Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
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Crete - an island off the Greek coast
From across the dusty, narrow road Edward watched the crowd of students as they straggled towards the bus that had University of Athens printed on its side. They were tired but laughing, rucksacks slung over their shoulders. Some girls looked up and saw him, and wondered about the stranger sitting astride the sleek, silver Ducati motorbike. They were curious about the face beneath the full helmet with the blacked out visor. They admired the shoulders in the black leather jacket and the thighs that straddled the body of the bike, one booted foot on the ground for balance. They thought he must feel so hot, sitting so covered up in the early afternoon sun.
But the thoughts barely made a dent in Edward's consciousness - he was too focused on watching and listening for Bella.
Edward was early. It was only Thursday and Bella wasn't expecting him until Friday night when she was supposed to meet him at Athens airport with her bags and they would take a taxi to the villa he had rented for them for the next eight weeks.
She certainly wasn't expecting him to be here, on the small Greek island of Crete, at the fenced-off University dig site, where she had been studying ancient civilisations for the past two weeks.
But the early arrival was just part of his surprise.
The students began boarding the bus. The supervisor hurried them along - if they didn't leave in ten minutes they would miss the overnight ferry back to the mainland. It's like herding cats, the flustered supervisor thought.
The line of students that snaked around behind the bus began to gradually move forward, the supervisor checking each person off a list and asking if they'd returned their equipment to the site office before he'd let them on the bus.
Edward began taking more notice of the students' thoughts, trying to find Bella in them somewhere...sleep...food...assignment...sex...homesick...ferry...sunburn...but then he saw her. She came around from behind the bus, at the end of the line.
Beneath his visor Edward smiled.
Beneath the leather his body stirred.
It had been two weeks since he'd seen her, but it felt like two years. Two centuries.
He wanted to run and engulf her in his arms. He wanted to feel her in his hands and with his lips.
He wanted to bury himself inside her and stay there until the world stopped spinning.
He ached just to hold her hand.
He knew he would have to settle for a wave.
His eyes made a quick inventory and except for a small, superficial graze on her ankle, she was in one, perfect piece.
The sun had kissed her skin and in her tank top and denim shorts Edward realised he'd never seen so much of her body outside the privacy of his home, or hers.
She looked good.
So, so good.
He still couldn't believe she was his.
Couldn't believe that she'd said yes...to him.
Sometimes, late at night as she slept and he watched over her, he wondered about the miracle his life had become. Sometimes, in the very dark corners of his mind, he wondered if it was too good to be true.
Bella was talking with another girl, talking about what they would do when they got back to Athens. Bella's hair was in a ponytail, some stray strands had come loose and she pushed them back behind her ear. The engagement ring on her finger glistened in the sunlight. Edward smiled. Suddenly Bella looked up and straight towards him - it was almost as if he'd called her name.
The other girl was still talking, hoping the beds in the college dormitories would be comfortable, and Bella was nodding politely but her focus had changed now as she stared across the road. Faintly, through the helmet, Edward could hear the faster beating of her heart.
Edward lifted his hand - it wasn't quite a wave. Bella began biting her lip as she watched him. She excused herself from her friend and began to walk slowly, hesitantly, towards him. He smiled to himself as he watched her and cocked his head to his shoulder. And suddenly, at the gesture that was oh-so-familiar, even in a helmet, Bella was running.
And Edward was grinning.
He got off the bike, ran across the road towards her and caught her as she laughed and squealed and launched herself into his arms.
Edward was grinning. And happy. So happy.
Bella's thighs were pressed against, hugging him. Her arms were around his waist and her body was pressed against his back as the bike flew over the narrow, winding coast roads. With the speed, and the wind he felt powerful and free. With Bella curled around him he felt loved.
The afternoon sun was sparkling on the sapphire water and bouncing off the white, pebbly beaches. She was wearing the helmet and jacket he had stowed for her in the saddle packs of the bike. Every now and then he would hear her laugh, he'd feel it vibrating against him...and he would laugh too.
"Where are we going?" she shouted over the roar of the bike, knowing he would hear. But he didn't answer because he knew she wouldn't be able to hear him, not properly. So he pointed - up ahead where the cliffs jutted out from the beach.
"Are we staying here? On the island?" she shouted.
He nodded, the black helmet moving up and down.
He felt her legs squeeze tighter. Edward flexed his thigh muscles in return. She laughed and shouted that she loved him.
Edward flexed again in answer.
After a few more miles he slowed the bike and steered it off the road. He maneuvered it carefully along a dirt track that sloped downwards, through dense patches of trees and scrub. Closer to the beach the land began to flatten out and an attractive, white-washed villa appeared.
Edward shut off the engine and the bike was still. They were alone, no-one around for miles, and he took off his helmet. He twisted around on the seat to smile at Bella, a full, wide, brilliant smile, but she wasn't smiling back.
She was busy struggling with her own helmet.
Her fingers were scrambling and jerking and in a moment she would be pulling her head right off. Edward tried not to laugh as he lifted her visor.
"Need some help?"
She growled at him. He did laugh now but he climbed off the bike, helped her off too, and gently pushed her hands aside so he could carefully ease the helmet over her face and away Her hair was a mess and she huffed an exaggerated breath, blowing the strands out of her face. Then she grinned.
"Hi," she said and suddenly she seemed almost shy.
"Hi," Edward whispered, his eyes devouring her again.
In the dappled shade of the trees the sun was glinting off his skin. He pulled off his gloves quickly and dropped them on the ground in his haste now to touch Bella's skin. More gently, he took her gloves off too, took her hands, touched her face, pressed his lips to hers.
Then he kissed her like the starving man he was.
She wrapped her arms around him, her fingers wove through his hair. He sighed and groaned and couldn't get close enough, his hands were everywhere...over her back, her hips, in her hair...
"I missed you," she gasped
"Missed you too," he breathed as his lips blazed a path over her throat and up to her jaw.
But then Edward pulled back a little, took a calming breath or two as he tucked Bella under his chin.
"So, what's the story?" Bella asked, still breathless from his welcome. "I wasn't expecting to see you until tomorrow night. In Athens."
"Are you disappointed?"
She snorted. "Bitterly."
Edward chuckled and hugged her tighter.
"I thought I'd surprise you," he said.
"With the bike?"
"You said you wanted to ride one. You told me in the garage in Vermont, remember?"
"I remember," she grinned up at him. "Thank you."
"So? What did you think?" he beamed down at her.
"What did I think? Edward..." she seemed momentarily speechless. Then the words came tumbling. "It was fantastic, incredible! The world seems so different, so close or something, it was...it was fantastic."
Edward was laughing. "I'm glad you liked it."
She was laughing too as she looked at the bike and then at the white-washed building that overlooked the sea. And then back at Edward.
"But, do you want to tell me exactly what's going on? You do remember I'm starting classes in Athens on Monday morning?"
Edward took her hand to his lips, kissed her knuckles then her palm.
"I've rented the apartment in Athens," he said. "It's ready for us now, the key is in my pocket...but you being in Crete gave me an idea."
She blinked up at him. "Hang on, when did you get here, and how did you get here?"
"Here, Crete? Or here, Greece?" he smiled. He knew Bella always like to have things straight and clear
"Arrived in Athens last night. Then I took a charter flight here to Crete early this morning. I've been in the airport, out of the sun, waiting until I knew you'd be finishing up at the site.
"Organised and delivered ahead of time. It was waiting for me at the airport."
"You've avoided the sun? How have you managed?"
"Carefully." He shrugged. It had been a tricky process, but well worth it. "I've gone from building to building either by night or under awnings by day. And then finally the helmet."
"Okay..." she said nodding, clearly processing. "Okay. Now...what idea?"
Edward smiled. "This," he said and made a sweeping motion towards the house and the view beyond. "I thought here we could spend some time together...in the sun."
Bella seemed confused, but her eyes had lit up and Edward could see the start of excitement there and encouraged by this, he continued.
"This part of the island is quite remote. The position of the villa means it can't be seen at all from the road. The beach is small and very private, the cliffs either side protect it from view, and if anyone does come near, I'll know." He smiled and tapped his temple.
Bella was smiling too. "You can come out in the sun?"
She laughed and hugged him hard. "And are we here for the whole weekend?"
"And every weekend, if you want. I've rented the house for the next eight weeks."
Bella looked slightly stunned. "As well as the apartment in Athens?"
