The Long Night A Twilight Fan Fic by Cassandra Lowery

Disclaimer: The Twilight universe belongs to Stephenie Meyer. This story, while quoting some dialogue verbatim from Eclipse, does not intend to infringe upon any copyrighted material and is written for mere enjoyment, not for profit. The remainder of the story not attributed to Stephenie Meyer belongs to Cassandra Lowery and should not be copied or reproduced without express written consent.

Edward's Point-of-View:

I paced restlessly back and forth, wearing a path in my bedroom carpet from the stereo system on the north wall to the window and back. Logically, I knew that Bella would be perfectly safe while she visited the injured Jacob tonight. After all, the wolf pack was indebted to Carlisle's expert medical care and to my assistance in treating Jacob's severe injuries this afternoon, and their minds had been more peaceful towards my family than ever before.

Besides, Jacob was in no condition to phase into his dangerous and volatile wolf form tonight. When Carlisle and I left this afternoon, he had still been unconscious from the morphine drip we'd set up to sedate him while we re-broke and set his broken bones which had started healing too quickly and thus incorrectly while my family was busy dealing with the Volturi in the baseball field.

Plus, the entire pack knew all-too-well about what had passed between Bella and Jacob this morning; Seth and several of the younger members of the pack had become quite nauseated by the passionate kiss Bella and Jacob had shared. With Jacob playing back the images over and over in his wolf form as he approached the battle this morning, all the wolves had viewed their embrace through Jacob's vivid mind. Fortunately, none of the pack blamed Bella for kissing Jacob; if anything, they understood her love for their pack brother and were hoping that she would choose Jacob over me. In their own way, they loved Bella as a member of their tight-knit family which she had been before my return a few months ago.

While the pack was nervous about how a long-term relationship between Bella and I would affect the treaty, they also recognized that, despite Jacob's feelings and their own preferences, this decision was Bella's to make. So she was in no danger from the pack, no matter what her decision tonight might entail.

Thus, logically, I knew that Bella was safe.

But emotionally, I was a fine example of the proverbial basket-case.

Although I knew that Bella loved me more than she loved Jacob, and although I knew that her main purpose in seeing him tonight was to tell him exactly that, I couldn't stop the anxiety from balling up in the pit of my stomach.

For although Bella loved me...loved me enough to promise to marry me...she also loved Jacob Black.

And her love for the mongrel was entirely my fault.

If I hadn't left last September...

Yes, one more reason to regret leaving Bella—beside the agony I had caused her and myself—plus the suffering I had thrust upon my family in separating them from Bella—not to mention the suspense and agony I had subjected them to when I ran to Volterra...

All of the above was entirely my fault.

So here I was, pacing...and once again experiencing the consequences of my own poor decisions.

Studiously I set my mind on ignoring the thoughts of my family members as they chatted with each other on the two floors below my bedroom.

Esme and Alice were arranging bouquets in the kitchen, chatting gaily about which flowers would be blooming next in Esme's extensive gardens and debating the merits of hybrid tea roses versus heirloom varieties. But their anxious thoughts were on completely different wavelengths than their calm words.

Esme was attempting to hide her concern for both Bella and for me, wondering how I was handling waiting for Bella's return from La Push while she worried over Bella. Her mind kept returning to Bella's still form when she fainted this afternoon. Esme had brushed stray locks of hair away from Bella's pale forehead as she lay unconscious in my arms for those very, very long six minutes.

Esme worried over Bella nearly as much as I did. Because of Bella's fragile humanity, Esme was able to "mother" her more than the rest of us immortal "children," a role that my mother took very seriously, especially in light of Bella's own mother's benign neglect.

Alice, on the other hand, was nearly as restless as I was. Because Bella was among the Quileutes, my sister's precognition was useless, a situation that Alice absolutely loathed. Until Bella returned safely, my sister felt unable to truly settle down despite Jasper, seated close by in the living room with a book in his lap, sending waves of calm in her direction.

Alice glared at her husband, annoyed by his attempts to quiet her mind when she was bound and determined to worry over Bella. Her only solace was the fact that her vision of our wedding remained securely focused in her mind.

Carlisle was seated in his second floor office, his mind often wandering from his medical journal to Bella's safety as well. Although he trusted the Quileutes for the most part, he was strangely nervous as we all waited for news of Bella's safe return from La Push. His mind often returned to Jacob's injuries which were healing nicely...and abnormally quickly.

Carlisle's mind also wandered, as did Esme's, to Bella's still, pale form while she was in that long faint today. He recalled my own face, furrowed with worry and love as I held Bella's unconscious body, my hand cupping her cheek. I cringed inwardly as his mind then strayed to my appearance during that all-too-long time away from Bella; Carlisle admitted to himself now that my and Bella's attachment was just as strong as that of vampire mates despite Bella being human. But that caveat of her humanity would be remedied all-too-soon, he thought with a sad sigh. Not that he didn't want Bella to join our family—no, that wasn't it at all; he loved Bella as a daughter—but rather, he hated the idea of taking her humanity away almost as much as I did, even if doing so resulted in our being together eternally.

Rosalie and Emmett were out hunting, a fact for which I was quite grateful. As keyed up as I was, I knew that I couldn't handle either Rosalie's supercilious attitude toward Bella nor Emmett's ribald teasing. I breathed a sigh of relief as I continued my restless pacing, again trying to shut out the thoughts of my family as their concerns regarding Bella were only increasing my own acute anxiety.

Despite my attempts to block my family's thoughts from my mind, I was instantly alert to Alice as she suddenly jerked her head upward, her mind pulled into a vision...

Bella had pulled her ancient truck to the side of the road immediately outside of the La Push boundary. She lay slumped across the bench seat, sobbing uncontrollably.

I was out of my room, down two flights of stairs, and out the front door before Alice came out of her vision.

