I don't own these characters. They are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. I only borrow them. No humans are permanently harmed through my actions, though I do confess to harassing, annoying, torturing, and exasperating them – just because it's fun. I make no money from my little stories, sad day. I only play in the sandbox, I didn't build it.

I don't own these characters. They are the sole property of Stephenie Meyer. I only borrow them. No humans are permanently harmed through my actions, though I do confess to harassing, annoying, torturing, and exasperating them – just because it's fun. I make no money from my little stories, sad day. I only play in the sandbox, I didn't build it.

Author's Note: This was inspired by the book Threads, by Nell Gavin, which is a story of reincarnation. The most notable incarnations of the doomed lovers are Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This is a fascinating book if you want to give it a try. Anyway, that was the inspiration for this odd little one-shot.

Echoes of Another Me

Rising Sun

On my sixteenth birthday, which occurred on a bright September day in 1944, my mother found a book that was just different enough for her to think it would get my attention. I had always loved reading, but had discovered that most modern prose left me cold, while daydreams of my own Mr. Darcy occupied my mind. My mother, thoroughly a child of her time, thought this was a shame and was forever doing her best to make me see things in a more contemporary light.

In this one case, she succeeded. Though in the years to come, I am sure she often cursed her own meddling efforts and wished she had never seen that innocuous looking bit of paper and ink.

Echoes of Another Me….

This was the book that put Mr. Darcy in his place once and for all. In my heart, I made a place for that hero, that epitome of all that was right and masculine. Gabriel Sinclair. He was my new Mr. Darcy, eclipsing him as the lead in my most romantic fantasies.

At sixteen it is difficult to moderate your feelings, your opinions, so like most girls my age I threw myself headlong into the abyss of teenage lovesickness. But while most girls my age adorned their walls with pictures of actors like Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper, I had only the simple, worn newspaper photo of a writer. They listened to Shoo-Shoo Baby by the Andrew Sisters, while I read my book over and over again. Their music had no meaning for me.

The war to end all wars was still raging, and would for almost another year. I listened to the radio. I knew of the battles and the losses faced by our brave men. I listened to tales of their heroic feats. But in my heart, there was only one hero and his name was Gabriel Sinclair.

The man who created Gabriel Sinclair held as much fascination for me as did Gabriel himself. He wrote only one book. A single book that encompassed the centuries' long love affair of two doomed lovers who meet and fall in love only to lose again. Lovers who were reincarnated over and over again so that they might overcome their failings and insecurities. Like me, the writer seemed to believe in fate…and hope…and love.

It was all my adolescent heart needed.

After writing his masterpiece, Edward Cullen died at the age of thirty five. He disappeared one day in the mountains of Washington. I would have made a pilgrimage to where his body rested, but there hadn't been enough left of him to bury. When I learned of his death, and even though I had never met him, spoken to him, or heard the sound of his voice, I was cast adrift. It was as if I had lost my best friend and lover all at once. It seemed with him he took my optimism, my hope, and my dreams of a better life – a love to call my own forever. If things had worked out differently, I might have found them again. Those things that seem insurmountable to a teenager are usually overcome with time and maturity.

Then life conspired to rip away those things completely and there was no coming back from it.

Of course, a life isn't usually destroyed in a single instant. Mine was slowly chipped away over the years, one small, mundane tragedy at a time. My father died of a heart attack when I was twenty. I was still a virgin then, lost and alone and mourning the only man who had ever loved me.

Like the good daughter I had been raised to be, I took care of my mother, who seemed rather lost herself. She had always remained more of a child than a woman, and now it was my job to look after her. The years passed without me really realizing it.

A new man moved into town, and for some unknown reason he seemed to find me interesting. Me, Bella Swan, twenty-six year old virgin and school teacher. It was 1954 and the world had changed. Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and the world celebrated the joining of two golden children – for a while anyway. Such fairytale endings were for women like her. Not for plain old Bella Swan. Of course, in the end, fairy tales proved elusive for both of us.

But this man seemed to find me desirable in some way, so I let him persuade me into his bed. After all, what was I holding onto my virginity for? I had no expectations of a husband to whom I would give it. I wanted just once to feel that connection with another human being that I thought those around me shared. I wanted that intimacy, that bond.

