I left the room before Carlisle had a chance to reply. Bella sighed and moved into my side as soon as I rejoined her in our bed. She smiled contentedly in my arms and didn't wake, even though I held her, perhaps, a little too close. I wanted no space between us.

I laid with my head propped up so I could watch her throughout the remainder of the night. I was furious. I was livid. There were no words strong enough to describe how I felt, knowing that everything I loved was about to be stolen from me in such a cruel twist of fate. Yet my seething anger was kept imprisoned in my mind alone. My muscles would not assume the tension that might cause Bella discomfort or harm against me.

"Mmmm… Edward…love." Bella whispered in her sleep, as if she somehow felt and appreciated the loving confines that sheltered her from my inner turmoil. I pressed my fingertips lightly to her mouth, so I could feel her breathy words.

I stared at Bella's features while she was relaxed in sleep. I could clearly imagine how she looked as a child, with full cheeks and pig-tails and scraped knees. And I imagined her as I would never see her …with silver in her hair and laughing creases near her eyes earned from a life well-lived.

By the time the morning birds called their salutations to the new day's light, I had come to a very peaceful place in my mind. I would not paint my remaining time with Bella in shades of sadness and self-pity. I wanted to live, and love and enjoy every second that I could.

Bella opened her eyes slowly, her lashes still heavy with dreams. "Good morning," she whispered. I leaned down to kiss her as a response to her greeting.

"You were talking in your sleep," I said, pushing her hair away from her face.

"About what?" Bella stretched her arms over her head, and I was momentarily distracted by the small slice of her stomach that showed when her t-shirt bunched up.

"You said you loved me," I smiled while tracing that pale line of skin with my finger.

"Lies. All lies," Bella teased. Her arms dropped to circle around my neck, and Bella climbed up to lay on top of me. I closed my eyes while she placed tiny kisses along my jaw line. Every single sensation was to be cherished.

"You promised you would play my song for me today," Bella mumbled against my throat.

"I remember," I said, swallowing hard and forcing my adam's apple to move against her mouth. Bella giggled. "Though, I wouldn't oppose to being held captive here, beneath you all day!"

"No way!" Bella shook her head and rolled until she was off the bed. "But you do have to wait for me to shower and get dressed. I want to look pretty."

"You are already the most glorious creature I've ever seen," I said smoothly, rising up on my side. With my elbow planted in the mattress, I propped the side of my head up against with my hand.

"It's not every day a girl gets to hear a song that was written for her! Humor me," Bella chided. She reached to throw a pillow at me, and I caught it and held it in front of my chest while I watched her make her way to the bathroom.

I straightened the bed while Bella showered. And then I left the room for her to get dressed. Bella found me sitting in front of my piano, waiting for her.

"I'm glad I let you have your way," I smiled as she walked up on to me on bare feet. Bella wore a light sundress in shades of blues and greens. The triangle-cut top twisted to tie behind her neck, and the weightless material of the skirt swirled around her legs. Her hair was still wet, and she had brushed it straight. I pushed it aside as she sat next to me, and kissed her cool, bare shoulder. "You look amazing."

"Thanks," she grinned. "It's not fancy. I just felt like being girlie."

"Mmm. I like you girlie." I nodded my head in approval and she pushed her arm into my side playfully. The smell of her freshly showered skin drew me to her, and I turned to cup her face in my hands.

"Edward…" she breathed her warning against my mouth.

"Shh…" I smiled. I barely brushed my lips back and forth against hers, enjoying the tickling sensation.

"Play for me," she whispered. I dropped my hands from her face, and let them fall to the keys in front of me. Without another word, I began to play the melody that my love had designed for the woman at my side.

Bella watched my fingers as I played. I smiled softly and reached for the notes… hopeful and optimistic… wistful and dreamlike. The song wove through her hair and the color of her eyes… it traveled on the bouquet of her scent and it pulsed with the beat of her heart. The endless possibilities I imagined while I composed the piece swirled in the music around us.

When I finished, Bella turned her big brown eyes- swimming with appreciative tears- in my direction. I reached over to pull her across my lap.

"That is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," Bella sighed.

"I love you," I said simply. The music had already more elaborately expressed the same sentiment.

Bella raised a hand to trace my eyebrow, to softly touch my eyelashes, and finally, to rest in the shadowy place just below my bottom lip in the center of my chin. Her eyes shone with adoration.

"I am going to record this for you, so you can listen to it as often as you like."

