Epilogue: Ever After

I walked up the path to the Cullen house, my arm linked with Jacob's. It was a situation I had never thought I would be in. I was escorting Jacob to a party at the Cullen house.

For what seemed like the millionth time, Jacob leaned towards me. "They're inviting me to dinner?" he asked mildly.

I smacked his arm, lightly so that I wouldn't hurt my own hand. "They're not going to eat you," I said in a low voice. "It's just a fire."

Jacob grumbled something I couldn't understand but I ignored him. We walked up the steps and I saw Alice waiting for us, at the door.

She embraced me tightly when we got to the top and smiling, I hugged her back. When she pulled away, she was beaming. "I am so proud of you," she whispered.

I couldn't help but beam back. "I couldn't have done it if you hadn't snuck a knife into my pocket," I teased her, but it was the truth.

Her grin widened. She turned and nodded politely to Jacob, who muttered an uncomfortable hello. Then she led us through the house and outside into the backyard, where there was a large, bright fire burning. Emmett was the first to run from the fire. He scooped me up in his arms and twirled me around. I laughed and pounded his arm.

"I never knew you had it in ya!" he said, laughing as he put me down and I shrugged with a grin, as if I known all along.

Carlisle came up behind him and gave me a hug that was a bit more tame, but still as loving. "Of course she did," he said with a smile. "All along."

Esme appeared next to Carlisle, and she embraced me as well, murmuring her encouragement and pride into my ear.

I wasn't surprised to see that Rosalie had appeared next to Emmett. But I was surprised when I saw a tiny smile tug at the corner of her mouth, and she reached out her arms to me. A bit stunned, I hugged her.

"Phenomenal," she whispered to me. "You did well."

"Thank you," I whispered, thanking her not just for her words and this new, strange kindness, but for everything that she had done to keep me safe in the past months.

They began to lead me over to the fire and I looked behind us. "Where's Edward?" I asked.

"He's going to be a bit late," Carlisle told me, and I could have sworn I saw an amused glint in his eye. "But he will be here, shortly." At Carlisle's words, Emmett walked away, roaring with laughter. I shook my head, not understanding what was going on.

When we got closer to the fire, I stopped and my eyes widened. Sitting around the fire was Charlie, Billy, and some of the members of the Quileute wolf pack.

I turned to Carlisle. "Am I seeing things?" I asked him suspiciously.

He smiled down at me. "No, Bella," he said. "This party is for you. We thought we'd invite some of your friends, and Charlie's friends. We thought that for tonight, everyone should be friends."

I felt a lump form in my throat as Charlie stood up. He had a bandage around his head, but otherwise, he looked good. He must have just gotten out of the hospital.

"Thank you," I whispered, overwhelmed. "Thank you so much, Carlisle."

"Anything for you, Bella," Carlisle said warmly, and patted my back. Then he took a few steps back so that I could go see Charlie.

I ran the rest of the way to the fire and into Charlie's open arms. After a few moments, I pulled back and looked him over. "You look good," I remarked, blinking back ridiculous tears at seeing my father well again.

"Really?" he said, grinning and patting his bandage.

I nodded. "I'm so glad you're okay, Dad."

"Me too," he said. "And I'm glad you're okay too, Bella."

He sat back down and talked a bit louder so that other people could be involved in the conversation. "So…" he said casually. "I hear you stabbed an animal."

I heard Jacob snort with laughter and I crossed my arms. "Safety first," I mumbled, not wanting to explain, or even make up, what had happened. I walked over to Billy, who was sitting comfortably in his wheelchair. He handed Charlie his beer for a moment, and took my hands in his.

"Well done," he said proudly, with a smile, and I smiled back, giving his hands a squeeze. I knew that although Charlie might not have known exactly what had happened, Billy and the pack did. Italian werewolves were no friends of theirs and it was just as much a relief that the Italian wolves were gone for them, as it was for the Cullens and me.

The members of the pack came over, giving me high-fives and hugs, and slapping me on the back. Everyone was chatting at once. Laughing, Jacob pulled me away from the crowd and we went and sat on the other side of Charlie, who was laughing with Billy.

"Just for the record," Jacob said to me. "I really didn't want to leave without you."

I glanced up at him quickly. "What are you talking about?"

"When the bloodsuckers had us held prisoner in that house," he explained.

I let out a small laugh. "Don't worry about it," I assured him, amused that he was bringing something up that had happened some time ago and something we had already discussed.

He pulled me into a hug suddenly, his body warm.

"What you did, Bella," he whispered into my ear, "was incredible."

I hugged him back. "Thanks, Jake."

When we pulled apart, he was grinning at me with a twinkle in his eyes. "I've taught you well," he said, completely serious.

