What's this? An epilogue? Yes, it is! I know it's been awhile cooking, but it's finally done, and so here ends the tale of Osa Bella. Finally.
I just wanted to say thanks again to all of you who have read and have encouraged me to keep writing. I'm going to miss this bear a lot, but I'll miss all of you more.
"Watch here, Eli. You want to give the rod a good, solid flick at the last second. Like this."
Charlie tipped his rod behind his shoulder and then brought it forward swiftly, clicking the reel and releasing the line. It shot out maybe twenty yards until the lure sank in the gentle flow of the river, waiting to hook the prize salmon he'd promised to bring home to Sue for dinner. He gave the line a few quick tugs and then adjusted his fishing hat against the glare of the mid-morning sun.
"Like this, Pop?" Eli asked, and then mimicked his motion perfectly, sending his lure out every bit as far. It hit with a satisfying plunk and Eli gave Charlie a very serious look, his light brown eyes almost the color of his father's in the sunlight, shining beneath a crop of dark brown hair that poked out of a very well-loved Mariner's cap.
"Not bad for nine years old," Charlie said with a nod. "He's turning out to be a decent fisherman, Bells."
"I still think it's easier to catch coho with your hands," I said, surveying the large, smooth stones beneath the water's surface for signs of fish.
"You and Noah," Eli said, looking over his shoulder for his twin, and then making a face when he realized he wasn't there. "Hey, where is Noah, Mom? I thought he was just going up the path to look for grubs."
"He has been gone a little too long, now that you mention it," I said as Eli's expression shifted to one that looked like it had just encountered sour milk.
"He probably went looking for Dad again."
"He'd better not have," I said, though from the knot in my stomach I knew it was probably true. Noah hadn't let up all morning about going with Edward to hunt, and even though I insisted he was still too young, I should have guessed he would sneak off to find him anyway. The last time Edward snuck off to hunt during a family outing he'd done the same thing.
"All right, I'm going to go look for him," I said. "Dad, keep an eye on Eli for me?"
"Sure thing," Charlie said and then turned to Eli. "Mind your drift there, son."
The late spring air carried a hint of Noah's scent along with an explosion of wildflower and cedar. I inhaled and walked north up the path, scouring the thick underbrush and then the tangle of branches above. I couldn't imagine parenting twin boys without heightened senses—it was difficult enough keeping track of them with the enhanced sight, hearing and smell I'd gotten from Hala.
"Where are you, my wily young hunter?" I sang in the woods, trying to coax Noah out. "You know, if you did manage to find your father he wouldn't be real happy. Remember last time? He chased you all the way back to the boat."
I was surprised to hear Noah's voice from directly above, small and shaky. I looked up and saw him perched on the branch of a poplar way too high up, his green eyes wide like a frightened animal, his honey-colored hair spotted with bits of bark and dust from the tree. My stomach dropped at the sight of him so high above me.
"Noah! What on earth are you doing all the way up there?"
"I'm stuck!" He shifted dangerously on the branch and then clutched at the trunk as his foot slid from the crook of the limb.
"Don't move!" I yelled, my heart pounding with fear, but I held my tongue instead of letting loose the string of swear words that ran through my head. Ever since my big fall from the tree I hated climbing as a human, and I was still terrible at it. "Hang on and I'll phase us so you can climb down safely, okay?"
"Dad's going to be really mad," he called down.
"Dad? You're worried about him being mad? I'm already mad and I'm about to turn into a bear, so when you get down from there I suggest you run, not walk back to your brother and grandfather."
"But Mom… "
"Put both arms around the trunk and don't let go, got it?"
Noah gripped the tree with his arms and tucked his legs around it, squeezing his eyes shut tight.
"Okay, on the count of three we shift," I called to him.
"No, no! I do the counting, Noah. You just hang on up there, all right?"
"All right, but hurry. I have to pee."
I counted and then roared, twisting myself out of my human shape and into my bear body and watched as my son shifted from a lithe, lean child into a stout, black bear cub, still clinging fiercely to the tree trunk. As he scurried happily down the trunk of the tree, I began to suspect that the entire thing had been a ploy to get me to phase him, and as exasperating as it was, I couldn't blame him. If you were going to hang out in the woods it was nearly always more fun to do it as a bear.
The laughter I heard in my head confirmed my suspicions.
You did that on purpose? I asked.
