A/N: First, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and praise of my Continuation of Midnight Sun.

Because you have been so excited for Black Moon I wanted to start releasing it a chapter at a time, although I am still writing. This is a very difficult and dark journey for Edward and I get very emotionally invested in him. At times it makes it difficult to write but I know your continued feedback and encouragement will give me the courage to continue to tell his beautiful story.

I do want to warn you all, this is Edward's journey during New Moon and it is very sad. It is dark and depressing but I hope it gives you more insight into his character and you learn to love him as dearly as I do. To me, Edward was never a jerk for leaving Bella. He did it out of love and at great personal sacrifice. I hope this lets you see that.

And I especially want to thank my wonderful, dedicated Beta ForksPixie who makes this possible for you. I also want to thank two of my muse's who read the rough, raw version and made sure you were getting the best Edward possible - MsTipene and DreamsOfEdward.

Disclaimer: I own nothing…the talented Stephenie Meyer owns it all & I like to play in her sandbox.



"I have loved you from the first moment I saw you. May I hope?"

Prince Andrei Bolkonsky to Natasha Rostova

Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

Chapter 1 Party

EPOV

Alice was absolutely giddy as she rode with me to school. Both of us felt victorious in different ways as the sun rose over the Olympic Peninsula, thankfully hidden by the dull gray clouds of Forks, on this day - September 13th.

Alice was pleased with herself for planning a surprise birthday party for my girlfriend, Bella Swan. She had purchased all the decorations and ordered a special cake that would be the centerpiece of the celebration later at the home we shared with our family. My father Carlisle, my mother Esme, my sister Rosalie, her mate and my brother Emmett, along with my other brother and Alice's mate Jasper, will be the only guests at this private party.

The last thing in the world Bella wanted was to have reached this milestone, let alone have a production made of it. For Alice, it was the chance to throw a real birthday party and celebrate that human milestone vicariously through Bella. For me, it was one step closer to Bella becoming part of my family, the only human member. They all loved her as much as I did and understood my desire to preserve her mortality. Along with me, they would all find a way to welcome her into our fold without changing her into the monster we all had been turned in to.

I felt triumphant in the fact that, against her own desire, Bella would be celebrating her 18th birthday – as a human. She spent a great deal of time and effort pleading with me to "change" her into a vampire, like me and my family. I loved Bella and wanted to spend forever with her – her forever. I was adamant that she remain human and experience all of the things I never would.

I was almost certain that my soul was lost, despite the moral life I had learned to lead. It had been decades since I had taken a human life. Now I was a vegetarian, like the rest of my family, feeding only on animals. I had difficulty believing there was a place in Heaven for our kind. I just couldn't imagine sitting next to the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, waiting our turn outside the pearly gates. After all, vampires are serial killers. Right? I could save Bella's soul. I wanted to be certain that when the day came for her to pass from this world she would undoubtedly find her way into Heaven.

Suddenly I realized I was in the same parking space I parked in every day at Forks High School. I had been so deep in thought, I didn't even remember getting there. I was so worried that Bella would be angry with us for making a deal, albeit small, of her birthday. As happy as I was that today was her birthday, I knew she would be just as equally upset about that fact.

Alice reached across the seat and laid her hand on my arm, speaking in her soft, comforting way. "Don't worry Edward," she reassured me. "She won't be mad at you. She could never be mad at you."

I smiled at her, grateful that she was not only my sister, but my best friend. Alice and I understood each other more than anyone else. It didn't hurt that she loved Bella almost as much as I did. "Thank you Alice," I said as I put the car into park and turned off the ignition, "for everything."

She smiled back at me. With Alice and me, we rarely needed to speak to know what the other was thinking. Aside from the fact that I read minds and she saw the future, we just "got" each other. She reached into her bag and removed the small box that held the gift she and I had worked on together for Bella's birthday.

With that, we both stepped from the Volvo and waited next to each other for her arrival. I could hear the old truck coming from a block away. I really wished she would let me get her a new car for her birthday, but she was adamant we spend no money on her. Besides, she loved that tin-can on wheels.

"Please contain your excitement, Alice," I pleaded, quietly, as Bella pulled her rusty '53 Chevy into her usual spot. I was worried Alice would bound across the parking lot and tackle Bella in her enthusiasm. However, she managed to wait on Bella to make her way towards us.

The smile that crossed Bella's face when her eyes met mine quickly turned to a frown as she noticed the small, silver box in Alice's hands. She slammed the truck door behind her in frustration and slowly walked in our direction. Alice moved quickly to meet Bella halfway, still grinning from ear-to-ear, pleased with herself for pulling off the whole birthday thing.

"Happy Birthday, Bella!" Alice exclaimed, wrapping her arms around her.

Bella's eyes pleaded with Alice to tone it down. Not only did she not want us to acknowledge her birthday, she didn't want anyone else too either. She shot me a glance that begged for me to save her from all of this embarrassment. I smiled a crooked smile and shrugged as Alice continued to gush with birthday excitement.

