Title: Coming into Being

Author: Amethyst Jackson

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Summary: AU/AH. The evolution of a relationship, from the first day of kindergarten to coming of age.

Disclaimer: These beautiful characters belong to Stephanie Meyer. I'm not making any profit off this, and I hope Steph doesn't mind me borrowing a little.

A/N: I wrote this as a project on Twitter, AJwritesafic, writing one tweet at a time. I'm working on a new fic there now; come check it out if you like.

Coming into Being

Bella Swan had adored Edward Cullen since the first day of kindergarten at Forks Elementary.

All of the other children had arrived with smiling mothers, beautiful and warm creatures bestowing well-packed lunchboxes and gentle kisses on their terrified offspring.

Bella had a brown paper bag, a police car, and Charlie.

"All right, Bells," he had said as he handed her over to the teacher for the day. "Be good and do what they tell you. I'll be back to get you at the end of the day."

He ruffled her hair and walked away. She wanted to run after him, screaming and crying, begging him not to leave her here with all these unfamiliar faces, but even at five years old, she knew her father would not be able to give her what she needed.

The teacher had taken her by the hand, put her lunch in a cubby with her name on it, and helped her to hang her raincoat on the hook underneath.

She began to feel safe with the teacher taking charge, but everything changed at recess. Several children, boys and girls, surrounded her, asking why her mother wasn't there that morning, why she didn't have a lunch box, why the braid in her hair was crooked. Embarrassed and ashamed for reasons she didn't understand, Bella fled and curled up behind the trunk of a wide old tree, hiding her tears.

When the serious-looking boy with the funny hair found her, she looked away, hoping he would leave her alone. He sat down beside her instead, getting mud on his blue raincoat.

"Hi. I'm Edward," he said, looking expectantly at her with owlish eyes. They were green, like everything else she knew in her small world, and that comforted her.

"I'm Bella," she told him warily.

"Are you sad?" he asked her.

"No," she denied, shaking her head. These tears she couldn't share with anyone; they were hers alone.

Edward just pulled out two colorful, plastic pouches from his coat pocket and held one out to her. "My mom gave me two. Do you want one?"

They ate the handful of fruit gummies together in silence, but Bella felt that something had changed. They stayed behind the tree until the whistle signaled them to line up to go inside.

Edward got in line behind her, and even though they weren't supposed to talk, he risked whispering to her that she had pretty hair. After that, she didn't worry about having a crooked braid.

From that day on, Edward and Bella were thick as thieves. Bella wanted nothing more than to follow after the boy who had accepted her when no one else would. She defended him against all threats, just as he did her. In the first grade, Bella punched second grader Emmett McCarty for making fun of Edward's piano lessons. Charlie wouldn't let her out to play for a week, but it was worth it. Emmett didn't dare risk Bella's wrath again.

Edward was quick to defend Bella, too, her brave knight in copper armor. In third grade, when Jessica Stanley and Lauren Mallory refused to invite Bella to their slumber party, claiming Bella was such a loser even her own mother didn't want to be around her, Edward went on a rampage. Of course, Edward had been raised to know better than to hit a girl, but that didn't mean he couldn't make their lives miserable. With Emmett McCarty as his unlikely co-conspirator, Edward issued a series of attacks on the girls – from gum in their hair to blackened teeth to itching powder to the grand finale of a stink bomb at the slumber party. His skill was such that he never got caught. The parents and teachers suspected Edward and Bella both, but they couldn't prove anything. Bella was even more in awe of Edward after that.

In sixth grade, Bella realized she was supposed to like boys. She tried to find someone to have a crush on, but none of the other boys were smart and kind like Edward, so she gave up. Bella never told Edward that Jessica Stanley thought they should "just go make out already." That was just absurd.

In seventh grade, Edward went out with the new girl from Alaska, Tanya. Bella wasn't jealous – they didn't seem to have much fun together, anyway – but she did miss her friend. After two weeks, Tanya dumped Edward to go out with an eighth grader, Jasper Whitlock instead. Edward and Bella were there at the movies that night to see little Alice Brandon attack Tanya with all the ferocity of a young tigress. Tanya had a bald spot for the rest of the semester, and Jasper decided to forego his chance with Tanya for the safety of all involved. Bella was more grateful than ever for her easy friendship with Edward after that.

