TLS Angst Contest Entry

Word Count: 12,687

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Title of Story: Breathe Deep

Story Summary: Water, technology, parents' love, oil, and air are simply a handful of things that are taken for granted... until they're not. Little do Edward and Bella know of what fate has thrown their way.

Breathe Deep

I met Edward Cullen when I was five. Some other boy tripped me on the playground and Edward bit him. We were best friends forever after. When my mom left, when I was eight, he comforted me, and when his grandma died, when he was ten, I did the same for him. We were inseparable—completely bonded. We did nothing that the other didn't know about.

I don't remember when I decided that I loved him. Maybe it was when he cleaned up my scraped knee in middle school or when he held me after I broke up with my first boyfriend. Whatever the case, I did love him—utterly and completely. He was sweet, caring, and protective. He never laughed at me when I tripped over my own feet and he didn't get bored when I talked about whatever book I was reading. He wouldn't let anyone make fun of me. He held me close when the world became too much.

Edward was also gorgeous. He was thin and tall. He had sharp features and deep set beryl eyes. Bright, orange-red hair grew on the top his head in an uncontrollable haystack. Nothing he ever did with it controlled it. I loved it. It looked soft, silky and thick enough to grab.

However, my favorite thing was his smile. He had so many of them. One was huge and hammy, another was more mischievous—a lopsided smirk. The best one was small and gentle. The corners of his lips barely turned up and there was just a flash of pearly white teeth. He only ever smiled like that when he was truly happy. If I had noticed that it happened more often around me then maybe our story would have ended differently.

I was convinced that Edward was out of my league. We may have been friends, best friends even, but Edward was popular and he could have any hot girl he wanted. I was too plain—long brown hair, dull brown eyes, pale skin—to catch his eye like that. So we both dated other people and it was fun, but we remained friends through high school and college. It hurt to see him with other girls, but it made him happy, so I bore it with a smile. I just wanted him to be happy.

After college we moved to Seattle and settled down. He kept dating a seemingly endless string of blond women, but none of them lasted long. I had learned that I only really wanted Edward, and sense I couldn't have him, I would just stop looking. We were still friends though, and I was convinced that nothing could come between us.

So when he called me one day just before I got off work, I wasn't concerned. It wasn't unusual for us to get together at the spur of the moment. He had just broken up with his current girlfriend, and I figured he probably wanted his "wing-woman" to help him get back out on the dating scene.

I found him at the bar slouched over and nursing a drink. If I had been paying attention then, I would have noticed that he was too pale and that his breathing was labored. Maybe I did see and just didn't want to believe something was wrong. He had been sick lately, I thought. I'm certain he's fine.

I sat next to him and he nodded without meeting my eyes. I ordered a drink and nudged his shoulder. "What's up?" I asked, without realizing what a loaded question I had unleashed.

He still wouldn't look at me and I felt my blood run cold. "I went to the doctor today." He spoke so softly that I had to strain to hear him. "My family doesn't even know yet, but I need to tell someone."

I forced down the terror building in my throat and focused on him. It didn't have to be something that bad. I thought I was just overreacting. "I have pulmonary fibrosis. You know how I haven't been able to breathe very well lately? That's why. My lungs are scarred and they have no idea why."

I stared at him, unwilling, or unable to comprehend what he was saying. "Edward, what does that mean? Is it something they can fix, something they can handle?"

He shook his head and his eyes shut against my words. His long, graceful fingers were pinching the bridge of his nose, and I knew he was stressed. "My lungs are scarred. They've become thick and stiff and it keeps me from breathing. It's almost unheard of at my age, but there it is anyway. There's not a cure and they can't even really control it. They treat the symptoms, and even some of them, they can't handle. It could become fatal in three to five years."

Fatal. Three to five years. No. Edward was healthy. He ran five miles a day and played basketball with his friends on Saturdays. There was simply no way. Edward was a rock. He was always there and he was always fine. He couldn't be sick. He couldn't have some kind of degenerative disease that should never have struck someone as young as him. It was breathing for god's sake! It was natural. It was just something you did without even thinking about it.

I was so lost in my shock that I missed the way his voice broke. He pressed his palm to his lips to hold back a cry, but he couldn't disguise the pain swimming in his eyes—it was horror, terror, fear, and hopelessness. I had never seen Edward so scared before in my life.

I choked back my own cries and shock and reached across to pull him into a hug. He buried his face into my shoulder and sobbed. His fingers fisted into the back of my jacket, clinging to me like I was going to disappear. I could feel him shaking as he cried. I couldn't even imagine what he was thinking. He felt fine. He was solid and warm and perfectly healthy. He had his whole life in front of him. He would make partner in just a few years, get married, have a family. This just didn't make since. He had been fine yesterday. He had to be fine.

And then he coughed. It was dry and rough, but it rattled his entire body. I realized I had been hearing it for months but hadn't thought anything of it. It was just a cough. He had a cold or something—not a big deal.

Only it was a big deal. He was already so worked up that he ended up choking on it. The cough turned wet and he couldn't catch his breath. He sounded terrible. His body—which had been limp—stiffened and jerked as it tried to find the air in his lungs that he clearly needed. He pulled away from me and I noticed his face was red and there was more fear in his eyes than had been there before. If he didn't calm down, he was going to pass out.

Without thinking—otherwise I would have been as useless as him—I reached out and pulled him back. I nestled his head on my shoulder and whispered nonsense in his ear about how it was going to be okay and how he was just fine. I twisted my fingers into the roots of his hair and rubbed his scalp, remembering how his mother had calmed him as a child. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, just that I had to do something. He had wanted me here for some reason, and I was going to do everything in my power to help him.

Eventually he calmed, his breathing evened out—how much louder it seemed now that I was listening for it—and he relaxed. He didn't pull away. Instead he let me hold him. I could still feel the fine tremors in his body and I knew that it wasn't over, not for him. This was just the first of many terrors, many scares, and many heartbreaks. It left him weak and that was something I didn't know how to deal with.

"I've got an appointment with the doctor tomorrow to talk about treatment options." Edward's voice was surprisingly clear, certainly stronger than I expected it to be after his fit. Still, there was just a hint of a rasp in it, but I chose to ignore it. He'll be fine. I thought, trying to convince myself. I had to believe that. Although "treatment" did sound very serious. "I know it's a lot to ask, but would you go with me? I just don't think I can handle it alone, and I haven't told any of my family. I would just feel better if you were with me."

He sounded so uncertain. Like I wouldn't do anything he asked me to do? If he needed me, then I would be there.

True to his word, there weren't a lot of treatment options. He had what the doctor called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Basically, it meant that they had no idea why his lungs had scarred, just that they had. As such there wasn't a lot that they could do. They put him on a series of drugs to slow down the scarring, but there were side effects. One made him sick. One gave him insomnia. Another had the possibility to give him cancer. It went on and on.

