A/N Twilight is not mine

Originally written for the New Moon Contest, now posted on my birthday for you.


Who we are

Of all the possible ways in which my return could have turned out, this one even my future-seeing sister Alice hadn't foreseen.

Let me explain.

On Bella's eighteenth birthday, an unfortunate chain of events had made me rethink my life with her. There was no doubt that my selfishness knew no bounds by allowing myself to be in her presence. When Jasper almost attacked her however, I realized what danger I put her in. Unforgivable.

With a rush of pain, it dawned on me that the old saying was true: if you really love someone, set them free.

Even though it killed me, I knew it was what I had to do. I could not allow her to be in such danger due to our proximity. Besides, she needed to live the rest of her life naturally. Since I was of no mind to change her into what I am, I felt it was not fair either to hold on to her.

As humans are able to change, I figured she would be able to bounce back from the break and become happy again, eventually. That my heart would be forever in splinters was not important. It was a small price to pay for her happiness.

After I had left Bella, a decision I regretted sorely even before it was made, I spent my days in Rio, away from my family, away from society. I didn't go out. I didn't hunt, either, my strength weakening until my body was literally shaking with the exertion of such a simple thing as moving around the room. I didn't know this was possible for a vampire, but alas, I had created the living proof that it was.

But, like I told myself every minute of every day, it was better this way. Bella could build a human life, just like she was supposed to do. Hopefully not with a douchebag like that Newton boy, but I was hopeful at least that she could find love. She would forget me, get over me. Be happy, grow old with a bunch of kids, and die peacefully in her sleep.

Even though my chest cracked when I only thought the possibility of her life ending, I tried to stay strong. I had made my decision. Besides, by leaving I had hurt her, deeply. Who was to say she would even take me back if I returned?

So, I stayed away, counting every second and knowing that every second had been one second won. And every second, I died a little bit further inside.

As such, when I was watching the Rio sunrise one day, I decided that maybe it was better if I died for good. If I couldn't have Bella, my life was over, anyway. As much as I had hoped to observe her from a distance, I knew that once I saw her, I would not be able to stay away. And I would not break my promise.

Hence I toyed with the decision of flying to Italy and ask the Volturi to end my misery for once and for all. Bella would survive. She would probably never know I was dead, and if she would, then for sure she would be able to move on.

I had forgotten about my pixie sister. She knocked on my motel room just before midnight of that same day. Her hair was a mess, and her face was caked with dirt. I realized she must have run here at full speed, instead of enjoying the luxury of taking a plane.

"Don't move," she told me sternly, and beelined for the shower, opening her backpack as she went.

I waited for her in the same motionless state I had been in for a very long time until she emerged from the shower, all crisp and clean again. Her still wet hair was combed back, making her eyes appear unnaturally wide.

We simply looked at each other for a long moment. Neither of us spoke out loud, but I saw the visions in her mind play out as I considered all the possible things I could tell her. Her gift of seeing the future, combined with my gift of mind reading, allowed for us to have entire conversations without uttering a single word.

After a while, she opened her mouth. "Let's hunt."

"No."

"Yes, Edward. Come on. I have to show you something, and I need you to be strong for that."

I looked at her with narrowed eyes, trying to reach into her mind to see what she was hiding from me. Instead, she focused on the here and now, feeling a trickle of water from her hair travel down her neck, smelling the scents in the room, seeing the impression of my gaunt face and posture.

In my mind, I saw her reach out her hand, a fraction of a moment before she actually did it. I let her pull me up, knowing it would be futile to try and fight her, and not only because I was so severely weakened, and followed her into the rich forests that Brazil provided.

I was almost too weak to hunt. But when I smelled the rich scent of a jaguar, my instincts awoke from their dormant state. From somewhere deep inside me, I found one last scrap of strength to pounce on the animal and drain it dry. I could almost feel the hot, earthy blood fill my veins, and for the first time since a very long time, I felt a bit alive again.

Immediately, I was ridden with guilt. I had sworn to myself I would never enjoy myself again. Not without Bella. And I didn't deserve Bella. I didn't deserve to be happy.

Stop moping and hunt another prey, Alice said to me in her thoughts. She was too far away for her real voice to be heard, feeding on a fox.

With a sigh, I got up, discarding the drained body of the jaguar and leaving it for other forms of life to feast on. Stretching my muscles, I felt my strength returning with every movement. I started running at a gentle pace, focusing on my surroundings and finally taking down two deer. When I felt I was about to burst, I turned my attention back to Alice, wondering where she was.

"You said you had something to show me," I said when she stepped into my line of sight.

"Yes," she admitted. She kept a safe distance, her voice suddenly small and vulnerable.

Without warning, she played her memories for me to see. She had gone to see Bella. At first I was angry with her. I had specifically asked her to stay away. But then I saw what Bella looked like. She was broken, with purple shadows under her eyes from exhaustion. Her gaze was empty and she had lost a lot of weight. In Alice's mind, I saw how she had seen Bella walking around, her movements slow and sluggish, uninterested. Empty.