Freshman year, Mike Newton decided he was going to have Bella as his girlfriend, and he hounded her mercilessly. Bella didn't really see the appeal in his gel-hardened hair or in his puppy-like behavior, so she tried to turn him down nicely. Still, the ordeal went on for weeks until Edward tackled Mike in the locker room after gym class. Edward wouldn't talk about the incident with Bella, but she learned from Eric Yorkie that Mike had made an obscene comment about her, and Edward had, as Eric put it, "lost his shit."

Bella was furious with Edward, mainly because he'd gotten a week's suspension for his actions, but he insisted it was necessary to defend her honor. Bella gave up lecturing him in favor of tending to his black eye instead. And Mike Newton did stop bothering her.

Sophomore year, Bella and Edward learned to drive together, mainly because Bella couldn't bear to learn from Charlie, who would surely sit in the passenger's seat citing traffic laws to her. Instead, she and Edward took the high school driver's ed class over the summer, taught by Mr. Banner, the monotonous biology teacher. They practiced in the Cullens' silver Volvo which Edward would inherit for his sixteenth birthday that June. Dr. Cullen supervised them, patient and calm as a saint in the face of Edward's love of speed and Bella's extreme caution. It would be another year before Bella would have something of her own to drive, but it wouldn't matter; Edward drove them everywhere, anyway.

It was junior prom that really started the changes, Bella would realize in hindsight. Bella wanted what all the girls were planning – to go out with friends, eat dinner, dance and have a good time. Well, maybe not the dancing, but she wanted the rest. The only problem was, she wanted it all with Edward, her best friend. It wouldn't be right without him…and they couldn't go together, even as friends. Everyone would talk.

Bella decided to give up on prom. Maybe she and Edward could do something else entirely. Something more fun.

Then the beautiful senior Rosalie Hale asked Edward to the prom. And he accepted. Bella found out from Lauren Mallory before Edward told her himself. She was heartbroken…mostly because Edward obviously hadn't been thinking the same way she was at all. They'd always been on the same page before.

The next day, when Emmett asked Bella to prom, she was surprised enough to accept. Bella knew she wasn't Emmett's type – and he'd been chasing after Rosalie all year – so Bella figured she was a last resort. That didn't bother her as much as it should, but then, Emmett wasn't really her type, either.

For some reason, though, the whole thing made Edward furious. He told Bella guys like Emmett were only interested in one thing. Bella ignored him because she was afraid Edward only wanted that one thing with Rosalie, and the thought made her sick. She knew Edward was still a virgin, and she couldn't bear to think of him with someone as cold and vain as Rosalie for his first time…or ever.

Prom night started out miserably for Bella. She ripped the hem of her dress before even leaving the house, and she saw Edward drive by on his way to pick up Rosalie. When Emmett arrived at the front door, Charlie answered it with his shotgun in hand. Fortunately, Emmett was unflappable and used the prop as the basis for a conversation about hunting and fishing. Bella eventually had to drag him away from Charlie for them to leave on time.

Emmett took her to the Bella Italia in Port Angeles, which would have been fine – it was her favorite restaurant – but as they pulled up, Bella saw Edward's car parked in front, and she was suddenly furious. How dare he take a date to her favorite restaurant, where they'd so often gone to celebrate life's little victories together? Couldn't he see how wrong that was?

Bella didn't say anything, knowing how rude it would be to ask to go somewhere else. They somehow ended up sitting with Edward and Rosalie, at Edward's insistence, though Emmett didn't seem to mind. Even in their nice suits, they looked to Bella like a pair of cavemen squaring off…and Bella started to feel rather jilted at the realization that it wasn't over her.

After that incredibly awkward dinner, they returned to Forks for the dance itself. Emmett wasn't much for dancing, so Bella sat with him alone at a table decorated with too much confetti. She shouldn't have minded. It wasn't as though she wanted to dance, anyway. But Edward was out on the floor with Rosalie, oblivious to his best friend of over a decade…and her heart ached. Wasn't she enough anymore? He had always been enough for her.

When Rosalie was being crowned prom queen alongside reluctant prom king Jasper, Edward joined Bella at her table. Emmett had skulked off to the bathroom a few moments ago, which had been a relief at the time, but now she didn't want to be alone with Edward. She was afraid she would open her mouth and all the thoughts that had been tormenting her all night would spill out in a stream of hurt and bitterness.

Edward clearly sensed her mood, even if he didn't understand it. He tried to tempt her into conversation, but with little success. After several songs passed with such awkwardness, Edward thought to remark that their dates had gone missing, which Bella had failed to notice. Edward suggested they search for them, which Bella agreed to, if only because she didn't want to lose her date and Edward.

