If you do something with all your heart, it will change you. I don't care what it is. Writing, working, raising kids, reading, falling in love, following a blog, planning a trip, meeting online friends in a faraway place for a weekend for no other reason than the fact that you know it's going to be awesome, you know it's going to be an experience you'll remember the rest of your days—what I'm trying to tell you all is that I'm not the same Myg I was before Twilight, before Osa Bella, before all of you.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love and enthusiasm you have given Osa Bella and the encouragement you've given me. In case you are wondering if it makes an impact, please know that it absofuckinglutely does. I wouldn't be posting this from Forks if it wasn't for all of you. And Forks is a long, long way from Jersey, folks.
Osa Bella would be a whimper, a suggestion of what you've read if not for the love and attention and dedication of a whole team of people, so please put your hands together, first and foremost for SnarkierThanYou, without whom Osa Bella simply would not exist. STY was my seductress, she has been my muse, my cheerleader, and my mentor. She was the one who got me to read Twilight, she was the first person to ever lay eyes on Osa Bella and she was the one who insisted I share it with the world. I can't post a single word of this without her approval. I love you, STY. I cannot believe it took Twilight for us to figure out that we had to be much, much closer friends, but I will always be grateful we got here. (And same goes for that little punk, Jenny Jerkface, who lives down the damned street for me and who I never even met until New Moon was in the theaters.)
STY, Jenny Jerkface and Latchkey Wife gave Osa Bella her first true home and her best, most loving, supportive and fun audience right here at Twitarded. Thank you forever and ever, ladies. Mr. Myg and I always say, no matter how many readers we get anywhere, our best readers are right here. I could do little but write for you all the rest of my days and be a very happy Myg.
The sweet VitaminR70 is my location consultant and has read every word of this—multiple times, people! She's held my hand through many renditions and has been unfailingly enthusiastic every step of the way.
TexasKatherine, well, you all know how awesome she is, but did you know she's also an amazing beta? I roped her into this half way through and she is Mr. Myg's tag team pal on the snarky beat-downs in google docs. All done with love, of course, she is relentless in her pursuit of purging the suck out of my early drafts (and there's plenty of suckage in those words, and not the good kind). I always say if your betas don't kick your ass, fire them. Thank you so much, TK. I can't write another word without you. Sorry.
Later in the game, Gkkstitch found herself with a little free time after Lolashoes wrapped This Hungry World and I abducted her into the Osa Bella beta vortex. She has read and re-read and re-read again the last several chapters of this story and her contributions have also been ass kicking in the best of ways. Thanks for jumping into the game and helping to bring this ship into port, bb.
At the very end of re-writing this, I had a bit of a melt down and really needed a fresh pair of eyes. I slipped a rough draft of the last four chapters to Lolashoes for some hand holding and she was kind enough to read and give virtual cuddles and hugs and tell me it was all going to be okay. Thank you so much, Lo. Some of you may have noticed that Osa Bella has picked up a few more readers since we started out here at Twitarded. Lolashoes is largely responsible for that with her twitter endorsements and RTs and the interview she did with me for Peas and Carrots. She's probably the sweetest person I've never met and I may have been inspired to write some femme slash in her honor, no wait, that actually happened.
You know I can't wrap this without a proper shout out to Mr. Myg, who right now is back in New Jersey, single-parenting my 20 month old twin boys so I could get my crazy ass on a plane to Seattle and hook up with a bunch of you out here in the promised land. What the hell kind of husband would do that? An incredibly generous, supportive, and insane one. Well, Mr. Myg is pretty much the antithesis of insane, but he knows what's important and when this trip came up, he said, "Myg, you have to go."
You also know how hard he's kicked my ass in the editing department, or rather you may not since you're not allowed to read any Osa Bella that hasn't been through the Mr. Myg filter. The man knows how to write, folks. If you think Osa Bella is at all well-written, thank him because he made it so. And for those of you who love Osa Bella's Edward? All I can say is, he takes lessons in awesomeness from Mr. Myg.
Now, please grab your sniffs because I need to make a special dedication.
Those of you who were around these parts for Fandom Gives Back already know that I lost my kid sister this year to cancer. What you may not realize is that Osa Bella is what I did to cope with my grief. I started writing it in the final stages of her illness and became obsessed with it after she died. I guess I was trying to escape the pain, find some respite, which I got plenty of right here reading Twitarded every day. What I began to realize was that Bella's struggle in Osa Bella was my way of coming to terms, yet again, with the fuckawful certainty of death and the pain of loss and figuring out how you just fucking go on and live and find joy in your life after that. I did figure it out, again, and I have to tell you, you all were a very big part of that path for me.
Anyway, I'd like to specially dedicate Osa Bella to Amanda, my kid sister. Kid, I don't know where you are or if you can hear me, but if so, please do NOT, for the love of God, let Dad find out about some of the shit that goes on in Chapters 21, 24, 25, 26—anyway, you get the idea. Your baby B told me she's going as Bella for Halloween this year and I have to dress the Myglets as vampires. Mr. Myg gave the big eye roll over that, but you know he can never say no to B. Since she's never even seen the movie (I promise to show it to her when she's older), I am just going to assume that's your way of telling me you're still here and you've got my back. I want you to know I'm still here and I've got yours, too. And I'll damn well make sure B has just the right accessories, all the way from Ffffffooooorrrrrkkkkssss, to make her the best 8 year old Bella ever.
Now, grab the sniffs, clean your shit up. We've got a story to finish.
When we last left our badass hero Bella and her now second ex-fiance, the dreamy sailor Edward, they'd learned that some dreadful tragedy worthy of a National Geographic cover had gone down in the wake of Bella's great escape from the beach at La Push. The bears had swam out to follow her, and they couldn't be turned back. They were drowning out there (and shit, when I went to La Push on Thursday and stared out at the ocean? I could see the heads of black bears struggling in the water and I nearly doubled over—no lie. It sucks, sometimes, to have an overactive imagination). Anyway, Bella and Edward made the very difficult choice to turn Reckoner around and go back. Last I heard, Jake asked Bella to marry him to keep her from being dragged off to Canada by the bears, which I personally think was totally kickass of him under the circumstances, and Bella accepted, but only because Edward asked her to. See, Edward knows Jake will keep her safe, and this he needs more than he needs anything else. Word has it Edward found his way to Jake's house and was waiting to see Bella one last time.
I wonder how that's going to go down.
Now, here's your pdf.
So, this is it, guys. Well, okay, we've got a couple of outtakes to discuss and I think there's an epi brewing too. But this is the real end. The place it was all headed. The answers to all the questions. They're here.
Let's do this thing.
October 2, 2010
Day broke under a cloudless sky, soft, pink rays rising up over the tree tops, suggesting another uncharacteristically sunny morning. As we approached the Black house Jake let go of my hand and grimaced a little, like he was hiding a great discomfort, but not all that well. I nervously twisted the new engagement ring on my finger, like turning a small lie concealing a much bigger falsehood. But my sense of duty trumped my sense of romantic idealism. So I couldn't marry the man I truly loved—I hated the fact, but I had a tribe that needed me, and sometimes you just have to step up. This was one of those times.
