Rating: M

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot are the property of Stephenie Meyer.

Thanks to her for bringing them to us.

No copyright infringement is intended

Big thanks to the endlessly patient and helpful Snuggler for being my beta.

CHAPTER 31

Author's note:

Well this is the last chapter. Thank you so much to all those lovely people who have supported my first attempt at writing by reading, reviewing and saying encouraging things. I'll take a short break to catch up on some ff reading, but I'm really looking forward to writing more.

EDWARD

For a moment, Edward sat stunned and shocked, as the crumpled front of the Porsche hissed and the pillow of white wilted in front of him. Somewhere near his head, a loud and incessant banging forced him to take notice. Someone was hammering on the side window.

"You all right, mate?" he could hear a stranger's muffled voice through the glass.

Suddenly, his brain activated – Bella! He looked anxiously in her direction. Her head had dropped onto her chin and her eyes were closed. His worst fears reached into his throat and threatened to choke him. Gesturing frantically with one hand to make the outsider go to Bella's aid, he fumbled with his seat belt with the other hand in a desperate hurry to get the two of them out. Once he was free, he reached over to her.

"Bella, Bella," he said urgently, as he feverishly undid her seatbelt too.

She opened her eyes and blinked as if slowly comprehending her surroundings. The stranger had already made his way round to Bella's door, had opened it and was reaching in to help her. Edward's own door was a little stiff but not as bad as he'd feared. He pushed it open and heaved himself from the car. As he lunged forward, he felt dizzy and disoriented, but nothing was going to stop him from getting to his girl. By the time he reached Bella, she seemed to be managing to walk with the stranger's help, although she hunched over a little. She wasn't bleeding, though, so that was something. With Edward on one side and the helper on the other, they staggered away. Edward knew that ideally it would have been better not to have moved her at all, but there was no way of knowing how volatile the car would be. They made for the road, it wasn't far and should give them a safe enough distance, but the ground was uneven and progress was painfully slow.

"I've given the police and ambulance a shout," the man said.

Edward smiled wanly. "Thanks."

"If you want a witness, I was behind you," the guy continued.

"Thanks," said Edward again, and he was grateful, but for now he just wanted to focus on Bella.

"Are you OK baby?" he asked her.

"I…I think so. My chest hurts a bit," she said, rubbing it with the heel of her palm

"Did you know the other driver?" the man continued, relentlessly. "He looked like he was trying to ram you into those lorries."

"No," said Edward.

"Yes," said Bella.

"What?"

Bella's pinched face peered up at him. "It was the same man, from before."

Edward was appalled even though he, somehow, already knew. "What, the person who attacked you, who attacked that girl?"

"Yes," she forced out and hugged into him.

The other guy, meanwhile, was insistent on maintaining his running commentary. "One of the lorry drivers went over to the other car when I came to you. I wouldn't be too hopeful of the other bloke's chances, though. You got off pretty lightly by the looks of things."

Edward glanced back at the Porsche. The nose was buckled and dented from where it had hit the tree, the windscreen had shattered and the airbags had deployed. There were scratches down the sides from where it had scraped through bushes, but apart from that it was surprisingly unscathed. It would still be a write-off though. He felt rather sorry for it. He shook his head as if to rouse himself. Why was he thinking about the state of his car? It was odd the distractions your brain allowed when your emotions were too much to cope with.

Once they were back at the road, the sight that greeted them was a shock. One of the lorries was still there and debris was strewn everywhere. The other side of the carriageway, in particular, was covered in bits of metal and broken glass; but the most noticeable item was the mangled mess that had once been a BMW. It lay on its roof like a great, dead insect. Edward instinctively cupped his hand behind Bella's head and turned her face into him to shield her eyes. On the ground, near the wreckage, was what appeared to be a body, lying in the grass. The lorry driver walked toward them. He caught the attention of Edward and Bella's companion, nodded in the direction of the body and shook his head.

"Are you sure?" came the response from the helper.

"Pretty sure," the other man said. "He only had half a head."

