Full Summary: Bella and Edward are just back from their honeymoon and are attending Dartmouth so that Bella can remain human for a while longer. But, when Renee is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Bella will do anything to try to save her - including taking her Biophysical Chemistry education to a whole new level. She asks Edward for his help and begins experimenting to try to find a way to save Renee's life - and in the process, comes face to face with mortality and her own ethical conflicts.

"Death doesn't bargain." - August Strindburg, The Dance of Death

A/N: Well, I'm back! I've had this story idea floating around in my head for a while, but when I went to watch Eclipse, the plot bunnies viciously attacked and I just had to sit down and write.

This story follows the Twilight books all the way up through Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, up to the honeymoon. The honeymoon happens, but the pregnancy doesn't (in my world, it will not be possible). So after Isle Esme, we divert into my own little AU. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your tray tables are in their upright positions.

I hope you enjoy!

I just want to say thanks to my beta and bestest friend in the world, Genia! She put up with many long conversations with me over this story, among other things! You're the best!

Also, I own nothing related to Twilight, it all belongs to Stephenie Meyers. I just own the plot to this story, which will get me nothing.

"Don't you just miss it?"

"Miss what?" Bella asked her mother, Renee. They were sitting on the beach in Jacksonville on the second day of Bella and Edward's visit. Edward, as usual, was hiding in the shadows of the house, working on a fabricated term paper.

Renee sighed peacefully, her tanned face turned up toward the sun that was blazing brightly in the azure sky. "This. The sun, the heat. What you used to complain about missing whenever you went to visit your dad."

Bella wiped the sweat from her forehead and guzzled more water from her water bottle. "Uh, yeah, I guess. But this heat is different from Phoenix heat, Mom. It's heavy, humid. I don't really like this heat, but I do miss you."

Renee turned her head and smiled at her only daughter, her eyes obscured by her sunglasses. "Oh, baby, I miss you, too. Are you sure you want to go to the University of Alaska? I mean, why there? It's so far away, and it's so...cold. The University of North Florida is right here. You could stay here with me and Phil, you wouldn't be out any room and board..." Her expression had turned almost desperate. She suddenly turned her head and coughed deeply.

Bella felt a sick, cold feeling in her stomach at her mother's expression and obvious anxiety. If she only knew. "I know, Mom. But I've already been accepted at Alaska, and I can afford the tuition. I'm sure it's much higher here. And besides, Alaska has the science program I want to major in," she finished lamely.** Please don't do this to me, she thought. Not now!

"I'm sure Florida has science classes, Bella." Renee coughed lightly again.

"Mom, are you all right?" Bella asked, becoming concerned. "Are you getting sick?"

Renee waved her off. "No, of course not. It's just this humidity. It chokes me up sometimes."

"We can go back inside, if you want. Edward's probably wondering if we're cooked to well done by now," Bella joked, fanning herself dramatically.

Renee sat up in her chair and swung around to face Bella. "Honey, speaking of Edward...is he going to Alaska, too?"

Bella sighed. "Yes." Dammit, Charlie!

"And he's the reason you won't even consider moving to Florida to go to school," Renee stated.

Bella opened her mouth and then closed it. What was she supposed to say to that? Her mother was correct. Edward could not attend school in Florida, the Sunshine State, of all places. And she was not even going to be attending classes for long, anyway...she was going to Alaska for something far more important. And dangerous. Sinister. "Mom, it's not like that."

Renee suddenly laughed, catching Bella off guard. "Oh, Bella, honey, it's okay. Really. I see the way he looks at you. It's so...intense. Like he'd take a bullet for you or something."

Bella laughed nervously. "You say that like it's a bad thing." Trust me, he would.

"It's not, honey. I just worry. After all, I'm your mom, and that's my job. I just didn't realize things were this serious between the two of you, but watching you over the last two days...it's obvious it's true love." She coughed again and took a sip of water.

