Wednesday, August 1, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Fate Interrupted Chapter 9

~oOo~

Chapter 9

EPOV

"We'll start with Edward."

Marcus waved me forward at the same time he waved his brothers, Demetri, and Carlisle. My mind could only briefly focus on Marcus's request because my heart clenched at the sound Bella made.

"No, no, no," she chanted over and over. Her control on her shield was now tentative at best. If something went wrong, it was quite possible for her to completely snap, and I was certain that the results would be anarchy.

I glanced up to Marcus, but at the same time, I grasped Bella's hand. "It's okay, love. He just wants to talk."

Bring her, Edward, Marcus thought to me. She's the girl in question, yes?

"Yes, but..."

"Bring her," he ordered, his voice without inflection, but his mind... His mind reeled at the connection he could see between us. For the first time in decades, something flickered across his face – sympathy. "And tell her to relax that shield. Aro's...pets will stand down."

I wanted to smirk at the way the word "pets" spat out of his mouth like it tasted foul. He was not a fan of his brother's collection of talented immortals. Yes, he liked the advantage they gave them as a whole, but he could see they weren't loyal of their own accord. Aro had the audacity to look affronted but waved a hand to his guard.

Placing a hand on the back of Bella's neck, I rubbed my thumb to relax her. "It's okay, sweetheart. Pull it back in."

"Okay," she whispered, nodding one time, but it took a few deep breaths to finally get her to rein in that shield of hers.

I took my time guiding her to the center of the clearing. I needed her to relax, but to be honest, I needed a moment, as well. I'd been a pawn for the Volturi for so long that the sight of them all together in front of me made me nervous. Calling for a meeting such as this could go very badly. If the brothers banded together and decided that nothing we said mattered, then they could resume the battle. If that happened, then we were clearly outnumbered now, with the addition of Marcus and his guard.

Despite the hissing argument that Caius was having with Demetri, Marcus's eyes were locked on Bella and me. The way he saw our relationship was one of the strongest I'd ever seen through his mind. It looked like a golden rope, binding us together. It was just slightly brighter than the one connecting Carlisle to Esme, Jasper to Alice, and Emmett to Rosalie. On top of that was the glowing silver rope that bound all of us to Carlisle. It was strong, unwavering, but slightly different than the one that surrounded us as couples. It looked like one of Bella's hated spiderwebs.

Now look, young Edward, Marcus thought to me, his eyes drifting slowly over to the Volturi guard. Their loyalty was hazy, black, barely connected to each other as an army and flickering like a dying light bulb in its relation to Aro. This call of no confidence has been a long time coming.

My face remained blank as he thought this to me, but I nodded once that I'd heard him.

"This is absolutely ridiculous," Caius hissed, his eyes narrowing on Demetri, who wasn't backing down. "This is treason, nothing more. We have the means to destroy them all. Let's finish this. Forget this witness business."

"What are you afraid of, Caius?" Demetri countered calmly, the corners of his mouth curling slightly. "I'm merely here to give witness to something that's been blown out of proportion. The truth will win out."

"You're a traitor, Demetri," Aro accused, his gaze flickering to Carlisle. "You've decided to stand against us."

"Enough, brothers," Marcus sighed wearily. "Demetri's loyalty is still to the Volturi."

What he didn't elaborate on was that Demetri's loyalty was to Marcus, and Marcus alone. It made me wonder if Demetri had called Marcus in on this because he'd known that this was something that the quietest of the three brothers had wished for.

That statement seemed to placate Caius and Aro for a moment, but all eyes turned to me and then Carlisle.

"Aro," Marcus sighed, "state the charges against Carlisle again." His eyes looked from my sire to Aro and back again, but his mind was directed at me. Bear with me, Edward. I have to do this a certain way, or it will not work. And do not, under any circumstances, let my brother touch you. If he catches any part of this from your thoughts, we're all at war.

"Carlisle has created a coven too large, and its powers have been used against us," Aro stated, looking like a pouting child. "He's turned our faithful mind reader against us by claiming that he's mated, and he's allowed too many incidents around the humans. He's a serious threat to what we've tried to protect for centuries."

It was all Marcus could do not to roll his eyes, but he maintained his ever-present blank expression as he turned to me. His deep red eyes took in the connection between Bella and me once more, but his gaze locked onto her.

"Isabella," he said, tilting his head at her. "You're the newest member of Carlisle's coven, are you not?"

"Family," she corrected sweetly, and even he almost cracked a smile at her, especially when Carlisle and I pulled her closer. "And yes, ten years ago. I was in an accident. Carlisle changed me."

"And just how many of your...family has Carlisle actually changed?" Marcus asked, raising a hand when Caius scoffed with impatience.

"Um," she stammered, looking up at Carlisle.

He smiled warmly at her. "Go ahead, Bella."

"Well..." She hesitated, looking to me. "He changed Edward, then Esme and Rosalie. Rose saved Emmett, and they're mates, so she begged him to turn Emmett. That's it. He saved us when we were dying, but Alice and Jasper were changed by someone else."

"And you all choose to live together," he urged her.

"Yes."

"Thank you, Isabella," Marcus said softly, turning to his brothers. "Let's address the charges. And then I want to hear witness to this vote of no confidence." He held up another hand to stop Caius and Aro from arguing. "Have you forgotten the way of things, brothers? We govern the immortal world. We are here to keep order and secrecy, not dictate who can and can't live together. As long as the rules are followed, then we need not step in. Apparently, some feel we've overstepped one time too many, and I, for one, am inclined to agree with them." He gestured to the large crowd behind us, which included the very nervous members of our family.

"As far as young Edward here goes," Marcus continued, pointing to me, "I see clearly that he's mated. Carlisle called us out of respect to let us know this, yet we did not take him at his word. That disappoints me. Carlisle has never been anything but up front with us, even when he lived among us. And all of our ranks should be able to come and go as they please, brothers. Edward has proved to be a loyal guard, but his time with us is over. We did not hold Carlisle or Eleazar against their will. I do not wish to hold him."

Aro's mind spiraled out of control with that statement from Marcus because he now suspected his brother knew the reason behind my service to the Volturi, but he did not argue.

"I want to see proof of this...so called mating," Aro stated, holding out his hand for me to touch him.

"No." It was a single, monosyllabic word that hung heavily with those around us, but I wasn't letting Aro touch me. And it was more than just Marcus's silent command.

"How dare you deny us!" Caius growled, stepping forward, but Demetri intercepted him.

"This is not your call, Caius," Demetri stated.