I watched through my sister's eyes as she gathered Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle together, informing them of Bella's relative safety and her current emotional condition. Through Jasper's thoughts, I sensed Esme's dismay and Carlisle's compassion for Bella; because she hurt, they hurt with her...just as parents should.

As I quickly moved out of range of my family's thoughts, I found myself angered at Charlie. Again. His refusal to accept me graciously into Bella's life and his concerted efforts to push Jacob at her were inexcusable; he was slowly but surely driving a wedge between Bella and himself.

Despite Bella's nearly unshakable loyalty and love, if Charlie wasn't careful, he would end up pushing his daughter away from him. While I was unable to read Bella's mind, her face was an open book. Despite the annoyance she felt when Charlie treated me rudely, I saw the hurt in her eyes at his obvious disapproval. And hurting Bella was inexcusable in my eyes...as it should be in her own father's. What happened to protecting her, for caring for her?

Then the way Charlie had handled Jacob kissing her was absolutely unacceptable. Bella had been accosted, forced into a kiss against her will. She considered it an assault—apparently she had accused Jacob of that very crime during their conversation when he carried her up the mountain yesterday; he had mulled it over in his thoughts during the night. The hardness of her expression when she termed his kiss "an assault" angered him...and angered me as well. Only I was angry at him rather than being angry at Bella as he was.

Worthless canine.

But Bella loved him; he had forced that fact to the forefront of her consciousness this morning when he childishly threatened to allow himself to be killed in the battle with the newborns today. And while he made her confront her feelings for him, he had known very well that she loved me as well...and loved me far more than she loved him.

But "all was fair in love and war" in his opinion; however, that cliché was not true in my book.

Manipulating Bella's feelings as he had done today—and so many times before today—was not acceptable. Period.

My anger toward Charlie was deeper than my feelings toward Jacob, though. Jacob may be an immature brat, willing to manipulate Bella's feelings and force himself upon her in unacceptable ways, but what Charlie had done was far worse.

In fact, on the night that Jacob kissed Bella, I had wanted to fight Charlie far worse than I had desired to challenge Jacob.

But I would never do that to Bella.

Yet her own father, when confronted with his injured daughter and the cad who had assaulted her, joked with her attacker, encouraging him to continue his advances while Charlie mocked Bella for her clumsiness.

The cavalier way he handled the situation—simply because he preferred Jacob over me—was too much for me to handle.

It had taken the combined efforts of Carlisle, Alice, and Jasper to calm me down the day after Carlisle had treated Bella's injured hand, convincing me at long last to not confront Bella's father with his obvious neglect of his own daughter.

So many of her self-worth issues stemmed from the way both of her parents treated her—she took far better care of them than they did of her. Even now.

But of course such a thing had never occurred to Bella whose loyalty and love refused to see what was wrong—and even twisted—in the people she loved. While I admired her for her faithfulness and unselfishness, I also knew that I would protect her from them all.

From this time forth and forevermore.

Bella had accepted my proposal. We were engaged. Thus Bella was under my care and protection officially now.

And I would indeed protect her...even from her own parents who loved her yet didn't actually value or often even see her.

Cursing under my breath as I neared the area where Bella had pulled her truck onto the highway shoulder, I swore to myself that I would indeed guard and protect her from anyone who could harm her.

Anyone.

The love, care, and compassion flowing from my own parents toward Bella mere moments ago assured me that Bella would be properly looked after, truly loved and esteemed, in our family...so much more so than in her own human family.

The agonized sobs emanating from Bella struck my ears as I closed in on her position, then her scent, despite her being inside the dilapidated truck, brought me to her precise location.

I stopped beside the truck, noting that the shoulder of the highway where she had pulled over was on a curve and thus wasn't the safest place for her to park.

But I was more concerned with what I saw and heard through the closed passenger-side window.

Exactly as in Alice's vision, Bella had been sitting behind the wheel when she had pulled off the highway, then she had slumped over sideways, her upper body lying across the bench seat, her legs and feet still in position for driving.

She was sobbing as if her heart were breaking.

And my silent heart broke with her obvious sorrow.

Seeing her so broken was utterly excruciating. I had seen Bella cry before, but never, never like this, never heaving sobs that shook her slender body so violently.

And she was crying over that damn mutt.

I wanted to go back into La Push and break a few more of his bones for hurting her like this. Hey, he healed fast, so what would be the big deal? Right?

I sighed quietly, resigned to not rubbing his doggy nose in the mess he had created...in the pain he head inflicted upon her...again.

But I did hope that Bella would allow me to comfort her—not only to quiet her grieving heart but also to mitigate my own guilt.

Because if I hadn't left her in September, she never would have been thrown so much into Jacob's company, and they would never have developed feelings for one another.

I felt my heart sink right into my shoes as I realized the truth of this situation. Despite my desire to blame Jacob, I couldn't.

Shit. This was all my fault.

But I needed to man-up and comfort her, no matter my anger toward the mutt...and toward myself.

Fortunately, my careening thoughts outside her truck had only taken three second to fly through my mind, and she had not yet noticed my presence here.

Bracing myself, I opened the passenger-side door of her ancient truck, ignoring the creak of protest from the behemoth's primeval suspension, and scooped a very damp Bella into my arms.

She allowed the embrace, but I also detected a foreign stiffness in her—as if I weren't the one she wanted to be comforting her.

Damn...Bella probably wanted the mutt to be with her, embracing and soothing her.

I sighed quietly, grateful beyond words that Jacob was in no condition to hold Bella against his chest and comfort her...and thankful that despite her feelings to the contrary, she was allowing me to hold her.

Bella's grief was past words, and I knew that none of mine could help. I could only embrace her, running one hand soothingly up and down her spine as she leaned into me, sobbing as if her heart were breaking.

Watching her crying like this was excruciating. Sheer agony.

