A/N: Beta'd by the lovely SweeneyAnne, and pre-read by AlexisDanaan and aerobee82.

This one-shot is dedicated to aerobee82, for not only helping tremendously by bouncing insane and crazy ideas with me all over twitter and pre-reading, but also because there's only so many times you can tailor make a Jasper to suit your needs. Sometimes all an uncooperative plot bunny really needs is an Emmett.

Don't own Twilight.

All These Years

The whole situation was beyond fucked up. There just wasn't any other way of seeing it—why else would Bella Swan be in his bed, one clasp and two pulls of fabric away from being naked, and bawling her eyes out.

It was the absolute shittiest thing that had ever happened to him, including the time he'd asked her to Prom, and she'd said she'd rather stay home because she didn't want to be a pity-date and she didn't want to see Edward and his new girlfriend. It hadn't actually been like that, he'd asked her because he liked her—but one of the pitfalls to being seventeen years old and besotted with his sister's best friend was that he hadn't quite been able to work up the courage to say so. Instead he let her believe that he'd asked because he was trying to be nice, because he hadn't wanted her to miss out on the evening. It was a decision that still haunted him. Maybe if he'd just stepped up and been a man about it all those years ago, then this whole thing would have been done before it had even started.

It beat out April fourteenth last year, when he'd found out that Bella was sleeping with Edward, and then, mere hours later, discovered that Edward had another fucking girlfriend. There was something oddly cathartic about the destructive and violent end his friendship with Edward had seen that night, if only because Emmett hadn't really wanted to have anything to do with him ever since Bella came into the picture. It was his right to hate the douche-bag the object of his affections pined over; at least he'd finally been granted a legitimate reason to hit the asshole. That part, actually, had been quite enjoyable—not that the pleasure had outweighed the sick and twisting feeling that dug its way into his gut, never to give up its residency there.

This catastrophe was far worse than the night he told Bella she was being cheated on out of some misguided sense of decency and chivalry, and she rapidly fired out a dozen excuses for Edward's behavior before insisting that soon enough he would see reason, that he loved her. She said that soon they'd be together in every sense of the word—all he needed was time. That was the first night Emmett had started to accept that maybe she was the one who couldn't see reason, and that this ship was probably going to sink in the harbor before he'd even gotten to see it sail.

This night was going down in the record books though; it made all those other blows look like happy endings. Epically fucked up moments, all of them, but not one could compare to finally getting her in his bedroom, on his bed while he hovered over her on braced forearms, only for her to start crying.

"I'm sorry," Bella whispered, clenching her eyes shut as she clutched the fabric of her shirt closer to her chest. He hadn't even gotten to see her tits. "I shouldn't have come here... I don't know what I was thinking."

"It's fine," Emmett grumbled, lying through his teeth as he snatched his pants up from the floor.

"It isn't."

"No, it's not," he admitted. He pressed his open palm to his forehead in preparation for his next idiotic move. "What just happened?"

He watched another trail of tears stream down her cheeks as she turned her head toward the wall, and when she spoke her voice was choked and raw. "She's pregnant. Irina's pregnant. They're getting married."

Emmett's problem was that he always assumed the best of someone, and he clenched his teeth with the anger that went coursing through his veins as he realized that no, she hadn't left Edward—he'd left her. It was always about Edward. Emmett loathed that fucker more than he could comprehend.

"Why did you come here?" There wasn't any answer she'd give him that would make any of this better, but he had to know.

Bella didn't answer for a few moments, just continued to stare at the wall just to the left of him as tears dried on her cheeks. It wasn't until he was about to storm right out of his own bedroom, down the hall, and out the front door of his apartment that she finally said, "Because you're you. I-I didn't mean for this to happen, Em."

He really hated that he believed her.

"So you're telling me that Bella, the Bella, just waltzed right into your apartment, downed a few drinks with you, let you take off her clothes...and then started crying?" Paul clarified before taking a long drag from his cigarette. He looked appalled by the possibility of such an occurrence.

It was a horrifying tale to recount, and Emmett wasn't even sure why he was doing it. Certainly the burning desire to talk to someone about what had happened could have been quenched with someone more appropriate. The problem was that when shit like this happened he always wanted to talk to Bella about it, and this was one of those times where that just wasn't going to do any good. Paul had seemed like an excellent alternative when he'd struck up the conversation, he'd met all the criteria Emmett spontaneously concocted; he was a decent friend, and he was there.

"Yes." The condensed version Paul spit out pretty much hit all the points.

Emmett hadn't been all that surprised when the person pounding on his front door at eleven o'clock at night had turned out to be Bella, and he only found it mildly curious that the first thing she did was storm over to the refrigerator and down a beer before grabbing another. He hadn't even thought twice when she kissed him on the cheek and declared him her hero—Bella was a handsy drunk, and everyone knew it.

