Here it is...the chapter you've all been waiting for! The very last one, I'm actually sad to be done with this story. I want to sincerely thank every one who has taken the time to review and share your thoughts through the thick and thin of the story. It means so much to me, thanks soooo much!
I have surprisingly few things to say, considering this is the last chapter. I happen to quite like this chapter, and I hope you find it a satisfactory ending.
I could not look at her.
It was killing me. My heart ached to gaze upon Bella's stunning face, to comfort her with a smile and reassuring words. How desperately I desired to pull her into my arms, to embrace her warm body in mine.
No, not warm. Not anymore.
That was why I could not bear to look upon my love. I was a monster and I had failed her. I could not protect her, save her humanity from my kind. From other monsters like me.
"Please Edward," Bella pleaded. "What did I do wrong?"
I nearly scoffed. What had she done wrong? She had done nothing but remain her beautiful, selfless self. I was the one who had done wrong. Slowly I raised my eyes to hers, the dark chocolate I had loved so dearly replaced by a disconcerting ocher.
"Nothing," I said as convincingly as I could. Bella looked perplexed and I desperately wished I could know her thoughts.
"Is it Cara?" Her voice was soft, and frightened. Was that what she was worried about? Cara?
"No," I softened my voice and gazed at her sincerely. Perhaps I was being a bit cold. It was not fair to take my anger at myself out of Bella. "Of course not."
"I just thought…"
"There is nothing between us," I assured. "She helped me when I had need. That's all." Though Bella didn't look completely convinced she at least nodded at my explanation. How could she conceivably believe that I was capable of loving anyone more than her? That was preposterous. It broke my dead heart that my previous actions had led her to believe such a thing was possible.
"Than what is wrong?" Bella sounded uncomfortably vulnerable. I longed to press my lips to hers, assuaging all her fears with a kiss. "Did I do something?"
"No," I was beginning to sound like a broken record. "You've done nothing wrong." I could tell she was getting frustrated at my beat-around-the-bush answers by the way she glared at me.
"Just tell me!"
"I couldn't protect you."
"What?" That was quite clearly not what she had been expecting. I think she still had the ridiculous notion that she was at fault.
"From Jane," I elaborated "and Claudia. I couldn't stop them from hurting you."
A smile twitched briefly at the corners of Bella's mouth and her eyes gazed at me with a passion I did not deserve. At least she didn't loathe me, lest I deserve it.
"Oh Edward," Bella sighed, shaking her head. "When will you stop punishing yourself for things that aren't your fault?" I opened my mouth to retort, but a cool finger on my lips warmed me to keep silent. Her other hand lightly touched my arm, sending a shiver of delight down my spine.
"You're a vampire, not a god," she continued. "You can't always protect me. Besides, I'm a big girl, I think I've managed well enough on my own." I scoffed and she raised an eyebrow, daring me to say what was on my mind.
"And how many times would you have been killed if it weren't for me?" I questioned, matching her expression.
"Hey, I dragged your stubborn butt back from the dead," she said pointedly. "I think that counts for something."
"Oh, so now you want a reward?" I teased, moving my face in closer to hers, breathing her intoxicating scent, altered somewhat but still as alluring as ever.
"And what sort of reward might that be?" Bella breathed, her lips lingering unhappy inches from mine.
I was so absorbed in the sweet smell of Bella's breath as her lips briefly brushed mine that I wasn't aware of Alice until she burst through the door, stopping short when she saw what she was interrupting.
"Oh," Alice's voice betrayed her surprise at our activities.
"Yes Alice?" I asked as cordially as possible. Beside me Bella snickered.
"She came back," Alice said glancing towards Bella for her reaction.
"Who?" I asked, though I already knew.
"Cara." Bella's face was as blank as a stone. I should have expected this was coming.
"Where is she?"
"In the living room." I made my way down the stairs quietly, aware of Alice and Bella just as silently following. Cara was indeed waiting in the living room, standing awkwardly, but looking as softly pretty as ever, if not somewhat frazzled. Perhaps that was somewhat due to Emmett's rather imposing presence in the doorway.
