Author's Note: It's been an absolute joy writing my first fan-fic. Thank you to everyone who has supported me: willow for kicking my backside into action, Taoist Elf for sharing the love of words, light4dawn for pushing me into the limelight...all of you who have taken the time to review and to PM me. Hope you enjoy the finale.
It doesn't really mean anything, the vampire thinks to himself.
Listening to the minds of Aro's enemies, relaying their thoughts and plots and contributing another sticky thread to the Volturi web.
He's dispassionate, an observer, more stone than being.
It doesn't mean a thing.
Not the music wafting through marble corridors from a farther room, nor the too-perfect white lilies placed by a dark haired mortal girl who smiles shyly at him when he enters. Brown eyes just like Bella's.
Oh, Aro knows how to subtly remind him. How to tempt him. How to reward him.
It's what brings him here today. Not to take part, but to observe.
"Do go, Edward…" Aro had fingered the gilt edged invitation in his sallow bony fingers. Smiling, with glinting eyes. "Everyone loves a good wedding."
Yes, go, Edward. Be reminded of why you are here. See her. See him. See what you can never have and what you have sacrificed your existence for. We know the subtext, Aro.
It doesn't mean a thing: not his white tailored suit with the pale shell waistcoat and gold cravat. Not the white designer shoes with kidskin soles perfect for light feet and dancing. Not the time he spent in front of the mirror – seeing his unchanging face, rearranging his hair and smoothing it back with cream.
Maybe if you didn't look closely at his eyes then you would never know.
Alice had been right after all: Bella could have saved them all, even him from this grim half-life in Volterra. She could have chosen him, and then maybe they would have fought, maybe they would have won, even against the Volturi.
He had not kept her close enough.
Instead, he had chosen to let her live.
He can almost see it, Alice's alternate version of events: him scooping up the toddler – the one who reminds him of Bella. Running with her like he's never ran from anyone or anything. While Bella lies dying, and someone – Aro? Carlisle even? – changes her.
Would it be worth it, after all. After the life of her son, after the loss of her daughter and husband. Could she ever possibly love him? Even if time were to roll on for all infinity and the continents shift and cultures rise and fall.
Then Alice said she would be with him.
But that wouldn't make it right.
It doesn't mean anything, Edward decides, as he sits behind the wheel of his rented Volvo, twiddles the dial of the radio until he finds a station playing a tribute to the Andrews Sisters.
Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me…
As he nears the Forks city limits, he feels like a soldier returning home. Hell, he's seen enough misery and destruction on Aro's whim. He's had his heart and soul hardened as much as any veteran. But there's no sweetheart to come home to.
…I could say bella, bella, even say wunderbar
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are
I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schoen
So kiss me, and say you understand…
He passes the green cloaked entrance to the Cullen driveway, and feels a giddy wave of nostalgia. Are Emmett and Rosalie there, curled together on the white suede sofa?
He shakes his head.
Remember, it doesn't mean anything.
…Bei mir bist du schoen
You've heard it all before, but let me try to explain
Bei mir bist du schoen means that you're grand
Bei mir bist du schoen
Is such an old refrain, and yet I should explain
It means I am begging for your hand…
It's approaching dusk as he pulls into La Push, the earliest he dares venture outdoors on such a sunny summer's day.
It's been a long time since he crossed the treaty line.
Faded days, pretending to drink soda in Jacob's garage and actually getting excited about fixing up cars. Trying not to fall in love with his friend's girl. Failing miserably.
It seems like a childhood dream now, like someone has sepia washed it and frozen the image in time.
Edward parks the Volvo near the beach edge and looks across the sand to where bonfires are already lit, and dozens of strings of fairy-lights twinkle, suspended on poles wrapped with white ribbon.
Someone is setting off glittering fireworks into the sky, and the ooh and aah of the crowd on the beach mingles with laughter and music from a live band.
He sits, listening to the thoughts he can hear, tuning out the lewd and avaricious, and honing in on those who are remembering the events of the day:
So full of steak, I can hardly breathe…going to need to let my dress pop a few buttons…[Image: inside of a white tent, gardenias.] So lucky to have snagged Jacob Black, he's such a hottie, suppose that's what happens when you get knocked up young, but those twins are super cute…[The fragrance of sea salt and pine]…That is such a beautiful wedding dress. You'd never know she'd popped out two kids, she's so slim…[Image: detail of pearl buttons and lace trimmed veil.]
Edward clenches and unclenches his knuckles.
Maybe he can't do this. Maybe he shouldn't. Maybe Aro knew he would get this far and have to turn around and leave.
It doesn't mean anything, he tells himself. Just one glimpse of her, looking happy, and I'll be satisfied.
He opens the car door.
She has her eyes closed and her head resting on the shoulder of her husband's gold suit. The song the band are playing is fast, but instead she sways gently back and forth as if lulling herself to sleep. Edward stays in the shadows, feels an inadvertent smile curl his lips. She always did have a lousy sense of rhythm.
Her hair is pulled back and gently curled, the veil held in place by a simple pin. The dress is hankerchief white, the small train making swirls on the sand. Her feet are bare and toenails painted with clear varnish. She smells like peonies after rain.
