AN: This thing is already longer than I ever thought it would be. We're getting close. I don't know if at this point it feels like it's breaking downing down into fluff but whatever. Maybe it gets too heavy-handed, but it's tougher than I thought to fix so many of the things that I thought were wrong with Edward and Bella in such a short span of time so that it doesn't interfere with the plot of Eclipse . . . I've got two possible ending points in mind, so I'll see which feels better, the fluffier one or the more open-ended one. Thanks everyone who's stuck with me through the messy past year and a half. I'm now gainfully employed, all four of my family members who got cancer are alive and doing well, and I can almost afford to exist, haha. So I'm back to writing YAY.

VII . i

I'd never quite gotten over my dislike of the rain. I'd been un-enthused when I'd first moved to Forks, but it had taken lying on the forest floor through the long, rainy night that Edward left me to make me really hate precipitation. So when I woke up the next morning to the sound of heavy raindrops hitting the window, I greatly regretted not asking Edward to spend the night. Waking up next to him, lying in bed until late in the morning, only getting out of bed for the promise of coffee, bacon and eggs . . .

But I didn't even know when Edward was coming over. I started to get dressed, decided I didn't want to and instead just put a sweatshirt and socks on. The house always felt so cold when it rained. Downstairs, Charlie was reading the paper and sipping coffee, his feet propped up on the chair I wanted to sit in. I didn't think twice about pushing his feet off after I'd poured my own cup of coffee.

"Bells. Such a ray of sunlight in the morning," he mused. I grumbled incoherently and slurped coffee until I felt a bit better. But only a little because it was still raining outside and my toes were numb, even with socks on. I took Charlie's empty cereal bowl to the sink with me once I'd finished my coffee while he folded up the paper and stretched.

Nine o'clock on a Sunday morning and still no sign of Edward? I pushed down the small fear that something had happened to prevent his coming. When Charlie asked if Edward was coming over, though, I decided I should call.

He answered on the third ring, "Good morning, Bella. How did you sleep?"

"Where are you?" I asked before realizing how rude I sounded. "I slept okay. Good morning to you, too."

"That's good. I'm just at home."

"Aren't you coming over?"

"Do you want me to?" he was ridiculous enough to ask. "We hadn't decided I was coming over. I didn't know if maybe you wanted a day away from me, or maybe you want to come over here?" He sounded so cheerful that at first I thought maybe was mocking me but no, he assured me. He had just missed me and was glad to hear I wanted to see him.

It had been so long since I'd been to the Cullens' that I decided paying a visit to their house would be nice. Edward didn't want me driving in the rain, though, so I agreed to wait for him to pick me up. As the waiting dragged on, I pulled out the book I'd been reading for months now and hadn't quite had the time to finish. When Edward came over and Charlie let him in - Charlie, who didn't mind me going to the Cullens' even though I was still technically grounded - he found me beneath a pile of blankets on the couch, enraptured by the book.

"I hate to ask you to get up," he said, sitting on the couch by my feet. The blanket moved, uncovering my feet, and I hissed, which made him laugh and readjust the blanket to recover my toes. "Do you still want to come over?"

"Yeah," I assured him. "But I want to bring my book because I only have like ten pages left. Also . . ."

"Also what?"

"My toes are really cold. Do you think . . . that maybe . . . you could get me some socks? From the top right drawer of the dresser."

He rolled his eyes but kissed the top of my forehead as he strode past me and up the stairs. He was back almost as soon as he'd left, tossing a tie-dyed pair of socks at me. I made a face but he shrugged; this was my reward for being lazy. Mom had given me these four years ago and the only reason I hadn't thrown them out was because they were so warm.

"All right, but when Alice's eyes bleed, it's your fault," I insisted, slipping them on. Only then was I brave enough to peel the blanket off, toss on my rain jacket and follow him outside, my book clutched within the safety of my jacket.

He made the car painfully warm so that eventually I had to turn the heat down. This inspired a question, so I asked, "How do you feel about heat?"

"It's nice."

"You can feel heat, though, right? You're like a lizard that likes to sun itself?"

"Yes, thank you, Bella. I am just like a lizard."

"I only mean that you can feel the heat, right? But you don't sunburn. How hot does it have to be to hurt you?" He gave me an odd look so I laughed, "I'm not planning anything! I'm just wondering. Fire can burn you but can the sun? What about an oven? Or if you held your hand over a candle?"

