Title: A Christmas Story: Finding Their Place

Author: exquisitelyugly

Genre: Romance/Angst

Rating/Warnings: M - a little bit of sex and some sad stuff!

Summary: Bella and Jake suffered separate losses and have drifted apart. Can they re-connect and help each other through the grief?

Beta: MeraNaamJoker

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

I stared out the window from my tiny Seattle apartment, emotionless and unmoved by the sight of the Christmas lights of the surrounding neighborhood. I turned back around, picking up my cup of coffee, and settling down in front of the television. Just as I began watching, my cell phone buzzed and I glanced down at the screen. Dad.

I sighed, not wanting to talk to anyone, but I'd pushed off his two previous calls because I'd been in the middle of something… and hadn't wanted to talk then either. I knew he was starting to worry when my phone stopped and started up again. He was going to keep calling me back until I answered.

"Hi, Dad," I said, taking a sip of coffee.

"You've ignored my calls, haven't called me back, and that's all I get?" His voice was exasperated. I sighed.

"Sorry," I said apologetically. "I really was busy the first two times; I was at work. And you know it isn't anything personal; I just didn't feel up to chatting with anyone."

"Honey, you can't keep on like this. I know it's been really difficult…"

I cut him off. I'd had enough of discussing it, and I didn't want the guilt that always came after this type of conversation. How could I forget? It was impossible. I knew somewhere deep down inside of me that moving on was what people did, not forgetting, but I wasn't ready. I didn't feel like I would ever be ready.

"How's Sue?" I interrupted.

It was his turn to sigh, but he allowed me this. He hadn't ever experienced it, but he understood what the pain could feel like. He told me how Sue wrangled him into going to a tree farm in Port Angeles to cut down a tree. I hated Christmas, but I couldn't help laughing at the image he painted of cutting it down himself, having it nearly fall on him, and being buried in a fir tree.

"You know, I could have suffocated under all that tree, and the snow and she just laughed at me," he said indignantly.

I laughed again. "When did you become an exaggerator?" I teased. "I'm sure it wasn't that bad."

My smile faded a little when he said he saw Jake in Port Angeles. "He's been working with Peninsula College, teaching Native American studies in honor of Billy, but he still lives on the reservation. He's adamant about guiding and counseling kids in hopes to get more of them to go to college."

It sounded like a good and important job, making me feel funny about waitressing. It was honest work, though. I'd gone to school, had a degree in teaching myself for English Lit, but I'd lost track of my life after the accident and the loss. I was glad Jake seemed to be moving on easier after his own loss. Feeling sad and a little sick, I tried to cut Charlie off, but he insisted on telling me that Jake was still single. When he finally stopped talking about it, weakly I told him I'd speak to him soon – while ignoring his hints about coming home for Christmas.

When we hung up, I stared blankly at the television as the familiar tears trickled down my cheeks.

I got to work two hours later, fueled with coffee, for the night shift. I waved to Catherine, the other girl who would be working with me. We did a relatively steady business here, so at least two of us were needed. It was a popular place, especially on the weekends, for drunken college kids. I began refilling the napkin dispensers, the ketchup containers, and wiping down the tables. Right at ten o' clock, we got busy with customers.

I filled orders for burgers and fries, pizza, and wings. Those were the late-night popular meals. I ran back and forth from the kitchen to the tables, refilling drinks, smiling because it was required as I was asked to do something else. I picked up tips, and smiled weakly at Catherine, who looked just as exhausted as me. I began to wind down around one in the morning, though we had another hour to go.

"Hey, sweetheart, can I have another Coke?" a blonde college-aged guy asked. He pinched my ass, and I gritted my teeth in annoyance, backing away so it was out of his reach.

I got his coke and whacked it down on the table hard enough to dribble some of his drink onto the table. "Hey…" he started to say, but I walked away. I'd done well with tips because it was a Friday night, and I didn't care what I got from him and his two laughing friends. I didn't need that crap from anyone. I'd gotten over some of my shyness over the years and didn't have an issue brushing off someone who pissed me off.

I hid out in the back, picked up my meager tip after the blonde guy left, and we began to clean up for the night. "Night, Cathy," I said with a yawn.

