Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Four times Edward and Bella Cullen didn't make love (And one time they did)

Summary:
”How are you going to do this right?” - “Responsibly. Everything in the right order.” The first weeks of their marriage, the last weeks of her human life. Bella learns patience. Edward learns spontaneity.


Notes:


1. Chapter 1

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 5835   Review this Chapter

One

It is late by the time Alice lets them leave the reception, later still until they arrive at their swank hotel, and Bella yawns all the way up to the luxurious suite that he’s booked in spite of her protests. She trips over the delicate lace hem of her gown as they exit the elevator, stumbles and bumps into his side gracelessly and, chuckling, Edward sweeps her up into his arms and carries her the last few steps to their door. Five minutes ago, pressed against his side in the car, her hot, soft hands so awfully, wonderfully distracting, she swore up and down that she wasn’t tired, but now she leans her head against his shoulder with a contented sigh, and her eyelids flutter slowly.

“I’m not going to sleep,” she murmurs again, but the words are slurred.

“Hmm,” he smiles and carries her straight to the bedroom, past the candles in silver candelabra, the ten dozens of red roses in paper-thin bone china vases, the champagne cooler that Alice, diligent student of sappy girl movies, set up for them. It’s a good thing Bella is half-asleep already – she’d just get flustered.

She does appreciate the bed; the sheets are cool and soft, and Bella lets out a blissful moan as he eases her onto the mattress. In the darkness, the scent of roses fragrant in the air, he sits by her side and looks down upon his very own Sleeping Beauty, luminous and lovely in her white silk gown. Her skin glows too, incandescent, as he strokes the back of his hand along her cheek and feels her blood rise to the spot as to a silent call. The fluttery pulse in her wrist speeds up, and he traces it beneath the cuff of her long sleeve, past a slippery satin bow that unravels all too easily and gives way, exposing one pale arm. She shivers, and her fingers clutch at him reflexively. “Edward…”

In her sleep, Bella smiles, and not for the first time, he wishes, against reason or his better judgement, that he could share in the thoughts and dreams that pass through her mind. It must be entertaining, he thinks, and leans down to press a kiss to her hot, stubbornly enigmatic little head. Not that he doesn’t have entertaining thoughts of his own as she lies before him, soft and warm and fragile, absurdly beautiful in her wedding dress; almost too much so, like a precious doll that must not be touched, only admired from afar.

Edward feels this keenly, the trepidation, rising proportionally with the hunger that he buries deep inside, urging him to reach out and take what she offers so trustingly, her fingers still clutching at his sleeve, pulling him closer. He can, perhaps, trust himself with her heart. He is still somewhat apprehensive of damaging her soul, but he’s downright terrified of inadvertently breaking her body. Perhaps it is a blessing that sleep will spoil the grand plans she had for their wedding night, although a twinge of regret is mixed in with the more sensible relief. He hates to disappoint her, and she will be upset that he did not wake her, did not uphold his end of the bargain.

But there is no reason for impatience. They have time. Much more than he’d ever meant to ask for.

Gently, he pulls off the dangerous, high-heeled shoes Alice forced on her and runs one finger along his wife’s - his wife’s! - smooth instep. Bella’s toes curl, and he smiles down at her small pink feet, then moves up along her body to undo the tiny pearl buttons at the back of her gown with deliberate slowness, savouring the whisper-soft caress of the silk against his hands and the feel of Bella’s skin, softer still. For a while, he allows himself to revel in her warmth, the scent of her, knowing that she is sleeping, dreaming, and won’t unbalance his tenuous control just now with her unpredictable reactions. Not that he doesn’t secretly delight in those, too – but they are dangerous, and even he can only take so much, especially now that she is his and there are no more rules that separate them, prop up his resolve.

He stares at the lace that lines her satiny slip for a while, brow furrowed, breathing shallow, concentrating hard on committing its flower patterns to memory, pushing away every other thought. It’s enough for this night – more than enough, more than he ever thought, hoped he would have…and there will be more, he tells himself, whispers it to her, but not tonight.