And he was there…and willing. We became lovers and talked of a future. The first time we had sex I had to wonder what all the fuss was about. I never even got close to a place that I would have called the "little death." Later, it became less mortifying and eventually…mildly pleasant. Sometimes. We would have sex and when he fell asleep, I would use my own hands to bring myself to orgasm. Edward Cullen and Gabriel Sinclair featured in most of my fantasies – twin faces of one soul. I felt a little guilty at first, but when I finally accepted that I would never find the ultimate fulfillment while my lover moved inside of me; my little dreams of a dead man became my own secret pleasure. I accepted that I wasn't really a good girl, I just wore a mask. My whole life was the mask, it was what was underneath that was the dream that could never come true.

My lover was not handsome or fascinating, but he was mine. I liked him, which was as about as much as someone like me could expect. I was plain and poor, quiet and shy. I would never shine at a party, nor would I ever make witty conversation. I felt more at home with my nose pressed between the pages of a book, losing myself in those glittering lives. I had a lover, but I did not love him.

It was all just another small tragedy in the end, however. An unplanned pregnancy, a miscarriage gone so horribly wrong that it took with it forever my ability to bear children. My not-so-handsome and not-quite-fascinating lover apparently wanted children more than he wanted me. No matter that it was his seed that robbed me of the possibility, I was now damaged goods. Before long, he too had moved on.

He happily married the town librarian. Perhaps he just found some sort of erotic fascination among the bookshelves.

It was surprisingly easy to recover from his betrayal, as if a part of me expected that I would live – and die – alone.

I would never find my own Gabriel Sinclair. He didn't exist and his creator no longer existed either. Small wonder that I could not find his equal. He was a myth, a figment of a dead man's imagination.

Still, the longing for him was there. Edward and Gabriel became one man in my mind. A man with Edward's face and Gabriel's heart took his place in my heart, my mind – my soul.

I belonged to a myth and he belonged to me.

~~EOAM~

Two months before my thirty-sixth birthday, and it was the summer of 1964. The world had only started to recover from the death of John F. Kennedy. My mother had cried bitter tears when the news came out. The Beatles had recently invaded America. Some predicted the downfall of American youth, others celebrated the event. I cared not at all.

I was watching my mother die. Slowly. Painfully.

My mother finally died in July, just before midnight on the twenty-seventh day of the month, leaving me completely and finally alone. There was nothing holding me in Phoenix anymore. I needed to break away, somehow sensing that if I didn't do so now, I never would. I would live and die in the only house I'd ever lived in. My parents had brought me home from the hospital to that house; I didn't want them to carry my body out from it in fifty years.

Before I could change my mind, I put the house on the market, sold everything but a few of my most precious belongings, and packed up my old Ford. I had a suitcase of clothes, exactly 17 books (one of which was Echoes of Another Me, of course), and two boxes of family pictures. I also had the tattered newspaper photo of the man who had changed my life.

Edward Cullen and his creation, Gabriel had ruined me for every other man on earth.

But I was going to rediscover myself, the new self. I was going to be someone else. It was obvious that the fairy tale of one true love, destined to be no matter what the obstacles was all a load of shit.

And I was going to start living my life, what was left of it anyway. I would be alone; fate had decreed that at my birth, I suspected. I would, however, find solace in my solitude. There were worse things than loneliness.

~EOAM~

I didn't really have a destination in mind when I set out. A part of me longed for the anti-Phoenix. I was tired of the sun which did nothing but highlight the changes that time had wrought on my face. I was sick of the heat and the lack of humidity. Though I had never really thought about it before, I wanted something different – cooler, gentler. I longed for the soothing sound of rain on my roof, for the verdant greenery of a primordial forest. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the size of ancient trees, to wonder about the feet that had trod the forest so many lifetimes before I was ever born.

I drove until I got tired and then I would find a small hotel that seemed as if it would be clean at least. I didn't require any luxuries, in fact I would have felt uncomfortable in a five-star resort. I was plain old Bella Swan, no fuss required. I was the epitome of low-maintenance. Give me a book, a decent meal, and a warm bed and I considered myself as happy as I was likely to ever be.

