Apologies for the length of time it took to post this final chapter. Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read and review.
"It is. I have reflected. It is Fate. Everything is Fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate—flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us—we settle nothing—"
"You have not reflected at all," rapped the clergyman. "Let me give you a useful tip, Emerson: attribute nothing to Fate. Don't say, 'I didn't do this,' for you did it, ten to one."
A Room with a View
The rain is accompanied by a drifting fog, like two companions unwilling to be parted. The damp obscures her surroundings, the street corner seemingly isolated and lonely…until the looming figure of a double decker bus or black cab looms through the mist, a rumbling reminder of the bustling city.
Though the gray slab of pavement beneath her feet and the gray stone of the Georgian buildings rising all around are utterly dissimilar to the wild green of the Olympic peninsula, she cannot help being drawn back to another damp, misty day—the day she'd awoken to this life.
Bella's eyes fall to her feet, the waxed laces of her simple black boots and the hem of her heavy duffle coat blurring before a gaze lost to memory. Edward had encouraged her to discard her shoes, the torn soles a painful reminder of the desperate leap she'd taken from the reservation cliffs. "Besides, you'll find you run faster without them." His voice had been light, his hand firmly grasping her own, an eager tutor ready to show her his world.
At first, she hadn't been able to breathe due to fear, uncertain how her limbs were able to follow in the streaking wake of his flight. How was she failing to fall, tripping over the uneven ground or tangle of tree roots? How was she ducking the low limbs of pine and fir, or weaving between the mighty trunks of surrounding evergreens? How was any of this possible? Yet her body seemed to know instinctively how to follow in Edward's wake, the grasp of his hand firm and sure as he pulled her deeper into the mountainous woods.
"Miss? Miss? Do you need an umbrella?" The accented voice breaks into her thoughts, the memory dispelling like a dream, abruptly woken.
Bella's gaze briefly hardens as she sees the avid young man at her side, his expression undeniably interested as he peers from beneath the brim of the proffered umbrella. Though she knows she has an eternity to become accustomed to it, she doubts she'll ever get used to the attention her appearance now seems to draw. The young man seems to sense her impatience and discomfort…or perhaps, now that he has drawn close, his instincts pick up something dangerous and…off about the pale young woman standing on the corner. Bella doesn't feel any regret for the flash of something troubled she briefly sees in the young man's blue eyes. "No thank you," she replies shortly. Though she no longer fears losing control, she prefers when humans keep their distance.
Her gaze, richly amber, returns to her feet, her hands buried deep in the pockets of her duffle coat, her thoughts returning to that first day.
Her lip catches beneath her teeth as her memories snag on something unpleasant, one of the few flaws of near perfect recall. She can almost feel the kick of the animal's feet against her rib cage, the thrashing struggle of its fleecy body in her determined arms, and the rich warmth of the thick blood as it flowed over her tongue—she could be clutching its rapidly cooling form in her arms even now, on this misty city corner, the memory is so near, so detailed.
She would blush if she could, thinking how clumsy and fumbling that first kill had been, the poor mountain goat's throat roughly torn open, dark blood staining her chin and lips and shirt.
She had been unable to meet Edward's gaze, vainly trying to wipe her hands on the sparse grass of the meager clearing high above the clouds. She wasn't certain whether it was fear of the sorrow she might see in his gaze, or embarrassment at her own awkward tackle of the poor goat; her eyes sank shut at the thought of how it must have appeared to him, all flailing limbs, kicking hooves, and sad bleats.
A flit of movement preceded the touch of Edward's fingers at the line of her jaw, a tender caress, unhesitating, certain. "You should take down another," his voice was smooth, assured, untinged by any hint of regret. Bella's gaze flew to his, barely able to believe his equanimity in the face of this new reality. Was this her Edward, always so tormented and lost? "We have a long way to go and I want to be sure you're satiated," he'd continued, his explanation completely reasonable.
She had simply nodded, unaware of the irrepressible smile that was spreading over her lips—soon to be replaced by a grim look of determination as she re-focused her attention on the herd of mountain goats rapidly galloping away.