Still after the break down at the bar, he didn't show any more weakness. He took the drugs, dealt with not sleeping, being sick, and not being able to do the things he loved—like running. He learned to live with his new shortness breath and the dry cough. I was incredibly proud of him. He never complained, and he tried to keep the depression at bay. I would make sure he ate, although he was slowly losing weight. I would bring over movies and board games to keep him in entertained.

I was with him when he told his family. Esme, his mother, ended up in tears, and he comforted her more than she comforted him. His baby sister, Alice, took it worse. She was in denial for months. She had two kids, a husband, and she wanted her brother around to see them and watch them grow. Of course, she didn't want to lose him either. As the months passed and he didn't get too much worse, she began to except that he was sick, but maybe it wasn't the end of the world.

I couldn't blame her for her attitude. I understood it. I hated how he got sick every time he took his pills. I hated that he would get coughing fits that would snap his strength for hours at a time. I hated that his uneven breathing kept him from a deep restful sleep. I hated what his own body was doing to him, but I was proud of the smile that stayed on his face. Sometimes his smile was tired and weary, but it was still there.

The side effects may have been terrible, but at least the drugs worked. The scarring on his lungs didn't get too much worse, and we learned to get around the effects. For over a year life stayed mostly the same. The two of us went to work, Edward only called in sick when he had to and he had more good days than bad, then I would either go over to his apartment or he would come to my house and we would spend the evening watching movies or playing games. It was a system that worked for us, and although we didn't forget that he was sick, it just became part of the rhythm of life.

To be honest, it was a rhythm I liked. Edward and I were closer than we had ever been. He couldn't go out to bars because of the smoke, and cold, wet air made his coughing worse. It was easier on him to stay in than to go out. Most of our friends didn't like that, so it ended up just being the two of us. I didn't mind and he didn't seem to either.

Of course, everything wasn't perfect either. Edward was still ill. Some nights he didn't even want to get out of bed. I would curl up next to him while we watched a movie and listen to his ragged breathing and the cracking sound in his chest. It was the only time that I allowed myself to cry around him. I didn't want him to know that it got to me. I knew I needed to be strong for him.

It was also killing me. I loved him. I really truly loved him. He didn't deserve what he was going through. He didn't deserve to have his lifespan cut so short. He was kind and caring—wouldn't hurt a fly—and did everything in his power to protect those who needed it. He could do so much good in this world, but instead he was being ravaged by a disease that he didn't even understand.

It was almost like we were dating, but we weren't. We were friends who spent every minute around each other and sometimes even slept over at each other's places. We cooked and cleaned together, I always made sure he ate and rested. We took care of each other. Wasn't that what people in a relationship did?

It didn't change anything though. We were still friends like we had been since we were five. A year ago I would have been fine with that. Edward was happy, and we had all the time in the world. This, this was different. Edward wasn't happy. Oh, he may have put on a happy face and tried to pretend that he was, but he wasn't. He lived, but he wasn't happy. He struggled with depression and anxiety. He tried to put on a good show, but I saw through it.

We also didn't have all the time in the world anymore. The drugs didn't stop the scarring, just slowed it down. At some point our fragile balance would be shattered, and he would get worse. I wanted to take advantage of the now. I wanted Edward—sick or whole, grouchy or happy, poor or rich. I wanted Edward as mine, and now was the time to do it.

A year and a half after his first diagnosis, Edward was in a good mood. He was smiling the big smile, the goofy one. He usually hid behind that one, but he was at least pretending so I wasn't arguing. We were making a salad for dinner, and he was teasing me for my perfect knife skills. I told him to focus on his knife and stop worrying about mine.

Of course, as I had decided was par-for-the-course for us, tragedy stuck. Edward's fingers were no longer long and graceful. About three months before his fingers had begun to club. Where before they had been slim and nimble, the ends were now bulbous and the knuckles were stiffer than they had been. So, when the knife slipped he wasn't able to grab it. I watched in slow horror as the end of the knife nicked the tip of his middle finger. It was a tiny incision, but the implications could have been disastrous.

"Damn it!" Edward exclaimed, pounding his other fist against the countertop. His pure furry startled me for a moment, but I rushed forward and pulled him to the sink. The tip of his finger was already covered in red and the blood was beginning to drip of it and into the sink.

I pressed a wad of paper towels into his finger while sending up a quick prayer that just this once the blood thinners he was on wouldn't work. He was on them to keep a blood clot from forming in his lungs, but the last thing I needed was him bleeding out from a tiny cut in his finger.

I ignored his stiff form still standing next to me and inspected the cut. "Do we need to go get you some stitches?" I muttered. "I think it's stopped bleeding, but we shouldn't take any chances."

"It's fine!" He yanked his hand out my grasp and wrapped it in a towel. I was shocked by his aggression. Edward was not an angry person. He was protective of those he loved and would do anything in his power to take care of them, but he wasn't just angry. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared.

But then I looked at his eyes and saw the real problem. They were glassy and wet. The green was too bright and his eyelashes were clumpy. He hadn't cried—that I knew of—since that night he told me he was sick. He was probably overdue for a new round.

"Stupid fucking clumsy fucking fingers." His voice didn't have a lot of power behind it. For one, he didn't have a lot of air after his earlier outburst, and for another, he was too busy fighting the tears in his eyes. He wouldn't look at me, instead he gazed at the towel wrapped around his finger. For such a small cut it was dealing a lot of damage.

I said his name softly and reached up to brush his cheek, but he jerked away. "Don't. Just don't, Bella." He was fighting a losing battle, and I watched as the first tear rolled down his cheek. "Just don't."

"Edward, what's wrong? Whatever it is, I can help. Let me."

He chuckled, but it wasn't happy. "There is nothing that you can do. My own damn body is destroying me. There isn't anything you can do about it."

"You're right. There's not," I admitted. That was hard. There was nothing anyone could do to save him. "I'm not gonna stop trying though. You're worth fighting for. Just let me in."

His shoulders sagged and a whimper escaped his lips. I couldn't stop myself and rushed forward to wrap my arms around his shoulders. He didn't try to shy away this time, instead sinking into my embrace. "It's just so hard, Bella." His voice broke on every word. "I can't, I can't keep going everyday thinking it's the last normal one. I keep thinking I'll wake up one morning and it'll all be done. I won't be able to breath, and you'll leave me, and it'll all be over. I'm not ready for it to be over."

"Oh, Edward." I sobbed and gripped the hair at the base of his neck. Did he really not realize that I would do anything for him? I wasn't afraid of what was coming. I was going to stand next to him no matter where this road led us. He was not going to lose me. "Edward, I'm not going to leave you—not now, not ever. I love you."

