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Metamorphosis

Summary:
Metamorphosis title imageShe got what she wanted. My venom flows through her bloodstream, changing her, reshaping her from a human to a vampire. Soon, that transformation will be complete. And I'll be able to keep her forever.I am the most selfish creature that has ever walked this earth. Edward's point of view in "Breaking Dawn", beginning with Book Three. winner banner


Notes:


5. Surprise

Rating 5/5   Word Count 10449   Review this Chapter

The incredulous, horror-struck and outraged expression on Bella's face is reminiscent of the one she wore when Tyler Crowley told her that he would be taking her to the prom.

"No!" she cries out, shaking her head fervently in denial. "No way!" Shooting me a narrow-eyed glare – to which I respond with a smug grin – she protests, "No, this doesn't count. I stopped aging three days ago. I am eighteen forever."

Alice shrugs, not to be deterred. "Whatever. We're celebrating anyway, so suck it up." She smiles brilliantly, her elfin face aglow with excitement.

Bella studies her best friend for a fraction of a second, and then sighs in defeat. Alice's smile widens until her perfect, ultra-white teeth sparkle in the yellow artificial light from the bulbs set into the vaulted ceiling. "Are you ready to open your present?" she coos ecstatically.

"Presents," I amend, and dig my hand in the pocket of my jeans to retrieve the key to Bella's "after car". When she sees the long silver key garnished with a small blue bow, I can tell that she is resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Apparently, her customary lack of enthusiasm in regard to gifts has not changed – nor did I expect it to, of course.

Alice is wrinkling her button nose in mild irritation. "Mine first," she contradicts, and her eyes glaze over as she peers into the future to predict my reply.

I suppress a chuckle when I watch it through her thoughts, and she sticks her tongue out at me.

I say the words anyway – just to annoy her. "Mine is closer."

"But look at how she's dressed." Alice throws her tiny arms upward as though supplicating to a higher power and moans, "It's been killing me all day. That is clearly the priority." Her topaz gaze widens significantly, daring me to oppose her absurd reasoning, and her cupid's bow lips flatten into a stubborn line.

Bella frowns in confusion as she processes Alice's comment about her clothing. Sadly, she has no idea what my sister has in store for her.

"I know –" Alice beams, holding up an index finger, "I'll play you for it. Rock, paper, scissors."

Jasper chuckles at his wife's antics, absorbing her vivacious spirit with his talent. He seems unable to look away from her, and I know that at least for the moment, Bella's emotional state is no longer the focal point of his attention.

I sigh deeply and remark in a wry tone, "Why don't you just tell me who wins?"

The pixie-like face upturned towards mine brightens with a smile that rivals the radiance of a star. "I do," Alice states confidently, having just seen the outcome in her head. "Excellent."

It really does not matter to me one way or the other, so I allow my sister to savor her victory. Besides, I have come up with a valid excuse to wait before revealing my gift to Bella.

"It's probably better that I wait for morning, anyway." Giving my wife a crooked smile, I nod towards the two Quileute pack members sleeping soundly on the sofa and say teasingly, "I think it might be more fun if Jacob was awake for the big reveal, don't you agree? So that someone there" – I raise my eyebrows – "is able to express the right level of enthusiasm?"

Bella grins back at me, understanding exactly why I believe it will benefit her to see Jacob display the proper amount of awe for the vehicle I purchased. She has yet to acquire a healthy appreciation for quality transportation – that rusted artifact of a truck she used to drive is proof enough of that – but I have until the end of time to persuade her otherwise.

Moreover, I can hardly wait to see her in the driver's seat. It will be quite spectacular, I am sure.

Alice, reveling in the moment, bounces up and down giddily like a child. "Yay," she trills, clapping her hands. "Bella, give Ness – Renesmee to Rosalie."

Rose floats over to us, happy to take charge of Renesmee once again, and waits in silence for Bella to submit to Alice's instruction.

Bella seems reluctant to let the little girl, whose flushed face is nestled against the hollow of her throat, out of her arms. "Where does she usually sleep?" she inquires curiously.

Alice lifts her tiny shoulders in a casual shrug. "In Rose's arms. Or Jacob's. Or Esme's. You get the picture. She has never been set down in her entire life." She crosses her arms and shakes her head in mock-disparagement, sighing, "She's going to be the most spoiled half-vampire in existence."

Laughter flows effortlessly out of my mouth as Bella turns toward Rosalie, who takes Renesmee's limp form from her with practiced ease. "She is also the most unspoiled half-vampire in existence," Rose amends in a soft murmur. "The beauty of being one of a kind."

She smiles at Bella, and the expression is stunning, naturally...but more to the point, it is genuine. Rosalie has finally come to a decision in regard to her relationship with Bella; they are sisters, first and foremost – but they are also friends.

The kinship is nowhere near as strong as the one that exists between Bella and Alice, but it is there. I can hear the confirmation in Rose's thoughts: in her staunch determination to risk her life for our baby, Bella had at last made a choice that Rosalie could support – a choice that she herself would have made if their positions were reversed. And that is what convinced my narcissistic sister to preserve the link of camaraderie that had been forged during Bella's pregnancy.

In response to Rosalie's smile, Bella's vivid scarlet eyes flare with a sudden burst of intuition, and her heart-shaped face lights up with glad relief.

Eager as always, Alice snags Bella's elbow and pulls her in the direction of the back door. "Let's go, let's go," she chants in a singsong voice.

"Is it outside?" Bella asks in bewilderment, traipsing along behind her in slow, cautious steps.

Tugging her through the doorway, Alice replies evasively, "Sort of."

I follow them at a more relaxed pace; though the madcap tendencies of the human man in me are screaming to quench my intense need as soon as possible, I have resolved that, as always, I will allow Bella to dictate how the evening will progress.

I feel a constricting band tighten around my silent ribcage as I consider the possibility of waiting yet another pointless night without being completely with my wife...but I find the willpower to ignore it. For now.

