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

Just Another Night

Summary:
"Her palm slides slowly across my chest, her fingers grasping weakly at the fabric of my shirt, and I swear that my long-dead heart flutters inside my ribcage as she moves even closer to my icy body." Like every night since they met, he holds her in his arms and watches as she sleeps. A one-shot from Edward's point of view that takes place just before the first chapter of "Breaking Dawn".


Notes:


1. Just Another Night

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6157   Review this Chapter

I never imagined that I could feel this way. Like there are worlds of possibilities opening up before me. More than anything else, I never thought I would be able to feel so much at the same time - let alone during the span of my endless existence.

Bella curls more willingly into my arms, her deep sigh wafting across my skin, and the warmth of her breath causes my nerve endings to tingle. She is nearly asleep now; I can tell by the slow steadiness of her heartbeat, the limpness of her body against mine. She will probably start talking soon enough; she could hardly lie down from the needless worrying about the most momentous occasion of both our lives.

Of course, as soon as I consider it in my mind, that feeling of hope blooms again in my chest, and I cannot stop the minute shudder that makes my entire being tremble with anticipation.

Bella will be my wife in just a few days' time.

My wife.

The title seems so mundane, so...ordinary, and it cannot even begin to encompass the extent of my feelings for the small, warm, fragile human who overturned my entire existence in a single fleeting moment. To think that I had once - well, more than once - contemplated killing her is enough to make me cringe in horror. If I had given in to the very first primal urging in that classroom and taken Bella's blood for my own demonic pleasure, I would have robbed myself of the experience of being truly, deeply in love.

Love. Love is a strange thing, as it is said in so many poems, sang in so many songs. For more than half a century my only interactions with the concept of love was limited to the strictly familial. I loved Carlisle and Esme, as if they were my parents by blood. I loved my siblings - Rosalie, Emmett, Alice and Jasper - even though one or all of them could drive me insane at the drop of a hat.

But the love I have for Bella... I never in my wildest imaginings dreamed of such a thing. It is a living entity: it hungers, it consumes, it begs, it screams, it embraces, and it conquers. And I surrender to it. I obey love's every whim - based solely on the tiniest hints the object of its obsession gives with a glance, a touch, or the barest inhalation of breath from between her lips.

I do not know if she fully comprehends just how much power she has over me. Most likely not. She once told me that there was nothing about her that could hold me, keep me with her. It is nothing she does that draws me to her - it is simply her. Like a moth to a flame, or an asteroid locked in the gravitational pull of a black hole, I never had a chance. I will never escape from the confines of her soft, slender arms - nor do I wish to. As much as I despise comparing myself to the pack of dogs with which we share this land, the way I feel about Bella is shockingly close to their inborn compulsion of imprinting.

My fingers reach out of their own accord, lightly stroking her flushed cheek. My Bella, my shooting star, forever setting my sky on fire with her brilliance. I am helpless, powerless, under the sway of her splendid, impossibly deep brown eyes.

Her palm slides slowly across my chest, her fingers grasping weakly at the fabric of my shirt, and I swear that my long-dead heart flutters inside my ribcage as she moves even closer to my icy body. A glitter catches my attention, reflecting the moonlight filtering through the open window, and I glance down.

My mother's ring rests with absolute perfection around Bella's finger, and I am struck yet again by the profound sense of delight it gives me to see that sparkling circle of gold and diamond against her soft cream-colored skin.

"It's so pretty..." Bella had murmured upon her initial inspection. I merely thought it a fitting tribute to the beautiful angel who would wear it for the rest of eternity - forever a symbol of our love and commitment to one another. She sees it as more of a branding, like the mark they would burn into the flesh of French prisoners who were to be executed for their crimes, but she will come to see it as something wonderful - something to be celebrated.

I realize then that I want to see her face. The way she is lying now, nestled securely into my side, I can only watch the silvery light create a luminous sheen on her tangled dark hair. And that's not enough to satiate my need to drink in her perfection - a picture of timeless beauty at rest.

