Disclaimer: I've told you on each chapter I don't own Twilight. This is no exception. Words below are mine, Edward is not.
Many apologies for the delay in getting this posted. RL got in my way, as did my misunderstanding the rules on posting this before Indies voting finished. More from me at the end.
Time passes slowly and time passes in a hurry, but pass it does. I had lost a year without Edward and that year had dragged; the year I gained with Edward, well that was over before I knew it.
The holidays came and went, flashes of candlelight and Christmas trees spotting my memory. There were moments that stuck, moments I had forced myself to remember. They were bittersweet memories; the last time I cooked Charlie Thanksgiving dinner, the last time I drank a little too much eggnog at Christmas with my mother. But other memories prevailed and all of them centered on Edward; kissing Edward under a ball of mistletoe I swore my mother had put out just for that reason, watching the snowflakes fall from the warmth of Edward's bed with my head on his chest. I burned my mother's face into my memory, the scent of Charlie's cologne, but I knew they were soon to be just that – memories.
Graduation was a blur. I remembered the ugly, shapeless gown I had been forced to wear; I remembered Alice looking fantastic in hers and feeling hideous in mine – and then I remembered the way Edward had slowly unzipped the gown after the ceremony and all was forgotten.
I remembered the look on Charlie's face when I had finally told him, with Edward at my side, that I was getting married. Once we had returned from Italy, the idea of being with Edward forever firmly cemented itself in my mind and I had become more willing to accept his mother's ring. I wore it in private, and only with Edward, for months before we told anyone. The entire Cullen family knew, of course – there was no such thing as secrets amongst that group.
Charlie had sputtered and turned varying shades of purple before finally choking out a gruff congratulation. He had never fully warmed back up to Edward after the entire mess with Jacob.
Jacob…Jacob and I had had a tough time of things. Though we had gotten back to some semblance of a friendship, we were never again close like we had been, even before that fateful early morning kiss. The fact that I knew our truce was temporary only made it worse; once Edward pulled me over to his side of the world, Jacob would be no more. I had once told Alice I wasn't prepared to enter back into a relationship with Edward that had a known expiration date. The same was true with Jacob.
Edward and I married in the late summer months in a small ceremony in the Cullens' backyard – not that it looked like their backyard. Alice had outdone herself as always, transforming the open lawn into a romantic haven. Tears poured down my cheeks as we professed our love before all our family and friends, and even Edward's eyes became glassy with emotion. I think if he were capable of crying, he would have been just as much of a blubbering mess as I was.
Our honeymoon was delayed. Edward knew I wanted to spend as much time with my family as possible before it was…well, before it was no longer possible. We told everyone that we were putting the honeymoon off for a few weeks so that I could settle into my new home with Edward first. We explained that we wanted to come home from our vacation and not have to face unpacking and moving.
The reality of it was that while Edward and I intended to go to Italy for our honeymoon, we had no intention of returning. Edward had devised a plan with Carlisle to fake an accident, the details of which I preferred to know nothing about. All I knew was that there would be no reason for anyone to come looking for me and the Cullens would leave Forks under the pretense of grief. I couldn't know the rest. Though Edward had told me time and again it was the easiest way, a part of me still resisted the lie. It was incredibly hurtful, but I didn't have a better solution. So they planned without me.
Yet guilt ate at me every time I thought about Charlie's reaction to the story, or Renee's for that matter. Though my mother was the one with the flare for the dramatic, it was Charlie I was the most worried about. Renee would be deeply upset, but I knew, in time, that she would move on with her life. Charlie I wasn't so sure about. My mother had been gone for nearly seventeen years and I knew he still ached for her. Charlie wasn't a man to show his emotions; I could count on one hand the amount of times he had told me he loved me, but I knew I meant the world to him. He had cried at my wedding, and when he said goodnight, he had hugged me tighter than he ever had before. I almost wonder if he could feel the larger looming separation creeping up on us.
