Disclaimer: Interestingly enough, I STILL don't own these characters. Hehe.

The Next Summer

Edward paused outside the door to the command room taking a deep breath. Typically, guild members were only called here when they were sent out on assignment or they were taking part in planning a mission. Edward wasn't sure what to think. He hoped to the Gods he wasn't being sent somewhere. He didn't think Eleazar would do such a thing as it was the day before his wedding, but if there was a particular need...

Shaking that thought away, Edward opened the door.

Eleazar stood over the long table in the center of the room pouring over maps and conferring with a few others. Edward cleared his throat to announce his arrival.

"Ah," Eleazar smiled as he looked up, "Edward, good. Have a seat, my boy." He looked around at the others in the room, "Can we have a moment?"

As they filed out, Edward sat, trying to resist the urge to fidget. The longer that Eleazar went without speaking, the more Edward's anxiety grew.

Finally, the other man looked up, a kind, almost wistful, expression on his face. "Edward, I am an old man," he began.

"Oh, I'd say you have a fair amount of decades left in you," Edward replied easily, unsure of where Eleazar was going with this.

The other man chuckled, and then his face turned serious. "Yes, well…I am old enough to know a thing or two. Here's what I know, Edward. The guild has not been the same since your father's death. There's just a quality I lack, a charisma, I suppose," he mused. Then he looked up, his face grave. "I… I was never meant to lead this guild, Edward. That was never what Carlisle or I intended."

Edward furrowed his eyebrows, not sure what to make of this turn in the conversation. "What are you saying?"

Eleazar stood and began to pace. "Carlisle and I spoke at great length of what would happen to this guild when he was ready to retire, as it were…or in the event of his death. It was not an easy decision for him. This job… the pressures are tremendous, and the consequences of leading poorly mean life or death to the people you lead."

Still confused, Edward simply waited quietly.

The older man sighed and looked at him. "It was Carlisle's wish that when he stepped aside as leader, you would take over that role."

A bolt of pure shock hit Edward like lightening to his spine. "What?"

"You must know your own strengths. You are a brilliant strategist and a natural leader. I've seen it over and over again myself – the way you utilize each member of your party to full advantage," Eleazar explained easily.

For long moments, Edward said nothing. His heart was pounding fast in his chest. Nerves had pushed his heart up to his throat, but beneath all that there was a deep sense of pride. He knew his father had depended on him and trusted him. He knew that there was a reason he'd always had more responsibilities than most of the others in the guild. It was not nepotism – something anyone in the guild could see as Carlisle's eldest child, Emmett, had never had those same responsibilities. Edward had earned his place.

But still. There was a huge gap between being a group leader and being the head of a guild.

Edward swallowed thickly, forcing himself to calm down so he could speak. "Why now? If this is what he wanted, and I assume what you wanted, why didn't you tell me immediately? My father has been dead for over a year."

Eleazar smiled softly – the smile of a man that was much more Edward's honorary Uncle than his leader. "There were many reasons. You are still a very young man, Edward. I know it was your father's wish that you be spared the burden of his responsibilities for many years to come. Fate, it would seem, has had different plans. I've tried my best to prolong the time you had, but therein lay the crux of my problem. As much as I would like to give you time, I have more people to think about than just you.

"And, along that line, I also needed to be sure you were ready. Before you met your beautiful bride I wouldn't have hesitated. But after?" Eleazar smiled ruefully. "You know – no matter how many times it happened, your father never got used to sending his children out into danger. It will never be easy for you to order your brothers and sisters out on missions that could very well cost them their lives. You will have to send your wife into dangerous situations time and time again. I needed to know that you could be a leader first, and a husband and brother second."

The two men regarded each other, a serious and somber mood settling over the both of them as Edward forced himself to think the way his father had been forced to. He imagined having to decide who was on the front lines of battle based solely on skills and the optimal situation.

Over the last year, Edward had fought beside Bella several times. As a newer member of the guild, she had yet to be on the front lines of any battle, but she was a strong and clever fighter. Her mastery of the spells Eleazar taught her grew every day. It would not be long before, as a strategist, he would want her involved in the more complicated, dangerous assignments.

He knew that she could take care of herself. That knowledge had not made it easier on him – seeing her in battle.

But life, Edward knew, was not easy.

"If this is what my father wanted, and this is what you believe is the best… it would be my honor to serve," he said finally.

Eleazar didn't respond right away. He was staring into Edward's eyes, assessing. Obviously satisfied by what he saw there, he nodded. "Good. That's settled then. We'll talk about the best way to make the transition smoothly when you return from your honeymoon.

"Speaking of which," Eleazar said and his look became soft again. He sighed. "Days like today it seems like the greatest injustice that your father was taken before his time. You don't know how I sometimes wish, if someone had to be sacrificed, that it was me and not him. Having to miss your wedding, Edward… I know how he worried about you. Would that he had lived to see this day."

