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Maledictum Magae - Ch. 17

Disclaimer: I own nothing. All characters are property of Stephenie Meyer. And I do not get any sort of profit from this.

Summary:
 The curse happened in 1692. For over 300 years, Isabella Swan has lived alone, afraid to be close to anyone again. But when she finally meets someone who captures her heart, the unthinkable happens, leaving her in a kind of danger she never thought possible.



 

 

A/N: This is the final "chapter" for Maledictum Magae. The epilogue will be posted soon. I just want to thank all of you who took the time to read this story. This is the first Twilight multi-chaptered fic that I've completed, so this is pretty big for me. You guys have been amazing. It's been a pleasure to write this story and share it with you, so thank you for going on this journey with me. I'm giving a special shout-out to my beta ohfiyera  (you are INCREDIBLE), katinki  (who constantly recced this fic on her twitter and who has just been all around awesome), and eibbil_libbie  and devymel12  (who really started spreading the word about MM). There are others out there who have consistently supported MM as well (you know who you are!) so thank you again to all of you. Though it's tough to say goodbye to Witchella, I hope you all enjoy the end of this little tale.


Chapter 17: Forever

She remembered his presence beside her, the weight of his arm around her waist, and the soft whisper of his words drifting into her ear.

She remembered his fingers combing through her tangled hair, gently untying the twists and knots that the silk threads had formed.

She remembered the soothing pressure of his lips against her cheek, awakening the cells within her flesh.

She remembered the moment the nurse pulled out the IV in her arm, and she turned to look back at him, smiling.

Now, as she sat in the backseat of a car, bundled up in a winter coat, the sun shining through the trees overhead, she held his hand within her grasp, vowing to always remember the feel of his skin against hers.

She felt his eyes on her as she watched people walking on the sidewalks, their boots leaving prints in the snow.

"We're almost there," Alice said, her voice drifting back from the passenger seat.

Bella continued to observe the waking moments of others' lives. She watched a little boy, the hood of his coat tied tightly around his face, running down the sidewalk toward his father. An elderly woman opened the door to her bakery, flipping the "Closed" sign to "Open." A dog barked, his tail wagging, as his owner jogged down the steps to leash him up for a morning walk.

"Are you all right?" Edward murmured quietly at her side.

She turned to him, the neck of her jacket mussing her hair around her chin. "Yeah," she whispered, her lips curling into a soft grin.

Moments later, they pulled up to the front of the inn that Bella had checked into several days ago.

"Edward took care of your room while you've been away," Jasper said, unbuckling his seatbelt from the driver's seat. "The manager knows that you're coming back today. Everything should be the way you left it."

His claret eyes met hers in the rearview mirror and she nodded once to let him know that she understood.

Though Jasper had confessed his apologies and did his best to help her whenever he could, Bella still felt a slight unease when he was around. She knew it was all for naught, but she couldn't forget the night she first met him. That entire night would forever be ingrained into her memory.

Another car pulled up behind them and the doors pushed open to reveal the rest of Edward's family.

Carlisle immediately went to open Bella's door, his hand held out for her to take.

Unbuckling her seatbelt was a challenge as she still felt weak, but Edward was at her side to help her out and into Carlisle's arms.

It was odd, being so close to Carlisle again. Before Alice's supposed death, Carlisle had acted as a second father for her, always encouraging her with her talents. Now, after everything, she wanted to trust him to be that same figure again.

The light in his tawny eyes glistened as he smiled down at her, and she quickly looked away, feeling unsure.

A woman, her hair the color of warm allspice, walked over to them. Bella knew her to be Carlisle's mate, Esme. Her rich scarlet eyes were oddly comforting.

"Come with me, sweetheart," Esme murmured, stealing Bella away from the confines of Carlisle's embrace. "I'll help you up to your room."

And Bella smiled, a true smile. This woman barely knew her, yet she accepted her with open arms. She felt the faint heat of tears behind her eyes. Nearly four hundred years had gone by, and not once had Bella truly experienced any kind of motherly affection. Though the vampire beside her had veins of liquid ice and skin of frost, she radiated enough warmth that made Bella feel calm and at peace.

