Midnight Sun (Twilight Continuation from Edward's POV)

By OliviaLJane

Romance / Fantasy

Epilogue: An Occasion

When Alice delivered Bella at the top of the staircase in that midnight blue gown, my pupils pinwheeled at the sight of her. I had to shock myself to breathe, she was so beautiful. If there was ever a moment to capture in memory it would be this one.

Bella's skin created its own luminance against the willowy fabric. A cloud of curls framed her face, and as she moved dark waves broke over her shoulders. Her lips were petals, full pink petals. Something hot tingled from my scalp to my chest when those lips smiled in return to my opened mouth.

"That's some fancy getup you got there. You look… great!" Bella appraised. The slow dip of her eyes along the length of my suit was evocative of a touch.

A lash of heat hit my cheeks. My ears felt suddenly flammable. My tongue got tied.

I warbled my thanks and watched as she leaned an awkward hand to the banister. She shifted her body sideways. Bella then hitched her dress with her other hand exposing a plastered foot about to drop unto the immediate step below her.

Before she descended into certain peril, I scaled the stairs in one step. I bundled her in my arms. And taking care not to must her dress, we floated down the staircase. I stepped back so that my eyes could feast upon her once more.

Wow. Oh wow. Wow.

I wanted to take my time. Bella was already gunning for the door as well as anyone with a cast could gun for a door. Heading her off, I collected her hands in mine, pressing my lips to each of them.

I snuck another kiss to her temple and clipped a barrette of camellias in her hair that Esme made for her. Two flights up, my parents from their secret observation deck, waved goodbye as we slipped out the door.

It wasn't until we were rolling down our drive, I noticed I hadn't actually spoken a full sentence. Although it would be hokey, and I would surely be answered with a roll of the eyes, I considered how wars were waged and mythology inspired by the kind of vision that was sitting beside me.

Just as I was about to tell Bella this, she groused, "At what point exactly are you going to tell me what's going on?"

I hadn't meant for this to be a surprise knowing she didn't like them. "I'm shocked that you haven't figured it out yet."

I met Bella's frown with a grin and her features softened. "I did mention that you looked very nice, didn't I?" Unlike the second before, her tone was almost friendly.

"Yes." I smiled appreciative of the compliment but much more grateful for the way she looked in that dress.

Still none too happy, Bella complained, "I'm not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea Pig Barbie when I do." Alice had sealed Bella in her bathroom for hours that would be a full workday. I could hear my sister guilt Bella into all sorts of treatments.

But if she had just tripped out of bed, Bella would be no less ravishing. I knew this from experience. As I continued to take her in, my phone jangled in my pocket. The number on the screen made my heart sink.

"Hello, Charlie." I dragged in a breath expecting Chief Swan's order to take Bella home.

"Charlie?" The puckered space between Bella's eyebrows convinced me she guessed the same.

When Carlisle, Alice, and I returned Bella home after her six-day hospital stay, Charlie expressed devout thanks to my father for saving Bella's life, and Alice he christened with sainthood. I did not fair quite as well.

Although I couldn't entirely read his mind, it was apparent that the man's feelings for me bordered on loathing. Understandably, Chief Swan blamed me for the troubles that befell his daughter. I was only too eager to agree.

At first, Charlie outlawed any interaction with Bella. Accepting his decision, I could have been perfectly unhappy pining after her from afar. But following an excited argument between father and daughter, an agreement was reached. The strictest rules on when, where, and how much time I was allowed to spend with Bella were imposed.

When I requested Bella's company for tonight's event, Chief Swan outright refused. I remembered they way he poked a thumb through a belt loop like a western gunslinger as he swatted the door on my nose. It was only after Alice talked to him that he changed his mind.

Every time I spoke with Charlie he reached for his sidearm. This time he surprised me when he didn't demand Bella's return but told me that he was entertaining a guest. "You're kidding!"

"What is it?" Bella insisted while Chief Swan explained that Tyler Crowley had shown up at the Swan residence in a suit and bearing a corsage.

"Why don't you let me talk to him?" I offered. The next thing I heard was Crowley stuttering out a, "Hhh-ello."

"Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen." My politeness was synthetic. I imagined my fist knocking down Crowley's perfect rows of teeth. Years of orthodontia ruined in one messy bloody instant.

"I'm sorry if there's been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is unavailable tonight." Being nearly bested by a killer out for Bella's life, for her very blood, I'll be damned if I was going to have some glandular-fevered teenager rival for Bella's heart. Only Bella's annoyance blunted the blade of my agitation.

