Two Weeks

Chapter 35

Two Weeks

Chapter Thirty-Five – Epilogue

By: Jana~

XXX

I tapped my pencil nervously against the notebook page – repeatedly, in rapid-fire succession – as Carlisle sat patiently behind his desk. As always, his expression was kind but serious.

"I flip-flop back and forth," I said, answering his previous question, "between being anxious for me and anxious for Edward. Him seeing me in that kind of pain… I'm afraid of what that will do to him emotionally."

He smiled, but just a little. It was almost imperceptible. "Your love for him warms me, Bella. Yes, seeing you in pain will be difficult for him…" He sighed. His slight smile dropped. "But he is stronger than he realizes. Stronger than I am, in so many ways. It was hard for me to watch Esme go through the change. I felt helpless. I hated myself for inflicting that upon her. But the memory of the pain, both physical and emotional, does fade in time."

I nodded, then entered one final note on the page.

The memory of this will fade.

After closing the book, I stared blankly at the cover. I wasn't ready for our last session to be over with yet.

The last year and half flew by so fast.

Initially, my plan was to have Edward change me after a year. But with graduation around the corner… And then the wedding… It just seemed logical to wait a little while longer.

Edward, of course, welcomed that. He was still struggling with my decision. Still hoping I would change my mind.

I wasn't going to. I was surer than ever. Unfortunately, I was also more frightened than ever.

The closer the date got, the more that became apparent. The thought would hit me randomly, and I would start shaking for what seemed like no discernible reason. In the middle of a conversation, I would zone out as I imagined the pain I would have to endure. I would picture Edward's face, contorted in agony as he watched me suffer, and I would start to cry.

Edward used all these to try and talk me out of it. Or he would beg me to wait a while longer, at least.

He dangled a thousand proverbial carrots over my head… College. Traveling the world. Having a baby by artificial insemination. Every human experience or luxury he could think of, he offered me. If I would just wait.

I didn't want to wait. I had chosen my life. I wanted to start living it.

And I didn't want to be another year older than Edward. My nineteenth birthday was rapidly approaching. Looming. Taunting me.

With high school behind me, and the only man I would ever love bound to me in holy matrimony, there was only one thing left to do to make my world complete. Have Edward change me.

"Are you concerned that he will lose control? That he won't be able to stop?"

Carlisle's questions brought me out of my reverie.

"I don't think he'd let it get that far. He has more self-control than he likes to give himself credit for." Carlisle laughed at that. I smirked, but it faded quickly when the seriousness of the situation came rushing back at me. "I'm afraid he'll chicken out."

"A contingency plan is in place, should he decide to. I know you wish for him to be the one who changes you, but if he feels he can't, I will step in."

My heart lurched a little. He smiled at me sympathetically.

In about twenty-four hours from that very moment, I would be in a cabin, in some remote area of Alaska, enduring the worst pain I had ever before experienced in my life. And that was saying something, after all the injuries I had sustained over the years.

I was shaking again.

"I'm sure you must be tired of hearing this, but you can change your mind at any time."

"I know I can. I'm not going to, though." I took in a shaky breath, trying to settle myself. It didn't help. "I'm not looking forward to the pain part of this, but that's the smaller picture. My focus is the bigger picture."

And it had been, since I had first realized that this was what I wanted. An eternity with Edward was worth the days of agony I would soon be facing. More than worth it.

"Are there any other questions you would like to ask me?"

There was, but I wasn't sure how to say it. Averting my eyes, I whispered, "And Jacob's tribe…? The treaty will be okay after this?"

"Yes. We have a… an understanding."

An understanding. Jake sure didn't seem to understand. He hated me. But there was no point in dwelling on it. Jacob was the one who drew the line, demanding I choose. Of course I chose Edward.

I gave a nod, then I pushed off the chair and headed for the door.

"Bella?" I stopped, but I didn't turn around. "We will do everything in our power to make your transition as easy on you as possible."

I knew that. "Thanks."

Edward was waiting for me on the bed when I got to our room. He pulled a strained smile onto his face when I entered, but I had just been able to catch the look of anguish before he did.

I didn't even hesitate in handing the notebook over to him. He had heard every word said during my meeting with Carlisle – he always did – but it had become a ritual for him to read through my notes afterwards.

As usual, it took him seconds only. He sighed as he closed it.

"I'm begging you, Bella. Please. Just give me one more year."

I fought back the tears that threatened to well and climbed into his lap.

"You won't feel any different in a year, Edward. I gave you six more months, and you're still… struggling."

That was an understatement. He was in the absolute fires of hell again. Still.

He had been in a near constant state of that recently. The only exception was on our wedding day, and during our honeymoon. And even then it showed itself a little. Briefly.

He was so sure he would hurt me. I knew he wouldn't, but there was no convincing him of that. It took me pleading with him to get him to try.

The only thing that ended up getting hurt was Esme's headboard, and a few pillows that were easy to replace. Luckily, her bedroom furniture didn't hold sentimental value to her. It was embarrassing explaining to her what had happened, though.

There was a little bruising on my upper arm after the first time we had made love, which he was livid with himself over, but then I showed him all the bruises I'd had that were in various stages of healing. Bruises I had given myself under far less pleasurable circumstances. His self-hatred eased after that.

"You might feel differently in a year," he whispered. His tone was firm, but it wasn't enough to hide the anguish.

"I won't. Please, try to understand that."

"I am trying."

He was. I knew he was. And there were moments when it seemed that he was finally coming to terms with my decision…

A few times, he laughed at jokes I had made about it. When I challenged Emmett to an arm wrestling match, to take place after I was changed, he smirked.

But those indicators of acceptance never lasted long. The pain would always settle back onto his face. His words would once again be laced with despair. It was heartwrenching.

"Alice's visions don't ease your mind even a little?" I asked.

She had told me about several, all of them depicting us as happy. Joyous. Carefree. I took comfort in them, even though I couldn't actually see them like she and Edward could.

"A little," he whispered. "The pleasant ones," he added. His pain intensified.

There were unpleasant ones? That was news to me. Alice had never said…

"What were the unpleasant ones about?"

He literally moaned in agony.

After knowing Edward Cullen for one year, six months, two weeks, and two days, after being married to him for three weeks and four days, I still didn't know when to keep my big mouth shut.

I shifted to straddle him and wrapped my arms tightly around his neck.

"I'm sorry, Edward. Please, just… stop thinking about it. Stop picturing it."

"What if I make a mistake?"

"You won't."

"What if I can't stop?"

"You will."

"I can't leave you. I can't stay with you and remain sane. I can't win!"

I knew he just meant during the time I was converting.

"The family will be there to help you through it. And I'll see you on the other side of it."

It seemed I had spent more time consoling him about my changing than he did me. I didn't mind. I knew how hard it was for him. I knew how much I was asking for. All I had to do was lie there and endure. His part in it would be far more difficult. He had to inflict it. Fight his instincts. Watch over someone he loved while she suffered through it.

"Bella, love, please, just one more year. If you value my sanity…"

I grabbed two fistfuls of his hair and pulled back, locking eyes with him.

