Chapter 63 - clusterfuck

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"You do know Clearwater has a thing for you, don't you?" Edward said it like it was stupidly obvious.

"I highly doubt it," Bella scoffed at the idea. "He's… we work together. We're friends, but that's not what we should be talking about right now."

She raised the folder she was holding in her hands, as to remind him.

Edward ignored her attempts to change the subject. "Just because you're friends doesn't mean he can't have a thing for you."

"Give it a rest," she told him. "He's not the type to pine over someone that's not interested, Edward."

"So you admit he's been hitting on you."

"That's what you got from what I just told you?" She sighed hard, burying her face in her hands for a moment. "Listen, yes, he can be a bit of a flirt, but he's not my type. He's too young, too short, too tan… he's not… He's not you."

"So you two never…."

She shook her head as his voice trailed. "Never."

"Sorry, I had to ask," he gave her a smile that, despite everything, still managed to be both sweet and a little sad. "It's just that this all reminds me of -…"

"He's not Jake," she cuts him off sharply. "He's nothing like Jake."

"I know. I'm sorry. It's irrelevant…but he sort of looks like him and the way you two interacts, finishing each other's sentences and stuff. I know you're right, though, this is not what I should be focusing my energy on."

He held his hand out to take the folder. She didn't give it to him; instead she took his outstretched hand and laced her fingers through his.

"It's okay," said, tugging him closer. "You should feel like you can ask any questions, no matter what. Better asking than presuming, okay?"

"Okay. I shouldn't have brought it up right now, though. Sorry... and I'm sorry about before, too. I should have let you talk. I should have kept my cool." He hung his head, like he was ashamed of himself. "I know I have made mistakes but I am trying, both with you and with Tony, I really am."

She debated for a moment, then untangled her hand and brought it up to his chest and over his heart, covering it with his left palm. "I know you have been trying."

"You can put that on my obituary. 'He died as he lived – trying,' he joked, rather lamely. "Right when I think I have a grip on the situation, the past rears its ugly head and pulls me down to this dark place I don't wanna go. I felt we made some progress earlier this morning, but now…"

"We DID make progress. We are making progress. We're talking right now, aren't we?!"

His brow was furrowed as he looked down at her. "Only technically. I feel like all we do is apologizing. That won't get us very far."

"Alright, no more apologies for either of us. As a matter of fact I have a few things I'd like to say, if you're willing to listen," she told him with more confidence than she actually felt. "It's about Anthony and the toxins and what I knew and when I knew it."

"This is a test, isn't it?" he asked, his head cocked to the side. "If we can't talk about this like two adults… If we can't talk about Anthony, who we both agree should be our top priority, then we might as well give up on this relationship altogether. "

"Well…. I think that's taking it a bit far, but I get what you're saying," she nodded. "My priorities are essentially the same as yours. You know I would never deliberately hurt or endanger Anthony, right?"

"Of course I know that."

"And you believe me when I say I only just found out about those test results and the toxins and all of that."

He closed his eyes for a moment before saying "Alright. I believe you."

"Good. Then I hope you also believe that I'll do everything in my power to find out as much as I can about what happened," she vowed in a low voice that carried the weight of her sincerity. "l couldn't care for him more if he was my own flesh and blood." There was a quiver to it that didn't go unnoticed by Edward.

"Let me guess, you're feeling responsible."

"N-no… yes… I know I'm not responsible… but…I should have known, I could have prevented… I…."

"Bella, for heaven's sake, stop," Edward grounded out with his teeth clenched tight. "Whatever happened, it was not your fault. No one could have predicted this clusterfuck." He hooked his fingers around the back of her neck, forcing her to look at him." It's not worth risking your health or the baby's health, racking your brain over something like this."

"What about Anthony's health and safety?" she asked. "If anything happens to him… He's just a baby. I can't even begin to fathom how someone could… that's just…"

"I know. I know," he cooed into her hair, as he scooped her up into his arms, and slowly walked the over to the nearest armchair. "I'm not saying I'm not worried, because I am. I have questions that no one seems to know the answers to. Tons of questions. There is nothing worse than not knowing. The situation is far from ideal, but fretting will only make it worse. I think you should take a step back and let your colleagues do their jobs. Tony will be fine. He's a fighter."