"Night, Bella, be careful on your way home." She was about twenty years older than me and it always made me smile when she acted like my mom.

Outside, I breathed in the cold air, and watched as my breath puffed out again in a white cloud. I shoved my hands deeper into my parka and kept my head down as I trudged back to my apartment. It was hard to do sometimes when the weather was cold or rainy, but I tried to preserve my gas for places that were farther away. I needed my truck to last.

"Hey there, cutie," a voice said. I felt my spine stiffen, but kept my pace relaxed and unhurried. I recognized the voice without even looking. It was that drunken moron that grabbed my ass.

I decided to ignore him, but he moved around in front of me. "I'm talking to you," he said with a teasing smile. "So, how about it? You up for a little fun tonight?"

"No," I replied shortly. The streetlight above me winked on and off, casting him half in shadow. "I thought that was obvious."

He raised an eyebrow, leering, and said, "Ahh, you're one of those with a stick up your ass. Not getting enough from the right person, I see." And he pushed me up against the wall. Panic flared briefly, as I realized there really weren't any people around. At least not close enough.

I jammed my knee up into his crotch, crossing my arm in front of me to nail him in the windpipe with my elbow. It had certainly come in handy over the years having Jake as a friend – a friend who taught self-defense measures. The man gasped like a fish out of water and collapsed to his knees.

"I can get it better elsewhere," I said dryly. Sometimes it still surprised me how much I had changed from the meek and needy little girl obsessed with Edward to who I was now; alone and bitter with a sharp bite. Life had kicked my ass, and I learned to survive.

I was smart, though, so I ran and cleared the corner onto my street without him following. Hurrying into my building, I charged up the steps, unlocking my door and slamming it shut behind me. After I bolted it, I felt the shakes hit me. I let it pass, while showering off the smell of the diner, and curled up in bed. Exhaustion struck and I closed my eyes, feeling more alone than ever.

When I woke the next morning, I groaned. I'd forgotten I had a bunch of days off. I couldn't believe it, but our diner actually closed down for the holidays. The staff usually picked up odd jobs to continue to make money, but we were required to use some of our vacation days, so that meant I had off two days before Christmas and couldn't even work New Year's because they had enough people and I had to use up my time.

Resigned, I decided to try and find some odd jobs myself, but before I could even think about what I was going to do, there was a knock on my door. I pulled my robe on and answered it. Angela and Leah stood at my door, wearing identical don't mess with me looks. "Come on, get dressed," Leah said in her authoritative voice.

I raised my eyebrows. "Why? What's going on?"

"You're coming home for the holidays," Angela said. Her voice was firm, too, but she had more sympathy. They both knew the situation, and hadn't pushed me to come home, but remained in touch with me.

I shook my head. "No. No, I'm not. You know this."

Leah pushed her way in – in her usual abrasive way that I'd gotten used to but occasionally annoyed me – and turned around. "You can't hide in Seattle forever. Plus, your dad misses you more than he'll ever admit to you. He won't push you. So we're doing it for him."

Angela laid a hand on my arm. "We miss you, too. It'd be nice to have you home for the holidays, Bella."

My chin shook a little, but I clenched my teeth, refusing to let the emotion and the pain through. I felt my resolve wavering, mostly because of the genuine caring in their voices. Leah's was harder to find, but there were hints of it. Still I shook my head and turned away. "I just… can't."

Leah sighed. "How about this? You pack and come home with us and if it gets to be too much, you can leave. Just see Charlie, maybe see Jake, and just see how it goes."

I closed my eyes, rubbing my forehead. See Jake? How could I? I'd cast him aside for Edward. Now I was alone, still grief-stricken after two years, and Jake had lost Billy. Everything happened at once, and I'd already left when Billy passed away after a heart attack. I couldn't bear to go back after everything that happened in my life; I'd needed to escape. I'd felt horrible for so long not going back to help and support Jake. I'd sent my condolences, but we'd never really talked after that.

I wanted to talk to him, but we'd lost touch because of Edward. Jake wasn't happy with me. I'd missed him over the years even before my relationship soured. Every year at the anniversary of their deaths, which would be next week for me and for Jake, I thought of what he was doing.

A tear trickled down my cheek, but I drew in a shaky breath. "Okay."

