I am writing this shortly before the posting of Chapter 10. I set out to write a hot little story about bloodlust and angry sex, and what happened became something much different. This was my first attempt at TwiFic, and my subconscious knew better than my libido what I needed to think about and say.

This story is important for me for the same reason that New Moon was important (though frustrating) for me. In June of '09, I lost the person I believed to be the love of my life in a cruel and unexpected way. It was every bit as sudden and jarring for me as I imagined Bella's loss was, but I didn't have the luxury of laying down in the dirt and giving up. I envied her as I read NM for the first time in December, envied her heartbreak. I envied the snappy way her life got put back together. Mostly, though, I felt frustrated with the sting of the wound NM reopened for me.

I hated that there was so much invested in breaking Bella, and so little in putting her back together. It drove home the reality that getting put back together doesn't happen so much in real life; some wounds are just fatal to a relationship.

I realize now that I wasn't being very fair to the work of a pretty talented author (the incomparable Stephanie Meyer, who, incidentally, owns the people I torture here for the next few months). These were little tales of escapism and romance, not documentaries. But it chafed me at the time, and I wasn't able to enjoy Twilight's guilty pleasures the way I once had.

Sometime after the new year began, I said to hell with that. Maybe I have to suck it up and accept whatever reality throws at me, but my sparkly teenage vampires certainly do not. In a world full of job loss and infidelity and dental appointments, fairy tales are not expendable, not even for me. And so I decided to try to put them back together in a way that that felt real, even for me.

Be warned, readers. This woman knows that, if breaking up is hard to do, getting back together in a meaningful, longterm way is even harder. I have no qualms about poking, prodding, and twisting the hearts of my Edward and Bella until they've learned their lesson. It's kind of like my own version of Misery, but I get to be Kathy Bates and James Woods, because pain is the kind of fun I understand.

The mature rating is for lemons expected later in the story, but don't be disappointed if it's not a total citrus grove. Sex really isn't the focus of the tale.

Thanks for listening, and for reading!


PART 1 -- Epilogue

The story of my life is very plain to read.
It starts the day you came;
It ends the day you leave.

- "The Story of My Life", Neil Diamond

* * *


Time doesn't mean much for vampires, but humans need sleep, and food, and warmth. That knowledge made the passing minutes and hours press in on me with an urgency I hadn't experienced before Bella had entered my life. I held her shivering body carefully, keeping the cloak Aro had given me between my cold flesh and her warm skin.

She's here, she's alive, she's here, she's alive… My brain chanted these thoughts endlessly, making me dizzy with joy despite my worry for her. It was real; it had happened. I could have doubted it as one of the many half-crazed hallucinations I'd had of her over the last six months, but Aro had spoken truly. Her blood sang to me in excruciating invitation, the scent overwhelming after so many months of sensitizing absence.

I tried to pull my attention away from the smell of her blood and the beat of her heart. I gazed down at her face, seeing her pallor, the dark circles under her eyes, despite the darkness in the chamber.

"You look so tired," I said.

"And you look thirsty," she said.

"It's nothing," I said with a shrug. And it was. I could go an eternity without blood if it meant that I could keep her this time. My darker nature argued at the back of my mind, unable to be distracted from her heady fragrance. I shuddered.

"What's wrong?" she whispered, her voice breaking.

"Nothing, nothing is wrong," I said, pulling her closer, holding her more tightly than I normally permitted myself. "Try to rest, Bella. We still have a few hours before we can go."

I felt her body tense. She nodded tightly and closed her eyes.

I knew that she wasn't sleeping. Even after months of separation, I could read her body's signals easily. It was no wonder that she was tense. I couldn't imagine what she was thinking after the day's events, and for once, I wasn't sure that I wanted to.

"She might be warmer if you put her down," Alice suggested from her chair.

I hesitated. I didn't want to let go of her for another second for the rest of my existence. Bella's shaking was worrying me, though, and I thought that her body heat may be better conserved without my cold contact. I stood with her in my arms and turned, bending to lay her on the couch.

As I started to mover her away from me, every muscle in her body jerked, and her hands clutched at me frantically.

"Edward!" she gasped, and her eyes flew open. They were unfocused, wild. "No, no, please…" She began to sob.

I immediately gathered her against my chest again, trying to soothe her.

"Shh, it's okay, Bella," I murmured. "It's over; you're safe."

She was still shivering, but her sobs subsided. Her breath came in little trembling gasps. I hummed softly against her ear, relieved when her body finally relaxed in sleep.

Bella was alive. Nothing could be ill if she were well. Nonetheless, I could feel a familiar twisting ache in my chest begin as my thoughts went beyond this, beyond today, to what must happen next.

"It's going to be harder this time," I murmured to myself.

"What?" Alice said sharply. I looked up and saw her eyes become distant for a moment. "Oh, no," she choked. "Oh, hell no, Edward."

