Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This was originally written for FGB: Autism Speaks. It's a very worthy cause, and I feel privileged to be able to contribute in some small way. Thank you to all who donated!
This is a second Epilogue to Beyond Time – a little peek into the future. The conversations between Edward and Carlisle come from Midnight Sun…the rest is based on Twilight, New Moon, and of course, Beyond Time.
Thanks to my beta tiffanyanne3 for her work on this…she's the best!
"Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakably tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Epilogue, Part II – Of Marriage and Memories
"Not to brag, but I really believe I've outdone myself," Alice said proudly, taking in the wedding decorations with a satisfied smile. I followed her gaze and had to admit I agreed. Between Alice, Rosalie, Renee, and Esme, the back yard of what used to be Maggie's boarding house had been transformed into a fantasy wonderland of billowing silk, twinkling lights, and countless flowers fluttering in the light breeze.
"It's beautiful," I told her with an admiring nod. "Bella will be thrilled."
Alice wrinkled her nose. "I doubt that," she said. "If it was up to her, she'd be getting married down at the courthouse in an off-the-rack dress and sensible shoes." She shuddered at the thought. "I just couldn't let that happen, Carlisle."
I laughed. "It would be a tragedy."
Alice just shrugged. "She'll thank me someday." She darted away to straighten some flowers that didn't need straightening, and I shook my head with a smile.
"I'm sure she will," I said to myself, adjusting my tie and eyeing a ray of sunlight spearing down through a break in the canopy. Alice had planned well, I had to admit. Rolls of silk draped overhead, blocking the sunshine effectively. Between the canopy and the trees along the edge of the yard, it was easy to stay in the shade, despite the bright summer day. I took a deep breath; the scent of orange blossoms bringing back the memory of Bella's last wedding…the one where I had been the one to give her away. Unconsciously, my eyes strayed up to the window of her old room, where I knew she was getting ready for her second – and final – walk down the aisle.
"Nervous?" Esme's soft voice interrupted my musings as she slipped her hand into the crook of my elbow. I covered it with my own, looking into her soft eyes.
"No. Not really," I replied. "Just caught up in the memories, I suppose."
She leaned her head on my arm affectionately, her eyes straying to the other side of the yard, where Edward stood laughing with his brothers. "He's so happy," she murmured. "I sometimes wondered if we'd ever see him like this."
I leaned down to kiss the top of her head. "It was a long road," I agreed, "but it was definitely worth it."
Esme stood with me quietly as I scanned the small crowd gathered for Edward and Bella's wedding. Our family was all present, of course, as well as the Denali coven, and Peter and Charlotte, who had come to know Bella during a visit the previous winter and became fast friends. Bella's parents were both in attendance, as well as her stepfather. Angela Weber and her fiancé Ben Cheney were the only two of Bella's human friends from Forks who'd been able to make the trip to Chicago. Rounding out the little group were Miriam and Mary – Maggie Oleson's descendants – who had both been thrilled when Edward and Bella had asked if they could hold the wedding at their home.
In a dim corner, Billy and Jacob Black chatted with Charlie, their relaxed smiles belied by Jacob's alert eyes. He kept his back to the wall, his instinctual wariness of being outnumbered by vampires obviously putting him on edge. I respected him greatly for standing up to the pack to come to the wedding at all. I knew the opposition had been great, and his attendance came at no little sacrifice.
Perhaps, in time, the fences would mend. Until then, we would respect the pack's mandate and stay away from their lands. I knew it was difficult for Bella, but we all held out hope that someday we would once again be able to coexist in peace.
If there was a word that summed up my life lately, that was it. To see the ones I loved being loved…happy and fulfilled…complete. It gave me a sense of satisfaction and untold pleasure that was difficult to verbalize.
Once again my gaze lifted to the window of the girl that had made it possible.
"You should go to her," Esme said encouragingly.
I shrugged, tearing my eyes from the window. "Her father is here this time. She doesn't need me."
Esme smiled softly, lifting up on her toes to kiss me lightly. "She needs you. Trust me." She patted my arm and walked away to join Alice and Renee, who were apparently giving last-minute instructions to the musicians.
