Chapter 1: Life, Love and Reality

A/N: I own nothing - not even a snappy disclaimer. Characters are all Stephenie Meyers' creations really. I just enjoy torturing them occasionally. Thanks must go to my lovely betas (FE71SH & CorrinaTFF) & my ever-supportive (especially in a crisis) fic-wifeys (Gabbysway2 & CorrinaTFF).

Life was easy at the age of nine. Girls and boys could be just friends, with no ulterior motives and no hormones getting in the way. That was the way it used to be between my best friend, Bella Swan, and I. It was simple. Whether we were sitting at her house on a Sunday afternoon playing monopoly with her brother, Emmett, or swimming at the local pool - it was effortless.

Life was something measured in moments of fun between the drudgery of school lessons. A career was something that parents had; it wasn't something that required any further thought than creating an endless list of "when I grow ups". Marriage, kids, the future; they were all foreign concepts not needing consideration on a day-to-day basis.

Somehow, at some point after that, things began to change. There was no discernible age when things became different - they just did. Suddenly, girls were more than merely someone else to talk to or another person in the playground to befriend. They were interesting in their own unique way. They became mystifying and bizarre. Suddenly, boys and girls couldn't be 'just friends'. That's how it was with Bella and I.

When we entered high school, I began to notice things about her that I had never seen before - and it wasn't just the obvious physical changes. I started to notice how her lips would caress the end of a pencil as she studied. How her fingers would twine loosely in her hair when she was deep in thought. I began to wish I could know what it was like to be that pencil, or have her fingers caressing my hair so softly. When that changed - life changed.

In no time at all, things became complicated. It was no longer about board games and summer fun, but about study, and university, and careers The future was no longer a passive thing to be worried about at a later date. It was real and it was happening. We each needed to make a plan for the future. In order to steer our lives in the right direction, we had to make choices.

At seventeen, I chose wrong.

At seventeen, I left life, love, and family behind me to race for Cullen Racing. At the time, I would have said it was the smart choice - the right choice even. But at twenty-one, I knew better. Because at twenty-one life threw me a curveball in the form of a flailing career and a reunion with my destiny - my Bella. Once I had her back in my arms, I realised what a mistake I had made.

I had chosen wrong and the decision had wide and painful aftershocks. I still couldn't really regret it, because only by suffering the loss of my Bella, did I realise how muchshe meant to me. Only by gaining back her trust did I know that I would never again do anything to lose it.

Only by reaching the point where I had absolutely nothing else to lose did I reach the point where I had everything to gain. I lost my career, but gained the opportunity to learn a trade. I lost respect for my father, but gained the respect of my daughter.

Whenever I had trouble sleeping or woke from a nightmare, I would pad down the hall to Phoebe's room and find solace in the knowledge that she was there and safe. As I stood guard in the doorway to her room, I watched as her chest rose and fell softly in time with her light snores as she slept. As it had many times before, my mind turned to her brother, Emmanuel, the child I would never know but who would always hold a place in my heart. I silently shed a tear for the loss that our small family had endured and took comfort in the thought that maybe he was somewhere watching over us. He would guard his baby-sister from trouble and look after her from afar.

"What are you thinking about?" Bella asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

I shrugged. "About life. About where we were and where we are now."

She wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and I pressed my lips to the top of her head. "We've got each other, that's half the battle won before we even start."

I sighed. "I know, but what are we going to do? My wages won't cover the payments on this place."

"We'll manage," Bella said into my chest. It was what she said every time I fretted.

It wasn't the first time I had worried about the exact same thing. I felt like a failure. I wasn't going to be able to provide for my family the way that I should have - the way I wanted to. I was due to return to Cullen Racing in a matter of days, albeit as an apprentice mechanic rather than a driver, and each day I felt closer to my doom. I knew it was not going to be an easy road to tread -from high-flying driver to pit-dwelling grease-monkey.

