Here we are at the last chapter.
Thanks to Belindella for the pre-read on this one; any mistakes are mine. Thanks to my husband for a red X whenever Edward was acting like "such a girl". Thank you, fatallyobsessed, for the vb on Twi'd. And thank you to readers who told me how the characters were coming across time and again, where they worked for you and where they didn't; it helped!
The snow made everything quiet, twigs buried too deep to be snapped and echoes muffled. A few repeated notes split the silence while Edward sat composing. Bella could hear his music now, fading as she moved north. She wouldn't go far, but she still preferred to hunt alone, and though she was sure he'd rather be out here with her, he'd spent the last few months proving he could let the little things go.
Her feet packed the dry snow tight, and more of it collapsed onto her toes. Catching a scent in the crisp air, she stopped. Deer. They'd started venturing closer to the cabin lately, and once, she'd seen finches on the roof.
"Looks like you're not scaring the birds off today," Edward had said.
"Strange, isn't it?"
"Not really. I can tell your mood by how much wildlife is around."
"Don't you just read my mind?"
He'd given her a wry smile. "Yeah, right. I stand a better chance of figuring you out through birdsong."
He'd probably been right about her moods. Now the deer had yet to notice her as they searched for growth that pushed past the drifted snow, and she was able to still her mind and pull a buck down. Its last breath was warm and misty in the cold air. She sat with the body as it cooled and then headed back, stopping once to free a rabbit from a snare. It kicked its hind feet against her and took off like a chariot. She'd need to keep an eye out for the hunter who'd set the traps. If he returned to check them at the wrong time he could find himself on the deadly side of Edward's hunt.
The vampire in question (she tried not to think 'newborn'; he didn't like the word and she was proving that she could let the small things go as well) looked anything but deadly in a buttoned white shirt with his head bent down and his tongue just visible as he concentrated, scribbling notes onto sheet music.
"My tongue is not hanging out," he said without looking up.
She went over and put a hand to his shoulder, though at some point she'd stop needing the tangible proof that he was here.
"As if I mind." After he turned on the bench so that she was framed between his knees, he tugged at the hem of her shirt.
She knew what he was asking. If he had his way, she'd probably do without a shirt most of the time.
"Most? You clearly don't know me," he said, tugging again to pull her closer. "It's not my fault that you don't get the miracle of breasts." He pressed his face against her stomach and nuzzled her shirt. "Besides, you don't mind."
She didn't, really. Sex was a force like the sprouting fields and the spring sunshine, and though in their case it couldn't lead to life, it was still a part of nature. Much less complicated than vows and boundaries and half formed promises. To Edward, promises were somehow tangled with sex, but then he'd grown up in another time. Modern sex seemed to have rules and hidden meanings that were beyond her.
He sighed. "Yes, it's all too complicated. Can I peel this shirt off you now?"
He lifted it up and over her head without waiting for an answer, and she raised her arms to help.
"God, you're gorgeous."
He always said it like it was a surprise.
"Not a surprise. More like a revelation every time."
"Aren't they the same?" she asked.
He groaned and tugged on her wrists, pulling her down to the floor as he tumbled forward and settled on top of her, knees on either side of her hips.
"How did I manage without these for so long," he said, cupping her breasts and dragging a thumb across each nipple. When he leaned down and took a deep breath just above her skin, his lips pressed against her so that her flesh muffled his faint susurrations of, "Verbena," and, "Always want." Bella slid her hand to the back of his neck and scratched with blunt nails at the short, soft hairs there. It made him tilt his head back, baring his throat for her. She didn't know why it did something to her, the mixed signals of having his throat offered while he held her down, but she shifted her thighs apart within the space between his knees.
His smile bordered on the predatory. "You like that," he said.
"I like that."
He pounced in his pleasure at having learned something new, small bites on one shoulder and the other. So easy to please, in this way at least, and she wanted to tug her skirt higher and lift up as he entered her, or maybe they would draw out anticipation until it hurt.
"Which?" he asked.
He was panting, and that decided her. "Fast now, slow later."
When he fit his knees between her thighs, pushing them even further, she drew her legs up so her bare feet were flat on the wooden floor where the chess board had been smudged away. He had to lean back and fumble with the button on his jeans, but she didn't help, just enjoyed him scrambling out of his clothes, half standing and hopping on one leg. Then he was back, sliding her skirt the rest of the way up and digging his thumbs into her hips. She reached down to guide him in when he pushed against her, letting her shoulder blades hit the floor and slide. If putting her mouth on him had been about giving, then this expressed her willingness to receive.