"Edward, no," I said firmly, but with compassion. "I kept up my end of things. It's time."

He shifted his eyes away from me and sighed.

I had to do something to ease his pain. I put my own concerns and fears aside.

I kissed his lips quickly, then again but for longer. Just shy of passionately.

"It's our last night in Forks. Let's do something fun."

He cracked the tiniest hint of a smile. "What would you like to do, my love?"

He never could resist an opportunity to make me happy.

"Let's go flying through the trees or something," I suggested. "Enjoy the scenery and sunset."

His smile grew. But then it dropped a little as his eyes shifted again. Someone was talking to him.

"Carlisle wishes to speak with me for a moment," he said, helping me to stand. "Dress warmly. It's a cool evening."

Always protective. I rolled my eyes as I shooed him away.

It was a weird thought. Soon, jackets would be nothing more than a fashion statement.

He wasn't gone very long. I had barely selected the least cumbersome jacket I could find in the closet when he had returned. He looked very serious.

"Is something wrong?"

It didn't seem like there was, necessarily, but something was up. I could tell.

He shook his head, then smiled wistfully. "No, my love. Are you ready?"

I didn't buy it for a second, but I didn't call him on it. I just took his hand when he offered it to me, and then held on tight as he slung me up onto his back and launched out the window wall.

We didn't go far, but I was sure we were out of earshot. I had become accustomed to the rest of my new family being able to hear our every conversation when we were near them, but sometimes, one just wants to have a few private moments alone.

"This is perfect," I whispered. The view was spectacular from high in the tree I was sure we had been in before. Reminiscent of his music.

We were silent for a long time as we stared out at the river. Well, I stared at the river. His eyes never left me.

Over the previous eighteen months, time, while in Edward's presence, started to make a little more sense, but there were still occasions when it seemed distorted. It seemed to spend differently. I had become accustomed to that, too.

"I owe you an apology, my love."

I turned my attention away from the scenery and onto him. "You don't owe me anything, Edward."

"I do. I've been a neglectful husband and mate. This is a difficult time for you, and when you needed me most, my selfishness prevented you from seeking comfort. I'm so sorry."

I looked away. I had to. The intensity of his eyes was too much for me to bear.

"It's a difficult time for you, too. I'm sorry I'm the cause of it."

"You're not the cause of it. My torment is self-inflicted. Will you share your thoughts with me? Anything you wish to discuss."

Had Carlisle said something to him?

"Anything?" I asked skeptically.

"Anything."

"You won't freak out?"

"No."

I'll admit it, I was scared. Not of him, but of upsetting him. In the year and a half since I'd made my decision, we had never openly discussed the day he would change me. He told me of his experiences – his whole family did, one at a time; Rosalie's and Jasper's stories were the hardest to hear – but the details of how things might be for me were always carefully sidestepped.

I had an idea for how I wanted things to go, but I was never brave enough to share them with him. With anyone. I was already asking enough of him. Too much of him.

My… well, fantasies, I guess, were unimportant.

My heart picked up pace. When I started to shake, he held me tighter in response.

"You promise?" I asked. Really, I was stalling. He probably knew I was.

"Yes, my love. I promise."

I would get to the scary part later, after I gauged his reactions to a few simpler things first.

"Are you going to… chicken out?"

"No. I will hope until the last moment for you to change your mind, but I will not break my promise to you."

"Is part of the reason why you're… upset… Is it because you'll miss me being human? I mean, I won't be warm anymore. I won't smell the same."

"My love…" His hand raked into my hair. His eyes and expression shone with compassion. "You will always be my Bella. Just… less fragile."

He smiled a little when I smirked.

I knew the logistics of what to expect. I knew that in the first few months, at least, I would be a wild, crazed newborn. Insane with thirst. Carlisle and the others explained all of that to me. But what I didn't know was how Edward, specifically, felt about that.

"I'll be a little hard to love in the beginning…"

"That part doesn't last forever. My love for you will, though."

Okay, three things…

First, his words really affected me. Even after all our time together, he could still make me melt by the simplest of statements.

Second, he seemed so composed. Calm. At peace. Carlisle must have said something to him.

And third, I hadn't realized until just then how much I needed him to be okay with this. How much I needed his love, and support, and comfort.

I knew I wanted him to be okay with my decision, because I didn't want him to be hurting anymore. But I had spent so much time hiding my fears so that I could help him through his pain, that I had deluded myself into thinking I was braver than I actually was. I needed to be able to fall apart, and cry, and I needed him to hold me while I did that.

I pushed my forehead against his shoulder and let out a shaky sigh. The tears threatened to explode again, but habit made me force them not to well.

"I know, my love. I know you're scared."

That did it. I was instantly a quivering mess in his arms.

"Sshh. I'm here. I will always be here. I promise you, I will never fail you again. I'm so sorry."

I barely heard his whispered words over the sound of my own sobbing.

Well, I wasn't exactly sobbing, but it was still a pretty pathetic display of emotions.

"Did… Carlisle… talk… to you?" Every bit of that sentence choked out in tearful gasps.

Yeah, like I said. Pathetic.

"Yes."

"Don't… take this… to mean… that I've changed… my mind."

He sighed softly. "I know. I won't be trying to talk you out of this any longer. My doing so has only added to your stress. I'm so sorry."

I wanted to tell him to stop apologizing, but I knew it would come out pathetically. I was a wreck.

But, apparently, I needed to be one. I had been putting on a brave face for everyone, not just Edward, since the beginning. It had finally caught up with me. Having that mini breakdown helped me to feel a little better.

Once I was finally able to pull myself back together, after the sun had set, we relocated to ground level. He cradled me in his arms, me in his lap, as he settled himself against the tree we had just been up in.

Struggling with how to broach the subject, I fell silent as I pondered my options. He seemed to be doing so much better, so him falling apart wasn't my immediate concern. Mostly, I was afraid I would seem like an idiot. Or foolish.

He knew that. Or, at least, he knew I was struggling with something. We knew each other so well. We knew each other in the Biblical sense, but really, we knew each other even better than that.

"You can share with me, Bella. Whenever you're ready."

I took in a breath to steady my nerves. It didn't help, but I pushed onward anyway.

"I was just wondering how things will… go. I mean, I know the logistics," I added quickly, "but we've never really talked about how we… you… are going to… do it."

I sounded like a spaz. He tightened his arms around me.

"However you wish me to."

"I… I had some thoughts on that."

"I'm listening."

My adrenalin spiked. My breathing turned erratic again.

God. Why was this so hard?

"I… I don't want it to be some cold, clinical, medical-type… thing. I want to feel… loved."

"I might find it difficult to please you, under the circumstances."

Oh. No. He misunderstood.

"I don't mean that, Edward. I doubt I'll be much in the mood for that. I just meant… you know… hold me. Make me feel safe. I just want to feel… connected to you."

"Yes."

That was all he said. He was agreeing to my request, but I could tell he was struggling with the subject. His tone held sadness in it.

"We don't have to talk about it anymore, if you don't want to."

"I want to know your mind, Bella. Please, continue."

He was trying so hard. But how far was safe to push him?

"I don't want to upset you."

He sighed. "Please, Bella, continue."