I knew I could expect no respect from my team-mates, except Alice. I knew Alice would be on my side. Her position as strategist would see her residing in the pits alongside me on race days. Those were the days I dreaded most of all. I knew there would be an ache in my chest as I watched James, the psycho, driving the car that should have been mine. That still could be mine, I reminded myself. Officially, I was out of the driver's position for good, but Carlisle had been sure to let me know unofficially that I might have the opportunity to race again. I just had to let the controversy and stress of the last few months blow over. I needed to be someone the family-friendly sponsors would support.

After my sacking from Cullen Racing, I had fielded a number of calls to race for other teams, but none of them were right for me. The first of those had come from Volturi Racing. I had refused Vincent Aro's offer carte blanche,and I was glad I had when I learned of his involvement in setting up the magazine article that had scandalised my world. Some of the other offers were harder to turn down, but at the end of the day moving to another team meant moving to another state. I couldn't choose my career over Bella and Phoebe - I wouldn't.

"Are you sure you want to do this interview tomorrow?" I asked her again. She had been the one to negotiate the terms of the contract with Women's Idea for an exclusive tell-all interview, but I wanted to give her the opportunity to back out if she was having second thoughts.

"I'm sure," she said, smiling warmly at me.

She was my rock. In a little under two months, our relationship had turned from nothing to everything. Four years of heartache and pain had all but disappeared in that short space of time. All because I finally stopped running from her and started running to her.

"You never know what they might ask," I warned. "It might be difficult."

She swallowed hard but nodded. "I know. No one said our life was going to be easy, but it's ours. I want to tell our side. If we don't, those little..." she huffed and cut herself off. "Lauren and Jess just get away with it all. People might believe the lies they've told."

"They'll get their comeuppance eventually," I murmured, not really wanting to talk about two of the bitches who had been heavily involved in my downfall. I knew karma was coming back to bite their asses anyway.

Dad's little mistress, Jess, would definitely regret her decision to sell her twisted version of events to Gossip Weekly, because the bank had fired Dad after the article had come out. Apparently, it was evidence of impropriety with his subordinate. Since then, he and his little whore had been living on her meagre income. Dad couldn't find employment. No other banks were willing to hire someone passed his prime, especially one with a scandal attached to his name.

Mum had completely drained the joint savings account she'd held with the cheating bastard before she left the country. The last we'd heard she was on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific, sunning herself and spending up big. A Christmas gift had arrived for Phoebe from her just a few days earlier.

Lauren's husband, Mike, had been more than a little upset when he'd listened to a recording of his wife agreeing to a tryst with a former V8 supercar driver. It wasn't quite a perfect recording though; Bella kept sniggering in the background as she recorded Lauren's pleas and requests. I was reluctant to agree to Bella's idea, but the more I thought about it, I realise Lauren had hurt Bella so much. She had given her a hard time about being a single mother and about my stupid, idiotic fucking ways after I'd abandoned her.

Vincent Aro, manager of Volturi Racing, ended the season with no drivers after putting all his eggs in one basket. Because of the steps he'd taken to try to secure me, his driver had jumped ship and joined Cullen Racing - taking the spot left vacant by my sacking. I had heard from Alice that he was working extra hard during the silly-season to secure a driver - any driver - before the next race season began.

There was just one other person who I needed to take vengeance on - Vicki, Victoria, Miss V... take your pick which alias to use. I wanted - no...needed - to get revenge on her for setting me up to fall the way she had. Bella insisted the best revenge I could have was to get back into the driver's seat as quickly and scandal-free as possible. I knew I would get my chance eventually.
I sighed and stopped focusing on that. I needed to keep my head clear of negative thoughts. I'd resumed seeing Dr Laurent in person and he was helping me to redirect my thoughts in stages.

Instead of focusing on revenge, I thought about the time I had spent with Bella as we prepared her move to Sydney.

