Epilogue

The honeymoon was already underway, and I couldn't help but worry. I knew we had every assurance that everything would work out, but the consequences were so high if they didn't. I loved her so much, the thought of her getting hurt was more than I could bear.

As we had made our plans, there were so many times I wanted to call the whole thing off. If I could convince time to just stand still for a while and keep everything exactly the same, I would have paid a dear price for the magic. But the hours had ticked forward, and the most beautiful girl in the world had walked down the aisle and into her forever.

Giving her away was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. My baby girl was going off with him to become her own woman and his wife, and all we could do was kiss her cheek and wish her luck. Ness was such a happy bride, and she was more than ready to be a wife, even though she was only ten years old. It wasn't enough time for me.

I felt like I'd missed so much, with her rapid growth and maturity. I just wished I could rock her to sleep and read her stories again. But she'd spent three years chaffing under our rules, limits, and authority. We wanted her to have a degree before she got married. She'd packed four years of college into two and a half – just so she could be with him sooner.

I was so proud of her – we both were. She had a degree in child psychology and she was planning to use her gift to work with troubled children. Sometimes I wondered what she saw in Jacob, even though he'd finished a degree in mechanical engineering and he already held the patents on two new engine prototypes. I still had a hard time reconciling his genius with his blue collar background. No, it wasn't his upbringing that bothered me. If I was honest with myself, I still held it against him that he'd tried to take Bella away from me. Instead he'd taken our little girl.

They loved each other, still. He'd fallen for her when she was just hours old, and he'd been the object of her first crush – one that never faded. We tried to make her date other boys, but she had absolutely no interest. In frustration, she'd held her palm to my face to show me how sad and dejected she was when she was out on a date I'd arranged for her. I gave up.

She was so much like her mother in her devotion. Of course I remembered that it was my abandonment that gave Jacob a chance with Bella in the first place. It was one of those things we were honest about only to ourselves. We tried not to let Ness know just how serious Jake had been about her mother, nor how close I had been to losing her to him. I don't think even Jake remembers how serious he'd been. He claims to only have loved her as a friend. He tries to convince me that even then he'd somehow known she would be the mother of his true love. His memories are not as clear as mine, and I think he really believes it.

Sometimes it's difficult to keep from remembering that painful time. For the sake of our family, I put it behind me, and smiled at any gathering. But I almost gave him my whole world, and he would have smiled triumphantly as he took it.

Coming back from Italy with Bella clinging to me, made me believe she was mine forever. I was stunned at the magnitude of her forgiveness, and how easily she accepted me back into her good graces. But everyone around her remembered what I'd done to her, and they weren't so quick to forgive. On top of that, the bitch Victoria was trying to exact some kind of twisted revenge by killing her. It seemed sometimes I just couldn't win.

It was a new experience being forced to work with the werewolves in order to protect her. In the time I was gone, she'd formed an attachment to Jacob Black, and it was painful to see it went beyond friendship. It was clear from his thoughts and actions that he loved her, and his change had sped up his maturity so he was no longer just a sixteen year-old boy. He was a man in love with the woman I loved, and I had to trust him to protect her.

The newborn war had been difficult for us all. In some ways it showed us who we could rely on and who would let us down. The werewolves were our friends, and the Denali turned their backs on us. They tried to say it was because the wolves had killed Laurant, but they'd killed him to save Bella. Their reasoning hurt me more than anyone knew. To them she was nothing, but to me she was the only thing that mattered. I had to wonder if Tanya imagined that if Bella died I would want her someday.

Even though the wolves helped us destroy Victoria and her newborn army, they turned against us when Bella became pregnant with my child. They wanted to kill it, and her too, just to protect themselves. Again Jacob Black protected her, or there could have been another war.

She was my wife, but he still didn't give up on her. He understood the concept of "all in" at a younger age than I did. And sadly she clung to his physical presence and their one-sided friendship, even up to her delivery and subsequent conversion.

It was only a month. I'd suffered torment for six months waiting for Rose to return. I'd suffered for ten years learning to let her go. But the month Bella carried my child reminded me of the Hell I'd lived, through Esme's tortured mind – only I was one of the fiends spawned within the fiery pits.