"I want you to…" he said before dropping down to his elbows and pressing his face to her shoulder, moving in rough rhythm, his hipbones kneading her skin on the down stroke while she dug her heels into the firm, warm place where rounded flesh met his thighs. She kept her breath slow, didn't want it to distract her from the sensation of their rocking against the floor and one another. He moved differently, pushing as hard as he could, sending them half way across the room, and she didn't know what this fierceness meant.
"You," he said.
He might not have known he'd spoken. His eyes were closed, his lips tight in concentration. Whatever he felt, she thought she was giving it back to him, lifting, growling, denting the boards with her head even after she'd come and he was still pushing them toward the far wall, relentless until he came silently, strung taut above her, suspended for the longest time before collapsing, boneless and sprawled, still inside, the weight of his shoulder on her forehead, his hipbones shifting even now in lazy circles against her.
"Am I crushing you?"
Her thought was clear and immediate.
"Good," he said. "I didn't mean to get carried away. I might have been a little excited by the thought of you on the hunt."
She would've told him how contented she was if he didn't already know.
He brushed his face back and forth on the top of her head as though marking her with scent like a cat.
"Why have you always compared me to animals?" he asked. "And anyway, make up your mind. Am I a wolf, a deer or a cat?"
"You're many things." And then to be playful, she let her mind wander.
He popped up on his elbows and stared down. "Did you just picture a… what was that… a chipmunk?"
"You puff your cheeks when you're irritated."
He shook his head, but then slid back and out of her so he could duck down to place one hard kiss against her breast. "Can I just say that it's scary when you get a sense of humor."
"Yes," she said. "I'm terrifying."
She watched the contortions as he tried not to laugh, but then it burst out of him, and the rumble passed through his skin to hers before he pushed back onto his heels and stood up.
"I should start getting ready."
"What is there to do?"
"I'm putting lights on the trees. The battery powered ones Alice sent."
Edward had been calling Carlisle or Esme and asking them to send something from his room or a store, and Bella would put on boots and run forty miles to collect these gifts from a post office box Bat had set up. The lights – tree decorations related to the birth of Christ – were a little different. They'd arrived a few days after he'd decided he wanted them, along with a note that said, "We'd all love to come. Looking forward to it."
He hadn't invited Carlisle and the rest until afterwards, but he must have wanted to, since Alice had seen it.
"Should I help?" Bella asked as she followed him outside.
"I've got it." He looked at the sky. "It's maybe two o'clock. You could check for a package I'm expecting."
"And don't open it."
"Do I ever?"
It was only as he started out into the snow, lights in hand, that she realized he hadn't put on any clothes.
"Watch out for pine needles," she called.
He turned and walked backwards, saw in her mind that he was nearing a fallen log, and stepped lightly over it. "Impervious, remember?"
"If you say so."
She took a shower and then dressed as though the weather mattered. The town was covered in red and green lights, and the post office was shoulder to shoulder with warm bodies. She used her key to unlock Edward's box and didn't have to speak to anyone. It was a small package, addressed to Bartholomew Strand as they all were, but this one was from Bat as well. She tucked it in her pocket and made the trip home.
When she reached the cabin, Edward was gone. Though she knew hunger had probably driven him to hunt and that the Volturi weren't likely to be organized or foolish enough to strike again soon, it left her uneasy. Three trees had been draped in white cords, and the doorframe and two porch posts were similarly wrapped. A switch at the end of the cord on the door let her turn that one on, and it lit up white.
She heard Edward, then caught his scent, then saw him, dressed now in jeans and the Montana Grizzlies sweatshirt.
"Hey, don't run the batteries down. Alice didn't send extra." He shook his head. "Looking to the future my ass. They'll only last a few hours."
"You wish you had electricity."
"It wouldn't hurt to have a computer here."
She didn't think she could have electric run out this far, and she didn't want to ask Bat to deal with it and pay the bills.
"I have some money, you know," he said.
It wasn't just that. He'd want to see the world, make friends and allies of others who couldn't be comfortable around Bella for long.
"Most people aren't comfortable with having their minds read either." He walked up, and she caught the scent of deer's blood as he kissed her forehead. "I'm not unhappy here. Did I get mail?"
"Just this." She gave him the padded envelope, and he smiled.
"You didn't press on it, try to figure out what it was?"
He was truly strange sometimes.
"Get out of all this," he said, waving a hand at her clothes. "Put on that green dress you have."
She wanted the boots off anyway, and she left them in a puddle on the porch until she could clean them. The sundress was one of about ten things she wore most of the time, lightweight and easy to move in… and now apparently a favorite of Edward's.
She found him downstairs, pacing. His moods still sometimes sent him into edgy territory, so she took it easy on him, keeping her own movements slow and precise.
"Stop it, I'm not freaking out." He stood still and turned to her. "Maybe I am, but not like that."
