Chapter Ten: A New Start Up (with) Company
Relativity was a funny thing. These last ten days had seemed like the longest of my life, but now that this day was here, I felt like it had come too soon. So much had happened in the last few days since I'd arrived in Volterra that it felt closer to a year since I had left Edward and Jasper. But at the same time, I couldn't fathom that today was what Jasper and I had agreed on as our initial deadline. How were Edward and Jasper supposed to make it in such short time? How could I go to Bern knowing that if they didn't show up there, I might never seem them again?
"Relax, Bella," Alice said, putting a hand on my shoulder. Alice and I had come here, leaving Rosalie, Emmett and Esme back at what was my new home. When Alice and the others had found me my first day in Volterra, she explained that while she had no idea who I was, she had a unique gift that enabled her to know who I would be to them: a friend. I told them that I knew another vampire with a unique gift and from there, they'd taken me in. I'd spent the last nine days learning as much as I could about their histories, both as individuals and of the collective vampire population, and explaining what had happened to Edward.
"Remind me again why you can't tell if they're going to make it or not?" I asked.
"I've already explained it to you three times!" she chided.
"Forgive me, Alice, but it's going to take a little longer for me to understand how this... gift of yours works. Especially since I don't have vampire levels of super-comprehension."
"You do more than fine with your human comprehension." She rolled her eyes, but indulged me anyway. "My gift is very nebulous. I can't predict the future, but I can predict outcomes of decisions; if someone is choosing between several options, I'll often see three or four versions of the future. It's strengthened by proximity and familiarity—which is why I only saw you afteryou arrived in Volterra since I'd never met you. And while I can isolate and focus on the visions of one person, I don't know how to search for someone's future if I've never met them."
I nodded. "Right. I know. It makes sense in a totally convoluted way. I just... it's the last day, Alice."
She smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder. Despite the cold temperature of her skin, it was comforting. "I know. But you've done all that you can, Bella; in a little over a week, you've learned more about the vampire race than many vampires do in their entire existences. And we're here, waiting; this road is the only way to get in and get out of Volterra. We'll stay here till night and if they don't come, we'll go to Bern with you and regroup from there."
While it was reassuring to have a plan, the idea of leaving Volterra without Edward terrified me. It felt less like a contingency plan and more like the beginning of a worldwide wild goose chase, leading to me never seeing Edward again. Still, the one thing I could say was that I had far more information than I thought I ever would. Alice and the others filled in so many of the missing pieces; now if only Edward and Jasper, the two most crucial pieces, would come.
I gave her a small, tight smile and said, "You're right. Thank you."
She plopped down on the grass next to me, and we both stared at the beautiful stretch of grass, carpeting the small rolling hills that sat underneath a perfect blue sky. "Tell me more stuff," she said, nudging me with her shoulder.
I smiled. She'd made this request several times over the last few days; she, Esme, even Emmett, had indulged me, letting me talk on and on about Edward and my years with him. "Well, Edward once—" I began but she cut me off.
"No, tell me about this Jasper guy. He sounds cute. And what better pick up line can there be than 'I can see the future, and guess what? You're in mine,'" she joked, making an overly lascivious expression. She and Edward were going to get along like a house on fire. I threw my head back and began to laugh, but suddenly, the noise caught in my throat.
Because that's when I saw it.
Three figures, crossing just over the horizon and walking determinedly toward us. Even though their features were obscured by distance, I recognized one thing—the hair color of the person in front. A shade so unique, so natural that even though I had seen it every day for six years, it still seemed unreal. Normally mahogany-hued, today it was shining, glinting almost, like a new penny in the unadulterated Italian sunshine.
I wouldn't need to go to Bern. I wouldn't need to worry or despair. I wouldn't be alone.
They were here.
Edward was here.
And he was upright, healthy and grinning, his sparkling skin making him look more like a mirage than reality.