It was only after she'd taken down a second, her movements more fluid, her bite less hesitant, that it had occurred to her, her eyes briefly widening at the thought. He was no longer so tortured, somber and worried, because he had already experienced the worst loss she could have inflicted upon him. She had nearly died before his eyes, her body broken and limp, and he had thought he would lose her forever. If abandoning him had driven him to near-suicide, what could seeing her on the cusp of death have done to him? How could he be anything but light and relieved now that she was with him—when the worst loss possible had been averted?
Even now, more than four years later, she is still certain of this truth. Her gaze drifts to the road as another double decker bus lumbers into view, a gaudy video game advertisement emblazoned on its side. A few elderly women, their hair tucked beneath plastic caps to ward off the rain, step down from the bus to the street. Bella's gaze slides away as she sees they are the only passengers to disembark, her thoughts drifting back to those first few days, weeks, months.
She can smell the scent of wet pine and rich earth, recalling the mountainous forests that had been their path back to the lodge. Edward's pace had been unrelenting and she had first assumed this was due to his eagerness to return to his family. It was only when he'd abruptly dragged her from the privacy of the dark woods shadowing the rocky coast, his hand a vice around her wrist, that she'd understood he had other motives for moving so quickly. "Edward…?" His name had been a question on her lips, a frown of confusion forming on her brow.
"Campers," he'd said shortly over his shoulder. Her frown had only deepened; despite the speed with which she now moved, despite the fact that she had yet to feel any hint of weariness or exhaustion, despite the animals she'd killed to sustain herself, it was impossible to think she could be capable of hurting someone. She tries to recall the story Edward had told her of his changing, of his desperate glimpse of his mother and the thirst that had driven him nearly mad when he'd failed to hold his breath.
As if sensing her desire to protest, he'd growled, "You will not be the same around them." They were clattering over the rough rocks of the isolated beach, rapidly approaching the water.
Before she could argue, they were beneath the waves, the scent of salt and sea enveloping her, Edward's hand shifting from her wrist to thread through her fingers, gently tugging her forward. She had soon grown so distracted by the desire to hold her breath, and the realization that she no longer needed to, that fear or doubt about what she might have done was soon forgotten.
Bella's gaze grows contemplative as she curls her hands more deeply into her pockets. It is only this, the potential that she might hurt someone given how new she still is to this life, that can return Edward to the solemnity and reservation of before. It was the only thing that could threaten the quiet joy of their life back at the lodge.
They had remained in the water for what she knew must be miles, following the line of the coast until the sky darkened. Her hair grew stiff with the freezing wet soon after they emerged from the sea, but her hands did not grow chilled and her breath did not emerge in visible puffs of white before her lips. Edward paused only to plant a lingering kiss on her lips, his eyes glittering in the darkness. "We'll be there soon." She could only nod, still too absorbed in how easily she could discern the leaves and branches around them despite the gloom to fret about their pace.
Yet, when she spied the peaked roof and narrow chimneys of the lodge through the tree tops, it seemed as if a weight lifted from her shoulders, her throat tightening with unshed tears. She was entirely unsurprised to find Alice nearly vibrating with relief and excitement on the porch. For once, the dark-haired seer wasn't alone in her enthusiasm, Esme silently sobbing as she wrapped Edward and Bella in arms like steel while Irina, Tanya and Kate all exclaimed in a cacophony of questions and castigations.
"How could you think of offing yourself, you silly man!" Tanya's voice was only a little angry, and was soon drowned out by Alice's cries.
"I thought we'd lost you both!" She'd nearly lifted Bella off her feet with the strength of her embrace. "Don't you dare do that again!"
Bella had felt the familiar tug of Edward's arm sliding around her waist, his lips soft against her hair. "No chance."
Bella often found herself marveling in the following days and weeks how very much the same things were—and yet still utterly different. She still spent hours reading, or listening to the albums Tanya played, or sitting in quiet conversation with Esme while the older vampire mended Carlisle's shirts…but now she was aware of so much she had been oblivious to before: the ultrasonic call of bats high above the rafters; distinct conversations though the participants were halfway across the house; the unmistakable scent of blood when someone returned from hunting and hadn't adequately wiped their hands clean; and the strange, unceasing schedule of a life without sleep.