"What are you hiding, if you won't let me see?" Aro asked.

"My thoughts are my own, but my memories are not for you to see," I told Aro calmly. "Out of respect for my mate, Aro, I can't allow it. I apologize. Some things between mates are not meant to be seen by an outsider."

"I've seen it all," Aro argued angrily. "I couldn't care less what you've..."

"So have I," I interrupted him, tapping my temple but keeping a firm hand on Bella's shoulder. "And those are the very things I do not wish for you to see." I tugged the collar of my shirt to the side, showing him Bella's mark. "If this is not enough proof, then you'll have to take our word for it. I will not allow you to compromise Bella's honor."

Bella pressed back closer to me, but her gaze locked with Aro's. He at least looked contrite.

"My apologies, Isabella," Aro stated, though it was broken and a lie. "Perhaps, with your permission..." He held his hand out to her.

I flinched when her small hand set atop his frail-looking one. But it took less than two seconds for him to realize he could get nothing from her. Not a single thought. And she'd done it on purpose.

"Do you take my word that they're mated, brother?" Marcus asked, his mind growing impatient with Aro's sense of vengeance.

"Yes, yes," Aro scoffed, his face filled with anger and frustration, which matched perfectly to the thoughts in his mind.

"I've seen bigger covens, Aro," Marcus said, shaking his head a little. "And Carlisle has never been a threat before with this law." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "The final charge against this coven is the spectacle that ensued just a few days ago in the city of New York," Marcus stated, still sounding just as bored as ever, but he was getting close to proving his point concerning Carlisle.

"I can give witness to the fact that no one was out of line," Demetri said, stepping forward. "I was there. It was quite controlled, with no human witnesses, and it was James that was out of control. As usual," he muttered the last two words wryly, which caused Caius to tsk and shake his head. "Edward clearly had the right to defend his mate against the other vampire. I'd already spoken to Carlisle and Edward, but James could not be stopped. Neither could the two immortals that you sent with me."

Demetri held out his hand to have his thoughts read by Aro, which was done so with a scowl on his face. Aro already knew that the incident in the city was not what he was making it out to be, and he was about to continue that same lie as the night in question flickered through his mind.

"You traitor," he hissed, pulling his hand back. "This call for me to step down was your idea."

"I'm merely following protocol, master," Demetri told him. "These lies you've spun surrounding Edward and Carlisle aren't the only ones you've created. Since we've cleared up the matter concerning Carlisle, I'd like to bring forth my witnesses, Marcus."

"Very well," Marcus allowed, turning to Carlisle. "Carlisle, I'd like for you and Edward to stay here, but Isabella may join the rest of your...family."

Bella started to argue, but I squeezed her shoulder, stepping away from the small group. "Easy, love," I whispered with barely a sound in her ear. "I'll be just fine. I want you to go back to Alice and Jasper. Please. I want you to listen to them. Okay?"

I don't want to leave you, she thought to me. Please, Edward. Don't make me.

"There isn't much choice here, sweetheart," I told her, pressing my lips to hers, "but Carlisle and I will be fine."

I tried to convey as much as I could to her with a single look. She nodded once but kissed me roughly before stalking off. She wasn't happy about it, but there wasn't much I could do. And I knew for a fact that she could protect Carlisle and me from across the damn clearing without even blinking. What I needed her to do was listen to our siblings. If anyone could pick up deception or an order to attack, it was them.

She's fiercely loyal, Edward, Marcus thought to me, and extremely powerful. She'll be our only hope should my brother lose control. That's quite the mate you've found. And you've waited long enough to live your life. I won't allow my brothers to take from you what they took from me.

My eyebrows flicked up, but I recovered quickly. I knew that Marcus had lost his mate, Didyme, centuries prior. Didyme had been Aro's sister. What I didn't know was that Aro had been happy to change his own sister until Marcus had mated with her. Didyme's talent had been pure, radiating happiness. And from what Marcus was showing me, once they'd mated, Marcus had asked to stand down from his position in Italy. He'd wanted to simply live his long life with his mate, nothing more and nothing less. But Aro had flown into a rage, ordering the death of his own sister in order to keep Marcus in servitude. Aro needed Marcus for his talent; his happiness was inconsequential. Aro blamed it on rogue newborns, but that was not the case, it seemed.

That was the reason we were standing in a field. Marcus had waited centuries for this moment. He'd waited until one single brave immortal finally stood up for what was right so that this order of no confidence could be carried out.

I wanted to laugh and tell Carlisle, but Demetri was already calling his witnesses.

"Edward, if you could be so kind as to act as interpreter for me," Marcus requested, his eyes locking with my own. "I hate to keep you and Carlisle from moving on, but I trust both of you to be honest in your opinions."

"Yes, Marcus," I said with a bow of my head.

"As you wish, Marcus," Carlisle answered, but his thoughts were to me. There's more at stake here than what I can see, isn't there, son?

With a simple look we'd perfected ages ago, I told him yes silently.

For the next several minutes, Demetri called witnesses, and some even volunteered. Eleazar came forward to give testimony that Aro had tricked him into spilling secrets about Carlisle and our family that weren't his to tell, which was what brought us to this moment because Aro had used that information to hold over me.

With each witness, with each and every lie that Aro was caught in, he grew more and more agitated – something that Jasper was warning me about from half the field away. Even Caius shut up, not bothering to entangle himself with his brother's wrongdoings any further. However, the more agitated Aro became, the more his guards started to get antsy, including the fair amount of newborns Alec was keeping under control. Jane adored Aro, lived to serve him, and she hated me, so she was chomping at the bit to set her talent free. Renata was worried that she wasn't able to shield him if he needed her. And Alec was ready for a fight, ready to let the newborns go.

Marcus was being plotted against. Again.

Armed with that knowledge, I made a decision that I knew Alice would catch. She needed to ready not only Bella but the entire group of immortals that had come to stand with us. We had no alternative but to protect Marcus should Aro lose control, which he was just about to do.

The final witness was Felix. As my large friend joined us, he thought to me, The little one says we're about to fight. They are ready. And that mate of yours is just about to climb Emmett to get to you.

I smirked but covered it quickly. I knew Bella was just about to go crazy behind me. I could hear it in her thoughts, practically feel it between us. My need to go to her, comfort her was almost overwhelming, but I needed her where she was – safe with her brothers.

"You brought your own newborns, I see," Marcus stated, eying the group that had arrived with Felix and Demetri.

"I was merely following orders, master," Felix replied, shrugging one giant shoulder. "I was sent to investigate some rumors coming out of Louisiana. I was interrupted by Demetri. I couldn't leave them without letting the situation get out of hand again, so I brought them with me."