There is time. Bella ignored the ‘Till death part you’, of course, changed it to ‘Forever’ instead when she spoke her vows, and though the difference was subtle and meaningless to her human family, who looked on, oblivious, Edward understood. He feels the responsibility, heavy on his shoulders, but as he sits and watches his beautiful bride sleep, it seems like a sweet burden to bear.

Forever with Bella is only just long enough.

***

Two

Their honeymoon takes them deep into the heart of lonely forests, through the busy streets of cloudy cities, speeding along dusty roads, the radio the only contact with the human world they make for days. They sit on warm rocks, looking out over valleys and mountains, their arms wrapped around each other, and the light of the setting sun breaks on Edward’s skin, shatters into a million glittering shards of color that make Bella’s head spin, and she laughs breathlessly, dazzled and blinded with how beautiful he is, how much she loves him.

Still, trouble finds them soon enough (finds Bella, that is, and she’ll never forgive herself for that, not if she lives a million years). They’re far from home; it must be pure coincidence, but the one lone vampire who haunts the sleepy town where they stop over for the night finds her, sure as death tends to be.

He’s young, and strong, but Edward is fast, and murderously territorial. Bella watches, her heart beating in her throat with a nauseating mix of fear and awe, as Edward rips her would-be killer to pieces, and when he’s finished and the other is nothing but a mass of charred flesh on the ground, she rushes forward and embraces Edward tightly, the acrid smoke uncurling around them, wrapping them up in a dark, bitter cloud of violence and sick relief.

His eyes are black, his hands hard and rough as he pushes her away, but, unafraid, undeterred, she reaches out for him again, fitting her soft body along the rigid planes of his. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “Next time, I’ll be able to help.”

He doesn’t kiss her back when she presses her lips to his, remains unmoving, untouched when she threads her fingers through his hair and clings to him, rubbing herself against him, a sharp tilt of her hips. There is desperation in the way she moans his name, her voice quivering ever so slightly. Why won’t he let her do something for him, for once? This is long, long overdue.

Angry, she pulls at his lip with her teeth, tongue sweeping out to force down the barrier he has erected between them, and then he’s moving at last, pushing her back into the damp stone wall of the alley, his lips hard and viciously responsive for a second before he pulls away again, scowling fiercely.

“No. Not now, not here, and not because you’re upset and afraid.”

It’s not that; not only that. She wants to know him – all of him, not only the facets that are bright and sparkling. She is his wife (only now does she grasp a bit of what that means), and she will have it all: the love and the hatred, the gentle kisses and the rough, incontrollable lust. The light and the darkness. She wants to feel it all, intimately. If only he would let her.

She laughs bitterly. “We’re on our honeymoon, and you still always find a reason why we can’t--”

“No,” he cuts her off, and his tone brooks no argument. “Just when it’s really not a good idea.”

He sounds so superior, so self-righteously sure, it’s infuriating. It hurts and, for all of two seconds, Bella wants to hurt him back. “When I get killed before we get a chance to…well, I hope you’ll be sorry.” She regrets it as soon as the words have tumbled out – ungrateful, unthinking, unloving – but there’s no taking them back.

“Oh, don’t,” he retorts, just as sharply, and the hostile silence that ensues is unfamiliar and awkward. They’ve been angry with each other, hurt each other before, but this is different – it’s the first fight of their married life, their happily ever after, their forever, and suddenly, with the promise of ‘always’ binding them together, challenging them, anger and reproach and upset have become exponentially harder to bear.

If that is even possible.

“Sorry,” they mutter at the same time.

She can’t quite meet his eyes when he reaches out for her again, but she does close the distance, huffing into his shirt as he enfolds her in his arms. “There’s nothing you even need to apologise for,” she says sourly, but she lets him kiss her without forcing the matter with demanding hands and lips. “You never say or do anything wrong. Of course.”

