Nope, you are not hallucinating. This is an actual update. See? Didn't I promise I wouldn't abandon this story? Well here I am! *Looks around* Erm…hello? Anyone out there? Sigh. For those of you that are here…thank you, just…thank you.

If you sent me a review/message that I failed to respond to, I am so incredibly sorry. Up until June, my job woes had me devastated. This story is a difficult subject for me to write and I just couldn't do it in the state of mind I was in. I had to completely distance myself from this story, including responding to any reviews/messages. That being said, just under four months ago, after over a year of brutal job hunting, I finally got a job in my field. And it is everything I could've hoped for and more. It's my dream job - no, it's better than my dream job. Moral of the story: never give up! I am so very happy. BUT it has also been extremely overwhelming, learning a new job and moving to a new city etc. I found my inspiration to write again, but of course now I'm so busy (Ah, the paradox of life...). It is also not easy to pick up and start writing again after so long. I am, however, determined to finish this story. I know I've been incredibly slow and that I've probably lost the majority of my readers, but I WILL finish it, no matter how long it takes me. I plan to hold myself to that.

Just as a warning, this chapter was cut shorter than originally planned, content-wise, that is. This first section came out way longer than expected and so I decided to split the chapter and post this part. I figured you had all been waiting long enough.

Now, I have an exciting announcement! *Jumps up and down* One of my readers (MyEdwardSaga) recently left me stunned when she messaged me on YT saying she made a video trailer for MT! It's beautifully done. Go check it out! The link to it is on my profile.

Also, I have two dedications for this chapter: renee aubin - without her this chapter wouldn't even be out yet. Her reviews were just such a driving inspiration when I was struggling to get back into writing. Thank you so much. Also, to Keshia (aka "MyEdwardSaga"). Thank you for sharing your story with me, Keshia. As well as for the video trailer. I am truly touched.

CHAPTER RECAPS: You can review the chapter-by-chapter recap for ch1-26 at the end of ch26. Starting with chapter 28 I have been including a recap of the previous chapter in the starting author's notes.

CHAPTER 28 RECAP:

Mon June 5

Bella discovers Edward submitted her application to Dartmouth the week before. She's upset that the rape keeps disrupting her life, changing all their plans. Edward assures her he's not changing their plans but just wants to give her more options in case she needs them. He makes her promise she won't rush into things. He's afraid she'll have regrets like Rosalie.

Thursday

Bella comes home from school. We see how the gossip is getting to her. She has seen Sandra- a psychiatrist—twice at this point. Sandra had advised her about falling back into normal habits, and she has agreed to go jogging with Angela after school. When she changes into shorts she panics at the thought of wearing them. When Edward comes to check on her, a knee-jerk reaction has her jerking away from a simple touch from him – something she has not done for a while. Bella is very upset and thinks she has just destroyed all the progress they'd made.

Sunday

Bella has trouble sleeping and Edward takes her to the meadow at night. They share a relaxing & peaceful evening under the stars. Bella realizes that she hadn't destroyed all the progress they'd made after all. Edward tells Bella of how during his early years as a vampire he would find similar secluded areas to escape to at night. Bella asks him to tell her more about his human life. She learns he's been reluctant to talk about it because of their age difference. Bella agrees to let Edward get her a cell phone as a graduation present (the last time he gave her one it was the day of rape). She finally relaxes enough to sleep. Bella notes how Edward is tired too – a different kind of tired.

Tuesday

Bella has a session with Sandra. We see that Bella still blames herself for the rape in a way. She tells Sandra about how she's worried about Edward and finds a way to tell her that Edward saw snippets of the rape. Edward meets Sandra. Bella notices more and more that everything is taking its toll on Edward.

Disclaimer: Everything twilight related belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I own the original content, ideas and intellectual property of this story. No copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter 29

BPOV

For the second time that week I was visiting Sandra. This time, however, I brought with me a sense of relief and liberation. Exam week was over. Though I had to wait until next week for the results, knowing I'd made it through them was rewarding in itself.

And there was something else I'd brought with me this time.

Edward.

He'd agreed to come the moment I'd asked him to. But then, this should not have come as a surprise, I realized. Whenever I needed him, he was there.

The surety of that fact only served to make me feel worse as I watched him now. Again, he was trying to be what I needed, burying his own hurts in the process, cradling them close without release, too stubborn to let anyone in.