After spending a little over a week packing up her house, we had taken a few days to get to know each other again, including taking one last trip to say good-bye to Emmanuel. It was a heartbreaking, soul-destroying, but at the same time fucking uplifting, weekend. I was sure it had made us even stronger than we'd ever been. I found myself grinning as I thought about it. Who needed couples' therapy when we could heal ourselves?

"Phoebe will be fine," I said reassuringly as Bella stared out the Monaro window at her parent's house. "Think of it as an opportunity for them to spend some time together before we take her away."

"I know she'll be fine." Bella sighed. "I just can't believe I'm moving away from here. It's just an adjustment. I thought I'd have more time to make it, that's all."

My chest tightened. I knew she trusted me. I knew she loved me. But in that moment, I wondered if it was enough. Was I being selfish asking her to move in with me?

"Do you regret it?" I whispered. It hurt to ask, and I knew it would hurt for her to hear it. But it was exactly what our weekend away was supposed to be about; we had agreed that we would ask anything that wason our mind. We would tell each other exactly what we felt. I had braced myself for a weekend of agony - bittersweet agony that only Bella could deliver.
She shook her head and her hand came to rest on my thigh. "No, I was going anyway, remember. I'm happy about where I'm going... where we are going. It's just that I feel sad about having to leave all this behind too."

I picked up her hand and placed it against my lips,kissing it softly. I didn't have words to comfort her, because I knew they were going to be trite and meaningless. Especially when compared with what we were about to do. We were going to visit Emmanuel together for the first time. Then we were heading to the Sunshine Coast for a weekend alone.

I was relieved when Bella's Mum, Renee, had agreed to watch Phoebe. I was even more relieved when Bella agreed that I could wait in the car while she dropped her off. The last time I had been there was the disastrous reunion which had resulted in her brother, Emmett, and Dad, Charlie, cornering me against the side of their house and trying to run me out of town, wild west style.

Considering it had almost worked, I understood her ready approval of my request.

I pulled my car into the cemetery and cut off the engine. Neither of us desired to be the first from the car. Both of us were in absolute agony, but I knew Bella's pain was greater than mine. She had suffered through the heartbreak, and I had learned of it second hand so many years later.

Eventually, Bella turned to me and nodded once.

I climbed from the car and opened her door, offering her my hand to help her from the car.

The sun beamed brightly in the sky as we weaved our way through the plots to find our way to the little angel we sought. My feet were on autopilot, remembering the way from my last visit a few weeks prior. As it had then, the first thing that captured my eye was the cold white marble cherub. He sat with his head buried in his hands while his white wings extended out from his shoulders. My eyes fell to the horses on the tombstone, the symbol of Castor and Pollux. Of Gemini. Of the Twins. I could almost feel the horses tattooed onto my back come alive as if granted some magical power from proximity to their inspiration. I didn't need to read the inscription, I knew what it said by heart after spending a day lying beside the stone.

- - { ~.~ } - -

Emmanuel Pollux Masen Swan

11th June 2005 - 14th June 2005

An angel opened the book of life and wrote down my baby's birth

Then she whispered as she closed the book "too beautiful for earth"

- - { ~.~ } - -

I sensed rather than felt Bella by my side. This visit would not be like my last. Then I had felt nothing but desolation and destruction, tearing at me from inside. This time, like then, I felt pain. Twisted with the pain, easing some of the sting, were hope and love.

Bella held my hand so tightly her knuckles were white. She took a deep breath and swallowed around the lump in her throat. I could see her lips moving, she was talking silently to our son. I closed my eyes as my tears began to flow unchecked.

We stood hand in hand for at least an hour before the wind shifted and it grew cold. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, but neither of us were willing to move. We would know when the time was right to say goodbye.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you," I whispered. Even I wasn't sure whether the words were intended for Bella or Emmanuel.

Bella nodded, then she stepped forward out of my grasp and dropped to her knees in front of the cherub. She reached her hand out and placed something on the grave. I hadn't even realised she had bought anything with her. She stood and walked backwards to me. I couldn't see past her to see what she had left, but I wasn't sure I wanted to invade her privacy that way either. She turned when she reached me grabbing my hand and pulling me from the graveside wordlessly.