My shoulders sagged.

"Wait," Alice said, holding up a hand. "There's more."

She showed me how she had observed Bella in her bedroom at night. Bella was sitting up in her bed, looking around the room. "I can't believe you were never here," she whispered into the darkness. "Why do I feel so empty if you were never real to begin with?"

I looked at Alice in horror, and the emotion multiplied when I realized my promise had come true. It will be as if I've never existed, I had told her. She had made herself believe that indeed, I had never been there.

I don't know why this hurt me so much. Would it have been easier if she had kept the memory? Maybe not. But it hurt me to think that she didn't believe I had ever been real. My love for her was as real as it could be. So real, that I could taste it in the air around us when we were still together.

My frozen heart broke once again.

"You have to go back," Alice said quietly.

My gaze flew back to her, my eyes turning black in an instant, even though I had only just fed. "No."

"Edward, she's not living without you. And you are not living without her. You are each other's mate. You're not supposed to be apart."

"I won't condemn her to this way of life," I said harshly. "We've been over this."

Alice sighed. "My visions haven't changed. They never have, even when you went away. She will be one of us."

"The future can change," I said stubbornly.

"Edward, even if you go to the Volturi and they end you, which I won't let happen, by the way, Bella will be one of us. Look." Again my mind was assaulted with the visions she was showing me. The family, mourning over my death, and, later, Bella, red-eyed, laughing with Alice.

"Who will change her?" I asked her.

Alice shook her head. "I don't know. But it doesn't matter, does it? When it's all been said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it's not so much which road you take, but how you take it."

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I tried my hardest to think clearly. When I looked back up at Alice, I saw compassion in her eyes. "I don't know what to do."

Finally, she closed the distance between us. "Come home with me. Please. If only to see us again. We all miss you terribly, Edward. We're in Seattle. You don't have to see Bella if you're not ready. The others don't know I've been to see her."

Why this relieved me, I didn't know, but I opened my arms and hugged her for the first time she had arrived with me.

She pressed her cheek against my chest. "I've missed you so much."

I tightened my arms around her, and realized in that moment how much I had missed her, too.

We spent a few days by ourselves in Rio, before we started the journey back home. Alice insisted we go to a proper hotel instead of the filthy motel room I had been staying in. She filled me in on what had happened during the time I had been away.

The family had fallen apart, basically. Only recently had they come back together, when Alice had announced she was going to bring me home.

"That was awfully confident," I said with mock annoyance.

She simply shrugged and smiled.

For some reason, I was apprehensive to go back to my family. I was sure they would hate me after I had left them like that. After I had left Bella like that. Alice assured me that they wouldn't, that they understood my reasons and that they would never hold a grudge against me. "But we can't let you die," she added. "We cannot live without you."

She took me home, where I was welcomed back with open arms by all my family. Esme, my mother for all intents and purposes, hugged me so tightly I thought my bones might crack. Carlisle, my father and creator, hugged me just as hard. Rosalie and Emmett didn't hide their pleasure at seeing me again either.

My brother Jasper came to me last. Unable to rein in his emotions, his guilt seeped out of him and rolled over us all. He felt terrible after what happened on Bella's eighteenth birthday. After smelling her blood, he had lost it. To me, it had been the final straw. Already I had been tormenting myself with the rightness of my being with her. Seeing her so endangered by what was inherent to my kind, I realized I would not put her in harm's way any longer.

I didn't deserve her.

However, I could not convince Jasper that I did not think it was his fault. I guessed it would take time for us to get over the event.

I stayed in the new house that Esme had decorated for our coven, but I was restless. I hunted more than necessary, more to keep myself occupied than anything else. When I had been back for about a week, Emmett and Carlisle joined me on one of my trips.

"So, when are you going to see her?" Emmett asked as soon as we had fed.

I frowned at him. "I have no intention whatsoever of going to see her again."

"Why not, son?" my father asked. "I thought this was why you had come back?"

"No. I made my decision and I am sticking to it. She deserves the possibility to build a life without me in it."

They were both taken aback. Emmett blinked a few times, his eyes blank. "Dude, you know that she's hardly living right now, don't you?"

"Have you seen her?" I retorted, surprised.

He shrugged. "I was in the neighborhood. I wanted to see how she was doing."

"She's not well, Edward," Carlisle said gently.

"Oh, you've seen her too?" I snapped back.

"We've all seen her," he replied, unmoved by my venom. "She is not doing well. I truly think she never will be, unless you come back into her life."

I sat down on a log, suddenly defeated. Carlisle came to sit next to me, placing his hand on my shoulder in comfort.

"You are her mate. Nothing can break the bond between you two. You have seen what happens then, experienced it yourself. Do not think it impossible because she is human."

"I don't want to condemn her to this life," I said weakly.

"I don't think you have a choice," Emmett said matter-of-factly. "Even Rose didn't have a choice, no matter how against this life she is. She saw me and brought me to Carlisle to be changed. She couldn't have let me die." He moved to face me fully. "You'll see Edward, that when the time comes, you'll be unable to let her die. The problem is — I don't think she'd make a pretty vampire if she were turned at eighty years old. Besides, she wouldn't be very happy to be frozen in old age forever."

