Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, but Carlisle Cullen owns me.
Love You Till the End
Carlisle Cullen's Point of View
I mouthed the name to myself, trying it out on my tongue and feeling very satisfied with how very right it seemed. My Bella was always meant to be a Cullen.
I was sitting at the desk in my study, staring at the newly-rearranged paintings on the wall in front of me without really seeing them. My attention was on my fiancée, and on the girls who were hovering over her in the bedroom down the hall, getting her ready for the wedding ceremony. There wasn't much to get ready, to be honest. One benefit of waiting until after her change to be married was that vampire beauty required minimal enhancement. But the women wouldn't be denied their fun, and they were fussing over her dress and pinning rosebuds in her hair.
I heard Bella laugh and I smiled to myself. There was no more beautiful sound in the world than her bright, bubbling laugh.
All of this still didn't feel quite real. It was less than a year ago that I sat in this very spot, marveling at the way one little girl could so complicate my life. It hadn't occurred to me that it was only the beginning. My little Isabella had rearranged all of my priorities, and had then gone on to upset the entire vampire social structure . . . and she was only seventeen years old.
I glowed with pride over her. She was special, there was no doubt about that. I couldn't wait to see what she would do next.
I heard Edward's step approaching, and I smiled. Come in, I invited him silently. If anything could make this moment of exquisite anticipation better, it was the company of my dearest friend.
Edward stepped through the door and closed it behind him. "Are you ready for this, old man?" he asked, flopping down in a chair across the desk from me.
"I've been ready for this for a very long time."
"They're settled downstairs. It's about time to get started."
I could hear the restless crowd in the yard below. The guest list was a bit larger than we had originally expected it to be, due mostly to the increased size of the Quileute pack. All of the wolves had been invited today, along with any family members or imprints who were aware of our secret. The Denali coven had arrived early this morning, and of course, Charlie's delegation was in attendance.
"Tanya and Demetri made it back, then?" I asked, sifting through the voices downstairs to see if I could pick out either of them.
Edward smirked and nodded. "About a half hour ago."
Tanya and Demetri had taken a quick liking to one another. They weren't mates by any stretch of the imagination, but not long after Tanya and her family arrived, she and Demetri had disappeared into the trees, seeking privacy. Demetri's reputation for having a girl in every port was still holding strong.
Edward was looking at me expectantly. "Not getting cold feet, are you?"
I laughed at the absurdity of the notion. "Of course not, Edward. I'm just savoring these moments."
He rose and gestured toward the door. "Savor them downstairs, would you? The girls won't let Bella out of the bedroom until you're down there waiting for her."
I chuckled and stood, rounding the desk and heading out the door. Edward fell into step beside me, one hand gripping my shoulder as we moved down the steps and out into the back yard.
Alice had completely transformed the area. Brightly-colored roses bloomed everywhere, adorning every available space. Round tables had been set up throughout the yard, and for now the chairs at the tables were all turned to face on direction. Alice had left an aisle running between them, lined with more lush bunches of roses, and at the front of the aisle, Jacob waited.
As the tribe's new Chief, it was Jacob who would be performing the wedding ceremony today. Due to his age he still had to have any legal acts co-signed by his father, and Billy was already settled on the front row, ready to lend any assistance necessary.
The atmosphere was a casual, friendly one. Most of the Quileutes had chosen to run here today, and cut-offs and simple sun dresses were the standard attire—even for Jacob. A few people had dressed a bit more carefully, but even I was clad informally in a pair of khaki slacks and a white linen shirt with an open collar and sleeves rolled to my elbows. Bella had been adamant that this should be a simple, casual affair, and Alice had happily complied.
Edward walked with me to the front of the aisle, then clapped me on the back. "I'm happy for you, Carlisle," he said. Then with a crooked grin, he added, "And you're welcome."
I raised an eyebrow. Taking credit for this, are you?
"You know you couldn't have done it without me." He grinned at me, then jogged back to the house and pulled open the back doors, slipping inside to take his place at the piano.
Jacob called everyone to order, and our guests took seats at the tables. Esme, Alice, Rosalie, and Renata all extracted themselves from Bella's room and joined us, and then Edward began playing the piano inside. The gentle sounds of the piece he had composed for Bella drifted out to us, and I closed my eyes, remembering with fondness the days after I had first met her, when I was so desperate for any little scrap of news that Edward could bring me.
