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I walked through the front door into the living room, the sound of Edward playing the piano drawing me towards him. I noticed Maggie, Liam and Siohban engaged in a game of trivial pursuit with Benjamin and Tia while Peter and Charlotte sat on the opposite end of the room, appearing to be deeply entrenched in a game of chess. Rose sat on the couch with Emmett, cradling my sweet Renesmee, deep in blissful sleep, gently in the crook of her arm. Emmett hollered wildly at a football game on TV while Rose sat by oblivious, focused only on Renesmee's cherubic face.
I listened carefully to other parts of the house, wondering if Carlisle and Esme were here, too, but only heard the mutterings and activities of a handful of other vampires as they passed the time until our confrontation with the Volturi. I sighed. I would be forever grateful to the assistance our friends had agreed to lend in our fight to prove our innocence against the false charges of creating an immortal child, but over the past month, our house had become extremely crowded. I felt like I was suffocating every time I walked through the door. There were vampires, everywhere. And even given our cottage, our small haven, Edward and I had spent so little quality time together these past few weeks. I ached to be close to him. I glided over to the piano.
"Hi," I sidled up the piano bench to Edwards' side. I laced my arm around his and rested my head on his shoulder. Edward didn't stop playing, but leaned down and kissed the top of my head.
"Hello yourself; how's Charlie?" Edward asked, his fingers running across the keyboard.
"He's fine." I sighed. Lying to Charlie about what I was, about what I had become, was so difficult for me. Knowing that in a few brief days I might never see him again was crushing. Yet, I was fully aware of how special my time with Charlie this past month truly was. That he was able to be with me, to know me as an immortal, even if he didn't realize exactly what I was, and more importantly to know my daughter, meant everything to me.
"Will you teach Renesmee to play?" I wondered aloud as Edward played my lullaby for me.
Edward smiled at me. "Would you like me to?"
"I think so. I'd like her to be talented at something. I never was."
Edward scowled at me. He hated my tendency to focus on my perceived mediocrity.
"I could teach you to play, too, you know. You'd be surprised at how well you'll play one hundred years from now, love" he teased.
I smiled up at him, squeezing myself tight against his arm. "I'm quite content to have you play for me."
Edward stopped playing then, pulling my face up towards his and kissing me gently at first, then more urgently. I felt my breathing quicken, a vestige of my human life carried over into my life as a vampire. My fingers crept up into Edward's hair. I kissed him back, long and hard. I could feel electric charges pulsing through my body as I was overwhelmed by desire to be with Edward. I pulled away suddenly, leaving us both breathless and Edward shocked.
"What's wrong?" Edward asked, slightly frustrated.
"Yeah, what's wrong little sister? I was hoping for something rated higher than G!" I heard Emmett laugh from across the room.
I turned and snarled at Emmett then turned back to Edward.
"This" I motioned in despair around the room to the assortment of vampires engaged in their various activities "is what's wrong, Edward." I took Edward's hands in mine and squeezed them. "I need you. I need to be with you and just you. It's too distracting with everyone else around." I leered in Emmett's direction. "I feel like we have so little time left Edward and it's physically painful for me to be spending so much time away from you."
Edward's eyes bore into mine, ripe with desire. I could see he was fighting against the same demons I was. His lips crushed against mine. "Let's go home." He growled in between kisses. I kissed him back more frantically now.
"Woo hoo, now that's what I'm talking about!" Emmett cheered at us from across the room.
Edward and I both turned and snarled at Emmett this time.
"Edward, please. I need to go away with you. Let's spend the night in the clearing tonight. Alone." I beseeched.
We both glanced in Renesmee's direction. She was curled tight against Rosalie's chest. I was instantly overcome by guilt for even considering leaving our daughter behind for one night. Rose had been paying attention to our conversation from across the room.
"Go. I'll stay with her. She'll be sleeping the entire night anyway. You won't miss anything. Just be home by daybreak." I smiled at Rose, thanking her quietly.
"Jacob will be here soon, too, and he'll have no problem watching over her with Rose," Edward added.