Shifting my hold around her body, I carefully roll us sideways in one swift motion, so that Bella's limp form is draped over mine like a warm blanket, her head pillowed on my chest. I tilt my chin downward, my head lolling slightly to the right, and...perfect. Her face is scant inches from mine, tiny exhales of sweet air blowing lightly from between parted lips, and her eyelids quiver. A smile lifts the corners of my mouth. This is my favorite part of watching Bella sleep every night; her sleep-talking offers me rare, incredibly precious insights into the one mind in the entire world that is a mystery to me.

I will never forget the first time that I came to this room, stealing here in the wee hours before dawn without truly knowing my motivation for such a reckless act. All I knew was that I had to see her, right at that particular moment, in the hopes that something about her would tell me why. Why - of all people, humans and vampires alike, in all of my decades of lonely existence - was I drawn to this insignificant girl whose blood called to me like the sirens in Homer's Odyssey, tempting me towards my demise?

I knew what I should do, what was right and moral and best for Bella.

Let her live her life without me in it. Let her finish high school, go to college, meet someone whom she could grow old with and raise a family... But I could not bear to finish that thought, for it set my teeth on edge as a low growl built steadily deep inside my throat. It was the exact same reaction I'd had the day before while listening to that vile infant Mike Newton attempt to ask Bella to the spring dance. I had wanted to grab him by the neck to choke the words into silence, glare murderously into his eyes and hiss that she had no intention of even considering accompanying him to the dance because she belonged to me. She was mine.

It was totally illogical, not to mention irrational. I had not spoken a word to Bella in weeks, and now, all of a sudden, I had some claim on her? While I could not deny, even to myself, that the monster in me had already claimed her blood for its own, that was not the reason for my...jealousy.

I listened to the minds of the other boys who strove to succeed where Newton had failed, watching Bella's expressions through their eyes and wondering all the while what she was thinking as she turned each of them down with the same excuse. I had admitted to Bella that I enjoyed the faces she had made during those conversations, and that was true...but I had also felt oddly relieved that she had not accepted anyone's offer.

I had crouched there, on the hardwood floor by the window, studying her sleeping form while the intoxicating scent of her blood swirled around me, tantalizing my senses. I remembered acknowledging silently to myself that Bella did hold some attraction for me; she stirred some forgotten place within my being that I had never known existed, and I wanted to prolong that feeling as much as possible. What I wanted was to spend time with her. I wanted to know her, to try and understand her, to be with her at all times. Ridiculously - I, a creature of nightmares who had lived over a century - was falling in love with this girl.

I had shied away from the word at first; it was literally inconceivable, and I did not deserve the emotion, from her or anyone. I knew that she was fascinated by me; I caught her glancing my way every day in the cafeteria, when she thought I was not looking, and her heartbeat stuttered when she entered the Biology classroom and saw me sitting there at our table. She may already feel something for me. It would be all too easy to encourage those feelings, granting me the opportunity to reveal my own...but no. Bella was human. She deserved someone better than me.

Her face had shifted then against her pillow; a strand of dark hair fell over one closed eyelid. My fingers twitched - and I was nearly overcome with the need to reach out and brush the hair away from her cheek, feel its silken texture and the satin smoothness of her skin...

Leave, I had commanded myself internally. You don't belong here. I had to do the right thing - the right thing for Bella, and not necessarily for me. I stood up fluidly, selfishly allowing myself one last long look at the slumbering angel on the rumpled bed, and then turned toward the window.

That was the first time it happened.

"Edward."

I stopped breathing. Frozen for an instant, braced against the window frame, I had thrown a frantic glance over my shoulder. Now what was I supposed to do? She was awake, and had seen me in her bedroom. Maybe I could pass it off as a very vivid dream. Or - but my usually sharp mind failed to present another solution. Save one. And I refused to even contemplate that alternative.