As I drove, I thought about the dreams my sixteen year old self had had. Dreams of a forever love, a love that would change the world, alter the flow of time and eternity. It had been a common enough dream, I supposed. What young girl does not dream of a man to sweep her off her feet and make everything in her life perfect?

Now, as I made my way toward…well, what I wasn't sure, I realized that I could embrace another dream. It might be more humble and certainly nothing that would be the stuff of life-altering books. But my dream could be my own and it was, at least, attainable.

I had a story locked up inside of me somewhere. I could sense it longing to come out. The words were building up within me, surging and pressing more with every passing day. Like a wound that had to be lanced, I knew I would give into the urge to put those words on paper, to give them life.

I would put my story out in the world, set it free to do what it could. And if I died having given birth to only that single story, I would count my life as having meant something. With a new sense of purpose, I decided that I needed to find a place to bring my story to life, a place where I would nurture it and eventually labor to bring it into the world. Unable to harbor a life within my womb, I had conceived an idea in my mind. I would give it life. My child would be words and paper, not flesh and blood.

Pulling out a map of the state of Washington, I unfolded it as I sat in the parking lot of the hotel I had stayed in the night before. Until that point, I had been driving aimlessly. It was now time to embrace a purpose.

I closed my eyes and moved my index finger over and over the map in ever-tightening circles. At last, I took in a deep breath and lowered my finger, my eyes still closed.

Opening my eyes, I looked at the place where my finger had landed.

Forks.

I laughed at the absurdity of it.

Forks?

I fought the urge to search again, perhaps for a town that sounded less like a utensil. But I shook my head and mapped out a route. I had let the fates decide my direction one last time and I would make good on my promise to myself.

When disaster struck, there was no warning. There usually never is a warning; otherwise we would avoid disaster wouldn't we? Still, it might have been nice to predict that my car would end up dangling over the edge of the treacherous, winding side road that I had thought would be an adventure. I climbed out of my car and surveyed the damage, knowing at only a glance that I would never be able to extricate my car by myself.

I sighed and pondered the wisdom of taking my suitcase with me. Realizing how quickly its weight would tire me, I regretfully left it behind, grabbing only my coat and my purse. I was wearing short heels with my skirt and sweater. I had a pair of Keds in my suitcase and so I changed into them. I wasn't sure how long it would take me to make it to the main road. I could only hope that a Good Samaritan would take pity on me and give me aid.

Of course by that time darkness had descended and I tortured myself with the thoughts of all the wildlife that must roam these woods. After what seemed to be hours of walking I did not sense that I was any closer to the main road and I collapsed onto a fallen log with every intention of having myself a good, hardy cry.

I had barely worked up to a good, drawn out sob when I heard something in the woods. Like magic, my tears dried and my sobs eased as I shot to my feet and looked all around me. It was difficult in the woods to locate where sound was coming from exactly. Whatever was out there could be…anywhere.

"Hello?" I asked, compelled by habit and good manners. As if a bear will answer you, Bella!

"Don't be frightened," a smooth voice called out from the dark woods that surrounded me.

"Hello?" I asked again. That voice. I wanted to see the mouth that was the origin of that voice. If my Gabriel had a voice, it would sound just like that. If Gabriel was real, you mean, my inner voice could not help but point out.

Then I saw the figure of a man approaching me cautiously, his hands held out as if to reassure me that he held no weapon and intended me no harm. He wore a heavy jacket, the hood pulled up closely. I could see nothing more than a beautiful mouth, perfectly sculpted, the hint of strong white teeth, and part of a jaw line that convinced me that God was alive and well in the Heaven my mother had told me about.

A work of art… I thought. Upon that thought, came another, much more startling. Gabriel…I've actually found you.

Sun at Zenith

He held his hands as he walked toward me, his face still mostly hidden in the hood of his jacket. I felt an immense and powerful curiosity bloom inside of me. My fingers twitched against the impulse to push back that dark hood so that I could gaze on what I was sure would be an angel's face.

"I won't hurt you," the silken voice promised.

I smiled, my fear evaporating and leaving behind only a tingling sense of anticipation. "I know," I murmured.

The hood tilted as I sensed eyes studying me. "How do you know?" he asked.