Jacob slugged my shoulder. "Open your eyes, you're missing your own wedding."
I complied, watching as Quil led little Claire to the beginning of the aisle and gave her a little push. She beamed around at the crowd as she walked the path, scattering rose petals across the grass, and I smiled. Bella hadn't been interested in a traditional procession, but Claire had so quickly wormed her way into all of our hearts that we added this in just so she could be a part of things. She flashed me a precocious smile as she reached me, and then dropped her basket of petals and ran back down the aisle, throwing herself into Quil's arms.
"I did it, Quil!" she crowed triumphantly.
He laughed and heaved her up onto one shoulder, carrying her back to their table. "You sure did!" he whispered excitedly. "You did a great job!"
The music continued to play, and I turned my eyes back to the house. I looked through the glass wall and saw Bella appear at the top of the stairs, clutching Charlie's arm. She smiled at him as he guided her down the staircase and out the door.
She was breathtaking. She wore a simple yellow gown that bared her arms and fell to her knees in soft, gauzy folds. Her thick mahogany curls had been left loose around her shoulders, and a wreath of yellow rosebuds circled the crown of her head.
I was quite sure I had never seen anything so beautiful.
Her eyes met mine and her smile grew, her face brightening with love and joy. It overwhelmed me to think that it was me who made her light up that way.
Charlie gazed down at her, the picture of a proud father. I could still see a hint of anxiety in his eyes, but that was only to be expected. Charlie, like any loving father, would always worry about his daughter. He would always be checking up on me to make sure I was treating her well, and he would always be ready to use that exceptional talent of his to punish me if I wasn't.
The two of them stepped into the morning sunlight, and the refracted beams lit Bella's face, gleaming so brightly that everything else seemed swathed in darkness. The rest of the world fell away, and all I could see, all I could hear, all I could smell, was my beautiful girl.
Charlie escorted Bella down the aisle, accompanied by Edward's piano playing, and then they were in front of me. I reached out, and Charlie guided Bella's hand to my own, symbolically shifting to me the responsibility for her well-being. I smiled down at her, gazing into her warm eyes, barely noticing when Charlie drifted back to take a seat next to Billy.
I was in awe of her. She was the most exquisite creature ever to walk the earth, and by some miracle, she had chosen me to be the man on whom she bestowed her love. I was truly blessed.
"You're beautiful, Bella," I whispered, raising a hand to brush her cheek. "You shine so brightly that you put the very sun to shame."
She gazed shyly up at me. "I can't be half as beautiful as you."
Jacob cleared his throat pointedly, drawing our attention. "Would you two quit running your mouths? It's my turn to talk."
Bella giggled, and we dutifully turned toward Jacob, allowing him to begin the ceremony.
"Dearly beloved," he said solemnly, "and all of you that we don't really like all that much, but felt obligated to invite anyway—Ow!"
Bella had cut him off by kicking his leg, and he glowered at her.
"Bella, you're not supposed to kick the officiant," he admonished severely.
"You're not supposed to tell our friends we don't like them."
Jacob rolled his eyes. "Fine. Everybody's beloved. Are you happy?"
"Yes, thank you," Bella said sweetly.
Jacob grinned. "We are gathered here today in the presence of the bastard upstairs—"
"Jacob Black," I said sharply, "if you blaspheme during my wedding ceremony, I will have your hide for a rug."
"Touchy. Fine. We are gathered in the presence of God and/or the Great Spirit, to join this leech," he gestured to me, "and this parasite," he indicated Bella, "in holy matrimony."
"Or anyway," Jacob added, "as holy as matrimony gets when you're marrying hell-spawn."
Bella's musical laughter sounded again, and she moved close to me, hugging my arm. I was glad she was amused. I was enjoying Jacob's playfulness, so very much like Ephraim's, but if it was ruining the moment for her, I would insist on more gravity from him.
"If any of you know of any reason why these two should not be married, speak now so Carlisle can have you murdered and we can get on with it." He scanned the crowd. "Nobody? Seriously? Felix, what about you? I know you've been checking Bella out whenever Carlisle's not looking."