"Would that he had lived to see many days he didn't," Edward said quietly. He thought of his father often, of course, and his heart ached. He would imagine Carlisle's smile at milestones – as when Bella joined their ranks, when they finally let their family in on their engagement, and several months ago when Emmett and Rosalie's first child was born. Carlisle's namesake had his eyes and, so far, his grandfather's quiet demeanor. "Though I doubt he would have wanted you to wish you could take his place."

"Well, he will have to forgive me this once," Eleazar replied. "Carlisle isn't here, so I will speak for him.

"No father could have been prouder of his child than Carlisle was of you. You are a good man, Edward-among the best I have had the honor and privilege of knowing – just like your father. I know you will love and cherish your wife throughout the rest of your lives – the way your father loved your mother, and I love my Carmen."

"Always," Edward vowed.

Eleazar nodded and stood. Edward followed suit. "For your father, and from my own heart, I wish you and Bella all the happiness in the world." He smiled a small smile. "I only wish that I could give you more time to be only her husband, and not her leader."

Edward clasped the older man's hand, expressing his thanks. "That I will be able to call her my wife at all is a gift my father gave me. I am thankful for what I have. I am young, but I know well enough that fate will not let us dictate all of our own future."

Eleazar put his other hand over Edward's and shook it. "But we will control what we can." He released Edward's hand and clapped him on the back. "Now, enough seriousness for the time being. Go on. You have very little bachelorhood left, and I'm sure your brothers want your attention."

"Thank you, Eleazar. For everything," Edward said sincerely.

A few minutes later, Edward found himself out in the courtyard. It was a beautiful summer day and the whole town was bustling with activity. The courtyard of the Cullen guildhall was scattered with practice skirmishes. He looked over everything with new eyes, knowing in a matter of weeks they would all be his responsibility. From the guild's oldest member, Eleazar - who'd been his senior since before he could remember - to the newest recruit, Seth. The boy was barely seventeen but he was already a capable fighter. Still, he was just a boy.

Edward almost laughed at himself. At twenty-three he was hardly more than a boy himself. He knew he was young to lead, but he also knew that he'd had the best example. Carlisle had been younger than he was now when he'd started this guild.

He was startled out of his deep thoughts when a bright, hot - but painless - burning sensation passed over his skin. It took a moment for him to recognize that someone had cast a fire shield on him. Smiling now, he turned, finding Bella standing off the path a ways. She grinned at him. "I like that spell. It's helpful to more than just me," she said cheerfully.

"Shields are very useful," he agreed, loping over to her and wrapping his arms around her waist.

When Eleazar had offered Bella a spot with the guild she had, of course, accepted. She'd taken just a few weeks to get the bakery up and running again, and had given it over to Angela as a wedding gift. After that she had thrown herself headlong into training. Eleazar had been ecstatic to find a magical talent as strong as hers. She mastered more of her chosen element - fire - with each week.

All of that and she hadn't neglected her hand to hand combat either. Edward chuckled to himself. Bella was not yet twenty and she was a formidable fighter indeed.

"You passed right by me without seeing me," she said softly, kissing his chin. "What's wrong?"

Edward hesitated. "Nothing to worry about, my love. We'll talk about it later," he promised. Then a wide, gentle smile tugged at the edges of his lips and he squeezed her. "There's not much that could be wrong. Not when tomorrow is so close. Finally."

"Finally," she laughed, grinning back. Her eyes became tender and seemed to light up brighter than the fires she could conjure.

The warmth she exuded rushed through his body, drawing him to her. Edward leaned down, kissing her reverently. "Will you come away with me, just for a little while?" he breathed against her ear, suddenly desperate to get her alone.

She gave a small whimper and smiled ruefully at him. "Alas, good Sir," she said in a formal tone, "Someone went and retrieved my mother from far off lands so she could attend my wedding. I promised to spend the afternoon with her." She kissed him long on his pouting lips. "But if you ask me again tomorrow, where you go I will follow."

"Poetic," he murmured, kissing her again... too persuasive for her own good.

Eventually though, he let her go. She promised she would be back in the evening to spend a little time with his family before returning home to her father's house for the last time.


As it turned out, Eleazar was right about Edward's brothers wanting to take him out for the evening.

"Oh, what's the point of that? I can't get up to any bachelor-type activities with two married, old farts," Edward quipped. In all honesty he was perfectly content where he was. They were in the common room – just the family. Bella had been reclining in his arms but as soon as she'd wandered off to retrieve something, Emmett had jumped at the chance to get him out of the house.

"You can dig in your heels all you want," Jasper said lazily, lounging as he was in one of the larger chairs. "If we have to, we'll drag your sorry behind to the pub."

He might have said more than that but suddenly Jasper found himself falling backwards, his chair toppled. He rolled instinctively and jumped to his feet, looking around.

His eyes found Bella with her hands on her hips. "Jasper Hale, Emmett Cullen, tell me you're not trying to get my fiancé drunk. He has somewhere to be tomorrow."

Emmett chucked from across the room. "Maybe we should take her out tonight, Jasper."

