Disclaimer: SM still owns everything in the Twiverse. I own nothing.

Happy New Year! Sorry for the delay in posting. I'm still battling and working around the numbness/tingling in my hands etc, but I've missed you all and am so glad to share this with you.

Longest one in a while... here we go!


End of Chapter 29 (Edward's POV):

"I left the station, went to the airport, and flew here as soon as I could," Edward finished.

The room fell silent, save the sounds of Bella's heartbeat. Edward's eyes had fixated on the floor, unable to summon the strength to watch Bella and recount his entire meeting with Charlie. He'd omitted nothing, feeling only the truth could set him free.

And as Bella inhaled to speak, he hoped he was right.


Chapter 23: In the Still of the Night

Bella's POV

There were moments in Bella's life she'd never forget.

The first time she finished Wuthering Heights.

The last time she let Renee make dinner.

The first time she looked in Edward's eyes.

But this moment, after hearing Edward's recap of his conversation with her father, would not rank squarely among the rest.

No, this moment belonged in a category all its own, a category she couldn't quite define. Because defining the category would mean understanding what she'd just heard, and she didn't think that was possible. Her mind was so cluttered with questions and confusion, she hardly knew how she was standing upright.

But upright she was, upright and in motion, crossing the room to land in front of him, the inexplicable creature fate had dropped in her unsuspecting lap. His eyes were down, but he flinched as she neared, likely feeling the shift in the air as she inhaled.

"What does it mean?"

"What?"

"I heard you." Her voice was low, controlled, and so taut with emotion it nearly shook. "Every word you said. Now what does it mean?"

Edward shook his head with a heavy sigh. "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

Her voice cracked on the last word, and Edward finally looked up, meeting her stormy eyes. "That isn't a question I can answer by myself."

"Edward, what the…."

"This isn't up to me, Bella." Though his words were fervent, his voice was soft. "I… I have no right to say that now, no right to say anything anymore. But I can't decide what this means if anyth—"

"Shut up." Bella stalked away, heading toward the stairs. With her back to him, she pinched the bridge of her nose, hoping for whatever comfort or clarity the familiar gesture brought him. All she felt was foolish, so she dropped her hand and ran it across her tired eyes. The antique clock on the mantle ticked away another two minutes, and when she checked its classic face, the last of her strength disappeared.

"I'm going to bed." The words were a weary puff of air. "I… I can't deal with this right now."

"All right." His voice was polite, but it pressed upon her still. "What would you like me to do?"

Her laugh was short and sad. "Now he asks." Surprised when he didn't respond, she turned, his soft gaze fixed on hers. "You can… I don't…" She sighed. "Do whatever you want."

Without waiting for a reply, Bella proceeded directly to her room. She shut the door, keeping the lights off, and buried herself beneath the sheets. For the longest time, she refused to think, to move, to do anything beyond what was biologically necessary to keep herself alive. She lay there in silence, cocooned in the cave of darkness and confusion that had recently become her life. It was too much: this, them, her father's words, his searching eyes… all of it too much, and she just wanted it to go away.

She wanted him to go away.

All she had to do was whisper the words, and he would hear. He would hear and obey and leave her alone with her thoughts and questions and absolutely nothing solved.

So that wouldn't work.

Neither would her pitiful attempt at pretending to sleep. So she curled into a ball, hugging her knees, and thought about the revelations from his tete-a-tete with her father.

First she couldn't believe Charlie sent him here, that he would let Edward invade her privacy by showing up unannounced. At the very least, he could have given her a heads up, a quick "Hey, your boyfriend's on his way. Brace yourself for the crazy" text. Or he could have lied, told Edward she was in Minneapolis visiting relatives or something. Anything but mention his so-called contacts in Florida.

Whatever happened to father-daughter confidentiality?

But that would be too much like interference and subterfuge, neither of which Chief Charles Swan could sanction. And were Bella honest, she'd admit his integrity and refusal to meddle in her personal life was one of the things she loved most about him. Charlie wouldn't refuse to see Edward, even if he wanted to, nor would he go out of his way to sabotage his plans, whatever they were.

No, the problem wasn't Charlie. It was her bullheaded boyfriend.

Though she hadn't told him to stay, she knew he was still in the house, likely right where she'd left him, dutifully awaiting her next words. His devotion would be touching had it not be so belated, and she sighed aloud at his terrible timing.

"Why now?" she whispered. "Why are you here, doing this now?"

"I told you." His voice somehow floated into her cave, and she wondered how he'd judged the proper distance to whisper through a closed door and still be heard. "I had to be here."

"You haven't told me anything." Her voice tightened. "Except the details of a conversation you never should have had with my father."

"Oh." He sounded chastised, his next words halting. "Are… are you angry with me for seeking him?"

"For that?" She threw off the covers as she sat up. "That's what you ask me if I'm angry about?"

"Yes. For it is the only decision I've recently made about which your anger surprises me." When she didn't reply, he continued, "Why are you angry? I would like to understand."