Then there was Jacob. I knew he wouldn't buy the story about a tragic accident in the Italian Alps. He would know instantly why I wasn't coming back to Forks. If his behavior in the weeks immediately leading up to and following our wedding was any inclination of how it would go, a war was all but guaranteed.
Things were strained as it was between the pack and the Cullens. Jacob had begrudgingly come to our wedding after much begging and pleading on my part, but he had chosen to drown his sorrows in liquor. Edward had come to reclaim me from Jacob when the one dance I had promised him drew to a close and Jacob had been…drunk. He had refused to let me go and started to argue with Edward, slurring drunken threats while Edward's jaw tightened. I had tried to reason with Jacob, had tried to disentangle myself from his vise-like grip, but he was much too strong for me. When Edward noticed me struggling, he immediately tried to help me.
And Jacob? Jacob took a swing at my husband.
The pack hustled him back to the reservation before Emmett got the chance to throw him out (a fact which my new brother-in-law made known was a giant disappointment). Jacob showed up on my doorstep days later to apologize, but our conversation had been stilted at best. Edward had refused to leave me alone with Jacob after the wedding incident, and only removed himself from the living room with a growled threat at my insistence. It was the last time I had seen Jacob.
So by the time we touched down in Italy, I was nearly in a full-blown panic. There were too many things I still wanted to say, too many things I hadn't gotten a chance to do with my mother, with my father. I wanted Charlie to see me happy with Edward, to accept how happy he made me, and embrace him as family. I certainly didn't want him to remember Edward as the man who took me away and got me killed in a foreign country. And Jacob…Jacob I wanted to find some peace; I wanted him to accept that though he would always hold a place in my heart, I belonged to Edward. And that was never going to change.
"It is too dangerous," Edward had said quietly, holding my hand tightly as I tried to stop myself from hyperventilating in the customs line. My legs felt leaden as we slowly moved forward, panic much akin to what I had previously felt standing in the same line racing through my veins. "We do not have to do this, you know. We can return to Forks. We can…wait."
"No," I had replied forcefully and a bit loudly. I lowered my voice, a blush rising in my cheeks when I had realized how many people were staring, "No, Edward, I want to be with you. If we keep putting it off, it will never happen. I need to be with you. All the way. Remember what I said in my vows? 'I will love you until the day the sun sets for good on this world. And then I will keep loving you until the moon ceases to rise.' I'm not going anywhere, Edward. One lifetime isn't enough."
He had smiled the crooked smile I loved more than any other, wrapped an arm around my shoulders and kissed my forehead. The curious stares surrounding us turning to knowing smiles as my ring flashed under the bright airport lights.
And then we were speeding away from the airport in an outlandish sports car Edward had purchased shortly before leaving Forks. He had explained with a sheepish grin that European produced cars were different than American cars, and as much as he loved the Volvo, he needed something more, well, Italian for our duration in Italy. We were going to a remote villa in the middle of Tuscany that had been in Carlisle's family longer than Edward had; I knew there were cars already housed there and that when it came down to it, Edward just wanted a shiny new toy. I had shaken my head and smiled a wife's indulgent smile before walking out of the room.
A wife, I mused to myself as I leaned out on the stone rail from the bedroom balcony, drinking in the moonlit countryside. Edward was due back from his hunting expedition within the hour, and I was restless without him in the sprawling mansion. The warm Italian air moved gently around me, making me wish for Edward's cool skin instead of the smooth stone beneath my fingertips. I tried to calm myself with the reassurance that it was the last hunting trip Edward would take alone – the next, I would go with him.
The thought did little to reassure me. I was terrified of what I knew was coming back with Edward – the promise of indescribable pain. Carlisle had offered to be present for the change, to try dosing me with massive quantities of morphine, but in the end Edward and I had decided we wanted to be alone. I knew the morphine wouldn't help from my experience with it in Phoenix, and it wasn't that I didn't think of the rest of the Cullens as family. I did. But I wanted the intimacy of being alone with Edward; I wanted the next step we took together to be one dictated by us, and us alone. I had double-checked that Edward would be fine without Carlisle there to supervise, but he had assured me he could handle it. In truth, I wasn't worried about him killing me – I was worried about how he was going to get through the three days, knowing I was in agony and helpless. Edward was not very good at helpless.