He was shocked when she kissed him again, on the mouth, floored when she tugged his t-shirt over his head, and absolutely flabbergasted when the tears started streaming down her cheeks as soon as her jeans came off. He thought many times that he probably should have noticed something was wrong sooner, but really, he didn't see how anyone could have expected him to. The girl's standard was throwing curve-balls.

"That's jacked-up, man." Paul shook his head a couple of times to go along with the uncomfortable chuckle clawing its way up through the smoke.

"I am very aware of that."

"What did you do?"

"I slept on the couch." The moment the words came hurling out of his mouth he knew he was going to get some serious shit for that one.

"I don't know why you do this to yourself," Paul laughed, and he jerked his head from left to right once more before stubbing out his cigarette with the toe of his boot. "Bella's a great chick, don't get me wrong, but this is starting to border on insane."

"She'd had a shitty night."

"Sounds like you did, too."

To describe that night as shitty was the understatement of the century.

The thing was that he knew Bella better than anyone else; he'd put money on it. She may be all screwed up and obtuse and a fucking tease like no other—but that shit didn't really matter. At least it didn't matter to him. People like Paul didn't see those other sides to her, they didn't understand what kept Emmett coming back and holding firm throughout all the years he'd known her—all they knew was a pretty girl who was fun to hang out with and made bad decisions.

Bella was smart, funny, and beautiful. She could out drink his buddies at work, including Paul, and she did this crazy thing where if one of her friends was in the dumps she'd bake dozens and dozens of cookies for them. She was horrible at video games, but she played them with him anyway, and he'd loved her ever since their junior year of high-school—he couldn't even pretend to stop himself.

He followed Paul back into the Recreation Center, noting how no matter how many times he walked through these same doors, he never quite got over that feeling of being overwhelmed and excited to the point of nausea at the wide open spaces and kids running all about. He'd always loved it here, right from the first moment he'd stepped foot in the lobby when he was eleven years old. Back then it had been more of wide-spread playground, a place to play basketball or an opportunity to indulge his brief fixation with karate; now the building represented something more akin to a feeling of accomplishment, of pride. He was part of this place now, and it never lost that pull it had over him.

"Don't let it get to you, man," Paul advised. "One of these days the stars will align, and you'll finally get to bang her."

"This is why women can't stand you." Emmett laughed and shoved Paul's shoulder hard enough to knock him into the hallway wall. "You're a pig."

"Least I get laid." Paul laughed at his own joke before narrowing his eyes slightly and giving Emmett a more appraising look. "Just chill, dude. It'll blow over."

"We'll see." Emmett doubted that it would be so simple, especially because it was Wednesday, which only gave the both of them two more days before precedent dictated they would see each other again. Either she'd show for their weekly ritual of drinking beer and watching bad movies and things would be exceedingly awkward, or she wouldn't and there would be yet another bridge spanning between them set on fire. Neither option was all that appealing. There was also secret door number three, where it would all mysteriously work itself out, but even he wasn't that optimistic.

He resolved to let it stew in the back of his mind, and focus on work. School would be letting out soon, and not twenty minutes after the final classes of the day were dismissed the Rec Center was invariably swarming with munchkins. Just the idea of it put a smile on his face, and he was able to hold on to the more positive aspects of his day until late in the evening.

The simple fact that she had stopped by unannounced was all Emmett needed to know that his sister was pissed. She always called ahead, unless she couldn't trust herself not to tip him off and send him running. She pounded on the door in four rapid bursts, and when he answered she stepped into the doorframe and narrowed fiery eyes at him. He'd never been able to figure out how a girl only a little over half his size could take up an entire doorway with her presence alone. Alice may have been tiny, but she was so damn tall.

It was looking to be one of those incidents where he was going to wish he was an only child.

"I've never seen her so upset," Alice seethed with her hands on her hips and neck craned at an awkward angle to glare at him; she was pissed. "What did you do? She won't talk about it; it took hours to get her to admit she even saw you. This is your fault, I just know it is!"

Maybe it was that Alice was simply too nosy for her own good, or that he'd spent six hours chasing ten year olds up and down the athletic fields at the Rec Center—but it was probably that Emmett had simply had enough of laying back and letting people walk all over him.

"I think that maybe you need to have another talk with your friend." Emmett left the door open and stomped his way back to the living room. He knew Alice wasn't leaving, she never did.

"But I am so enjoying conversing with you," Alice retorted, her voice heavy with sarcasm as she kicked the door shut behind her and followed him to the couch. "Besides, you know as well as I do that our roles have been somewhat reversed since high-school. You're the best friend now, so tell me what happened."