Once inside her room, tucked under the sheets of her small bed, she let her eyes drift shut. The sounds of Edward and Alice's family outside in the hallway became a soft buzz that lulled her mind into a shadowy world.

Minutes later, the soft click of her door being opened and closed stirred her mind to the present. Though her eyes were still shut, she could sense his presence in her room.

She heard the heels of his boots softly tap against the hardwood floor as he walked toward her. She heard, and almost felt, the pause in his stride as he stood next to her bed.

A breath of contentment escaped her lips as his fingers softly caressed the side of her cheek.

When he turned to leave, her hand reached out for him.

"Stay," she mumbled, her fingers loosely wrapped around his wrist.

She felt him lift her hand to his lips, kissing her skin, before setting her hand back down at her side. The sound of his shoes being placed on the floor and his quiet footsteps to the other side of her bed made her heart do a funny flip within her chest.

He chuckled softly as he climbed into bed beside her.

"At least this is a bit bigger than the bed in your dorm room," he teased.

She smiled and rolled over to him on her right side. Her left arm was still in its cast and she longed to stretch it out across his chest.

"Hold me," she breathed against the skin of his neck.

His arms moved beneath her, lifting her body until she was practically lying on top of him. She felt his fingers roam through the strands of her hair while his other hand rested protectively on her waist.

He kissed the top of her head. "Sleep, Isabella," he crooned. "Sleep, my love."

She dreamt of summer days and fields of green. She dreamt of flowers springing from the earth beneath her hands, their petals blooming in vibrant shades of the rainbow. She dreamt of a boy standing at the edge of the woods, his bronze hair glistening brilliantly beneath the sun, and he smiled.

When she finally woke, she realized that she was on her back and Edward was propped up on his elbow, looking down at her.

An amused grin graced his lips. "Oh, to know what you were dreaming."

Bella hummed appreciatively and allowed her body to stretch. "What time is it?"

"Nearly five in the afternoon."

An annoyed expression distorted her features. "And you let me sleep the whole day away?"

"Yes," Edward affirmed with a nod. "You needed the rest."

"I feel like I've slept enough to last me a full year," she complained, releasing a heavy sigh. "But I still feel so tired and weak…"

"Your strength will come back soon," Edward assured her, his hand rubbing soothing circles over her stomach.

She reached up to cup the side of his face, her thumb gently tracing his lips. "Thank you," she whispered.

Edward frowned, the skin in his forehead wrinkling as confusion danced in his gaze. "For what?"

"For saving my life."

A low growl rumbled through Edward's chest and he rolled away from her, his eyes staring blankly up at the ceiling.

"I should have never involved myself in your life," he admitted, his face contorting in a scowl. "You could have died, Isabella."

"My wounds are my own fault, Edward. You saved me. End of story."

"No, it's not." His voice rose in volume and he turned to look at her, his amber eyes fierce in the growing shadows of the room. "What would I have done if I lost you?"

"But you didn't," she whispered. "You'll never lose me, Edward."

"I could have," he sighed, turning his gaze back up to the ceiling.

Bella watched the tenseness fill in every line and curve of his face. His exquisite features were suddenly flawed with his own resentment. It annoyed her to no end.

"Are you always this broody?" she asked.

He didn't answer.

"You know, if my arm wasn't pinned to my chest, I'd be on top of you right now kissing you senseless until you forgot how stupid you're being," she blurted out. "But since I can't, you better get over here instead."

She reached out to him, her fingers clutching onto the fabric of his shirt, and tugged his body closer until he had rolled overtop of her. He pushed back slightly, careful to keep his weight off of her injured arm.

"You're insufferable sometimes, do you know that?" he huffed indignantly, his face inches from hers.

"Oh shut up, Edward, and kiss me."

His lips tasted of frost and the spices of winter. She invited the soft pressure against her mouth, her free hand reaching up to tangle in the copper waves of his hair.

But he pulled away too soon for her liking and she released an irritated sigh as the hand within his hair tried to tug him back down.

He resisted, of course.

In the dim lighting of the room, Bella could clearly see the translucent liquid that coated his eyes.

His hand shook as he caressed the pale skin of her cheek.