When she was within my grasp, I reached my hand out to hers, gently squeezing her fingers. That simple gesture seemed to distract her for a moment, as it usually did. She didn't quite break into a smile, but the frown disappeared. One thing I had become keenly aware of with Bella was the beating of her human heart. It comforted me and told me so much about her mood, even when she tried to hide her feelings from me. I could hear it race, then pause, before returning to its normal rhythm. The fact that my touch made her heart skip a bea,t brought a smile of confidence to my face.

I raised my other hand to her face and traced her lips with my fingertip. As hard and cold as my skin was, she never seemed to mind when I touched her so intimately. I was so enamored of her soft, pale skin and the feeling of the warmth that blood brought to its surface. "So, as discussed, I am not allowed to wish you a Happy Birthday. Is that correct?"

"Yes. That is correct," she answered, lowering her head and biting her lip. I could tell by the hint of pink that surfaced under her cheekbones that she was embarrassed, but still obstinate regarding her demand that we not celebrate this day.

"Just checking," I said with a slight grin, running my hand through her hair in frustration that she was sticking to her guns. Mostly for Alice's sake, I hoped she might have changed her mind. Even though she hadn't, it would be difficult for her to stay angry at either of us for long. "You might have changed your mind. Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts."

Alice laughed at my attempt to change Bella's mind. It didn't matter to her. She was confident that Bella would have the best birthday ever. At least Alice would throw the best birthday party ever. "Of course you'll enjoy it. Everyone's supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Bella. What's the worst that could happen?" She meant it as a rhetorical question.

Bella decided to answer it, quickly. This had obviously weighed heavily on her mind. "Getting older," her voiced cracked.

I did not like where this was going. Although we had a wonderful summer together and I loved her more than I ever thought possible, I was growing weary on the subject of her mortality. My smile disappeared to a hard line and I lowered my head, pinching the bridge of my nose. My lips were pursed, trying not to antagonize her. After all, that was what Alice was there for.

"Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said. "Don't women usually wait till they're twenty-nine to get upset over birthdays?" The moment those words left her lips, I knew Bella was not going to appreciate Alice's attempt at making light of the subject. She had taken it exactly in the direction I had hoped she would not.

Bella lowered her head in despair as she mumbled, "I am older than Edward."

I sighed, understanding her sadness, but remained dedicated to my decision to keep her human. I shot Alice a glare that thanked her fully for taking this there. She shrugged her shoulders and continued to smile.

"Technically," Alice said, still staying light and positive. "Just by one little year, though." She then winked at me out of the corner of her eye, like her plan was working. Clearly, it was not.

An awkward silence followed because Bella knew this was a subject I was not going to be swayed on. Alice realized that, despite her efforts, the conversation and subject only furthered the despair Bella was feeling over this event. But she was determined to make it go her way.

"What time will you be at the house?" she grinned, slyly.

Bella immediately picked up on the fact something was awry and came back with a defensive tone, all the while, giving me the dirty look – like I had done something. "I didn't know I had plans to be there."

Alice was, if nothing, persistent. "Oh, be fair, Bella!" she feigned disappointment. "You aren't going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?"

"I thought my birthday was about what I want."

I decided it was time for me to intercede in this conversation before someone's feelings got hurt. I turned directly towards Alice and reassured her. "I'll get her from Charlie's right after school," I said, never looking at Bella in hopes she would not argue.

I think Bella actually stamped her foot and crossed her arms across her chest. "I have to work," she argued.

Alice chimed right back with a response to the question she had foreseen. "You don't, actually," Alice told Bella, smugly. She then clapped her hands together to congratulate herself. "I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She's trading your shifts. She said to tell you 'Happy Birthday.'"

Bella stammered over her words, shaking her head in disagreement. She was determined to find a way out of this. "I—I still can't come over," she struggled for an excuse. "I, well, I haven't watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English."

Alice wasn't buying it and that fact brought a smug grin to my face. "You have Romeo and Juliet memorized." She was right. If there was a classic love story out there, Bella had read it and committed it to memory for future reference in her personal life.

That did not keep her from trying to get out of the party. "But Mr. Berty said we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it – that's how Shakespeare intended it to be presented." She shrugged and grinned, hoping that was enough to win. I simply smiled and rolled my eyes. No matter how hard she tried, she was not getting out of the party Alice had planned.

"You've already seen the movie," Alice accused.

"But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty said it was the best." Bella never stopped as long as she thought she had a chance of winning in an argument. I think she should have joined the debate team at school. It would have taken some of the slack off of me.

Alice quit smiling and glared at me. She was getting nowhere and now depended on me to make Bella come around. "This can be easy, or this can be hard, Bella, but one way or the other–," Alice threatened.

I interrupted her before she blew any chance of Bella cooperating. "Relax, Alice. If Bella wants to watch a movie, then she can. It's her birthday." Hopefully I was appeasing both of them.

"So there," Bella said, resting her hands on her hips as though my victory was her own.

"I'll bring her over around seven," I smiled at Alice as I put my hand on the small of Bella's back, to lead her off to the first class of the day. "That will give you more time to set up."