"To be perfectly honest, she'll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offense. And I'm sorry about your evening." I didn't wait for Crowley's reply and clapped the phone closed. Now that I attended to that chore, I allowed myself a silent pat on the back.

Bella routed all her breathing through her nose so that it flared with each inhalation. From her roots to her chest, she turned four shades from scarlet; the color wrapped around the tops of her arms and shoulders like a cape.

Quickly I said, "Was the last part a bit too much? I didn't mean to offend you."

"You're taking me to the prom!" She shouted looking scandalized. The prom could have been replaced with the hanging or the war zone.

I wasn't prepared for this reaction. Not the way I wanted to, I blew out, "Don't be difficult, Bella."

Her eyes misted before she jarred her glare from me to the view out her window. What she saw supported her earlier accusation. We were only minutes away from the high school.

As if I was about to subject her to torture she accused, "Why are you doing this to me?"

"Honestly, Bella, what did you think we were doing?" Pointing a finger down my tuxedo.

She didn't blink once despite the wide pendulum swings of her sightline. When her vision finally settled, the tip of her nose wiggled before one, followed by a flow of tears escaped from her eyes. She wiped the water designs from her cheeks though replacement tears hung on her lower lashes ready to be released.

In wonderment and irritation I said, "This is completely ridiculous. Why are you crying?"

"Because I'm mad!" I could feel heat from her skin that in another circumstance would have magnetized me to her. Instead it walled Bella away from me.

"Bella."

"What?" she hiccupped.

"Humor me," I gave my finest "do this and I'm your eternal slave" look.

The snuffles ceased as she held my stare. "Fine."

Her lips curved down at the edges with this surrender. It was no fun winning the advantage with Bella upset.

"I'll go quietly. But you'll see. I'm way overdue for more bad luck. I'll probably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It's a death trap!" Bella lifted the hem of her dress to reveal a stiletto heel at the end of her smooth leg.

"Hmmm." I was lost to the red polish painted on her perfect toes and the arch of her leg cross-laced with ribbons of blue satin. "Remind me to thank Alice for that tonight."

"Alice is going to be there?" Bella said brighter eyed.

"With Jasper, and Emmett… and Rosalie." When I mentioned my sister, wariness shadowed Bella's expression. Rose's attendance was definitely not a point in favor for the dance.

But I wasn't going to falsely announce that Rosalie experienced a change of heart when she went overboard proving that the absence of one. She had behaved no better than before. Though, in spite of her energies to dislike Bella, there were little chinks in my sister's resolve. Bella was getting to her. Rosalie knew it but would rather die than breathe a word of it.

Bella opened another line of questioning. "Is Charlie in on this?"

"Of course," I sniggered, "Apparently Tyler wasn't, though." Crowley obviously lived in an alternative universe when he assumed he would be Bella's date. Please. There wasn't a chance on earth, heaven, or hell he'd be able to walk much less do any dancing if he tried to move in on what was mine.

When we arrived at the school's parking lot, the red convertible reported that my siblings were already inside. There were very few spaces available. One of the charming qualities about the hard working folks of Forks was that they didn't live by social pretenses. Because of this, they weren't the fashionably-late types. While the festivities officially began a half-hour ago, the party was well underway.

In my excitement, I glanced up to see a fleece of clouds scud above this sun-starved yet stiff-upper-lip place. A few holdout rays were making a final stand in the western horizon. When I opened the door to help Bella from the car, she was making her own stand sitting unmoving in the passenger seat. Chin down and arms crossed she threw out a challenge daring me to proceed. There were several knots of students in formalwear mingling outside that I couldn't just do my usual thing without inviting attention.

I let out the unused air in my lungs. "When someone wants to kill you, you're brave as a lion — and then when someone mentions dancing…" I was shaking my head when I noticed Bella's knuckles whiten as she squeezed the edge of her seat. She swallowed like she was about to be sick.

"Bella, I won't let anything hurt you — not even yourself. I won't let go of you once, I promise."

She took a few small breaths and turned her face up to mine. That little nod of her head placed so much trust in me.

"There, now," I soothed, "it won't be so bad." Reaching down, I coiled an arm around her waist and boosted Bella from her seat. She was uneven on her feet. My fingers sprawled over her hip in support. Oh yes, someone was going to benefit from her missing crutches.

My plan was to hold Bella without interruption the whole night. I would have preferred to carry her inside, but knowing that would be the surest way to end our date, I hoisted Bella at her waist as she hobbled along beside me.