As I reach the threshold, Rosalie calls out to Bella, "Enjoy your gift." That includes you, Edward, she adds mentally. I can detect the taunt in her words, so I throw a dark glare at her over my shoulder. She smiles beatifically and concludes, "It's from all of us. Esme especially."

Bella skids to a halt just outside the doorway, Alice yanking in vain on her arm, and stares at the rest of the family with confused eyes. "Aren't you coming, too?"

A chorus of mirth reverberates inside my skull; outwardly, everyone's expressions remain perfectly polite, their smiles reflecting the sincere affection they hold for their newest sister and daughter.

"We'll give you a chance to appreciate it alone," Rosalie replies breezily. "You can tell us about it...later."

Emmett guffaws, slapping a meaty hand over his mouth to muffle the noise. His thoughts are unbelievably vulgar, tossing out suggestions to me about how to spend some ‘quality time' with Bella, and I clench my teeth to resist the impulse to throw him back into the river.

Bella eyes Emmett inquisitively, and her face contorts fleetingly into an embarrassed wince – minus the usual crimson stain of blood rushing to color her cheeks.
But just as that expression surfaces upon her features, it is replaced by a wide smile.

What is she thinking?

Alice pulls at her arm again, and Bella follows her into the night. The muted jewel tones of the afternoon have changed to shades of purple and cobalt, and Bella looks around in awe, absorbing every detail just as clearly as she had during the day, that inexplicable smile still illuminating her pale face.

Pausing at the riverbank, Alice glances over at her favorite sister and virtually puffs up with approval upon glimpsing Bella's broad grin. "There's the enthusiasm I'm looking for," she croons, and releases her grip on Bella's forearm. Then she bounds forward and leaps across the river with a dancer's grace.

"C'mon, Bella," she calls an instant later, waiting for us on the opposite shore.

I notice the muscles in my wife's bare legs tense, coiling to spring, and time my own jump so that we fly through the moist air in unison. From the far edge of my vision, Bella's smile transforms into an open-mouthed, silent shriek of pure delight. I cannot help but to grin in response.

Once we land soundlessly on the damp earth, Alice sprints through the forest and heads due north. Bella takes off after her while I keep pace, using our acute hearing and sense of smell to follow Alice's trail among the dense foliage.

Of course, I have one more sense that aids me, and I utilize it as the three of us race effortlessly to our destination.

Alice is scanning the immediate future to satisfy her curiosity in regard to Bella's reaction to her birthday gift, but the outcome is muddled by several possible conclusions – a result of a newborn vampire's quicksilver moods.

My head suddenly swims with a vision: a pale wooden floor, the scent of freesia, white on white skin, and a voice like the sweetest music slides silkily into my ear, whispering my name...

The sensations vanish abruptly as Alice blocks me from her mind by reciting random passages from "Alice in Wonderland" because she knows that I have no great love for that very unusual piece of literature.

But while my thoughts may be free from the vivid images, my body is not. The electric current sizzling through my dead veins has spiked in intensity a hundredfold since I shared that vision with Alice. I do not even trust myself in this state to risk glancing to my right – for as soon as I see her face, her exposed limbs glowing faintly in the indigo light – I will be lost.

I must stay focused. I will stay focused.

She comes first.

Searching for a suitable distraction, I examine our surroundings and note with a brief flicker of surprise that we are less than a hundred meters from our goal. I expected my sister to devise a more pretentious means of unveiling Bella's present.

Concurrently with that notion, Alice spins around on heel up ahead. Bella pauses in confusion as the petite black-haired vampire flashes to her side. "Don't attack me," she warns, and then pounces on my wife.

Bella squirms uncomfortably as Alice clambers onto her back and covers her eyes with both hands. "What are you doing?" she objects, tossing her head from side to side in frustration.

"Making sure you can't see," Alice retorts as though it is perfectly obvious.

I throw her an exasperated look. "I could have taken care of that without the theatrics."

"You might let her cheat." Glaring at me with an equally frustrated stare as the one I am giving her, my sister rebukes mentally – And I know you would, Edward, so don't bother trying to deny it. Then she commands aloud, "Take her hand and lead her forward."

"Alice, I -" Bella starts to protest.

"Don't bother, Bella. We're doing this my way." She wraps her tiny legs around Bella's waist, locking them at the ankles, and gazes over at me with arched eyebrows, waiting for my submission to her plan.

I sigh, a quiet release of breath, and reach for Bella's hand. Weaving her slender fingers through mine, the powerful current humming within my body strengthens where our skin makes contact – and I am reminded of the electric ball that humans are so fond of, marveling when the energy housed within the sphere consolidates at the point where their finger touches the glass.

My focus slips a little; I order myself to speak, to concentrate on something other than my need.

"Just a few seconds more, Bella." My words carry significance both for Bella and for myself, and I am pleased that my tone is light, not betraying the emotions that are coursing through me with unnatural potency.

Stay focused, stay in control.

Glancing sidelong at Alice, I smirk and add jokingly, "Then she'll go annoy someone else."

I tug gently on Bella's hand, pulling her forward, and we continue on at the same speed through the night-painted forest.

I'm sorry about earlier, Alice thinks, her gold eyes wide and penitent. I didn't want to intrude on your and Bella's privacy – not when I can help it.

She knows that I extend to her and Jasper the same courtesy as much as I am able whenever they are together in the house, and the rest of our family as well. We may not have secrets from one another, but we do have enough morality to afford discretion.

I turn my head slightly to look at her and nod once, using the gesture to communicate that it is not an issue.

More to the point... The tenor of her thoughts changes; I can sense a stern reproach brewing within her mind. You're lucky I cut it off when I did. You were this close to making me very irritated. A fleeting image of me scooping Bella into my arms and disappearing into the trees while Alice stands dumbfounded floats across my vision, and I stifle a laugh.

"You might be a little more appreciative," my sister chides verbally. "This is as much for you as it is for her."

"True," I acknowledge, and offer her a broad, gleaming smile. "Thank you again, Alice."

She rolls her eyes, exaggerating the motion. "Yeah, yeah. Okay," she mutters indifferently, but she cannot disguise the satisfied Cheshire cat grin curving her lips.