"No, no, no, no." He moaned. "Aw, Bella, you shouldn't have done that."

I pushed him away just to arm's length. I needed to see his face. I needed to see the lines on his forehead and the pain in his eyes. "Shouldn't have done what? Loved you? Edward, tons of people of love you."

"Not like that!" he thundered, before choking on a cough. I rubbed his back and whispered sweet nothings in his ear as he worked his way through this fit. "You. Can't. Love. Me. Like. That."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I'm going to die." He sobbed.

"So am I."

"Don't you dare."

"Edward, I've loved you since we were kids. Don't tell me it's not worth it." I choked, and his eyes tensed. "We'll make it work."

He shook his head. "You deserve better. I can't give you anything anymore. I'm broken. I'm so sorry, Bella. I wouldn't blame you if you walked out the door. I can't love you right—like you deserve."

I knew from looking at his face that he wasn't going to budge. I was certain that he loved me, but he wasn't going to be moved from this. I swallowed down my anguish and reached for his hand. "Let me look at your hand."

"Bella, you should..."

"Let me look at your hand."

He surrendered his hand, and I peeled away the towel to look at the nick. I was startled when his other hand brushed away hair from the side of my face. "Bella, you should go..."

I looked up at him, trying to make it clear with my eyes what I thought. "I'm not leaving you, Edward Cullen. Not now. Not ever."

Eight months later and Edward was on oxygen. We knew something was wrong. His normally pale skin had acquired a bluish tint. The doctors said there wasn't enough oxygen in his blood and it was making his heart work harder. He hated the having the cannula in his nose and toting the tank around with him. He never told me, but I was certain that he thought it made him look weak. It took Alice's and my combined efforts to get him to use it.

He wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong, and for the most part I indulged him. With the exception that his lungs were degrading and he had to cart a tank around everywhere he went, he really was fine. He worked at the law firm, and we still went out afterward when he felt up it. It was easy to think that this would go on forever.

On night we were sitting on his floor playing Monopoly. We had started out on the couch, but we moved to the floor as the intensity of the game caught up to us. Edward was so competitive and it was good to see that lively, spark back in his eyes. If I could offer a distraction for just one night, then I would.

He watched as I took my time rolling the dice. There was a huge jackpot in the free parking space, and we were both within ten places of it. I stared him down, beryl eyes meeting my own muddy brown. He was amused thinking I wouldn't be able to do it. It was silly game of chance, but I was enjoying beating him at him.

Finally I let the dice fall and seven little black dots stared up at me—the exact number I needed to make it to Free Parking. Edward groaned and flopped back against the edge of the couch. Although it didn't take long until he was laughing as I snickered while pulling the fake money toward me. "Fine, fine. You win."

"You still have a chance." I laughed as counted. I had to admit, it was a very slim chance. I owned over the half the board. He was losing more money than he was taking in.

"Nope." He shook his head as that big, dazzling smile slid across his face. It made my heart stutter, and an answering smile spread across my own. "I surrender to your monopoly building ways, Ms. Swan. You have beaten me."

"Don't be so over dramatic." I teased while settling next to him, our backs to the couch and legs stretched out in front of us. "I'm not even a capitalist."

He chuckled like I knew he would. It was our best argument in college—capitalism vs. socialism. I had threatened to not talk to him for a week. It had lasted all of eight hours before I was sneaking into his dorm to play some stupid video game. "Just proves me right. Seems kinda dumb now."

"What does?"

"Everything." He whispered softly. His fingers were playing the tubing that ran from his nose to the tank beside him. "Eight years of college, of studying, being top of my class, seems kinda useless now."

"It's not useless." I wanted to touch him—hold his hand, play with his hair, hug him, something—but I got the feeling that he really didn't want to be touched. I was too excited that he was opening up to me to do anything to startle him. "You're gonna beat this thing. I know you are."

He shook his head but didn't argue. I got brave and rested my head on his shoulder, with the full length of our sides in contact. "This isn't over, Edward. You're not giving up yet, and the rest of us aren't either. You've got too much to live for."

He turned his head and looked down on me with his sad green eyes. "Why do you stay with me?"

I had to swallow a lump in my throat. I couldn't tell him the truth. He had already made his views on that crystal clear. "It's what friends do."

"It's really not. Look around you. All of my other friends have left."

"Then they weren't real friends."

"Bella." He laughed as he said my name, but I didn't miss the intensity in it either. "Thanks."

I smiled. "You're welcome. Anytime."

Edward laid his head on top of mine and grabbed my hand, twisting my smaller fingers around his thick ones. I didn't believe for one second that I had convinced him that I belonged at his side, but for now he was accepting it. It was a start.

It was the end of the end of the easy days. Edward started having more bad days than good. His doctors put him on anti-depressants, and he went to working only part time at the firm. He was moody, grouchy, and, quite frankly, a pain in the ass at times. There were occasions when I just wanted to hit him, but good to my word, I didn't leave him. I put up with him, because I loved him and still believed that he would make it out of this.

Perhaps it was inevitable that something would happen. The chance that things would go wrong with just the slightest chance was always hanging over our heads. So, as soon as it looked like Edward was getting sick, I dragged him to the hospital. The drugs he was on lowered his immune system so that he couldn't fight off a simple cold. He argued the entire time, but I refused to listen. The fact that he argued however, made me feel better. If he was still arguing, then it must not have been anything too serious.

I should have known better. Edward's cold quickly turned out to be pneumonia. He was admitted to the hospital, and I watched as he seemed to wither before my eyes. There were tubes coming out of arms with fluids going in in an effort to make him feel better. His skin was still blue and now clammy. He breathing was ragged and sharp. It seemed like it was all he could do to breathe, except for when he coughed up mucus, then that was all he could do. He slipped in and out of a fevered delirium, and there was nothing that any of us could do. We had to watch as his body struggled to fight off a simple infection.

Alice, Esme, and I never left the hospital. Carlisle, Edward's father and a doctor himself, urged us to get some rest, but we wouldn't leave Edward. I had promised him that night he cut his finger that I wasn't going to leave him. Just because he wasn't aware of me being there didn't mean that I was going to leave.

He was in the hospital for two weeks before he talked to me again. It was late at night; Alice and Esme were asleep in the chairs, while I perched on the edge of his bed, trying to stay out of the way of the various tubes and wires coming out of him. He was asleep, but I could watch his eyes move under his eyelids in the dim light and knew that he wasn't deeply asleep. His short, ragged breaths punctuated the silence, and I want to scream. This wasn't fair. He hadn't done anything to deserve this—to be slapped down in his prime. He should have been finding a girl, getting married, having a family, not reduced to a clammy, wet mess in a hospital bed.