"You could just play it for me every day," Bella smiled. I ignored her suggestion and leaned in to kiss her softly and sweetly.

"Bella? I want you to be happy."

"I am." Her answering smile lit the room for me.

"Promise me," I swallowed. "That you'll find an excuse every day, to smile like you are smiling now."


I shook the melancholy note away from my voice and pulled her hips a little to hold her closer. With a forced smile I continued.

"I shouldn't be the only person to benefit from such beauty." I touched the tip of her nose with my finger. "Share it with the world. Consider it a public service…"

"Ok. Done," she laughed. "But I have to say… the way you see me is slightly ridiculous."

"Just say you'll try," I urged. I lowered my head, not wanting her to see the seriousness of my request in my eyes. I needed to know that she would be happy when I was gone. I knew my death would cause her pain. But eventually- I wanted her to remember this day and her promise. And I wanted her to find her smile again.

"I will." Bella reached down to press her palm against mine, with our fingers intertwined.

"Let's dance," I suggested suddenly. I stood with her still in my arms, and placed her feet on the floor in the center of the room.

"I would love to," Bella giggled while I twirled her under my arm. "But we don't have any music."

"We'll make our own," I smiled. She stepped into me then. And though the music was only in our hearts, she let me hold her against my chest and she danced with me across the room.

The next two-weeks went by in much the same way. Bella didn't seem to mind spending all of her free time with me, which was perfect, because I couldn't get enough of her. When she was away at work, I took care of business. I made sure that forged documents were in place to ensure that my worldly possessions would be transferred to accounts in her name. And I spent those hours away from her doing the things I knew I would miss. I played my piano, and I ran in the woods with my family. I wrote in my journal, and I listened to my favorite songs.

Still, without a doubt, it was my time with Bella that I knew I would miss the most. A searing chasm tore through my chest, just thinking of having to say goodbye to her. I couldn't fathom causing her pain before it was necessary. And because the only possible cure for the declination of my health was Bella's death- her sacrifice- I decided not to tell her of my impending demise. My future had shifted so drastically, and my body was changing so quickly that Alice couldn't even see when things might happen. In my mind, it was better to stave off the pain I would be causing… spending my time, instead, loving Bella so fully that she would not forget the moments we shared.

I was afraid of running with Bella on my back, so we took to sharing morning strolls on my property. We held hands and walked through the tall grass at a human pace. Bella collected wildflowers for the vase on our table at home, and I collected memories to chase away the dread.

In the evenings, she and I would lay together. We watching movies, or sometimes we read. Bella especially liked when I read from original French texts for her, so I had taken to doing that. I would rest with my head in her lap, and read words she didn't understand, but that made her heart pound loudly as I spoke them. One evening, when the words began to blur alarmingly on the page in front of me, I beat back the panic and handed the book to Bella. I laughingly suggested that she try to read to me. My laugh was brittle and forced, but soon became natural again while I honestly enjoyed Bella's hilarious attempts to read with a French accent.

Bella caught me the following afternoon, standing in front of the stove in the kitchen. Curiously, I lifted my hand up and down in the space above a red-hot burner. The heat wouldn't hurt me, and I knew it. But I realized just a few minutes before that my sensitivity to touch had begun alternating between being hyper-sensitive… to being so dulled that I could not feel the pen in my grasp that I had been writing with. I was testing my tolerance to the heat when Bella entered the room.

"What are you doing?" Bella questioned me with one eyebrow drawn up. I looked over at her, feeling guilty about being caught before turning the burner off.

"I just wanted to feel the warmth," I hedged the truth.

"Hmm," Bella tapped her chin while a playful smile tugged at her lips. "I think I have an idea to help you feel some warmth…"

I laughed and let her pull me by the hand toward our bedroom.

Oh- the private moments held between us when we were alone like that, were divine. Sometimes I made love to Bella slowly and tenderly. Sometimes we were both just eager and desperate. Bella accommodated my desires and held me completely captivated in the love she shared so uninhibitedly.

Carlisle, Jasper, and Alice let Bella and I enjoy our time together. I felt their supportive presence, though they didn't hover. I could no longer read their minds, but I knew them well. They all imagined the pain of having to be separated from their own life-mates. They wouldn't deny me the time I needed to be with mine.

My sensitive sister had the hardest time, when Carlisle delivered the news. She blamed herself and was full of self-derision and misery. She was convinced that she should have seen something that could have helped me. I held her, and stroked the harsh lines of sadness from her face with my hands.