I hated that he had a point.

Carlisle caught my gaze. "Just take your time. But, Edward, please go to her. You have to allow yourself, and her, to become whole again."

I went to see Bella that same night. Had my heart still been beating, it would have been hammering in my chest. As it were, a strange sense of anxiety settled over my body as I ran to her house after dark, not patient enough to use a car.

The tree near her window was still there. It had grown during the time I had been away. While I had wanted to wait for a bit before I climbed up to her window, to collect myself and prepare to see her again, it seemed my body had different plans. Before I could stop myself, I was perched on the branch that gave me a perfect view of her room.

My chest constricted when I saw her. She was sitting on her bed, a book lying ignored in her lap. Her eyes were unfocused, and it was clear that she was deep in thought. She looked so desolate. It made me want to weep to think that I had been responsible for that. I had left her so she could be happy. Not to leave her broken like this.

And all this time, I was not even sure yet if she would even take me back. Alice had not been able to get a clear vision. There were too many possible outcomes, as it all depended on what Bella would decide to do once she saw me.

To me, it was a hard to decide whether I should come back into her life or not. If she didn't want me back after all, it would have been better to never have come back in the first place, thus keeping her in the illusion that she had imagined it all. Seeing me again surely would bring back memories, tearing open a wound that might just have started to heal. I might do more harm by coming back than staying away.

Then again, if I didn't show myself to her, we would never know if we could have had a life together. If I could have healed the hurt in her eyes by coming back and loving her like a mate should.

I sat motionless, torn between two options I couldn't possibly know the outcome of.

Before I could decide to make a move, however, Bella turned her head and looked out of the window, and directly at me.

I sat frozen for a moment, unsure what to do. In that moment, I knew though that I could not leave her again. Even if I could just follow her from a distance, there was no way I would leave again.

My revelation was overshadowed by the shock I felt from the vacant look in Bella's eyes. She fidgeted for a moment, and then looked back forward, her fingers moving restlessly in her lap. Her heart had picked up speed and her sternum moved with the elevated beat.

I saw her mouth move, and even through the closed window, I could hear her words. "He's not here. It's not real. He's not here."

Oh, no. Did she really not believe that I was here?

With a quiet leap, I moved to her window, happy to discover that it was unlocked. It slipped open without a sound, so nothing masked Bella's gasp of shock when I maneuvered myself into her room. It reminded me of before I left, and for one moment, I dared to hope that everything would be all right.

She looked at me again briefly, before she averted her gaze once more. Had her hands been fidgeting before, now she was wringing them. Her knuckles were white with the strain.

Her scent hit me like a freight train. I realized immediately though that it didn't ignite my blood lust at all. It was all her, her sweet allure, the scent I wanted to bathe in all day. More now than ever was I sure that she really was my mate.

I was stuck between my desire to have her live a human life and the desire to have her with me forever. Considering that the former seemed to be impossible, I had to see what I could do about the latter one. Curb it or heed it? I didn't know.

"Bella," I said softly, enjoying how her name rolled off my tongue.

"You're not here," she said again. "I won't believe it. It's all a dream."

I stepped up to her, trying to catch her gaze. She kept turning away.

"Bella, I am really here. I've come back, if you will still have me."

"No, no, no," she chanted in a whisper. "Don't fall for it, don't believe it."

I knelt by her bed, and after a moment of hesitation, I placed my hand on her leg. She stiffened, but in no other way acknowledged me. Screwing her eyes closed, she focused on taking deep breaths.

No matter what I said, or how I touched her, she would not believe that I was there. After trying for two hours, I decided to leave her for the night in the hope that she would be able to sleep once I was gone. Exhaustion had been rolling off her by the time I left, her fight to ignore me depleting her of her energy.

I was shattered. How could I make her believe me? I discussed this with Alice and Carlisle when I arrived back in Seattle.

"Her father doesn't know she's been making herself believe it was all a fantasy," Alice said, looking crestfallen. "She never talks about it to others. She's too worried that they will think she is crazy."

"So, what would happen if I were to address her with others present?" I asked my sister.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and in my mind's eye, I saw the vision unfold. It wasn't pretty. Bella would likely have a mental breakdown. Instead of believing I was real, she would believe that those that claimed to see me, were conspiring against her.

I gripped my hair in frustration. "What did I do," I muttered, despair washing over me.

"You can fix this, Edward," Alice said, her voice sweet. "But it's going to have to be the two of you."

I looked from her to Carlisle. "Any advice?"

He merely smiled. "She will need proof. Lots and lots of proof. Just hearing your voice and seeing your presence won't be enough."

His thoughts clarified that by 'proof' he didn't mean for me to move objects around the room. The mating bond is felt most strongly through touch, he thought at me. Out loud, he added, "Have you touched her yet?"

