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A Litany at Dusk

Summary:
Thanks to hellacullen for the awesome banner! Edward’s rebellious period wasn't just a few years; it lasted seventy. Having spent his years hunting on the edges of society, he rejoins his family in Forks ready to abstain when he runs acorss a young woman praying. Can a choice be made between one's desires, one's heart and one's soul? Will Edward be willing to fight for her instead of fighting against her? A/U a bit OOC, rated for lemons and adult content, some violence


Notes:
Thanks to PTB for their assistance and to hellacullen, who is the wind beneath my wings! Her consistent and intelligent commentary, suggestions and cheerleading were incredible and I wish everyone a beta like hellacullen. I own nothing of Twilight. Let's see who could be the owner? Possibly SM?


27. Chapter 27 1743

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6252   Review this Chapter

Bella

The wide, calm waters of Horseshoe Bay flashed by the car window, interspersed with stands of trees. “You’re different from the rest of your family,” I said. “You’ve been moving around while they’ve been staying put. Your eyes are different than theirs, too. Why is that?”

Edward’s face got very serious, and he shifted his hands on the steering wheel. “There is more I have to tell you, Bella,” he said. “A lot more.”

“All right.” I tried to keep my voice calm, but my heart had jumped into my throat. I put my hands in my lap where it would be hard to see if they trembled.

Unconsciously, he ran his hand through his hair and then looked over at me appraisingly. I could sense his sudden indecision. The time, though, for being mysterious and coy had passed. I raised my chin, ignoring the sudden clenching of my stomach. “You need to tell me the truth, Edward. All of it. No matter what it is.”

I tried to keep my breathing steady and my heart rate down, but something told me I wasn’t going to like what he told me.

Edward looked out his window for a moment as the trees flashed past. “As you’ve been told, my family lives on the blood of animals. They hunt and live off of wild game. They’re the exceptions among our kind.” He looked over and tried unsuccessfully to smile, but the pain and concern in his eyes overshadowed it. “They call themselves vegetarians, because of their diet.”

“Vegetarians?” I asked, trying to understand.

“In this case, it means they are abstaining from the usual diet for vampires.”

The usual diet for vampires. He means humans. My stomach jumped again, but I swallowed hard and tried to keep my expression neutral.

He opened his window a bit wider, and the breeze ruffled his hair. “Do you remember when we were stargazing, and you asked me what it was I did?”

“You said you were like a private investigator or something,” I said, trying to remember how he had worded it.

“I told you I was in crime prevention.” He looked at me and I nodded with recognition. “Those men that attacked you? Remember when I told you that you didn’t have to worry about them again?”

I remembered something like that. My mind worked on that for a moment. I didn’t need to worry about them because… Oh, Sweet Jesus. I knew it. I knew it back then, but I had shut my eyes because I hadn’t wanted to know. “You killed them,” I whispered looking down at my feet. I could feel the blood leave my face.

“Yes.” His voice seemed to come from a long tunnel.

My eyes seemed glued to my feet. I couldn’t look at him. “You drank their blood.”

“Yes.” He said this even softer.

My stomach lurched, violently this time−once, then again. I grabbed the dashboard with one hand. “Pull the car over,” I said through clenched teeth, willing myself not to puke on his leather upholstery.

“Bella, I−“

“Do it,” I gasped, my hand on the door handle.

Quickly, he pulled the car over to the road’s shoulder, and I had the door open before it had come to a complete stop. I jumped out of the car and took a few steps towards the tree line, then bent over with my hands on my knees and my head down, inhaling and exhaling through my nose.

I was better outside the confines of the car. I concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply and the nausea started to fade. I heard the door on his side of the car open and shut and soon saw his boots come into my line of sight as I stayed bent over.

“So you’re not a ‘vegetarian’ like them?” I asked, not raising my head, nearly panting.

“There’s been times in the past when I was, and I want to be like that again,” he said.

I took a few more slow breaths and stood up to meet his eyes. “What’s stopping you??”

“It’s not that easy,” he said, frowning.

“Your family does it.” It came out accusingly, but that's not how I meant it. He couldn't read my mind, though.

I wasn’t prepared for his reaction. Instantly, he was in front of me, his hands on my shoulders, and the scowl on his face as threatening as a thundercloud. “Do you think I choose to live this way?” he hissed. “That I like it?”