The five bears following us paused at the end of Jake's driveway as they were met by two wolfs, one I recognized as Leah, and she directed them to the lawn across the street. Six other wolves from Jake's pack were stationed around the perimeter of the Black's property and their temporary Commander in Chief appeared to be Charlie, who sat on the porch in a rocker with a shotgun across his lap.
"What are you doing?" I asked as Jake and I approached.
"Just providing a little disincentive for anyone unfriendly, that's all," Charlie said, eyeing the bears who sat across the street on their haunches, sniffing the air. I looked at him with gratitude, tearing up a little. "Edward saved your life," he said. "I owe him that much, at least."
I leaned over the shotgun on Charlie's lap and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He raised his eyebrows and nodded at the door. "He's waiting for you."
[PSST...click "Read More" to keep going!]
Inside, Edward sat at the kitchen table with Billy and Sue. He looked unusually stiff and vampire-like as he sat in that humble, small room with its mismatched furniture. Sunlight streamed through the windows, reflecting off of Edward's face. As Jake and I came in he rose to his feet, made eye contact with me and then Jake, and then glanced at the new engagement ring on my left hand. I cringed as pain crossed his face, but then his eyes met mine again and it was obvious he was relieved. I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck, catching him by surprise, and he held me almost painfully close.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "How did you even get here without the bears finding you? They're everywhere."
"Leah," he said, and I could tell he was making awkward eye contact with Jake over my shoulder. "I ran into her over by the cliffs and she brought me back here."
"Jake," I turned to see him standing directly behind us, arms crossed, frowning. "You have to get Edward out of here."
"No, Bella," Edward said. "I came to see Hamani and the Ani Tsa' gu hi elders. Billy and Sue were just advising me how to approach them."
"You can't see Hamani," I said. "No way."
"I can't live an eternity without facing these people and making whatever amends I can make," Edward said. "At the very least, I need to make an apology for the damage I've caused."
"They'll want justice," I said. "They'll kill you, don't you see? There'll be no eternity to worry about."
"They may not," Billy said. "We can find out if they'll entertain a formal apology and restitution. Edward brought you back so you can marry Jake and unite the tribes…"
"That was Bella's idea," Edward said.
"You supported it," I said. "You didn't have to bring me back."
"In any case," Billy said, "They may agree to a peaceful resolution, especially if you and Jake ask them."
"Why are you trying to help Edward?" I asked.
"Because," Billy said, "he asked me to."
"I thought you didn't like the Cullens," I said, challenging. Sue's face clouded over with guilt and Billy turned to look at Edward, like he was assessing him, or rather re-assessing him.
"I appreciate what he's trying to do," Billy finally said. "And we would always rather have peace."
I looked over at Jake, who averted his eyes to the floor. Sue said, "We know how you feel about him, Bella. Of course we want to help him."
"Well, it's too risky," I said.
"Bella, I can't run from an entire population of black bears for the rest of eternity," Edward said. "My family is also in danger now. I have to see if there's anything I can do."
"I'd feel the same way if I were him," Jacob said.
"You don't care if he gets killed," I snapped at Jake. "You don't care what happens to him."
"If that was true I wouldn't be protecting him right now, would I?" Jake shot back. "You think I want to see you fall apart because he gets himself killed? I know what a fucked up mess you'll be if he dies."
Edward glared at Jake, his body tensing with restraint. He squeezed my hand. "Jake is doing me a favor right now," he said.
"I'm doing Bella a favor," Jake said.
"Whatever," Edward said.
"We'll talk to the Ani Tsa' gu hi first and see if they'll agree to meet with Edward," Sue said.
"Thank you, Sue," Edward said, giving her an appreciative look.
"No," I said. "I'm afraid of what they'll do."
"Bella," sat down and pulled me into his lap. He held me close and whispered in my ear, "Please don't ask me to spend eternity a coward."
I didn’t want to agree, but the deepest part of me, the part that saw truth and didn’t shade it with fear, understood. In fact, I wanted him to face Hamani. I didn't want him to run from the pain and the destruction we'd brought to the tribe. Coming back and facing the bears had allowed me to untie the knot of regret strangling my heart. How could I really, fairly, deny Edward the same opportunity? But the terror of losing him was at war with that part of me that understood the larger consequence of Edward running from this. And as we sat in the Black's kitchen, I realized that my current fears were the same ones Edward had the day before when he let me jump from Reckoner's bow and dive into the Pacific. So I had to let it go. And I had to help him.
"I'll ask Hamani if he'll consider a peaceful resolution," I said. "If he promises not to kill you, then you can meet with him and the elders."
"Okay," Edward said. "But I am going to face him sooner or later, one way or another."
Jake and I arrived at the tribal council office mid-morning. Sue and Billy were already there with a fresh pot of coffee and a tin of blueberry muffins, which Sue passed around to all of the elders and Anna Marie. Hamani took one, sniffed at it and took a small bite. "Are you hungry Bella?" Sue asked, handing me the muffin tin. "You haven't eaten a thing since yesterday."
"No, thank you," I said, putting the tin on the table and taking the seat across from Hamani. "Did you explain it yet?"
"We were waiting for you," Billy said.
"What's going on?" Anna Marie asked. "Does it have to do with the Cold One you're holding at the Black's house?"
"Yes," Jake said. "Edward Cullen has returned and is asking for an audience with the elders."
"He wants peace," I said. "He would like a chance to apologize to the tribe and offer whatever restitution he can make."
Anna Marie paused and looked curiously at Jake, who shrugged his shoulders and then looked out the window, and then back at her. Anna Marie then relayed this information to Hamani, who was finishing off the last crumbs from his breakfast. He frowned and made several gestures with his hands at Jake as he responded. Then he closed his eyes and put his hands over his face for a moment. I imagined he was recalling the mass drowning from the day before, the loss of his children, and it made me sick inside.
"Hamani says Jake should kill the Cold One and get your memories back so you can phase back," she said. "He has no interest in his apologies."
I turned to Jake, my stomach twisted and hard with fear. He shook his head slightly and grit his teeth.
"The Cold One is sincere in his remorse," Sue said, giving me a supportive look. "Billy and I spoke with him a long time this morning. He has many resources that may be of use to the tribe. Maybe an understanding can be reached."
“They don’t trust him,” Anna Marie said, gesturing to the elders. “He’s a vampire, you know?"
"The Cullens are different," Billy said. "Our tribe has had a long standing peace with them. I know a great harm has been done, but Edward wants to be accountable."
Anna Marie spoke to Hamani again, who then conferred with the other elders. He appeared to grow more agitated, shaking his head in disagreement.
“I’m supposed to be their spirit guardian, right?" I said. "Don’t I have any pull here?”
“If you would phase, they’d agree to anything you want," Anna Marie said.
“Ha ha,” I said sarcastically. “I can go buy a bear suit. Will that work?”
“They’re not idiots,” she said, irritated.