"Yeah, but the allergies, the malnourishment and…."

"He's fine," he interrupted her, pulling her down into his lap. "He's been mostly fine this whole time we've known him, so chances are that he'll stay perfectly healthy. "

"I suppose, he's not in any immediate danger," she agreed, though it sounded more like a question. "He might need-…"

"Let's not freak out until we have all of the facts." His hands went to her stomach, as a silent reminder as to why freaking out was a bad idea. "Have you forgotten we're living under the same roof as a walking, talking real-life version of a medical Wikipedia?" he reminded her.

"You're father, you, mean?" she asked with a hint of a smile. "Poor Carlisle, we're keeping him working around the clock – literally."

"And not just babysitting either," Edward pointed out, returning her smile. "Look up 'clusterfuck' in a dictionary and our picture would probably be there."

Bella couldn't hold back a snort of laughter. In fact they were both laughing when a small but distinct thump startled them. They both froze and waited. Bella directed Edward's hand over her belly, sandwiching it beneath her own and eventually it came again. It was only a soft pressure for a quick second, but it was definitely a kick.

"Tell me you felt that."

"I did, both times." Edward glanced at Bella with a bright smile and shining eyes.

"There it is again!" he exclaimed and laughed. "Oh wow, we might have a soccer champion on our hands."

"I'll settle for a healthy baby, with a healthy heart, but a soccer champion is fine too." She squeezed his hand. "Thank you."

Edward blinked, "Uh… you're welcome. What are you thanking me for?"

"For listening and reassuring me, when I should be the one reassuring you. For hugging me and holding me and making me laugh."

"Now you're making me sound like a real jerk. You shouldn't have to thank me for such basic, fundamental things."

"I don't care, I'm thanking you nonetheless," she stated matter-of-factly. "Also, and you don't know this yet, but you're about to offer to take me outside for a walk later on today. And for that I will owe you a thousand thank yous. So there you go…"

"A walk? Is that really-…" His eyes instantly narrowed, but she didn't let him finish. "Your father approved it. It was his suggestion even."

"You wanna go outside for a walk?"

"Yes, I really do. Please, don't make me have to spend the entire day with your sister. Don't get me wrong, I love your sister, but…"

"There is only so much of Alice one can endure without going insane," he finished the sentence for her.

"Exactly!"

"Fine, but can I at least finish my breakfast first?" he whined jokingly. "I seriously feel like I ran a marathon last night."

Bella raised an eyebrow at him.

"Try running that marathon with a 20 something lbs backpack, then you get back to me."

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Bella finally made it outside that afternoon after what felt like forever, but the fresh air was well worth the wait.

"Where did Jaz go?" she asked, kicking snow off her boots, where it had gathered. Standing still made the cold more noticeable and she pulled her coat tightly around her as she glanced around them, appreciating the beauty of their surroundings. Although the snow had sunk down dramatically, the frost still held on tightly, leaving everything covered in a layer of delicate and perfectly shaped ice crystals that glittered like diamonds in the sun.

"Elliot needed to go potty, so he brought him back to the house," Edward explained, then laughed at something he saw in the clearing ahead of them.

She followed his gaze to the frozen pond where Anthony was waddling around with a hockey stick in his hand, shouting "Bawll! Bawll! Baaaallllll!" at his grandpa even though it was a puck they were chasing after. The giant helmet on his head made him look like a visitor from outer space.

"You could join them, you know," Bella felt the need to point out. "I don't mind. I can go sit with Esme for a bit."

"Nah," he shook his head. "He's having a blast without me and that's actually a good thing, but if you want to sit down.…" he trailed off.

"No," she shook her head. "I think I'd rather walk some more, if that's alright with you. It looks like the inside of the freezer out here today. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"I guess." He shrugged, shrugged noncommittally and then frowned. "You're not cold, are you?"

"No, I'm not cold. You just asked me five minutes ago. Ask again and I'll knock you out and leave you unconscious in a snow bank."

"Please don't." He quickly puts both his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "We'd probably both end up in that snow bank and then freeze our asses off."