For the second time that night, I whacked him (carefully). "Whatever you say," I said with a grin as he sprang up and ran over to his pack. I watched him in amusement and felt someone sit down next to me.

I turned to see Jasper, who put an arm around me.

"So how does it feel?" he asked me.

I tried not to smile at the widespread attention I was getting. "How does what feel?" I asked, ripping some grass out of the ground instinctively.

"Being a hero," he gently ruffled my hair.

I chuckled. "I'm not a hero. I just did what I had to."

"That's what heroes do," Jasper replied. We were quiet for awhile, until the silence was broken by a round of laughter from the other side of the fire. I turned to see Charlie, Billy, the pack, Emmett, and Carlisle laughing at something. I grinned. Seeing both sides getting along was amazing. It felt amazing.

"I'm proud of you, Bella," Jasper said quietly, just like Alice had said. I blushed, pleased, remembering that Jasper had been alongside me for this entire journey, with his wisdom and advice.

"Thank you," I said earnestly and he gave me a quick squeeze, before getting up and going over to Alice.

I talked with Charlie and Billy for awhile, wondering where Edward was.

After a few minutes, I saw him appear out of the darkness, walking around from the front of the house. His appearance made me feel lighter. I was glad that I was now looking forward to seeing him, instead of avoiding him.

"Hello," he said, smiling down at me and shaking Charlie's, and then Billy's, hand. He held out his hands and I took them as he helped me up. "Will you come with me?" he whispered, and I nodded, letting him lead me away. I glanced over my shoulder but everyone was having so much fun that they didn't notice we were leaving.

Edward led me back into the house and through it, and back outside onto a balcony. The cool air breeze gently rustled my hair as I looked out into the dark, beautiful night. Although we could faintly hear the sounds of the party in the backyard, it was still peaceful and sort of quiet.

I glanced over at Edward. I noticed at that moment that he was dressed very nicely – not exactly dressed "up", but still, he looked wonderful. Self-consciously, I looked down at my feet. I didn't look like a slob, but I wasn't exactly dressed to impress. But I figured my black Capri's and flip flops were innocent enough.

Edward, in his crisp, white collared shirt and black plants, got down in front of me on one knee. It made me remember the moment after I had killed the white wolf…Edward had been on his knees then, too. I remembered how he looked like he had wanted to say something, but couldn't bring himself to say it.

I felt a pang of nervousness as I looked down at him. Men didn't usually just get on their knees for any reason.

He took my warm hand in his cool hand, and held my gaze with his. "Bella," he began.

I stared at him, hoping desperately that Charlie wasn't anywhere near to see this. I was pretty sure he would think it was a wedding engagement and he would go after Edward with a burning piece of wood.

"We've been through a lot," Edward said softly. "There's been a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of…pain." His gaze intensified on the last word and it made my stomach burn. There had been so much unnecessary pain in between us, pain that had broken us apart, yet binded us tightly together.

"But there has been a lot of love too," he continued, pulling an object out of his pocket. "Which is why I wanted to ask you…would you do it all again?"

"What?" I asked, confused.

"All of this," he said, the object hidden in his hand. "Everything that has happened, from the very instant I first saw you in biology class, up until this moment."

Nostalgia filled my mind. Logically, someone would think, why would anyone want to ever go through all of that again? The loss, the despair, the trials and the troubles...but deep down, I knew I would do it all again. How could I not?

"I would," Edward said, completely serious although a small smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. "I would go through every single second again, just to get to where we are now and to keep you here, with me."

Standing on the balcony with the moon-light illuminating Edward's pale face and golden eyes, it couldn't have been a sweeter moment. But Edward, being Edward, made it even sweeter. He finally revealed the object hidden in his palm – a ring – and slipped it onto my left ring finger. After he put the ring on my finger, he held my small hand in both of his and looked at me.

Speechless and completely overwhelmed, I opened my mouth, and then closed it. I knew if I said anything, I would begin to stutter like a moron and ruin this completely beautiful moment. So instead of speaking, I looked at the ring on my finger in wonder.

It was a beautiful silver ring that shone in the evening light. In the center was a small, silver rose, with a small white diamond in the middle. It was perfect. It made me think of all of the different roses that Edward had given me in the past months, to tell me how he felt.

I looked back at Edward, who was searching my face anxiously, as if he were not sure of my reaction.

"This," I said nervously. "Is this a…?"

"It's whatever you want it to be, Bella," he told me gently. "I know what I want it to be, but you may not be ready for that yet. And if you're not, that's all right."

I gently ran my finger along the smooth, silver band. This simple, sweet moment seemed so complex and I wasn't quite sure what he was trying to say. Or maybe I was, but just couldn't believe he was really saying it.