He sat in the chair beside me, with Sandra seated across from us. After what had happened after my last session we'd been more open about my therapy. That gap between us had closed, thank goodness. And despite how difficult the subject often was, Edward was always ready to listen, to reassure, to lend me his shoulder.

So he wouldn't deny me that support now, even if it meant agreeing to come to my counseling session when he knew I had more than one reason for asking. Regardless of knowing that ulterior motive, however, he had only come for my benefit and not his own, that much was clear.

Even when our discussion had yet to touch on the hard stuff, any questions directed to him he answered with a short, guarded response. And it was only the very subtlest of disturbances that would give away the barest hints of his turmoil. Yet I was conscious of every movement, every tense pull of his jaw, every evasive shift of his eyes.

He'd always been good at putting on a front—one tended to build up that skill after years of being a vampire. Yet the more I watched him, the more I could see behind that inscrutable mask. Whether this was because I was getting better at reading him or because the strength it took for him to hold it in place was weakening, I didn't know. Despairingly, I hoped it was the former. Hoped that this was one of the ways all the awfulness surrounding the rape had actually been beneficial. That with it came an allowance to unearth hurts he'd been keeping locked away for far, far too long.

When Sandra somehow directed the conversation toward how Edward had felt about Jacob and my friendship with him prior to the rape, I realized just how little we'd ever spoken of this particular subject.

And just how much we'd needed to.

My eyes were glued to Edward, and my mind didn't register the question Sandra had asked him, only the way he sat completely motionless as the seconds ticked by. I felt a sudden trivial irritation that our chairs were spaced a couple of feet apart. I wanted to touch him, hold his hand.

His expression was stiff and carefully blank, so I couldn't say why the short sentence that came when he finally spoke slammed into me with such a force.

"Of course it bothered me," he said quietly, his voice low and bare, as if just stating simple fact. Yet somehow I was able to see past his words and into a part of him he'd never wanted me to see. I could see the insecurities there, the self-loathing. I could see how much my friendship with Jacob had hurt him. How each time I'd gone to see my supposed best friend I'd torn at Edward just a little bit further. And how he'd let me. How he'd let me because he'd blamed himself for my relationship with Jacob. Only himself. He blamed himself for everything. He always did.

The guilt flooded my heart. Guilt for hurting him. Guilt for letting Jacob come between us. Guilt for not seeing Jacob for who he was. I tried to shove it aside. This was about Edward, not me—not my own guilt.

Again, I didn't hear Sandra's question, but I jumped in anyway, talking about how Edward had told me time and time again not to trust Jacob, but that I hadn't listened. That he'd been the smart one and I the stupid, naive, trusting one.

"You give me too much credit," Edward said quietly after I'd finished. "You always do."

I glared at him, daring him to possibly find a way to turn this around into something else that he could take blame for.

"It wasn't only because of your safely that I wanted to keep you from him, Bella," he said softly, an air of resignation in his voice now. "It was a part of it, but only a small part. I tried to convince myself, to justify it in my head one too many times that your safety was the reason, the only reason, because I knew I had no right, no right at all to do anything other than accept your relationship with him when it was my actions that had spurred you to him in the first place."

I opened my mouth to object, but he didn't give me the chance.

"But I was only fooling myself," he continued. His eyes flickered away from me. "I didn't trust him, that was true, but it was more than that. It was always more than that." His voice grew even quieter. "I knew you cared for him. You always made it clear that it was no more than friendship, and I never had any reason to doubt that, but…" He trailed off for a moment, just a short moment. But it was enough.

"Edward…" My breath squeezed in my chest, and the whisper was too quiet for Sandra to have heard. I wanted to leap to my feet and throw my arms around him, remind him I'd never loved anyone the way I loved him.

He shrugged. "But I wanted you for myself. I didn't want to share any part of you, and if I had been paying less attention to my own wants and needs…" He broke off, and his eyes were full of so much—guilt, sorrow, regret…that I was on my knees in front of his chair before I was even consciously aware I'd moved. His eyes fell to me, and he touched my cheek briefly, a wistful, far-away look drawing his features before he withdrew his hand, closing it into a fist in his lap, and stared straight ahead again. He went on before I could speak. "I remember that time that he…" His face grew tight with sudden anger, and he half-snarled the next word. "kissed you, without your consent, and I'd just wanted to—" He froze, his words cutting off so abruptly it was as if a shock of electricity had just bolted through him. Then his face crumpled so suddenly and so absolutely that I felt as if someone had punched all the air out of me.

