Edward barely slept the night, his dreams morphing into an empty, silent version of the art opening he'd tried to escape from. He was always standing by the makeshift bar, drinking beer after beer while the brunette came into focus as she apprehensively walked towards him. Her body would slowly shift into Bella's and then he would stand there speechless while Bella asked him 'why'.
Each time Edward woke up groggy and disoriented, he would just roll over and get sucked back into the dream, the only difference being what he was supposed to respond to. Nothing changed – not even what Bella said to him – but Edward always knew her question was different, that she was waiting for a new explanation.
Why did he come back into her life? Why did he leave? Why didn't he listen? Why did he? Why did he love her? Why wouldn't he stop?
He could never answer her, his guilt at trying to forget how much she affected him crawling into his subconscious and causing his dream-self to sweat, clam up, and stutter. Even when Edward gave up trying to sleep at six in the morning and sat up in bed, he knew he'd fucked up. It didn't really matter when, or even what he did or didn't do, he simply and finally understood that he'd always been fighting an uphill battle. That his selfish desire to have Bella outside of his own head would have always been completely and utterly futile.
Until she came to him, there was nothing he could do or change about either of their situations.
In the weak morning light of a New York summer day, Edward suddenly realized that somewhere along the way, he had stopped thinking of Bella as someone and rather as something, another pawn he had tried desperately to control in his out-of-control life.
She didn't deserve that, and he didn't deserve her.
Edward groaned, furiously rubbing his eyes before he slowly stood up and methodically stretched his muscles. He needed to feel them burning while his mind shut off and everything else focused on the repetitive movement of his feet as they pounded against the pavement. He needed to know that his body could still function even when the rest of him failed to respond to a deep-seated urge to simply forget the one person who had inadvertently kept his world in focus.
One day Edward would learn to control how much his heart ached or how well he responded to the little annoyances that he'd always bottled up. But not today, not right now. This morning he wanted to forget that such hurt was possible.
He ran for miles, slowing down when his lungs felt like they were going to burst open and then resuming his faster pace when he'd sucked in enough air to assume he was no longer in danger of passing out. Edward tried to solely focus on the lactic acid coursing through his veins and the feel of the hot sun against his sweaty skin, even purposefully dulling his senses so only the sound of his breaths took up full residence in his conscious thoughts. But nothing could drown out how ashamed he felt at his behavior the night before, how he had left his own opening without telling anyone, tried to fuck a stranger, and then pathetically collapsed in his hallway when he realized he had failed at 'getting over' Bella.
He needed to apologize to Alice and then take stock of his rapidly deteriorating life, stat.
Edward cut through back alleys until he was facing the correct direction and then he ran home, stopping only to shower and properly dress before he was out the door again. It was a Saturday, but he knew Alice would be at the studio early, anal retentive about 'cleaning up' (even though nothing ever looked dirty or damaged to Edward) and readying the space for potential buyers or art enthusiasts to mingle for the next month.
He effortlessly climbed the two flights of stairs and unlocked the door, fumbling for his vibrating cell phone while trying to slide open the heavy metal.
The call cut off just as Edward stepped inside. He shrugged and pocketed his phone, re-locking the door before turning around and almost running into an apprehensive Alice.
"What are you doing here?" she breathed out, her tentative smile alerting Edward to the fact that something was up.
"Didn't you just call me?" he asked, shrugging off his jacket and hanging it up on one of the empty hooks. Why is she acting so weird?
"Yeah, um," Crap… what should I say? "I was calling… to tell you… that you didn't need to come in today." Right. "Admin stuff," she shrugged, "nothing I haven't handled before."
"I know," Edward responded, surreptitiously looking around the studio for anything amiss. His gaze landed back on Alice before he continued. "I wanted to apologize, actually. I acted like an ass last night."
"It's fine, really." She paused, placing her hand on Edward's bicep while trying to steer him towards the door. "You could have just called, though."
"No," he stopped, rubbing both eyes with the fingers of his right hand, "I really fucked up. I just– I need to get my shit together and– Alice? What are you doing?"
"What?" she looked up, the calm on her face betrayed by the tone of her thoughts. Why are you asking so many damn questions? "I told you that you didn't have to be here."
"And that means you don't have to be here."
"Alright…" Edward trailed off, raising a brow to Alice's persistent smile before grabbing his jacket and heading towards the door.