"Yes. She froze completely, and then continued to try her hardest to ignore me."

"But you felt the electricity," Alice stated rather than asked. I nodded. "That means she felt it too. It's a good start."

I would have preferred to go back to my Bella that same night, but I knew it was better if I didn't. The next morning, I went to her house and watched her from a distance as she went to school. She was oblivious to the attentions from others, something that made me happy and sad at the same time.

It broke my heart to see her going through the motions of the day, without any spirit or energy. The one time she smiled, was when Angela told her something that was supposed to make her laugh. The smile didn't reach her eyes.

And it was all my fault. I had to fix it. I just had to.

Impatiently, I waited for Charlie to go to bed that night. I easily came to her window again. Bella was at her computer, working on a paper for English.

I lightly tapped on the window to get her attention. Startled, she turned her head to look at me. As quickly as she did that, however, she focused back on the screen again. Her face was tight, determined to not acknowledge me.

I can't even begin to describe how much it hurt me to see her like that. Then again, I could see it as my punishment for leaving her. The only way I could make this right, was by proving I would not leave again.

And by teaching her that she had not lost her mind. I was here, and I was real. A supernatural being, a myth, and I was here, in her room, as real as the keyboard she was hammering away on.

Silently, I slipped through the window and closed it behind me, keeping out the cool air.

"How's it going?" I asked, looking over her shoulder at the screen. It was a paper on Romeo and Juliet. Not surprisingly, her thesis focused on the two main characters having a love so strong they were frightened to believe it was real.

It told me volumes about the way she was feeling right now.

As I expected, she didn't answer me.

She worked with quiet determination, not looking away from the screen once until she was done and saved the file to her USB-key, probably planning to print it out at school the next day. I needed to get her a printer.

Or, even better, I needed her to start believing I was actually here, so she would come to my house again and could do her homework there and print it.

I longed so much to have her back. My entire body ached over the coldness she was exuding toward me. I could only hope this would change once she realized she was not imagining me. Or would she become even angrier, reprimanding me, rightfully, for the way I had hurt her when I left?

Bella sighed and sat back in her chair, her eyes on the screen still. "If I asked you to leave, would you?"

Her words startled me. I would never have thought she would address me directly. Was this a good sign? I had to answer her question. Walking around her, I kneeled beside her chair so I could look up into her face. She didn't look at me.

"If you would ask me, I would leave. But I don't think you really want me to."

She closed her eyes briefly, a pained look crossing over her face. She took a steeling breath. "I want you to."

"Bella…"

"Please leave."

There was nothing I could do but heed her request. I left her room as quickly as I could, hoping to ease the pain of leaving by not drawing it out.

I stayed close, though. I watched her from the night, following her with my eyes as she got ready for sleep. She turned off the light and crept into her bed, but even in the dark I still saw her as clearly as if it were bright daylight. I saw her shudder once, twice, and then realized she was sobbing under the blankets.

In an instant, I was back at her window, sliding it open quietly and slipping back into her room.

"No, you are not real. Why do you keep coming back?"

"I am here, Bella. I am really here," I tried, but she didn't believe me.

She was still crying, curled up under the blankets. I moved over to the bed and, unable to stop myself, climbed onto it and wrapped my body around hers. She relaxed immediately, folding into my embrace as we had done hundreds of times before. As if I'd never been away.

I groaned in bliss at the contact, a low sound. I'm not sure if she heard it. I couldn't decide if I wanted her to or not.

I nuzzled the back of her neck, wanting to do so much more yet so feeling infinitely grateful to have her close like this. "I know you don't believe me, but I am very real, and I am here, with you. I came back for you. And I'm not leaving again."

She sighed softly, already close to falling asleep. "Of course my imagination would say that," she murmured.

"The real one would say it as well," I whispered in her ear, delighting at the delicate shudder that moved through her body. "Sleep, Bella. I'll be here with you."

I kept my promise. I stayed with her all night. I broke tradition by staying in bed with her, instead of moving to the rocking chair like I would have done before I left.

I was not going to make the same mistakes as the version of me who'd been so stupid as to leave her. From now on, I vowed I was going to serve both of our needs, and the rest could be damned if I had any say in it. And right now, Bella needed to be held.

Since I didn't have to be in school on time, I saw no reason to leave her as she slept, to shower and change. There was plenty of time for that later.

She slept quietly, peacefully. The much-anticipated sleep talking didn't occur, to my disappointment. I would have hoped to get some insight into her thoughts by hearing her unguarded voice.

A subtle change in her breathing told me that she was about to wake up. I turned off her alarm before it could go off, wanting her to wake on her own terms for once. She would be shocked enough when she learned that I had been here all night. Maybe she would now begin to believe that I was real.

As she started to turn to her other side, she bumped into my marble chest. A tiny frown of confusion appeared on her brow, and her hand came up to feel the contours of my torso. Feeling her hot, tiny hand against my body like that made me purr involuntarily. How long had I longed to feel her touch again?

Her eyes opened, and she blinked a few times to focus. Her confusion grew when she realized who was next to her in her bed.