I took a step forward and I sensed his surprise. "I just do," I answered. I considered my life. "And it wouldn't matter much to anyone if you did, I suppose." I knew it was unwise to reveal to this stranger that there would be no one to miss me should I disappear. But something in him compelled me to honesty. I wasn't sure why or what magic he held over me, I could only acknowledge its existence.

I took another step closer. "Do I know you?" I finally asked.

The mouth smiled quickly, bitterly. It was still beautiful. I still wanted to kneel before him and worship him. There was nothing sexual in it, just a deep desire to pay homage to a deity who could have created something so perfect. I was the peasant standing by the road as her sovereign prince rode by, all perfection and power. I did not have it in me to envy him, our paths were too widely divergent. "No, I don't think so," he told me.

"I feel as if…as if we've met," I insisted.

"Are you cold? Hungry?" he asked. He held out one pale hand, startling in its beauty. Who would have thought that a man's hand would make my knees tremble and weaken? It was the hand of DaVinci and Botticelli and Dürer all in one.

"Yes," I answered simply.

"Yes, you're hungry or yes, you're cold?" He sounded amused and I smiled at him. I was content to be the source of his amusement. I would be content to be anything to him.

"Both, actually," I clarified.

He hesitated a moment and I worried that he would leave me there, alone and now aching for his presence. "You could come to my cabin," he finally suggested. "It's warm…and I…I think I have food."

He thought he had food? What an odd creature, so beautiful and rare. Perhaps his kind didn't need to eat; they sustained themselves on air and sunshine. A fae perhaps? A magician? A myth? A myth… It bought to mind Gabriel Sinclair.

"Gabriel…" I whispered, so softly that even I couldn't hear my voice. But the stranger gasped and turned to me, his mouth open. I sensed his gaze within the recesses of the hood.

"What did you say?" he asked.

I shook my head. "Nothing, it's not important."

The perfect mouth pulled up in a smile. "I think it is," he insisted in a whisper. I wanted to lean in closer to hear him. I did. But it wasn't his voice that made my breath catch. It was his scent. It was the ocean and sugar cookies and almonds and honey and… peace.

I expected him to move away from me, instead he took a step closer and that heavenly aroma assaulted me yet again. I wanted to bathe in it, swim in it, and permeate my flesh in it so that I could carry it with me wherever I went - forever. "You have a lovely scent," I said, ignoring how strange that would sound to him.

Those lips quirked yet again. "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you." Hidden laughter lurked in his voice.

"How…odd."

"Yes," he murmured. "Isn't it?" I watched as his nostrils flared. "You really are quite…breathtaking…" I had the nagging sense that his words meant far more than they appeared to on the surface. He seemed…pained.

"You said your cabin was warm?" I prompted him, afraid that this beautiful stranger would abandon me.

He started and then nodded, his lovely lips pressed together. "Yes, yes, my apologies." He turned and motioned for me to follow him. I followed behind him, as clumsy and graceless as ever. Or perhaps it was his innate grace and fluid movements that made me feel so awkward. In any case, I bumbled along behind him like a colt just finding its legs, while he displayed all of the grace and agility of a thoroughbred. It didn't bother me; I was used to such comparisons. I had never been the prize in any contest.

Far sooner than I had any right to hope, we came to a small cabin, brightly lit up in welcome against the dark and dampness of the forest. He opened the door and walked in, beckoning me to join him. I stepped inside and breathed a sigh of relief at the warmth.

A fire crackled merrily in the small stone fireplace. A typewriter was perched on the solitary, scarred table, a rickety wooden chair placed before it. He stood there, uncertain and silent, in his own home. I took off my coat and he took it from me, hanging it up on a coat rack that rested in the corner by the front door. "You must be cold," he said and pointed toward the fire.

There was a thick rug there, just waiting for me. I knelt down on it gratefully, extending my hands toward the fire. He remained by the door, as silent and still as ever. He might have been a statue, a lovely, enigmatic work of a master's hand.

"If you're hungry I can see if I can find any hu…any food," he offered.

"Uh, sure, if you're certain it's not too much trouble," I accepted.