"It's not your business, Alice," I said, keeping my voice too low for Bella's hearing. I knew exactly what Alice had seen. I knew that I would have to leave Bella again. I had broken my promise to her, and this would make it so much harder for both of us, but nothing had changed since Bella had nearly been drained in my family's living room on her eighteenth birthday.

"About that you are wrong," Alice hissed. "I am here right now because of your choices with this relationship. We all nearly died today because of those decisions, and that most certainly makes it my business." We were both keeping our voices too low for human ears so Bella could rest, but there was no mistaking the fury in my sister's words.

"I am sorry about that," I said, meeting Alice's black and narrowed eyes. "I never meant to involve any of you."

"You thought you could just come here to die and none of us would be involved?" she asked, incredulous. "Our whole family would have been broken if we lost you, Edward. Me, Carlisle… God, Edward, Esme…"

I looked away, feeling the burn of tears I could no longer shed. Alice couldn't understand this situation; the argument was pointless.

"As I said, I cannot be more sorry for what I've put you all through. For what I put her through," I said, gazing down at Bella's sweet face. "I had hoped that my leaving would make the loss easier."

"It sure as hell didn't make it easier," Alice said sharply. "All it did was make it so that we lost two of our family instead of one."

I looked at her, surprised.

"Yeah, that's right," she said. "You spend so much time brooding over her, deciding what to do with her, that you forget she is one of us, too. You're not the only one who missed her." She ran her hands through her hair and leaned her forehead against them. "We were as guilty as you for going along with it."

"It was not your choice to make," I said, angry.

She snorted.

"As if it were yours! Did you even think to ask Bella about any of this?"

"I did talk to her about these things, many times," I said defensively. "She always had the same answer. She didn't care about consequences, sacrifice. She didn't worry about the danger she was placing herself in. All she could see was her love for me. She's…. very young."

"So what?" Alice squeaked. "You know, Edward, you are one conceited ass to assume that your love for Bella is undying, but her love is some shallow impulse she'll forget over a few weeks or months. For god's sake, Edward, we've been through high school thirteen times! By now you should be able to recognize the difference between a schoolgirl crush and what Bella feels for you. Even without my visions, I can see that she's not a typical teenager, and I know you do, too."

Alice sighed and looked down at Bella before she continued. "You waited almost a century for her, Edward. I know I don't have to tell you that she's special."

"I know that she's special, and if I had the luxury of selfishness, I would change her right now and bind her to me forever," I said. "But I have no right, absolutely none."

"You feel guilty having her with you," Alice said.

"Of course I do."

"Even though she is happy with you."

"Yes, when she isn't bleeding on the floor or running for her life or lying to her family."

"And you would rather see her dead than feel that guilt?" Alice asked, her words deceptively gentle.

"What on earth are you talking about?" I snapped back, my arms tightening around Bella reflexively. She moaned softly in her sleep, and I saw a single tear trickle from the corner of her eye. I relaxed my hold on her and stroked her hair.

I glanced at Alice and saw her watching us.

"She is going to be okay, Alice," I said, my hand in Bella's hair. "She's exhausted, and the Volturi terrified her, but she'll be fine once she's back home." I closed my eyes against the flash of pain that invaded as I anticipated our next separation and continued speaking, my jaw clenched. "Humans die, but only after long, natural lives full of change and growth. That's how it is supposed to be. Bella deserves that, and I won't take it from her." I had said these words a thousand times to Bella and to the voices in my own head, and I knew the speech by heart.

"Bella's life ended the day we left Forks, Edward," Alice said.

I started to shake my head.

Alice made another angry, impatient noise and rolled her eyes. She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, then sighed and looked at me. "Have you even looked at her, Edward?"

I started to respond with equal anger and impatience, but a glance down at Bella's sleeping form stopped me. I looked a little closer and saw what Alice was telling me. I felt my stomach drop.

The first thing that struck me was that Bella must be ill. Her eyes had dark circles beneath them. I'd noticed them earlier, but assumed it was jet lag and stress. Now, though, I noticed that she had lost weight, enough that I could feel her hip and shoulder bones pressing against me with more prominence than I'd remembered. Bella's hair was dull and tangled. I looked down at her hands and saw that her nails had been chewed to the cuticles.

"All that didn't happen today, Edward," Alice said.

"Alice, what is it? Is she sick?" Panic crept into my voice.

"She looks about how you do, Edward," Alice replied. "Except her human body isn't tolerating it so well."

My eyes widened, and I stared at Alice, unable to speak. She looked into my eyes without flinching.

"The whole family went along with this only because we were sure you would change your mind within a few days or weeks, go back, and get this martyr nonsense out of your system. We thought it would let you give yourself permission to commit to being with her. I tried not to see Bella in my visions, more for my own sake than for yours. I still saw glimpses…" Alice shuddered before continuing.

"But now I am seeing her with my eyes, and I can tell you this without using any special abilities. Your leaving is killing her, just as surely as a cancer or fever." Alice's voice broke, and her voice became sharp. "I told you this would happen," she hissed, running a hand through her hair. She was truly angry now, more so than I'd seen her in a very long time.