I tried to choose my words carefully, but, really, there was just no easy way to say it.

"When the time comes, I might… have a moment of panic. It's human nature to want to avoid… pain. Promise me you won't stop. Even if I beg you to."

I felt him take in a shaky breath.

"I'll only regret it later," I added quickly. "Twelve minutes later, I'll be annoyed with myself and I'll ask you to do it again. It'll just be a vicious cycle."

His body was tense. He didn't respond.

"I know how much I'm asking of you, and I'm really sorry that I am, but I've given this a lot of thought, and I know how I'm likely to react. I want this Edward, and a moment of panic won't change that. It'll just frustrate us both, and prolong the inevitable."

His hold on me became almost desperate.

"I will honor your request."

I dropped the subject after that. But after that, no subjects seemed approachable. We just sat in silence until we returned to the house an hour later.

I didn't leave the bedroom at all for the rest of the night. Well, I showered, but it was a quick one. I even ate dinner in the room. It felt a little like I was being served my last meal. In a way, I kind of was, though I knew I would end up grabbing a quick bite of something in the morning, before we headed off to the airport.

Edward made my last official night as a human special. He held me, and kissed me, and made love to me with gentle, consoling adoration. He continued to hold me as I rode out various waves of emotional reactions. I shook. I cried – not the near sobbing I had done before; it was more like a leaking of tears. I admonished myself with muttered curse words.

He held me through all of it.

And then, finally, exhaustion took its toll.

I functioned on autopilot throughout the next morning.

I ate a little of the breakfast Esme made for me, but my stomach just didn't want me to put food into it.

Edward helped me pack. I just nodded or shook my head at each item when he asked me if I wanted to bring it.

I only acknowledged who I had to when they spoke to me directly.

Edward hovered over me incessantly.

I called Charlie one last time before we left. He asked me twice if I was okay, but I dismissed my odd tone as anxiousness about flying. He laughed and suggested I invest in Valium, since I would be plane hopping a lot over the next year.

The story we told him and Mom was that Edward and I were going to take a year off from school, and wait to start college, so that we could travel the world and sightsee.

I already had twenty-four letters written to both of them, on multiple different types of stationary, penned in a few different types of ink. They all had postmarks on them from different countries. I didn't bother to ask how Carlisle had pulled that off.

I figured I had better do the correspondence in advance. I doubted, as a crazed newborn vampire, I would care much about keeping in touch with my parents. I could imagine the letters I would write…

Thirsty! Thirsty! THIRSTY!

Yeah, not such a good idea.

The shuttle got lost trying to find the house, so we were a little late getting to the airport, but we were still there in plenty of time to deal with the rigmarole and security procedures.

It seemed like everyone was staring at us. Not surprising, really. I was sure I looked lost and confused, and Edward looked like he had just seen his best friend murdered right before his eyes. The rest of the Cullens were able to pull pleasant expressions onto their faces, though. Well, Rosalie looked annoyed.

I don't remember the flight at all. I don't even remember getting on the plane. The next I was aware, I was being encouraged to step into thick, bulky snow pants.

"Why?" I asked. That was it. Just that one word question. I wasn't capable of anything beyond that.

"It's very cold here," Edward answered. "And with the wind chill factor…"

As soon as we were past the small population of the city, we were running to the cabin that was located in a remote area just north of Denali.

I didn't really remember the run, either. I just remember my face hurting from the cold. I hid against Edward's shoulder to minimize the discomfort.

We got there first. Edward was faster than the rest, even with me on his back.

The cabin was warmer, but not by much. And it wasn't exactly a cabin, in the strictest sense of the word. It was huge, and had at least five bedrooms.

Our room was the largest. The bed was beautiful. I couldn't find it in me to care.

I stripped out of my protective gear, handed it over to Edward, then plopped down on the beautiful bed and glanced around the room.

"This is your day, my love. We'll spend it any way you wish."

I started to shake again, and not because of the chill in the air.

He sat next to me and pulled me to his side.

"I don't know," I whispered. "A part of me wants to get it over with. A part of me wants to wait. But I know that's the chicken in me."

"I will honor your wishes. Whenever you're ready, but we should wait for our family to arrive first."

It felt like a stay of execution, though I knew it wouldn't be a long one. They were slower than Edward, but not that slow.

I gave a nod, then climbed into his lap.

Minutes later, we were no longer alone. Edward helped me up so that we could go greet them.

I stared at the ground. Beautiful carpet. Plush, and a sort of forest green color.

"How are you feeling, Bella?"

I only glanced at Carlisle. "Okay," I whispered.

Emmett laughed. "You look scared to death!"

I rolled my eyes at him. "Shut up, Em. You were unconscious at the time."

Alice danced over to me and wrapped me into a hug. "Bigger picture, Bella," she whispered encouragingly.

I nodded against her.

"Edward?"

I felt Edward nod in response to Carlisle's questioning of his name. He was probably answering to his thoughts.

"Bella? Is there anything you would like to do, to maybe take your mind off of it for a while?"

"I think– Nothing is going to take my mind off it. I know it's coming. I think the waiting will just make it harder."

A few moments later, I heard Alice squeak. I looked up at the sound. Her smile was beaming. I knew why.

"It's all going to be okay?" I asked her.

She nodded emphatically. Edward planted a soft kiss on the top of my head.

"Okay…" I turned in Edward's arms and faced the bedroom door. "Let's get this over with." I was trying to sound brave. Sure. I didn't.

I was shaking before we even entered the room. It escalated as I sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off my snow boots. I was literally vibrating as I pushed to the center of the bed.

Edward climbed in with me, then immediately gathered me into his arms.

I couldn't stop trembling. I couldn't will myself to. I couldn't relax. I was surprised the whole house wasn't shaking with the force of it.

My arms were pinned to my sides, my hands balled into tight fists. His left leg was draped across both of mine in an attempt to steady me.

Oh, God. This was really about to happen.

I couldn't breathe. I inhaled and exhaled in short gasps.

He kissed my cheek. My temple. My ear. I wondered if he was as calm as he seemed.

"I'm scared. I'm so scared."

"I know, my love. It will all be over soon."

He planted a gentle kiss on my neck. I stopped breathing. My shaking intensified. I was convulsing.

But even with as terrified as I was, I offered myself to him.

He brushed his lips across my skin. He nuzzled. He licked. He was doing exactly what I had asked of him. But I suddenly didn't want it anymore. I just wanted to get it over with. The agonizing anticipation was threatening to kill me.

I needed it to stop. I needed him to stop.

I needed. The intensity. To stop!

No. I had to see it through. He wouldn't have stopped anyway, even if I had asked him to. I told him not to. I had foreseen this reaction.

"I love you, Bella. Please don't hate me."

And then I felt his teeth on my skin. I gasped, and as I did, I felt them pierce through my flesh.

I startled, hard, but it was only from the shock of it. It took a couple seconds for the pain to register. I had barely opened my mouth to scream when the venom began to burn.

That scream choked off, but the one that followed didn't. It wasn't even a scream. It wasn't a shriek. There was no word for what it was.

I fought against his hold, but he was too strong.