I hesitated, my fingers tapping nervously on my legs as I debated Esme's words. Finally, I turned and walked slowly into the house and up the stairs. A slight breeze moved in the quiet hallway, and I could make out the tinkling of bells that Alice had strung up in the trees outside. I approached Bella's door, knocking lightly.
I opened the door to find Rosalie adjusting Bella's veil, a frown of concentration on her face.
"I hope I'm not interrupting."
Bella's smile lit up her face. "Of course not. How's everything going outside?" She flipped the veil back over her head so she could see me clearly, and Rose sighed in exasperation.
Bella grimaced apologetically. "Sorry."
Rose just shrugged. "It's okay. I told Alice a veil wasn't a good idea, but she insisted."
"I just don't like not being able to see clearly. I'm afraid I'll fall down the stairs or something."
"Well, go ahead and leave it back," she replied, "but don't blame me if Alice jumps out into the middle of the aisle to fix it."
Bella giggled. "I wouldn't put it past her."
I debated turning and walking back out, feeling like an outsider in a world of femininity. Rose seemed to sense my discomfort, however, and cast me a sympathetic glance before turning back to Bella.
"I'm going to go check on the food," she said, wrinkling her nose in distaste as she checked her watch. "I'll send your parents up when I see them. It's almost time to get this show on the road."
"Thanks, Rose," Bella said, pulling her new sister into a tight hug. Over the past months, Rosalie seemed to have overcome her resentment about Bella's choice to become one of us. At heart a romantic, Rosalie had come to terms with the fact that Edward and Bella were meant for each other.
Or perhaps she'd just accepted that some things could not be undone.
Regardless, the two had become closer, often bonding over a shared defiance of Alice's enthusiastic plans. I couldn't feel too sorry for Alice, however. Even the combined force of Bella and Rosalie were no match for Alice's determination, and more often than not, she got her way, regardless of their opposition.
Rose smiled at me as she left the room, and I nodded at her before approaching Bella to stand next to the mirror, facing her. A memory flashed before my eyes – Bella, standing in front of a different mirror in a different room, wearing a different dress. Her skin was now pale marble instead of flushed with warmth…her eyes golden instead of chocolate…yet the glow in them was the same. The nervous smile on her lips, the fluttering of her hands as she plucked at her gown…the joy and excitement that all but emanated from her – that hadn't changed.
"You look lovely," I told her honestly.
Bella smiled in embarrassment, and I knew if she'd still been human, a blush would have stained her cheeks.
"Thank you," she said. "I know it's stupid, but I have to admit I'm a little nervous."
"Second thoughts?" I smirked teasingly, remembering a similar conversation we'd had nearly a century before.
Bella remembered too. She grinned. "No…no second thoughts."
"Well, good…because I'd help you escape, but I have a feeling that young man of yours would hunt me down if you disappeared."
Her smile widened and she laughed at our shared memory. "He'd have to catch you first."
I grimaced theatrically. "Yes, and now he could. Probably better rethink that strategy."
Bella giggled. "Probably."
"I have no doubt he would, you know," I added quietly. "He would never let anything come between you again."
Bella smiled, and I walked to the window, looking down at the activity below. Much of it was blocked by the canopy, but now and then a familiar face would appear, busily rushing to set up for the big event.
"Is it strange, doing this again?" I asked, not turning away from the window.
Bella considered that for a moment. "A little," she replied. "But, believe it or not, I'm also a little excited."
I glanced at her in surprise. Bella was never one to enjoy being the center of attention.
"Don't tell Alice," she warned with mock severity.
I grinned. "Wouldn't dream of it."
"It's just…" She turned back to the mirror, lost in thought. "The first time it was hard not to have my parents there," she admitted. "Harder than I let anyone know. This time the memory is one Edward and I can share. A new start, in a way."
I nodded in understanding. Bella had told me that one of her biggest fears after her transformation was forgetting her human life with Edward. Interestingly enough, it was Rosalie who helped her with that. She encouraged Bella to focus on reliving those events regularly to instill them in her vampire memory, instead of allowing them to fade in her weaker human one.
But this day? I knew from personal experience that it would stand out in full color, bright and vivid for the rest of her existence. It was a day they would both hold on to for eternity – or however long we were allowed to walk this earth.