"What…"

"Good morning, love," I said with a soft chuckle. "Slept well?"

"Yes, for the first time since…" She didn't finish her sentence, but I knew what she left out. For the first time since I had left.

She shook her head slightly to clear her thoughts. "What a hallucination. I'd think for sure it would be gone by now." She wasn't talking to me any longer.

With a gentle fingertip, I tilted her chin so she would look back at me. "How can I make you believe that I am real, that I am really here?"

She searched my golden eyes with her big, brown ones. "You were never real. How can you be here when you never were?"

I sighed softly, leaning in to kiss her forehead before I looked back at her again. "I am real. Can't you feel my touch?"

She shook her head, frowning. "I researched that, you know. It's like stigmata. That I can feel you doesn't mean you're really here."

Apparently, she needed better proof. "Look under your floorboards," I said. "By the window. Lift them and see what you will find."

"No. I'm not going to acknowledge you any further. I shouldn't even talk to you."

"Just do it. I promise I'm not talking nonsense."

With a deep, resigned sigh, she crawled out of bed and walked to the floorboards by the window. She tried to pry her tiny fingers underneath them, but didn't succeed.

"I'm making an utter fool out of myself," she muttered. "Floorboards. Sure." Without looking at me again, she grabbed a towel and her toiletries, and disappeared to the bathroom.

It was going to be a challenge to make her realize I was not a hallucination.

As she showered, I broke open her floor for a second time. I retrieved the things I had hidden there before I left, selfishly leaving parts of me behind even though she would probably never find them – a CD with music I recorded, a picture of us, and some other random things. For sure, I hoped the picture would show her that I had been real before I left. Maybe then, she would realize that she wasn't imagining me now, as well.

When she came back into the room, she was clearly taken aback when she registered I was still there.

"This is getting ridiculous," she mumbled as she started to pack her bag for school.

"Just look at these things," I pleaded. She didn't look up. "Bella, please." The pain in my voice was evident, and her gaze met mine.

I pointed to the floorboards I had lifted, and then to the things I had placed on her bed. "Look at the picture," I said. "I am real. We are real."

She picked up the picture from her comforter and looked at it. Her face, normally such an open book, was void of any emotion. Without a word, she placed the picture back on her bed and turned to leave the room.

I couldn't follow her, since Charlie was downstairs, having breakfast. I listened to his thoughts, his mental voice always sounding as if it was being pushed through a fog. He was worrying about Bella, although he did wonder if he had just slept so soundly that night, or if she actually had had no nightmares for once.

Nightmares? What nightmares?

"You okay there, Bells?" he asked as something crashed to the floor.

"Yeah," she replied. I could hear how she was picking up the shards of porcelain. "Weird night, is all."

"Nightmares?" he asked, worry evident in his voice.

She paused her movements. "No, I don't think. Not that I recall."

"Maybe that's a good thing," he said gruffly. "Maybe you're starting to do better."

"Maybe," she replied noncommittally. "You home for dinner tonight?"

"No, actually I am doing the double. I won't see you before you go to bed."

"Okay. Is it okay if I do groceries tomorrow? I'm kinda tired."

"Sure Bells. Take it easy, okay?"

They said their goodbyes and I could hear Charlie placing his coffee mug in the sink before he went outside to the cruiser. Inside the house, Bella sighed deeply, then cleared the remnants of breakfast away, and left for school.

My phone rang as soon as Bella had started her truck. Alice.

"You're doing well," she said. "She's going to come to some conclusions today, but they're not all in your favor."

"Like what?" I asked. "Tell me, Alice."

She was quiet for a moment, thinking. "I'm not sure if I should. It colors your reaction."

"Then why tell me something will happen in the first place, when you're not following through?"

"Maybe you're right. I just thought you should prepare."

"For what?" I asked, exasperated now.

"You'll see tonight. It really is better if I don't tell you. I'm sorry, I didn't see that until I called you."

She hung up before I could protest, and I muttered a profanity under my breath. I considered for a moment to go to the house and get some answers, but I decided that it was more important to be close to Bella when she was at school. Besides, an unnecessary text from Alice told me that she wasn't going to be around today, so I couldn't grill her about her visions.

I gripped my hair to channel my frustration, and then slipped from Bella's house to make my way to the school. I wondered what would happen if I would enroll and simply joined classes again. Would she then believe that I was real? Then again, if Bella was afraid she had gone crazy if Charlie saw me, she might have a complete nervous breakdown if the entire school suddenly acknowledged me. No, I had to work this out in a subtler manner.

I watched Bella from the shadows of the woods surrounding the school, my eyes having no trouble to cross the distance and see her with perfect clarity. Had her silent thoughts frustrated me before, right now it was maddening. I could see her mind working, but I didn't know what she was thinking. All day throughout school she was distracted. And from Alice's warning, I knew there would be a conclusion that would be hard for me to accept. If only I knew what conclusion that would be.

I could only hope it wouldn't entail my having to leave her again.