Alice smiled, knowing her party was still going off and Bella gasped, realizing Alice was making a production of it. "Sounds good. See you tonight, Bella! It'll be fun, you'll see." She took the time to give Bella a peck on the cheek, and then she danced off towards her first class before Bella could respond.

"Edward, please–," Bella began to plead with me. I pressed a finger against her lips and her mood instantly changed. She was butter beneath my fingers.

"Let's discuss it later. We're going to be late for class."

When the school year began I worked my magic on the counselors in order to get assigned to most of the same classes as Bella. While our relationship stunned most of the student body at the end of last school year, we had now become accepted fixtures. Even poor Mike Newton gave up hope of wooing Bella. He hardly ever approached her when I was near and never threw a glance my way. I was amused, however, that his appearance had changed over the summer. He had let his blonde hair grow out and gelled it each day, no doubt in an effort to mimic my own hair. The fact was, I made no effort with mine and I was certain he spent the better part of his mornings on his hair.

Bella was quiet throughout the day, in an effort to draw little attention to herself. I knew she hoped I would feel for her "suffering" and let her out of the party. That was not going to happen. We all had too much riding on this birthday party.

It was not that I did not understand where Bella was coming from. I did. She did not want to be older than me. I got that. She was uncomfortable with gifts because she had grown up with so little which taught her to be grateful for the things that mattered most in life, the people in it. My whole family had more money than we could ever spend inconspicuously. But that wasn't important to me unless I could take care of those close to me and give them everything they needed. Bella would not let me spend a dime on her, aside from our dates. She was content just to have me and I was certain I was hardly worth her time, effort and sacrifice. I wanted to reward her for bringing joy into my "life".

There were two things I did push when it came to money.

I wanted Bella to allow me to buy her a more reliable vehicle and I wanted to pay her college tuition. She was attached to the rust bucket that was her truck. Her father, Charlie had bought it for her when she arrived in Forks, as a homecoming present. It was her first vehicle and I understood her emotional attachment to it, but no one saw me tooling around town in my old Stanley Steamer.

Then there was the college thing. She wanted to be "changed" as soon as possible and college was not on her radar. It was, however, on mine. I had been to several colleges and accumulated various degrees. I wanted Bella to have the opportunity to get the kind of education I could pay for so she never had to worry about money again. No matter what, I wanted to make sure she was always cared for.

Alice and I both left the birthday issue alone the rest of the day. We had gotten what we wanted before school started. Alice knew I would make sure Bella was there. It hardly seemed worth the pain the subject caused Bella to remind her of it.

We sat at our usual table at lunch. Now that Rosalie, Jasper and Emmett had graduated, Alice and I joined Bella and her human friends each day for lunch. We still never ate, but put on the show that was necessary to convince the students and residents of Forks that we were just like them.

Although we sat at the table with Mike and Jessica, Angela and Ben, Eric, Conner, Tyler and Lauren there was still a distinction between us. Bella, Alice and I sat on one side of the table and the humans on the other. I was certain that, on the sunny days when Alice and I were out of school and hunting, the table spread out to envelope Bella. I don't think her friends ever understood us Cullens and, for reasons they did not comprehend, avoided close proximity to us. They welcomed us into their group merely as a favor to Bella.

None of Bella's friends acknowledged her birthday, which seemed a great relief to her. Certainly she had never shared the date with them. After all, she had only been in Forks for 9 months so no one realized when her birthday was. Jessica, who was supposedly Bella's closest friend, was so wrapped up in herself that she would never think to give Bella's birthday a second thought. Her male friends were treading the waters of the relationship world with the other girls and rightfully so, focused their attention on them.

Before we knew it, it was the end of the day and I followed Bella to her truck, since Alice would be taking my Volvo back to our house to prepare for the party. I opened the passenger door for her and what had been a peaceful day without a birthday mention returned to the tension filled morning that revolved around her aging.

"It's my birthday, don't I get to drive?" she asked, crossing her arms like a child throwing a temper tantrum. She certainly did not like relinquishing control of the driving, but knew that I hated being a passenger in her vehicle even more.

"I'm pretending it's not your birthday, just as you wished," I said, holding the door open. I patiently waited for her to step in.

"If it's not my birthday, then I don't have to go to your house tonight," she said smugly.

"All right," I said as I shut the passenger door and made my way around to open the driver's door for her. "Happy Birthday." I had to remember, 'lose the battle – win the war'.

Since I was a prisoner in her vehicle, I did what I could to distract myself from her questionable driving. I fidgeted with the radio, still not understanding why she would want to suffer through the horrible reception, backfiring engine and rusty body of the Chevy. After all, I was willing to provide her with any shiny, new, reliable vehicle.

"Your radio has horrible reception," I muttered. I hoped she would get tired of my complaints and give in to my desire to give something tangible to her.

She frowned as she usually did when I took shots at her precious truck.