Bella joined me at the window, her arm brushing mine as she looked down at the yard. Under the edge of the tent, Edward stood, talking with Jasper. Whether he heard my thoughts or simply sensed Bella's presence, I didn't know, but he stiffened slightly and looked up toward the window. His eyes locked with hers, the silent communication between them thick in the air. I felt like an intruder witnessing such a private moment.
Then, Edward turned to me, obviously sensing my uncomfortable thoughts. Before looking away, he smiled and nodded in acknowledgement of my need to see her…of hers to see me. It was time to finally close the circle whose first arc was drawn when Bella Swan came to Forks one rainy day and set into motion a bizarre chain of events that led to this moment.
Because Bella was wrong all those years ago when she told me that I didn't love her.
I did. I loved her then, and I never stopped.
Of course, that love had changed when I found Esme. My eyes sought her out automatically…drawn to her as they always were. My wife sat chatting with Renee, her beautiful face glowing and gentle.
Esme was my mate…my destiny…my life. Bella had been right about that.
Still, despite my devotion to Esme, I did love Bella, and a small part of me – a very small part – mourned the loss of her. She was Edward's. I knew that. She always had been.
But today she became completely his – body and soul…past, present and future…a public testimony of their undying commitment to each other.
Of her choice.
It wasn't that I resented that choice, not even that I was jealous of Edward. It was more melancholy than regret that touched at the edges of my heart. A final recognition that I would never be the one closest to her…that she no longer needed me.
Pride? Perhaps. I preferred to think it a more noble emotion. To put it simply, I would miss her.
She was, after all, my first true friend – at least the first one I could really remember in my centuries as a vampire. She reawakened a part of me I'd thought long dead.
She gave me hope. She led me to love. She gave me a future.
"It's been a long road," Bella murmured beside me, and I wondered if her thoughts mirrored mine.
"That's an understatement," I replied with a grin. "I don't know if there is a metaphor sufficient to describe what you and Edward have endured to be together."
"And you," she protested quietly, touching my arm briefly. "You went through it too, Carlisle. "And I know it was difficult – impossible even.
"So many times I was torn," she continued, "wondering if I'd told you too much or not enough. I know it was a burden, Carlisle. Especially to keep it all from Edward."
As his name echoed in my thoughts, Edward looked up again briefly.
"Yes," I replied with a short laugh. "That did prove challenging at times."
Since Bella's return from 1918, we'd spoken often about our shared past…and the months I'd had to hide my knowledge of Bella's future after she first arrived in Forks. It was only during that time that I'd come to truly understand Bella's turmoil over manipulating the future – and the true weight of the burden.
"Did you ever doubt?" she asked. "Did you ever wonder if Edward and I would really find our way?"
I considered her question, knowing she wasn't looking for a quick denial.
She was right. It was difficult. To watch two people I loved suffer pained me greatly.
But did I ever doubt? I remembered the afternoon Edward sought me out, crazed and tortured by guilt and fear.
The day all of this was set into motion.
"I have to go, Carlisle. I have to go now."
I fought to control my thoughts. Fortunately, Edward's wild frame of mind helped hide my reaction.
"What's happened?" I asked.
"Nothing. Yet. But it will, if I stay."
Alice had told us all about Bella's impending arrival, and her feeling that the girl would be important. Of course, I was the only one who knew exactly how important. Esme knew bits and pieces. I couldn't keep it all from her, but she understood I'd withheld some of the details. She'd actually asked for limited knowledge, not being as apt at hiding her thoughts from Edward as I was. She didn't even know Bella by name, so she couldn't inadvertently think it. It was only after we left Forks that I told her everything. Edward was gone, so there was no harm in her knowing.
But as he paced in my office, tugging at his hair in desperation, I wondered why he was so…frantic.
"I don't understand." I reached for him, but he jerked away.
"Have you ever…has there ever been a time…" He took a deep breath, trying to focus his thoughts. "Has any one person smelled better to you than the rest of them? Much better?"
It took a moment for me to comprehend what he was saying, but suddenly, it clicked into place. This was all more complicated and dangerous than I ever anticipated. Edward wasn't only destined to love Bella.