"No sunburns. As long as we're in one piece, a candle or an oven wouldn't hurt us. I think walking through a fire would be fine, too, but I've never tried it . . ."

"So if you all walked through a fire, afterwards you'd say 'We made it through in one piece, thank God,' but the thing is, you would mean it literally!" He wasn't as amused as I was by this play on words and spent the next few minutes rolling his eyes so violently I thought he might drive off the road and kill us. I then made him be quiet so I could finish my book before we got there, but we pulled up to the house when I was on the second to last page.

"No, wait, wait," I insisted. "Almost done . . ."

"You can't just sit here to finish. You'll freeze to death."

"Shh . . ."

He had the audacity to ignore my shushing and instead picked me up bodily from the car.

"Let me read!" I insisted, dangling over his shoulder to read behind his back. He made an effort to bounce me as much as humanly possible as he carried me into the house, despite my pouting, "You're ruining the ending of the book!"

He finally stood still, just within the entrance of the house. For several minutes, we remained like that. At one point Jasper walked by but as far as I could tell, he didn't even bat an eyelash our way. I'm sure Alice has done much stranger things than finish a book while slung over his shoulder.

Finally I sighed and announced, shutting the book as loudly as you can shut a soft cover, "Finished."

Edward took that opportunity to yell, "Bella's here!" and then run with me as quickly as possible up to his room - not fast enough to make me puke down his back, but fast enough that the room spun when he tossed me onto the couch in his room.

"Did you like it?"

"Like you sprinting through the house with me slung over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes? Not particularly-"

"No, the book. I've never seen you read like that."

"Like what?"

"All . . . dedicated. I've never seen you enjoy reading."

I laughed, "Well, I used to read all the time. When I was younger, Mom would ground me from reading instead of, like, from TV or anything."

"Why used to?"

I shrugged. It hadn't occurred to me until this moment that I'd ever stopped reading. I tried to remember when or why.

"I guess I stopped when we started dating. Just had too much going on and . . . well, I guess I was less interested in a mental escape because my life was so much like a storybook already. This is the first book I've read for fun probably since then, actually. Since we started dating, I mean."

"What made you decide to read again?" he pressed. He sat on the bed beside me and picked up my deposited book, turning it over in his hands as though the book itself were some answer. He gave me an uncertain smile, "Life less like a storybook now?"

"Not really. It's that . . . for a while, I think I felt like no one in the world could understand what my life was like. No one had ever been in a relationship like mine, so there wasn't anything out there -book, movie, music, anything- that could possibly affect me because what I was dealing with was so much bigger. I thought romance and adventure and mystery were all stupid because they couldn't possibly compare to my life. I think . . ."

He waited a long time for me to answer because Edward is nothing if not patient. I was trying to figure out how to put it into words because I suddenly felt very silly. Here I was spouting off these deep thoughts when Edward had probably thought much deeper, much more significant thoughts, decades ago. This was probably like listening to a five year old talk about their day at school when you knew there was such a bigger world out there for them.

"You think what?" he pressed after a while, stretching out beside me on the couch.

"I think that the details don't matter," I admitted, looking at him so I could try and gauge his response to this idea. "I think that it doesn't matter if it's humans and vampires or boys and boys or girls and girls or boys and girls. Teenagers, adults, old people, even kids. I think we all feel the same things, regardless of the details." His eyebrows raised, but I couldn't tell why. "I think when you read a book and find that some character in the book has felt the exact same thing that you felt, even if the circumstances are entirely different, it reminds you that you're not alone and that you're human and that . . . that you haven't discovered some new emotion or existence. Love, loss, disappointment, jealousy, frustration, hope, defeat, even helplessness; it's all been felt before, and it's been captured in books. You're just a human, like everyone else. And that's good. Thinking you're too special to be human and appreciate the human experiences you see in books just shuts you off from . . . are you laughing at me?"

"No." I frowned at his smile. "No! I'm not. I just didn't know you thought about things like this. You've never talked to me about stuff like this before. I'm glad you are."

"I guess I always felt like you'd just laugh at me, or not take it seriously, or just . . . you can be real condescending sometimes, you know."

The smile disappeared as he kissed me on the forehead, "I know. I'm sorry. I do take you seriously."

"And anyway, what I said applies to you too."

"Does it?"

"This book," I explained, taking it from his hands and holding it in the air over us. "You should read it. It's about a boy who's born with a frozen heart, so the midwife replaces it with a cuckoo clock. She tells him though that he can never fall in love because his heart just isn't strong enough. Love sucks for everyone, but he specifically can never experience it because it'll literally kill him."