“Bella--”

The pain in his voice seeps through to her, into the cracks of her black temper like water through a rock, freezing cold until she thinks she’ll burst with the force of it. It’s a hard ball in the pit of her stomach that makes her feel hot and flustered and sick. Blushing, she ducks her head. “Sorry, I’m just… Sorry. I should stop talking. Passive aggressive much?”

“You know I don’t stop you just to annoy you,” he insists. “You know I want this too.”

“Hmph.”

He tips up her chin, incredulous. “Bella, honestly.”

“Yes, yes.” She rolls her eyes, annoyed with him and herself and the boundaries that exist between them still, even now when there should be no more distance, no more secrets, no more invisible lines that can’t be crossed. She never saw the point of getting married, aside from the pleasure it gave him, but she wants it now, suddenly, desperately, the promised unity. “I just… This is hard. Doing it right.”

“It is,” he agrees, but for some reason, he’s smiling now. “But we’ll figure it out. Together.”

And she remembers that she trusts him, implicitly, and that they will be together in every possible way (more thoroughly than she can even imagine now, her blood in him, his venom in her), they will have an eternity to learn each other, learn this . It’s not a cure-all, what they have, although no love could possibly be greater than theirs – but it’s stronger than any lover’s spat, any difference of opinion, any goddamn inter-species difficulty, and knowing that makes even the fighting seem okay.

***

Three

Living for more than a hundred years tends to change one’s perception of time – ‘soon’ can be a matter of years when eternity awaits. It is the natural course of a vampire’s existence to become unmindful of the passage of time.

It takes Bella, this wonderful brush with humanity, for Edward to realize how old he’s become, how set in his ways and unyielding. He promises her ‘soon’ and twists the word, stretches it to its very limits, and in retaliation, she takes his ‘never’ and overturns it in the blink of an eye. Never should he have fallen in love. Never should he have allowed himself to get so close to her. Never should he consider changing her, and yet he has, and he will, just like he’ll give her any other thing she asks.

Soon. Very soon. Time is running out and the feeling leaves him floundering, uncertain for the first time in decades when things used to be neat and orderly, black and white, right and wrong. Ultimately, he suspects, it won’t matter – her happiness, their life together, are the only things that he cares about now – but still he wishes he could reconcile his heart’s desires with his infallible reason. The way he used to.

Or perhaps that was just hubris.

Be that as it may, he knows she won’t let him make her wait much longer, not for either of the things he has promised, and what is worse, he doesn’t want to, either. It’s unsettling, how much he wants to make love to her (he may look like a teen, but he shouldn’t feel like one!), but even if he doesn’t know right from wrong anymore, doesn’t care, he has sworn to himself that he will do this properly. Just right. Just right for her.

The timing has never been quite right yet, frustratingly, and he’s begun to realize that the longer they wait, the greater the anticipation will become. Frankly, he is not sure how much more of it he can stand. Not now that she is his wife; not even when he knows that their physical union is the only thing that’s delaying her death now, and that should be more than enough reason to abstain.

Besides, there are difficulties, which he ponders while he is away to hunt, stalking through the woods, following the scent of fresh blood. It is easier to be circumspect when the beast inside is sated, when he can let his mind soar freely while his body, freed of guilt, caution, conscience, tears through the woods and pounces on his prey. At times, he can consider himself calmly even while he drinks, as if the human part of him can step outside his unnatural body and examine, cool and detached, the carnage that he causes: the quivering body of the animal, the blood that flows in hot spurts, the way he crouches, catlike, and laps it up.

Bella is right, he thinks as he washes the crimson stains off his hands and lips, later. It is too dangerous, keeping her the way she is, and though she only worries for him and their family, he knows just how close she comes to her death every day that they spend together. It is an unacceptable risk.