"Edward brought me back here yesterday to marry Jake and keep the tribe from destroying themselves," I said. "Doesn't that count for anything?"
"He brought you back, of his own will?" Anna Marie asked.
"Yes," I said, recalling again the moment when Edward admitted he wanted to flee with me and never look back. That was fine, I thought. Anyone would feel that way. Hell, I felt that way myself. But in the end he did bring me back, and that's what mattered.
Anna Marie relayed this information, and the elders debated what it meant, what they should feel or do in response, their voices a mixture of disbelief and surprise. They talked for several minutes and then she said, "Will Edward relinquish his hold on you in a sacred ceremony and then give you to Jacob Black to be married, before the spirits?"
"What do you mean? They want Edward to give me away at our wedding?"
"He's not my father."
"Hamani says the Cold One has an unnaturally strong attachment to you because he has your memories now. So, Hamani won't give him an audience unless he will come into the sacred circle and dissolve that bond with you before the tribe and the spirits."
"Jesus," I said, my stomach hollow. "You mean like an anti-wedding?"
"Yes, sort of," she said, and then she conferred with Hamani again. "Edward will bring you before Hamani and the elders and they will ask the spirits to unbind you. Then you will be rid of him spiritually and free to reclaim your memories, to remember your true self. Then you can marry Jacob. This is what the elders require before they'll grant him an audience."
"Um… " I stalled. What a sickening proposition this was. It was like they believed Edward could be exorcised from my soul, like he was some kind of demon. The thought made me feel nauseous. I did not believe what they suggested was actually possible—Edward could never be chased out of my heart, even if he chose to vacate, which I knew he never would. But I felt threatened anyway. And I wasn't sure Edward would go along. "Isn't there something else he can do instead?" I asked.
"What's the problem?"
"It just seems a little… extreme."
"He has nothing else that they want," Anna Marie said. "But I should warn you, if he won't do it, they will take that as confirmation that he is planning to come for you again, and they will not allow that."
"What do you mean?"
Hamani interrupted Anna Marie, tapping her shoulder and pointing out the window, making sweeping gestures with his arms, indicating his impatience. She spoke with him for several minutes.
"Hamani says if he will not agree to the unbinding ceremony, they will go to him now. They cannot risk him taking you again."
"He's under my protection," Jake said.
"I know that, Jake," she said. "But they don't trust him—they do not like your arrangement with the Cold Ones."
"That's too bad," Jake said. "These are our lands. They have to respect our wishes."
"They outnumber you," Anna Marie said. "Can't you see that? This is too important to them—they will not risk losing her again."
"I never said Edward wouldn't do it," I said, breaking into their conversation. "But If he does, Hamani and the elders must enter a new peace treaty with the Cullens, like the Quileute have."
"I'm not sure that they'll entertain that," she said.
"Ask Hamani…" I paused. "No… tell Hamani this is what Jake and I will require after we are married and the tribes are united."
Hamani scowled at Anna Marie as she relayed my demand. He spoke quickly, his voice rising. Then the elders all spoke, a rumbling of dissenting opinions until Hamani's voice rose above the others and he spoke to Anna Marie.
"He says if the Cold One will release you from his attachment, they will abide a new treaty with the Cullens—only the Cullens though. No other Cold Ones."
"Of course," I said.
"But Bella, if Edward tries to steal you again, they will kill him."
"He won't," I said, a hollow, cold feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. "But I want the Cullens to be able to return to their home in Forks."
Anna Marie turned and spoke to Hamani again, who said a few words nodded slowly in my direction. "Not Edward," Anna Marie said. "Hamani says he has to leave immediately after the ceremony."
"That's fine," Jake said.
"Why does he have to leave?" I said.
"Temptation," Anna Marie said.
"You can't argue that," Jake said, looking at me.
The elders, led by Hamani, wanted to see for themselves if Edward would agree to these conditions. Not willing to simply trust my reassurances, they instead insisted on coming back to the house to speak to him directly. But I already knew Edward would take issue with this proposal. I was going to have to convince him and reassure him, and that was something I did not want to do with an audience. I wasn't sure how I was going to convince him to go along with a ceremony intended to break the spiritual bond we had. I didn't want to go through with it myself and I would have refused those terms, if it wasn't for the fact that I didn't believe in them—didn't believe there was anything anyone could do that could break the bond we had. But I also knew that Edward would not want to fake some act of contrition just to appease the Ani Tsa' gu hi. He would struggle with this demand.
Edward walked out onto the porch as he sensed the large group of us approaching. Charlie got to his feet, his gun at his side.
"What's this?" Charlie asked as we got near.
"They have a deal," Edward said, looking at Jake and then Anna Marie, reading their thoughts. "And not a good one," he added. He looked at me silently, and shook his head No.
"You have to," I said, before anyone else said a word. Then I turned to Hamani and said, "I need to speak to him alone."
Hamani shook his head in disagreement, as though he was now understanding what I'd asked of him.
"Yes," I nodded. "I'll be right inside. I won't go anywhere, I swear." I took his hand in mine and gave it a reassuring squeeze, and then I strode up the stairs, into the house. Charlie positioned himself defensively toward the crowd as I led Edward back inside.
"Don't ask me to do this," Edward said.
"We have no choice," I said, my voice strained as I attempted to hold back tears.
"You expect me to participate in a sacred ceremony of unbinding with you?" he said. "Like renounce my love for you before the tribes, before the spirits, before God?"
"Yes," I said, cringing at the words.
"I can't do that. That's like disavowing my one reason for existing."
"You have to," I said. "If you don't do it, they'll take that as confirmation that you're planning to steal me again and they'll kill you."
"If you do this, it will guarantee the safety of your family, Edward. They can come home. And then when things settle down and the bears are pacified, I will find a way to leave here and I swear, I will return to you."
"You've agreed to this?" he asked, incredulous, bordering on angry.
"Yes," I said, choking up.
"I can't believe this," he said. "I'd rather they killed me than make me do that."
"Please, please don't make me watch you die," I implored him.
"How can you expect me to renounce my love for you, Bella? I can't do it. I won't."
"Edward," I said, my voice rising in pitch, wavering as I tried to keep my volume down in spite of the desperation that rose in my throat, filled my lungs. "You told me that I was yours, that I belonged to you. You said that nothing would ever change that—not even marrying Jake."
"I know that," he said.
"Well, don't you believe it?"
"Of course I do," he said. "That's the problem." He sat down on the couch and pulled me into his lap. "I want you to understand something," he said, touching his brow to mine. "Do you know why I returned to La Push, why I want to see Hamani?"
"Yes," I said. "You feel remorseful and you want to make things right."
"I'm here because I want to be worthy of your love," he said and then kissed me lightly on the lips. "You had the strength to come back and lead the tribe to safety, in direct conflict with your own heart's desire. So how can I go through an unbinding ceremony to appease Hamani and all the while in my heart know it's a lie? Because Bella, there is nothing they could say or do that will tear your soul from mine."