A shaft of pale silver moonlight suddenly contrasts with the purple dark as we approach the fringe of the clearing, and Alice whoops excitedly inside her head. "Stop there," she tells me. I slow to a halt just beyond the thick fern fronds ringing the edges of the small open space, feeling my own excitement growing in response to Alice's hyper disposition. "Turn her just a little to the right. Yes, like that," she congratulates when I guide Bella through a quarter-inch turn in the prescribed direction. "Okay. Are you ready?" she asks in a high-pitched, gleeful squeal.

"I'm ready." Bella leans forward, her nostrils flaring subtly as she inhales the new scents emanating from the glade.

With a huge grin, Alice jumps down from Bella's back, uncovering her eyes.

I watch her face as she stares, wide-eyed in shock, at the stone cottage. Esme has truly outdone herself with this particular project; she wanted it to be everything that Bella and I could dream of for our own home, and spent many hours and resources trying to make that dream a reality.

Though I have seen the cottage numerous times – with my own eyes and through the minds of my family – it seems all the more special now that I am sharing the picturesque setting with Bella. Smiling gently at her awestruck expression, I squeeze her hand and wonder abstractedly how I had come to deserve all that I have ever wanted – which is forever with my Bella.

Clasping her small hands in front of her, Alice pipes up softly, "What do you think?" I think she likes it. She has to like it – Esme worked so hard to finish... Do you think she likes it?

Bella's free hand curls around the brass key resting on her palm, and her lips part as though she is about to reply, but nothing comes out.

I explain in a low murmur, "Esme thought we might like a place of our own for a while, but she didn't want us too far away." My smile widens, mirroring the deep affection I hold for the woman who has been a mother to me for more than half a century. "And she loves any excuse to renovate. This little place has been crumbling away out here for at least a hundred years."

Bella remains silent, her mouth hanging open like a fish out of water. She looks positively adorable.

Why doesn't she say anything? Alice stares anxiously at Bella, inquiring, "Don't you like it?" Her eager expression plummets into a heartbreakingly distressed wince. "I mean, I'm sure we could fix it up differently, if you want. Emmett was all for adding a few thousand square feet, a second story, columns, and a tower" – which is completely ridiculous, but that's Emmett for you – "but Esme thought you would like it best the way it was meant to look." My sister seems unaware that her sentences are spilling into one another because she is speaking so quickly, and her voice rises in pitch and volume due to stress. "If she was wrong, we can get back to work. It won't take long to –"

"Shh!" Bella hushes her. Alice presses her lips together until they form a thin white line and waits, twisting her hands nervously. Without tearing her eyes away from the cottage, Bella whispers in amazement, "You're giving me a house for my birthday?"

"Us," I correct her tenderly, while my motionless heart sings inside my chest over the simple truth of that one small word. "And it's no more than a cottage. I think the word house implies more legroom." I insert that last bit to tease her; the moment is too perfect to pass up, and I am curious to hear what witty response she will deliver.

Turning her head a fraction of an inch to the side, she peers at me from the corner of her eye and whispers, "No knocking my house."

I smirk, amused, and Alice's smile stretches clear across her elfin face as she declares, "You like it."

Bella shakes her head. Alice revises by asking with bated breath, "Love it?" She nods, a hint of a smile playing along the curves of her mouth. "I can't wait to tell Esme!" Alice exclaims joyfully, clapping her hands and jumping up and down.

Bella glances at her then, her vivid scarlet eyes questioning. "Why didn't she come?"

Um... Alice scrambles mentally for a tactful reply, her bright grin wilting just a little. "Oh, you know..." she answers in an offhand manner, "they all remember how you are about presents. They didn't want to put you under too much pressure to like it."

I have to admit, she is quite good at subterfuge.

"But of course I love it." Bella, innocent as ever, is oblivious to her best friend's verbal maneuvering. She seems mystified by Alice's reason as to why the rest of the family stayed back at the house. "How could I not?"

"They'll like that." Alice pats Bella lightly on the arm in farewell. "Anyhoo, you closet is stocked. Use it wisely. And...I guess that's everything." She throws a brief glance in my direction. I know you want me out of your hair. Then she adds pleadingly, Could you at least show her the closet tonight? Please?

I raise an eyebrow ever so slightly while Bella looks at Alice in bewilderment. "Aren't you going to come inside?"

Wow, she really hasn't changed at all. So refreshingly naïve. Alice backpedals lithely a few feet, justifying her exit by remarking, "Edward knows his way around. I'll stop by...later." Actually, we'll see you both in the morning, she informs me. The knot in my stomach tightens with renewed vigor; I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from acting rashly. "Call me if you can't match your clothes right," Alice advises Bella, eyeing her doubtfully over a narrow shoulder. She flashes a grin at each of us, and says as her goodbye, "Jazz wants to hunt. See you."
After that, she darts off into the woods, a cluster of ferns swaying in the breeze of her invisible wake.

When the sound of Alice's swift, muted footfalls no longer reaches the clearing, Bella comments almost to herself, "That was weird." Looking up at me with a sheepish expression, she asks hesitantly, "Am I really that bad? They didn't have to stay away." She drops her eyes before I can interrupt, mumbling, "Now I feel guilty. I didn't even thank her right." Abruptly she steps forward, pulling on my hand. "We should go back, tell Esme –"

I hold my ground – fortunately, Bella does not always remember that she is stronger than I am – and cut off her suggestion in a mild tone. "Bella, don't be silly. No one thinks you're that unreasonable."

She meets my gaze blankly. Refreshingly naïve, Alice had said. Yes, she is that...and it is so incredibly endearing. I manage to conceal a smile as she begins to speak. "Then what –"

"Alone time is their other gift." I allow the smile to mold my features while I hold her eyes, unblinking, with mine. "Alice was trying to be subtle about it."

Bella's stare widens as realization sinks in, and then floods with a myriad of emotions, only some of which I can identify because I am experiencing them as well. Delight, anticipation, impatience, desire, lust...

Her full lips form a tempting circle, and she murmurs quietly, "Oh."