Felix cleared his throat uncomfortably from one of the back tables. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Anybody else?" Jacob prompted. "Anybody?"
Bella kicked him again.
"Ow! Bella, would you quit that?"
"I will if you quit trying to get people to object to my marriage," she replied, rolling her eyes.
"Fine. They're a bunch of cowards anyway. Now, you guys have vows or some shit, don't you?"
I nodded, unable to keep back a smile. I turned to Bella, pulling my arm from her grasp, but taking both of her hands in mine.
"Isabella Swan," I murmured, my adoration for her pouring out in my voice, "I come before you today in the sight of God to offer you all that is truly mine to give: my heart. I ask that you take this heart in the spirit with which it is given, freely and unconditionally, without reservation."
Bella gazed at me, her eyes full of light and love. "Carlisle Cullen," she breathed. "I accept your offer and give you my heart in return, freely and unconditionally, without reservation. I cherish your love, and dedicate myself to you."
I squeezed her fingers lovingly, gazing into her face.
"Those vows sucked."
Bella's head whipped around to glare at Jacob. "Excuse me?"
"You didn't even promise anything. There's a reason they're called vows, you know."
The corners of my mouth quirked up in amusement. "It was a declaration of love, Jacob."
He fixed me with a pointed look. "You're marrying my best friend. You'd sure as hell better be making her some decent promises."
I laughed softly, turning to Bella. "Something more traditional, then?"
She nodded, smiling radiantly.
I brought her fingers to my lips for a brief kiss. "I, Carlisle Cullen, take you, Isabella Swan, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, to love, honor and cherish—"
"And obey," Jacob broke in.
"And obey," I conceded with a smile, "for the rest of eternity. And hereto I pledge to you my faithfulness."
Bella's eyes sparkled. "I, Isabella Swan, take you, Carlisle Cullen, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, to love, honor and cherish—"
"And order around," Jacob interrupted.
Bella ignored him. "For the rest of eternity. And hereto I pledge to you my faithfulness."
I released her right hand and reached into my breast pocket, withdrawing the wedding band that completed the engagement ring I had given her. I slid it into place on her finger, giving her one more token of my love for her. "With this ring," I said softly, "I thee wed."
Bella looked to Jacob, who produced my wedding band from the pocket of his shorts, and she slipped it onto my finger. "With this ring, I thee wed," she whispered reverently.
I raised my hand and cupped her cheek, leaning forward to press my lips to hers, but Jacob stopped us, clearing his throat loudly.
"You guys have to wait until I say."
Bella kicked him.
"Ow! Damn it, Bella, if you don't quit kicking me I'm going to stop this whole thing now, and you'll be stuck being, like, half married or some shit."
Bella countered quickly. "If you don't hurry up and finish this ceremony so I can kiss Carlisle, I won't let you have any food."
His jaw dropped open in shock. "You wouldn't dare withhold food."
"Don't test me, little boy," she said, narrowing her eyes.
Jacob snapped his jaw shut. "Fine. I now pronounce you bloodsucker and mate."
I shook my head, trying to suppress a laugh. "Jacob, you have to at least do this part right. It's the pronouncement that makes the marriage legitimate."
He sighed heavily. "I now pronounce you husband and wife. Happy?"
I turned back to Bella, gazing down into her lovely face. "Blissfully," I whispered.
"All right, you two can suck face now," Jacob said grudgingly. "But keep it G-rated, huh? There are children present."
I reached out and drew Bella's small body into my arms, pressing her against me. "Isabella Cullen," I whispered softly, for her ears only.
She shivered against me and tilted her head back, her full, perfect lips parted in a clear invitation. I was more than eager to accept it and I leaned down and captured her mouth with my own, letting my tongue taste her sweet flavor. Bella moaned softly, her hands sliding up my chest, over my shoulders, and up the back of my neck to tangle in my hair. Our tongues danced together ardently, needfully, demanding and promising. I pressed my hands flat against her back, pressing her closer, feeling the gauzy fabric of her dress under my fingertips.
"All right, all right, that's at least PG," Jacob interrupted, waving his hand. "Save it for later when the rest of us don't have to watch."
I released Bella and took her hands again, holding them in my own. "I love you," I mouthed silently.