The dancing was held in the gymnasium, but refreshments were served in the neighboring science building. Edward and Bella started their search there, but it quickly became clear that none of the students milling about the punch bowl were either Emmett or Rosalie.

Edward suggested they check the bathrooms, but as they turned down the hallway that would lead them there, a rather suspicious moaning could be heard. Bella and Edward shared a glance before following the sound to the janitor's supply closet. A peek inside revealed Emmett and Rosalie kissing as though their lives depended on it. Bella and Edward left them there, oblivious.

Bella was rather relieved, truth be told. She didn't really know what to do with Emmett, and if he was otherwise occupied…well, all the better for her. But her relief was quick to dissipate as she took in Edward's expression. She'd seen that one before. Jaw tight, nostrils flared, eyes narrowed…he was furious. Of course. Emmett had stolen his date. Why wouldn't he be?

"If you want me to kill him, I will," Edward finally said as they stood there awkwardly in the room with the punch bowl and the photographer.

"Huh?" was the most eloquent thing she could come up with.

Edward shook his head, loosening the jaw, and Bella knew he was ready to vent. "I can't believe he would do that to you. He asked you here and you probably thought – he can't get away with that."

Bella's confused heart swelled with relief and joy. This was her Edward, her loyal champion, and she had to smile. "It's fine, Edward. I only said yes to him because he was the only one who asked me."

Edward's shoulders relaxed, then, and he admitted that he'd only agreed to be Rosalie's date because he couldn't find a polite way to refuse - that, and he was a little afraid of her.

After that, everything was as it should be. Edward and Bella took a goofy picture together and competed to see who could form the best punch mustache. They returned to the gymnasium in time for the DJ to announce the last song, a soft, slow number. Edward gallantly offered his hand, and Bella took it, because she wasn't afraid to dance with him.

As she put her arms around his neck, closer to him than she'd been in years, it happened. Bella looked at him, really looked at him, and she saw his strong jaw and smiling lips and playful eyes, and she realized…her best friend was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

Of course, she'd never tell him that, and after that night, she ignored the fluttering in her heart and her stomach and her fingers when they touched, and she pretended not to stare.

Early in their senior year, Bella made the trek with Edward to Port Angeles early one Saturday to take the SAT. Edward talked about following in his parents' footsteps to Dartmouth, and Bella didn't discourage him, even though the thought of all that distance hurt worse than anything had in her young life. He urged her to apply, too, and she acquiesced, if only to make him happy.

Their math and verbal scores were exactly reversed. Clearly, they were meant to be, Edward joked. Bella forced a laugh.

The fall semester passed too quickly. Each day that slipped by felt like another day closer to the time when Edward would go away and leave her far behind. She was heartsick.

As spring came to Forks in the form of an increase in rainfall, the envelopes started pouring in; big envelopes and little envelopes. Bella awaited the little envelope that would seal her fate.

It never came.

Instead, Edward dropped Bella off after school one day and waited for her to check the mail – he always waited, matching her dread with wild hope. That day, she opened the mailbox, expecting the usual smattering of bills and adverts, but that day, a large, thick envelope had been stuffed into their small mailbox.

Bella pulled it out quickly, expecting to see the University of Washington's logo on the front.

She nearly dropped it when she saw the Dartmouth crest instead.

Edward was waiting for her to tell him what it was, but she couldn't move. It wasn't possible…was it?

A car door slammed, and Bella heard Edward coming around to investigate, impatient with her shock. When he saw what she was holding, he let out a cry of joy like all his dreams had come true and suddenly he was lifting her off her feet in a giddy embrace. Bella realized Edward had never intended to go without her, and it was that thought that had her crying tears of relief. Edward assumed she was overjoyed to be going to Dartmouth.

The celebration lasted through that week, the following week-end, and the Monday after. Edward was eager to relate all the stories his parents had told him about their glory days at Dartmouth. Bella let the excitement bubble up, imagining all the things she would get to experience with Edward. His happiness lit an unexpected spark inside her.

On Tuesday, everything went awry. Edward didn't show up to pick her up for school. She waited too long for him and was almost late in her rusty old truck. Edward never showed up, and Bella might as well have not gone, either; she was in a daze all day, worried about what could have happened to Edward that he couldn't even call her to say he wasn't going to be at school. Had he been hurt? Was he in the hospital? If something horrible had happened, why hadn't anyone told her? They all knew how close she and Edward were.