Emmett often found himself amazed at Alice's capabilities of seeing the larger picture. What she'd said was true—there wasn't anyone who could argue he and Bella were closer than she was with Alice, and it never failed to surprise him how okay his sister was with her shift in status. She'd always had a certain amount of perspective befitting of a person much older, and much wiser.

"It's not my story to tell, not entirely." It didn't matter how angry he was, or how much he wanted to shift some of this blame off himself—if Bella hadn't told Alice what had happened then he didn't have any right to talk about it. It wasn't about just him.

"She told me that Edward left her again," Alice prodded, and Emmett glanced at her sideways with speculation. He knew his sister well, and he could recognize a lead when she presented one.

"She was pretty upset about it."

"I can imagine. She came here?"

"Yeah," Emmett answered, turning his attention back toward the glowing television hung on the opposite wall. "We had a few drinks, and we had... we had a disagreement."

"About what?" Alice asked, and he could tell just from the slight change in her tone that Alice wasn't just concerned about Bella anymore; she was starting to worry a bit for him, too.

"About why she was here."

"Are you okay?" Alice asked after a moment, and Emmett forced the side of his mouth upward into some vague presentation of a smile.

"I'll be fine."

"She will too, you know," Alice offered as condolence, and when Emmett said nothing more on the subject she leaned over to hug him. "You'll both be just fine."

Emmett wished he could muster up some of that optimism for himself, but while he might be irrational in nearly everything involving Bella, he had his head on straight enough to know that they'd screwed everything up already. He would have liked to place all the blame squarely at her feet, too, but he knew better. He'd been pulling at fabric and breathing across skin just as hard as she had.

It was all going to come tumbling down, one way or another, eventually. Even if they managed to stave off the collapse this time those cracks would always be there. The question was whether or not they'd be able to build it back up after the fall, how long it would take, and what it would be if they ever finished.

Friday came and went, and though he'd known she probably wouldn't show up he still felt a twinge when he looked at the clock and let go of the last shred of hope he had. It sucked that she was avoiding him, but then again he could use some time away from her as well. He wondered how long he'd be able to manage to hold on to the notion.

Emmett didn't want to be the one who made the first move, but it had been two solid weeks of a sort of lopsided mutual avoidance, and he didn't couldn't stand it any more. He was sick of her dodging his calls and ditching their plans. He was tired of negotiating time with his sister so that he wouldn't run in to her before she was ready to talk about it. Most of all he was just exhausted. It was impossible to rid his bedroom of Bella's tear-stained face.

What it all came down to was that he was bored without her. Ever since she'd moved to Forks during their junior year of High School she'd always been around. At first it was because of Alice—they'd become friends quickly, and he'd always been close with his sister. It stood to reason they'd spend a fair amount of time together—but then they'd become friends, too; Alice had left for school on the east coast, and he and Bella had stayed put in Washington. Even with Edward wedged firmly in her heart she'd always had time for him, too—and it wasn't the same thing anyway. Edward used her and hurt her time and time again; Emmett was the one she counted on to make it better.

It wasn't without reciprocation, either. Whenever things turned crappy for him, every single time he needed someone to be there for him, she was—until now. It'd been six years, and Emmett didn't know what he'd do to fill the spot she'd taken residence in if she was gone for good.

The deciding factor actually hadn't been any of these little rationalizations floating around in his head, though. He'd been content to let this play out, to wait for her to come to him, for once—but then he caught sight of messy reddish hair on a man strutting down the street, a fresh-faced blonde cozied up to his side, and the last of his resolve cracked. However much this was sucking for him, it had to be even worse for Bella.

He still wasn't sure exactly what had taken place between Edward and Bella, but he did know that she hadn't deserved it. Bella may have been foolish, and she may have had a problem romanticizing whatever it was they had going on, but there was no doubt in his mind that Edward had done his fair share to string her along. Even the silly and love-stricken eventually see the light, and Bella wasn't by any stretch of the imagination a stupid girl; their affair had gone on too long for it to have been without promises.

At the very least, he figured that if he ever wanted to know what the hell Bella had been thinking that night, then he was going to have to man up, and go see her. There was also the added bonus that if he gave in, turned around, and started heading in the direction of her apartment, then he wouldn't cross the street and punch Edward right in the face in front of a dozen onlookers and his baby-mama. He couldn't believe the asshole had the nerve to dare and look so happy when Bella was undoubtedly completely miserable.

She always brought him dessert when there was tension or bad news or something not happy in general, so he made a quick stop at the diner around the corner from her place. He figured that if cookies and cakes were her thing, then maybe breakfast could be his.

As it turned out, Bella was already having dessert anyway. He shouldn't have been so surprised.

