Disclaimer: I own neither "Twilight" nor, more sadly, "Arcadia," because then I'd own a Pulitzer.
Mr. Price says this has to be a chapter because it's too long to be an epilogue, but let's just ignore him, shall we?
Epilogue: On Time
Valentine Well, it is odd. Heat goes to cold. It's a one-way street. Your tea will end up at room temperature. What's happening to your tea is happening to everything everywhere. The sun and the stars. It'll take a while but we're all going to end up at room temperature …
Septimus So the Improved Newtonian Universe must cease and grow cold. Dear me.
Valentine The heat goes into the mix … And everything is mixing the same way, all the time, irreversibly … till there's no time left. That's what time means.
- From Act II of "Arcadia," by Tom Stoppard
From the September/October issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine
… (College, '52), Feb. 28, in Saddle River, N.J.
William Livy Finch (College, '59), March 3, in Katonah, N.Y.
David Saltonstall Hockington (DSM, '62), Feb. 12, in Brookline, Mass.
Bella S. Cullen (College freshman) …
The summer I was 13, Renee either forgot or didn't have enough money to enroll me in camp. My few friends were away making lanyards and working on their serves, Renee was in class all day at Arizona State for her teaching certificate, and I spent the scorching daylight hours watching soap operas. On those shows, every pregnancy was a difficult and oddly truncated one: the mother-to-be would have a rare genetic disorder, be forced to go on bed rest, and flatline during labor, which would inevitably start in the middle of the woods far from a hospital. Renee had told me about my own textbook birth plenty of times, so the scriptwriters' dependence on pregnancies for drama always made me roll my eyes.
I didn't know then that someday I'd have a soap opera pregnancy.
At least I avoided that other soap opera cliché: I didn't get knocked up the first time I had sex.
"Foutra 'pon me!"
I opened a bleary eye to see Carlisle, his blond hair a halo in the moonlight, peering at me through the open door of the rental sedan's back seat. The damp air was heavy with the scent of the cedars surrounding the Forks house.
"Is that some Shakespearean epithet?" I asked groggily, as he reached in a hand to help me out.
"More or less," he said. He steadied me automatically as my shoes slid on the gravel of the drive. "My apologies. Edward had told me, of course, but hearing the heartbeat ... it's remarkable. "
"'Remarkable' isn't quite the word I'd use," Edward said, climbing out behind me. There was an edge of despair in his voice that made my chest ache.
Carlisle ignored him. "May I?" he asked as he made to put a palm on my abdomen under the open zipper of my jacket.
"Carlisle! Let the poor girl get into the house before you subject her to an examination," Esme said, next to him now after embracing our driver, Rosalie. My mother-in-law pulled me into her arms for a cold hug. "Come in," she went on. "You must be exhausted."
I wasn't, now that we were here, but I should have been. The hours after our discovery were a whirl of packing, incredulous telephone conversations with the doctor who'd seen everything, unenlightening ones with the psychic who couldn't see anything, and one session of sweet-talking an airline reservations clerk into three seats together on the only nonstop remaining that day from Logan to Sea-Tac.
Or rather, that's what Edward did. I spent the time heaving and composing another mendacious email to Charlie and Renee, informing them that a language program in Moscow that Edward needed for his fellowship had a sudden opening, and we were heading east right away. Instead, we headed west, and the Alaska Airlines flight attendant plied me with saltines and ginger ale that my stomach promptly sent back up as Rosalie and Edward hovered near the lav door. Still, by the end of the six-hour flight, my yoga pants were uncomfortably tight.
When I stepped into the living room, I smiled at the faintly sweet smell in the air, the vibrant colors of the paintings, the piano on its platform, the black glass of the window walls, the pristine white sofas and chairs. It was so welcoming and familiar.
But the three doctors and I were headed upstairs, to Carlisle's office. The first thing I noticed was that there seemed to be a lot more medical equipment than before, including a sort of computer monitor on wheels, its lights on, next to the sheet-covered chesterfield.
"Ultrasound," Carlisle told me, the only one in the room who didn't recognize the machine. "Let's see if we can get a picture." While I lay down on the sofa, Esme came in with a bowl of steaming water.
"Thank you," Carlisle said, kissing her before reaching into the bowl and taking out a dollop of gel. "Pull your shirt up above your abdomen, please," he said to me. He assessed my torso a moment, and I looked down at it. It had a slight, but definite, bulge.
"That's not 20 weeks," Edward murmured, apparently answering Carlisle's thought.
"She's very young," Rosalie noted.
"That she is," Edward said bleakly. He moved to kneel by my legs and touched the black fabric on my shin. "This shouldn't take long."
He was more right than he knew. After Carlisle smeared the warm gel on my belly and placed the ultrasound wand there, five pairs of eyes stared at the monitor only to see … nothing. There was a pained groan, a couple of hisses and another "Foutra 'pon me!" After a few minutes of futile adjustments, Carlisle switched off the machine in frustration, and sent everyone else downstairs so he could take some samples from me.
"Carlisle," I said as quietly as I could as he capped a vial of my blood, "can I hear the heartbeat?"
He didn't reply, simply taking a stethoscope from a cabinet and bringing it to me on the sofa.
"It's so fast!" I said in surprise once I had the diaphragm of the stethoscope properly positioned. "Is that normal?"
"Fetal heartbeats are much faster than those of adults," Carlisle told me. "The beats per minute slow down as the pregnancy progresses."
"So that's good, isn't it?"
"I hope so," he said. His grimace seemed involuntary.
As I made my way downstairs, I was hit by a surge of dizziness that forced me to clutch the banister. Edward was holding me in a second. "That's 20 weeks," he said, helping me navigate the steps.
"What's 20 weeks?" I was finally able to ask as I sat next to Edward on one of Esme's white sofas. She had put out a tray with water and milk on the coffee table. Ugh. I grabbed the water.
"You have some signs of a 20-week pregnancy," Edward explained. "Movement you can feel, a heartbeat you could hear with a stethoscope, dizziness."
"But the nausea isn't usual," Rosalie added from the armchair to my right. "And you're small."
"You guys are like a walking version of 'What to Expect When You're –' What? I could be five months pregnant?" I asked in disbelief, looking down at my belly again. I touched it. It felt as if a stone was inside. "But I had my period on October –"
"Oh, we know," Rosalie interrupted me, rolling her eyes at my obliviousness. "Apparently, your little tenant is moving fast."
"Indeed," said Carlisle, who had come downstairs without my noticing. "I'll be able to get the hormonal results tomorrow, and that might help us date the gestation," he went on as he sat down next to Esme. She nestled into him, and he pulled her even closer. "You didn't smell pregnant in Paris. So if you're the equivalent of 20 weeks, you must have gone through tremendous hormonal fluctuations in an extremely short period. Which means – well, there's never a good way to ask this, but have you felt ... moody recently?"
"Oh, is this like asking a woman if she has PMS?" I couldn't help snorting a little. "To be honest, I've been incredibly tense this last week because of finals, so I don't really know. Before that, I don't think so."
"You were only a little bitchy when I kidnapped you," Rosalie agreed.
"Thanks, Rosalie." I crinkled my nose at her.
Edward spoke then, not caring about Rosalie's opinion of my moods. "Carlisle, what should we do?" he asked impatiently.
My father-in-law sighed heavily. "According to Kaure's account, and the other stories that I've found in my admittedly brief research, this pregnancy puts Bella in grave danger, and Alice can't see your future…" he trailed off, then spoke to me. "We simply don't know enough, and with the ultrasound useless, we can't even safely undertake an amniocentesis to obtain genetic information. As your doctor, I would have to advise you to terminate."
Edward started to speak, but Rosalie cut him off. "If I were in your place, I would have it," she said bluntly.
I nodded. I expected that. But Rosalie wasn't finished. "However, as your sister, as Edward's sister, I think the risk is too great," she said. Her gaze was fierce, and I knew that she was warning me again of what would happen if I screwed things up.
"It's not too late for a regular dilation and extraction," Edward said immediately, rushing his words as if he was afraid that Esme was going to weigh in too.
Carlisle shook his head. "Have you felt Bella's uterus? Or rather, I should say, based on the ultrasound, the impenetrable amniotic sac? How can that be delivered or extracted safely? It would have to be a hysterotomy." His eyes darted to me. "An abdominal incision," he explained.
I considered this a moment. "Like a C-section?" I asked.
I was pretty sure that C-sections were hard to come by in the middle of the jungle, or the mountains of Albania for that matter. "The women in Kaure's story obviously didn't have a C-section," I noted. "So how would it get out when the time came?"
Carlisle winced, and Edward erupted. "No!" he roared, launching himself from the sofa and standing in front of me as if to protect me from Carlisle's thoughts.
"The legends say it tears its way out," Carlisle said. Esme looked shocked next to him.
I grabbed Edward's hand in hopes of calming him, my need to soothe him chasing away my mental images of "Alien" and hyena births. "No," I told him, my voice tight. "That's not going to happen." I looked at Carlisle. "You can perform a C-section on me?"
"Yes," he said.
"Let's do it now," Edward said, turning to me, calmer but still standing. I tugged ineffectually at his hand.
"But," I said, "if I'm going to have to have a C-section no matter what, why don't we want until –" I paused, not sure what name to give to whatever was growing inside me, and pointed at my belly instead "-this is, uh, what is the word for living outside –"
"Viable?" Rosalie suggested.
"Exactly," I said. "If I'm really 20 weeks, is it viable now?"
"The odds would be against a human at that gestational age," Carlisle said. "They increase greatly once the pregnancy reaches the third trimester—"
"For a human," Edward said. "This isn't human. It's a monster."
I hauled myself to my feet, pulling myself up with Edward's immobile hand, and stared into the dull gold of his eyes. He looked as haggard as I felt right now. "It has to be part me and part you," I said softly. "I refuse to believe that something from you, from us, would be something monstrous, something that we can't figure out, that you and Carlisle and Rosalie can't figure out."