Luck was in my favor that day though, as Charlie wouldn't be home before midnight. This meant Bella would be alone the entire evening. I planned to make use of that time.

I almost saw my plan fall to pieces however, when Mike Newton approached Bella and asked her how she was doing. He then proceeded to ask her out to go see a movie after school.

Bella smiled without emotion and shook her head. "No, Mike. I'm tired. And I still need to finish that paper for English."

Even if I hadn't known the truth — namely that she had finished the paper the night before — I still would have known she was lying. Mike didn't believe her, either.

"Oh come on, Bella. Just go out. I'll bring you home after. Plus, that paper isn't due until Friday. You have plenty of time to finish it."

Bella shook her head, more firmly now. "No, Mike. Why don't you ask Jessica?"

She had turned away from him before he could think of a reply. When he saw her retreating back, he muttered petulantly, "But I don't want Jessica."

I couldn't help but chuckle, both at his childish behavior, and at the relief of knowing that Bella had no eyes for other men. Now, if only she would see me

After school, I waited restlessly near her house for her to come home. I gave her ten minutes once she stepped inside, to have her human moments. As soon as I heard her flop down on the couch heavily, I knocked on her front door.

The surprise in her eyes when she opened the door was so funny, I had to smile. "Hello," I said pleasantly.

"Jesus," she murmured. "If you're going to show up like that, at least don't make me come to the front door. What will the neighbors think if they see me open the door to let no one in?"

"As much as I have to deny your assumption, I must say I'm happy you seem to be talking to me," I replied. I walked into the house as she stepped aside to let me in. Nothing had changed here. Even the scents were largely the same.

I sat down on the couch in the living room, and after some hesitation she sat down as well, on the other end. She was fidgeting, and I reached out to cover her hands with mine, hoping to make her calmer.

"Would you like some tea?" I asked. I wanted her to be more at ease. We had some talking to do, and thanks to Alice's warning, I wanted to know what conclusion she was coming to.

"Sure," she replied, a laugh bubbling in her voice. "I'd like some imaginary booze to go with that, as well. Since it's not real, the law doesn't apply, right?"

I shook my head to myself and went to the kitchen to set water to boil. When I came back, Bella had kicked off her shoes and was curled up in the corner of the couch.

"How was school?" I asked, trying to get the conversation going.

"I think you know. You're in my head, so you've seen it?"

Her sulking petulance was more endearing than anything else. I slipped into the kitchen quickly when the water started to boil, and came back with a mug of tea. "Do you still take it without sugar?" I asked.

She met my eyes. "Cunning," she whispered.

"What, love?"

"To ask that. I should think that, since you are a figment of my imagination, you would know me intimately. By asking me about my preferences, my own mind makes you look more real."

"I am real," I countered easily. "This tea I made you is real. The picture I showed you this morning, is real."

"Ah yes, the picture," she mused.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Well," she drawled, gathering her thoughts. Oh, how I longed to look into her mind! "I think that you were here, once. I mean, my memories are too vivid to have been conjured up."

"But?" I coaxed after she fell silent. My chest expanded with hope after hearing her admit my existence, but constricted immediately after as I realized where this was going, and I suddenly realized what Alice had warned me for.

Bella met my eyes, and they were so, so sad. I fought down the urge to take her in my arms, to try and fix her hurt. "You left me, Edward. You went away. Why would you come back? I was obviously not good enough for you."

My heart first soared at hearing her say my name, and then it shattered at the rest of her words. Not good enough… If only she knew. She was so much more than I deserved, even now.

I scooted closer to her on the couch. "I am so sorry I left, Bella. If you will allow me, I will explain my reasoning. But I have been a foolish man. I can't live without you, and from what I've learned, you've been unhappy as well."

She looked to her fidgeting hands in her lap and shrugged. "That's my weakness, isn't it? You told me you didn't love me. And now my mind has made you up, making it seem as if you are back. Besides being an utter failure, I am now going insane as well."

My shoulders slumped at her self-deprecation. "Bella," I said, moving closer to her still. "Look at me."

Her brown eyes met mine, and I leaned in carefully, slowly, hoping to catch her lush lips in a kiss.

She pulled back.

My heart broke.

"No. I can't indulge any more in this. You have to go away."

I set my jaw. "I am not going. Do you want me to wait here until Charlie gets home? If he sees me, acknowledges me, will you believe me?"

"Charlie will kill you," she said stubbornly.

I chuckled without humor. "He will find that task quite impossible, my love."

To my pleasant surprise, a slight smile flashed over her face.

"Will you let me tell you why I left, and why I was wrong?" I asked carefully. "Even if you don't believe I am real, I still want to beg your forgiveness. I know I don't deserve it. I can only hope you will allow me to love you again one day."

Bella reached out to the table and took her mug of tea in her hands. I took that as my cue to telling her the words I had imagined I would tell her, every second of every day of my self-imposed exile.

I told her about the pain I had felt, the pain of the knowledge I didn't deserve her. How I truly wished her to be happy, and how I believed she could only be happy without me. The only way to make her see that, was by leaving. She would move on, and I would no longer hamper her chances to a long and happy life.