My widened eyes had then noticed that Bella was still lying in the exact same position as before. She was not sitting upright, as I had expected, staring fearfully at the intruder in her room. Another second passed. Her heartbeat was steady, her breathing slow and even. So what on earth -?

Then it had hit me.

Bella talked in her sleep.

I had slowly, deliberately, moved away from the window, my stare locked on her face. The tiniest flicker of a smile played along the corners of her mouth, and her cheeks seemed flushed even in the dim moonlight. Her eyelids trembled slightly; she was dreaming.

Of me?

"Edward..." My name was breathed once again through her lips, and then she had sighed and rolled over, tugging the quilt around her small body.

It was at that precise second that I was forever changed.

It had been like the floor had disappeared from beneath my feet. Like the universe had exploded all around me, painting the night - a night that had begun just like any other night - with color and light and music grander than any master's symphony.

A feeling I could not name had coursed through my cold veins, and air escaped my dead lungs in a swift, muted rush. I staggered back a step, touching a palm to the wall in the hopes of regaining my equilibrium. After a moment or so had passed, my eyes found Bella, still asleep in her bed, oblivious to the life-altering event that had just taken place between us.

I had known then that there would be no going back for me. I could not ignore Bella any longer. If she did not reciprocate my feelings, all the better for her...but mine would never change. This tiny, mortal, sweetly tempting, infuriating, brave, absurd and beautiful creature was what I had been trying to find for over ninety years. She was what I had been looking for without even realizing that I was searching in the first place.

I had stayed in her room, my feet cemented to the floor, refusing even to blink, until I caught the smell of the dawn and saw the horizon lightening to pale lavender beyond the treetops. I had felt hope in a new day for the first time since I became a vampire on that morning. All because she said my name.

Which brought me back to the present.

Bella's slight weight shifts a bit across my prone form, and my eyes flash down to her face. I have to stifle a chuckle when I see her expression. Brow lowered, nose wrinkled - it is the picture of disbelieving frustration - and I know what she is going to say just before the words leave her mouth in a mumbled growl. "Why did you get me two cars, Edward?"

My grin widens in response to her question, while a thrill like an electric current shoots along my spine when she says my name. I never want to lose the simple wonder of that sensation - that my name can sound like the sweetest melody, layered with a complex harmony of love and devotion and yearning every time it is spoken in her voice.

She is still dwelling on my gifts, as I knew she would. Bella is, more than anything else, absurd in regard to the act of gift giving. I had mentioned the inequality of her behavior a few weeks ago as she has always vehemently discouraged me from giving her anything, when I would like nothing more than to give her the world, and she had explained with the most ludicrous rationale. "You're more important than everyone else. And you've given me you. That's already more than I deserve, and anything else you give me just throws us more out of balance."

As I said, ludicrous.

But, despite her protests and the adorable, highly enjoyable tantrum she had pulled, we had made an agreement and I had taken full advantage of the situation.

The ancient weathered Chevy truck that Bella was so fond of and was incapable of reaching an acceptable speed - the vehicle could scarcely make it past 60 without blowing a gasket - had, as Bella put it, become a monument in her father's driveway only a few days ago. I'd had to work very hard to contain the burst of unrestrained glee I had felt at this piece of news.

Since Bella was now my fiancée, I had the perfect excuse for making good on our agreement pertaining to her personal mode of transportation: ‘what's mine is yours.' When the truck finally ceased to function, she consented to let me provide her with a new car.

Of course, she found it almost suspiciously convenient that the rusted hunk of machinery had expired quite soon after we had reached this consensus...but I am not responsible for its well-timed death. All I would say was that it was an expected event brought on by natural causes, and that the truck had lived a long, full life.

"People stare at me." Bella's full lips are molded into a pout, her tone petulant.
My Bella despises being the center of attention, which is part of the reason why she dreads our wedding day, but my line of thinking is that she may as well get used to it. True, the "before" car, as I call it, is hardly a practical vehicle for the small town of Forks, Washington - but it is the only one I know of that could be deemed safe enough for Bella.