"You want a nice stereo? Drive your own car." Her words had a cutting edge to them. The apprehension of her birthday had certainly affected her mood. While she always stood her ground with me, she rarely spoke so harshly. I looked at her in shock, pressing my lips together to keep from smiling. That would only make her angrier. However, I enjoyed seeing the fire in her.

I sat back in the seat and kept my mouth shut until she pulled into the parking spot in front of Chief Swan's house – her house. As soon as she turned the engine off, I gently reached over to her and took her face into my hands. I touched her temples, cheekbones and jaw line – all of which felt like a soft, delicate fruit within my grasp.

"You should be in a good mood, today of all days," I whispered. I hoped my gentle caress and soft words would calm her mood. After all, this was her birthday, not ours. I wanted her to enjoy it as much as any of us.

Her breathing became erratic, clearly affected by my effort to "dazzle" her. That was my secret weapon. "And if I don't want to be in good mood?" she asked.

I looked intently into her warm, brown eyes and purred. "Too bad."

I then moved in closer, pressing my lips gently against hers. As much as I wanted to kiss her with reckless abandonment, my own need to protect her and keep her safe, held me back. I softly caressed her face and neck, gently pulling her closer to me. I continued to kiss her softly, not wanting to miss a moment in which our bodies could touch so intimately. The warmth of her lips and her body accompanied by the rhythmic thrumming of her heartbeat made me feel almost human, consumed with desire.

Suddenly, that same desire came over Bella and she threw herself into the kiss more than I would have liked. There were lines I could not cross or I would kill her by accident. I was always aware of just how close to death's door Bella was when she was with me, but she had a power over me. I could not live without her. In order to live with her in my life I had to be on constant guard, protecting her from the monster that always lurked just beneath the surface.

I pulled my mouth away from hers and breathed softly against her cheek. "Be good, please," I begged. She was breathless and frustrated, just as I was. But I was not willing to sacrifice her life in a moment of passion. She, on the other hand, wanted nothing more. My lips brushed against hers one last time and I moved back, folding her arms across her stomach. I could hear her heart racing and feel her breath heating up the interior of the truck.

"Do you think I'll ever get better at this?" she asked. I realized she was asking herself more than me, hoping she could find the same inner strength I found to deal with it. "That my heart might someday stop trying to jump out of my chest whenever you touch me?"

The sound of her heart and how it revealed her emotions was one of my favorite things about Bella. Smugly I answered, "I really hope not."

She rolled her eyes at me and got us back on task. "Let's go watch the Capulets and Montagues hack each other up, all right?"

"Your wish, my command."

Throughout the summer I had become very comfortable at Bella's house, at least when Charlie wasn't around. I made my way to the couch and stretched out while Bella put the movie in and cued it up to play after the opening credits.

I watched her fumble with the VCR, yet another antiquated piece of technology I wanted to replace for her. I had read and seen Romeo and Juliet so many times I could just recite it to Bella myself. I had a feeling that was not what Mr. Berty had in mind and Bella might not be as focused on Shakespeare's words as my recitation.

She hit play and made her way to the couch, perching herself on the edge in front of me. As she leaned back against my chest, I pulled the old afghan from the behind me and wrapped it around her, protecting her from the coldness of my body. The warmth of her body was soothing to me, but I knew the harsh coldness of mine was not something she could endure for the length of a movie. Again, it came down to my protecting Bella from another aspect of what I had become.

"You know, I've never had much patience with Romeo," I commented as the movie began.

She turned to look at me and I could tell she had taken offense at my words. "What's wrong with Romeo?" she asked. It was as if I had insulted her personally.

"Well, first of all, he's in love with this Rosaline – don't you think it makes him seem a little fickle? And then, a few minutes after their wedding, he kills Juliet's cousin. That's not very brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more thoroughly?"

To me, Romeo was not this perfect lover or someone to be longed for. He had control of his destiny and he prevented a happy ending at every opportunity. Of course, that was typical Shakespeare.

She turned back to the movie and sighed. "Do you want me to watch this alone?"

I reached around to trace the skin of her arm and could feel the goose bumps form. "No, I'll mostly be watching you anyway. Will you cry?"

She relaxed her body and eased back against me. "Probably, if I'm paying attention."

Bella was a sucker for a tragic love story. I didn't understand. If I had any control of it, which I was certain I did, our love story would not be tragic. It would be epic. The Lion and the Lamb lived happily ever after.

I wanted her to focus on her own love story, not the sad turn of events Juliet had to endure. Besides, I found Bella far more interesting than the movie. Her close proximity to me mixed her floral scent with the scent of her strawberry shampoo. I was drawn to it. I found myself kissing her hair, just to feel it and taste it against my lips. "I won't distract you then," I lied.

I finally focused on the movie because Bella truly seemed intent on watching it. Of course I had to throw in my occasional observation and whisper Romeo's lines in her ear. I wanted her to know I was better than him.

Alas the scene came where Romeo finally saw his Juliet, across a crowded dance floor. He knew the moment he saw her that he wanted her, like I did when I saw Bella. The only difference was, when he saw Juliet he probably didn't turn over in his mind the many different ways he could kill her.