When the final bell rang, Bella wasted no time in driving out to the Cullens' big, beautiful house in the woods. Edward's car was parked out front, neglected. Bella pulled up alongside it and hurried to the front door. Esme answered her insistent knock and didn't bat an eye at Bella's desperate queries.

"He's upstairs," Esme said with a sigh that spoke volumes. She gestured Bella inside. "Best let him tell you the news."

Bella scaled the stairs with the worrisome possibilities racing through her head, each more outlandish than the last. Had he joined the army? Dropped out of school? Been diagnosed with a fatal disease?

She was in a panic by the time she reached the third floor, which she'd always referred to as Edward's "lair." His door stood partially open, so she only knocked lightly on the frame before stepping inside.

Bella found Edward stretched out on his bed, still in his pajamas of flannel pants and a wife beater, with angry indie rock music playing in the background. She immediately recognized the signs of a full-on brooding session and felt her need for answers escalate.

Edward lifted his head just enough to identify who it was coming into his room and then dropped it again with a sigh. "I was wondering when you would turn up."

Bella didn't let his tone hurt her feelings. It was a warmer welcome than most people would get from him in his current mood, she knew. "Edward? What's going on? What's wrong?"

"On the desk," he mumbled, vaguely motioning her in that direction. She didn't have to guess at what she was looking for. Edward's desk was pristine, and the envelope was glaringly obvious against the dark wood. A small envelope from Dartmouth. He hadn't opened it, but they both knew what it meant.

Bella felt a momentary twinge of regret for the experiences they wouldn't have, but it quickly dissipated. Dartmouth was just a place, just another school; they would probably get the same education close to home at much less cost. For Edward, though, it had been a dream, and his pain was inevitably her pain.

"I'm so sorry, Edward," was all she could say. She sat gingerly next to him on his bed, wishing she knew how to comfort him, but that had always been Edward's skill. He was the comforter. Bella was the stiff upper lip.

Edward shrugged like he didn't care, a wasted effort since they both knew better. "At least one of us will get to go, right? You'll have a great time there."

"But…I'm not going. Not without you," she said, wondering at him. Did he really believe she would abandon him now?

"That's stupid, Bella, of course you're going," Edward told her, making his stubborn face at her. "I saw how excited you were when you got the letter. You can't pass up this opportunity."

"I can, and I will," she insisted, shaking her head at him. "Edward, don't you know I was only happy because it meant I could go with you? I was so afraid you would be leaving me behind."

Edward blinked at her in that owlish manner he'd had as long as she'd known him. "But…I wasn't going to go anywhere without you."

Bella laughed. "I know that now. So why would I be willing to go anywhere without you?"

Edward sat up, suddenly animated. "Maybe we can get an apartment in Seattle together. It would be better than the dorms."

Bella rolled her eyes. "I don't think my dad would really go for that."

"Why not?" Edward looked so offended, she had to laugh.

"Because, best friends or not, you're still a boy, silly. And from what I understand, you guys are only after one thing."

"Bella, that's not…I only said that about Emmett last year because I was…I don't know, jealous, I guess."

"Jealous? Why?" she asked, surprised. She hadn't seen any sign of this supposed jealousy then.

Edward shrugged uncomfortably, looking for the secrets of the universe in his duvet. "I guess I kind of…felt like I was being replaced…."

Bella felt a prickling of the anger she'd felt before, anger she thought was long gone. "But…you were going with Rosalie. What was I supposed to do? Mope around the house while you went off and lived your life without me?"

Edward's face was stunned, as if she'd slapped him. "You never said anything…I thought you just didn't care."

"Of course I cared!" she blurted out, caught in a torrent of repressed emotion. "All I wanted was to spend that night with my best friend, but you obviously didn't even think about asking me…"

A rogue tear escaped, and she swiped it away with embarrassment. She was never supposed to say anything. Why were they talking about this now? Everything was supposed to be fine now that they were going in the same direction again.

"I was going to ask you," he admitted quietly. "But you said prom was just an excuse for people to hump each other and get drunk, and I thought you didn't want to go."

Bella blushed. She had said that, in her bitterness, and she wished desperately that she'd known…how differently things might have turned out…

"I only said that because I thought we couldn't go together…I mean…what would people have said? I thought neither of us would go…that we'd just stay home and watch stupid movies or something…"

"What would people have said?" Edward asked, and she knew that wasn't rhetorical. He wanted her to say it.

"They would have said that we…that we weren't just friends. That we were…secretly together or something."