We entered the gym's main doors and through the archways of balloons. They were everywhere. The areas that weren't attired with balloons were decorated with fanciful swags of coordinating streamers.

Under the music, I heard Bella laugh. It was the first sign of amusement.

"This looks like a horror movie waiting to happen," she chuckled.

We were approaching the ticket table. "Well," with my arm hooked around her, Bella took an assisted step toward the back of the line as I observed, "there are more than enough vampires present."

Looking over the heads of fellow newcomers, my siblings were making quite a show colonizing the dance floor. Their redundant spinning and elaborate patterns, to the humans, must have resembled a carnival ride.

Emmett and Jasper were appareled in their new but vintage 007 inspired tuxedos that matched my own. While Rose's mermaid gown harkened to a red snapper. Alice's geometric dress appeared to be the product of a modern art installation. The whirling pair of couples garnered much attention from the spectators who improvised dancing at the sidelines or just looking on.

"Do you want me to bolt the doors so you can massacre the unsuspecting townsfolk?" Bella whispered.

I quirked an eyebrow at her, "And where do you fit in that scheme?"

"Oh, I'm with the vampires, of course."

She was kidding, but it was hard to find humor in something that was a real fear. I forced a smile. "Anything to get out of dancing."

"Anything."

After exchanging three twenty's for two tickets with the Social Studies teacher, I led Bella to the dance floor. She shrank into my arm. I glanced down to see plaster and stiletto backpedaling.

"I've got all night." I told her with the mettle of a man who was going to get his way.

Although Bella was not exactly ambulatory, we continued our progress toward the middle of the room until we reached the outside of the dance circle my family created.

Forks High School suffered an unbalanced female-to-male ratio. Girls outnumbered the boys. However, it was far too early in the evening to contemplate statistical disparities. Young ladies arrayed the walls like colorful paper lanterns, lucent with the promises of magic ahead. They were linked together by whispers concerning which gentlemen they would favor with a dance. Out of the Forks High School female populace fidgeting to be led out to the center of the gym, Bella was the one exception.

"Edward." Apprehension rasped in Bella's voice. Then in a last ditch attempt to prevent the inevitable she exclaimed, "I honestly can't dance!" She was groping my sleeve.

"Don't worry, silly," I said reassuringly, "I can."

The pop song phased into an indie rock ballad, Emmett switched from a reel to a waltz with the rest of my siblings following his lead. The tune was in three-quarter time. They made it work.

I took Bella's hands and placed them behind my neck. By her waist, I raised her up so that her feet landed on mine. Without pause and with lots of panache, we too, were dancing.

Halfway through the song, Bella giggled up at me, "I feel like I'm five years old."

The tenor in my words was intentional when I said, "You don't look five." Then my hands slid down the curve of back to her hips, and I swooshed her into a partner lift.

Go Bella! Alice cheered silently when our formations crossed.

In a grumble Bella conceded, "Okay, this isn't half bad."

I never so much enjoyed being right.

My pleasure was immediately interrupted by the bane named Jacob Black.

He was through the doors and wending his way toward us. As I watched Black's approach, Bella watched my face turn to stone.

"What is it?" Her vision trailed mine to see the kid in a shirt and tie but still very much out of his element and by the laws of our pact, territory.

A low growl seethed through my teeth.

"Behave!" Bella scolded in a manner the chaperoning teachers would approve of.

Just as young Black closed the distance, I learned from his thoughts that he was recently deputized to do his father's dirty work. "He wants to chat with you."

"Hey, Bella, I was hoping you would be here." He smiled goofily when he reached us.

"Hi, Jacob." There was curiosity and affection in Bella's returned smile. "What's up?"

Briefly turning his attention to me, Black requested, "Can I cut in?" and met me eye to eye. He had grown since we last encountered. He wasn't quite a man, but he was by no means a child.

An intuition bubbled in my bones that me and Black would share a dark appointment with destiny one day. Nonetheless, I did not want to hasten fate.

I gently picked Bella off my dress shoes onto her own mismatched feet. Then against spectacular inner protest, I worked my legs to move myself back.

"Thanks." Black said.

I responded with a short stiff bow of my head towards Black and shared a look with Bella before I strode away.

From an unmanned stretch of wall, I watched Black take Bella by the waist. In a reaction that was far too natural, she placed her hands on his shoulders. "Wow, Jake, how tall you now?"

Grimacing, the kid replied, "Six-two."