As time passed, she knew that though she still felt like herself—that despite the far more pale face in the mirror, crimson eyes slowly transitioning to amber—she was changing nonetheless, adapting to a life in which she never tired, in which she could continue to read long after the sun had set without turning on a light, in which she climbed the highest peaks of the surrounding mountains wearing nothing more than jeans and a sweater.
It was this that had spurred her to broach the topic of testing her tolerance—of venturing out without two people always in attendance, of questioning her constant isolation. It wasn't so much that she longed to be around people—after all, she had never needed much in terms of interaction with others. But she missed some of the normalcy of human life, whether carrying a basket through the aisles of a grocery store, or driving down roads with other cars passing by, or browsing the shelves of the library with the sound of quiet voices and shuffling pages in her ears. The lodge was a bubble, unreal and cut off.
It was one of the few times she'd wished Edward could read her thoughts, her hesitation and nervousness about raising the topic so palpable that his expression had grown instantly concerned as she fumbled for the words. Only after she'd begun to explain, "I know you trust me in everything else—and it's not that I mind…I know it isn't meant to be babysitting. But when you think about it—"
As Edward began to understand her point, Bella had felt her stomach sink at the dark cloud that began to transform his features from confusion and concern to baleful anger. "It's only been six months," he'd replied shortly.
Bella's gaze had fallen, recalling that this was the point at which Alice and Edward had once trusted Esme to be alone. "I know," she'd replied weakly. "And it's not so much that I mind the lodge but there are things I miss…"
Edward had nodded his head sharply, amber eyes sliding away from her wistful expression. Sensing his withdrawal, Bella had grabbed for his hands, forcing him to come back to her, refusing to let him recede, even if only emotionally. His gaze darted to her own with surprise, glancing down at their joined hands. "I wouldn't trade this, Edward, you must know that."
"No?" The single word was quiet and imbued with a sadness she had not sensed in him since before her change.
"No," her response was vehement, shaking her head. "Don't get me wrong," she admitted. "Every now and then I remember how amazing it was to wake up after sleeping in for hours on a lazy weekend—or—or the taste of chocolate," she added, thinking of the few things she'd longed for in their months of idle since her change. "I wouldn't trade anything if it meant losing you."
But Edward's gaze was still somber, amber eyes watchful. "Not even if you were to hurt someone?"
Bella's gaze fell from his own, struggling to find an answer. This was the central question, the reason for their return to the remote isolation of the lodge, far from any possible contact with humanity. It's a truth she could barely admit to herself—that they were no longer hiding from the wolves, or seeking protection with others like the Cullens. They were in Alaska to afford her, and to some extent, Jasper, the time to build their tolerance to the temptation of human blood.
"It just seems so…" Her voice was nearly a whisper. "So unlikely. I'm still me. I still love reading, and walking in the woods…" She paused. "And being with you."
"But you are different," Edward insisted.
"I don't want you to live with that regret." Edward's hands tightened around her own, the words gentle.
"I know," she repeated.
But he couldn't tell her how long he thought she would need. Alice had never hurt anyone and yet Esme, gentle, loving Esme who had likely felt much the same as Bella did after she was initially changed, had killed a man given the first opportunity. And so they remained at the lodge, even after Carlisle and Esme began making preparations to leave.
Another bus hisses to a stop before the misty street corner, Bella's head jerking upright at the noise. An involuntary smile spreads over her lips as she sees the familiar figure emerge from the lumbering vehicle, her features transformed from passive beauty into glowing brilliance by the appearance of Edward.
His smile is nearly as wide, amber eyes bright as he steps down to the street and crosses to her side. Softly, his lips land upon hers, his hands pulling her own from the pocket of her coat. "How was class?" she asks, ever unable to give up the human niceties that he'd so violently disclaimed in their second meeting.