And she wasn't done talking.

"I talked to Charlie about what happened when we left. She stopped eating. Stopped talking. They were going to hospitalize her. Is that the normal life you imagined for her?"

Now I was shaking, unable to imagine my Bella that way. I looked down at her. Her lips moved soundlessly; her brow was furrowed in her sleep. I lifted my hand to touch her cheek. I hadn't yet made contact when she grimaced and began to make an anguished, keening sound.

"Shh, Bella," I whispered, rocking her in my arms. "I'm here, you're safe." She moaned, a long, desperate sound, and then gradually settled back into quieter sleep. When I looked up again, Alice had moved and was kneeling on the floor in front of us, looking at Bella intently.

"She's been doing that for six months, Edward," Alice said. "She wakes up screaming almost every night. Charlie says he doesn't even go in there anymore when he hears her, because nothing he does helps. She screams when he touches her. She screams your name."

I felt as though I had been struck.

"Alice, god, I…" I was utterly at a loss. "I was so sure that she would recover, that she would move on."

"Like you moved on? Like you recovered?" Alice retorted with a little sniff. I looked away. Alice knew that my handling of my separation from Bella had been less than smooth.

She was right. Of course she was right.

"So, that means she's doomed, Alice?" I asked, frustrated. "I have no choice but to steal her future and her family, condemn her to an existence of isolation and violence? Blood and thirst and endless, endless days?"

"Is that how you see our life, Edward?" Alice asked, her voice softening. "Is it really that miserable for you?"

I didn't answer. I couldn't. The truth was, my life before Bella had been worse than difficult. It had seemed without focus or purpose. I enjoyed the hunt but hated the blood and death. The thirst was a constant companion reminding me that I was not, and never could truly be, a man. I enjoyed my family but hated the bitter loneliness that surrounded me as night fell and everyone else went to the arms of those they loved.

My life after Bella completely different, a photo negative of what had come before. The thirst was there, even more intense with her intoxicating blood constantly calling to me, but it had lost its significance. Putting aside human blood was no longer a sacrifice, and the thirst no longer made me feel like a monster. It was simply the price of being near her, and I would have paid anything. When I was near her, I forgot entirely what it had been to be alone. Even though she slept, and I had to wait for her to return to me each morning, her gentle breathing and mumbling sleep-talk was sweet company.

What I had learned is that life as an immortal could be horrific, without love.

"Even if I can do it, Alice," I said miserably. "Even if I can take her blood and not drain her until she's dead…" I choked on the words, pausing before continuing. "Even if I can watch her scream and burn in agony while she changes, and even if she survives it… I've still taken all of her choices away. You and the others can see this life full of promise and possibility because you have the one thing necessary to make it so. It would only be that for Bella if she were to be with me."

I waited for Alice to realize the gravity of what I was telling her, but she just raised her eyebrows, as if waiting for me to finish my statement.

"Alice, she would be tied to me forever, or she would be doomed to eternal loneliness. Don't you think that a rather unfair set of choices for an eighteen-year-old girl?" I tried to explain it as if Alice were a small, not exceptionally bright child.

"And, that's different from her current situation how?" Alice said, sarcasm not-so-subtly leaking through.

The human woman Gianna suddenly rose and approached the couch around which we'd huddled.

"I'm happy to report that the sun is set and you and your guest are free to leave the city," she said, her smile plastic and professional. "Is there any further assistance I can provide you?"

"No," I said brusquely, lifting Bella in my arms and striding toward the labrynth's exit.

* * *

Bella awoke in the car, once again screaming that animal sound. I tried to hold her flailing limbs, stroked her hair and murmured soothing words. I hoped they were soothing.

"No! No! You lied! Please!!!" Her cries were gut-wrenching.

"Still feeling good about giving her that clean break?" Alice said coolly from behind the wheel of the car.

"Enough, Alice," I hissed, holding Bella to me and rocking her in my arms.

"No, apparently not, because my vision has not changed," she said. "So, no, not enough. Maybe another twenty hours of Bella screaming on the airplane like a colicky baby will erode a little of that Edward-knows-best veneer."

I was silent. Bella shivered and wept as I held her.

"Yes, there!" Alice chirped triumphantly. She, of course, had been aware the moment my veneer began to crack.

"I promised her," I said weakly, knowing my resolve was crumbling.

"You were wrong, Edward," Alice said, her tone beginning to gentle. "People are wrong all of the time. And you were serious, big-time wrong."

"Did I– Is she—" I couldn't finish the sentence. I tried again. "How broken is she?"

"She can come back from this Edward," Alice said slowly. "I'm afraid I can't say she will come back from it. There is just too much chaos and disarray in that mind of hers right now for me to see anything clearly."

"What can I do?"

"First, I need you to decide. Decide without any backup scenario that it's you and Bella, period. I can't see much of anything very well until you do that."

I sighed.

"I'll try."