Edward's face was in his hands.

I grabbed at his writs. "Edward! Edward, what is it?" I said frantically. He remained frozen as stone, his forehead furrowed as I uselessly attempted to pry his hands away. "Edward, please," I choked. Was he hurt? Did he see something from someone's thoughts? Was Jane of the Volturi guard standing just outside the door? Okay, so the last one wasn't a likely scenario, but…

What was wrong with him?! There was only one other time I'd seen his face twisted in so much pain. My mind was flooded with panic.

Finally, he spoke through his hands, and his voice sounded so expressionless now, so dead, that it scared me more than his silence. "I wished for it," he said flatly.

"You, what…?" I attempted again, the hysterical edge still in my voice as my hands gripped his forearms. "I don't understand…"

He pulled back and brought his head up. His face looked sunken now, and his eyes dropped in…shame?

"I wished for it," he said again. "When you broke your hand."

"W…Wha—"

"I knew you'd forgive him, and I wished that he would just do something that you wouldn't forgive so that I could have you to myself." He was staring straight ahead again, then he laughed once, an icy, bitter laugh. "I guess I got my wish."

Air rushed from my lungs again when I realized. My hands went to his face, stroking. "Oh, Edward, no, no!" I choked. "It wasn't your fault! You didn't mean it like that."

He'd been holding onto this all along, I realized in horror. His guilt had run so much deeper than I'd imagined, deeper than even he'd been consciously aware of. The workings of the mind were complex, Sandra had told me. Sometimes we blocked unpleasant things whilst they unknowingly tore at us…

"It wasn't your fault, it wasn't your fault," I repeated desperately, my hands still anxiously trying to soothe him. The fact that we weren't alone in the room was utterly lost on me by that point. He was completely unresponsive under my touch. He just kept staring forward sightlessly now, his body stiff as stone. His skin felt even colder than usual, icy beneath my fingers. "Edward, please, listen to me," I pleaded, my hands abandoning his face, dropping to grip his hands instead. "Everyone thinks things like that when they're angry." I rubbed my hand over his. "Don't do this to yourself." My voice went hoarse.

The room was dead silent for a moment. Then, before I knew quite how it had happened, I was crushed between steel arms and a rock-hard chest, the sudden collision briefly knocking the wind out of me. I gulped, tears rushing to my eyes when I felt the desperation in the way he clutched me to him.

I tried to reach my arms around him to hug him back, but they were locked at my sides beneath his. It wasn't exactly painful, but his hold on me was starting to feel uncomfortably tight. The fact that his normally exaggerated self-control around me was slipping told me just how much he was hurting.

And just how much he needed my comfort.

Stupid, fragile, human body! If he knew his control was slipping like this, he'd just start beating himself up even more. I squirmed a little, hoping he might automatically loosen his hold, but instead an involuntary wince escaped me at the pressure of his arms around my shoulders.

They disappeared a split second later.

I fell back on my knees beside the chair, grabbing the arm of it to regain my balance.

When I looked up Edward's eyes were wide with horror as he stared down at me.

A fist clamped over my heart. I knew what was coming.

I scrambled to my feet after him. "Edward, wait! I'm fine, you didn't hurt me. Edward!" A strangled sob caught in my throat. He was already on his way out the door.

Once I had gained my footing, I started after him, but then halted when I suddenly remember Sandra.

She didn't appear in the least bit fazed by this turn of events. "Go," she said with an understanding smile. "You don't need me anymore today."

Nodding, I turned and fled from the room, my heart beating out an aching rhythm as I ran.

The door at the end of the narrow hallway was swinging shut when I flung myself around the corner towards it. I wretched it out of the way when I reached it. The cooler outside air rushed up to meet me. "Edward! Wait!" I cried again. My voice went hoarse again. He didn't break stride.

His back was to me as he glided briskly across the parking lot, and even from my distance I could see the rigid set of his shoulders as he went.

Tears of aggravation filled my eyes, and I stumbled once. Though the parking lot appeared empty of people at the moment, the public setting kept him from moving as quickly as I knew he probably wanted. Still, his long strides had me running to catch up. And, of course, I had the irritating habit of tripping over my own feet.