Her entire body was shaking, wracked with her grief. It was killing me to see her like this—so broken.

And I had forced her into this situation. It was and is entirely my fault that she was so emotionally overwrought at this moment.

She hadn't quieted when I took her in my arms, but as I held her against me, I felt her slowly relax into my body, finally accepting what little comfort I could provide for her.

I wasn't certain how long I had been holding her trembling body against mine, but she finally attempted to speak. Between gasping sobs, I managed to discern a few words: "Charlie," "home," and "worry" among them.

"Are you really ready to go home?" I asked, my doubt evident in my voice. I certainly didn't want Bella to face an upset and possibly panicked Charlie when she arrived home in this tearful condition.

Knowing Charlie, he would immediately blame me for Bella's uncontrolled tears. Personally, I didn't want to face him, either. I may be indestructible, but I wasn't an idiot.

It took her several attempts, but I finally caught on to what she was trying to express: her uncontrollable sobbing was not going to improve significantly before Charlie would expect her home, and she was afraid that he'd call Billy and hear what she had done. She felt it was her responsibility to break the news to Charlie as he had his heart so set on her choosing Jacob over me.

Nice. I felt my anger toward Bella's father begin to simmer once again. It wasn't fair to put that kind of pressure on her, to make Bella feel guilty over her choice of boyfriend. She was legally an adult, after all.

Reluctantly I slid across the bench seat of her truck behind the steering wheel, lifting Bella over me and settling her in the middle of the seat so that I could keep one arm around her as I drove. Once I had her trembling form curled up against me, I reached forward to twist Bella's keys in the ignition and start the behemoth's engine.

As the truck roared to life, I cringed slightly, the loudness of the engine causing something like a faint, ringing pain in my sensitive ears. How did Bella manage to drive this...thing day in and day out—and enjoy it? I shook my head ruefully; at times Bella's preferences were well beyond my understanding.

I drove Bella home extremely slowly—far more slowly than I had ever driven her truck, or any vehicle for that matter, trying to offer her as much time as possible to regain her composure before we arrived at Charlie's. I felt her fighting desperately for control, her small, fragile body so tense against mine as she tried to quiet her powerful sobs and quell her tears. I drew her even closer to my side in silent sympathy, my icy form hopefully refreshing against her red face and hot tears.

As we finally approached her home, Bella began to quiet down. I wasn't sure how she had managed to calm her sobs, but she did. Her tears, however, continued to flow, but Charlie was just going to have to deal with that. I pulled the truck into her usual parking spot in their short driveway, passing the patrol car parked on the street as usual. Silently I whisked out of the driver's door, around the bulbous hood of her truck, and opened her door in order to help Bella from the passenger seat.

She slid into my arms and leaned her tired head against my chest. I wrapped both arms around her, cradling her to me, trying to suffuse some of my calm into her. Tears continued their set pathways from her swollen eyes down her wet cheeks, and my heart ached with her pain.

Her pain was and would always be my pain.

I felt her move slightly, squaring her shoulders as she prepared for the confrontation with her father. Loosening my hold, I wrapped one arm around her waist as we walked slowly up the front walk.

"Wait for me upstairs," she murmured as we reached the front door.

I looked at her, my hands moving to cup her beautiful, agonized face. Bella was barely holding it together, and I knew what she had decided: I would have to allow her to fight her own battle here, a battle both against herself as well as against her father's expectations for her.

My presence, no matter how much I wanted to protect her from all harm, would only increase her suffering as she probably wished to protect me from Charlie's poor opinion of myself when he heard whom she had chosen at long last.

I sighed in reluctant acquiescence, hugged her to me once more as I pressed a kiss into her fragrant hair before I ghosted away from her and ascended the outside of her small house, letting myself in her always-unlocked window.

Removing my light summer jacket, I draped it over the back of her rocking chair then moved to her partially-open bedroom door to unabashedly eavesdrop on her conversation with Charlie.

Bella remained on the front porch, trying to gain control of her tears. She sniffled several times, then I heard Bella take a deep breath as she prepared herself to enter the house. Determined at last, she strode forward quickly, opening the front door and closing it quietly behind her as she made a beeline for the stairs.

But Charlie had been waiting for her. Unknown to her, Billy had called, warning him that Bella had left their home in tears. The concern that had been building in Charlie when Bella had not arrived home within her usual time from La Push was relieved in a huge sigh as he heard the front door close.

But he wasn't going to let her escape upstairs without seeing if she was still upset...and to make sure that I hadn't coerced her into this decision to choose me over Jacob.

Once again I felt my anger toward Charlie kindle; he not only belittled his daughter by not trusting her to make the best decision for herself, but he grossly underestimated her love for me and my love for her. It was as if his unrelieved bitterness toward Renee for leaving him had warped his perception of relationships. Not for the first time, he wished that Bella was an obedient child who would do as he wished, not realizing how much she sacrificed for him each and every day here in Forks. She did everything for him: she made his meals, cleaned his house, did his laundry, and even paid his bills and balanced his checkbook. Thanks to her parents, Bella had never had a childhood, a fact that irked me to no end.

"Bella?" Charlie called to her, and I heard her feet halt behind his sofa and the whisk of air as she turned to face him.

I heard his gasp as he took in Bella's bedraggled appearance: her red, swollen eyes still leaking tears down her set face, her arms folded defensively across her chest. Charlie's mind immediately jumped to the worst-case scenario: Jacob had died from his injuries sustained in his "motorcycle accident." Why else would Bella be so horribly upset, crying like he had never seen her cry, even after "he" (meaning myself) had left her.

That hurt—knowing that he'd never seen Bella as upset over my absence as she was now. Not that I wanted her to suffer—God no! But Charlie's thoughts had planted an insidious seed, one that I should try to kill off before it germinated.

But it already had. And it was growing rapidly.

