"Anyone who thinks money can't buy happiness has obviously never read a really good book."
I am so sorry this last chapter took so long. I had more trouble getting this chapter right than I had with the entire 49 chapter up to this point. I had hoped to have had it up well before now (like, weeks before now!) but I just couldn't get it how I wanted it. Always helpful, I particularly have to thank my wonderful PTB betas, Thir13enth and SecretlySeverus, for all their help reviewing and offering comments, suggestions, and help with rewording not only once but multiple times on this chapter. I hope you'll all be happy with the result and think it was worth the wait!
I'm sorry I wasn't able to respond to reviews for the last chapter. This chapter (finally!) being done is a huge weight off my shoulders, so hopefully, now I'll be able to have some time to respond to reviews.
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
And now, on with the grand finale!
Two weeks later….
"I'm not fidgeting," Bella sighed, fidgeting.
"Right." Exasperated, Alice stood next to Bella and Charlie at the back of the small wedding chapel Bella and Edward had chosen, waiting for just the right moment.
Bella continued to fidget, and Charlie smiled indulgently and patted her hand where it rested on his arm, his gold wedding ring reflecting the soft ambient lighting in a warm glow. His daughter was as nervous as any other bride on her wedding day—or in her case, the middle of the night.
"Isn't it time yet?" Bella asked for the eleventh time.
"Actually, it's past time. We're late, and they've gone ahead and started without you." Alice teased, trying to calm her soon-to-be sister-in-law. Rosalie as a bride was easy compared to Bella.
Bella fought back a spasm of pain as a memory of her mother flashed through her mind. She remembered saying something very like that to her mother before her wedding when she was worried they were running late.
What are they going to do? Start without you?
Swallowing hard, Bella refused to let anything ruin this night. She had begun coming to terms with her mother's death. She'd only had seventeen years with her mother, but they had been better years than many girls ever had with their mothers, even if they lived to be ninety. And her mother was here with her tonight. She could feel her. "Very funny, Alice."
"Relax. It was your idea to have the minister pronounce you man and wife right at midnight after all."
"I know, I know… I just…. Isn't it time yet? We've been waiting here for an hour."
"We've been waiting here less than ten minutes, Bella."
Bella muttered under her breath, "Well, it feels like an hour."
Alice and Charlie laughed at her.
Finally, Alice smiled. "It's time."
It's time. Edward heard the words in his sister's mind a fraction of a second before she spoke them. His knees nearly buckled underneath him. He could hear his family laughing at him, but he didn't care. The only thought in his head was that any second now his beautiful mate was going to walk down the aisle toward him on her father's arm.
Often, something would cause his recently recovered memories of his human life to jump to the forefront of his mind. A lifetime of memories and experiences recovered in seconds was overwhelming, even to his vampire mind. A word, a phrase, a sound, a smell…. For the past couple weeks, almost anything could suddenly throw him back almost one hundred years to some previously forgotten moment. It didn't take much. Right now, Edward was thrown back to all the times when, as a human, he'd sat morosely as the thought that one day Bella would walk down the aisle on her father's arm had preyed upon him, because then it had seemed impossible that the one she walked to would be him.
It had been Bella's wish that she could relieve his mother's mind and tell her that the war would be over long before her son could enlist to fight in it that had been the catalyst of their incredible journey together. Now, Edward wished he could let the hopelessly in love young man he had once been know that the journey they had just begun would, in time, lead to this moment. Edward smiled to himself. Really, he thought, he should have already known then that the word 'impossible' simply didn't apply to them.
Over the chapel's sound system, the music he had composed for just this moment as a wedding gift for his bride started to play as the doors opened, and his sister stepped into the chapel.
The melody started off simply; two distinctly separate sets of chords—one deeper and the other higher—blending together and building to a crescendo that would peak the moment Bella appeared at the end of the aisle, before mellowing to the most achingly beautiful composition he had ever created as she walked to him. He had tried to capture every emotion Bella had ever inspired in him from the moment he'd first seen her handwriting to the moment she'd agreed to become his wife in this single piece of music. No composition could ever truly do justice to how deeply he loved her, but he'd tried to come as close as possible. It was a piece that he knew would never truly be finished. It was, in its current form, the result of hour after hour of work, but it was a work in progress. It was a piece that would continue to evolve, to grow and reflect their never-ending bond strengthening as they walked through the rest of their lives together.
The music flowed as Alice walked down the aisle slowly, her timing perfect so that just as the music reached its height, his Bella would appear in the doorway seventeen feet and five inches away from him.
Alice had designed Bella's wedding gown personally, and the two of them were the only ones who had seen it. Alice had been very careful to keep her mind blank so that his first glimpse of his mate as his bride would be as she stepped into his sight, and Edward's breath caught in his throat the moment he saw her. Bella's dress was the perfect blending of 1918 and 2010. It was soft white silk with a short train and had the long sleeves and high neckline of delicate lace—the fashion of the early 20th century—paired with the fitted bodice of today. Her cathedral-length veil was of matching lace with a simple crown of small white flowers and a sheer blusher veil covering her face.
Somehow, Edward managed to resist running down the aisle to her, and she smiled at him as if she'd read the thought in his mind.
Alice was grumbling to herself as Bella arched her eyebrow at him and lifted the hem of her dress off the floor, just enough to show off her shoes. Mismatched flip flops—the right green, the left purple—the one item of her wedding attire that, in her irritation at Bella's insistence, Alice had been unable to hide from him.
He smiled widely and rocked forward onto the balls of his feet. The light that shone from his Bella's eyes and her smile as she took in the matching, or rather mismatching, flip flops he wore on his own feet eclipsed the Las Vegas Strip itself.
The minister was cynical. Edward could hear him mentally sighing with boredom and in true Las Vegas fashion, laying odds in his mind whether they would still be married by this date next year. Based on the man's experience, the odds he gave them of reaching their first anniversary were not good.
When Bella finally reached the end of the aisle—those seventeen feet and five inches had seemed interminably long to him—Edward gave in to his need to touch her. He lifted the blusher veil, gently cradled her face in his hands, and kissed her.
The minister hid his irritation with an amused chuckle. "Now, now, son. You're supposed to wait until I say, 'You may now kiss your bride.'"
Never taking his eyes from his bride, Edward apologized as their family laughed. "Sorry, Reverend, but you have no idea how long I've waited for this."
"And now, Mrs. Cullen—"
Bella smiled and pressed a finger to his lips. She shook her head and corrected him. "Masen-Cullen." Reaching up to kiss him, she laughed. "Really, Edward, I don't know how this marriage will ever work if you can't even get my name right."
Edward's eyes drifted shut for a moment before opening again, filled with absolute adoration and looking down on his wife. His wife…. "Married. We're really married." He spoke the words with the incredulous wonder of a dying man given a second chance to live—which was exactly what he was—and Bella was unable to look away from his face. While speaking those words Edward's face held so much pure joy, it held her spellbound.
She took several long seconds just looking at him, memorizing every detail of this moment: from the indescribable look in his eyes, to the way his body leaned slightly forward toward hers—as if pulled toward her by gravity—to his slightly parted lips and his sweet, cool breath against her skin as he closed the distance between them and claimed her lips in a mind blowing kiss that left her breathless.