My tears were hot as they rolled off my cheeks and he brushed them from my face with his thumbs and then kissed me on the forehead. I touched my lips to his and felt them cool, strong, steady.
"Edward," I whispered. "I need you to do this. For me. For us."
He put his arms around me and kissed the top of my head and held me for a long time. Then he kissed me, quietly on the lips and held my face in his hands.
"Okay, I'll do it," he said. "As long as you understand, it will never work."
Edward and I returned to the porch where everyone waited for Edward's answer. As the sun bounced its bright rays off of his face, the elders grew agitated, like they were concerned some kind of magic might follow. Their voices rose and then they all phased except for Hamani, who stood next to Anna Marie, waiting for Edward to speak. He and Edward stood in a silent stand off, looking intently at each other as Jake's pack came running and surrounded the small crowd out on the lawn, ready to intervene should there be any trouble.
"It's okay," I said. "We have an agreement."
"So the Cold One has agreed to the unbinding ceremony?" Anna Marie said.
"Yes," Edward said. "Let me know what I need to do.
Anna Marie paused, her eyes lingering on Edward's face curiously. She and Hamani spoke and then she continued. "Tomorrow we will perform the unbinding before the wedding. You will bring Hala to the sacred circle and give her back to the tribe so she can be married to Jacob."
"Carlisle needs to be here," I said, suddenly, realizing that Edward would be alone to defend himself should anything go awry.
"No, he doesn't," Edward said. "I'll let him know when the treaty is in place."
"Dad," I said. "Call Carlisle. He needs to get here. Today."
"There's no need," Edward said, agitated.
"I'll call him," Charlie said. "He should at least know where you are, Edward. I'd want to know."
"Jake?" I said. "You've got to assure the Cullens can attend tomorrow's ceremony. Please."
"I can do that," he said, for once without hostility, and perhaps a a little relief that Edward was going to let me go. "We'll confer with the rest of the elders. Anna Marie? Clear it with Hamani. We need the Cullens here to formalize the new treaty, anyway."
Anna Marie relayed the information to Hamani, and he nodded his assent. Edward shifted his eyes over the crowd of bears, tense and unhappy with the task before him.
"Honey, you need a dress," Sue said, out of the blue. "The wedding is in two days and you have nothing."
"She has a dress," Edward said. I looked at him and shook my head no, somewhat horrified. "It's in the Vanquish, back at the house. I'll get it for you."
"That dress has some pretty special meaning to me," I said. "Not sure if this is the time and place to break it out."
"I just need to see you in it one last time," he said.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
"Stop fussing, hija." Illeana pulled my hand from where I was twisting a lock of hair out of place and held it. "I spent an hour getting your hair just right."
"Sorry, Ill," I said, putting my hands in my lap, surveying my freshly manicured nails. "Nerves."
"I still say you should let me come down to the beach for the ceremony," she said. "I'm supposed to be your moral support."
"Carl would kill me and I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you or Perla," I said." As much as everyone promises to be civil, the last time the bears, vampires and wolves were all together, someone got their head torn off."
"She was a vampire, so it didn't really count."
"I doubt she'd agree."
"Well, I still don't know how you expect me to be your maid of honor from here."
"You're doing everything I need you to do right now," I said. "And you can do some hypnosis on me when I get back. That's what I really need."
"Oh, Bella," she said, hugging me. "You've really been handed your share of shit to deal with in this life. Things will turn around for you. Have faith."
"Right," I said, doing my best to take the edge off my cynicism.
I looked around at the cardboard boxes of my things, piled in stacks throughout the small house Jake and I would share with his father. Illeana and I sat alone in the bedroom and I contemplated how long I could keep Jake sleeping on the couch, or if he'd just relent and take his room back and let me sleep on the pullout. I stared at the walls, the bed and the small lamp on the dresser and felt numbness like it was creeping out of my heart and up to my brain.
It was the hour before my wedding to Jacob, and nothing felt real.
For a moment, I willed myself to remember what it was like to have a normal life. I remembered my job, the kids of the Thoreau Club, getting drunk on Christmas with Jake, walking down Forks Avenue in the snow. I remembered going to work and meeting the Cullens that first day of school. And then I realized, surprisingly, that I didn't want to go back. Whatever was coming, I still wanted—needed—to move forward.
"You do love Jake, you know," Illeana said gently, interrupting my thoughts. She fixed the twisted strand of hair behind my ear where it joined the gently curling tendrils hanging loosely down my back. "You have a long history, a solid friendship. That's a better foundation for a marriage than lots of couples start with, you know?"
"I know," I said, nodding. "Jake is a good guy."
"So then, will you at least try to be happy? Once you give yourself some time, of course."
"Sure," I said, dismissively. But I didn't need to be happy, I just needed to not drown in pessimism. I needed to not become hopeless. And I was going to need a lot of time before I'd be able to feel anything akin to happiness again. Right now I'd settle for resolved.
"Life has to go on, right?" she said, softly.
"Right," I said.
What she said was true, of course, though it didn't feel true at all. It was the kind of truth you know in your head but you can't trust with your heart, no matter how many times you lived it, like I had. I could look at the trajectory of my own life, see where I'd been and understand that life would go on, but the truth in my heart was quite different. There was a part of my life that could never go on without Edward. That part would stay locked away here in my memory, frozen in time, just like him. With him. Waiting for the moment he would come for me, however long it took. Even if it took forever.
Yet there are some things in this world, I’d finally come to accept, that are just significant beyond one’s own heartache, one’s own desire—beyond one's own, singular truth. They stand above even the strongest bond between two individuals. And this was the web of consequence Edward and I had been caught in that dark night in the woods at Lake Crescent, near Marymere Falls, after the fire had died out and the kids had gone to sleep and we'd found ourselves together at the edge of the water, deep in the woods, following the impulse of our desire. The night Edward accidentally crowned me Spirit Queen of the black bears. And that was bigger than us, than our love, than what we wanted. We'd both conceded this. But I still didn't like it.
However, when I thought of things this way I could see my marriage to Jake in a political light, and that made it easier. It was more of a mission, and if I was going to be forced to marry someone besides Edward, I was lucky it was one of my best friends. Jake's unfailing commitment to marry me, despite my desertion, despite my feelings for Edward, had proven the quality of his character. He was a born leader who put the welfare of his people first. I was trying to live up to that—to be worthy of the role that had been assigned me by fate. I had a heartache to tend to, this was true. But I had a purpose, and this was more important.
I looked at myself in the mirror one last time and then grabbed my bouquet—a simple gathering of blood red roses. Edward had sent them over for me that morning, along with my dress and a pair of shoes contributed by Alice.
"I'll see you in about an hour," I said, giving Illeana a kiss on the cheek. "I'll be Spirit Queen of the Bears then, but you can just call me Your Majesty, Her Royal Highness, Queen of the Black Bears."
"I think I'll just call you Osa Bella from now on," she said. "It's easier."
"What's that mean?"
"Beautiful bear," she said, smiling. "Get it? Isabella? Osa-bella?"
"Clever," I said, giving her a hug. "I like 'Your Majesty' better though."
