If I get burned:

I realized recently that I have been working on this story for over three years now and thought it was finally time to post at least part of it. Though Eclipse has always been my favorite book, I love the drama of New Moon and the endless possibilities it creates. This story has the Cullens as a tighter family and will go on to show how Bella does/ will fit into it. The timeline for this story is different than the books, starting towards the beginning of their senior year. Rated M for language and future scenes.

I apologize in advance for any inconsistencies with paragraph indentation size, I wrote this on my iPhone 6. Let me know what you think.

Homecoming part 1

"I do recall now the smell of the rain, fresh on the pavement I ran off the plane.

The beat of my heart, I can still feel your arms. Now all I know is

I don't know how to be something you'd miss."

"What the fuck guys?" Emmett's booming voice rings through the empty airport terminal.

Edward pulls me closer when I flinch. "I know." Is all he says in response to his brother.

Neither Alice nor Edward were surprised by the reception that waited for us when we got off the plane at Sea-Tac International airport, but it caught me off guard. I didn't know if I should laugh, be angry or cry. And I wanted to do all those things at this moment but couldn't do anything more than watch everyone and everything play out like a movie.

I didn't realize how much I missed them, all of them. Even if it were only for a brief moment, it felt like my family was back together. All the heartache and painful times of the last few months, for a brief second, I could pretend it was all behind me. I'm exactly where I want to be right now, in Edward's arms surrounded by family, even if they'll never truly be my family.

I wanted for my family- no his family- with a suddenness that surprised me. I hadn't let my mind consciously remember them and as I looked at them now, my memory hadn't done them justice. My chest ached.

I force myself to live in the moment, it would hurt too much to look ahead or behind. I'd rather be oblivious to the lies, instead of hurt by the truth. . . But was it that simple? It never seemed to work out like that. Never simple, never easy.

Jasper has Alice in his arms from the moment we came off the plane. Even from here, I could see the relief that permeated him, the relief that Alice was back. I feel a pang of hurt in my chest when I look at them because I know of their pain, of being separated from the one they love. . . and the fear that I'll never have anything like that again.

Edward is back, but I don't know for how long. This. . . This is enough for now. Edward's here, with me now. It's enough, it has to be. It's more than I'd ever let myself hope for again.

"No, not just you, Edward. Bella you fucking jump off a cliff?" Emmett asks me, though his voice is quieter as we near them and as people file in off the plane behind us.

I feel my face heat. "I wasn't trying to kill myself," I insist. "It- it was supposed to be recreational." My reasoning sounds worse the more I repeat it.

"You could have fooled us. But seriously guys, what the fuck? You three are turning Dad's hair gray." Emmett interjects.

No one responds to him except Rosalie who smacks the back of his head. It was too fast for me to see it but I could hear the impact.

"Thank you, Rose." Carlisle told her as Emmett rubbed the back of his head.

"Oh Bella, Edward." Esme wraps us both in her arms and I can't help but stiffen slightly.

I didn't expect to be a part of the joyous reunion, since I was the reason Edward ran to Italy in the first place.

"You will never put me through that again," Esme nearly growled at her son.

Edward grinned, repentant. "Sorry, Mom." He turned to Carlisle. "I know, Dad." Edward replies to Carlisle's thoughts (I assume) before Carlisle brings his first son into a hug.

Esme let Edward go, though his hand never left mine, and she pulls me close again. I frown in confusion when I hear what I can only describe as a sniffle from her. I thought her tears before were for Edward, I don't know why they would be for me.

Esme was so gentle, so tender and soft. Causing someone like Esme pain was truly inexcusable.

She turned to me and I was taken back by the emotion in her eyes. "You're included, Isabella. Do not put us through that again." Her voice was firm and I nodded, too shocked to reply. I didn't know what I could say because when they leave me again. . . I can't live through that, or the Volturi coming and finding I'm still human. . .

I have never been scared of Esme before, but right at this moment, with the fierceness in her dark topaz eyes, I think I was more scared of her than I was in Volterra. The worst the Volturi could do is kill me.

Esme pulled me into her arms again, kissing my forehead.

I try not to let anyone know they affected me, I don't want to appear weak. It'll just make their next departure from my life that much more painful.

"Bella, Sweetie. I can't thank you enough for bringing my son back, and Alice as well. How are you holding up, Sweet Girl?" She asks while pulling back to see my face.