But he was real. I leapt to my feet and took off down the hill, running across two more before jumping into his arms, not caring who saw or how ridiculous I looked. His quick reflexes enabled him to drop the duffel bag he was carrying and his arms ably caught me, quickly tightening around my waist as he lifted me slightly off the ground. I kissed him all over his face, a strange mix of franticness and delight, making him laugh heartily.
"You're here, you're here, you're here," I kept muttering, almost unable to believe it. In full health, back to the man I'd known all these years, Edward was here. We'd made it.
A not-so-subtle throat clearing reminded me that he wasn't the only one here. I pulled away from Edward, and he placed me back on the ground so I could hug Jasper tightly. "Thank you," I told him. "Thank you for so many things, Jasper."
"Well, it's nice to be remembered," he retorted wryly. I playfully punched his arm before turning to the man next to him.
"Dr. Cullen," I said, extending my hand to him.
He grimaced. "It's just Carlisle now. I doubt my license will count for anything now."
I smiled, sympathetically. The joy and relief of the reunion made this moment an inexpressibly happy one, but sooner or later, the sacrifices we made, the lives we gave up and the challenges of the new lives we had taken up would present themselves. "In my eyes, you went above and beyond to uphold your Hippocratic oath," I told him firmly. "That makes you a doctor to me, certification or not."
He smiled. "Well, then, at least call me Carlisle for the sake of abandoning formality. I think we're all going to be spending quite a bit of time together."
Edward chuckled from behind me. "I'm fairly sure that all the three of us want right now is to get a break from each other for a few hours." Jasper and Carlisle laughed, and I could see ia palpable ease between them. The things they had been through in the last few days had helped them form a bond of loyalty and affection that was apparent.
"Well, even if it's not with each other, I hope you're up for some company," I said, trailing off ambiguously on purpose. The three men turned towards me, looking slightly confused, but I didn't say anything. However, I couldn't help but smirk as Edward's eyes went wide after a few moments. No doubt his senses were picking up Alice, who had come bounding down to where we stood. Upon seeing her, Jasper's eyes widened but I suspected for different reasons than Edward's.
"We'll you've certainly kept me waiting long enough," she declared. Grabbing Jasper's hand, she waved for Carlisle to follow her in that terribly bossy yet endearing way I'd gotten used to in the last ten days. They headed over the small hill, leaving Edward and me alone, though I knew we were expected to follow.
Edward's expression was one of confusion and curiosity as he was no doubt was bewildered by reading Alice's mind. "Bella, she…"
"Can see the future? Or rather, can see the outcomes of decisions that are made? Yes," I said, nodding, grinning at his befuddlement. Whatever new dynamic was set up, it was certainly going to be interesting. Not only would Edward be among vampires—ones who shared his proclivities for consumption of animal rather than human blood—but he'd no longer be the only one with a special power.
"How did this happen? What is going on?" he asked, eyes wide with a new type of hunger, a curiosity for the world I'd never seen in him before. It suddenly dawned on me that for the first time in one hundred years, Edward's world was no longer static. The discovery of other vampires had changed everything.
I smiled. "We have allies."
"Allies?" he repeated.
"Allies; ones who are going to help us. Running away was only the first part of this, Edward. We're going to fight back," I tell him. "What they did was wrong; they can't cheat us out of our lives, not when we were cooperating with them the whole time."
"You found… vampires," he said, incredulous.
"Well, technically they found me. Turns out Alice saw me coming with that peculiar gift of hers. You'll have to read her mind and give me a little insight into it since I don't quite understand it. Anyway, I'm getting off track. Alice, Esme, Rose, Emmett, they're just like you—they consume animal blood too. And moreover, they're all…" I let out a fond laugh. "Quite wonderful." I reassessed that statement. "Well, not Rosalie. But she'll grow on us, Alice has assured me."
"There are other vampires in the world," Edward said, his tone one of wonder. A beat passed and then he frowned exaggeratedly, overextending his bottom lip in a comic pout. "That means I'm not special anymore."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh don't worry. You're still all kinds of special. But at least… you're not alone, Edward."