He was fated to crave her blood above no other. She was his singer.
I couldn't, however, contemplate the implications of that discovery at that moment. Not with Edward so close. I couldn't risk him hearing my thoughts.
"Oh," I said quietly, filling my mind with compassion and empathy. I reached out to touch his shoulder encouragingly. "Do what you must to resist, my son. I will miss you."
I reached into my pocket and offered him my keys. "Here, take my car. It's faster."
He'd grabbed the keys, murmuring his thanks and all but running out of the hospital. Stunned, I sat down behind my desk, finally able to absorb what I'd learned.
Bella was Edward's singer. Being near him put her very life in danger – more so than any other human.
And now, Edward was gone.
He'd be back. I understood that. I knew that he'd left Bella at some point, and that led to her trip to the past. But he had just met her – there was no connection there – no love yet. Just the hysteria of a vampire who'd met his singer…and was clinging to his last threads of resistance. Which meant he'd have to come back. They would have to fall in love. Then, he would leave her again.
I didn't have the answers, and I knew all I could do was watch events unfold…and try to stay out of the way.
He did return, of course. A week later he went back to school and I watched him carefully for any signs that he was losing control. Alice kept tabs on him during school, as did Jasper, and the day went by without incident.
That night, we went hunting together. It was the first time I had a chance to talk to him alone since he'd left for Denali. Schooling my thoughts, I carefully prodded him for information, asking why he'd come back.
"I didn't like feeling a coward," he admitted.
"Better than to put her in danger," I replied. Watching his reaction carefully, I added, "She'll be gone in a year or two."
"You're right. I know that." He stopped running as I did, and I examined his expression carefully. Yes. There was more there than he suspected.
Not just vampire and singer. It had only been a few days, but it was already more.
I forced a thought into my head. But you're not going to run, are you? When he only hung his head in response, I added. Is it pride, Edward? There's no shame in—
"No. It isn't pride that keeps me here. Not now."
I refused to mentally acknowledge the weight of that statement.
Nowhere to go? I thought instead.
"No," he laughed. "That wouldn't stop me, if I could make myself leave."
Already, he was attached to her. He didn't even realize it yet, but the bond was already forming. I told him we'd all go with him, if that was what he needed. I had to admit, I was taking a bit of selfish satisfaction in Edward's turmoil. I poked at him, mentioning the threat to Bella's life…asking again what it was that held him there and kept him from leaving. In a way, I enjoyed his discomfort, but not because I wished him pain.
It was only that it proved that what I had been waiting for was finally happening. Singer or not, Edward was falling in love with Bella Swan – a conclusion that was only confirmed when Edward frantically burst into my office the next morning.
For a moment, I feared the worst.
Edward – you didn't—
"No, it's not that," he assured me.
He'd explained about the incident with the van in the school parking lot…his panic over exposing us…and his fear that Bella had been seriously hurt. I saw the concern in his eyes and knew that he was struggling with his new feelings over this girl. He'd stayed in my office as I made my way to the ER, but I didn't show myself just yet. Instead, I watched Bella from a distance, allowing my PA to perform the necessary examinations.
It wasn't the first time I'd watched Bella. She'd once called me a stalker, but softened it with a teasing smile. Perhaps I was, but I couldn't resist keeping tabs on her. I'd seen her shortly after she was born…visited her several times while she lived in Forks, and after she'd moved to Phoenix. Once she got old enough to notice my strange appearance, I kept the shadows, watching her grow up. And when she returned to Forks, I watched from the edge of the forest as she arrived at her new home, smiling as she thanked her father for the gift of that rundown red truck.
But I hadn't seen her up close in years. Not since she was a small child and mistook me for an angel.
I braced myself for not only hiding my response from her – but my thoughts from Edward. Once I'd assured him she was fine, he muttered something about checking on her and smoothing things over. I told him to go ahead, feigning interest in the X-ray. I truly needed a moment to collect my thoughts without Edward listening.
I followed behind him a few minutes later, pausing outside the room as I heard him joking with Bella about springing her from her inadvertent prison. I took a deep breath and walked in.