Bella turned, doubled over and vomited on the road, wincing as she did so. Edward stood over her holding her shoulders. Then he gently pulled her away and lowered her to the ground. It triggered a pain in his own chest that he hadn't been aware of before. Looking back, he glared at the thoughtless idiot for saying something so stupid. In truth, Edward, too, could feel bile rising up inside him although whether it was from anger, shock or revulsion, he couldn't be sure. Bella didn't appear to be seriously injured, and Edward prayed that she really was OK. He couldn't be properly content until she'd had the official all clear, but he allowed himself to breathe a little and thanked every deity that ever existed that she was still in one piece. They sat and waited for the ambulance. Edward's neck ached; he massaged it with one hand, pushing his head back onto it and screwing up his face. There would probably be a bit of a whiplash to contend with.

Twenty minutes later, they were immobilised on boards in an ambulance being asked to describe all the places where it hurt. In Edward's case, it seemed like overkill. When he thought about it, he definitely had discomfort in his chest and neck but it wasn't that bad. He was much more anxious about Bella, but at least they were on the home straight now. On the floor of the ambulance was Bella's suitcase and backpack. They had been rescued from the Porsche which, happily, hadn't exploded but was still sitting placidly in the undergrowth. Before long, the ambulance was on its way to the hospital, and Edward really began to appreciate how lucky he was. They hadn't been travelling that fast when they'd hit the kerb because of their progress being slowed by the lorries. Low bushes beyond that had slowed them still further before they'd hit the tree and the airbags had kicked in. They'd been buffeted by the airbags, but it was better than taking the full impact of the crash.

Then he thought about seeing the body lying in the road: the body of a man whose sole purpose seemed to be to bring misery into their lives. Edward couldn't help but be relieved. He may be planning to dedicate his career to healing, but this bastard had put Bella at risk. Now, it was a risk she no longer had to face. Once again, Edward knew, they'd have to deal with endless police questions, but after that, they really should see the end of it. There was something about seeing a human being reduced to an inert heap that made Edward painfully aware of the fragility of life. It frightened him, but it wasn't the fear of losing his own life, it was the fear of losing Bella. This was dangerous territory. He had been here before and had clung to her so tightly, he'd practically suffocated her. Now he just wanted to treasure every second they had together. Tonight they had been lucky. Fate obviously had other plans for them.

BELLA

Bella and Edward were taken to hospital for x-rays and stayed in for observation. They were signed out the following morning. The doctors had told them that they were fine; they were largely "just bruised" although Bella also had a couple of suspected hairline fractures in her ribs. She had no idea that bruising could be so painful. Immediately after the accident, it hadn't seemed that bad but the more time that elapsed, the more painful it seemed to get. In fact, the morning after the accident, it was agonizing to move, even to breathe, despite the pain-killers she had been given. The pain was mainly in her chest and neck; it was just that any movement seemed to involve using her chest and neck. Edward, too, was in a good deal more pain than he had been the day before. They were reassured that they would start to feel better in a couple of weeks, (two weeks!), but that it would be six to eight weeks before they were fully recovered. The original plan had been for Bella to spend a week or two with Edward and share his single bed, but that wasn't realistic now. She had to stay on in Oxford for a couple of days for police questioning so she booked into a hotel but, after that, it made sense to go home to Mum. Edward paid for a limousine to take her back and made the journey with her, not wanting to leave her until the very last second. It was silly, really. They both grimaced at every move of the car, and he would have to face it all again to get back.

Before dropping her off, he made a request. "I'll be going back to the parents for a few days over Christmas. Would you come and join us?"

"I ought to spend Christmas Day with Mum but maybe after that," said Bella.

She should join them, she felt, she had expected Edward to spend the weekend with Renee after all, but the prospect unnerved her. The problem was that she still didn't know for certain if Mr Cullen had sent her away so that Edward could go to Africa, or because he didn't approve of his son being with a commoner. She didn't want Edward's father to look down his nose at her; she had her pride. Or, maybe, she didn't so much have her pride as a huge chip on her shoulder. Two days later, she shared her fears with Edward over the phone.

"Oh for goodness sake, Bella, not that old chestnut again," was his response.