I followed her quickly, allowing her to lead me away. I resisted glancing backwards for as long as I could, but finally I couldn't help myself. I flicked my head around and saw a small toy car resting in front of the little angel. I almost choked when I realised it was a Cullen Racing promotional item from last year - a diecast model of my car.

"I wanted to leave something of each of us with him, so that he knew we weren't abandoning him," Bella said softly when I turned back towards her.

I was embarrassed that she'd caught me looking. I wondered what she had left of herself, and of Phoebe, but I didn't want to ask. I had already intruded on what I was sure was meant to be a private good-bye.

We walked silently back to the car, mentally preparing for the weekend ahead. A weekend where no question was off-limits and where we would confront our past - our demons - with no one else around to interrupt. I knew the weekend would be hard. I even tried preparing myself, thinking that afterward Bella might choose not to move with me, that she might decide I was just too fucked up. But I owed it to her to get everything out on the table. After the tabloid attack, I didn't want anything between us left unsaid. I didn't want to give anything in my past the chance to come back and bite my ass.

The drive to Caloundra passed without a word between us. We were both lost in our own thoughts, and neither of us were willing to break the silence in the car. I wondered whether Bella was mentally tabulating a list of questions for me or ifher mind was still back beside Emmanuel's grave.

Once we arrived at the motel, I left Bella to check us in while I unloaded the bags from the boot of the car. I looked over the exterior of the motel with slight disgust. There was nothing wrong with it per say, it was just that it was a standard cut-price motel. I knew I had become a snob, but I had become acclimatised to the finer things in life with Cullen Racing.

When the team was away from home, I had stayed in nothing less than five-star hotels. Being on a lower wage meant that was going to have to change. I nearly cried when I realised it would probably mean I would have to sell a few of my precious cars. I had a substantial collection in my garage at home, but, between rego and insurance, they cost a pretty penny - and a few ugly ones - each year. I couldn't even begin to consider which ones to get rid of. I was glad when Bella appeared with the room key as it meant I could put the decision off for a while longer.

I followed Bella into our room and dropped the bags on the floor. As I glanced quickly around the room, I realised I was better off than I ever had been at any five-star hotel because this room had something they never did - Bella.

I snaked my hand out and grabbed her wrist, pulling on it lightly to pull her into me. I picked her up so that she was completely encased in my arms and buried my nose into her hair at the nape of her neck. In that moment, I needed to feel close to her. I needed to be close to her. I carried her across to the bed and laid her down on top of the blankets.

She curled herself into me, and I rested my chin on the top of her head.

I closed my eyes and just relished being close to her. After ten minutes or so, I began to run my hand up and down the length of her back. I had meant it as a purely comforting gesture, but Bella hummed into my chest in response to my touch, the sound travelling all the way to my dick and making it stand up to attention.

Bella shifted slightly, and I tipped my head down. We seemed to gravitate toward each other's lips without conscious thought. As her tongue swept across my lips, I groaned and shifted us both so that I was lying on top of her.

I still hadn't opened my eyes and part of me was concerned that perhaps I had fallen asleep and was dry-humping the air, thinking I was with Bella. I chuckled softly at the thought.

"What's so funny?" Bella asked quietly, breaking the contact I had with her sweet, sweet mouth.

I shook my head, but then remembered the rules of the weekend. No unanswered questions, no withheld information. "I was worried this might all be a dream. That I might wake to find I had been assaulting you while we slept."

She smirked a little at me. "I wouldn't complain if you decided to."

I dropped my forehead to hers. "I'll remember that for tonight."

I captured her lips again, kissing her softly while my hand ran trailed lightly through her hair. I needed her. I still felt an urge to be closer to her. I wanted to crawl inside her and take up residence. I knew what we were starting wasn't necessarily the intention for the weekend, but I didn't care. In that moment, I didn't need questions or answers; I needed her.