But I found I couldn't live without her and so, selfishly, came back after Alice informed me how poorly she had been doing. I told her how it broke me to see her as such. How I would never forgive myself for hurting her like that. I told Bella everything, laying my emotions and my deepest insecurities bare.

When I was done, her tea long gone, silence stretched until she smiled sadly. "This is what I have been dreaming you would come to say all these months. How convenient that you would say exactly this."

I grasped her cold hands in mine, loathing the fact that I could not warm them with my touch. "Bella, you have to believe me. What do I do to make you realize I am really here?"

She shrugged. "Do something even my imagination couldn't come up with?"

I chuckled despite myself. "Too sad I still cannot read your mind. It would have been easier for me then."

She met my eyes. "Are you accepting the challenge?"

I nodded. "I will. I guess I will have to come up with something."

She smiled lightly and got up. "I have to start cooking. And it's crazy I am telling you that, because being a part of me, you would know this."

I chuckled again and followed her to the kitchen. I stayed near her as she prepared dinner, catching a plate when it slipped from her hands. "One is enough for one day."

She nodded, more to herself than to me, and later sat at the kitchen table with her meal. I joined her, relieved that she was at least eating something. She was painfully thin.

"So how is the family?" she asked me. "I mean, as long as I'm indulging, I might as well ask how they are."

"They are good," I replied. "Very eager to see you again."

"Oh, I'll bet. Is that why they stayed away as well all this time?"

Her venom stung. "No. They stayed away because I told them to. Like I said, I wanted you to be free of us and live a real life."

Tears appeared in her eyes. "I only ever wanted you, Edward. But you didn't want me. You told me you didn't love me. And now you come to haunt me. Another manifestation of my weakness. Let alone me talking to a hallucination. I'm really losing my mind."

"You are not," I said fiercely. "Bella, I came back for you. I have never stopped loving you. The lie I told you seemed like the only way for me to make you let me go."

"How could I let you go?" she asked. "I loved you so much, you were the epitome of perfection. But I have come to understand that you were right. I wasn't good enough. Everybody saw it but me."

Her stubbornness knew no bounds, as it had never done. Lost for words, and considering calling Alice for either advice or to ask her to come see us, I sat across from her at the kitchen table.

Finally, she sighed and got up. "I'm going to sleep. Maybe tomorrow, you will be gone, and I can carry on with my life again."

I let her go to her room, and heard her going through the motions of preparing for bed. As soon as she slid between the sheets, I slipped into her room as well.

Her annoyed sigh at my presence hurt me, I won't lie.

"Please," I begged, walking up to her bed. I toed off my shoes and lithely moved onto the mattress, spooning her and pulling her back against my body, relief crashing through me when she let me. "I missed you so much," I whispered into her hair. The pain was clear in my voice. "Seeing you like this is killing me. Is this my penance for leaving you? I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am, Bella. I missed you. And I love you. So much."

She slowly relaxed into me at my words.

"Let me love you again," I pleaded. "Let me in."

The long silence that ensued made me want to howl.

"I used to do stupid things," she then said into the dark.

I tensed, unsure, but kept silent. She needed to talk on her own terms, not mine.

"You told me to take care of myself. And since you broke your promise to me, that you would never leave, I broke my promise to you. I did dangerous things. Learned how to ride a bike. Jumped off a cliff."

"Bella…" To think that she had willingly risked her life nearly did me in. I moved my hand slightly so my fingers rested on a pulse point, as if I needed that extra conformation that she was, in fact, alive and well in my arms.

"But the thing is… when I did something like that, I would see you. Hear you. Warning me not to do it, telling me to be careful. But after a while those visions would disappear. I got more and more reckless so I would see you again."

I choked on a sob. No wonder she thought I was an hallucination. She'd had them before. Of me. How hard it must have been for her.

"Do you think I'm crazy now?" she asked softly, insecurity ringing in her words.

"No, never," I said solemnly. "God. To think what you've been through."

Silence stretched again, and I knew she was lost in her thoughts. By her confession however, it seemed as if the air was lighter somehow. As if she needed to get that off her chest, needed confirmation that she wasn't weird.

"What happens if you are real?" she asked in a tiny voice.

I hugged her a little tighter, happy beyond belief that she was considering the actual reality of the situation. "Then I will hope you can forgive me and take me back. And then we can reestablish our relationship, hopefully. I can enroll into the school again, so we can spend as much time together as possible."

She turned in my arms to meet my eyes. "And changing me?"

I thought back to Alice's vision, and everything fell into place. "If it is what you want, I will make it happen. I am not sure if I could be the one to do it, but if you really can bear to be around me forever, then I will certainly not push you away. I have learned my lesson, sweet Bella. I will not make the same mistake twice."

She smiled sadly. "I fantasized you would say that, too."

I leaned up on my elbow, to better look at her. "But, had I said that I didn't want to change you, you would have believed it your imagination as well, correct?"