I felt him licking at the wound, like he was trying to soothe it. It didn't.

Then I felt a sharp pain on my right wrist. I screamed again as I tried to pull it free from his firm grasp. The attempt was futile.

He licked that wound as well, and then I felt the pain on my left wrist.

"No!"

I knew it was me who had yelled, but my voice wasn't mine at all. It sounded like it belonged to some mortally wounded wild animal.

I began to writhe. The noises escaping me were far from human.

I burned. They all had said it would burn.

They lied.

This wasn't just burning. This was more than just the fires of hell. Hell had a lower level, run by Satan's eviler cousin.

The cousin sneered at me as I stood before him, overjoyed by my pain.

"I love you, Bella. Please forgive me."

Natas – that was the name I gave to Satan's eviler cousin – laughed. He was mocking Edward, belittling his love for me.

I don't know how I found the will. I don't know where the courage had come from. I let the pain engulf me, and then I just stood indignantly and glared back at my tormenter.

His sneer dropped to a smirk.

Hours went by. Days, weeks, months, years, decades. I don't know. I never moved. I never tired. I just stood there.

I wasn't about to give Natas the satisfaction of seeing my agony.

"I made a mistake. She is so still."

"You didn't. Every conversion is different."

My eyes shifted off of Natas for the flash of a second, and in that blink of time, he advanced on me one step.

My glare grew harder. My stance more indignant. He sneered back at me.

"Bella? Can you say something? Move something?"

I didn't dare. Natas was waiting for me to. I had no idea what would happen if he closed the gap between us. Death? Worse than death? I was already suffering through a fate worse than death. I didn't dare chance what might come next.

"Love, can you squeeze my hand?"

Natas was positively giddy with evil glee. I didn't even flinch.

Four distinct footsteps entered the room.

"It's almost time!"

It was? Time for what? My body to explode? It felt like it was on the verge of it. My death? I would have welcomed it, except for one thing…

"It's almost over now, love."

Edward.

Natas laughed at me.

He would not win. He would not take me from Edward.

Wait. Something was different. My fingers…

They felt… cold. Different. Free of pain.

Reflexively, I wiggled them.

Natas advanced another step.

A warm hand squeezed mine.

My toes. Different. I didn't dare move them.

Was this it? The end of whatever, the beginning of the unknown?

My heart started racing. The fire burned hotter. My will was breaking. My courage slipping.

My arms. My legs. Different. The flames relocated to my chest.

My heart was seconds away from exploding, I was sure of it.

Natas grinned viciously.

This was what he had been waiting for. This moment. My death.

I screamed. Natas pounced.

And then there was nothing. Nothing.

Was I dead? I didn't feel dead, but I didn't feel alive, either.

Was this hell? Where were the flames?

Heaven?

"Bella? Love?"

Heaven. Edward, my angel, was singing my name.

But why was he in Heaven and not back on earth?

"Can you open your eyes, love?"

Could I? I wasn't sure.

"Just give her a moment."

Carlisle? It sounded like him, but his voice was so… musical.

"She's perfect, just like I said she would be."

Alice? Her voice sounded like wind chimes. What was wrong with my hearing?

Apparently, nothing. I could hear everything. Everything.

I could hear eight distinct patterns of breathing. One of them was mine. One wasn't in the room.

I could hear snow thawing and freezing. I could hear the flakes as they hit the cover on the ground.

"She has always been perfect."

"Relax, Edward. I wasn't insulting her former beauty."

"Bor-ring! Let's get to the fun stuff!"

"Patience, Emmett. She will be disoriented at first."

Disoriented. Good word for it, and yet not quite enough to describe what I was actually feeling.

A soft, warm touch to my cheek.

"Take your time, my love. Whenever you're ready."

Who was touching me?

My eyes flew open.

Edward?

He was… beautiful! He had always been beautiful. But this was…

And then he smiled at me.

I practically lunged at him. Actually, I guess that was exactly what I had done. I knocked him off balance as I wrapped my arms around his neck.

"Easy, love. You're a bit stronger than I am right now."

I relaxed my hold as I climbed into his lap. Emmett laughed.

"Shut up, Em…"

Wait. What the hell? Startled, I pushed out of Edward's arms, away from him. I almost shoved him off the bed with the force of it. Emmett laughed again.

Edward's smile showed sympathy and understanding. Exactly those emotions.

"What's wrong… with… my voice?" The sentence came out broken as I paused to hear myself speak.

His smile grew as he reached for me. "Absolutely nothing is wrong with your voice."

Nothing else mattered. Edward – my Edward – was reaching for me! The need was so strong it was almost all-consuming. Yet my mind seemed so vast that it wasn't.

I couldn't make sense of it, and I didn't bother trying to. I just launched back into his arms.

He was ready for me that time. He barely budged.

I couldn't touch him enough. He felt so… different. Warm. Soft. Breakable.

"Let's give them some privacy. There will be time later for questions."

"Yeah, right. We won't see them again for a decade!"

"She's so controlled! It doesn't make sense!"

"Since when has Bella ever made sense?"

All their voices faded as they left the room, but I could hear them as clearly as if they were still feet away.

I tuned them out as I focused on Edward. My husband. My mate.

He was holding me so tight.

"Am I really that much of an enigma?"

God, my voice sounded weird. Like I was singing every word I said.

He laughed. Angelic choirs couldn't compare. "Dearest Bella, there is not a way in which you are not unique. Jasper is in awe of you. Newborns are always insane with thirst from the moment they open their eyes."

I had felt the relentless burning in my throat, but until he mentioned it, it was easy to ignore. After the agony I had just endured, the pain was an annoying yet welcomed discomfort.

But with it being brought to the forefront of the great chasm that was my mind, it was starting to become more noticeable. Bordering on unbearable.

"I don't feel insane… yet. But I am thirsty."

"Of course you are, my love. We should tend to that first."

First? What was second? Or even third?

And then a weird form of nervousness spread throughout me. I recognized it as nerves, but it felt different from anything I had ever experienced before as a human.

"I don't know what to do. Will you show me?"

"It's instinctual, my love, but I will demonstrate for you if need be."

Demonstrate. I would get to see Edward hunt.

He had never allowed me the slightest glimpse into that part of his world. But now that I was like him… Now that this was my world, too…

Excitement joined the nerves.

I climbed off his lap, then reflexively reached for my snow boots that were sitting on the floor by the bed. Before I could slip the first one on, Edward wrapped his soft, warm fingers around my wrist.

"You won't need them. Trust me."

He urged me to my feet, then rewarded my smile with one of his own.

Foot attire would also be just a mere fashion accessory. I didn't even glance at my jacket as we walked out into the living room hand in hand.

"I'm taking Bella hunting now," Edward informed the family.

Everyone had wide smiles. Rosalie seemed less annoyed than I had ever seen her.

"Oh, man!" Emmett exclaimed. "I so want to go!"

"No." Edward said. Growled, really, but it was a low, soft one. "And if you value your existence, I don't suggest you follow us. Bella is self-conscious enough as it is. She does not need an audience."

Emmett pouted for a moment, then his mischievous grin erased it. "Then I get to be there when she hunts polars for the first time!"