Finally! Now if I can just figure out how to get her out of here…
"Yeah?" she questioned, her gaze focused on Edward and looking up at him in confusion.
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
Alice's eyes widened for a second before she quickly shook her head and squeaked out, "No." She cleared her throat and continued speaking. "Why? Was there something I was supposed to tell you?" Crap! Crap crap crap…
"Okay, then, what's the big deal?" She laughed nervously. Please don't ask me about her… please don't ask me–
"Alice." Edward stated, exasperated by the fact that he knew Alice was hiding something but being unable to figure out what (or better yet who), exactly, she was trying to keep a secret.
"Edward," she paused, taking a breath and shooting her eyes towards his closed studio door. "I just think that it's in your best interest to leave and not get involved and just let me deal with the problem at hand."
"So there is a problem…" he trailed off, crossing his arms and using their fifteen-inch height difference to his advantage.
"No, well, not exactly." She looked up at Edward and pouted. "Can you please just trust me on this?" Trust that you are really not in the best place to deal with her right now?
"Alice," he sighed, exasperated. "I'm really not in the mood to tip toe around anymore. Whatever it is, I think that I can deal with it." Edward started walking towards his studio, Alice hurriedly trailing behind him.
"Please, Edward," she pleaded, grabbing his arm at the same time she tried to even their paces. "Just don't go in there. You're not ready." She stood with her hands on Edward's chest, blocking him from entering the studio. Please please please, Edward… I didn't know what she looked like and then she was so persistent and I just–
"Alice," he growled under his breath, one hand gripping the bridge of his nose while the other reached behind Alice's torso for the door handle. The force of Edward opening the door was no match for Alice's insistent pushes against his chest, and he easily brushed past her into the empty room.
"Edward!" she cried, grabbing his arm and unsuccessfully pulling his body away from the doorframe.
"Alice! I don't even see anything. What the hell were you–" he trailed off, stopping short and causing Alice to barrel into his back. His mouth dropped open and he felt his heart beating out of his chest, positive that the two other people in the room could hear it.
"We never met and I didn't know it was her until she was already in here and I couldn't very well demand she leave without some sort of explanation and then you came and I told you this was a bad idea," Alice rambled, one hand on her forehead while the other rested against her hip.
Edward stood still, his pulse so loud against his eardrum that Alice's long-winded explanation was wholly unnecessary. Just seeing Bella standing calmly by the window – shyly smiling as the filtering sunlight offered an ethereal backlight – was grounds for his immediate understanding. He didn't know if he would have stayed had Alice simply told him she was here, but a small part of him wanted to thank her for trying to think of him even though he hadn't been particularly good company since coming back from Seattle.
But now that Bella was here, standing in his New York studio of her own free will and obviously wanting or intending to give some sort of explanation, Edward's overjoyed awe at seeing her was quickly dissipating into quiet fury. The only thing he could focus on was every single time he had ever asked for some type of answer to one of his many, many questions, each moment he had deliberated, fought over, and rationalized why she was worth the amount of trouble he'd gone through just to get his heart broken again and again.
Did she really think that he would be okay with this impromptu meeting? That after months of no contact she could simply approach him, say she was sorry, and then they could start their lives together? The idea was ludicrous and all Edward wanted to do was yell at her, rip apart his canvases, throw shit around his studio, and show her how angry he was. How unabashedly pissed off he had become just because she left him, had asked him to leave her.
Where the fuck did she get off?
"Alice," Edward deadpanned, not once taking his eyes off Bella, "could you please leave us alone?" Bella's smile faltered before leaving her face completely at the cold gaze she was now fixed with, and Alice paused before quietly shuffling out of the room and shutting the door behind her.
Edward took one breath before loudly exhaling and squeezing both hands into painful fists.
"Edward, I–" Bella faltered, her attempt at apologizing stifled just as easily as her tentative step towards Edward. The way he was staring her down, his eyes lowered into cruel slits, stopped her dead in her tracks.
He didn't miss a single beat before cutting her off.
"What, Bella?" Edward's voice was quiet but not soft, riddled with twelve years of trying to get what he was feeling out in the open and then, once he had, resigning himself to pick up the pieces. There was emotion behind his words, but not at all what Bella was expecting (Edward could see that, at least, notice the way she looked anywhere but at him as she fidgeted and sunk into herself). This wasn't the Edward she had left in Washington and, for once, he was glad. "What is so fucking important to warrant some shit excuse? Why now, Bella? After eight goddamn months of cat and mouse you suddenly decide you're 'ready' to be a grown-up and explain yourself?"
