AN: After the style of Twilight, I've decided to include a scene from the ending to start us off with. Keep in mind that it's just a prologue, and that the rest of the story is not going to be nearly this angst-ridden.
Prologue: Bella's Ultimatum
I was pacing. I kept insisting to myself that I could stop anytime I wanted, but I also knew that the more momentum I built up, the harder it would become to still myself. In spite of this, I swivelled on my heel and stalked back to the other side of the room, a look of intense brooding gripping my features.
I wasn't looking at him, but I could practically feel Edward's brows rise in amusement as his eyes followed me back and forth, as if he were following a tennis match in slow motion. I could tell he was trying to refrain from making a comment, but I knew he found far less enjoyment in being polite than he did in teasing me.
"Bella," he said finally, his voice a gentle reproof. He was lying sprawled out on the couch, but he rolled onto his side and propped himself on his elbow in order to face me. "You're pacing again, darling."
I stopped only long enough to flash a glare at him. I knew full well that any lingering glance between us would banish any and all contrary thoughts in my head, and I wasn't finished being contrary just yet.
"And I was trying to be so subtle about it," I replied, my tone a little frostier than I had meant it to be.
The amused glint left his eyes and he sat up, fixing me now with a concerned look that made me want to shake him. He reached for me, but I spun away and resumed my journey to the opposite end of his room, fully aware that it was his unshakable patience – rather than my killer reflexes (ha ha) – that had allowed me to escape his grasp.
"Bella," he said, the gentle firmness in his voice edged with exasperation. "Now you're pacing and snapping at me. Are you going to tell me why you're angry, or do you plan to plague me with passive-aggression until I go mad? Because let me tell you, it's beginning to work."
I felt a prick of guilt at his words, and was finally able to make myself stand still long enough for the momentum of my pacing to dissipate. After a brief pause, I crossed the room and plopped down beside Edward, feeling quite apologetic but unable to bring the apology to my lips just yet.
Sensing my surrender, he reached out with a wary hand and deftly slipped it into mine, so that I hardly noticed the invasion of my personal space. I gave a small smirk, remembering how he had once told me that when we were together, there was no such thing as personal space – only our space.
"There was a time, not so long ago, when you told me everything," he said softly, artfully adding a tinge of hurt to his voice.
"I still do," I replied faintly, distracted by the little patterns his fingers had begun sketching on the sensitive underside of my forearm. His fingers stilled and he lifted his hand to my chin, forcing my eyes to meet his.
"Bella, surely I have expressed to you with profound clarity how very difficult it is to be barred from your thoughts? I don't imagine there are two people on this planet more closely entwined than the two of us, and yet you are the one person I cannot decipher. You must understand, reading minds is, quite literally, a sixth sense to me, just like sight or smell, and when I can clearly see that you are angry but I have no way of knowing why, it's as if you've – " He paused, trying to think of something to equate the feeling to. "There's not even a decent metaphor to describe it!" He got to his feet abruptly, shoving all ten of his fingers through his hair. "My God, Bella, sometimes you make me feel like a cripple!"
The thought of Edward Cullen being crippled in any way was simply absurd, and before I could catch it, a soft snort of laughter ecaped from my nose. He whirled on me, his face livid. "Oh, it's funny to you? I get that you're mad at me, but could you have just a little sympathy?"
I got to my feet as well, catching him by the arm and pressing my other hand to his chest in order to placate him. I made my tone kind and supportive, feeling guilty for laughing at his frustration. "Chill out, Cullen, okay? I was laughing because the thought of you as a cripple is possibly the most ironic thing I've ever heard. And I'm not mad at you. No, really, I'm not," I persisted, seeing the retort on his lips. "It's just been a lot to handle. I never questioned my own mortality before now, and the thought of you visiting me in a nursing home, more out of duty than of love, still as beautiful and young as the day we met…it's a lot to stomach, Edward. Wait, I'm not finished," I attempted to maintain my control of the conversation, anticipating another interruption from Edward. I really, really hadn't wanted to bring this up, but now that I had, I knew it wouldn't be over until it was over.
"Bella, you might be human, but your nursing home days are still very far away. We don't have to think about this right now," he interrupted stubbornly, obviously keen to change the subject. I shook my head sadly, unable to look at him.
"I love you, Edward. I never knew I could love like this. We have the kind of love that they carry on about in poetry and tragic tales of star-crossed lovers that cling to each other to the grave. But here's the thing: I'm the only one headed towards a grave here. Even with a love as big as ours, do you honestly think you'll shiver with desire when I've got gray hair and wrinkles and spider veins? Do you seriously believe you'll burn with passion when I wear diapers and forget your name?"
I was impressed with the confidence in my voice. I had rehearsed these words over and over in my head, but they always came out all wrong.
No more time for rehearsal now.
He wasn't crying – for all I knew he didn't have the ability – but the sight of his red-rimmed eyes was far more powerful than tears. He swallowed hard as he stared me down. By the look on his face, he'd been battling with these very same thoughts.
"I will love you to the ends of the Earth and back," he bit out forcefully, taking another hard swallow. "I will love you until someone finally rips me to shreds and burns my flesh until I'm nothing but a black scar of ash on the earth."
My vision blurred, but I held back the sob threatening to bubble out of my throat. "I know. You think I don't know that, Cullen? You will love me, fresh, prime-of-her-life Bella, full of optimism and energy. But when that's gone – and it will be, sooner than you realize – you will look at me and grieve for what I was. You will wish you had made a different choice."
There was a thick silence between us as he struggled with his thoughts, a silence that seemed to constrict around my lungs and trap my breath inside.
"God help me, I can't do this to you, Bella."
I gave a shuddery breath and took a step away from him.
"Then you don't love me as much as you say you do," I muttered cruelly, willing to say anything to change his mind. My words had the intended effect, and his tiger-like eyes flared with grief and anger.
"It's because I love you that – "
"Edward, growing old with you will hurt me much, much worse. If you can't spare me that pain, then I can't stay with you. I can't let you see me like that. I'll go find the man I'll be second happiest with, the man who will get sunspots and arthritis with me, and we'll face the end of our lives together."
"Stop! Christ, Bella, just stop it. I can't hear this."
He sounded so broken that it was all I could do not to fall into his arms and beg him to forget I ever said anything. But if I gave up now, I knew I'd never have the courage to bring this up again. And Edward needed to hear this.
"You know that you're the only one I'd ever let change me. I would only ever change if I had your full support, because God knows I'll need it on the other side," I paused to let that sink in before continuing. "I need you to do this for me."
He met my eyes then, the combined rage, agony, and torment in his gaze stealing the breath from my lungs once more. For a moment, he allowed me a glimpse of the battle taking place inside of him. If he refused to do as I asked, there was the terrifying possibility that I would follow through with my threat and leave him, shattered and alone once again. If he agreed, he was, in his mind, murdering the Bella he had originally fallen in love with, taking away my mortality and replacing it with a cursed, half-existence that I couldn't possibly want if I could fully understand what I would become.
I was betting on him to be selfish. He had always said he was too weak to stay away from me, even if it was for my own good; he better not back out on that now.
He finally met my eyes. I felt myself come apart as I read his answer on his face before it ever reached his lips.