And yet, he can’t stop his mind drifting as he runs, conjuring up images he’d better leave, unseen: Bella, soft and warm and panting beneath him; Bella’s hands on his body, touching him boldly; Bella, begging him to--

He runs faster. Time is running out, leaving him lagging behind. For the first time in almost a hundred years, he feels it, a clock ticking in his mind. It is the curse and blessing of humanity and, disconcerting though it may be, it makes him feel more alive, more connected with the world, the natural ebb and flow of things. He hasn’t had to yield to time in almost a century, and its urgency gives him a challenge’s strange thrill: even if it kills him, he will prepare himself for what will come, as best he can (so it won’t kill his Bella).

He sorts through his knowledge methodically: textbook information, anatomy lectures, people’s stray thoughts, even some of Emmett’s crude magazines. He rules out anything that could be done with lips and tongue (but files away the ideas, for when the time comes; he’s given up on ‘if’ at last). He’s still afraid of putting his hands on her and, by accident, causing damage when he only strives to please her, but she wants him to, and so he’ll try. Just as soon as he can be sure...

But there can never be any certainty in these things.

Tonight, there is no sense of expectation as he returns home, though. He finds Bella and Alice upstairs, chattering and laughing as they fold sheets, and it’s just a nice, incredibly normal evening in their abnormal life.

Even vampires need to do laundry, after all.

“Good hunting?” Bella asks later as they snuggle on the couch, her head tilting back against his shoulder to peer at him, upside-down. She smells of soap and fabric softener and she’s flushed from steam-ironing Alice’s blouses, and even though things don’t get more ordinary, more domestic than this, he feels the faint, languid stirrings of desire creeping up on him before he makes any conscious decision to allow them. That’s what she’s done to him, he thinks, and he should be appalled at how easily she strips away the defensive layers of his control, but the thought sounds fond even in his own head. He leans down and kisses her smooth brow.

“Fine.” He debates his next words; he has never wanted to encourage her wish for immortality and all that that entails, but somehow, at some point, he has gotten used to her idea of what the future should be like – has come to take comfort in it too, he realizes now, and so he simply admits, “I’m looking forward to hunting with you.”

It is the right thing to say – it makes her happy, so how could it be wrong? Surprised delight makes her face flush, and she squirms and wriggles until she’s turned over in his arms and can press herself against him, her face tucked into the crook of his neck, forgoing the open-mouthed kiss to his lips that he’d have to refuse to touch his jaw, tongue sneaking out, a warm, moist caress.

“Me too.” He can hear her smile. “Soon?”

“Soon,” he promises. And means it.

***

Four

Bella gives up making grand plans for her final exit from the human world about three days after their wedding, much to the relief of Edward, who’s really very squeamish when it comes to discussing death, she thinks, considering that he’s been undead for almost a century. His attempts to prolong her time are both endearing and infuriating, but as days turn into weeks, impatience gives way to the distractions of her new life, their new life, and honestly, she’s never been the planning kind anyway: chaos follows in her wake more often than not.

Matrimony does not change that, although sometimes, sitting with his arms around her in companionable silence, or on the couch among his laughing siblings, she can feel that her life has quietly, inconspicuously, centered itself. She is surprised to find that it is possible to live only in the here and now, too content to worry about tomorrow. Edward is as constant as the north star, but it’s not just his presence at her side that makes the flow of life seem smoother; it is the way her inner clock has already adjusted to the timeless pace of eternity among the Cullens, the calm inside her mind and soul that comes with the acceptance of an inevitable truth.

This is where she belongs, and always will.

Once she gets used to the quiet, unhurried flow of her new life, it becomes easier to be patient, drift along on the current of time, letting things happen as they will. Changes loom at the horizon, and their shapes grow more distinct with the approach of her birthday (the deadline: no pun intended, she jokes, but Edward still doesn’t see the humor), but she has come to trust in their inevitability, and so she’s content to stop waiting and just live, peacefully, for a while.

Her old worries remain – she hasn’t forgotten – but they are oddly distant, hazy and unreal here in this strange place that’s bright and shining with promises of the future. The new Cullen house is beautiful and spacious like the old one, but there’s a room in it just for her (although she’ll share, of course). She’s not quite one of them just yet, only in name so far, but she will be, just as soon as she and Edward have figured out the last aspect of their relationship that’s tripping them up.