"Wonderful," Rose growled. "Yet another evening of forced civility with the mongrel. I wonder what blonde jokes he'll come up with tonight?" Rose rolled her eyes in disgust. Edward and I both laughed.
"Thank you, Rose," Edward said genuinely. He stood from the piano and walked to our daughter. He trailed a finger along her flush cheek. "Good night sweet Renessmee," he murmured. I followed behind him, bending to kiss Renessmee on her forehead. "Mommy loves you," I whispered in her ear. As I stood, Edward wrapped his arms around me from behind and propped his chin atop my head.
"She reminds me so much of you when I used to watch you sleep." Edward whispered softly. "The rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, the muffled sighs, wild curls twined around her face; I miss that."
I squeezed Edward's arms. "Watching her sleep is mesmerizing." I agreed. I could watch her sleep all night. Edward and I had, in fact, done this once, touching our hands to her cheeks, marveling at her dreams. Generally speaking, though, Edward and I were usually otherwise occupied when Renessmee was sleeping.
"Go already," Rose commanded impatiently. "You'll wake her fussing over her so."
I sighed. Rose was right. And standing here with Edward's arms wrapped tight around my waist was becoming increasingly more difficult. I craved much more intimate contact with him. I sensed he felt the same.
"Come, love," Edward took my hand in his and gently pulled me in the direction of the front door. I followed willingly, looking back only once at this impossibly beautiful child that belonged to Edward and me.
Once on the front lawn, Edward excused himself for a moment and darted into the garage. When he returned, he carried a tent and two sleeping bags with him. Of course, neither the tent nor the sleeping bags were necessary; they were merely props in case a stray hiker happened along.
"I'll race you," I challenged, raising my eyebrows tantalizingly. "But you're not allowed to let me win on purpose; I want to win fair and square."
"Impossible," Edward laughed.
I knew he was probably right. I'd only ever beat him in a race once, and I had not played fair, stripping down to my bare skin while sailing through the forest.
Edward was off like a shot through the forest then and I was close on his heels. The rush of the wind against my face was exhilarating and despite the cloud of uncertainty and fear for our future that hung oppressively over my head, I tilted my head back and laughed, allowing myself to relax and revel in my run. I loved to run, almost as much as Edward did. He was ahead of me, but not by much. The wind gusted stronger and cooler as we climbed higher up the mountain towards the clearing. I inhaled deeply, tasting my surroundings. A thrill ran up my spine and I shot forward towards Edward. As I closed the space between us, I crouched close to the ground and sprang forward playfully, landing on Edward's back. He instantly froze, his most common reaction to stress, and I ricocheted off his back into the forest, taking a few trees down with me.
"Bella," Edward cried frantically after me. "I'm so sorry, are you okay?"
I leapt from the forest into the clearing.
"What did you do that for? I was just playing." I said slightly exasperated.
"I'm sorry. It was completely unexpected. It reminded me of when you pleaded with me to teach you how to fight. It's just too painful for me to think of you that way." Edward's eyes were sad, and I suddenly felt guilty for being brusque with. I was at his side in an instant, pulling him into my arms.
"I'm sorry, too. I was just playing with you, honest. But I should have known you'd be guarded. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
Edward pulled away from my embrace, staring deep into my eyes. Ever so gently, he traced his hand down the side of my face, stopping to cup my chin in the palm of his hand. I quivered at his very touch. Edward was quiet for a very long time.
"What are you thinking?" I asked after awhile. Edward smiled the crooked smile I loved best at me.
"That's my line, love," he murmured. "But actually, I was just studying your face, remembering the exact moment in time in which I knew definitively that I was hopelessly" Edward paused, raising his eyebrows at me, "if not recklessly, in love with you."
I blinked. Not because it was necessary, but because even despite my transformation – despite the fact that I felt more beautiful and desirable now than I ever had while human – I was still rendered completely speechless by Edward's beauty. In truth, it was more than that. I was deeply humbled by my husband. Never in my life had I known, nor would I ever know, anyone as loyal to his family as Edward, anyone as selfless an individual as Edward and, most importantly, anyone who loved as purely and deeply as Edward did. I closed my eyes and swallowed, overwhelmed at the intensity of the feelings that swept through me. I felt Edward's finger gently lift my chin upward.