Perhaps Bella was saying "goodbye" to the wrong one of us.

If she was suffering so dreadfully over Jacob—and had not suffered so when I had left—then she would most likely be miserable with me.

She must be staying with me out of some misguided sense of honor, not wanting to break her word to me, not want to let me down.

Plus, Bella unfortunately knew what I was capable of. My mad dash to destroy myself in Volterra just a few months ago must have affected her more than I knew. Perhaps she was afraid that I would attempt suicide again if she left, so she stayed with me out of a misplaced sense of guilt, not wanting to cause anyone harm, not me, not my family if I should be successful this time.

So she was willing to sacrifice her feelings for Jacob—her love for Jacob, for she admitted to me today that she did indeed love him—to keep me safe.

That was exactly the kind of thing Bella would do.

And the agony that accompanied this realization was unspeakable. The only time I had been in worse pain was during those indescribable twenty-four hours in March when I had thought she was dead.

O God—what have I done?

I couldn't allow Bella to sacrifice her happiness for my sake. Although it would be agonizing, I needed to let her go so that she could pursue the one she truly loved.

Engagement or no engagement.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket, and without checking the caller ID, I answered in a low, wooden voice, "Yes?"

My sister's voice was harassed and hurried. "You're wrong, Edward."

"About what this time?" I whispered, not wanting Bella or Charlie to hear me. Plus, as the pain of my realization gripped me more fully, I was physically unable to speak normally.

"She loves you, Edward. But I saw—"

"What did you see?" I asked without curiosity; I had a pretty good idea of Alice's vision.

"I saw you leaving her, Edward, and I won't let you do it. Not now and never again." My sister's voice was steely.

"But if she loves Jacob more, I can't allow her to settle for me just so she doesn't have to live with the guilt of what I might attempt."

"She loves YOU, you idiot!" Alice growled. "If you'd pull your head out of your ass, you'd see it, too!"

I blinked. My sister was never crass. And the crude nature of her words shocked me as nothing else could have.

"But she loves Jacob. She told me today that she does," I said expressionlessly.

"Oh, please! She loves you far more than she loves the mutt. Listen to me this time, Edward. If you listen to nothing else I tell you for the next century, listen to me now! I still see it."

"See what?"

"I still see your wedding as long as you don't do something stupid like leaving her again. You couldn't be that stupid twice in one lifetime, much less in one year, right?"

I sighed. "But I will offer to step aside for her and Jacob."

There was silence, and I could easily imagine Alice scanning the repercussions of my determined decision.

"Fine," she groaned, exasperated. "Don't trust me then. But I'll tell you this: even if you offer to step aside for Jacob, I still see an August wedding."

I felt the corners of my mouth twitch up into a hint of a smile. "Okay. It's decided. I need to go." The relief flooding through me was a beautiful thing.

"All right...and Edward?"

"Yes?"

"Don't let her destroy her bracelet. She'll regret it for years to come. Always, in fact."

"Got it."

"And be ready for her to cry most of the night, though. Don't say much—just be there for her. She simply needs a shoulder to cry on, so be there for her."

"I will. Thank you, Alice," I said fervently.

"Yes, yes—I know. I'm wonderful," she snarked at me, then snapped her phone shut. I closed mine, silenced it, and slid it into my pocket.

All of this—my guilt trip, Alice's call—had happened in mere seconds, just long enough for Charlie to gather his thoughts and stumble to his feet in panic.

"What happened? Is Jacob...?" he asked Bella in a rough voice.

Through his mind, I watched Bella shake her head in the negative and struggle to speak. "He's fine. He's fine," she rasped at last.

Charlie crossed the room and grasped Bella by the shoulders, hard. I growled softly, my hands fisted in anger at my sides as his fingers clenched her fragile form. If he left a bruise, so help me...

"But what happened?" he asked, concern for his daughter finally making its way into his mind. About time he considered Bella, I thought derisively. "What happened to you?" he asked, more gently this time, loosening his grip on her shoulders.

His eyes again took in her red, swollen eyes, the obvious product of a severe crying jag, the tears continuing to flow in rivulets down her face, her slumped posture, her trembling body.

Charlie realized that something was wrong, terribly wrong, with his daughter. And, as usual, he didn't even consider the possibility of Jacob being the source of her obvious pain; no, his mind immediately went to me.

If that bastard has hurt her again, he thought. I'll kill him. I let him off too easy last time...

"Nothing, Dad," Bella answered in a dull, emotionless voice. "I," she swallowed convulsively, then continued, her voice quavering slightly, "...just had to talk to Jacob about..." she swallowed again, her slender throat working, "some things that were hard." She took a deep breath to try to calm herself, then sighed softly. "I'm fine."

The disapproval in Charlie's voice and expression was blatantly obvious. The anxiety that had consumed his thoughts was now gone, replaced by disappointment in Bella's choosing me over Jacob and his severe disapproval of me. His and Billy's long term plans for their children to be romantically involved—perhaps even married in several years after they graduated from college—crumbled into nothingness.

Charlie was angry—angry with Bella and even more angry with me. How dare I return, an interloper in his and Billy's "perfect plan," and ruin everything that they had so carefully plotted to make reality? I tried to ignore the cursing out Charlie wanted to subject both Bella and myself to, separately of course so that he could inflict the utmost guilt upon her and the utmost fear in me. Not that he would have been successful with me, but still...

His desire to attempt to guilt-trip Bella into remaining with Jacob angered me; I tried taking deep breaths to calm my fury at his wish to manipulate Bella so cruelly, refusing to take her choice and her desires into account.

"Was this really the best time?" Charlie asked her, his disapproval and barely-repressed anger obvious in his voice.

Bella flinched slightly at his tone, then sighed quietly. "Probably not, Dad, but I didn't have any alternatives—it just got to the point where I had to choose." Her voice dropped nearly to a whisper, "Sometimes, there isn't any way to compromise."