Edward rolled his eyes and headed for the door. I followed, of course.

We were outside and exactly six feet and seven inches away when I heard Emmett gripe, "I think that's a fair deal!"

"Ignore him," Edward whispered to me. Laughter from inside the house.

I did as he suggested and focused on him alone. "Where are we going?"

He smirked in amusement. "Hunting."

Duh. I rolled my eyes, then dropped them down to my feet so that I wouldn't face-plant due to the one inch deep snow and uneven terrain.

But there was no need to. The gracefulness of each step I took mesmerized me. Edward tightened his grip on my hand. I heard a soft chuckle; something my human ears would have never been able to pick up. I had to wonder how many times he had done that in the past.

The other thing I noticed as we walked – strolled, really – was that the snow on my bare feet wasn't cold. Well, it registered as cold, but it wasn't at all painful as it should have been, were I human.

If I were human still, I would have lost a toe to frostbite within seconds. Probably. How long does it usually take to lose an appendage to the freezing elements of Alaska?

"What are you thinking?"

I laughed, but stopped abruptly. God, would I ever get used to the sound of my own voice?

"I should be freezing, but I'm not," I answered him, then asked curiously, "You still can't read my mind?"

"I was hoping I might be able to, but no."

"So, there is something wrong with me," I muttered. Even muttering sounded musical.

He halted, turning me to face him. Determination and love shone through as his eyes fixed onto mine. And a little bit of annoyance. His emotions were so clear to me now.

"There is nothing wrong with you, Bella. You are unique, and amazing, and I love you more and more each day."

Passion. Adoration. A sincere desire that I believe him. Could he read me that easily?

I nodded, mesmerized, and then his hand was cupping my face.

There was no racing of my heart. No adrenalin rush. No erratic breathing, though I did take in a shuddery breath out of habit.

None of the things I had ever felt before in reaction to his touch happened. But Drug Edward still coursed through me. It just took on a new form.

I felt like I was being electrocuted. That sounds horrible, I know, but imagine you like being electrocuted. Imagine it as the best feeling in the world. Then multiply that by a billion.

Yeah.

My eyes drifted closed as I leaned into his touch.

The vastness of my mind narrowed in on him, and only him. It was like taking a giant picture and then zooming in on one pixel. The brightest, sharpest, clearest pixel in the whole wide universe.

"Soon, my love. First, we must slake your thirst."

He knew. I would have blushed, were I able to.

My eyes fluttered open reluctantly when I felt his hand leave me, and then his grasped mine and we were strolling again.

The further we got from the cabin, the quieter the conversation about me that our family was having became. And then Edward stopped.

"Are you ready to try running? Or if you prefer, I will carry you."

Running. I would be able to run.

Nerves struck again.

"I won't be as fast as you."

Another amused smile. "Few are. I will keep pace with you."

With the hand not holding mine, he pointed in the direction he wanted me to go.

I gave the simple task – a task that had never been simple to me in the past – brief consideration, and then I just… took off.

I was flying. But the sensation was different from what I remembered. There was no blur of color and scenery. It was all as clear as if I was just standing there staring at it. Every minuscule detail of every shape and texture.

Grinning, I pushed myself faster.

"Love?"

I felt a gentle tug on my hand. Three long bounds and I was able to slow myself to a stop.

"I will take you to Canada some day, I promise. For now, let's stay in the country."

Still grinning, I rolled my eyes. "Ha, ha. Now what?"

"Now, we hunt." He stepped around to behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders. "Focus. You should be able to smell them now."

I sniffed the air. My entire body tensed. My mouth watered and my throat burned.

He leaned in, his lips an inch from my ear. "What are your instincts telling you?" I tensed further. "Do it."

As soon as he released my shoulders, I bolted.

The closer I got, the stronger the need.

Thirsty! Thirsty! THIRSTY!

I could hear Edward following – I could sense him, too – but I didn't care. My mind was of one thought.

Moose! Two of them! Edward could have the big one. I had made my selection before they even realized danger was upon them. They started to scatter, but only a second and a half before I pounced.

I'd always felt like the hunting aspect of this existence would be difficult for me. I'd been a vegetarian, in the human sense of the word, for most of my life. By age eight, I would just push whatever meat my parents served me around on my plate. By age nine, I told them to stop serving me anything that once had a face.

I had accepted that it would have to be different after I was changed, but the prospect still wasn't very appealing to me. You wouldn't have known it by watching me now.

To honor Edward's wishes, none of the Cullens shared with me much about it. They said when the time came, I would know what to do.

They were right.

I pushed the lifeless, once majestic creature off of me, then stood and stared back at Edward. He had finished before me and was just watching as I made a mess of myself.

He, of course, looked as pristine as when we had first left the house.

I glanced down at myself, then allowed my eyes to remain on my feet. "I probably should have waited for you to demonstrate."

He shook his head, a smile on his face as he approached. "Always so self-conscious." When he wrapped his arms around me, I melted against him. "That was perfect. It takes years of practice to walk away without a little disarray."

"A little," I scoffed. "Edward, I'm a mess."

He chuckled with amusement. "You are the most beautiful mess I have ever laid eyes on." Reaching down between us, he laced his fingers with mine. "Come take a walk with me."

I didn't want to leave his embrace, but I followed obediently anyway.

He led me away from the small clearing, back the way we had come from, to an area populated by a sparse amount of trees. Then he brought me back into his arms.

"If you could just see yourself as I do," he whispered.

The simple placement of his hand – the pressure of his fingers on the small of my back – sent another shock of Drug Edward through me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and reached for his lips with my own.

His were so soft. So warm. So different, but still absolutely Edward.

I slid my hands up into his hair and fisted all I could grab. He winced.

"Easy, love."

Right. I was strong now. That was going to take some getting used to.

I released my grip and ran my fingers through the strands soothingly.

Slow, gentle kisses became a little more passionate.

"I have some habits to unlearn," he whispered against my lips. "You are no longer breakable."

I smirked in response, but I had barely done so when I felt myself being scooped up into his arms. With grace and ease, we ended up on the ground.

"I want to please you, my love, but I can wait until you're ready. Only when you're ready."

"I'm ready, but I'm… well, nervous, I guess. Nervousness feels different to me now."

He brushed the back of his fingers across my cheek, carefully, like I was still his fragile little human.

"Why are you nervous?"

"I'm not the same anymore. I mean, I am, but I'm not. I guess I just… don't know what to expect."

The fingers that had been caressing my cheek raked into my hair. "You can expect to be pleased. It's my job to please you."

I smirked up at him. He had said that to me before, but in reference to him being my great protector. Apparently, he had self-assigned himself a new duty. "Your full time occupation and labor of love?"

He smiled in return, his eyes crinkling with amusement. "For all eternity. I don't know what I did to earn this fortune."

"I'm the one who's fortunate. I feel like I'm in a fairytale."

He laughed at that. "Am I your prince, Bella?"

He was a little bit teasing. He had no idea.

"That surprises you? All you need now is a white steed and a knight in shining armor costume."

I grinned when he laughed again, harder than before.