I wish I had claws when I was human, he thought back at me as he made several jabs and then took a swipe at some invisible opponent in front of him.
You could have fallen and gotten hurt!
Come on Mom, let's go catch some fish, he said. I'll race you back to the river!
Race me? You know you can't outrun me.
Come on, please? Let's walk up the hill some then. Maybe we'll run into Dad.
If Dad was nearby, we'd hear him. And you can imagine what he'd be thinking about your tree stunt right now.
He should have taken me with him.
Noah, we've been over this—you're too young to watch Dad hunt. When you're twelve, you and Eli can go hunting with Dad.
Maybe eleven, I said.
That's not how negotiation works!
Noah took off running, laughing again as he galloped back down the path to where his grandfather and brother waited.
You're letting him win? Edward's thoughts interrupted my own just before I heard his footsteps behind me. "He'll never let you live it down, you know."
I turned to make some witty retort, but immediately blanked on it at the sight of him. Even on that shady path, sunlight managed to find him and light him up like a surreal hologram. But after ten years I was used to Edward's indefatigable shimmer. What really got me was the tuxedo. The shirt was unbuttoned at the neck and he hadn't bothered with a tie, which only made him all the more inviting. He stood smiling, his hands resting in his pockets. His eyes were golden hued, bright from his kill and something else I couldn't name, but clearly he was up to something.
What's this? I asked him wordlessly, sauntering over until I was nosing into his pant leg.
Aren't you a little overdressed for hunting?
I suppose that depends on the prey. Edward dropped a hand to my head and dragged his fingers languidly across the fur, his thumb stroking behind my ear. Or would you rather I set a bear trap?
Babe, I warned, don't do that or you'll make me phase back right here and the kids… But before I could finish the thought, he was imagining me in compromising positions all over the forest and I was naked and human again, crouching on the path before him, warm all over and pink from head to toe.
"That's better," he said with a satisfied nod.
"Edward, we're supposed to be on afamily outing." I stood up, put my hands on my hips and tried to feign an attitude, but his eyes were all over me and I could not get the heat to drain from my face.
"There's been a change of plans," he announced, and then he swept me up into his arms and began to stroll away from the path, explaining the exact nature of the departure from our previously scheduled G-rated adventure. "Your father and Sue are taking the boys for the night. After fishing they're going back to La Push with Charlie. We'll see them at the bonfire tonight, but they're sleeping out on the beach with the Blacks."
"You planned all this?" I said, nestling into his arms.
"Weeks ago," he said with a smile, and then he carried me off into the forest.
I didn't ask where he was taking me because I already knew—that place up the hill from Lake Crescent that is buried so deep in the wild one could reasonably argue it was no longer part of this planet. We'd been there many times over the years, but I still wasn't prepared for what I saw when we arrived. The outer edge of the clearing was ringed with wildflowers, hued in deep blues, oranges, reds, but there the colors are always supernatural, like someone turned the intensity dial up on an old television. I was hit with their sweet spring scent and then realized it wasn't just the outer edge of the clearing, but the entire meadow that was filled with cut flowers. Countless mariposas, brodiaea, pink and purple star tulips, fairybells, and wild orchids lay in the grass, a soft tapestry that made this normally special place seem downright sacred.
"Edward," I whispered. "It's so beautiful…"
"Do you like it?" he asked, a rare hint of tentativeness in his voice.
"I love it." My voice dropped as the words came out, my eyes went damp with emotion. He planted a soft kiss on my brow and then set me down on my feet on top of a blanket spread out on the ground in the middle of the clearing. An ice bucket and a single champagne flute stood on a small wooden tray on the corner.
"You didn't happen to bring me any clothes, did you?" I asked doubtfully, looking around for a backpack.
"Are you kidding?" he said, taking my hands into his and gently pulling them away from my body, his grin now wide as he watched me fidget a little beneath his gaze. He smoothed the hair away from my face and then kissed along the curve of my neck, down to my shoulder and I felt my heart flutter in my chest. "You are more stunning every day, do you know that? A hundred years from now I won't be able to keep my hands off of you at all. We'll have to stay locked in the house all day and night."
"A hundred years from now, we might actually have the house to ourselves."
"Don't count on it—Esme and Carlisle still don't have the house to themselves."