Of course it made me feel like I was a monster to see what my lust had caused. In none of our wildest imaginings could we have foreseen that she could conceive a child with me. I couldn't stand to see what she went through as she fought with everything in her to carry the baby long enough to give it life – even if it took hers. But what hurt the most was that she no longer trusted me.

Jacob had her trust, and even Rose had her trust, but I was left on the outside looking in. She was afraid I would try to put an end to the child within her. I confess, if I could have chosen between her life, and what I'd foisted upon her, I would have ended it long before her final heartbeat. My fear for her life put us in opposite corners. She never had any regard for her own safety, and when she chose her champion, it wasn't me.

It felt like familiar territory. I began to wonder if I was doomed to love women who would turn to others when it really mattered. Watching her cling to him day after day, while his thoughts spoke of his love and his lust, nearly drove me to put an end to him. But how could I do that, when clearly I was the monster – the incubus – deserving of death.

I watched as it stole the very life from her. It twisted her petite frame and even broke her bones. She didn't trust me, and clearly she didn't understand how deeply I loved her. She was everything to me. Anything that put her life and existence at risk was my enemy – even if it was my own child.

There were other ways to keep her warm, and other ways he could have been a friend. But she chose the way which hurt me the most. She said she forgave me for leaving, and she said she loved me more than anything. But I couldn't help but wonder if her choices were some kind of subconscious response to the way I'd abandoned her. Rose had claimed that by leaving I'd insured that she would never trust another man, but clearly it was me she didn't trust. At a time when we should have been clinging to one another, she clung to him. At a time when I should have been the one by her side, she chose Rose.

The birth would always be the most harrowing and joyful time in my entire existence. I'd never wanted children, and by that I mean I'd let go of any and all expectation once I was changed. I was an only child, and I was never around babies and children. Then after watching it behave as a murderous parasite draining her life, I truly had no love or desire for it to be born. If not for the tiny fluttering of it's innocent mind, I would have resisted it all the way to the end.

But when I heard her, everything changed. Once I began to love our baby, my Bella trusted me again. As simple as that, I was back in her good graces. Suddenly Jacob was on the outside, and our family was once again united.

Not that it was any less horrifying to see what was happening to her. I knew it could easily end with her death. As much as I hated it, I planned to change her if it took her life. I couldn't stand the thought of losing her, and I knew I couldn't bite the woman I loved, so I prepared the needle.

I don't think any of us were prepared for how fast it happened. It was pain and chaos, and the most horrible sight I could ever imagine. I stood on the brink of losing everything, and I had to participate in delivering my child. The delivery tore my beautiful Bella apart, and left her bathed in her own blood. I wasn't even tempted by that precious blood, as I watched the life drain out of her in dark red rivers. I heard her heart stop beating, and knew there was only one choice. In order to save her, I had to kill her.

All my noble reasons left me in those moments, and I selfishly turned her into a monster. It was the turning point of my life. It was what Rose had been trying to tell me all along. I needed to be all in, no matter what. Changing Bella did exactly that. I was all hers, and she was all mine. There was no turning back or second guessing.

In the days following her change, I began to realize I had not created a monster. She was the mother of our child, and she was my wife. She had control of her thirst, and she truly behaved as if she was always destined to be one of us. I expected a change in her personality along with the physical change, but she was the same woman I loved, only no longer fragile.

I'd feared her losing her humanity for so long, it came as a shock to see she still had such a grasp of all things human. The only thing the change did was hold a magnifying glass to everything I already knew about her. Clearly she still had a soul. Moreover, if I could concede that she had one, then I knew I too just might be redeemable. Even without her humanity, she rescued me from my belief that I was a monster.

Of course the discovery of our daughter by the Volturi created more problems for us. The Denali once again proved they were unreliable. I came to believe that what set us apart and made us different from all the others of our kind wasn't our diet, but the love we shared as a family.

I'll never forget standing on the precipice of war, knowing I could lose everything. I watched my lovely wife smile and taunt Jane across the field, knowing that she'd already blocked their first attacks. My Bella was the key to our survival that day. She made their powers useless, and she united all of us against them. Whether we won or lost, I knew we would be together forever. On the brink of war and loss, I was strangely at peace. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be; with the only woman I could ever truly love with all my heart and soul.