I nodded to Marcus that what he'd said was true, leaving out that Felix had stopped by to see me on his way to the south.

"What I found most interesting is that these newborns were created with a purpose. I believe that they were supposed to join those immortals," Felix continued, pointing across the field to Aro's army. "They just didn't follow orders too well."

Marcus turned to Aro. "How large of an army did you need, dear brother, in order to speak with Carlisle concerning the size of a coven? You weren't going to war."

With that final question, Aro unraveled completely. "This is ludicrous!" he screamed at Marcus. "I should have the power to create any size army I wish!"

Marcus nodded that he'd heard him, turning to Caius. "I'm ready to give judgment, Caius. What say you?"

Caius looked conflicted, but there were too many things at stake for him to deny what Aro had done. They'd changed from merely an immortal government to a dictatorship. What bothered him the most was that he'd been lied to by someone he'd considered family, a brother.

"I agree with the charges," Caius stated quietly.

"I second," Marcus sighed. "Aro, your position has been terminated."

"I propose that Marcus take his place," Demetri offered.

" And I second," Caius muttered, turning away from the group.

It was then that Aro finally lost the last thread of his control. With a brief wave of his hand, he ordered his guard to attack his own brothers.

"Felix, Demetri, protect Marcus!" I said, grabbing at Carlisle.

Alec released the army of newborns, commanding them to attack, lest they be killed. Renata was instantly at Aro's side, protecting him from everything going on around him. Marcus's personal guard surrounded him, Felix, and Demetri, leaving Caius lost in the shuffle.

But it was the searing pain that dropped me to my knees. Fire licked at every inch of my skin, my mind burned like I had over a hundred years ago in Carlisle's home, and my fingers curled into claws, trying anything and everything to dig my way out of the pain. I could hear the sound of immortals fighting, feel the vibration of feet running by, but I couldn't focus on any of it. I also knew I wasn't the only one screaming in agony. Carlisle was right next to me, bearing the same torture that Jane was inflicting upon me.

Only one thing, one sound broke through it all. It sounded like a bomb had gone off. The normal rush of air that usually preceded Bella's shield was nothing compared the rushing wind that blew over me. This was hurricane force winds mixed with sand and leaves and twigs.

The fighting came to a standstill at the same time the pain stopped abruptly. Carlisle and I jumped to our feet but gasped at the wreckage around us. It looked like the aftermath of a hydrogen bomb. Newborns, royal guards, and trees were scattered everywhere – some destroyed, others in pieces and still moving. All the destruction seemed to stem from the same location, where my family was still standing. Alec was no more, his head cleanly removed as if chopped off with a sharp axe. However, Jane was writhing, her torso having been removed from her legs.

"Jane," Aro called from the safety of Renata's shield.

Despite her state, her eyes searched out Carlisle and me again. As I braced myself for the pain, an anguished cry echoed through the clearing.

"Stop!" Bella snarled, her shield clearly holding two immortal women hostage against a boulder.

"Bella," I breathed, stepping toward her, but Carlisle's strong arm stopped me.

"Wait, son," he said, shaking his head. "She's not in control."

Bella's eyes were black, deadly, and a little glazed over as she focused on Aro and only Aro. "I want this done. I want this over. You've been judged. Deal with the consequences, but I swear to God, if you hurt them any more, I will end your mates as revenge."

Bella had done exactly what Felix had told her to do when he'd warned us that the Volturi was coming after us. She's sought out the wives. Caius's mate Athenodora and Aro's mate Sulpicia were fighting uselessly against my girl's shield. They looked wild-eyed and scared.

My girl had done everything we'd taught her, and it had started with Alec and Jane. Through most of the thoughts around me, I could see that Bella had completely lost control when she saw what Jane was doing to me and Carlisle. Not only had her shield left her small body in a giant wave of destruction, combined with Benjamin's push of the forest and wind, but her entire being moved so quickly that she'd actually vanished from sight for a split second – something that Alice had seen coming, but we weren't quite sure what to make of it when the vision first appeared. She'd simply disappeared. One second, she was fighting next to Jasper and Benjamin, and the next, she had captured the two wives, pinning them.

"You're finished with this, Aro," Marcus stated, giving Bella a side glance, but he didn't tell her to release the wives. "Surely you can stand down gracefully."

Aro sagged in defeat as he gazed around as his destroyed army, but he flinched at the agonizing cry from his mate.

Marcus turned to me, his talent showing me that Bella's only loyalty at that moment was to me. It was bright and gold and glowing with an intensity that overshadowed every other relationship on that field.

"You might be the only one that can stop her, Edward. Go to her," he said, his voice still sounding bored, but in his mind, he was proud of her extraordinary talent and ingenuity.

I reached Bella in an instant, but her shield wouldn't let me more than a few feet from her. "Bella... Let me in, love..." The shield relaxed slightly, and I was able to step closer, but I still couldn't touch her. "I'm okay, sweetheart. You have to let them go. It's not necessary – a mate for a mate."

Her black eyes met mine, and I flinched at the hatred screaming from her mind. Bella was stunning and ethereal as she breathed heavily, her mahogany hair wild from her fight. She hated them. All of them. Not only had they lied, manipulated, and threatened her family, but most of all, they'd kept me from her. She was angry that they'd used me, blackmailed me, and made me a slave. Having all of them here in front of her brought the reality of that home to her, and she despised them all for it.

"We'll make up for it, Bella. I swear it," I vowed, stepping just a little closer, my mind filled with suggestions, worry, and anger from everyone behind us. "They're not all like Aro, sweet girl. None of them knew what he'd done. Not all of them were privy to his deal with me. You can't take it out on them."

More and more, her shield relaxed, letting me finally step up to her, face to face. "This isn't you," I whispered, gazing into her eyes that were now slowly lightening to her warm, golden color. "This isn't what you are, my beautiful girl. There's been enough destruction today. Don't do this," I told her softly, jerking my chin to the two immortal women that were watching us warily. "If you do this, they'll take you from me. And I can't live without you."

It was the truth and the only thing I feared would work on her. Caius was livid that his mate was being threatened. Aro's mind was reeling with revenge. But Marcus was simply waiting. He didn't want to inflict punishment on Bella if he didn't have to, but the laws concerning mates was strict.

Sulpicia and Athenodora slid slowly to the ground as Bella's shield gradually withdrew. The instant they were free, they were gone as far from us as possible.

"I'm sorry," Bella sobbed, and I caught her before she could sink to the ground.