I so very nearly surrender to the need clawing at my insides, since I can see in her heart-shaped face that she feels it, too. But it is her birthday, this is her special night, and she makes the decisions.

She seems frozen in place, gazing up at me with those fiery, swirling pools of liquid ruby – so I decide to steer her attention in a safer direction. Leading her towards the cottage, I propose calmly, "Let me show you what they've done."

She walks beside me sinuously, though her eyes flick to my face every three and a half seconds and her fingers flex periodically around mine, like she is struggling to contain a surge of excess energy.

I know the feeling all too well.

Suddenly, she lets out a soft, tinkling laugh. It dances through the air as her rain-soaked freesia scent mingles with the floral perfume of the small garden, and I glance sideways to study her expression. A small, secretive smile is on her lips; it prompts me to ask, "Do I get to hear the joke?"

"It's not a very good one," she admits as we stroll together along the flat stone pathway to the door. "I was just thinking – today is the first and last day of forever." My chest swells with an upwelling of happiness so intense that I find that I am unable to breathe. I want to crush her into my arms...but I settle for squeezing her hand gently, not wishing to interrupt. "It's kind of hard to wrap my head around it," Bella tells me, still smiling. "Even with all this extra room for wrapping."

She laughs again, and I join in, the bell-like tones of our voices harmonizing more beautifully than any master's symphony.

In an act of chivalry, I release her hand and make a sweeping gesture towards the rounded doorway. Bella glides past, her face alight with eagerness, and pushes the key in the lock. Turning it clockwise, the bolt clicks softly away from the frame, and instead of immediately opening the door, she removes the key and tucks it into the breast pocket of my borrowed shirt.

I watch her every movement in avid fascination. She is truly the most magnificent creature to ever walk this earth, and of all her many admirers, she chose me as her own. She chose to accept and even reciprocate my love, as unworthy as it is, and she chose to become my wife despite her aversion to the concept of marriage. And the most sacred gift of all: Bella chose to give herself – her heart, her body, and her soul - to me.

Feeling slightly humbled by the woman who holds my entire existence in her hands, I muse quietly, "You're such a natural at this, Bella; I forget how very strange this all must be for you." She looks at me with clear, deep eyes brimming with thoughts that will always be hidden from me, and I offer her a regretful smile. "I wish I could hear it."

I banish that emotion and every other dark shadow lurking in my mind an instant later; nothing will sully this perfect night, not if I can help it.

The world blurs into blue-violet watercolor as I swiftly duck down and capture Bella in my arms – one behind her knees, the other supporting her back. "Hey!" she shrieks in surprise, instinctively linking her slender arms around my neck while I straighten up. Her eyes are sparkling like jewels, and as she struggles to catch an unnecessary breath, I recognize the expression on her face.

She is dazzled.

Grinning with sheer pleasure, I point out to her, "Thresholds are part of my job description."

Bella's exhale wafts across my lips and she smiles shakily. Even the diluted flavor of her breath mixed with the air is enough to cause the lightning racing through my veins to send a white-hot jolt down my spine.

I am running out of distractions.

My gaze roves over her face in half a second, examining the traces of internal reflections within her crimson irises, and the ever-present curiosity momentarily overrules my craving. "But I'm curious," I remark in a low voice. "Tell me what you're thinking about right now." Keeping her securely locked in one arm, I push open the wooden door and step over the threshold without looking away from her wide eyes.

"Everything," she declares, a soft giggle bubbling out of her mouth. "All at the same time, you know." She begins to list out, "Good things and things to worry about and things that are new. How I keep using too many superlatives in my head. Right now," Bella cranes her neck in every possible direction to get a full view of the living room, her lovely face transforming into a mesmerized and almost dreamy expression, and she murmurs with a low gasp, "I'm thinking that Esme is an artist. It's so perfect!"

You make it so, I think to myself, my gaze caressing the elegant lines of her features. Standing with her in this small cottage, our home, it is like the picture is now complete – the last piece of a complicated puzzle has finally snapped into place.

I have seen this room dozens of times. Esme even asked for my input in selecting a number of the literary classics stacked on the bookshelf and for choosing several of the paintings that adorn the walls. One of Bella's favorites, an undiscovered Monet, hangs in a place of honor on the mahogany wood wall directly across from the fireplace.

A small part of my brain comprehends that I should probably set her down now that I have officially carried her across the threshold, satisfying an age-old tradition. But as her all-encompassing stare comes full circle to bore intently into my eyes, I simply cannot force my limbs to release her. There is something so...right...in the way her small frame rests trustingly against my body, her long hair draping over both our shoulders. Her angelic face hovers scant inches from mine, the embers smoldering in the depths of her eyes tantalizing me like a moth drawn to an open flame – and I fall back to reality as I recall that Bella has yet to see the rest of the cottage.

I try to make inane small talk, commenting in a lighthearted tone, "We're lucky Esme thought to add an extra room." And in my lack of concentration, I commit a serious transgression. "No one was planning for Ness – Renesmee."

I correct the error quickly, but it is already too late. Bella scowls at me and unwinds her arms from around my neck to fold them grumpily over her chest. "Not you, too," she complains, puckering her full lips as though tasting a sour lemon.

Smiling at her ruefully, I lift my shoulders a bit in a shrug and apologize. "Sorry, love." I try to defend my mistake, presenting an explanation – albeit a weak one – for my slip-up. "I hear it in their thoughts all the time, you know. It's rubbing off on me."

She sighs heavily, the air making a quiet whooshing noise through her pursed lips. Her scowl diminishes just faintly and she loosens her tightly crossed arms, though her chin rises a bit in a show of her usual obstinacy.

I am certain, judging by her appearance, that she has decided to never use that nickname for our daughter. And if I know Bella at all, she will stick to that decision with resolute stubbornness.

I scour my mind for another topic, and then tilt my mouth into a lopsided grin. "I'm sure you're dying to see the closet," I remark with teasing sarcasm. "Or," I raise my eyebrows, feigning that some profound idea has just occurred to me, "at least I'll tell Alice that you were, to make her feel good."