She looked terrible. Her hair was knotted and greasy, her face blotchy, and she stood in her doorway in her pajamas for nearly a minute, clutching a pint of ice cream to her chest like it was the last thing on Earth that was keeping her from imploding.

"Gonna let me in?"

"Sure," she answered, her voice hoarse and quiet.

"By the way, you look like shit." It seemed two weeks wasn't quite enough time to quell that bit of him that was still kind of angry with her.

"But I feel so pretty," Bella muttered sarcastically, disdain clear in her expression as she dug a large scoop of ice cream out of the carton and shoved it unceremoniously in her mouth.

"I brought pancakes," Emmett offered, raising his right arm to hold the bag in the space between them, and for a moment the amused glint in her eyes made him think that maybe this whole thing really would blow over, but then again, that sort of thinking was always his downfall, and it wasn't really what he wanted to get out of this anyway.

"What kind?" Bella asked.

"Chocolate-chip." It may have been breakfast, but that didn't mean he couldn't take a few pages out of Bella's book. Besides, if she told him one more time that chocolate fixed everything he'd be so brainwashed by the notion that the next time he needed duct-tape he'd reach for a Snickers instead.

Bella nodded her approval and shifted the ice cream to one hand before snatching the take-out bag from him. He couldn't contain his smile at her admittedly subdued enthusiasm. The key to making Bella feel better always seemed to begin and end with sugar—a personality trait she assumed everyone else to have as well.

She deposited the bag on the kitchen table and he took his customary seat as he watched her deposit the ice cream back in the freezer with an almost comical sigh of regret.

"What do you want to drink?"

"Whatever." Emmett shrugged, even though her back was to him, and began pulling the Styrofoam containers out of the bag and placing one in front of her chair. They never used plates for take-out, it just wasn't their way.

"How's Alice? I haven't seen her since..." Bella abruptly swallowed whatever was about to come out of her mouth before taking a deep breath and seemingly straightening herself out. "I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks."

"She's good, been working pretty much non-stop on some crazy project for some... I wasn't really paying attention when she was talking about it." Emmett cringed internally, and hoped that piece of information wouldn't make it back to his sister. He'd never hear the end of it.

"Oh, the exciting world of graphic-design. How do we ever manage in our hum-drum lives of fact-checking and chasing children around in the rain?" Bella asked, a bit of her usual self shining through the sarcastic remark.

"Seems like we're missing out," Emmett answered in kind, and he allowed himself a smile at her when she set a glass of water down on the table for him.

"Oh well. We're probably stuck now. We should resign ourselves to our boring, boring lives."

It felt so close to normal, making small talk and eating breakfast at one o'clock in the afternoon in Bella's kitchen—but it was just the eye of the storm, and Emmett thought that she probably knew it, too. Still, she kept up her end in the steady stream of meaningless conversation focused squarely on neutral topics like Alice, or work. It was nice, but felt like it bordered on sickeningly fake, and as Bella finished the last of her pancakes Emmett stood to place the forks and glasses in the sink, and solidified his resolve to talk about all these things hanging over their heads.

He heard her chair scrape against the floor, and a moment later Bella's arms wrapped around him as he stared out the window over the sink, her face pressed into his back between his shoulder-blades. He should have stopped himself from placing one of his hands over hers, but he couldn't let the gesture go unrecognized, couldn't deprive himself of this little moment between them.

"What's this for?" he asked, forcing himself to keep an even tone to his voice and a calm demeanor.

"I missed you." Her voice was muffled, but Emmett heard it all the same.

It wasn't five minutes later that Bella was sitting cross-legged on the couch, that dreaded pint of ice cream balancing precariously on her knee. It was another ten before the subject he'd come to discuss had been opened, and the argument that followed was near instantaneous. Really, Emmett probably wouldn't have let her goad him with the way she lamented over her break-up if she had just answered his original question; something along the lines of 'what the fuck?'

"I don't understand why you put up with him for so long. He wouldn't even date you!"


"He's a shit-head," Emmett interrupted, and he didn't care one bit that the harsh words made her wince. "He's bad for you."

"I know." The two words spilled out of her followed by a sob and watery eyes, and if Emmett didn't know better he would have sworn he actually felt one of the cracks in her widen.

"You did this to yourself, you know. I tried to tell you, but you were..."

"I know."

"Then why?" Emmett demanded. He pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes at the infuriating girl sitting across the sofa from him—she was incomprehensible. It was like the moment she even thought of Edward all sense and sanity went flying right out the window.

"Because I love him, and I can't just turn that off," Bella answered bitterly, spitting out the words like they were something vile stuck on the tip of her tongue.