"Hey," she whispered soothingly. Her eyes searched his for some sort of sign that might display his deepest secrets. When there was nothing to be found, but a faint glimmer of the truth, too tangled and destroyed to discern, she smiled. It was a sad smile that graced her lips – an effort to show him that she was okay and things would be fine.

"Tell me," she breathed, her voice barely hinting in the air.

His jaws clenched, and like the internal mechanics of a machine, she could practically see the wheels in his brain straining to shut down, preventing the thoughts in his mind to linger anymore.

Using the leverage of his body, Bella moved her hand to his shoulder, lifting her body up to his and forcing them in a sitting position, Edward kneeling between her thighs.

She tilted her chin up, her hand moving to the back of his neck as he bowed his head before her, and her lips softly pressed against the skin of his brow. Slowly, but surely, the tension began to release through his unused pores and she dragged her mouth lightly down the side of his face until her lips hovered over the defined edge of his jaw. She kissed the skin there too.

A breath of ice relinquished into the air, pushing past his lips and feathering the tangled strands of hair next to her cheek.

She moved to look into his mournful eyes once more.

And she waited patiently.

A beat of silence passed between them – a moment of chocolate and honey irises swirling into one.

Finally, Edward's jaw unhinged and his quiet, haunted voice spilled into the atmosphere.

"Alice showed you the truth."

Five simple words, that could have meant anything, twirled invisibly in front of her. Yet, Bella didn't need to think to know what he was referring to.

"Yes," she replied, her voice soft but resolute.

Edward's jaw clenched once more in response.

His gaze held hers as he took her wrist within his hands. She watched, mesmerized as he lifted the small complexity of joints, its skin exposed, to his nose. He inhaled deeply, his eyes fluttering shut.

"I can smell it," he growled. "The venom – it's not as potent as it was before. You lost so much blood..."

"But I'm fine," she reasoned, wanting to pull her hand back into the safety of her lap, but too compelled by his nature to do so. "I'm still me, Edward."

"I never wanted you to become like me," he revealed, his voice pained. "But even with the small amount of venom in your system, you're still so vulnerable. I feel like we have no choice but to change y –"

"Edward," Bella interrupted, scooting closer to him. "I love you. I love you more than I could ever hope, but I…" her voice drifted away, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the anxious expression on his face. "I don't… want to be… a vampire."

For a moment, there was nothing. Not even the birds in the trees nearby could be heard as the sun began to set.

Edward began to pull away from her. "Bella… all it would take is another mistake. One more accident like the one we just had and – "

"And I could die, I know," she finished, her will never faulting. "Alice never wanted me to become like one of you either. She made it possible for me to keep safe and still be semi-human, but with that came consequences. I didn't understand that until now. To her, living a life like an immortal was better than either becoming one or being killed by one. I know the risks. I know that I don't have as much venom in my system as I once did. I don't think I'll ever age, but I also don't think I'll be as immune to things as I once was. What happened with the Volturi would surely kill me if it were to happen again. What I did cost me time; how much of it, I'll never be certain..."

Frozen, his body as still as a statue, Edward sat before her, his eyes wide with fear. She no longer saw the vampire within him, but the human who still lived throughout his very soul. His voice was cracked when he spoke, the syllables breaking and crashing against his tongue. "I just found you," he wept, though the evidence of tears was not visible on his face. "I can't lose you."

"You won't," she whispered. "Edward, I've lived a very long time and I've had to come to terms with what I am. I've had to accept that I lived a life where the choices were already made for me. But this is something that I need. I need this choice to be mine and no one else's."

Slowly, she reached out for his hand, her fingers intermingling with his. "Can you understand that?"

He didn't respond right away, but eventually he nodded, his shoulders sagging.

Despair grasped at her heart as she watched defeat sink into every fiber of his being. "Edward," she whispered, pulling his hand to her heart. "Whether I live for a few more hours or for as long as eternity, I want every moment to be spent with you."

He looked up at her then, and the love that he held for her swam unhidden within his eyes.

She smiled and allowed her eyes to close, her hand still keeping his against her chest. The energy within her lay dormant in her broken state, but his touch ignited little sparks that burst forth in the darkness. She felt the power prickle beneath her skin, slinking through the nerves in her muscles and the vessels of her organs.