"I love you," she mouthed back.
"All you beloved people," Jacob announced to the guests, "I present to you, Dr. and Mrs. Fang."
We turned to face our friends, hands clasped together, and were met with applause and loud whistles. Bella ducked her head bashfully, but she was laughing giddily and her face shone with happiness as her skin glittered in the sunlight.
For the next couple of hours I barely took notice of anything other than Bella. Alice and Esme served brunch and we moved around the yard, mingling with our guests, but my attention was riveted on my bride. I was savoring every beautiful moment of this day, enjoying the way she chattered easily with Demetri and Felix, the way she teased playfully with the Quileutes. I watched the animated play of emotions across her beautiful face, the way she absently wound a lock of her hair around one finger, and the way her sweet lips curled into a smile as she matched Edward volley for volley in a verbal battle.
I admired the gentle sway of her hips when she walked, and the way her dress draped over her curves. She had my full attention each time she lowered herself into a chair and her skirt rode up to expose just a tiny, tantalizing glimpse of her glittering thighs. I looked on hungrily as the breeze blew back her hair, revealing the graceful line of her neck. But my undoing was the way her pert nipples pebbled subtly beneath the thin fabric of her dress.
She was in the middle of a conversation with Leah and Seth Clearwater when my patience ran out. I pulled her back against my chest, wrapping my arms around her slender waist and splaying my hands over her abdomen.
"Isabella Cullen," I whispered in her ear, pausing just a moment to let my tongue trace her earlobe, "I believe I once promised you that, when you were strong enough, I would make love to you over and over again for days on end.
A shiver ran through her body as her hands moved to cover mine. "I do recall something like that, yes."
"The sooner we leave," I told her, "the sooner we can get started on that."
I heard her swallow hard. "I think we're done here," she said, her voice trembling slightly.
I released her, taking a step to the side. To our guests I said loudly, "I would like to thank you all for coming today to celebrate with us. Please stay as long as you'd like, and if you need anything, I'm sure Edward and Esme will be more than willing to accommodate you." I smiled. "I, however, have plans for my wife for the next two weeks, and I'm quite eager to get started on them."
Low laughter rippled through the gathered crowd.
I took Bella's hand and pulled her close, then leaned down and caught her up in my arms. Several of our friends cheered, and I started around the house with my girl, heading toward the Mercedes parked out front.
Suddenly, the air was alive with an explosion of little white pellets as the Quileute boys began pelting us with rice. They threw handful after handful, hitting us both with all their strength, and Bella laughed gleefully and ducked her head against my chest to protect herself from the storm.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I settled her into the car and endured a moment more of the thick storm of rice while I rounded the car and slid in beside her. I smiled at her, my heart swelling with the love and adoration I held for my wife.
I had never loved that word like I did now. Isabella Cullen, my wife.
I frowned at her over the center console, displeased by how far away she was. "This will never do," I said with a disapproving shake of my head. I shifted my seat back and reached out a hand to her.
She smiled brightly and slid across the console into my lap, leaning her back against the door and wrapping an arm around my neck. "You're right, this is much better."
I pressed a hand to her cheek and pulled her down for a kiss, flicking her tongue teasingly with my own. A cheer sounded outside, and several hands pounded on the car.
I pulled back laughing. "Angel, I think we'd better get out of here before my car ends up irreparably damaged."
Bella giggled and nuzzled my neck as I fired the engine. I started down the gravel drive, beginning the journey to Vancouver and two glorious weeks of passionate lovemaking with my girl. Sparing one final look back at the gathering of well-wishers behind us, I started us on our way, with a gold ring on my finger and my Happily Ever After wrapped securely in my arms.
I did it! I finished Take This Heart before the end of the world!
Thank you so much to all of you for joining me on this seriously LONG journey. I mean . . . a hundred and eleven chapters? Sheesh, how could you even stand to read that much? But your support and reviews have meant the world to me, and I've really enjoyed writing this story.
Good luck to all of you during the Rapture this weekend! I'm pretty confident that you'll all do just fine. I have it on good authority that God reads fanfiction, so all you have to do to get into His good graces is write a juicy little one-shot for him, and he'll swing those pearly gates wide open.
See you in heaven!