"Bearable," he replies with a soft laugh as they begin the slow walk down the street. "The professor appears to know a few things that aren't in the textbook—"
"Which you've already memorized," Bella teases.
Edward tries to protest, golden eyes wide, "I wanted to see how it had been updated since I last read it."
Bella laughs, the sound obviously a delight to Edward's ears, his smile wide, his eyes trained on her pale face.
"You didn't have to meet me at the stop, you know," he adds, swinging her hand playfully.
"I know. But I was a bit bored at the house and wanted some fresh air," she dissembles, before realizing she may as well admit her true reason for venturing out into the gray, damp day. "Besides, I wanted to see you."
Edward doesn't miss an opportunity to tease her. "I thought I was the impatient one."
Bella can only smile, her gaze growing thoughtful again as she recalls her own impatience to return to a somewhat normal life. After Carlisle had found a position in St. Albans, she and Edward had been presented with the difficult decision of remaining behind in Alaska. While she longed to go with them, and stifled twinges of wistfulness when she saw Esme begin to pack, Bella was terrified she wasn't ready—and she wasn't willing to take the risk of her fears proving correct. Asking the two Cullens to remain in Alaska was an equally impossible option; she wouldn't think of denying them returning to the routine and normalcy of the lives they'd led before the upheaval she'd brought into their existence.
Alice and Jasper began to take forays down the mountain, venturing closer and closer to Healy, testing Jasper's tolerance and practicing different strategies in response to the nearby humans. Bella found herself envying the older vampire's experience, watching them leave with lips pressed together, forcing her gaze to return to the book she was reading or the game of chess she was playing with Irina.
"Soon enough, young one," Irina had smiled as she shifted her queen across the board.
Bella nodded, struggling for the resolve.
But it was much harder to be patient after Esme and Carlisle departed for Vermont, waving from the windows of the sisters' battered Cherokee. The lodge felt so much more cold and remote without their warm, caring presence. She loved Alice like a sister, but the seer was intently focused on helping Jasper, hunting constantly, venturing nearer and nearer to humans. And though Bella had grown fond of the three sisters, and even found herself laughing with Tanya on occasion, nothing could quite match the warm humanity of the Cullens' adopted parents.
Sensing her sadness, Edward had approached her one day, his expression a mix of anxiety and excitement. Bella had struggled to smile for him, knowing he hated to see the life she led now affect her at all negatively—but it was almost as if he didn't register her response, his gaze darting restlessly around the room, his hands twitching at his sides. It was the most human she had seen him in months.
Before she could form a question, he was speaking, the words urgent. "What if I told you we could test your tolerance safely? With very little risk?"
Bella's mouth moved for several seconds, unable to think how such a thing could be possible. "What do you mean?"
"Someone's coming," Edward answered, his mouth twisting. "I can hear him though he's still some distance away."
"I should go," Bella instantly rose from her chair, the book she'd been reading falling to the floor, her muscles alive with urgency and fear.
"No, wait," Edward's hands are on her upper arms, soothing, trying to keep her from fleeing. "I don't think you'll hurt him."
But she knew that couldn't be possible, her throat was burning with involuntary anticipation even now. Without waiting to listen any further, she flung herself towards the door, unwilling to find out if she could trust herself.
As Bella reached the porch, her lips sealing shut though she longed to scent the air, to discern if anything warm and living was nearby, she stopped short upon hearing the distant crunch of feet upon gravel. Was it too late? Would she be able to stop herself?
She darted towards the trees though she could hear Edward behind her, his shout pleading, "Wait! Irina and Kate are right here! Please, Bella, wait!"
Bella hesitated, momentarily reassured by the idea that the other vampires would be able to restrain her should she fail to control her impulses—and it is all the time Edward needed to catch up to her, his arms slinging around her waist and pulling her close. His body was like a rock next to her own, just as tense, just as worried—but his voice was a soothing murmur in her ear. "Just don't breathe."
It was then that the tall figure rounded the sharp curve in the road, bringing him to the clearing leading to the lodge. Unlike the time before, he did not pause, his stride confidant, his black eyes determined.