She took a step back from him and Edward could feel the beginnings of tension in his shoulders.
"You rented this for eight weeks, just so we can use it at weekends?" she clarified, staring at him. He nodded and pulled her close again, his arms tightening around her waist - she'd been too far away for too long. "As well as an apartment in Athens?"
"Apartment for during the week. While you're studying. As we'd agreed."
"But Edward..." her voice was incredulous. "That would..."
"Be fantastic…" he whispered, finishing her sentence for her, stopping the protest about cost and extravagance that he was sure was coming.
She blinked at him.
"I was going to say that would cost a fortune."
"Then it's a good thing I have a fortune," he countered.
There was silence. She was leaning back against his arms, hands on his biceps, wide-eyed as she studied him. And then suddenly she was smiling. And the smile became a giggle.
"You're right, it is fantastic," she said. "Thank you, thank you." And she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek, his jaw. "You're spoiling me. What am I going to do with you?"
"I could think of a few things," he said and turned his face to catch her lips.
He held her hand as he took her through the villa. He had spent hours searching the internet for the perfect property.
The villa was open and spacious, with tiled floors and large windows that caught the light and brought it inside. The furniture was minimal but stylish and comfortable.
The kitchen was well-equipped and Edward had paid the rental agents to stock the cupboards and the fridge for them. It flowed, open-plan style, into the living area which led onto a large, paved terrace that overlooked the sea. From there a path led down to their own secluded beach.
Bella stood outside in the sun, watching the light dance over the water. She pulled her hand through her hair and the sun caught her ring again. Edward smiled again - he didn't get to see it do that in Chicago. He smiled some more and while Bella looked out over the sea, watching the light dance on the water, he remembered the night he proposed.
After Bella had told Edward she wanted to put it in writing and sign her name he had thought of sending to Vermont for his mother's ring. He had kept the ring, along with some other precious things from his human time – his father's tie pin and matching cufflinks and his mother's diamond brooch. But as he'd prepared to call Carlisle and ask for it to please be sent, he hesitated. The ring was special to him, it had been his mother's, but this life with Bella was a new beginning…she should have her own ring, he decided. He would find another occasion for her to have his mother's ring.
He still made the call to Carlisle, but he asked for the brooch instead. Then that evening, while Bella had been reading and Edward had been writing an assignment, he'd asked her quite casually, without even looking up from his laptop, what gemstone was her favourite.
From the corner of his eye he saw her look up, puzzled, and then a slow smile started to creep across her lips.
"Garnet," she said and her answer was just as casual as his question. She looked back at her book but now Edward was puzzled. He looked at her over his laptop.
"Really? Not diamonds or rubies or emeralds?"
Bella shook her head, keeping her eyes on her book. He might have been asking her if she thought it might rain.
"I like the colour of garnets," she said as she turned a page. "It's warm and rich and deep." Then she turned her head slightly and met his gaze, her eyes twinkling. "Why do you ask, Edward?"
His eyes twinkled back. "Just wondered, Bella."
Then they'd both gone back to what they were doing, secret smiles on their faces.
So the following Saturday while she had been at work he had visited a jeweller, chosen a square garnet with colour that was warm and rich and deep, and instructed that it be set low in a delicate circle of rose gold filigree with the small diamonds from his mother's brooch studding the band.
The result was stunning.
The following Saturday when Edward had collected the ring from the jeweller he decided he couldn't wait to give it to Bella. All his plans for romantic evenings, candlelight, roaring fires, forests of flowers, flew out the window. The ring was burning a hole in his pocket. His face almost hurt from his grin.
He had picked Bella up from work and instead of driving home he'd gone to Garfield Park where they'd taken a shy walk on that first date. The soft light of dusk was all around them as he'd led her, almost running now in his excitement, to a secluded alcove of trees that overlooked the ornamental lake
As Edward came to a stop in the alcove Bella was curious, but laughing, asking what they were doing there and why was he grinning like the Cheshire Cat and why had they been running?
"Can't wait," he told her.
"Can't wait for what?"
And then his grin, his expression, faded from excitement into something else. Something intense and pure. He began to slowly sink to one knee as he looked up through his lashes, deep into Bella's eyes, letting her see his heart, his soul. Bella gasped, her hand had flown to her mouth and her eyes had filled.
But as Edward pulled the ring from his pocket all his words deserted him. His prepared speech was gone. Instead, there was only feeling, crashing over him, and he was suddenly overcome by this incredible moment that he had never thought would be his.
He felt the burn behind his eyes. His fingers started to shake as he'd taken Bella's trembling hand. His fancy speeches gone, he spoke what was in his heart and his voice was thick and raw as he told her simply that he loved her more than his own life and asked if she would do him the very great honour of marrying him.
Of course Bella said yes.
And Edward slid the ring onto her finger.
She flung her arms around his neck while he picked her up and swung her around and then kissed her until the sky grew dark and the stars appeared, sparkling like the diamonds in her ring, and lighting up the night sky.
"It's a beautiful ring," she'd whispered later as she'd laid in his bed, in his arms, flushed and smiling from their lovemaking.
"The diamonds were my mother's," he'd explained, touching them gently with his finger as she'd held up her hand. "From the brooch my father gave her the day I was born."
Bella had been speechless. She'd gasped softly and looked from him to her ring but had no words, and Edward kissed away the single tear that fell down her cheek and which told him what was in her heart.
"It's perfect," she whispered when she found her voice again, looking now from the ring back to him. "Perfect."
Now, two months later and thousands of miles away, Edward watched her as Bella took in the view, holding out her hand for him to join her.
"You're sure it's okay here? No-one will see?"
"No-one will see," he said. "And if anyone comes exploring I'll know." He tapped his temple as he stepped into the sun and lit up the whole terrace. Bella's eyes were like saucers.
"I'll never get used to it," she whispered then met his eyes. "I'll never get used to you."
For a second, as he took her hand, Edward was unsure.
"Is that a good thing?"
"That's a very good thing," she said and kissed his cheek. "It's fantastic being here, thank you."
"My pleasure." He kissed her cheek, sweetly and chastely, though he felt anything but chaste.
She watched the prisms of light as they danced rainbows on his skin. She turned his hand this way and that. She kissed his palm. She kissed him.
"Is there more of the house to see?" she whispered.
"There's the bedroom."
"Will you show me?"
He'd thought she would never ask.
The bedroom was big and white with a huge canopy bed and a white downy quilt. There were french doors that caught the view before leading onto another smaller, private terrace.
"This is beautiful," Bella breathed, standing at the french doors. "So beautiful."
Edward came behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck. She tilted her head and sighed and he quietly reveled in the bliss of being with her again, being in the same country, the same space, feeling her in his arms.
His hands began to wander.
So did hers.
He peeled her out of her clothes, and his, and they fell onto the huge bed, the downy quilt billowing up around them. He stroked her and kissed her and whispered his love as she sighed and moaned and whispered too. Touched him too. His body covered hers, she took him in and he tried to be slow, he wanted this sweet reunion to last, he wanted her to feel...and himself to savour...but it had been two weeks.
And she was whimpering for more.
So he gave her more, bringing blessed relief quickly for both of them until he collapsed beside her, panting, and pulled her trembling body tight into his arms.
"Wow," she smiled, breathless and shiny, her skin glistening against his. Edward smiled too - he liked the 'wow's'.
"You missed me," she murmured and locked her legs around him.
"Maybe. Just a bit," he joked, and let himself be locked. "I missed you more than there are words to explain," he whispered, smiling, into her ear.
"Same. I just wish I had your words," she whispered back and kissed him, slowly now, and Edward melted into her, his heart and soul singing and sighing.
He was home.
He might have been on an island off the Greek coast, but in Bella's arms he was home.
"So," he said a little later, trailing lazy fingers over her chest, down to her stomach, circling her belly button. "Tell me about your two weeks. What have you been doing since I waved you off at the airport?"
She laughed. "Do you really need to ask?"
Edward chuckled too. They had been in contact every day. Texts, emails, phone calls. She'd sent him photos of the dig site and her tent and the small piece of pottery she'd dug out of the ground. Just the night before he'd received a photo of her and some other students smashing plates in a restaurant – our last night, her accompanying message had said – celebrating Greek style.