His shoulders hunched for a moment and then he stalked off into what I assumed was the kitchen. I heard him rummaging around, muttering softly though I could not make out the words and finally the slam of what sounded like a cabinet door. He emerged with a tinned can of soup and an apologetic expression. "Sorry, it's been a while since I had any guests, you see. My agent was the last hu – person I had here." He held up the can. "This is all I have. I'm sorry."

"I'm sure it will be fine," I assured him. What kind of man keeps no food in the house? What did he eat?

He turned to me, the hood still obscuring his features. "I'm on a very…particular diet, you see. What I eat would not be palatable for you." Then he turned on his heel and retreated back to the kitchen where I heard more rummaging and finally the sound of a pot being placed on a stove.

I waited, warming myself at his hospitable fire, trying to imagine what kind of diet he was on. It eluded me. I dismissed it, too content with being here in the angel's rustic haven. Perhaps this was what heaven was like. Perhaps I had died on that road and had wandered the forest for an eternity, only to be found by my angel. My own Gabriel.

A shadow passed by me and I looked up, startled to see the stranger standing right beside me. I hadn't heard him approach. "Oh," I said, my hand at my throat. "You surprised me."

He lowered his body gracefully down to the floor and handed me the bowl of soup. "Here," he murmured.

I expected him to hold his hands to the fire, for when his fingers brushed mine they had been chilled. Instead, he brought his knees up and wrapped his arms around his legs, staring into the fire, his hood still up. The dancing firelight lent an odd, golden light to his pale flesh.

I wanted to see his eyes. I must have made a sound of dissatisfaction because he turned to me. "What is it?"

I gestured toward his hood, smiling at him. "Do you mind?"

He paused and then shook his head, though he still seemed uncertain.

Long, elegant hands came up, hesitated, and then pushed away the concealing hood. I couldn't even gasp. I could only stare. And pay homage. An angel indeed. Something more, perhaps. Something…not of this world. A man who was more than a man.

I wasn't sure how I knew that was true, but I did. It was almost as if it had been whispered in my ear. I studied his perfect features, the golden eyes. I had never seen eyes that color before. They were the eyes of a male lion, the proud leader of a pride, king of all he surveyed. A predator's eyes, but not evil. No, just simply bound by his nature much as I was. I knew I should have felt fear, but instead there was only a strange and lingering sense of…destiny.

I felt the oddest urge to brush aside my hair and bare my throat to him, offering up my flesh and blood and bone as an offering. So transfixed was I by his eyes, that it took a moment for recognition to flood me.

"I do know you," I finally whispered.

"Do you?" His voice was equally soft, but velvet and rich whereas mine was ordinary.

I nodded. "Gabriel Sinclair," I murmured. "You created Gabriel."

The golden eyes widened in surprise even as he shook his head to deny the truth. "I don't know what you're talking about."

I smiled sadly. I was used to lies. "You're Edward Cullen. I know who you are." I studied him. He looked no different than he had in the newspaper clipping. No older, certainly. If anything, he was more beautiful than ever. He had been my age when he "died." He looked my age still. His lion's eyes gazed at me, pinning me in place.

"Yes, you do," I insisted. I shook my head. "It's all right. I'm nobody. No one would believe me anyway. You don't have to worry. Your secret is safe with me."

"What secret?" For some reason my words made him sad.

"You're not human." The words were out of my mouth before I could even begin to comprehend their meaning…or their truth.

"What makes you say that?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "I just know."

He sighed and shook his head. "That's unexpected," he said softly.

"Why?" My heart beat faster as if it had already heard what my ears had not yet picked up on.

He reached out and brushed my cheek with long, cool fingers. He cradled my chin in his hands. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Isabella," I answered. "But I prefer to be called Bella."

He smiled but it was sad and tight. "Bella… It suits you."

I shook my head, but not enough to move away from this chilly touch. "No, I'm not beautiful."

Edward leaned in closer, his breath washing over me and making me close my eyes. If I was going to die, I wanted to die in this moment. Now, when everything hovered on the edge of perfect. Death would be worth it. "You are beautiful, Bella. So beautiful…but so sad..."

"Will you kiss me?" Fate made me bold. I had nothing left to lose now.

"Do you want me to?"

