memory and thought would move in tandem,
If dying stars could ask the prayers...

The differences twixt monsters and men
be neither night-day, nor hero-villain.
Eros misshoots, Pandora slides the lid,
Who superintends the designs of sin?

And yet the ardent soul objects
to the silent heart's demise.
"She ate fruit!" the hell king sings,
and yet the archer stumbles, shoots awry.

If love could light a candle,
If fire could soothe the nightmares,
If memory and thought would move in tandem,
If dying stars could ask the prayers...

Yes. T'would be better to dance alone,
To waltz away to a nameless song.
For Demons have no prayers to own;
Paradise lost amid thorn and throng.

The empty heart eats itself.
Tis not love, not life, a silent miscreation.
True love sails with wings and sun
above slavery to self, above temptation.

He played the first few stanzas, but then he stopped and explained. "It used to end a different way, like this..." he trailed off, and then the keys picked up, and he whispered:

There is no path the devil's rod divines,
no trees that walk, no stones that fly,
no magic whisper etched in rhyme
that dare to divide truth and lie.

Bella clutched at his hand. She looked like she wanted to cry, except that she couldn't. She couldn't cry any more.

"Don't worry, I changed the last bit," he explained, and Bella smiled wonderingly at him, and Edward's fingers were on the keys, and he gave her a nervous smile, before suddenly winking at her, and then his whole demeanor changed, as if life and potential were intoned in every word and key.

And yet the wick seems to hint
At a potential yet untested.
As if the drips of wax and songs of past
Could offer death redemption.

So love cannot light a candle,
But love could inflame my soul.
A light with no blaze, a heart with no beat.
A prayer in flesh to make me whole.

.

+ l + l +

December 1, 2005

+ l + l +

Edward tried to make out the blur of white and brown through the haze of green.

But then there was a crackling of branches, a solid thud, and a delighted squeal, and Bella crashed into the bushes before him.

Her head popped up with a smile, while her hands forced down the sizable cat in her arms. The hunger in her expression—she looked ready to bite, but then her eyes popped slightly, and she hesitated, glancing up at him. Querulously she asked, "It's not one of the endangered ones, is it? I can never tell."

He shook his head, chuckling. "No, they're quite populous."

"OH, GOOD!" she exclaimed in relief, and then he watched as she bit down into the thrashing neck. Drinking with carefree whimsy, Bella lazily fell back into the bracken, completely oblivious to the death squirms of the cat in her lap.

Edward smiled inwardly as he watched her. Even with her torn dress, her leaf-covered hair and the mountain lion draped across her, she somehow looked sweet. He loved the way the rich brown of her hair contrasted with the cream of her skin and the blood red of her lips. Lips which were quite bloody now. Erotically so.

He shook his head to clear his mind. According to his family, they were supposed to be focusing on Bella's hunting. At first, it had been alright. Her thirst had been so potent that Bella was all mad-dash. As time went on though, it became clear that Bella was an "untidy" hunter. She always emerged from her kills in a macabre mess. Bella would look down at herself in surprise each time and be quite horrified at her state.

Edward thought it was a little funny.

And erotic.

He shook his head again and reminded himself to focus.

Bella finished with a satisfied gasp, and then she begrudgingly acknowledged the prey sprawled across her lap. With a furrowed brow, she gave a solid jerk of a knee which sent the corpse of the cat rolling across the clearing.

Edward gave an exaggerated tut, shaking his head. "Bella, you should probably opt to lift the cat off of you next time before kicking him away. They splatter when you do that."

Bella frowned and looked down. Her eyes traced the trail of blood that went from her dress to the current position of the cat. "Oops."

Edward laughed, and then he knelt down beside her, brushing a sticky tendril off her cheek. "You also have blood here." He traced the corner of her mouth, which made her smile. "And here." He leaned forward to place a kiss on the edge of her nose. Bella's lips moved up as if to try and catch his, but he dodged them.

She frowned at his evasion, before asking "Where else?" rather coyly. Her fingers found the inner seam along his collar and traced along it, fingers tickling the edge of his bare skin as they brushed along it.

"There must be some in here," he whispered as his index finger pressed on the full curve of her bottom lip, making the wine-like stain appear.

In response, Bella's lips parted, and she leaned forward, sucking in his finger at the same time that her other hand grabbed at his belt and yanked him closer to her.

Edward smiled above her. "You're always a mess after you hunt."

"I blame you," she muttered, and her finger unhooked his belt buckle.

"That's not fair. I'm blameless," Edward replied, and then he grabbed the top line of her dress, just below her collar bones. He ripped the fabric straight down.