Suddenly, the lights began to flicker on and off.

The magic that flowed through her began to build, increasing in its pace from her limbs to the very organ which Edward claimed – her heart. And when it reached its destination, a feeling of warmth unlike she had ever felt before spread throughout her soul. It seeped through her bones and the flesh of her chest, spreading right into Edward's fingertips. She actually heard the parting of his lips as he felt heat radiate through his arm.

Her eyes slowly opened, finding his startled gaze. "That's us," she murmured. "As long as I have you, I won't need anything more to keep me alive."

Her body was pulled flush against his within seconds as his mouth laid claim to hers. She was sure the pain receptors in her arm screamed at the contact, but she never felt a thing. All she was aware of was his body against hers, his lips moving with hers, his hands roaming over her flesh…

A loud pop echoed from behind them and Bella jumped, startled. And as they both turned to the source of the sound, the power went out.

Their heavy, intermingled breathing was the only thing audible in the air, until…

"Seriously?" a male voice called through the wall of Bella's room.

Edward sighed. "Emmett."

"American Idol is about to come on!"

A shocked, but breathy, laugh escaped Bella's lips. "Umm…"

Even in the darkness, she could make out the embarrassment that masked Edward's face. "About Emmett…"

"About Emmett?" his brother called out. "What about Bella, eh?"

"Would you shut up!" a female voice responded, which Bella could only assume was Emmett's mate, Rosalie. "Everybody can hear you!"

The lights flickered once. Twice. And finally, came back on.

A muffled "yes!" drifted through the wall.

Edward chuckled quietly, shaking his head, and carefully extracted himself from Bella.

She watched him for a moment, puzzled as she scooted back to the comforting embrace of her pillow.

"That was Alice," he explained. "She just told me with her thoughts that she turned the power back on."

"Right," Bella affirmed, though her mind began to race. "I almost forgot about the mind reading thing…"

Edward sighed, an amused grin plastered on his face as he ran a hand through the bronze, messy waves of his hair. "Guess we need to talk more about the family, don't we?"

Bella smiled but it was short lived. She watched the boyish charm slowly fade away from Edward's features, his hand sluggishly slipping down his neck. The light in his eyes quivered until his irises were merely a pair of flickering flames. His gaze lowered to the forgotten, wrinkled sheets and he tried to upturn the corners of his lips, but failed.

Fingers, outstretched, were splayed before him. He looked up to see Bella reaching for his presence, her gaze beckoning his heart.

And when he crawled over to her, his body collapsing beside of her, she cradled his head to her chest, her cheek resting against the pillow of his hair.

"Tell me about vampires," she whispered, eliciting a warm chuckle from his lips.

"Any vampires or my vampires?" he questioned.

She kissed the top of his head. "Yours."

A wasted breath escaped his nostrils as he sighed heavily. His voice was quiet as he spoke, and she listened patiently, her fingers lightly combing through the waves of his hair.

"June twentieth, thirteen thirty-two," he uttered. "That was the day of my birth."

Bella's fingers paused and her eyes widened infinitesimally, but she didn't dare breathe a word.

"I lived just outside of London with my parents. I don't remember much of my human life, but I do know that I was happy. My father supplied a lot of the wool to the villagers due to the fact that we owned sheep. And my mother…" he paused, as if trying to remember a time his mind could no longer grasp. "She had green eyes. I remember that."

Bella resumed stroking his hair, coaxing him to tell her more.

"I remember coming home one day after working out in the fields with my father. It was hot… and I remember my throat feeling very sore, like I was getting a cold or something. The next day, I found a rash on my arm in the shape of a ring. Have you ever heard of the rhyme, 'Ring Around the Rosy?'"

"Pockets full of posies…" Bella replied softly, already dreading what she was about to hear.

"Ashes, ashes."

"We all fall down."

"The black plague swept through London during that time," he explained. "I was seventeen when I died, Isabella."

Her voice felt caught in her throat. She could barely think enough to breathe. "You… you died from the black plague?"