"No, Edward, I just–" she paused, taking a breath before straightening up, "I came to apologize. To tell you that I was wrong, so, so wrong." Her voice trailed off and she was back to peaking at Edward through her lashes, the ground suddenly much more interesting than the man she had come to see.
"You're sorry?" Edward repeated, the words feeling foreign on his tongue as his upper torso shook with thinly restrained anger. Her meek apology didn't even begin to cover what he felt was appropriate and he was finding it difficult to reign in his aggression. This was Bella, for Christ's sake, and they weren't in Fight Club – even if he wanted to calmly walk towards her and then beat the shit out of her. He knew it would feel good, he just wasn't sure how she would take the gesture. "For what?" he asked, slowly taking the necessary steps to close the fifteen foot gap between them. "For lying to me? For accusing me of infidelity? For knowingly entering into a relationship you were just waiting to end? For humoring my affections? For ripping my heart out? For sleeping with me because it was convenient?"
Each jab brought them closer together until Edward, puffed up in anger and the pathetic end to his scorned love affair, towered over Bella, his shallow breaths extremely loud to both their ears. He had refrained from shaking her, from forcing her physical body to register the emotional depth of his wounds, but the assault wouldn't have been necessary – each sneered question only added to her self-blame. She was curling in her shoulders while holding her stomach, doing and saying nothing in an attempt to fight back. Edward knew he was causing her pain but, in that moment, he just couldn't seem to care.
"I'm sorry," Bella mumbled to her shoes.
"Yes," Edward laughed humorlessly, "I am sure you are very, very sorry you even bothered." He unclenched one hand and pulled it through his hair, tugging at the strands at the back of his neck to try and ground himself.
Bella looked up, her eyes wet with unshed tears. She slowly unfurled her body before speaking. "You think this is easy?" Edward looked up, a note of surprise quickly masked by indignation. "You think I want to stand here and admit that I was wrong? Look back on every decision I made about you and realize how badly I fucked up?" She looked at him expecting an answer and it took Edward a moment before he could do more than scream in her face.
"Yes, Bella," he sighed, trying not to sound as condescending as he felt. "That is exactly how I assumed you would behave." He turned around and leaned heavily against the windowsill.
"Don't what?" Edward sneered, turning around abruptly and shrugging off Bella's attempts to physically console him.
"Don't pretend like I meant nothing to you, that you were the only one who got their heart broken."
"Stop patronizing me," he spat out, his hands curling into fists as he again closed the distance between them; Bella stood her ground, the tears she refused to cry threatening the aggressive stance she was holding. "You have no right to fucking come in here and tell me what I feel for you, to assume that I had the same choice as you did. You dictated everything, Bella. You knew what was going to happen and you chose anyway. Don't blame that on me."
Bella let her hands drop into mimicking angry fists before she stood toe-to-toe with Edward. "You act like you're the only one who got hurt! Like you are the only one who could ever be hurt! You don't get to stand there and tell me my choice was easy!"
"Your choice!" he growled back. "The choice you made without me? The one that wasn't even set in stone? The one you merely assumed would happen? You don't get to play God, Bella. You had no right to take my choice away from me."
"You think I wanted to?" she screamed. "Can you honestly stand there and say that you would have chosen differently? That you would have kept going, just knowing what would have happened?" Bella paced in front of Edward, her questions only punctuated by a quick reference with her hand. His anger began to subside as he tried to rationalize his own behavior at being in her situation. Would he have really behaved so differently?
"That man ripped me apart," she continued, one hand combing through her hair while her eyes pleaded with him to understand her motivation. "I couldn't let myself do that, couldn't spend years loving someone who would choose to cheat, couldn't give my heart to someone just knowing they would later rip it out." Edward noticed that she had stopped believing he was that future wandering husband and his heart rate picked up at the idea that it had something to do with her attempt at apologizing. "I'm not sorry for loving you," Bella added, looking up at him with all her defenses down, "I'm simply sorry it took me this long to figure that out."
Bella quickly bent over to retrieve her bag and then shuffled past Edward, gazing at nothing but the floor while she silently made her escape.