"Because…" She wasn't angry about that, not anymore. It just seemed like the safest place to start, the easiest problem to fix. "I keep my personal life from Charlie, and not just because of the whole I-hang-with-vampires thing. And by talking to him about me without my permission, you violated those boundaries."

"There. That sounded logical enough."

"I… I tried to be circumspect, but that's not really the point, is it?" She could almost see him running his hands through his hair. "Bella, I… you're right. I was wrong to speak to him without first getting your consent. And I apologize."

Bella was floored. It was Edward's first real apology in days, in forever it seemed, and she felt it in her core. Her aching, woeful core.

Lawd, they had a long way to go.

And Bella wasn't entirely sure where they were headed.

Returning in her mind to his talk with Charlie, Bella replayed something he said, something she couldn't quite reconcile.

"I am terrified by things to which she gives little thought or import. She tells me to relax because things always work themselves out, but the less she worries, the more I get concerned. Then I try to make things better, and she hates my decisions and resents me for them."

Most of it only warranted an eye roll in response, owing to his perpetual paranoia and inability to accept the possibility of being wrong.

But that last part…

"What did you mean by 'you try to make things better'? Were you talking about the trial or before?"

"All of it." He sighed. "From the moment you cut your finger, I've been trying to make things better. And have failed miserably at every turn."

"Not every turn," she conceded softly. "The night of the party, you pushed me behind you and..." He muttered something Bella didn't catch. "What was that?"

"Into the table. I pushed you behind me into the table."

"It's the same thing."

"No, Bella. It is not the same thing. I didn't push you behind me into the folds of the couch or Esme's arms. I pushed you into a glass table. I made your whole arm bleed by pushing you into a table. I baited the thirst of every vampire in that room by pushing you into a table. And I nearly cost you your life by pushing you into a table. So please do not tell me it is the same thing as pushing you behind me to save you because saving you is the opposite of what I did."

"Edward, please." His growls were unsettling. "This is not helping."

"Of course not. Because I am the opposite of helpful."

"Are you about to launch into some self-loathing monologue about all your faults and failings? Because I really don't think I could take that right now."

"No, I… I've had enough of that for one week."

Bella surprised them both by laughing. "Never thought I'd see the day."

"I am capable of change. Evidently."

The mood was noticeably lighter, and Bella wrapped herself in it like another blanket.

If only they could stay like this…

"May I..." Edward cleared his throat. "May I ask you a question about that night?"

"I'm so afraid this is going to get worse. But fine, go ahead."

He was silent so long she thought he'd lost his nerve.

"Had you been… had it come down to it," he said, "would you have wanted Carlisle to change you?"

She looked up, staring at the closed door. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's just something I've been thinking about."

Bella hugged her knees. "Well I wouldn't have wanted you to stand there and let me die."

"So..."

"So yes, I would have wanted him to change me."

"Well to me, changing you would have been the equivalent of letting you die." She huffed, but Edward continued. "I know you don't like hearing that, but nothing else I say will ever make sense if you don't understand that. Agreeing to your change would have been like signing your death warrant. At the time, I would never have agreed to that, let alone based on a circumstance my recklessness caused. No, lov… Bella, at the time, the idea of you no longer breathing or blushing, forever mated to a monster who didn't deserve you… I couldn't bear it. And I feared, no, I knew if I stayed in Forks and we stayed together, that's the least of what could have happened to you. And I couldn't take that risk."

"Even if it killed me to see you go?" she whispered.

"You would have survived without me."

"Really? Look at us," she cried. "You never even left, and we're a mess! Barely hanging on and for what? What is being accomplished by any of it?"

"I didn't know how wrong I was, how wrong all of this would be. At the time, I only knew I could not stomach the thought of you becoming one of us."

Bella buried her face in her hands. "I cannot believe we're talking about this when… wait." She raised her head, a thought speeding through her brain. "What do you mean 'at the time'?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Just now you kept saying you couldn't bear the thought of me changing 'at the time.' What does that mean?"

He didn't answer, and in the silence, Bella suspected something she'd never expected to happen.

"Edward?"

Still nothing.

She was on her feet and out of her bedroom, stunned to find the hallway empty. "Edward?" She ran downstairs, flew through the living room, and came to a stop in the kitchen when she found him at the back door, his hand on the doorknob. "What the hell are you doing?"

He shook his head, not turning around. "I'm sorry, Bella. I have to…."

"Don't you dare leave now." Her chest heaved, her eyes wild with excitement and fear. "Tell me what you meant."

"No."

"Edward, please!"

"I can't."

"You have to!"

"I cannot!" His volume was loud enough to back her up. Noting her shock, he slumped against the counter, his weight causing it to sag.

"Tell you? How can I, Bella? How can I say anything to you about my reasons, my feelings or intentions? How can I say anything to you at all? I have no right to be here, let alone speak to you right now. Not even to tell you how wrong I've been about you, about this… about anything.