For now, things are all right, and she wonders only rarely, when Edward is being particularly, obstinately gentle and considerate, if she’ll die of sexual frustration before she can be turned.

Still, sometimes she slips – oh the humanity! – and the little upsets in their orderly life remind her to not lose focus: the way Jasper has to flee the house as she nicks her finger on a piece of broken glass; Rosalie’s pinched look of disapproval when Emmett eats fried bacon from Bella’s pan (morbid curiosity); Esme’s and Carlisle’s thoughtful, worried glances; and Edward, still playing for time.

Edward tries every trick in the book, every dazzling smile and smouldering look and honeyed tone in his repertoire to persuade her to go to college after all, but it is not his choice, and though it’s hard, Bella resists this time. They settle for correspondence courses in the end, and a promise of going the college route sometime in the future. Edward isn’t happy – he still thinks college should be a human experience for her – but he, too, has come to accept that he cannot always get his way. It’s all compromise, and they’re becoming better at it as they argue over books and music and household chores and everything under the sun.

Among much laughter, he tries to teach her to play the piano, but her fingers won’t move quickly, elegantly enough, and for the first time, they both agree that something will have to wait until she’s become a vampire; they can try again then.

But, Edward insists, other things must be done while she is still human, and so they spend their days outside under a pale, cold sun and their evenings in expensive restaurants that serve exquisite desserts, kiss through bad movies in crowded theaters and visit concerts, and Bella wastes an entire day at a beauty salon at Alice’s insistence, getting a haircut and a facial and a manicure and feeling ridiculous. Emmett assists her gleefully in getting drunk for the first (and, hopefully, last) time, and Esme makes soothing, sympathetic noises when Bella is spectacularly sick all over the living room carpet later that night. Alice mops up the mess, giggling as much as she can while trying not to breathe, and Edward and Rosalie take turns scolding Emmett.

It’s funny, in spite of the mishap (although it’s really not worth the splitting headache that follows the next morning), but on the whole, Bella still doesn’t think she’ll miss humanity much. She’s seen enough, and the things she hasn’t are the trials and hardships that couldn’t be planned for, or experienced at her leisure, anyway. And that’s okay: she’s ready for her life to veer off into a different direction now. New, other challenges will present themselves then, surely.

She tells Edward this, one evening as they lie on her bed together, feet propped up on the headboard, and watch snowflakes fall brightly from the darkening sky. The warmth of her room fogs up the edges of the high windows, and it’s like they’re floating on top of the clouds, weightless, timeless, serene, thousands of glittering stars swirling around them.

“I’m ready, you know. I’m only waiting for you.”

“Yes, I know.” His voice is quiet, almost reverent.

She reaches for his hand, pale, almost luminous in the darkness. “What are we waiting for, Edward?” She expects a sermon on the many things human life still has to offer her, or a plea for more time, or a pained enumeration of the dangers that await along her chosen path. She doesn’t expect this:

“Nothing now, really.”

She has to pause to rein in her amazement. “Is this some sort of reverse psychology?” she asks then, awed.

“No,” he laughs. “Why? Are you changing your mind?”

“No, never.” Her reply is instantaneous.

“I can only assist in your happiness,” he says, more soberly. “But you’ll have to choose the shape and form it takes.”

Bella considers this for a moment. “You do want me too, don’t you?”

He turns his head to look at her, his eyes gleaming in the darkness. “Of course, love.”

She squeezes his hand, satisfied. “Then this is what I want. You.”

“Things will not always be like this,” he cautions. “So quiet and peaceful.”

“Will you always love me?” she asks, smiling, and his lips curve in reply.

“I think I can promise you that with some certainty.”

She can’t help herself then; she has to lean over and kiss his smiling mouth. She breathes deeply, taking in the scent of him, loving him so much that she feels like her heart will burst. He’s a health hazard, she thinks, smiling against his skin. Good thing she won’t have a human’s heart for much longer; with her new one, perhaps she’ll be able to love him yet more.