His smile was uncharacteristically soft. "I believe I'm paraphrasing you when I say I haven't been alone for six years now."
I smiled back, slipping my hand into his and squeezing. "And you won't ever be again."
"Does that mean you're going to…"
I let out a deep breath and shrugged. "I don't know. But… Rosalie turned Emmett and he's fine. Thriving, even. So, it's something we can think about seriously." He nodded, but before we could get too bogged down with the future, I knew we needed to take care of the present. "But that's a matter for later. Right now, we've got an alliance to form. Alice says she knows several covens that we may be able to find support from."
Edward's eyebrows shot up as he took a step closer to me, grinning. I had always known he was handsome, but forced myself to see it with an arms-length objectivity. Now I could think freely that he had to be the most beautiful man I had ever seen, especially with that brilliant smile on his face. "I let you out of my sight for a little time and you become leader of a vampire partisanship."
I laughed. "I'm hardly the leader. I think we both know that role suits others better; my invaluable contribution comes in the shape of behind-the-scenes support."
"'Invaluable contribution?'" Edward's look at me with admiration. "I like that you've finally started to acknowledge your true worthiness."
I shrugged. "I guess a lot did happen in the last ten days or so."
"They were excruciating, by the way," he says.
The smile dropped off my face. Of course I saw him now, healthy and happy and whole. It made it easy to forget how much pain he'd been in; I didn't even know what he and Jasper had been through to get here. "Was recovery really hard?" I asked, cupping his face with my free hand.
He snorted in dismissal. "Recovery? No. Being away from you? Torture. Turns out there's a reason so many people keep their heart to themselves, but I insisted on giving you mine and then I let you leave me." He placed a hand where his beating heart ought to be and made an exaggerated expression of woe. "Wounded me greatly."
I rolled my eyes at how he always managed to twist the story so he came out either the victim or the victor—in many cases, one in the same. But the truth was, I was elated to see him back to his joking, silly self. I wiggled my hand under his so it rested flat on his chest. "I think you'll heal in the next few days."
He grinned. "You'll help me then?"
"I suppose I can nurse you back to health," I teased.
"Oh, I like this. I can be the ailing patient, you the naughty nurse."
I made a face of exasperation, even as I inwardly considered his words. In addition to our freedom, our new companions and whatever endeavor we embarked on hereafter, we had another new world to explore: each other. One where we could kiss and touch and know all the things we had known all along and learn so many new ones. A world where we acted on the way we felt. I looked at Edward, wondering if he was thinking of this as well, thinking of how our kisses, the actions we'd take to protect each other, the words we'd left each other with had demolished the lines we'd drawn around us.
But of course, just because our whole world had changed in the last two weeks, it didn't mean Edward had to change.
"By the way, you're fired," he informed me, nonchalantly.
"I'm what?" I nearly shouted.
He shrugged, as if terminating me with no actual grounds for doing so was no big deal. "Fired. You are dead after all." Perhaps he had a point there. "Coincidentally, that's something we have in common."
"Well, birds of a feather and all that," I conceded, and crossed my arms over my chest in a bit of a huff. "But I still resent being fired. If I were alive, I'd sue you for wrongful termination."
"If you were alive, you wouldn't be alive," he said, face scrunching as he considered his confusing words. "You know what I mean."
"But even if we were still with Masen, Inc. I'd have to fire you. And if we're ever going to conduct any sort of business together, you can't be my subordinate. Firstly, because you are, as you've demonstrated over the last two weeks, and I'm predicting will continue to demonstrate over the next few months, hardly less deserving of authority than I am."
I relaxed my posture, willing myself to learn how to accept the compliment rather than barrel past it. "Well, thank you. Not that I ever felt secondary to you. You never let me. But I appreciate how magnanimous you are being."
"It's a matter of principle. But it's not all magnanimity."
"It's not?" I asked.