If he didn't open that damn door soon, she wouldn't be responsible for what she just might do to him right there in the hallway, but speaking would require taking her lips from his, and she didn't think she could do that, even for just a moment.
Finally, the need to inhale forced her to pull away from him; she only managed to say the word "door" before her lips were on his again. Briefly, as Edward slid the key card in the slot on the door, she thought to herself that that would be another advantage to being changed—not needing to breathe. Then she was in his arms as he carried her over the threshold of their suite. It was a silly tradition, she knew, but she giggled anyway. Once in their suite, Edward kicked the door shut.
This was where Bella had dressed before the ceremony. A small hallway led to the bedroom, beyond which lay the sunken living room featuring a phenomenal view of the strip—which Alice had teasingly said she should appreciate while she had the chance, because after the ceremony she doubted either of them would even notice it.
The suite was luxuriously decorated in shades of cream, dark grey, and muted gold with rich, warm wood accent pieces. It was theirs for a whole week, and she had no intention of leaving it for any reason during that week. She hadn't even seen any reason to leave the king-sized bed for more than the few human moments she would need—until she saw the bathroom with its Roman tub and enormous, multi-jetted shower, her mind instantly making plans for both.
Edward kneeled on the bed and laid her down carefully in the center. There had been a few additions to the room since she'd left it. The bed was covered with red rose petals and a serving tray made of wood so dark it was nearly black lay to her side with a bucket of iced champagne, chocolate covered strawberries—one of her absolute favorite things in the world—two crystal glasses, candles, and a single long stemmed red rose.
"Champagne? I'm surprised at you, Edward. Corrupting a minor with alcohol." She picked up the rose, inhaling it's fragrant aroma, as Edward chose a strawberry to feed to her.
"Thanks to Jasper, as far as the hotel is concerned, we are both twenty-one. And it's not alcohol I intend to corrupt you with, Mrs. Masen-Cullen."
Bella's eyes drifted shut with delight. The sweet, ripe strawberry with the rich dark chocolate was pure heaven. "I wish you could taste how amazing they are," she sighed.
Edward didn't reply, he just smiled at her as he poured her a glass of champagne and chose another strawberry, dipping it into the glass. "They're supposed to be better with the champagne," he explained.
As she bit into the berry, a small drop of juice ran down Edward's finger. Bella took his finger in her mouth and ran her tongue along the digit, looking up at him through her lashes. "They're better with you."
Edward pushed the tray aside and set the bottle and glass on the nightstand next to the bed. He laid his body on top of her. "I love you so much."
Bella slid his suit coat off and ran her hands over every inch of her husband she could reach. "I love you, too." Pulling his tie off and unbuttoning the first six buttons on his shirt before pulling it free from the waistband of his slacks, her hands rediscovered his chest before she slid from underneath him and turned her back to him. Looking back at him over her shoulder, she smiled seductively at him. "Unbutton me?"
Edward's deft fingers made short work of the buttons down the back of her dress, but before he could slide it down her arms, she stood and playfully scolded him, teasing him as she stepped into the bathroom. "Ah, ah, ah. You are to wait right here and not move."
In the bathroom, Bella exhaled and tried to steady her nerves. Slipping her dress off, she carefully hung it on the padded hanger Alice had left for her on the back of the door. Next to it hung her bridal peignoir, a simple but beautiful sheer white silk negligee with thin straps and a deep V neckline. The bust area was of delicate lace adorned with tiny pearls appliquéd atop the silk. It hung long and flowing from the high empire waist to just skim the floor. It was soft and delicate and feminine and absolutely beautiful and had been a special gift from Tanya that Bella knew both she and Alice had worked hard to keep shielded from Edward.
The other item Bella had left in the bathroom was a box of condoms. She'd asked that they at least try, and Edward had relented, though she knew he still had reservations. One of which was his venom—which was where the condoms came in, though his venom would dissolve them in minutes. His other worry wasn't as easily dealt with. Edward was terrified he would hurt her, that he would be unable to control himself, and he had been absolutely adamant that all he could promise her was that they would try.
She slipped the delicate negligee over her head and looked at her reflection in the mirror, feeling more nervous than she had expected she would. This is silly, she told herself. It was silly to be so nervous. It wasn't like Edward had never seen her naked before, but standing in front of the full-length mirror in this beautiful peignoir, she felt inadequate. She couldn't see herself as beautiful. She was too thin, too pale… just too plain. She knew that Edward's only reluctance was for her safety; she knew he wanted this as badly as she did. If not even more so after having waited for it, for her, for so long. What if she disappointed him? How could she possibly live up to his expectations after having waited so long?
Maybe she'd been wrong to ask him for this now. Maybe he'd been right, and they should wait until after her change. He wouldn't have to worry about anything then. Didn't she owe him that much? That when they made love, he could surrender himself fully? He'd waited almost one hundred years for her, why hadn't she been willing to wait for him for even just a few short months? To wait just a little while longer so that when they came together as one he would have no fears for her safety? To wait until he could claim her as his without having to be constantly on his guard, constantly holding himself in check, holding himself back.
She must have spent more time in the bathroom agonizing than she realized, because Edward knocked on the door and asked hesitantly if she was alright. Bella took a deep breath before answering that she was fine and then took several more. She looked at herself in the mirror and shook her head at herself. You're being stupid. He waited all that time because he didn't want anyone else, even when he didn't know it he only wanted you. Now, he's waiting for you, so get your butt out there. If he says it's too much, don't push him. Just let it happen or not happen and just get your butt out there.
Forcing her nerves away, Bella straightened her back, squared her shoulders, and opened the door.
Edward had been about to knock again, and his hand froze in the act. His eyes widened, and his jaw fell, his hand still raised, poised to knock, forgotten. His golden eyes raked over her slowly from head to toe and back up. His hand fell limply to his side. He closed his mouth, and Bella could hear his teeth snap against each other. He licked his lips, his voice was breathy, restrained. "That's… new."
Pleased at his reaction and laughing at herself for having been so anxious, Bella bit her bottom lip, smiling up at him. As they locked on her white teeth, worrying the pink flesh, his eyes widened further before the lids drooped heavily. With all her doubts instantly erased by his love and lust-filled gaze, Bella spun around playfully, teasingly, and she looked up at him, her own eyes filled with the thrill of knowing how she was affecting him and being equally affected by him herself. "Do you like it?"
Edward's voice shook with restraint. "It's very nice."
Bella set the box of condoms on the nightstand next to the bed, and the desire in Edward's eyes was instantly replaced with all the anxiety she herself had felt only a minute ago. She wrapped her arms around him. "I was wrong to push you, Edward. If you say we wait, we'll wait and I won't mention it again. I'm sorry. I want our first time to be perfect for you, and it won't be if you're worried the whole time."
Bella felt Edward's body shake slightly as he chuckled to himself before he picked her up and tossed her unceremoniously onto the bed, sending rose petals flying everywhere.
Startled, Bella shrieked.
Edward stood looking down at his mate, his wife, his Bella. Her eyes were wide with surprise and desire, her breathing heavy, her chest heaving. He growled possessively and pounced on her. Poised carefully over her, he buried his face in her neck, his lips and tongue claiming her skin. "And if I don't want to wait?"