Bella measures my expression and my words for a full second before she asks, a barely detectable hint of unease in her voice, "Should I be afraid?"

"Terrified."

I carry my bride down the narrow stone hallway. She leans her head back to look at the arched ceiling, exposing the smooth white column of her throat to my hungry gaze, and I swallow hard to suppress the mounting urge to kiss her silky, floral-scented skin.

Pausing at the doorway to the empty bedroom in the southeast corner of the cottage, I nod towards it and announce, "That will be Renesmee's room. They didn't have time to do much with it, what with the angry werewolves..." I trail off, chuckling, as Bella laughs quietly, the sound tinted with relief.

Finally, we reach the closed door at the end of the hall. I know what lies beyond the carved wood - hazy visions of the room swim through my mind – and I suddenly, inexplicably, feel the icy prickles of nervousness along the back of my neck. It is the exact same sensation I felt when Bella and I stood in the white bedroom on Isle Esme the night we arrived. Our first night together as husband and wife.

"Here's our room," I tell her in a low murmur, hoping that the minimal volume disguises the odd tremor in my voice. "Esme tried to bring some of her island back here for us." I reach for the antique brass knob and push my thumb down on the latch. "She guessed that we would get attached." The door glides open silently and I step through, stopping just inside the entryway.

The east-facing room is a miniature replica of the master suite on the island. A massive white bed with a canopy of soft, airy gossamer dominates the center of the area. Blue-white paint on the walls and the pale, sand-colored floor bring to mind a cloudless day on the beach... and then there is the back wall.

Polished glass doors open up to an exquisite little garden full of climbing white and blush pink roses that shelter a small round pond framed by glistening stones. Our own private ocean, my mother had said with a loving smile.

Bella is still and silent in my arms for a long while. Then I hear her tiny inhalation, feel her lean into my chest, and she breathes out in scarcely a whisper, "Oh."

So many things I wish that I could say if I had the words...but all I am able to articulate is a whispered reply. "I know."

A wash of memories – some of the most beautiful, cherished memories I possess – drown all other thought for a brief eternity.

The way Bella had looked, just like an angel, in the silvery glow of the moon as she stood before me, ocean waves breaking gently against us. How the heat of her body radiated, warming my frigid, stone-like shell as I held her in my arms. Hearing her say my name in a thousand different ways, over and over, until I was convinced that there was no sweeter sound in the whole world. Being so consumed by pure ecstasy that I felt as if I could finally gain access to heaven.

There are other memories. Still treasured, because they are of Bella, but tainted by the darkness of what I am – what I should have been strong enough to circumvent.

Watching over her as she slept and struggling to survive the punishing tide of anguish while blood pooled under her delicate flesh, forming deep bruises that had been wrought by my carelessness. How she had tried to reassure me that I had not destroyed the most magical night of both our lives by my monstrous nature. The ways she had contrived to persuade me to make love to her again though I was terrified of hurting her even more than I already had.

I allow that particular memory to fully surface, permeating my mind with crystalline clarity. Bella had looked so utterly delectable in that black lace confection, the cream and roses tone of her skin almost glowing in the dim light... I was teetering on the edge of my sanity as she spun in a circle to give me the full effect.

Sadly, the fragile garment had been torn to shreds – a casualty to my haste – and both Bella and I had mourned its loss.

But now I wonder: Alice selected all of Bella's clothing for the honeymoon, and she had crammed over a dozen complete wardrobes into the closet situated at the far side of the bedroom. Could it be possible that my nearly omniscient sister had foreseen the need to purchase a few items comparable to the one that was lost?

Her words leap forward in my head, echoing in my eardrums with new meaning. "You might be a little more appreciative. This is as much for you as it is for her."

I am suddenly very curious about the contents of that closet.

A rumble of laughter builds in my chest. Bella senses the vibration and peers up at me, her eyes slightly clouded with nostalgia. Smiling broadly, I chuckle around the words as I inform her, "The closet is through those double doors." I incline my head a bit in that direction. "I should warn you – it's bigger than this room."

She makes no attempt to even glance at the doors. The smoldering fire in her crimson irises flares brilliantly, igniting her entire countenance with passion, and my focus narrows until she and I are the only two people in the world. "We're going to tell Alice that I ran right to the clothes," she whispers huskily, tangling her fingers into my hair. She shifts in my arms, adjusting her weight so that she can pull our faces closer together. I can taste the perfume of her inviting mouth on my tongue as her whisper floats through the air.

She holds me captivated while her eyelids lower partially, the tip of her nose brushing against mine as she moves nearer still. "We're going to tell her I spent hours in there playing dress-up," she breathes. My hold around her tightens convulsively, and the electric current sizzling through my body sets every nerve ending ablaze. "We're going to lie." Bella's full lips graze over my own as she whispers the last syllable, and I at last succumb to the ferocious need roaring in desperation within the core of my being.

My hand leaves the curve of her leg to frame her face, pulling her towards me that final, agonizing millimeter until our mouths connect in a voracious kiss. A low moan escapes from my throat – and together we fly into a frenzy, the electricity leaping between us like two high voltage pylons. Bella rips through my clothing with a single stroke; the scraps of fabric flutter onto the floor as I easily strip off my shirt and the ruined silk dress from her body.

Neither of us seems to care that we are not going to make it to the bed. I vow to carry her over there later, storing that reminder in the very back of my mind before it vanishes altogether in the overwhelming flood of sensation brought on by Bella's small hands roaming across my bare skin.

Our lips do not part as we fall onto the wooden floor, entwining our limbs so tightly that I can hardly tell where she begins and I end. Joy, wild and unrestrained, explodes like fireworks inside my skull as I give myself to Bella completely, no longer afraid or having to use caution because of her human fragility. She is not made of silk stretched over molded glass anymore. My palms wander down the arc of her spine, urging her closer, and she sighs my name into the curl of my ear. Her skin still feels like the richest silk, yet now it covers a creature crafted from steel rather than glass, as beautiful as she is deadly to any mortal.