"I could kill you without thinking, and this –'' he touched the stone in my torso gingerly "— this isn't thinking … I can't lose you," he said, his voice emphatic. His hand squeezed mine painfully.
"Easy, baby," I murmured, and he flinched and loosened his grip.
"You won't lose me," I said. I put my free hand on his cheek. "You all have my permission –" I turned to look at the other three members of my family "— if something goes wrong, to do whatever you need to do, to change me immediately." I looked back at Edward.
"You promise?" he said.
"I promise," I said, and I felt the tension in his jaw ease under my hand.
The silence that fell then was finally broken by Esme. "It is always your choice, Bella," she said gently, and I smiled gratefully at her. Ever the peacemaker, she went on, "The question now is, do we need to talk with the wolves?"
"I don't want there to be a problem with the treaty," I said. "Shouldn't we go to Alaska?"
"For your safety," Carlisle answered me, "we need to stay here. I won't have the access to medical supplies there that I have as a hospital employee."
"But – " I protested.
"We can negotiate," Esme said. "The wolves have to see the need for an exception."
"Then I want to tell Jacob first," I said.
"But Sam Uley is the … top dog," Rosalie objected, disgust in her voice. "Jacob can't decide anything."
"He deserves to hear it first, and to have a private reaction, one that isn't immediately shared by all the wolves," I said, remembering the unfortunate way Jacob had learned about my engagement. "If he'll take my call..." I glanced at Edward.
He looked as if he just bitten into something rotten, but he nodded. "Jacob does deserve to know first," he said.
We talked then about how far along I was as a non-human, beyond the obvious fact that I had an receptive ovum, about the alterations I had noticed in myself, trying to tease out what changes could be attributed to pregnancy and which to ... change. The timeline of the tremors put them squarely in the transformational category, and Carlisle shook his head in self-reproach at not thinking of that possibility when we had talked in France.
Politely, no one asked about my libido, despite the wealth of information the answer would provide.
Instead, the topic of conversation moved on to timing and technique, and I was pleased to see that Edward, with my promise in mind, was able to discuss the pregnancy more or less dispassionately, though he pushed for an even earlier delivery than Carlisle and Rosalie.
Eventually, though a wave of exhaustion hit me; it felt like months since I had upchucked my Cheerios. I didn't object when Edward carried to the third floor – our cottage in the forest was out of bounds for me now - and set me down on the bed he'd bought for me …oh, God, was it really less than a year ago?
"Come take a shower with me?" I asked as he sank down next to me.
Edward hesitated, knowing what I was really asking. "Do you think that's a good idea?"
"We'll both feel better. And it'll take my mind off the nausea," I said.
He suddenly dropped his head in his hands, and his shoulders shook. Crap, crap, crap, I thought in dismay … and anger - hadn't we come too far for him to return to the self-loathing early days of our honeymoon? If he was going to refuse to touch me because he blamed himself for my being in danger, I was going to be seriously irritated.
He finally looked up, and I realized he was holding in laughter. "You certainly know how to massage a man's ego," he finally said in a mock lament. "I'm better than vomiting?"
"Sorry." But I wasn't, because I had made him laugh.
He smiled, and grasped my hand. "Come, then. After all, I won't have many opportunities to take advantage of a lady in a delicate condition. At least," he added meaningfully, "I shouldn't have."
I chose to ignore the double, darker meaning of his words, and we soon made each other forget it. At least for a little while.
"It's, uh, Bella."
"I know." Pause. "Charlie said you were in Russia? Is that supposed to be like a code word now?"
"No, I'm here in Forks, at Carlisle and Esme's house. But Charlie can't know."
"No, you can't be in Forks because -"
"Jacob, I'm not - look, nothing's happened that you, well, the pack, can object to. But something has happened and ... I need to talk to you."
It took a few days before Jacob showed up, and by then things had changed substantially. The rest of the siblings had arrived from New Hampshire, having finished their finals and closed up Fenwick as quickly as possible. Tanya came, too, out of concern for me. And it was a good thing for us that she did – she had been so scarred by her mother's death over the illicit immortal child that perhaps only seeing the pregnancy progress would have convinced her that we had done nothing that would blatantly violate the rules. Still, we were doubtless a little illegal by the Volturi's lights … and I was more than a little pregnant.
For my samples had indeed indicated the hormone levels of an advanced pregnancy, and the stone in my belly was becoming a lively boulder, kicking me hard enough that I once would have had bruises and forcing me into Emmett's gigantic green Dartmouth sweatshirt. Alice looked appalled, and immediately sewed up some cute maternity dresses, but I found Em's sweatshirt too cozy to give up. I just wasn't going to be an elegant hugely pregnant woman.
And every day, the creature in my womb solidified in my mind into a child.
I called my parents on the appropriate day and marveled with them over how Russians didn't celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. My mother was loud in her disappointment that I wouldn't see her over the holiday break, and the pang in my gut told me that my father was quietly poignant in his. I was so grateful for Sue.
As for our own Christmas, the best gift was that we made a crucial discovery.
The doctors had grown increasingly worried by my inability to keep anything down, and I was looking hollow-eyed and sharp-boned enough that Carlisle considered putting me on a drip. Carlisle had asked me finally, when I was sitting at the dining room table looking down disconsolately at toast and applesauce, what foods had been appealed to me recently.
"I haven't had a great appetite since Paris," I said, "but I figured that was because I'd been spoiled by all the French cuisine."
"Rare steak," Edward said, remembering for me, "and the spinach omelet I made when you went skiing."
"Oh, yeah, that was really good," I agreed.
"So, you've been craving protein and iron," Carlisle mused. "Anemia is common in pregnancy. Maybe -"
Emmett walked in then and huffed loudly. "Maybe all you doctors are idiots," he said with exasperation as Rosalie stared at him, astonished. "Rare steak is bloody. Blood for the incipient vampires. Blood, blood, blood, blood," he went on, before transitioning into "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam …"
And thus blood became my shamefully delicious beverage of choice.
Jacob arrived in the afternoon, after I'd had a, um, reviving drink, and taken a long walk with Esme along the river as she recalled what she could from her own pregnancy – jeez, the practices of the time were bizarre, what with the behaviorists recommending that mothers never touch their babies.
Since I no longer looked about to keel over, Edward had been comfortable enough to go for a quick hunt with Jasper, Emmett and Tanya, who had given him first dibs on everything so he could return home as soon as possible. So I was now lazing on the sofa, partly wrapped in a blanket and reclining between Edward's legs, because being in contact with Edward made everything feel better, and playing Scrabble with Esme and Rosalie. As usual Edward and Alice were prohibited from playing, but everyone pretended not to notice when Edward rearranged the tiles on the Scrabble tray on my belly so that CAKE GAP became a lucrative PACKAGE. I snorted.
"It's much more productive," he murmured in my ear.
"Apparently," I said, and made a show of scratching one of the many spectacular stretch marks on my abdomen under Em's sweatshirt. "It doesn't seem fair that adolescent vampire men can reproduce but not vampire women," I said pointedly as I awaited my turn. Rosalie nodded in agreement.
But Alice shuddered theatrically. "I, for one, am glad not to have to spend eternity worrying about birth control. Imagine it, Bella. And what would work?"
Even Rosalie seemed arrested by that observation.
"You have a point," I said, remembering Tony and Marie's adventure with the condom. And then I couldn't resist asking, "Edward, do you think that when we were at the ski house, that was when –"
"Believe me, I've considered it, because that would be just too fitting," he said dryly. "On the other hand, we do have many candidates."
Alice suddenly swore. Edward tensed.
"Jacob's coming," he said. Several minutes later, the Rabbit was grinding up the drive, and Edward slid away to coolly greet Jacob at the door.
My first reaction was joy: it was so good to see him. He looked a little older, maybe even a little taller, dressed in actual clothes almost suitable for winter, jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. It was only when he strode over to me on the sofa to give me a hug that I noticed the odor - he smelled woodsy, like Edward after the hunt, but it was mixed with some unpleasant aroma, like decay and stagnant water. I couldn't help recoiling a bit.
He recoiled too, and looked confused, and that was even before his eyes traveled down to my stomach and widened.
"Damn. It really was a shotgun wedding, like everyone said," he said.
I shot him a dirty look. It wasn't because of the implication that Edward had been forced to marry me, but because of the slight to Edward's virtue – while I would have happily discarded my virginity many times before the wedding, the idea that Jake thought Edward hadn't held true to his particular moral code irritated me.
"That is both sexist and wrong," I told him coldly, not bothering with social niceties.
Rosalie sniffed. "Funny how often those two things go together," she said.
"Sexist, I'll give you," Jacob said, shrugging.
He plopped down by my feet, making the sofa shake from the impact. The Scrabble tray slid off my stomach and Edward grabbed it as he folded himself on the floor next to me. "So," Jacob said cheerfully, pointing at my boulder, "how did this happen?"
A gale of feminine vampiric laughter was his answer, and he scowled at Rosalie. "Up yours. You know what I mean," he said, defensive. Edward was gaping at him, and I wondered what the hell Jacob did mean.
He shifted to face me. "I can't imagine that Fangs let you sleep with someone else," he said, tilting his head at Edward, "but what sperm bank would impregnate an unmarried 18-year-old? Did Carlisle, like, sneak it out for you or something? Don't get me wrong, it's great that you decided not to off yourself -"
It was the turn of everybody else in the room to gape now. I tried to speak, but couldn't get any words out.
"Jacob," Edward said loudly.
" - though I don't know how you're going to explain to him that his stepdad's liable to –"
"Jacob," Edward said again. "Bella's been pregnant for three weeks. With my child."
