The art of losing isn't hard to master;

So many things seem filled with the intent

To be lost that their loss is no disaster…

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

The art of losing's not too hard to master

Though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

~One Art, Elizabeth Bishop

--

Bright pulsing lights and colours surrounded me. I was utterly calm, utterly at peace, serene in the surreal environment. I knew precisely where I was. There was only one place in the entire world that'd allow me to feel this happy. I was with Edward.

I smiled, feeling rays of sunlight touch my face, and slowly opened my eyes to greet him. His name escaped from my lips in a whisper, like a prayer. He stood in front of me, his eyes bright, his face gentle as he looked at me. He took me in his arms.

In my eagerness to embrace him I stretched a little too far and my cheek bumped against something hard and cold. The unexpected sensation cleared some of the euphoric fog from my brain and I was suddenly afraid. I was beginning to understand that I was dreaming, that the beautiful vision wasn't real, could never be real.

Desperately I pushed myself forward, trying to capture his lips with mine, to leach every drop of sweetness from this unconscious appearance before reality interrupted.

Two dark shapes appeared at his side. I gasped and my struggle to reach him intensified a thousand-fold. I'd been too late, I hadn't been able to stop the Volturi, and my only love was about to be reduced to a pile of ash before my very eyes...

Something brushed my forehead, and my eyelids cracked open. I needed a few seconds to adjust to the bright light flooding my room. I blinked a few times, and immediately my spine dissolved into relaxation as I recognized the vision in front of me. Obviously the sheer force of my terror had forced the dream-come-nightmare to reinvent itself. I was back where I wanted to be most of all – in Edward's loving embrace, alone.

"Good morning, beautiful," he said softly, pressing his cold lips against my cheek. A blissful smile spread itself across my face as I revelled in the ridiculously real sensations coursing through me.

"Not quite, but I'm not complaining," I mumbled, reaching my arms around his neck, intent on capturing his lips with mine. After all, I had mere moments before the shrillness of my alarm clock or a croaking crow jolted me from my slumber, and when you wake up to a dream, you don't worry about things like morning breath.

Two cold hands formed gentle shackles around my wrists. "Wait," he whispered, and my eyes flew open.

My fantasies, my dream Edwards never wanted to wait. It was the one part of him that my subconscious refused to replicate exactly – his reluctance, his famous self-control, back in the days when he actually wanted me…

A jolt of pain ran through me, and with that, suddenly I was wide awake. The events of the past three days flew through my mind on a movie reel. My spine flew upwards, propelling me to sit upright in bed. The Volturi – I'd stopped the nightmare after all.

And Edward – Edward. Edward was lying right beside me, his body mirroring mine, his shirt wrinkled from where my fingers had clutched it all night.

"Edward! I… I'm sorry," I gasped, swinging both legs onto the floor, desperate to put some distance between us.

It was absolutely clear to me what must have happened. As he delivered me back to Charlie, I'd fallen asleep in his arms and he'd been too much of a gentleman to disturb my slumber by leaving.

He had half-risen from his prone position, his hair rumpled, his eyes confused. "Bella, what…?"

At this point I was kneeling before my wardrobe, frantically digging for something to throw on over the flimsy shirt I'd fallen asleep in. The fact that my love for Edward burned eternally within me meant nothing at that precise moment – all I wanted to do was to cover of much as my skin as possible so that I wouldn't make him uncomfortable – so that he wouldn't feel compelled to reiterate those awful words from that day in the woods – so I could place a barrier, however fragile, between him and the wound in my chest that throbbed every time he looked at me.

I finally found a tattered old sweatshirt and pulled it on over my head, rising as I did so. A ridiculous move, even by my standards – the sudden motion combined with the tangle I'd gotten my arms into meant that my feet automatically went into spasm and I felt myself heading towards the floor.

A pair of strong arms caught me, held me upright, and worked to release my head and arms from the knot of the sweater. I emerged, panting and blushing, to find him beaming down on me, his hands on the tops of my arms, his eyes full of mirth.