There were many ways for him to respond if he chose to, and he recognized that it wasn't necessarily required of him to do so, but he couldn't stay silent. Bella's problem was that she was blind. She latched on to the first person she ever cared about as more than a friend, and she refused to let go no matter how much glass he dragged her through. It was infuriating, because if she'd just open her eyes and really look at it, she'd see that he didn't love her, and that what she felt for him wasn't anything that could possibly be healthy or lasting.

"Do you even want to?" he wondered aloud, taking extra care to watch her face as she processed the question. She mostly looked sad, and lost.

"It doesn't matter, I can't have him anymore."

"That, right there—that's your problem; you only want what you can't have."

It was one of many things they had in common, and he hated so much that he understood exactly what she meant; he was irrational when it came to her, and somewhere deep in the back of his head the thought popped up that maybe they both needed to just get over it—but then again, that just wasn't his way. When he spoke next, he wasn't just talking about her. "The only thing you ever get out of this shit is pain."

"Did you just come here to yell at me?" she asked wearily, scooping more ice cream from the carton.

"Would you hold it against me?" Emmett wondered, and Bella shook her head and lowered her gaze to the couch cushion separating them. "I came because I wanted to know what happened, and because I deserve an explanation."

She swallowed thickly and cringed just enough that he noticed. "I'm so sorry about that."

"About which part?" Emmett asked. He hadn't the slightest idea of which answer would be preferable.

"All of it," Bella answered in a sharp exhale. "It wasn't fair to you, and I'm so scared that I've ruined everything."

"What happened?" he asked again. He was starting to get the feeling she'd never tell him.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, then what do you want? What are we going to do about this?" It was the best he could come up with. Maybe someday she'd get over this shit, but not today, and he didn't want to leave without at least coming to some sort of understanding, even if it was that they just weren't going to spend all that much time together anymore. The possibility of losing her from his life over someone as self-centered and obnoxious as Edward was nauseating.

"Can we just pretend none of it ever happened?"

He supposed that was the question all these words and phrases were leading to. Could they repress and shove that night to the backs of their minds, go about their lives like it never had happened, and hope to erase the tension spreading between them—he supposed that they probably could. He would have liked to believe that it was something he'd never agree to, but there wasn't so much of a struggle taking place over which answer he'd give. She was, first and foremost, his friend, and if he had to live with that near-miss hanging in the back of his head, he'd rather attempt to salvage what they'd had before. At least he could keep her.

"Yeah," he agreed after nearly a minute of silence. He was good at pretending.

She relaxed noticeably with his assent, and it wasn't long before he could almost delude himself into thinking the entire incident had never taken place. There was just him and Bella, bad TV, and her cheek resting against his arm.

It was disturbing, how easily the whole world had tilted and turned, spun on its head for an entire two weeks, and then righted itself with no indication anything had ever been different. It was like he'd hallucinated it. Like it was all in his head. He supposed that wasn't entirely inaccurate.

They'd fallen back into the old routine of B-Movies and popcorn, beer and far too serious games of poker played on his coffee table. Still, he was surprised when she came racing through his hallway just as he was locking his front door on his way to work to catch a ride with him to the Rec Center. It looked like things truly were getting back to normal.

Bella was of the opinion that it was a travesty that nearly everyone employed at the Forks Recreation Center was male, and as such had taken it upon herself to stop by on her days off to ensure the girls weren't being subjected to such horrid things as football and karate. Emmett didn't really understand exactly how that logic worked out, the girls mainly hung out in the Arts room, or on the playground, but he wasn't going to complain about Bella coming by his work every few days. She'd been absent the past couple of weeks, but now she was back with a vengeance.

The first thing she did was to completely take over the outdoor basketball court, at least a dozen middle-school aged girls in tow.

"Alright, ladies!" Bella shouted, grinning widely as she arched her eyebrow and laid a hand on her hip. "Who's ready to be schooled in the fine art of double-dutch?"

Emmett felt it was his duty to contribute something to the spectacle in the making. It only took him ten minutes to run out to the parking lot behind the building and pull his Jeep up along the side of the basketball court. He wasn't sure if he should be thankful or embarrassed that he happened to have music befitting such a situation, but then again, this was too great an opportunity to pass up for something like getting razzed by the other guys; besides, it was Bella's CD. He cranked the volume as high as he could and broke into a wide grin when Bella threw her head back and laughed long and hard as the beats of 'Wannabe' filled the yard.

"Really, Emmett? Spice Girls?" Paul asked, leaning against the rear door of the Jeep as Emmett rolled down all the windows and climbed out of the car.

"Dude, this shit's so gonna be worth it. Just watch," Emmett answered with a grin not a moment before Bella started belting out the lyrics and grabbing tiny hands to hop around the court with her in some vague imitation of dancing, the jump ropes left coiled on the pavement for the moment. Paul let out a snort of amusement, and Emmett just leaned back against his car and watched Bella jump around and spin the girls to the beat of the bass-line vibrating through the area. He'd really missed the sight of her so carefree and happy.