He strode right past his car without even casting it a glance, and my heart sank further. I swallowed. "So you're going to leave me here alone now, are you?" My voice went up in pitch slightly as I half shouted the words to him. If that didn't stop him, I didn't know what would.

His pace slowed before I even got all the words out.

I'd almost caught up to him now, and when he stopped and turned, I skidded to a stop myself and only just caught myself from having an unpleasant meeting with the pavement. I didn't miss the fact that he hadn't made any move to steady me.

The fist squeezed my heart again.

Wordlessly, he circled back to his car and held the passenger door open for me. His face was hard-set, his eyes cold.

It didn't sting as much as it once would have. This was his defense mechanism, I knew that now.

Giving him a glare of my own, I marched purposefully toward him and climbed into the car, trying not to notice when he took a step back at my approach—I couldn't quite abate the way my heart inched ever so slightly lower in my chest, however.

After closing my door, he rounded the car and was in the driver's seat in a matter of seconds, moving just a bit quicker than he probably should.

No matter, the moment I had clipped my seatbelt into place the car was already in motion, turning sharply out of the parking space and onto the road, the deft handling not once deterred by the speed of the maneuvering. Still, his maniacal driving had my hands gripping the seat on both sides as we shot off down the road. I wanted to shout at him to slow down—amongst other things, many of which were coiling around my heart and tugging as I watched him staring fixedly ahead, his hands clenched around the wheel. The short drive didn't present much opportunity to converse in any shape or form, however, given the unsettling feeling of being flattened against the back of the seat as the car accelerated, not to mention Edward's rigid posture which clearly indicated just what he thought about listening to anything I had to say at the moment. And then the drive ended rather quickly. Only a few minutes of driving took us to the outskirts of town, where the houses gave way to forest on both sides, and though the road would soon lead us to the turn off to the Cullen house, Edward suddenly pulled over onto a beaten, unpaved path, long before the turn-off.

The pressure in my chest was working its way up to my throat. Because, I knew what was happening, could see it more clearly than ever. And how many times had I felt that crushing pain of dread reform in my chest? Felt that horrible, encompassing certainty that I'd wake up and find him gone again. But no. The panicked fear that should have come, the fear that I wouldn't be enough to hold him this time, that he would leave me once and for all, never came. Not this time.

His face was a formidable mask, but I caught the sudden slip in his cold and detached bravado before he leapt from the car—caught the way his shoulders slumped infinitesimally and his hand shook just before it tightened into a fist once again. He rearranged his expression almost immediately, but he wasn't quick enough. Not for me.

He didn't even bother ordering me to stay in the car; he probably knew it would be futile to even try. Instead, without a word, and in one blurred movement, he cut across the grass between the road and the forest and then disappeared into the trees.

I followed behind.

Of course, it would take me much longer to cover the same distance, but I knew he wouldn't travel too far into the trees—that would leave me alone on a deserted road. No, he would go just far enough to conceal himself from view—from my view, more like.

I plowed forward. The grass was long and damp around my ankles, and the distance to the trees that had swallowed him from my view seemed painfully far. I ate up the distance, half jogging, half speed walking. When I drew nearer the stomach-jolting bang of what sounded like two large boulders colliding together filled my ears. I increased my pace.

His back was to me when I found him, head bent, arms outstretched, fingers gouging into the thick trunk of a cedar tree, his broad frame deathly still, practically oozing with a power yet to be unleashed. Looking at him now, no human with an ounce of self-preservation would fail to sense the danger emanating from him. He…well, this was one of those times he actually looked like a vampire.

I moved closer.

The river was only a few feet away, the rocky ledge glaringly uneven with a jagged split in the nearest boulder, a depression in the remaining piece; shaped suspiciously like a hand.

He didn't turn at my approach, but I knew he would be aware of my presence regardless.

I waited.

"Go back to the car, Bella."

I lifted my chin. "No."

The flex of muscles beneath his shirt and the slight groan of the tree with the increased pressure he was exerting were the only indications he'd heard me.

I sidestepped to the left so that I could see more than just his back—his head bent even lower when my gaze found his profile.

And each beat of my heart suddenly felt raw and heavy in my chest.

There was perhaps no difference in the way he attempted to conceal all parts of himself he saw as a weakness, never letting me in completely. Yet it didn't matter. In that moment I saw it all—guarded and unguarded, visible and invisible; time and shared suffering had stripped it all away to bare him to me completely and absolutely.