Bella looked down at her feet buried in the sand. "Yeah, it is." She suddenly felt the urge to make sure her mother understood just how much she loved Edward and vice versa so that when she...disappeared...for a while, her mom would have some peace, knowing that she was with the man she loved. "I really, really do love him, Mom. It's not something I know how to describe. But if there is such a thing as soul mates, that's us. It seems like we were just made for each other."

Renee nodded. "Yeah, I understand. That's how I feel about Phil. Every time I look at him, I feel just like a teenager all over again. But promise me that you are being safe?"

Oh, God, please, not again! Bella laughed slightly. "Yes, Mom, I promise. We're not even having sex, so you can sleep soundly. Dad already had this talk with me before I left."

Renee laughed out loud. "Your dad...Charlie...had a...sex...talk with you?" she gasped. "I never would have dreamed he would have the guts to do that!"

Bella rolled her eyes at the torturous memory. "Yeah, well, he did, and being stung by a bark scorpion would have been much more pleasant."

"Oh, bless his heart. Bella, if he did that, you know he really loves you."

Bella nodded. "I know he does, but there's just some things that fathers are not to bring up with their daughters."

Renee was still laughing, until her giggles turned into a round of coughs.

Bella looked at her mother, who was coughing so hard her face was beginning to turn red. "Mom. Mom, are you sure you're okay?"

Renee finished her water and took some deep breaths. "Yeah, like I said, it's just the humidity. Don't worry about me, honey."

"Well, then, let's go inside so you can catch your breath." Bella led her mother into the beachside house, blinking against the sudden darkness. She did not see Edward, but she knew that he was aware of every step she took.

She knew she was correct, when he suddenly appeared at their sides with two glasses of iced tea. "Would you like a cold drink, Renee?" he asked politely.

Renee sat down wearily onto the couch and took the cool glass from his cold hand. "Oh, thank you, Edward. You must have read my mind!"

Bella's eyes met Edward's, and she chuckled under her breath at his obvious amusement. "Thanks," she said softly, taking the drink from him.

Edward sat on the opposite couch from Bella, obviously not wishing to upset her mother with any public displays of affection toward her daughter, as any close contact usually turned Charlie's face purple. Bella shot him a grimace at the apparent avoidance.

Renee took several sips of her tea and then gave Edward a half smile. "Edward, there's no need to stay across the room from Bella. She and I had a nice talk outside, and you can at least sit next to her." She chuckled under her breath before another cough escaped her lips. "I think I'm going to take a nap. You kids behave yourselves," she added, before disappearing through her bedroom door.

Edward crossed the room to sit on the sofa next to Bella and immediately took her into his arms. He kissed her gently, stroking her hair back and inhaling her scent deeply. "Mmmm, I've missed you."

Bella pushed him away, although it took every ounce of willpower she possessed. "I missed you, too, but I'm worried about my mom-she's been coughing all day. She's blaming the humidity, but I don't know. She doesn't really look good. I wish Carlisle were here. You read her mind. Do you know what's wrong with her?"

Edward averted his eyes and gazed out at the waves crashing onto the sand. "No, but I am trying to stay out of her thoughts as a show of respect, love. But she's your mother; why would she lie to you? I think we might be in for a storm tonight." He stood up and walked to the glass door to stare out at the water.

Bella sat still, lost after Edward's abrupt exit and sudden change of subject. Was he telling her the truth? Did he know what was wrong with her mom? Of course he was right...why would her mother lie to her, knowing that she was leaving the next day? If it were something serious, Renee would have told her. Bella had always had to take care of her mother, up until Renee had married Phil and Bella had moved to Forks, so if something critical was wrong, Renee would have needed her, would have called her.

Stop freaking yourself out about nothing, she told herself before pushing up off of the sofa to start dinner. Phil would be home in an hour, and she wanted them to enjoy a nice family dinner once more before she left.

She was painfully aware that this would be the last meal she would ever share with her mother. Within a month, she would be a newborn vampire. A full-fledged killing machine. Hungry. Blood-thirsty.

She wanted nothing to spoil this evening.