He gestured for me to have a seat on the blanket and I did, trying to look casual even though I felt ridiculous sitting there nude in the great outdoors with him dressed in his tux, like I'd been dropped into a Seurat painting and didn't know how I was supposed to pose. Being a shape shifter had taught me to feel at home in my body, had taught me to feel powerful and confident and there wasn't a creature on earth I couldn't face in my naked human form. But it still hadn't stripped me of the shudder I felt when Edward looked at me, and for that I was eternally grateful.
Edward pulled a bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle from the ice bucket and the popping cork echoed through the forest.
"Happy anniversary, Bella," he said, raising the glass and then handing it to me.
If you wanted to be technical about it, it wasn't an anniversary as much as a birthday—my kermode birthday. But after the first anniversary of my transformation, I'd forbidden Edward or anyone else to wish me a "Happy Bear-day." Of course, that didn't stop Alice, who sent me a handmade "Happy Bear-day!" card with an expensive white teddy bear every year. I now had ten in my collection.
"Thank you," I said, enjoying the champagne some, the way he looked in that tuxedo more.
"You're very welcome." His gaze locked on my lips as I sipped my drink and never left.
We sat there quietly for a few moments, and I marveled at how fast eternity seemed to be moving, how that night of my transformation out at La Push didn't feel like a decade at all, how the boys hardly felt nine months, let alone nine years old, how Charlie didn't feel 60 and I couldn't possibly be 40 already, as meaningless as age is to someone immortal. Ten years later and I still couldn't quite get my head around forever. I wondered if I ever would.
I finished my champagne and then handed the glass back to him.
"Would you like another?" he asked.
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" I teased, already feeling a slight tingle in my head. "Because believe me, the flower stunt is plenty to get you laid."
"I'm not trying to get you drunk," he said. "But I will admit, after two glasses of champagne you give head like a porn star."
I shook my head and frowned at him. "I don't need champagne for that, just the right motivation."
"What, like a video camera?"
"Edward!" I laughed and but then pulled him to me by the lapels and french kissed him like a Catholic high school senior beneath a set of stadium bleachers. "Actually, that sounds kind of hot."
"I'll remember that," he said, and then in an instant he was on his feet, pulling off his jacket. He sprung up to hang it from a high branch of a nearby tree, a warning to anyone that might be lingering in this part of the forest that he was near and that I was not currently available for offerings, blessings or any other kind of guidance. Then he returned to where I sat and knelt in front of me.
"You're going to have to be quiet this time," he said and ran his hand slowly up the inside of my leg, stopping half way up my thigh. He inhaled sharply as he felt me tense with anticipation. "We're not all that far from the river and if Charlie hears you screaming, he might draw his gun."
"You know not what you ask of me," I said under my breath as I watched him unbutton his shirt.
"Babe, I'm not asking."
He paused to hear my breathing deepen before he rested his cool lips against my own, moving them softly from top to bottom, sliding his tongue across my teeth until I let out a small moan.
"I really do love making you scream, though," he said.
"So then," I said, laying back on the blanket, propping myself on my elbows, "tonight after the bonfire, we'll come back here and keep the forest up all night."
"Sure, but I'll have to stop by the house and pick up the tripod first," he said, and then ducked as I tossed a handful of flower petals at his head.
It was the ten-year anniversary of my transformation and the start of my reign as the spiritual leader and guardian for the greater shape-shifting community, and everyone was coming to the celebration out at La Push. All of the Quileute would be there, as would all of the Ani Tsa gu' hi, and the Cullens too. Illeana, Carl and their two girls came every year, and plenty of townsfolk from Forks would come for the booze and the spectacle.
I admit, it was a bit awkward that first year when the locals from Forks showed up. A few of my ex-colleagues had heard rumors and had come to raise eyebrows and mutter derisively at me. I could just imagine what the talk at Forks High had been and was very grateful that Red Colter hadn't come. As Charlie had remained Chief of the Forks Police Department, I was especially worried that I'd made him look bad.
"Let people talk," Charlie said. "You don't really think I care, do you?"
"You're a bear goddess, hija," Illeana had said. "You've got bigger things to worry about, don't you think?"
"Think of it this way," Edward said. "In a few decades, they'll all be dead."
He really had a way of putting things.
The nice thing about being me was that I could bend my bear form to suit my purposes. I'd done plenty of visits with sick kids at La Push as a small, cuddly white cub and I'd scared off menacing outsiders as a larger-than-grizzly sized mama-bear. So when Edward offered to carry me from the meadow to La Push on his back, like I was some sort of royal bear-skin cape he could don, I shifted into my Bella-sized bear body.
When we arrived to La Push, the long day was just beginning to wane, pale twilight casting deep pinks and blues across the horizon. Enormous piles of grey-white driftwood on the sand made for handy hang-outs where people gathered, waiting for the night's events to begin. High tide had taken over much of the beach and folks gathered closer along the edge of the woods, every once in a while craning their necks to try and get a glimpse of our arrival.
"They're here!" Leah called out and then took several photos as Edward leaped over a pile of driftwood with me clinging to his back. We landed steps away from Charlie, Billy Black, Jake, Anna Marie and Hamani, who were standing in front of an unlit firepit.
"Nice landing," Charlie said, raising his Rainier tall boy in salute.
"You're late," Jake said, looking annoyed. As usual, horndogs, he thought.
"Ignore him," Anna Marie said. "He's still pissed off because Eli beat him at horseshoes."
"Really?" Edward said, smirking as he caught Jake's irritated stream of consciousness. He knelt in the sand so I could climb down from his back. "Way to go, Black."
"Dad, Mom, that was an awesome entrance!" Noah called as he and Eli came running over to us from a group of kids near the water's edge. I phased them into bear cubs mid-stride, Eli laughing as he tripped and tumbled into Noah, bringing him down in a heap. Noah rolled his brother off of him and then they began wrestling until Edward pulled them apart. Eli immediately started chasing his brother, but the poor kid didn't have a chance of catching him, since Noah was incredibly fast like his father. I could barely catch him myself anymore, but I couldn't let him know that. Soon all the kids were caught up in a rousing game of bear hunt as Eli and Noah sprinted around the fire pit, still unlit, nearly knocking over the Forks Middle School gym teacher on their first pass. It always amazed me how the locals were oblivious to the magic around them, until I remembered being one of them. Every year, none of them seemed to notice the shape shifting or other visual oddities until well, well after their blood alcohol levels hit 1.0.
Hamani, Quil Senior and the Ani Tsa gu' hi elders were decked out in traditional ceremonial attire, with beautiful beaded tunics and fringed leather leggings. Hamani smiled his ancient, half-toothless grin from beneath an enormous feathered headdress. They stood before us, and then all of the shapeshifters, bear and wolf, including Jacob, Leah and Seth, lined up behind them and knelt down.
Thank you for being here tonight. I projected my thoughts to all of them. Please rise.
They all stood up and took turns approaching and leaving small gifts. There were three bear fetishes, six bundles of dried medicinal herbs, a beautiful hand-carved charm bracelet, and a six-pack of Rainier from Jacob. Then they all went back to milling around, except Hamani, who knelt down and draped a garland of orchids and elderberries around my neck. He took my face gently in his hands and touched his brow to mine.
Happy birthday, child, he said. Long may our people enjoy the warmth of your light.
The sweet echo of an A minor strummed on a vintage Martin drifted up, almost lost in the sound of the waves. My ears perked up as Mercy began to play from across the beach. She was sitting on a huge piece of driftwood, surrounded by the rest of the Cullens, some of the Quileute and many of the tourists and townsfolks. She looked up in our direction and nodded to Edward, then quickly turned her attention back to her guitar.
Mercy and Edward had drifted apart over the years, and I felt both guilty and relieved about that. Even though she'd always known Edward's feelings for me, deep down she still hurt over losing him and I knew he still felt terrible for hurting her. I should have had more compassion about the situation, I know, but if I was being truly honest about it, every time I saw her I couldn't help thinking about her fucking my husband regularly for three decades, and that thought still made me want to claw her perfectly friendly little face off. It wasn't that I didn't love her, because I did. Mercy was family and if she loved Edward, I couldn't really blame her for that. So I had to suck it up and deal with it. For the most part Mercy stayed on tour with her band and we didn't see or hear much from her. But every year she came with the Cullens to our bonfire out at La Push and gushed over our kids and serenaded the party until the last drunk had passed out on the beach. And all else aside, no matter what other feelings I had, Mercy's singing always made me swoon.
Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie were all listening to Mercy play, standing like pillars. We saw them nearly every day, but it was still odd to see them on the beach at La Push, so out of place. We walked over to greet them and they all extended "Happy Bear-day" wishes. Alice scratched me on the neck, held up a shopping bag and motioned for me to follow her into the woods. When we were a ways from the crowd, she held up a stunning but simple floor-length silk dress in Edward's favorite shade of blue. I phased back so I could put it on.
"Did you have a nice day, Bella?" she asked, giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You look gorgeous in this."
"Thank you for picking it up," I said, hugging her back. "It's absolutely perfect. But where'd you get it? I'm going to have to get another because if I'm wearing this on the beach tonight it's going to get wrecked."
"I bought three," she said, helping to fix my hair into soft waves down my back. "I know how miserably you treat your clothes. But please, please try to kick the shoes off before you phase, all right? They only had one pair in your size."
Hamani began his call to gather, a low song in that ancient language that captured everyone's attention and called them to the fire pit. Eli and Noah, now dressed and back in their kid bodies came to stand with Edward and I at the head of the crowd along with our families and the elders of both tribes.
Jacob, Seth, Leah and Quil Junior lit torches and set them to the enormous pile of wood stacked at the center of the fire pit. Their small flames crept up the kindle tower and then roared into a mighty blaze, chasing the sunlight west of the horizon.
"Ready now, Your Majesty, Her Royal Highness and Queen of the Black Bears?" Jake said with a touch of sarcasm as I took my last swallow of Rainer.
"Let's do this," I said. I paused as I remembered the adorable pair of blue ballet flats on my feet, and then I gently kicked them off and placed them on a log behind me, feeling the cool dampness of the sand between my toes. I crushed my beer can in my hand and passed it to Jake, and then hopped up on top of a big, sawn-off log as the crowd watched me expectantly. I looked them over, about two hundred people in all.
"Do you know what the universe is?" I asked the crowd, my voice strong, carrying up over the beach like it was the sound of the surf, the wind itself. I gestured wide with my arms over my head, directing everyone's gaze to the dark sky above. Sparks rose from the great fire behind me, disappearing into the haze of the low cloud cover. I waved my arms in a slow circle and the haze lifted, the clouds above floated slowly to the east, revealing a shining moon and an array of glittering stars.
"It's just a question," I said, feeling that intense surge of energy I got every year when I gave this talk. "It's the kind of question that creates an endless chain of questions, and you…" I pointed to the crowd. "Each and every one of you, is an answer."
Hamani stood in front of me and conveyed these words in the ancient language of the Ani Tsa gu' hi and when he was finished, a circle of enormous shape-shifted bears appeared on the perimeter of the crowd. They all stood on their hind legs and roared into the night, an eerie and frightening call to the heavens. The rest of the crowd joined them and created such a cry across the Pacific I was sure it could be heard on the beach in Maui. The moon looked like it grew three sizes in the sky and a flock of Scoters shot out from the trees, over the water to swoop in the moonlight.
"We are, each one of us, on a path of discovery. A path of creation! And tonight, we give thanks for the great mystery and the potential that lies in each one of us to forge our own unique destiny."
Hamani began to sing again, a low chant that was joined by all of the Ani Tsa gu' hi and the Quileute members. Drums began to pound as the children all rose and began to dance in front of the fire, Eli and Noah first among them, joyfully timed steps to the rising and swelling beats of hands to drum heads, voices to the sky. The rest of the crowd began to dance around the fire, too until the entire mass of bodies was moving on the sand, casting shadows on the trees and across the beach. Just next to me, Edward stood and gave a slight tug on my hand. I looked down and he lifted me off my perch so we could join the rest, dancing slowly together, his arms around me tightly as we moved against the flickering light of the flame.
Hamani then claimed the speaking perch and threw his arms into the air as his song soared up over the fire and out to the crowd. Anna Marie translated in a commanding spoken word, as Illeana came forward to where we all stood, dressed to play the part of Hala in her long, white robe with a matching headpiece adorned with white feathers.
"You look awesome—who made this for you this year?" I whispered as I gently stroked the white feathers streaming down her back.
"Alice ordered it," she said. "She's got the best connections."
"Hala our sister was charged by the eternal spirit as guardian of the western gate," Hamani said, his voice booming as Anna Marie translated. "Since the dawn of eternity, there she kept watch as departed souls sought entrance into the hidden lands."