"You think I'm joking," I whispered, my wide smile dropping. "I'm dead serious. Or, I guess, undead serious."

He rolled his eyes, then pulled me tighter against him. "You have a morbid sense of humor."

"At least I have a sense of humor! Lighten up. It's over now."

He sighed. That heavy kind of exhale that indicated he was gaining seriousness. I braced myself for what I knew was coming.

"Will you share with me? You were so still."

Yeah.

"Can you hear it and not freak out? If I hit you now, it'll mean something," I threatened teasingly. He sighed again. He wasn't in the mood for my jokes. I sighed then, too. "You might think it's weird."

"Why would I think that?"

Maybe there was something wrong with me. None of the others, when sharing their experiences with me, said they went through anything even remotely similar to what I had.

"I… I think I might have been hallucinating or something. Satan's eviler cousin was mocking you."

He shifted a little, then stared at me with concerned curiosity.

Yeah, he thought it was weird, but I told him anyway. All of it. Every detail. I downplayed the pain part of it, though. I wasn't about to subject him to any more anguish than he had already been through.

He knew, of course, but didn't press me to share more than I was comfortable with. He probably wasn't ready to hear it anyway. Maybe in time…

"Hmmm."

His hum could still reduce me to a liquefied mess. Which was really saying something, since I was essentially made of something more closely resembling rock.

"Carlisle will be very interested in hearing this."

I nodded, then we both relaxed into each other's arms.

"Later," I whispered. "I want more alone time with you first."

"Hmm. How would you like to spend it, my love?"

Nerves again. Why was I so nervous? I'd been with Edward dozens of times. Before we were married, we never advanced things beyond a certain level of semi-propriety, but after we were married…

And then his lips were on my neck. Oh, God, that was a good feeling. You wouldn't think it would be. After the trauma I had endured, you would think I would have shied away from that kind of affection.

But, no. Instead, I offered myself to him.

I gasped in a breath and held it. My head didn't spin. My lungs didn't hurt. My body was completely indifferent to the lack of oxygen.

Edward smiled against me.

"Breathe, Bella. The sense of smell and taste will enhance the experience."

As soon as I did, I understood what he meant. When I was still human, his scent was recognizable to me – like he exuded a perfume that was made for me and me alone – but this was different. Stronger. Defined. Multifaceted. Every layer was unique but complimentary, and each had its own distinctive taste.

I had noticed this upon first opening my eyes, but, somehow, it seemed more powerful as my body reacted to his touch.

I once thought that a heightened sense of taste would be meaningless to someone who had no variety in their liquid diet. I could not have been more wrong. And I had severely underestimated the heightened sense of touch.

Each caress was gentle. Careful. Like he was attempting to help me past my foreign attack of anxiety, easing me into what was to come. But even with his delicate approach, it felt like there was an electrical storm raging within me. Nothing we had ever done while I was still human compared to the intensity, and he was only touching me.

I didn't know whether to cry, or scream, or run, or…

God! My mind couldn't catch up to it! And he was only touching me! It was like how he used to please me before we were married, when certain lines of morality were still in place.

"Shh, love, your senses are heightened. It will be a little unnerving at first."

Unnerving? Hearing Emmett and Rosalie go at it like wild animals was unnerving. This was…

"Do you wish for me to stop?"

Yes! No! Shit!

Apparently, vampires can lose their minds. I was on the brink of it.

I was being pulled. Pushed. Drawn in and swallowed whole.

And then it hit me. There wasn't even time to respond to him. I nearly launched off the ground as the most amazing sensation swept over me. The electricity inside me crackled and arced. The building pressure released and drifted. Reeling, I collapsed on the snow dusted earth, still within Edward's half-embrace.

"I'm sorry for overwhelming you, my love."

Always my great protector. A small smile inched onto my face, and then I busted up laughing. "Tell me you didn't just apologize," I teased. When I opened my eyes, I found him grinning down at me.

But then my laughter ceased and my smile dropped. I felt my pants' button give way and my zipper break. His grin remained. Something inside of me snapped.

I near about shredded his clothes off of him as I pulled him on top of me. He continued to hold me gently as I grabbed at him desperately.

It felt as if I had lost all sense of self-control. I growled. I wrapped my arms around his neck. I wrapped my legs around his waist. The need was too strong. Rational thought was impossible.

"Easy, love," he whispered against my lips.

An ounce of sanity wedged in. I relaxed my limbs and stared up at him in horror, but he just smiled as he shook his head. Then he kissed me, softly, for just a few moments. My head cleared a little more.

"You're doing so well, Bella. Don't be discouraged. You can do this. Focus. Think about your movements. Think about the force behind them. It's harder to do when excited, I know."

"This is why… When I was still human…"

I had a newfound appreciation for the difficulties he had faced. How easy it would have been for him to just… let go. He truly could have killed me.

"Yes. It can be difficult for the most disciplined vampires. Emmett and Rosalie often leave destruction in their wake."

"Then maybe we should wait. I don't feel very in control. I don't want to hurt you."

His smile returned. "You won't. Bella, your control rivals those who are decades old. At this stage, all you should care about is feeding. You should not be able to have rational conversations with me. Being with me should be the last thing on your mind. Not wanting to hurt me should be the least of your concerns. Simple verbal cues should not be affective. You break all the rules, Bella. You confound me."

His eyes stayed locked on mine. Searching. Requesting. I could feel him. He was warm, and soft, and right there, waiting for permission.

Focusing, I tightened my legs around him carefully and pushed. Just a little. He caught on. His smile changed, his eyes began to smolder, and then he dropped his body onto mine.

He was all around me. Holding me. Kissing me. Inside me. Completing me. There were no words to describe it. No analogy I could give. You would have to be a vampire to understand. I was one, though a new one, and even I could barely understand it.

I didn't think it could get better than what we had shared since our wedding night. It was perfect before. Loving, passionate, intense, gentle… But this…

I met his every movement. I clung to him. I offered myself to him when he nuzzled my neck.

When his teeth sunk into my flesh, I arched my back and growled his name. It tingled pleasantly, sending shockwaves throughout my entire body. It was raw, animalistic, yet he still managed to convey his adoration for me.

And then he offered himself to me. I didn't even pause for a fraction of a second.

His smell. His taste. My absolute love and need for him… My control started slipping.

Startled, I pushed back and stared at him with wide eyes. He smiled in return.

"I trust you, my love. Just be very gentle."

The irony wasn't lost on me. We had spent the whole of our relationship with him needing to always be careful. Always worried about his control.

Now, the tables were turned. This side of the table sucked.

He flipped us so that I was in his lap, straddling him. He had one hand behind him, supporting himself, while the other was up in my hair. Then he urged me to continue.

His thrusts were slight as I licked and nipped, but when I settled my teeth against his skin, the slow, languid pace he had set picked up. He was almost frantic.

"Bella, please…"

The whispered plea didn't hide the need in his tone. I shuddered, then, forcing myself not to become lost to the action, I bit into his flesh.

It wasn't hard like marble. It was soft. Yielding. Damageable.

His growl scared me. I wasn't sure if it was from pain or pleasure. There was no way I would have been able to live with myself if I had hurt him.