Bella's shock was so great that she forgot everything she's been told, she forgot every human instinct to do no harm, all conscious thought wiped from her mind as her eyes grew impossibly wide and her lips parted with an audible gasp. "Jake?"
Several things happened at once: hearing his name despite the distance, Jake's lips curved into a familiar, friendly smile; Edward's arms tightened around her frame as he realized she'd done exactly what she shouldn't have by allowing herself to breathe; Bella lunged forward as the tempting scent of blood filled her senses—then abruptly sagged back, her nose violently wrinkling, as the stink of wet dog subsumed everything.
Edward's laugh sounded in her ears, filled with relief and amusement. "I told you it would be alright."
Bella doesn't even realize they've reached the car park where Edward leaves his Aston Martin every morning to avoid attracting any additional attention from his fellow students, stopping short before the passenger side door. "Oh." The gasp is quiet but Edward hears. And what's more, he knows she's been too absorbed in her thoughts to register their surroundings.
"Penny for them?"
Bella slides into the sleek leather interior of the classic car, her lips tilting with a reluctant smile. "Just wishing you weren't always right."
His laugh is loud in the confines of the car, his hands sliding from the steering wheel to her nape as he leans over to kiss her.
Bella kisses him back with all of her being, surprising herself with her sudden passion. But she can't help feeling, in that moment, in the rainy gray parking lot at the edge of town, just how lucky she is to be with him, sharing this life.
Edward leans back, amber eyes surprised before the glint of something mischievous enters his gaze. "So that's why you came into town to meet me."
Her eyes fall to her lap, a protest bubbling on her lips, knowing her cheeks would flush bright red if blood still coursed through her veins. "That wasn't why!"
"Until now," Edward laughs, turning back to the wheel and twisting the key in the ignition. "Don't worry, I can control myself enough to get us home."
Home. A small smile settles over Bella's lips as she relaxes into the seat, thinking of the little house surrounded by a low, stone wall. Wisteria trails over the door, tangling in the shutters that cover the two front windows. Through the leaded glass panes one can see the milk glass lamps Bella bought at a Sunday flea market; they give off a warm yellow glow in the evening, perfect by which to read—though neither she or Edward require the light.
The drive to Killearn passes quickly, far more quickly than the hours Bella had spent traversing the Scottish countryside by bus and train to reach the misty street corner where she had waited for Edward to appear. The few midday commuters had largely left her alone, only one small child on the train cringing close to her mother as they passed Bella's seated figure. Bella had listened closely for any words of fright, anything that might make the mother suspect—but the child had simply whimpered and Bella had relaxed with relief.
Though they are foreigners in this place, and though they are far stranger than any foreigner the locals might have ever encountered, this has largely been their experience since relocating from St. Albans. They pass their days in the little cottage on the outskirts of town, building fires in the fireplace grate when the evenings grow cold, turning on the lights when the sun sets, and turning them off at a reasonable hour—all of the normal activities of an unremarkable couple spending a year abroad.
Edward attends classes at St. Andrews, commuting over the narrow highways in his sleek silver car, while Bella remains at home, reading, tending the garden with skills she picked up from Esme, and heating up useless kettles of hot water as a means of forcing herself to go inside. Like reminding herself to fidget and blink, it is a practice she undertakes to reassure the people around her that she is like them, that she is not some tireless automaton immune to the cold, in no need of sustenance.
Jake's smile had faltered at seeing her so transformed, a small, pale figure held back by Edward's straining arms: first, lunging for him like some rabid, snarling animal, then rearing back, nearly gagging at the canine smell of him.
"Bella?" The sad uncertainty of his voice was perhaps the only thing that could make her regain her senses, shaking her head, teeth clenching as she struggled for calm.
It felt like an eternity but she knew only seconds had passed before she managed to respond. "It's me, Jake."
"Are you okay?" He looked around the clearing before taking another cautious step forward. Bella glanced in the same direction and saw Irina and Kate standing warily on the porch, legs bent, hands raised, ready to leap forward should Edward be unable to restrain her.