As if realizing the depth of my scrutiny, he shifted his body away from me further, head still bent low.

And my chest felt so tight now it actually hurt. I wanted to just simply wrap my arms around his big frame and hold him to my chest, easing a multitude of his hurts away, some nearly a hundred years old. The way he inched away from my minutely slow approach, however, told me that that wasn't an option at present. "Edward…" I whispered instead, the sound scarcely audible as I tried—and failed—to put everything I wanted to say to him into words.

How many times had I found myself but a shadow of his inhuman perfection, my fragile human ordinariness falling short of him in every way possible? Numerous. Numerous times. It had in fact always been such a constant, lingering presence in my heart that the idea that he could possibly feel the same deep-rooted insecurity, that he could ever in a million years find himself lacking when compared to me, had been completely inconceivable in my mind. It was still inconceivable in my mind. Yet in this moment there was no doubt that it was so. In this moment I realized just how ingrained his self-loathing was.

I swallowed, forcing back the needle-like prickle of tears behind my eyes as I watched him fight to hold himself together, fight to ward off images that were not his own, images that had been tearing at him in more ways than one.

A breeze blew a strand of hair into my face but I didn't move to brush it aside. I just stood there, still as can be, aching to hold him in my arms as he had done me more times than I dared count. I wanted to tell him that he didn't always have to be so strong. That this torment and pain he scrupulously worked to conceal was part of what made him human. That it was not a weakness but a reflection of the soul. That only a gentle soul could take the suffering of another as their own. And that he had the sweetest, most gentle soul of anyone I'd ever met.

I wasn't even aware I'd moved, but in the split second before I was close enough to touch him he was gone, my hair billowing out around me in the wake of his abrupt departure, my body giving an involuntary start at the sudden thunderous crack that followed. I turned just in time to see a huge chunk of rock that jutted out over the river fall to its doom with an impacting splash, Edward still crouched low over the embankment before he rose, fist clenched, back facing me, muscles contracting, and brought the power of his fist down again with an earth-shattering crack.

My body jolted upon impact one again, an automatic, uncontrollable reaction that belied the determined, fearlessness that never once wavered in my mind. I knew what he was trying to do. It was a reaction so deeply ingrained in him that he himself probably didn't even realize it.

His defense mechanism. Ever-present, automatic, and so much more a part of him than I'd ever realized before this moment. Scare me away before letting me in. Scare me away before I could be scared. Scare me away, because, even now, after all the times I'd assured him otherwise, a part of him still thought I'd run screaming. Still saw himself as a monster. Still thought he was capable of hurting me.

It was there. It had always been there. His greatest fear.

A fear that had now been realized over and over in his mind in the worst possible form, thanks to Jacob Black.

I had never felt more anger toward Jacob than in that moment.

He was not allowed to do this to him. Not to Edward.

I took a slow step forward once again, my resolve set. Edward didn't move. So far so good. Another step. Still nothing. Another step. This was progress. Yet another step… I was only two away from Edward's broad back now. I paused, not wanting to push my luck too quickly, but my hands betrayed the orders of my brain, reaching out toward him as I took another step closer. They found only empty air when Edward moved just beyond their reach. Well, at least he hadn't bolted completely this time.

Abruptly, he turned, his face drawn with a fierce, desperate kind of exasperation that was more pained than anything else, his fists still clenched in their powerful grip. "I can't trust myself to touch you right now, can't you see that?"

I had to dislodge the meteor-sized lump in my throat and gather my courage. "No one said anything about you touching me. Keep your hands to yourself if that's what you're worried about."

His eyes flicked up at my words, finally leveling with my own for a brief moment, and the amount of pain and fear I could see trapped behind the layers was stifling.

Whether it was the soul-deep exhaustion that had finally caught up with him or because he'd just finally given in to my steadfast determination, I didn't know, but this time when I moved within reach, he didn't budge from where he stood, his breathing ragged, body stiff as stone. When my hand reached toward him his breath stopped and his fist trembled as it clenched tighter. Slowly, my fingers connected with the smooth hardness of his upper arm. The contrast between the coolness of his skin and the heat of my own somehow seemed even more pronounced than usual. A small shudder ran through him at my touch and I knew he was hanging on by a thread now, still tied by his own stubbornness and fear—fear that had been rooted within him for nearly a century.

"It's okay," I whispered, my hand sliding carefully up to his shoulder and then into his hair while I attempted to bring his head down toward me.