He had sent her photos of her house plant. To prove he was taking proper care of it and it was still alive. He had dropped it off at Mandy's apartment the day he flew out. And there had been another photo of him at a baseball game with Rex, to prove he wasn't turning into a hermit without her there. And one he'd taken of himself, sitting against a tree, post-hunt. Slightly disheveled, his eyes their brightest gold, almost iridescent, from the first rush of blood in his system. It was the closest she would ever see him in his hunting state while she was human. It was the most he could share. And there had been another photo, an image of his left hand as it fanned over the keys of his piano...playing your song...his message had said. Her reply had come back almost instantly...I'm listening :)
His finger made more circles around her belly button. He bent his head and his lips followed the fingertip path.
"So did you enjoy the dig?" he murmured against her skin, his voice soft beneath her giggles. He lifted his head and joined her again on the pillows.
"It was great," she answered. "I've met some really nice people, but I don't think it's my thing so much."
She shook her head and lifted his hand, running her fingers back and forth between his. Edward watched her as she watched their hands. "I know a lot of anthropology is in the field," she said. "Visiting communities, studying people, digging up the past to get a fix on the way people used to live...but I think I might be more interested in the more modern studies...looking at how people are shaping the world now."
"Yeah." She let go his hand and pulled his head onto her chest and hugged him there, cocooning him. She pulled her fingers through his hair and Edward was practically purring. "I like the theory behind anthropology," she said softly while Edward's eyes slowly closed and his breathing deepened. "I like unraveling the puzzle. And essentially I think I'd be happy doing the quieter stuff, the research, putting the pieces together...I don't feel the need to be out in the field searching for lost tribes."
"Are there any lost tribes left?"
"If we knew that, they wouldn't be lost tribes, Edward." She rolled her eyes and he chuckled softly from his paradise between her breasts. "I was thinking that the work I want to do I could do out of a museum or a university." Her hands tugged gently on his hair and he looked up at her, his eyes almost drowsy now, he was so relaxed. "And that would work for later, wouldn't it? When I'm like you?"
He gave her a lazy, sleepy sort of smile. "It would work, yes," he said. But if his smile was lazy his heart was swelling...filling with joy at the way she was planning for their future.
Bella nodded now, as if that was all sorted then, and Edward nestled back into place.
They stayed like that for a while, talking softly, touching, re-acquainting, but when Bella's stomach rumbled Edward untangled himself from her, kissed her sweetly, and left the bed.
"Have you eaten lunch?" he asked.
"Yeah, but it feels like ages ago now." She struggled onto her elbows and he could feel her eyes on him as he pulled on his jeans and nothing else.
Edward had never thought much about his body, his good looks - it was just part of the vampire lure, an enticement for human victims - but he felt differently these days. He stretched, clenching his fists and stretching his arms upwards, letting his body lengthen and his muscles define. He listened to Bella's heart as it quickened - and he found that he was glad she found him physically beautiful. He was glad his body pleased her.
"Are you showing off?" she rolled her eyes as her cheeks coloured.
"Are you complaining?"
"Not at all." She kicked off the sheet and gave a surprisingly elegant stretch of her own. "Are you?"
If Edward's heart could beat it would have come through his chest wall. The sight of her...and he loved that she felt so open with him, so confident, not shy.
Definitely not seventeen anymore.
"Touche," he whispered, smiling, and then he went to make her something to eat.
While Edward cooked, Bella unpacked her bag so she could put the small washing machine to work. She sat on the tiled floor and sorted lights from darks and then suddenly looked up and around her. "Where's the rest of our stuff?"
Edward had suggested in Chicago that she just to pack for her two weeks without him and he would bring the rest of her things when he followed.
"Already in Athens," he answered as he chopped onions so fast that the knife was a blur. "I stopped by the apartment before I came here and dropped the luggage. I just brought some things for the weekend...they're in a backpack in the saddle bag of the bike."
Bella nodded. "You brought my dress for the Celebration Dinner?"
"I did. And my tuxedo." He smiled and she frowned. "Oh come on," he said. "It won't be that bad."
When Bella had sent in her acceptance for her position in the summer scholarship program she had received back a packet of information giving her all the information she needed - including the details of the Celebration Dinner, held on the last night of the course. The dinner was attended by members of the Univeristy faculty and students of the various different programs that had run over the summer. It wasn't compulsory to attend, but the dress code was formal if you did. It would be held in the University's Great Hall, and after the meal there would be dancing and without her saying as much Edward knew this was her main concern. The frown was still on her face.
"You dance well," he encouraged. "You've got some good moves now and if you're nervous just pretend we're at home and we've rolled back the rug." She smiled at that and he was glad - he really wanted to take her to the dance.
Edward knew it would seem silly these days, but in his human time taking a girl to a formal dance was a very big deal. And he and Bella had never had prom, though he suspected if he'd stuck around in Forks and asked her she would have said no. Or would have said yes and then been miserable. So he was looking forward to taking her to the Celebration Dinner, to whirling her around the dance floor, him dressed up in his tuxedo and her in the blue silk dress she'd bought specially.
And there was something else he was looking forward to.
In the hidden, internal pocket of his backpack was a small, faded velvet box. In that box was his mother's ring. He wanted Bella to have it and he had wondered for some time about when and how to give it to her. A future anniversary gift? A present for next Christmas? Just one day out of the blue? But when he learned of the Celebration Dinner he was decided. He would give it to her on the occasion of their first formal dance. It would look beautiful on her.
He smiled to himself now and thought how sometimes he was still very much a product of 1918.
"You won't let me fall, will you?" Bella asked suddenly over the small pile of dirty laundry.
She sat on the terrace, on one of the sun lounges, eating the salad he'd made. He lolled on the lounge beside hers, sparkling.
His eyes fell on the graze on her ankle.
"How did you hurt your ankle?"
"Fell in a hole. My boots were off."
Edward frowned. He reached out and took her foot in his hand, running his thumb gently over the scuffed skin. The graze was clean, the new flesh was pink.
"When did you do it?"
She cocked her head, screwed up her face, thinking. "Three days ago?"
He turned her ankle this way and that, then nodded and set her foot back down. "It's healing well. No swelling, no redness."
She rolled her eyes. "Yes Dr Cullen." She wriggled her toes.
He smirked and lay back down with his arm thrown casually over his face, enjoying the sun, soaking up the heat like a lizard on a rock.
"You have two medical degrees…" Bella mused around her lettuce.
"Have you ever thought of practicing, like Carlisle?"
He peeked out at her from under his arm. "It's the blood thing, Bella. Carlisle is much older than me, he's had more time to develop control."
"You're very controlled."
"Not as much as him."
He shook his head.
"Really? You sat with me in the hospital while they took blood from my arm."
"That was different."
She was studying him closely now, he could feel her eyes as he hid under his arm.
"Was that hard for you?" she asked quietly, almost timidly. Edward's jaw tightened at the memory he wanted to forget.
"It was hard, but not for the reason you think." He shifted his arm and looked at her again. "You were upset, and frightened, that's what troubled me."
She blinked. "Not the smell of my blood? Because that was before I was on the pill so it would have been full strength then."
He snorted. "Full strength," he grinned. "I like that. You make it sound like alcohol." Though perhaps it wasn't a bad analogy – she was intoxicating after all. He sat up and faced her. "It was full strength, and you were frightened so there was adrenalin pumping around your body too, and that intensifies the scent. Your heart was beating fast, your eyes were panicked. I held my breath and held your hand…but it wasn't the scent…it was your fear, I just didn't want you to be frightened."
Bella's eyes filled. "Thank you," she mouthed.
Edward smiled. "You're welcome," he said and laid back down on his sun lounge. "But I don't know if I could do that for someone else. A stranger."
Bella popped a cherry tomato into her mouth.
"I think you could," she mumbled. "Because my blood has such a strong effect on you, and if you could resist that, then…"
He shrugged. "It's not worth the risk."
"You were very good with Renee and her ankle." Bella said casually. Edward looked again at Bella's own grazed ankle and wondered about the genetics involved there. "You were so good with her."
"There was no blood. And she's your mother. I was hardly going to do nothing after she'd just fallen down your stairs."
Renee had visited not long after Bella and Edward announced their engagement. She had been delighted to meet Edward at last, having heard about him from Charlie and a little from Bella and when she shook his hand her thoughts had been curious and puzzled but overall impressed. Over the course of her four days in Chicago Renee had watched Edward closely and found the way he treated her daughter, the way he looked at her, was like nothing she'd ever seen.