"I'm glad you didn't see anything," I shook my head. "Beautiful, sweet Alice. I wouldn't change a moment I've had with her. Don't you see? You've helped me…more than you'll ever know. Without you, I might not have felt secure enough to try. And I've been so happy. Happier than I ever thought possible…You've given me a gift, and I'll love you forever for it."

Alice cried against my shoulder and I lifted my eyes to see Jasper standing behind her. His usual jovial expression was severe. His hands were held clenched by his sides. Jasper's eyes didn't twinkle with mischievous merriment. His expression was stoic while he looked in my eyes and mouthed "thank you, brother."

I borrowed quiet strength from Jasper and Carlisle. While hunting with both men, I stopped mid-run when my sense of smell left me. Unlike before, things didn't merely smell weak. There was no scent at all. I stood in the center of the forest, turning a slow circle while inhaling deeply through my nose, trying to get a trace of the deer we were tracking. I could hear Jasper and Carlisle ahead of me, and so I followed the sound of their work until I joined them.

With fresh carcasses on the ground, the smell of the carnage should have laid thick in the air. Still, I couldn't detect it. I stood, watching my brother and my father feed, held almost immobile in fear.

If I couldn't follow scents… how could I continue to hunt?

Carlisle stood from where he crouched over an animal with a look of concerned understanding on his face. He didn't say a word. Jasper looked up from the creature he drank from, and watched in silence. Carlisle simply lifted the animal before him and carried it in his arms until he placed it by my feet.

"Edward? Drink."

I nodded in stunned appreciation, and dropped to my knees to finish his offered animal. I knew my family would bear my weakness and help me. Jasper and Carlisle hunted for me that day. They suspected, as I did, that the animals they supplied would be my last meal.

The three of us entered the house from the backdoor. I opened my mouth to speak, but Carlisle held up one hand in warning. He heard what I did not. Bella walked around the corner, wearing her work uniform. She still held her purse and keys in her hand, and greeted us with a smile.

"Hello boys!" Bella grinned. "Did you have a nice day out?"

"They caught all the good ones," I tried to tease. I heard a low growl emanate from Jasper as he frowned at my casual play on the truth and walked from the room. "What are you doing home so early?"

I glanced over at the clock. Her shift was hours from being over. Bella shrugged and looked tentatively up towards Carlisle. He took the hint immediately and put his hand on my shoulder.

"It's time for me to get going," he said. "Call me… if you need anything." My muscles tensed under his hand before he let it slide away and went to join Jasper. When we were alone, I addressed Bella again.

"So, are you going to tell me why you are home early?"

Bella's cheeks blushed lightly and she smiled. "Call me silly. I know it's weird. I just… had a really strange need to get home to you. I've worked enough shifts for other people. I just called in a favor and left early." She moved forward as if to hug me, but I took a step back.

"I'm filthy," I smiled apologetically. Traces of fur and blood were evident on my clothes. And truthfully, her intuition startled me. "I need a shower."

Bella wrinkled her nose playfully and nodded.

"I'll make dinner while you get cleaned up."

I stood under the water, beating down the fear I felt rising in me. The gauge on the wall indicated the water's heat, but it did not warm me. It felt like no more than mist on my naked skin, and its temperature was not defined by any reference I could recall. Neither warm nor cold…

My shower lasted longer than I knew. When I found Bella in the kitchen, she had finished her meal and was scooping ice cream into a cheery yellow cone for her dessert.

"Want one?" she playfully asked. I tried to keep my features relaxed and shrugged, leaning behind her against the counter. She snapped the lid shut on the container and placed it back in the freezer before turning to hop up onto the countertop beside me. "So… what do you want to do tonight?"

I watched as she brought her ice cream to her lips, waiting for my answer. Her tongue darted out to press against the cold treat, and it melted instantly against the heat of her mouth.

"I… just want to spend time with you," I told her honestly. My mouth opened, and before I knew what I was doing, I leaned in and licked the opposite side of her cone. Her eyes widened in a surprised response.

Nothing. I tasted nothing.

"Edward?" Bella had a curious look on her face. It looked almost as though she were trying to understand a riddle or solve a puzzle. Guilt seized me hard and sure. Before I could blurt out everything, I moved to stand between her legs and grabbed her face between my hands. Urgently, I pressed my mouth against hers, and silenced my own confession with a kiss.

Bella wrapped her arms and legs around me, and parted her lips with a gasp. I lifted her against my waist, and her ice cream fell forgotten to the floor. Holding her in front of me, I walked through the house, kissing her desperately on my path to the bedroom. I couldn't taste her. I couldn't smell her.