We had been in Italy for nearly a week, basking in each other's solitary company, and very much being newlyweds. Neither of us had gotten fully dressed so much as once for the first three days; we had lounged about the house in varying states of undress, never far from one another's arms. It was my personal belief that we had christened nearly every flat surface in the house and even some that weren't so flat; Edward assured me I was mistaken, and proceeded to prove me wrong time and again. Not that I minded in the least…
Yet time, as always, was marching on. We had specifically come to Italy for our honeymoon to be close to the Volturi. Edward had convinced Aro that it just wouldn't do for him to show up at our wedding; what would the naïve people of Forks think? What about the treaty? And so, another compromise was struck. Aro would be coming to check on us before the month was out.
And here we are, I thought to myself with a sigh, turning away from the railing and stepping back toward the open French doors that led back to my, no, our bedroom. I tugged my thin robe more tightly around myself and pushed my hair back off my forehead. Italy in August was oppressively hot, but even around Edward I was still much too modest to walk around completely naked.
Edward's modesty was nowhere near as strong as mine.
I was barely inside the doors when I realized he had returned; lounging in the doorway, he wore only his boxers and a smirk, his hip leaning against the wood frame. His pale bare chest glowed faintly in the moonlight, shadows forming under the curves of muscle. "How long have you been there?" I accused, trying to keep the grin off my face as I chastised him while slowly crossing the room. "Spying on me?"
"Always," he replied, waiting for me as I made my way over to him. "I am your stalker, remember?"
"I don't remember that from our wedding vows."
"Oh, it was there. Right after I swore that you were the most beautiful woman I had ever met and I knew you were meant for me from the moment I lay eyes on you." His tone turned serious as he cupped my face between his cool hands, his eyes a tawny gold. Slowly, as if he were afraid I would shatter beneath his touch, he leaned down to kiss me. I pressed myself to him, bothered by the delicate flower act. Edward had long since learned I wasn't quiet as breakable as he had originally thought.
"What's wrong?" I asked as I pulled away from him, alarmed by the change in behavior. Edward certainly hadn't found me breakable the night before on our dining room table (though the table hadn't been quite so lucky).
"I am…scared for you."
"Don't be. You made it through this and so will I. And I'll have you there with me to hold my hand," I joked, trying to force a smile from him. I hated that he had come into the room in a good mood but quickly gone morose. I wanted him to joke about being my stalker, not remind me of the pain I was facing.
"You will not even be able to tell it is me there with you after a few minutes."
"You're really not helping."
I sighed, pulling my hands out of his and sinking down on the edge of our bed. We had discussed our plans that morning before Edward had left to go hunting; he had talked it over with Carlisle one final time and I knew he had Alice watching the future. Everything that could have been prepared had been; it was only a matter of Edward sinking his teeth into my neck and setting a timer for seventy-two hours.
"How do you want to do this?" I finally asked when Edward refused to move from his spot in the doorway. I saw the hesitance written all over his face; it was as if he knew that once he stepped through the doorway, there was no going back. I personally thought we had gone down the rabbit hole a long time ago, but I kept that to myself. What was about to happen was of momentous consequence and it wouldn't be fair to push Edward. We were about to have forever to be together; if he needed an extra hour for us to get there, so what? I resisted the urge to speak again, waiting for him to come to me.