"Definitely a keeper," she'd whispered to Bella more than once. "He loves you. I can see, he's in this for the long haul."
"Very long haul," Bella had smiled to herself and murmured too softly for her mother to hear. But Edward had heard and winked at her.
"You were amazing," Bella was recalling now. "She fell down the stairs, dislocated the ankle that hadn't long been out of plaster, was absolutely beside herself, and I didn't know what to do but you sat with her, you calmed her, you…" she shook her head like she couldn't explain. "You did that thing with your hands that made it right again." She was twisting her hands back and forth in opposite directions, like she was frantically trying to open a jar.
"I realigned her talocrural joint."
"Exactly," Bella declared, as if that was what she was going to say all along. "You did that, and I bet she didn't even feel a thing when you did it."
Renee had been in pain, crying, certain her ankle was broken again, and then completely shocked when the pain had suddenly disappeared beneath Edward's expert fingers.
"And you carried her back upstairs and strapped it. And you were so soothing, telling her it would be alright, your voice calmed her, you even joked with her about still being able to audition for So You Think You Can Dance."
"What is this all about, Bella?" he smiled at her. "Are you suggesting I should become a doctor? I'm part-way through becoming an engineer."
"That's this time around," she grinned then shrugged. "I just think with those degrees, and your heightened abilities, and yourcompassion…" she emphasised the word and he chuckled. "I think you'd be great as a doctor…just like Carlisle. Maybe you're not ready right now, but in the future." She shrugged. "That's all."
Bella went back to eating.
Edward started thinking.
Edward admired Carlisle immeasurably. He admired his control, his compassion, and his chosen path, and the thought of following in his footsteps was something Edward always thought of as unattainable. Something he couldn't even consider. Something he wasn't good enough for...until Bella's words right now.
And the thought was intriguing.
Maybe he was good enough.
He stared at the sea, thinking of the compassion that had grown and supplanted his cool indifference. Thinking how his attitude to humans had changed since he'd decided to be a better man for Bella.
Thinking how he'd beaten the pull of the most potent blood there was.
"Did you do hospital rounds when you were studying?" Bella's question broke through his thoughts. "Did they make you practice things on patients? Bandage wounds, take blood?"
"I always skipped those days," Edward answered. "And I just forged the paperwork later."
Bella gasped now, shocked. She sat up and stared at him. Some of her cherry tomatoes rolled off her plate.
"What?" Edward blinked at her, sitting up too and trying to get a handle on her expression.
"You skipped the practical and then forged your paperwork? You cheated?"
Edward blinked some more, then started to laugh.
"After all the things you know about me, Bella, that shocks you?"
She nodded dumbly, her mouth still open, the tomatoes still rolling across the terrace.
"Oh, Bella…" Edward reached across and rumpled his hand through her hair. "You surprise me at every turn."
She tried to look disapproving. "You can't get round me that easily. You cheated."
"Yep. In 1947 and 1973." He got off his sun lounge and crouched beside hers, kissing her sweetly. "Wanna go for a swim?"
"Changing the subject?" She arched a brow and Edward smirked a little.
"And you're not going to say I should wait for an hour after eating?"
He shook his head. "Nope. If you sink I'll just give you mouth-to-mouth." He winked. "As you've just pointed out, I have two medical degrees, after all."
"Yeah, but you didn't do the practical."
He kissed her again. "The mouth-to-mouth practical, I have."
"Touche," she smiled and went to get into her swim suit.
They'd never been in the water together before, except for the baths, of course.
Edward tossed Bella into the air, carefully, and laughed as she'd hit the water and come up spluttering, laughing too, and telling him he was going to get it now. She chased him and his legs sliced through the water like it was air while she stumbled and heaved herself as though wading through molasses...but he still let her catch him.
They played piggy back games, with her trying to hold on while he tried to shake her off. Of course, he didn't shake very hard, and he never wanted her off anyway, so she always won.
They swam out a little way, easy strokes, arm over arm, enjoying the sun and warm water.
He showed off, doing fancy somersaults and dives while she rolled her eyes and laughed and sometimes clapped him. And often splashed him.
He teased her with seaweed, chasing her with it along the sand and pebbles. But she got him back later, rubbing a clump of the rubbery green leaves over his head as soon as he surfaced from one of his dives.
He laid on his back, floating, smiling at the sky. She laid on his chest, along his body, her legs dangling between his in the water, using him like her own floating sun-lounge with her eyes closed and her cheek resting warm over his heart. His hands rested tenderly on her back. Together their feet moved slowly, making circles in the sea, keeping them buoyant - keeping them afloat.
When the breeze came up and Bella's skin pebbled Edward immediately swam them to shore. The day was coming to a close and after showers and dinner they curled up together on one of the sun lounges on the terrace and watched the sky shift from gold to purple to indigo then black with silver.
Under the stars, Bella fell asleep in Edward's arms.
In the morning Edward was squeezing oranges by hand in the kitchen while Bella sat on the sofa casting an eye over some of her notes from the past two weeks. She had to submit a summary of the dig on Monday morning.
He was smiling as he watched her. He wanted to kiss away the frown of concentration as she studied the pages in her hands and made occasional notes on a separate page. On the small, tiled coffee table in front of her his phone sat and he saw the screen light up just a millisecond before it began to vibrate.
"Argh!" Bella startled, then laughed, then asked Edward if he wanted her to pick up because he was up to his elbows in orange peel.
"Thanks," he said, assuming it was one of his family. But the hair on the back of his neck began to prickle when Bella just stared at the screen with a blank expression on her face.
"Edward, who is Tanya?"
Suddenly Edward was rooted to the spot, the half an orange in his hand mashed into pulp as his fist went into a lightning clench. Juice squirted across the counter and dripped onto his foot. Bella was watching him now, her eyes wide and curious, waiting for him to answer while he assessed her expression and considered what wrong, misleading double entendre's Tanya's message might hold. Or, dear God no, she hadn't sent a photo? Had she? She did that sometimes, to entice, or to shock maybe...he never responded, he always deleted them. He took a slow breath now.
"Remember me telling you about the Denali coven in Alaska?" He'd mentioned them in general terms but hadn't detailed Tanya's pursuit of him.
"I remember. There are five of them, right? Vegetarians like you?"
"That's right. Tanya is one of the five."
He chucked the ruined orange in the bin, turned on the tap, rinsed his hands and dried them slowly on the dishtowel. Bella seemed calm, puzzled maybe, and Edward wondered if that was good. "What does she say?" He suddenly realised his reaction might have been worse than the message.
"Nothing much." Bella looked back at the screen and read... "'Heard your news from Esme, we all send our congratulations...so happy for you. And a motorbike too? In Greece? You'll have fun...remember Eagle? By the Yukon?'"
Bella looked up at him again. "You told me you had a bike in the fifties. Did you go riding with Tanya?"
"Just once. I had the bike, they came to visit, she'd never ridden and wanted to see what it was like so I took her for a ride one night. Her sisters too. We were living near a town called Eagle. On the Yukon River."
"So I'm not the first girl you've had on the back of a bike then?" Bella said, but she was smiling, and her eyes were affectionate. Edward took a deep breath.
"No," he answered quietly and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck.
There was a nod from Bella. Another smile. Another glance at the phone.
Edward was completely at a loss, unsure what to do. He wanted to sit by her, pull her into his arms and tell her she was the only woman he ever wanted on the back of his bike...
But Bella seemed okay, and he didn't want her to think that Tanya, or the bike riding in Alaska, was any bigger deal than it was, because the truth was that it was no big deal, it was nothing...so he went back to juicing the oranges.
And he started talking.
"We've known Tanya and her family for a long time," he began as he sliced another fruit.
He told Bella all their names, a little of their stories. She asked if they were beautiful, like him and his family and he told her that to human eyes they would be.
"But not to your eyes?"
"Not really." He looked up from the jug. "Flick through the photos on the phone, there should be one from Rose and Emmett's wedding, a group shot. You'll see."
Bella started flicking.
Edward had a two-fold purpose in suggesting this. One, he didn't want her to think he was hiding anything, and two, she would see the seventeen photos of herself that he kept in there, before she got to the single Denali photo...just to remind her, in case she felt, well, like he had felt when he'd learned about Hamish and Atticus. Except Tanya had never been his girlfriend, so it wouldn't be the same. Would it?
Edward frowned - he'd confused himself and right now felt sorely aware of his limited relationship experience.