She was drained and weary – a result of that explosion of her shield, I was willing to bet. I wanted to hold her, get her as far away from this place as possible, but Alice's mind was suddenly louder than everyone else's, and Jasper appeared at my side at the same time Aro screamed his last order.

"Kill her!" he sneered.

Several newborns that had been forgotten in the aftermath attacked. In order to protect her, I pushed Bella behind me. I wasn't sure what she had left in her at this point, but Jasper was ready and willing to fight by my side. There were four of them attacking without any plan, plot, or reason. Jasper took on two as I did the same. Due to their inability to control their new bodies, they were easy on my mind, easy to counter.

Kicking out to my left as I dove for my opponent on my right, I sent one tumbling away. I landed on what looked to be a man in his early twenties, swiftly removing his limbs, but before I removed his head, my angry, black gaze looked to Marcus, who gave me a nod of approval. With his permission, I quickly twisted my hands, dropping the head to the ground unceremoniously.

I could hear the remaining newborn coming, so I ducked when he launched himself at me. He landed like a cat, spun on his heel, and redirected himself toward me. He was fast, but his thoughts betrayed him, allowing me to see exactly what his next move would be. Jumping over him, I landed silently behind him and wrapped my arms around his head. Twisting hard, I pulled his head from his body, which slumped to the ground with a heavy thump.

As I dropped the immortal's lifeless head to the ground, I glanced up to see that the entire family had circled themselves around us. But the newborns that had started to act on Aro's command came to a stop. They looked from the four that Jasper and I had destroyed back to the family, and every mind among them was in agreement not to take the chance that they'd be destroyed, as well.

I glanced over to Jasper, who was shoving his dead opponent off of him. Holding out my hand, I asked, "You okay?"

"Yeah, brother." He chuckled, giving the field a quick glance. "It's been a long time since I've fought like this."

I grinned but spun when Bella's mind called to me.

"Edward," Bella gasped, rushing to me, and I wasted no time in scooping her up in my arms.

"Are you all right?" we both asked at the same time as Bella wrapped herself around me. The question stayed unanswered because we chuckled just a little.

"Let's clean this up!" Demetri commanded.

I glanced over Bella's shoulder to see that the Volturi had formed ranks again...only this time, Marcus was taking lead. Aro looked defeated but resigned. Caius looked murderous, but his anger was aimed more toward his brothers than anyone else. Felix and Demetri had taken charge of the guard, guiding the remaining newborns into the cleanup of the field.

Lifeless bodies were piled and lit on fire, thanks to Benjamin. Newborns were piled up with members of the guard that didn't survive – among them, Alec. Jane had reassembled herself, but she stood in the back of the crowd, her mind subdued, her heart mourning for the loss of her brother.

The friends that had come to stand with us, stand against the injustice that Aro had inflicted upon us, started to leave. I could see that the Irish and European covens, Peter, Charlotte, and some of the other nomads had already disappeared. The Denalis, Garrett, and Benjamin were all that remained.

"Huh," I breathed, watching through Marcus's mind as loyalties shifted.

It was an actual physical change from Aro to Marcus. Felix and Demetri had already done so, but Jane, the newborns, and even Caius all pulled their faith from Aro, wrapping it around Marcus. What didn't change was my family. While their minds were satisfied with Marcus taking over, the silver rope that bound us to Carlisle still remained steadfast. The gold surrounding each mated pair was still perfect and unwavering.

"What, baby?" Bella asked, glancing between my face and the direction in which I was staring.

"Marcus's talent is interesting," I murmured softly.

"He sees strengths of relationships, right?" she asked, and I nodded, locking eyes with hers. "And how do we look to him?" A small smile curled the corners of her mouth.

I smiled back, brushing my lips across hers briefly. "We look...beautiful, love."

~oOo~

BPOV

"Wow, that's really fucking cool," Emmett gushed, watching as Benjamin manipulated a small tornado in the field.

"I should thank him," I said softly, not bothering to lift my head from Edward's shoulder. His long gentle fingers swept through my hair over and over, his breathing calm and steady. Had I been human, I might've fallen asleep due to the comfort it was bringing me.

We were off to the side, sitting with the rest of the family. The Denalis had left not long before, taking Garrett with them. He'd shown interest in our diet – and interest in Kate, if I wasn't mistaken. The Volturi were getting ready to leave, but cleanup and coming up with a ruse for the humans had taken a few minutes to decide. Someone had suggested a forest fire, but it was Benjamin that had come up with an off-the-radar storm – something he could manipulate easily without damaging the entire forest.

"For what, love?" Edward asked.

"It was his suggestion to add wind and trees to my shield. Somehow, he knew they'd help," I said, shrugging a shoulder.

"Oh, yeah," Emmett chuckled. "That rocked! And just what the hell was that thing you did? You just...poof!"

"No idea," I sighed, sitting up a little and shaking my head. "I don't know what I did."

"Alice saw you do it...days ago." Edward frowned, cupping my face with one hand and tucking my hair behind my ear with the other. "We weren't sure what to make of it. It kind of looked like..."

"You died," Alice finished with a comical grimace. "When someone just disappears in my visions, it usually means that they aren't alive."

"Oh," I muttered, my brow furrowing. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Edward and Carlisle chuckled at the same time.

Lightening struck the ground, causing a little brush fire to start almost in the exact same place that the pile of ashes had been. The battle was now officially covered up. A part of me was extremely grateful for that, for the small twister that was scattering purple smoke and immortal ashes everywhere. It was like watching a teacher erase the blackboard filled with math problems.

Snuggling back into Edward's embrace, I watched the whole battlefield disappear. What would remain would be a charred field and nothing more. Nature would take back over, coming alive again in a few weeks, probably better, more beautiful than it was before.

Edward hummed in agreement to my thoughts but said nothing, only to go back to playing with my hair. Gripping the sleeve of his black t-shirt, memories flashed through my mind. I'd been filled with hate and bitterness, only wanting the fighting to stop. I'd never, ever forget the tortured sounds that Carlisle and Edward had made at the hands of Jane. It had scared me, and even the glorious vision of Edward fighting newborns to protect me hadn't been able to shake that sound from my ironclad immortal memory.

Edward squeezed me closer. "We should go," he said to Carlisle. "Marcus is giving us leave."

Carlisle stood up, brushing himself off, and said, "I'd like to speak with him before he goes."

Taking Esme's hand, he walked away from us. Edward shook his head once, but again, he was quiet.

"What's he doin', Eddie?" Emmett asked, kicking at his brother's foot.