After three and a half centuries of philanthropic tendencies, Carlisle has made many friends...especially those who feel as if they owe him. Naturally, he never accepted their generosity; his unending compassion is the single driving force behind the way he lives - but when I mentioned my idea to him, he had immediately pointed me in the right direction.

The car is a loaner; Carlisle's friend had two, in case of emergency, and had agreed to part with one for a short time under the terms that I would put down a "security deposit", which would then be used to hire more bodyguards in the car's absence. It was not as though a dozen or so burly guards could do the same amount of protection as a nearly indestructible automobile, but I kept these thoughts to myself.

All Bella knows about the glossy black car now parked in Charlie's driveway is that it is a Mercedes, gets good gas mileage - not that it matters, as she will not be traveling far without me - and is not hers to keep, which had eased her mind, a bit, when I presented her with the keys. I fully intend to keep her oblivious to the less...conspicuous aspects of the vehicle I am trusting to safeguard the core of my existence while she is still breakable and accident-prone.

Few, if any, people in Forks have the slightest inkling about a Mercedes Guardian. After all, a sleepy little town on the Olympic Peninsula hardly has need for a car equipped with two tons of body armor and missile-proof glass. But Bella is a self-proclaimed "danger magnet", and it becomes clearer to me with each passing day that she needs significant protection when I am unable to provide it by my presence. I know that she cannot understand why I go to such efforts for her defense, but that is only because she cannot fully comprehend how very much I need her, whole and well. I barely understand it myself - this intense urge to shelter her from any type of harm no matter the cost - but I do not fight it. It has since become a central part of my existence, as deeply ingrained within my being as the instinct to hunt.

I doubt that even when Bella is a vampire that the urge will completely vanish. Just as Carlisle or my brothers continually step into the path of danger on behalf of Esme, Rose or Alice - though none of them require their protection - I will always place my Bella's wellbeing before my own.

She is very restless tonight. It might have something to do with the fact that she is struggling to find a comfortable position lying on my cold, stone-like body, but I think it is more than that.

Bella moans quietly as she moves around; I am suddenly acutely aware of her slender legs straddling mine, our bodies pressing into one another, and my muscles tense as a white-hot jolt of electricity races through me, burning the iciness from my veins.

I suspect that she feels it, too, for she twists just slightly above me, causing me to clench my teeth and focus intently on practicing restraint. "Edward..." she whispers, and the gentle plea coloring her tone almost fractures my resolve. In my head, I can see myself braiding my fingers into her dark, tousled hair, leaning down and covering her soft mouth with my own; I can hear her murmuring my name, over and over, as I taste her sweet-smelling flesh with my lips; I can feel her heated skin against my wintry shell - fire and ice mingling as one -

I suck in a sharp breath, forcing my eyes to study the dull off-white ceiling, trying vainly to banish the images from my mind. While my body shrieks in protest, I roll sideways, towards the center of the mattress, and Bella's slight form slides effortlessly onto the bedclothes. Still breathing slow and deep, I put a few inches of space between us, and hope to quench the building desire by inhaling her unique scent - which reminds me of freesia blossoms soaked by a spring rain.

I vaguely recall the time early in our relationship when it was a fierce battle for me to breathe in Bella's scent and combat the impulse to slake my thirst with the lusciously tempting wine flowing through her veins.
The sensation is vague to me because I no longer have any desire to take her blood. My desires for her now are...entirely different.

I want her - so very much.

I want to feel her warmth, her love, and demonstrate my own in a manner as old as time itself. I want to know what it's like to feel a joining of souls, to experience the wholeness of two separate beings, for one brief instant, coming together as a single entity. I want to make her mine - and belong so irreversibly to her as well.

Yet I am so afraid.