"Oh, God…." Bella arched against him, her hands frantically trying to remove his shirt. When she couldn't control her fingers well enough to push the last two buttons through the holes, she grabbed the cotton in her hands and ripped.
Edward knelt over her, his shirt half off. They were both panting. "You didn't answer my question. What if I don't want to wait?"
Bella grabbed his torn shirt to pull him back down, but he didn't budge.
"I'm serious, Bella. I don't want to wait anymore, but I need to know if you do. If you've changed your mind—"
Bella cut him off with a kiss. Unable to pull him down to her, she'd pushed herself up to him on one arm and twisted her other hand into his hair. She answered him against his lips as she kissed him. "I want you."
Edward gently pushed her back down against the pillows, his fingers playing with the strap of her negligee. "This really is beautiful, but not nearly so beautiful as what it's concealing."
As he carefully slid the straps from her shoulders, Bella shifted, allowing him to slide it down her body. He pressed his face against her abdomen as he tossed the nightgown aside and slid her white lace panties down her legs. Once she was naked beneath him, his eyes drank her in, his gaze reverent. "You are exquisite."
Bella dragged him to her by his shirt and kissed him. He removed his shirt as her hands went to the button on his pants. Naked, they lay together, taking their time, unhurried hands roaming everywhere they could reach, legs twisting together, promises of love and forever spoken between heated kisses.
Their eyes met, and Bella pressed her forehead against his. I love you, Edward.
As he heard her thoughts for a second time, Edward's face lit up with the smile that was hers and hers alone. "I love you, too."
Since the first time Edward had heard Bella's thoughts—the morning she'd agreed to marry him—they had tried again, but they had never managed it again until now. Perhaps it would one day be something they could manage at will, but for now, it was sporadic. Possibly needing the proper motivation, Edward mused.
Edward lay beside her, propped up on one elbow, his hand tracing the dark strands of her hair fanned out on the pillow. He covered her face with kisses that slowly moved down her throat, her pulse pounding against his lips, echoing throughout him. Moving slowly, carefully, his hand caressed her breasts. He could feel her heart beating madly against his fingertips as she arched into his touch. The feel of her pulse, the scent of her warm blood, the sound of her heartbeat… all constant reminders of how very fragile his Bella was—as if he needed reminding.
His lips and tongue followed the path of his hand as it slid down her body. The sounds she made were driving him wild with desire, and even as her heart beat, some small, traitorous, selfish part of his mind impatiently relished the day he could give in to the desire she brought out in him without restraint.
As his hand reached its goal, she gasped and cried out.
Edward's mouth moved along her breast, his tongue circling her nipple, causing her to moan again. She buried her hand in his hair, her nails dragging along his scalp. That traitorous part of his mind was gaining strength, reminding him that one day he wouldn't need to be careful, that one day he could suck the pink skin into his mouth, could take it between his teeth.
Edward held his breath as Bella turned her head, pressing her forehead against his forearm, breathing hard. His bride's already pounding heart beat faster as he gently stroked her. Her hips thrust against his fingers, encouraging the pleasure growing inside her. His body tensed, nearly shaking from the force of his restraint, Edward moved his hand lower. His thumb replaced his fingers without missing a beat as his finger slowly and carefully entered her.
His thumb stroking her, his finger sliding inside her, the scent of her arousal washing over him, Edward growled possessively. Holding onto his control, he added a second finger, and soon he felt her body begin to tighten. Moments later, her body writhing, her hands behind her head gripping the edge of the mattress and her back arching, his Bella cried out his name as the pleasure inside her reached its peak and crashed over her like a tidal wave.
Breathing heavy, her face tinged a beautiful pink, his bride gazed up at him, her chocolate brown eyes filled with her love for him as her heartbeat began to slowly return to normal. Treasuring every beat, Edward lowered his face to her, cheek-to-cheek, feeling her warm skin against his. "No one has ever loved anyone as much as I love you."
He felt her cheek lift as she smiled, whispering into his ear, "With one exception."
Silently, they lay side by side, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes, until Bella gently pushed her hips up against him and nodded her head, wordlessly telling him she was ready.
Hesitantly, Edward moved to settle himself kneeling between her legs. Pushing herself up on one arm, she stroked his hip with her other hand, her eyes looking deeply and lovingly into his before she reached over to the nightstand and picked up the small box, grateful her hand didn't shake as she took a packet out and ripped it open. Edward made a sound that was half groan, half sigh as her fingers touched him. Neither spoke as she rolled the condom onto him. Trying to hide her nervousness, she smiled at him as she lay back against the pillows. "Right, so… now, I just… lie back and let you do all the work. Hardly seems fair. Next time, we can switch, and you can lay back and let me do the work."
Edward moaned. His erection twitched as she traced her fingers along its length, and his hips bucked forward. He wanted this so badly. He ached for her. But there was no escaping the fact that their first coupling was going to be painful for Bella. "If it hurts too much—"
"Just go slowly. I'll be fine. I want this. I want you… so much."
Folding her arms behind her head, Bella ran her foot along the back of his calf, and with extreme caution, Edward positioned himself, his erection pressing intimately against his mate. He took a deep breath and slowly slid into her.
The feeling of his wife's body accepting him, welcoming him, was like being consumed by a fire that healed rather than destroyed as it burned. His breath escaping him in a rush, Edward inhaled and exhaled rapidly. The pleasure coursing through him was beyond anything he could have ever imagined.
Cautiously, he pushed himself further into his wife, careful to watch for any sign of pain. Though his Bella's eyes remained locked on his, he could hear her breath catch and shudder. She winced, and he forced himself to stop until she nodded her head, saying, "It's OK. I'm OK."
Moving slower still, Edward eased himself inside her. Her body was so tight around him, he worried that while he was feeling the most perfect sense of completion and pleasure beyond description, his beloved was hurting. She bit her bottom lip, the skin turning white where it was held between her teeth. She closed her eyes and let out a long, shaky breath, but when she opened them only a moment later, they were clear and gazing directly into his.
Once fully sheathed inside her, Edward's eyes drifted shut. The pleasure that consumed him was so complete, he knew he wouldn't last long. Never could he describe how he felt at that moment—there simply weren't words.
Combined with the physical pleasure of being joined as one with his mate, the feeling of absolute completion and unconditional love and acceptance caused a phantom throbbing in his chest, as if his body was reminding him of the heart that still lay within him. Although it had fallen silent so long ago, it was still there, and this beautiful girl had brought it back to life.
When he opened his eyes, he could see all the love he felt for his Bella reflected back at him in her eyes. That his wonderful girl loved him would never cease to amaze him. His throat burned, but it was not the burn he'd lived with since awaking to this life. He swallowed several times, but the burning remained. His eyes stung, and he knew if his body could produce tears, they would be brimming from his eyes at that moment. Overwhelmed by how much he loved the girl beneath him and knowing he needed to proceed slowly, to give her time to adjust to having him inside her, Edward lowered himself to her, supporting his weight on his elbows, and bowed his head, his forehead resting on her shoulder, breathing deeply, filling himself with her scent.
Bella's arms wrapped around him, her hands trailing up and down his back. She pressed a kiss into his hair, whispering, "Are you OK?"