I was so thrilled to hear Edward say "my child" that it took me a few seconds to notice that Jacob had become immobile, his hands clawed on his lap. The other vampires in the room shifted into almost crouches, fearing the worst, but Jacob finally shook his head, stood up, and swiftly walked out of the room without a word. The front door slammed from the force of his exit.
"He's off to report to Sam," Edward said.
"Oh. That didn't go very well," I said unhappily.
Alice hissed in frustration, but Edward looked pensive. "No, it'll work to our advantage. I think."
"He's realizing that he might be over you."
"And that's good?"
"From my perspective, of course, it's ideal," Edward admitted. "But … perhaps that means you'll have your friend back – a friend who can think more rationally about you."
Still, we called Tanya, Emmett and Jasper in from the woods and Carlisle from the hospital in case of trouble. It was dark when Jacob returned a few hours later, after a wolfy drama that Edward was able to narrate to us, with Jacob breaking away from Sam to defend us from an attack and Seth and Leah following. Jacob showed up in cutoffs this time and flopped down on the sofa again, a mixture of weariness and relief on his face.
"You heard, right?" he asked.
I nodded. "I'm so sorry, Jake. But thank you."
"It's good. It'll be good," he mumbled. He surveyed the room of vampires to see Tanya perched beguilingly on a sofa arm. She regarded Jacob more warmly that I would have expected, given her family's history with the Quileute, and he stared openly at her.
He nodded like an automaton as Carlisle made the introductions and Tanya charmingly praised him for standing up for me. I smirked, unsurprised that Tanya could make even a wolf melt. But Jacob did not melt. Instead, he blurted out, "You're not her," and Edward inhaled sharply.
"Would you play it back for me?" Edward asked, tapping his temple, and all the conversations in the room stopped.
"The wolves saw Irina," he said a second later.
"Is that her name?" Jacob asked.
"My sister," Tanya said, suddenly kneeling in front of Jacob, who cringed at her closeness. "Tell me."
"Yeah, um, well," Jacob started, "Embry was doing his run along the line a couple of weeks ago, and saw a vamp on the other side. Straight blond hair cut off here –" he brought the blade of his hand along his jaw "—raggedy clothes, but gold eyes, so we didn't get too worried about it. She looked at Embry a minute, then turned away and headed toward this house. You didn't see her?" he asked Carlisle. "It was the day before that huge rainstorm."
"Esme and I were in San Francisco that weekend," Carlisle answered. "And the rain would have washed away her scent."
"Oh, thank God," Alice interrupted from across the room. She was vibrating with excitement. "I can finally see something without damn wolves and chimeras in the way. Irina must have decided to go back to your house, Tanya. I see her there. … Ah, now I see you there."
Tanya had leapt to standing by then, and Edward tossed her a cell phone. She snatched it and took it outside to call home.
"Sam didn't tell you about her?" Jacob asked Carlisle, who shook his head. Jacob shrugged. "Emily's pregnant, so he's been distracted lately."
Jacob straightened his back as if he needed to get down to business. "Returning to pregnancies, once again I ask, how did this happen?" This time he pointed directly at my belly. "Didn't you two know better?"
Carlisle answered him, taking on the responsibility: "I didn't know to warn them. We thought it was something that wasn't possible."
And so we had been on a big tear of speculation. Matching up Kaure's account with my own history, one could theorize that Edward had left behind some particle of James's venom that had been working quietly and somehow painlessly to change my genetic structure enough to make conception possible. Or maybe Edward had drawn it all out, but not before it had effected some mutations that lay quiescent until repeated, err, applications of Edward's venom - rather unflatteringly compared by Carlisle to cells that became cancerous when exposed to something in the environment. Still, since I preferred to be altered by Edward rather than James, I opted for the latter theory.
"In any case," I concluded, "it's probably not something we'll ever know for sure."
Jacob shifted uneasily on the sofa. "So does that mean you're slowly turning into a bloodsucker? Do you like blood?" He asked the last part half-jokingly, but when he saw me wince, he swore.
"That's why you have that awful scent," he complained. "I thought it was just from ... um, hanging out with leeches, but it's you. Yours is not as bad as theirs but still -"
"Hey, you don't smell so great yourself," I retorted, then noticed that the vampires in the room were practically falling over with laughter, even Edward, who had ducked his head into his knees.
After Jacob recovered somewhat from the revelation of Carlisle's abuse of his blood-bank privileges, there was a long, convoluted conversation about vampire and shapeshifter chromosome pairs, ligers, tigons, mules ("You realize you're the donkey in that scenario," Emmett stage-whispered to me to annoy Edward) and Neanderthal-homo sapiens relations. I had to ask the rest of them to slow down and explain things to me sometimes, but I could follow the gist of it pretty well. Well enough to nudge Jacob's thigh with my cold foot at one point.
"Hey, that's why you imprint, Jake!" I said.
"Huh?" His eyes were open, but he had apparently zoned out.
"You imprint on someone who is genetically compatible. It's why you guys are so endogamous," I said. Several sets of gold eyes were now trained on me, but Jacob just seemed baffled. "You marry Quileute, or women who are closely related to Quileute."
"We live on a reservation," he objected. "That's who we meet."
"Most marriages among Native Americans are interracial," Jasper pointed out.
"Most don't live on reservations," Jacob shot back.
"That's not the point," I interrupted. "You and I have different chromosome sets: you're 24 pairs and I'm 23."
"Going on 25," Esme reminded me.
"Exactly," I acknowledged, and went on, possibly because I was deranged by an excess of pregnancy hormones, "you and I, Jake, for example, couldn't have kids, unless you have some lupine metamorphosis power I don't know about."
It took me a moment to realize what I had done.
Two men in the room froze, for different reasons. Jacob was realizing that his promises to me that he could give me everything in a human life were lies. And Edward ... Edward was struck both by the reminder that if I'd been with Jacob, I wouldn't be facing possible extinction-by-childbirth and the knowledge that, as frightening as it was, he had created something with me that Jacob couldn't.
Jacob shot up from the sofa, and I was once again afraid that he was going to bolt from the house in a transformational rage. Emmett certainly thought he would. "He's going to fursplode," he whispered excitedly before blurring to stand in front of me as a defensive gesture.
But Jake stopped at the black glass wall and laughed almost hysterically for several moments before collecting himself.
"You were right, Bella," he finally said. "You really would have been stuck with Mike Newton."
The vampires relaxed, and Jacob returned to my side. "You know, I never thought you wanted to have kids," he said, scratching his neck as if the near phasing had made him itchy.
"The idea that I wouldn't have kids didn't bother me," I agreed. "I would have changed without any disappointment that I wouldn't, like Alice. Or Edward, for that matter." Edward nodded next to me; his angst about the impossibility of our having children stemmed from his worries about depriving me of something, not from any yearning to be a father. "It would have been just fine. So becoming pregnant – it's as if someone knocked at my door and said, "You don't know that you want this, but I'm giving you a present.' Or Fate."
Edward made a strangled noise, and I gave him a significant look. "The same Fate that Edward thinks brought us together. And I'm not going to argue with Fate at this point. Besides," I said, rubbing my belly - I could feel an elbow, a heel? under my hand, the baby powerful enough to distend my hardened uterine walls - "I'm looking forward to seeing how little B.J. turns out."
"B.J.?" Jake asked.
"Bella Junior," Edward put in hastily.
"I think it's a girl," I said. I really did, too, but I shared a smile with Edward, because blow jobs, far from being banned as I had threatened, were playing a big role in our sex life since many of our usual activities were off limits: Carlisle had discreetly suggested that I limit my venom exposure since, he postulated, human bodies are more adapted for pregnancy than vampire ones.
"You're not really going to name her Bella Junior," Alice said with petulance, annoyed at not knowing.
"No. I was going to suggest to Edward, since there's no need to memorialize any of you guys –" I twirled my finger around the semi-circle of immortals " - that we name her after Edward's mother and mine. Elizabeth Renee. It has good nicknames, and maybe it won't get dated ..."
"Like my name," Rosalie interjected. "I spent most of the 20th century sounding like someone's Sicilian grandmother. Go with something classic. What about a boy?"
"Charlie for one of the names, I think, right?" I mused, looking at Edward. "But obviously not Edward –"
"There's a classic name nobody wants to use anymore," Edward muttered.
"Nothing too complicated and distinctive," Esme advised as Carlisle nodded emphatically.
"Lots of people name their kids Jacob nowadays," Jacob said blithely. "And you can't get much more classic than Jacob."
Silence greeted this observation, and Edward pinched the bridge of his nose viciously. I ran my fingers through his hair to comfort us both.
"It doesn't matter because I'm having a girl," I declared. "Jake, are you hungry? I could go for a steak right now." The blood was helping me keep down more conventional food as well.
Several vampires stood up in readiness, but Jacob scowled at them. "No offense, but the less vamps that touch my food, the better," he said. He considered me a moment. "Including you."
"No problem," I said, maneuvering myself to my feet. "I'll show you where everything is. Stay," I said to Edward as he made to accompany me. "Jacob and I should talk in fictive privacy, anyway." Edward looked mulish, but agreed after a kiss. Jake made a gagging sound as he waited.
Jake and I prepared our meals separately, making sure the steaks didn't touch each other on the broiler pan. "There's takeout from Port Angeles too," I told him, "from when we were still trying to figure out what I could eat. It hasn't been handled by any of us." He went to rummage in the refrigerator, bringing out a half-dozen containers still in carryout bags. We sat at the kitchen island to eat, and Jacob stared at the curlicues in the heavy silver fork in his fingers for a moment, then smirked as I snapped a linen napkin over my lap.
"I'm a little curious," I said quietly as we cut into our steaks, mine barely cooked. "Why did you wait so long to see me?"