Bella, still as graceful as a newly hatched duckling, stumbled slightly, alerting Cara to our presence. Her jaw dropped slightly as she caught sight of me. I hadn't changed beyond recognition, but I certainly wan not nearly so…human as before.
"Cara," I said as gently as I could, wondering how I could possibly explain this to her any better than Esme already had.
"It's true then," he words were hardly above a whisper. "You're a…"
"A vampire," I finished for her. She paled slightly, making her freckles stand out vibrantly. I reached forward, hoping to comfort her slightly, but she flinched away from my touch.
"You don't…eat people?" Cara asked, as if needing my confirmation. She quite clearly was having trouble understanding everything Esme had told her.
"Correct," I replied, trying to seem as human as possible. Not that I had much practice there. "We, my whole family, only drink from animal." Cara's face looked somewhat more horrified than before and Alice cringed beside me. I suppose that hadn't been the most tactful way to go about it. Alice stepped forward slowly.
"You're in no danger from us," she soothed and I was grateful for someone else to take over.
"I know this is a hard thing to understand," Alice continued. "Believe me, I know. But know we mean you absolutely no harm. In fact, Carlisle, our father-figuratively speaking, is on of the best doctors around."
"A doctor?" Cara repeated, sounding a bit fazed. Alice nodded.
"One of the best. Bella here was with us as a human for two years without harm."
"But she's a vampire now." That was an unfortunately good point.
"Yes, but that's a choice I made," Bella spoke and Cara gazed at her with a hint of awe mixed with jealousy. I couldn't blame her; Bella's beauty was certainly more than a little intimidating.
"To be with Edward," Cara stated more than asked. Bella nodded. Cara's mind was awash with everything she had just been exposed to. Part of her was fascinated with what she was learning, as well as oddly accepting, while another part of her still clung to her initial fear. It appeared Esme hadn't brought up anything about vampires possessing powers and I decided to keep it that way.
"You must really love him," Cara remarked after a moment.
"I do," Bella replied, giving me a look that was reminiscent of our talk upstairs. "I would do anything for him." I doubt that I'd ever wished more for the ability to read Bella's mind than at that moment.
A loud honking came from outside. I focused my attention to the driveway where I found the thoughts of a rather annoyed taxi driver.
"I'll take care of it," I assuaged Cara's distress before swiftly exiting into the cold I no longer noticed. The bright yellow taxi stood out oddly against the dead brown of the trees. A rather heavyset and hairy taxi driver that reeked of cigars and taco meat was impatiently drumming his finger on the steering wheel. When he became aware of my approaching figure he surreptitiously rolled down his window.
"She coming or what?" he asked, scratching his whiskered face. "I gotta get paid."
I extracted a wad of bills from my pocket and held them just out of the driver's reach.
"You will wait as long as she needs and then return her directly to her house. This should keep you more than satisfied." The man's, whose name I read to be Tom, eyes never left the somber green face of Benjamin Franklin.
"Do you understand?"
"Take the broad home, as long as it takes. Got it." Despite his crude language, I sensed no ill-intention in his thoughts and handed over the money.
"Thank you sir," I added for good measure and left him to thumb through the 100-dollar bills.
Reentering the house I was pleased to see Cara somewhat more at ease, she even smiled slightly at my entrance.
"I'm sorry I ruined your evening," she said sincerely.
"Nonsense," I waved off her apology. "You're always welcome here." Even Bella nodded in approval. Cara's thoughts were reluctant.
"I guess I better leave," she relented, despite her longing. "My mom thinks I'm at the movies."
"Are you sure?" Alice inquired. "You're welcome to stay the night."
"Yeah," Emmett added. "We don't bite." Cara's eyebrows rose in shock and both Alice and I glared at him.
"Ok, ok, bad joke," he admitted though his lingering smile betrayed his true feelings.
"No," Cara smiled timidly. "I really should go or my mom will be worried."