"Listen, it's hard for someone like me to feel accepted. I haven't grown up with the advantages your people have."

Edward chuckled lightly. ""My people", what, are we like tribal now?"

"Don't take the piss Edward, I mean it. I don't want to feel like a second rate citizen."

"And you won't."

"Maybe…it's just that…I've always felt…I dunno…maybe I'm just jealous. That's a terrible thing to say, isn't it?"

"Well, it's not great, but it's a natural human emotion. When I thought you were with Eddie, I could have killed him, I was so jealous."

Sometimes Edward said just the right thing.

He updated her on the latest news from the police. The guy in the BMW, the bane of both their lives, had at long last been given a name – James. He was some low life wanted in connection with assault and drug-dealing. The idiot hadn't been wearing a seat-belt at the time of the accident so was completely defenceless when the car flipped over the barrier. Apparently, it wasn't even his car – it belonged to some guy the police had found lying in a back alley nearly dead from hypothermia. Life was full of surprises.

It was Boxing Day, three weeks after the accident, when Bella found herself on her way to Edward's family home. Apparently Bella could survive without seeing him for three weeks, but it hadn't been easy. Edward had come to collect her, and they were travelling together in his new Porsche – emerald green.

"Matches your eyes," said Bella.

"Hadn't thought of that," said Edward, as if he didn't know.

Bella asked him if he'd ever brought up the whole Facebook fiasco with Tanya.

"I did find an opportunity to tell her that fabricating a relationship with me wasn't appropriate," he said. "Well, what I think I actually said was "What the fuck, Tanya, the sooner you get it out of your ridiculous deluded brain that we're an item the better!" Something like that anyway."

He smiled wickedly at Bella, quirking that familiar brow mischievously.

It was weird to return to the village and especially to see the cottage where she and Edward had first been together; it had been the site of so much pleasure and pain. Jacob still lived in his cottage a short distance away. Bella planned to visit him while she was here. She couldn't help but be a little disappointed in the way he had misled Edward, but she wanted to stay friends, so was keen to put it behind her. It would be easier now that she and Edward were sure of each other and that Jake, she'd learned, had a girlfriend.

As they swept round the drive of the Cullen home, it occurred to Bella that, for the first time, she wouldn't be using the servants' entrance but the main one. The front door looked suitably festive with a large Christmas wreath. Edward knocked and it was opened by David, the butler. He welcomed them in and offered to take their coats. Bella smiled and thanked him. While she removed her coat, some discussion took place about who should carry her bag to her room, but she wasn't really listening. She was transfixed by the magnificence of the hallway, decorated for Christmas. The stairs were garlanded with swathes of greenery embedded with red berries, but pride of place went to the tree. There, in the colonnaded hallway stood the real pine, smelling sweet and at least ten feet tall. It dripped with colourful baubles and crystal, but the biggest surprise was the presence of little candle holders with real candles. After David had gone, Edward came and stood by her and put his arm round her shoulder.

"Real candles!" exclaimed Bella. "Aren't they a fire hazard?"

"Absolutely. We can't keep them lit for long and have to keep a careful eye on them, but Mother can't resist putting them on and, actually, they look pretty damn cool….Come on. I'll show you to your room. You're in "Primrose"."

"Primrose", as the name suggested, was light, airy and yellow. A large, double bed was in the centre and solid oak furniture was arranged around the walls: a generous wardrobe, a chest of drawers, a dressing table and a writing desk. It managed to feel fresh, clean and cosy, all at the same time. There was an en-suite bathroom, too.

"You could still change your mind and share my room," said Edward.

"No, I'll be fine here."

"I'll just have to creep along the corridor to you in the middle of the night."

Bella punched him playfully on the shoulder. He burst out laughing, flinched and put his hand to his chest.

"See," she told him. "Neither of us are fit enough for anything like that, yet."

It was actually quite handy to have an excuse not to share his room. It was one less thing to feel embarrassed about in front of his parents.

"Let me at least show you mine," he insisted.

His room wasn't as large as "Primrose", and surprisingly simple, although one or two items hinted at wealth: the quality furniture, the en-suite bathroom and the double bed.