Jacob chewed a bit before answering, "I've had four months of waking up every morning knowing that you're with that cold motherfucker and on the other side of the country, to try to move on like that shitty self-help book Sue dug up, and then you suddenly come back and say you want to tell me something? I wasn't sure that I wanted to deal with your crap again, and you have a lot of crap to deal with."
I flinched. "I know," I said. "Thank you for putting up with me. Though I should point out that you've been a manipulative jackass sometimes."
"You should talk – you're married to a master manipulator," he replied. I didn't bother arguing with him, even if he was completely wrong about Edward.
"Besides, it didn't do me any good, did it?" Jacob went on. "Anyway," he added, almost in embarrassment, "I've been in school, and I've got a lot of work to catch up on."
I squealed in approval, but refrained from getting up to give him a hug. We talked then about how exactly he had spent the last four months, hanging out with his packmates, patrolling the forests until he couldn't stand it any more, before returning to high school. It'd been only a couple of weeks, and the adjustment was difficult – his 25-year-old's body intimidated the sophomores, the girls were alternately fascinated by and scared of him and his reputation as one of Sam's thugs, and the teachers were dismissive because he'd missed so much school.
"I'm really happy you're back in class," I told him.
He gave me a weary look. "That's rich, considering that you're not going back to school, with that kid," he said. "Charlie's never going to see you graduate."
"True," I acknowledged.
"Your dad's going to be broken up, you know. Have you thought about trying to keep in touch? Hide the alien baby?" I narrowed my eyes at Jacob's description of B.J. "Or tell him the truth?"
I had thought about it, and perhaps a few months ago I would have tried, but … "It's not fair of me to put Charlie in danger like that," I said.
"We'd protect him," Jacob promised.
"He can't spend his life behind your patrol lines," I pointed out. "And if he knew – you remember my telling you about Aro in Volterra, about how he can read all of everyone's thoughts? If Aro managed to touch Charlie or one of us, he'd know that Charlie knew. And if Aro found out about B.J…." The idea was terrifying.
"But don't you think that Charlie would want to know?"
"I'm not sure he would." I sighed. "Think about it, Jake - the Cullens have worked really hard at charming Charlie, and he's still uneasy with them, though he'd never admit that the last thing he'd want in the world is to be alone in a room with Edward."
"I can see that. But I'm hard-wired to find Edward creepy," Jacob said, shoveling in a forkful of cold pasta salad.
"Yeah, but you also have weapons to defend yourself against a known predator. Charlie doesn't. And when I change I'm going to be a lot less charming than any Cullen, for quite a while. This life I've chosen isn't without sacrifices, and if it all goes as we hope I'll be luckier than any vampire in existence anyway."
Jacob put his fork down as if it was suddenly too weighty for him and looked at me soberly. "How is 'it' going to go? And when?"
"The day after tomorrow, if not before."
"What?" he spluttered. I was glad he'd finished swallowing.
"Look at me. Based on my fundal height –" I stood up and drew a line from the top of my abdomen to the top of my pubic bone "— I'm already eight months, and B.J. seems to grow the equivalent of half a human month every day. Unfortunately, we have no idea what the normal gestation period or the size for her should be. And the thing Carlisle is most worried about is that I'll go into labor."
"Don't you have to?"
"It's not pretty, from what we're told. And not survivable."
Jacob suddenly looked furious. "You might die tomorrow? Then why are you all so damn cheerful about this?" he snarled. "Your family out there isn't acting like you're on the verge of death."
For yet another time that day, I winced, realizing that what was obvious to us wasn't so obvious, or acceptable, to Jacob. "If we do a C-section, then I'm changed –"
"Here? Then you'd be breaking the treaty."
"We would be," Edward's voice said from the doorway of the kitchen. "And we will."
Jacob spun around on his stool to stare at my husband. "You can't," he said.
"You violated the treaty first," Edward said, answering Jacob's thoughts more than his words.
"You were glad I did."
"Yes," Edward acknowledged. "Wouldn't you be glad if Bella survived … in some form?"
For just a second, Edward's mask of control slipped, and the desperation written on his face was like a punch to my throat. Jacob saw it too, and slumped. Even if he thought Edward was always playing him, he couldn't deny the honesty of the pain there.
"Yes," he whispered, "but I'm not –"
"You are," Edward insisted, his voice now saturated with the persuasiveness that over the decades had derailed questioning about missing documents and unexplained absences and unconventional lifestyles and, for a time, lured criminals to their deaths. "Sam knows this, Seth and Leah know this. You have the authority, you have the bloodline, to make an exception for Bella. For your friend."
"And even I did survive as a human, or if I die," I said bluntly as Edward stepped to my side, "the Volturi will come here again if I don't go to them as a vampire soon. And you don't want that."
There was silence for a long while.
"We don't," Jacob said finally, and stood up so he towered over Edward and me. He looked sternly at us both. "You leave the minute it's over."
Edward shook his head. "Bella will have to hunt first."
Jacob swore for a full 30 seconds at that before he ground out, "Nowhere near La Push."
"Of course not," Edward and I pledged in unison.
Having had his fill of vampire crap for a while, Jacob left to spell Seth, and Edward and I slipped upstairs after bidding goodbye to Tanya as she headed home. I stretched out on my right side on the bed. The timer had turned on the electric blankets under me, and I sighed as Edward curved his body along my back.
"What a day," I mumbled.
"Both." I wriggled against him. "We could make it better?"
"We could try," he agreed, drawing the duvet over us. "In a few minutes." He buried his face in my hair for a moment, then pulled it aside. My internal regulator was all messed up - my head was clammy, my feet and hands were cold, B.J. was like a blast furnace in my midsection – and Edward's cool breath on my damp neck sent a shiver through my body that made me press harder against him as he murmured against my hairline. "Erano i capei castani a l'aura sparsi/che 'n mille dolci nodi gli avolgea,'' he whispered. "E 'l vago lume oltra misura ardea/ di quei begli occhi –"
He stopped abruptly, his body stone still. I turned to look at him, and his eyes were closed. "Edward?"
It was a minute before he spoke again.
"B.J. likes how Italian sounds." His voice was strained, as if something was constricting his throat.
"What? You can ... hear her?" I sat up jerkily, but Edward stayed where he was, his eyes fluttering open.
"She likes your voice," he said.
"Holy f—" I started before managing to censor myself. "She's listening to us?"
"Yes," he answered. He suddenly looked happier than I had seen him in weeks. "This changes everything. She's thinking, Bella. She's thinking about how not to hurt you."
Being careful not to hurt someone is a tall order for a nearly born baby with the coiled strength of a vampire in its muscles, even for a thinking one who was able to hold conversations with her father. After I gasped one too many times the next day because of B.J.'s movements. Edward and Rosalie spoke out for immediate delivery, and Carlisle decided that with what we knew about the baby's mental development, B.J. must be safely in the range of viability. He and Edward went upstairs to ready the office while Rosalie and Seth kept me company and Jacob and Leah stood guard in the forest. And that's when the last episode of tremors that I would ever have transformed into contractions.
The French, I've learned, have a phrase for when one wants to stop talking about an unpleasant topic: laissons tomber. Let's drop it. Events moved faster than the morphine, and I remember snatches of things: one wolf howling outside, then three; the unorthodox incision; the beautiful infant beneath the gore - and the beautiful infant's bite that sent a gush of venom into my bloodstream; Edward's "I love you" that was the last sound I understood for a long time.
The morphine finally kicked in and kept me immobile for a while, but in the infinity that was two days, the only thing that kept me sane was Edward's skin on mine as he curled around my suffering body on the bed in Carlisle's office. "Be still my beating heart" took on a whole new meaning.
As for the rest, laissons tomber.
All that matters was the first non-painful thing I'll remember for eternity with crystal clarity – the look on Edward's face when I was able to open my lids. "Happy New Year, Bella," he whispered to me as I stared into his eyes.
"Edward?" I asked in wonder. I'd never been able to distinguish black in so many shades, onyx and jet and anthracite, and there were points of gold, light and dark, as well …
"It is," he said gently, his voice pitched for my disconcertingly sensitive hearing.
I slowly raised my hand to touch his face. Or rather it felt slow even though but I moved faster than any human could follow. "You aren't cold," I said, also in wonder.
"I am," he corrected me, his lips moving under my fingers. "It's just that we match now. Easy, baby," he said, copying my own human warning as he retreated from the eager pressure of my hand. "Let's go hunt, sweet girl, and then you can meet our son."
"Our astonishing son," he confirmed. "But right now hold very still, because first -"
Because first he kissed me as he promised me he would, as he had never been able to kiss me before. I finally got to first base with my husband.
If Em had been allowed to organize that betting pool about what or whom I'd attack first, Rosalie would have won. But the deer slaked a secondary thirst and made it possible for me to meet the brown-haired son I never expected, to hold my breath and take him from Seth's arms and gaze into his deep green eyes as my family hovered protectively.
"How did he get your eyes?" I asked Edward.
"I am his father."
"You know that's not what I mean. Shouldn't my brown have been dominant?"
"All my genes are dominant," he said with a smirk before honesty compelled him to admit that it was a matter of luck.
"Even if he does look like his father," Leah commented, "Prius is going to be a lady-killer."
"Prius?" I asked, then paused a millisecond to pinpoint the culprit for the name. "Rosalie!"
"They are both hybrids," she pointed out.
The wolves were so taken with Prius - um, John Charles - that they didn't push us to leave, despite Jacob's previous insistence. Nonetheless the danger that Charlie would discover that Edward and I were in Forks impelled us to go to Alaska.
Before she returned to Lonnie, Tanya prepared her family for the arrival of Cullens plus two kinds of newborn. Even so, we had a tense moment in front of their gigantic chalet of a house when the newly returned Irina refused to believe that our son wasn't an immortal child; she couldn't accept it until he touched her cheek with his warm hand. After that, she was devoted to him, taking a comfort in his presence that she seemed unable to find with anyone else.