On our bed, Bella pushed her hands through my hair while I moved my face against every bit of her exposed skin. I inhaled deeply as I moved across her body and rubbed my cheek against her, hoping the friction would release some of the fragrance that had been imprinted for so long in my brain. Nothing. I could feel the itchy burn in the back of my throat. I knew the scent was there. I was being denied it. Furious, I slammed my fist into the mattress beside us. Once, twice, I pounded the mattress with my frustration.

"Edward?" Bella's voice was nervous with worry about my burst of temper. I looked up at her, and I couldn't keep my face controlled. "What's wrong? What's happening?" Concern laced her voice and clouded her eyes while she reached to stroke my forehead and run her fingers down my cheek.

I shook my head and clamped my lips together. I couldn't tell her. I wanted to. I needed to.

"You're shaking…"

I wrapped my arms around her waist, and pressed the side of my face against her chest. Bella held me, and stroked her fingers through my hair while I held on tight to the woman I loved, and listened to her heart beating below me. I still had that. I clung to it, and I clung to her.

Bella let me hold her that way until the trembling in my limbs forced me to pull away. I was shaking so hard that I was afraid I might hurt her. She sat up, clearly alarmed when my muscles clenched and pulled me forward into a curled position around myself. I wrapped my arms over the violent contractions that ripped through my abdomen. Then with a suddenly very clear knowledge of what was about to happen, I threw myself from the bed and flashed to the bathroom, falling to my knees in front of the toilet. I barely pulled the lid up before my body began heaving.

My knuckles pressed into the cold tiles on the floor, and my arms strained with the effort to hold my frame. I felt my back arch in the violent deliverance of fluids that expelled from me. From my mouth… my nose… I couldn't tell. Torrents of red poured from me and stained the pristine white below. My body purged the blood that my father and my brother had offered me earlier.

"Edward!" I could hear Bella, frantic behind me. I raised a hand to the air and pushed my palm back.

"Please, go Bella," I choked. I didn't want her to see me like this. I knew the terrifying image I presented. I was grateful when I heard her leave the room. I heaved and spat until nothing was left inside of me. When finished, I collapsed against the tile. And then, everything went black.

Thousands of times I had wished to be able to sleep. But I would take every one of those misspent wishes back had I known that my version of unconscious would be like this. I didn't float in a dream-like state of tranquility and peace. The darkness pressed down on all of side of me, squeezing me and forcing every cell of my body to struggle to hold its shape- to not succumb to the pressure and simply disintegrate.

Sensory deprivation was a curse as well as a gift. In flashes that may have lasted seconds or years, I couldn't see, couldn't feel, couldn't smell, couldn't hear. It was agonizing to have everything taken away. I was held painfully trapped inside the dark cage my body had become. But then I would be forced to deal with over-stimulation of those very same senses, attacking me one at a time. From silence to ear-splitting noises that made my brain feel like it might explode. From feeling nothing, to a cold so intense that it burned every inch of my skin, tearing away at the tissues and scorching me.

The only comparable pain I had known was during my transformation to becoming a vampire. And even that experience seemed somehow dull by comparison. I was certain I screamed. Every now and again, I could hear my own tortured cry. But my throat could not feel it emerge. Worse, in pieces I could hear and sense those around me. I came in and out of this agonized state, like a man surfacing from water and praying for air.

I felt Esme's hands, cool on my forehead.

Jasper's calming influence forced away the terror that gripped me in more lucid moments.

Rosalie's clear voice read poetry in broken pieces from my bedside.

Emmett's strong arms held me when my body threatened to break.

Alice's sweet soprano wove itself through my thoughts while she sang to me.

My family had come. In and out, as I drifted, I knew they were there. I was eager for the moments when I could draw strength from their nearness…because the times when I was aware of Bella's presence were pure agony.

"Please Carlisle," sobbed Bella at my bedside. "Tell me what I can do to help him!"

"Nothing. There is nothing." My friend… my father… was honoring my last request.

Silence again. And I laid in excruciating limbo knowing that I had failed. I swore to never hurt Bella. I was causing her pain. And my death would not come easy. My hell would be reliving her tortured sobs every moment while the pain racked through my body.

I felt as though my back was being cut by the sheets below me, when tremors lifted me and slammed me hard against the bed. I had long since lost control of my muscles, but could feel them coming apart.