But Bella was smiling as she scrolled through his album and that made him happy.
"I like this one of me at your piano - you'd never think I was only playing Chopsticks. Oh! When did you take this one? I'm sleeping!"
"When you were asleep, obviously," he grinned and filled the jug some more.
She snorted a little as she continued flicking. "The Sunday markets," she murmured. "Oh, and of course you kept the photo of me with cotton candy on my face." She rolled her eyes.
"It's cute," he said. "Look at the next one."
She laughed. "Oh! You kissing the cotton candy off my face, how did you get that shot? I remember the kissing, I don't remember the photo..."
"I'm very fast," he grinned again. "And you were occupied with the kissing."
She giggled, then ...
"Edward! You can't keep this one in here! I thought you would have deleted it!"
"Is it you in the towel?" Her blush answered for her. "You posed for it, remember?"
"I know, but...I didn't think you'd keep it."
He could see it now, her sitting in the middle of his bed, legs curled beneath her, towel wrapped provocatively around her, head tilted, one hand in her hair, and a coquettish, come hither smile on her lips.
"What if someone got hold of your phone?" Bella was aghast.
"Bella, how would someone get hold of my phone?" He raised just one eyebrow. "But if you're not comfortable about the photo, of course I'll delete it. You can do it right now if you want." It was committed to his perfect vampire memory, anyway. But Bella paused, seemed uncertain now.
"No, keep it," she said shyly. "It's quite a good picture of me, actually."
"I thought so," Edward murmured quietly, smiling, his eyes on his oranges. He could feel Bella's blush from across the room.
"Okay, I've got it now," she said after a moment. And then there was silence. "Wow, they are beautiful." She was frowning as she stared at the screen. "Really beautiful. Okay, which one is Tanya?"
"Red dress, strawberry blonde hair."
"Of course," Bella muttered and Edward wondered what she meant by that. "So, they don't have husbands? Mates?"
"Er, no. Not exactly."
Bella gasped when Edward explained that Tanya, Kate and Irina were, in fact, succubi.
"That's how you knew," she said. "When we talked about human males and female vampires not reproducing..."
She was taking it all in, he could see her mind puzzling through the information. Then she looked again at the phone in her hand, and raised an eyebrow as she looked back at him.
"So, is it only human men they're interested in? Or is it any men?"
The question was loaded, but Edward had been expecting it.
"Any men." He squeezed another orange into the jug. With one small flex of his wrist it was wrung dry as he waited for the next question.
"Did any of them ever, you know, want you?"
He nodded and slung the empty skin into the bin while he grabbed the next orange. "Tanya expressed some interest," he said. "I told her I didn't return that interest."
"When was that?"
"A long time ago. Not long after we met them."
Bella was quiet for a while. Edward wondered what she was thinking, but he just kept squeezing oranges.
The jug was large and nearly full and a distracted thought ran through his head...Bella would never drink it all in one sitting...could he refrigerate it? Would it go off by this afternoon? Tomorrow? He didn't know.
"Did she let it go at that?" Bella asked quietly and Edward came back from his oranges as he considered his answer.
"She knew where I stood, there was no doubt about that," he said. "But she made the offer on more than one occasion, yes."
"Even when you said no?" There was a tightness in Bella's voice now. "Even when you'd made it clear? She must have really had, um, feelings for you."
Edward shook his head.
"Not feelings the way you are thinking of them," he said. He leant against the counter, his palms flat against its cool surface. "I was a challenge to Tanya."
He nodded. "In almost a thousand years no man has ever refused her, except me." He stared directly into her eyes, hoping she would see the significance of his words. It seemed she did. Her jaw dropped, her eyes were huge.
"You were the only one? The only one out of ... I can't even imagine how many?"
"The only one," Edward repeated.
Bella was quiet again. She looked back at the picture on the phone. Edward stayed very still, only his fingers clawed a little at the counter top as he wondered again what she was thinking.
"And you never even thought about it?" She lifted her eyes to him. "You never thought about...?" she trailed off, waving her hand to explain the rest of her thought.
Edward could have said no, he'd never even thought about it, but that would be lying. And he didn't want to lie to Bella. Especially about something like this.
"I did consider it," he said. "Once." He held up a single finger for emphasis. His eyes never left hers.
"Oh..." Bella's cheeks paled.
"It was a very long time ago," Edward went on. "I'd been surrounded by happy couples for so long and one day, for a few brief minutes, I wondered..." He shrugged. "That's as far as it went."
"So you were attracted to her?" Bella whispered.
"No, I wasn't. I just wondered if it would make the loneliness go away."
Bella's mouth fell open in a silent oh.
"I decided it would make it worse."
Bella blinked at him. "Worse?"
He shrugged again. "It would have been a hollow experience."
Bella's expression changed and she looked once more at the photo, frowning now.
"Hollow..." she murmured as Edward's fingers dug into the counter top. "But she's so beautiful...and you could have..."
Edward didn't want Bella to feel jealous. He didn't want her to doubt or compare or analyse. There was no comparison. He wanted to be clear on this. Absolutely crystal clear. And though the words were softly said they left his lips before he'd barely thought them through.
"It would have been fucking, Bella. And I don't fuck. I make love. To you."
Bella's jaw dropped almost to the floor. Edward felt a moment's panic...shit, he'd offended her. He pulled his hand through his hair, about to apologise profusely for his language, he should have stuck with hollow, or empty, but then he saw her eyes dilate and darken. Her heart picked up and she licked her lips.
The phone dropped from her fingers onto the sofa beside her.
Edward took some slow steps out from behind the counter.
"Sorry," he murmured. His bare feet moved slowly, smoothly, over the tiles.
"No, it's fine..." she whispered quickly. He could see her heart throbbing beneath the thin cotton of her top as her eyes watched him come closer.
"I wanted to be clear."
He knelt beside her, took her face between his hands.
"I love you," he said. "You are my first love." He kissed her cheek. "And I waited for you." He continued kissing her, burning a trail towards her mouth, his kisses punctuating his words.
"First love...first date...first kiss...first time..."
His mouth found hers and she wrapped herself around him, pulling him down onto the sofa with her. He slid his hands under her top, listened to her moan and then stopped when she giggled.
"Something funny," he panted as he grinned at her.
"You said fuck."
He blinked. It was his turn to be surprised. Then he smiled.
"I did. Sorry. It's not a word I use often and when I do it's usually aimed at Emmett."
She shook her head. "It's okay. I've heard the word before."
He nuzzled against her neck and throat. Her chest.
"The filter was off," he murmured against her skin. "And I was worried you were feeling jealous or unsure or..."
Bella began to laugh and Edward lifted his head.
"I'm glad you're happy," he smiled, chuckling too, now. "But would you like to let me know what it is we're laughing about?"
Bella wriggled to sit up a bit. "I wasn't jealous," she said. "I was feeling smug."
He was still on his knees by her side, staring into her face, confused.
"I felt sad that you were so lonely..." she began and touched his face. "And then when you said sex with this Tanya would have been a hollow experience...and I looked at her photo again and I was thinking she was so beautiful, and you passed her up because you were waiting for more...and I was the more."
"You are. You are definitely the more."
She grinned at him again. "So I was feeling smug that Miss Universe couldn't do it for you, but I could."
"You thought I was jealous?"
Bella shook her head. "No. I'm sorry that you thought I was." Then she giggled. "But it was kind of worth it to hear you say fuck."
He rolled his eyes.
"Make the most of it, Bella. It won't become a habit."
She giggled again.
"Wanna go ride the bike?"
They flew over the narrow roads, her body curled in on his again as she held on tight. They stopped here and there and explored parts of the coast...more secluded beaches and bays, more cliffs, more views. Edward stayed in his helmet and jacket.
Bella had packed her good camera and everywhere they stopped she took photos - her favourites were taken from a tree top. Edward had climbed with her on his back so they could take in an even more spectacular view from high above the cliffs. There were a few of just the view, then some of Edward, helmet off in the shade, smiling, leaning back against the tree trunk, leaves overhead, with glimpses of the view behind him, cliffs and sea peeking through the greenery. The photo didn't show his legs, locked like a vice around Bella, making it impossible for her to fall.
At lunch time they stopped so she could eat and he made her a picnic on thick grass under some trees. He laid with his head in her lap, while she ate fruit and cheese, and went through a routine Edward had affectionately come to call What was..have you ever?