She's giving up? Edward questioned. After everything, she's just giving up again?
Well… you did scream at her. And act like you wanted nothing to do with her.
Because I'm fucking angry as all hell! I can be angry and still in love with her.
Yeah, well, you might want to get your foot out of your ass and let her know that.
"Bella!" The word was spoken quietly, but held more conviction than Edward had anticipated. Bella stopped and curiously turned around, causing Edward to almost hit her chest with the momentum. He stopped short and paused before speaking. "I– I don't want you to leave," he breathed out, catching Bella's small smile before he looked away again. "I am so incredibly angry right now but that doesn't mean that I don't love you. Or ever really stopped loving you. However stupid that may have been," Edward trailed off, one hand attacking the back of his neck while his eyes continuously roamed over Bella's head.
"Hey," she softly stated, grabbing Edward's free hand and squeezing it gently before they were making eye contact. "I know." She smiled as Edward gazed at her quizzically. He abruptly pulled his hand away and took a step backwards, erasing her smile.
"You know?" Edward asked, his tone incredulous and clipped as his eyes narrowed with the unspoken suggestion that Bella had foreseen all of this – not just the way he would react to her first try at an apology but also his change of heart after she had walked away. He didn't like it.
"Yes!" Bella cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "That's what I've been trying to tell you!"
Edward didn't like it at all.
"Tell me what, Bella?" He mimicked her gesticulations before turning in half-circles while trying to think through his uprising anger. "I've been pretty understanding since I learned about your ability," he hissed the last word, trying to keep Bella's secret from Alice's eavesdropping, but his efforts only made Bella flinch with the unintentional inflection, "but it doesn't help either of us when you refuse to clue me in! Who's to stay I don't unknowingly make something come true just because I'm not aware I should try and stop myself? That's not fair, Bella!"
"But that's how it's supposed to be, Edward!" she countered, grabbing both his biceps and stilling his frantic movements. "Can't you just trust that I know what I'm dealing with?"
He snorted once before turning away. "That's supposed to make me feel better? That you know how much your 'visions' just seem to fuck everything up?"
Bella flinched as if physically hit, removing her hands from Edward's arms and then crossing her own in a subconscious defense.
"Do you even know why I'm apologizing to you?" The quiet strength of Bella's voice brought Edward's focus back to the woman in front of him. He absentmindedly rubbed his jaw before shaking his head 'no'. "I was wrong, Edward," she continued, not once breaking eye contact. "What I thought I saw… what I told you would happened… I was wrong."
"Just like that?" he fumed. "All of a sudden you had a change of faith?"
"No– I mean, yes–"
"Which is it, Bella?" Edward asked, a slight hint of playful malice lacing his question. Bella picked up on the sneer and looked at him before straightening up and narrowing her eyes. He would have smiled at the spine she seemed to be growing, if he weren't so angry with her to begin with.
"I was wrong about you," she annunciated through clenched teeth. "I went to Portland and met someone and realized I was wrong about you."
A snippet of their earlier conversation ran through Edward's mind, steadily chipping away at the wall he had built up between them.
"What does that even mean?" he asked quietly, all traces of patronizing exasperation gone. He simply wanted to understand what she was trying to explain.
"I spent years believing that your wedding would be our wedding. That my pregnancy would be our pregnancy. That by refusing to fall in love with you, I could somehow stop what I'd always assumed would be inevitable."
Edward clenched his hands into fists, his breaths coming in short pants while he closed his eyes tightly to try and offer some semblance of quiet introspection. He knew he was angry, but at whom? Himself, for failing to show Bella everything she was now only starting to believe? Bella, for taking away his autonomy and making the wrong decision again and again? Fate, that cruel, disingenuous bastard that had played with both their lives and caused so much misery?
Even though Edward couldn't decide where to place his anger, he inexplicably knew one thing: he was tired of being angry in the first place.
He looked up and noticed Bella was trying to surreptitiously wipe away stray tears. His fingers unclenched and the vice-grip on his heart split open. He was gripping her shoulders within a second.
"What does that mean? What are you trying to tell me?" He needed to know. He had to finally understand what the hell he was up against.
"I chose wrong," she whispered, sniffling and squeezing her eyes tightly to ward off more tears. "I made everything I fought against come true because I couldn't trust you, couldn't trust that what I felt for you… what you felt for me… was honest."