“I don’t−I don’t know…” His hands were squeezing my arms painfully.

“Do you have any idea what my life has been like?” His eyes glittered; his eyebrows drew together fiercely. “I’ve had a front row seat to the darkest human depravity. Constantly moving, finding the worst of the predators−“

“Oww,” I whimpered under the force of his grasp; his hands were nearly lifting me off my feet.

His eyebrows rose in surprise as his hands released me. I would have collapsed to the ground had he not caught me by the waist. His face twisted in horror.

“Bella−did I hurt you? Oh, my God. I’m so sorry.” His eyes searched me like a mother dog will nose its puppy to check on its wellbeing.

He held me gently this time, his knees bent, so our faces were nearly level. There was that scent of his again-so clean, so sweet yet so masculine. My heart twisted with the remembrance of how his lips had felt on mine. I was filled with churning emotions, and I fought for control. “No, I’m okay,” I mumbled. Well, actually, I was far from okay, but for the moment I was in one piece. The same gently curved lips that had kissed me with such tenderness had pulled the blood from a−I couldn’t even finish the thought. Love and horror were not meant to co-exist side-by-side; it was way too confusing. I put a hand on his chest and gently pushed. His arms reluctantly released me.

He turned, faced into the woods and shook his head in frustration. “Despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to stop myself from hurting you. You are bringing something out in me that I don’t know how to deal with.” He turned to face me, and his eyes were shadowed with vulnerability. “It’s like you have something I never knew I wanted, and now I can’t live without.” He moved a step closer. “I know now, that with you, things can change for me. “

I looked up into his dark eyes, while my heart and my mind warred within me. How could he be so beautiful and live on such…? I shivered with repugnance. The thought of drinking warm, thick blood was totally grossing me out. I couldn’t even stand the smell of blood.

But something else was bothering me, too–a sense of justice. Could I throw out years of being a cop’s daughter, having the ideals of criminal justice pounded into me? The skeptic in me knew how many murderers and rapists never saw a day behind bars. There was something very appealing about the idea of him meting out justice, particularly in the case of those who had attacked me, but I had to dismiss it. Vigilantism was never right. Besides, I was a Christian now; I should be forgiving those who had acted against me, rather than cheering their murders. But despite my horror at how they had been dispatched, some small part of me celebrated that they were gone.

I really was the worst kind of Christian. “I think you should take me back to the house now,” I said, my eyes on the ground.

“Of course,” he said stiffly and stepped back to the hold the car’s passenger door open. I got back in the car, as did he, and he pulled the car back out onto the highway.

We'd gone a few miles when he started talking softly, keeping his eyes to the road. “I stayed with my family for years when I was first made. It was Carlisle, Esme and I at first. Rosalie and Emmett joined us a few years later. Following Carlisle’s example, we all lived as he did. Carlisle’s compassion is just, well, staggering. But the time came when I couldn’t stay with them any longer. They were all paired up, and every day I could hear their..." He ran a hand through his hair. "It got too hard to stay with them. And as I traveled, I heard the thoughts of the evil.”

I couldn’t say anything. I held onto the door handle and stared at my lap.

“I couldn’t just stand by and watch the innocent preyed on like sacrificial lambs. Where was God when a grandmother was knifed by a thug for twenty dollars? Where was He when a baby was burned by lit cigarettes as an amusing experiment? Or an eight year old raped by gangs?" His face was tight, and his eyes burned as he shook his head. I was reminded of how he had looked when he had rescued me-the same intensity and barely controlled savagery. "There is way too much injustice in this world for God to be claiming His eye is on the sparrow. If I'd been made into a predator, then I would take it and make it into something worthwhile.”

He glanced at me briefly, but I was still mute with shock. He clenched the steering wheel tighter. “But I was wrong. Violence is violence, no matter how you dress it up as justice. And even the perpetrator is changed by it. I knew it was time to stop when it got too easy.”

The feeling of watching myself from a great distance had returned. Still I replied, and my voice rang in my ears like the echo of faraway church bells. “Too easy?”