"Bella, what are you doing? Surely you should know by now that sudden motion is not your friend, particularly this early in the morning." His voice was playful. I could only stare at him.

The monster in my head subsided. I felt whole in his arms, cured, like every piece of me had knit back together.

Swallowing, I forced myself to stand independently, ignoring the agonising pains – actual, visceral pains – in my heart. What good was it to taunt myself with what had been, what could never be again? Even by my masochistic standards, lulling my bruised heart and cracked soul into a false sense of security was pure madness. It would only hurt that much more when he left.

No matter how desperately I wanted to believe otherwise, no matter how adept I was at pretending that the light in his eyes was something deeper than affection, something more powerful than simple amusement, things were different now.

He'd come to his senses – he'd realised my limitations, my flaws, my stupidity. Truly, I'd been expecting it from the first moment he told me he cared for me. It was nothing more than I deserved, for believing that out of all the people in the world, I was the outrageously lucky woman whom he would love forever.

I looked back up, seemingly unable to help myself, and my eyes met his.

He was thirsty, that much was obvious – his eyes were two flat onyx crystals staring back at me. How, then, was my ridiculous imagination still able to spark feeling into their depths – still able to see love, adoration even, in them when there was none?

His arms had crept around my waist. He pulled me to him in a grip to hard it was almost painful, then released me, holding me gently by my upper arms as he stared into my face. My eyes closed of their own accord as the scent of him washed over me. His proximity made me dizzy.

Lips smooth as glass and softer than petals brushed over my forehead, blessing each eyelid and the tip of my nose with a kiss. They travelled languorously down my cheek to the very edge of my lips, planting tiny butterfly kisses as they went. There they paused, and I could feel him hesitating, gauging my reaction.

There was no impending doom to distract me now. All I could think about was his lips on my skin. How gentle they were. How much I had missed them. How I would do anything to keep them there, for eternity.

How he had left. How he had promised to never come back.

How he would leave again.

Pain rippled through me, breaking me out of the drunken stupor his actions had inspired. He was frozen in place, staring down at me. Still the gentleman, expressing his gratitude and yet making sure not to go too far - making sure that I didn't read too much into his actions.

I pushed myself violently away from him. The motion was so sudden that it actually seemed to take him by surprise. His arms dropped their hold on my arms and we were completely separated once more.

"Please don't touch me," I whispered. "I can't bear it when you touch me." I kept my eyes closed. It was the only way for me not to break down and fly back into his arms for however long he was willing to keep me there.

"Bella?" My name on his lips was a question. How was it that he was able to saturate those two syllables with so much emotion? Guilt, surprise, panic, something else that I refused to hear, refused to accept...

My eyes cracked open, but I refused to look at him, studying instead the intricately patterned wallpaper of my room.

"Why are you still here?" I asked, trying my hardest to keep any and all emotion out of my voice. It seemed to work – I heard his quick, surprised inhale, could imagine his eyes widening in shock at my tone.

His hand came up as if to cup my cheek. I flinched, and it hovered in midair for a few seconds before dropping back down to rest by his side again.

"I wanted to be near you," he whispered, his voice saturated with guilt, with longing, with... no, I couldn't think it, couldn't allow myself to think it. "I wanted to make sure you were all right."

I nodded once, brusquely. "I am."

A pause. "I see that." He was being careful with me, trying not to arouse my volatile emotions, obviously. My eyes ached, and I blinked hard. It was so difficult to remain remote when everything I'd ever wanted was a hair's breadth away.

"You broke your promise," I accused him. My lips formed a hard line, my eyes dancing somewhere between the wallpaper and his left shoulder.

"Which one?" was his quiet reply, and I could hear the volumes of pain that waited behind that simple statement.

I closed my eyes once more and squeezed the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger.