He remained silent, but he left his post by the door. He stopped directly in front of me, reaching for the tie of my robe still without saying a word. Leaning down, he pressed feather-light kisses across my forehead and along my cheeks, gently sliding the robe off my shoulders. He caressed my skin as he went, dropping kisses everywhere his mouth fell. We had been so consumed by our passions since we had come to Italy, reveling in the new privacy of having the estate to ourselves, that we had not taken it as slowly, not even once, as Edward was now. There was nothing hurried in his movements, nothing urgent about his touch as he pulled me to my feet and discarded my robe.
I tangled my fingers in his hair as he lifted me into his arms, walking around to the side of the bed where he could easily lay me back down. Slipping out of his underwear, he climbed onto the bed beside me and continued to explore every inch of my skin. It was as if he were committing it to memory.
The thought stopped me short, a tremble in my voice as I finally whispered, "Are you still going to want me? You know, after?"
My question stopped him short. I flushed deeply when I saw the hurt spread across his features and the way his jaw tensed. "Bella, why would you say such a thing?"
"You just seem…like…it's stupid. Never mind."
"It is not stupid, Bella. I just do not understand. Please explain."
"You're…you're being so… gentle. I mean, not that I don't like it, I do, and I love you. But you seem like…like you're sad that this is the last time you can touch me and I'm…warm. And soft." I could feel tears brimming in my eyes as the words rushed out. This isn't going at all how I thought it would.
Edward pulled himself up onto his elbows, his face inches from mine as he looked down on me. He reached forward, wiping away the stray tears that had escaped. "Bella, that is not the truth at all. The truth is…well, the truth is a bit nonsensical." Edward sounded embarrassed as he said the words, which was odd to say the least. It was very rare for Edward to be embarrassed about anything. "Bella…I just thought…later, it is going to be bad, for you. And it is going to be my fault. I wanted…I wanted to show you how much I love you and to make you feel…good…before that."
He took a deep breath once the words were out, his thumb caressing my cheek. "You will always be warm and soft to me. Once you are changed, my skin, it will not feel cold to you like it does now. The only thing you will lose is your heartbeat. As much as I have loved listening to it while you sleep, there is a part of me that will be relieved. I have never stopped being tempted by you, Bella. It has always been in the back of my mind, no matter how far back it has been pushed."
"Are you saying I won't tempt you anymore, once I'm changed?" I asked with a smirk, running my fingertips down his spine. He shivered, the serious expression on his face softening. His eyes darkened, the smoldering look I knew well slowly replacing the worry.
"You will always tempt me, Isabella Marie Cullen."
"I love the way that sounds."
"Yes. I love you saying it, with our name at the end." I brought my left hand up to his cheek, my ring glinting in the moonlight. Edward settled his weight back down on top of me, reaching for my left hand with his own. I watched while he wove our fingers together, the metal of the rings clinking quietly sending a twinge of delight racing through me.
He watched me for a long moment before pressing his mouth against mine. We lay pleasantly entangled in the middle of the bed that way for what could have been minutes or hours. It had been a long time since we had been able to control ourselves long enough to do what we were; to just kiss each other without lust taking over and quickly leading us somewhere else. I reveled in the sensation of Edward's body pressed to mine and sighed contently as he whispered his love in my ear.
Edward trailed kisses down my jaw and collarbones, pausing as his mouth hovered over my heart. He pressed his cheek to my chest, remaining motionless for a long moment before pulling himself back up. "You mean everything to me," he murmured, reaching down to tangle his fingers with mine. I let my eyes slide closed as he went back to kissing my neck, content and relaxed as a cat stretched out in a patch of afternoon sun.
A sharp pain in my neck jolted me from my blissful cloud. My eyes flew open and I realized what Edward had done; after lulling me into relaxation, and taking away my fear, he had struck.
There was no longer any time to be afraid.
Edward's fingers tightened painfully on mine as he pulled away, the gold of his eyes turning a murky burgundy. "Edward," I whimpered as the pain began to spread out from my neck, racing along my veins like wildfire. I felt like the mattress had turned into a bed of coals, as if a furnace raged beneath the sheets. I began to thrash violently, my vision blurring. In the haze, I could still feel Edward's cool touch on my hands; his fingers were still linked with mine, but everywhere his skin touched it felt like knives pressing into my skin.
