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special thanks to my beta and close friend Nic. She's been working with me since my very first oneshot, and I love her like whoa. Peanut butter & jelly, here, ok?
We have been on Isle Esme for three months now, and the thought of returning to civilization ignites a fear so deep in me I can scarcely move. Though my body has adjusted some, my control is still questionable. I'm still volatile and unpredictable; running more on primal instinct than cognition. It makes me feel a little more like an animal than a human.
Of course, though, I'm neither. Mentally and physically I'm light years beyond – it's my emotions and physical needs I'm having a hard time reigning in.
One thing is certain: I see Edward through different eyes now. Physically, because I'm a vampire like him, but also metaphorically. I see his first months, when he first came back to me, differently now. His self control, his ability to keep me safe during that time are both a marvel and an inspiration. Because of his example, there is no reason I can't succeed at abstaining...no matter how mouth watering human blood smells.
I've only scented it once, when a boat from the mainland passed, en route to a neighboring island. Edward and I had been walking around the south bend of the island, talking quietly, when the smell hit me so hard I stopped moving, stunned. Edward had very carefully pinned me to a tree, whispering nonsense to keep my attention on him, but it had been difficult. Before that moment, anything I knew about bloodlust was secondhand, almost mythical. Actually smelling it with my own nose, my whole body, changed everything, bringing the seriousness of my situation in to sharp relief. It hadn't happened before and hasn't happened since; the closest islands really aren't that close at all – Edward said that they were probably just off course a bit. By the time the boat's engine had receded into a distant whine, he'd moved on to something else, a new topic – anything to sway my focus. He's good at that.
I'd worried that the urge to hunt humans might come at the cost of losing my own humanity; how could it not? But now that I'm here, it's surprisingly easy to compartmentalize things. It's as if I have a disease or condition, and it's up to me as to how I'm going to allow it to affect my life. Being a vampire doesn't mean that I am any less a human than I was before. The same way I viewed Edward and the Cullens as superhumans that chose to give back instead of take...I can be this way too. It'll take time, but I'll get there. It's my destiny.
As for hunting animals, I find that I enjoy it. There's something deeply gratifying about the ritual of it: the scent, the run, the hunt, the kill. I can't deny this aspect of myself, nor do I want to. It's something I enjoy doing on my own, but especially with Edward at my side. As for what we often do after the hunt, spread on the grass or tangled in the brush...that's gratifying all on its own, too.
Sprawled on the forest floor, we gaze up at the canopy of trees, mesmerized by the alternating shift of shadow and light. Every level of this island, from the obvious down to the tiny, is heaving with life. Dragonflies, butterflies, birds and mosquitoes hum and shimmer in the air, making it come alive. All around, things scuffle and scurry, filling my ears with a cacophony that only now is manageable. In the very beginning I became overwhelmed easily by the onslaught of sound, but now it's kind of beautiful. I feel like I'm living in a National Geographic spread.
"I feel like Eve," I say, rolling to the side and propping myself up on my elbow.
"You look like Eve," he responds, eyes flickering over my nearly bare body. There's little need for clothing out here, seeing we're the island's only two inhabitants.
"How do you know what she would've looked like?"
"I don't. But I imagine it would've been like you." He reaches out to touch my hair, which I'd allowed to grow out even before my transformation. Its length can never be altered now, but it became a lot more lustrous and full upon changing.
"Then I guess that makes you Adam," I say, resting a hand on his stomach.
He snorts, squinting at me. "So is this the Garden of Eden?"
"It feels like it," I say, sitting up. Leaves fall from my hair, reminding me of how long we've been here, relaxing in the dappled sunlight. "Sometimes I wish we could just stay forever."
"I know...but we have to go back eventually. You have to...get used to the real world."
Nodding, I stand up and brush myself off. He's right, of course. As tempting as it is to remain in this idyllic setting, it's just not realistic. Nor could I ask Edward to do that. Not only does he survive living a "normal" life, he thrives – and I can, too. Besides, the Cullens miss us. For the first few weeks they came to visit all the time, but eventually they went back to the States.
I miss all of them, but especially Alice and Jasper. As much as Edward gets me, there's nothing like a little girl time. Even before my change, she was well on her way to becoming one of my very best friends, so her absence is felt, even though we stay in touch electronically.
