The Road Not Taken
Epilogue: “She didn’t really seem like that sort of girl,” Tanya commented, her tone just a tad sour, and Demetri quirked a smile.
“I get the feeling there’s a lot more to her than we’ve suspected.” Sequel to The Road Less Traveled by Daintress of tm_switzerland.
24. Chapter 24
Rating 5/5 Word Count 2981 Review this Chapter
Edward hadn’t let her go since Aro, presiding over the ceremony in a gleeful voice, had instructed them to hold hands. They were standing in a garden even greener than anything in Forks, despite the deepening twilight.
They’d all arrived just after sundown, and Bella had immediately changed into the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen. Alice had outdone herself as usual. She’d made sure to show it to Bella at the first opportunity, so she wouldn’t be surprised by it the day of the wedding, knowing how much Bella disliked those sorts of surprises. And she’d absolutely treasured the look on her new sister’s face.
“Alice - it’s – it’s the same!” Bella had gasped. Alice enjoyed imagining that if she’d still been human, this is where Bella’s heart would have sped up, and her body would have warmed. She watched as Bella walked forward and carefully ran her hand over the deep gold fabric. She could almost see the thoughts turning in Bella’s mind.
“Well, no, it’s a different dress, actually, though the same design. I couldn’t just dye the fabric, after all. It would never have looked right.”
Bella turned to her in shock. “When did you do this?” she demanded, awestruck, but not angry. Alice looked away. “Alice!” Bella said again, her tone turning chastising. “When?”
“I ordered it right after you and Jacob got married,” Alice whispered. “Please don’t be mad.” She looked up quickly, her bottom lip pouting slightly. When she’d done it, she hadn’t been able to see what Bella’s reaction would be if she ever found out. She hadn’t been able to see Bella at all.
But Bella was only shaking her head. “It’s even prettier in this color,” she commented finally, and Alice squealed, clapped her hands, and rushed to put it on her. Of course, it had fit perfectly.
And it still did. As she and Edward talked quietly with first one group of family, and then another of Volturi, she could feel it whispering around her ankles, the material decadent in its luxuriousness. It was the first silk she’d felt since the change, and she decided she liked it very much. Maybe even enough to let Alice take her shopping.
“What are you thinking about?” Edward whispered in her ear. He was standing behind her, his arms wrapped possessively around her waist. He’d noticed the small smile that had crossed her face.
“You probably won’t believe me, but I’m thinking of letting Alice drag me shopping for silk dress pants,” she replied just as quietly. Several yards away, they both saw Alice’s head snap up and her eyes focus on them. She winked before turning her attention back to Jasper. Bella and Edward shared a chuckle.
The wedding had gone entirely as Alice planned. Bella had met the remaining members of the Denali coven, and it was evident from their generous comments that they had all decided not to pursue Tanya’s original course. She was even getting along with Tanya, which was good. Carlisle had worked so hard to renew the Cullens’ friendship with that family. Meeting Irina had been tense at first, however. She, after all, had lost her mate to the pack as surely as Bella had lost Jake to the Volturi.
Once the planning was complete, though, everyone had been able to relax, and Bella looked around the enchanting gardens, satisfied. Everyone seemed content. Alice and Jasper were dancing. Emmett was speaking with Demetri, which had worried her at first until she’d caught part of their conversation. Of all things, they were discussing wrestling, setting up a match for later in the week. She shook her head, and focused her attention on Alec, who was wandering over without Jane to shake Edward’s hand. Alec was a bit of a mystery to Bella. She saw him less often than the others, and his soul seemed to be in constant turmoil – never settling on any one color – never at rest, and yet every bit as disturbing as Jane’s. She let him hug her and tell her that she looked beautiful anyway. Sometimes, he was far more human than his sister. “Thank you,” she mumbled, embarrassed. Edward’s hand never left the small of her back, and she was in his arms again as soon as Alec released her, much to Alec’s amusement. He wandered away again, in search of Caius.
Edward murmured in her ear, “So much more than beautiful,” and she was reminded of a long ago prom when he’d been annoyed with Jacob for describing her the same way. Rather than making her sad, it only made her smile. “I have a wedding gift for you,” Edward added nervously. They were standing alone for the first time in what felt like days.
“But I didn’t get you anything!” she protested, turning in his arms with a concerned expression on her face. He ignored this. He’d been expecting it.
“Come on,” he whispered, releasing his hold on her to take her hand and pull her through the cypress allée.