"Don't call me that," Edward growled, glancing up at me when I sat up. "Carlisle is merely telling Marcus out of respect that we'll be changing locations soon. He's letting them know we'll be discussing the move as soon as the family can sit down to talk about it," he told us, his voice soft, smooth, like molten honey.

"I want someplace we can stay," Rose grumbled, and I agreed with her silently.

"We'll need someplace we can hunt," Jasper added, standing up and offering his hand to Alice.

"A place kinda rainy. Damn, I miss Washington," Emmett sighed.

I smiled, but it fell away when Edward set me on my feet. I couldn't bear to be separated from his touch at the moment.

He gathered me to his side, whispering, "I'm not going anywhere, Bella."

"I know. I can't help it." I nodded, wrapping my arms around his waist. I needed the contact with him. The day had been filled with close calls and fear and anger. I needed to hunt and be selfish with him.

"You can have all of those things, love," he chuckled softly in my ear. "But I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Carlisle wants us at home for a family meeting. He wants to start removing ourselves from here as soon as possible."

I groaned but nodded again, burrowing deeper into his chest. Something about that caused my breathing to hitch, because this would be the first time Edward would move with us. I wouldn't be alone, I wouldn't have to separate from my siblings if I didn't want to – or Carlisle and Esme, for that matter – and I wouldn't be an outsider to the world of perfectly-mated couples. We could start over, start fresh, and learn to truly be together without any threats hanging over us.

Edward pulled me back, cupping my face. His smile was warm, sweet, and so loving that it took my breath away. "Yes to all of those things, Bella. Truly."

Our siblings rambled behind us, talking about things they wanted in a new home, but I barely heard them until Edward's amused glare shot over my shoulder to Alice.

"Is that how you see it?" He laughed, glancing up when Carlisle and Esme joined us. "How about now?" he growled, but his mouth quirked up into the really sexy and crooked smile I loved so much.

"You wouldn't dare!" Alice hissed, her mouth hanging open. "No, no! Please, Edward, don't do that!"

"What the hell?" I asked at the same time as Jasper and Emmett.

"Alice," Edward warned, his voice a low, deep growly sort of sound.

She merely grinned, looking around at all of us. "It seems we have to find a place for a wedding, too."

My eyebrows shot up, but my gaze locked on to the man that was currently looking like he wished he could fade away.

"How can someone so tiny be so annoying?" he grumbled, almost pouting. "I haven't even asked yet."

I giggled, forcing him to look at me. "Her visions are...subjective, Edward," I told him, giving him a wink. "Watch." I made the decision to run away with him, elope in some foreign country, and Alice lost it.

"You two are so, so wrong!" she growled, actually stomping her foot. "Edward thought Vegas!"

Edward smirked and then kissed me quickly, muttering something about great minds thinking alike, but Carlisle cleared his throat.

"Apparently, we have a lot to discuss, so why don't we get back to the house?" he suggested, wearing a rather amused smile on his face.

The family took off, leaving us alone in the field.

"Sorry about that," Edward murmured softly, looking truly contrite as his fingers clawed at his hair nervously. "I didn't... I mean..."

"It's okay. Alice can't help herself sometimes. We don't have to do anything we don't want to," I told him.

"Are you kidding, Bella?" He barked a laugh. "The very mention of the word wedding just sent every woman in our family into wild, crazy fantasies."

"I'm sure," I chuckled, shrugging a shoulder. "However, they should know me better than that."

"Believe me, they tried to rein it in," he sighed, but his smile was soft, beautiful, and so very sweet.

"Welcome to the family," I giggled, squealing when he swiftly bent down to toss me over his shoulder. "I knew living with you and Alice would prove interesting!" I laughed, smacking at his perfect ass since I had a stunning view of it as he raced us back home.

A loud smack landed on my own ass, and I squeaked more in surprise than the feel of it. "Turnabout's fair play, love," he chuckled.

"Edward, put me down," I told him, my laugh still ringing through the forest. But the scent of home was getting closer.

He stopped abruptly, setting me down gently. He looked every bit of his seventeen-year-old frozen self – wild hair, sparkling eyes, and expectant smile. He was beautiful, he was mine, and he wasn't going anywhere. And I was pretty certain he was embarrassed with Alice outing his decision.

He shook his head once but didn't say anything as I leaned up to him, pressing my lips to his. I left my mind open to him, remembering our fear-filled conversation in that abandoned barn. Kissing him again, I thought, I know you haven't asked yet, but the answer is still and will always be yes – whether you ask today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now.

It was challenging enough that we were so recently mated. Even more challenging was going to be the move and settling in as a member of the family, so I understood all the things we'd confessed in that barn would take time. I wasn't worried about it. At all.

He grinned. "It won't be a hundred years, love. That I can promise you."

"Good." I chuckled, linking our fingers together. Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. "Come, Edward. We need to put a vote in, or they'll have us moving to the South Pole so that Emmett can hunt polar bears or some shit."

Edward groaned, rolling his eyes, but he walked by my side through the backyard. "Fantastic...fucking penguins."

When I doubled over in laughter, letting his statement wash the rotten parts of the day away, Edward scooped me up and carried me into the house.

~oOo~

"It's nice to meet you, Miss Esther," Edward greeted. "Isabella's told me so much about you. Please, come in."

"You, too, Edward. I just wanted to stop by before you left," she said, giving Edward an almost comical once-over from head to toe. "You know, see if there was anything you needed."

"Thank you. That's extremely kind," he replied to her, giving his slow, crooked smile.

I'd had to turn away after introducing them and focus on packing at a human pace, but I grinned down at a stack of books in my hand because his warm, silken voice alone was causing the poor woman to have heart palpitations; never mind what his sweet handsome face was doing to her. However, it was interesting to witness his interaction with humans, considering I hadn't seen too much of it lately. Edward's control was perfect, though I was pretty sure he wasn't breathing. I knew he was testing himself again, especially considering the next steps we were about to take.

"If you don't mind, could you let someone in to pick up some things I'm donating?" I asked her, to which she readily agreed. I handed her a list of what was staying and what was going, along with our new forwarding address.

"Are you sure you want to leave all of this furniture, Isabella?" Miss Esther asked, giving my apartment in the city a long, slow glance. "It looks awfully expensive."

Miss Esther was an extremely kind older woman with a sweet smile and graying hair, but she was no nonsense when it came to keeping her building running smoothly. She'd always been kind to me, but I was her quietest tenant...or had been up until the whirlwind that was Edward came falling gracefully into my life. That last thought made him chuckle just low enough that the human in the room couldn't hear him.