Six-two, I mimicked and stared at the pair galumphing from side to side. Black danced with all the grace and style of a zombie. I resisted the urge to yank him by the scruff of his ponytail from the arms of my date.

Although Emmett and Jasper continued to revolve my sisters around the dance floor, they were mentally posturing to intervene. I signaled my brothers to stand down for now. This kid could be easily taken care of, but I could use them to cause a distraction when I slam-dunked Black head-first through the basketball hoop at the other end of the gym, stupid ponytail and all.

"So, how did you end up here tonight?" Bella questioned her incompetent dance partner.

"Can you believe my dad paid me twenty bucks to come to your prom?"

I believed there were no depths Billy Black would sink to separate us.

"Yes, I can," Bella said. "Well, I hope you're enjoying yourself, at least. Seen anything you like?" She then motioned to the string of young ladies minding one of the other walls.

"Yeah," Black, without giving those girls a glance, let out a disappointed sigh. "But she's taken."

I launched a glare at him. He would have definitely felt the nuclear warhead attached to it, but he was otherwise engaged in Bella's inquiring look before they both turned away.

"You look really pretty, by the way," he said with a bashfulness that was actually real. There was nothing modest about his thoughts however.

Bella deflected his flattery. "Um, thanks. So why did Billy pay you to come here?"

"He said it was a 'safe' place to talk to you. I swear the old man is losing his mind."

They exchanged a moment of nervous laughter.

"Anyway, he said that if I told you something, he would get me that master cylinder I need," Black admitted with an embarrassed smile.

"Tell me, then. I want you to get your car finished." She checked in on me spying from my wall. One of the underclassmen thought my name. I shooed it away concentrating my focus on Bella and Black.

"Don't get mad, okay?"

"There's no way I'll be mad at you, Jacob," she promised. "I won't even be mad at Billy. Just say what you have to."

The kid attempted to shake off his discomfort as he spoke. "Well — this is so stupid, I'm sorry, Bella — he wants you to break up with your boyfriend. He asked me to tell you 'please.'" Boyfriend. That's right, even if was Billy Black who acknowledged it.

"He's still superstitious, eh?"

"Yeah. He was… kind of over the top when you got hurt down in Phoenix. He didn't believe…" The kid suddenly stopped talking.

With a stern set of her mouth, Bella annunciated. "I fell."

"I know that."

Bella flung her eyes up at him. "He thinks Edward had something to do with me getting hurt."

A bolt of guilt flashed through me. And because the accusation came from Billy Black made it all the worse. I dialed in on his messenger.

The kid was looking everywhere but at Bella, but damn blast, they had ceased dancing and were just holding each other out of the way from the other couples.

"Look, Jacob, I know Billy probably won't believe this, but just so you know," the serious attention-drawing inflection in Bella's voice gave Black no choice but to look at her now, "Edward really did save my life. If it weren't for Edward and his father, I'd be dead."

"I know." Black's words and thoughts sounded convinced. It was unlikely his father would ever be swayed.

"Hey, I'm sorry you had to come do this, Jacob," Bella consoled. "At any rate, you get your parts, right?"

"Yeah." Black shuffled his feet.

"There's more?"

"Forget it," he brushed it off not very convincingly, "I'll get a job and save the money myself."

Bella's curls sprung when she tossed her head to the side. "Just spit it out, Jacob."

"It's so bad."

"I don't care. Tell me."

"Okay… but, geez, this sounds bad."

In one expulsion of air he muttered, "He said to tell you, no, to warn you, that — and this is his plural, not mine." He released one of his hands from Bella's hip and scratched a quotation mark in the air. "We'll be watching."

Black just spilled the most awful punch line to the worst joke. Bella broke out in a laugh. I attached my own silent chuckle with hers. "Sorry you had to do this, Jake."

"I don't mind that much." Black smiled his relief and was so relaxed that he took this moment to evaluate Bella's dress.

My earlier dealings with Tyler Crowley never mind the infernal pubescent thoughts of every teenage boy who had caught sight of Bella in that dress and now Black's indecent mental images had me spoiling for a fight. The death lasers that were shooting from my eyes could have bounced him out the door telekinetically.

Black continued, "So, should I tell him you said to butt the hell out?"

I wished Black's imaginings would only butt out of my brain.

"No," Bella exhaled. "Tell him I said thanks. I know he means well." Just then the song finished. About bloody time.

Both of Black's hands were still at Bella's waist as he glimpsed her leg cast. "Do you want to dance again? Or can I help you get somewhere?"