"Big bed for one person," she said.

"You wouldn't believe the times I've wished you were in it," he admitted. "From the first day I laid eyes on you."

Bella kicked off her shoes, walked over to the bed and pulled back the covers. She climbed in gingerly. Getting in and out of bed was still a bit tricky. They weren't kidding about the recovery time. As she lay down, she pulled the covers back over herself, right up to her chin.

"Like this," she said.

"Nearly, but with rather fewer clothes," he answered honestly.

"You'll have to use your imagination."

He came to the side of the bed and knelt down. Then he kissed her, once, twice, gently on the lips.

Smiling his delicious, slow smile, he told her, "Oh, believe me, I have." He paused. "That was in the days when I couldn't keep away from you, because I couldn't resist you."

"And now?"

"Now I still can't resist you. I just happen to love you too."

Mr and Mrs Cullen had been out when Bella and Edward had arrived and were not due back for a couple of hours, so Bella took the opportunity to freshen up. She returned to her rooms to shower and get changed. Both the bedroom and shower were really quite luxurious. I could get used to this, she thought, and immediately felt guilty. It was then that it occurred to her that she might not so much fear the Cullen's disapproval as their approval. What if they happily accepted her? Was that something she could, realistically, deal with? Well, she'd already proved she was pretty good at coping with going from one extreme to another: from state education to Oxbridge, from victim to saviour. Maybe crossing the class divide was within her capabilities too, but would it be a betrayal of her roots? Did she have to reject one world to accept the other? Then she thought about Janus, the god with two faces, the god of the New Year. He looked forward and back equally, accepting of both. Why not just aim to feel comfortable in both worlds? After all, underneath the trappings of privilege, people were just people. She made up her mind. If Edward's parents seemed genuinely keen to welcome her, why not just be glad.

Edward was showered, changed and laying on her bed when she came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. What was it about Edward with slightly damp hair that made him even sexier? The black jeans and petrol blue shirt, open at the neck, weren't helping matters, either. She dropped the towel to the floor so that she was completely naked but carried on as if he wasn't there. It gave her pleasure to take her time over getting dressed in front of him, knowing that he was watching her with a lascivious smirk. She had chosen a simple but nicely tailored dress in peach with a small, brown belt for her first evening there. Having stepped into it, pulled it up and slipped in her arms, she turned her back to him.

"Zip me up?" she requested.

She felt his presence as he came up behind her, and she stood with her eyes closed, breathing him in. He slowly pulled up the zip and placed his hands on her waist. She dropped her head back so that it nestled in his neck.

"You wicked tease," he whispered in her ear, and she grinned like the cat that got the cream.

Twenty minutes later, they were back downstairs in the large, inviting, sitting room. Great, silk curtains hung at the window, polished, wooden coffee tables shone and large, floral chintz sofas beckoned you to sit on them. Bella had plumped the cushions often in the past but had always resisted the temptation to sit down. She did so now and was pleased to discover that the seating felt as good as it looked. A large marble fireplace, festooned with Christmas swags, held a real log fire that crackled satisfyingly. It exuded a wonderful, homely smell. The new housekeeper, Joan, brought them a pot of tea. She seemed nice enough but was rather more formal than Renee. Bella sat upright, awaiting the arrival of Edward's parents.

It was signalled by a short draught of cold air and the sound of voices as they were greeted by David.

Mrs Cullen came in panting slightly and pink cheeked from the cold. She hugged Edward lightly and held out both hands to Bella. Bella took them, and Mrs Cullen squeezed them in a gesture of affection.

"Hello Bella, dear, lovely to see you again."

"Thank you, and you."

Then another person entered the room. Bella turned her attention to Mr Cullen. Despite the thumping in her heart, she remained steadfast and held out one hand to him.

"Thank you for inviting me to stay," she said politely

To her surprise he took her hand in his palm and placed his other over it. It was a protective gesture, one she would have associated more with Edward than his father. He was smiling, warmly, too. When he allowed himself to relax, he had a lovely smile.

"You're more than welcome," he said, and she instantly felt at home.

THE END