I could still barely believe I was heading toward Forks and La Push again even when I was sitting in the passenger seat of my own truck a couple hours later. Leah drove, while Angela followed us in her car. Leah stayed mostly silent, which I appreciated, though we talked occasionally about work or something else safe. When we crossed the border into Forks, my heart began a sickening thump-thump-thump in my chest.

"It's just your dad," Leah said calmly. "He'll be absolutely thrilled to see you. There's no pressure here."

I nodded, knowing she was right. I was still nervous, but when Charlie opened the door and saw me it made it worthwhile. The next thing I knew, he had his arms around me, hugging me tightly. When he finally pulled back, he asked, "What made you come home?"

"Leah and Angela pushed… over and over… because they knew you wouldn't," I admitted. "In the end, though, I realized how much I missed you and wanted to see you."

He hugged me again and led me inside.

I tried to avoid everything holiday related the first day I was in Forks, but it was difficult. My stomach was a constant knot of tension. The Christmas tree in my dad's house glowed in its corner of the room and every time I went out, I saw Christmas lights strung on homes, in stores, and places I wouldn't have expected.

I was working up the nerve to find Jake, but we stumbled across each other by accident. I drove down to First Beach, trying to give myself a pep talk as I strolled along the beach, the icy wind biting at my cheeks. When I looked up, there he was: Jake, coming toward me, his head down. I just stopped and stared. He looked bigger, if that were possible, his glossy black hair in a ponytail, and he wore torn jeans and a flannel shirt. He'd never been particularly bothered by the cold.

Our eyes met, and he stopped in his tracks. I had thought about this so often, but now I had nothing to say. No words were forming, no elegant soliloquy prepared. So, I just stared at him.

"Bella," he said, surprised his voice hoarse and almost rusty; like he hadn't spoken in awhile.

I shivered as a blast of cold air came off the ocean and stuttered, "Jake. Um, hi."

Well, I'd finally accomplished speaking, but I managed to sound like an idiot.

"You're freezing," he remarked quietly. "Come on."

He turned, so I just blindly followed him to my truck, still not knowing what else to do. He directed me toward his old garage, but we bypassed it for a homey-looking brick cottage further down and around the corner where it was nestled up higher amidst the trees. It was similar to his old home, but more like him.

A fire blazed in the fireplace. There were no decorations inside or out. "This is a beautiful house," I said with some surprise.

He smiled slightly. "Yeah, I had it built and have been living in it for about a year now."

He showed me around. The kitchen was small and serviceable, dishes still in the sink. The living room had a big picture window overlooking some of the other homes on the reservation and a little glimpse of the ocean. The short hall led to a bathroom, a small guest bedroom, and then the main bedroom. I swallowed with some difficulty as I took in Jake's bedroom. It was dominated by a huge bed, one that would actually fit him, unlike the tiny twin bed at Billy's home.

There were some clothes lying on the bed, which was rumpled as if he'd just pulled the blankets up without really making it. Back in the living room, I said, "It suits you. I had no idea you invested in a home."

That was stating the obvious, blatantly reminding both of us that we hadn't talked, and I hadn't bothered to contact him when Billy passed away. I stared down at my shoes, embarrassed, but Jake just asked if I wanted a drink. I smiled wistfully as he handed me a soda, just like old times. We drank in silence for a few minutes before I finally worked up the nerve to say, "Jake, I'm sorry about your dad. I'm sorry I didn't come when it happened. I really did love Billy, but I…"

My eyes welled, but by sheer force of will, I kept them at bay.

His eyes were suspiciously moist, too, and I felt guilt eating away at me at causing that reaction in him. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have said anything…"

Jake held up a hand. "No, I'm glad you did. I've learned to deal with it in a lot of ways, but of course it still makes me sad. He was my dad. It hurt, Bella, but I don't want you to feel guilty. I know what you suffered, too, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you at the time."

My chin quivered, but I whispered, "It was and still very much is, but you were my best friend. I know things were different after me and Edward, but I should have been there. It was so hard to come back here, but I'm glad Leah and Angela kicked my ass about it. It was far past time I should have contacted you. That's why I was at the beach; working up the nerve to come find you."

His hand brushed mine and the simplest squeeze of his fingers was enough.

