Disclaimer: you know Stephanie Meyer owns it all.
A/N: holy moley I can't believe I'm actually posting a new chapter! I'm not going to lie, this one was brutal. It was the hardest to write and the is the hardest to post. Ugh, I wish I could revise a few hundred more times but I'm afraid I'll just keep making it worse rather than better. I've known from the beginning that we would get to this point some day and maybe the anticipation is what made this part so difficult to write. Some of it is confusing because it's meant to be. This is Bella's perspective and she is confused too, so it just seemed fair :-)
Without further ado, I give you the final chapter. Yes, there will be an epilogue so this isn't the end just yet.
The pain was excruciating and as the seconds ticked by I became less and less confident that Edward would make it in time. Victoria was relentless in her quest to cause me as much pain as possible. She scoffed at my stubbornness and tried to convince me that my efforts were fruitless. She obviously did not know me at all. If I let her kill me those I loved most would be devastated. There was no way I was going gently into that goodnight. Despite my best efforts, however, my body began to shut down and the darkness started to descend. I did not have much longer but I fought to stay conscious. All control would be lost if I could not stay awake and aware.
"No, no, no, my pet," Victoria's sugary sweet voice echoed in my ear as she pulled me roughly to my feet. I was pretty sure at least one of my legs was broken and the smell of my blood permeated the air so I knew my body was badly injured. "I had intended to just leave your corpse for your lover to find, but now I'm thinking my revenge will be that much sweeter if I get to see the look in his eyes as he watches you take your last breath." She licked my cheek and the icy touch caused me to shiver.
"You severely overestimate his feelings for me," I whispered through gritted teeth. I wanted her to realize she was completely mistaken so that her vengeance would taste a little bitter. She truly believed I was Edward's mate, but that simply was not the case. If he felt about me the way a vampire supposedly did for his or her mate he never would have refused to turn me. He would have been unable to give up our relationship.
"Oh, I highly doubt that, dear," she retorted but I heard the hesitancy in her tone. "He fought valiantly to keep you protected from James, remember?"
"He did so out of feelings of obligation and guilt. He felt responsible for my being pursued by James. Besides, he wasn't the one who killed him." It was getting more and more difficult to speak. I just needed a little more time. Certainly, someone would be here soon.
"No, that is untrue." She shook her head as she spoke seemingly trying to convince herself I was being dishonest.
"He doesn't want to spend eternity with me. He and I have ended things. We aren't really even friends anymore."
Her eyes flashed with anger at my words. She was starting to shake violently and her grip on my arms tightened. I heard the bones crack under the force of her hold. The last shreds of my optimism disappeared as I watched her mouth open wide and her head move toward my neck. She wasn't going to let me speak another word and continue to make her wonder if my death really would be equal to the loss she suffered. I closed my eyes against the inevitable. Thankfully, she was interrupted before she had the opportunity to sink her teeth into my skin.
"Ah, your knight has arrived, my fair lady. It's time for him to experience the agony of losing the most important aspect of his life."
"No!" I heard Edward's voice through the rushing sounds that filled my ears right before I lost the battle to stay afloat.
The darkness drifted in and out but, eventually, I realized I was no longer in Victoria's clutches. Her rough grip had been replaced by gentle caresses. Vaguely, I could hear conversations going on around me but I was unable to decipher the exact words being exchanged. A pungent smell reached my nose and I felt my stomach convulse at the stench. The hands around me pulled me closer to a hard, cold form. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware that I was in Edward's arms. He had come for me but the tension I could feel rolling off of him caused me to fear that he had arrived too late. His body trembled against mine and I wished I could find the strength to open my eyes to look at him one last time. I wanted to tell him that I loved him and I could never regret meeting him. He would blame himself, as usual, and I worried about what he would do as a result of the guilt this would surely cause him. He had made it perfectly clear that his desire to protect me never dissipated. I may not have his heart but I had his loyalty.
"No, I will not condemn her to this life. You know my feelings on this, Carlisle." Edward's voice broke through the haze but his words hurt even worse than the injuries I had sustained.
"There is no time to debate about this, my son. If you do not act now, it will be too late. I will not stand by and do nothing. If you cannot or will not turn her, then I will." I had never heard Carlisle speak so harshly before but I was glad that he, at least, still wanted me as part of his family.