I raised myself up on my elbow and buried my face in her hair, my lips brushing her ear. She shivered at first, but leaned into me as I whispered Romeo's line to her. "'Did my heart love 'til now? For swear it sight, For I ne'r saw true beauty to this night.'"

"Edward, focus. Please," she panted, forcing herself to look at the television and not at me.

"Oh, but I am," I whispered in her ear, running my fingers from the other hand under her hair and around her neck.

Then Romeo and Juliet meet and their hands entwined. His line seemed quite appropriate at the moment, as my fingers traced the veins on her neck. "'Let lips do what hands do,'" I said, moving my lips to the delicate skin of her neck, just under her jaw line. That was where her scent was strongest.

I continued to go back and forth between behaving myself and allowing her to focus on the movie to being so distracted by her presence that I could not quit touching her, kissing her, smelling her, tasting her.

Suddenly time had flown by and Romeo had learned of his beloved Juliet's "death". He was mourning her passing, kneeling next to her body in the Capulet mausoleum, when I suddenly realized Bella was crying. I was amused by her deep involvement in this story.

"I'll admit, I do sort of envy him here," I said as I used a lock of her hair to dry her tears.

"She's very pretty," Bella replied. Her lack of self-confidence and inability to see the beauty I saw in her frustrated me and I let out a breath of annoyance.

"I don't envy him the girl – just the ease of the suicide," I tried to explain. "You humans have it so easy! All you have to do is throw down one tiny vial of plant extracts…"

She let out a gasp and cut me off as I spoke. "What?"

"It's something I had to think about once, and I knew from Carlisle's experience that it wouldn't be simple. I'm not even sure how many ways Carlisle tried to kill himself in the beginning…after he realized what he'd become…" Realizing how serious my tone had become, I made an effort to lighten the mood. "And clearly, he is in excellent health."

The movie ended with the fortuitous words, "'For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'" Bella was suddenly totally focused on me, hitting the stop button on the movie and turning quickly to look at my face.

"What are you talking about?" she demanded. "What do you mean this is something you had to think about once?"

At this point I realized I had probably said too much, but had reached the point of no return and had to explain my position to her. "Last spring, when you were…nearly killed…" I began, speaking of her encounter with the tracker, James in Phoenix. I tried to not sound so serious, not to alarm her. "Of course I was trying to focus on finding you alive, but part of my mind was making contingency plans. Like I said, it's not as easy for me as it is for a human."

I could almost see her head spinning. I knew the memory of her near-death experience at the hands of James was still very fresh in her mind. I also knew that she blamed me for not changing her then. Instead, I saved her life by sucking the venom from her wrist where James had bitten. She looked down at her scar and traced it with her fingers. Suddenly she shuddered and her thoughts returned to the here and now.

"Contingency plans?" she asked, trying to understand that I was telling her that I did not want to exist in a world where she didn't.

"Well, I wasn't going to live without you." I rolled my eyes in amazement that she did not already understand that. She was my life now, as it were. "But I wasn't sure how to do it – Emmett and Jasper would never help…so I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi."

"What is the Volturi?" she demanded.

I had to continue to explain this to her, to make her understand my point of view and how few options there were for my kind – to leave this world. "The Volturi are a family," I started to explain, making certain not to look her directly in the eyes. The Volturi were frightening to my kind and I didn't want to cause Bella to have any more restless nights. "A very old, very powerful family of our kind. They are the closest thing our world has to a royal family, I suppose. Carlisle lived with them briefly in his early years, in Italy, before he settled in America – do you remember the story?"

She nodded her head. "Of course I remember."

The first time I had taken Bella to our home in the woods, I took her to Carlisle's office and told her of his history and the beginning of our "family". On the wall of his office was a painting of him and the other members of the Volturi. The beautiful colors of the painting hid the darkness of their purpose.

I saw her eyes move rapidly, trying to remember all of the things I had told her about them in Carlisle's office all those months ago. "Anyway, you don't irritate the Volturi," I said, bringing her focus back to my story. "Not unless you want to die – or whatever it is that we do." I was certain to speak in a calm even tone. I didn't want Bella to know how closely I had considered that option in the past. What mattered now was that she was alive and here, with me.

She saw beyond my façade and became angry with me, grabbing my face between her hands, her face so close to mine we were nearly nose to nose. "You must never, never, never think of anything like that again!" she said. "No matter what might ever happen to me, you are not allowed to hurt yourself!"

I was still focused on reassuring her that I was happy where I was. I had everything I wanted. She maintained her mortality and I had her. She was all I needed or wanted in the world. "I'll never put you in danger again, so it's a moot point."

As it always was with Bella, she was focused on making her point clearly known. "Put me in danger! I thought we'd established that all the bad luck is my fault?" Her voice grew angrier with each word. The calmer I was, the more intense she became. "How dare you even think like that?"

I did what any man in my situation would have done. I turned the tables on her. "What would you do, if the situation were reversed?"

Her voice returned to its normal tone. She did not like being questioned. She liked doing the questioning. "That's not the same thing."