I started pulling at her shirt subconsciously. I hardly realised what I was doing until we both sat up and broke off our contact to allow its removal. Mine followed nanoseconds later. I worked quickly on her jeans and panties while she tugged mercilessly on mine. Soon, barely minutes after we had started kissing, I was wrapped around a naked goddess. Once I had her undressed, I slowed down. I didn't want to fuck her. I wanted to make love to her. Slow and sweet. It was the one thing that we alone shared. I could honestly say I had never made love to another woman - I knew it was semantics, but in my heart I knew the difference.

I found the tip of her breasts and claimed them with my mouth. She arched her back and gave a cry of unadulterated passion. I could see she needed me as much as I needed her. I dipped one hand down between her legs, my fingers brushing across her arousal. She was so ready for me.

I pushed myself into her slowly, both of us giving a hiss of pleasure at the feeling. I made unhurried movements inside her as my mouth explored her neck, chin and breasts.

She panted my name quietly, spurring me on.

"I love you, Bella," I whispered as a tear pricked my eye.

Bella looked up lovingly from below me, her face beaming as she gently wiped the tear away.

I dropped my forehead to her shoulder as my thrusts became harder and deeper.

Her lips blew soft breath across my ear as she whispered her devotion to me.

I raised myself up onto my elbows and took a moment to revel in her subtle beauty. I wanted to drink in every feature, almost as if this were going to be my last opportunity to see her like this.

I pushed my hips forward harder, getting deeper and more aggressive with each thrust as her hips bucked harder against me.

Her eyes closed as her back arched. Her mouth formed a delicious 'O' as the muscles of her thighs began to tighten in anticipation of things to come.

I felt myself coming undone too and I knew it wouldn't take much for me fall.

Suddenly Bella came around me, her walls clenching and releasing around my length. It was my undoing. I gave one last grunt as I spilled warmly into her. Then I dropped onto the bed, and held her tightly in my arms.

Neither of us moved for the longest time. Moving would be taking that first step towards the difficult conversations we anticipated sharing this weekend.

Eventually, she sighed and shifted, indicating a desire to get up. She quickly rose and started the shower. As I watched, she climbed under the stream, sending rivers of water flowing over her breasts and down her waist. Water cascaded along her beautiful body and I ended up joining her quickly. I gently caressed her body and lavished her mouth with soft kisses.

An anxiety built in the pit of my stomach, wanting to get the hard part of our isolation out of the way. I knew there was never going to be a 'right time', so I just took a deep breath and launched into the first question. One that had been burning at the back of my mind since the race meeting that had started my downward spiral. I had seen her in the arms of Jake - I knew now that he was gay, but it still gave me pause.

"How many have there been?" I asked as I kissed along her collarbone.

"What?" she asked the ceiling, her voice little more than a soft pant.

"How many... men?" I asked almost silently.

"You're asking me this now?" she asked, disbelief evident in her tone.

I nodded against her skin. "It's what this weekend was supposed to be about, right?"

"Ugh! Yes,"

I laughed softly.

"Fine." She turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. She handed me a towel before wrapping one around herself as she walked back out and sat on the end of the bed. She sighed as she rested her head on my shoulder when I sat beside her.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," I murmured, although since asking the question I was even more anxious to know the answer.

"I tried dating," she said. "But it was all too much hard work. So there was only Sam."

Sam - Jake's brother. She'd told me a little about their relationship previously.

"Did you ever..." I wanted to ask whether she had fucked him, but the question stuck in my throat.

She seemed to understand anyway and shook her head. "No. We weren't completely celibate, but we never-" She cut off. "You're the only one I-" She chuckled darkly. "Why is this so hard?"
I chuckled in reply and wrapped my arms around her. I knew what she meant; we were supposed to be getting everything out in the open and moving forward with no secrets. As her words settled on me I felt relief and joy bubble up within me. It was absolutely fucking hypocritical of me considering how many girls I had been with while we were apart,but I couldn't help but feel glad that I was the only one who had known her that way. It wouldn't have made me think less of her if she'd slept with a hundred guys, but I still felt a little bit of tension leave my body with the knowledge that she hadn't.