I hadn't even realized that I had begun crying until I felt his wet, clumsy fingers trying to brush the tears away. My eyes snapped open and locked on his glossy, grass-green orbs. It was the most alert I had seen him in weeks, and I couldn't keep the sob in.

"Don't cry." His voice was hoarse and broken by the gasps he had to take to get air in his broken lungs. "Please, Bella, don't cry."

A high-pitched, broken laugh escaped my lips. "Can't, Sorry."

The tears were coming faster and they were obscuring my view. His hand fell. He simply didn't have the energy to keep it up, but his gaze didn't wander. I realized how much I missed his eyes. "Told. You To. Leave." He gasped, and I tried to shush him, but he was as stubborn as always. He wanted to say something, so he was going to. "Would. Have been. Happier. You. Don't. Need. To see. This."

"Shut up, Edward," I ordered. "I love you. I'm not leaving you. Get over it."

Weakly he shook his head. "Not. Worth. It."

If I hadn't been so exhausted, my emotions already so flayed, I might not have unloaded on him like I did. As it happened though, I'm not sure I'm at all sorry. "You listen to me, Edward Anthony Cullen, you do not get to give up yet. Not yet. You've still gotta make it out of this. We've got things to do. We haven't seen the Grand Canyon yet. You remember when we promised to see it together in elementary school? We haven't done that yet. There is still so much we've got to do."

The beginnings of a smirk—that lopsided, mischievous one—bloomed on his face. "Promised. I'd take. You. To the. Taj Mahal."

I giggled while choking back a sob. "Yeah, you did. You're not gonna let someone else take me, are you?" He shook his head. "Good. It's just pneumonia. You can do it, okay?"

He nodded as his eyes drifted closed, but he was fighting it for some reason. I can't explain why I did it, but I leaned forward and kissed his forehead, feeling the hot, clammy skin with my lips. He moaned, but it didn't sound painful. "Go back to sleep, Edward. Love you."

I'm still not certain I heard it, but I thought I caught a soft, "Love. You. Bella." before sleep claimed him again.

It took three weeks before he completely recovered, and it was another three months before he left the hospital. By then the damage had been done. He only got about half his breathing capacity back, and by then he begun to develop a resistance the drugs he had been on. The scarring on his lungs had gotten worse and Edward was left in the middle. He got winded more quickly and it took longer to recover.

He hated to be weak, but there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't walk ten steps without losing his breath and that was on a good day. Take into account that he had to lug around an oxygen tank everywhere he went, and he was left without a lot of options. He tried to go back to work, but it just didn't work out. He was too tired and it took too much energy to get there. It gutted him. He had worked so hard to get where he was and then to have to give it up like this—because his body couldn't up with his mind. It destroyed me to watch it. I couldn't even imagine what he had gone through.

Of course, it didn't help that Alice and I were now taking care of him. We paid his bills, cooked for him, cleaned up after him. We had talked about him just moving in with one of us, but we were reluctant to take it that far. He was alright living on his own for now, and at least that little bit of independence seemed to help with his mental state. So, as painful as it was to watch, we let him keep going.

Several months into our new routine, there was a knock on my door. It was the weekend, which usually meant that I spent it with Edward, but he said had that morning that he was tired and would have preferred just to rest. I had thought about arguing with him, but I had decided to let him do it. He could make his own decisions. I was confused however. I hadn't expected anyone to drop by.

I opened the door to find a very pale, haggard looking Edward. I saw his car in my driveway, so at least he hadn't walked here, but he still looked like shit. It didn't take me long to figure out why. His cannula was not in his nose, which meant that he didn't have his tank, and his body wasn't getting the oxygen it needed. I groaned. It had been a while since he had refused to use the thing.

I pulled him inside by his arm. "Edward, where is your oxygen tank? You look like crap. God knows what you're doing to your heart."

I think he was going to tell me off, but he opened his mouth and all he could do was cough. Choking was a better term really. Those deep, dry, rasping hacks shook his body and made it hard for him to find air to breath. His face turned red, and I maneuvered him to my couch before he fell over. When I rubbed his back, I could feel how badly everything in his chest was rattling. It felt like he might just shake apart.

Slowly, he began to breathe again, and I helped him lean back. He looked so small that I didn't have the heart to continue berating him. His sweatpants were loose and his shirt was baggy. He looked like a child in his parents clothes. His features were even sharper than they had been before he got sick and his arms were thin. I had to swallow a flood of tears. In some ways, he didn't even look like Edward anymore.

"Please, Bella, just don't," he muttered, his eyes still closed. "I just want to be normal, just for one day. Is that too much to ask?"

"No," I answered. He deserved a day of normalcy. I'd get the oxygen tank back on him later. "What do want to do? My treat."

"Can we just watch a movie? I don't think I can do to much more than that." He chuckled darkly. "Yeah, can't even pretend to be normal."

I managed a smile and smoothed back hair from his sweaty face. "Staying in and watching a movie is normal for us. Come on."

I moved him to my bedroom, figuring that my bed would be more comfortable than the couch. I put in some stupid movie we had played a hundred times and curled up next to him. My head was on his shoulder, and I could feel his cheek on the crown of my head. I could hear the rales, the cracking sound in his lungs, every time he took a breath. It wasn't a natural sound and gave me goose bumps, but I did my best to ignore it. He needed me at the moment, and I wasn't going to not be here just because of some stupid sound.

I felt him reach for my fingers and squeeze them. That was unusual. It had been a long time since he held my hand. I picked my head up and look down on him. His soft beryl eyes are looking up at me, and I can't quite read the emotion in them. It was something soft and gentle, and hinted at something deeper.

"I'm sorry," He finally whispered. I'm not sure if he just wanted to speak that softly or if that was all the air he had. It could have been either one. "You deserve so much better than me, and I'm sorry for the hell I've put you through. Thanks for staying anyway."

I buried my head in his hair to hide the tears. His hair was the only thing that hadn't changed. It was still thick, red, and uncontrollable. "I told you I wasn't leaving."

He tugged my arm and moved so that we were lying face to face. He tried to tell me something with his eyes, but I just didn't understand. I wished I did. Then they started drifting closed, his body and mind demanding sleep. I played with his hair, rubbing his scalp, knowing that would calm him.

"Go to sleep. You'll feel better when you wake up."

I knew it was a lie when I said it, but he believed me and drifted away. I kept expecting his breath to even out, but it never did. I remained curled against his warm body, the movie forgotten, and wept. I spent the afternoon wrapped in memories. The way he grinned when he made it to the baseball team, how elated he was when the acceptance letter to college came, the first time he asked a girl out, moving into his first apartment. Birthdays, summers, holidays, and the everyday kind of things, blended into a colorful, incomplete tapestry.