Edward's lips twitched, and he smiled against her skin. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"
"I've never been better." As part of her answer, she wrapped her legs around him, her hands caressing his back. "So, are you planning on just laying on top of me all night, or are you going to move?"
In answer, Edward raised his body, pulling out of her and carefully pushing back in, shaking with restraint. "Am I hurting you?" he asked, anxiously. Bella's face didn't betray any pain, but he needed to be certain. As he forced himself to remain still, his body was trembling with his need to claim his bride, to give himself to her.
"It… doesn't hurt… exactly. It burns, and there's a lot of pressure. It'll get better soon. It already is." She smiled at him reassuringly. "I think your fingers helped."
Still watching for any sign of pain, Edward slowly pulled out for a second time, sliding back in carefully. He moaned at the sensation of making love to his wife for the first time. She lowered her legs, bending them at the knee, her feet flat on the bed on either side of him as he pushed into her over and over again, each time daring to move just a little faster, push just a little harder, until he built a steady rhythm.
Her heart rate was increasing again; her breathing deepened, and her face relaxed as her body grew accustomed to his.
Although he knew that bringing his Bella to a second orgasm through intercourse on their first time would likely not happen, Edward wanted to at least make it feel good for her.
Just as cautiously as he entered her for the first time, Edward slid his arm under her, his hand cupping her butt. "Trust me," he said, raising her bottom a couple inches off the bed and changing the angle of his thrusts.
Different positions he wanted to try with her flooded his mind. He wanted to take her standing up, her legs wrapped tightly around him. He wanted to take her in the shower, hot water pouring over the both of them. God help him—he wanted to take her from behind. He wanted to lie behind her, his body pressed against her from her head to her feet, and slide into her from behind. He wanted her on top of him.
In this position, with her hips raised off the bed, he knew he'd be hitting the spot inside her that would bring her the most pleasure. "Touch yourself. Let me watch you touch yourself." His voice trembled as he spoke, remembering the way she'd driven him nearly out of his mind on the night of their private prom.
Her head pillowed on her left arm, Bella looked directly into Edward's eyes as she stroked herself in time with his thrusts with her right hand. He registered the surprise in her eyes as what had begun as painful—even if only slightly—turned much more pleasurable. "Oh," she breathed out on a sigh.
Edward could feel his orgasm approaching. As perfect as all the times his Bella had used her hand or her mouth on him had been, this was so much better, so much more intense. His entire body felt truly alive, joined as he was to his Bella. He felt lightheaded with ecstasy. Every one of his senses was supercharged, and he could feel every thrust throughout his entire body from his fingers to his toes.
Mesmerized, watching himself enter her body over and over, his muscles tightened, and his toes curled as the pleasure that had been thrumming through him exploded in the most intense release. The euphoria that coursed through him left him feeling boneless, and he lowered himself to his mate.
Bella's arms held him tenderly; her lips kissed the side of his face lovingly. Rolling to the side, Edward pulled her against him, gazing at her in adoration as Bella traced her fingers along his brow and down the side of his face to his jaw and finally his lips, a look of pure contentment on her face.
Edward took her hand in his and kissed her fingertips. "I thought I had prepared myself for this, thought I knew what to expect, but nothing I imagined was anywhere close to the perfection of tonight. I truly am the luckiest man in the world. Thank you. Thank you for loving me, for trusting me, for accepting me—"
"For stealing your letter to your cousin and being crazy enough to write to a boy living almost a hundred years earlier."
Edward laughed and laid his head against her shoulder. "Yes, thank you for that, too."
Bella ran her foot up the side of his leg. "Just think, we'll have an eternity of this." Grinning, she added, "You know, that bathroom has an awfully big bathtub."
"And that shower has an awful lot of jets."
"Shower tomorrow. Bath tonight."
Edward lifted his bride from the bed and carried her into bathroom. "A bath does sound nice."
Dozens of people were gathered at the Swan home. What had started as only a handful of people had grown rapidly as word spread. The police and fire departments were there. Reverend Weber was there, as was the priest from St. Anne's, the catholic church near the hospital. Practically the entire senior class was already there, and the rest were on their way. Several of Charlie's friends from the reservation were there as well. It seemed to Mike Newton that at least half of Forks itself was there, but people just kept coming.
Dr. and Mrs. Cullen, Alice, and Jasper were alone in the kitchen of the small house, looking utterly grief stricken. The town believed Rosalie and Emmett to be away at school out east somewhere, but Mike knew they were in actuality in Alaska, waiting. He held Leah close to him; their eyes fixed on the other. Finally, he closed his eyes. He'd known this would be hard, but he hadn't appreciated just how hard. For months, Jessica had hardly spoken two words to him, but the moment she'd arrived, she'd run straight to him, crying what he knew to be genuine tears. All around him kids he'd known for years stood dazed and confused. It was inconceivable to them that people they knew, kids their own age, could possibly be gone, could go out in the morning and just never come back. It didn't fit in with their idea of How Things Were that two of their classmates could leave school on Friday and not come back on Monday.
Some were crying openly, some holding hands and praying quietly, some sitting and staring straight ahead in disbelief or denial.
It was too much. He couldn't be around them right now; it was just too much, too difficult to pretend, and he and Leah sat huddled with her pack brothers and their mates.
The official story was that the Swans and Edward Cullen had gone on a day trip to Pillar Point to go boating and shell fishing. They'd gone out that morning in a small boat but hadn't been seen or heard from since. That was fourteen hours ago now, and the sky had long since grown dark.
There was no sign of the boat, and there was no response from them over their radio. The Coast Guard had begun a search; helicopters were brought in to assist.
But the search would be in vain. No trace of the boat or the "victims" would ever be found. The boat was at the bottom of the ocean several miles out by now. Bella and her father were—
Mike shivered—Bella and her father were on their way to Alaska with Edward and Tanya. Their days as human beings were numbered in the single digits. He'd been trying to prepare himself for this for weeks, ever since he'd been told of what had happened and what would happen.
The sight of Leah lying on a bed in the Cullens' house, broken and in pain, would never leave him. It still haunted him and always would. He'd known the truth already—the truth about the girl he'd fallen so quickly and so completely in love with, the truth about the Cullens—but until that moment, until he'd seen her lying there covered with only a sheet, severely injured and in obvious pain as the morphine dripped into her body through the I.V. needle in her arm, he hadn't really gotten it. The world wasn't what he'd always thought it was. Humans weren't quite so high up in the food chain as he'd always thought they were. Kids he'd gone to school with for two years were in reality over one hundred years old. He'd studied the Civil War, but one of his classmates had actually fought in it. He'd seen the movie Titanic, but another of his classmates had been supposed to sail on it. When the Cullens had cut class because the sun was out… when they'd skipped the bio class last year when they did blood typing… it was because they'd had to.
Werewolves and vampires weren't myths; they were real and they'd all been unknowingly living amongst them for years.