"I want to give you everything." Truth was powerful. I leaned in closer until my lips barely brushed his. His mouth touched mine, cool and hesitant and tender. It was a chaste kiss, but it changed something inside of me. When he pulled away, I was a different woman.

"Do you believe in fate, Bella?"

I nodded. "Yes, I always have." I smiled. "Well, I have since Gabriel taught me to believe."

"Do you believe that sometimes terrible things happen for a reason? That what might seem like a tragedy at the time is actually a blessing?"

I nodded again.

He took a deep, shuddering breath. "What if I told you that I had been waiting for you for twenty years?" He smiled. "Would you believe that?"

"Yes, because I've been waiting for you. I just didn't know it."

He brushed his knuckles over my cheek. "I knew I was waiting. Someone showed me that you were coming to me. She told me that I had to be patient and that love would come to me, no matter what kind of monster I thought I was."

"You're not a monster," I said softly.

He turned away and this time it was my hand on his face. I urged him to look at me. "You might not be just a man, but you're no monster."

He kissed the palm of my hand. "With you…with you I feel for the first time that I might be more than the sum of my impulses."

"What are your impulses that they trouble you so?"

Nuzzling against me, he whispered. "I want blood and death, beautiful Bella."

I turned so that our lips met once more. "Do you want love?"

He nodded. "Yes, most of all I want love."

"Then it's yours…"

"To love me is to embrace death, Isabella," he whispered in a reverent voice. "If I give you my heart, it will be cold and silent, but yours nonetheless."

"Then I will take it, cold and silent as it is."

He kissed me again, but this time his tongue brushed against mine as he lowered me to the thick rug in front of the fire. His fingers played with the buttons my blouse. "I want to make love to you, Bella. My Isabella…my love…my singer…my fate…" He lowered his mouth to breast and suckled it through the cloth. "Will you let me?"

I pulled him on top of me, allowing my body to give my permission. I was the doe that senses her peril and yet rushes to meet it. It was nothing less than fate.

I knew, somehow, that I would be dead when the dawn came.

And I didn't care.

And so sets the sun

He sat back, pulling the jacket over his head. His burnished hair gleamed in the golden firelight, his amber eyes becoming molten gold before turning black. "Will you let me love you, Isabella?" His voice was soft, temptation made into sound. There was something more to his question, however. He was asking for more than my body or my heart. He was asking for my life. It was already his.

I nodded, reaching for him. His smile was both sad and triumphant. "I trust you," I whispered.

"You shouldn't…" He was the heartbroken angel, the shattered seraphim and I longed to heal him, fix him, make everything right in his little paradise.

He reached out and unbuttoned my blouse, his cool fingers caressing my skin as it was revealed to him. "You're so lovely…" he whispered. "I've waited so long." His eyes met mine, glorious gold holding fast to mundane brown. "You've belonged to me since the day you were born," he murmured. "But what I didn't realize…until I saw you there…that I had belonged to you too, since the day I was created."

The words were significant, I knew, but I could not focus. My breath was coming hard and fast. He closed his eyes and I had the odd impression that he was immersing himself in my scent and the sound of my racing heart. Then he reached out and placed his cold palm over my heart. "You're so alive…so vital…" he whispered, almost to himself. I lifted my hand to touch his heart and he shied away from my caress.

"Please…?"I begged. There would only be stillness and silence beneath his perfect flesh, I knew. But I wanted to touch him as he touched me. I needed to touch him.

His face tight with regret, he lifted my hand and placed it over his heart. Nothing but the cold, hard feel of his flesh. No beating heart, no trace of warmth. "I'm warm enough for both of us," I told him.

He licked his lips and then leaned down, taking his time removing my garments. When I was spread out before him in nothing more than the flesh in which I had been born, he paused. He stared, cataloguing every inch of me. If he had been anyone else, I might have thought he was taking note of my flaws and imperfections. My breasts were not big enough, my hips and thighs were more rounded than in my youth. There were lines by my eyes and fanning out from my mouth, subtle but there.

At least I knew they would not get worse; I would have to get older for that to happen.

"I'm going to make love to you now, Bella," he said quietly as he lowered himself on top of me. "I want to make you mine…forever…" He brushed back my hair. "Will you be mine forever? Will you spend eternity with me?"