I just couldn't find the point. Why? Why did he get to live his life for twenty-eight years without a worry to suddenly have it come crashing down? Where was the plan in that? He was young. He hadn't gotten to do anything yet. He had had plans. There were places he wanted to go, things he wanted to do, and people he wanted to help. He wanted to help people! He wasn't evil or self-righteous, he wasn't perfect, but dammit he tried. He didn't deserve this. Not this. Not ever.

I didn't know I had fallen asleep until I woke up. It was darker in the room, the movie was off, and he was still asleep. I reluctantly pulled away and sat up. He didn't look peaceful—the way you were supposed to look when you slept. His brow was furrowed and his dry, chapped lips set in a line. I reached out and used a finger to smooth the line away. He still looked troubled, but at least I had tried. It seemed to be the best I could do these days.

I got up and called Alice, asking her to go by Edward's place and bring me his oxygen tank. I didn't tell her why he had left it home. She had enough to worry about. She brought it by and helped me hook him up without waking him. He looked a little better after he started breathing in the concentrated oxygen.

"He looks terrible, Bella." Alice sat on the bed next to his head and combed his hair with her fingers. Her kids were playing in the living room, and I could see the strain this had had on her. Her normally bright blue eyes were dull, and she looked run down. "Dad's still trying to find something, but he's not having a lot of luck. They're thinking about putting him on the donor list, did he tell you?"

I shook my head. "What are the chances?"

"Not good." Alice sighed and her shoulders bowed like they carried the weight of the world. "They don't know what caused it to begin with so they'll be wary about giving him a new set."

I nodded. I wasn't surprised. We had known from the beginning that a transplant was unlikely. It was a good thing we hadn't gotten our hopes up. It made dealing with it now much easier.

Alice left and Edward slept for a few hours. It took him awhile to wake up. He was disoriented and unsteady, which worried me. Edward was usually very alert when he woke up. He wasn't even usually groggy. It took me awhile to coach him around. When he did finally seem alert, the first thing he did notice was the cannula in his nose. I watched as his eyes darkened before he viciously ripped the hose from his nose.

"Edward, you need that..."

"No, I don't." He tried to sound tough, but he was too breathless for that. I could tell from the firm set of his jaw and the darkness of his eyes that he was pissed about something. It didn't take long for him to explain. "Well, I do, but I don't want it. I'm so tired of this, Bella. It's doing nothing but draw out the inevitable. I'm just so tired."

I gasped in shock. He wanted—what? No. No, no, no. I needed him. His sister needed him. His parents needed him. We needed him. No. I wouldn't allow this. "Edward, you can't. You just can't. I mean, there's so many people who need you. I need you, and your family needs you. You just can't..."

He laughed, but it wasn't the smooth chuckle that I loved. It was bitter and broken. The anger had faded leaving only pain in its place. It was a pain he had turned inward on himself without me realizing it. So much for taking care of him. "Bella, no one needs me. I am nothing but a burden on everyone that I love. I can't take care of anyone. I can't properly love anyone, because people who love each other don't put each other through pain like this."

"We do it because we love you. We want to take care of..."

"NO!" It was the loudest I had heard him shout in a long time. "No, you don't get it. You never got it, Bella! I'm dying. There is no way to stop it. There is no way to fix it. It's over. You, all of you, are just wasting your time."

I felt like I had been slapped. I got the point. Of course, I did. There was coming a day, much sooner than I liked to admit, when he wouldn't be there to yell at me. He was dying and he was angry, but he was also being a selfish dick. For the first time in years I was actually mad at him. "Do you want to know why we're 'wasting our time? Because we love you. Even when you're mad at us. Even when you can't do anything but lash out at us, we love you. Your sister loves you, your parents love you, and I love you. We just want the time left to us and left to you."

I couldn't look at him without crying, and I didn't want to do that, so I stood up and marched out of the room. I didn't go far. I ended up sinking into the couch, burying my face into my hands, and shaking with suppressed sobs. I could understand why he was angry, and I could understand why he was tired, but why did he want to leave me? Didn't he want the last few months or years left with us and his family? I understood that this wasn't fair, but shouldn't he be making the most of it?

Maybe I was just scared of losing him. Maybe I just really wasn't ready for a life where I didn't see him every day. He was my best friend. He was the one who had always been there for me when everyone else wasn't. I didn't know how to do it without him. I would be lost, rudderless, and anchorless. Maybe he wasn't the one being selfish—maybe I was.

I felt the couch dip as his weight settled next to me. "I'm sorry." His voice was rough and weightless. "Please don't cry. I can't handle it when you cry."

"Then why do you want to leave me?" I didn't lift my head. I couldn't bear to see him. I didn't know what I would do if I did.

"I don't..." His voice broke and he whimpered. "I don't want to leave you. I really don't. I can't imagine that anything, anywhere else is as good as being with you. Please, Bella, look at me?"

How could I say no? I lifted my face to find his covered in tears. His bottom lip quivered, and his eyes were filled with pain and something else—fear, I quickly realized.

"Bella, I don't want to die." He sobbed, his tears running into each other on his cheeks. His nose was red and his lips were swollen. I was having trouble seeing past the tears in my own eyes. "Please, I don't want to die. I can't leave my parents—it'll destroy my mother. I can't leave Alice. I want to watch my niece and nephew grow up. I want a family. I want to leave a mark. Just something so that the world knew I was here. And Bella, I don't want to leave you. Please, I don't want to leave you."

I almost leaped across the space separating us and threw my arms around him. We were both wet, tear stained, and gasping for breath, as we clung to each other like the world was going to rip us apart. I suppose it was. We were both sobbing, our tears intermixing where our cheeks were pressed together. We were shaking, certain we were going to fall apart. This would be the thing that finally did us in. His fists were knotted into the back my shirt, while I did the same to his. We couldn't get close enough. We couldn't hold on hard enough. We both somehow knew it was the beginning of the end.

His cries bounced off the walls, his moans were low in my ears, and his gasps as he struggled to breathe punctuated it all. I could feel his chest heave as it tried to get air, and I loosened my grasp. He didn't loosen his. If anything he clung tighter. "Bella." He moaned, trying to find enough air to talk, I was certain. "I'm. Scared. I'm. So. Scared."

I didn't know what to say that. I was scared too. I was scared to lose him. I was scared he was going to be in pain. I was scared I was going to be in pain. I was scared he was going to slip away in the night at some point, and I wouldn't get to say goodbye. "I know." I managed to force out around a cry of terror. "I know. It'll be okay though. I'm sure."