No matter how many times Jasper told me that I was doing wonderfully for a newborn, I still felt out of control, distracted, prey to impulse, terrified of hurting someone. As the two Cullens most in need of frequent fill-ups, we hunted together often, Jasper keeping me steady as he used to do in yoga class. I think he enjoyed no longer being the least stable member of the family.
But even with Jasper's skills, I couldn't hunt just with him – he and I always went out with at least one other member of the family so that two of them could hold me back in case I scented an unfortunate trapper from one of the Tanana settlements around us. I could hunt alone only with Edward. He could keep up with me despite my newborn speed, and his touch calmed me instantly.
Okay, "calmed me" is a big lie. His touch when we hunted sent me into a different kind of frenzy, the kind that left spruces stripped of their bark and us stripped of our clothes. I was getting the hang of manipulating books and doorknobs and hairbrushes without destroying them. And holding John Charles just seemed natural even though I didn't remember ever cuddling a baby when I was human. But learning how to handle Edward had proved impossible.
I felt like an awkward brute with him, pushing too hard, clumsy on his skin, uneasy in my own, like a 14-year-old boy who desperately wanted to kiss and didn't know how: when Edward had put his mouth on me in the shower, I had to beg him to stop, just like the first time when I was human. My head pushed against the shower wall at the overload of sensation, just as it had when I was human.
This time, though, my head broke through the tile and stone.
It was as if the last four months learning my husband's body had never happened. I wondered in frustration if it was this hard for every newborn to be with her mate, but instead of reassuring me that I was better than normal, as Jasper always did, Edward said thoughtfully, "You are having a difficult time."
"Really?" I said in a small voice. I turned to stare out our bedroom window to hide my hurt. In the snow two stories below, I could see fresh footprints: Emmett's, Irina's smaller ones, and the tiny ones of John Charles, heading into the woods.
'Bella, love, please," he said gently. He stepped behind me, and I clenched my hands into fists so I wouldn't touch him. He sighed and gripped my fists tightly, imprisoning them. It felt both soothing and arousing, because, dammit, every one of his touches now was arousing.
"You may not remember my telling you this, but it's usually a year or so before a newborn can think about anything besides his thirst," he went on. "You have extraordinary control for your age – that you can even think about anything besides that is remarkable. That you can have this conversation with me is remarkable. You're just having a difficult time for someone with your level of control for everything else. As for being with me … you're dealing with unique circumstances. None of us had the experience of being intimate with our mate before changing. I think that even if you don't consciously recall how you touched me before, your body does, and it's exerting the same force it remembers using."
"I was that rough on you before?" I asked, scoffing.
"Of course not." I could hear the smile in his voice. "It's that the same force back then has a much, much bigger effect now. Though at the end you were quite strong with me, for a human. I thought it was confidence that you couldn't hurt me, but in hindsight, I wonder if that was your vampire strength showing."
"That makes sense."
"What I say usually does," he said lightly. "But something you did to me once … I was thinking there was something I wanted to try."
"You wanted to try?" I said, twisting around to look at him.
"We would want to try," he amended before adding, his voice charged, "Undress and lie down."
I moaned a little before my uncertainties caught up with me. "On the … bed?" I asked, worried about its longevity. We hadn't managed to make it to the bed yet.
"On the bed. It'll be fine." He kissed the top of my head, the contact so innocent on the surface making my insides coil. "But whenever you want to break the bed on purpose I'll be happy to help."
One second and a ruined dress and pair of laced-up blue silk knickers later, I was on the bed and Edward had disappeared into a closet. "Close your eyes, sweetheart," he murmured from inside. "Just hear, and feel."
I did as he said, and I could hear the soft noises of the other couples in the house taking advantage of John Charles's absence to vigorously enjoy each other's company. I had once feared that I would find the ability to hear such sounds disturbing, but now I found it comforting, almost like white noise that would be swallowed up by our own sighs and moans. And I knew that the others were similarly unruffled by my and Edward's contribution to the susurrus of sex.
"Beautiful," he breathed out, suddenly by my side, then paused a beat. "Hmm. I would have liked to have taken that lingerie off you. Are there more like that?"
"I'm sure there will be now," I murmured, trying to identify the smells wafting around me. Edward's scent was unimpeded by clothes, but it was mixed with the odors of oil and iron. Iron?
And so I discovered whom the chains were for. They were for me.
"Relax, put your hands above your head, and tell yourself that you can't move," he told me. Metal landed on my skin and I flinched reflexively. "Are you cold?" he teased me, adjusting the heavy links on my body as he wanted them, wrapping them around my wrists and ankles, draping them on my torso.
"I still have that human reaction, I guess," I said, "but right now, ah, I'm reacting to you….Is that an infinity symbol you're making around my tits?"
"Mmmm. Appropriate, don't you think?"
"You're kinda geeky sometimes….Ah!" My back arched off the bed as his lips suddenly brushed a nipple. There was a thump as he landed on the floor, bits of parquet scattering.
"I'm sorry," I wailed. "Are you okay?"
"I'm better than okay," he said, and even in my distress, I couldn't help but smile at his beautiful laugh; Carlisle had told me that he had heard Edward laugh more in the days since my change than in all the decades since his own.
Edward climbed on top of me, and I convulsed involuntarily at the contact of his bare skin with mine. "Don't move, just feel," he told me, and kissed my eyelids closed again. "You've called me a geek before, you know."
"Remind me?" I asked. I had a murky recollection of this, but I always wanted him to make my memory sharper.
"It was when we were driving to Chicago. There was a roadside motel in South Dakota, and we took one of the cabins that had been baking in the heat. We were surrounded by dreaming oil workers. And soon you were drenched all over. Just as you are now," he said, reaching down to stroke my sex with his hand. "So wet. So ready for me. Just like then."
I moaned again, but didn't buck him off. "Good girl," he said, and his lips found my nipple once more as a reward. I worked very hard then at staying as still as possible, because as Edward had said, vampire bodies are extremely sensitive. And what he was doing to me was causing sensations that I'd never had before.
"Edward, that feels so, so …God!" I moaned and opened my eyes again as his tongue flicked out in a circle. "Don't stop."
He looked up at me sharply, but kept his lips on my breast. "Where are you feeling it, love?"
"Here?" he asked, stroking my sex again
"Yes. Don't stop."
But he moved his hands away, bringing his wet middle finger to tap against my lips. Painfully aware that I could hurt him, I sucked it in carefully –it was the closest I'd come to having his cock in my mouth for awhile - and tasted myself mixed with him. His groan against the curve of my breast spiraled in my belly, and then his lips on one nipple and fingers on the other made me realize –
"Oh, oh," I gasped, "I didn't know, I didn't know …" I keened as my climax prickled my skin, and metal groaned when I gripped the links to channel my need to move.
"Are you okay?" he asked after a moment. He looked very pleased with himself.
"God, Edward, I didn't know I could do that! Is that norm—"
He stopped my words with a long, grown-up kiss. "At this point, don't you think you should stop worrying about what's normal?" he said afterward.
"Well, did you know?"
"Oh, I hoped," he answered before kissing his way down my body and settling between my legs with a gentle nip on my hipbone. I shifted uneasily.
"Edward, I'm not sure I can – "
"I am," he interrupted me. "Just remember, you can't move and you can't touch me. Because, you may not have noticed, you're chained up."
His words jarred loose a memory. "I did this to you, didn't I?" I asked.
"You did, with flimsy little ropes," he said.
"And you liked it?"
"Very much. I didn't have to think about being careful for a while. So don't think at all right now. Just feel."
I hissed loudly as his breath spread on my clit, and then, my God, his mouth …. I screwed my eyes shut and hung on for dear life, just feeling, as he ordered, as he worked his magic with lips and tongue and teeth, reminding myself that I used to be able to do this, to absorb the pleasure I craved and not hide from it. I willed myself to give him this, to do this for him.
Of course, if my cloudy memory served, I was doing it for me too.
A curl of his tongue around my clit pushed me into overdrive. "It's there," I cried out. "Right there, Edward, please …."
Holy fuck, my cloudy memory did not serve. I was defenseless against the shudders that rocked me, and then in a flash he was above me, in me, and my climax continued around him. His hand wrapped around my hair and pulled, and it felt so right but so novel that I realized it was a sensual pleasure that he would not have allowed himself with human Bella.
"Harder, baby," I told him we moved. "It can be even harder now."
His growl would have shamed a mountain lion then as he thrust harder, and pulled harder, before he came. Something in the bed cracked underneath us, and the mattress slumped, tumbling us to the floor in a tangle of metal, making us laugh helplessly.
"Hah! That wasn't my fault," I told him when we had calmed down.
"To the contrary," he said, yanking aside the chains and rolling us so that I was on top of him, "it was entirely your fault that I did that."
"Oh, if you put it that way, sure," I jokingly conceded. "I still sorta can't believe I tied you up."
"You definitely did. It's one of my fondest memories," Edward said, but then he seemed to reconsider. "Oh, hell, all our times together are my fondest memories."
I grinned at him. "Just for that," I said, and let the undulation of my hips say the rest for me.
"God, yes," he groaned, ready again for me, and gripped my thighs with a strength he never would have dared before as I moved over him with increasing force, his words measuring my thrusts, telling me how hard to go for his pleasure, as my words had once told him.
"Yes," he told me again. "Yes."
And yes again and again, until I was perfect for him, as he had been perfect for me.
"When you're ready," he said, his voice roughening as our climaxes neared, "we'll re-enact every time we made love – every time we fucked – when you were human. I want you to remember it as well as I do."
Edward had made a recording of me talking, unawares, so that between bouts of newborn distraction I could learn to imitate my old voice. I telephoned my parents a few more times "from Russia," telling them of our imminent journey to Kazakhstan, setting the stage for my fatal car accident in a country that would be extraordinarily difficult for them to travel to or get information from, and wishing I could still cry each time I talked to them. At least I was able to tell them the things I would have regretted never telling them – to thank them, to assure them I loved them, to convince them I was happy.