Edward falls in to step with me, his hand brushing mine before our fingers interlock. Truly, it feels as though we are the only people on earth – either the first, like Adam and Eve, or maybe the very last. Up ahead, the bright white sand gives way to a ribbon of blue. The water has been incredibly calm lately, evidence of a storm way out at sea. According to weather reports, it should hit later on tonight.
The rainstorms here, often little more than erratic sun showers, are nothing like the days-long mini monsoons back in Forks. Here it's all hot humidity and rainbows, the occasional electric storm playing out over the horizon.
Tonight's storm will be more severe than that, but it's nothing to worry about. Even if Edward and I weren't indestructible, the house practically is. We'll likely pass the time doing what we normally do: playing chess, reading, or making love.
I step in to the water, sighing at the serene loveliness of it. As vividly lovely as it is here, I have to admit I miss home. It tugs at my heart, even as I wish we could stay here. The ambivalence is is weird place to be, mentally.
"Are you happy?" Edward whispers, drawing his hand over the surface of the water. "Do you ever wish you'd...done it differently?"
"No," I say without hesitation. "I mean, yes – I am happy. And no, I wouldn't change a thing." I blink up at him, undercurrents of seemingly ceaseless joy eddying through my vacant veins. Maybe it isn't healthy for one's happiness to be so caught up in another, but I've long let go of trying to rein it in or figure it out.
After all, nothing about us is typical or normal.
I wade closer to him and reach out, touching his warm skin. He smiles, eyes traveling over me as he hoists me up and wraps me around himself, lining our bodies up, chest to chest.
"I could stay just like this forever," I murmur.
"Me too," he says.
In a moment of inspiration, or perhaps as a result of Alice's foresight, Carlisle charters a couple of private jets to transport Edward and me from Isle Esme to Alaska. The scent of people all around on the mainland, their blood and sweat, as well as a host of other things (who'd have thought tears had a scent?) grow stronger the closer we come. By the time Edward eases the boat into its place at the marina, I'm drooling venom.
Instead of coddling me, though, Edward casts a rather icy look my way. It's an act, and we both know. Still, it's the only way we'll get through this.
"Get a grip, love. We've worked way too hard and there's too much at stake."
"I know." I nod hurriedly.
Seeing as oxygen is inconsequential, holding my breath isn't all that bad. Being cut off from my sense of smell is disconcerting, but soothing as well. I follow Edward on to a cab and then into the throng of people at the airport, all the while reciting songs, poems, facts and figures – a trick Alice taught me. She uses it to keep Edward out of her mind, but I'm finding it helpful to keep my attention off of the scores of potential victims pressing in on all sides. I make it in to a game in my head, even though it's anything but.
"Doing okay," Edward says, squeezing my hand. We make it to the gate where our pilot waits just for us. For obvious reasons we chose against having a flight attendant, as well. It'll be just us three all the way to Miami.
"Thanks," I whisper the second we step off of the seaplane. Thorne Bay is just as I remember, perhaps a little more vivid than human memory allowed. The colors here are subtler, but I see them better now.
"For what?" He squeezes my hand, and I know he knows what I mean.
"For the tough love earlier. I needed that."
"Well, it was either that or bloodshed," he jokes.
We're lighthearted about it now, but things could have gone way differently today. Way worse. The flights weren't easy, having a living, breathing human male within reach for hours at a time, but with Edward's constant conversation and my ability to not breathe, I managed. There really wasn't any other choice.
"Carlisle did it for me." He shrugs, as if it's no big deal.
It is, though. Huge. Perhaps the first of many such tests. "Still."
Our travel arrangements were a little last minute, and as a result, no one could come pick us up. Not like it matters; Thorne Bay is tiny and easily navigated. We simply call a local cab service and have them bring us to the Cullen's home on the outskirts of town.
As we lug our bags up the driveway, I notice that Edward can't stop smiling.
I suspect he's happier to be back, around his family, then he'd been letting on back in Brazil, but now I'm wondering if something's up. I almost ask him, but the moment we walk through the door there's an explosion of sound and color, cheering and music and...confetti?