Then at long last, a pinpoint of light broke free from the anguish that sucked me under, and gave me something new to focus on. It wasn't a soft, beckoning light. It was more brilliant than the sun and it was barreling forward at a speed I could not comprehend; rushing closer and closer to me. For just the briefest of seconds, I wondered if it might be the heaven that Carlisle wished for us all. And then, when I surfaced, I was certain it was.

Light and color swirled vividly into focus behind my eyelids, filling my head with explosions of returned sensation in glorious shades of reds and oranges. Warmth and strength flowed into my atrophied muscles that made me gasp in pleasure and relief.

And when I sucked in that lungful of air…. the smells around me left me inebriated with ecstasy. I pulled the most luscious scents from the air, and held them inside my sinus cavities, memorizing them in case they would be stripped from me again.

Oh- the glorious taste that flooded through my mouth. Warm and sweet nectar pulsing and exploding against my tongue… delicious and freeing and like nothing I had ever known. Such a perfect representation of heaven in flavor… and then… so very, very wrong.

I could hear the room around me. I could feel the bed beneath me. This could not be the heaven I had imagined. I recognized the sounds, scents, and textures of my room. My lips pulled at the well of life, bringing more of the sweetness inside me even while my mind began arguing against it. I had only ever imagined one source being this perfect… this intoxicating…

Groaning with the expended effort, I tore my mouth from its delivered paradise and forced my eyes to open. Bella slumped beside me like a marionette with her tethers cut. Her broken and masticated wrist was twisted and crushed in my hands. From the wound I saw her fresh blood still beckoned to me with scent and flavor that threatened to drown me with want.

The larger emotion, however, was disgust for what I realized I had just done. I had fed from Bella. I had ruined her arm and drank her blood and left this deathly pale shadow of the girl I loved, wasted on the floor beside me.

Tipping my face to the ceiling, I screamed. I screamed until I had no air left in my lungs, and I inhaled so I could scream again. And then I pulled her up onto my lap and I cried into her hair. Sobs wracked my body, though no tears would come to wash away the sin I had committed.


The single word pulled me from my misery. I looked up to see Carlisle, standing in the corner of the room. His face was resolved, his countenance sorrowful.

"Did I do this?" I couldn't understand how my body had found the strength to attack her. I hadn't felt the use of my muscles at all. I was moments away from my own death.

"She cut her own skin. She gave her blood to you."

"Who told her?" My agony carried my voice in a whisper.

"I don't know how she knew. I swear we did not tell her."

"But you didn't try to stop her."


I wrapped my arms tighter and brought her to my chest. I wished for the death to come back. The pain was easier than this.

"Edward… son. Her sacrifice gave you life."

"I don't want it," I whispered. "Not without her." I rocked her against me, hating everything I was, and wishing for the painful darkness to wash over me again.

"You don't have to be without her," Carlisle moved closer. "Her heart still beats Edward. Listen closely. It is beating for you."

In my confused resurgence of abilities, my senses were not yet clear. Somehow had I missed the quiet flutter that Carlisle brought to my attention. It was slow… distressed… but it was still there.

"She gave you her sacrifice," Carlisle continued. "She was willing to give up everything, just for the chance that she might save you. Or so that you both, could end this world together."

"She didn't want this life," I shook my head.

Hear my thoughts, Edward. Carlisle's inner-voice urged me to see the scene unfold from his memory. He saw everything from his quiet vigil in the corner of the room. He saw Bella in front of me, crying. He didn't see how she cut her wrist, but he smelled the bouquet the second her blood was released to the air. His first instincts were to run to her side and pull her away… but he struggled to remain where he was. It was her choice.

And he heard her as she lifted her bloodied arm and dripped the life-giving fluid onto my lips.

"For life or longer, Edward. I'll love you for life or longer."

I closed my eyes and concentrated until the blessed venom came into the back of my mouth. She didn't give me permission to make her like me, but I wasn't willing to let her go. Deliberately I lowered my teeth to her neck, and I bit into her skin. The push of the blood was weak against my mouth. I had nearly drained her completely. This time, I fought the urge to drink and thrust my tongue against the wound to stop the flow and to close my venom inside.

"For life or longer, Bella," I murmured against her skin. And I lifted her still perfect wrist to my mouth to repeat the procedure. I did this to keep her as mine. And I prayed she would forgive me, someday, for taking the choice away from her.

I bowed my head over the nearly lifeless body in my arms, and I listened as her weak heart clenched and released, forcing my poison further into her body.

For life, or longer.