"Ha! Good thing I've got more body fat than you then. My ass would outlast yours by a millennium or two."

"Oh, I'm not going to comment on that one. I love your curves. I think I prefer freezing my balls off than having you rip me to shreds for using the word fat in the same sentence as your ass."

She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm the one that brought it up and I was simply stating facts."

"Ah well, I've been warned about this, from multiple sources I might add. Never call a pregnant woman fat even if she says she is fat."

"That's bullshit… A pregnant woman is always right, haven't you heard?! If she says she's fat, she's fat. And if she says she wants to walk, she wants to walk." She looped her arm through his and dragged him through the snow.

"Look at those threes and the hill over there! It's almost kind of magical."

"It's icy and hazardous, that's what it is, but fine let's walk some more." He tucked his hands into his pockets and let himself be lead around the pond and into the shadowy woodland.

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"So, I have a question…"

"Only one? Good for you," Edward replied unenthused. "I have a TON of questions, unanswered questions."

"I know you do," she slapped him through the front of his jacket. "It was simply a conversation starter."

They had been walking in silence for a little while, not an uncomfortable silence, but it wasn't warm and fuzzy either. There were still things that needed to be said and this time, it needed to be done right.

"Listen Edward, I didn't want to ask before when Jasper was around, but have you figured out what to do about your apartment?"

The question seemed to surprise him, because he blinked like he was unable to comprehend what she had said.

"I'm only asking because I heard Alice tell your mom that you were welcome to live with her and Jaz for as long as needed."

"Hell no! I'm not living with my sister," His face looked almost comically horrified as he shook his head. "Well, not a moment longer than necessary, anyway. I just haven't had the time to get anything sorted yet."

"That's what I thought," Bella gave a nervous smile back. Nervous because... well… "I don't have a spare room," she blurted. "I mean, I DO have a spare room, but it wont be vacant much longer. I have this new, demanding roommate getting ready to move in." She looked directly into his eyes when she said this and smiled at her own joke. Edward did not smile back.

"Otherwise I'd let you use it for as long as you needed. Now all I can offer is a few weeks. If that helps."

"Roommate?" his eyes narrowed.

"I'm talking about the baby, Edward. The baby is going to need a proper nursery."

"Right. I know that. Of course I know that," he grumbled. "And I also know your place is only marginally bigger than mine, so…."

"Yeah, I'd offer to swap with you, but I don't think your place is a good fit for me with a newborn and all… I'm sorry, it just wouldn't work. "

"It's not a good fit for either one of us. That's the problem. Features like open planning and floor-to-ceiling windows are nice, but not very practical or kiddy-friendly. There isn't enough space. If there is one thing I've learned, it is that kids require a lot of space to move around."

"Just how many kids are you planning on having? Twenty?"

"Ha, no! Two are plenty enough," he snorted. "Apparently it's two more than I was prepared to accommodate for."

"You'll figure it out. You have your whole family willing to help in any way they can."

"Umm yeah, about that… I'm sure my family has been offering advice as to what your next move should be, what our next move should be. Please ignore them. It's really none of their concerns."

"I'm sure they mean well."

"Sometimes I wonder..." Edward rolled his eyes. "I'm not homeless or anything. I have a perfectly livable apartment. It's just that it's kind of small and I wouldn't feel safe there and I need to feel safe in my own home. That's important." He stopped walking and waited until she turned around to face him. "I know I'm being a bit paranoid, but you're talking to the guy who's been drugged, stalked and harassed, so…"

"Oh, good point. Safety is important. Absolutely," she agreed, biting her lip. "My head was all wrapped up in kiddy safety, like how you'd have to secure those big windows of yours and stuff like that, but you're right, there are other safety aspects that are far more important."

"I figure I should look into finding a place in a gated community, or a secured building or something along those lines."

"Sounds like a good plan. Just so we're clear, there is no eminent danger to your life, your family, or your property. However, I want you to know that if there are any signs of trouble, I'll make sure you're put on 24-hour protection straight away," she told him in a somber voice. "Suspension or no suspension, I can still see to that."

"I don't want to live like that, though" he sighed. "I don't want that for Tony."