“That’s good enough,” she whispers against his lips. “There’s no guarantee for the rest. I understand. I don’t care.” After all, human life doesn’t come with a safety net, either. The only thing that’s certain is death, and with that removed, she figures they will have time, lots of time, to get things right; if not on the first try, then on the next.

***

Five

Their first attempt at making love isn’t so much an attempt as a sudden, impromptu burst of lust and love, and later, much later, Edward will realize that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

They sit under a starry sky, watching the full moon rise above the treetops, the heater of Bella’s shiny new truck running on high so she can snuggle up to him in the chilly night, all softness and warmth against his cold, hard body. Her cheek rests on his shoulder, soft breasts press against his chest, her fingers slip between the buttons of his shirt to trace vague patterns on his skin, and it occurs to him that he is sick of waiting for the moment to be perfect. It already is: she’s here, she’s his as he is hers, and that’s all they need.

Her skin is very warm as he slides his hand around her waist and under the hem of her thick sweater, warm and slightly moist with a fine sheen of sweat, and with the scent of her, the heat of her body warm, soft, all his, desire hits him suddenly, like lightning.

Bella doesn’t have a chance to react before she’s pressed against the door and his lips are on hers, but her breath slips out in a delighted laugh that quickly turns into a moan as he kisses his way down her throat. “Don’t stop don’t stop don’t stop…” she whispers, her voice a siren’s call, and then she’s peeling off her layers and layers of tops, exposing more skin for his hands and lips to touch, all trust and eagerness, and he can’t stop touching her.

There’s not enough room in the car as she fiddles with zippers and buttons and hooks, bumping her head against the window and her elbows on the steering wheel. He shifts them around awkwardly, vaguely amused that teenage gracelessness is catching up with him at last, but then, somehow, suddenly, she’s beneath him, sprawled across the seats, and there is no more thought, no more reason; for three, four precious heartbeats, his mind is blissfully blank, pure and empty like a canvas. Then, the sound and scent and feel of her slam into him, and his world explodes into color and jubilant song with every one of Bella’s moans, the murmur of her blood and the thrum of her pulse, and the blood-red-hot fire that burns behind his eyelids when he squeezes them shut and just feels.

Her hands are trembling when he catches them gently in his, but she shakes off his grip, flailing uncertainly for a moment before she’s at it again, tearing at her blouse with such fierce determination that he’s almost sorry he made them wait so long.

It shouldn’t be so rushed and desperate, fuelled by fear that the moment will slip away again; he won’t let it, but how can he tell her this when he’s kissing her, kissing and barely resisting the pull of her teeth on his lip, the taunting sweep of her tongue--

“Bella--”

“No, no,” she moans, arching up against him, and the last scraps of cotton and lace fall away, leaving her bare and impossibly beautiful. Impossibly – he should never have had this, should never even think of laying his hands on her, touching her, as gently as he knows how, making her shiver and gasp, but he does, and even though he knows it’s selfish, maybe, maybe, if he can just do it right, make her happy, he can be forgiven.

Or perhaps he already is. She is sublime, pure and innocent, offering herself up to him in supplication, goddess and sacrificial lamb in one, and if this is to be his life after death from now on, perhaps he has already touched heaven.

“Do it.” Her voice is quiet, breathy and high. It tugs at him, pulls him back toward her and into the depths of her dark eyes, wide and pleading. Her face is flushed; he can hear the murmur of her blood rushing to her head, feel the heat radiating off her cheek as he reaches out to touch her.

Smiling, he leans down to press a reverent kiss to her lips, her chin, her breastbone. “Do what, love?”

Bella shivers. Her heartbeat is like thunder in his ears. “Whatever it is that you want that makes you look like that,” she whispers, “do it. It’ll be fine. I trust you.”