"No, ma'am," I sighed, gazing around with her but shaking my head at the same time. "There won't be room where we're going."

Her eyes flashed, and she fought her smile. I could only imagine what she was thinking because from his casual leaning stance against the kitchen counter, Edward's smile graced his beautiful face for just a brief moment as he watched the older woman step around my stack of boxes.

"Besides," I continued, shrugging a shoulder and dropping the stack of books into the box at my feet, "I'm sure you won't let just anyone sublet my apartment. I'm only taking my personal things. Someone may need the rest."

It was true. I owned my apartment, but after talking to Jasper and Carlisle, they'd suggested I keep it, letting my little landlady rent it out for me. Property in New York was a sound investment, according to them. And while the majority of my possessions were already packed up at the Cullen home, Edward and I had come here to clear out any personal items. Carlisle had said it was time to move on, so we were erasing my existence from New York.

I would really miss the city, but unfortunately, I couldn't live here again for many, many years. It saddened me that by the time I came back here, Miss Esther would be long gone. She'd be a mere perfect memory tucked away in my steel-trap mind.

"Oh!" I gasped, turning to her. "And you'll need to replace the shower door. I'll cover the cost, but it's cracked. I...um, slipped."

It took all I had not to meet the smoldering gaze across the room as Edward propped his head on his hand, because he was truly responsible for said shower door the night we'd first mated. I could feel his eyes on me, caressing me just like his fingers. In my peripheral vision, a heavy-lidded, black gaze practically raked over my whole body.

Not helping, Edward, I thought to him, smiling when he turned his back to me. Sometimes, he was completely unaware of what he could do to me with just a simple look.

"As long as you're not hurt, Bella," Miss Esther sighed, completely oblivious to Edward's silent perusal of a box of my things on the counter as he fought a smug smile. "I'll take care of it after you've left."

"No, no. I'm fine," I said with a grin, holding up my hands. "Not a scratch on me."

"Well, that's good," she said firmly, giving me a small smile. "I'll miss having you around here, sweetie. Good luck with the move. And give my regards to that father of yours."

"I will." I smiled and nodded, wanting to hug her but knew it best that I didn't. It was a leftover aspect of my personality from my human days.

A strong arm wrapped around my shoulders, drawing me close as I warred within over something so benign as giving away a hug. It was moments like these that before Edward came along, I would've struggled by myself, but now I didn't have to. Leaning into him, I smiled when heavy kisses dropped to the top of my head as he hummed in agreement to my thoughts.

Miss Esther turned toward the door but suddenly stopped and faced us again. "Oh, I came up here to tell you to just drop off the spare key before you leave. And I have a few spare boxes down in the basement if you need them."

Frowning, I looked around but finally nodded. "Actually, I could use a few more... Thank you." I started to follow her, but Edward intervened.

"I'll go, love," he said, his face now clear of its previous dangerous sexiness. It was open, honest, and filled with expectation as he tried to be helpful. He opened the door, allowing Miss Esther to step out into the hallway ahead of him, but he turned to me. "How many?"

"Three, I think," I told him.

"Three it is," he said with a sweet smile and a wink before closing the door.

With Miss Esther gone, I could get back to packing at my normal speed. I finished off the bookcase and moved into the bedroom. I packed what clothes I wanted, knowing Alice would provide me with whatever I needed, and bagged up the rest to donate.

I sat down on the edge of the bed, giggling once at the sad, pitiful, cracking squeal it made. It had been a perfectly good bed until the night I met Edward, but we'd destroyed it. The ripped mattress was flipped over and covered up with sheets and blankets, and the frame was rigged, but the humans wouldn't notice it until they came to throw it away.

The scent of rain and home wafted around me as I tugged open my nightstand drawer.

"What was she thinking?" I asked with a smile without looking up from just junk and books and pictures.

"That you're beautiful, that you look happier now than she ever remembers seeing you, and that I'd better take care of you," Edward answered smoothly.

When I glanced up, he was leaning sexily in the bedroom doorway with three good-sized boxes at his feet. He was in black jeans and a simple gray t-shirt, his hair in its usual disarray. However, the biggest change was that the boots he loved so much were now replaced with the pair of black Converse that Alice had bought him. It was a subtle change but there nonetheless. And footwear wasn't the only thing he'd slowly started to change. He'd started to throw away his long leather coat that had been hanging on the back of my apartment door – or at least donate it – but I begged him to keep it, if only because I thought he looked dangerous and sexy in it. That admission had earned me a sweet, amused eye roll, but he'd packed it away anyway.

"Oh, and she wanted to know how we met but was afraid to ask you."

"But she asked you?" I chuckled, getting up and walking to him to grab one of the boxes.

He grinned, all smug and crooked. "She did."

"Dare I ask... What did you tell her?" I laughed softly, going back to the bed and the contents of my nightstand.

"The truth," he purred, but this time, the smooth voice was right behind me.

I turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow. "So you told her that you were an immortal bounty hunter of sorts, that you came to New York to hunt me down so that you could turn me over to the royal vampires for revenge and profit?"

He laughed, shaking his head and pulling me close. Wrapping his arms around my waist, he said, "Okay, there's proof right there that the word truth is all about perspective." He kissed me quickly to shut me up, but his hands rubbed my back slowly. "No, I simply told her what I could of the truth...that I saw you on the street, thought you were the most beautiful, most intriguing woman I'd ever laid eyes on, and as my luck would have it, we ended up at the same dance club."

Giggling, I wrapped my arms around his neck at the same time that he cupped my bottom and lifted me up. My legs secured themselves around his waist as wet, teasing kisses met my neck and the soft spot behind my ear.

"I also told her that I had no idea what you see in me," he murmured against my temple.

Nuzzling his jaw, I asked, "Did you tell her that you came back here with me and fucked me senseless on every surface of this apartment?"

His laugh was low, dark, and sensual. "No," he growled, nipping at my earlobe, and I suddenly found my back pressed into the closest bare wall. "I wanted to, but I didn't think her poor heart could take it." He grinned against my cheek when I laughed again. "I did, however, tell her that I'd waited forever for you and that you've made me a better man."

I gasped, pulling back to look at him. His eyes were perfect and golden, framed with long, dark eyelashes and filled with so much emotion that it was practically radiating out of him. I wanted to tease him that he'd given her a romance novel answer, but I could see that he really and truly meant every word he'd just said.

Grasping either side of his handsome face, I kissed him roughly, whispering, "I love you."