"How long does it take for him to fall in love?"

"What makes you think he falls in love?" I pressed.

"Everyone falls in love, don't they?"

"Then what made you think you were so special?"

For the first time in my life, I genuinely felt like I'd gotten the better of Edward. Not in a mean or cruel way. But in a way that meant he'd heard something I'd said and it had genuinely surprised and affected him.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't," I rolled my eyes. "You thought you'd spend eternity alone. You told me that."

"I did think that."

"What changed your mind?"

"You did," he admitted, rolling on his stomach so he could look down at me. "I couldn't imagine that anyone would ever love me or that I'd ever love anyone enough to give up my precious but bitter alone time and be a partner. You made me think that maybe it was worth a try. I kept thinking, I was so certain, that we'd be together for a while and then one of us would get annoyed with the other, or tired of each other, and that would be the end of it."

"You thought that!" I laughed, hitting him playfully on the arm.

He looked horror-stricken, "Should I have not-"

"Keep going," I insisted. "You're not saying anything wrong. In fact, I think you still think that. That's one of the reasons you don't want me to change."

"I thought we would be together for a while and it would just prove me right that it was my destiny to be tragically alone for eternity. I really did care about you from the beginning, don't get me wrong, or I wouldn't have pursued anything. I liked you. I was infatuated with you."

"But when did you love me?"

"I think I accepted that I loved you that first time I spent the night-"

"Well the first one I knew about at the time," I teased.

"That was the first time I was with someone, you, and realized that I wasn't just curious or infatuated or experimenting. I was genuinely happy. I was content lying there beside another person. I thought 'I want this person to be mine. I want it always to be like this'"

"So then what happened?" I sat up because it made me feel in a better frame of mind to understand all of this. I'd wanted to get a peek at these things in his head for so long, and here he was, finally explaining them in a way that hadn't just degenerated into sappy but watery confessions of love. "How did you go from that to . . . suicidal."

He sat up as well, "When James was after you, and I watched you drive off with Alice and Jasper . . . I felt so alone when you were gone. It terrified me that someone could make me feel that way, that I could be so dependent on someone's, particularly a fragile human's, safety. I'd always thought I could relegate losing a partner, if I actually found one, to no more than a splinter. But that experience -it wasn't a splinter. It was an all-consuming void. It was worse than losing my parents or changing or anything I'd ever experienced before."

A sudden lightbulb went off in my head and I gasped. It caught his attention and made him stop. I tried to get him talking again, but he wouldn't until I said what I'd just had such a revelation about.

"That was it," I tried to explain. "That was the moment that changed everything."

"What do you-"

"Edward, that changed everything! That's when you started treating me like I was so breakable because you were so afraid of losing me and being alone! You threatened to leave me after I woke up in the hospital. And I was so afraid of losing you and being alone when you did that, it made me believe I was so breakable too! Then when you left a few months later, well, I broke like we both expected me to. And when you thought I was dead, you broke too."

He clearly didn't like this at all and, making a face, argued, "That's not it at all. I love you and I was terrified of something happening to you because of-"

"I know you do. And I love you. I believe those things. But did you really think that choosing to be alone would make it hurt less if I died? That moment when I went off with Alice and Jasper wasn't about you realizing something about me, it was about you realizing something about you. You realized that you're like everyone else on the planet. You don't want to be alone. You want a partner, not just love. You want someone else to share everything with."

"Yeah, you."

"That's fine, and I'm glad, but it's not the same thing, Edward." If I'd never seen Edward look panicked before, I sure did now. His brow was furrowed and his mouth open. My obvious elation wasn't helping matters because it clearly confused him.

"Look, Bella, I don't know how we got to this, and I don't understand what you're clearly so happy about, because it sounds like you're explaining to me that we don't actually love each other, we're just lonely. And if that's how you feel about me-"

"You're panicking. Just stop and think about this."

It was a strange feeling to suddenly be the one explaining something to Edward. I didn't feel larger or more powerful, though. I just suddenly felt like his equal. His partner. It was glorious.