()()()()

After we waved goodbye and sent them on their way, we were alone. The cabin where we'd raised her was still our refuge, even though she hadn't lived there for over two years. Ness and Jacob would be living in their own home when they returned from their honeymoon. That part of our life was coming to a close. We now had an empty nest.

I watched my love change out of her wedding clothes in the huge closet. Even after our years together, sometimes the love I felt for her just took my breath away. I sat on our bed, still in my tux, with the bow tie untied and the top buttons open. I just stared at her, as she changed into something comfortable.

"What are you looking at?" She checked herself, as if she expected to see something out of place that would make me stare.

"The most beautiful woman in existence."

She returned my stare, in a way that let me know she could just as easily take off the clothes she'd just put on. My wife knew me so well... and yet there was a part of me that she'd never known. Suddenly I had an overwhelming need to share that part with her, before we took one more step into our forever.

"I want... I need to talk to you." I recognized the look of alarm on her face. I could read that face almost as easily as I could read the minds of others. "I have a story I've put off telling you. I've been afraid that you wouldn't love me if you knew." She looked almost panicked. "I mean I used to be afraid... I know better now. But it's something that happened before I met you. At first I kept it secret because I was worried that you would hate me. Then I was afraid if I told you, you'd be hurt that I kept it from you. And now it's almost a part of me." I looked into her trusting eyes as she took a seat beside me.

"I don't want anything between us. I can't hold on to the secrets anymore, no matter what I promised. I made a promise to you which is more important. Just listening to their vows today made me realize I've been keeping the wrong promise. I know you love me enough to get me through this. I just want you to know, I never meant to keep it from you, and I certainly don't want to hurt you."

Without a word, she put her arms around me, and tucked her head under my chin.

"I need you to hold me like this... and let me inside your shield so I can answer all of your questions." I felt the barrier between us stretch until I was inside. She was scared, and trying so hard to be brave. She worried that I was leaving, and I rushed to reassure her that I would never leave. Then I stared from the beginning, and told her everything.

She was quiet during the telling, but her mind was a riot. She actually laughed about my crush on Esme, and she was horrified that Carlisle would have attacked me if not for her. As I told her about Rose, she stilled. She'd heard so little of her change, and I knew everything I told her was new. I felt her shock when I told her of our first kiss, and her mind flew down the path ahead of me, immediately guessing that we'd been lovers.

Her shield snapped back in place, but she didn't let go of me. "I can't... I don't want to hear those details." She looked up at me with her sad eyes. "You're mine. You two were lovers... I get that. I think I've always known on some level. It just never made sense to me that you never even tried. She's so beautiful, and you were alone with her. But I can't hear the details – not yet anyway. Is that alright?"

I crushed her against me. It amazed me that she was more worried about what I needed rather than her own concerns. "I love you more than any thing or any one in this world. You're the love of my life, and what I felt for her can never compare."

"What happened? I mean not the part about you being lovers... what happened to change it?" I told her about living with Carlisle and Esme, and being secretive. I told her about what made her leave, and all of her accusations about how unequal we were. And I told her how broken I was when she left. She held me tight through it all.

When I told her about her return with Emmett, she gasped in horror. "It's just like when you left me. My god, it would have killed me if you found someone else and brought them back."

"I almost killed him. I'm the one who bit him, not Carlisle." She stared at me in shock.

"I should have guessed that this family would have some serious skeletons in their closet." She actually smiled at that. She was amazing.

"After I changed him, I couldn't stay. I still loved her, but she'd changed her mind. I said goodbye, and left them. I never thought I'd return, and for ten years I was on my own." I told her all the details of where I'd gone and what I'd done. She hung on my every word, up to the point where Emmett had tracked me down.

"You mean Emmett was once that innocent? That's really hard to believe." We both smiled at the thought. "Did it really take you ten years to get over her?" The question caught me off guard.

I stared at the woman I loved, and knew I'd never get over it if I lost her. "I used to think so. But now I think it took ten years for me to get over being the man she left. She broke my heart, no doubt, but I think I was really over her the day I made the promise to keep her secrets. I could never take her back after that."

I looked at her and smiled. We'd come so far together, and I was no longer the man I was back when Rose had the power to shred me emotionally. I kissed her, and she didn't hold back. She was right, I was hers.