Mike didn't think he'd ever be able to forget Leah, surrounded by her mother and the tribal elders, telling him what she was. He hadn't believed her. How could he have? But when she'd led him outside and he'd been confronted with a pack of wolves the size of Clydesdales…. He hadn't been able to deny what was right in front of him, not after his heart started beating again anyway, but he still hadn't truly gotten it. Not until he'd seen her so badly injured and surrounded so protectively by her pack brothers had he truly understood what she'd told him that day. He hadn't taken in the enormity of it, he supposed, because he simply hadn't been capable of doing so. His mind hadn't been able to fully accept what hadn't even been real only an hour earlier.
But the threat was real; the wolves existed for a reason. Leah had been injured… she could have been killed… doing what she and her brothers were born to do. Protect defenseless humans—defenseless humans like himself—from… those like the Cullens who… weren't like the Cullens. The girl he loved so very much could have been killed fighting to protect him, and he'd had no idea.
Mike felt sick thinking how close he'd come to losing her. He saw Clinton Penn sitting a few feet away, surrounded by the rest of the pack. If he hadn't gotten there when he had… if he'd been only a few seconds later…. Tanya and Edward had already been fighting others, he'd been told. If Clinton hadn't gotten there when he had, his Leah would have been killed. He would have lost her without ever even knowing she was in any danger. He'd made her swear to him never to keep anything from him again.
So, now he sat here, one of the few people who knew the truth, knowing that the official story was a lie, knowing it was a cover, knowing the people they were crying and praying for were on their way to Alaska to end one life and begin another.
Leah nudged him in the ribs. "You OK?" He nodded and tightened his grip on her.
Weeks later, the exhaustive search was officially called off. Mike knew it had stopped being a search and rescue mission and had become a recovery effort at some point, although the change was never publicly acknowledged, but now it was being called off, and Bella, her father, Tanya, and Edward were presumed lost. A small, core group of their friends from school had gathered at the Swan house to help close it up. The police officers and their wives were there as well.
When Mike had arrived, one of the wives was emptying the dishwasher. The refrigerator had already been emptied. There were sheets folded on the couch that would be spread out to cover the furniture. The house had only been vacant for two weeks, but it already had the empty feel of a house that had been abandoned long ago.
Bella's father and his new wife's wedding picture hung on the wall beside pictures of Bella at different ages. One of the officers was taking them down and wrapping them carefully with old newspapers before placing them in a box from copier paper. There were empty boxes everywhere.
Mike didn't know what would eventually happen to the house—it would be sold, he presumed—but Bella's and her father's personal belongings were to be given to the Cullens, as her father left no other family. Angela and Jessica were in Bella's room, putting her clothes into still more boxes.
Not a word was spoken. There were people everywhere, but no one was talking, not a single word. How could so many people be in such a small house, everyone doing something, but there not be any noise, Mike wondered?
The house was so quiet that when the phone rang as he walked passed it, he jumped. He wasn't the only one. All movement on the first floor stopped. Everyone stood still, everyone looking at someone else, expecting someone else to answer it.
Who could possibly be calling the house phone? Why would anyone call the house phone? Anyone who needed to talk to someone there would call that person's cell phone.
Mike cleared his throat. This was ridiculous, he told himself. "Probably a wrong number," he said out loud. He picked up the phone, answering, "Swan residence."
After an obvious hesitation, a man's voice spoke. "May I speak to Bella, please?"
Mike squeezed his eyes shut. Not a wrong number. But… who could be calling for Bella? Someone she knew from Phoenix, he decided. It must be. Or possibly her late stepfather's brother. Christ, I hope it's not her dead stepfather's brother.
The man on the other end spoke again. "Hello?"
"May I…." Mike cleared his throat and tried again. "May I ask who's calling?"
"My name is Michael Masen. Bella is a friend of my family's. I've been trying to call her cell phone all week, but there has been no answer." Michael Masen's voice was quickly growing apprehensive, worried. "Is she…. Is something wrong? Is Bella OK? Is her father there? Who am I speaking to?"
Michael Masen had a sickening feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. Bella's phone had gone to voicemail all week. He'd left her a message—her birthday was coming up, he knew, as were her late mother's and step father's birthdays. And the anniversary of Edward's death was next month. He was worried about her. The whole family was. How much loss could the poor girl be expected to bear?
But she hadn't called him back.
They didn't speak often, but they did keep in touch, and it was unlike her to not return his call. Every fiber in his body was telling him something was horribly wrong. He was a logical person by nature, and he didn't panic easily. He knew on some level that it was hardly unheard of for a teenager to lose their phone, and that that would easily explain why Bella hadn't returned his message. But the moment a teenage boy answered the phone at a house were no teenage boy lived, he'd known something was wrong.
There was a long pause, too long, before the boy spoke again. "Mr. Masen, I'm very sorry to have to tell you this. There's been an accident." The boy proceeded to explain that there had been a boating accident, and that Bella, along with her father and stepmother and Bella's boyfriend, had been lost. Their bodies had yet to be found. He was a friend of Bella's from school, he explained.
Mic sank heavily into a chair, his head in his hands. Bella was gone. He couldn't believe it. First Edward, now Bella. Both only seventeen. Separated by nearly a century, but both lost suddenly at only seventeen.
After offering his condolences, Mic got off the phone as quickly as possible. He sat and stared at the wall, lost in thought for at least fifteen minutes. He felt dazed, like he was in a bad dream.
Both lost at only seventeen. And suddenly. An illness. An accident. Both only seventeen….
Mic knew he was going to have to call his family, but he couldn't wrap his head around it yet himself. He should have asked about a memorial service. He should go. Someone from the family should be there to represent Edward, and he was the only one who'd ever actually met Bella face-to-face.
Are they together now? The thought gave Michael some peace of mind. Was that why…. Because both were lost so young, with so much in front of them to live for….
Mic went to his office and sat down at the computer to type Bella's name into a search engine to find a newspaper article about the accident. Her father had been the Chief of Police after all; there had to be news articles about the accident.
He remembered the boy on the phone—in his shock, Mic hadn't even thought to get the boy's name—had said Bella'd had a boyfriend. That had been a surprise. It was hardly fair to expect her to mourn Edward for the rest of her life—but it had been a surprise.
Still feeling like he was lost in a fog, Mic watched morosely as several hits for Bella's name came up. He sat staring at his computer. He sighed and clicked on the first link which led him to an article from the Forks Forum about the accident.
He read, "...lost in addition to Chief Swan, age 40, were his wife of three months, Tanya Swan, age 32; daughter, Isabella "Bella" Marie Swan, age 17; and Mrs. Swan's cousin, Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, age 17. Edward Cullen was the adopted son of Dr. and Mrs. Carlisle Cullen…."
Mic stopped breathing. He sat transfixed, not blinking, not moving, not breathing.
…and Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, age 17…
The words swam before his eyes. After he didn't know how long he typed in the name he still could not make himself believe he was really seeing, his fingers shaking so badly it took several attempts. It just wasn't possible.
He got mostly the same list of hits he had gotten when he'd searched Bella's name. He sat back and licked his dry lips before wiping his hand across his face. He needed a minute, and he took it.
Finally, he nodded his head determinedly and looked through the links on his screen. There was one for an obituary for the boy with the name he couldn't possibly have, and Michael clicked on it. The page opened slowly, one item at a time, until finally the obituary displayed. Once it did, however, Michael couldn't read it. He couldn't pull his eyes away from the small inset picture. The hair was styled differently, the clothes were different, even the eye color of the boy who had been lost in the boating accident along with Bella, her father, and stepmother was different—this boy's eyes looked to be light brown. But Mic would recognize the boy's face anywhere, even in a photograph taken nearly a century after the subject had died.
