Light, so low in the vale
You flash and lighten afar;
For this is the golden morning of love
And you are his morning star.
"Marriage Morning", Alfred Lord Tennyson
I woke to the feeling of gentle hands stroking my hair, running the length of my bare back, carefully avoiding the lines of my injuries, massaging tender circles on my skin. I smiled sleepily, a fog of euphoria enveloping me. I opened my eyes and beamed.
"Good morning, beautiful," Edward whispered, kissing me gently, his breathtaking smile curving against my lips. I stretched out, feeling the length of his naked body against mine, and hugged him tightly, planting a small kiss on his shoulder.
"Good morning," I cooed into his skin, and felt, rather than saw, his smile.
"How do you feel?" he asked softly, his breath fluttering across my skin.
I stretched and wiggled before him, performing a complete internal assessment.
"Perfect," I said shyly, looking up at him through my eyelashes.
He shook his head in amazement, the most beautiful smile gracing his lips.
"There isn't a mark on you that shouldn't be," he said, his voice marvelling. "I never once held you too tightly or... or bit you. Bella, I didn't even tear your stitches...."
My smile was victorious. "Told you so," I teased. "And what, were you really expecting my stitches to tear? I can't even imagine how that would happen."
"Oh, it's easier than you'd expect, my darling," he answered playfully. "I'll show you sometime. It helps that you're so..."
I arched my eyebrows at him. His own eyes widened, and I was sure that had he been human, his cheeks would have been on fire.
"So...?" I prompted him.
"So... bendy," he murmured, grinning crookedly at me.
A flash of heat went through me. I loved that I could reduce this articulate man, this perfect, eloquent creature, into using an adjective like bendy to describe the motions of my body.
I grinned at him, bending my head to kiss him tenderly.
"You have no idea," I whispered against his mouth, and rejoiced in his sigh.
His hands gripped my arms gently, encouraging me to relax completely against him.
For the longest time we lay there in absolute silence. Rare tendrils of golden sunlight snaked their way across the room, marking the passing of another day, the descent into twilight. Our bodies were pressed flush against each other, fitting together perfectly.
A very unfamiliar emotion swept through me. I was... proud of myself.
I was proud that I had been brave enough to talk about this with Edward. Proud that I had reassured him enough that he'd felt himself capable of making love to me without breaking me in half.
When I had told him that I wanted this human experience, I had hoped that he would acquiesce but had acknowledged that the likelihood of that happening was slim to none. His sudden agreement had taken me by surprise. I had not realised until that exact moment how much I'd wanted him – wanted us to express our love in this most tangible of ways, wanted to take this most natural of steps with him firmly by my side.
Now we had crossed that last frontier together. We lay, warm in our afterglow, with no barriers between us. There was no room for doubt, or insecurity, or fear. We had given ourselves to each other so utterly that all we could feel now was the purity of that love, flowing through an unbreakable connection.
I was glad, so glad, that Charlie had phoned earlier in the day to warn me that he wouldn't be home. It meant that neither of us had to move from Edward's bedroom. We did not have to separate, to sever ourselves from this perfect moment.
His hand cradled my head against the crook where his shoulder met his neck, his other hand still running up and down my back. Ì nuzzled the side of his neck with my nose, giggling when he purred softly in approval.
He caught my chin lightly between his thumb and index finger, tilting my head up to meet his. Smiling crookedly at me, he kissed the tip of my nose lightly.
"I have never –" He planted a kiss on my temple "— been so happy –" His lips fluttered delicately against the skin of my cheek, "– in my entire life," he finished simply, brushing his mouth across mine. "Thank you, Bella. Thank you."
I felt a stinging behind my eyes that had nothing to do with pain or fear or sadness. The love I had for this man was too much for my feeble body to contain. My heart felt as though it were beating right out of my chest, my throat ached, my every limb felt heavy with it – sore with it.
I kissed him. "I want to wake up like this every morning," I mumbled against his lips.
His hands stroked my face gently. "Me too," he whispered, and his whole heart was in his eyes.
I smiled adoringly at him. He looked and looked at me.
"I have to say, you've earned my full seal of approval with this human experience," he whispered playfully, kissing my forehead, his hands splaying around my waist, careful to avoid my injuries.
"I'm so glad the experiment was to your liking," I murmured back sarcastically, unable to keep the goofy smile off my face.
A thought skittered lightly across my head in that instance. I very nearly let it go, thinking it to be of little consequence, but my brain-mouth filter was not yet in place and so it slipped out without any volition on my part.
"Edward... is there anything you want to experience with me while I'm still human?"
For the first time since I'd woken, his hands paused in their careful mapping of my body. His eyes watched mine warily.
"There is, isn't there?" I said instantly, the reactions of his body cluing me in.
He swallowed. "You won't like it," he said softly.
"Try me." I stroked his cheek.
"There is... one thing that I would very much like us both to experience," he mumbled. He looked so afraid, so unsure of himself. My heart ached. Did he not know that I would give him anything? That I would give him everything?