The song ended and when the next began she shot a smile in his direction before resuming with her original plans. The kids kept right on giggling with her as she showed them how to twirl the ropes.

She really was fantastic with the girls; just the right mix of patient and challenging as she danced around with the girls like a maniac in between turns spinning the ropes and jumping through them, careful to never out-do them by too much. It was something Emmett did with the kids as well. He'd never seen the point in letting them win, but he wasn't going to crush them either. The thing he thought a lot of people misunderstood about children was that they needed to be challenged by something just far enough that they had to work for it. They needed something within their grasps to try their hardest to reach, so that when they got there they could be proud of themselves; so they could feel substantial.

"You look like the epitome of love-sick puppy, just so you know," Paul commented.

"Shut up." Emmett really didn't want to hear it any more.

"Just sayin'."

Bella glanced his way as she handed the ropes off to a short girl with blonde pigtails and a beaming smile on her face, and she grinned in that way of hers that made him want to tackle her to the ground and kiss the ever-loving hell out of her. It was a dangerous gesture, and one that he never wanted to be without, even if it meant all those glimpses he'd gotten of her had to stay locked up tight in his bedroom, where no one but him would ever see.

It was ritual for them to have dinner together after a day spent at the Rec Center, and since he'd driven he wasn't going to let her try and get out of it. It was one of his favorite things they did together.

They generally went to bars, or diners, but Emmett decided that the night called for something a little less crowded and a bit more personal. There was a Mexican place on the east side of town that the guys at work were always raving about and he'd been dying to try it out. It was as good a night as any. At the very least, Bella loved margaritas.

She stiffened when he pulled the Jeep into the parking lot, but said nothing. It wasn't until they were seated at their table did he realize something was actually wrong. Bella looked like she'd just seen a ghost, and Emmett only had to turn around before he realized why.

Edward and Irina. Neither of them even lived anywhere near this neighborhood.

"We can go," Emmett offered, unsure if he was angrier with Edward for showing up and ruining everything once again, or with Bella for not just getting over it already.

"It's fine," she answered shortly with gritted teeth.

"Can I at least go over there and hit him?" Emmett asked. He was kind of hoping that she'd say yes and he could utilize the opportunity to take some aggression out; he may have been joking, but that didn't mean he wouldn't do it.

"Just ignore them," Bella replied flatly, her gaze still burning a hole in the couple's direction.

"Because you're doing so well at it." He didn't mean for the retort to come out so bitingly, but then again it'd been weeks, and he was a little bitter that she wasn't at least slightly more put together. She could at least stop staring.

"I need a drink," she moaned, and she slumped down in seat a little with an expression of extreme distaste coloring her features.

"Makes two of us." Emmett muttered the words under his breath from behind his menu, and when she didn't react he figured that she hadn't heard him. It really was too bad that he was driving, and that Bella was already flagging down the waiter from her slouched position.

He wasn't sure if Edward or Irina had seen them or not, all he was certain of was that around margarita number three Bella loosened up and stopped staring a hole over his shoulder. He turned to glance over at the now empty table as relief drenched him.

He took his time finishing his beer, hoping that Bella would give up on the tequila and start drinking her water; nothing good could come of her ordering another margarita. Normally he would look forward to how affectionate she always was once she got some alcohol in her, but tonight it was different; they were different. He didn't think he could stand it if she got one finger on him, and Emmett resolved to be that good guy who deposited the tipsy girl right inside her doorstep, and left for the safe confines of a cold shower.

The end of dinner and short drive back to her apartment were misleadingly void of complications, but once they made it inside her building and down her hallway the edges started to fray. She fumbled with her keys a couple of times before managing to unlock the door, and as she pushed it open she turned abruptly, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed his cheek far too close to his mouth.

He almost wanted to throw all that fortitude he'd managed to build up in a dumpster and light the whole thing on fire, but somewhere he found the determination to set his jaw and step back. It was one thing to pretend that certain events had never taken place, and another entirely to allow her to string him along every time she felt like it. He wasn't stepping foot outside the friend-zone when it wasn't going to be anything but temporary and tears—and this, whatever it was she thought might happen right now, it wasn't real. It wasn't worth it.

"I'm not doing this again. I'm not going to be led on and tossed to the side while you try and figure out just what in the hell it is you want. You said you wanted to forget that shit—well, guess what? You can't have it both ways."

Bella nodded her head with a sharp motion he didn't think her capable of in her state, and took a step back. "I should go inside."

He was left facing a slamming door with a curse choked out from behind the grains. He wasn't sure how to deal with this repeat performance, but he knew something had to be done—he couldn't leave like this—but it wasn't until a crash echoed out through the hall that he was spurred into action. Bella could slam as many doors in his face as she wanted, but she couldn't hide; he had keys.