We talked about his work, his friends, and I realized he was accomplishing what he wanted to do while I worked at a diner. I hesitated in talking about what I'd been doing, but haltingly I told him, not wanting to meet his eyes for fear of what he was thinking.

There was no judgment on his face when I finally looked up. He was listening to me, really listening. When there was a lull in conversation, I couldn't quite meet his eyes. "You seem so different," he said quietly.

"I feel different," I admitted. "I made some wrong choices and I've been through a lot, though in some ways I can't regret it." My hands were shaking, but he sensed my emotions like he always had, and he rested his fingers over mine. We sat there in his living room, the fire crackling, and I clung to him like a lifeline.

After reluctantly shopping with Leah and Angela, I walked toward the university where Jake taught. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid seeing all the holiday displays in the store fronts. I'd seen enough and my stomach hurt. Jake met me in the lobby near his office.

"Hey," he said gently. "Are you okay?"

I pulled myself together and nodded.

He eyed me for a moment and said, "Come on, I know just the place." He led me along a cobbled stone path, bypassing carolers, and we ended up at a small, out of the way deli that didn't look like much on the outside. The inside was warm, though, and it smelled of baking breads and sausage and onions being grilled. It was also completely bare of anything Christmas-related.

Surprised, I glanced at Jake. I'd begun to realize he avoided anything Christmas, too, but all he said was, "The sausage sandwiches here are damn good."

They were, so we both devoured a sandwich. I leaned back after the last bite, feeling a little more comfortable. "That was incredible."

He smiled. On a whim, I asked before my brain could catch up with my mouth, "Jake, I've really missed you and know now what I was too young to really understand. Would you be interested in going on a date?"

I'd never asked anyone on a date before, much less someone who was my best friend and who I essentially abandoned. I felt better being with Jake, though, and felt a closeness to him that was equal parts knowing he understood with what happened and residual feelings I never got over. I'd always loved him. My cheeks were already red and Jake's surprised look made me even more embarrassed.

After a beat of silence, he gave me a small smile. "Sure, Bells, I've waited a long time to hear that."

I laughed and felt myself relax.

I stressed over what to wear – something I'd never really done before – until I finally selected a denim skirt and a soft, light sweater in different shades of green. Charlie was leaning against the banister when I came downstairs. "You look really pretty, honey," he said. He looked embarrassed. It was never easy for us to discuss things, so I appreciated the gesture.

Jake picked me up and drove us to a little Italian place in Port Angeles for dinner. We sat in a corner booth and ordered ziti and salads. We talked about our lives. I told him how I nailed some guy in the crotch who was giving me problems. He looked concerned at first, but couldn't help laughing.

"I learned how to fight dirty from you," I said, unable to stop from grinning.

He smirked. "Good to know. I could sense you were different, so that's just more proof. You've gotten tougher."

We left the restaurant to go to a movie. Ahead of us, I saw some carolers singing around a Christmas tree, and jerkily I yanked at Jake's hand to get around and away from them. Every bit of Christmas was a stabbing reminder. Jake moved with me, though I caught him glancing at me. We hurried into the movie theater, and I quickly went to get the popcorn while he got the tickets, so I could gather my wits.

The movie was light, funny, and just what I needed. I found Jake's hand open and ready, and I smiled at the memory of another movie we went to when I was eighteen. This time I took his hand. Afterward, he drove back to Forks and drove right through to La Push. I grinned to myself because it was exactly what I was hoping for. I didn't want to go back to Charlie's yet. Jake's house in all its undecorated glory felt like a safe haven.

He poured me a glass of wine he had. "It was a house-warming gift," he said with a sheepish shrug. "I'm not a big wine drinker, but it's still good."

I took a sip and agreed. We sat on the couch, and I felt more at home than I ever had anywhere else. "Bells, you do know if you ever need to talk about what happened…"

Immediately my defenses up, and I shook my head. "No. No, I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm not pushing you," he assured me. "But I had to talk to someone for a little bit after Billy died. I was having trouble coping with it. It's gotten better, but Christmas is still a little painful. I know it's not the same, but maybe you should."

"Jake, I can't talk about it…"

"Bells, you lost a baby…"

No one had uttered that to me since it happened. I knew it, but hearing it made my stomach ache and my fingers and toes grow cold. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to hurt you. You just carry this air of sadness about you and I want you to be happy."