"What is it?" I asked quietly, bracing myself.
In a smooth movement, he raised his body, his arms cradling me against him so that I came to rest in his lap as he sat up.
"Bella, I love you," he vowed quietly to me, "and I want you in every way you can possibly imagine. I want you with me forever. I don't want a single day without you in it."
I smiled at him tenderly. "You know I feel the same way."
He took a breath and nodded. "I know.... I know you've already... already promised to love me always, to be with me forever..."
He sounded so hesitant. What was so difficult for him to say?
"And I was wondering..." He paused, his eyes searching mine, pleading for something... what? "I was wondering how you would feel if... If we promised that to each other in a more tangible way... A more official way... A mortal way. A – a marriage, Bella."
My mouth fell open.
Oh, my god.
"You don't have to say anything right now," he said hurriedly, his hands stroking my hair. "It's just... It's a selfish desire, I know, I know you don't have any particularly happy memories of marriage considering your parents... It's just – I would love for you to wear my ring, to be my wife. I would love to marry you... to be your husband as well as your lover when I change you."
The room was dancing jigs around me. I couldn't believe what he was saying, couldn't believe that these words were actually falling from his lips. And I certainly couldn't work my brain or any specific motor functions. I could only stare at him dumbly, my mouth opening and closing like that of a goldfish.
"Bella?" he whispered anxiously, when a few silent minutes had passed. "Love? Have I upset you? I'm sorry, I don't mean to rush you into anything you're not ready for..."
I held a hand up, requesting quiet. He fell silent immediately, but still his eyes were troubled as they scanned my face again and again, looking for a clue to my thoughts.
My mind was utterly blank for minutes on end. I concentrated on breathing slowly, in and out, before finally my head cleared and I had one very important thought.
Edward Cullen loved me.
He wanted me to marry him. He wanted me to be his wife. He wanted to be my husband.
He wanted to keep me forever.
In that moment, all of my previously-held cynical views on marriage fell away and I saw right through to the very heart of it. And I recognised the bubble that I could feel building in and under my lungs, curling warmly throughout my entire body. In that second it burst, spreading bright rays of happiness through and through me.
A joyous laugh bubbled out of me, and I swayed towards his face. My arms locked tightly around his neck and my mouth was exultant upon his.
"Yes, yes, yes!" I was ecstatic, my voice bubbling between kisses, feeling the cool of his body around me, the warmth of his love.
He kissed me back fiercely, his hands tangled in my hair. "You mean it?" he gasped when my lips momentarily trailed down his neck. "You really mean it?"
I nodded fervently, taking his face between my hands and staring him in the eyes.
"Nothing on earth would make me happier than being your wife, Edward Cullen," I said softly, and went to kiss him.
He leant his head away from me, smiling radiantly.
"Say it again," he whispered blissfully.
I beamed at him. "I want to be your wife," I proclaimed, giggling in pure joy.
He swallowed. "Oh god," he said, and suddenly I was sitting all by myself on the couch with the blankets he'd covered me with the night before strewn haphazardly around me.
I looked to my right, and he was there, taking my hand in his, kneeling before me. The faint sunlight trickling in his window made prisms dance on his beautiful, naked flesh.
My breath caught in my chest as he opened his other hand, revealing a simple box. He pinched it open with thumb and forefinger, and there was the most beautiful ring I had ever seen, sparkling up at me.
"Marry me," he said simply.
I had to swallow the misty lump in my throat. "Yes," I whispered, almost bashfully, and watched as he slid the ring, the sign of his promise, into place on my left hand.
One Week Later
My truck's windscreen wipers slid back and forth across the window. I smiled as they screeched in angry friction against the glass, remembering the last time I'd been in this truck, the last time I'd been near this boundary line.
How much I'd changed since then. I was an entirely different person.
I pressed my foot to the brake pedal and we rolled smoothly to a stop.
"This is where we part ways for the moment," I told him softly. I felt, more than saw, him nod.
He picked up my hand and brushed a kiss across my engagement ring. "I'll be waiting," he promised.
I smiled at him. "I know you will be. I'll come back to you soon."
He slipped out of the truck and I continued on my way, towards La Push, towards my best friend's house, towards my past.
The last time I had been here, Jacob's enthusiasm at seeing me had swept me up into his arms without a moment's delay. Now, I made it as far as the door and had to knock before his large shape loomed from the house.
He came into view, and I had to suppress a gasp. His hair was tangled and matted, his face drawn so that he looked years older. It was obvious that he'd been through hell since I'd seen him last.
"Hi Bella," he croaked flatly, his voice rasping. I had to restrain myself from reaching out and hugging him. I held those impulses firmly in check – they would not help anyone, only hurt.
"Jake." I nodded my greeting at him, watching as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"What can I do for you?" he asked. There was no life in his voice, no hope.