"Bella, I didn't like myself back then. I had such a low opinion of who I was, I thought her leaving was inevitable. It didn't come as a surprise that she'd found someone better than me. The hardest part was that she wanted me to keep our past a secret. It reinforced my low opinion of myself. I felt like she was ashamed of me. I felt like I wasn't good enough for her."

"You were too good for her..." she tried to reassure me, but she was wrong.

"No. I wasn't too good... I was wrong for her, that's true. But... I was a boy then, and she needed a man. I didn't know how to relate to people, including her – especially her. I lived so much inside my head, I didn't know how to really talk to people or share myself. I was always afraid that if they knew the real me, they would find me dull and uninteresting. I needed company and approval, and lots of minds around me to drown out my own inadequate thoughts.

"When I left, I had to leave behind all the comfort and security I'd known. I was alone with myself. As much as I hated it, I needed it. I had a lot to learn, both about people and about myself. It took me ten years to finish growing up. I was so different, that when Emmett came to find me, I felt like he was intruding on my solitude. I'd never liked being alone before I left."

"Was it good between you?" She'd switched subjects on me. "I mean were you good in bed?" I could tell it was hard for her to ask.

I wouldn't lie or hide it. "We didn't use a bed at first. I took her on the ground."

"Oh." Her voice squeaked.

"She was so fragile. I mean she was brutally beaten and raped before the change, she couldn't tolerate anything that reminded her of it."

"Did you like it?" I wished she'd let me back inside her shield, but I knew she needed to get through it in her own way.

"Bella, I was a teenage boy, and she was a dream come true. Of course I liked it. I think the sex is the reason I fell in love with her" She gasped and stared at me. It was the first time I'd mentioned love as it related to Rose. "I loved her, Bella." I held my wife, and realized that what I felt for her and how I'd felt for Rose, were worlds apart. "I loved her as much as I was capable at the time; as much as an insecure, inexperienced boy could love. But what I felt for her, is nothing compared to what I feel for you."

"Would you still be with her, if she hadn't left you?" Her question tore open my wounds..

"Yes." I hated admitting it to her. "I was so empty, and needy and clingy... I wouldn't have left her. We would have suffocated each other, and I never would have become the man I wanted to be. I would have turned into her puppet, and tried to be everything she wanted. And what she wanted changed all the time."

"Well... Emmett would never be like that, for sure." She smiled weakly. "I guess I should thank her for leaving you."

"I want you to know, you didn't get her leftovers. I waited a long time for you. I wasn't willing to get involved with anyone, unless she was going to be mine forever. Rose burned me, but I learned some valuable lessons from it. I learned who I really was, and what I really wanted. And when a shy brunette with big brown eyes looked my way, I was ready to experience real and lasting love."

"Did you ever... you know... get together for old times sake?"

"God no! We are so finished, there's just no way we could ever... the very thought disgusts me."

"But she's still beautiful, and you said it was good between you..."

"I love you Bella. Rosalie is nothing more than a sister to me now. I was only with her for two months, and we've been together for ten years. There's no way I could ever think of her like that."

"Even when you left me?" Her voice was so tiny, and yet it hit me with the power of a sledge hammer. Clearly I wasn't the only one who'd been burned by someone I loved and trusted.

I couldn't pull her any closer, so I gathered her up on my lap and held her tight. "Leaving you was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. There are no words to tell you how sorry I am. I thought you would forget me and go on and live a normal human life. I didn't believe you could possibly love me as much as I loved you. I wanted to protect you from everything I was, because to me you were perfect, and there was still a part of me that believed I wasn't worthy of being loved by you."

"I thought I wasn't good enough..."

I gasped at the pain her words caused me, even after all these years. "Bella... you've always been too good for me. I was miserable without you. I was dead inside, and it took Rosalie to show me how stupid I was behaving."

"What do you mean? I thought it was Alice's vision..."

"We were already planning to come back when she saw you jump. A few days before, Rose convinced me that I was being... an ass. She argued that we should be together, no matter what, and that I wasn't saving you, but hurting you by leaving. She pointed out that I'd done to you, what she'd done to me. She knew that I'd mourn you for the rest of my life, and she believed you would do the same concerning me. I decided I had to come back, and I was going to beg you to forgive me, and do whatever it took to make things right."