I wasn't prepared. Seeing her at that moment…the Bella I'd known nearly a century earlier…it jarred me like I hadn't anticipated, and at the rush of emotion that flooded me, I feared all was lost. My eyes darted to Edward's quickly, but he was entirely focused on her.
I smiled slightly and regrouped, once again putting up a camouflage wall in my mind. Turning back to Bella, I noticed her staring at me, her mouth dropped slightly open in shock. Her eyes, though, registered only surprise at my appearance, not recognition. I realized quickly that this was not he Bella that I knew. She was, in effect, a stranger - a stranger who was at that moment eyeing me rather suspiciously. I ignored it, trying to soothe her with my voice.
"So, Miss Swan, how are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," she responded quietly.
I walked over to the light board, flipping it on and clipping on her X-ray to examine it needlessly. "Your X-rays look good. Does your head hurt? Edward said you hit it pretty hard."
She sighed in frustration, and I fought a smile. She never did like being the center of attention.
"I'm fine," she repeated.
I examined her injury briefly, running my fingers over the swelling and trying not to inhale her familiar scent. I didn't know if I could hide my reaction from Edward if I were to do so.
"Tender?" I asked.
Edward chuckled and Bella glared at him. I really hoped he couldn't pick up the jolt of smug approval in my thoughts. They were well matched – even more now than they were back then. They just needed time to discover it.
I told her that her father was waiting for her, and she asked if she could return to school. When I suggested she take it easy, she stubbornly asked if Edward would be allowed to go back to school.
It was all I could do not to laugh.
When she finally got up from the gurney, she stumbled slightly. I caught her easily, but left myself unprepared for the rush of her scent that filled my nostrils.
Ah…Bella… an ache of reminiscence filled me for a brief moment before I could quash it. I glanced up at Edward and was shocked at the emotion that flitted across his face.
I'd seen it before. Many years ago. That day I'd first met him outside the hospital with Bella.
But just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. I released Bella gently, telling her to take Tylenol for the pain, and turned to my other patient as Edward tried to deal with her suspicions.
All in all, he did a fairly good job, considering the circumstances.
Of course, the incident in the parking lot took its toll on my family. We were split as to how to deal with the threat of Bella Swan. Rosalie and Jasper were both convinced that she not be allowed to share her suspicions about us. I did what I could to diffuse the situation without giving away my knowledge of future events. Interestingly enough, it was Alice who finally convinced Jasper to give up his vendetta – claiming he would hurt her irrevocably if he were to kill someone who was destined to be her friend.
The fears were unfounded. Bella Swan kept her silence.
Alice saw two futures for the girl – either Edward would kill her himself, or one day she would become one of us. Edward denied that either would happen, but with every passing day, I began to believe.
Perhaps that why it had all happened in the first place – so Bella could one day complete our family.
Edward would hear none of it, however. He was determined not to harm Bella, but equally determined that she not be deprived of heaven by sacrificing her soul. It was an issue where he and I disagreed – and our arguments over the decades always ended in an impasse. Edward was convinced that we were damned. I, however, had a more hopeful outlook and believed God had a place for even our kind.
Edward tried to keep his distance from Bella, but he couldn't. He was drawn to her – and not just by her blood. He didn't think I knew that he went to her every night. Not that I suspected he'd do something untoward. Although I'd had my doubts about Edward's gentlemanly conduct when he was human, I'd since learned that he was a pillar of virtue.
No, Edward would not compromise her. But he couldn't stay away, either.
Alice told me when they started walking the halls at school together…sitting at their own table at lunch. I smiled inwardly, knowing that fate was weaving its web around them, but worried about the imminent time when Bella would have to make her choice to go back in time.
What would be the trigger? How would it happen?
The first time Edward brought Bella to our home, we greeted her with warmth – well, except for Rosalie, of course. Edward had brought Bella to my office, showing her the paintings on my wall and asking me to tell her my history. Due at the hospital, I left the telling to Edward, smiling as I heard his quiet voice trail behind me as I left the house. It was getting easier to hide my thoughts from Edward. So many of his thoughts were centered around the girl and she'd become such a part of our lives, that it wasn't unusual for any of us to be thinking about her.