I put my hands on his shoulders to force him to calm down and look at me as I explained, "Neither one of us wants to be alone. We like having someone to kiss and hug and knowing someone cares about us and all of that good stuff. And maybe we were both surprised by that because before we were both so independent. So when our ideas about that changed, we went overboard, because we realized something we thought we knew about ourselves was wrong. Maybe we got so caught up in being boyfriend and girlfriend that we sort of stopped being Edward and Bella. You got so over-protective because you loved having someone that was yours and you didn't want to lose that, even though your over-protectiveness actually led you to throw that away in some weird cycle, which you thought was the best way to protect yourself from the pain of ever losing me."

"And you?"

I'd hoped he wouldn't ask, but I figured it was only fair, so I continued, "And I think maybe I got too carried away thinking about all the stuff that boyfriends and girlfriends can do together -like sex. I got so excited to be a girlfriend to someone like you, I guess I sort of forgot how to be a daughter or a friend or even by myself. I think we both got sort of tunnel-visioned. I mean, you didn't initially ask me all those questions to get to know me because you wanted to lock me up in a glass box, right? Or because you wanted to put yourself in a situation where you broke your own heart and then killed yourself?"

"Of course not."

"Well, and I didn't want to start dating you just to have sex with you. So when was it? When did we stop seeing each other, and just saw the relationship and what we wanted or were scared of in it? When did sex and fear of heartbreak get to be bigger components than just how much we enjoyed talking to each other?"

He didn't have an answer. But he was thinking, and I was thinking. I was proud of us. It felt like we were really onto something here.

"So . . ."

"You panicked when I asked you not to spend the night, right?" He nodded. "And then you stopped assuming that you should spend the night. I kind of panicked when you assumed that you shouldn't just come over in the morning."

"You did?" He smiled though, and I could tell he'd known I would panic. A slightly passive-aggressive streak in him, I guess.

"But it meant more to me when you wanted to see me later. When I talked to you on the phone and you sounded perfectly fine after spending time alone, it felt like you just wanted to be with me, not that your life depended on it. We used to think we had two options, right? We both did. We had each other or . . . or death. We thought we'd die without each other."

"I still think that."

"Of course you do. Because we all inherently think no one has ever understood love the way we experience it and that we alone will actually die from heartache. Trust me, if it was possible, I think we both would have by now. But other people love just as hard as we do. And people lose the ones they love and they survive it and sometimes they even meet other people they love differently but just as much. Your options aren't me or an eternity alone. You have dozens of options, most of which you just can't see at any given time. It's more meaningful, and it's less scary pressure, if you realize that and still choose me."

"You mean that you honestly think I could be just as happy with someone else-"

"Maybe I don't believe in soul mates anymore," I shrugged. "Maybe there's not just one person for everyone, there are a dozen, and each one would give you a very different life and a very different but equal happiness. And you pick the one you want and you commit to that every day, with appreciation and conviction that you chose right for yourself. Maybe star-crossed lovers are just people who chose for themselves rather than going with the flow and picking the easiest option."

I didn't know if I was even making sense, but I felt like I'd caught onto an idea and, since I had Edward's attention, I didn't want to stop until I felt like he was standing right where I was standing.

I continued, "Isn't that a better idea than that some unseen hand pairs people up before they're born and you either find them and make it work and hope nothing ever happens to them, or that's it? We've always believed we're fated to be together. But I don't want fate to choose me for you. I want you to choose me for you, and vice verse. I want you to choose me because, regardless of how long or short, bumpy or smooth a time we have together, it makes you happy, not because you think you'd die without me or you think without me you'll be alone for eternity."

"You do make me happy."

"But at the end of the day, you still think it's me or a lifetime of despair. And you spend so much energy trying to find a way to avoid the despair of not having me, that you forget to be happy with me." I paused, but he didn't say anything. "I thought Romeo was so romantic because he chose to die with Juliet. But he wasn't choosing to spend a lifetime with her. He wasn't choosing her every morning when he woke up. He was choosing to die with her because he didn't want to be alone and couldn't imagine he would ever love again."

"He didn't want to live without her."

"He was going to live without her either way," I pointed out. "She was dead. They could choose death at the same time or life apart. I don't know that it's really romantic after all. They just chose "not life apart," so death it was. They didn't have the option of life together, and they didn't think they had the option of life with another person that would also make them happy. The great thing is that we do have the choice. And we get to keep making that choice every day."

"If you're wanting to turn into a vampire, you do have to make that choice," he argued. "Choosing me and having me change you would literally result in your death."

