A/N Stephenie Meyer owns everything.



Carlisle and I had had this fight countless times, but somehow we were having it again.

"I won't let you!" I raged, pacing his office but never taking my black eyes off his. In my frustration I knocked over one of his filing cabinets with a strong push of my palm. The drawers unlatched and files spilled out haphazardly in my peripheral vision. If he was shocked he showed no sign, and he certainly wasn't intimidated.

He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward, staring back at me. Neither of us bothered breathing, but we were both salivating venom and defiance. "It's not your choice, Edward."

"The hell it isn't." A low growl permeated my words. "You have no right to change her." Carlisle – my father, my mentor, my creator – had promised to curse the most perfect creature I knew to our bloodthirsty eternity.

His tone was no less severe or animalistic. "I have every right. You are only thinking of one person, I have an entire family to look after. And Bella."

"Everything I'm doing, I do for Bella," I argued, now squaring my shoulders to his and facing him directly.

"No." Carlisle leaned back, now seemingly calm like he was reciting facts. As though being my creator had, in fact, made him a law-maker and a god. "You are thinking of yourself, and your fear. You haven't even stopped to take into account what this family needs, or what Bella herself wants."

Untrue! How dare he accuse me of not looking after her? I narrowed my eyes, and in a flash considered lunging across the desk at him, teeth first.

"Enough." There was a loud bang as the office door was thrown open. "I practically took just murdered Alice over checkers."

We both swiveled, Carlisle chastising, "Jasper!" alongside my shocked, "What?"

"Jasper, is she okay?"

His eyes were narrow as he answered, "Of course she is, Carlisle, I can keep my emotions in check," through gritted teeth. He threw me a glance and I noted that he looked almost as angry as we were.

Oh.

He glared at us accusingly. "Somehow, her choice to play the red side seemed punishable by death. I wonder why."

He may have had a point, but his mock-ignorance was insulting. I was already angry enough; I didn't need him to fuel my fury.

And then Carlisle fanned the flames with a sneer. "You can thank Edward for that contribution."

I lashed out at the closest thing which, sadly, was not made of steel. My left foot went through the back of the file cabinet already on the floor, breaking it open like an egg, shredding and scattering its contents.

Oops, I thought unrepentantly, Carlisle might have wanted those.

When the debris settled, I expected him to yell, or possibly throw something. Instead, he was staring over Jasper's shoulder – at Alice. I expected her to chastise me too, and I had a momentary feeling of being ambushed, but then I saw what Alice held in her mind.

A memory, of her and Jasper lying in the grass on some barely-cloudy day. He lay on his back, while she rested against him on her side, running her fingers through his hair. His eyes were closed softly and she was humming. It was beautifully loving, peaceful, and exactly what Jasper needed. Alice focused on that memory and radiated it like a beacon. Jasper slowly accepted and amplified that sense of calm until we could all think clearly again.

I surveyed the office, wondering how much of the damage Jasper's empathic talent had caused and how much was really just the destruction lurking inside me. Sometimes our emotions were like a dangerous gas leak – it comes from one place, but seeps throughout the house until it gets in everyone's head. Either way, with our combined efforts this had gotten out of hand. A muttered "sorry" was the best I could do at the moment, though.

The borrowed feeling of peace didn't last long, and as it receded a wave of powerlessness crashed through my body. Without the furious red tinge to my thoughts, my surroundings faded into a bleak monochrome. Our skins were white, our eyes were black, and that said it all. That was our harsh reality, and the entire family wanted to drag my colorful Bella into it, gasping and screaming like we all knew she would be.

Carlisle spoke up first, but instead of chastising my behavior like he had every right to, he said kindly, "Edward. This doesn't have to be a bad thing."

"How?" I asked. Standing there, wide-eyed and pleading, I'm sure I looked pathetic, but no one commented. Alice was watching my face with grief and pity, thinking how sorry she felt for me. Jasper, on the other hand, was feeling sorry for Bella, and Carlisle was grieving for us all. "How?" I asked again. "How can I live with knowing I personally ferried her soul to hell?"

It briefly flickered through Carlisle's mind that it would be him, not me, who actually clinched her fate, but he knew that wasn't what I meant. I had introduced her to our existence with my overzealous nose and desire to be near her. Anything that happened now was my burden to bear.

Surprisingly, it was Jasper that spoke up. "Edward," he began, and sighed. "I know what you think of us, but you're wrong. We are not dead, soulless monsters."

Well, he was right on one account. That's exactly what I thought of us. I let him continue, though.