Charlie's mind was screaming rebuttals to her statements. There is always an alternative, Bella—and "he" isn't the one for you! Remember what he did to you? I won't let him fuck you over again! You don't have to choose now. Take your time. And you shouldn't have talked to Jake the same day he's in a nearly-fatal motorcycle accident. What were you thinking? Are you crazy? Well, you'd have to be since you've chosen that damn Cullen kid over Jacob, choosing a virtual stranger over someone you've known your entire life? Over someone who pulled you out of such a deep depression that I couldn't chance bringing my gun home for fear you would use to harm yourself?

I cringed at Charlie's memory of a thin, bedraggled, nearly-catatonic Bella, sitting at the kitchen table, pushing Cheerios around in her bowl rather than eating them. She seemed to be staring at the cereal bowl, but her thoughts were obviously miles away.

With me.

No wonder Charlie hated me so much. Still, to be willing to manipulate his own daughter in this way, just so she would choose the guy he wanted for her...it was totally unacceptable.

Charlie gave Bella a meaningful stare as he remarked coolly, "I hope you didn't mess up his recovery."

Bella flushed with guilt, then murmured, "He's a quick healer."

But Charlie wasn't finished yet. His mind was spinning with arguments to make Bella return to La Push and stay with Jacob while he recovered; after all, it was the least she could do given how he had "been there" for her earlier this year when she was a basket-case herself. How could she abandon her best friend like this, when he most needed her?

Bella sniffled, and I could smell the increased saltiness as her tears began to flow more rapidly. Charlie watched her hands shake, then noticed that her whole body was trembling.

Perhaps now wasn't the time, he thought. Tomorrow, when she's calmer, I'll talk to her, convince her to go stay at Billy's for several days to take care for Jacob. She's such a loyal little thing; I bet I can talk her into it.

As he watched his daughter begin to lose her tenuous control, Charlie was more frightened of an emotional outburst of crying from Bella than he was eager to kick her butt back to La Push to "make up" with Jacob.

Bella shrugged out from under his grip on her shoulders, mumbling, "I'll be in my room" as she turned away and stumbled up the stairs to her room.

What could he do? Nothing tonight, obviously, despite his desire to throw her and Jacob back together in any way possible. Bella's personality was that of a nurturer, and maybe taking care of Jacob through his painful recovery could change her mind again. But he was afraid of her tears, of the obvious return of the crying jag that had brought her home so disheveled and broken. Leaving Jacob was breaking her heart, and he would not allow "that bastard," as he called me, to pressure Bella into anything.

"'Kay," he agreed, retreating to the couch in the living room to ponder his next move in separating his daughter from me.

My anger burned at Charlie again as Bella opened her door. His willful misunderstanding of his daughter's own innate goodness and ability to love was maddening. Despite the fact that she was eighteen, he wanted to continue running her life as he had done when she was eight.

And while his hatred of myself was very well-deserved, his easy dismissal of Bella's desires and happiness was what angered me; my jaw was tight with fury, and I knew that my eyes burned fiercely.

But as Bella stumbled over the threshold of her bedroom, nearly slamming the door shut behind her, I flashed to her side. Immediately she struggled to undo the clasp of her bracelet—the inexpensive, simple silver chain that had been a graduation gift from Jacob, the two charms swinging wildly as she attempted to unhook it despite her trembling hands. The small but impressive red-brown wooden wolf was in danger of being crushed while the five-carat diamond heart that had belonged to my mother shimmered in the faint moonlight from the now-open window.

Grateful for Alice's warning, I gently took Bella's hands in mine, halting her efforts and whispering into her ear, "No, Bella. It's part of who you are."

I took her into my arms, cradling her against my silent chest as she began to sob convulsively once again. I led her to the bed, seating us on the edge as I removed her shoes and mine. Leaning back, I settled my head on her pillows, pulling her beside me so that she could continue to release her guilt and grief in relative physical comfort. And perhaps she could cry herself to sleep against me in this position, too.

So I held her to me throughout the long night, grateful that I could be here for her, comforting her as best I could. Judging from her broken sobs continuing hour after hour through the night, I wasn't able to comfort her much, but I hoped I was helping a small bit.

Charlie also remained awake for several hours in his own room, unable to sleep due to Bella's sobbing which wasn't soft and muffled in the least. I tried to block his thoughts from my mind, but I was thankful that after a short time, his anger and disapproval toward Bella seemed to weaken in light of her suffering. But her continued grief also gave him hope that he could guilt her into taking care of Jacob in La Push after all since she so obviously missed him.

But after three hours of listening to her cry, he sighed, grabbed his pillow, and descended the stairs, determined to get some sleep out of earshot of her tears. I was surprised that he didn't come into her room to comfort her, then understood that he was truly afraid of speaking to her when she was in such a delicate emotional state. He had tried to do so when I was away, and he had felt so incredibly helpless, holding her while she sobbed after having nightmares about looking for but not finding me.

I thought it rather selfish of Charlie to place his own feelings ahead of Bella's as he did so often, yet I was grateful that I didn't have to hide in the closet while he fruitlessly attempted to calm his daughter.

Bella's crying did not slow nor lessen as the hours passed. And the longer she cried, her arms wrapped around my neck, her tears dampening my shirt, slowing only occasionally when I passed her a tissue from her bedside table for her to blow her nose when she became fully congested, the more I flagellated myself for causing Bella this amount of pain.

In Charlie's mind, he had noted that she had never cried quite like this over my absence. So perhaps Charlie was correct. Perhaps Bella loved Jacob more than she loved me. Perhaps she was indeed making the wrong choice. The thoughts of earlier in the evening, despite Alice's swift correction, returned to my mind tenfold.