It was freeing, I had to admit.
She came along one day as a storm rolled in and we took the opportunity for a baseball game. She stayed with Esme, instead of playing, chatting with my wife as she umped the game. I watched Bella with a smile, remembering when she'd predicted this moment.
"Someday, you'll play baseball. You'll go out to this big field by your house… but only on stormy days, so the thunder hides the sound of the bat. Esme doesn't play, though. She prefers to umpire."
"Really? Why is that?"
"She told me she has to keep the children honest. That's what you're waiting for, Carlisle. Don't forget it."
For years I held tight to that promise, and as I took my position at bat I felt a contentment that all I'd hoped for was coming to fruition.
Then, in an instant, Edward was at Bella's side protectively as Alice's frightened voice whispered through the clearing.
"I didn't see – I couldn't tell."
We gathered around her, and I asked her what she saw.
It was the visitors…the nomadic vampires she'd seen heading our way. Something had changed and they were mere minutes away. My family looked to me for guidance, but I had no idea what to do.
"Can you make it?" I asked Edward.
"No, not carrying—" His eyes cut to Bella briefly. "Besides, the last thing we need is for them to catch the scent and start hunting."
Emmett was, as always, raring for the fight, but I decided we should continue the game and wait to see what happened. There didn't seem to be an alternative anyway. We waited anxiously, and Edward's guilt and fear at putting Bella in danger was a palpable thing, even for those of us without Jasper's gift.
Then, the nomads walked into the clearing, and a familiar scent slammed into me. We approached each other carefully, and I examined the little group, matching the scent to the faces.
No. Not the one in front. The male in back…and the woman.
James and Victoria. That was what Bella had called them. The man who had assaulted her outside the charity ball, and the woman who had sired him. The vampires I had tracked to prove Edward innocent of murder.
It made some kind of twisted sense, once I had the opportunity to think about it - that a man who Bella and Alice had emasculated would become a vampire determined to hunt them down. Even if he wasn't consciously aware of it, I could see where that instinct would cross over from one life into the next. For James, of course, that instinct eventually led to his destruction.
I thought for a while that the incident with James might be the catalyst for Edward leaving, but I was wrong. Sadly, it was someone much closer to him that finally forced him to take action.
A slice of paper…a drop of blood…and all Jasper's hard fought control had slipped. It was only for a moment, but it was enough to send Edward into a frenzy of panic, and Jasper into an abyss of morbid guilt.
Emmett had rushed him from the room, followed slowly by the rest of my family – none of them able to resist the scent of fresh blood as well as I could.
"Well, that's everyone," Bella sighed. "I can clean a room, at least."
I tended to her injuries and tried to ease her guilt. "It's not your fault. It could happen to anyone."
"Could. But it usually just happens to me." I tried unsuccessfully to hold back my laugh at her dramatic sigh. Now that I'd gotten to know this Bella, the differences between her and the Bella I'd known in the past became more obvious. Where had she gained the sarcastic confidence I'd seen? What had happened to the sweet innocence? The harder edges of the Bella I'd known in Chicago were gone – or I should say, not yet formed. I wondered what had led to the transformation.
Certainly, she was the same in many ways – her kind heart…her quick wit…her unerring loyalty. Yet, there was a difference, and I had a feeling that it was a change that could only come from pain.
"How can you do this?" she asked, pulling me from my thoughts. "Even Alice and Esme…" Her words trailed off as she wondered at my restraint.
"Years and years of practice. I hardly notice the scent anymore."
She questioned me about my ability to withstand the temptation…about my choices to not take human life…to undertake a vocation to save them whenever I could. She was persistent – a familiar trait that had me smiling once again. Eventually, I told her about my father as I wiped the table with alcohol – removing any remnants of blood – and lit the gauze on fire, making her jump.
She shrugged, so I continued speaking, finding it was – as always – easy to talk to her. I told her about my faith – my belief in God, and my hope that he would be merciful on us if we tried to live good lives. I also explained to her Edward's differing opinion.
"He doesn't believe there is an afterlife for our kind," I said softly. "You see, he thinks we've lost our souls."