Cullen…. The name of the doctor who treated them, the one who Pop said called his father to say they had died within hours of each other…. His name was Cullen. Wasn't it?
Without taking his eyes from the screen, Michael reached his hand out for his cell phone, which he knew was somewhere on his desk. Searching blindly, he knocked over a half-drunk cup of cold coffee and knocked several papers onto the floor before his hand closed around his phone. Eyes still glued to the computer screen, he fumbled with the phone until he pulled his sister's number up in his contacts. When Sue answered the phone, she had to say his name three times before he could answer her. "I need you to come over here…. Yes, I'm fine…. No, I can't explain. I really, really can't explain. But you need to come over here."
Bella's fingers ran gently up and down Edward's back. She was curled up on his lap. They were sitting together on the bed in the room Kate had prepared for them. Edward's arms were wrapped around her. The snow was falling, and the scene outside their window was breathtaking. Music was playing softly. Neither one of them noticed either the view or the music. Edward and Bella had been in their little room for nearly an hour. He sat holding her close, his face buried in the curve of her neck, his lips poised, pressed against her soft, warm, delicate skin directly over her carotid artery. He was trembling. He was about to end her life, and she was running her fingers along his back soothingly to comfort him. Edward shook his head, his body slumped forward weakly so that Bella was now holding him. "I can't. I can't do it."
Reversing their positions, Bella's arms came around him, her face pressed against his neck. "It's alright."
There was a soft knock on the door, and Carlisle entered with an empty syringe in his hand.
From his perch high up in a Western Hemlock, Edward sat, watching Bella over a hundred feet below. She certainly was a messy eater. He smirked as he thought to himself that the mountain lion's claws had improved the sweater she wore, all but ripping it to shreds, but then flinched as he remembered the moment of terror he'd experienced as the animal's claw had come crashing down across her shoulder, only to screech futily across it as if the animal was clawing a boulder. He was not yet accustomed to his new much more durable Bella.
Leaning forward with his elbows against his thighs, he called down to her. "Well? What did you think?"
He laughed, but there was no humor in it. Bella had awoken from her transformation not even three hours ago. Those had been unquestionably the worst sixty-eight hours, thirty-four minutes, and eighteen seconds of his life. Watching his beautiful mate writhe in agony, hearing her whimper as the fire scorched through her body, hearing her silent mental pleas for him to make it stop anytime her shield slipped and betrayed her attempt to protect him even through the slow burning torture of the venom changing every organ, every cell in her body by not giving in to the pain, not screaming out her pain until her throat was too raw to utter a sound. It was over now, but part of his mind was still back at the house deep in the Alaskan wilderness, back in their room watching helplessly while she suffered through the unimaginable burning pain and counting down those last precious beats of her heart, both praying and dreading that everyone might be the last. He was afraid that part of his mind would never leave that room.
After pushing the giant cat's carcass into a ditch nearby for the forest's scavengers to finish off after they were long gone, Bella turned, and with three graceful leaps she covered the distance between herself and the tree Edward had concealed himself in and easily scaled the hemlock.
Her last leap had been more powerful than needed, and she sailed passed him, laughing and giggling like a young child. Her hand shot out and caught a branch almost thirty feet above him, and she swung around like a trapeze artist, falling and landing on a branch slightly above his. "How did I do? Oh, my God, that was fun."
Edward pinched the bridge of his nose and his shoulders shook with amusement as she leapt and swung gleefully from branch to branch, tree to tree. To say Bella was easily distracted at the moment would be something of an understatement.
He watched her indulgently. "Are you having fun, monkey?"
Bella laughed, flying and twisting gracefully through the trees. "Have you tried this?"
She swung her way back to him. "What about it?"
A strong gust of wind rustled through the forest surrounding them, causing the trees to sway, seeming to come alive and dance for them, and Bella looked around in amazement. "Oh…. Pretty."
She was still gazing around in wonder as the wind blew again. "Hmm?"
"Have you had enough for now or are you still thirsty?"
Her hand went to her throat questioningly. "I think I've had enough." She swayed her hips around in circles and giggled. "I feel kind of swishy." Her face fell as she saw her torn sweater, her fingers running along the ruined wool. "Oh, no!" She misjudged her own strength and ripped a piece off the side. Her eyes widened with surprise, and she held the torn fabric out to him apologetically. "I didn't mean to…."
Edward took the scrap of wool from her, dropping it to the ground, and pulled her against him. "Shhh, it's OK, love. Ask Carlisle about when I woke up sometime. The first time I tried to open a door, not only did I rip it off its hinges, but I flung it across the room and into a wall. And I do mean into a wall. The door was embedded in the wall." Edward let his fingers roam across the exposed skin on her side, skin that was now the same temperature as his, the same granite as his. "You have no idea how many clothes I destroyed trying to get dressed. And I like it better this way anyway."
His fingers exploring the gentle curve of her exposed waist, Edward felt the growl vibrate through his Bella's body just before she grabbed him by the shoulders, shoving him back against the trunk of the tree. His left shoulder blade hit the tree hard; her lips crashed against his bared chest as she ripped his shirt to pieces.
Edward felt the two-and-half-foot thick trunk crack against his back on impact, the loud noise shattering the still silence of the forest as the wood fibers tore and the fifty feet of tree above them leaned at an increasingly steep angle before it fell, crashing to the ground. Bella stood, staring in disbelief at the splintered trunk behind them, her hand moving very slowly to touch the jagged edges as if she was afraid of doing further damage. "I did that." Astonished blood red eyes looked up at him. "I did that."
Edward smiled consolingly at her and rubbed his left shoulder where it had hit the tree. "You've got a much better story now than mine about the door."
Bella's eyes widened with alarm. "You're hurt!"
He assured her he was perfectly fine, but she spun around behind him, her fingers gently exploring the skin for herself. It was perfectly smooth. "Really, Bella. I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" Her fingers moved across his shoulders and down his back.
"Absolutely sure, but please, don't let that stop you."
Bella's laughter was like music—but then, it always had been. "Like that do you? How about this?" She laughed again and pinched his ass—hard.
Edward jumped and spun around, yelping with surprise. "Bella!"
Her hands roamed over him seductively. "Yes, Edward?"
"Ow. Careful, love. You're a lot stronger now remember."
Horror filled his mate's eyes, and she backed away from him. Edward pulled her back to him and hastened to reassure her. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Just… not so hard next time. Remember, you're stronger than me right now."
"I am…." Bella's words trailed off as her eyes drifted away, and her forehead crinkled.
Even though her thoughts were still silent to him, Edward could tell her mind was working to remember something that was there but just out of reach. "Remember? We talked about this. Your own human blood is still in your tissues. That makes you stronger. It'll last about a year."
This was something he'd promised to help her with. Remembering. It would be easier for her—people's lives today were so well documented with photographs and videos—and he was grateful for that. He wouldn't let her lose her mother twice.