"This makes me happy," I said shakily, pushing the baby issue under the rug. I downed the last of my wine, feeling just slightly tipsy. "You're making me happy."

He took my glass from my still cold fingers and wrapped them in his. I relaxed again and felt heat take chill's place when he kissed me. His mouth was impossibly warm and confident, coaxing my lips apart, his tongue touching mine. It had been a long time since I was with someone, and I admitted that against Jake's mouth.

"We'll go slowly," he murmured against my mouth. He led me back to his bedroom, still kissing me, and asking if this was okay. It was more than okay. When my back touched his bed, I closed my eyes briefly while he kissed down my throat.

I shimmied out of my sweater with his help, felt the clasp loosen on my bra, and I met Jake's eyes when he'd had his fill of staring at me. His fingers tickled along my ribs before they made their way to my breasts. I held my breath while he took his time kissing and caressing them.

It didn't take long before we were both completely naked. I was straddling his lap, while my breasts were crushed to his smooth, muscled chest. The sensation of him rubbing against my nipples had me throbbing in all the right places.

Bold now from the wine, I reached down to cup him, and wrap my fingers around him. His hips arched, lifting me into the air, as I continued stroking. His fingers explored between my thighs. My eyes rolled back as he zeroed in on just where I wanted him. His teeth nipped at my ear, and I wrapped my legs around his waist, digging my heels into his incredibly firm backside. He'd grown up and filled out in all the right places. And boy did he know what he was doing.

My legs were spread wide, and I felt him fumble with a condom briefly before he tilted me back slightly by fisting my hair. I gave a small gasp when he filled me, but adjusted pretty quickly. "Okay?" he asked and when I nodded, he filled me to the hilt over and over.

His mouth kissed everywhere it could reach until he pulled me back up for another long, drugging kiss. I rocked and moved eagerly, gripping and releasing, until his thrusts became erratic. I held on to him tightly, kissing him eagerly, until he came with a moan. My body was vibrating already and one touch and he sent me over the edge.

We lay there in a tangled heap, sweaty and tired. We were quiet for awhile when I finally said, "We sure do move fast, don't we? First date and all."

He laughed, but said, "Is this okay? I admit it, Bells. I've loved you for a long time, no matter what happened between us."

I smiled and suddenly felt teary. "I've always loved you, too. I was just foolish."

He kissed me, pulling me closer against him, and I fell asleep. And for once, I slept easily.

I crept into Charlie's house at six in the morning, hoping to avoid seeing him before he left for work. I really didn't want to have to explain why I was coming home in the wee hours of the morning, and I highly doubted he had waited up for me last night. The one stair creaked slightly, and I winced. There was no sound, though, so I quickly shut myself in my bedroom.

I booted up my laptop, planning to order gifts for everyone. I managed to suffer through this aspect of Christmas because they always gave me gifts. I ordered quickly; a new tackle box for my dad, a sweater for Sue, and a little earring and perfume gift set for Angela, and a book and book light for Leah. I struggled over what to get Jake or if I even should. I had no idea if he planned to.

The next couple days, I spent with Jake, and I avoided Charlie as best I could. Every time we were in the same room together, he gave me the all-knowing eye, and I felt like a teenager again. He was obviously aware of what had transpired between me and Jake. On Christmas Eve, I was restless. I ate dinner with Sue and Charlie, met up with Leah and Angela for some wine drinking, and now the buzz was wearing off. I ended up heading outside for some fresh air.

Before I knew it, I had hopped into my truck and parked near First Beach. The cemetery on the reservation was small; tiny, worn headstones littered the ground. The gate creaked open and I winced. I held the small poinsettia in my shaking hand as I made my way to the headstone that read, "Billy Black. Beloved Father and Chief."

I knelt down, setting the poinsettia on his grave. "I'm sorry I didn't come back," I said quietly, brushing a tear away. I didn't know what else to say, so I just thought about the steady man that helped raise me along with Charlie. I'd spent a lot of time at the Black's house, playing, exploring, and loving Billy like a second dad.