“Too easy to kill,” he answered. “Too easy to take vengeance for another senseless murder. To dispatch another soul without so much as a fare-thee-well.” He took the turn off the highway. "And it was changing me," he added softly. "Changing me in ways I didn't like. In ways that started to seem permanent." He grimaced like he had tasted something sour. “And I realized it was ultimately ineffectual, like trying to empty the ocean with a Dixie cup. I can’t save humanity from themselves.”

“Only God can do that,” I murmured, and then winced at my own sanctimony. It rang false against the pain he was expressing. Clichéd platitudes seemed an insufficient answer to the dilemma of the soul he was wrestling, but I was way beyond my depth here.

He scowled. “Well, He better get started soon, because I am resigning. I am ready to let go. I surrender before the wave of evil. It was too much for me to hold back.”

I don't know why, but I needed the number. “How many?” I asked, my eyes on his face.

He glanced at me, and took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly. “One thousand seven hundred forty-two, no, forty-three.”

“Oh, my God,” I cried softly, raising my hand to my mouth. So many. He turned the car into the driveway.

Edward started talking faster. “I know, Bella, I know. I was happy to be the avenging angel for a while, but I can’t take it any longer. I don’t want to live like this−running from place to place, covering my tracks, only connecting with the worst. I want to settle down, find some peace, find some love.”

My lips echoed his words silently. “Find some love.”

“There’s never been anybody like you. Nothing I have ever felt compares to it.” He turned the key off and the engine fell silent. We were parked in the drive, his house in front of us. Behind the house, a wide lawn led down to a dock that stretched into the placid bay, the silver water reflecting the grey sky. “I know you feel it, too.” He reached for my hand but I pulled it away.

In an instant, he was out of his door, and I heard him opening mine. I couldn’t meet his eyes. One Thousand Seven Hundred and Forty-Three. That was twenty times the size of my graduating class in Forks. It was twice what it would have been in Phoenix. I swung my legs out of the car and stood up.

“You feel it too, don’t you, Bella?” The pain and the uncertainty in his voice compelled me to raise my eyes to his face. His eyes searched mine. “Bella?” Genuine fear crossed his face and it was like catching someone naked when you walked unexpectedly into a room. That flash of vulnerability, the almost painful baring of something usually kept private.

Standing so close to him, the physical pull of his body called to me again; it was like some weapon that he could use that made me want to forget everything he’d just told me. I dropped my eyes away from his, knowing I could be stronger if I didn’t have to see the pain and the longing in them. I took a step away from him shaking my head. It was time to get everything out on the table.

“So, let me get this straight. You’re a vampire.” I started laughing because that sounded so surrealistic coming out of my mouth. The laughter had a slight tinge of hysteria to it that even I recognized. I was getting perilously close to another edge of some kind. I could feel a slight trace of dizziness again, and I willed it away from me. “You’ve been killing people.” He took a step toward me, and I held my hand up. “I know, it was the worst kind of people. I get that. My father’s a cop. I appreciate what you’ve been doing.” I shook my head in disbelief. “Heck, you saved me. I wasn’t too picky about how you were going about it.”

I took a deep breath. “But you want to stop. And you want us to…” I raised my eyebrows, indicating he could jump in, but he stood there, watching me. “You want me to be your girlfriend,” I said.

He took a step towards me. “More,” he whispered back.

I swallowed hard. “More?”

Before I could move, he had me in his arms. One hand was behind my back, pulling me close to him, the other stroked my cheek softly. “I told you−everything. I want everything from you.” I could barely breathe with his nearness; it gripped me like an undertow and pulled me deeper under his fascination. His hand moved to caress my hair. “Let me show you the Serengeti, Bella. I can show you corners of the worlds where man has never stepped, and the animals greet you like friends. We can watch the cities glitter in the night as we sit perched on impossible heights.” His eyes practically flared with his need. “Join me, Bella.”

The need to surrender to whatever he wanted, to say yes, to throw my arms around his neck warred with the practical side of mind. But it was as he pulled me closer that I became aware of the cool chain of my cross necklace around my neck, anchoring me to the world I knew. It meant order and rules, not the dark abyss of the unknown that stretched before me. I stared at the collar of his shirt. “You want me to…”

“Become one of us," he whispered. "You’ll never get old and never be ill. We’ll live like my family does. You can attend the best colleges−“He stopped abruptly, when I started shaking my head violently.