Though her body does not emit the scorching heat of racing blood and exertion, there is a strange new warmth growing in the center of my being, spreading tendrils of white-hot energy to every cell within my body, and a blinding light sears my eyes. Bella shivers exquisitely, holding me to her with an embrace so powerful that it should be painful, but all I am aware of is the bliss that envelops my consciousness as Bella cries out my name in ecstasy and hers departs from my mouth with a quiet groan of rapture.

The hours that follow are heaven brought down to earth. Once we have sated our joint hunger for one another through feverish lovemaking, there is plenty of time left over to proceed more slowly.
Bella pulls away from me just enough to rake her gaze across the length of my body with an almost possessive admiration, and then she draws her lower lip between her teeth and looks aside, embarrassed, when she notices that I am watching.

I prepare to tell her that she has no reason to be embarrassed over appreciating something that will always belong to her, but she swiftly bends down for a kiss and chases the consolation from my mind.

In due course, I remember to take her to the bed. It really is not much different from lying on the floor comfort-wise, but as she lays her head on the fluffy down pillows with a sigh, her dark hair twisted wildly around her bare shoulders, I am glad that I remembered.

She reaches for me, and I am beside her on the mattress in an instant. Taking my hands, she interlaces our fingers before tucking herself into the slight curve of my body. We fit together like the corresponding pieces of a puzzle, shaped exactly to match.

Bella's expression is thoughtful, so I would guess that she is about to remark on some topic. Deeply interested in anything she has to say, I wait for her to speak while planting gentle, languid kisses on her jaw line, the satiny expanse of her neck, and the elegant lines of her collarbones.

"I'd like to go back there someday," she murmurs a few minutes later. When I glance up at her face curiously, she clarifies, "Isle Esme. I'd like to go there again."

I am about to inform her that we could go now if it was what she wanted – but I doubt that she will want to leave Renesmee right when she has been reintroduced into her life. I am unsure if even I could leave our daughter behind when the stability of her future is so uncertain.

So I slowly draw a line with my lips from the hollow of Bella's throat to the point of her chin, promising into her skin, "We'll plan on it for our first anniversary."

"Okay..." she mutters weakly, her eyelids quivering in response to my touch, and I have no choice but to kiss her again.

When the sheets are in a tangled mess on the floor, Bella places her elbows on my chest and props her chin in her hands, looking down at me with an unreadable stare, a faint smile playing along the corners of her mouth. I gaze back at her patiently, one hand resting on the swell of her hip while I thread the other into her chocolate brown hair, letting the luxurious strands flow through my fingers.

Further out in the forest, an owl takes flight from its roost, the passage of air beneath its feathers as whisper-soft as a breeze. When the sound has nearly faded, Bella reflects aloud, "I wonder when I got pregnant."

My brows arch in surprise. Her head tilts slightly to one side, studying my expression, and then one dark eyebrow quirks just a bit. She expects me to have an answer for her.

I shrug minutely, shifting my weight on the bed. "Based on your mood swings, the increase in your appetite and Renesmee's extraordinary growth rate..." I pause for the barest fraction of a second, struggling to identify the unusual emotions rising within me. "It would have happened on our first night." My voice becomes very quiet towards the end of my reply, and Bella scrutinizes my gaze carefully, hunting for some clue into my line of thinking. The skin around my eyes tightens as though trying to ward off her piercing intensity; I am not quite sure what these emotions stem from, and am worried that she will misinterpret their origin.

Deep lines abruptly mar her smooth forehead as she frowns down at me. Groaning in exasperation, she scolds, "Are you going to beat yourself up about that again?"

She thinks that I am reliving the bitter self-revulsion I felt when I saw the bruises that had covered her body in hideous bluish purple splotches. And though that moment did cross my mind earlier tonight, it is not the source of my tangled feelings.

I shake my head from side to side and offer Bella a tiny smile. "No."

"Hmm?" Her eyes widen, threatening me with a formidable glare that cannot quite obscure the affection in the depths of her gaze.

I chuckle softly at the expression, which is so unintentionally charming, and lean upwards to kiss away the frown from her lips. "I promise," I murmur, settling back onto the rumpled bedclothes.

"Then what is it?" Bella stretches out across my chest, tucking her head under my chin, her thin arms encircling me tenderly in wordless comfort.

My hands trace lazy patterns on her back as I contemplate a way to accurately express what I need to say. At the risk of sounding adversely repetitive, I lay my cheek against her hair and reply, my words hesitant, "I owe you an apology."

Bella stiffens, only for an instant, because that specific sentiment harkens back to a time that was unbelievably painful for us both. As much as I wish I could forget, I can recall every single detail of those early morning hours in her bedroom, agonizing over the thought that the next second would be my last; Bella could never forgive me for leaving her, and when she told me that she no longer loved me, there would be no more reason for me to continue to exist.

The rigidity melts from her soothing embrace as soon as she senses my inner conflict, and turns her face to press her lips into the hollow above my collarbone. Sighing, I wrap my arms around her slender frame, willing the shadows of the past to retreat. "What for?" Bella whispers in a gentle tone.

"I am so sorry for the way I acted the day we left the island." I have not told her this before – not in so many words. It is difficult for me to experience those moments again, but something within the deepest part of my...soul...encourages me to continue. "I was...totally irrational, and more frightened than I have ever been in my entire life. I didn't want to – I could not lose you." Burying my nose in her fragrant tresses, I pause for a few seconds, reestablishing my equilibrium in the present. "It was thoughtless of me to simply dominate the situation without speaking to you first. I just couldn't see it then."

She breaks into my monologue in a small voice, remarking, "I didn't understand why you were so angry. I thought - well, I thought it was what you wanted."

"What I wanted?"

Bella nods against my skin. "Of course, I didn't understand the danger I was in as a human carrying a half-vampire child, but I thought you wanted us to have a baby. Don't you remember? You said something about that to me the night before the wedding."

The conversation lurches to the forefront of my mind, invoked by her explanation:

I spoke so slowly, with reluctance, forcing myself to hold her gaze and not look away in shame. "Do you remember when we told Charlie we were getting married? And he thought you were...pregnant?"