"I know I have a soul, because I care and hope and love. And I feel more alive now than I ever did…before. I mean, look at Alice." He turned back to smile at her, and she slipped her tiny hand into his. "She is nothing if not lively."

I opened my mouth, considering my response, but through the lethargy of my distress I hadn't managed to speak when they turned and left the office, arms entwined and heads together. I assumed I was supposed to sit here and stew over what he'd said, but his argument was one of the most superficial I had come up against. 'I'm not damned because I feel good'? I was sure that wasn't how it worked…

Carlisle's voice suddenly caught my attention. He sounded tired, and resigned. "Let's get this mess cleaned up." He forced a small smile for me, and in that moment he felt truly fatherly. I had yelled and cursed at him for his best intentions, like the seventeen year old would forever be, and in return he was smiling and helping me pick up the pieces of my own mess. If I were a hugging sort of person, now would be the time, but no.

And speaking of pieces… Somehow I had distributed scraps of paper across the entire floor of the office. They rested on every flat surface available and a few even perched on some of the picture frames against the wall. I was a tornado.

I whispered, "I really am sorry, Carlisle."

He sighed, but only said, "Let's just see what we can salvage, son."

So I began gathering up the paper, making small precarious piles of scraps in no particular order. As I did, I sank further into my own despondent thoughts, until I was sitting on the floor mulling over my options. I felt very much like the mess I had created. Torn and scattered – my resolve shredded and tossed in one corner, my peace of mind ripped and tossed in another.

They, my family, supported her decision. I had seen it in their heads. Jasper and Emmett, especially, had devised several plans to keep me entertained/occupied/incapacitated while Bella achieved the illustrious status of 'undead'.

Bella… no matter how upset I was, she was taking this the hardest. Taking my hesitance to change her as proof of my lackluster devotion, she cried whenever the subject came up. Even Angela, the one other human I liked and respected, was worried about Bella now. Her thoughts had transformed from pleased that 'Bella had found Edward to make her so happy' to convinced that 'whatever that Cullen boy was doing to her, only seemed to be hurting her.' There it was, verbatim. Straight from her head to mine. If I was trying to protect Bella, I was doing it wrong.

Why was I even dating her? Why was I loving her and kissing her and wrapping blankets around her shivering feet at night if I was just going to drag her into damnation with me? It was purely selfish. I should have skipped all the courting and explaining, if this was how it was all going to end anyway. I should have just left a bouquet of black roses on her doorstep that very first day with a note that said See you in hell. Eternally Yours, the Angel of Death and broken her neck in my teeth that night. It would have been less painful for everyone.

That was what I had to prevent. Even if she loathed me now, rescuing her from this cold, parasitic existence would be worth the pain. Maybe I could just grab her and run – run and never stop – away from these vampires with their ever-willing venom.

I closed my eyes and reminded myself not to make any sudden movements. Instead, I just sat there on the floor of Carlisle's tattered office, pushing little bits of paper into new piles with my fingertips. I thought of nothing else until Alice interrupted my meditation.

"We're meeting downstairs for a family meeting. Now."

Sure enough, swimming in her head was an image of us sitting downstairs at the kitchen table we didn't need. Sometimes I wondered if things would happen at all if Alice didn't foresee them.

Carlisle stood first, and I trudged behind him with heavy, insolent steps. Everyone else was already sitting at the table, their eyes tracking my movements. Jasper, Alice and Esme sat on the far side, and Carlisle slipped into the seat at the head of the table. Emmett sat alone, at the other end. In the forefront of each of their minds was one name: Bella.

I wanted to get angry, to rage against the ambush I had expected all along and run right out the door. I wanted to take my fist and cleave the wooden table in two. I wanted to scream.

But Jasper was already ahead of me. Try as I might, I could do nothing but stand there basking in an emphatic glow of calm and acceptance. I hated it.

I refused to sit, instead standing behind one of the high-backed chairs, daring someone to correct me.

"Edward," Alice piped up, "you know we want to talk about Bella."

And this ridiculous soul issue, Jasper managed not to say, but his thoughts were enough.

Through clenched teeth I ground out, "This 'soul issue' is not ridiculous." I looked around the room for someone, anyone, to support my resentment, but all I could see was pity.

It occurred to me then that Rosalie was missing. I had been singled out and attacked when my only advocate was away. I became incensed, thought I still couldn't feel it properly.

"Did you run Rose out of town so I could be defeated unanimously?" I growled.

