We were kissed and hugged and wished a good night to our family. The only off note was Nahuel again, who looked intently after us, as if he wished he could follow.
Once we were across the river, we walked barely faster than human speed, in no hurry, holding hands. I was sick of being under a deadline, and I just wanted to take my time. Edward must have felt the same.
I looked up to the sky. A shooting star crossed the horizon. I didn't need a logical explanation to know that it was Sarox and the others. They had gone to continue their adventure.
"I'm going to miss Sarox and Marlene, and PJ and Max," I said.
"Me too," Edward agreed. "Not only because of what they did, but they gave quite some hope around here when we lacked it." And then he switched the subject. "And I have to say, I'm thoroughly impressed with Jacob right now."
"The wolves make quite an impact, too, don't they?"
"That's not what I mean. Not once today did he think about the fact that, according to Nahuel, Nessie will be fully matured in just six and a half years."
I considered that for a minute. "He doesn't see her that way. He's not in a hurry for her to grow up. He just wants her to be happy."
"I know. Like I said, impressive. It goes against the grain to say so, but she could do worse."
I frowned. "I'm not going to think about that for approximately six and a half more years."
Edward laughed and then sighed. "Of course, it looks like he'll have some competition to worry about when the time comes."
My frown deepened. "I noticed. I'm grateful to Nahuel for today, but all the staring was a little weird. I don't care if she is the only half-vampire he's not related to."
"Oh, he wasn't staring at her - he was staring at you."
That's what it seemed like... but that didn't make any sense. "Why would he do that?"
"Because you're alive," he said quietly.
"You lost me."
"All his life," he explained. " - and he's fifty years older than I am - "
"Decrepit," I interjected.
He ignored me. "He's always thought of himself as an evil creation, a murderer by nature. His sisters all killed their mothers as well, but they thought nothing of it. Joham raised them to think of the humans as animals, while they were gods. But Nahuel was taught by Huilen, and Huilen loved her sister more than anyone else. It shaped his whole perspective. And, in some ways, he truly hated himself."
"That's so sad," I murmured.
"And then he saw the three of us - and realized for the first time that just because he was half immortal, it doesn't mean he was inherently evil. He looks at me and sees... what his father should have been."
"You arefaily ideal in every way," I agreed.
He snorted and then was serious again. "He looks at you and sees the life his mother should have had."
"Poor Nahuel," I murmured, and then sighed because I knew I would never be able to think badly of him after this, no matter how uncomfortable his stare made me.
"Don't be sad for him. He's happy now. Today, he's finally begun to forgive himself."
I smiled for Nahuel's happiness and then thought that today belonged to happiness. Thought Irina's sacrifice was a dark shadow against the white light, keeping the moment from perfection, the joy was impossible to deny. The life I'd fought for was safe again, and Sarox and his friends were part of the credit. My family was reunited. My daughter had a beautiful future stretching out endlessly in front of her. Tomorrow I would go see my father; he would see that the fear in my eyes had been replaced with joy, and he would be happy, too. Suddenly, I was sure that I wouldn't find him there alone. I hadn't been as observant as I might have been in the last few weeks, but in this moment it was like I'd known all along. Sue would be with Charlie - the werewolves' mom with the vampire's dad - and he wouldn't be alone anymore. I smiled widely at this new insight.
But most significant in this tidal wave of happiness was the surest fact of all: I was with Edward. Forever.
Not that I'd want to repeat the last several weeks, but I had to admit they'd made me appreciate what I had more than ever.
The cottage was a place of perfect peace in the silver-blue night. We carried Nessie to her bed and gently tucked her in. She smiled as slept.
I took Aro's gift from around my neck and tossed it lightly into the corner of her room. She could play with it if she wished; she liked sparkly things. Then, I put the music box beside her bed.
Edward and I walked slowly to our room, swinging our arms between us.
"A night for celebrations," he murmured, and he put his hand under my chin to lift my lips to his.
"Wait," I hesitated, pulling away.
He looked at me in confusion. As a general rule, I didn't pull away. Okay, this was more than a general rule. This was a first.
"I want to try something," I informed him, smiling slightly at his bewildered expression.
I put my hands on both sides of his face and closed my eyes in concentration.
I hadn't done very well with this when Zafrina had tried to teach me before, but I knew my shield better now. I understood the part that fought against separation from me, the automatic instinct to preserve self above all else.
It still wasn't anywhere near as easy as shielding other people along with myself. I felt the elastic recoil again as my shield fought to protect me. I had to strain to push it entirely away from me; i took all of my focus.
"Bella!" Edward whispered in shock.
I knew it was working then, so I concentrated even harder, dredging up the specific memories I'd saved for this moment, letting them flood my mind, and hopefully his as well.
Some of the memories were not clear - dim human memories, seen through weak eyes and heard through weak ears: the first time I'd seen his face... the way it felt when he'd held me in the meadow... the sound of his voice through the darkness of my faltering consciousness when he'd saved me from James... every precious moment from the island... his cold hands touching our baby through my skin...
And the sharp memories, perfectly recalled: his face when I'd opened my eyes to my new life, to the endless dawn of immortality... that first kiss... that first night...
His lips, suddenly fierce against mine, broke my concentration.
With a gasp, I lost my grip on the struggling weight I was holding away from myself. It snapped back like stressed elastic, protecting my thoughts once again.
"Oops, lost it!" I sighed.
"I heard you," he breathed. "How? How did you do that?"
"Zafrina's idea. We practiced with it a few times. Merlin helped now and then."
He was dazed. He blinked twice and shook his head.
"Now you know," I said lightly, and shrugged. "No one's ever loved anyone as much as I love you."
"You're almost right." He smiled, his eyes still a little wider than usual. "I know of just one exception."
He started to kiss me again, but then stopped abruptly.
"Can you do it again?" he wondered.
I grimaced. "It's very difficult."
He waited, his expression eager.
"I can't keep it up if I'm even the slightest bit distracted," I warned him.
"I'll be good," he promised.
I pursed my lips, my eyes narrowing. Then I smiled.
I pressed my hands to his face again, hefted the shield right out of my mind, and then started in where I'd left off - with the crystal-clear memory of the first night of my new life... lingering on the details. The moment our Keyblades appeared in front of us; designed after our love.
I laughed breathlessly when his urgent kiss interrupted my efforts again.
"Damn it," he growled, kissing hungrily down the edge of my jaw.
"We have plenty of time to work on it," I reminded him.
"Forever and forever and forever," he murmured.
"That sounds exactly right to me."
And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever.