A/N: I am terribly ashamed of myself for not updating before this. But this chapter is rough and probably not even worth waiting for anyway. I have the whole story mapped out in my head – but the words feel forced and unnatural to me. But here it is anyway.
Disclaimer: SM owns all.
I stood up and whirled around to face him. The sight that met my eyes was frightening. I'd seen Edward's anger before, but never had it been directed at me before. His eyes were pitch black and his hands were balled tightly into fists. The full smoldering force of his eyes was turned on me in a fierce and angry glare. But my own hurt and anger ran too deep to be deterred by the brief distraction that his appearance had caused; I didn't miss a beat.
"Then why did you leave me?" Surely he had heard my story; he must know what he had done to me. He had all but destroyed me and then walked away, not caring if there was anyone around to pick up the pieces. And now he had the nerve to tell me that he still loved me?
"I left because I love you." He said it so matter-of-factly, like it was so obvious.
I actually snorted. He didn't really expect me to swallow that, did he? "What game are you playing, Edward? If you really expect me to believe that you love me after…after…" I could feel the words catch in my throat, choking me. I closed my eyes, fighting for composure. I took several deep breaths – I needed to get myself under control. I opened my eyes and he was less than a foot away. I staggered back, shocked by his closeness. "You left." I finished pointedly.
"We've already determined that, Bella." He sounded amused but the fire hadn't left his eyes and his hands were still clenched. "I only wanted to protect you. It was so dangerous for you to be with me. As I'm sure you're fully aware at this point, there are certain dangers to this life that I just couldn't bear to have you exposed to. If anything had ever happened to you, I could never have forgiven myself. I wanted…want…what's best for you."
He hadn't even finished his sentence when my hand shot out, so quickly it was nothing but a blur, and smacked him across the face. "And who were you to make that decision for me Edward? You didn't even give me a choice." The last word came out in a strangled hiss. "You never made an attempt to explain. You made a choice that involved me and didn't even care what I thought, or how I felt. It wasn't to protect me, Edward. It was to protect you. I wasn't afraid – you were. So don't tell me that it was in my best interests."
I slumped back on the couch and buried my face in my hands. I wished for sleep – a blissful escape from the sudden onslaught of pain and loss of pride that this confrontation had cost me. I ground my teeth together in concentration. I could not cry. I would not cry. I could feel the peaceful calm settling over me and fought against it, shaking my head back and forth. I wanted to fight this on my own. Jasper must have gotten the message because the calm lifted. I was surprised to find that all that remained was the hurt. No, no, no. I need to be angry. I can't do this if I'm not angry. I desperately sifted through my memories, trying to reclaim my righteous indignation, but found that it truly was gone and all that was left was the same aching and empty hole in my heart.
A strangled sob caught in my throat. He was there then, his arms around me, pulling me up against him. I couldn't even fathom what he must think of me right now. I clutched myself tightly against his chest and let the sobs overtake me. I don't know how long we stood like that, but I found myself becoming more and more aware of him. It started with his breathing. And then the gentle stroke of his hand over my hair. Eventually I realized that I was pressed tightly against every line of his body and was clinging to him with all my might.
I stepped back suddenly. I'm sure I would have blushed violently, had I been able. I glanced around and realized that the rest of the Cullens had all discretely retreated. With nowhere else to look, I forced myself to meet his eyes. They burned intensely, but it wasn't with anger. It was something else, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
"Tell me what happened, Bella." His voice was pleading and sorrowful without a hint of the irritation that it had held before.
"I'm sure that your family has already told you the whole story," I sighed. There were no secrets in a family such as his.
"Yes, but I want to hear it from you. No editing."
I opened my mouth to speak, and then closed it again. I didn't want to do this. "No Edward. I'm tired of being all anguished and broken. You left. It hurt. I went to Italy and found a new family. One that lets me make my own choices. There's nothing more to tell."
"Why?" He didn't elaborate. He didn't need to. I knew what he was asking.
"I refused to live a life where you didn't at least exist. The hurt was tolerable – mostly – as long as I knew that you were out there, somewhere, living…existing. The idea of a world…being somewhere…where you didn't exist. It just hurt more than words can say. It was unbearable. It was like the entire weight of the world crushing down on top of me and I just couldn't…I'm sure heaven is beautiful, Edward, but I wasn't going to die and move on to a place where you weren't." I had undoubtedly stumbled all over myself trying to explain it to him. I hoped that I was making at least some kind of sense.
I stared at him, begging him to understand what I was trying to tell him.
"So it was because of me. I damned you anyway."
Okay I guess he missed the point. "No Edward. You didn't damn me. I made my own choice. You tried to take that choice out of my hands, but it wasn't ever yours to make. A world without you would have been damnation. Heaven, no matter how beautiful, would have been my own personal hell. Besides, I refuse to believe that you don't have a soul. I can see it every time I look into your eyes."
He tried to look away, but I caught his face between my hands and stared deeply into his amber eyes. "No, Edward. Don't hide from me. You don't have to agree with me – but I know you have a soul. As does the rest of your family. As do I. I didn't give my soul up in trade to spend an eternity in a world where you exist. I gave up my mortality. The two are not synonymous. Look it up."
He just stared at me blankly and I could tell that I wasn't getting through. "Fine, Edward. Even supposing you were right – what do I need a soul for anyway? I'm never going to die." A loud guffaw of a laugh echoed through the house and I couldn't help but smile at the ceiling. It felt good to know that I had Emmett's approval. I looked back to Edward who was staring fixedly at his shoes, but I could see the hint of a smile on his face.
"Can't we just agree to disagree?" After a long moment he met my eyes and nodded.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry I slapped you."
"It wasn't nothing I didn't deserve, Bella."
"Deserved or not, I'm sorry."
I nodded, not needing further explanation. Edward was undoubtedly still punishing himself far more than I ever could. I bit my lip, taking him in fully for the first time since before he'd left me. He was every bit as devastatingly handsome and ethereal as I remembered through my foggy human memories. As my gaze wandered back to his face, his eyes, his mouth, I realized that we had drifted dangerously close together. Our bodies were merely inches apart and I could almost imagine that I could feel the heat coming from him – had there actually been any.
He reached out tentatively and brushed his hand along my cheekbone before cupping my face in his palm. Then ever so slowly he leaned in towards me…inch by too slow inch…as though he were afraid I would bolt at any moment. His lips brushed mine once...twice...three times with excruciating softness. I sighed and slipped my arms around his neck, moving to deepen the kiss.
"Bella I can't wait to take you shopping!" Alice shouted as she ran down the stairs.
I pulled away from Edward, but didn't break eye contact.
"Three things Alice. One. You have terrible timing. Two. I can hear just as well as you can so you really don't have to shout. And three. Now that I have inhuman strength and can stop you there is no way that I am letting you drag me on a shopping trip to anywhere," I laughed and tore my gaze from Edward to wink at Alice.
"That's what YOU think." She giggled.