"I have no right to tell you I was a fool to say I didn't want you forever, that I could stand by and watch you age and gray before leaving me for the next life. No right to say I support your change if you still want it, that I want you to change because I still want you. That I have always wanted you and never not wanted you. I have no right, Bella, no earthly right.

"How could I claim to respect your feelings and wishes when everything I have done up until now proves otherwise? How could I justify forcing you into that trial then blaming you for it just a few moments ago? How could I look at you, your eyes teeming with pain, and tell you I'm sorry for things I should have been wise enough not to do? How could I tell you I want you to be happy when all I have done is make you sad?

"You asked me why I came here, what I wanted. Bella, what I want I have no right to ask for. How could I, after all I've put you through these past days… weeks and months even, if you count all the times I denied you what you asked, what you told me you needed from me? How could I say 'I was wrong' enough times or in enough ways to convey not only the depth of my regret but more so the profound weight my mistakes have caused you to carry? How many apologies would be enough? How many vows to never be so foolish again? Do the words exist that could make such a point?

"And even if there were, even if by some verbal miracle I could express how eternally sorry I am for all I have done, how could I possibly ask your forgiveness? How could I ask you to pardon my many sins when all I deserve is wrath and isolation? And should I somehow manage that, how could I come to you, heart in hand, and ask you to open yours to me again when I am the one who crushed and closed it? How could I expect you to trust me again when I have spurned yours at every turn? I am many things, Bella, but capable of these things… I cannot say that I am."

He raised his eyes, watching the wellspring of tears forming in hers. "Bella, this is how I could further hurt you, the ultimate injury I could inflict. Saying I essentially broke your heart for nothing, that had I only listened to you, the embodiment of reason, I could have spared you this pain and us the necessity of recovering what never had to be lost. This is what I could not say."

His final words seemed suspended in midair, hovering between them. The only sounds in the room were the ticking rooster wall clock Renee bought at a yard sale and the ragged, tortured breaths of a heart overwhelmed.

Though with both of them emotionally indisposed, it was impossible to determine whose breaths they were.

With considerable effort, Bella turned her head to look at him. Noting his inelegant posture and vulnerable eyes, she felt as if she'd never seen him before. She stared without blinking as he bared himself for her inspection.

She saw it all: everything he was and could never be. She'd heard it all: everything he said and meant. She saw and heard, puzzled and pondered, and it was a good long time before she found her voice.

When she finally sighed, he glanced her way, and the world seemed to hold its breath.

"Go."

He blinked, slowly as if in doubt. "What did you say?"

"I need… I need you to go." She wiped her face with both hands. "I heard what you said, and I believe you believe what you're saying. I just… I don't know if I believe it, if I can believe it right now. And if you stay, I'm going to want to believe it right now because I won't want you to hurt any more than you already do. And that's not fair to me. Not that you hurting is fair to me. I'm just…"

"You need time." He cleared his throat and righted himself. "I understand."

She nodded, clamping her mouth shut to keep from taking it back. He shuffled past her, and she wrapped her arms around her midsection to keep from reaching out. Her eyes were trained on his back as he moved away, and as he opened the front door, he turned to face her.

"Whenever you ready, whenever you call," he murmured, "I'll be there."

She nodded again, nibbling her lip such that she nearly drew blood. As he began closing the door, she found her voice again. "Edward?"

"Yes?"

His eyes were aflame with love and longing, and she swallowed hard to stay her course. "Thank you. For coming."

He half-smiled, though his voice was hollow. "It was the least I could do."

She nodded once more, looking away as the door clicked shut. A gust of wind swayed the trees outside the window, and he was gone.

At the realization, Bella collapsed onto her mother's couch and buried her face in its soft folds. She was too tired to cry, too wired to sleep, and she could only hope night wouldn't take so long to pass.

Fishing the TV remote from the coffee table, she flipped channels until she found Julia Roberts in a short blonde wig and inky thigh-high boots. She covered herself with the provided afghan, losing herself in someone else's happily ever after.

The next thing Bella knew, there was a knock at her backdoor. Julia was in a red dress on her way to the opera, so Bella realized she must have fallen asleep. Edward's face had peppered her dreams—lovely at turns, sorrowful at others—and she felt his name on her lips as she sat up.

She must have been sleep-talking again.

Edward said he would return whenever she called, so she couldn't fault him if she interrupted his departure. He must not have gone far, she reasoned, if he could still hear her murmuring in her dreams. She wondered if he ever really left.

As the knocking commenced on the door again, Bella came to her feet, stretching a bit. It would be harder sending Edward away a second time, but somehow she would find the strength.

She hoped.

"I'm sorry, Edward." She yawned as she reached the kitchen. "I was only dreaming."

Bella reached the backdoor with a sleepy smile which faded as soon as she opened it.

"And I'm sorry I'm not Edward," Victoria smiled, her blood-red eyes alight. "But I'm afraid you're about to have a nightmare."

And before Bella could take another breath, everything went black.


So sorry for the cliffie! But it's the best place to end this.

Still with me? What do you think?