I couldn't allow Bella to suffer like this—her decision to stay with me and leave Jacob was obviously pulling her into emotional pieces.

Just look at all she had experienced in the past twenty-four hours alone:

Bella had nearly frozen to death overnight in the tent because I was unable to warm her. Jacob had been the one to save her limbs from frostbite and perhaps even save her life because of his heat...his living heat. He was vibrantly alive while I was not;

I had caused Jacob pain by revealing our engagement to him right before he was due to leave for battle, thus exposing him to additional danger if he was unable to pull his head together adequately for the fight with the newborns;

I had turned Bella down when she offered herself to me in the tent after she kissed Jacob. Yes, I had easily forgiven her for kissing him as it had resulted from Jacob's manipulation of Bella's guilty feelings, yet a very, very small part of me took revenge in turning her down despite the good reasons I gave her. I was too prideful to be with someone as selfless as Bella;

I had exposed Bella to danger during Riley and Victoria's attack. Although I had managed to protect her from bodily injury with Seth's help, she had been frightened out of her mind while watching the death-match, fearing more for my life than for her own, of course;

I had told her about Jacob's injuries, causing her to collapse in a dead faint;

I had exposed her in her human form to Jane and the Volturi Guard who would definitely relay the news of her continued humanity to Caius, thus possibly bringing about her death;

I had made her wait until Charlie had left the Blacks' house before allowing her to see for herself that Jacob's injuries were not life-threatening;

I had let her go alone to see Jacob tonight;

I was failing to comfort her, even now...

I had failed Bella by not leaving and staying away after that first disastrous day in that biology lab.

I had failed Bella by not protecting her from James, and later from Laurent, and Victoria.

I had failed Bella by leaving and pushing her into the arms of Jacob Black, then returning to turn her life upside-down once again just as he was helping her to return to a normal life.

I was failing her now by not stepping aside so that Bella could remain with her true love, a human—or almost human—who could give her so much that I couldn't.

Jacob was strong enough and determined enough to truly protect Bella from all the danger that constantly conspires against her.

Jacob loves her completely and absolutely, and while he endangered her slightly with his wolfish temper, the danger was nothing, after all, when compared to living with a family of vampires.

Jacob could give Bella a real honeymoon that would not involve the possibility of her death...or at least of severe, perhaps fatal, injury.

Jacob could provide Bella with children, with a real family.

Jacob would eventually age, thus living a long, happy, relatively-human life with her.

Jacob could give her so much that I couldn't—that I would be taking away from her. She would probably resent me later, after she became a vampire, for not being able to provide her with a real family, with children from her own body. By making her stay with me, I would be stealing all her future human joys as well as her human life.

So it would be far better for Bella to indeed return to La Push tomorrow and let Jacob know that he had won her, heart, soul, and...body.

I swallowed hard, trying to dissolve the lump in my throat as grief swept through me. I held a trembling, sobbing girl in my arms, against my chest, and I wished that I could join her for a very few moments.

That I could find relief and release in the comfort of tears.

But there was another reason Bella should remain with Jacob: I couldn't even cry with her. I was only helpful in being a stone wall for her to grip as sorrow poured through her frail body, ripping her into pieces that only Jacob could reassemble.

As I made my decision, Bella started to quiet a little. Without moving my head, I glanced at the clock on her bedside table: 2:14 A.M. Hoping that she was beginning the process of "crying herself to sleep"—a phrase I had always scoffed at in books, thinking that humans never would do such a thing, a phrase I now realized was frighteningly true—Bella gripped my shirt with renewed strength and began to cry even louder, almost hysterically.

I held her to me, passing one hand comfortingly up and down her back as I tried in vain to soothe away her pain—pain that I had caused this delicate human girl. Pain that I deserved to be experiencing in her place.

Charlie was right. Inadvertently I had forced Bella into the decision to choose me, to marry me, simply so that she would not be responsible for my return to, and thus my death in, Volterra. She had witnessed my agony when I was tortured by Jane, and she had determined to never let me feel anything like that pain again, no matter the cost to her.

Her loyalty knew no bounds.

I would have to tell her in the morning.

But I also knew of a certain possibility that I had pointed out to Jacob last night: since Jacob hadn't yet imprinted, there still remained a slight possibility that he would imprint—on someone else beside Bella since he had not imprinted on her. And then Bella would be abandoned, left alone, as Jacob joined his imprint.

Even if I let her go now, let her go forward to be with Jacob, I would be waiting and hoping for that day to happen.

And I would be there to soothe her and take his place, if she would allow me the honor.

Bella's round of hysteria seemed to last for hours, but really it was only twenty minutes. At this time, almost more than any other in her life, I wished that I could read her mind and know what thoughts were behind such a hysterical reaction.

But she didn't come out of her hysterical weeping without help.

As I held her to me, wishing I could truly help her as she gripped my shirt in her little fists and sobbed hysterically, I stiffened momentarily, then forced myself to relax before Bella noticed as the thoughts of two of my siblings invaded my mind.

Alice and Jasper approached the side of the house closest to the forest. We thought you might need a little help, brother dear, thought a rather smug Alice. I saw her becoming hysterical and decided that Jasper's gifts were necessary.

I feel your relief, Edward, came Jasper's thoughts. Bella, however, is still out of control. I'm going to send her just a little bit of sleepiness to help her quiet down.

Just after Jasper's thoughts reached my mind, I felt Bella's grip on my shirt begin to relax slightly. Slowly her sobs began to lose their hysterical edge as Jasper's calming presence settled over her. Her crying returned to its normal force, and over the course of several minutes, Bella's sobbing softened to the point that she fell into an exhausted sleep.

"Thank you," I whispered, low enough to not wake Bella yet loud enough for Jasper and Alice to hear from their vantage point just inside the edge of the forest next to the house.

She's still in pain, though, Edward, Jasper thought.