They say that if you want to call the spirits, you should call them in twilight. The veil between the two worlds is the sheerest, your message swift and clear to the other side, and their journey to this world more palatable. This was the time of day Hamani set for the unbinding ceremony, with the wedding to follow under the cover of night. Like a child forming in the blessed darkness her mother's womb, my wedding to Jake would cast me anew into this world.
When Charlie and I arrived on the beach, the sun was descending into the horizon, its final beams streaking reds, oranges into the slowly darkening blue of the night. The first thing I noticed was not the presence of the spirits, but the blazing fire, spitting sparks high into the wind, several yards down from the gathering of the wedding guests. My heart began to flutter as I recognized the potential danger. Vampires don't like fires, I remembered Jake saying. Of course they don't—you can destroy a vampire by fire.
Not surprisingly, the Cullens were grouped on the perimeter of the gathering, farthest from the flames, closest to the water. Alice was perched on an enormous piece of faded drift wood, and her eyes caught mine and she gave me the smallest, saddest wave. Sadness welled in me too, because I wanted to run to her and hug her and tell her how glad I was that she was there—that they all were. But this I could not do. So instead, I nodded in her direction, and then waved to Carlisle, Esme, Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper who all nodded in return, their faces in different expressions of sympathy and disappointment. I hated seeing them like that, their natural vibrancy doing little to temper the heft of their grief.
Mercy Brown had interrupted her tour and flown in from the other side of the country to be there for Edward. As a gift from the vampires to me, she offered to sing a song at the ceremony. This was a concession on Jake's part, but knowing my love of her music, he agreed.
Charlie and I picked our way through the layers of driftwood scattered on the beach to the gathering of people who awaited our arrival.
"I know you," Charlie said, looking over his shoulder at my strange entourage, eight bears who followed us at a respectful distance. "Part of you would have rather toughed it out with the bears than go through with this."
"And miss your Christmas parties and summer barbecues? Never," I said.
"Whatever happens, Bella," he said. "I'm behind you. I want you to know that."
"Could you not make me cry right now?" I said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "And I do know that because that's where you've always been, Dad. Every step of the way."
Closer to the fire, I saw Hamani. He looked pensive, undaunted, powerful as he stood, backlit by the fire, in traditional dress, buckskin leggings, breachcloth and a headdress, the first time I'd ever seen him in one. He stood with Anna Marie and three other Ani Tsa' gu hi tribal elders. Quil Atera Sr., who would be performing the ceremony, stood next to Jake, Embry, Quil Jr., and Seth, waiting for the ceremony to begin. As I took in the sight, I felt my entire body tense.
Where was Edward?
"You all right?" Charlie whispered, giving my elbow a squeeze.
"Yeah, Dad," I said as I steeled myself at the sight of it all. Forty or so black bears were wandering around on the beach, in and around the washed up pieces of wood, tree trunks faded and worn with weather and the salt of the sea. They kept a good distance from the humans and the vampires, and when I arrived they all turned towards me and waited.
I noticed Jake whisper something to Embry and then fidget nervously with the button on his suit jacket. His hair was loose, shining in the firelight. He looked beautiful. I almost wanted to take his picture so I could remember him, my brave and noble friend, before he was bound in a political, platonic marriage to such a weary woman. He looked up from his jacket and gave me a small smile, which I returned.
The tribal elders of the Quileute and the Ani Tsa’ gu hi came together and began to draw a large circle in the sand. They burned sage along the outer rung and took turns chanting to the spirits in their native tongues. Then they invited all the guests to step inside.
"I'll never be far," Charlie said, hugging me and then giving me a kiss on the cheek before he left me to join Sue at the far end of the circle, near Billy.
And then I was alone outside that sacred circle, save my bear entourage, who gathered protectively around me. There were several moments there where I surveyed the scene, looking for one final escape route. I looked out over the water, and then winced as I recalled the dire consequence of my last escape attempt.
As I was musing, Edward appeared, silently, suddenly out of the trees. I was caught off guard as my heart shattered into a thousand fragments at the sight of him. He wore his tuxedo and in the distant firelight, I was immediately brought back to that night he proposed to me at Fox Cove. So little time had passed and everything, absolutely everything about my life had changed. Again.
I quickly pulled myself together. Don't over-think—for once, Bella, I said to myself. Steel yourself. I forced myself to remember the bigger picture, to embrace the resolution of so many problems in this one ceremony. I imagined myself pushing my anger and grief out to sea as far as I could manage. But it wasn’t far enough. It still hurt like fucking hell.
The bears gave low growls of warning and closed in around me, clearly mistrustful of Edward as he approached. "Back off," I said and scowled. "Let him through." They stepped a few feet away, allowing Edward to come near.
"You are beautiful," he said. "I do love you in that dress. Thank you for wearing it."
"You're welcome," I said, barely a whisper, barely words at all.
He stopped and looked at me, slowly, from head to toe, memorizing the moment. I'd never gotten used to him doing that—it still gave me chills. I did the same in return, and then he offered me his arm. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah," I said. "Unless you want to throw me on your back and run for the hills."
"I do," he said. "And if I thought it would work, I would."
"I'm not dressed for a hike, anyway."
"Too many undergarments," he said and I blushed and laughed in spite of myself and the agonizing moment.
"I can't believe you're making me think about that at a time like this." I smiled, shaking my head at him.
"I'd rather think about that than this," he said, nodding towards the circle as we came closer. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," I whispered, squeezing his arm as tight as I could.
As we walked forward, I tried not to lean my body into his, as tempted as I was to feel his form against my own, to lean my head on his shoulder, to feel his arms around my waist, his lips anywhere on my skin. Instead I focused on the small place where our arms were linked and savored the feel of him against me. How would I let go?
"So, is Jake taking you anywhere… "
"We're not having a honeymoon," I said, and noticed the enormous relief on Edward's face.
"Listen Bella," he said. "I don't know how long this arrangement will have to last… hopefully not too long, but just in case, I've set up a trust fund for you."
"You did what?"
"I know money isn't going to fix much, but it's the only thing I can do right now to make sure you're taken care of."
"Edward," I said. "I can't believe you."
"Are you angry?"
"No, no," I said. "I just… thank you."
"It's nothing, Bella," he said. "Really."
"I'm not sure how Jake is going to feel about that."
"I'm sure I don't care," Edward said, and gave me a smile.
As we reached the outer edge of the circle and stepped inside, Mercy began singing a simple melody, strumming mellow chords on her acoustic guitar. Edward and I stepped into the ring and the larger party of bears closed in around, surrounding the entire ceremony. More bears lumbered out of the forest and gathered around. There had to be more than one hundred of them all told, a formidable, foreboding presence.
The wedding guests stepped to either side of the circle, making a path to the other end where Jake and Hamani and all the elders waited. Edward and I walked forward, my pulse beginning to race as I surveyed the scene. Edward looked to Hamani, and then Jake, and then back to Hamani, keeping his eyes on him until we reached where they all stood.