She smiled bashfully. "Correct."

She was so beautiful, lying beneath me. The desire to kiss her had grown throughout the day, and now I no longer wanted to wait. I could only hope she would not push me away again this time.

I licked my lips as I watched her mouth. "So, tell me, would your imagination do this as well?"

Leaning in, I tried to kiss her for the second time. This time, she didn't pull away. Instead, she lifted her head a little to meet my kiss. How I could have forgotten the heat of her lips will forever be a mystery to me. All at once I was consumed by the heat of her body, the taste of her mouth, the perfume of her scent.

My body pressed down on hers in an intimate embrace, wanting more, wanting it all. Where before she had always been the one that had been unstoppable, it seemed that right now, my own boundaries were starting to fade.

Her small hands disappeared in my hair and her mouth opened invitingly. I dipped my tongue inside the heat, tasting her, feeling the tip of her tongue tentatively stroke mine. The soft moan she emitted reverberated through my body.

My body hardened in a way it hadn't done since I left her.

When I pulled back to let her breathe, her cheeks were deliciously flushed and her eyes were sparkling brightly.

She bit her lip. "The old Edward would never have gone that far," she said mischievously.

"That Edward was foolish in many ways," I replied. "I intend to make up for more than one thing I did wrong the first time."

"Like what?" she asked, her heartbeat spiking.

I bent down to kiss the soft spot under her ear. "Loving you, for instance," I whispered, my cold breath on her sensitive skin making her shudder delicately.

My fingers tangled in her hair and I angled her head gently so I could have better access to her neck. I inhaled deeply. "You still smell divine. That hasn't changed, for sure."

She giggled. "Though not very edible, I hope."

I pulled back to meet her eyes. "Not at all. Just ravisheable."

I attacked her neck with kisses and she squealed in pleasure, squirming and trying to writhe away from my touch. I kept her pinned down easily, though gently, and soon she was out of breath from the exertion.

I kept my face hidden in her neck and growled quietly in contentment.

"Oh," she breathed. "Do that again."

I did, a little louder this time. Gooseflesh erupted all over her skin.

"You never did that before you left," she whispered.

It was true. I always tried to hide my true nature for her, and growling, even though natural for me to do, was off the list when I was in Bella's presence.

"Do you believe now I am real?" I asked, looking into her eyes.

Her smile was coy. "Maybe you should try to convince me one last time."

"And how do you suppose I do that, Miss Swan?" I asked, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.

She bit her bottom lip. "Do something you never did before you left." She hesitated for a moment. "Show me you love me."

I did as she asked. Thoroughly, utterly and completely.

Although we didn't go all the way, something I really would prefer to keep sacred until after we were married, hopefully, one day, I showed her, really showed her how much I loved her. My hands reacquainted themselves with the shape and form of her body, both over and underneath her clothes. She let me, and I let her hands explore me as well. Our kisses were deeper, and lasted longer, than they had ever done before. With the bloodlust almost completely absent, I found I had much more space in my head to focus on what was really important – make Bella feel good and apologize through my actions for leaving.

After a few intimate hours, we lay together. I stroked her upper arm absently, reveling in the feeling of her naked back against my bare chest.

"You won't leave again?" she asked timidly into the dark.

I held her a little tighter. "Never."

"Charlie will kill you though."

"He can try," I said nonchalantly. "I'm willing to do some serious groveling to get back into his good graces. I hope that he will see how happy you are with me back in your life."

"I didn't have nightmares last night," she mused. "When you were with me."

"Do you have nightmares often?" I asked, thinking back to the conversation I overheard earlier that morning.

"Every night," she replied, uncomfortable. "Every night since you left."

It hurt so deeply to hear her say that. "I'm so sorry, love. I'm so sorry," I kept whispering over and over again.

"But now you're back," she said, a little insecure.

"I am. And I'm not leaving again."

"I hope you aren't. And I hope I didn't just make love to an imaginary man."

I grinned and nuzzled her earlobe before I suckled gently on it. She bit her lip and moaned softly at the feeling.

"Does this feel imaginary?"

"No."

My hand traced up her spine, a trail of gooseflesh following in the wake of my touch. "Does this feel imaginary?"

She giggled. "No."

I reached around and cupped her soft breast in my hand. I had to suppress a groan before I could speak. "Does this feel imaginary?"

"I'm not sure," she said in mock contemplation.

I growled in playful irritation and turned her lighting fast, hovering over her and looking into her eyes. She was excited, happy, and her eyes had lost that veil that I had seen in them since I had come back for her.

"I love you," I whispered, overcome by the words. "I really, really do. I never stopped loving you."

She didn't copy the words back to me, and I knew she wasn't ready yet. We would get there, in time. I would find a way to earn her forgiveness. I would find a way back to 'us.'

But she never looked away, and she bit her lip in that very specific way, the way that told me she was hearing what I was saying, and that she was overwhelmed by the words.

I loved her. So much.

I loved her to the end of the earth. And if luck would have it, I would have her with me until that time arrived.