A sardonic grin shaped his lips. "Almost. Carlisle found me, lying in the streets. He was trying to help the ones who were sick. No one else would come near us, although I can't really blame them," he murmured. "Carlisle was already a vampire at that time. The plague did nothing to him, so he was safe to walk amongst the dying."

"He knew my father well and often helped him sheer the sheep. I remember looking up to him when I was younger, like he was a second father," Edward admitted, his voice barely a whisper. "My parents died of the plague. When Carlisle found me, he vowed to not leave me alone. And so I was turned."

"What was it like?" Bella whispered, her voice hoarse.

There was an unbearable silence that filled the room for a minute or more. The only sound that could be heard was the beating of Bella's heart deep within her chest.

"Horrifying," Edward finally answered. "Like fire eating away at your nerves. You can feel them fray and fracture. You can feel your organs calcifying and your muscles hardening. It was pain unlike I had ever felt before. For days I screamed and cried out, wanting it to be over. I wished that the plague would have taken me, so that I would never have had to endure such agony."

Frightened with the mental image of Edward writhing on the ground in pain, Bella lay frozen next to him, her fingers gripping the strands of his hair.

"Three days," he muttered. "Three long, painful days. But then it was over… and I was a vampire."

She swallowed hard, unable to speak.

"My senses were stronger, sharper. I had speed and strength unlike I had ever thought possible. But most importantly, I was hungry. I craved blood like a human craves oxygen. I needed it to live, and after being given a second chance, I was going to take whatever I could get. Carlisle taught me the way of his lifestyle. Do you remember me telling you that some of us feed off of animals?"

Bella managed a small nod.

"Carlisle had been that way ever since he had changed. He never liked what he was and so strived to be a better creature in the position he was given. I slipped several times in my younger years, but eventually, I was able to curb my desire for human blood. It's never easy, but I've learned to satisfy my need through the blood of animals."

"What about my blood?" Bella asked him. "You told me that it has never bothered you, but I find that hard to believe."

"It's divine," he sighed guiltily, reaching up to take her hand within his and bringing it to his lips. "But it's also tainted."

He looked up at her then, his tawny eyes vibrant. "You know I would never hurt you, Bella. Whether your blood was tainted with venom or not, I would never harm you. Please tell me you know that?"

She nodded vigorously and kissed his forehead. "Of course I do."

Contented, Edward settled his head back down to her chest, his hand splayed out gently across her stomach. "Carlisle was a member of the Volturi when he met me. What I later found out was that they had forbidden any of their guards to change or feed off of the victims from the plague, not knowing what would happen. But he couldn't leave me, and when we discovered my talent for reading minds, he brought me to the Volturi. My ability was the only thing that saved me… and him. Aro was so intrigued with me, that I became a pet to him. In order for me to keep my undead life, I had to serve them."

"How did the rest of your family get involved?"

"Jasper and Rosalie were actually part of the guard when I was first brought there. They did and still share the appetite for human blood, but they've learned to control their thirst by limiting themselves to either feeding off of criminals or stealing blood bags from the hospitals. Rosalie hates both of those options, but she prefers it to killing innocent people."

"Criminals are still people though," Bella argued. "Do they really deserve that fate?"

Edward shrugged; the action tickled her skin. "Depends on what they did, I guess. Carlisle has tried to change them to his diet, but it's not so easy. Human blood is hard to resist and with as old as they are, it's not easy to change their ways. The same goes for his mate, Esme."

"Was he with Esme when he found you?" she asked.

"No. Esme didn't come to us for another hundred or so years. Because Carlisle was such an asset to the guard, Aro couldn't refuse his request to allow Esme to live with us, as long as she followed their ways. I think Esme would have fed from animals, had she been given the chance, but it was either live the life of a true vampire or die. She chose life. Emmett was also a similar case. Rosalie and Jasper were siblings and though Rosalie doesn't possess a real gift, Caius had a soft spot for her fierceness. When Rosalie found Emmett, there was no refusing him."

"And Alice?"

Edward chuckled lightly and shook his head. "Alice was different. She came to us. When she had explained that she had no recollection of how she was changed, but had a vision that she was supposed to be there with us all, Aro found his new pet. He was delighted to see her, actually. He let her have more freedoms and she chose the lifestyle that Carlisle and myself live. It was also an added bonus that she possessed the power of magic."