"She gave up," Carlisle answered. His face was calm and his hands were still on the table top. Not for the first time today, I considered hitting him for his unabashed acceptance of Bella's approaching death. "She's not sure who's right, and I'm not sure she even cares anymore, so she's removed herself." Emmett nodded and Carlisle skimmed through the memory of Rosalie explaining and walking out the door, proving he spoke the truth.

Now I was truly alone.

I was surprised when it was Jasper who spoke. "Edward, I know how strong your convictions are, but I'm convinced you're wrong. I don't think we're any more inherently evil as vampires than we were as humans."

I opened my mouth to argue, but he held up a hand and I stilled, gripping the wood of the chair firmly.

"Look, I fought in a human war, and I fought in a vampire war," he raised each of his scarred palms upwards, as if he were weighing the two wars themselves, "and I have to say they felt exactly the same. I was scared, but willing to kill any enemy that was going to hurt me or my friends. We kill people so that we can live. That's," he paused, searching for the word, "universal."

Again, I opened my mouth to tell him I had heard all this before and was no more convinced, but his next words stunned me into silence.

After glancing around at Alice first, then the others, he leaned in confiding, "And I don't think we're dead."

I let out a shocked gasp. This was absurd. We were all dead. We had gasped for breath, our hearts stopped beating and then our humanity was finished. How much more dead can you get? "That's outrageous. Of course we're dead."

Alice, as serious as the rest of our family, asked, "Why? Because that's what the humans say? Do we burst into flames in the daylight?"

I knew what she wanted me to say. She wanted me to deny the human superstitions and second guess my own assumptions, but I was having none of that. I turned my gaze to her and repeated, "Of course we're dead. I know I'm right."

"Dude, drop the God complex." That was Emmett, dropping in his two cents. I shot him a skeptical glance. Did he really think I was the only one in the room with a God complex? How could any of us not? I had thought exactly that of Carlisle, earlier today. We were faster, stronger and smarter than any living thing on this planet, not to mention our cosmic talents and abilities that most humans couldn't even fathom. Alice literally saw the future before it happened, but mine was the God complex that got out of hand? Not a chance.

Instead of explaining all that to him, however, I merely snorted. I was vindicated, too, when I heard everyone silently cataloguing their super-human abilities in their heads.

Hmm. Everyone except Esme. She shamed us all, looking around at her children thinking that we could probably all use a little TLC, regardless of who was right. Her optimism was maybe a little naïve and ridiculous, but I supposed that's why we loved her.

"Edward," Carlisle commanded, "tell me why you think we're dead."

I sighed, exasperated. "The living grow and change. They breathe and eat and sleep. They have heart beat." I was momentarily glad that Rosalie had bailed so I didn't have to feel bad adding, "They have children."

Jasper propped his elbows up on the table and cleared his throat. "That's how we're unlike the living, but how are we like the dead?"

I gave him a skeptical look, leaning away from him and the table as if it suddenly held a sprung trap.

"Jasper has a good point to make, Edward, and we all agree with him."

Jasper? This was all Jasper's idea?

"I've done a lot of thinking, because I was the only one who didn't feel a great difference when I was bitten. And I've talked it over with Alice." To his left, Alice gave a curt nod.

It was Esme, however, who got my attention. She slid a hand forward along the table, reaching for me, and asked, "Please sit, Edward."

I turned to her, still gripping the chair in front of me – it was a wonder it was still in one piece – and saw her face, pleading with me. It was because of the pain in the eyes of my sweet, loving mother – who only wanted to give me a hug – that I complied. I slid the chair before me out from under the table and sagged into it. I tapped my foot impatiently, but nodded at Jasper to continue.

"Thank you." He sat up straighter than necessary, now the focal point of the table. "I get why you think we're dead. We all thought so, because humans have all those bodily functions we don't, but we're no more like them than we are like corpses."

I looked away from him, unconvinced and unmollified. I stared at the back of my cold hand splayed across the table. My cold, dead hand, I was sure. But Jasper forged onwards.

"Dead humans stop growing and breathing, their hearts stop, but then everything else stops too. They stop thinking. They stop feeling. Edward," my eyes snapped to his. "They rot."

They sure did, and they stank while they were at it. One thing vampires definitely didn't do was stink.

"I think… We're not dead, we're in stasis," he concluded.

"Like a pause button." There, Emmett now had his four cents in this conversation. In his mind I saw a hand point a remote control at him, oh-so-many years ago when he was first attacked by that bear. But instead of how we all know it actually played out, the phantom hand hit a button on a remote, and he and the bear both paused, mid-grapple. After a moment, the hypothetical-Emmett shook his head, opened his blood red eyes, and fought back against the bear in a suddenly-fair fight. Oversimplified, maybe, but it seemed to make Jasper's point.