Momentarily she turns and gazes across the dance floor, as if distracted by a sudden thought.
Edward follows her gaze to where Charlie and Billy are sitting, a can of Rainier in one hand and a sleeping baby in the other. Both men's thoughts are utterly content, focused in adoration on the child they hold. Edward looks for the boy: the one who would have died. He's dressed in linen shorts and a white waistcoat over his baby grow. From here he can see a shock of black hair sticking up like a cockatoo. His dreams are of swirling ocean colours. Charlie Swan is holding the daughter – the one he would have saved, and her little face is turned upwards, to where the moon is peeking out from behind the clouds. Her face is small and delicate, just like he's imagined, and she clutches her blue silk dress with her chubby fingers. Her dreams are of the face of her father. His gentle voice, the way he makes her giggle.
Then Bella's eyes have found him in the darkness, and the look upon her face is pure shock. She grips Jacob's shoulder, and he stiffens and turns.
Edward, his thoughts shout.
They both turn, and he wonders…should he run? None of the words he's rehearsed seem appropriate. Even his stupid wedding suit looks out of place, as if he's an uninvited guest.
Then Bella runs towards him, practically tripping over her gown, and she's flung herself at him.
"Edward, you came!" Her eyes are suddenly brighter, and filled with tears. She turns to Jacob, who is smiling now, shaking his hand.
"Jacob, look, he came. I told you he would, if he could." Bella smiles as if she's just been told that all the world's ills are about to be solved. She is looking at him like he's the next Messiah.
"Never second guess your wife," Jacob smirks, cocking an eyebrow. "Why don't you two catch up?" Edward searches Jacob's thoughts at the apparent generosity, noticing the stress on the word, wife. So Jacob trusts him. Sort of.
As Jacob moves away across the sand to join Embry and Seth, Bella touches his hand.
"I'm so glad you are here. There's so much to say. I never got the chance."
Edward shakes his head.
"Don't. That's not why I'm here. I just…wanted to see you."
"It's good to see you. I…missed you."
Her eyes are ringed with some sort of dark make-up. It makes her look even more haunting. Edward burns the memory of those words, and those eyes into his mind, storing them indelibly in his mind. He'll need them later.
"Would you like to dance?"
Bella laughs. "With you? Last time I danced with you, you were the swing instructor and it was pretty messy, I seem to remember…"
Edward smiles, and pulls her close into hold.
"No tricks, I promise."
"Really?" Bella looks sceptical.
"Maybe just one or two…" Edward dips her gently to the ground and briefly holds her there.
As he guides her back up into his arms, he sees Carlisle and Esme near the water's edge, looking over at him with warm surprise.
"You invited my family?"
"Yup," Bella grins.
"And Sam let you?"
"Sam doesn't have the say-so anymore. There's been a few changes round here, and let's just say that vampire / wolf relations have significantly improved."
Edward scans the thoughts around him: Paul…Jared…Quil until he reaches the correct conclusion.
"Jacob is Alpha."
Bella nods, smiling proudly.
Edward lets his mind drift to Carlisle and Esme, falters a little.
"They don't live here anymore."
"No, they are just here for the wedding. No more vampires in Forks," Bella says lightly.
They sway for another minute.
"Edward, I have to thank you – what you've done for us…"
"It doesn't matter." Edward shakes his head, averts his eyes.
"How can you say that. Of course it does. You've given everything, and I just threw it back in your face…" Edward feels Bella start to tremble a little. Is it the night air, or his cold body – he can't be sure. Steps back from her a little.
"Bella, you made all the right decisions, do you understand?" Edward risks tipping up her chin to meet his eyes. They have stopped dancing and just stand looking at each other. "I just wanted to make sure you were happy. Because if you are, then it's all worth it."
Bella's breath hitches a little.
"I'm so happy," she says huskily.
"Good. Then go and dance with your husband. He's waiting for you." Edward forces himself to speak teasingly, smile.
"Will you be here for a while?" Bella frowns. "You're not going to suddenly disappear, are you?"
Actually, I was planning to, but what else can I not deny you, Edward feels like saying. Instead he forces a laugh, winks.
"What? When I have all the fine gossip from La Push to catch up on? I can't wait to hear about your Dad and Leah Clearwater, for starters," He jokes.
Bella gasps. "Yeah, that." She laughs and shakes her head. "Took us by surprise too. You should have seen my Mom's face when she first met Leah."
"I'll bet." Edward makes shooing motions, and Bella skips away across the sand. He watches as she slips her hand into Jacob's, and he automatically puts his arm around her shoulder.
Turns and looks out to sea.
Are you alright, son?
Carlisle's thought washes over him as he approaches. Esme smiles kindly and puts her small arm around his waist. The three of them stand close together, like a perfect family montage as the rest of the bridal party moves as one underneath the canopy of stars on First Beach, and James Island seems to take a breath and the world just for one stark moment swings on its axis and in that cavorting second there are flames rising and ash in the air, and the scent of cedar, talcum dusted children, Bella's perfume…
… and it means everything.