"Yeah," she admitted after a long moment. Her voice was a hiss as she whispered to Edward, "You never told me the wolves smelled!"
"I didn't think I'd have to," Edward wryly replied.
None of them had ever thought to encounter the wolves again, certain that returning the peninsula would be foolhardy at best, and suicide at worst. After Edward had shared how exactly he had survived that long night at the bonfire, Bella had insisted on finding out a way to express her thanks to Jake. "If it weren't for him, neither one of us would be here."
Edward had nodded. "I know." He'd paused. "But the wolves' senses are in some ways as keen as ours. He might be able to detect the difference in your voice should you call—"
Bella had nodded, understanding instantly. While Jake had saved Edward, would his empathy allow him to understand Bella becoming a vampire? Could his surprising open-mindedness extend to accepting Bella as a cold, deadly creature, the sworn enemy of his people? It had seemed too risky to chance and so she had sent a letter instead, trying to capture in words how grateful she was to him for acting as he had. She had never thought that, months later, that same letter would bring Jake to her doorstep.
"I had a feeling…" Jake began, his dark eyes watchful, as if knowing Bella had, if only for a moment, wanted to kill him. His eyes shifted to Edward, his expression inscrutable. "Did you do it?"
Bella realized the tension locking her muscles was not mirrored in Edward's frame, his arms loose around her waist, his breath gentle against her hair. She glanced up to see him nod once, a brief flash of sadness crossing his features. "She would have died otherwise."
Jake nodded in turn, his black eyes briefly dropping to the ground. It suddenly occurred to Bella that Edward was not worried because he could read Jake's thoughts, he knew Jake meant no harm—and had perhaps come to terms already with what Bella had become.
His gaze had risen, a familiar half-grin crossing his lips. "Bunch of freaks—me included." Bella couldn't help her own smile in turn—though she was not yet sure what Jake meant.
She soon came to find out he'd essentially been exiled from living among the Quileutes. While he may not have been asked to leave, and would likely always think of the reservation as home, the cold treatment he'd received since the night he'd rescued Edward had never abated.
"You guys have food in this place?" he'd asked as they'd all finally relaxed enough to welcome him into the lodge.
"A bit left over from when Bella was still human," Kate explained.
Jake's gaze flashed in Bella's direction and she detected the briefest hint of regret there before his smile slid back into place. "Thank God."
As they settled into the main room, he went on to describe how even his friends had ignored him, refusing to take his calls, always giving excuses whenever he tried to see them. "Even my dad is…different," Jake admitted as he bit into a sandwich. "It's like he see through me, like I'm not there."
The room was silent for a long moment before Edward finally spoke. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Jake shrugged, lips twisting. "Me, too. I think the only reason I didn't follow right after you guys was because I kept think it'd get better—that they'd get over it and move on." He shrugs again. "I got your letter and the idea occurred to me—I didn't have to stay. I figured I'd come see you," his gaze flashed to Bella again and she fought off the twinge of sadness she felt at the realization that it was difficult for him to look at her. "Make sure you were okay, then head to Hawaii."
"Where your sister lives," Bella quietly finished.
Jake nodded. "I hope that's okay."
"Of course it is," Edward swiftly replied. "You will always be welcome among us."
Jake's visit allowed Bella to not only thank him in person, but, as Edward had suspected, it allowed her to safely test her tolerance. Not only was the temptation of Jake's blood incredibly weakened by the strong scent of dog that her senses now detected, but he was strong enough that should she ever somehow lose control, he'd be able to defend himself. She was sorry when he finally chose to go, knowing it would likely be the last time she would ever see him.
Edward lessened her sadness, however, by declaring that they should now begin to further test her limits. A few months later, they were soon set to join Carlisle and Esme in St. Albans.
Out of habit, Bella sheds her coat and moves through the living room towards the small, bright kitchen, her hands assured as she picks up the kettle and begins filling it with water from the tap. She listens as Edward does the same, her ears picking up the sound of his heavy coat settling onto one of the Queen Anne chairs before his feet follow her path, the tap of his shoes on worn hard wood floors transitioning to a softer thud on bare linoleum.