A few feet beyond us, the fire blazed into the night sky, sparks rising up and dying out under the stars. Jake and Edward shook hands, a simple gesture that brought me a surprising amount of comfort. I briefly flashed back to my father doing that with Zack. For a moment I thought I could see him out of the corner of my eye, mixed in with all the guests, but as I turned my head around, I saw only the gathering of people and the surrounding bear party, and the Cullens as they moved toward us, positioning themselves just behind Edward.
I wasn’t sure what to expect next, and I shifted my weight between my feet nervously as we waited for Mercy to finish her song. Her eyes were closed as she strummed sad chords, lost as she was in some lyric about the creation of homes and how our lives cast form to the future. As she was finishing the chorus, she opened her eyes and looked at Edward, and then me, smiling sadly. Then she suddenly stopped singing mid-lyric and gaped at me. Edward snapped his head around to give her an impossible look and then turned and looked at me, something desperate in his eyes.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“Edward Cullen," Quil Senior said before Edward had a chance to answer, his voice booming out over the crowd, "the Cold One to whom Bella, also known among the Ani Tsa' gu hi as Hala, has been unnaturally bound, do you hereby relinquish your attachment and free her—mind, body and soul to be returned to the tribe, to be joined with Jacob Black?”
“No,” Edward said, a wild look about him as he pulled me behind him. “I can’t do that.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, desperately.
“Bella,” he said as he turned and faced me. “You’re pregnant.”
I gasped and dropped my bouquet. As soon as he said it I knew it was true. I held my hands flat over my belly and felt a surge of energy, a tingle in my brain that spread through my nervous system as I recognized a new life force growing within me. Edward's eyes were soft and filled with unexpected joy, wonder, and some confusion before they narrowed with concern as we both sensed the tension growing among the crowd, quickly nearing a pitch beyond Jasper's ability to project his calming energy.
I threw my arms around Edward's neck and felt tears begin to well, but I couldn't let myself be overcome with the intensity of the euphoria I felt coming on, so strangely mixed as it was with the fear that something tragic was about to happen. Edward put his arms around me but then stiffened defensively as the din of confusion began rippling through the party.
"We have to get out of here," I whispered. "Now."
"I'm working on it," he said, glancing around.
An angry murmur rose from the crowd, most of whom did not know or understand the consequences of the impossible reality that had just been revealed to us. Carlisle looked confused, but he signaled to the rest of the Cullens and they formed a defensive line behind us.
"Bella's pregnant?" Charlie said. "Really?"
“What the hell?” Jacob said.
"How can it be?" Sue asked.
“Who's baby is it?” Anna Marie asked, a worried look crossing her face.
“It’s mine.” Edward turned and scowled at her.
"No," Jake said. "You can't get her pregnant. It's not possible. It has to be mine."
"You know that's not true," Edward snapped at him.
"It has to be Edward's," I said. "But how…"
"Hala," Edward said, making eye contact with Hamani, noting the angry expression on his face. "It must have something to do with Hala. I think she changed me in some way when I drank her blood."
I looked around, certain that I would see Hala now. If there was any sensible time for her to make an appearance, this would have been it. But she wasn't anywhere. Not in the crowd, not by the fire, not out near the water, and not in it.
I was suddenly reminded of the very first time Edward had made love to me on the beach at Kalaloch. The heat that erupted from him at the culmination of our lovemaking had been different from any other time we were together. Had Hala had taken his ability to give immortality in exchange for the ability to give life?
Across the circle I saw Charlie looking concerned as he tried to maneuver himself closer to where I stood, but there was a barrier of confused, stirring bears now positioning themselves between where the Cullens surrounded us and the rest of the guests.
Anna Marie turned to Hamani and explained the new development and I watched nervously as his face grew agitated. He looked at me wide-eyed, and then he looked at Edward, his face contorting, nostrils flaring, clearly enraged. The bears began to grumble and close in on where we stood.
"Stay behind me, Bella," Edward said, positioning himself defensively in front of me. "I'm not sure what they'll do."
"No," I said. I was done being intimidated and I was done placating with deals and promises and ceremonies that I didn't believe in. It was time to stand up. I slipped past Edward and walked right up to Hamani. "This is Hala's doing," I explained. Edward came and stood next to me. "Hala gave him this power."
Without warning, Hamani exploded, phased into the big black bear right there in my face and roared at me like an irate father losing his temper. Edward leapt and pinned him to the ground, choking him—I'd never seen Edward so terrifyingly aggressive.
"Edward, don't hurt him!" I yelled. He turned and gave me a perplexed, pained look before he let go, and was then immediately pounced on by two bears who dragged him away from Hamani. Emmett and Carlisle lunged at them, but were quickly cut off as more bears overran us. "Jacob do something!" I yelled.
"What do you expect me to do?" he said, angrily. "I have no authority over them now."
"Jake, please," I pleaded.
Jake held my eyes for a moment before gritting his teeth and phasing into his wolf body. The pack immediately followed suit, flanking him as he tried to intervene where the two bears were dragging Edward closer to the fire. Hamani roared to his feet, a battle cry to the bears, superior in number to all the rest of us. They closed in, teeth bared and glistening. Alice, Esme, Mercy and Rosalie surrounded me as Jasper, Emmett and Carlisle rushed to Edward’s aid. Emmett brought his clasped hands down hard like a hammer on the head of a bear, dropping it to the ground before leading Carlisle and Jasper foward to Edward, who was now held by four huge bears.
Hamani knocked Jasper down as he sprang through the vampires, a great paw swiping at Edward’s head as the other bears pulled on his limbs. I screamed as I watched Edward struggle in their grasp, the fire blazing behind him. Hamani caught Edward’s head in his open mouth and pulled, forcing it to turn grotesquely far. Edward roared fiercely and then groaned in pain as I heard the hideous scraping sound of his head being twisted to the breaking point. Something snapped inside of me and then I just saw white, like I was blind in a blizzard.
From the bottom of my soul, I let loose an unholy roar, loud and powerful enough to immobilize the entire Quileute nation, the entire population of black bears of North America, maybe the entire world. It felt as though every single living creature momentarily stilled. I thought for a moment even the tide had stopped pounding the shore.
Edward lay on the ground, broken, his neck badly torn and his shoulders separated from his body, just a few steps from the flames that threatened to end him for good. Hamani and the four other bears stared at me and I glared dangerously at them. I felt the mixture of surprise and reverence in their posture as they began to back away from Edward.
I felt like I was underwater, like I was running in place, inside a nightmare as I moved to Edward and stood protectively over him. I put my face to his neck and saw the fracture, and then watched as it quickly repaired itself. I could hear the hum of his life force surging and marveled as I felt his shoulders reattached themselves beneath the fabric of his clothing.
Bella, I can hear you. I can finally hear you. I heard him say, but I hadn’t said anything—and neither had he. He hadn’t moved his lips, hadn’t made any audible sound.
Edward sat up and studied me. He tentatively reached for me and then hesitated before he stroked my cheek with the back of his hand. Then he moved his hand down over my belly and I felt a soft fluttering at his touch and remembered what I carried there. Something more than me, more than him, more than us. Something commonplace and miraculous and eternal.