In stasis. As if the threads of our lives, instead of being cut as their reached their ends, were instead removed from the weave of fate and placed aside for safe-keeping, eternally.

"No longer living, but prevented from dying," I murmured.

Jasper grinned. When I looked around the table, I saw that Carlisle had too. Esme's smile was warm and understanding, and Alice was entranced in a vision.

"I can't feel the dead," Jasper continued. "They put off no trace of emotions, and I know you can't hear them. They cease to be, but we don't."

"I can't hear Bella," I said, somewhat dumbstruck. I don't even know why I mentioned it – maybe just to hold my position. But it was no longer firm ground I was arguing on, and I suspected they knew that.

"That doesn't make her dead, son, any more than it makes corpses alive."

Carlisle was right. We were stagnant, no longer human but forever living. It explained the guilt and penance I had always felt, it explained how it was even possible for us to deny our natures and act for a common good. It was because we still cared.

I shook my head out of my epiphany and stared at the expectant faces of my family. All except Alice – who was observing me with a small, tight frown.

"Say it, Edward," she ordered. "If we aren't dead, then we-"

"-still have souls," I breathed.

Oh. My. God.

I was reeling. Dumbstruck no longer covered it – I felt bulldozed. Now that I had made the realization, it all seemed blatantly clear. I had wasted so much time, loathing and self-loathing. Now I felt like I had been folded inside out and steam-pressed into a renewed, cleaner self.

Jasper must have felt my elation, because he let out a short laugh and hugged Alice to his side, kissing her head. She, too, was smiling, and I was sure she'd finally had the vision of vampire-Bella and I, free of guilt and self-flagellation, that she had been waiting for.

Jasper's laugh reminded me how much had changed today. I had gone from growling at Carlisle in a penitent rage to lazing in our kitchen like a flower child, with nothing but love and acceptance for everyone around me.

I, the stubborn and reproachful Edward Cullen, had completely flip-flopped.

I idly wondered if I would ever live this down. I'd take this humiliation and more, though, just to have Bella by my side.

Bella. The sun was rising. She would be awake soon, and I had to be there. No more arguments, no more sullen looks. No more 'agreeing to disagree'. No more listening to her cry from outside her window. I could finally convince her that I wasn't evading her company under the guise of protecting her, and I could prove that I loved her above all else. I would stand by her forever.

This was the first day of the rest of our existence, and it was going to be fantastic.

Another look around the table told me I must have been grinning like an idiot because they were beaming right back at me.

When my eyes met Alice's she thought, Go.

Without a second thought, I was hurling myself across the threshold of the front door. I took a momentary pause, my fingertips caught on the door frame behind me, to look back over my shoulder. My family was still sitting, watching me with knowing smiles.

I tried to speak but couldn't make eye contact. I was overwhelmingly thankful that I didn't have Bella's blush as I told them the truth that they deserved to hear.

"Thank you. I, um, I love you all."

They nodded, chuckling as they waved me away. Without another thought, I launched myself through the door like a sling shot and sprinted through the hazy pre-dawn all the way to Bella's window, open and waiting for me.

Without haste, I crawled up her bed, tucking her comforters around her body before snuggling up against her.

I kissed her nose softly. When she barely stirred, I kissed her cheek. "Bella, honey, can you wake up?"

She stirred a little more before squeezing her eyes shut and rolling over onto my shoulder, fitting herself along the hard line of my body. Her breathing slowly became less even until, finally, she opened her eyes and whispered, "Good morning."

I had to smile; she was so soft-spoken and relaxed in the mornings. So human, it was beautiful. "I'm going to miss watching you wake up," I answered, still smiling.

My moment of realization came when she narrowed her eyes and rolled away from me, onto her other side. Her arms crossed against her chest and she spat, "Already waiting for my death, then?"

I sighed, but mostly out of relief. I should have been worried that I'd upset her but all I could feel was calm and pleasantly expectant. We would never have to have this fight again.

I leaned over her before planting another soft kiss on her cheek and whispering in her ear, "No, love. I'm waiting for the rest of your life. With me." She didn't respond. "For eternity."

That certainly got her attention. Her head jerked around and she glared at me, the line of her brow still unforgiving. My broad smile must have tipped her off, though, because after a moment her grimace softened and she asked, "Really? Forever?"

The wattage of my smile increased dramatically as I peered down at her. "Really forever."

"You're going to change me?" she asked, still incredulous. I merely nodded. "What changed your mind?"