"What are you saying?" Edward rushed out, gently shaking Bella's shoulder in an effort to physically release whatever jumbled meaning she couldn't quite reach with words.
"James," she deadpanned.
"Who?" Edward pleaded. "Bella! Who is James?"
She looked up and half-smiled, shaking her head and blinking before resuming her attempt at an explanation. "I met him and let him take me out on dates and then I started having dreams again. Except they weren't new… they were everything I'd already seen before but clearer, longer, more detailed." Bella's head turned slowly towards Edward, her gaze lagging two seconds behind, and he realized how honest she was being, how incredibly difficult he was making this for her just by demanding she atone for it. "They were going to come true because I had pushed you away and met James instead."
Her shoulders hunched over and then her body sagged in Edward's grip. Without thinking, Edward pulled Bella towards him, moving his arms until they were wrapped around her torso and his nose was buried in her hair. He felt his stomach bottom out but simply breathed more deeply, forcing her clean smell and warmth to unlock the chains he had repeatedly used to keep himself from groveling at her feet and behaving in such a fashion. He could have smiled, realizing that the one thing that could so completely break his heart was still the only salve that would thoroughly mend it back together.
"Bella, please. It's over. He can't hurt you anymore."
"But don't you get it?" Bella suddenly pushed back from Edward's chest and stood in front of him fuming. "I did that to myself. I couldn't let those visions go! Even after I fell in love with you and realized you would never leave me… would do anything to force me to realize how stupid I was behaving. It's my fault, Edward! I broke your heart and I pushed you away and I wouldn't let you love me and now here we are and you're still willing to forgive everything I've ever done to keep us apart."
She backed up and bent over to pick up her bag, her fingers around the door handle before Edward's voice stilled her movements.
"Please," Bella shook her head without lifting it or looking backwards. "I don't deserve this."
"Do you think I'm going to stop now?" Edward asked, quietly slipping between Bella and her way out. "That I'm simply going to deny a chance to be with you because you think I won't take it?" His hand was cupping her jaw before she turned away and he dropped his attempt at affection.
"You deserve better than this, Edward. Better than someone with a faulty sense of security and the ability to always fuck things up."
Bella let out a humorless laugh, her forehead (of what Edward could see from his particular angle) creased with premature lines of worry. Edward had no idea whether her current behavior was an honest reaction to their situation and what seemed to be a sudden realization that she was mostly at fault, or if what he was about to do would just play into her premature knowledge of how their interaction was going to play out.
He decided he didn't care.
"I don't want anyone else," he stated, grabbing both of Bella's hands and pulling them into his own. "Even if you are a witch and have a piss poor sense of judgment."
Edward's smile grew with Bella's soft snort. She playfully pushed him and then swiped at her stuffy nose.
"Don't what?" he baited her, slowly pulling her body in closer until they stood chest to chest.
"This isn't a joke to me." Bella was fiddling with the back of Edward's shirt, twisting the hem with her fingers while mumbling into his sternum. He sighed and squeezed her body tighter, exhaling loudly before lightly kissing the top of her head.
"We're always going to fight, Bella. You'll see things and I'll try to stop them and sometimes you'll get so mad at me that we can't even look at each other without wanting to scream." He paused, absentmindedly rubbing up and down her spine.
"But?" she questioned.
"But even then," he trailed off, pulling her shoulders back and forcing them to make eye contact, "I'll still love you." Edward paused, ghosting his thumb from Bella's forehead to the start of her jaw. "Even more than I do right now."
"You'll hate me," she breathed out, feeling her eyelids slowly flutter close as his other hand mimicked the one already surrounding her face.
"I know," he whispered, leaning in as he rubbed circles on the apples of her cheeks.
"I'll make you miserable."
"I'll never be normal," Bella stated, the words almost inaudible against Edward's lips.
He breathed in against her nose and smiled, "You're perfect to me."
A/N: This is the end. :) Although this story has a lot of angst, I still always think of it as a romance as well, and have been keeping this ending in mind from the beginning. It's a bit corny, but the whole point was to get Edward and Bella together, right? And that's a happy moment in my mind.
Copious amounts of gratitude to anyone who has taken time to review, or will continue to review now that the story is finished. And, if you've made it this far, a simple one-line review is really appreciated.