"You were going to come back, even if you thought I was alive and well? Why didn't you ever tell me? I always thought I practically had to commit suicide for you to notice me!"

"Once you accepted me back, I was afraid to tell you how much you owned me. You still wanted so many things I didn't know how to give. You wanted to make love, and you wanted me to change you. I would have given you anything you asked if it meant I wouldn't lose you again.

"But I was terrified of hurting you. I was still dangerous to you, and you wanted everything immediately. I wanted to give you time. I wanted to make sure you were absolutely certain of your choices. I wanted to make sure you wouldn't turn resentful like Rosalie. I couldn't take it if you hated me."

"I could never hate you, Edward."

"I know that now. It took a long time for me to realize that love doesn't turn on you, if it's the real thing." I leaned away to look at her face. "I love you more than I ever thought was possible. You are my life, my heart, and my soul. Can you forgive me for keeping secrets?"

She kissed me softly. "There's nothing to forgive. It might mess with my mind if I think about the two of you together... but it was over a hundred years ago. I wasn't even born then. At the time it would have made sense to tell me, I was so insecure, it would have scared me. I was jealous of her beauty the first time I set eyes on her. If I'd known she was once your lover, I would have had a real hard time with it."

"What about now?"

She giggled. "Maybe we could compare notes." I groaned. "Just kidding. Really, this doesn't change a thing. We're all still family. Does Emmett know?"

"He knows, and so does Carlisle. I think Esme knows, but she doesn't really want to know. Alice and Jasper may have figured it out."

"Should I be upset that I'm the last to know?"

"They were all around at the time. It'll be good to stop keeping the secrets. I don't want there to be anything between us."

She was quiet for a while. "It's going to take a while getting used to the idea that I'm not your first love."

"Bella, you're not my first love, you're my only love. Compared to what I had with Rose, Esme was just a mild crush. Compared to what I have with you, Rose is just... a blip."

"But you were intimate with her. She broke your heart and you mourned her. That's not a blip!"

"I know all that. What I'm trying to say, is that you are so much more than all that. It's like I fell in love with Esme with my mind. I never said or did a thing to express those feelings. Then there was Rose, and I fell in love physically. But she'll tell you that we didn't connect much beyond that, and it's what tore us apart. I loved them both in those narrow ways, and I grieved when I lost them." She was listening, but I couldn't tell how she was taking it.

"Bella, you are so far beyond any of my previous experiences. I love you for all I know about you with my mind, and I love you physically to the point I hunger for you even now that your blood isn't an issue, and I love you emotionally, and I love you spiritually, as you hold my soul. Without the love we share, I would be nothing – you're a part of me. There's no greater proof of that than the life we created together. You are my first love. You are my last love. And you are my only love. I may have kept secrets, but I never lied to you."

She got up off my lap, and I was momentarily afraid it was so she could get away from me. She took my hand with a shy smile, and lead me from our bedroom, into the main room of the cabin. I was surprised to see it wasn't still dark outside. We'd been up talking all through the night. The sun was just coming up on a bright June day.

She opened the door, and lead me out onto the front step. "Bella, where are we going? Please tell me you're not about to confront her, are you?"

She looked surprised that I'd suggest something like that. "No. I want to go to our meadow."

I went along with her a ways, as our fingers were laced together. "Why?"

She smiled over her shoulder at me. "I think you know why." I sifted through our long conversation for a clue, and then it hit me. I'd made love to Rose on the ground.

"Bella... you don't have anything to prove to me. We don't have to do this..."

"I want to." She let go of my hand suddenly, and ran. Of course I chased her. We both knew the way, and I could have easily caught her, but the sound of her laughter kept me from overtaking her. When we were close, I almost stumbled over her discarded T-shirt. I followed a trail of shed clothing, and as I entered the clearing, I saw a perfect vision of a wood nymph. She glittered in a shaft of early morning sunlight, which bathed her white skin in it's yellow glow. She took my breath away, as she turned to look my way.

Step by step, I approached her, shedding my own clothes as I drew near. When we both stood in the light, we were shamelessly naked, and I was so aroused I wanted to pounce on her immediately. But instead I stared into her eyes. I waited for her, and when she put her hand on my chest, I gasped.