I had already glided up to them. "That's all right, Jacob. I'll take it from here." I said in a facsimile of restraint.

Black's eyebrows arched up in reaction to my proprietary stance beside Bella.

"Hey, I didn't see you there," he stammered. "I guess I'll see you around, Bella." Black took a step back. His mouth compressed into a sulk. His hand waved in a goodbye.

"Yeah, I'll see you later." Bella gave a smile of goodwill that more than covered for the both of us.

"Sorry," Black said. He took his leave with his ears pinned back. I almost felt bad for him but punted that notion out the exit after the kid.

As another song began, I stepped up to Bella and held her. I curled her hand in mine against my chest. When her head nestled next to our interlaced fingers, everything: the gym, the cheesy décor, the other prom attendees, the music dulled into the background.

"Feeling better?"

Taking offense over Black's appearance, I heaved, "Not really."

"Don't be mad at Billy," she said. "He just worries about me for Charlie's sake. It's nothing personal."

Right! Sure! "I'm not mad at Billy."

If only there was some kind of mental disinfectant to take care of Jacob Black's not so clean thoughts for my girlfriend. "But his son is irritating me."

Bella peeled away from me to check out my face. "Why?"

"First of all, he made me break my promise."

She blinked her confusion.

Attempting not to come across as ill-tempered as I felt, I continued, "I promised I wouldn't let go you of tonight."

"Oh. Well, I forgive you."

"Thanks. But there's something else." This moment was postponed thanks to our multiple disruptions.

"He called you pretty." I huffed. "That's practically an insult, the way you look right now. You're much more than beautiful."

Bella chuckled. "You might be a little biased."

"I don't think that's it. Besides, I have excellent eyesight." Raising her up in my arms, I whirled her across the dance floor.

"So are you going to explain the reason for all of this?"

I peered down at Bella's face. She was reviewing the ornamentation on display. After a few deliberating seconds, I reversed my movement toward the backdoor. As I waltzed Bella past curious stares, the student body's chatter was becoming organized information trafficking.

On the fading bars of music, we made our getaway from the running commentaries. Once I conveyed Bella past the doors and into the empty school grounds, my arm swept her up. I carried her to the bench among the madrone tree grove.

Then with Bella sitting on my lap, I packaged her in my arms.

"The point?" she pressed on.

The sun was about to adjourn for the day, making its last call before collapsing into a high cloudbank. "Twilight, again," I looked up to the gloaming sky. "Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end."

In a town like Forks, the frequent storms reminded me of the night's often savage nature towards the day. How envious the night must be with only the cold moon and its reclusive stars for company. The sun forever denying companionship. Yet at twilight, the night suspends jealousy as day quietly surrenders the sky. The transition culminating in the splendid glow of gold, pink, violet then indigo. The sad courtship of light and darkness, ephemeral, fleeting until dawn renews their vows.

"Some things don't have to end." Bella's voice returned my vision to her.

"I brought you to prom," I said with methodic delicacy, "because I don't want you to miss anything. I don't want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I'd died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have."

Since our homecoming, nothing further was said regarding her future. It was clear though, we both had been thinking about it more than either of us was willing to admit. This was her first prom, but there would be a first day of college and her first day at a new job, and one day, as much as it crippled me to think of it, her first day as a bride and then as a mother. She had lifetime of first days ahead of her, and no one, no one, had the right to number them.

Bella was trembling and I recognized it wasn't from the cool air but from anger. "In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren't a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this."

A small smile reached my mouth. "It wasn't so bad, you said so yourself."

"That's because I was with you."

The strength of my unspoken arguments devolved into a silence. Bella's eyes were on me as I tracked the elevating moon. I wished there was some way to explain how important it was to me for her to lead a normal life.

This discussion was in need of a tangent. "Will you tell me something?"

"Don't I always?"

"Just promise you'll tell me."

"Fine." She agreed if only to close this loop in our conversation.

"You seemed honestly surprised when you figured out that I was taking you here." I said.

"I was."

"Exactly," I met her eyes. "But you must have had some other theory… I'm curious — what did you think I was dressing you up for?"

She became instantly tight-lipped. "I don't want to tell you."

"You promised."

"I know."

"What's the problem?" I suspected there was another misperceived embarrassment that she needn't hide from me.

Bella lowered her lashes. "I think it will make you mad — or sad."

Her reply got to me… she was protecting me from something. A vague melancholy crept around my heart, but curiosity overpowered my dread. "I still want to know. Please?"