I heard other muffled voices agreeing with Carlisle and offering to bite me. If I wasn't in so much pain I probably would have laughed.
A growl rumbled through Edward's chest and his voice rang out. His anguish was evident even though I could no longer understand exactly what he was saying. After a few moments, I was lowered onto a soft surface. His angelic voice resounded through my consciousness and I longed to know what he was confessing to me as I lay dying. Suddenly, I felt an immense pain near my shoulder and I braced for death thinking this must be the end. But, the numbness I expected never came. Instead, a fire rushed through my veins consuming every inch of my body. Other spots of my body felt the same surge of fiery consumption and I suddenly realized what was happening to me. There was no relief from the anguish of the all consuming blaze even though I prayed vehemently for the agony to end. Whispered words of adoration tried to push through everything else and I clung to Edward's voice like a life preserver. His presence and his constant words kept me from being utterly engulfed by the flames. He kept me hovering just under the surface and away from the depths of no return. Not everything I heard him say was encouraging though. I began to wonder if he felt trapped by circumstances. I desperately tried to focus on what was being said around me to distract me from the physical and emotional fires raging within.
"This is not what I wanted…"
"She's going to end up hating me for this."
"You need to hunt."
"I can't leave her."
"Seth is still unconscious."
"If I hadn't been such an idiot, this could have happened on her terms. I hate this."
"What if she doesn't want me now?"
"This was her choice."
"She'll thank you for this one day."
"This is all wrong."
"I'm so sorry, Bella."
"I love you. We all do."
"She hasn't screamed at all."
"I cannot stand this!"
"You're truly a part of our family now, kiddo."
"I can't wait to challenge her to a wrestling match."
"She's going to wake up soon."
"I love you, Bella. I always have and I always will. Forever."
An immeasurable amount of time later I realized I could now understand what was going on around me. Edward was telling me how much he loved me, needed me, and wanted me. He apologized over and over for causing me so much pain and lying to me. He promised to spend the rest of his existence making it up to me if I would allow him. I tried to figure out what exactly he had lied about. Was he being honest or simply telling me what he thought I wanted to hear?
Just as I began to believe the torture was coming to an end, the worst of it began as the feeling of being burned alive centered in my chest. The rapid beating of my heart rang in my ears. Then, all of a sudden, everything stopped. The quiet that followed was deafening. I never truly understood that statement before. Not a single sound could be heard for what seemed like hours. Edward's voice echoed through the quiet that had settled around me, startling me and causing my eyes to flutter open. The sight before me was indescribable.
Nothing I ever heard of or imagined could have prepared me for what I saw as I focused on Edward's face. He reached for me and, before I could even think to react, I found myself across the room from him. I quickly realized that we were in his bedroom.
"Am I dead?" I asked. The sound of the voice that emitted from me was foreign to my ears.
"I guess that depends on your definition of death. Your heart no longer beats," Edward responded softly. His eyes appeared anguished and I wanted nothing more than to assuage he sorrow.
"I'm a vampire?" The question sounded absurd but I did not know how else to ask.
"Yes," he whispered but I heard him clearly. His face twisted in agony and I pondered the reason for his pain while another part of my brain focused on every sight, smell, and sound around me.
"I feel so weird." The words seemed inaccurate though I knew no other way to express how I was feeling at that moment.
"I imagine you do. You should hunt." As if on cue, my throat began to burn. After what I had just been through the pain was minimal though and I wanted to continue or conversation. I had to know that Edward was okay with me joining this life.
"Who?" I realized I didn't even know who to thank for saving me from certain death.
"What are you asking, love?" His use of the endearment brought a familiar burning to my eyes. There would no longer be tears accompanying the feeling but it was nice to know I could still feel it.
"Who… changed me?" I asked. I almost asked who bit me but thought better of it.
"I did, love," he said through a proud smirk. His face almost immediately returned to the blank mask he had kept since I awoke but I was elated to see the hint of emotion. Then his admission hit me.
"I'm sorry. I could not bear the thought of losing you. Can you ever forgive me?"
Unexpectedly, I found myself in his arms. Laughter bubbled through me as he held me tighter than ever before. He needed to know that I not only forgave him, I was grateful to him for his selfishness.