Sheer terror devours me from the inside, a razor-edged spear skewering my silent heart, when I remember the pain that compelled me to Italy only months ago, seeking an end to my existence. A world without my Bella is a place I do not wish to endure again. "My entire being shies away from any course that could inspire that kind of pain again."

She trusts me so implicitly - even before I had explained to her how I had "gotten over" the lure of her blood for the monster within me - and despite the countless times I consciously or unwittingly put her life in jeopardy, she remains unshakeable.

"Obviously not that you aren't physically able to hurt me, if you want to... More that, you don't want to hurt me...so much so that I don't think that you ever could."

My love for her had swelled like the incoming tide in response to her faith in me, but the fear vastly outweighed the gratitude I felt at the time. The one thing she wanted to experience as a human, the one demand she made of me - using a soft, broken voice and pleading eyes - was a risk I could not take.

But then she had offered in return for my cooperation the one thing I wanted more than anything I had ever wanted in the course of my very long life. She would marry me.

What had followed was a cleverly crafted, tangled compromise that would culminate on our honeymoon. Once Bella became my wife, we would satisfy her impatient human hormones and try... And as much as any loss of control on my behalf terrified me, I would not break my promise. Then, what I was truly dreading, and yet anticipating at the same time, would be upon us.

I would make her like me. A vampire.

I shove that thought aside, commanding it to fade into the ether. The tenseness has finally abandoned my frame, so I shuffle closer to Bella, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. My palm then rests, seemingly of its own accord, on her neck. Her pulse thuds rhythmically under my hand; she shivers faintly from the chill of my touch, and I almost withdraw - but then she sighs and murmurs, her exhale caressing my face, "That's nice... I love you, Edward."

Without being fully cognizant of my actions, I lean forward and place a feather-light kiss on the tip of her nose. "I love you, Bella." Though she does hear me, will not remember any of this in the morning, I cannot leave such a profound sentiment unacknowledged.

Her subconscious has already moved on to another worry that torments her in the waking world. Forehead crinkling with deep furrows, she mutters irritably, "No, Alice - I don't want to know what kind of flowers you picked. I don't want to know anything. Just do whatever you want. You're the wedding planner."

Dear Alice. My shoulders tremble briefly in silent laughter. Alice is practically over the moon with delight that Bella agreed to let her organize our wedding. My sister thrives on coordinating an unforgettable gala, and she has vowed repeatedly to any in our family who will listen that this will be her greatest achievement. The chagrin I read in Bella's eyes when Alice told her that - I came within a hairs' breadth of canceling the whole thing and carrying my reluctant fiancée off to Vegas.
Needless to say, as soon as the notion occurred, Alice promptly smashed her tiny foot down on my toes. With a murderous gleam in her deep ocher eyes, she had said in a snarling whisper, "Don't. Even. Think. About. It." The thoughts she broadcast had promised my untimely demise, but she was tactful enough, and considerate of Bella's sensibilities, not to threaten me aloud.

Of my two female siblings, Alice holds the most affection for Bella. She already thinks of her as a sister, and can scarcely wait for the flashes she catches of the future to arrive, where she and Bella are as close as any siblings - even those who share the same lineage.

As for Rosalie...well, I doubt that her envy of Bella's humanity will ever completely fade, but her thoughts as of late seem grudgingly acquiescent. Bella is cautiously optimistic that, as time passes, Rose will begin to open up to her. I personally find it impossible to fathom how my aloof blonde sister has managed to evade the snare of Bella's charm thus far, but I suppose that I am a bit biased in that respect.

Absentminded, my thumb lightly caresses the smooth edge of Bella's jaw line as I contemplate yet again my family's near-unanimous acceptance of the soon-to-be newest Cullen. Aside from Alice and Rosalie, the others are varying shades of enthusiasm and expectancy, sending occasional well wishes with their thoughts at random intervals.