"I love you, too, my sweet, beautiful girl," he whispered back. "I'm not perfect, and... I know I'll make mistakes, but I promise you that I will never take for granted this amazing gift that's been handed to me. Ever." With one hand still cupping my bottom, the other took my chin between his finger and thumb. "I mean it, love. I've done things that I'm ashamed of, and I wish I could take them back, but for some reason, all those things brought me to you, and I... I just..."

I cut him off because I knew what he was trying so hard to say. My lips met his hungrily, devouring whatever words he couldn't let out. He didn't have to say them; I felt them in his touch, his kiss, his beautiful, low, wanton moan. Weaving my fingers into his hair, I held him to me. His sweet breath assaulted my senses, his tongue swirled with mine, and his fingers gripped and tugged at my clothes.

Huge changes were happening in our lives, and it was overwhelming for both of us. Edward still hadn't proposed officially, but he also hadn't touched the piano that Esme loved so much. However, it had only been a few days since the Volturi had left us in that field. I still couldn't bear to be without him in the same damn room, but Carlisle assured us that it was normal. We'd all had quite the scare.

We were hoping that our move would bring comfort, a breath of fresh air, and a new start. It would be my third move since I'd been changed but Edward's first with the entire family. There were aspects of our next phase that unnerved him, but he was a willing participant in planning, packing, and moving.

We should've been loading up the truck downstairs because we were to set out to our new location that very night, and we were driving straight to the new house directly from here. But somehow, we'd gotten distracted.

"Tell me you have something else to change into, Bella," Edward growled sexily, his fingers already starting to tear my shirt.

"Yes, yes, just do it," I whimpered, gathering up his gray t-shirt so that I could tug it off over his head.

Ripping and tearing echoed through the bedroom, but Edward made no move to pull me away from that wall except enough to tug away my ruined clothes. He tossed them to the floor, attacking my exposed skin with licks, long, open-mouth kisses, and swirls of his tongue.

"Fuck, no," he purred, gliding his nose up my now bare chest. "I believe we missed...this surface."

Grinning, I nipped at his collarbone while my hands slipped over his smooth skin. My fingers caressed lean muscles, hardened nipples, the skin just above the waistband of his low-riding jeans, and the sweet trail of dark hair that disappeared down behind the denim. My thumb toyed with the button, but my eyes locked with needy and dark.

"Yes, please, baby," he rumbled, nodding fervently. "I'll help you finish packing, but right now...I need you."

Leaning in, I brushed a soft kiss to my mark on his shoulder, reveling in the sexy purr that erupted from him. There were times that I liked taking things slow with Edward, but this wasn't one of them. Maybe it was the memories of our first time that were surrounding us, maybe it was the changes that were about to come, or maybe it was just the simple fact that we just couldn't help ourselves.

With a swift tug, I unbuttoned his jeans, shoving them and his underwear down to his knees. He was hard and heavy against my stomach, but before I could reach for him, his own hand stopped me.

"I can smell that you're ready for me...please, Bella," he begged, looking up at me through heavy-lidded eyes as I pressed my forehead to his when he started to lift me.

Slowly, he guided me down over him. The sensation of being complete, of finding my other half, and of pure perfection caused my breath to hitch. My head fell to his shoulder, and I glanced between us, seeing skin and legs and hips all pressed together. It was hard to tell with our immortal flesh where one of us ended and the other began.

Kissing up his neck, I locked gazes with him again, loving the wrecked hair, the black eyes, the kiss-bruised lips, and the open-mouthed heavy breathing that he was doing. "Baby, you feel so good," I confessed, hardly recognizing my own voice, but I was overcome with the feel of him inside of me, surrounding me, caging me against that wall.

Slipping his fingers into my hair at the base of my skull, he gripped hard, letting me know that this would not be gentle, that he needed hard and fast and deep – just like the first time we were in my apartment. Using the wall and his shoulders, I braced myself, crying out his name when he began a deep, thrusting pace. Edward kissed roughly down my neck to his mark on me, sucking my flesh hard into his mouth as he continued to take me against the wall.

I couldn't help the long, low growl I released; nor could I stop my insides from clenching around him. But when his teeth grazed along the scar at the same time his velvet voice purred, "Mine," I completely shattered, totally forgetting the mundane task of packing.

~oOo~

Several weeks later...

EPOV

I parked the Volvo in an open spot, sitting still for just a second. Bella, Alice, and Jasper stayed quiet for the moment; even their thoughts were minimal. They knew this would be an all-out assault on my mind. I glanced up when Emmett and Rose pulled in next to me.

Alice, without saying a word, showed me small visions concerning the day – things that helped, things that might happen, and then things that I would absolutely hate. Glancing over to Bella, I let out a deep breath. With a nod to myself, I opened the car door, the rest of them following suit. Wincing, I braced against the chaos that ensued at the sight of Bella, our siblings, and myself.

New kids...

Nice car.

Omigod, he's gorgeous!

Holy shit, she's hot!

Who are THEY?

The volume on it turned down in earnest when a small yet firm hand slowly slipped into mine, our fingers linking together. I sighed a bit in relief, glancing down at Bella.

"Better?" she asked.

"Yes. Much," I told her, kissing her temple. "Thank you."

A wave of calm floated over me, and its influence wasn't real...nor was it my own, so I looked over to Jasper.

"You looked like you needed it," he chuckled, giving my shoulder a punch. "Take a moment, brother. We have time."

I nodded, leaning against the car and giving my surroundings a good long look as cars continued to pull in. Squeals of greetings, loud laughter, overlapping chatter, a thousand heartbeats, and of course, silent mental curiosity came at me from every direction. My sense of smell was on high alert – colognes, perfumes, makeup, menstrual cycles, blushes, skin, new books, old books. But the only scent I tried to focus on was the calming smell of fruit and flowers standing next to me.

Not letting go of Bella's hand, my thumb rubbed nervously across her knuckles over and over. Her head lay gently on my upper arm, just her silent way of offering me as much solace as she could.

White Mountains Regional High School. Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Two hundred and ten rainy days out of the year.

It was that last factoid that had decided the new location for all of us. Apparently, it was tied with the amount of annual rainy days as Forks, Washington. And there was an opening at the local hospital for Carlisle. It had all seemed to fall into place for us. It was a chance to stay somewhere for a few years, a chance to start over. A chance to be...normal.