He made dismissive noise. "Hardly. You cannot be my subordinate because I'm not going to sit through a sexual harassment seminar every time I kiss you." He gave me his most charming smile, one that somehow completely exasperated and enamored me at once. "Which will be often."
I smiled but refused to give in. Like I said, Edward hadn't changed, and neither had I, even if we had changed. "Fine. I'm interested to see how you're going to get anything done."
He slid an arm around my waist. "Well, I'm firing you, not banishing you from my life. Quite the contrary, actually."
I was unable to resist turning to face him. "Fair enough. But all those things I did for you that you hated doing? Dry cleaning and arranging transport and all that? Those were executive-assistant duties. They're Pepper Potts duties. Not girlfriend duties."
"Is there anyway we can make them transferable?" he asked, knowing he was pushing it.
He slid his other arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. "Can't you be my girlfriend and my executive assistant and my equal partner in business? "
I shook my head. "Can't have your cake and eat it too."
He pouted exaggeratedly and my heart lifted, so happy to see playful Edward again. "You're taunting me. I can't eat cake."
"I guess then, you'll just have to have me." I slid my arms around his neck.
There was a heady mix to his expression; an irresistible combination of happiness in his smile and the glint in his eye that told me, even before his lips touched mine, that he would have me, and I would have him and it would be the most amazing thing in the world.
His lips were gentle when they pressed against mine, but they were full of intention, full of potential. As his mouth slowly, teasingly brushed mine, I thought I might explode from the anticipation of everything that was to come between us. Edward had once joked that the sexual tension between us was killing him, and I finally knew exactly what he meant. I pressed forward, kissing him more deeply. He could show me his gentlemanly intentions, but I no longer wanted to take it slow. Six years, and then ten days that felt like ten years—they'd all led to this. No more waiting.
This was our time.
When Edward pulled away slowly a few minutes later, he nodded slightly, almost to himself. His eyes were still closed and the edges of his mouth tilted up in a tiny smile; he looked like he was in an otherworldly state of bliss. I shared the feeling.
"Mmm, yes," he said, almost under his breath. "You're definitely fired."
I laughed and took his hand, pulling him to me as we headed down the hill, toward the rest of our lives, as long as that would be.
"You know… I've been thinking about Vampman," he said.
I groaned. "Still? After all this? Edward, you're ridiculous."
He held up a hand to indicate he wanted to continue. Then as if realizing that he could, he gently pressed his index finger to my lips, smiling. "As I was saying, I was thinking about Vampman and how... I'm not him, at all. It's you who has saved me. Repeatedly. Five years ago when you confronted me, ten days ago when you left me, and now again, by coming back to me."
I squeezed his hand and teased, "Technically, you came to me."
"That's a good point," he said, grinning. "So it's you that deserves the moniker, not me. SuperBella."
I laughed. "SuperBella. I like it."
"Me too. I demand we get you a costume immediately. And if it has to be made completely of spandex... so be it. We'll just have endure, somehow." I just looked on in amusement as he rambled on to himself. Abruptly, he stopped talking and turned to me and gently caressing my face, said, "What I'm trying to say is not just that you're a hero, Bella. It's that your mine." He batted his eyelashes wildly at me, and placed a hand on his chest, pretending to swoon before continuing in a ridiculous Southern-accented falsetto, "My hero."
Yes, yes, I was.
So that's it! I hope you enjoyed reading it and felt satisfied by the ending—there won't be a sequel or any outtakes. I'd always planned it up to just this point and I think that your imaginations are probably better than mine as to what might happen next.
Thank you SO, SO much to BuriedAlive. S, your patience and sweetness was beyond, and I'm so glad I could write this for you. Thanks, two and a half years later.
There aren't words to describe how amazing Anne/arfalcon. If you have her in your life, you're very lucky—I know I am. Thank you, A, for all you do.
Of course, always always always, thank you guys. Somehow, you're always even kinder, smarter and more rewarding readers than I imagine and it blows me away.