Bella, despite her breathing, despite the heightened feminine sweetness emanating from her, spoke in a tone that betrayed nothing. "I would beg to differ. The family thinks I'm a bad hunter because I always show up with my dress in tatters."

Her comment inspired Edward to shred the entire front of her dress, at which Bella gasped and tried to bat him away, though he caught her hand. She let him, and then he was hovering above her, the lower parts of their bodies pressed together and almost itching at the tingling pressure that grew and grew. When Edward spoke, it was in a low tone. "Well, I have to get rid of the bloody bits. It's not my fault you get blood all over. You should be more careful. You're much more Jo March than Lizzie Bennett with those stunts you pull."

He smiled and made to kiss her, but she pulled back. With a wicked smile, she rolled the both of them over, gaining the advantage and pinning his hands down into the soft loam of the forest floor and growling softly above him. "Don't throw the classics at me. You should stop such attacks upon my dress."

"I am sorry. It's just that I like the sound," he murmured, and then tensing his stomach and sitting upwards, he caught her lips between his.

Bella's lips relaxed, seeming to melt into his as he tasted the tingle of her venom on his tongue and felt the soft slope of her lips nibbling against his. Her hands forgot to keep his pinned and instead fisted into his hair, while he reached to pull her closer. But then, unexpectedly, Bella's mouth was gone.

"What sound?" she asked, looking at him with a hint of slyness in her smile.

"Well, there's the ripping, and then there's the..." One of his hands slid into the gaping top of her dress while the other yanked up her skirt and slid up her thigh.

Bella gave a shriek of surprise, tensing up at the sudden touches, but then unfroze with a long and low-voiced moan.

"That sound," Edward replied simply.

Below him, Bella gave him a feverish nod, and then there was more unbuckling and a rush of hands, and then the skirt of Bella's dress was hiked above her hips, and Edward's pants were kicked off. Bella pulled Edward toward her, then into her, and they both made sounds that were somewhere between groans and growls as their bodies wedded into one.

Edward always waited for a minute before he began to move again. He would wait because he wanted Bella to adjust and relax, but also because it made him feel whole, looking at her this way and knowing that he was inside her.

When Edward did move again, when he slammed her body into the earth, when he knocked her against the slant of the gnarled tree trunk, or when he pushed into her as her hands pulled on and cracked a loose limb from above, Edward felt what he'd felt when her heart was still beating and she was still blushing: Edward felt warm.

Looking at Bella brought peace, no matter the bull's-eye color of her newborn irises.

They made love and half-fought until Bella gritted her teeth and called out his name and gripped him so tightly in her newborn way that he thought about warning her to stop (though he never did), and Edward wondered at how he could have ever existed without her.

Afterwards, they lay on the floor. Their fingers sketched angles, and their gazes were entwined in sweet contentment.

It was a while later when the wind picked up with a sudden whoosh that Edward noticed their surroundings. That was one of the great changes between past and present. Edward no longer noticed the passage of time with Bella, and when he did, it never ceased to surprise him. He blinked as the bits of white fabric wafted about the clearing like snow, and then when he breathed in, he registered the stinging sugar smell of venom that permeated the air. The same smell warned the animals away. The reason their clearing was bathed in quiet.

They headed back sometime after the shadows became darkness. Overhead, the moon shone down. The tattered ribbons of Bella's dress sailed behind her as they ran.

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-Fin-

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Aw, so now I'm all mopey-happy. Empty fic syndrome or whatever. Anyway, thank you all for reading. I swear that this story has garnered some of the smartest readers in the fandom, and I have been constantly amazed and astounded by the feedback and enthusiasm from people I adore and respect.

Anyway, I wanted to give out a special amount of thanks to my beta Jennyfly (Thallium81), who really pushed me to write something that utilized my "brain hole," and then also to angstgoddess003, americnxidiot, and gallantcorkscrews who pre-read this crazy business most of the way through and helped calm down my freak outs before I posted every chapter. And a final thank you to my Twilighted beta, the most cool Twilightzoner.

For future business, I'll continue to putz around with Psychotic Super-powered Vampirism. It will arrive in bursts of whimsy, I'm sure. Otherwise, the multi-chaptered fic bouncing around in my head is a EdwardxJasper slash AU, which will probably horrify a great number of you, but I'm pretty much addicted to Harry Potter slash, so I feel like I need to bring what I've learned on over to Twi, and really, I see slash as a basic excuse to read about hot men fighting until all of that ferocious, pent-up aggression can no longer be held back and then just explodes in a violent surge of… heh, well, you get it.

Thanks again. :)