"I love that you still do this." There is a smile in his voice as his hands settle on her shoulders, fingers briefly running through the chestnut length of her hair.
Bella's responding smile is small and knowing. "You think it's silly." She twists the dial that ignites the burner, turning to face him with shining eyes. "My human habits."
Edward shakes his head, teeth flashing behind his lips. "I love your human habits." He pauses. "You were human when we met."
Bella ducks her head, "I know." She has often fought the feeling that he would prefer her to have remained as she was. She has told herself again and again that he loves her as she is, that it could have worked out no other way—and usually, her reasoning overcomes her fears.
She turns back to the kettle as it begins to steam, shifting it off the burner before reaching into the cupboard above the stove to grab a mug and carton of peppermint tea. She had explained to Edward that of all the teas available at the local market in Killearn, it's the only one that still smells something like what she remembers—rather than acrid and bitter to her too-sensitive nose. She pours the hot water over the tea bag and grasps the mug in hands she knows will cool its contents before too long.
She raises her eyes from the amber water to find Edward watching her, his gaze appraising. "Do you miss the warmth?"
Bella's lips tilt but there is sadness in her smile as she realizes that Edward is sometimes plagued by fears, too. She raises a hand, pressing her now warm palm to his cheek. As she does so, a dozen memories flash through her mind: reaching out to take back the pen he'd retrieved from the air, his hand snapping away before her fingers could make contact with his skin; the too brief support of his grip after she'd stumbled on the steps of the Clallam County courthouse; his cool hands pressing to her own as she hunched over in her office, tormented by the realization that their attraction to each other was now out in the open; the unhesitating touch of her hands to his jaw after they'd escaped the Quileutes, filled with the realization that she belonged with him.
"Do you miss my warmth?"
Edward does not hesitate, shaking his head sharply before lifting his hands to grasp her own.
While Edward had been relieved to re-join his family for a brief time, he longed to show Bella the things they'd only spoken of in Chicago. Though logically he knew they had all the time in the world, he couldn't help the urgency he felt after everything had been nearly lost.
The other Cullens have visited, Jasper enduring the long flight with Alice, Esme and Carlisle at his side. The small cottage was filled with laughter and conversation for the entirety of their stay, the fire stoked high, the lights left on as they all talked long into the night. It had not even occurred to Bella to ask Alice if the future held any hint of trouble, for she could not imagine her life being anything but joy with Edward at her side.
The tea is forgotten on the table as Edward leads her to the bedroom; the curtains are rarely drawn back from the windows, the light gray and dim. He takes off her clothing slowly, a torment given how fast she knows he can move, her gaze pleading as he trails kisses over the bare expanses of skin he slowly reveals.
She has never grown accustomed to the heightened sensitivity she feels at his touch, the hint of moistness on his lips, the feather light flutter of his fingertips against her skin, the rich, heady scent of him. Bella's breath quickens, another human habit never fully forgotten, hands dragging at his shirt and trousers, pulling him close, drinking in the taste of him.
They are on the bed in a flash of movement, Edward's body covering her own, amber eyes intent as he gazes down upon her upturned face. Silently, he takes her wrist, bringing her still-warm palm to his lips. His lips move against the sensitive skin there, barely a murmur, for her ears alone. "I love you as you are."
Bella flings her arms around him, a gasp of happiness and relief escaping her mouth as she buries her lips against his throat. Her heart is full with the realization that he can read her so well, that he can reassure her when they had once been so distant from each other, when they had once so misunderstood one another.
"I love you. I love you. I love you." The words are a litany against his skin, her eyes sinking shut as he pulls her remaining clothes from her body and his own, flesh against flesh, lost in each other. Her breath catches in her throat as her eyes open, caught in the intensity of his stare—his expression is one of such adoration and need, bare to her gaze.
"I love you."
It is some time before their bodies grow still, but they do not disentangle themselves, pale limbs wrapped around one another upon the rumpled blankets and sheets. Even after the light fades, the room darkening from gray to black, they do not move, her human habit of even breathing matched by his own steady breaths, contented.