No time to be melodramatic. No time to be selfish. I had to ensure this, at the very least. When I died, whatever the cause, be it natural or supernatural, I wanted to be able to assure myself that somewhere in the world, the Edward that I loved was happy. I would love him for as long as he existed, and probably after. I wanted to grant him his final wish – a life without me, unfettered by any and all mortal restraints. I wanted to set him free.

"Edward. This can't go on. You can't take responsibility for the things that happen to me here. You can't just go running off to Italy every time I trip and a surge of guilt strikes you because you weren't here to catch me. You know as well as I do that I'm ridiculously clumsy. You can't allow this overblown sense of responsibility to kick in every time something bad happens to me."

I bit my lip, well aware that I was babbling on nonsensically, desperate to get the painful words over and done with. He already owned my heart, my soul – this was the last gift I could give him.

He was looking at me in the strangest of ways. He almost looked angry.

"Responsibility?" he whispered. "That's why you think I asked the Volturi to kill me? Because I felt responsible?"

Why did he have to sound so tortured? Didn't he know how this was tearing me up?

I glared at him. "Didn't you?"

"Feel responsible? Intensely so."

"But that wasn't the reason you went to Italy."

He shook his head.

"Then what the hell was, Edward?" I demanded, crossing my arms across my chest. "Are you being deliberately difficult? If the guilt wasn't why you wanted to die, then what was it?"

His lips parted, and he looked as though he were struggling to clear some blockage in his throat.

"Bella. You seem to be labouring under a misapprehension. I thought I'd explained this to you." He exhaled, and I saw a tremor run through his body – exactly as if he were steeling himself not to touch me.

I waited.

"Bella," he murmured, his voice as smooth and seductive as ever, "even if I'd had no hand in your death - even if it wasn't my fault, I would have gone to Italy. Don't you understand? I can't live in a world where you don't exist. Bella... I love you so much. There is nothing for me here without you. There is no me without you." He exhaled sharply, his eyes burning into mine.

My mouth opened, but no words came out for several minutes. Finally, my whirling thoughts cleared.

"I don't believe you," I said blankly. "Is this stupid guilt complex of yours really so powerful as to make you think that that's what I want to hear? That if you pretend to love me for a few months it'll make everything go away?" I was growing angry now, my voice increasing in volume. "Don't you know how much it hurts to hear that? How much I want to believe you? Why would you want to do this to me all over again?"

He ran a hand through his hair, his expression full of pain. "Bella, I don't know what I can do to make you understand. You are everything to me."

I shook my head, covering my ears with my hands. "Stop it!"

He ignored me, pulling my hands away, pulling me into his arms, overlooking my attempts to escape.

"I love every tiny thing about you. Everything you've ever said, everything you've ever done. All the things that make you so utterly human, your spirit, your passion, your capacity to love, your bravery... "

Two cold fingers caught my chin and pushed it irresistibly upwards. Without my knowledge or permission, my eyes met his.

I was definitely not imagining it. It wasn't just that the flat blackness of his eyes had been transformed. It wasn't just that they burned with unparalleled ferocity into my own. It wasn't that his gaze held such volumes of emotion that I could feel my heart tremble within me.

His whole face was utterly aglow, as if somebody had trained the most heavenly of spotlights upon it. Every feeling he had ever had towards me was beaming out of his very skin. His forehead told of my stubbornness, his corresponding despair – the furrow between his eyes told me of his frustration at my inaccessible, incomprehensible mind - his mouth held tenderness for mine, longed to be connected once more, longed to convince me, in a thousand tiny ways, of his feelings.

I couldn't speak. Once more, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of his face, by the countless ways in which he expressed his emotion, by the utter and infallible truth of it.

"But you said... you said..." I stammered, finally, stupidly.

"I know what I said." He sighed and for the first time I saw a twinge of pain alight upon his perfect features. "I even know why I said it. But that doesn't change the fact that it wasn't true."

I could only look at him.

"I'm so sorry, Bella," he whispered, his voice full of pain. "I'm a good liar – I have to be. All I wanted was to keep you safe."