What he wants is to bury himself in her, feel her, taste her. He wants to kiss a path down her neck towards those small, perfect breasts, wants to caress her with more than just the most feathery-soft of touches, wants to taste the salty tang of her skin and scrape his teeth over a sensitive nipple. He wants everything, all at once, and as he teeters on the edge of indecision, he fears that they have delayed this for too long, and that he won’t be able to wait anymore, not for anything, if he starts now.

“It’ll be fine,” Bella whispers again, and her hands are on the buttons of his shirt, steady now, like she’s sure, like she’s ready, trusting him where he doesn’t trust himself. It’s humbling.

“Bella--”

“No,” she breathes as she pulls his shirt off his shoulders and runs her warm hands across his back, beneath the waistband of his pants. There’s a muffled thumping sound as her boots hit the floor, and then her stocking feet are curling around the backs of his thighs, pushing him forward, against her.

He could easily resist, but he doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want him to, and it’s the only excuse that has any significance. There’s still a vague sense of the surreal about it all, like it can’t really be happening after all this time when something always got in the way before, but then they’re tearing off each other’s remaining clothes with clumsy hands, and it is happening, all warmth, sweat, moans, and suddenly, for the first time in a century, he remembers what it feels like to be alive: her breath his breath, warmth and softness all around him, perfect counter motions, a complementing pair. Two souls, one body.

It’s not perfect. It’s more than that, in every way, good and bad – faster, more frantic, more uncomfortable, and yet more satisfying. He’s quite sure that she’s in pain at least through some of it, and there’s a little bit of blood that almost upsets his careful equilibrium, but Bella wouldn’t be Bella if, in a situation as potentially dangerous as this, she didn’t sustain at least one inconvenient injury, and when he tries to stop so she can recover, she snarls at him in a way that tells him his marriage will be in serious trouble if he doesn’t give her what she wants.

She ends up with a few strained muscles, bumps, bruises and what he is sure must be a cracked rib, but she’s grinning as he examines her afterwards, wearing them all like proud battle scars.

Still, he’s cursing while he runs cool fingers along every bruise, every aching spot, delighted in the newfound familiarity even as he frowns down at her injuries. “We should’ve waited. You’re too fragile for this.”

“Nuh-uh,” she sighs, and he can hear her grin, though his eyes are still on the dark smudge of a bruise on her hipbone where he gripped her too hard during the last moments of passion. This is what he wanted to avoid – but there was no way he could have prepared himself for the reality of loving Bella, and she’s not just still alive, she’s happy, so perhaps this may be counted a success. “So worth it.”

He snorts out a laugh, pleased in spite of himself. “You think?”

“You don’t?”

He looks up to meet her eyes, amused and just slightly wary, savors her smile and remembers how she looked, not five minutes ago, as the pain and awkwardness of the first try receded and gave way to a half-minute of pure bliss, the motions of his hands on her body matching the rhythm of her wildly beating heart, the thrum of her blood rushing through her veins, and she called out his name in her release.

“Well,” he amends, smiling down at her, “perhaps.”

“Perhaps!” she scoffs. “Try again!”

He laughs, and kisses her pursed lips. “Oh, I will. I will,” he promises and watches Bella blush at the wicked tone. “Until it’s perfect.”

“I don’t want it to be any different than this. Ever,” she replies, fervently. “I don’t want ‘perfect’.”

He cups her cheek gently in one hand. “I do. For you.”

She turns her head to kiss his palm. Her lips linger, and every word she speaks is a caress. “Do you know what I want?”

He can guess; he hears her heart stutter and then slam inside her chest with renewed force, as if it knows that it must make its last beats count. He cannot speak; his voice might sway her decision – which way, he isn’t even sure. He simply nods.

“Tonight,” she murmurs, gazing up at him, the stars reflected in her eyes. “Tonight. It’s time.”

“Are you sure?” he asks once more, because he must.

“I’m sure,” she smiles. “I wouldn’t have suffered through the wedding if I wasn’t. Forever, remember? So let’s go home and do it. I’m ready for eternity to start.”

And she is right. It’s not the end. Their life has only just begun.

“All right,” he says, and starts the car.