~ Epilogue ~
I sat back on the sand and watched as Alice and Bella gamboled in the waves of La Push beach. Their laughter was constant and it warmed my heart.
The treaty had officially been voided. Bella's sacrifice to save Emily and Jacob had won her a place of devotion among the Quileutes, especially Sam. He would never forget what she had done for him and strived every day to repay the debt. This barbeque on the beach for the pack and our family was just one of those ways. However, they would be the only ones eating.
It was six months since the solstice and Bella was finally recovering.
Physically she was fine — the horrific injuries the wolves had caused were healed almost immediately — but mentally she had suffered. To a heart as pure as hers, there was no excuse for the destruction she had wrought in our meadow. Her shield killed the wolves and she carried enormous guilt because of it.
When I found Bella and Jasper in the meadow, I feared she was truly broken. Her eyes stared out unseeingly, indifferent to her surroundings from her place cradled in Jasper's arms. She was in the void.
Only Jasper's words saved me from outright panic.
"She's okay," he said. "She's just resting awhile."
Resting awhile. She stayed resting for quite a while. I took her home and Jasper went to find the family to tell them it was over. I bathed her and changed her into comfortable clothes. All the while she remained oblivious to it all.
It was the sounds of our family's return that brought her out of herself again. With a quiet sigh, she roused herself.
"Hello, love," I greeted her gently.
She didn't speak, but curled herself into my lap and nuzzled my neck.
She didn't speak for days. We stayed together curled into each other in our bedroom and ignored all that happened around us. From time to time, the family would come to our room and check on us, but they didn't try to force us to speak. Jasper had told them all he could of what had happened and that satisfied them for a while.
On the fifth day after the wolves attack, Bella opened her mind and allowed me to hear her thoughts for the first time since she had come out of the void.
'Thank you for not rushing me.'
She must have lifted her shield from Jasper too, and he came up the stairs and into our room.
"Hey, Darlin'," he said. "Are you ready to talk about it?"
"I think so."
She took my hand and led me downstairs to meet with the family who were all waiting for us. Curling herself up on my lap, she began the slow and painstaking task of telling us all that had happened.
We had barely reacted to one bombshell before she dropped another. Irina had killed Jessica. Emily had been her hostage. Bella and Irina had fought. The wolves had come and savaged Bella. Her shield had destroyed them all. It seemed a never-ending tale.
When Bella faltered, Jasper took up the story, telling us of how he had found her in the meadow, trapped in the void, and how she had slowly clawed her way back to consciousness. Then the arrival of the Volturi.
Of all the things that told us about, that was the most shocking. My Bella had faced the Volturi with only Jasper to support her, and she had been the victor. In true Bella fashion, she had not used violence but words.
"I read Aro's mind," she said with remarkable aplomb. "I saw his life and I saw his weaknesses. He fears losing his power more than anything, so I threatened it. I told him I would tear his coven apart and leave him without his precious guard. The threat worked; he will leave us alone. For now."
"For now?" Carlisle asked.
"Yes. He has other plans in place and will undoubtedly come for us again, but for now we are safe."
The idea that we would have to face the Volturi again was frightening, but I had every confidence that we would make it through again. We had Bella on our side.
"She's doing good." Jasper's voice pulled me from my thoughts.
I looked over at Bella, who was now being chased through the water by Jared. Her gales of laughter brought a smile to my face.
"Yes, she is. She's strong," I replied.
"No one stronger," he said thoughtfully.
An image of Bella's shield sending him flying away from her raced through his mind, and my mouth dropped open.
"Tell me that was a fantasy and not what really happened," I demanded.
He jumped to his feet and held his hands up in front of him in a placatory manner.
"Now, Edward, calm down.|"
"I was trying to help!" he babbled.
"It didn't mean anything."
"Bella!" I roared.