Carlisle, like any exceptional father, is pleased that I have found my true other half in Bella, and grateful to her for awakening more facets of my remaining humanity. It would sell him short to say that Carlisle plays favorites...but neither he nor I can deny that his eagerness for Bella to completely join our family stems from his seeming eternal affection for me as a son. He, Esme, and I had lived as a family for several years before our numbers began to grow, and the bonds forged during that time are strong.

Ah, Esme... To say that she is thrilled about my upcoming nuptials would be a vast understatement. At times I think that my mother has Alice beat in the zeal department when it comes to the wedding. Esme has virtually thrown herself into the role of supportive, amiable mother of the groom - picking up any slack from Alice's preparations and acting as liaison between Forks and Bella's mother Renée in Florida.

My cheek muscles flex into a wide grin. Bella had been caught totally off guard by Renée's reaction to the news of our engagement. When she relayed the conversation to me, she had remained so absorbed by her own shock that she did not notice the amusement that I could not fully suppress in my eyes.

During the course of our weekend visit to Florida in April, I had gotten a very comprehensive look into Renée's mind, driven partially by the hope that it might grant me some insight into her daughter's thoughts. What I did learn is that, like Bella, Renée is astonishingly perceptive. By watching the two of us interact with each other, the older woman had concluded internally that our relationship is far more than an adolescent fancy; it is a deep, mature, and enduring love. As we bid our farewells at the airport, Bella's mother had all but decided that her "little middle-aged child" would be a bride in less than two years - and wondered if I was going to wait until after graduation to propose.

I had kept my joy locked tightly inside throughout the weeks that followed; I knew that the information I had gleaned from her mother's mind would set Bella's heart at ease, but at the time I had not been entirely certain that things would turn out the way that I hoped. Besides the fact that she continues to harbor an unfavorable opinion of marriage - for which I can hardly blame her - Bella was, until a few weeks ago, wavering unconsciously between two possible outcomes for her life.

The dark tang of jealousy and resentment that stirs groggily in my core is weak - diluted by sorrow and the undying promise I had made to myself to never take the gift of Bella's choice for granted. The sorrow, of course, is not for him...but for Bella. I had never seen her cry like that, like her very soul was being shattered into a million broken shards; it had very nearly been my undoing. Though I dared not imagine the possibility of continuing in this world without her, the sobs that had torn from her hoarse throat and the tears soaking into my shirt had caused me to doubt if her decision was truly the best one for her.

My crystalline, sharp memory calls forth the image of Bella's face from the early hours of that morning. Dark eyes, swollen from crying and yet glowing with love - full, rosy lips quirked into a tiny smile - a warm, soft fingertip tracing the curves of my mouth - and, again, I hear the breathy, heartfelt words. "Edward - I know who I can't live without."

In spite of the pain I caused her, the injuries inflicted upon her fragile body and her infinitely precious soul by my callousness - my very existence, even - I am the one that she cannot live without.

My arms begin to move before my brain is able to interpret the motion. They tenderly envelop the slumbering angel beside me, always careful of her insubstantiality - like trying to hold smoke in one's hands - and cradle her against my chest. She tucks her face into the space between my shoulder and collarbone, and I rest my chin on the crown of her head. In concert, a contented sigh flows from each of us, as if the physical contact of our bodies has relieved some unknown ache that neither of us had previously noticed. I bury my nose in her sweet-smelling hair, letting her scent permeate the tissues of my lungs, filling my entire being with her essence. Which is, quite appropriately, a metaphor for my life now.

I no longer exist - not as an individual. Bella lives within me; every breath that sustains her keeps me alive as well, and with each beat, the heart pulsing beneath her bosom echoes inside my vacant ribcage. I would cease to be without her. I need her more than I need blood to quench the incessant, burning thirst in the back of my throat. When I am apart from her, even for a few hours, the pit of my stomach clenches with anxiety and my typically vigilant concentration starts to falter. Even Emmett noticed on our last hunting trip.