“Edward! We can’t just leave!” she hissed, looking back over her shoulder. No one was looking their direction. In fact, it appeared to her that everyone was very pointedly NOT looking in their direction. “They’ll all think we’re –“
“They won’t be far wrong,” Edward whispered, pulling her tightly against him as soon as the trees blocked the party from view. His eyes blazed down into hers.
Bella let out a surprised, “Oh!” before a wicked smirk crossed her face and she stood up on her toes to kiss him. He recognized, in that instant, where she’d acquired that expression, and laughed, pushing her gently away, his mood from a moment before utterly broken. He finally knew where he’d seen that smirk before, and it looked much better on Bella than it ever had on Eli Anderson. He’d read in her journals that they’d become friends after he left Dartmouth, but he’d only just figured out that she’d unconsciously been copying his facial expression.
“Not yet. Come on,” he said again. He smiled down at her and this time she followed without complaint.
They ran through the woods, Bella holding up her dress to prevent picking up leaves, to the last place she could ever have expected. It was fully dark, now. The moonlight glinted off the shimmering gold fabric that Alice had remade her wedding dress with, and made it look almost white. Edward slowed to a walk on the outskirts of a village that looked like it had been transplanted in its entirety from a different time – hundreds of years before. His voice was hushed, and she thought he sounded nervous again as he began to explain.
“I wanted to do something for you that you might not think of yourself.” He took her right hand and raised it, palm up, in front of them. Her bracelet dangled from her wrist, the diamond he had given her catching the moonlight and scattering it as surely as her own skin would scatter sunlight. When he was sure she’d keep her hand steady, he reached for the little wooden wolf Jacob had carved for her so many years before, and pulled it around to the top, placing it in her palm. “In a hundred years, if we don’t preserve it now, it will be gone. I thought maybe you’d like to have it plated, while it’s still fairly new, before it wears away too much.”
Bella stopped walking. She could smell the acrid scent of heated metal nearby, overlapping the disenchanting scent of the humans that inhabited the village. Her eyes searched for and found a chimney ahead of them that was billowing smoke, the windows beneath it lit as if the occupants were expecting company. She looked back at the little wolf in her hand. She’d wondered aloud to Jake once if it would hold up, and he’d only laughed. If it doesn’t, I’ll carve you a new one, he’d said, taking her hand and kissing her palm. She smiled up at Edward, drawing in a shaky breath. “You must be the single most generous person who’s ever walked the earth,” she whispered.
There had been many times since her human life ended that Bella had felt so sad she’d wished she could cry. This was the first time she’d ever felt so HAPPY she wished she could cry. If she had still been human, she knew the tears would have been welling in the corners of her eyes at this moment.
Edward raised a hand and gently touched her hair, which Alice had so artfully designed. “You know I’m just being selfish. I can’t stand to see you sad. If we wait, and it gets ruined...”
Bella laughed quietly, and they began walking again, Edward draping an arm around her shoulders while she kept hers around his waist, a finger wound through his belt loop, under his jacket. “You always did think that doing what would make me happiest was really just selfishness on your part. You don’t see yourself very clearly, you know.”
“Does anyone?” he asked lightly, thinking back to her own bout of insecurity just a few days before.
Bella sobered. “Emmett does.”
Edward looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “What do you mean?”
They were approaching the little smithy, and Bella could hear someone inside moving around. She stopped, drawing a breath to ascertain if the person was human or one of them. Once she was sure they wouldn’t be overheard, she continued. “He’s the only person I’ve seen so far who behaves exactly the way his soul seems to indicate he should.”
Edward grinned. That had been his perception of Emmett as well. Nothing went through his brother’s mind that he would ever be afraid to say aloud. He was pleased that their gifts could compliment each other so well.
Edward knocked at the door of the small wooden building, and opened it when the old man inside invited them in. He held it for Bella, so she could walk in ahead of him, admiring the way the firelight glanced off her shining hair.
He’d arranged this ages ago, given the old man enough money to buy the platinum to melt down. He was an artisan, and mostly he crafted decorative weapondry, but everyone had to have a hobby. In his spare time, he made jewelry for his wife and daughters. There would be plenty of the precious metal left for him to make something beautiful for each of them.
Bella held up her wrist to allow Edward to detached the little wolf, and hand it to the human. There were two vats of liquid metal nearby, and she could feel from the little stool she was perched upon that one was substantially hotter than the other. She watched, fascinated, as the man worked, carefully putting the tiny figure in the liquid bronze, and then raising it to his eyes. With the tiniest brush of stainless steel wire, he carefully traced the many ridges, ensuring that the detail of the piece wasn’t lost. Edward listened to his focused mind as he worked, as entranced as Bella.