Bella glared at her brother-in-law-to-be. "You're lucky you're holding Mab, Emmett," she said threateningly, nodding toward the baby that was sleeping peacefully on Emmett's chest.

Smirking, Esme carefully lifted the sleeping baby out of Emmett's arms and into her own. She hardly ever let the child go, and was only too happy to remove her grandson from harm's way. She winked at Bella.

Emmett grumbled. "I see whose side you're on. Nice, Ma."

"What?" Esme said, smiling good-naturedly. "I remember the night before Alice and Jasper's wedding. The three of you sounded like braying donkeys. The only reason you weren't still fall down drunk the next day was because of Rosalie's elixir."

"Oh, let them go," Rosalie said, waving her hand dismissively. "I have a new batch that will ward off the hangover." She smiled at her husband wickedly. "Of course, I can't be held responsible for the side effects."

"Rose," Alice hissed, getting an unpleasant vision. It appeared the side effect of Rosalie's elixir affected a man's staying power as it were. Edward shuddered involuntarily. It was an unfortunate side effect of his gift that he occasionally saw more of his brothers and sisters – and parents for that matter – than he ever would have wanted to.

"Don't worry," Rosalie soothed, looking at Bella. "I'll give Edward the right one. Wouldn't want to impede on your wedding night, Bella."

Rosalie and Bella had been on much better terms over the last year. Bella blushed at the other woman's suggestive tone but didn't comment.

"And what did I do? Why are you punishing me?" Alice whined.

"Fine!" Rosalie grumbled, but she was smiling.

"Oh, Bella! Are you sure we can't kidnap you tonight?" Alice asked, putting on a signature devastated expression for Bella's benefit.

Bella, it seemed, was growing resistant to her soon-to-be-sister's manipulative charm. "I promised my father I would be home, one last time. Then he'll be alone in the house again and I'll be here."


Dawn, the next day, couldn't come early enough for Edward. He was all but bouncing out of his skin waiting for the early afternoon ceremony.

It would not be exactly like the vision Alice had seen at her wedding, but it was close enough. The important part to Edward was that by the end of the day today, Bella would be his wife.

His mother came to retrieve him shortly after daybreak. She made sure he ate something and then turned him over to the capable hands of his brothers. If they couldn't entertain him, at least they could distract him.

And they did. Edward had to go to his mother and sheepishly beg her to mend a minor rip in his dress tunic - the result in the inevitable tussle they'd gotten into. Esme had grumbled something about boys being boys even though they were all grown and wed - almost.

Finally - finally - afternoon came.

The King, more than happy to do a favor for Carlisle's son, had eagerly offered up the use of his gardens and the palace courtyard for the wedding. It was not traditional, as Alice and Emmett's had been. Rather, Bella had favored a ceremony that was more common in the fields she'd grown up around. She preferred the symbolism of equality, as her father did not give her away to her husband. Rather, they would both walk to meet each other.

So, with the flowers of the summer lending a sweet scent to the air and an almost surreal beauty to the day, Edward waited impatiently for his bride to come into view.

When she did, his breath caught in his throat.

She was dressed, as he had once seen her in Alice's visions, in soft colors - the skirt of her dress made of light yellow, blue, and misty green. She wore a delicate circlet of flowers on her head with a light, gauzy veil coming off it. Her cream and roses skin was flawless. She was flawless.

To a small band of reed flutes and a rather talented lute player, they walked toward each other, neither knowing how they managed to keep a steady pace. They met in the middle where a priestess waited and directed them to kneel across from one another. Gladly, they obeyed.

The priestess spoke of unity and of the family and friends that had gathered, connected by Edward and Bella's union. She spoke about walking beside each other in life. She spoke about how love was fated, but marriages - like any relationship - were to be treasured and attended to like the beautiful gardens that surrounded them.

When she was done speaking she took a long cloth. It was meant to symbolize their paths joining, binding them together physically as they were bound at the soul level.

"My life," Edward said softly as the priestess draped one end of the cloth lightly over his wrist.

"My life," Bella echoed as the priestess repeated the motion.

They clasped hands, arms crossed at the wrist so that there was a tangle of fingers between them. The priestess lightly bound their hands together. "Our life," they vowed, each grinning in that glowing way two people promising themselves to each other were prone too. Their eyes were alight with the strength of their love and the hope of the future that lay stretched before them.

They stood, still connected, and kissed passionately. Bella was a little disgruntled that she could not throw her arms around Edward. Their family and friends laughed indulgently - or whistled in Emmett's case - and cheered. They parted, slightly breathless, and turned to greet the gathered crowd - and the rest of their lives - together.

The. End.

A/N: So uh. Wow. Just. Wow.

This was my very first Twilight fanfic. I never meant it to take this long but...crimeny, what a journey.

Thank you to everyone who stuck with me through months and months of writers block. Thank you to CellaCullen who argued like crazy when she found out I was planning on killing Carlisle.

Thank you to josieswan who beta'ed.

Thank you for taking this ride with me. Mwah.