"I know. I won't lie to you. This won't be solved overnight. The feeling I'm getting is that this will remain an open investigation, an open wound, until all the guilty parties are brought to justice and that, I'm afraid, might take a while."

"I figured that much," he rubbed a glove-covered hand over his face. "Look, if you want to help me keep Tony safe, then help me find someplace suitable to live. Security is obviously top priority, plus room for Tony and the new baby, of course…and…" He looked uncertain for a moment, and then drew in a deep breathe, before adding a simple but firm, "And you."

"And me, what?"

"You should live there too."

"No. Listen, Edward, I don't think…."

"Don't think, hear me out first. We both know it's not ideal for you to be living on your own when you're not feeling100% well."

"This sounds like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me," she objected, but he held up his hands to stop her.

"I'm not saying you should get rid of your own apartment, or anything drastic like that. We could make it a temporary thing. It doesn't have to be romantic, or anything. You could have your own room, if that's what you want. We could be like platonic flat mates. "

"I don't know…"

"I'd be keeping an eye on you and the baby and you'd be keeping an eye on me and Tony. It's a win-win."

"I do want us to be a proper family together, but just the other day you said you didn't think for a minute that we could make it work in the long run. You said you couldn't make me any promises. I know we've had several good, long talks since then, not to mention some pretty spectacular sex, but it's a long step from that to moving in together. So excuse me for being a bit cautious."

"I did say that, all of that… and I meant it when I said it, because that's how I felt in that precise moment. It's just… when you started talking about living arrangement just now, I felt… I realized… I…"

He ran a hand through his hair, taking a moment to collect himself. "It's not that I don't want us to work this out, I do. I'm willing to try. I know we have a lot of talking, listening and compromising to do. I also know that we're kind of in a time crunch, because once the baby gets here we're going to have our hands full. Those first few months before we get a hang of things will be crazy. Think about it. It would be convenient if we were all living in one place."

Bella couldn't help herself, she burst into uncontrollable laughter.

"I mean it! We could take turns, tag team this thing and … What's so funny?" he asked, sounding a bit irritated. "This is important."

Bella's giggles ebbed away so she could actually look up at him. "I know. It's just… Was that suppose to be romantic? One minute you sound like you're gearing up to make a proposal, then the next you're talking about tag-teaming, like it's a wrestling match."

"I'm trying to be practical here! " he huffed indignantly. "And I'm most definitely NOT proposing."

"Not marriage. I know that. You're not down on your knees and there is no ring, but you're sort of asking me to share my life with you."

"No, I'm not. I mean, I am, but not… not like that," he protested. "Stop laughing at me."

"I'm not laughing at you. It's just… Alice…. and her silly predictions. You know she fully expects you to get down on one knee and pop the question before…-"

"… the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, which is tonight. Yeah, she's dropped some not-so-subtle hints as of lately." He rolled his eyes. "I though we'd agreed not to pay her any attention when she gets like that."

"I know, I'm sorry. I just thought it was funny that you'd pick today of all days to proposition me, that's all."

"Fine, let's do this properly. If it's a proposal you want, a proposal is what you'll get." Pulling his gloves off, he took her hand and sank down on the snowy ground next to her. "Isabella Marie Swan, will you do me the extraordinary honor of becoming my flat mate?"

When she didn't answer, he added, "My temporary flat mate, who is free to come and go as she pleases."

"That's better. You'd have to do your own laundry and pick up after yourself."

"I can be trained." His face split into a wide grin. "Is that a yes?"

"Fine… Yes, it's a yes. But I get to tell Alice," she grumbled, tugging a lock of his fringe affectionately. "I'm so gonna make her think you actually did propose and that we're planning on eloping to Vegas for the wedding."

"Vegas, that's no distance. Why stop there?" He rose to his feet again and dusted off the wet snow from his knee. "We should have her catch us discussing property prospects in Alaska, or some other very remote location, just to mess with her."

"Love it," Bella threw her head back and laughed. "Let's go find her straight away."

"Yeah, let's do that, but first a kiss to seal our vows properly." Pulling her tight against him, he lowered his head until their lips touched for a gentle kiss.