In pursuit of our prey, we were sprinting recklessly through the ancient forest, planning to outrun the herd and then double back to take them by surprise. My focus had slipped for a fraction of a second; I had been reminiscing about how it felt to carry Bella's slight, warm weight on my back, her limbs clamped tightly around me, and how her breathless laughter would fill my ear even as the wind sang all around us...

The next thing I knew, I was pinned to the leaf-strewn ground by one of my brother's enormous hands, his expression a curious mixture of incredulity and annoyance. You should watch where you're going, Edward, he barked inside my head.

I had shoved him aside, springing to my feet and brushing dried leaves from my clothes, and growled, "What?" Emmett had only raised an eyebrow and jerked his head to the side. I followed his gaze.

We were perched on the very edge of a steep cliff; the trees on either side of us were barely clinging to the sheer rock face, their roots twisted into complicated patterns as they struggled to remain upright. My angry glare had widened in astonishment. Though such a fall would not kill me, it was still not the most desirable outcome for a routine expedition into the woods.

Emmett's onyx eyes had sparked with displeasure, but a wry smirk tilted his mouth as he watched me take an involuntary step backward from the precipice. He then commented verbally - an unusual occurrence when it was just he and I - "I hope you pay more attention after Bella's a vampire. I'd hate to think of what she'd do to you if you let yourself fall." He had chuckled at the notion, shaking his head.

My brother had known instinctively, just like the rest of family, that any time I display the tiniest hint of inattention it is because I am thinking about Bella. After a century of filling my time with casual hobbies like reading and the piano, she has become my sole distraction - the only person that can wholly consume my awareness, even when she is not physically present.

It is because of what happened the last time - and that one of Alice's visions showed me slamming headfirst into a boulder, the impact shaking the forest so much that some hikers complained to the rangers about an earthquake - Emmett had declared that both Jasper and Carlisle were going with us this weekend. The idea of a ‘bachelor party' gave us the perfect cover, and it was well past time for me to hunt.

That did not make the impending separation any easier to bear.

As though she could sense the direction of my brooding, Bella mumbles forlornly into my shoulder, "I wish you didn't have to go hunting tomorrow. I'll miss you all weekend."

I press my lips on the top of her head, squeezing her gently. "Me, too," I mouth into her hair. But both she and I know that this trip is necessary; it will most likely by my last opportunity to taste big game before the honeymoon, and though I reassure myself constantly that I am incapable of harming her, I want my thirst to be a vague inclination at the back of my mind while I am with my new bride.

A new, hesitant sound catches my attention. The first few strains of birdsong filter through the open bedroom window, heralding the approaching dawn. I blink in mild surprise. Even as an immortal, time seems to have stolen by me tonight.
At the fringes of my perception, I can hear Emmett's mounting eagerness to get underway; his part in the ceremony preparations has long been finished, and he is practically itching for a brawl with a grizzly. Jasper is keen for a reprieve as well; Alice has nearly driven him to the brink of insanity from having to level out her frequent spikes of excitement with his singular talent.

My hold around Bella loosens infinitesimally. I need to leave her room before Charlie wakes up - but that should be a few hours later than usual for a Saturday, as he has not been out fishing for a while. Bella says that he is pouting. Surely my brothers would not begrudge me a couple more hours with the woman I love; how many times have I made concessions for them?

So I pull Bella more securely into the curve of my body, settling into place on the mattress. A little more time will not kill Emmett or Jasper - and I smile to myself as I listen to a flicker of thought projected from Carlisle, telling me that there is no need to rush.

Bella whispers my name again; a shiver of delight skitters down my spine as her slender arm coils around my torso, her legs entwining with mine under the faded quilt. Even though I will have to leave her for a little while, and soon, there is a time coming - hovering just above the horizon like the milky yellow-gold of the sunrise - when we will never have to be parted again.

I take great comfort in that belief as my Bella, my universe, sleeps on in the safety of my arms, the dawn breaking above the treetops outside her bedroom window.