She laughed, her warm breath tickling my face. "And he thought about shooting you. Admit it – for one second, he honestly considered it."

I stayed silent, feeling a bit cowardly as I dropped my eyes to watch my fingers play with the ring on her left hand. "What, Edward?" Bella prompted after a minute or so, watching my face as best she could in the faint green glow of her alarm clock.

"I just wish..." I glanced up at her, at the beautiful soul illuminating her warm brown eyes, and confessed, "Well, I wish that he'd been right."

She gasped, horrified. "Gah."

"More that there was some way he could have been. That we had that kind of potential," I amended, thinking to myself that she would be a wonderful mother. But she could never have that. Not with me. "I hate taking that away from you, too."

She was quiet for a moment, the shock still apparent on her face though I could see that she was deep in thought. Finally, she said with firm conviction, "I know what I'm doing."

"How can you know that, Bella?" I virtually begged. Right then, I wanted so badly to pluck the answer from her thoughts – while knowing that it was impossible to do so. "Look at my mother, look at my sister. It's not as easy a sacrifice as you imagine."

But she was steadfast in her belief. "Esme and Rosalie get by just fine," she replied. "If it's a problem later, we can do what Esme did – we'll adopt."

I sighed. She really did not understand. It wasn't about us raising a child, it was about us creating a child – a person that was half me and half her.

Foolishly, my imagination began to conjure up visions of a little boy with Bella's chocolate brown hair and green eyes - the color mine had been as a human; or a little girl with bronze ringlets and dark eyes...

I choked off that line of thought violently. Such notions were preposterous and damaging, and beside the point.

What my frustration really boiled down to was that the inability to bear a child was yet one more thing Bella would give up for me, so that we would always be together.

My features twisted, displaying my internal discord, and I spoke fiercely, "It's not right! I don't want you to have to make sacrifices for me. I want to give you things, not take things away from you." A growl built inside my chest, fueling my words with agitation. "I don't want to steal your future. If I were human –"

She put her hand over my mouth, stopping my bitter outburst in its tracks. Then she took my face between her small hands, gripping with surprising strength, and gazed relentlessly into my eyes. "You are my future."

Focusing on Bella's heart-shaped face, her brilliant red eyes wide with concern as she stares at me, waiting for a response, I return to the present moment.

I ask, incredulous, while the syllables issue from my mouth with slow precision, "You decided to keep Renesmee because you thought I wanted you to?"

"Not exactly." Bella fidgets a little under my stare, and then lays back down across my body, hiding her face in the curve of my shoulder. "I guess I didn't realize how...important it was to have a baby – your baby – until it actually happened. Even though I was scared stiff because I knew it wasn't normal, and because you were so upset, I still wanted her." She shrugs a little, concluding, "I think I was irrational, too, what with all the crying and the weird dreams and stuff. Probably from the crazy pregnancy hormones."

I tighten my hold around her, troubled by a fragment of her answer. "I'm sorry," I whisper roughly, touching my lips to the crown of her head. "I never meant to frighten you."

"It was more your reaction than you." She adjusts her position, folding her arms above my ribcage and resting her chin atop them so that she can see my eyes. Then she says lovingly, but with a steely layer of resolve underlying her tone, "That's all behind us now. We can't change it. What matters is that we're here, right now, together – and we have Renesmee, too." She jabs her forefinger into my chest, poking me with every word as she commands, "No more angst from you, Mr. Cullen. It's not allowed in my house."

Mr. Cullen. That's a new one. I raise an eyebrow at her, a wickedly amused smirk appearing on my face. "Is that so, Mrs. Cullen?" I challenge. My hands grasp her around the waist, and she squeals in surprise as I roll our bodies, effectively switching our positions so that she is one pinned to the mattress.

A playful growl slips out between my lips as I nuzzle my face against the base of her throat, my nose skimming over her sweet-smelling skin, and Bella lets out a low, throaty sound, almost like a purr. I discover that I like the noise nearly as much as hearing her say my name.

While I begin to devise a number of ways to elicit that response from her again, I brush my lips against her earlobe, informing her in a warm, velvet whisper, "Well, I suppose I'll have to remind you what is allowed in our house." And I set out to accomplish just that.

At some point, we begin to notice that the night is drawing to a close. I can smell the approaching sunrise – a trait of any primarily nocturnal creature – and the glass-smooth surface of the garden pond lightens from ink black to ash gray. A lark, heralding the arrival of the sun, trills merrily from among the blossoming roses.

When her bright tune ends, Bella asks, her fingertips outlining the shape of my mouth, "Do you miss it?"

"Miss what?" I reply softly, relishing the feel of her caresses.

"All of it – the warmth, the soft skin, the tasty smell..." Her fingers glide over my jaw and thread into the shorter hair at the nape of my neck. She pulls herself closer – which hardly seems possible, but I am not about to complain – and says, "I'm not losing anything at all, and I just wondered if it was a little bit sad for you that you were."

I laugh gently under my breath. Sad? I cannot even envision the emotion from within the cloud of sheer bliss saturating my whole being. "It would be hard to find someone less sad than I am now. Impossible, I'd venture," I tell her in a soft murmur, rubbing my nose with hers. "Not many people get every single thing they want, plus all the things they didn't think to ask for, in the same day."

She pulls away a few centimeters, looking at me with critical eyes, and demands, "Are you avoiding the question?"

Sliding my palm from her waist, I reach up to press it against her cheek. She leans into my hand automatically as I declare in a husky, tender voice, "You are warm." Bella seems to agree, nodding her head the tiniest bit. I allow my fingers to drift very slowly down her jaw, following the graceful arc of her throat to the swell of her breast, along the velvet skin on her abdomen, until my hand returns to its place on her waist. Her eyelids flutter as she takes in a trembling breath of unneeded air. "You are soft," I comment in the same tone, briefly closing my eyes to preserve this moment forever in my perfect memory.