Bella placed her hand on his shoulder, her fingers lazily tracing shapes on his shirt. "So how did you all become a family?"

Edward shrugged. "The Volturi guards have their own little niches. Everyone in my family was put through similar circumstances, so we became close. We chose to form our own niche and we all took on the last name of 'Cullen,' except for Jasper and Rosalie whose last name is 'Hale.'"

A hum of appreciation rumbled through Bella's chest. "Tell me more about vampires. I know that some of you have special talents, but what are all of the basics?"

"I thought you researched us," Edward teased. "Weren't all of your journals about your findings and experiences?"

She gasped suddenly. "You knew what those were?"

"I followed you for hundreds of years. Of course I knew."

Bella tried pinching his arm, but found the skin hard to manipulate. "What the hell," she grumbled, causing him to laugh.

"Lesson number one – vampires have granite-like skin. I'm sure you feel the difference between my body and yours, Bella. It's what makes us nearly indestructible."

"Hmm…" She lay there next to him, her mind recounting the memory of their embrace in the old shambles of her withered home. "What about sunlight? You told me it doesn't harm you."

A sound similar to a snort escaped his nostrils. "You would laugh if I told you."

"Why would I laugh?"

"Sunlight makes our skin sparkle," he explained. "Like millions of diamonds. That's why we don't make ourselves known when the sun is out. It would attract too much unwanted attention."

A goofy sort of grin formed her lips. "You sparkle, Cullen? How very manly of you."

This time, Bella received the smallest of pinches on her side and it made her squeal with laughter, which eventually turned into a painful moan as she accidentally moved her injured arm in the process. "Asshole," she muttered.

"Sorry," he whispered quietly, placing a light kiss to her cast. "I will not make you laugh again. I swear."

"You better not, glitter boy. I just might cast some sunlight in this room to get a good look at you."

A playful growl rumbled through his chest. "Not. Funny."

"Very," she countered. "So what else? Can you make fog come out of nowhere and turn into a bat, like Dracula?"

"No," he chuckled. "All myth. Well… I guess Alice could make some of that happen since she's a witch. She can change her appearance too. That's why she had long hair when you first met her, as well as why Carlisle and myself had longer hair during that era. She could change others' appearances as well. Typically, we stay the same throughout our immortal lives, never aging. I presume the venom in you is what kept you from aging as well. Anyway, the change enhances our human features and makes us more desirable to our prey. It's a hunting mechanism. Oh, and we can't cry."

"Really?"

"Not a single tear. Our bodies don't produce any kind of bodily fluids."

"Interesting," she observed, arching an eyebrow at him. "Well, I guess it makes sense that Alice can change her appearance. I did that too, to keep me from having been too noticeable throughout the years."

Smiling, Edward scooted up the bed so that he was looking down at her. "I remember. I personally liked the short bob look in the sixties. Your hair was cut down at angle against your jawbone. It was very becoming."

Bella screwed up her face in disgust. "Blech… you liked that? Seriously? I couldn't stand it. I was so used to having longer hair, but it fit in with the style then and I needed a new appearance."

"I thought it was rather cute," he reflected, twirling a small section of her hair around his finger.

"You know," Bella said suddenly, slowly pushing herself up to a sitting position. "I just realized something… I'm older than you."

Confusion settled within the frown that creased his brow. "No you're not."

"Yes, I am. When I was given venom – thanks to you lot – I was eighteen. You were seventeen when you died. So… technically, I'm older than you."

A very satisfied grin lit up her face, as she seemed very pleased with her discovery. "Ha. I'm your superior, aren't I?"

"Cougar," Edward bantered back, a mischievous light shimmering in his eyes.

She playfully swatted at his chest. "You like it and you know it."

"I will not deny that."

Laughing, she leaned her head against the headboard. Her body was starting to feel weak again and her chest was sore from her jovial demeanor. She had been in the hospital for about a week before they cleared her to leave, but her injured ribs were still healing and occasionally twinged with pain.