He'd expected a breakdown, and had nearly been able to delude himself into believing that maybe she'd have it on her own time—but as he opened the door and stared into Bella's apartment he thought that he may as well be standing in the middle of a whirlwind. Shattered glass littered the floor, surrounding Bella's hunched form leaning against the wall across from the doorway. It took him far too long to identify the pale blue shards as pieces of the lamp that used to sit on the hallway table.

"I'm sorry," she muttered into her crossed arms, and Emmett hadn't the slightest idea what he was supposed to do to make any of this better.

"It's okay," he offered, only to see her shake her head fervently.

"It's not. None of this is anywhere near okay."

He didn't know what to say to that, so he did the only thing he could think of, and went to the closet to retrieve her dustpan and broom so he could sweep up the mess all around her.

"I want to hate him," she mumbled, squeezing her eyes shut before blinking twice. "I really, really want to. I wish I'd never met that man, and I'm so sorry I keep dragging you into it."

He sat next to her on the floor and crossed his arms over his knees, and when she leaned over and pressed her cheek to his shoulder he slung an arm around her.

"It's alright, you know. It just..." It was hard to find the right words. "There has to be a line somewhere, and I think that was it. It has to stop there."

"Yeah," she mumbled with what Emmett thought might be a hesitant nod. He refused to think about what any of this might mean in the long run.

The charade came crumbling down on a Tuesday afternoon. Emmett wished that he'd seen it approaching, he should have, but he'd never allowed himself to consider the possibility that Edward might be the one knocking on Bella's door until he opened it.

"Oh, hell no!" Emmett managed to both yell and scoff the words simultaneously, and if it weren't for Edward's reflexive placement of his foot inside the doorframe, Emmett would have slammed it shut right in his face. The nerve of that fucker.

"I need to talk to Bella."

"Tough shit."

Edward leaned through the doorway; his hands braced on the frame, and spoke in a quiet voice full of contempt. "Do you honestly think you have a shot with her after all these years? You won't be anything more than her friend for the rest of your life. You should learn to accept that."

"Go away, Edward," Emmett repeated. He wasn't willing to let the piece of shit get under his skin. He knew what he was to Bella. Just because it wasn't exactly where he wanted to be didn't mean they couldn't get there.

"I want to talk to her now."


"You don't get to make decisions for her," Edward protested through clenched teeth as his eyes narrowed further.

"Please leave." The two men jerked their heads toward Bella with what Emmett imagined were twin expressions of disbelief, though he was sure only his morphed into a proud smile. The moment didn't last though, because once the initial surprise wore off, Emmett was left wondering what exactly she'd overheard.

"I need to talk to you," Edward repeated, ignoring the request.

Emmett was dangerously close to shoving Edward right out the door and locking it shut, and if he managed to put enough force behind it that Edward went crashing into the opposite wall, all the better—but just as he was about to raise his arm Bella touched his shoulder and shook her head.

"Just go away." She sounded so weary, and one look at Edward's face told Emmett that he could see that at the core Bella was just tired of all this shit, too.

"Will you at least call me?"

"Probably not," Bella answered before slowly moving the door forward on its hinges until Edward moved back, and the latch caught.

"Not that I'm complaining," Emmett prefaced, holding his hands up in pre-emptive surrender, "but why did you do that?"

"Because you were right," Bella replied, her voice firm as she stared at the wood grains of her front door with an expression that was, for once, more rational than wanting. "He's bad for me."

"What brought about this, dare I say, healthier outlook?"

"I met him for coffee a few days ago, and it made me realize that it just needs to end already. I need to move on and try to let go of whatever this thing inside me is that still loves him—but it's hard, and I know that if I don't stay away from him then I'll let him talk me into coming back. I'm trying to get over it. I need to accept that this time he's gone for good, and not just because he said so, no matter how scary that is," Bella said quietly.

"You know, there are other people out there who would love you—who do love you—and would treat you right." It was the wrong, wrong, wrong time to be saying this to her, but he didn't care. If tonight was going to be a night of hard truths, revelations, and starting over, then he wanted a place in it.

"Like who?" Bella asked forlornly, and Emmett shook his head and gritted his teeth. She was right, the facade just needed to fall already.

"Like me."

She kind of looked like he'd slapped her. He didn't really care. Being the patient good guy hadn't gotten him shit.

"I..." Bella whispered her wide and confused eyes boring into a spot on the wall somewhere over his left shoulder. "I have to go."

He thought that maybe he shouldn't let her leave so easily, but then again, there wasn't anything else for him to say—so he stood by in silence as Bella grabbed her keys and rushed out her own front door.