"And as for the scent," I chuckle once, very quietly, and open my eyes. "Well, I couldn't say I missed that."
In truth, the only aspect missing from Bella's one-of-a-kind aroma is the warmth of her blood, which would trigger my basest instinct to sink my teeth into her throat and drink my fill.
I know Bella felt the burning scorch of thirst when she smelled the humans in the forest. Perhaps she is ready to fully grasp what it cost to be with her while she was still a dangerous temptation to the vampire in me – and just how much of a masochist I really am.

"Do you remember the scent of those hikers on our hunt?" I question her, still smiling while being completely candid.

Her nose wrinkles in distaste. "I've been trying very hard not to," she admits with a grumble.

I purse my lips, tilting my head to the side as I remember my chosen form of self-abuse – though I would never trade any of it for the world. "Imagine kissing that."

Bella's eyes grow huge in shocked recognition. She swallows hard, almost as if her throat can still feel the searing ache, and exhales heavily, "Oh."

"Precisely," I confirm. Then I lift my hand and braid my fingers into her tousled dark hair. "So the answer is no." My other hand leaves her waist to cup her cheek, my thumb stroking the edge of her jaw. "I am purely full of joy, because I am missing nothing," I assure her tenderly, guiding her face towards mine. Her scarlet irises glow with ardent anticipation as I murmur, "No one has more than I do now."

Our lips meet in a soft, lingering kiss and we meld into one another as the lark bursts into song once again.

The sky has turned a lustrous, washed-out pearl color with the dawn when Bella, lying perpendicular beside me on the bed, lolls her head to the side on my stomach to look at me. "How long does this go on?" she asks in wonderment. "I mean, Carlisle and Esme, Em and Rose, Alice and Jasper – they don't spend all day locked in their rooms." I smile widely, certain that I can predict where she is heading with her query. "They're out in public," she goes on, almost disbelieving, "fully clothed, all the time." Wriggling across the limited space between us, Bella rearranges herself along the length of my body and I open my arms, welcoming her back into my embrace. "Does this..." she curls into me, entangling her slender legs with mine, "craving ever let up?"

I consider her question for a few seconds, clearing a lock of glossy brown hair from her cheek, and then remark thoughtfully, "That's difficult to say. Everyone is different and, well, so far you're the very most different of all." With a smile, I place a gentle kiss on her forehead. "The average young vampire is too obsessed with thirst to notice much else for a while. That doesn't seem to apply to you."

For a brief instant, my father's hypothesis in regard to Bella's gift crosses my mind as I utter those words.

In truth, I am more inclined to believe that her extraordinary ability to control her natural impulses is born from the foreknowledge she gained from our family and myself. Furthermore, since her thoughts are still veiled from my talent, I would hazard a guess that if Bella exhibits any skill beyond the norm for an average vampire, it will stem from her mysterious mind.

Resuming where I left off in my answer, I tell her, "With the average vampire, though, after that first year, other needs make themselves known. Neither thirst nor any other desire really ever fades. It's simply a matter of learning to balance them, learning to prioritize and manage..." I trail off, thoroughly distracted by Bella's adorable glower, which I catch a glimpse of right before she leans forward to press feather-light butterfly kisses on the tip of my nose, my cheeks, and my eyelids.

She pauses at the corner of my mouth – and suddenly withdraws several inches, a tantalizingly smug grin on her face. I suppress a sigh, chastising her with a half-hearted frown. I suppose I deserve to endure a little unfair temptation after all the times I succeeded in purposefully diverting her attention with a glance, a kiss, or a touch.

"How long?" she asks again, raising her eyebrows in expectation.

I smile crookedly, wrinkling my nose a bit as I recall, "Rosalie and Emmett were the worst." Which is putting it very mildly, in my personal opinion. Rolling my eyes, I explain, "It took a solid decade before I could stand to be within a five-mile radius of them. Even Carlisle and Esme had a difficult time stomaching it." I still have to put up with their thoughts, however – and it has not become any easier to bear even after seven and a half decades. Especially Emmett; he may have a less complicated mind than most, straightforward and reliable, but he has an extremely vivid awareness.

"They kicked the happy couple out eventually. Esme built them a house, too." I wave a hand absently at the four walls enclosing Bella and I in this small haven of paradise. "It was grander than this one, but then, Esme knows what Rose likes, and she knows what you like."

"So, after ten years, then?" Bella snuggles closer, looping her arms around my neck. My skin tingles pleasantly in response to the sensation of her body pressing against mine, but at the same time I am pondering the slight inflection in her tone. She sounds almost skeptical. About what, I am not certain. "Everybody is normal again? Like they are now?"

My lips part over my teeth as I give her a broad, gleaming smile. "Well, I'm not sure what you mean by normal," I reply mischievously. "You've seen my family going about life in a fairly human way, but you've been sleeping nights." I toss her a cheeky wink, and her shoulders tremble in a silent giggle. "There's a tremendous amount of time left over when you don't have to sleep. It makes balancing your...interests quite easy. There's a reason why I'm the best musician in the family, why – besides Carlisle – I've read the most books, studied the most sciences, become fluent in the most languages..."

I used to think that my immortality would forever be limited to filling my expandable intellect with seemingly useless knowledge, if only to spare myself from the hellish monotony of my existence.

And yet, those ostensibly unending years of sequential self-torment eventually led my family to a small, cloud-shrouded town on the Olympic Peninsula, whereupon my fate became permanently linked with the one girl whose mind was hidden from me, whose blood sang to me with alluring sweetness, and who would one day possess my heart for all eternity.

Slanting my mouth sideways into a smirk, I mention with casual leniency, "Emmett would have you believe that I'm such a know-it-all because of the mind reading, but the truth is that I've just had a lot of free time."

We laugh together – a chorus of bells ringing throughout the room – until we both notice the slight friction between our joined bodies, initiated by the vibrations of our laughter.

The sun's first golden rays fan out over the horizon, igniting the pearl gray sky with streaks of brilliant topaz as Bella and I continue to celebrate her birthday, our love, and our life together in the most spectacular manner imaginable.

She had told me earlier that today is the first and last day of forever.

And it is the best day of my life.