I felt him shake his head and sob. He knew I was lying. He was trying to say something. He kept emitting these little wet, gasping noises. His short, frantic breaths were causing him to hyperventilate. All this crying and screaming wasn't good for him. Not to mention, I hadn't gotten the oxygen back into his nose. He was going to make himself sick.

As calmly as possible, I let go of his shirt with one hand and trailed the other up his back and into his hairline. Once my fingers were at work, I began whispering in his ear, telling him that he needed to calm down and breathe. I reminded him that I was right there and he wasn't going to leave me, not for a long while yet. "Just relax, sweetheart. It'll be okay. It'll be ok. Just breathe." I rocked him in my arms like a baby, and I didn't realize until later that he was rocking me as well.

Slowly, his breath deepened as much as it ever did. Both our cries ceased, but we were still dealing with the quieter aftershocks and sniffles. I knew tears were still leaking from my eyes, but they didn't have sound to go with them anymore.

He pulled his face away from my shoulder and it was soaked with tears, snot, and spit. His red lips were open and still gasping for breath, his eyes were glassy, and his eyelashes clumpy and wet. His green eyes burned with a passion I hadn't seen in them in a long time. "I don't know how. To keep fighting." He gasped, struggling over every word. His hands came up and cupped my wet cheeks keeping our gazes locked. "You have. To help. Me. Help me. Fight this."

I stifled a sob and nodded. I knew there were some battles that we were going to lose, and some battles that we were going to win. I knew we were likely to lose the whole damn war, but I didn't care. He was my everything, and I didn't want a world without him.

He took a deep, ragged breath and his eyes shut, exhaustion beginning to pull him back under. Before he was too far gone, I tugged him to his feet and walked him back to my bedroom. As soon as he was on my bed, I handed him the cannula he ripped out earlier. "Battle number one, you have to keep yourself healthy, for us, if not for you."

"It makes me feel weak," he said as he took the tubing from my fingers. "I hate it, Bella."

"You're not weak." I cuddled into his side and his other arm wrapped around my waist. "You're strong because you know you need help."

He nodded and placed the cannula into his nose. We stayed there entwined in the darkness all night. We didn't spend another night apart until he was gone.

It wasn't long after that it was decided Edward could no longer live by himself. It was a hard decision for him accept, but he smiled through it.

Rather than move in with Alice, who had two young kids, or his parents, who lived three cities over, he moved in with me. I like to think that made it easier on him. He said he wasn't imposing on me so much because I was with him all the time anyway. A nurse came by to check on him during the day while I was work, and I spent the evenings with him. He had his own room, but after he fell asleep in mine the first night, it was just expected that he would sleep with me.

Living together wasn't as awkward as I would have thought it would be. By that point we were basically living together anyway. It was just a matter of making it official. We cleared out his apartment. Most of the stuff went into storage. Alice and I knew we would end up going through it all after he was gone, but we both agreed to not talk about it. We weren't ready to deal with it.

The first night he was there was just like any other night, we watched TV in my bed until we fell asleep. Technically he had his own room—my guest room—but he never used it. He was always with me or on the couch.

One weekend, about a month after he moved in, I went to get groceries and found him asleep on the couch. After I put everything away, I knelt next to him and ran my fingers across his forehead. He was cold. The doctor's mentioned that this might happen. The less his heart pumped, the more his temperature dropped. I pulled a quilt off the back of the couch and wrapped him in it, hoping it would help keep him warm. He moaned a little before curling a little tighter underneath the blanket.

His brows were furrowed, deep lines etched into his forehead. I wondered if he had a headache. One of the drugs he was on could cause migraines. I twisted my fingers into his hair, scratching his scalp and tugging gently at the soft ends. He sighed, his chapped lips parting, and the lines eased a little from his face. I smiled indulgently. There were times that he still acted like he had before he got sick, and these little mannerisms reminded me of him before he got sick.

When we were little I used to spend my afternoons at his house, while my dad was at work. We'd do our homework and hang out. On afternoon, I was flipping through a book and stumbled on a picture of the Taj Mahal. I remarked that I thought it was tragic because the emperor had it built for his beloved dead wife, but, with all the wisdom of a fifth grader, I also declared it the single most romantic place in the world. Edward had looked over at me with this no-nonsense look and said, "I'll take you there." He was serious too.

There was still a little of that boy in this sick man's face. His lips were still pursed like they used to, and his eyes the same startling green. His hair hadn't changed a bit. It was still thick and bright red. These little observances made me feel better. He was still the boy I had admired, and the man I had loved.

I could still feel time slipping though. It had been three years since he was diagnosed. Three long, hard, bittersweet, and sweeping years. I choked on a sob. Just three years ago nothing was wrong and all our plans were still intact. They all crumbled in an instant. How could three years change so much?

I was startled when I felt his fingers against my cheek catching the few tears that had escaped my eyes. I hurriedly brushed them away and put on a smile. "Hey, I didn't know that you woke up."

"Why are you crying?" He swallowed thickly, and I suspected that his throat was dry. I went to get him a glass of water, but he grabbed my arm and began trying to pull himself up. "No. Don't go anywhere. I want to know why you were crying."

"It was nothing." I wasn't quite sure why I was avoiding him. I just didn't want to explain to him what I was going through. I didn't want to add to his burden. "You hungry? I can fix something for dinner."

"No, Bella, come here." His grip on my arm was surprisingly tight as he pulled me next to him. "Why won't you talk to me? I'm not in the way am I? If I am, I'm so sorry. I'll call Alice and…" Edward choked on the air not coming out of his lungs. I should have stopped him earlier, but he was talking to fast.

I rubbed his back and waited while he got his breath back. "Sorry," he gasped.

"It's not your fault and you're not in the way. I kinda like having you here."

"Then why won't you talk to me?"

"Because," I sighed, suddenly exhausted. "Because I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that you're going to leave me soon, and I didn't want to make it any worse on you, so I was just going to handle it."

"You didn't want to bother me?"

I nodded, blinking back hot tears. I didn't want to bother him. I didn't want him to have to deal with both my baggage and his.

"I won't be here to help you through, afterward." He choked on the word, but it came out anyway. "Maybe I want to help you now."

I finally met his gaze. Lately he had been avoiding the topic, but—for right now at least—he seemed to have pushed it away. His green eyes were burning with a kind of passion that I hadn't seen in them in a long time. It was soft and gentle. I had to remind myself that he had made it clear what he thought of us. We weren't supposed to be in love. As if I could control that. Maybe, just maybe, he couldn't either.

"I don't want to overwhelm you."

He smiled sadly. "Really, Bella, what else are we gonna do? Keep going in the same circles, watching TV and sleeping, or would you at least let me know that you're going to be ok?"