Edward could see in her eyes the moment she remembered. He missed the beautiful chocolate brown of her human eyes, but even deep crimson they were stunning. They were still the fathomless pools they'd always been because she was still herself, still his Bella, and right now they were glowing mischievously. Her eyebrow curved upward and she smirked at him in the same way she always had. "Wanna arm wrestle?"
"I wouldn't even be a challenge for you, love." Edward grinned wickedly. "However, Emmett…."
Bella repeated the name like it was a prize to be won. "I could beat Emmett?"
"You could wipe the floor with Emmett."
"Ohhhh…. Can we go find him?"
"They'll be around eventually. Remember? He and Rosalie are with Bree, and Jacob is following her around like a lovesick puppy—literally. Jasper suggested giving you and your father time before being around another newborn and her very protective guard dog."
Charlie had yet to wake up, at least as of when they'd left to hunt, and Bella looked troubled.
"You'll see him soon, dearest. Do you want to hunt some more before then?"
Shaking her head no, Bella's troubled expression grew.
"What is it, love?"
"You told me I'd be stronger than you." Not understanding, Edward agreed. "But there was more. There was something else. I wanted to be something else." Bella growled in frustration. "But I can't remember what I wanted."
Suddenly, the mischievous glowing returned to her eyes and lit up her face. "Wanna race, Masen?"
"You're challenging me to a race?"
"Oh, yeah. Unless you're scared you'll be beaten by your wife."
Edward answered her smirking smile with one of his own. "Oh, it's on, Mrs. Masen-Cullen. But to be a proper race, I should get a prize when I win."
"You won't win."
"You're awfully sure of yourself. You know, I've never lost a race yet."
"I just snapped a two-and-a half foot thick tree in half like a toothpick without even trying." Bella's face turned to the picture of innocence, and her smile turned coy as she traced her finger down the middle of his chest. "Builds a girl's confidence." Bella leaned against him and whispered against his chest, "Besides, that's not the only thing you never did 'til you met me, is it?"
Edward's eyes closed as Bella's hand slid over the front of his jeans, cupping him through the denim. "Belllaaaa…," he moaned.
She hummed as his hips bucked against her hand. "Mmmmm…. Edward?"
"Ready?" she asked seductively.
Edward slid his hands under the torn wool of her sweater to cup her breasts.
"Set," Bella whispered as their lips met.
"Set? What?" Edward asked, bewildered.
"GO!" Like a shot fired from a cannon, Bella was gone, leaving him standing alone on a tree branch one hundred feet off the ground, blinking stupidly in first confusion, then disbelief. He could hear her wild, mad laugh as she tore through the woods taunting him. "You can't catch me!"
"Oh, why you little—" Edward launched himself through the woods, following his underhanded, dirty trick playing wife.
With her newborn strength, Bella's speed was greater than it would be after her first year, but she was still no match for Edward. He played with her, allowing her to think she was beating him, catching up to her every ten or twelve miles and reaching out to grab hold of her only to miss by inches and fall behind. The sound of her laughter danced on the air as she enjoyed their race.
In the distance the sound of a river could be heard, the water rushing downstream, following the age-old path down through the mountain as if it wanted to be a part of their race as well. Farther away, Edward could hear the inevitable destination of the water running almost parallel to them, and he knew Bella would be able to hear it as well. Closing the distance between them once again, he called out to her.
"Can you hear the river? About five miles to the west. Follow it; it'll end at the top of a waterfall. First one to reach the falls wins."
Bella's only answer was an abrupt change of direction as she veered west—and a sudden burst of speed. For the first time, Edward began to doubt his ability to win. Has she been playing with me? Letting me catch up to her, knowing she could let me get close and knowing she could get away?
But Edward had meant what he'd said, he'd never lost a race yet, and he did not intend to start now.
Play time over, the race was on in earnest as husband and wife tore through the dense forest, both calling out to the other, taunting the other, both intent on being the first one to reach the falls—an eternity of bragging rights was on the line.
As the roar of the water dropping hundreds of feet from the crest grew louder, Edward closed the distance between them one last time. Gaging their speeds, he waited until Bella was within feet of the crest of the falls and certain to be sure she'd beaten him before bursting forward, grabbing her around the waist and sweeping her off her feet.
She screamed with frustration, and squirmed desperately to free herself, but Edward held her tightly—no longer needing to be careful or have any fear of hurting her.
"I told you I've never lost a race," he said, teasing her as she folded her arms and pouted. "But, I suppose," he conceded, as he carried her in his arms bridal style to the very edge of the falls before setting her down on her feet at the exact moment he stepped at edge himself, "we can call it a tie."
Glancing over the edge, Edward looked down to the deep pool formed at the base of the falls created by the incredible force of the water eroding the river bed over the centuries. He pointed it out to Bella asking, "How about a swim?" His eyes danced as the image of making love to his wife with the water crashing down on top of them formed in his mind.
Only hours old to this life, his Bella was still adjusting to her increased senses, and her eyes widened with surprise at the scent of his growing arousal. A possessive growl emanated from her in response.
Edward took her hand in his, and together, they jumped.
Splashing down into the crystal blue pool of water at the base of the falls, Edward pulled Bella directly under the never-ending cascade of water crashing down into the pool after its four-hundred foot drop, the immense force of the water pounding on top of them, creating their own private super-Jacuzzi.
After breaking the surface, it took less than a second for their lips to crash with a force that rivaled the water as it poured into their pool.
There was no need to be careful, no need to restrain himself, and Edward didn't. Hands tore away clothing in seconds. Bella's legs wrapped around his waist, and Edward entered her in one thrust. Their lovemaking while she'd been human had been extraordinary, but now that they were equal, it was a hundred times more so.
And apart from brief hunting trips, there was no reason to stop. There was no need to rest, no public façade to maintain. They could, and did, express their love for each other over and over, in all the ways Edward had imagined on their wedding night.
Eleven years later….
"Oh, look! Hannah's got a batting helmet! She's getting put in!"
Eleven years ago, seven-year-old Hanna Masen had enthusiastically told Bella about her T-ball game as the Masen family had excitedly passed Michael's phone to each other when she'd called him, hoping to be told that Edward would recover from the influenza. The little girl Bella had heard shout out proudly to her that she'd scored a run in her T-ball game all those years ago was now all grown up and in her freshman year of college, and today it was her first game with the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, and the entire Masen family had turned out in support.
More of them, even, than those seated in the stands knew.
Edward and Bella had celebrated their tenth anniversary with an extended vacation, traveling all around the globe. The first year after Bella's change, they'd spent mostly just the two of them, avoiding contact with humans, but meeting the family—Tanya and Charlie especially—for visits every few months.
Both Bella and her father had taken to their new reality with more ease than Edward remembered experiencing himself. There had, thankfully, been no accidents, though there had been one or two close calls. Both Bella and Charlie had possessed remarkable control over their thirst from the moment they had awoken; even encountering the scent of a human hiking far off the beaten trail only days after her change had not overpowered his Bella's self-control. She'd pursued the man, but she had regained control on her own, held her breath, and turned and run in the opposite direction—something unheard of for a newborn. Several deer had met their end that day—as had the numerous trees she'd uprooted in a bloodlust induced rage—but the human who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time had never even known his life had very nearly ended.