And it didn't matter that I knew it was long overdue, or that I'd been encouraging him to let me through his long-cemented barriers, watching Edward crumple to his knees in front of me was not something I could've ever been prepared for. The gravity of it was staggering as I dropped to my knees with him, my hands gripping his face as he went down. The outside world suddenly felt a thousand miles away; only a distant echo amidst the torrent of my reality, as Edward, for the first time, let me see him fall.

"I'm sorry…so sorry…" he whispered, the agony ripping across his features, his eyes clenching shut briefly as if to dispel something horrific from his mind, and if Jacob Black had been within reach right then, so help me God, I would have throttled him with my bare hands, werewolf or not.

Not trusting myself to speak, all I could do was shake my head, leaning in close to touch my forehead to his, my throat aching with the tears I wouldn't let out, because, it would break him to see them now, I knew. Always, he had been my rock, my strength. It was my turn now.

My hand pressed gently against his cheek, stroking, and the pressure of tears in my chest reached painful levels when he still attempted to pull back and put distance between us. It seemed an almost automatic, subconscious reaction at this point; there wasn't really any strength of will behind it, I could see that. Yet it was there. Only by slow, exaggerated caution did he let me take him in my arms, the stiffness in his body easing only marginally as my hand threaded in his hair, bringing his head down to my shoulder, and I realized something with a hollow, aching kind of dread.

He still hadn't touched me.

His arms were locked in place at his sides, trembling, muscles contracting, fingers gouging into the rocks on either side of us, the strength behind his grip too much for even the solid granite to withstand.

"Oh, Edward," I whispered, the significance slapping me in the face with overwhelming clarity.

I wondered then if I'd ever truly grasped just how much careful control existed each time he touched me.

This lapse of physical control was not caused by anger or frustration but instead brought on by a raw outpouring of intermingled emotions. The distinction suddenly made it glaringly obvious that he always had to hold back with me, one way or another. And it didn't escape me that even now, even amid the crushing weight of years and years of pain left to grow and foster toppling down on top of him all at once, a part of him was still conscious of what his strength could do to me.

My arms tightened, hugging him hard, with all my might, as if it could possibly diminish the craterous mismatch in our physical capabilities. Impossible. Human and vampire. Vampire and human. Why must such a distinction exist? Why must it cause so much pain and suffering?

"I'm sorry, so, so sorry…" he repeated, chanting the words over and over again, the broken mantra reflecting the shattered piece of his spirit that had never quite mended since the moment he'd awoke a vampire all those years ago. There was a wealth a meaning behind the words, much deeper than his present guilt trip. His unshakable need to shoulder the blame for anything that caused me pain went far deeper than I'd ever realized. This time, I could hear the dozens of apologies masked behind one: He was sorry he couldn't be human for me. Sorry he had to be a monster. Sorry he'd left me those six, painstaking months. Sorry the heartache he'd caused had led me into the arms of Jacob Black—my rapist. Sorry he had all this strength but still hadn't been able to save me that night. It all came pouring out of him, shrouded by the self-loathing that had been lodged like iron in his heart for ninety years.

I didn't speak—I still didn't trust myself to. I just held him. Showing him without words that I wasn't running or screaming—that I never would. That his earlier revelation meant nothing. That he wasn't a monster. That he'd never been a monster. That he never would be a monster. That none of what had happened was his fault.

I lost track of how long we stayed that way, kneeling at the rocky edge of the river, my arms still locked around him so fiercely that they began to ache. His breathing sounded short and completely foreign to my ears, his solid body shuddering every so often as his hands continued to gouge into the rocks, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't unnerved to see him like this. He'd always been so strong, so in control. Yet at the same time I also felt closer to him in this moment, connected with him in a way I never had been before. It felt right to hold him like this, his cheek resting over my heart now while my fingers moved through his silky hair and then down his back, soothing the tense knot of muscles between his shoulders. Gradually, the rigidness of his body grew less pronounced, and the strength of his grip against the rocks slackened.

He let himself touch me then; the way he brought his arms up slowly to settle around me with such painstaking caution and gentleness causing tears to abruptly fill my eyes. I blinked them back. The answer to my previous musing was crystal clear now:

No. No, I had never truly comprehended the extent of his control around me.

How naive I'd been. How blinded by my childish, fantasy-like view of the world around me I'd been. What else had I not seen? Perhaps in a way I ought to be grateful to Jacob Black for shattering those views. So much I hadn't seen. So much of Edward's pain I'd been oblivious to.