"I'm not going to okay." I'm as honest as I can be. He's asking for it. "Not for a long time anyway. You've been here since we were kids. I can't just let go of that. You're everything to me, Edward."

"I know." He nodded and I held my breath, waiting for the other boot to fall. "You're everything to me to Bella. Just promise me you'll take care of yourself. You're too beautiful and smart to not live."

I managed a nod. It was the least I could do really. "I really, really am not ready for this."

Edward pulled my arm again until I was cocooned at his side, with both of us under the blanket and both of sheading quiet tears. It wasn't a goodbye, but more of an acknowledgement of the goodbye. It was staring the abyss in the face and coming to terms with it. It was releasing, in a way. We knew what was coming, and we knew we would face it together.

I froze when I felt his lips in my hair. It was a kiss. I was sure of it. I didn't want to read too much into it. It was just a kiss on the crown of head. It was nothing. Friends did that, right?

"You're gonna be awesome, Bella." I heard him whisper. "Don't argue, you are. I mean, you've always been better than me. You're kind, and forgiving, and caring. You didn't think twice about what I needed from you. You just gave, and gave, and gave. You didn't think what you would get in return."

"I didn't have to. You needed me."

"Yeah, what happens when you need me?"

I didn't have answer for that.

Although we had spoken no words, the tone of our relationship had changed. I wasn't just his best friend, but I wasn't his girlfriend. Girlfriend wasn't big enough—it wasn't deep enough. There wasn't a word for everything, but there needed to be. The English language is woefully short on words.

I was his, and he was mine. It was all that needed to be said.

I walked in the door one night, expecting to find Edward on the couch asleep as usual. It was all he really did by that point. He didn't have a lot of energy, and the drugs he was on sapped him of what little he had. I was trying to remember what we had in the fridge to make for dinner when I opened the door to the smell of tomato sauce and garlic bread.

"Edward?" I asked curiously. Even when he was healthy he didn't cook. The living room was dim as well. My eyes burned when I saw what he had done. The dining room table was set for a romantic meal for two. Candles were burning, there was a pretty white tablecloth that I didn't recognize, and Edward was dressed in a sharp black suit.

"Hey." His eyes were two green rings of fire. I hadn't seen them so bright in years. "I never got to take you out on a date. I wanted to take you out, but I didn't think I would..." And he ran out of air. I waited patiently while he breathed. "Make it. I'm sorry. I should have done this years ago."

There were tears in my eyes, but I wouldn't let them fall. This was too beautiful for words, and I didn't want to waste a minute of it with crying. "You didn't have to. How did you do all this?"

"Alice helped." He smiled that soft, shy smile I hadn't seen in years, and it broke my heart. "She did the cooking for the most part. I know you don't want to eat my cooking."

We laughed. It felt good to laugh at something like that.

So we went on our date. For years I had wanted him to take me out like this. The chance had passed us by for that, but he did his best to make up for it. We ate—I more than him— we talked and we laughed. He held my hand and teased that I was still smaller him even after all the weight that he had lost. It was everything I had ever wanted and so much more. I hadn't even realized that there was still a part of me that was worried about what I really meant to him. He had snuffed it out in a second.

After dinner he tried to help with the dishes, but he had already exerted so much precious energy that he was failing. I managed to push him off to bed without too much of an argument.

When I made it there myself, he was lying on his side, asleep. I smiled indulgently. Except for the hose going to his nose and his shallow breathing, I could have believed that there was nothing wrong with him. I pulled off his shoes and got him comfortable under the blankets before I changed into the cloths I usually slept in.

"Bella?" I heard. I turned to find Edward staring up me. His crystal clear eyes seemed a little confused. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"It's fine," I assured him. I cuddled into his side, careful to keep my weight off his chest. "Go back to sleep. I loved everything. Thank you."

"No, I wasn't done." He sat up a little so that he was propped against the headboard. "There was something that I wanted to try."

I was confused, but I followed him nonetheless. I would have indulged him in anything. "What did you need?"

He surprised me. He swooped in to kiss me. It wasn't a deep kiss, his lips didn't open and mine didn't either. I could feel the air puff out of his nose and caress my cheek. It was sweet, and gentle, and there. I had never dreamed, at least not since it had become so hard for him to breathe, that he would kiss me. He was trying for me. I felt the tears leak out of my eyes without my permission.

He pulled away, and I saw the fear clear across his face. "Why are you crying? Did I hurt you? Should I not have done that? I'm so sorry, I..."

I placed my finger over his lips before he could get himself worked up. "The only thing I have ever wanted since I was in high school was for you to kiss me."

Pain flashed across his too green eyes. His thick fingers brushed across my cheek like he was afraid I would break with too much pressure. "I've wanted to kiss you since I bit that kid who tripped you on the playground."

I choked on a wet sound and burrowed my face into his neck. "We were kinda idiots, weren't we?"

I felt him nod. "It killed me when you starting going out with other guys. I wanted to be your first. I wanted to be your only."

"I know. Me too. I was afraid that if we did anything we would ruin this."

"Who knew it would end like this?"

I sat up and kissed him again, rubbing my soft lips against his dry ones. "Not tonight. I don't want to talk about ends tonight."

His lips turned up in smile and his tongue briefly pushed out to wet his lip. I tried not to moan when I felt it brush against the bottom of mine. I didn't want him to think that he had to do anything for me. I was just glad that he and I were here now.

"Let me try something." He gasped. A tendril of fear entered my mind. He was really starting to breathe hard. Maybe I should move away. I felt his arm tighten around me, slightly begging me to try. "I just want to try something. Please. If it becomes too much I'll stop, I promise."

The yearning and the passion in his voice made it impossible to tell him no. I didn't know what he had in mind, but I was willing to try if it made him happy. I wasn't sure I could deny him anyway.

He nudged me until I was sitting next to him. The upper part of my back was resting on his shoulder and he had an arm wrapped around my waist. His fingers were on my stomach over my t-shirt and could feel his body as he took in air and expelled it. I could tilt my head up and our lips could meet in the soft press that we called a kiss. It wasn't what most would have thought romantic or sexy, but they didn't understand the effort that it took for him to do this. To me, it was the greatest gift he could have given.

He briefly sucked on my bottom lip before I felt his fingers slip under the edge of my shirt. I shivered and moaned but managed to find my voice as they fluttered under the edge of my breasts. "You don't have to, you know. I know."

"I want to." He whispered. "You deserve it. Please."

I finally nodded and let him do as he wished. His rough fingers were heartbreakingly gentle as he explored my body. All the times I had dreamed of this, of us giving in to urges we were better off ignoring, it had never been like this. It had never been this soft, this romantic, and this heartbreaking. I couldn't say it was better—I would much rather he wasn't dying—but for us, in that moment, it was perfect.