At these words, I threw my hands over my head again and raised the fire light into the form of an enormous gate, tendrils twisting across the beach, the ocean on one side, the forest on the other. Illeana stepped forward and led the dancers through, towards the water. They all continued to dance as Edward and I stepped back to stand next to Hamani. Hamani continued, roaring again over the crowd.
"The day came when a being of darkness, the Cold One, appeared before her, requesting her pardon for the death of one of her brothers."
Edward, rumpled hair and guarded eyes, still looked stunning in his tux as he walked in front of the crowd to meet Illeana in her ambitious gauzy white robes, now fluttering in the wind. He gave her a deep, slow bow and then spoke in a loud, dramatic tone so the crowd could hear.
"Hala, guardian of the west, I have come to beg pardon for the transgression of my brother," he said. "He has mistakenly taken the life of your brother and he wishes to atone."
"Cold One," Illeana said, her voice deep and majestic in her Cuban accent. "Why would you ask forgiveness for a simple human murder? Murder is your way."
"It is not the way of my father," Edward said. "He has taught us to live eternity on earth as though one day we may pass through your gate to the heavens."
"This is a trick?" Illeana asked, stalking a tight circle around Edward in the sand. "You seek to gain entry for your kind to the land of eternal light?"
"No," Edward said. "We only wish to beg pardon for our transgression on your people."
"You are not like your kind," Illeana said. Edward nodded his assent.
"Hala was so taken with the Cold One," Hamani continued, "she desired to keep him for her own. She wanted him so badly, she promised to allow him through the gate if he would stay with her. But the Cold One refused."
"For whom do you deny me?" Illeana cried. "For whom do you deny yourself the land of eternal light?"
"She is all the light I will ever need," Edward said dramatically as he turned to look at me.
"Then bring her to me!" Illeana said. "And I will bless you both."
"Is that your word?" Edward asked.
"It is the word of the spirits."
Edward stood slowly and then walked to where I stood. He took me by the hand and lead me to Illeana, who began to walk a circle around us, her arms in the air like a magician casting a difficult spell.
"Do you know who you have found here?" Illeana said.
"I do," Edward said.
"Then you know she is already mine," Illeana said, pulling me away from Edward.
"Hala tried to push the Cold One's lover through the gate, knowing he could not follow," Hamani said as Illeana and I stepped around each other. "But he grew mistrustful and pulled his lover away."
"If you can defeat me, you can keep her with you here!" Illeana said.
"No!" Edward said. "I am no murderer of the gods."
"Child of darkness," Illeana said. "Are you worthy of an eternal love? What wouldn't you do to protect her?"
"Do not challenge me, spirit," Edward said. "For there is nothing I would not do." His eyes seared me as he said the words, and though I knew this was a story, I also knew it was the absolute truth. We'd been lucky in ten years that he hadn't had to prove it again.
"I will take her," Illeana called, pointing at me. "I will take her for my own and torment her for your penance."
"No!" Edward yelled and then put me on the ground and crouched defensively over me.
Across the beach I saw Eli and Noah staring at us, pointed looks of concern on their faces that made my heart ache. I gave them a reassuring wink and Eli nodded back at me. Noah relaxed as Charlie dropped a hand to his shoulder and gave a squeeze.
Edward then stood and pulled Illeana into an embrace and dipped her, like they might be in the middle of a dramatic ballroom number, before he put his lips to his neck and mimicked his deadly kiss. It was totally hot.
"Driven wild by her threats," Hamani continued, "the Cold One subdued Hala and drained her of her blood, stripped her of her earthly form. But she stayed with him, a spirit disembodied, haunting wherever he went."
"Drink her," Illeana hissed as she walked slow circles around us again, her hands claw-like in the air above us. "Drink her like you drank me."
"Never," Edward hissed back. "Not ever."
"Child of darkness! You know nothing of the laws of spirit." Illeana laughed.
She took several steps back and then Edward let go of me. I lay down on the ground at his feet, draping my arm across my brow. Hamani continued.
"There came a night when the Cold One found his love dying. He tried to turn her to become one of his kind, but he could not bring himself to deny her the heavens. At the last moment, he betrayed his own heart to let her pass through the western gate without him. And in that moment, for his loyalty and the selflessness of his love, Hala bestowed him the gift he sought—an eternity with his beloved."
"But for this gift there is a price!" Illeana called, as I got to my knees.