We waited two months for the news that the body of a young Russian brunette, an unidentified victim of a gruesome hit-and-run, was waiting unclaimed in the Almaty morgue.
Alice told me that nearly all of Forks High came to my funeral, including freshmen who couldn't have possibly known me and Edward even by sight but were eager to skip class, while our former classmates now at Udub and Wazzu and Evergreen State drove in. Billy and Sue came to support Charlie, as did Leah, Seth and Jacob, though Jasper had to hiss at the wolves when their eye-rolling got too blatant.
Jacob declined to speak at the service in Pastor Weber's church, so it was left to Jessica to reminisce unconvincingly about what a lovely couple Edward and I were, and to speculate with more feeling about how devastated, lonely and in need of comfort he must be now. Alice emitted a loud sob at this that flustered Jessica enough that she hurriedly ended her eulogy and yielded the lectern to Angela.
Alice, Jasper and Tanya, who needed to be able to tell Lonnie about the funeral, were the only Cullen representatives there; the rest were ostensibly at Edward's bedside in the Almaty City Hospital. But the Cullen family lawyer made his obligatory appearance; Renee and Charlie were shocked by the numbers that Jenks murmured to them as he went over my will with them.
My parents were shocked again, and hurt, that I'd willed all my personal effects to Alice. It was painful but necessary, she told me; she'd left my parents some childhood artwork and baby pictures, but no photographs of post-braces Bella.
She'd confiscated brushes, combs, locks of baby hair, anything that could be used to test the stranger's corpse under my gravestone, and all my clothes too, then dumped them at a Goodwill in Seattle. I'd glared at her, but she'd glared back at my chest until I gave up. Because, yes, my cup runneth over. More accurately, my cups: my beautiful new bras from Paris were no longer able to contain my bigger though thankfully-not-Pamela- Anderson-sized post-pregnancy bosom.
Edward didn't seem to mind, though.
It would be quite a while before I'd be ready to handle a new measurement session with Mme Coigny. In any case, I had much more delicate mission in Europe to undertake that involved packing my least favorite wedding present. (I have to admit to giggling when Carlisle speculated that the big-ass vampire-cooties blood diamond from Aro was one of the jewels lost in 1216 by King John in … the Wash. The British are such jokesters.)
We'd held off as long as possible, but Eleazar was certain that Aro was restlessly awaiting word on my conversion. Finally an Alice vision confirmed that he was planning to visit – and his knowledge of our son would give him an excuse to coerce us into joining him. We all knew I had to see Aro by myself to keep John Charles's existence a secret, but it took Edward a while to accept it, even with Alice to pick the safest time for a visit.
School was out in La Push, and Jacob and Leah agreed to take John Charles, all of them safe from Demetri's tracking skills in case something went horribly wrong in Italy.
After a much-too-long car ride in which Emmett taught my son an old Joe Jackson song - "Wouldn't be a drag to be like you/Settling down and having kids/and telling them what to do/ Well, I'm gonna stay 19 forever" –he, Rosalie and I made the transfer in a berry field in northern Washington that was so redolent of chemicals that it would be impossible even for a vampire to sniff out a trail. We handed over a messenger bag filled with cash, newly minted IDs and credit cards with matching fake names, and the three left for a destination unknown to us. But not before John Charles jumped into my arms and whispered, "Knock 'em dead, Mom."
I wish I could, sweetie, I thought.
"Isabella, what an unexpected pleasure."
"Aro, I hope I'm not disturbing you. Carlisle sends his regards."
"You are always welcome, Isabella. Caius will be so upset to have missed you. I must say, immortality becomes you most extraordinarily. It's as if you were designed for this life."
"Thank you, Aro. And thank you for the wedding gift. It is beautiful and very, very generous of you."
"I thought the stone would complement your new face, and it does." Pause. "I was becoming so impatient to see if I was right that I beginning to wonder if I needed to call upon you."
"We thought we'd spare you the journey. It seemed prudent, considering our lifestyle ..."
"Certainly. Though I am disappointed that Edward did not accompany you."
"We've been married such a short time that he isn't ready to share all the details with you."
"I would never intrude without permission." Liar. "Please assure Edward of that."
"I will tell him."
"So, Isabella … you will forgive my bluntness if I ask if you noticed any other changes besides the usual?"
"I was hoping to be able to shoot lightning bolts from my eyes, but no such luck."
"We are more subtle than that."
"That's what Edward tells me, too."
"Am I right in assuming that you remain impervious to Edward's talent?"
"There's only one way to find out."
"Isabella, you remain a mystery to me." Thank God. "And to Jane? May we experiment? It's your choice, of course."
Alice said I had to do this. "No problem."
Pause. Foot stomp. Oh, thank God.
"Jane, don't pout, it's so unattractive. This is no more than we should have expected. Isabella, excuse my curiosity, but does dear Alice continue to see your future?"
"Oh, yes." When I'm not carrying a child who blocks her vision. "I haven't discovered any skills that I didn't have before. " Not a lie: Eleazar says my talent is just an intensification of what I had a human.
"Pity. You will do me the kindness of letting me know if you do?"
"Of course." Now that is a lie. "Aro, it's nearly dawn. It would be best for all of us if I left Volterra before your human neighbors are out on the streets."
Long, considering pause. Alice, please be right.
"Ah, sadly, you are correct. Do give my warm wishes to Carlisle, and I hope you and Edward will visit again soon."
"Carlisle will be so pleased, Aro. Thank you."
I'd earned 3 A's for fall quarter at Dartmouth, but an incomplete in Art History 101. Fortunately Edward was up for the task of completing my art history education, even when it involved bribery. The night after I left Volterra, Edward made me come, as he had once promised, in front of both a bare-breasted goddess and a worldly pope at the Doria Pamphilij museum in Rome, the moonlight pouring onto our bodies through the windows of the palazzo's arcaded galleries. And I returned the favor, because he too had been given an incomplete.
It was the only museum I'd see for a while, since the only museums that were safe for me to visit were empty of human visitors. As it was, their lingering scents fueled my desire, bloodlust sublimated into lust. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, as Carlisle had said, and Venus and the not-so-innocent Innocent X didn't disagree.
We returned home to find John Charles sporting a child-sized Motörhead T-shirt ("Prius, what are you wearing?" Alice moaned. "You look as if you were being raised by wolves, not just going on vacation with them.") and faintly tanned. Jake and Leah had chosen their destination well: they'd taken John Charles to Hawaii, where they could indulge our son in something he'd never be able to do with his real parents - play on a public beach in the sun. Leah had to promise him, though, that she'd take him back to surf when he looked old enough for it to be socially acceptable.
The trip to Hawaii had done more than just give John Charles a yen to surf: Jake and Leah were now a couple. That surprised me enough that I interrogated Jake about it when he and Edward and I were out hunting with Prius in the late spring Alaskan twilight. Or rather, Jake and Prius were hunting – Jake's odor put Edward and me off our feed.
"Why would Leah want to be with you?" I asked him as we loped through the spruces some distance behind my son and my husband. I could hear a faint laugh from Edward at my question.
"Because of my overwhelming awesomeness," Jake answered with a huge grin, knowing that Edward was listening to us.
"Of course," I said, rolling my eyes. "No, really. Isn't she worried about a repeat of what happened with Sam?"
"Yeah, she is," he said, growing serious. "And, you know, I have to worry about it too. Maybe she could imprint just like me. And at this point we're obviously not going to imprint on each other. But … I'm kinda happy about it, too. I have a choice: I've chosen to be with her, and she's chosen to be with me. It's a real adult relationship, not like my old packmates have - they're lopsided, you know? The wolf worshiping his woman. Leah and I, we both have to make an effort. We're equals."
I smiled at him then, because what he wanted was what I had finally gotten with Edward, and because Jake had changed a lot in the last few months. Maybe Sue's shitty self-help book had had more of an influence on him than he would have ever admitted.
He sounded as adult as his body looked now. And probably one day, he would be more of an adult than I ever would be.
"I hope you guys are happy," I said, "for a long time."
"Or for as long as she'll have me," he said.
"Jake!" John Charles called to him. "Caribou!"
"Gimme a sec to change," he called back. He turned to me and moved his index finger in a circle to indicate that I should turn my back. "You don't get to ogle me anymore. I'm taken."
Ugh. I couldn't believe that I had once kissed this man. This time my and Edward's snorts were loud enough for even humans to hear.
The Sioux or the Igbo or Hillary Clinton might say that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a vampire commune to raise a hybrid, with an assist from friendly wolves. Because newborn vampires are pretty crappy mothers, what with all the bloodlust and distraction and irrationality, and under the usual childless newborn circumstances I would have happily disappeared into the woods with Edward for weeks at a time.
But then we would miss John Charles's bedtime.
And John Charles was incredible, as any child of Edward's would have to be. His passage through the various irritating stages of childhood was so swift that we were almost sorry when they ended; the rest of the time he was so supernaturally charming that I had to wonder if Tanya's mere proximity when he was in utero had had an effect on him. And as rapid as his physical growth was, it was far outstripped by his brain's.
You would think that the constant attention and adoration he received would have made him a spoiled brat, but knowing that we were all in his thrall was tempered by the reality that he was slower and weaker than everyone else in his family. That's one reason I was glad the wolves visited frequently; spending time with creatures who were near the same strength and speed as he was good for him.
All of us loved him, but we also envied him. We envied him his warmth, his ability to go into the sun without worry, to sleep, to eat human food without gagging. Edward and I also envied him his talents: John Charles had, we gradually discovered, inherited ours – he could read minds as well as keep his own mind from being read. But his talents were … maybe the right phrase wasn't "less powerful," but "more controllable" – he could turn off the mind-reading (and he quickly learned that in a house full of vampires, that was wisest) and he could open his mind to Edward (but he rarely did).