"Alice got a little carried away," Jasper says at our expressions, shrugging sheepishly.
"Welcome home," Esme says, kissing each of us before everyone else descends with hugs – Alice, Carlisle, Rose, and Emmett. Even the Denali clan is here to welcome us home: Tanya, Irina and Kate. Another pair of vampires I'm not familiar with linger nearby, smiling politely as we reunite.
"Did you know about this?" I ask Edward as I'm released from another hug. Everyone else is talking at once, taking our bags and asking questions.
"Not until I got close enough to hear," he says, tapping his forehead.
Tanya appears in front of me, smiling graciously. "Now you're truly a member of the family, Bella. Welcome back."
I'd have thought that getting married to Edward would have made me a "true member" of the family, but I know that's just petty, so I just smile back. "Thanks, Tanya."
"Are you surprised?" Alice asks a little later, cornering me in the kitchen. It's odd to be in here without eating a plethora of food. Memories of Esme's extravagant breakfasts flit through my mind, filling me with an unexpected surge of nostalgic longing.
"About the party? Of course," I laugh, resting me cheek on her head. "I did wonder why you guys weren't meeting us at the airport, but Carlisle told us something about work..."
"As if," she snorts. "Nothing's more important than this family being reunited."
Regret prickles through me. "Sorry...for keeping away for so long."
"Hey, it's okay. We do what we have to do." She sighs, looking around. "It's not the first time we've been apart and it won't be the last."
The vampire pair I don't know come in with Esme, who introduces them as Eleazar and Carmen. Like Carlisle and Esme, they play parents to the Denali girls, rounding out their coven. It's an interesting dynamic, but not unlike ours. They're friendly and open-seeming, apparently having been close friends of the Cullens for years.
Edward walks in, laughing with Emmett. Seeing him happy like this...few things compare. Like his happiness is mine. Our eyes meet, and his expression shifts into something a little darker, a little more needful. It's been a long day, after all. A trying one, full of restraint.
"Are you hungry?" he asks. "Do you want to hunt?"
I'm at his side before he's even finished asking. "Yes."
Outside, the night air is crisp and clear. The sky glimmers darkly with stars, and my new eyes can pick out constellations with ease. Even the subtle color differences among the stars are apparent: Rigel, blue. Betelgeuse, red.
Edward sets in to an easy run and I follow at his side, my eyes drawn over and over to the sky, and how pretty it is tonight. Again, I'm struck by how different a beauty this is from Isle Esme. The trees and landscape, the smell. There are less clouds here. It's less humid.
My attention is redirected to the hunt when Edward slows slightly, reaching his hand back to me. He stops, then, and turns to me, his eyes glowing in the milky moonlight. I search his face, watching for signals and clues, but then I hear it myself: twin heartbeats, thumping wetly not far from where we stand. As I shift toward the sound, several others join the first two.
"A herd?" I whisper, nearly soundlessly. "Of..."
"Elk or caribou, probably," he mouths. "Or even..." He pauses, eyes closed. "Arctic foxes."
Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom comes to mind and I choke back a giggle, but he hears me anyway. His eyes pop open, and he grins. "Sitka deer, maybe?"
"Are you serious right now?" I ask.
Nodding, he takes my hand. "Actually, I am. Come on. I'm starved."
We resume jogging soundlessly thorough the light brush, coming into an open expanse of tall grass swaying delicately in the dark. Four shadows linger a couple of feet away. I don't even know what they are, but Edward sure does, if his Alaskan animal rundown was any indication.
"Caribou," he whispers suddenly, as if he's listening to my thoughts.
Before I can respond, he's taking one down. I'm right on his tail, grasping for the next one nearest me, sliding my arms around its neck. Any remorse I might normally feel for ending this beautiful creature's life is enormously overshadowed by my thirst, and I sink my teeth desperately into its neck, grateful.
The part of me that has grown to recognize the essentiality of the hunt, and how satisfying it is, accepts this for what it is.
Once my kill has been drained, I pause with it still in my arms. Whispering my thanks as I stand, I look across the clearing to where Edward stands, two fallen caribou at his feet. We meet in the middle, hands and mouths stained red.
We would have survived as a human couple.
We would have survived as a human and vampire couple.