"Whatever it is, I will pay it," Edward said.
"Yes, you will! For you will become guardian of the western gate," Illeana said, gesturing to that frame of light in the sky over our heads. "And you will sire the heirs of my kingdom."
"I cannot sire any heirs of this world," Edward said. "For my immortality I have been stripped of that most human gift."
"You will have it," she said. "But your love will pay a price, too."
"Name it," I said, on my feet now, posturing in front of Illeana. "I have no fear of you, spirit bear."
Illeana went to Hamani and he gave her more garlands and she came and draped them around my neck and shoulders. She took her robe off, revealing a simple white dress beneath, and hung it around my shoulders.
"You, child of this age, will birth and rear my heirs," she said, and gestured over to where Eli and Noah stood on the edge of the crowd. "And you will lead my people. Keep them safe in the halo of your light, so I may retreat into the west and be bestowed my eternal grace." Illeana took several steps back and paused.
"Do you accept this sovereignty?" she asked.
"I do," I said.
"Good. For it has always been yours to claim."
Illeana disappeared into the crowd, and then Edward kissed me, slowly, softly on the lips. For just a minute I'd almost forgotten all those people were there watching us. Then he let me go and walked beneath the gate, beckoning the crowd to come through from the other side. They did this, and Eli and Noah raced to my side, each one taking my hand as we began to turn in a circle, in time to the drums beating as the people gathered in a larger circle around us. Edward cut through the crowd to where I danced with the boys and as they saw him approach, they let me go and took several steps back. Edward put his arms around me and we danced slowly, slowly in the middle of that throbbing mass of life, noisy and spectacular in its wild, unpredictable and now half-drunken, spell-bound glory.
All the shape shifters began to phase, dancing bears and prowling wolves on the beach howling. The Cullens mingled with the Quileute, and the locals hit the kegs harder as the party began to disintegrate back into the joyous cacophony of a Friday night with something to do. I felt Edward's lips on the top of my hair like he was speaking, his hands smoothing the fabric on my lower back and then he whispered, "I'm going to miss this dress. Your ass looks incredible in it."
"Alice bought three," I reassured him.
With a nod he got the boys' attention and they came running back to where we were.
"Are you guys sleeping out on the beach tonight?" I asked.
"Yeah!" Noah said. "Our tent is set up already. Pop said he was going to hang out with us."
"That's because Uncle Jake is trashed," Eli said.
"Don't stay up all night," Edward said. "You've got soccer tomorrow morning and Mom is picking you up at 8."
I pulled them in for a hug and my insides fluttered as they each gave me a hug around the waist.
"I love you," I said into the top of each boy's head as I kissed it.
"I hate the part where you almost die," Eli whispered into my shoulder.
"Me too," I whispered back. "Good thing there's a happily ever after, right?"
Eli nodded and didn't even wince when I kissed his cheek. Then he and Noah half-danced, half hopped in a circle around us. The rising voices of the crowd, the warmth of the fire and the pounding of the drums made me feel my own bones stretch, my skin bristle and a low and ferocious roar well up from my belly.
"Ready to get out of here, babe?" Edward asked.
"Way past ready," I said.
Then he picked me up and tossed me into the air, so high I felt like I might grow wings and soar straight into the heavens, but instead I just phased into the mighty white bear and let a ferocious roar echo out into the night. I soared high over the fire, over the crowd until I disappeared right to the very heart of the forest, where Edward was already waiting.
I don't know how he does it, but every time Edward makes love to me I feel like we're still within those first few hours of seeing each other naked for the first time. The feel of his lips on mine, his hands as they move over me, gentle, eager, quick or deliciously slow still strips me down until I am nothing but need, relieved of all my cares except the one where I care very much that he fucks me until I can't see, until I don't need to see because I've become clairvoyant from the intense satisfaction of having his cock in me.
We'd had far too little of that kind of endless, raw sex since becoming parents and since taking on the work of the spirit bear Hala, guiding an entire population of shape shifters and a quickly growing population of reformed vampires, witches and lesser demons. But Edward was making up for it that night once we got back to the meadow, taking me first from behind, then having me ride him, and then fucking me against a tree, which we nearly cracked in half before he put me back on the ground, on my back, keeping his mouth over mine to keep me from accidentally calling a storm. The way I felt I could have conjured a cyclone.