Alice and Jasper's discovery of a vampire-human hybrid in the Amazon was a great relief – Nahuel's apparent immortality soothed our most immediate fear. But the knowledge that John Charles would stop aging at the end of puberty gave us a new kind of deadline: since we weren't sure how plastic his brain or his personality would remain then, we were frantic about exposing him to as much as we possibly could. The idea that he could be formed forever in only four years was horrifying. Carlisle and his precocious sagacity aside, we were acutely aware of what we were lacking for having been frozen at 17 or 20 or even 26.
Our house became the most unusual home school never registered with a state education department. Once John Charles taught himself to read, we started lessons: Emmett taught ancient Greek and Hebrew, Carlisle did Latin, Kate and Irina Russian and Carmen and Eleazar Spanish. Esme taught him how to draw, Rosalie how to fix anything, Jasper how to forge anything. The wolves taught him how to track and overcome prey with techniques that vampires didn't need. Alice was his math tutor, Edward, of course, his music instructor.
And I taught him how to cook. There was still someone I loved who could use my cooking.
I sat in on many of John Charles's sessions – my shaky human knowledge of higher math had been wiped away with my change, and my Spanish hadn't been so hot either – but there was too much discussion of blood in Carlisle's biology lessons for me to be comfortable, and even with an eight-track mind I couldn't manage to look at and listen to Edward and concentrate on not breaking the piano keys.
Travel was a big part of the curriculum. It wasn't entirely for John Charles's benefit: the trips allowed the couples who would have wanted children - Esme and Carlisle, Rosalie and Emmett, and Carmen and Eleazar - to pretend to be parents for a short time. But the main goal was to let our rapidly growing child taste things, see things, hear things that he couldn't in the middle of the wilderness, and to practice lying: he had a different identity for each trip abroad, just in case the Volturi were tracking us.
It was more than a year before I felt ready to venture again to New York. The three of us chartered a plane with Esme and Carlisle, and stayed at the usual suite in the Carlyle. John Charles wanted to see the revival of "Arcadia," and hisses of surprise from our fellow audience members accompanied us as we made our way to our seats.
"What are those people thinking, bringing an 8-year-old to this? He'll hate it and disturb the rest of us," a woman four rows back complained to her companion, then went on to speculate about which of the four of us were the irresponsible parents.
But Prius loved Stoppard's convoluted banter, and when one character described how Newton's second law meant that everything in the universe would one day be at "room temperature" - that is, dead - he carefully nudged me in the ribs.
"That's you guys already," he whispered. "You're always room temperature."
"Smartass," I whispered back, and then turned to cut my eyes at Edward.
"That must come from your side of the family," he protested. I giggled, but then it occurred to me that Stoppard and Newton were wrong about heat always dissipating into cold: Edward and I had somehow made a remarkably, eternally, warm creature.
We were both eager to see Prius's reaction to the Ricciardi vampire painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the next day found us in the empty second-floor gallery of Italian Renaissance art in which it hung. With my vampire eyes I could see the precision and complexity that I had missed with my human vision, every stitch of every hunter's doublet, every muscle of every horse. Unlike every other painting in the room, it wasn't protected by a box of infrared light, the museum's security measure – Jean-François's stipulation for the sale, Edward told us, so vampires could view it without distraction.
"It's wonderful," Prius told Edward, who smirked at me before complimenting him, "That's my boy."
I raised my eyebrow at Edward – the change had given me the ability to do that, and I took advantage of it at every opportunity. "Sweetie," I said to Prius, and drew his attention to the Lippi, the faded painting of the stern young woman in a red robe that I had defended to Edward on my previous visit. "What do you think of this one?"
"That's wonderful, too," he said after a while, "even if the colors haven't lasted."
"That's my boy," I said exultantly, as Edward groaned.
"Bella," he said, "don't you see how superior the Ricciardi is?"
I shrugged, enjoying the chance to tease him. "It still leaves me cold," I said.
Prius, at least, thought that hilarious.
Tanya floated in and out of our lives. She lived in my and Edward's old house in Hanover to take advantage of our, as she put it, "enhancements," for warming up with Lonnie. Tanya was supposedly working on her thesis for her degree in international relations at Boston University, a cover story that allowed her to visit us frequently, and put an expiration date on her relationship.
They broke up in the spring of Lonnie's senior year at Dartmouth. It was all timed so that a sweet Russian history major who had long pined for Lonnie could make her move, because Tanya, even if she did not fall in love with her lovers and never made them promises of forever, did not like to leave them bereft. Tanya came home just after the breakup, having told Lonnie that she had a fellowship – from the Northwest Pacific Trust, naturally – that would keep her in eastern Russia for a while.
That spring would have also been my last quarter at Dartmouth as well, but what was more important was that it signaled the end of Prius's home schooling. In the fall, he would be a plausible high school student, and would enroll in 10th grade in Fairbanks as John Charles Masen, living with his young aunt, Esme Platt, and her husband, Dr. Platt, the handsome new addition to Fairbanks Memorial.
It would sound like business as usual for the Cullens, but it wasn't: Prius was going to be navigating his first time in high school on his own, without a gaggle of pale foster siblings in quasi-incestuous relationships, without his own parents hovering. He would have to make his own friends, deflect inconvenient questions on his own.
Carlisle would be close by, and Alice foresaw that there would be an opening in the school office that Esme would fill – "Thank goodness, it's not a job as a lunch lady," Esme said with a shudder - but the rest of us wouldn't be in the picture.
Prius's potential love life had also been a matter of much debate in the family, despite my protests. "Guys, he's not even 4!" I complained when we gathered one night after he'd gone to sleep.
"He's not your little boy anymore, Mom," Jasper told me. "Physically, he's a full-fledged adolescent."
Emmett suggested that we track down Nahuel's sisters and see which one Prius liked best. "That sounds like a supremely unpleasant reality TV show," Edward said, going on to argue vociferously against any interference.
"I speak from experience," he reminded his mutinous siblings. "You should have learned by now that you shouldn't set up someone who doesn't want to be set up."
"Besides, perhaps Prius would prefer Nahuel," Carmen pointed out, reasonably.
But her remark was met with roars of laughter from Jasper and Emmett.
"I assure you, Prius would have no interest in Nahuel," Emmett smirked. "We've talked."
Edward looked appalled. "I don't want to know what advice Emmett's given Prius, do I?" I whispered to him.
"You really don't."
Tanya was unusually quiet during this conversation, and I found out why the next day when she asked me to go for a run with her.
"I've fallen for Prius," she said suddenly once we were several miles from the house.
I stopped so abruptly that Tanya was five football fields away before she realized she'd left me behind and doubled back, swift steps barely crunching through the snow.
"I'm sorry," she said as I gaped at her, almost as surprised by her unease and embarrassment as by her confession. "You don't approve."
"Well," I said after I finally got my voice back, "it's not you… well, it is you….Argh. It's like this: You'll be together, and Prius will be blissfully happy for two or three years until you're tired of him, and then … we'll all still be family. I know your lovers forgive you, but I don't know if Edward and I would. It will be uncomfortable at best."
"No, you don't understand," Tanya said, sounding upset. "I've fallen in love with him."
Tanya had said she had never fallen in love, I remembered.
"Are you sure?" I asked. "How do you know?"
"I've had a lot of relationships, you know, " she answered, now visibly hurt. "I never felt this way before."
I drew in a sharp inhale at her words. "Oh, crap, Tanya, I'm so sorry," I breathed out. "You have to leave. John Charles … he needs to go to high school, to go on dates … he needs to have crushes …"
"You were 17 when you met Edward," she argued, but half-heartedly.
"And I had actually lived 17 years, not three and a half. You know this."
"I know," she whispered.
We were silent for a while, statues in the white forest. "What will you do?" I asked.
"I'll go to our house in Slovakia and live like a nun," she said bitterly. "A celibate nun. A celibate, abstinent nun. A celibate, abstinent, redundant nun."
"I'm so sorry," I said again.
"It'll be worth it," Tanya said, more firmly this time. "But if Prius does develop a … crush, don't tell me about it. For the first time in a thousand years, I'll be waiting and wondering if a boy likes me."
"How can he not?" I told her. Really, how could he not? I thought, before I remembered the vampire turned young who had done just that. The reminder strengthened my resolve that Prius get all the growth he could before he became unchangeable.
"But he has to go through high school first," I told her gently. "And then, he'll be able to decide for himself."
It's three years later, and now Prius is on the verge of graduating. His face has lost the last bit of baby fat, and he's as tall as his father now, and just as handsome, though in a much more approachable, more human, way. When the three of us are together in public, people surmise that he's my slightly older brother, or Edward's, but then reject the notion because they unconsciously sense that we're different creatures.
Edward's hands on me make sure that they never think that he and I are siblings.
We've had only long-distance contact with Tanya for all those years, and Prius has – wistfully, I think - asked a few times why. Edward and I are the only ones who know the truth, and we simply tell him that she needs some time to herself. He has to content himself with that since he can't read my mind and he's too squeamish to read his father's.
Prius has refused to develop a romantic interest in his classmates, arguing that there is no point since he can't have an honest relationship with them. But he has good-naturedly allowed us to live vicariously through him in other ways: he's joined clubs, played piano for the school musical, gone to dances, smoked - it'd had no effect on him either. He's even asked a girl to prom, his one concession to dating. A funny, studious senior who, Prius's mind-reading allowed him to discover, is waiting until she gets far, far away from Fairbanks to come out.
"She knows we'll ever be only friends," he explained to us. "There won't be any awkwardness."
"What does she think of you?" Edward asked.
"She thinks I'm secretly gay too."