But we thrive, absolutely, as vampire mates. Every day sharpens my understanding. I think about the times he was so careful with me as a human, during sex or if I cut myself shaving. Times he heard people's thoughts about me, especially males whose thoughts were less than honorable. The nights he watched me eat, or came home late to find me already asleep because he'd been out eating.
There was always this disconnect between us, simply because we were so different. It wasn't all bad, but it wasn't giving our relationship the chance to reach its true potential. When I see how Edward and I share each other's lives now, I know that this was the only path for me to take.
Wisps of cloud pass over the moon, momentarily dimming Edward's face. I can still see him perfectly well, though, and I press my lips to his.
When we kiss, I barely taste the blood.
The sun comes up, somewhere over the mountains.
Our windows have been open since last night, when we were stargazing from the comfort of our room. Morning light washes over us, transforming our skin in to dazzling little universes. We still relax in bed at night, spending hours resting and talking, touching and connecting. It's as close to sleep as I can get. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the reprieve of actual slumber, but this is the next best thing. Edward and I began this little tradition on Isle Esme, and we'll probably continue it. It brings normalcy to a world I'm still getting used to, and it's a good way to separate the days.
Emmett teased us the first night we were home, saying we were playing human, but he gets it.
Today we move in to our home, the one we purchased before the wedding. It's kind of a big deal, because it's all ours.
...And because my parents are coming to visit. Charlie and Renee, that is. Sue, not surprisingly, "can't make it, and she won't allow Emily to miss school. I don't blame her, and it's to be expected. She seems to have accepted things, even if she continues to keep her distance. We communicate now and then via email, sharing pictures, and it's good. More than I'd hoped for. So Charlie's flying up solo.
I speak to Jake sometimes, and to Leah more than I thought I would. Communication is starting to peter out in a natural way, though, the way it does between friends whose lives diverge over time.
Meanwhile, Phil is preoccupied with training, so when my mother heard Charlie was coming, she jumped at the chance to "check the new place out". At first, Edward and I weren't sure that having them come was such a good idea, but it's soon enough that we can downplay my physical appearance. After this, my lack of aging will be too obvious and then it really will be goodbye.
The plan for next summer is to "join Edward on a medical trip" that we will never return from. Breaking my parent's hearts by making them think I died hurts, but it's what I chose the moment I decided to be like Edward. Really, it's simply the final step in a plan that was set in motion a long time ago.
Edward runs his hand through my hair. He's been doing it for awhile, seemingly lost in thought.
"Remember the first time we kissed?" I ask, turning to stare at his lips.
He makes a soft chuffing nose. "Of course."
"I think about it sometimes," I say, kissing him.
His hand falters, and then he resumes stroking my hair.
"I was so nervous," he admits.
"I almost didn't..."
"I know. I think I made a move first," I laugh quietly.
"You did. I think I caught up pretty quickly though."
"You sure did," I say, giving him another kiss.
We roll around for awhile, trying to behave. After having months of unfettered freedom and privacy on the island, we're spoiled. It's weird having so many ears close-by. This is another reason we're moving sooner rather than later. Esme had wanted me to help her design it, but I'd assured her that I trusted her judgment. I could always switch up what I didn't like later; right now, all I want is a place to be with Edward. Alone.
But not too alone. The Cullens will never be more than a five minute run away. Maybe ten if we're driving.
"I know...I can't wait to be alone either," breathes Edward. I can hear him smiling as he says it, and I know it's because he loves when he can hear my thoughts. It happens usually when we're being intimate this way, close both emotionally and physically. I can control it, but it slips sometimes.
"Look at you, snooping around my thoughts," I tease, hooking a leg over his hip.
"You love me." He leans down, biting my nose playfully. "You do it for me."
Closing my eyes I see him the way I did way back, the first time our eyes met in that crowded bar. Wondering what he thought about me on our first date. Missing him when he left, and welcoming him home when he returned.
"Yes," I say, unbearably glad. "I do it for you."
special thanks to all of you for sticking with me, for spending your time reading this and reviewing. this was probably the hardest story for me to write and complete, simply because the subject matter was more challenging for me. props to the writers who do AU and canon and do it well - you guys ROCK.