"Say it," he said in a low voice, his cold breath against my ear as he pushed inside of me. "Out loud."
"Vampire," I exhaled into him as his mouth covered mine again. "You know what I want," I whispered against his lips, my eyes misty and closed. "What I need…" I could hardly speak as he moved agonizingly slow inside of me, holding me so I couldn't move against him, playing my favorite weaknesses as he drew me into what was probably my 153rd orgasm that day. "Tonight of all nights, indulge me."
"Bella," he groaned and I felt him get harder, and then even harder as he thrust into me.
"Please, Edward," I begged him, my voice shallow and growing more desperate as now that forbidden topic took root between us. "It's been so long..."
"Jesus," he groaned as he felt me coil tighter around him. He thrust into me again, hard as his infallible self-control began to slip, and then even harder like he was pushing back against that unspeakable desire.
"Show me how much you need me," I whispered, clawing at the cold expanse of his shoulders, my hands on his neck, his face, pulling him back to me. "Take all I have. Please, please…"
"Don't beg… you're killing me." He slammed his cock back into me and then I really felt him waver, felt his mouth, his lips working over the skin of my jaw, down, down, to my neck, kissing and then licking the scar he'd left there all those years before as his hands began to grip and squeeze me tighter, holding me so I couldn't move and I felt myself so tense, so ready, so fucking needy I couldn't take it. And then, he dragged his teeth across my neck, that unmistakably smooth, sharp edge like a ceramic blade taunting me.
"Do it!" I demanded. "Do it now."
"God damn it," he said, lifting from me. I worried that I'd really pissed him off this time and that he was going to pull out of me altogether, but instead he flipped me to my belly, gripped me around the waist and drove himself back into me hard from behind. I cried out and felt his lips against my ear. "You don't tell me how or when to drink your blood. Do you understand?"
And then I came all over him. Again.
"Yes," I cried. "Oh God, Edward… I need…"
"I know exactly what you need," he said, his voice strained, tight, fucking me harder now as I came. He covered my mouth with his hand so I could scream into it without calling every last bear out of the forest. "I know when, where and how you need it. Never forget that."
But I couldn't answer him because my brain was rendered useless by an orgasm so strong I thought I might need an MRI to check for permanent damage. I would have considered it an out of body experience, except that it was an entire body experience, another absolute existential moment as he drove me right past the present and into the oblivion created when two lives meld out on the very edge of sanity.
Edward let out a roar so ferocious I thought we were having an earthquake, but I knew it was no earthquake when the cold sharpness of his teeth came down right on the top of my shoulder, and then he penetrated me there, too, filling me and draining me all at the same time. My blood turned to starlight as it flowed from my heart over his starving, grateful tongue, straight down into his icy, cavernous core. As he drank me I came again and became light, lifted by him, with him, until we were only our ethereal selves, locked in that eternal communion two souls make when pledged to one another for forever.
I lay quietly beneath him for the first time in hours, his arms wrapped around me as he held me from behind, warmed by the long, satisfying drink, stilled by the hours and hours of sex. In ten years that was the first time he'd allowed himself to drink my blood, even though he knew he couldn't kill me doing it. He insisted he had his reasons and I tried to respect that, but I couldn't deny how incredible it felt to see Edward in that perfect state of relaxation, that moment of absolute satiation that he could only get from me. I would give anything I had, anything at all, to make him feel that way, and he knew it. Which I suppose is the reason he was so careful about it.
Edward rolled me onto my back and kissed me gently on the lips.
"We've got to arrange for babysitting more often," he said, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear.
"We still have an hour," I said.
"You're going to be limping as it is," he pointed out.
We stayed there awhile, talking about the little things. Summer vacation, painting the deck on the house, whether the boys would prefer the Quileute school to private school and how much longer we could stall before heading back to our family and the assorted obligations that were now and would ever be ours. As the first light of the morning broke through the trees I'd say I felt supremely satisfied, triumphant even as I looked deep into his blood red eyes and saw the contentment in them.
"What are you staring at?" he asked with a cocked brow and happy, crooked smile.
"You are one sexy vampire, Edward Cullen," I said, stretching my arms out and clasping my hands behind my head. He smiled and then ran his hand gently over the newly forming scar on my shoulder, inspecting it carefully.
"And you, Bella," he said, "are one beautiful bear."