"Like father, like son," I said, and Edward gave me a dirty look. "Come on, in how many schools have people thought you were gay?"
"All of them," he conceded.
Prius has asked us to join him for college, confessing to missing our company at school, and we've made arrangements to enroll at Trinity College in cloudy Dublin. But Tanya is coming for Prius's graduation, and that meeting could change everything, Edward and I know.
For the moment, though, Prius is on his senior class trip to, of all places, Disneyland, poor thing, to wait in long lines under the California sun for rides that could never scare him or thrill him. And Edward and I are headed to Isle Esme.
By now nearly all the times I made love with Edward as a human are clearly etched in my mind because he has re-enacted them with me or simply described them to me, his actions a delicious adjunct to his words. But there is one left, perhaps the one that is the most important for both of us to relive - for me to remember, for him to atone for. Or as I see it, to forgive himself for.
"It won't quite be the same without the fear that I'll drain you dry," he says wryly as the boat nears the island's modest pier, the moon whitening the wood planks.
"You know I never worried about that," I say.
"I'm talking about me."
"Ah. That I comprehend much better now than I did then."
The boat docks. He pulls me into his arms and lands us silently on the pier. We're beginning.
Last time, he's told me, my heart was hammering nervously as we entered the house and made our silent way to the bedroom This time my heart is silent and all I feel is anticipation.
Edward sets me on my feet and leaves to retrieve our luggage. The room is just as it was when we were here last time, Edward says, with the exception of the battered bed. But its replacement is big, and dressed with white sheets, and hung with mosquito netting, just like last time.
He returns, and we say our lines, and he wipes a remembered drop of perspiration off my neck. Unlike last time, I am not sweaty, and his finger feels the same temperature as me. Like last time, I am sure, his touch leaves a trail of fire on my skin.
"Don't take too long, Mrs. Cullen," he says before he heads to the ocean, pulling off his shirt as I gawk, and I head to the bathroom.
He had heard everything I had done in there, delaying in my nervousness by showering and brushing my teeth, giving myself a pep talk as he waited in an agony of impatience and anxiety for me to join him. I turn off the lights we don't need and finally leave the house, hanging my towel on the tree next to his clothes, and cut through the warm water to his side.
My hand on his chest makes him shudder, just like last time. "We belong together," I tell him.
"Forever," he says, and this time, it really is forever. I will never forget this.
We move into deeper water. He now longer needs to support my weight, or keep me from floating away, but he still curves his hand under my bottom as I wrap my legs around his waist. The dip and rise of the ocean hides my breasts, then reveals them, and he groans at the sight.
"You're so beautiful," he murmurs.
"And you are … incredible," I say, because it's just as true now as it was then.
My exploration of him is clumsy, his of me is tentative, and it doesn't matter, because we are whimpering and trembling anyway. His erection rubs on my ass, and the knowledge that I could now slide easily down his length even in the water is so damn tempting … As if he can read my mind, he pinches me with a force he never would have used on human Bella, and I behave.
"Inside, please," I request timidly. The hard flesh beneath me twitches at the double entendre that human Bella didn't realize she was making.
This time I don't have to close my eyes when Edward speeds me back to the house. We dry each other off and I shyly take his hand and tug him over to the bed. The moon is still strong, and the white linens are bright.
"Please." It's all I'm capable of saying, it seems. Edward lifts me and rolls us onto the bed, and finally I have the full length of my body pressed against his as he covers me. His flesh quivers under the light pressure of my fingertips, a reaction I wouldn't have been able to feel last time. Our kisses are closed-mouthed, and his lips on my skin are dry as they wander on my jaw, my neck, my throat, my collarbone …thank God, on the swells of my breasts … the nipples … and I am becoming much more worked up than I should be in this role… but it can't be helped …until Edward pulls his mouth away. I whimper, but he pacifies me by slipping his hand between my legs.
"Is that okay?" he asks as if he truly doesn't know the answer, and I nod frantically. He takes a deep breath, and groans, and this time I too can smell my arousal. His fingers on my wet flesh are exploratory at first but soon become confident, and I know I'm going to climax.
"Edward, I –" I start to protest, but Edward shakes his head.
"Please," he says.
And my orgasm takes me. I know the wonder in his eyes is as fresh as it was the first time he watched me.
He glides up my body and gathers me in his arms, and gathers himself.
"Please," I tell him after a moment.
He lifts his head and stares at me. "You promise to tell me," he says.
My legs open for him, and his thrust in is both thrilling and excruciatingly slow. His teeth grind together.
"It's okay," I reassure him. But then he taps my shoulder for my cue, and I flinch and open my eyes as his push becomes briefly uncomfortable - or it did then. He pauses, and we remain still for a moment. He's trembling, and I'm tempted to prolong the torture to tease him, but instead I charitably repeat, "It's okay."
Once he's fully in, we start to move together, harder and faster as the time flies by us, until we come to the point where Edward thinks he lost it. His thrusts become too hard for me and I gasp, and he curses and slows. But his hands still grip my hips, my thighs, they push my arms above my head to lengthen my torso, all efforts to control himself by controlling me. Even so, my mortal version would have been too distracted to observe any roughness because his movements and his moans of desire, of lust, his thumb working between us, would have obliterated any other sensations.
"Edward, I ... God…" I have enough presence of mind to try to warn him.
"I feel you, Bella, I know," he groans, and I let go with a sharp cry, and so does he.
He buries his face in my neck as I breathe heavily, but finally he pulls back from me. I groan in slight discomfort, and he leaves the bed. The water runs in the bathroom, and he returns in a few minutes with a wet cloth.
I assure him again that I'm fine as I snuggle into him, and he murmurs an "I love you" in my hair.
"Love you too," I yawn, and promptly fall asleep.
My attempt at a delicate snore makes him snigger, and I snap open my eyes and glare at him. He props himself on his elbows as I sit up.
"That was it?" I ask incredulously.
There is a flash of surprise, then puzzlement, on his face. "You're … disappointed?"
"No, I loved it, but that's not I'm saying. That was what that whole emo self-loathing was about? That was why I had sex dreams on my honeymoon instead of actual sex?"
"That was the exact amount of pressure you used with me our first time, right?''
"Edward, it was a C or a D on the Cullen Scale of Vampiric Sexual Response, that pressure. I would have barely felt it as a human. In fact, considering everything else I would have been feeling, I'm sure I didn't notice it at all."
"But your bruises – "
I weave my hand into his hair and tug at it a bit. "I bruised at the slightest contact back then," I reminded him. "You saw me bruised all the time as a human, but you wouldn't believe me when I told you that being marked had no relation to pain. And then, after the first time you wouldn't let yourself squeeze me like that – except, near the very end, when it wouldn't have bruised me anyway."
"I never wanted to see you bruised again," he says. "We were able to come up with a technique to control my thrusts, but the bruises … I'm always going to remember them."
"I know," I agreed. "And I know you have a lot of memories you view with regret in your existence. This shouldn't be one of them."
He is silent, but he looks contemplative now.
"Please, Edward, please try to see it from my point of view," I press on. "You have nothing to feel guilty for. Promise me that you'll try?"
He exhales loudly. "I'll try. That's all I can promise."
I'll take victory where I can find it, because changing a vampire's mind is no easy thing. "Thank you," I say. "But you know, I'm pretty sure I was pissed then, and I'm pissed now." I lunge at him and press him into the mattress. "I can't believe that's why you deprived me of sex for a week."
I start battering him playfully – okay, a couple of my blows may be hard enough to hurt a little - and he laughs as he tries to twist away. I immobilize his waist with my thighs, and other desires come to the fore.
"I'm looking forward to seducing you into fucking me again," I purr, reminding me of the other scene we have yet to re-enact from our honeymoon. I slide down so I'm now straddling his hips and everything else there. "But let's make a new memory here first."
"Let's," he agrees, and pulls me down to him.
Our lives will never be free of worry – what the future holds for Prius we can't be sure of, even with a genuine psychic; Aro will be forever plotting to trap us in Volterra; we will always have to balance being unchanging creatures in an ever changing world. But perhaps that is for the best: a life of certainty is a life of ennui.
The most important thing is that I have Edward, and he has me, and we have Prius and our family.
The next most important is that my husband and I have eternity to discover each other. Edward tells me that while the range goes from A to Z on the Cullen Scale, the space in between the letters is infinite.
Appropriate, don't you think?
And though compared to all that it's only a minor blessing, I get a huge grin each time I remember that I never have to wait again for Edward to be warm enough.
A/N: I can't believe I finally finished. I bet some of you can't believe it either.
This is it for this version of ExB and the Cullens - or what one reviewer called my "intellectual semi-hippies." But I've started another story, "The Bella Swan Scholarship Fund," which you can find on my profile. It'll be a short fic, just a few chapters (which, um, is what I planned for "Getting Warmer," not the equivalent of a 450-page book). So put me on Author Alert if you're so inclined.
Thank you all so much for reading, reviewing, recc'ing and nominating. You've staggered me with your generosity. And those of you who've reviewed every chapter have a special place in my heart. I sent teasers out to those who reviewed the last chapter, during an FF fail, so please forgive me if it was a response fail as well.
Also, the phenomenal solareclipses is much nicer to me than I deserve.
We should all thank SMeyer for being a good sport and letting us do things to her characters that she would be appalled by. And the same for Mr. Price, without whom there would have been no Russian and much less smut in this story. Je t'aime plus que je peux dire.
Edward recites a poem by Petrarch (with alterations for Bella):
Her chestnut locks were to the breezes spread/And in a thousand ringlets they would blow/And a soothing light did immeasurably glow/In those fine eyes…
I borrowed/stole "fursplode" from Cleolinda Jones, whose summaries of the "Twilight" books and movies are some of the funniest bits of writing I've ever read.
Art links on my profile page. Ciao!