"No, Edward, I don't." I grabbed his face in my hand because I wanted him to understand me, and I knew there was a high risk here that he wouldn't. "I want to be changed so that we don't have to make that choice. As long as I'm human, you'll someday have to make the same decision Romeo did, and I never want you to have to do that. If we aren't going to be together forever, I want it to be because we decided that, not because mortality decided for us. Humans will always have to face what Romeo did. But once I'm changed, we don't have to spend eternity together just because of that. You can be married and have twelve kids and your finances are all mixed and you've abandoned your family for a guy, and those still aren't good enough reasons to stay with someone. Do you really look at Carlisle and Esme together and think the only reason they're together is because she's a vampire now?"

"You don't think before condemning yourself to a life as a vampire that you should be sure about me?"

"I don't think I'll ever regret it or change my mind. And you have to believe me when I say that. But what I'm saying is that, when I'm a vampire, if the only reason you're with me is because I'm a vampire, that's not right. You can't think of it like that. Every morning when you wake up, you should think to yourself 'why am I with Bella? Do I still want to be with Bella?' If you won't ask yourself that question, it's because you're scared of the answer."

"I just don't think you should have to constantly ask yourself-"

"Then you're taking something for granted. Then the only reason you're with me is because you feel like you're too far gone so you haven't got a choice anymore, it's me or nothing, me or loneliness, me or guilt. Would you want me to stay with you just because I was worried you'd kill yourself if I broke up with you?"

He thought about this and admitted, "Sometimes, selfishly I would say yes. The selfish part of me wants you regardless of the cost. The rest of me wants you to be happy and safe, regardless of what that means for me."

"So do you want me to say that I love you and am with you because a year ago life threw us together and now it's either be together or get killed by the Volturi? Or do you want me to say that I love you because every morning I choose you and I want to be a vampire so that we have as many sunrises together as we want? So that the day will never come when we don't get to choose each other anymore?"

"The second one."

"Uh huh," I laughed, rolling in closer to him. "Me too. So believe me when I say it. Trust me."

"So what you're saying is that I should really read this book," he joked, picking it up from where I'd tossed it to the side. His subject change didn't annoy me in the slightest, though. Partially because I felt like we were connected on a level that we hadn't been in a long, long time. And partly because he was looking at me with a sense of something like awe. He didn't look at me like he loved me or worried about me or was dependent on me. He looked at me like he respected me.

You're trying to build a house out of bricks and clay and it's just not working. No matter how you stack the supplies, it just doesn't stay put. The slightest breeze topples the wall and sometimes it crumbles just on its own. And then you realize that it's because you're an idiot and you forgot a really, really important part -to get the clay a little wet so it'll hold the bricks together as it dries.

Ever since I'd met Edward, I'd been so worried about whether he loved me and whether I deserved him and whether I could make him happy . . . I'd forgotten to make sure he respected me. I'd been pissed at the consequences -lectures, scolding, condescending tones, possessiveness- without realizing what was actually wrong.

"Thank you," I smiled.

"For what?"

"For taking me seriously."

"I've been alive eighty-six years longer than you have," he laughed, "and you still manage to teach me things, even about myself. You're a smart, beautiful woman, Bella, and getting smarter all the time. And I'm grateful for every day that you choose me."

That deserved a kiss, no questions asked. This all really did remind me of back to the beginning, when we were so interested in getting to know each other, when every day was a new discovery. We'd been eager to get to know everything because we just knew we were going to spend our lives together. I'd been raised to believe that the goal was to find someone to spend your life with. But really, that was just the result of finding someone you wanted to spend every day with. If every day you reminded yourself why you were with the person you were with, you'd never look back and regret it.

"How about you go find a new book to read in the library, and I'll go make you some tea and meet you in there." He kissed me on the forehead and stood, taking the book I'd finished with him.

"Okay, but get some blankets, too."

"I bought an electric one," he grinned. "I won't have to sit so far away for you to be warm."


I wish I could say this moment of enlightenment, these discoveries we'd made, changed our lives and fixed everything. It was a solid foundation for fixing everything but come on, I was eighteen and he was equally as young when it came to relationships. I'd had a moment of insight but wasn't even, to be honest, certain what I"d said. So yes, we had some food for thought but no, everything wasn't fixed, and this isn't quite the end. I mean, my Romeo and Juliet paper was in total crisis mode now with less than a month until it was due. But we're getting there.

AN: The book I mention in here is "The Boy With the Cuckoo Clock Heart" by Mathias Malzieu and I love it and highly recommend it. Next chapter is ALSO act 7, so it's okay if you only feel half settled with this act, because there's another scene still at the Cullens up next.