"I don't believe it. You'd turn me into a vampire, too?" I asked, shocked and incredulous.

"If I could turn back into a young man for you, Bella, I would,” he said, his eyes intense and burning. “Even if it was for only a year, a month, a day with you. But I can't. I can only ask if you’ll join me."

My eyes started to inexplicably fill with tears. “It’s too fast,” I gasped. “It’s too much.” I took a step backwards out of his arms. His eyes filled with a kind of horror. I couldn’t stay and watch it.

I backed up another step. Tears started rolling down my face, and I was panting with the pent-up emotions that were churning through me. “I-I-I have to think. I have to think,” I cried. I whirled around and started running.

Blindly, I ran past the house, across the wide expanse of lawn. The tears were hot on my face, and they blurred my vision. My steps made dull thudding sounds on the boards of the dock at the edge of the water as I ran down its length to teeter at the edge of it, the waves below me gently lapping at the dock posts. I saw my shadow on the water, and I closed my eyes against it, while the tears ran down my cheeks.

Jesus, help me, I prayed. What do I do? What do I do? I felt like I was being torn into pieces. One thousand seven hundred and forty-three. I could see the number floating in my mind like a billboard sign. But then I stopped, frozen. One. The count for me. One child, one innocent. I thought back to what I’d heard Father Brian tell Edward in the diner. “Actions taken to protect the public good are allowed. It’s premeditated killing or the killing of innocents that is the mortal sin.”

My hands were the bloody ones, weren’t they? “Oh, God,” I cried out loud. My words echoed across the placid water. “I can’t stand this. I can’t take it anymore.” Startled, two ducks who had been floating on the surface took wing and started rising, heading for the other shore. “Stop it!” I screamed at the sky, my fists clenched. “How much more do I have to pay? How much?”

What kind of choice was this? I meet and fall in love with the most beautiful, ethereal man, and he is not a man at all. And as incredible as it was, with so much blood on his hands, mine were worse. I collapsed on the dock, sobbing as if my heart was breaking. And it was.

***

It was sometime later that the sun came out from behind the clouds. I could feel its warmth beating down on my back and arms as I hugged my knees to me. I moved back to the large maple tree that stood like a sentinel on the lawn, its branches providing a canopy and its rough trunk serving as my backrest.

I must have been out there for hours, trying to sort out what I was feeling, what I was thinking, what Edward must be thinking and feeling. I wished for Father Brian’s practical advice, and I spent a lot of time praying for some kind of guidance. Time, I decided. Time to think, to pray, to take this one step at a time.

It was dusk and the sky had taken on a golden glow when I saw Edward stride past me, and walk out to the edge of the water. He sat down and arranged himself with legs crossed and hands on his knees. The rays of the sun hit him, and he began to shimmer in the light. The effect was breathtaking. Sitting in the golden light, cross legged like a Buddha, he looked more than angelic; the effect was god-like.

He sat there absolutely motionless, facing the water, his back to me. Curiosity finally pulled me out away from my leafy sanctuary, and I approached him from an oblique angle so I could see his face. His eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. He was reciting a list of names, and he spoke each one clearly and distinctly, with pauses between them like he was reading the names at a military memorial.

Aaron Ebert

Abraham Fletcher

Abdu’l Baha

Abel Schunberger

Ace Boisvert

Adam Torrent

Aidan MacDonald

Alan Rickman

Alexander Skarsgard

Alistair Cross

Albert LaRouche

Alfred Fehrman

Andre Levinson

Andrew Bellefleur

Andrew Stanton

Anthony Vicarelli

Antonio Piscarro”

Antwoine Reed

I stood there and listened, mesmerized as he continued on. His victims, I realized. It’s some kind of memorial.Why would he remember all their names?

Because their deaths mean something to him, my heart whispered. He mourns them. Even though he supplied their deaths, he lets himself feel their loss.

It had been something I had never allowed myself to do. I’d never been able to cry for the baby that had been taken from me, the baby that would have been Jake’s child. I remembered the daydreams I’d had when I’d first suspected I was pregnant. In them, there had always been a round, brown baby with flashing dark eyes and a wide toothless smile. But I had walked into the Women’s Clinic, because I’d thought at eighteen years old and in high school, I had no business having a child. So although I’d cried with guilt and with shame, and even for the loss of a future motherhood, I had never cried for the loss of the child I would never know. I’d felt too responsible and so I felt like I was not allowed to grieve.