Emmett deliberated for a good ten minutes as he weighed the pros and cons of crashing on the sofa versus getting in his Jeep and driving home, and in the end he had to admit to himself that it would probably be better if when she came back he wasn't here. He snatched his own keys off the hall table before letting the door close heavily behind him, and as he walked down the hallway and out of Bella's apartment building he promised himself that the next move was all hers, even if it never came.

It'd been nine days since he'd last seen her when her pick-up screeched to a halt in the parking lot of the Rec Center, not that he'd been counting. He'd just so happened to be facing in the right direction to witness her arrival, but with the squealing brakes and slamming car door it would have been impossible for him to miss. He could pick those noises out of the breeze from a mile away if he had to.

She stormed through the field connecting the parking lot and baseball diamond, shoulders straight and head held high.

"Oh, shit," Paul muttered. "This is either gonna be really good, or really, really bad."

"No kidding," Emmett agreed. He had no idea which direction the impending conversation was going to go in, but he was certain that he didn't want Paul as an immediate witness. "Get lost."

Paul let out a short laugh before clapping Emmett on the shoulder twice. "I'll just watch from over there, then."

Bella was determined, that much Emmett could tell from her posture and the fire in her eyes, but the moment she came to a stop two feet in front of him a little bit of that fortitude seemed to waver. When she spoke she didn't sound half as sure as she'd looked walking over. "I have something I need to tell you."

"Go for it." He could tell that she nearly flinched with the dry words, but instead of backing down she took a deep breath, and started talking.

"That night I came over to your place after things ended with Edward..." She looked like she couldn't figure out which of a hundred things sitting in front of her was more terrifying, but she steadied herself and looked him straight in the eye, and that was when he knew that she wasn't there to simply brush him off or offer him platitudes and white flags. She really had something to say.

"I went to your apartment because one morning I woke up, and I saw you—really saw you—and you're sweet and nice, but still strong, and hard in this strangely easy way... and I just don't know. You used to be that goofy guy who was too kind for his own good. You were my best friend's brother, this teddy-bear all wrapped up in teenage boy—and Christ, Em, when the hell did you grow up into this amazing man? How did I miss that?"

Her eyes burned with the questions tumbling from her mouth, and Emmett felt his lips curl and his heart gave a nearly painful thud in his chest when he realized what might be happening.

"I'm starting to get the feeling that I might have missed a lot, when it comes to you," Bella said quietly as she furrowed her brow and shook her head infinitesimally. "Makes me feel like I slept through all the good parts."

He'd been so fed up with her, so tired of her games and delusions, but when she smiled at him like that all that irritation fell away, and he was reminded of just what had made him fall so hard in the first place. When Bella got it, she got it, and he'd spent far too long wondering what could have been to throw it all away over something as stupid as it taking her a few years to catch up.

"I was confused and thinking that I'd managed to completely overlook all the things that really mattered, and then Edward told me that we couldn't be together anymore, that he was going to marry the woman I always thought I'd beat out in the end—and all I could think was that you'd never do that to me. I just kept wondering; what if I'd gotten my head straight last week, last month, last year... and before I knew it you were opening the door and I'd had a couple of drinks—and it didn't seem all that complicated anymore."

"Why did you start crying?" Her exact reasons seemed irrelevant in the face of all that she'd told him, but he wanted to ask anyway.

Bella's eyes fell to the grassy ground, and when she answered it was with a voice burdened with regret. "Because I was doing it all wrong again, and it wasn't fair. I wasn't over him, and I just... I couldn't do that to you, Em."

"You're over him now?" He asked, unsure of what might happen if she said 'no'. Probably something along the lines of fists in walls and moving across state lines and drinking enough to kill every last brain cell that ever thought about her.

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't."

He couldn't even begin to talk himself out of pulling her into his arms and holding on as tight as he was able for one perfect minute before letting go and taking half a step back to look at her.

"Maybe it wasn't just the right time," he said, nodding his head a bit with the verbalization of the belief he'd come to hold so tight. "Maybe you just weren't ready."

"Why's it all on me?" Bella asked, and he knew her well enough to realize that she wasn't so much placing the blame on him as she was gently pointing out that he hadn't actually done much to show his interest.

"Maybe I wasn't all that ready either."

"Why isn't he kissing her yet?" one of the younger boys asked in a voice that nearly echoed through the space, and Emmett did his very best to burn Paul alive with the look of distain he shot toward the man who had wrangled up all the kids in the whole yard to watch what he must have deemed to be the production of a lifetime.

"Yeah, Em," Bella laughed. "What are you waiting for?"

He figured there was no harm in a show, and when he leaned in to kiss her lightly on the mouth to a chorus of hoots and hollers he reveled in the knowledge that really, he didn't have to wait any more.