I swallowed. "First and foremost, I came to apologise... and thank you," I whispered, my voice catching. "You... you were so right. I acted – deplorably. So much worse than I thought I could ever be capable of. And you saw right through me. You could have gone any number of ways and I wouldn't have blamed you... but you were the best friend I could have asked for in that moment, and I am so... so grateful for that."
He nodded. "Is that all?" he asked curtly. At that, I could no longer hold my worry in.
"Is something wrong?" I asked, as gently as I could. Again I ached to hold his body against my own, to comfort him, and again I resisted, knowing that no good could come of that.
"I'm fine, Bella," he said bitterly. "Well... maybe a bit on the crappy side of fine, but hey, I'll get over it, right? I'll just..." Here he broke off, seeming to give up. His shoulders slumped. "God," he cried, "why is this so hard? I thought it was bad not seeing you, but you being here, it's just..."
Abruptly he took a deep breath and pulled himself up.
"It's okay," he said fiercely. "It's okay. You... you look really happy, Bells. And I'm glad for that. I really am."
I nodded bleakly, feeling my heart quail inside me as I remembered the task I'd come out here to achieve. As always, Jake noticed every minor urging of my body, and his face became more alert.
"That isn't the only reason why you came out here, is it Bella?" he asked sharply. "What's the matter? Are you in trouble? Do you need the pack's help?"
I shook my head, and took a deep, steadying breath.
"I only need one thing," I said, smiling shakily, "and you're the only one who can grant it to me."
His face had closed off again. He looked like a stranger. A grown up. For the first time, I saw him as a man and not a boy, saw him struggling under the weight of a very adult world.
I gulped. "I've come to you, Ephraim's heir, the true leader of the pack, to ask..."
"Stop right there," he said, his hands moving in a slicing motion. I froze, and saw his chest expand with a series of deep breaths.
"I know what you want, Bella," he said finally, quietly. "Just... just don't say it, okay? I can't bear to hear you say it."
I inclined my head gently, watching him warily, barely daring to breathe. I saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. Then his arms reached for me, pulled me to him, and his warmth surrounded me one last time.
"Do whatever you have to do to be happy, Bells," I heard him whisper throatily across the top of my head. "You have my permission. Just... just be happy, okay? Be happy, and be loved, that's all I want for you..."
My arms constricted around his back. This man, my best friend, who had picked me up and tried his hardest to put me back together, who had comforted me and held me and kissed me in the night, whose heart I had smashed to pieces, had just given me the very last thing he could ever give me, had gone against everything he believed in to ensure my future safety and happiness...
And then it was over. The hug was finished. Jacob's hands landed lightly on my shoulders, then gently pushed me back, away from his body.
"I can't be your best friend anymore," he said softly, his eyes all torn up. "You know that, right?"
I nodded. "I love you, Jake," I managed to choke out, and watched him smile wistfully.
The lips that I had once kissed glanced off my forehead, breathing me in for the last time.
"Goodbye, Bella," he murmured, then turned and walked blindly back into the house.
I stared after him, and my heart ached.
I knew, once and for all, that this chapter of my life was firmly closed. That I could never come back here, to this house, that I would probably never see Jacob again, never be a part of his future. The weight of that knowledge was hard to bear.
But endings, whatever their form, were always hard, always painful. This one was made even more bitter by the thought that Jacob would continue to suffer because of me, still wonder what might have been, until the moment the woman he was really meant to be with appeared in his life and made up for everything that had come before.
I realised now that I could still love Jake, still want the best for him, want him to be happy and safe and loved, but I had to let him go. He had been my best friend. Now was the time to finally be that to him, too. To walk away and not look back. It was what he needed. What he deserved.
I sighed heavily and made my way back to the truck. The clunk of the door as it closed echoed in my thoughts. I threw one more longing glance towards the house, towards the man who had played such an important role in my life.
"Be happy, Jacob Black," I murmured softly, blinking traitorous tears from my eyes.
Then my hand was twisting the key in the ignition, and the engine was roaring to life. My foot pushed the clutch, the truck rolled out of the driveway, and it was over. The past was behind me, and Edward was waiting.
Ever before I crossed the treaty line, I could see him, pacing anxiously in the rain at the edge of the woods.
I passed the invisible boundary, then put the truck in park, slid out and walked to him. His eyes burned into mine, yet all he said was "Is it finished?"
And I smiled back at him peacefully, slipping my arms around his neck. "Yes," I said simply, and raised my lips to his.
He kissed me firmly, with promises of more to come. And in that moment, I knew that there were more goodbyes in my future. That there would be tears and pain and heartache. I knew that I still had to explain things to my parents, to give them the best possible resolution, and that I had to mend the bridges I'd burned with his family during my weeks of selfishness.
There would be problems and obstacles ahead, just as there were problems and obstacles behind. But in that moment, we stood there in the rain, and my future husband held me as though he would never let me go, and I felt the bright promise of our life together beckon me one step closer.
And I knew.
I was exactly where I'd been meant to be, all along.