But as I listened to Edward and the spoken names as they flowed in a river of lost humanity, I sunk to the ground and with my face buried in my arms, I let the tears start to flow for Baby Swan-the child I could not raise, but a child I could begin to mourn.

He was into the G’s when I withdrew and went back to the house. In the gentle gloaming, the night was creeping up, and but I could see the electricity must have been turned on in the house. Several downstairs windows were filled with a golden light, and I headed for the back door, which connected to the kitchen.

Inside the kitchen, some food was piled on the counters. Edward must have hit a store while I was out by the dock. I wandered through the rooms, drained by all the passions of the last few days, feeling gratefully numb after all the rollercoaster of emotions. I was struck by the seeming normalcy of the house. It seemed like any other vacation home, where the owners had been away for a while. I found the library, or what would be the home office, and I browsed the bookshelves, while I practiced what I was going to say. I sounded so calm and reasonable in my own mind. I’m glad you want to turn a new leaf, and I’ll support that any way I can. But this has all happened so fast. Let us take things slow, and we’ll see where the Lord leads us.

The sky had darkened to a midnight blue, and I could see the fireflies blinking on the lawn behind the house, dancing in random ecstasies, when I saw Edward’s figure striding back towards the house. I met him in the kitchen, as the screen door thumped closed behind him.

He came in the room almost sheepishly, his hair mussed every which way. Even now, after I knew what he was, his beauty hit me like a sledgehammer. The classic planes of his face, the strong jaw and cheekbones, the lean lines of his body dressed in a simple shirt and low slung jeans were so masculine in an ethereal way. He watched me as he leaned casually against the kitchen counter. I’d been naïve to call him an angel, but I couldn’t deny the ineffable attraction he held for me.

“I found the food,” I said stiffly. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” he said, brushing my thanks off. “I’ve put some toiletries in the bathroom, and there’s a nightgown on your bed.”

“Thank you,” I said again.

He scratched at a spot on the counter with a fingernail. “We should head back tomorrow. I don’t like that I wasn’t able to get a hold of my family, but with my cell phone out, I don’t have their numbers. We’ll try again when we’re on the road.” He looked at me, with such an expression of sadness on his face. His eyes didn’t look as strange this evening. They just seemed dark, almost black, rather than the otherworldly, red-tinted ones of last night.

“All right.” I took a sip of the milk I’d poured for myself. “You…shimmer. In the sun.”

“Ah yes, the glitter factor,” he said ruefully. “It’s what keeps us out of the sun.”

“It’s actually quite beautiful,” I said, looking at my milk. “I heard the names.” I admitted.

“I heard you cry,” he replied softly.

“It seems like it’s becoming a regular occurrence with me. I am not usually so…emotional.”

He said nothing, just watched me.

“You know I was thinking that when we get back, maybe we could go to my church and−“

He interrupted me gently. “We can’t, Bella.”

“Well, I know you’re not into the whole religion thing, but if you would come and talk with Father Bryan−“

“That’s not it, Bella,” he said almost tenderly like he was talking to a child. “I can’t be with you; it’s too dangerous.”

“Well, there is that−the whole secrecy thing. But I know it all now, right? I won’t tell anyone. And I’ll talk to Jake and make him promise not to hurt you.”

He smiled crookedly at that. “It’s not that either.” He took a step towards me, so gracefully and smooth, like the liquid motion of a jungle cat. “It’s you. Your scent, your beating heart, the warmth that envelopes you. When I told you this morning at breakfast how good you smelled, I wasn’t falsely exaggerating. It’s becoming too risky for me to be around you. It’s a struggle even now.”

I stopped in shock. His eyes really were black now. A deep, impenetrable, insatiable black. “But before, you said when you were having trouble, you could take precautions.”

“The precautions meant somebody died. Animals won’t do it, I’m afraid. The way you smell right now,” he said, inhaling and closing his eyes, “it's like ecstasy and joy wrapped together.”

I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat. “Somebody died? You mean you had to off somebody to stand my smell?”