"Will you tell me... what happened just after you left? During those first few months?" she asked in response.

I nodded. "It's a long story though." I pulled her up the bed and laid down with her in my arms, her head tucked into my shoulder.

I began my story of a dark decent into drugs, alcohol and random women. I dropped my head back and whispered the tale to the ceiling, not able to meet her eyes for fear of seeing the disappointment I knew she would feel. I told her the story of the nightclubs and strip clubs. I held nothing back, explaining how Alice had saved me - how she had stopped me from going into work under the influence. I didn't stop there.

I launched straight into my train-wreck of a life, telling Bella all my secrets. I admitted that she had haunted my dreams, making me unable to sleep. How when I finally found rest I was subjected to nightmares which would render me helpless, cowering under the blankets until I would finally throw them off and go in search of alcohol to numb the pain I felt in my chest. How I began to rely on sleeping tablets to get the bare minimum sleep I needed to function. I told her about my sessions with Dr Laurent and how they had ended when I threw a temper-tantrum in his office. She'd already known she was the reason I was back in contact with him, but she didn't know she had also been the cause of our rift.

I confessed that everything had fallen apart when I'd seen her in Jake's arms at Queensland Raceway. How from that day forward I saw visions of her while I was on the track and that she was the reason I was crashing regularly.

I barely took a breath before recapping how I felt seeing her on the flight to London and how the night we'd had "sex without strings" had been one of the lowest points in my entire life - but only because she had left the room.

I reassured her by telling her about the first time I saw Phoebe and how I felt when they granted me the opportunity to be in their lives permanently.

Finally, when I had nothing left to say, I felt exorcised. The demons I had long grown used to were finally silenced. There were no doubts in my mind. No little voices telling me to run from Bella.
I kissed the top of her head and stood up slowly. I grabbed a letter from my bag and turned back towards her, looking at her for the first time since I had started my story.

Her face showed signs of concern and worry. Her eyes were slightly reddened from the tears that had been welling. I wasn't sure whether the tears were because of some pity she felt towards me or whether my confessions had caused her genuine pain.

I handed her the letter. "I want you to read this. I wrote it when I arrived in Sydney."

I didn't need to tell her which time. I knew she would know I meant after the Gossip Weekly article, alleging affairs and fights. When I thought she had run from me. When I thought I had lost not only her, but Phoebe too.

I watched her intently as her eyes scanned the page, reading the words that I had wanted so desperately to tell her at the time.

In the days that followed her dash to Sydney, we hadn't talked about anything more than my absolute pleasure inseeing her again and my devastation over losing my position on the Cullen Racing team. Bella had stayed in Sydney for such a short amount of time that we didn't have the opportunity to reflect on the past - only look to the future. During those few days, I hadn't shown her what I had written during what was without doubt the darkest period in my life.

After she had finished reading, she stared intently at the page. "Edward, it's... I..." she paused and took a deep breath. She looked up at me, and I could see warmth and desire reflected in her eyes, even through the fresh tears. "I love you."

I knew then that regardless of what happened, we would be all right.

"Come on, Edward," Bella murmured into me. "It's time to get back to bed. I'll help tire you out for sleep if you like." She flashed me a wicked grin.

Yep, even a month on... we were all right. In fact, we were better than all right.

I pulled my shirt off over my head as I followed her into our bedroom.

A/N- Okay - so here we are again...

Welcome to all new readers.

Welcome back to all readers who have come forward from Chasing Victory.

I am not going to be able to update this as often as I did with Chasing Victory - I am aiming for once a fortnight. I may be able to squeeze out more than that - it may be less. All I know is RL is kicking my ass - but ATM RCE is kicking back harder.

And to kick this thing off in style - I will have a reviewer scene for ppl on this chapter :)