"May I walk you out?" I asked and Cara chuckled slightly at my formality.
"Yes, you may," she nodded before turning back to the three other vampires. "It was nice to meet you all." Alice smiled gleefully.
"And you," she returned. "Thanks for taking such good care of Edward. I can't imagine it was an easy task. He is a rather…"
"Shall we leave now?" I cut her off before she could finish. Cara smiled in amusement and allowed me to lead her from the house. We walked silently across the lawn to the taxi where the driver was now waiting with a renewed patience.
Stopping by the idling vehicle, Cara suddenly flung her arms around my torso, pressing her face to my chest.
"You're cold," she mumbled and I chuckled.
"It comes with being dead, I guess," I joked lightly. She held on to me for several more moments before releasing. Tears silently streaked her face. Gently I reached my thumb to her cheek to wipe them away.
"I'll miss you," Cara said. I squeezed her arm comfortingly.
"And I you," I returned. "Though I do not think this is the last time we shall see each other."
"I hope," Cara said, opening the door of the taxi. "Bye, Edward."
"You're always welcome here Cara," I assured and she smiled in return before sliding into the backseat and closing the door. It was with more than a little sadness that I watched the cab pull from the driveway.
"She's a nice girl," Alice said beside me and I nearly jumped. She snickered. "Scare ya?" I glared at her.
"Don't worry though," Alice's eyes were distant. "She'll do fine." I smiled at the vision Alice opened to me.
"I'm glad," I remarked sincerely, feeling more content that I had in what seemed ages.
"Bella's waiting for you," Alice said, gazing into my eyes seriously. "She's worried you know. She's worried about you." I opened my mouth to retort, but she cut me off.
"She has every right to be too. None of this is your fault, you know. You're bringing her down by being so hard on yourself."
"I know. I just can't look at her without wondering if by chance I had done something different, if maybe she wouldn't be condemned to this fate."
"It's what she wants. It would have happened sooner or later. My vision never saw any different. Now go inside and let her know you still love her. That's what she needs right now."
I looked up toward the house, imagining what Bella could be doing in there as we spoke. Alice was right, Bella needed me right now.
Swiftly, ignoring Alice's triumphant grin, I made my way deftly inside to my room, where Bella was sitting quietly on my bed. She turned my direction as I entered, looking radiantly beautiful. Her face was guarded, cautious as if unsure as to how I was going to react to Cara's brief visit. I took a seat beside my love, gazing into her face tenderly.
"Have I told you how much I love you?" I asked, delighted as Bella's face broke into a grin.
"Hmm…" she mused, leaning in closer to me. "Not recently."
"Well, I guess I'll have to remedy that," I said, allowing one of my hands to snake around her waist and pull her closer, until we were but inches apart. "I love you more than Emmett loves to sleep." Bella pulled back slightly.
"But Emmett can't sleep," she furrowed her brow.
"Oh, but he wishes he could," I whispered, tapping my brow and Bella chuckled. "Not good enough? I love you more than a flower loves to bloom. More than rain loves to fall. More than a bird loves to fly and a fish loves to swim. More than…" Bella raised a finger to my lips to silence me.
"I get the point," she smiled, leaning until her breath blew a cool breeze on my cheek. "Now kiss me."
Our lips connected in a passion we had never before been allowed to experience. My instincts were telling me to pull back, to protect Bella from myself, but instead I pushed forward, opening to new levels of ecstasy we had been forbidden to experience. It was like nothing I had ever before felt.
"That was nice," Bella breathed, our lips only fractions of an inch apart. I didn't reply, only pressed myself to her again, and we eagerly repeated our first true kiss.
And then some…
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Just for anyone whose interested, I'm not planning on writing any full-length stories anytime soon, but I do have several one-shots planned that go along to the death scene in Cold as Fire. So put me on your author alert if your interested in reading those when I get around to writing them!
Thanks again to all my wonderful reviewers! I love all of you guys!
(And Qaz, you should be happy. No Jacob at all in the whole chapter.)