“It creates painful reactions in me, and it’s getting worse. It will soon be impossible to be around you.” He started to pace the length of the kitchen with long graceful strides. His turns at the edges of the pacing became faster and faster, almost too fast to follow. “You wouldn’t ask an addict to stay in a room full of loaded needles. How can I be with you, when how you would taste becomes all I can think about?

“I can’t let you kill people just to be around me. It’s a sin, Edward, a mortal sin.”

He stopped his pacing. “I know that, Bella,” he said, exasperation crossing his face.

“But animals-can’t you just hunt like your family?”

He shook his head. “I’ve tried that. For your scent, they won’t do.”

We stared at each other, separated by only six feet of kitchen floor, but it felt like six light years. “So you’re saying tomorrow is our last day together? You won’t be able to see me again?”

He stopped pacing and glared at me. “Yes! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” He took another step toward me, and I took a step back until I felt the kitchen counter. “You want to know why I don’t worship God. This is why,” he said disdainfully. “This is his idea of a joke, that’s why. To show me a tantalizing vision of what could be and then to snatch it away from me.” He turned and put his hands on the table, slumping over them. “It’s dirty and it’s unfair,” he said bitterly.

I turned and strode to the archway that led to the dining room. He wasn’t the only one getting ticked off at the way things were working out. I whirled and shouted. “Damn you!” I cried, throwing the heavy glass at him. He easily batted it out of the way, and it rolled across the floor. "You waited until I'd fallen in love with you to tell me the truth?"

His surprise was palpable. "I wanted to tell you. You don’t know how many times I tried to tell you."

"But you couldn't, because?” I asked with my hands on my hips. I could feel my bottom lip was trembling, with anger or fear or sadness. I couldn’t tell which or maybe all three.

"It would put your life in danger to know the truth. I didn’t want to tell you until I was sure..." He trailed off uncertainly.

"Until you were sure of what? That I'd sleep with you knowing you were a−?" I still couldn't say it easily.

He sat down in one of the kitchen table chairs and put his head in his hands. He wouldn’t even look me in the eye to say it. "Until I was sure that you would join me."

My heart dropped into my shoes. "That's really what you want?"

"More than anything," he whispered. "More than life, more than death."

Still the skeptic in me woke up. I must be one in a long line of partners for this creature. "I suppose there have been others, right? Other girls you seduced and then made them ...vampire."

He looked up and stared into my eyes. "Never!" he said sternly. "You were the only one"

"Sure," I scoffed. "A hundred years old and I'm the only one--"

"You were!" he hissed at me. "You are!" He crossed the room in a flash and glowered in front of me. I saw his hands flex once and knew he wanted to grab me again, but held himself back. "There has never been anybody that I asked or even wanted the way I want you." He glared into my eyes. "Nobody. Only you."

A strange light came into his eyes, and a spasm of anger crossed his face. “And you?” he asked. “Was our night together nothing for you? Just another Catholic girl thumbing her nose at the rules?”

I gasped in outrage. “How dare you! It meant everything to me. Do you think I give myself like that to anyone?”

“It didn’t take much to lead you into bed,” he said suspiciously.

“Why, you son of a bitch!” I fumed at his audacity. “Do you honestly believe that if it had been anyone but you that I’d have even invited them in? That after the most incredible night of my life−" Suddenly, the anger I’d been feeling left me in a rush. “A night I will never have again,” I said, my voice unexpectedly trembling.

“Arrrggghh!” he yelled, striding into the dining room. He picked up the heavy wooden table like it was Styrofoam and dashed it against the wall. It hit with a tremendous thunk, and the chairs around it went crashing every which way. He turned and faced me. “It doesn’t have to be that way!”

I was stunned by the show of strength. “I can’t,” I cried, gasping. “I just can’t.” I whirled and ran upstairs. I stopped for a moment at the door, surprised by the sound of the front door opening and closing. From outside, there came a cry of anguish so heartrending, so harrowing, I couldn’t listen to it. I slammed the door shut, collapsed onto the bed and pulled the pillow over my head. More tears, more useless tears that made my nose run and my head ache. I couldn’t see any way out of the quandary I had gotten into.