Two hours passed this way, and Bella hadn’t moved. Edward, a little more accustomed to acting human, stood beside her, carefully adjusting his posture every so often. If the man had ever become suspicious, he might have pulled her into a hug to break her preternatural stillness. But he was so focused on his work, he never noticed the predator whose eyes were trained on every movement of his hands.
The man held the little wolf in the air, letting the platinum cool. He’d taken care to do a good job on this piece, it had seemed so important to the boy. And once he’d seen the young man’s new wife, he understood why. “Here you are then, my dear,” he said kindly, “what do you think?”
Bella rose from the chair so quickly that Edward put a hand on her shoulder, slowing her. She grimaced an apology to him and walked more sedately over to where her charm dangled in the air, cooling. It was nearly perfect. She only wished….
“Can you – would it be possible to put it in the bronze again?” she asked hesitantly, her hand coming up as if to touch the tiny wolf.
The old man seemed taken aback. “The bronze? But it won’t match your other charm,” he pointed out reasonably. Bella laughed, and it was a beautiful sound. Deeper than Alice or Rosalie’s tinkling laughs. She laughs like church bells, Edward thought. Like wedding bells. And then he laughed, too.
“They were never meant to match,” Bella assured them both, holding Edward’s gaze while the human did as he was bid, shaking his head. After her young husband had paid so much for the platinum, here she was wasting it.
But Edward didn’t think it wasted. That little wolf had to last. All her pictures would crumble to dust in time, and her journals likewise. He couldn’t let her lose everything of her life. It wouldn’t be right. He stared into her eyes until the man coughed discreetly to get their attention. Edward looked away before Bella could.
But when she turned, she saw the perfect little russet colored wolf – in detail just the same as it had always been, but more durable. That thought made her grin. The old man looked shocked by her smile and she toned it down some, remembering how threatening vampire teeth could seem. He relaxed slightly.
They waited while the metal cooled, though of course it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference to Bella to reach for it at once. When the old man nodded, Edward took the little charm from him, careful not to touch his skin. There was no excuse for cold hands in this warm little room. He affixed it to Bella’s bracelet, letting his fingers linger on the inside of her wrist. He pulled her up from the stool with both hands, and kissed her wrist gently. They both thanked the artisan, and Edward pressed several folded bills into his hand, hardly looking away from Bella to accomplish it. The man shook his head, watching them go. He was sure he’d never seen two more beautiful young people more deeply in love. He didn’t see Edward’s smile widen at the thought.
“So,” Edward asked, as the door closed behind them, “where do you want to go for our honeymoon?” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye as they began walking, hand in hand, through the sleepy village. He was already leading them back to the hotel where the rest of the Cullens were staying. None of them would be back yet, of course, and Jasper had long since booked them their own room anyway.
Sadness crept over Bella’s moon lit features, but he didn’t have time to ask why before she told him. “Edward, the Volturi own us. I doubt very much that Aro would be thrilled with us taking off for a honeymoon.”
He grinned. “I spent four hours talking with Aro last week. Surely you didn’t think all we discussed was Alice?”
Bella had been rather preoccupied, while Edward talked with Aro. In fact, she’d been so ridiculously busy since then that she hadn’t even had a chance to ask how that discussion had gone. She’d felt a surge of warmth at the thought that they might be able to go away for a while and truly be alone, but she was more concerned about the real point of the conversation. “What did he decide about Alice?” she asked solemnly.
Edward had long since come to expect that Bella would always worry about others before thinking about her own needs. Her selflessness was one of many things he adored about her. “We agreed that he could attempt to persuade her, but not to coerce her.”
“Does he even know the difference?” Bella asked darkly, her mind traveling back to the day she’d awoken to this life – the stench of human blood only one floor below turning her stomach in a way she was sure no vampire had ever felt before. Edward chuckled.
“We went through all his ideas one by one, and I told him the difference,” he responded. She knew Aro as well as he did, it seemed. She didn’t have to know the man’s thoughts to know him. The longer she lived with her gift, the more swiftly she could measure someone from just a glance into their eyes, and she’d spent quite a lot of time with Aro. “But you’re distracting me from the matter at hand,” he scolded playfully. “Anywhere in the world that you want to go. Name it, and I’ll take you there.”
Bella glanced up at him and away again. She had no idea where in the world she wanted to go for a honeymoon. She didn't consider herself to be particularly well-traveled. “Tonight?” she asked, disheartened. Edward stopped walking and pulled her into a hug, though they were nearly to the trees that would allow them to run again.
“No,” he said quietly. “Not tonight. Tonight we’ll stay nearby.”
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