He had lived for so long and Bella figured there was so much to know about him, so much to learn, so sometimes she would ask him question and after question after question, and he would answer. Sometimes she'd let him ask her a question too.
What was the first concert you went to...have you ever been in a protest march...what was your favourite human food...have you ever met someone famous...where were you when World War II ended; Kennedy was shot; man walked on the moon; the Berlin Wall came down...what was the most shocking newspaper headline you ever saw...
Today Bella was in a silly mood.
"Okay, have you ever, um..." she bit her lip, frowning now, trying to think.
"Are you trying to come up with something outrageous?"
She nodded. "Yep, like, um, ooh, I know, have you ever ridden a camel?"
She laughed and then stopped when he said ... "Yes."
She blinked. "Really?"
He nodded. "1915. The World's Fair in San Francisco. It was a very big deal and my parents took me. There were camel rides for twenty five cents."
A huge smile stretched across his face. And Bella's. "Sounds like a good memory," she said.
"It is. A very good memory." He lifted her hand and kissed it. "Almost as good as this."
"What was the naughtiest thing you did as a kid?"
Edward scrunched up his nose as he considered, sifting through faded memories, trying to find something suitably bad and shocking. He told her about the sling shot and Mrs Morley's expensive, fancy stained glass window.
Bella was satisfyingly, suitably shocked.
"Did you get in trouble?"
"And so you should!"
"I had to eat dinner standing up." He rubbed at his backside and winced.
She giggled and he was grinning. "It wasn't funny at the time," he mutterred.
"No, I'm sure it wasn't. Okay, next question..." Bella was clearly on a roll today. She began to giggle. "Um, have you ever been into a topless bar?"
She was already laughing at the ridiculousness of the question before she'd even finished the sentence, but at Edward's hesitation she stopped.
"Oh. You have?"
"It's not what you're thinking," he answered quietly and his smile faded to nothing. He wished he could just change the subject, but she'd seen his reaction and now she was curious. "It was 1929," he said pointedly and he saw the date's significance register immediately in her face.
"When you were living a more traditional vampire lifestyle?"
Edward nodded. "There was a club. It wasn't exactly a topless bar, it would have been called a Speak Easy - illegal liquor, gambling, woman who danced in next to nothing. One of the customers had...well, he had plans for one of the dancers."
Bella shuddered very slightly, but her grip on Edward's hand tightened, supporting him.
"I didn't go inside," Edward said. "I knew he'd bring her outside. I was in the alley, waiting."
Looking up from her lap Edward saw Bella's throat move as she swallowed, but her eyes were clear and met his unflinchingly. And as always, he was amazed and moved by the acceptance he saw there, in her eyes, in every line of her face, in her touch.
"Did you save her?" she asked quietly.
"Yes. I saved her."
She nodded. "Good."
She pulled her fingers through his hair, stroked his temple and he closed his eyes and savoured her touch as the past faded away again.
There was a moment of quiet before Bella had a new question.
"What do you think would have happened with us if you'd stayed in Forks?"
Edward opened his eyes and blew out a fast breath. "I have no idea," he shook his head. "I've wondered that myself, often. I...I don't think I could have stayed away from you. I would have approached you, but I would have hated myself for doing it."
"Do you think we'd be where we are now?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. I wouldn't be who I am now." He reached up and touched her cheek. "I think my leaving was probably a good thing."
She kissed his palm and then her next question took a completely different turn and had him laughing with surprise.
"Um, have you ever been skinny dipping? You know, swimming nude?"
"No!" His eyes shot open wide in mock-shock. "No, I haven't. That would be scandalous, Bella!" Smiling, he narrowed his eyes as she laughed. "But now I'm curious. Have you ever been skinny dipping?"
"No!" she laughed. "Never."
Edward wondered if that was something they should rectify while they were here on the island.
"What is the worst joke you've ever heard?"
"Worst joke?" Edward snorted as he prepared to answer. "It's really terrible, are you ready?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure!"
"Okay, what do you call a vampire covered in feathers?"
Bella groaned loudly while Edward laughed.
"Is that one of Emmett's?"
It was hot, so after their picnic they rode home so they could swim again.
Bella hurried down the path towards the beach, her hair flying out behind her, her towel flapping in her hand. She skidded and stumbled over the rocks, never quite losing her footing but coming close and Edward called to her to be careful. He shook his head as she waved away his concern. Still, he kept just one pace behind her, his arms ready and at her disposal should she fall.
He heard his phone from the terrace as she hit the small pebbly beach. He debated answering, then raced back up to the villa, grabbed the phone and was back with Bella before she'd even noticed he'd gone.
"You coming in?" she grinned as she dropped the towel and pushed her sundress over her hips. He held up his phone and she nodded and went ahead without him. He grinned as he watched her practically fall into the water, laughing.
The phone was still vibrating and for a moment he contemplated just dismissing the call after all, and diving in right behind her...until he saw the ID.
"Edward, how's Greece?"
Edward looked towards the water where Bella was playing, her bathing suit wet and clinging and, to his eyes, transparent against her curves.
He smiled slowly. "Greece is great."
Carlisle said he was glad but now Edward could hear unfamiliar sounds in the background of the call.
"Carlisle, where are you?"
There was a beat.
Every muscle, every nerve in Edward's body tensed.
"What news?" he asked.
"Is Bella there with you, Edward?"
"She's in the water, swimming."
"Do you want her to hear this now too, with you?"
"I don't know. What am I hearing now?"
There was a pause. "It's not good, Edward. I'm sorry."
Edward sat on a rock. He waved now to Bella as she waved at him, and he told Carlisle to go ahead. His body became more and more tense as the conversation went on. Bella was diving and splashing in the calm water and Edward kept close watch on her while he listened. When Carlisle had finished he asked Edward if there was anything he could do. Edward told him no, there wasn't, but thank you.
"I've made my opinion clear," Carlisle said. "But I'll support whatever decision you and Bella make, son."
Edward thanked him again and ended the call. He put the phone on the rock and ran his hands through his hair. As far as he was concerned there was no decision to make, there was nothing to think about. But he wasn't sure what Bella's reaction would be. He could only hope, and pray, it would be the same as his.
She waved him into the water but he shook his head. She stilled, puzzled, then strode out of the sea looking glorious, and Edward wished he could enjoy the vision more but Carlisle's news was playing heavily on him. He wished the news could have come later, not now, not during these few days of paradise.
"What's up?" Bella grabbed her towel and began drying herself off, rubbing roughly over her hair. "Who was on the phone?"
She stopped rubbing. Slowly she brought her hands down and the towel hung limp from her fingers.
"He has news?"
Edward nodded. He reached out to take her hand, running his fingers back and forth between hers. She dropped to her knees and he came off the rock and sat beside her.
Since the day in Vermont when Edward spoke to Carlisle of his concerns about the incubi legends, Carlisle had been researching. And everyone had been shocked when he'd uncovered whispers from South America that the myths could possibly be true...and maybe not as bad as the horror stories made out. In the last few months Carlisle had been tracking those whispers, trying to sift fact from fable, because Edward and Bella wanted to know if there was any possibility of a successful outcome.
"So, tell me…" Bella was looking at him, anxious for answers.
"The myths are true," he said flatly. "Just like in the books." He heard Bella's quiet gasp as he stared at the ground. He heard her heart accelerate.
"Exactly like the books?"
He nodded. "Well, almost. The children aren't monsters, apparently they're beautiful by all accounts…and intelligent, with beating hearts.
"But the rest of it..." he shuddered a little. "It's exactly like the myths depict. The mothers die."
He gave her the details that Carlisle had given him – two human women; the four-week pregnancies that ravaged and destroyed their bodies; the children tearing themselves from the womb with their teeth; the mothers dying agonising deaths in delivery.
Bella's hand gripped his tightly. He watched her face pale and drain.
"There was a third case," Edward went on. "The vampire tried to save the mother, he tried to change her immediately after delivery."
Edward shook his head. He stroked his fingers over hers. "The strain of the pregnancy had weakened her heart so much that it couldn't pump the venom around her body fast enough. It took her a day to die, in even worse pain than the others."
Bella looked down at his hand in hers. She was quiet for a very long time.
Edward stared at her, too scared to even wonder what she was thinking, because if she was thinking she wanted to try...no, he couldn't even let the thought in. He swallowed and told her the rest. His fingers still stroked slowly over hers. They still sat side by side, knees touching, shoulders touching.