"Somehow you still doubt the depth of my feelings for you," he said, shaking his head incredulously. "Will you ever truly know?" He mused.
I met his questioning gaze with a warm smile. He had misunderstood my moment of reflection, assumed with good reason I'd been preoccupied, as I often was, with how it was he'd chosen to love me. You don't see yourself clearly, he would always gently chide. In fact, it was Edward who didn't recognize his own exceptional character.
"I don't know that I'll ever understand how anyone as beautiful as you could have ever fallen in love with me," I placed the palm of my hand against his warm cheek. "But I was actually just considering how perfect a person you really are."
Edward leaned close to my face, whispering against my skin. "I am but one half of a more beautiful whole. I am who I am because of you, Bella. Never forget that. I love you."
I closed my eyes. I was physically unable to cry, but in that moment, I knew that if it were possible that I would. Edward pulled me close against his chest, holding me gently. I snuggled in closer to him, feeling my body conform to the shape of his. I didn't want to ever let go. I could die now, as long as he was with me, arms wrapped around me. A single white snowflake touched my skin like a whisper, reminding me that we were still standing in the middle of the clearing, exposed to the encroaching storm. I shuddered, thinking about Alice's prediction. The Volturi would arrive with the first snow to stick to the ground. There was no doubt in my mind that our fate would soon be decided.
"Why don't we set up camp?" Edward suggested, himself aware of the deteriorating weather conditions. I nodded in reply.
In a flash, Edward had the tent staked to the ground and two sleeping bags rolled out inside. He took my hand and led me indoors. Once inside the tent, Edward and I sat down, facing each other, our hands twined together. Outside the tent, the wind ripped through the trees, an eerie whistling sound trailing the gusts. The sides of the tent flapped fiercely from the force of the gusts. I sat quietly, staring at Edward's beautiful face.
"Bella," Edward questioned tentatively. "Is everything all right? You're so solemn this evening."
I smiled wistfully at Edward.
"It seems like just yesterday we were here in this exact same spot, awaiting our fate at the hands of Victoria's newborn army. Only Jacob was with us that night."
Edward nodded at me, himself remembering that night not so long ago. So much had changed since then. Facing Victoria's newborn army seemed mere child's play compared to what we would surely encounter when we faced the Volturi.
"Edward," I swallowed hard. "I'm not sure what we can expect tomorrow night." Just saying the words, alluding to the possibility that we might not survive our encounter with the Volturi left me all but defeated. I'd done my best to ensure Renesmee's survival when I had arranged for her passport and birth certificate – issued under the alias of Vanessa Wolfe - and I was hesitantly hopeful that she and Jacob would survive. I wasn't so confident in mine and Edward's future, however. And to think of a world without Edward was physically painful. Edward immediately understood my mood and pulled me into his arms blindingly fast.
"Shush, Bella. Don't be fretful. I'm actually feeling more and more optimistic by the hour. We have truth on our side, Bella, and plenty of witnesses to back our truth up. That will have to count for something. And then there is Renesmee…"
I cringed against Edward's chest as he said her name. Edward shushed me again. "With very few exceptions she's captivated each and every person she's met."
Edward paused, and I knew him well enough to know that he was now considering all of the reasons there were not to be optimistic. Affirming my thoughts, Edward pulled me closer and whispered in my ear. "Be assured that whatever we find in the clearing tomorrow evening, we'll be facing it together. I'll never leave your side, Bella. Whatever happens, you and I will stay together. We will never be apart. We can never be apart again."
I knew that Edward was trying to reassure me, to comfort me, diminish my fears, but his voice was rough with stress and there was a sense of urgency when he spoke.
Reluctantly, I pulled myself from Edward's embrace. Staring up at his perfect face, his golden eyes a window into his blindingly beautiful soul, I felt as if it were an utter impossibility that this might be our last stolen moment together. But if it were, I had vowed to myself that Edward would leave this world knowing just what he meant to me; knowing just how much I loved him. Crushing grief coursed through me as I struggled to find the words to say.
"Edward….. I don't know how to say goodbye." I fumbled over my words. Edward stared at me, anguish seeping into the creases around his eyes. Pain cast a shadow over his beautiful face.