I hoped my plea would be enough to invite confidences, only Bella stonewalled me with a sigh. I took my hand from the small of her back to overlap my other hand resting on her hip.

"Well… I assumed it was some kind of… occasion. But I didn't think it would be some trite human thing… prom!" she spouted.

"Human?" I was clearly missing something here.

Bella fiddled with the gauzy trimming of her dress while I waited.

"Okay," she started. Then like someone trying to get something over with quickly she finished. "So I was hoping that you might have changed your mind… that you were going to change me, after all."

Bella's confession opened the door to everything I was trying not to feel, not to think about. With effort, I stuffed away the emotions building inside me and resorted to a detached response. "You thought that would be a black tie occasion, did you?" tucking a thumb behind my lapel.

"I don't know how these things work. To me, at least, it seems more rational than prom does."

I pasted a grin to my face but it wasn't sticking. She shook her head as she continued, "It's not funny."

"No, you're right, it's not," I universally agreed, "I'd rather treat it like a joke, though, than believe you're serious."

"But I am serious."`

I've known this for some time but chose not to accept it. Now, I was nose to nose with what I didn't want to face. Bella folded her hands on her lap. I glanced down to her hands, to the crescent scar that hung below her right littlest finger. The raised skin was bleached silver under the moonlight. I hated it. I hated what looked like a letter spelling out for me what I had almost lost but more staggeringly, what she nearly lost. And every day my comprehension was finally beginning to stack the scales against my selfishness.

I let out a sigh. "I know. And you're really that willing?"

Bella pursed her lips and nodded.

"So ready for this to be the end," I said inside my own revelations, "for this to be the twilight of your life, though your life has barely started. You're ready to give up everything."

"It's not the end, it's the beginning." Her voice was a whisper.

"I'm not worth it."

"Do you remember when you told me that I didn't see myself very clearly?" she said. "You obviously have the same blindness." Her passion impelled me to drop my gaze.

"I know what I am."

Bella let out a long defenseless breath. She was proposing a future with me that amounted to a countdown of precious last days as a beautiful, vibrant, human girl. It was nothing short of criminal.

Being without Bella would decimate me. That was certain. Everything she warmed to life would go cold again. But more than I desired her, needed her, I wanted her to live her life and live it exceptionally normal.

I sighed. This solemn turn of events wasn't what I had in mind for Bella tonight. The object of this evening was for her to enjoy herself. Something would have to be done. I contemplated the shades of feelings that colored her face.

"You're ready now, then?"

"Um." Bella swallowed. "Yes?" Her hesitancy showed me how to proceed. Reinforcing my hold, I angled my head to her so that my mouth rested just below her jaw line.

"Right now?" I said. Bella shuddered. I positioned my ear near her mouth to hear her reply.

"Yes."

Bella became a column of bricks in my arms. Her hands contracted into fists. Hot breath lapped against my neck as her breathing became small bursts. It was a quiet gesture, but I sensed her move ever so slightly to expose her neck.

The suspenseful beat lengthened as I realized how serious she really was and that she believed I would actually do it. I didn't know if I should cry or scream or fall to me knees with the weight of what all this meant.

I pulled back from her mindlessly laughing. "You can't really believe that I would give in so easily."

My attempt at levity went wrong in all the wrong ways.

"A girl can dream." Bella sighed with a smile. Beneath that smile a pained flurry in her voice made it anything but funny.

I stared at her in earnest. "Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?"

"Not exactly." Bella's voice was so light and shapeless that it instantly dissolved. "Mostly I dream about being with you forever."

Forever. So much was packed into that one word. Could she know I wanted that more than anything?

"Bella." With my fingertips, I outlined her mouth, remembering every one of our intimacies, one of the billion reasons why I couldn't leave her. "I will stay with you — isn't that enough?"

I felt her lips lift into a grimace beneath my touch. "Enough for now."

Bella's sudden stubbornness transformed my exhale into a low snarl. We had reached another impasse.

She raised her hand to me. It was small and warm against my cheek.

"Look," she said. As I did so Bella's eyes glowed with a thrilling, frightening wish of an ambiguous future. "I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn't that enough?"

Something dangerously close to hope chased through me.

"Yes, it is enough." I gave in to a smile. "Enough for forever."

Bowing to her in search of kiss, I abandoned myself to the scent of Bella's blood. Blood that once nearly driven me to madness, which now offered the strangest sanctuary.

My lips pressed to her hot throat.

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