I wanted to speak to him, to ask him if he understood what had happened, but I couldn't find the words. Bewildered, I looked down at myself and saw white. White, soft fur that covered large, gentle paws, strong legs and a soft belly. I felt disoriented, confused. I gave a small whimper as I tried to speak again and could not.
You're—you're her, Edward said silently. You're Hala.
No… Edward? It's me, Bella.
Of course you're Bella, he said. But you're also Hala.
Then I felt it. I was me and I was her, all at once. As I adjusted to this new body, this new identity, I could feel Hala's connection to her people, the bears. I could see the way between the worlds. I felt centuries of her experience. I had her memories. And I had her body.
Do you have Cherokee lineage? Edward asked.
He shook his head in disbelief and smiled. You're full of surprises.
In the corners of my vision, the light began to flicker. Beneath the rising moon everything shone like it was lit from within. I turned and looked at the assembled party and startled as I observed whole new dimensions. It was like I'd acquired Mercy's gift for seeing inside of people, but it went beyond that. I could see outside their bodies, inside their hearts, their minds. For every bear there was a human inside, almost like a body inside a hologram. And for every human, there was a translucent animal form encasing it, even the vampires. Every being present wore an elaborate, etheric costume, their bodies seemed to project a deeper, richer version of themselves into a dimension I could now perceive. And they all stood transfixed, silent, staring at me as I took in the strangeness of my vision.
Hamani approached us and I crouched defensively over Edward.
See? I knew you would remember. It wasn't Hamani's voice, but his feelings that I heard.
Don't even think about touching him again. I thought at him.
You claimed the Cold One as your mate? he asked. I prefer the wolf.
Too bad, I said. He is the father of my child and there will be peace with him and his family.
Fine, then. Let it be known. And in his heart, Hamani was smiling broadly, blissful, ignoring my own hostility and doubt with a certainty that could only come from centuries of experience.
Jacob, still in wolf form approached us and bowed down like I was some sort of royalty. And then every wolf and every bear lined up in rows behind Jake and put their heads to the ground, in a gesture of deference. Upon realizing just how much power I'd been given, I shifted uncomfortably, wishing a quiet return to my regular human body.
“She doesn’t understand,” Edward said to him. “She hasn’t realized yet.”
No, I get it now. I thought at Edward.
You do? he thought back.
Yes—I have her memories and I remember what happened. You drank Hala's blood at Lake Crescent and then she left her body and took residence in you—in your venom. The first night you bit me—when you thought you almost killed me—she entered me, too.
Yes. This is the reason you didn't kill me that night after you drank all my blood. That's why you can't kill me. And it's why you can't turn me into a vampire.
Because I can't die, so I can't be undead.
You can't die?
If I could die, don't you think I'd be dead by now?
You have a point there. He smiled so wide, I felt tears come to my eyes and get stuck in my fur. Are you okay?
Yes, but… holy shit, Edward, I can't believe you bit me and turned me into a Kermode bear.
Well, I can't believe I got you pregnant.
This thought made me want to smile and cry and leap into his arms. I want to change back to my other body now.
Don’t change yet, Jacob thought. You command us all right now. You should get the peace treaty together first.
Wait—Jake, you can hear me?
Yeah, of course I can hear you. You're a spirit guardian. We can all hear you.
Well, that's good to know. I paused uncomfortably, making an inventory of my thoughts since I'd turned into a bear. Even the humans and the vampires?
No, just the shape-shifters. You can hear all of them, too, if they project to you.
Do you still want to unify the tribes?
Of course. Bella, you're the spirit guardian here and you pull rank. I'll do whatever you want.
You'll make sure the bears keep the peace with the Cullens?
Bella, you don't need me to do that. You can do it yourself. You're in charge now.
I knelt down and put my nose to the back of Jake’s neck and gave him a soft lick. He stepped back and looked intently into my eyes.
I can't believe it, Jacob thought at me, and at Edward. I had no idea.
Neither did I, I thought at him.
Thank you, Jake, Edward said. For everything you did for Bella. And for me.
I looked around and saw my father, Sue, Billy, Quil and all of the Cullens gathered off to the side, quietly watching our silent discussion. How strange, I thought, the scene would look to an outsider: the vampire with his ursine mate consulting wordlessly with the wolf leader under the stars. It would have been a good moment to say a few words, but I couldn’t say them in my animal form. So instead I projected what I felt in my heart.
There was a feeling of power down in my chest, starting in my belly and rippling out through my limbs. A sense of peace permeated the gathering, not from Jasper this time, but from my own heart. My eyes caught my father’s briefly, and in them I saw not horror or shock or confusion, as I might have once expected. Instead of those things, I saw understanding. And I saw pride.
Edward and I walked out of the marriage circle and stood at the edge of the water. The bears gathered around us in a crescent formation, an army of subjects, awaiting some directive. As soon as I had the desire, they approached. I could see this bear shape wouldn’t be one to have second thoughts with. I’d have to learn to trust my instincts.
I told them there would be peace between the Cullens, the Quileute and the Ani Tsa' gu hi, that my love and I would come among them now and again. Each bear came and in turn lowered their heads before Edward, a gesture of their understanding of one unalterable fact: the vampire before them was my chosen mate. When every last bear in attendance had acknowledged this, I gave blessings and said goodbye.
Hamani, I called, as he turned to leave. I am sorry my brothers and sister were lost in the sea.
They are not lost, Hala. They are among us.
They didn't die?
We are, all of us here, beings of light and we cannot die. But we can forget.
Forget what we come from. Forget who we really are.
Then they left, led in a long procession by Hamani and the rest of the Ani Tsa' gu hi elders, now all comfortably back inside their bear bodies. They walked into the woods, to the east, where they could now go back to their bear lives, secure in the knowledge that their spiritual sister had returned to them, not unaltered, but evolved.
Don’t change back yet. I heard Edward’s thought just as I’d realized I still didn’t know how to get back into human form. Save it for me.
I would be naked when I shifted back, of course. And I agreed, spirit guide or not, I wasn’t comfortable with the whole public nudity thing the way Jake and Leah and the rest of the wolves were. But I really had to get out of there because I was beginning to feel decidedly less deity-like and a lot more Bella-ish.
The rest of those gathered, Charlie and Sue, the Cullens and the Quileute elders came to where Edward and I stood and surrounded us. Charlie came up to Edward and shook his hand.
"Congratulations, son," he said.
Edward choked up and squeezed Charlie's hand, a little too hard by the grimace he tried to hide. Charlie smiled broadly and gave him a shoulder pat and then came and scratched me on the neck like I was a cat. Carlisle came over and gripped Edward around the shoulders and hugged him, his face nearly contorted with emotion and then Edward was bombarded with a flurry of vampire hugs and kisses from his sisters, Mercy, Esme, and shoulder punches and ribbing from Emmett and Jasper.
"Bella's a bear?" Rosalie said. "Really? A bear?"