"I'll let Jasper explain that later. Just know that I'm convinced I won't be risking your soul to be with you, so I see no reason to be apart again. Ever," I added, for emphasis.

I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn't tears. Yes, she pulled herself to my chest and squeezed as tight as her paper-doll grip could manage, but I could smell and feel her crying on my shoulder. I ran the heel of my palm up and down her back.

"Why the tears, love?"

Her neck craned so that her watery eyes could see mine and she sighed, "You really want me."

Running the back of my forefinger up her cheek and then pushing her hair from her face I whispered back, "I always want you. I was just afraid I couldn't have you without hurting you."

"But now you can?"

I nodded back. "Now I can."

With a little hiccup, she wiped the back of a finger under her eye, catching the last tear. "Then I guess Jasper is my new favorite person."

I leaned back and raised an eyebrow with an indignant, "Hey."

She giggled, and I deemed it safe to play along. "I'll have all eternity to fight him for your affections, but I'd still rather not, love." She giggled again. Ah, much better than tears.

"Okay, I guess he can be my number two favorite."

I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek and murmured, "That's very kind of you, love." By this point her giggling and squirming was overwhelmingly endearing, and I was done playing coy.

Placing one hand on the side of her head, I hoisted myself over her until she was lying on her back beneath me. Letting my palm on the bed take most of my weight, I wrapped a tendril of her hand around the fingers of my other hand. "I love you, Bella."

"I love you too, Edward. Always."

"Always," I agreed.

Her eyes were wide and her breaths shallow, waiting for me to kiss her. I leaned down, tantalizingly close to the delicious scent that wafted up toward me.

Slowly, I placed my lips against hers for a slow, languid kiss that would hopefully go on to last the rest of the morning. I moved my hand deeper into her sleep-tangled hair and pressed her lips more firmly against mine, not that she was struggling.

Thud.

I pulled back, startled by the unexpected noise. Bella, in her true fashion, could pay little attention to anything besides my lips sliding against hers. She had started to twine her finger into my own hair, and let out shocked "wha-?" when I whipped my head back to study the room. Nothing seemed out of place, and I couldn't sense any threat. The old homework on her desk by the open window was fluttering slightly in the breeze, but otherwise nothing seemed out of place.

Shaking it off, I turned back to Bella, but a splash of light blue on the bottom corner of her comforter caught my eye. Reaching out, I picked up a beach sandal – the flimsy kind you get from the local convenience store for really cheap. Alice always called them thongs and Bella just called them uncomfortable, but most people called them-

"Flip flops."

Now propping herself up on her elbows, Bella asked, "Edward, what?"

I opened my mouth to tell her I didn't know, but that's when I heard the laughter. Quiet laughter, suppressed laughter. Sniggering. I extended my senses and, sure enough, there they were.

Emmett and Jasper, muffling their amusement into their hands.

He better not get too pissed.

I wonder if he's read it yet.

Read it? Instinctively I flipped the shoe over in my palm. There, right under the plastic that fits between the toes was a message in large, messy sharpie. It read: The Greatest Flip Flop of All Time.

How could I not laugh? Surely I deserved whatever payback they decided to throw at me for my past moods, and frivolous practical jokes I could handle.

"What is it?"

"Brotherly love," I explained, and then added, "the stupid kind."

Her eyes lowered briefly, before darting back up to meet mine. When a pink hue lit her cheeks and crept down towards her neckline, I unintentionally leaned in closer to her, inhaling deeply. She was delectable.

"Can't you get rid of them?" she asked softly. "It… it's my turn to love you now."

My eyes lost focus out of sheer desire for her. Yes. Whatever she asked of me, the answer was yes.

Leaning back, away from her heady scent, I breathed, "Two seconds."

In those two seconds, I launched myself to the window and chucked the shoe towards where I guessed my brothers were. Their snickers turned into guffaws as I slammed the window shut, but I didn't waste time wondering how far off target I was, or what they were making fun of now. Today was too wonderful to let a little practical joke tarnish it.

And speaking of wonderful… Bella was still propped up in bed, rubbing her eyes sleepily. The covers hand fallen down to her waist and I could easily make out the curve of her unrestrained breasts through her nightshirt.

Discarding any human pretenses, I slid up her bed and pressed myself alongside her as my two seconds drew to a close. When she made eye contact, I broke into the smile that she said dazzled her, simply because turnabout's fair play.

So there we were. Two happy, dazzled people, ready to spend the rest of our not-lives together.


So, this is the first thing I ever wrote. Take a sec to let me know what you think..... please?