I chuckled at her answer. Clearly what was good for the goose was not good for the gander as far as she was concerned.

"What if something did happen to you?" she suggested. "Would you want me to go and off myself?"

Her words made me twinge where my heart would be if, in fact, I had one. She had resurrected so many human feelings within me and pain was one of them. I did not want to consider that Bella might ever entertain that option. I was selfish and stayed in her life when I knew what was best for her all along -- for me to leave. But she brought me joy and happiness and I could not walk away from that, even if it was in her best interest. I was making things work and I would continue to do so.

"I guess I see your point…a little," I admitted. "But what would I do without you?" Could she not understand that when I told her she was my life I meant it in every sense of the word? Without her I could not imagine existing. Before she had come along I had merely subsisted. Now I thrived. If she were gone I would suffer immensely. One can only experience the lows of life after experiencing the highs and she was the highest point in my existence.

"Whatever you were doing before I came along and complicated your existence," she said. We seemed to be at another one of our famous impasses. Neither one of us thought we were worthy of the other, yet we persevered in believing we could exist together despite that.

I sighed. "You make this sound so easy."

Now she took a sarcastic tone with me. She reminded me, yet again, that she thought I could do so much better than her. "It should be. I'm not really that interesting."

I realized at that point we make no further progress in this conversation. Besides we had a party to get to. I again pinched the bridge of my nose and hoped the debate would end. "Moot point," I said.

Suddenly I heard Chief Swan's cruiser approaching in the distance and quickly sat up into a more formal position on the couch, separating Bella and I by a couch cushion. I never wanted him to doubt my intentions with his daughter by showing him any level of disrespect in his home.

"Charlie?" she guessed.

I just smiled. This had become routine for us. When Charlie was asleep and I came into Bella's room each night, I would lay beside her in her bed as she fell asleep next to me. But I was always aware of Charlie's movement and presence and never compromised Bella's integrity by allowing him to know I broke the rules, no matter how honorable my intentions were with her.

Soon after, Charlie came in the front door with a pizza box in his hands. He hadn't seemed to have noticed that I never ate.

"Hey, kids," he smiled towards Bella. "I thought you'd like a break from cooking and washing dishes for your birthday. Hungry?"

"Sure. Thanks, Dad," Bella said, making her way to the kitchen to fix a paper plate for them both.

I sat in the living room, pretending to watch the television while Charlie and Bella discussed their day and she thanked him again for his gift of a camera for her birthday. Her mother, Renee, had sent her a scrapbook so Charlie made sure he provided a means to an end for her.

When I realized they were done I stepped into the kitchen, where Bella was throwing the trash away. "Do you mind if I borrow Bella for the evening?" I asked. She glared in my direction, hoping I had forgotten about the party plans.

She then turned her eyes to Charlie, no doubt hoping he had made other plans for her.

"That's fine," Charlie answered, getting up from the table to get another Vitamin R before he headed into the living room for the evening. "The Mariners are playing the Sox tonight so I won't be any kind of company…Here," he said, scooping up the camera and tossing it to her.

Thank goodness I was there to quickly move in and catch it as it glanced off of Bella's fingers, rescuing it before it crashed to the floor. Bella was not coordinated enough for me to consider throwing an expensive piece of equipment like that at her. I couldn't believe Charlie would make that kind of mistake either.

"Nice save," he congratulated me. He then turned back to his daughter. "If they are doing something fun at the Cullens' tonight, Bella, you should take some pictures. You know how your mother gets –she'll be wanting to see the pictures faster than you can take them."

"Good idea, Charlie," I added as a good measure. Sucking up always helped.

Bella quickly turned the camera towards me and snapped a picture. "It works," she noted.

"That's good. Hey, say hi to Alice for me. She hasn't been over in a while," Charlie added with a hint of disappointment. He liked me enough, but he adored Alice. He had blamed me for what happened in Phoenix but was eternally grateful to Alice for being there to rescue Bella and aid her in her recuperation from her injuries.

Bella appreciated Charlie's adoration for Alice, but it also frustrated her that he wasn't as open to my presence. I had explained to her she was his only daughter and his apprehension about me was natural. I only wished she had the same instincts for self-preservation.

"It's been three days, dad," she chided him. "I'll tell her."

"Okay. You kids have fun tonight," Charlie said as he made his way to his recliner with the remote in hand.

I smiled, triumphantly, taking her hand to pull her from the kitchen. There was no chance of her getting out of the evening now. Alice would be pleased that I kept my promise and I hoped Bella would be overwhelmed with the love we all had for her. She would know how much we all loved her when she walked into my house to the biggest surprise of all.

When we reached her truck I moved to the passenger side to open her door for her again. This time she stepped in without an argument. She had conceded to the birthday party and gave in to my efforts to make her feel special.

Although the Chevy was nowhere close to my Volvo, performance or appearance wise, I found myself pushing it to it'maximum as I headed North through Forks. I, and my whole family, were incapable of driving slowly – especially when we could run faster than Bella's truck.

"Take it easy," she warned me.