She argued the point, of course, and I smiled inwardly, thinking about how she faced the same ethical dilemma when it came to changing Edward…and how, in the end, she'd made the choice for him. Now, though, she stubbornly insisted that it was her decision whether to become one of us, and she pointed out that Edward wasn't the only option, eyeing me carefully.
"Oh no," I laughed. "You're going to have to work this out with him!" I realized suddenly, that I'd reached a pivotal moment. I couldn't explain how I knew, but I knew. It was time for me to tell Bella about Edward's change. I sighed, trying to calm the turmoil in my mind. I knew I couldn't tell her the whole truth – but I also knew that the words I gave her would one day convince me to do what needed to be done.
"That's the one part I can never be sure of," I began hesitantly, watching her reaction. "I think, in most other ways, that I've done the best I could with what I had to work with. But was it right to doom others to this life? I can't decide."
Bella said nothing, and I wondered what she was thinking. She shuddered slightly, and I hoped I wasn't making a grave mistake.
"It was Edward's…mother…who made up my mind," I said quietly, turning to look out the windows.
"Yes. Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Masen…" I went on to tell her Edward's story – an edited version, of course – and Bella listened with wide eyes. I told her of his father's death, how his mother took a turn for the worse, and how – on the verge of death herself – she'd demanded that I save him.
"'I'll do everything in my power,' I promised her, taking her hand. The fever was so high, she probably couldn't even tell how unnaturally cold mine felt. Everything was cold to her skin." I looked at Bella then, hoping I wasn't overdoing my embellishments. She was listening carefully, though, so I continued.
"'You must,' she insisted, clutching at my hand with enough strength that I wondered if she wouldn't pull through the crisis after all. Her eyes were hard, like stones, like emeralds." I watched Bella, hoping my words – her words - would stick in her memory so when the time came, she could use them herself. "'You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward.'"
I shared a bit of myself then. Telling her how I'd thought about creating a companion for myself, but could never justify it – and how the words Edward's mother spoke finally pushed me over that edge. I told her about stealing Edward from the hospital – my uncertainty about how to go about the transformation – and the pain I'd inadvertently caused him.
"I wasn't sorry, though," I said quietly, noting a light sheen of tears in her eyes. "I've never been sorry that I saved Edward."
Edward walked in then, offering to take her home. I watched them leave and hoped I'd done enough.
When Edward returned, he wore a mask of grim determination, and I knew it was time. Alice tried to argue with him. Esme begged him to reconsider. Even Jasper suggested he not act in haste.
I, however, was silent. I knew it was to no avail.
It was time. We would leave Forks. Bella would be left to her pain, her loneliness. I wasn't sure how it would happen, but she'd find her way back through time – and find her way back to love.
It was the way it had to be.
Edward stayed behind to say goodbye to her. He didn't know that I returned shortly after he left.
I watched over her as she trudged through the damp forest. I winced when she tripped on a branch and didn't get up.
I agonized as she lay there, weeping…lost and alone. My presence kept the wild animals away, and although she didn't know it, I held a leafy branch above her in the darkness to protect her from the worst of the rain.
Countless times I considered sweeping her up in my arms and carrying her home.
But just as I was about to give in to my instincts…to ignore fate's mandate and make myself known…I heard the soft footfalls and loud voices of a search party, calling into the forest.
Eventually, one of the wolves from the reservation found her. He picked her up gently, and carried her home to her father.
And I turned and ran the other way – toward my family and away from Bella – knowing it was the only way.
I stayed away from her. It went against everything in my nature not to run back to Forks on occasion to check up on Bella, but I didn't. I just knew I could do more harm than good if I did. So I waited. Like I had for so many years, I waited.
Eventually, Alice's visions confirmed that Bella's journey had begun…and when Edward returned, I knew events had finally come full circle.
My eyes were drawn once again to my son. Edward's smile shone brightly, even in the shadows of the wedding tent.
"You never answered my question," Bella reminded me quietly. I turned to see her watching me closely, a soft smile on her face.
Unable to resist, I reached out to touch her cheek. "Did I doubt?" I repeated. "Honestly? There were days I feared for your safety…or for Edward's sanity. I worried if I was doing enough – or too much. I hoped. I prayed. I wished. I obsessed."