"I- I'm fine." I don't know what else to say. Physically I'm okay, emotionally is a different story.

Carlisle brings me tightly into his arms next and I can't help but draw similarities to when he found me in Phoenix after I met James. His arms are just as comforting as I remembered, and were strong around my shoulders. From the moment I'd met Carlisle, I'd wanted to be in his family, although I may not have realized it. I felt some of the anger from the past melting off of me when he tells me "I've missed you so much."

"I've missed you too," I said truthfully. He looked at me and I felt as if he was looking through me.

"We owe you a great deal of thanks, Bella," Carlisle said. "We are indebted to you."

"Hardly," I mumbled. The sleepless night was suddenly overpowering. My head felt disconnected from my body.

I'd lived through a lot that should have finished me in the last few days, but it didn't make me feel strong. Instead, I felt horribly fragile, like one word or gust of wind could shatter me.

I never wanted anyone to know exactly how much pain I was in.

When we separate I try to subtly wipe the tears from my eyes. I wish I had parents like Carlisle and Esme, parents who would care for me instead of the other way around. Carlisle and Esme: the parents I never had, but somehow, though I'd never realized until I met them and they were gone, needed desperately.

"Let's go home," Carlisle says with an aura of finality. I'm not sure if home was what I wanted at this point, my home anyways.

Home. . . Going back to the real world as if this nightmare we barely survived never happened. Where was home? Charlie's place didn't seem to fit the image in my mind, though no other place did either. . . I didn't know how to live in the real world anymore, though it's been like that since my last rushed escape to Phoenix.

I didn't want to go home, home where reality would set in and I'd be alone. What was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to act? Mortality and time meant something different to me since I moved to Forks, now that the real world was closing in. Neither of mine were infinite.

I stumbled, half-blind, through the airport, Edward started dragging me on one side and Esme on the other. I didn't know if Alice and Jasper were behind us or not, and I was too exhausted to look.

Home. I stop short as my brain tries to string a coherent thought together. I might not be included in that. I pause. "C-can I come with you guys?"

"Of course, Bella. We would never leave you here." Esme smiles in her motherly way that I didn't realize how much I missed. She squeezes my hand in comfort.

"Why would you think that?" Carlisle turns back, his brows furrowed as he tries to figure out why I asked that.

I feel my face heat up and blink rapidly to rid my eyes of tears. "B-because you s-sh-should hate me. I've done nothing but put your family in danger s-since you've met me." I speak softly to keep my voice from catching.

"We could never hate you, Sweet Girl."

"But- but you left me." Now my brows furrow together. I can't understand why they would feel anything but hatred for me. They haven't cared about me at all the last few months, what could have changed that?

Carlisle and Esme had always been nothing but kind and understanding with me. They always had time for me, and always made me feel welcome. No, not just welcomed, they made me feel wanted. . . loved.

I quickly shook my head of that notion. Loved? No. Carlisle and Esme may have liked me, but they certainly didn't love me. I wasn't part of Edward's family and I never will be.

My eyes fill with tears I can't blink away as I look at the two people I once thought could be my parents. "But Edward s-said-" my voice cracks and Edward pulls me tightly into him.

Edward turns me to face him and lifts my chin up so I'll meet his dark eyes. "Bella, Love, I'm the one who is sorry. Even when I was trying to protect you, I hurt you. I love you more than words can convey."

"You-" I must be hallucinating in my current state, that's the only explanation. "Y-you love me?" The words feel strange on my tongue.

"More than anything. We need to talk, I need to apologize endlessly but first, let's go home. You haven't slept in three days. We can talk after you've slept. You're practically dead on your feet."

"I slept after we got back when Jacob saved me from drowning." I don't even know if what I'm saying makes sense in my head before I speak. . . Nor do I know how many days have passed since, because it feels like a lifetime. There's a disconnect somewhere in my mind at the moment.

His lips quirk up in his crooked smile. "So stubborn."

"So condescending, ass." I thought the words, but Emmett and Jasper's loud laughter makes me think my brain-to-mouth filter must be gone at this point.

"Oh, I've missed you, Bella." Emmett says as Rosalie hits the back of his head again.

I suddenly lean towards Edward on my tip-toes to whisper in his ear. "Bathroom 'fore we leave?" My words blur together like I'm drunk.

Everyone up ahead stopped when we did and I suddenly realize that they heard everything. I'm too tired and my bladder is too full to be embarrassed at the moment. I need to pee before we leave. Even with a vampire driving, it will still take a few hours to reach Forks.