I jumped, but it was only Jake. He knelt next to me. The tears were pushing, begging for release, but I just took a shaky breath. "Thank you," he said softly. "This means a lot to me. And I know it would to him."

He brushed an errant tear away. I leaned against his arm and then saw he was gesturing to a small stone next to Billy's. My breath froze in my lungs. "Penelope Swan. RIP to a little angel."

He knew. He knew I was going to name her Penelope and give her my last name. Charlie must have told him.

It was as if a dam burst. I sobbed so hard I couldn't even sit up. Jake held me tightly, his tears mingling with mine. I really talked to him, breathlessly fast and painfully, the first person I ever said this aloud to. "I gave birth to her. I didn't even miscarry," I said my breath wheezing as the tears continued. "Edward left me right after. We had problems before that, but I was alone when they delivered her. She was alive, Jake, she was alive at first. Something went wrong, though, and she didn't make it. It happened so fast, I never even got to hold her. I touched her tiny foot, though, but she left me right after. Oh God, I never hurt that much before."

I struggled to breathe as the torrent of tears continued. Jake kissed the top of my head, his hand stroking my back, as he whispered, "Its okay. Just breathe."

My head was pounding when I finally wore myself out. My nose was stuffed up. And I was still shaking. Curiously, though, I felt almost lighter. "I came here every year," he said, his voice thick from tears. "Your dad just said you wanted her buried here, but that you couldn't bear seeing it done. I saw you briefly when you came home from Port Angeles. I should've gone to you, but you left so quickly."

"Just like I should've been here. I failed her."

"No," he said fiercely when I wiped tears away again. "Bella, she was buried here next to Billy. It was shortly after you left that he had his heart attack. After this had happened, he insisted to me to make that change in his will. He wanted to be next to her; his soul to protect hers. He wanted that for you."

I cried even harder at the gesture. I'd made so many mistakes. "He also told me he knows how much you loved him. Before he was gone, he said he loved you, too and that you should never, ever feel guilty."

"I lit a candle for him and Penelope every year," I said thickly. "I never forgot about Billy or you. He was a second dad to me, and I did love him. Just like I love you. You give me hope, Jake."

We stood up then, holding on to each other for support. I could hear the faint sounds of 'O Holy Night' playing at the tiny church nearby. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

I held Jake's hand feeling like this was a new day for me. My heart had been heavy for so long, but Jake was my other savior. He kissed me and lay the small bouquet of flowers on Penelope's grave. They wouldn't last long, but that didn't matter. It was the gesture that meant everything to me, just like mine meant everything to him. I lay my hand on the tiny stone and told my angel I loved her, doing the same for Billy. Jake wrapped his arm around me as we left the cemetery, but I paused.

Sudden warmth surrounded me and it wasn't Jake. I closed my eyes; I could only describe it as a presence, a big one and a small one. I laughed and cried at once, looking up at Jake as he smiled knowingly down at me. "We've all felt something like that before, Bells. Your spirit guardian is allowing Billy and Penelope to show themselves to you the only way they can."

I'd felt the love, and left the cemetery at peace.

I celebrated the rest of Christmas Eve and morning, surprising my dad because of my smile. "Are you okay?" he asked. "You seem… calm. Happy almost."

"I love you," I said. "We'll talk after the holidays. Right now, let's just be happy together."

The day was happy. Jake gave me a wooden charm; one that he and Billy had worked on together. It was the perfect gift, much like the one I gave him. It was pictures of Billy I had sneaked over the years fishing, grilling, laughing with Charlie, and many others. I'd kept them in a box, not knowing what to do with them. He'd hated his picture taken, but I'd managed all the ones where he didn't know I was there. He was smiling, his eyes bright and lively, and the last one spoke volumes of the love he had for his son and daughters.

The love was easily seen in a picture of Jake hugging him; in one where Rachel and Rebecca held Jake's hands on the beach – his foot in a cast - so he wouldn't fall. And my personal favorite was one I asked my dad to sneak in; Jake and I wrestling on the ground, laughing. There was love there for me, too.

Jake held me tightly after that and whispered, "We'll have babies one day, Bells. I just know it. That'll make them happy."

It would. We'd never forget, but we would continue to heal together and make our lives worth living with all the love, peace, and happiness we could muster.

Merry Christmas! :o)