"I love you, Edward Cullen. Nothing is ever going to change that." She smiled mischievously. "But now that we no longer have to be respectable parents, I am going to do some very wicked things with you." With that, she put her arms around my neck and lifted herself up and wrapped her legs around me. I felt her wetness briefly rub against me, before she impaled herself on me with a guttural cry that inflamed my desire.

Our strength made what we did effortless, and I loved the feeling of having her wrapped around me as I possessed her. The way she moved drove me crazy, and even with perfect strength and stamina, she was making my knees weak I dropped first to my knees, then laid her back on the tall grasses.

Suddenly I had freedom to move with her, and not just hold her. I possessed her body, as I stared down at her vulnerable face. She didn't have to prove anything to me, but I could tell she was thinking about me and Rose together on the ground. I kissed her, capturing her lips with mine, as I held her so tight our bodies were one, all but our limbs. My slow, measured hip movements rubbed against her most sensitive spot, and I could feel her pleasure, simmering to a slow boil that would erupt in her passionate release.

In our years together I'd learned her body as well as I knew my own, and I knew exactly what I was doing to her. I released her mouth and smiled at her, remembering just how much I loved her. She was exquisite, even with grass in her tousled hair. I could feel the morning dew on her skin and my legs, and her hands moved over the back of me.

"I'm glad you wanted to come here. This is where I fell in love with you. Just holding your hand was more than I dreamed of, and our first kiss made me yours forever."

I moved within her, pulling away just enough to give us both a little more friction. She gasped as my body demanded her attention. "You're mine, darling. There's no one else in this whole world for me but you. If I was ever foolish enough to believe differently, it was only because I lived in a world without you in it.

I could see she was overwhelmed, but whether it was from my words or our lovemaking, I wasn't sure.

"Don't stop, Edward... oh please!" She wrapped her legs around me, and stretched her shield to include me. I could suddenly feel her pleasure, like sparks leaping from her mind to mine. It was too much, and suddenly I was immersed in sensations that demanded more from me than I normally gave her. With no limits or restraint I took her with a frenzied passion that made her scream. My movements pushed her along the dewy grass, as I sought to get even closer to her – even more within her.

The sounds we made were more like animals; panting, grunting, growling, gasping, and the cries of overwhelming pleasure. We rode the crest of our mutual release, and we both gave voice to our satisfied lust. But her thoughts were of love. She loved me so deeply, and her desire was to purge any and all memories of other women from me forever. She knew without a doubt that when I thought of making love on the ground, I'd remember this moment.

I didn't keep quiet. I never wanted there to be a question of how I felt for her. "I love you, Bella... I love you... love you...you and only you. Always and forever." Our bodies recovered from their climax, with both of us enjoying the little spasms and pulses. I smiled down at her and heard her mental bliss wash through me.

When I finally pulled away, we rested on the grass, side by side. We stared up at the sky, and she reached out to hold my hand. I'd had ten years to get used to that touch, but it was no less wondrous than the first time. It meant I would never be alone. I looked over at her to see she was staring at me. I didn't need to read her mind. I knew her. Her look spoke of trust, honesty, commitment, contentment, fulfillment, and belonging.

She loved me unconditionally – the same way I loved her.

A/N: I really enjoyed throwing a cold bucket of reality into this story. Truly I don't expect to please everyone, and I'm a little wary of trying. My old author's notes apologized for this pairing, but I'm actually really proud of this story.

I'm not going to apologize for having a vulnerable young man fall for a beautiful and damaged young woman. I'm not even going to apologize for his keeping it all a secret and in a sense, lying to his "true love" about her being his first love.

You see, this is rated M, and it's not just for sex. I expect a mature reader to be able to discern the difference between fantasy and reality. Twilight is fantasy. This story is to Twilight what Wicked is to Wizard of Oz - we're not in Kansas anymore.

In reality, a seventeen year old boy will take sex with a beautiful blond woman when it's freely offered. Unless as my son claims, Edward is gay. The secrets he keeps from Bella are just one more way he tries to protect her. He knows what such knowledge would do to her insecure little self. If I did a disservice to any character, it was Esme. I really don't see her as being that clueless, but all we see of her in the books is her mothering.

So, did I help you put aside preconceived notions about acceptable pairings?