"I have something for you, and I want to get this right. I'll probably fuck – sorry – it up, but if you… Take a seat on the bench here."
His behavior was probably a bad sign, but she sat down and gave him an expectant look.
"This could have gone a couple of ways. I have this ring of my mother's and I thought about giving it to you, but it makes me think about her. She expected me to fill this gap left when my father died, take care of things, drive her places… but I was the one who insisted we drive home even though the roads were icy, and then Carlisle found us when it was too late for her." He shook his head. "That's not the point. There's the pendant you wore. I kept it after the fight, I think because of Enkidu actually…"
She didn't know where he was going, but she hoped it would make some sense to her before the end. After wearing that dagger for most of her existence, she'd come to a point where she didn't want to be reminded anymore of what she once was.
"That's the thing. I didn't think you'd want to keep it, but I put it in my pocket because of what Enkidu said about bronze – the way copper is soft, but that softness makes the brittle tin stronger, and together they make bronze."
"I don't – "
"Understand, yeah I know. I'm trying to explain." He started to pace again. "I know you think I make you soft. Even if I do, maybe it's not such a bad thing." He fingered the envelope and tipped it sideways so something fell into his palm. "Bat made these. He melted down the bronze and my mother's ring."
There were two rings in his hand. Both were plain, polished to a smooth, flat surface. She leaned forward but kept her hands firmly at her side.
"You don't have to look at them like you want to poke them with a stick," he said.
She caught his eye. "What does it mean?"
"Rings. I'm not so backwards that I don't know they're a promise. Marriage has been around a long time, Edward."
"I just thought…" He closed his hand in a fist. "I thought… You know what, it doesn't matter what I thought." He'd gone out the front door so fast that she was still leaning forward toward the empty space.
She washed the unused kitchen counter down, giving herself a moment with only cool water and velvety soap, settling herself, giving him time to settle. There was no mistaking where he was as the thumping passed back and forth over her head. After a few minutes she jumped up on the roof and sat down well outside of his path. He continued to pace, and she waited, listening as the irregular beat of his footfalls slowed and came closer. He sat next to her, their knees bumping.
"Where's the crime in a promise?" he asked. His voice was surprisingly subdued. "Why won't you admit you want to be with me?"
"I know you understand why I touch you so often," Bella said, "and I did follow you to Forks."
"To tell me you're stuck with me because you can't stand an empty house. That's not the same as wanting me."
She put her hand on his knee. "Want is for things you can do without. If this was only about want, we wouldn't be here. I need you. I know you must be able to get some idea of how bewildering, how beautiful and terrifying that is for me. I don't remember a time when I needed anything other than blood. Blood is everywhere, ours for the taking, but to need someone who could be taken away, to need you… "
"Which is why you shouldn't look shocked when I try to show you I'm not going anywhere."
"If you regret it when you're tired of being out here on our own –"
"For fuck's sake, it's not like you can't go into the world if you want, and Carlisle was doing alright around you at the house. We'll see how it goes when they come here."
"It won't be easy."
"It's just a visit, and anyway they're bringing tents so if they want to have time to themselves without mind reading and fear, they can. Plus the birds on the roof were a good sign, right? Maybe it'll be better."
"Edward, the fear isn't going to just go away. If that's what you're counting on – "
"One thing. One. I just want you to believe me when I say I'm not going anywhere without you."
"Okay," he said, but he was looking away.
"Give me the ring."
"I'll wear it."
"No, not like that. Not because I guilted you into it."
"No one guilts me into anything. Bat made one of them for me, right? I want to see it again."
For a long moment she thought he wasn't going to let her, but then he fumbled in his pocket.
"It felt odd asking him to melt down a four thousand year-old artifact," he said, "but Bat didn't care." He passed the smaller ring across. "I was going to…"
When he didn't finish, she didn't ask him what he had planned. She turned the ring over, then fitted it on different fingers until she reached the middle one.
"I didn't know your size," he said, quiet again. He was staring at her hand.
"If you're just wearing it to keep me happy…"
"There are worse things I could do than make you happy, Edward. I'm already neck deep anyway. If you left one day, I'd find a way to follow you."
He took her hand. His fingers were light and smooth as they tapped against hers. The wind blew snow through the air, and it made small, damp spots on her sundress.
"I can live with that," he said. "I'll just stick around until the summer, and, you know, when the cabin has to be rebuilt, and later when the mountain behind the place starts to wear down and the continents shift into one big mass of land."
She smiled despite herself. "And the sun burns out, and there's no more blood."
"Right," he said. "Until then."
Thank you for reading through to the end.
All the usual characters, settings, etc. are the property of S. Meyer. Original plot is mine. No copyright infringement is intended. May not be reprinted without express written permission.