His lips never left my skin as he cupped my breasts. I could feel little puffs of breath against my cheek, accenting the moment and how hard he was trying. I whimpered when he brushed over my nipples, needing more of his touch and knowing that I shouldn't.

"Can you take. Off your. Shirt?" He gasped into my ear. I didn't say a word as I pulled away just long enough to take off the material and settle back into his side. He brought both of his hands in this time to hold my skin, softly working the sensitive places. I heard him groan again. "Don't know how long. I've waited for this. Should have done it. Years ago."

I nodded, tears sliding down from my closed eyes. So much time wasted. I was never going to do that again. Not this time. I felt his lips brush the tears away as his fingers moved down, leaving fire in their wake. I didn't know what he had planned, but I wanted all of it. I wanted everything he was willing to give.

"Edward." I sighed as his fingers nudged underneath the edge of the sweatpants and over the seam of my wet panties.

"Let me." He moaned, his lips still over mine. "I want to make you feel good."

I nodded and managed to kick the offending pants and underwear away. His thick, clubbed fingers were not as nimble and quick as I'm sure he would have liked, but they were everything to me and I told him so. When he slid one inside me I heard us both groan.

"I've wanted. To be. Inside you. For so long." He cried. I could feel both of our tears on my face and the way we both shook. It was too much and not enough, and absolutely perfect.

He swallowed my cries with his mouth, and for one brief, shining moment we were really kissing—tongues twisted, lips sealed, sucking, moaning, and groaning. Then I came down, and Edward ran out of air and choked on his own lungs. I rubbed his back and whispered soothingly into his ear about how much I loved him. We fell back into bed, twisting our limbs so that neither of us was sure were one began and the other ended. He kissed me again, almost breathing into my mouth and the symbolism wasn't lost on me. It was all he had left to give.

The end wasn't too long after that. I woke up one night to the sound of Edward coughing up blood. I rushed him to the hospital. It took a few days for the doctors to figure out was wrong. It turned out there simply wasn't enough oxygen in his blood. The drugs had stopped working. The tank he had been on for years wasn't supplying enough. His blood was too thick even after the blood thinners. His lungs were threatening to collapse and his heart was working overtime. There was nothing else to do. He got weaker, while we tried to be strong for him.

I watched as he said good-bye to his family from a corner of the room. There were tears, and apologies, and promises that could never be kept. Alice wailed, Esme cried, and Carlisle tried to take care of them while breaking down at the same time. It was heartbreaking, and I tried to not to get in their way. He was their family.

Edward convinced them to go home and get some sleep. He promised to see them in the morning—another broken promise. After they left he looked over at me, and I saw all the pain and sorrow in his beautiful green eyes. I tried to smile but it came out a grimace. He patted the bed next to him and whispered, "Come here."

I sat on the bed next to him, but he wasn't having that. He used a little of his precious energy and tugged me down next to him so we were cuddled next to each other like we would have been at home.

We were silent, merely breathing each other in. I didn't know what to say. I knew it was my last night with him, but I didn't want to say goodbye. It wasn't big enough for the emotions swirling through my body. I clung to him, uncaring that a nurse or a doctor could walk in on us at any time. I wasn't going to let him go. If I didn't let go then he couldn't leave me.

"I wasted so much time, Bella," I heard him whisper. If his lips hadn't been at my ear I didn't think I would have heard him. I considered telling him to hush, but what was the point? It was the last chance I had to hear his sweet voice. "I should have told you everything. In high school. I should have kept. All my promises."

"You didn't break them." I assured him around a sob. "You did everything you could."

"I should have. Loved you right. From the beginning. You don't know. How sorry. I am."

"You're everything to me, Edward." I whimpered. "It doesn't matter if you did it right. I've always loved you."

"Bella." I squeezed my eyes shut. Was this the last time he would say my name? "Wasted. So much. Time. Wanna. Do it. All over. Again."

"We won't be afraid this time." I smiled, playing along. "You'll be my first and only."

"Two story house." He smiled through the pain for me. "White picket fence. Kids."

My heart twisted into a knot wrenching itself in a tiny pain filled ball. Kids. Little green eyed, auburn haired children. A family. So many things we were losing. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. This stupid disease should have taken someone else, someone who had already lived. Not my Edward.

"I never. Took you. To. The. Taj Mahal."

"I'll go for both of us. I promise."

"Take. Lots of. Pictures."

I nodded. He was fading too fast. I could barely see his green eyes anymore. No more wasting time. "I love you, Edward. So much. I love you so much. Always."

"Forever and forever." He forced his eyes open for one last look.

I buried my face in his chest when they closed. The tears came hard and fast, and I couldn't control them. It was too much. I couldn't lose this—my whole life. It was too much.

"Bella. I'm not. Scared. Bella. I love. You." They were the last words he ever spoke.

Edward passed away quietly in his sleep the next morning. He was gone, and I hoped that wherever he was, he could breathe again like he used to, that his fingers were long and graceful like before, and that his body worked the way he wanted it to. I hoped that he was happy and waiting for me.

I helped Alice and Esme with the arrangements. It kept me busy for a while. I ended up crashing at the Cullen's place for almost a week. I just couldn't bear to go home. I think Esme was grateful to have someone in their house for a little while.

I went home after the funeral. Of course, when I got there everything reminded me of him. The blanket he used to sleep under on the couch was still there like he had just gotten up to go the bathroom. His clothes were still all over the place. He had been such a slob. When I fell into the bed to cry it all out, the sheets still smelled like him.

It took months before I felt like I was functioning and not just going through the motions. Edward had been such a constant in my life, even before he got sick, to suddenly not have him there, it was like going through life without a compass.

Edward had meant too much to me just to wallow in my misery, however. He would have wanted me to be happy and living. So I did. I went out with friends, and spent a lot of time still with his family. Alice had another little boy and they named him Edward. He looked nothing like his namesake, but sometimes he got this look, and I swear he was just like him.

I had learned through Edward to never waste time, and that every moment was precious and worthwhile. So I went back to school and became a nurse. I encountered many different Edward and Bella's, some with happier endings than ours, and some just the same. I got to help them and that made the whole experience worth it—at least a little bit.

I did go to the Taj Mahal, and I did take a lot of pictures.

I never had anyone else though. Some loves are meant for a week or months, some are meant for decades, and still other loves are meant for generations. Then there are those few loves that are meant for a lifetime. They are so incomprehensible, and so unfathomable, and so deep that even the loss of one partner if not enough to kill it.

So while I lived, while I laughed, while I loved, while I lived life to the fullest, there was never anyone to replace Edward.

So every year, on the anniversary of the day that I lost him, I would sit in front of his headstone.

"Hello, Edward," I whispered. "Here is what I did this year."