"You don't have to Bella…" he said hurriedly, but I pressed my fingers to his lips.
"Edward there is something you need to know before we face the Volturi tomorrow."
Edward studied my face quietly. Freeing his hand from mine, he brought his hand to my face and gently swept my hair back from around my eyes, letting his fingers linger at the sides of my face.
"What is it?" He whispered softly a few moments later.
I sighed. How could I possibly begin to tell Edward how much I loved him? How sorry I was for all of the pain that I caused him throughout our relationship; how sorry I was that he suffered, watching me together with Jacob all those times. If Edward and I weren't meant to survive our encounter with the Volturi, he would at least die knowing exactly what he meant to me.
"Edward, it's a very simple thing for me to tell you that I love you. I know you know that. But it's more than that. I truly believe that my entire reason for being is to be with you. You and I were destined to be together. Fate played along, making sure we never strayed from our destiny, helping to bring us together against the greatest of odds. I know now that there was never any other way for either one of us but to be together. Without you, I would cease to exist."
"And you, I." Edward agreed thoughtfully. He was listening intently to what I had to say. He held both my hands in his now, gently rubbing them, trying to ease my tension.
"You are everything to me, Edward. You always have been. When you went away…."
Edward winced. Edward and I never spoke about the time we spent apart just after my eighteenth birthday. It was much too difficult for both of us, but especially for Edward. He'd never forgiven himself for leaving me. "Bella please, we don't need to talk about this." Edward pleaded with me.
"But we do, Edward." I pressed forward. "I don't like to remember the pain, either, Edward. But lately I've thought a lot about everything that happened in the past and dealing with the pain is a lot easier now that I fully understand that your decision to leave me, as gut wrenchingly painful as it was for me, was a necessary decision. It brought Jacob into our lives front and center."
Edward studied me more closely now, a hint of confusion creeping across his face.
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean to say, Bella," Edward said slowly.
I looked Edward square in the face and continued. "Edward, after you left and I found Jacob, my heart started to heal. Not entirely, of course. There was still an agonizingly painful, gaping hole that only you could fill; nonetheless I did start to feel better, slowly. Being with Jacob felt right, Edward. And I grew to love him dearly. But it was also very confusing for me. I knew with the greatest of conviction that I loved you more deeply than I had ever loved anyone else. I also knew that I could never hope to approximate the depth of my feelings for you with anyone else, even Jacob. But I did love him. And I continued to love him, even when you returned."
I paused for a moment, letting Edward consider what I was saying.
"I want to be very clear here, Edward." I started to explain a moment later. "When you returned, I was made whole again. So much of who I was had been lost with you; when you returned, it was like finding myself all over again. Yet, Jacob still had this indescribable, mystifying hold over me. I know it was hard for you, Edward, watching me with Jacob, knowing I cared so deeply for him."
I looked straight into Edward's eyes now. Though he tried hard to convince himself and everyone else that my feelings for Jacob hadn't caused him a great deal of suffering and pain, both of us knew that they had. Always the willing victim, Edward had stood quietly by, never challenging my relationship with Jacob, always willing to sacrifice his own personal happiness by allowing me to pursue my own.
"I'm sorry." I said simply, truthfully, with conviction. "I'm sorry you've had to suffer so because of me."
"It pales in comparison to what I've put you through." Edward murmured. I smiled sympathetically. There was no end to Edward's remorse.
"Don't you see, Edward?" I placed both of my hands on his face now, speaking slowly and clearly, commanding his gaze. "It's clear to me now that everything that has happened between us over the past year and a half happened for a specific reason. Meeting each other, falling in love with each other, your decision to leave, my involvement with Jacob; each specific event was meaningful; all were pivotal points on our journey to fulfill our destiny. I know now there was a purpose in your absence. It brought Jacob into our lives. He was meant to be a part of our lives, Edward. Not just my life, but our lives, and more importantly, Renesmee's life. All along, the ties that bound Jacob and I together weren't really about the two of us at all. They were about his tie to Renesmee, even when she wasn't anything more than an unimaginable possibility."