"Bear queen," Edward corrected her. "She's more like a goddess, actually, if you want to get technical."
"That's why I couldn't see you," Alice said, throwing her arms around my neck. "You are really cute like that. But your dress is ruined, I'm afraid."
"Why doesn't she smell like one?" Rosalie said.
"Because she smells like her," Edward said.
"This is just incredible," Esme said, a catch in her voice. "It's a miracle—I'm so happy I wish I could cry."
Mercy studied me carefully. "She's not having a baby," she said.
"What?" Esme said, shocked. I would have been more nervous at her tease, but it was hard to worry much about anything with Edward smiling the way he was.
Mercy smirked and announced, "She's having twins."
Twins? Twin what? I asked, nervously, wondering if what I carried inside of me was something even classified by medical science or known in mythology.
"Twin boys," Edward said, nearly bursting with happiness. "Plain old human boys."
"How can she be carrying human babies inside a bear body?" Rosalie asked.
"The animal body is a projection," Sue explained. "That's how shape-shifting works. It's a gift of altering reality."
"Like enchantment?" Rosalie asked.
"Sort of," Sue said. "But if you feel her, she's got real fur."
"It's soft too," Alice said, scratching my ears.
"Holy shit—twins," I heard Jake say, now back in his human body. "Congrats, grandpa," he said, slapping Charlie on the back.
"Damn, I'm really going to be a grandfather," Charlie said, his eyes shining in the moonlight.
"They will never believe me back at the department," Anna Marie said, shaking her head. "I may have to submit a paper on this."
Edward I'm a little… I need a moment. I want to get out of here, I said to him.
Okay, sweetheart, he thought to me, and then he turned to everyone else. "Well thanks so much, everyone, for all the love and support. We've had a lovely time, but it's getting late and we'd better be on our way now."
"Wait," Sue said. "Where are you going? She needs prenatal vitamins, a doctor's appointment at least."
"Maui," Edward said. "We'll be in touch soon." Then he put his hand on my back, his cool fingers lovingly stroking the fur there and he thought, Reckoner is in slip twelve at the marina. I’ll race you.
Yeah, I want to see how fast a bear goddess can run.
I hadn’t even considered whether I could run as fast as a shape-shifted bear, which was nearly as fast as vampire, or maybe even faster if the vampire wasn’t Edward Cullen.
I gave Charlie a quick nuzzle, and then when Edward was distracted saying his goodbyes, I took off like lightning across the beach, darting into the woods, not cheating as much as a head start, as I’d argue later. Then Edward was right behind me. It had been exhilarating to move at this speed while riding Edward’s back, but it was downright euphoric to move like this on my own. It felt faster than the speed of sound, closer to the speed of thought. No human eyes would have been able to see us move this way. They might feel us like a strong breeze, but our forms would be elusive.
I saw Reckoner and slowed a little, and enjoyed the strange looks from the few lingering onlookers on the dock as I leaped onto the ship’s deck. I landed with a loud thud and cringed as I heard my claws scratching as I slid several feet.
You’ll pay for that, he said, as he jumped into the cockpit and landed perfectly steady. And no, I didn’t let you win. But know this—for eternity I will tell the kids that I did.
I climbed to the very tip of the bow and lay down on the deck, hanging my head over as Edward motored us away from the dock. Those few tourists out for a moonlit stroll must have seen me as some sort of exotic pet and I laughed at how strange that perspective was now, stuck inside that mundane, unimaginative universe where the fairy tales were all left to the books and picture shows and the retelling for children. I don’t know how I looked, but I felt like I was smiling.
I gazed at the water rushing past Reckoner’s hull, hypnotic and rhythmic as we rocked into the waves. Once we got out of the harbor we moved faster than any small ship could possibly go under wind power alone. Were the sails bewitched? We picked up speed and moved over crested waves like we were hovering over glass. Something lifted and propelled us forward, far away from land, far beyond my comprehension of simple math and physics and the mechanics of watercraft, as elegant as they were.
I enjoyed one thing above all else about my new-found identity—I could hear the contents of Edward’s mind. He was back behind me in the cockpit, setting a course due west this time, for Maui. There was a midwife there with an unusual skill set he wanted me to see. There was a justice of the peace and another beach in his mind. He envisioned something small and private but it would be official and legal too. I had no objection, though I didn’t know what authority the state of Hawaii had on the eternal, unbreakable bonds we shared growing in my belly.
I pondered how to change back into human form and could hear him laughing behind me. Don’t tell me, I thought to him. I need to be able to do this on my own.
He immediately thought about vampire baseball. I didn’t think to ask why.
To become a bear I just reacted in a moment of desperation and suddenly there I was, seeing double and covered in fur. What was the way back? Was there a secret code? An incantation? A magic potion? It was embarrassing to be a shape shifter, never mind a spirit guide, and not have some of the basic skills required.
“Bella, come here,” Edward called, out loud, from the cockpit.
I crept slowly back, my head down, trying to block him from hearing my frustrated thoughts. I had clearly failed, judging by the smirk on his face.
“So you haven't figured it out yet?”
Just give me a small hint.
“Okay,” he leveled his eyes at mine. “It’s just us out here now. You can let go.”
Let go? Did he mean stop worrying? He couldn’t be serious. Did he understand the day I’d just had? Did he get how close I’d come to losing him forever and ever? Wasn’t he at all nervous about becoming a parent? Did he realize how easy it was to mess up a kid under normal everyday circumstances, never mind twin boys who had a vampire for a father and a spirit bear for a mother and a cop for a grandfather?
If I had to stop worrying in order to become human again, we were going to turn a lot of heads in Maui when we went for that marriage license. Unless he wanted to get married at the zoo.
“So, do you give up?” he asked.
No, I thought at him. I can figure this one out. You can’t always be with me, you know? I have to learn to deal with things on my own. What if I get upset in traffic or at a parent-teacher conference or something weird happens and I'm suddenly like this? I have to be able to handle this. I have to…
“Okay,” he said, interrupting my thoughts. “That’s enough.” He gave me a long, hard look and a crooked smile and then thought, You make a beautiful bear, Bella, but I can't fuck you in that body.
Then Edward looked longingly into my eyes and took a step forward, picturing in his mind, in vivid detail, my naked body before him on the beach in Kalaloch. For just an instant I felt what he felt in that moment and a torrent of emotion poured over me, into me, through me, and I breathed it sharply in as I felt his hands moving over my pale naked, human skin.
“Edward,” I said, breathless just as his lips came full force down onto my own. I really did let go then, allowed my spirit to dissolve into his, to hover all around us and float as it might upward into the night sky, dancing over the fading moon.
I watched from that distant point in the sky like an omniscient observer might as we lingered there. Reckoner sailed ever on to the west, never minding the faint breeze, disappearing into the horizon. Watching from afar, one might think that it wasn’t Maui Edward had set a course for but perhaps the moon itself, or if not the moon then the sun, or some other fascinating and impossible location where beasts and monsters and women and men all came together in the tales of creation and hope.
But if not, then Maui would do just fine.