Carlisle, ever the scientist, hypothesized that their remarkable control over their bloodlust as newborns, even in their first days, might be due to their knowing what to expect before their change and having already chosen to feed only from animals. Just like everything else about them, their refusal to feed from humans had been frozen into them during their change.
Now, having returned to North America, Edward and Bella were making their way across the continent—returning to Forks for the first time since their staged disappearance eleven years earlier. All the family were making the trip from the various places they'd settled for the time being. It was a very special occasion—it wasn't everyday a family of vampires was invited to a baby's first birthday party. Mike and Leah's first born, a son, was turning one, and greatly strengthened thanks to Jacob Black imprinting on Bree, the relationship between the Cullens and the pack had grown to the point that the whole Cullen family had been invited to a private party—shape shifters and vampires only—and no one would miss it.
But Edward and Bella had a stop to make in Chicago first. It was a dark, gloomy gray day—perfect for taking in a ball game.
From where Edward and Bella were sitting on the grass beyond the outfield fence, they could easily hear the proud parents' excitement. Only a freshman, it was a surprise that she was getting any playing time—but it was especially surprising under the circumstances. The Illini were scoreless, but they were by no means defeated. Their own defense had been on their game and had held the opposition to only one run.
They were facing the other team's star pitcher, and she had held them to only two hits through six innings and into the seventh. But she was a strike out pitcher and so had thrown a lot of pitches. She was getting tired, and the Illini coach saw that. Her control wasn't quite as good. Her fastball not quite so fast. Batters were still having very little luck, but it was taking more pitches to retire them.
Hannah, on the other hand, was fresh.
Her coach was turning to her now because Hannah had a natural eye for the ball and had developed a reputation throughout her high school career for patience at the plate. If it wasn't a strike, she didn't swing at it. If it was a strike, she did. And if she swung, she usually connected with it.
Her coach had watched the way Hannah had spent the game studying the girl on the mound—her wind up, her delivery, everything from the way the girl's eyes narrowed as she took signals from her catcher to the way she wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Edward heard the coach's thoughts; he was impressed with the eighteen-year-old freshman and decided to give her a chance.
After all, no one else seemed to have the pitcher's number. And besides, he had a gut feeling.
The girl on the mound had never faced Hannah before; the other coach had never seen her before. She was an unknown to them, and the Illini coach had a feeling they'd underestimate a freshman after retiring twenty out of twenty two batters.
Bella wrapped her arm around her husband's. She still thought baseball was boring to watch, although her new strength and coordination had made it fun to actually play. "How is she?" she whispered.
Before Hannah stepped out of the dugout, her coach put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a pep talk and his instructions. He wanted her to play up the inexperienced freshman image—walk out slowly, hang her head, slump her shoulders—wait for her pitch, and if she got it, swing like hell. He'd only coached her for a short while, but he already knew there was more power in those deceptively thin arms than the other team would be expecting.
Decked out in the orange and blue of the school he would have attended had the Spanish Flu never happened, Edward cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled out, "Come on, Hannah! Keep your eye on the ball! Make her throw strikes!"
Bella buried her face against his shoulder and laughed.
Edward heard the thoughts of the girl on the mound. Hannah's coach's hunch had been right on target. Through narrowed eyes, the pitcher watched Hannah approach the plate, breathing a mental sigh of relief, thinking she'd be an easy out.
Hannah smirked as the first pitch, just outside, was called a ball.
Bella noted, "Oh, yeah. You're related." There was no mistaking Edward's smirk on the young woman's face.
The second pitch was low. The third was again outside, and Hannah's smirk grew as her confidence did. The count was now three and oh, and the girl on the mound was no longer underestimating Hannah. She had not walked a batter yet, and she had no intention of starting now—against a freshman no less. But she was tired, and the next pitch was a mistake. She'd intended it to be at the letters on Hannah's jersey, but it was too low. It was right over the plate and belt high, and never taking her eyes from the ball, Hannah swung hard.
Edward heard the pitcher's frustrated exclamation in her head even before the crack of the bat could be heard. Hannah's bat connected with the ball, and it sailed high and deep. Her teammates jumped to their feet as one, eyes wide and cheering loudly as the ball flew toward the outfield fence.
The spectators stood, all eyes following the ball.
The centerfielder ran with everything she had, jumping with her mitt held high and her eyes trained on the ball, but there was nothing she could do. The ball cleared her outstretched, gloved hand by several inches and sailed over the fence.
A homerun in her first college at bat, with two outs in the seventh inning, to drive in the two runs needed to take the first game of the season. The Fighting Illini fans were on their feet and cheering like they had just won the seventh game of the World Series, but none cheered louder than the Masen family—the two hidden behind that outfield fence in particular. Edward had been on his feet the instant the ball left the pitcher's hand and had caught the ball, holding it up high like a trophy and grinning like mad.
Hannah's team waited at home plate for her and jumped on her the moment her foot hit the plate.
In the stands, her family was hugging and high fiving each other and everyone around them.
As they approached, Edward and Bella watched as Hannah ran through the gate near the dugout and up into the stands to her family. Her proud father's hug lifted her from the ground when a melodious voice drew the family's attention.
The Masen clan stood routed to the ground, suddenly silent, as a young couple approached them walking hand in hand. Around them in the stands, others had started to gather things to depart, but all now stood in motionless silence, in awe of the beautiful couple. In the days that followed, an onlooker would mention to friends that it had looked as if the family had seen a ghost.
The woman smiled serenely; it was the man who spoke. It had been his hypnotic voice that had drawn their attention. "That was a great hit, Hannah. Congratulations."
The woman pressed her face adoringly against the man's arm and continued to smile at the family, who appeared to have been frozen in place. The man held his hand out to Hannah to hand her the homerun ball; it was several seconds before she reached out to take it from him.
"Th… tha… thank you," she stammered, eyes wide and mouth gaping. Her fingers grazed his as she took the ball from him; she flinched at how cold they were.
"Do we know you?" Mic's voice shook as he asked the question the whole family already knew the answer to.
Edward's lips curved upward as he shook his head slightly. "We've never met." He kissed the top of Bella's head, and her smiling face turned up toward his as his attention returned to his cousins three, four, and five generations removed. "But I believe you met my wife once before."
The couple turned to leave. As the onlookers surrounding the Masen family watched the couple walk away, the man offered the woman his arm the way they did in old, black and white movies.
The family wanted to call out to them, wanted to stop them, wanted to ask them how…. But, in the end, they did none of those things. Edward and Bella did not belong to their world. It was enough for them to know that, in whatever world they did belong, they were together.
Edward pressed his lips against Bella's as he heard his human family's thoughts. He'd finally come to accept what they'd realized immediately. It didn't matter if their hearts no longer beat because their hearts would go on and on….
Well that's it! I hope you liked it! Sorry again it took so (sooooo) long to get the epilogue up. Thank you so much to everyone for reading, and a huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed!
When Edward tells Bella, "No one has ever loved anyone as much as I love you." And Bella responds, "With one exception." Those two lines of dialogue are (obviously) from Breaking Dawn Part II, which I just watched. (smiles!) I flipped it around and gave Edward Bella's line and Bella Edward's because it felt right for the scene, and I did change one word. In canon, Edward responded, "There's one exception."