I removed my teeth from his skin and pulled back. The look on his face gave me my answer.

He wrapped both arms around me and collapsed his upper body to the ground, taking me with him. Smiling, I laid my head against his chest.

"Did I please you?" I asked.

His laughter brought a full-blown grin to explode across my face.

"In every way possible, my love. My wife. My dearest Bella."

I kissed his chest, then sat up and rolled my hips. Catching on, with a grin that matched mine, he joined me.

We carried on for well over an hour. We never tired. I don't believe we ever would have. That's one of the great things about being a vampire. Super stamina.

Eventually, we reluctantly pried ourselves apart and got dressed.

"Hmmm…"

I looked up from the destroyed button on my pants to see Edward surveying me thoughtfully.

"Um, yeah," I muttered. "Button's kinda useless now. Zipper's not much better."

"Love, those are the least of your concerns." He gave a nod towards my shirt.

I knew it was ripped – I realized that when I was putting it on – but where it was ripped…

"Crap. I think your family's about to see more of me than I ever intended."

"I don't think so." I could hear and see the jealousy in his tone and expression. "My wife will not be ogled."

The slight possessiveness he exhibited was oddly satisfying. I liked it. I liked being his.

I grinned back at him. "We plan to prevent this, how? I didn't bring a change of clothes with me."

I could see the smirk pulling at the edges of his mouth. Then he whipped off his shirt and held it out for me to slip into. I rolled my eyes as I did so.

"I guess your family can ogle my husband all they want," I muttered teasingly.

"A shirtless man does not incite the same reactions."

"It does in women. And in gay men," I added.

It was a real struggle not to laugh when he rolled his eyes.

He took my hand, and then we were strolling again, back towards the house.

"My mother and sisters would never. And my brothers are not gay."

"I don't think your brothers would ogle me, Edward."

"Not intentionally. But if for a fleeting moment, they were to think of you… I don't wish to kill my siblings."

I couldn't stop myself from laughing that time. "Emmett's got Rosalie and Jasper's got Alice. If they were to see too much of me, they would be mortified, not aroused."

He turned to face me, his hands on my shoulders, his expression stern. "Do you consider me an ignorant man, Bella? A blind man? You don't see yourself clearly, I understand this, but do not insult my intelligence by putting yourself down to me, ever again."

He took my hand and started to walk away, but I held firm. I didn't even budge. He whipped around and eyed me questioningly.

"Hold up a sec," I said, a bit indignantly. "Do you see yourself clearly? Do you realize how gorgeous and amazing you are?"

He rolled his eyes. "That's different," he muttered. He tried to walk away again, but I tightened my grip on his hand and gave a yank, effectively bringing him back to right in front of me.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. How is it different?"

He sighed in exasperation. "It just is."

"No, it's not. Do you think I'm a stupid woman? Or blind?"

There was the slightest hint of a smile from him then. "No. I do not."

I had made my point. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him, then whispered against his lips, "I'll try to ease up on the self bashing, okay?"

He wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me towards him. His eyes were smoldering again. "Thank you."

Smiling, I gave him one last quick peck, then disentangled myself from his embrace. "Race 'ya!"

I didn't even wait for his response. I just took off.

I could hear him behind me, but I remained in the lead for almost the entire trip back to the cabin. Maybe I was faster than him. That was saying something. No one was faster than Edward.

But then, at the last moment, he pulled up beside me and slung me up onto his back.

Okay, yeah, I was wrong. I wasn't even close to as fast as him. Clearly, he had been letting me win.

I clung to him, nuzzling and nipping at his neck, laughing when his strides would falter.

We finished the distance within minutes, even with him slowing due to the affections I was assaulting him with.

Yards from the house, he stopped and set me onto my feet. His grin left me with little doubt. Retaliation was imminent.

Playful Edward was just too much fun.

He took my hand, then led me into the house.

"What the—?"

"Shut up, Em!" Edward and I both said in unison. We didn't even hesitate as we marched straight into the bedroom and slammed the door.

And then Edward got this strange look in his eyes. Like he was the predator and I was the prey. I wasn't at all scared. I just smirked back at him, almost challengingly.

The man had lightening fast reflexes. Next thing I knew, he leapt, and we were both landing on the bed. It creaked in protest.

"Since your clothes are already ruined," he murmured as he buried his face in my neck.

My shirt and pants ended up in shreds beside the bed. But, then, so did his.

It started out raw and frantic, but ended in a loving, sensual dance of sorts. And then we just held each other, caressing as we basked in our love for each other.

"I told you it would all work out," I whispered.

"Hmmm. I will never doubt you again."

"Could I get that in writing?"

Laughter from the living room.

"I think we should probably be a little less antisocial," I suggested. "I'm sure they have questions." I laughed when I heard Alice squeak excitedly.

Propping himself up on an elbow, Edward stared down on me as he brushed the back of his fingers against my cheek. "I'm a selfish man, Bella. I expected it would be months before we could be together like this. I don't wish to share you."

"What are a few hours to us now? A blink in time," I said, answering my own question. Then I gave him a little nudge and moved to leave the bed. I smirked to myself when I heard him groan.

I grabbed my suitcase and effortlessly flung it up onto the bed. Before I could even open it, he stepped up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist.

"Dress quickly, my love. The sooner we spend time with them, the sooner I will have you all to myself again."

I swatted his hands away playfully. "I can get dressed faster without you attached to me."

Begrudgingly, he released me and went to the closet. He had just pulled on his slacks when I clicked the locks on my case and threw it open.

And then I froze. Tensed. My mouth filled with venom. My throat burned.

Burned!

Every article of clothing smelled like me. Not vampire me, but human me.

Edward slammed the suitcase shut, then wedged himself between me and it as he wrapped me in a tight embrace. He was restraining me.

"Love, I'm sorry. I should have realized…"

It was a weird thought, not that I was thinking much right then. I wanted to kill and feed on my former self.

Five footsteps approached the door.

"No! She's not decent! Just give me a moment. Bella? You can do this. Hold your breath."

I did, and then I heard the footsteps of a sixth person, in and out of the third room down the hall and then up to the door.

"It's just me," Alice said as she let herself in. "I'm just going to get her suitcase. Here. These should fit her. They're Rosalie's."

I was aware that Alice was removing my case from the bed, but I didn't respond to it in any way. I was locked down, not breathing, trying to ignore the desire to rip apart my own husband to get to the scent of something that wasn't even tangibly there.

"I'll just go run these through the wash a half a dozen times."

I heard the door close. I heard our family speaking, but ignored their words. I needed to focus.

"No. I'm not letting her go until she is in control, and I can't get her dressed until I let her go."

He was answering to someone's thoughts, I realized.

"I will not embarrass her like that. You're not coming in until she's dressed."

I blinked and locked eyes with him, still not breathing. It was as if I had just noticed him there after hours of seeing him standing right in front of me. My head cleared a little, but the fire in my throat remained.

"Bella?" He wasn't asking me a question. He was trying to determine my level of self-control.

So was I. "Why—?"

"Sshh, don't speak. Just hold your breath. A human's scent will permeate their clothing. Even after laundering them, the scent will often linger. Your instincts triggered, telling you the scent was synonymous with blood."