Edward looked slightly confused now. "Bella, I'm trying to understand, but I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to tell me."
I smiled, becoming more animated as I spoke, becoming even firmer in my conviction that each and every part of our entire story was essential to the whole of who we were now.
"Edward, what I'm trying to explain is that I have never loved anyone else; only you. You need to know that. All those times you questioned yourself, questioned my choices, questioned my attachment to Jacob; it was never about my relationship with Jacob. It was all about our unborn daughter's relationship with Jacob. Of course I love Jacob dearly as a friend, but that deeper connection we shared was because of Renesmee. Don't you see? There has never been anyone else for me, but you, Edward. I've always known that. I want you to know that; no, I need you to know that, to. I've never loved anyone as much as I love you."
Edward stared at me blankly for a minute, his eyes pulled tightly together as he sifted through our conversation and the multitude of thoughts spinning through his mind. Then, as quickly as the troubled look manifested itself, a sense of calm settled across his face. He understood.
"Oh." He said simply, nodding at me.
"You're off the hook, too, you know." I teased him now.
"From what," he asked, still staring intently at my face.
"From the guilt over leaving me you've been shouldering all this time. Forgive yourself Edward. Everything was meant to happen as it did. All the pieces have come together now; fate has enabled us to fulfill our destiny."
Edward smiled at me then, hesitantly at first, then, slowly, his smile grew, spreading across his face, illuminating his eyes. Edward took my face in both of his hands, shaking his head at me, laughing quietly.
"It would be impossible for someone to love anyone as much as I love you, Bella." Edward leaned in and kissed me gently, sending an electric pulse throughout my entire body. I suddenly remembered why it was I had wanted to be alone with Edward tonight. Edward kissed me harder, snaking his fingers through my hair, pulling my face tighter against his.
"Wait," I gasped.
"What is it," he muttered, ignoring my request for him to stop; he kissed up my jaw line, letting his mouth linger near my ear, and down my neck. A small moan escaped my throat. Damn the distractions. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to tear myself from Edward's passionate embrace.
"Edward," I said, forcing him to meet my gaze.
"Yes," he answered exasperated, laughing at my persistence. "Tell me what is it, Bella?" He leaned in to kiss me again, teasing me, brushing his lips softly against mine.
"I want to know that you really heard what I was saying." I said as sincerely as possible. It was almost primal now, this need I had for Edward to know that he was always the only one. Edward caught on to my mood; he pulled away from me, studying my face. He nodded at me.
"I heard what you said, Bella." He leaned in briefly to kiss my lips then pulled back again. He paused for a moment before continuing, as if he were letting the significance of everything I had said sink in. "You know, I suppose I never really thought to look at the big picture; to consider our destiny. I've always been too caught up in all the details of day to day life. Wondrously, it seems each event in our time together was pre-ordained to help us to fulfill our destiny."
"That's exactly how I see things, Edward." I said quietly.
Edward smiled at me, his brilliant eyes washing over with what appeared to be gratitude. "Thank you, Bella." Edward said softly. "Looking at things from your perspective, looking at the big picture instead of just isolated moments in time, it does all seem to make sense, to have come together, as it should. And it does make the memories of the more difficult times bearable if you think of them as necessary junctures, all a part of a much greater destiny waiting to be fulfilled."
"Does that mean you forgive me for putting you through everything I put you through with Jacob?" I ran my hand down his cheek. "More importantly, does it mean you forgive yourself?"
Edward looked at me again, his beautiful golden eyes mesmerizing me. He leaned in close to me and whispered into my ear.
"It means that there is no doubt in my mind that we were always meant to be." His breath was warm against my ear. "Now, love, this entire conversation has been incredibly enlightening. Truly it has. Thank you. However, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep myself from, well….from attacking you."
Edward stopped talking and kissed passionately down my neck. My eyelashes fluttered rapidly and I inhaled deeply, drinking in Edwards's scent. My fingers twisted up into Edward's hair and I pulled him closer to me.
"I love you," I whispered into his ear as we fell to the ground. Our bodies twined together easily, two interlocking pieces, each one half of the other, coming together as a whole.
"And I you," I heard him say as his lips met mine.