Dear God. It’s me, Bella. The soul mate You sent me? He’s a vampire. and he wants me to become one too. Is it okay with You if I decide never to show up in Heaven? I don’t think this is the eternal life You were talking about? I started laughing through my tears.

A couple hours later, I sat restlessly in 'my' bedroom, torn with doubt. Having cried myself out, I’d found a white cotton nightgown on the edge of the bed. I’d taken a shower and sat by the fire I’d built combing my hair. But something refused to let me stay content with my decision. Something inside me was prodding me, and it wouldn’t let me stay where I was.

On bare feet, I padded out to the bathroom. The door to the master bedroom was open, and I could see an orange glow filling the room. Inexplicably and undeniably drawn, I found myself taking a step into the room and sidling along the wall, so that I could see around the half-opened door. Just like my bedroom, this had a hearth in it and a low fire burned it, the coals glowing red.

Edward sat in a chair, holding open an album. Such inestimable sadness was on his face, the same empty hole I was feeling in my chest. He watched as I slid along the wall, and when I said nothing, his face changed to curious.

When mercury is splattered, the drops will gather together again once in close proximity. I didn’t know what the force is called that pulls them together, but I felt it as I looked at Edward. For all the doubts and fears I had, they all seemed to evaporate as we looked into each other’s eyes. I opened my mouth to say something, but words had abandoned me.

Edward made one move in his chair, a quick, uncertain gesture. When I remained still, he appeared in front of me, and I threw my arms around him. Kissing me furiously, he pushed me back against the wall. “Nothing,” I said, gasping between the kisses I was laying on his cheeks, his jaw, his neck, anywhere I could reach. “This changes nothing.”

He paused his ravishing of my face and lips just long enough to speak. “I don’t care,” he said. “Give me tonight. Forever can take care of itself.” He grabbed my face between his hands, and together we searched for the release only found in the other. He pulled my nightgown off over my head, tossing it behind him, and it went billowing across the room like a schooner under sail until it collapsed in a heap in the rug.

Then there was only the crackling of the fire, laying an erratic soundtrack to the murmurs and gasps as we made love that felt like it had to last us an eternity. As his silken hands trailed fire across my skin, I tried to fix every last sensation in my head. We kissed and whispered as I tried to drink in every image of him, and it was only at the last as we came together that I allowed myself to close my eyes, knowing what I had tonight was going to have to last me the rest of my life.

Tangled in the sheets on Edward’s bed, resting my head on his cool chest, I was nearly asleep with satiation when Edward jumped out of bed and pulled his pants on. I sat up groggily.

“My sister is here,” he said, quickly buttoning his shirt. I barely had time to wrap the blankets around me when Alice Cullen appeared in the room, followed quickly by Jasper, her boyfriend that I recognized from high school.

They hadn’t changed at all, and as I looked at them with knowing eyes, I wondered how everyone in Forks had so easily swallowed the fiction they had been presented with. Blushing as I pulled the sheet around me, I was very aware of Jasper’s eyes on me.

“Hi, Bella,” Alice greeted me.

Jasper nodded in acknowledgement. “Bella.” He and Edward exchanged glances, and Jasper’s mouth curved into a small smile as he looked down.

“Hello,” I answered cautiously, feeling my cheeks burn and sure I was blushing furiously.

“What is it?” Edward asked Alice. “The wolves?”

Alice glanced at Edward but addressed me. “We need you to come back to Forks with us, right away,” she explained apologetically.

“Why? What’s going on?” I asked, glancing from face to face, suddenly aware I was in a room with three vampires dressed in nothing but a bed sheet.

“The Quileutes are worried about you. They’re saying if we don’t bring you to the treaty line by midnight, alive and unharmed, they’re going to start a war.”

“What do they want with me?” I asked, frightened.

Alice shook her head kindly. “They just want to make sure you’re okay, that we haven’t harmed you.” She looked at Edward, and some unspoken conversation passed between them.

“We need to do this, Bella,” Edward said gently. “I ask it for the safety of my family. You will not be harmed by them, I swear it.”

“Of course,” I said, nodding. “Let me go get dressed.”

Holding the sheet around me tightly, I grabbed the extra fabric that had trailed on the floor and nearly stumbled out of the room.

“We don’t have much time,” Alice called after me.

Of course not. For eternal creatures, time seemed to be in short supply with them.