I just smiled and walked through the conversational door she just opened. "You know what you would love? A nice little Audi coupe. Very quiet, lots of power…"

"There's nothing wrong with my truck. And speaking of expensive nonessentials, if you know what's good for you, you didn't spend any money on birthday presents." Her mood clearly had not softened that much.

"Not a dime," I assured her. And I hadn't. I was a man of my word.

"Good."

"Can you do me a favor?" I asked.

"That depends on what it is," she answered cautiously.

I sighed and spoke with all seriousness. I wanted her to appreciate how much her birthday meant to my entire family. "Bella, the last real birthday any of us had was Emmett in 1935. Cut us a little slack, and don't be too difficult tonight. They're all very excited." I reached across the seat and took her hand in mind, resting it on the seat in between us.

"Fine. I'll behave," she promised. She had no problem giving me a difficult time,but she was always much more gracious when it came to my family.

"I should probably warn you…"

"Please do."

"When I say they're all excited…I do mean all of them." She was not very good with secrets and I figured I should tell her about the big surprise before she stepped into the room and saw my other sister.

"Everyone?" she choked. "I thought Emmett and Rosalie were in Africa." While the rest of Forks believed my older siblings had gone off to college at Dartmouth, Bella had known the truth. Rosalie and Emmett had headed off on another honeymoon – a hunting expedition in Africa.

"Emmett wanted to be here."

"But…Rosalie?" I could hear the wounded tone of her voice. No matter how rude Rosalie had been to Bella she still held out hope she would warm to her.

I squeezed her hand gently, trying to reassure her. "I know, Bella. Don't worry. She'll be on her best behavior."

She was silent and her hand was sweaty under mine, despite the coldness of my own touch. She worried too much about Rosalie. She felt guilty that it was because of her presence in my life that Rosalie and Emmett had stayed away for so long. I could not convince her that Rosalie's problem was about Rosalie and not about her. I hoped, in time, Rosalie would soften and know that Bella was what I wanted.

I decided it was best if I changed the subject. "So, if you won't let me get you the Audi, isn't there anything that you'd like for your birthday?"

She answered in a whisper, not in the mood to fight, but not willing to back down either. "You know what I want."

I scrunched my forehead in utter frustration. If there was one subject I did not want to discuss more than Rosalie it was this one. It had been a constant point of contention throughout the day. It seemed like this day was much more about her wanting to be changed and my unwillingness to do so, rather than the fact she was celebrating a monumental birthday. Today, Bella was officially an adult and I wished she would be happy about that fact.

"Not tonight, Bella. Please." I begged her. If she could just make it through this evening without pushing that issue further I would consider it a minor victory.

"Well, maybe Alice will give me what I want."

I growled deeply at that suggestion. That was the downside of her close relationship with Alice. My sister was unpredictable and adored Bella enough to go against my wishes and make Bella one of us.

"This isn't going to be your last birthday, Bella," I vowed. I had never meant something so much in all of my existence. As hard-headed as Bella was, I was immovable on this subject.

"That's not fair!" she protested, pulling her hand from mine.

I clenched my teeth and tried to ignore her protest.

We were pulling up to the house and I hoped Bella was taking note of Alice's efforts. The house was lit up from every room and every floor. Japanese lanterns hung from the cedar porch eaves, casting a soft glow on the huge bowls of pink roses that lined the steps to the front door.

Alice had no memories of her human life and was only recently putting her history together. This party was as much for her as Bella. It was for all the birthdays Alice would never celebrate and all the ones she would never remember.

Unfortunately, Bella moaned. She seemed put-off by the show.

I took several deep breaths in an effort to calm myself. I patted her hand and looked directly into her eyes. "This is a party," I reminded her, "Try to be a good sport."

"Sure," she muttered. I knew she would do it for everyone else, if not for me.

I got out of the truck and moved to her side, opened her door and offered her my hand.

"I have a question."

I waited silently and with trepidation for her query.

"If I develop this film," she asked as she moved the camera from hand to hand, "will you show up in the picture?"

So many myths. So little time to debunk them all. I just laughed as I helped her out of the truck and pulled her up the steps towards the front door.

The moment I opened the door for her and she stepped across the threshold into the huge, white living room the entire family greeted with a chorus of "Happy Birthday, Bella!"

Bella blushed and looked down but didn't complain. Alice had done a beautiful job making the room seem celebratory and beautiful. There were pink candles and dozens of crystal bowls filled with pink roses that filled the room. The scent of the roses was calming in itself. Next to my piano, Alice had covered a table with a white linen table cloth and set up a pink birthday cake, more roses, a stack of glass plates and a small pile of silver-wrapped boxes. Just because I promised not to spend money on her birthday didn't mean the rest of the family had followed that request.

I knew this was exactly what Bella didn't want, but she was doing as I asked and being a good sport about it. I wrapped my arm around her waist and kissed the top of her head.