Three Months Later

Edward stared at his sleeping bride, her mouth slightly open, face pressed up against the side of the plane, and once again thought of how lucky he was. He could not stop the smile that spread across his face as he breathed in her scent deeply, thinking back to that fateful day in biology a little more than a year before, when all he had wanted to do was kill the delectable creature sitting mere inches away from him-when he had believed she was a demon sent straight from Hell just to torment him. Her trust in him had always been unwavering, even when she had discovered his secret, even when she should have feared for her life and run in the opposite direction.

They had been drawn together, almost as if their paths had been meant to cross since the beginning of time.

Edward laughed silently at his inner hyperbole, but he also knew that it could very well be true. There was something different about Bella; it was as if the fear mechanism that was present in most people-designed for self-preservation-was absent from her genetic make-up. He thought it could have been a fluke, but whatever it was, he was extremely grateful to the fates for bringing this creature across his path and to Carlisle for teaching him self-control for almost a century prior. Without Carlisle's coaching, he knew that Bella would now only be a memory.

Instead, she was now his wife.

"Mmmm," Bella murmured, stirring. Edward immediately sat up straighter, waiting for her to awaken. She opened her eyes and blinked, then smiled at him sleepily.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Cullen," he said, giving her her favorite crooked smile.

Bella rubbed at her eyes and straightened up. "Hmmm," she mumbled grumpily. "Where are we?"

"I believe we are somewhere over the Pacific."

"So we're not there yet?" She yawned again.

"No, we still have at least another six hours, including the layover in San Diego. Are you all right? Do you need anything?"

She offered him a real smile, before digging a toothbrush out of her purse. "Yeah, maybe some juice, since you get the flight attendant's attention much better than me. And... a human moment or two," she added, grabbing her water bottle and standing up from her first-class seat to head to the lavatory.

He laughed softly and nodded, watching his wife disappear. He did get the attendant's attention very easily, and then allowed his mind to drift to the deal he had allowed Bella to finagle out of him on their honeymoon. Although, he really did not see any way in which he had gotten the short end of the stick.

"Daydreaming?" she asked, climbing over him to her seat. "I'm amazed you didn't hear me coming."

"Oh, I did. I heard and smelled you. I traced your heartbeat all the way to the lavatory and back again. Just to make sure you were all right," he added at her eye roll.

"Surely there are no more vampires out to get me? Didn't we finish them all off a couple of months ago?" she asked under her breath.

He nodded. "Of course. But you are able to find trouble anywhere you go. For all I knew, you could have flushed yourself and been falling through the sky," he said derisively.

Bella glared at him. "Bite me."

Edward laughed. "So, are you looking forward to getting home?"

Bella leaned back and sipped her juice. "Home home? As in Forks? Or new home, as in Hanover?"

Edward was excited at her mention of Hanover. "Well, we have to go back to Forks, of course. But just think of how excited your dad will be when he hears that you've decided to go to Dartmouth instead of Alaska."

She nodded. "He'll be so proud and excited. Everyone in town will hear about it for weeks, I'm sure."

He leaned close to her, breathing into her ear; he felt her shiver in response. "Bella, you know you can do whatever you want, and I'll follow you wherever you want to go."

Bella turned her head and kissed him softly. "I know. And I told you, I want to stay human a little longer. I want to enjoy you as a true wife enjoys her husband," she said, blushing profusely. "And what's the harm of trying Dartmouth? If I flunk out, then I'll let you change me, and I'll just eat my teachers." She laughed.

Edward stared at her.

"I'm kidding! Jeez, relax. But I am serious about wanting to try it."

He stroked his fingers down her arm, watching goose bumps rise up in response. "I told you, I'll tutor you every night. You'll do fine. And I only bribed them to take you late, not to accept you."

"That's good to know. Besides, I have other plans for you at night," she whispered, causing Edward to groan.

"You'll be the death of me, Bella."

She laughed in reply. "I'm not into that freaky stuff, Mr. Cullen. I think you'll be okay. Besides, you're indestructible."

Edward closed his eyes and groaned again. Holy freaking hell.

End Notes: The next chapter will pick up some speed and we will find out what is wrong with Renee and what idea Bella has in mind.