For a moment he didn't move, just stayed with his head lying against my chest, eyes closed, taking a long, savoring breath of my scent; a scent that I knew would send his throat aflame no matter the impenetrable resistance he'd inconceivably built to it.

Mind over matter, he'd told me once.

It was true in so many ways.

How much time had we both spent torturing ourselves with guilt? Now in bearing witness to Edward's long suffered penitence I could suddenly see the nonsensicalness of my own.

It did not matter what I had or hadn't done to unintentionally lead Jacob on, I realized. I had not asked for what happened that night. I had not asked for my best friend to hold me down and not listen to me say no.

No, I had not asked for that.

The realization brought with it an odd sense of peace, even when memories of that night frayed in the edges of my mind.

Edward's arms drew me gently to him now, slipping easily back into his innate role as protector. His hands move surreptitiously over me before stopping at the sleeve of my shirt, and I realized with a pang to my heart that he was checking for injuries. "Edward, you didn't hurt me," I whispered, covering his hand with my own. I glanced down at my arm, startled to see that there was a very faint red mark on my pale skin. With no small amount of irony I realized it was probably from the way I'd hugged him. Not that it was even worth contemplating either way; my pale skin was always annoyingly sensitive, and the mark was really of no consequence.

I knew Edward wouldn't see it that way.

I twisted in his arms to look up at him, reaching up to trace my finger over his furrowed brow. "Really, Edward, you didn't hurt me," I said quietly.

He closed his eyes and sucked in a breath. Then he did something I did not expect.

He nodded once.

Not so long ago such a gesture of acquiescence, small though it was, would have been an impossibility, and my heart flared with hope at the sight.

When he opened his eyes again they were blazing with a startling fierceness as they locked to mine, and he sandwiched my face between his hands. "You must promise me that if I ever use too much force like that with you again you will let me know immediately. I don't care if it's only the teensiest amount too much. You will yell or kick and scream, or whatever it takes, but you will let me know the second you notice. Do you understand me?"

"I—"

"You have no idea how easily my hold could have gone from simply too tight to crushing you in an instant. You—"

"Edward." I silenced him with a gentle squeeze to his wrists. "I promise," I said, holding his gaze steadily. I saw the sliver of bewilderment fuse into his intense expression and realized that he hadn't expected me to agree so readily. Not for the first time that day the regret crept into my heart. So caught up in my own insecurities I'd always been that I'd spent more time deflecting his concerns rather than trying to comprehend and soothe them.

He seemed to be searching me for any kind of reluctance now. Finding none, he dropped his arms and looked away, staring off into the distance.

I sat back on my heals and watched him, distantly aware now of the cold, unyielding ground beneath me and the sound of the river flowing over the rocks.

After a moment he took a steadying breath and looked at me again.

"Better?" I whispered softly.

"Yes," he said. Then his eyes softened. "Thank you."

"For what?"

He seemed to consider the question for a long moment before answering.

"For loving me enough."

Author's note:

For those of you that remember me saying there was a big turning point in this chapter…well…yep, it isn't until the next chapter. *Ducks from flying objects* Sorry! I can't plan the length of this, and I really should stop trying! Anyway, in the end I think there was still a pretty important milestone reached in this chapter as well.

The good news is that because this chapter was split up, chapter 30 is already in the works. However, we all know how dreadful I am at sticking to any update plans, so this time I'm not even going to attempt to make any promises. I honestly have no idea when I'll be able to get the next update out. I am ecstatically happy about my new job, but it's kept me very busy. I recently spent 3 weeks all the way in Columbia for job training, and now in October I will be spending a week in Germany for a trade show and various other business meetings. Germany! I can't believe it (I live in Canada). I'm super excited, but, well…overwhelmed too. All this travelling is a whole new experience for me. Anyway, my point is I will do my best with updates, but I can't make any promises. Just know that I fully intend to finish the story. This story means too much to me not to. Aside from the time factor I'm also a very slow writer (no kidding, right?), especially when it comes to this story. Back in March I wrote a 10,000 word one-shot for the Merlin fandom, and I wrote the whole thing in 3 weeks or so. This chapter is shorter than that and it took me…well, a LOT longer. This story is just…hard.

Thank you to all of you for still being here. Your patience and understanding means so much.