"Edward, there is nothing to forgive. I'm happier than I have ever been and I can't believe you chose me!" I practically screamed at him and heard laughter coming from downstairs. I pushed back the urge to run and clung to Edward instead. He had not said what this turn of events meant for us. Were we going to spend eternity as friends?
"Ow, Bella not so tight," Edward croaked.
"Oh, sorry," I squeaked in amazement. I forgot about the fact that newborn vampires had more strength.
"Now you realize how hard it was for me to hold back around you," he said through the first genuine smile I had seen from him in some time.
"Take her to hunt, Edward. There will be plenty of time to gawk at each other later." I heard Alice's amused voice drifting up to us from a floor below.
These new abilities were definitely going to take some time to get used to but I was not going to complain. The alternative was death. I would much rather have to get used to being a vampire than not being at all. I sensed another presence before I heard or smelled him and jumped across the room away from the perceived threat without evening consciously thinking about it.
"Whoa, sorry, tiger didn't mean to scare ya," Jasper rattled off quickly. My instincts were driving me crazy. I didn't want to run away every time someone approached me.
"Sorry, Jasper, I guess it's something I'll learn to control in time."
"Don't apologize for defending yourself. Mind if I come along on your first hunt?"
His question caught me completely off guard. Jasper had always kept his distance before. I didn't feel like I really knew him all that well even though I regarded him as a brother figure. I hoped I could handle having him around while I still felt so vulnerable and uncertain of my abilities. The thought of denying his request was unacceptable though so I nodded my head in agreement. Cautiously, Edward reached his hand out in offering. My heart lurched at the sight. My body craved his touch but I was so scared of letting him get too close. His presence did not guarantee his love.
Tentatively, I took a step in his direction and met him halfway. The feeling of his skin against mine felt amazing. He was no longer cold or hard, it was now warm and pliable. I smiled at our interlocked hands before masking my emotions and looking back up at him. Jasper would certainly know what I was feeling so I would have to find time to ask him to keep that knowledge to himself. I wasn't sure how Edward would feel about the fact that I had never stopped loving him. No matter how hard I had tried.
Walking and running were much easier than I expected. Gone was the clumsy human girl I used to be, she was replaced by this graceful immortal I had become. The boys allowed me to run for a while before stressing my need to hunt. The burn in my throat was minimal until they mention my need to feed. As we headed in the direction where Edward was certain we would find some larger game, Jasper explained to me why he had asked to tag along on my first hunt and why he had suggested the others stay home.
Jasper's past was difficult to hear because he was obviously very ashamed of his actions during his time as Marie's minion. He had turned and killed more people and newborns than he cared to think about. I refused to feel sorry for him though. Despite his actions, I knew Jasper was a good man. As soon as he was shown another way, he turned from his previous lifestyle and adapted to his new way of life without a second thought. Sure, it was hard for him at times and he had made mistakes along the way, but what mattered the most was that he tried. When I shared my thoughts with him he looked at me with such admiration that I knew I would have been blushing if I still could.
"Bella, you continue to amaze me. Your emotions are so unlike any other person, human or vamp, that I have ever come across. Do you realize we should not be able to even have a normal conversation right now?"
"Great, so I'm a freak as a vampire too?" I asked. Edward could not hear my thoughts, I was comfortable around the Cullens when I should have run away in fear, and I wasn't a typical newborn.
"Wait, it's a good thing, I promise. It's amazing that you have so much control. Most newborns are like wild animals. You should be proud not self-deprecating. So stop it!" His last words came out harsher than I had ever heard Jasper speak before and I flinched. He quickly backed down when he noticed my reaction and apologized.
"Please don't be sorry, Jasper. I appreciate your honesty."
A strong breeze blew a delectable scent right across my path and I froze. Without even thinking about my actions, I found myself running through the trees. The sensation was extraordinary. Within seconds I was closing in on my prey and all my senses were focused on the appetizing creature in front of me. He could not have been more than thirty feet from me when I finally realized what I was doing. I was stalking my first meal. A small smile spread across my face as I instinctively crouched down out of sight. The sound of a strong heartbeat filled my ears and I felt like I was drooling. Silently, I crept through the tall grass and closed in on my target. When I had gotten close enough, I attacked. It wasn't until the creature lay lifeless at my feet that it dawned on me how easy it was to make my first kill. I had been worried about how I would react to the smell and taste of blood. To my utmost delight, I was not squeamish at all. The blood I had ingested quenched the burning in my throat substantially but I knew I would need more before I felt fully satiated.