I expressed an apology with my eyes alone, then pressed my forehead against his chest. The burn was easing slightly.

"You needn't apologize, Bella. You are doing amazingly well. I should be the one apologizing to you. I should have foreseen this reaction and taken precautions. I'm so sorry."

"Son, none of us considered the possibility. You're being too hard on yourself."

I shifted a little and nodded emphatically at Edward, agreeing with what Carlisle had said from the other side of the door. I didn't want him to feel guilty. He hadn't done anything wrong. By what Carlisle had said, and by the additional murmurings I could hear so easily, our family clearly felt the same way.

I needed to get past this. I couldn't hold my breath forever. Well, I could, but I could imagine how annoying that would be. And I couldn't reassure Edward that he wasn't at fault for anything if I couldn't speak.

If I was so amazing, as everyone seemed to think I was, then surely I could handle it. It wasn't even blood. It was just unmistakably human. And it wasn't even in the room anymore.

I at least needed to manage enough control so that I could put some clothes on.

I conveyed all of this through my stare alone. Edward gave a slight nod, then held me tighter.

My eyes still on his, I took in a slow, deep breath. The burning flared a little, but I didn't feel lost to it as I had before. If anything, I just felt a determination to conquer it.

"It feels like someone's shoved a branding iron down my throat," I rasped. "How could you stand to be so close to me?"

"I wasn't a newborn when I met you, Bella, but it was not without difficulty."

Suddenly, every pertinent memory of our time together rushed to the forefront of my mind. Every moment we had ever shared when there was pain within his expression. He had been through so much, all in the name of love.

I tugged my arms against his hold, letting him know that I wanted him to release me. I could have just yanked them free, but I didn't. I wanted him to feel safe, and comfortable knowing I wasn't about to do something stupid. Like try to rip his head off or go bolting from the house in nothing but my birthday suit.

After searching my eyes for a moment, he eventually loosened his firm grip. I threw my arms around him when he did.

"I'm sorry for putting you through that," I whispered.

"Bella…" He sighed my name. He raked his fingers through my hair. "I was happy to endure that and more, if it meant being with you."

"Gag! I'm out here hurling up last night's hunt! Would you just throw on some clothes already and get the hell out here?"

"Shut up, Emmett!" we both called out, then we pulled back and grinned at each other. Edward's faded quickly, though.

"Are you still hurting, my love?"

I shook my head, which was a bit of a lie. "Second by second it gets a little better." That was the truth. "Reminders make it worse. Just… distract me. Where are Rosalie's clothes I'm borrowing?"

We located them on the bed. Edward threw on a shirt as I pulled them on. They were a tad too big – Rosalie was definitely taller than me – but they fit well enough. Then we walked hand in hand towards the door.

Six faces greeted us when we opened it. Emmett and Alice were smiling. Carlisle and Esme seemed happy but slightly concerned. Jasper looked confused and frustrated. Rosalie appeared to be feeling guilty about something.

We pushed our way through, then all of us headed for the living room.

Good thing vampires don't need sleep. We all ended up talking until just before the break of dawn.

Carlisle found my hallucinations of Natas to be fascinating, just as Edward had predicted. Well, they all did, actually, though no one could figure out why I'd had them.

Emmett and Rosalie were the first to excuse themselves.

Apparently, my arm wrestling match with Emmett was still on, and I promised him that he could tag along when I hunted polar bears for the first time. He was near giddy over that.

Rosalie hadn't said much during our hours-long conversation, but as she stood to leave, she surprised me.

"I don't agree with your decision, Bella, but I respect it. I respect the love you have for my brother, and the care you took in making it."

When I thanked her, she smiled, just a little, then grabbed Emmett's hand and pulled him towards their room.

Nearly an hour later, Jasper and Alice were the next to break off from our group discussion.

Jasper had done little else beyond stare at me with a perplexed look on his face. I felt bad for the confusion I was causing him, but couldn't find a way to apologize for it. At least he no longer looked at me like he was afraid he'd kill me.

Alice shared several visions with me that she'd had over the past few days. My favorite was of me and Edward running through our meadow back in Forks. We would be returning to Forks someday! It made me optimistic that maybe, just maybe, I'd get to see Charlie again. Maybe even my mom.

Edward and I chatted with Esme and Carlisle for about an hour after that.

My father-in-law is a wise man. He'd already come up with a theory for why I had such amazing self-control. It was my gift. Not as cool as Edward's or Alice's, but I'd take it. The crazed newborn phase was something I had not at all been looking forward to. Having this gift meant I would get to bypass it altogether.

We were set to part ways as the sun started to lighten the blackness of the sky, when a memory hit me. It was amazing how much I could remember, now that my mind was so vast. I felt that I could have memorized every book in existence, remembered every experience there was to have, and still have had room left for more. Like an infinite gigabyte hard drive on a computer.

"Carlisle?"

He stopped at the mouth of the hallway and turned to face me. "Yes, Bella?"

"When I stayed with you guys for those two weeks? When I was leaving, you said something to me." His smile grew. He knew what I was referring to, but I said it anyway. "You thanked me. Why?"

He stepped towards me, then placed his hands on my shoulders and sighed. "For coming into our lives. But more importantly, for breathing life into Edward. He deserves the happiness you bring him. You both deserve the happiness you bring each other."

He gave my chin a gentle pinch before he walked away. Edward pulled me tighter against him and kissed the top of my head.

It felt weird that he had thanked me, when it was me who should have been thanking him. All of them. Edward specifically.

Before meeting Edward Cullen, my life had been little more than a mere existence. It wasn't horrible, but it was nothing special. It just… was.

Now, I feel like I belong. I feel loved, and protected, and… right. I finally feel right in my own skin.

How do you thank someone for giving you absolutely everything you'll ever want or need for all of eternity?

I started by writing down our love story…

Waylon Forge was dead, my parents were leaving town to tend to the funeral, and I was being shipped off to stay with the Cullens for two weeks. Residing with the most reclusive family on the west coast was bound to be an experience I'd never forget…

The End

Author's Note:

Okay, guys (and gals), what did we think? I reworked the ending on this about a dozen different ways, but could never get it 'quite right'. I'm not one hundred percent jazzed with this ending, either, but I tend to get ultra-critical of myself at the end of a project, because I subconsciously (and consciously) don't want to see it end. So, it's probably not actually 'bad'… but, then again, maybe it is.

It sucks when you take a journey, and then when you get to the destination, you're all: WTF?

Am I right? Yeah, I'm right. I'm sorry if you're all: 'WTF?' right now.

Really, this is the kind of story that could have just kept going and going and going and… I had to end it somewhere… no, really, I did.

I don't usually share alternate endings, but one idea I had that didn't work out was kinda cute, so I'll share it…

X

I started by writing down our love story.

I know you were there, but at least you now know what I was thinking, right?

Oh, and if you're reading this right now, and your name isn't Edward Cullen… this was a work of fiction.

X

And it is now with a heavy heart that I say goodbye. I will try to write another Twilight fic soon, but until then…

Thanks for all the great feedback and support, and MTLBYAKY

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