"Why?" I asked in the same tone as before. I had to know if I was at the cause of her obvious agony of spirit.

She is giving up her best friend, and she's mourning the loss of her most valuable 'human' friendship. She's also feeling immeasurably guilty for the damage she has caused both of you.

Really? "Why the hysteria?" I asked timidly. Somehow I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer, but I forced myself to ask, knowing that I needed this information in order to make my decision.

I feel your guilt, too, Edward. Will you stop? There's no reason for it; none at all, Jasper's thoughts were almost a growl of annoyance.

"But I caused all this suffering—she's been crying nonstop since Alice sent me to her. I can't be responsible for causing her all this pain—I can't do this to her. You heard her. Alice saw her. Bella obviously needs Jacob more than she needs me," I groaned quietly.

Now listen here, Edward. Alice's thoughts were beyond annoyed; she was thoroughly peeved at me. You are SO not leaving Bella...not when I have a wedding to plan for the two of you. You are not allowing your misplaced guilty conscience get the better of you! Do you hear me, Edward Anthony Masen Cullen?

I swallowed in consternation at Alice's angry tone and more so her use of all four of my names; she had only gone that far three or four times in the fifty years we've known one another.

"Got it," I whispered, yet I was still resolved to at least make the offer to Bella to step aside tomorrow...or later today, actually.

Fine, my sister huffed, but she won't let you leave. Just so you know...

"Why, Jazz?" I asked again about Bella's round of hysteria.

Okay. Bella had made a promise to herself early this morning while you were out seeking Jacob. She promised herself that she would never let you see her shed another tear for Jacob Black. The hysteria came when she remembered that promise while crying in your arms half the night over leaving Jacob Black. She was angry with herself and was feeling incredible guilt that she was hurting you so badly...despite the fact that she is finding such comfort in your presence tonight.

I was stunned. First of all, that Bella's hysterical reaction was the result of her thinking she was hurting me, and secondly because she was indeed drawing strength from being wrapped in my arms tonight.

I think you're all set now, Edward, thought Alice, her tone quite self-satisfied. I have a wedding to plan, after all, so Esme and I have a great deal of work to do. Toodle-ooo!

"Thank you," I breathed.

You're welcome, brother, thought Jasper. Take good care of your girl tonight.

"I will," I promised softly.

I waited until their self-satisfied thoughts blended into the silence of the night.

Then I held my Bella against my silent heart, rejoicing in her calm breaths, as she slept peacefully in my arms.

I knew that we still had some talking to do in the morning when she woke, and although I still felt somewhat anxious about my offer to step aside for Jacob, Alice's assurances that Bella would not take me up on my offer gave me a fleeting sense of hope.

As Bella's breathing evened out further, slowing as she entered the deepest level of sleep, I picked up her delicate left hand, fingering her empty ring finger as I remembered the joy I had felt at sliding my mother's ring into its proper place on Bella's hand.

I hoped that she would agree to wear my ring soon. Very soon. It waited impatiently in the inside pocket of my jacket, folded across the top of her rocking chair.

The image in my mind of Bella wearing my ring, of her promising to marry me, gave me enough confidence and courage to peacefully await the moment when Bella awoke from what seemed like the longest night I had experienced in my entire century of existence.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Bella didn't awaken until nearly nine o'clock in the morning. Despite my desire to see her, to talk with her, to perhaps hold her while she continued to cry, I was grateful that she had slept in a little, resting her exhausted body after all that she had undergone yesterday. Her beautiful brown eyes, still a little swollen but finally dry, met mine, and I anxiously prepared myself for the return of her tears.

"Hey," she croaked hoarsely, then cleared her throat.

I watched her carefully, waiting for her lovely, expressive eyes to refill with tears. But, strangely, they remained clear. The expression in her eyes was weary yet resigned, and I breathed a faint sigh of relief.

"No, I'm fine. That won't happen again," she insisted softly.

But I wasn't certain that I believed her. How could she shift from sobbing her heart out all night long to this tired but collected Bella? Was the pain she expressed so violently last night gone? Just like that? I felt disbelief tightening my features, and her expression then morphed from controlled to guilty.

"I'm sorry that you had to see that," Bella whispered, looking at her hands rather than at me. "That wasn't fair to you."

Frankly, I didn't care what was "fair to me" at all—I just needed to know the answer to my extremely vital question.

I placed my palms on her pale cheeks and looked at her earnestly, afraid to know the answer to the question I had to ask, but unable to continue not knowing—not after her storm of tears for hour upon hour last night. All of Alice's assurances of the night before faded away, and fear gripped my heart once again.

"Bella," I asked, unable to keep a slight tremor from my voice as my heart clenched...my heart which should have been pounding in sheer panic had I still been human. I swallowed hard, then forced out the question, "...are you sure? Did you make the right choice? I've never seen you in so much pain—" My voice broke on the last word, and I was unable to continue. My eyes burned, warning me that if I had been able to weep, my eyes would be filled with tears at the moment.

Bella looked at me with wise eyes, almost smiling as she leaned forward, pressing her fingers against my mouth as she shushed me gently. "Yes," she answered softly but emphatically.

But after her agonized weeping of last night, I found it difficult to believe her. "I don't know..." I frowned at her, trying to express my doubts in a way that wouldn't hurt her feelings. "If it hurts you so much, how can it possibly be the right thing for you?"

She looked at me with a hint of exasperation, nearly rolling her eyes. "Edward, I know who I can't live without."

"But..." I started to reply.

Bella interrupted me. "You don't understand," she said, shaking her head ruefully. "You may be brave enough or strong enough to live without me, if that's what's best. But I could never be that self-sacrificing. I have to be with you." She lowered her voice earnestly, "It's the only way I can live."

She was beginning to convince me, but not completely. I saw the guilt fill her eyes again...and her need.

Her need for me.