Bella smirked slightly at that, and I grinned back at her.
"But, Bella. I saw you on your first wedding day…both of you. I knew, deep down, that a love like that could overcome all obstacles. I had…faith…in both of you.
"So…the answer is no," I said firmly. "No, I never doubted. I always knew, in spite of everything, you would find your way back to each other."
Her smile grew and suddenly, she threw her arms around my neck. "Thank you," she whispered.
I hugged her back tightly, my eyes fluttering closed as I inhaled her scent one last time. "You're welcome," I replied. We held each other for a moment, as if we both knew it marked a change in our relationship.
For a moment, I mourned the girl who came in to my ER a hundred years ago, passed out from a corset tied too tight. I mourned a friendship wrought over late nights and patient files and inside jokes and shared secrets.
I mourned a love lost…a love that was truly never meant to be.
Then I opened my eyes, and over her shoulder I spotted Esme and Edward standing together under the shade of a large tree. And I let the mourning go…and embraced the joy of the moment.
"I should go," I said finally, just as a knock sounded at the door. At Bella's quiet call, Charlie and Renee entered and I left with a quiet smile, to let them say their own goodbyes.
For more than two centuries I'd walked the world, alone and lonely. I thought myself damned…destined to a life of solitude and shadows.
But then, one by one, they'd come to me, and I'd selfishly claimed them as my family. I knew many would condemn me for it – for playing God instead of letting nature take its course.
I'd condemned myself more times than I could count, torn apart by guilt and uncertainty.
Had I done the right thing?
The question had haunted me since the day I took Edward from the hospital.
I had to admit, however, that if given the opportunity, I would make the same choices. I could not imagine a world where I let them die…their lives snuffed out before they'd really had a chance to live at all.
Whether that made me a monster or a hero, I couldn't say.
Perhaps I was a little of both.
But as I stood next to my wife, watching Edward and Bella cut a cake they wouldn't eat…share a toast they wouldn't drink…smiling and laughing, their eyes glowing with love and happiness…I felt…content.
In that moment, all regrets drifted away like the orange blossoms fluttering on the breeze.
In that moment, I took in the joyous faces of my family and knew that I'd never again be alone…and that they, too, had found peace and love, even in the midst of this strange and mystical life.
"Are you all right?" Esme asked, looking up at me, her eyes soft and her lips curved in a slight smile.
I smiled back. "Fine. Better than fine."
"It's time for your toast," she prodded. I groaned slightly, but took my place next to Edward, holding my glass aloft.
"When I first met Bella, it was in the hospital emergency room," I began. A tittering laughter broke out and Bella scowled at me playfully. "But even then, I knew that she was special, and it wasn't long until I knew – without a doubt – that she and Edward were meant for each other.
"They've been through a lot to get to this moment," I continued. "But I have faith that from this day forward, they will face every challenge together – side by side."
I turned to face them, moved by the joyful light mirrored in their eyes. "I am so honored to have you both in my family, and I wish you both a future filled with joy and happiness…and love, of course. Always love." I lifted my glass, turning back to the crowd. "To the bride and groom!"
The sentiment was echoed as glasses clinked and well-wishes filled the air. The sun slid below the horizon, finally allowing us to move freely around the yard. Emmett and Jasper pulled on a set of cords at the edge of the tent and the silk parted above us, revealing twinkling stars and sparkling lights entwined in the trees.
I swear, Alice amazed me sometimes.
Romantic music filled the air and, in pairs, we took to a makeshift dance floor. I took my wife into my arms, smiling down at her beaming face as we danced to the strains of Nat King Cole.
"It's perfect, isn't it?" she murmured dreamily, twisting her fingers into the hair at the back of my neck.
I had to agree. As I spun her around the floor, I caught sight of Edward and Bella, wrapped in each other's arms…lost in each other's eyes.
"Perfect," I agreed.
After more than three hundred years, my family…my life was…complete.
And as I held Esme in my arms, surrounded by friends and family, I was filled with a sense of peace.
At long last, all was as it should be.
A/N: UPDATED 7/23/12 - PLEASE SEE MY PROFILE for important information about my stories. Thank you! :-)