I squeezed my eyes closed and I screamed.
I screamed until I managed to open my eyes and see the look on Edward's face in a moment of lucidity. The pain burned hotly throughout my entire body, but it seemed to rise in waves. Just when I thought I could handle it, just when it would become slightly bearable, someone flipped a switch and piled more logs on the blaze. Riding out one of the plateaus, I saw what my screams were doing to him.
Edward had gotten dressed at some point, but just barely. He wore a pair of jeans and nothing else, his expression drawn and frightened. His entire body was tense, guilt eating away at him. He sat next to me on the bed, silent and still, looking as though he was terrified to touch me. The only thing that moved were his lips, but what he said, I couldn't comprehend.
I snapped my mouth shut and squeezed my eyes tightly as the flames burned more fiercely. I would not scream again; as Rosalie had once told me, it did me no good anyway. The fire burned, consuming me utterly until I felt I must simply be a pile of ash in the middle of the bed, but then still, I burned.
Years later, the burning began to subside. It pulled away from my fingers and toes first, racing toward my heart with a newfound heat. The hammering of my heart drowned out any other noise, and wherever Edward was, whatever he said, it was beyond me. My heart raced like it had never before, beating like a hummingbird's wings. I was certain my ribs would break if the fire within had not burned them down to ash.
And then it stopped.
I opened my eyes slowly, terrified of what I was going to find. Was the estate gone? Had it burnt to the ground around me? Where was Edward?
"Bella," he breathed from beside me, his face lighting up as my eyes fell on his. I noticed his eyes were still darker than usual, a faint maroon tint to them. I remembered what he had told me about my own eyes and dreaded looking in a mirror.
As I turned to face him, I drew in a sharp breath. Edward had always been beautiful to me, but with my new eyes, it was as if I had been blind. I wanted to run my fingers through his hair, and then without warning, I was doing just that. I laughed aloud, both delighted and surprised by my actions; my laugh sounded like tinkling bells, even to my own ears.
I noticed a spark in Edward's eyes right before delight spread across his features, his own laugh rumbling up from his chest. "Bella, that hurt." He reached up and grabbed my hands in his own, squeezing them tightly, tighter than I believed he had ever dared to before. I barely noticed the pressure, only the softness of his skin, the delicious warmth of his hands in mine. A thrill went through me as I suddenly realized Edward would never be afraid of breaking me again.
"You are perfect, Mrs. Cullen," he murmured as he leaned down on the bed, running his fingers along my waist. It was then that I realized he had dressed me at some point, but only in one of the thin nightgowns Alice had packed. Yet I could still feel his touch through the thin fabric and I shivered in sheer delight.
"There is nothing in this world more perfect than you, Edward," I told him as he leaned his mouth closer to mine. I barely got the words out before he was kissing me, his lips devouring mine. I kissed back with everything I had, surprised when his lips gave under mine. My eyes snapped open at the shock and he chuckled quietly as he watched me.
"I told you," he said quietly, but every syllable rang with happiness. His eyes shone with a pure joy I realized I had never seen before; it was only then that I realized he had always carried a slight hesitance with him.
But not anymore. And if I had anything to do with it, never again.
AN: First off, many thanks to Pied Piper for doing the pre-read on this. Your advice was invaluable. A huge thank you to everyone who has been there along the way with "Two Forks". I have read every review and every PM and I love you all for it.
"Two Forks" has made the final round of Indies for best WIP Love Triangle. I am shocked that so many people love this story that much and completely delighted. The final round of voting starts 3/15, and while I'm already over the moon to have made it this far, I would love for you to vote for me.
Update: I'm going to action off an out take from Two Forks for The Fandom Gives Back. I'm up for pretty much anything that could/did happen in the framework I've built. Any POV is fine. www(dot)thefandomgivesback(dot)com