"They've always said that," Edward pointed out. Her blush was furious and her heart was pounding. They'd never talked about this before. It was the unwritten rule of their friendship that no one ever mentioned the possibility that they could be more than friends, and he was breaking it.

"What if they're right?" Edward finally said, using her eyes to trap her into the conversation.

"I think we'd know if we were secretly dating," Bella said, trying to diffuse the tension. 'Escape artist' had always been another one of Bella's roles in their strange friendship.

"Don't do that," Edward said with a glare. He'd always caught her before she could escape very far. "What if there is something more there that we've been ignoring? What if…what if we're supposed to be more than friends?"

"Why are you doing this now, Edward? Our friendship has always worked just the way it is."

"Has it? Really?" He was leaning in now, too close for comfort with the subject at hand. "Friends aren't supposed to get jealous when their friends find prom dates. Friends aren't supposed to follow their friends halfway across the country. Friends aren't supposed to dream about their friends every night –"

"What?" Bella cut in, stunned to the core by what she'd just heard. "Edward…you dream about me…every night?"

Edward scowled, and Bella knew, because she knew him, that he'd admitted more than he'd ever intended to. "Fine, yes, I do. I dream about being with you in every way. I want you like a friend isn't supposed to want a friend. Now what do you want me to do about it?"

Bella felt paralyzed by shock. "You…you really want me?"

Edward let out an exasperated sigh. "You have to know how beautiful you are, Bella. No one else can even come close."

Bella struggled to find the words to expose her heart. Even knowing Edward's feelings, she was afraid of admitting her feelings…a matter of habit, perhaps. "Edward…I want you, too. I mean…I've spent my life comparing every boy I've met to you, and they've all come up short."

Bella watched his reaction, watched the relief wash over his face, watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. "And if I told you that I thought I was in love with you, Bella…what would you say to that?"

Her heart took flight. His words were terrifying, but they filled up a part of her that she'd never known was empty. "I would say that…I'm probably in love with you, too."

Edward's hand was shaking as he reached up to touch her face, but his lips were firm and steady when they pressed against hers. It was her first kiss, but she knew without a doubt that it was perfect. Kissing Edward felt so right, as natural as breathing, exhilarating and good and pure…no one else could have made her feel this way.

He pulled away, gauging her reaction, but it was too soon. She followed, taking his lips back, clutching her fingers in his soft hair, pressing her body to his. He groaned and they fell back on the bed together, their legs tangling together as Edward's mouth opened under hers. His peppermint breath made her dizzy.

They kissed and kissed, caught up in the new sensations, eager to explore this new frontier together. Bella learned the feeling of his tongue sliding against hers, studied the firm muscles under his clothing that she'd seen but never touched, felt the rush of empowerment that came with the push of his arousal against her body. She wanted more and more and more, but Edward slowly pulled away, reminding her that they had all the time in the world.

They lay wrapped up in their new world until Esme found them, reacting with little more than a knowing smirk. Bella went to bed that night dreaming of the possibilities. The next day at school, whispers followed their tightly clasped hands, but Bella wasn't embarrassed. She was proud. The best, kindest, most wonderful person she'd ever met wanted her, and she was never letting go.

Life was bliss. Bella lived for Edward's smiles, his caresses, his kisses. They went to senior prom together, correcting the horrible travesty of the year before, and when graduation came, Bella looked toward the future with eager excitement. That summer, they made love for the first time under the stars. In the fall, they moved into an apartment together, ignoring Charlie's red-faced objections. Bella knew she was doing the right thing.

Finally, Bella felt content in her own skin. A sweet, quiet boy had once saved her when she'd felt completely alone in the world, and now a sweet, stubborn man was showing her the meaning of unconditional love. She knew her place in the world, her purpose in life, and she knew, whatever she chose and whatever she went, her brave knight – her one love – her best friend would be by her side.

The End

A quick note here about Fandom Gives Back. FGB is a charity auction, the proceeds of which go to Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation which fights childhood cancer. It's a great cause, and to help out (since I'm short on money myself) I'm auctioning two outtakes, one from Bonne Foi and one from Only Human. Winner's choice of the scene and either Bella or Edward PoV.

Here are the URLs –

Bonne Foi Outtake: http://thefandomgivesback dot proboards dot com/index dot cgi?action=display&board=fic&thread=299

Only Human Outtake: http://thefandomgivesback dot proboards dot ?action=display&board=fic&thread=300

Remove the spaces and replace the dots with periods to get there.