Edward's face slowly broke into a smile at my bewildered expression. "It's a promise ring, Bella," he explained. "It's my promise to you that I will never leave you again. Ever. I will never cause you anymore pain…I think I've caused you enough pain to last a lifetime." He looked down at the ground.

My heart sunk at seeing him sad. I gently helped him to his feet and put my arms around him.

"No, you haven't," I told him. "Don't ever think that you did."

Gently, he placed his hands on my hips and lifted me onto the railing of the balcony. At first I was afraid I would fall off, but he held me in place, his arms around my waist.

"I'll always be here, Bella," he told me. "For always."

I felt unreasonable, hormonal tears spring to my eyes at his words and he laughed, leaning his forehead against mine.

"Thank you so much, Edward," I whispered. "This means….everything."

I looked back down at the ring again. "It's beautiful," I continued, surprised that I wasn't bashful or uncomfortable at expressing how much this gift meant to me. "It's perfect."

Suddenly, I looked back up at him. "Wait…what do you mean by what you want it to be, and what I may not be ready for?" Deep down, I'm sure I knew the answer to that, but I kind of wanted to hear him say it.

"Bella, I want to spend forever with you."

"You're going to change me?" I asked him quickly.

His gaze darkened slightly. "Is that what you want?"

My heart started to beat faster. I remembered when we were held prisoner by the Volturi and how Edward had desperately wanted to change me, to save my life. And I had wanted nothing to do with it. But I found that now that Edward and I were back on good terms and I realized how true his love really was, that I wouldn't mind being changed.

"Yes," I whispered.

"I don't want that for you," he said quietly.

"You did not too long ago," I pointed out.

"That was to save you. But now, you are saved. It doesn't need to happen anymore."

"But the Volturi said it was one of the conditions, when they let us go," I reminded him.

Edward nodded. "But we have time, Bella," he insisted.

I didn't want to argue, and so I nodded as well.

"What I meant," he continued, "by what you may not be ready for and what I want, is for it to act as a….wedding ring."

I stared at him, feeling breathless. And then, very carefully, he leaned in closer, and his lips were on mine.

It had been the longest time since we had kissed and I felt my heart thud wildly and my head spin. I kissed him back willingly, wishing time could stand still and that this moment could last longer than I knew it would. It was a sweet kiss full of meaning, passion, understanding, and hope.

After a few moments, I heard a bang and jumped, breaking away from Edward and almost toppling over the railing.

Edward laughed, pulling me down from the railing. "It's just Emmett," he said, pointing to the sky.

And there in the sky were beautiful, festive fireworks of many colors, shapes, and sizes. I couldn't help but silently laugh as well, as I thought of Emmett lighting off explosives, laughing and being proud of himself for celebrating Edward's proposal so dramatically. I now realized why he had been roaring with laughter when I had arrived.

Edward sat down on the polished, wooden floor of the balcony and gently pulled me down with him. I landed ungracefully on his lap and we watched the fireworks light up the sky. Although my back was to him, he had his arms around me, holding my hands. I felt him finger the silver ring.

"But no matter what, it is a promise ring, either way," he told me, continuing the conversation of the ring.

Suddenly, I looked over my shoulder at him. "I would do it all over again," I told him truthfully.

He stared at me, before slowly grinning. He buried his face in my shoulder and held me tightly and I knew what I said had made all the difference.

"I want you to know that I love you," he whispered. "And I always did."

"I love you, too," I whispered back.

Some people get married young, have kids, and celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary surrounded by a large family. Some people live dream lives with dream jobs, their dream spouses always right beside them. Some people live the life of a fairy tale, or a princess, and have a knight whisk them off on a horse into the sunset.

I would eventually become a vampire and live forever with the one I loved, the one I had loved all along and through it all. I would be surrounded by him and his loving family for all of time. That was my happily ever after, my personal story.

Live your life, Angelo had once told me in a dream. As I looked up at the fireworks, I could have sworn I saw his face, with a wink and a smile, and then he was gone. I looked back at Edward quickly and by the look on his face, I knew he had seen it too. He gave me an encouraging smile. "Live your life," he reminded me.

And that's what I planned to do.

This was my happily ever after. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

The End.

A/N: Well, that was it! I know this story should have been finished a lot sooner than this, but now it is finished: the end of my little two part Bella & Edward story. I can't believe that I started writing this last summer! I think I mentioned at one time that I was going to do a third and make it into a trilogy, but I am actually going to stop here. Instead of starting a third, I am going to work on updating And It Stoned Me and Phantom fo the Highway. And my Alice in Wonderland fic (yay Johnny Depp!)

I hope everyone enjoyed reading this - I know I had a great time writing it. Thank you to everyone who read this, and thank you to everyone who reviewed. You are all awesome!

Have a great summer and until next time,

peace & love,