I nodded, unable to speak. I had been waiting for him for so long. I hadn't recognized my own hibernation, existing but not living, breathing but not being. "Will it hurt?" I could see in his eyes that he knew I was not talking about when he would make himself one with me. I was speaking of another possession, another claiming. My body had been his forever; it was my soul he had yet to mark.

He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, it will." I relaxed then, his honesty reassuring me. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," I said. "There is always pain in creation."

Then his lips found mine and I suckled at his tongue, the honey, almond, sugar taste filling my senses. His fingers slipped between my thighs, finding a warm welcome for his touch. "Oh Bella," he whispered. His fingers pierced me and I cried out.

His touch gentled and he kissed me. "I want to feel you shatter before I'm inside of you," he murmured. "I want to feel you come undone. Our first and last time as partners unequally yoked. Soon, my love, soon, you will be my match in every way and we will rediscover this world together."

His mouth found my nipples, sucking strong at them until I arched into his touch and sighed. Fingers teased and tantalized my entrance, making sure I was ready for him. His thumb found the sensitive nub of flesh, circling it, pressing and retreating until I felt the tension coil inside of me. It was so much stronger than when I did it myself. Then I fell apart, the pieces of me cast away to the winds, floating into nothingness.

Then he moved over me and slid inside of me as if his place had been assured forever.

Thrust. Pull. Thrust. Pull. I felt the rightness of it even as I acknowledged the danger. I would not survive our encounter. Not a single part of me cared.

"Bella...love…" he whispered. "You are mine, Bella."

I kissed him, letting my tongue slide against his lips which were hard and cool and perfect. His movements grew faster, more erratic and still I strained toward the summit I sensed just out of reach.

His hand came down my stomach, caressing lightly before it settled between my thighs. A brush of his thumb, a flick of his wrist and I splintered into a thousand tiny particles. I arched against him, crying out my pain and completion.

He thrust harder, pushing himself to his own peak. His lips moved down my throat to settle over my racing pulse. Yes. There. Right there.

"Bella…?" he whispered into my ear.

"Yes," I answered. "The answer is yes," I added. His hips stilled, though he quivered with the strain of it.

"Are you…sure?" he asked softly, his eyes tortured. I smiled and kissed him.

"Now, whatever it is, do it now."

He closed his eyes and threw back his head and thrust deeply, so deeply that I felt pain instead of pleasure. But there was joy in the suffering. Then his mouth settled over the flesh of my throat and the pain inside me from the thrust of his body into mine was overshadowed by another larger, hotter flame of agony.

I felt him swallowing against my throat even as his climax pulsed inside of me. I arched against him in pain, not fulfillment and when he pulled away he whispered, "I'm so sorry, so sorry, my love."

Then the flames took me, whisked me to a place where there was only pain and fear. From a distance, I heard him whispering words of comfort and apology. I felt his cool touch but it did nothing to alleviate the inferno that sang through every cell of my body.

I couldn't scream or cry or even move. I was held, bound and helpless by the pain.

For moments or days or years or centuries, I was wracked and flayed, burnt alive only to be reborn and thrust into the bonfire again. Endless agony, pain that had no beginning or finish – and through it all he held me and tried to comfort me.

When the flames began to die away, I was aware of his touch in a different way. I began to appreciate the subtle textures and differences in his skin. It was softer, warmer…it soothed and settled me. I heard the soft sounds of his breath, savored the fragrances that were uniquely his. The oceans and honey and almonds were illuminated in my senses, a beacon leading me home.

Then at last I opened my eyes and saw the world reborn.

He was there, more beautiful and perfect than ever.

His smile held joy and relief. "You're back," he said. "You're mine."

I held up my hand and sunlight streamed in through a window, lending a wondrous luster to my flesh. His hand reached out toward mine and our skin matched. We were beautiful. I was his equal now, his…mate.

"Yes," he murmured. "My mate, my beloved." He brushed back my hair. "I've waited so long and at last, you're here. You're mine…forever."

"Forever," I agreed. We kissed.

"I've so much to show you and tell you," Edward said with a slight smile.

He took my hand and helped me to my feet, leading me out into the sunshine…into the future he had created for us while he waited.