"Time to rest," Edward whispered, kissing the top of her head. "I'll go get you something to eat, if you'd like. I'm sure there are a number of restaurants around here."

"What if I wanted Ramen?" she joked.

Edward made a choking sound in the back of his throat. "God, you're going to make me get that for you forever, aren't you?"

"Absolutely," she replied with a wicked grin. "And you'll do it because you love me so."

"That I do," he replied, leaning in to place a gentle kiss to her lips.

"Seriously, though," Bella murmured, running her hand down the side of his face. "Are you okay with me not becoming a vampire?"

Sighing, Edward kissed her once more. "Of course I am. I might be a selfish creature, but I would never make you do something you didn't want to do, Isabella. Besides, you've got seven vampires to make up your family. Nothing's going to happen to you, so get used to eternity."

"Yes sir," she responded in a mock serious voice. Smiling, she kissed him once more before her stomach began to grumble.

"Guess that's my cue," he uttered, rolling over to move off of the bed. Once standing, Edward paused, his head tilted in the direction of the door.

"What is it?" Bella asked.

"It's Alice. She's waiting for you."

Without another thought, Bella reached out her hand to him. "Help me up," she requested, pushing herself up from the bed. Edward took her hand, helping her stand with ease. She gripped his hand tightly to steady herself as he walked her to the door.

Sure enough, on the other side, waiting in the hallway, was Alice – the short, petite vampire with spikey raven hair. Her round golden eyes were anxious as she looked to her best friend.

Bella remembered Alice's sob of forgiveness in the hospital several nights ago, and since then she hadn't been able to talk to her about it.

"Walk with me?" Alice asked, her voice timid.

Nodding, Bella took the jacket that Edward handed her and followed Alice outside. They walked quietly down the hall, neither saying a word even as they walked down the stairs.

The frigid wind bit at her cheeks as they stepped outside of the inn. Bella threw her jacket on around her shoulders, her body shuddering into its limited warmth.

Alice turned to her then and helped her into her jacket, zipping it up. She smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. It was as if she was afraid of Bella. Her movements were hesitant in a way that made her seem as if she were preparing for shouts of blame and tears of regret.

Bella moved past her toward a barren tree that stood between the inn and the road. She knelt down next to the trunk and brushed away the snow that had collected against the base of its roots.

Alice followed her and knelt down in front of the tree as well.

Placing her hand over the newly exposed decaying blades of grass, Bella closed her eyes. She felt the energy flow through her, spreading beneath the skin of her arm and out of the tips of her fingers. When she opened her eyes, a vibrant green stem sprouted up from the ground. It grew taller, giving birth to leaves and small thorns, until a single bud bloomed to display the magenta petals hidden within. She pulled it up from the earth, her eyes taking in the details of her magic, and she held the rose out to her friend.

Snowflakes began to fall around them, sticking to their jackets and the tendrils of their hair.

Through the drifting icy stars, Bella saw the glowing aurous irises in her friend's eyes.

Carefully, Alice took the rose from Bella's hand.

"What's done is done," Bella spoke, her breath fogging into the air in small opaque puffs. "I do not blame you for anything, Alice. I didn't understand what had happened to me for a long time, but Edward has explained everything. You saved my life three hundred and seventy-five years ago, and you saved my life yet again. I still think of you as my best friend and that will never change. No matter what happens," Bella confessed, reaching out to grasp Alice's hand in hers. "I will love you. Always."

Alice's gaze filled with tears that would never fall, and her chin began to tremble, though Bella knew it wasn't from the cold. In that moment, she dropped the rose to the snow-laden ground and wrapped her arms around Bella's body, pulling her into a tight embrace.

The snowfall swirled around them, and Bella closed her eyes. Nearly four hundred years she had been alone. Now, she had hope and she had love. Most importantly, she had a family again, even if that family was full of vampires.

Maledictum Magae – the witch's curse. It was how she had once described her life, but that curse had been lifted the moment she found Edward. It was he and his family who had broken the spell that caged her life.

As the snowflakes fell heavily in the air, and Alice's grip tightened around her body, Bella smiled, for she would no longer be alone.


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**The Epilogue will be posted soon! **