"Carlisle said that even with modern technology and techniques there was only the faintest chance we would have a better outcome, a successful outcome. He said we could have instruments custom made to perform a caesarean section, we know the gestation period so we could prepare and deliver ahead of time to avoid…" he trailed off, he couldn't even say it. "But there's nothing we can do about your heart. Even with the best care, there are no guarantees your heart would stand up to the pregnancy, the delivery, and then still be able to push my venom around your body…no matter where or how the venom was administered." Edward paused, he looked at Bella's face but couldn't tell what she was thinking. Her eyes were watching his thumb move over the back of her hand.
"Carlisle did say that he would support whatever we decided, but in his professional medical opinion he couldn't advise strongly enough against it. As a vampire he said it would be madness to try."
There was silence, Edward's body was hard and still like stone as he watched Bella. He prayed that she wouldn't ask him to try. She looked up from his hand and stared deep into his eyes, searching. She touched his cheek.
"Tell me what you're thinking," she whispered.
He hadn't expected her to ask him that and he wasn't sure what to say.
Edward exhaled sharply. He needed to gather his thoughts, it was a while before he spoke.
"I let you go once," he said eventually, staring straight ahead at the horizon. "I gave you up because I thought I was saving you, but then I found you again and I knew then I could never let you go. But then there was that drunk driver, and you were almost gone." He bowed his head and ran his foot over the pebbles, digging his toes into the sand beneath. "I know what it feels like to love you and live without you, and I know the fear of thinking I might lose you..." His voice had dropped to a whisper. His shoulders were hunched as he stared at his feet. "Those were the blackest, darkest times of my existence."
He heard Bella's breathing quicken. He felt her head settle against his shoulder. He wound his arm around her and looked down. She was looking up at him and he felt himself falling deep into the warmth of her eyes.
"I don't think I have the words," he whispered. "I don't know if I can tell you how important you are to me. I could describe my love as limitless or endless, but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface, it doesn't come close to describing the depth or the power of what I feel for you." He took his arm from around her and instead held her face tenderly between his hands. His heart, his soul were open and his words flowed.
"With you my life is real, I am real. And there's light. And I feel warm. And happy. What we have together is more than enough for me. You and me, our marriage, our life together, that's all I need...that is my life...I don't need anything more...but I can't exist with anything less." He paused and swallowed. His thumbs caressed her cheeks. Her eyes glistened with tears. He leant in and kissed her lips, so softly, so sweetly, it was barely a whisper. "You ask me what I think?" he breathed as he pulled back. He rested his forehead against hers. "Then I'll tell you. I don't want to try. Because I can't lose you, Bella, not even for this." His voice cracked as his eyes swam, melting into hers. "And that's not what I think, it's what I know."
A single tear ran down Bella's cheek and Edward kissed it away. His thumb caught the new tear that spilled onto her other cheek. Then he pulled her close to him, tucking her in under his chin, and they sat, wrapped in each other's arms on the pebbly beach.
"You said you couldn't find the words," Bella whispered after a few minutes of quiet with just the sound of the water lapping at the rocks. "But I think you found the words just fine." She lifted her face and smiled up at him.
Edward pulled her into his lap, settling her there gently. He nuzzled his face softly against her neck.
"You know my thoughts," he said quietly. "Will you tell me yours?"
Bella was running her hand slowly along his forearm, watching her fingers move back and forth over his skin. Edward waited, his body still tense, his life still on hold until he knew exactly what Bella wanted.
She took a breath and began.
"I think...as unique as we are, we're not the first couple in the world who've had to weigh up the risks of a dangerous pregnancy. And we're not the first couple in the world who can't have kids."
Edward took a shaky breath.
"Bella, I wish I could give you...I wish I could be different for you," he whispered.
"No, ssh," Bella put her finger to his lips. "Don't ever wish that, because I don't."
He smiled softly, eyes of liquid amber into her dark depths.
"Edward, I don't want to risk what we have either. I need you too. And I told you once before, I won't go anywhere if it means leaving you behind. I love you, Edward. I love you, and it's not conditional on whether we can have children." Now she took his face in her hands. "Every relationship starts with two people...our relationship started with us, with each other, and we'll just go on as we started, and that sounds pretty good to me." She kissed his temple, his forehead, his lips.
Edward felt the burn behind his eyes. He swallowed the lump in his throat as Bella nestled against his chest and he closed his eyes as he let her words, her touch, her peace, her love, wash over him, lift him up and carry him.
After a while Bella spoke. Her voice was soft and peaceful and content as she smiled out at the sea. "I think my life with you will be beautiful, Edward," she said. He pulled her closer and buried his face against her neck, his lips whispered over her skin ...
"I'll make sure of it."
They made love that night, with the french doors open and the stars shining on them. Edward poured his heart and soul into Bella, giving her everything that was him. It was an affirmation of his deepest love, his devotion…it was a promise.
A promise that this was just the beginning.
When dawn broke Bella awoke, beaming as she stretched. Edward was propped on one elbow, smiling down at her.
She opened her mouth to speak, just as her phone sounded from the kitchen. She rolled her eyes and Edward chuckled.
"I think we should just ignore it, don't you?"
Bella nodded and pulled the sheet over her head. Edward joined her in the make-shift tent where they giggled and he tickled her and ran his tongue over her skin and slices of morning light fell on the Egyptian cotton and gave a soft golden glow to the little world they'd created.
When her stomach rumbled Bella scowled. Edward stopped the kissing and threw back the sheet.
"Breakfast time for the human," he declared.
"One more kiss," Bella pouted.
He obliged. But one kiss became two, two became eight, eight became...
Her stomach rumbled again and Edward finally left the bed, pulled on his khaki shorts and strolled into the kitchen.
He decided he'd make her an omelette and mentally ran through the recipe as he took the eggs from the fridge. He cracked and whisked and poured.
He felt incredibly light. And happy.
Bella appeared a few minutes later.
"You look lovely," Edward smiled.
She was wearing a white dress, soft and floaty, that came to her ankles and swayed around her legs.
Bella's cheeks pinked. "You like, then?"
She sat down at the counter, watching him, smiling.
"What?" he asked, smiling back.
But he knew. Because he felt it too.
They were complete.
Any faint, niggling doubts Edward might have held about Bella 'missing out' by being with him, had gone.
Bella picked up her phone to check the messages while he performed an elaborate triple flip of her omelette.
"It was Alice," she frowned as she looked at the screen. "She's not subtle, is she." Her smile was affectionate though her tone was exasperated. She held up the phone for Edward to see.
"A wedding dress?" he said, staring at the photo scanned from a magazine.
"I bet she doesn't send you photos of tuxedos, does she?"
"No," he shook his head, smiling. "Does she do that a lot?"
Bella nodded as her thumb moved over the keys again for a moment. "Not always dresses, though. Yesterday it was this." She held up the phone again.
"Not just shoes, Edward," she frowned in mock seriousness. "They're Louboutin sling-backs covered in Aurora Boreale crystals."
Edward blinked at the photo, then blinked at Bella. "I don't know what that means."
"It means that for three thousand dollars my feet could sparkle brighter than you in the midday sun."
"And this one she sent me last week." It was another wedding dress, grand and elaborate. "Look at that train. I'd probably trip over it and break my neck before I even got down the aisle."
Edward frowned at the thought. "No trains," he murmured, performing an elaborate flip of her omelette onto a plate and sliding it across the counter to her.
"I think she's trying to hurry us along."
"Well, she can hurry us along all she wants," Edward said and came around the other side of the island. He stood behind Bella, snaking his arms around her waist and kissing her shoulder as she started her breakfast. "We'll do this our own way."
Bella smiled and took a mouthful.
Edward smiled too. "The omelette or the kissing?" he asked.
"Both. But if you keep up the kissing I'll never finish the omelette."
Edward pressed his lips to her skin one last time and went to put the pan in the dishwasher.
"Wanna walk along the beach after breakfast?" he asked. "We could walk around to the next cove, it's just as protected as this one. And there are rock pools."
Bella's eyes lit up. "I'd love that." Smiling she turned and looked out the glass doors, over the terrace, towards the sea where the sun sparkled like diamonds on the sapphire water.
"I wish we could get married here," she said softly. "Down on the beach, with the sun and the water. It feels special here."