Bella needed me.

She needed me.

Not Jacob.

Me.

I breathed in deeply, inhaling her heady, beloved scent as the knot in my chest that I had been attempting to ignore since I first saw her slumped across the seat of her truck last night begin to dissolve.

She. Needed. Me.

It was a heady, welcome refrain singing in my brain, and I felt a goofy smile begin to curl the corners of my mouth.

"Hand me that book, will you?" she asked, indicated an all-too-familiar and quite battered tome on the bedside table behind me.

I reached back and grasped her bedraggled copy of Wuthering Heights. "This again," I questioned, half-teasing, as I handed it to her.

Bella took the book from me and began riffling through the pages. "I just wanted to find this one part I remembered," she explained somewhat dreamily, "to see how she said it." She seemed to locate the page she wanted quickly, especially for a human. She had to have the damn thing nearly memorized by this point; of course, the page being bent from so much use didn't hurt.

"Cathy's a monster," Bella continued in the same absent voice," but there were a few things she got right." Then she read from the page, "'If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.'"

Bella nodded as if to herself. "I know exactly what she means." Then her eyes meet mine, steeled with determination. "And I know who I can't live without," she finished meaningfully.

Gently I removed the worn book from her hands, tossing it lightly onto her desk across the room. Then, smiling tentatively through my concern for her, I pulled her close to me, my arms circling her slender waist.

"Heathcliff had his moments, too," I confessed reluctantly. Fortunately, I didn't have to open the book to quote Emily Bronte. Pulling my Bella closer, I whispered my truth in her ear, "'I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

I realized that I had just admitted, through the quotation, to possessing a soul. Grinning to myself, I shrugged my shoulders so slightly that Bella didn't seem to notice. If Bronte's Heathcliff can claim to have a soul—soulless monster that he was—perhaps Bella could be correct about the possibility of my retaining my soul even into immortality as a vampire. For how else could I adore this fragile human girl so completely and perfectly?

I felt my very heart—or was it my soul?—lighten with a quiet sense of joy.

"Yes," Bella agreed quietly, referring to Heathcliff's words. "That's my point."

But I still couldn't quite let my worries go...it had been such a long night of holding her while she sobbed inconsolably.

"Bella," I started, prepared to make my offer again, "I can't stand for you to be miserable. Maybe..."

But she interrupted me again, not allowing me to finish the dreadful offer of allowing Jacob to take my place.

"No, Edward," Bella stated insistently. "I've made a real mess of things, and I'm going to have to live with that. But I know what I want and what I need...and what I'm going to do now." She cupped my face with one warm hand, smiling into my eyes, her own free from all pain at long last as she smiled sweetly.

And, finally, that last niggling doubt faded away into nothingness. The warmth, the love, the trust burning in her touch and in her beautifully expressive eyes at last convinced me.

I was the one.

The one she wanted.

The one she needed.

Bella wanted and needed me.

And no one else.

I sighed with contentment and tilted my face until my forehead touched hers as I gently corrected, asking with a slight smile, "What are we going to do now?"

Her eyes alight with teasing, she smiled widely at my not-so-subtle correction, then sighed as she stated, "We are going to see Alice."

I laughed lightheartedly at her almost rueful expression, hugging her closer for a moment.

Then I leaned forward and pressed a kiss against her soft, warm lips—a kiss of promise, kiss of forever.

Bella was mine, and I was hers.

She eagerly returned my kiss as I pulled her closer to my icy body. But Bella warmed me, her heart beating a tattoo of joy against my chest as my lips moved gently but firmly against hers. As she became increasingly breathless, I broke the kiss, allowing her to take several breaths as I pressed my lips along her jawline, behind her ear, down her smooth neck, and against her fragrant jugular, delighting in her lavender-and-freesia scent as I continued down to her collarbone.

I raised my head, drinking in her heavy-lidded eyes before I bent over her again, pressing one last kiss against the t-shirt above her heart—her heart which beat for me and for me alone.

Rejoicing, I thrilled to the truth of her heart belonging to me and mine to her.

Although the distance between our homes made it impossible, I could swear that I heard Alice's shout of victory and sheer joy. I imagined my sister's gleeful exhilaration as she flashed down the stairs, out the front door, and onto the porch steps where she anxiously awaited our coming arrival, nearly trembling with the effort to contain her jubilation.

I shook my head very slightly in mock exasperation, smiling as I envisioned my sister's excited antics, Esme's joyful satisfaction, Carlisle's sincere congratulations, Emmett and Jasper's ribald teasing, and even Rosalie's quiet well-wishes when I brought Bella to our home very shortly.

To the home that she would share with me, with us. My smile widened at the thought of this dream-come-true.

But at the moment, Bella buried her delicate hands into my hair, pulling me toward her smiling face. Filled with utter and complete happiness, I moved forward to claim her lips again in a passionate kiss that was pure, sweet, and absolutely eternal.

Okay, this is my first try at a lengthy, canon-based one-shot. Many Edward's thoughts about and his anger directed toward Charlie is the result of PM conversations about Charlie to someone here on this site. However, because I am constantly under a mental haze from strong meds for my chronic pain, I don't recall with whom I discussed all this. So if it was YOU, PM me and I'll edit this note to give you proper credit. Thanks for understanding! :)

Please do review—I'd love to hear your thoughts on this first foray into extended one-shots.

And in case you missed it, I posted an outtake to Pinned but Fluttering instead of a regular chapter. It's from Carlisle's POV and is in the new story thread labeled Pinned but Fluttering Outtakes. Be sure to read it if you haven't seen it yet.

I'll be posting the second part of the PbF outtake this weekend in the Pinned but Fluttering Outtakes, then we'll pick up with Chapter 25 the next weekend in the regular Pinned but Fluttering story thread.

Have a blessed week, everyone!

Love,

Cassandra :)