I turned to find the rest of my hunting party and was startled to find them standing not far behind me with looks of horror on their faces. My confusion grew as I watched their still forms process the scene before them. My insecurities flared as I began to doubt what my instincts had just led me to do. I had trusted Edward and Jasper to stop me if I was doing something wrong and I found my anger rising the longer they stood there seeming to silently judge me. My body tensed in preparation for a fight. These two better explain their reactions before I completely lose control, I thought. I was slowly losing control of my emotions and I hated the feeling. With as much strength as I possessed, I pulled myself out of the defensive crouch and crossed my arms over my chest.
"You better tell me what I did wrong because the looks you're giving me are really starting to piss me off," I seethed. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was embarrassed by my actions but I could not bring myself to care. At least I wasn't ripping their heads off like I so desperately wanted to do in that moment.
My voice snapped both of them out of their trance and they glanced at each other with sheepish expressions.
"Bella, you just took down the biggest bear I have ever seen and didn't even wrinkle your clothes," Jasper stated. I hoped that was a good thing.
"That was sexy as hell." Edward's words caused my head to snap in his direction.
During all the time I had known him, Edward had given me hundreds of compliments but he had never called me sexy before. He was usually such a perfect gentleman that it frustrated me. A huge smile lit up my face as he continued to stare at me like I was something to eat. I couldn't help feeling a little giddy about his reaction.
"We should find another animal for you before we head back to the house." Jasper's voice broke me out of the spell Edward's stare had me under.
I leapt onto a tall boulder beside me and began searching the area for more quarry. Hopefully, my next attempt would be as successful as the first. The boys hung back and allowed me to do my thing without interference. I really appreciated their distance as it proved they had confidence in my abilities. I was on a natural high as I took off after a new scent on the other side of the clearing before me. This animal smelled even better than the bear and I was excited about tasting it. Edward was right about mountain lion being delicious. Once I drained my catch, I headed back in the direction of the house. I could sense that Edward and Jasper were around even though I could not hear or smell them. The two came out of the tree line several yards away as I closed in on the large white house.
"Bella, don't move!" Edward screamed at the same time I caught a whiff of a very interesting smell.
My feet took off in the direction of the familiar smell as Edward yelled in protest behind me.
Apparently, I was much faster than Edward because he was not even close to catching me when I came face to face with one of the last people I ever expected to see again. I flung my arms around his impossibly large frame and screamed in excitement at the sight of him.
"Ouch, Bella, I can't breathe," his voice squeaked above my head and I pulled away half laughing, half horrified.
"Oh, gosh, Seth, I'm so sorry. I forgot about my new super strength." I smiled impossibly wider as I scanned his body and did not see any damage. "Are you okay? I was so worried about you."
"Did you really think some stupid leech would be able to take me down, Bells?" Seth was unchanged by his run in with Victoria and I was so relieved. Part of me had been concerned about more than just his physical injuries.
"How silly of me," I joked.
Throats clearing around us reminded me that we were not alone. Edward and Jasper were once again looking at me with expressions of complete awe but they were not the only ones in the clearing with us. I jumped up and down with joy when my eyes met a set of gentle black orbs. They held no hint of the disdain or hatred I had expected so I ran over to my sun and wrapped my arms around his waist. He enveloped me in a tight embrace causing me to relax against him. The idea of being able to keep my best friend was exhilarating. He pushed me back a little and held my shoulders as he took in the changes in my appearance. When he reached my red pupils he shuddered slightly but kept the smile on his face. He pulled me into his side before turning toward where Jasper and Edward still stood.
"Thank you for keeping her with us. I thought I would prefer her dead but I see now that I was wrong." Jacob looked back at me before continuing. "You're still Bells and I still love you," he whispered sweetly even though we both knew everyone else could easily hear what he said. "Forgive me?"
I stood on my toes and kissed his cheek before wrapping my arms around him again. This day was turning out to be too good to be true and I was afraid that it was all nothing more than a dream.
A/N: does my body guard need to call in reinforcements? I can't even tell you how nervous I am to put this chapter up here but I knew it had to be done. I can't thank all of you enough for sticking with this story and encouraging me along the way. This is the first fanfic I ever posted so it has a special place in my heart as do all of you.
See you at the epi!