Edward came to stand behind her again, his arms finding their place around her waist once more.
"It is special," he murmured as his lips pressed tenderly over her shoulder.
He began to think through the challenges of a wedding on the beach. This beach. It would be no problem flying Bella's family and friends in, and his family could time their arrivals like he had... perhaps they could have a twilight ceremony, but if Bella wanted sun...
His eyes followed hers, across the terrace and beyond.
"I'm not sure...," he said. "The sun..."
"It's okay," she said quickly, twisting around and smiling. "The logistics, I know..."
"We could elope," Edward joked and Bella shook her head.
"Alice would kill you, Renee would kill me."
"Charlie would understand." She climbed off her stool and put her plate in the sink.
Charlie and Sue were engaged, with very simple plans for a very simple wedding in August. And it seemed Bella and Edward had found an ally in Sue, because she'd insisted the wedding be in Forks, not La Push, which meant Bella would be able to bring her fiance.
"Do you think Charlie will find out about you being a vampire?"
"I think it's inevitable," Edward answered. He dragged his hand through his hair. "It's going to be practically impossible for the Quileutes to keep the werewolf thing from him if he's marrying into the tribe, and when that comes out..." He left the sentence unfinished.
"You know what?" Bella said as she came back to him, arms sliding around his neck. "I think he'd be cool with it."
"Oh?" His arms slid around her waist, moving low over her back.
"Uh huh. He likes you a lot. He's told me has a lot of respect for you...and I don't think it's just because you paid for my hospital room." She kissed his cheek. "Have I thanked you for that?"
"About a thousand times." He kissed her back, remembering when her hospital statement had come in with the itemised list of expenses paid by her insurance, and those paid by E Cullen. He'd expected a fight, he'd prepared for it, he'd set his jaw and waited for the onslaught, and was completely disarmed when Bella said a quiet, serious thank you - then threw her arms around him and hugged him hard. Of course she'd offered to pay him back, and he'd kissed her, held her, and asked her not to insult him. She'd laughed and said if she wanted to insult him she could do much better than that. So she'd simply thanked him again instead.
Bella's phone beeped again, another message from Alice, and Edward watched as Bella dismissed the call. Some morning light fell on her ring as she pressed the keys and the stones lit up, sending beads of light bouncing spectacularly around the room.
"Edward..." Bella said slowly while they watched the rainbow patterns on the walls.
When she turned around and lifted her eyes to him he could see her excitement.
"What about Garfield Park? Where you proposed? They have weddings there in the sunken garden, or the conservatory. We could have a twilight ceremony...it would be perfect."
Edward smiled warmly, and kissed her soundly. "You're right, it would be perfect."
But he'd also had an idea of his own.
And the idea had come to him as Bella's had come to her - when her engagement ring had bounced light all around the room. And the more Edward thought about his idea, the more perfect it seemed, and the more beautifully it fit in with Bella's wish.
"Wait here?" he said suddenly, grinning, and disappeared into the bedroom.
He took the loose, white linen shirt from his backpack and pulled it on. Then he found the small, velvet box that held his mother's ring, opened it, polished the ring on his shirt and put it in his pocket. Then he hurried back to Bella.
He'd been gone all of seven seconds.
"What's going on?" Bella laughed as he skidded back into the living area.
He scooped her into his arms and headed out to the terrace and onto the path that led to the beach. On the way he stopped and picked a wildflower that was growing by the path, and tucked it into Bella's hair behind her ear.
But he didn't respond, he just grinned.
When they reached the beach he set her down, standing so they were right on the edge of the sea, the water lapping gently at their feet.
Bella was watching him, anticipating and expectant.
Edward pulled the ring from his pocket and held it up.
"This was my mother's," he said softly. Bella's eyes widened, her lips parted in a soft oh, Edward, and Edward knew she realised what he was doing.
He took her right hand in his.
"It is special here," he said. "And it's just us, on the beach, with the water and the sun..." He took a deep breath as he began.
"I, Edward, take you Isabella, to be my wife. I give you my hand, and my heart. I promise to love you, honour you, be faithful to you, comfort and care for you, every moment of every day of our lives." The joy was swelling in Edward's chest right now as he slid the ring, in Greek wedding tradition, onto Bella's right hand. "With this ring I thee wed."
Bella's eyes were full, her lip was trembling as she looked at the ring, and then at Edward.
"I don't have a ring for you," she whispered and he smiled and shook his head, shaking away her concern. So Bella took his hand, and held it in hers.
"I, Isabella, take you Edward, to be my husband. I give you my hand and my heart. I promise to love you, honour you, be faithful to you, comfort and care for you, every moment of every day of our lives." She lifted his right hand and pressed her lips to his ring finger.
Now she was beaming, and so was he. They were laughing. Their joy filled them and shone from them brighter than Bella's rings, brighter than the sun. He lifted her into his arms and swung her around and they laughed and kissed and kissed some more.
He set her back on the ground, the water washing over their bare feet, touching the hem of her floaty white dress.
Edward took her face between his hands. "There will still be Garfield Park," he said. "With our families and friends, we'll put it in writing and sign our names and I can't wait for that...but we'll also have this, just for us."
He kissed her again and he felt her body melting into his as she wound herself around him. When they pulled apart she looked at her new wedding ring, shining on her right hand. Then she looked at her engagement ring on her left hand and smiled.
"Did you have this planned?"
"No," he shook his head, laughing. "I was going to give you the ring the night of the Celebration Dinner, but..."
"It's beautiful," Bella smiled at him. Then she smiled at the ring. "Beautiful."
Then she reached up and touched the flower he'd tucked in her hair, and then she touched him. She ran her fingers over his cheek, his jaw, down to his chest. Then she stepped into his arms and he engulfed her, pulling her close and whispering his love in her ear.
"You'll make me cry," she whispered and he could hear the tremor in her voice.
"Don't cry," he whispered back.
They began to walk along the beach, arms around each other, the sun shining down on them. They talked and laughed and stopped every few steps to kiss and caress. He told her she was beautiful. She told him she loved him. He decided that needed another kiss.
They walked on. He kicked happily at the water, the sun was on his back, his wife was in his arms.
And this was just the beginning.
"We'll have to take a photo," Bella said.
"We will. Lots."
Edward kissed the top of Bella's head, the flower in her hair tickled his chin and he smiled. He thought of all the many different choices and decisions that had brought him to this life, this place, this moment...starting with his mother's dying request to Dr Carlisle Cullen. He thought of biology labs, caves, anthropolgy scholarships in Chicago, house tenants, burnt-orange feature walls that needed repainting, ER waiting rooms, Loch Ness Monster documentaries, the truth, pianos, propsoals...
But the best, most important decision of them all, Edward thought, was when he decided to cross the road one windy Chicago afternoon, hold out his hand to the pretty girl in front of him, and say hello.
Now he swept the pretty girl up in his arms and swung her around again, laughing as she laughed too. He stared into her eyes, the warmest, deepest, happiest eyes he'd ever seen.
Best decision ever.
A/N: Thank you for reading.
And I can't thank you all enough for the wonderful support this story has had. All the reviews, and messages, the recommendations...it all means so much to me and I thank you all. I'm sorry the wait between chapters has sometimes been so long.
Huge thank you to Melanie for your friendship, your support, your speedy betaing and letting me bounce ideas off you.
Thank you icrodriguez for everything :) This was always the plan for Edward's mother's ring - I hope you liked it.
Thank you VeneziaK who lives in Greece and was a huge help with this chapter and suggested Crete when I said I needed somewhere Bella could dig that wasn't far from a remote, secluded coastline. Crete was perfect.
Thank you ltlerthqak who knows about Chicago and Lake Michigan and helped on several chapters and knew that Cook County Hospital still existed and would have been where Edward had been taken in 1918.
Thank you bgwillis for your support and for starting the thread for this story on Twilighted.
Thank you to the readers who nominated The Decision for Fic of the Week on The Lemonade Stand. It won its way into the weekly top four fics and I was just blown away...so thank you to those who nominated and those who voted...thank you very much.
I don't know if there will be an epilogue. For me, the story feels complete as it is. But I know that sometimes when I finish a story, even though it feels complete, I still find myself wondering what happened next for the characters, so maybe...
This story was originally going to be a one-shot, ending with Edward crossing the road for Bella and saying hi...and then it would be left to the readers' imagination. But somehow the story wouln't let go :)
Thank you all, once again!