Carlisle and Esme were closest to us and were the first to welcome Bella. Esme walked over to Bella and gave her a gentle hug before kissing her forehead. Bella's mother wasn't able to make it to Forks from Florida for her birthday since she had just been up after her accident. In so many ways Esme was a mother figure to Bella, as she was to us all.

Carlisle then put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a careful squeeze, whispering loudly, so we all could hear it, "Sorry about this, Bella. We couldn't rein Alice in." The truth was no one wanted to. They were all just as excited about this party as my sister was.

Rosalie and Emmett stood behind my parents. Emmett had a huge grin on his face. He questioned my obsession with Bella in the beginning, but had loved her almost immediately. His wide grin almost made up for the fact that Rosalie refused to smile. I had to give her some level of credit though, she wasn't glaring.

Emmett patted Bella on the back, shaking her slightly. As careful as he tried to be, he was still a bear of a guy. "You haven't changed at all," he cracked. "I expected a perceptible difference, but here you are, red-faced, just like always."

"Thanks a lot, Emmett," she said, blushing even deeper. That was Emmett's gift to me. There were so many things I loved about Bella, but I always liked to see the pink color in her cheeks when she blushed, which was often.

He laughed at her embarrassment. "I have to step out for a minute," he said, winking at Alice. We all knew what he was up to, but Bella was clueless and curious. "Don't do anything funny while I'm gone."

Alice skipped over towards Bella, her perfect white teeth sparkling in the bright light of the room. Jasper smiled as well, but remained at the foot of the stairs. When he went with Alice and Bella to Phoenix he had been very close to Bella, yet never posed a danger to her. It was a job he had – to protect her and he took it seriously. Since we all had returned to Forks he kept his distance, as a precaution more than an aversion as was the case with Rosalie.

There was a long time in Jasper's life as a vampire that he hunted humans and he had more difficulty with our diet than the rest of us did.

"Time to open presents," Alice declared, gently leading Bella by the elbow to the cake table.

Bella protested slightly, but played along. "Alice, I know I told you I didn't want anything–".

Alice crossed her arms across her chest and smiled smugly. "But I didn't listen." She then took the camera from Bella's hands and replaced it with a big, square box.

Bella reacted to the gift as though it should have been heavy and was surprised by its lightness. A look of confusion crossed her face and she read the card on top. "From Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper."

She hesitantly tore the paper and stared at the box it concealed. She had no idea what it was -- only that it was empty.

"Um…thanks," she said.

I noticed that Rosalie cracked a smile. She couldn't help herself. Jasper laughed and explained it to Bella. "It is a stereo for your truck. Emmett is installing it right now so that you can't return it."

I had to smile as well. Alice knew enough to know that Bella would go to that effort if given the opportunity. I was also pleased that the gift surprised her, even after my hints at it with the complaints about her sound system earlier in the afternoon.

"Thanks, Japer, Rosalie," Bella smiled. Then she yelled out towards the front of the house. "Thanks, Emmett!"

We could all hear Emmett laugh all the way from the truck and it was a nice break in the mood Bella had arrived in.

"Open mine and Edward's next," Alice said with so much excitement she practically squealed. She held out the small, flat, square box that Bella had refused this morning at school.

Bella turned to me with a disapproving glare. "You promised."

Just then Emmett bounded through the front door, pushing in behind Jasper who had moved in close enough to see the gift. "Just in time!"

I brushed a strand of hair from Bella's face and smiled. "I didn't spend a dime."

Bella took a deep breath and reached for the gift. "Give it to me," she sighed.

Emmett let out a chuckle. I knew they all were living out their own birthdays through this one.

Bella rolled her eyes at me, convinced I had broken my promise to her, which I had not.

She slipped her finger under the edge of the paper to tear the tape and muttered, "Shoot."

That was the moment when the glorious evening took a dangerous and emotional turn.

I knew instantly what had happened. She had cut her finger on the paper. I just smelled her blood and I knew the others could as well. I sensed Jasper as he quickly changed into the hunter. Suddenly, Bella was the hunted.

I threw myself at her, in an effort to protect her from Jasper. I didn't have time to worry about how careful I was with her and launched her backwards into the table. The table collapsed underneath Bella on impact and she landed in a heap of cake and broken crystal.

Suddenly Jasper crashed into me with his full force, determined to feed on Bella. His instincts were kicking in. He was unable to control his true nature.

I blocked him from his efforts to reach her and he snarled with a primal fury. I knew that he didn't see me or anyone else in the family. He smelled her blood and was totally focused on that.

Emmett quickly reacted and grabbed Jasper from behind, wrapping his steel arms around him. That allowed me to focus on Bella and her safety.

As I turned to look at her, so had everyone else. She was sitting in a heap of broken glass near my piano, the blood pumping from her veins and running down her arm. She seemed to notice that fact at the same time I did.

The fear on Bella's face was undeniable, for all of her bravado. Suddenly she was at the mercy of six ravenous vampires. I realized then that I was not the most dangerous thing to her – we all were. I could control myself, but I could not control everyone else. I could not be the reason Bella would constantly live in a state of fear. I would have risked anything for her love, but I was not worth that risk to her. I knew that.