Giving my thirst one last check and finding it manageable, I pushed away from the car, setting the alarm on it. It was a necessity, a new car. We needed to fit in with high school kids, and my Vanquish and Bella's Audi weren't going to do it. Emmett's Jeep fit in just fine, but we needed more than one car, considering how many of us there were. Plus, we were in different grades. Jasper, Rose, and Emmett were all starting as juniors. Bella, Alice, and I were sophomores. It gave as at least three years in one location, barring there weren't any accidents or suspicions.

I flinched again once we reached the hallways. The rest of them tried to tell me that the worst day was the first day, but by next week, we'd be old news. This time, there were hushed whispers added into the mix.

"I heard they're all adopted."

"I heard they're all together. Like together, together..."

Rosalie caught the eye of just about every boy in the hallway. Minds fluctuated between fear of Emmett, Jasper, and myself and awe over the girls' beauty. Lust and fear – Jasper was being hit with it from every direction – not to mention, deception, mischief, and giddiness that teens seemed to radiate on a constant basis anyway.

"You know," I whispered in Bella's ear, "the last time I went to school...boys and girls weren't allowed in the same classroom. The separated us at my school."

"No shit!" Jasper laughed. "When I went, girls weren't allowed at all. They were taught at home."

That seemed to lighten the feelings around us. I knew they were nervous for me, but they'd all done their best to prepare me. Carlisle had pulled strings so that Bella was in all of my classes, along with the occasional class with Alice. My brothers told me to brace myself for how our fellow classmates would see Bella because our possessive nature would spike. Jealousy was a new emotion for me, and it seemed I didn't handle it well.

Once we were in the middle of the damn school, Emmett turned to all of us with a giant grin. Of all of us, I think he liked the school environment the most. It appealed to his fun-loving nature, his love of sports, and his inability to stop himself from cracking crude jokes.

"See you guys at lunch," he sang, taking Rose's hand and walking away.

I groaned because that was something I was not looking forward to. At all. Lunch. A giant room filled with overly-curious kids and the smell of human food, and we had to pretend to eat it.

Stopping by my locker, Bella and I unloaded school supplies. Her locker was several down from mine and would most likely go unused for the rest of the year. We wanted to share. It just made things easier. It also made some sort of relationship statement, I was told.

"Hey," she said, leaning against the locker door. "You okay?"

I grinned, shook my head, and sighed. "Bella, I'm a hundred and thirteen, and I'm standing in the middle of a high school hallway. We're about to head to U.S. History...most of which I've lived through."

She giggled and stood up on her toes. "I love you," she whispered before kissing me sweetly.

"Love you, too," I chuckled against her lips.

And that right there made it all worth it – that sweet smile, her beautiful giggle, and the three words I never got tired of hearing from her. I'd do just about anything to keep all of that coming my way. Even go back to school. And it wasn't even about school for her – for any of us, really. It was about just being. It was having something normal to cling to, about letting go of our true nature and focusing on our human side, and it was about playing a role so that Carlisle could do what it was that he was born to do. The whole family sacrificed so that we could stay together, be the family that we felt we were, and try our damnedest to overcome what we were. So we played foster children in order to keep up a pretense.

"Not to mention," I continued teasing her, "the fact that I can hear every single thought around us. Girls jealous of you, Rose, and Alice. Boys angry that we seem to be getting too much attention. And I, apparently, have a nice ass."

Bella snorted into a loud laugh, covering her mouth with her hand. "Well, duh!" she sang, taking my hand. "I coulda told you that!"

"Yeah?" I asked, raising up my eyebrows at the same time I kissed the back of her hand. "Wanna know what they think of your ass, sweet girl? Because I have to agree..."

"No, Edward. I don't." There was amusement there but also a finality to her answer. "Come on, old man. History time. Maybe you can tutor me over what's not in the textbook."

The benefit of our unwavering memories was that we didn't need the map of the school or our schedules. One look, one walk around campus, and we were set. It was a permanent fixture in our minds. Bella led me to our first class, her hand finally letting go of mine in order to take the seat next to me.

I handed Bella her bag, taking my seat slowly. I had to focus on not moving too quickly, not letting the boys stares and thoughts aimed at my girl from the other side of the room get to me, and not allowing the scent of blood to make me lose it. It would take some getting used to, but I was pretty sure I could do this. If I could survive sixty years of servitude, seeing death and destruction everywhere, then I could most certainly survive six hours a day being surrounded by human teenagers.

Students straggled in, but I ignored them, giving my Bella a long, slow gaze. She was beautiful, dressed in jeans and a tight-as-hell shirt, most likely for my benefit rather than the hormonal teen boys around her. Her long, thick hair was swept up into a long ponytail that hung down the middle of her back, and it was all I could do not to wrap it around my hand just to kiss the sweet skin of her neck. I lingered on the bare finger of her left hand, thinking it was almost the right time to make her mine in the final step, but things had been way too hectic with the Volturi, moving, and getting ready for school.

Bella's thoughts were pleasant, overshadowing the insignificant ones around me. She flitted through several different trains of thought – our schedule for the day, her trepidation for lunch, and the way I'd thoroughly ravished her in the shower of our en-suite bathroom on the third floor at home before we got dressed for the day. And then there was the slight tinge of worry riding just below the surface of all of that. She worried that this was too much for me too soon, that my change in diet and my mind reading would become overwhelming in this environment, and that I was merely going along to placate everyone else.

"Bella, no," I whispered, shaking my head when her sweet golden eyes met mine from across the aisle. "I promise you... I'm fine," I vowed, shaking my head again.

She smiled sweetly, mouthing, "I love you." Reaching over to brush my hair from my forehead, she said, "Can't help it, baby. I'll always worry."

The teacher, Miss Watts, took her place at the front of the classroom once the final bell rang, pulling out her notebook to call the roll. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. As far as changes went, my life couldn't get any different. I'd once been alone for a very long time; now, I was not only surrounded by family, but I had the love of the most beautiful girl I'd ever laid eyes on in my long, long life. She'd accepted me even when I wasn't there. She was more than I could've ever hoped for. Bella. My love. My reason for existing. My mate. My fate. And soon...my wife.

With that last thought, I shed the last of my old self, finally embracing who I now was.

Miss Watts called out names, and she paused on mine. "A new student... Edward Cullen?"

I smiled at Bella, shooting a wink her way, because it meant so much to her that I'd accepted Carlisle's name, but really, it meant everything – a fresh start, a new life, and a standard to live up to. Edward Anthony Masen would always be a part of me, but I wasn't that man any longer, and for that, I was extremely grateful.

Looking up to the front of the class, I fell into the role that was made for me. It was who I truly wanted to be.

Raising my hand, I said, "I'm Edward Cullen."

~oOo~

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