All those months of agony, of utter torture, all the feelings my weak soul had had to experience, the sheer effort it had taken me to hold my sanity together, the cost to my friends, my family...

Something snapped inside me.

"Are you freaking KIDDING me??" I screamed into his face, not caring when he flinched, not caring that Charlie might overhear, not caring about anything but the multiple new wounds that had opened around the main one in my soul. "Are you KIDDING me? You left me – you put me through almost a year of complete and total mind-numbing agony for some stupid, testosterone-fuelled reason? How was THAT keeping me safe??"

His lips formed a hard line and he shook his head. "I know."

My hand reacted all by itself. It jerked up, and I watched in silent horror as it slapped him hard across the face. I did not register the pain that shot through my nerve endings. My whole body *was* a nerve ending. Raw. In pain. Angry. I slapped him again.

Somewhere inside of me Sensible Bella was watching all of this, shocked and mortified by this complete loss of self-control, but the red haze that had descended over me was making it impossible for me to listen to her.

I pummelled his stone chest with both of my fists, fevered now, not caring that it was hurting me like it could never hurt him, not caring that his hands had formed gentle but restraining manacles around mine, refusing to acknowledge him as he tried to calm me down.

"You stupid, stupid... how could you.... how dare you... I can't believe..." Hot tears cascaded down my cheeks – the last year's worth of frustration and loneliness making its way slowly out of my body.

His voice was agonised as he tried to console me. "Bella... Bella, love, please listen to me."

I shook my head viciously, refusing to allow the word. "Don't you dare call me 'love'," I spat, watching him recoil. "You don't know the meaning of the word, you.... you stupid, arrogant, patronising jerk, you..."

I ran out of air. My knees buckled, my body jack-knifing as I fell to the ground. Silently he moved away from me as I sobbed, giving me space, letting me breathe. My chest heaved as I tried to suck in oxygen from the air around me. Surely I would break apart; surely the force of this was more than my body could bear.

"Edward," I gasped, "Edward, look what you've done to me. How can this ever have been for the best?"

I could have been there for seconds or for hours. I honestly didn't know. My body locked down and all I could feel was a mind-boggling vortex of pain, sucking me in, whirling me around so that nothing made sense anymore.

I was right about one thing, though. My body was not strong enough to deal with that kind of anguish. It reacted by sending wave after wave of fatigue over my muscles, calming me through sheer exhaustion. Slowly my sobs lessened in volume, slowly I learned to breathe again. Finally I felt able to look up, to seek him out.

He was standing in the furthest corner of my room, an inhumanely perfect statue. His eyes were closed, but he looked anything but peaceful. His hands were in fists at his sides, his lips were compressed and he seemed to be fighting some instinctive urge. His whole body was a paroxysm of pain.

I gasped and wheezed. It was too much. All of it was too much. I couldn't handle his pain as well as my own. My senses were in utter overload. Hours, days before I'd been willing to sacrifice my own life to ensure his survival, and here I was, complicating his life yet again.

I felt like a parasite, like a festering wound on his otherwise perfect skin. I was nothing, and he was everything, and whatever selfish hurt he was feeling resonated within me, made me want to forget everything and pull him into my arms. I was tormented and anguished and most of all, I was blisteringly angry. And I didn't want him there witnessing my weakness any longer.

I climbed to my feet slowly, my knees shaking. His eyes opened and I could feel them leaving trails of liquid fire across my face. I refused to look at him, refused to acknowledge him. Refused.

Stumbling to the window, I unlatched it, then pushed it out as far as I could go. I turned to the wall. I couldn't do this if I looked at him.

"Get out." My voice was the barest of whispers, but he heard it.

I did not move until I'd felt the cool wind of his departure brush my skin. Keeping my eyes closed, I reached out and found the window once more. I locked it tightly and promptly collapsed on my bed to welcome the merciful release of sleep.

--