"You can go, we'll wait." Edward said with a quiet chuckle to himself.

I don't know if I believe him but I really have to go.

I only stumble once as I hurry to the nearest bathroom, praying they'll still be there when I get back.

I splash some cold water on my face, and three-ish minutes later I join them, letting a little sigh of relief come out when I realize they didn't leave me.

Edward pulls me back into his arms and we follow behind the rest of his family. I think I was mostly asleep, though somehow still walking, when we reached their cars.

I start to question if I'm awake at all. I've definitely had worse dreams than this. . . And if it is a dream. . . Do I want to wake up? I look up at Edward every few yards, almost waiting for him to disappear into thin air.

From the top floor of the parking garage, I can see the sun breaking through the clouds as it starts to rise. All eight of us reach their two cars as they seem to be debating who rides were.

"Not a fucking chance Rosalie. I don't want to hear anything else from you." Edward snaps in the silence.

"Give her a chance to apologize, hear her out." Emmett defends his mate.

I look between the three of them as if I'm missing something. . . Which I guess I am.

"She's sorry, Edward."

"She should be." Edward snapped back.

"Bella?" Rosalie, ignoring the bickering, addressed me directly, for possibly the first time ever. "I'm so very sorry, Bella. I feel absolutely wretched about every part of this, and I'm so grateful that you were brave enough to go save my brother after what I did. Please say you'll forgive me." The words were awkward, stilted because of her embarrassment, but they seemed sincere.

I've come to the conclusion this has to be a dream. There's no way that any of this is happening.

"Of course, Rosalie," I mumbled, grasping at any chance to make her hate me a little less, even if only in my sub-conscience. "It's not your fault at all. I-I'm the one who jumped off the, the damn cliff. I forgive you." The words came out like mush.

"It doesn't count until she's conscious, Rose," Emmett chuckled.

"I'm conscious." I said. . . Or tried to. I'm pretty sure it just sounded like a garbled sigh.

Emmett ruffles my hair and I tried to shoo his hand away. "Don't take him back too easily, Bells. Make him work for it." He stage whispered, Jasper and Rosalie chuckling in the background.

He lost my attention when he first started talking, I don't have the energy in me to care where we go, or who we drive with.

I shiver as a gust of wind blows in our direction. I wince at the pain the shiver causes, I'm sore and I don't know (or remember) exactly why.

Esme notices and takes her jacket off to wrap around me. I smile gratefully.

"You and Bella can ride with us, but Edward you two will need to talk at some point." Carlisle says, opening the back door for us.

I climb/ fall in first, Edward shortly after. He pulls me into his arms instantly and I relax against him. Before the car's even started I feel myself fade out and jerk my head back.

"Rest, Bella. We'll wake you before we get home." Edward whispers into my hair.

Carlisle merges onto the interstate at the speed of light, it hurts my eyes to look out the window so I focus back on Edward.

"M'not tired." I mumble unconvincingly.

"You haven't gotten any better at lying since the last time I saw you." Carlisle chuckles softly.

I feel mildly offended. I've been lying pretty well these last few months. . . If I didn't then I'm pretty sure Charlie would have had me committed by now. "M'not lying." I insist. "I don't wanna sleep."

I wasn't about to close my eyes. The car was only dimly lit by the dashboard controls but that was enough to focus on to stay awake.

Edward pressed his lips to the hollow under my ear. "Try," he encouraged.

I shook my head. Before he left, half my dreams were just me going back to sleep, though I don't think I ever really fought it like I am now. Maybe this is some form of lucid dreaming?

He sighed. "You're still just as stubborn."

I was stubborn; I fought with my heavy lids, and I won. . . What I won, though, that's another question entirely.

Esme reaches back and pats my leg in a motherly gesture. "You don't have to sleep if you don't want to." She reassures be but I know they're just placating me.

Talking would help me fight off the exhaustion. I don't know if I said this revelation out loud or they could just read it on my face.

"What do you want to talk about, Bella?" Carlisle asks, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.

I suddenly bolt up straight in my seat as a memory hits me like a brick, or maybe that's just my migraine from lack of sleep. "Imathtestmmondday," I remember.

"What was that, love?" Edward chuckles softly next to me.

I remove my hand from his to rub my eyes and swallow hard before attempting to speak coherently again. "W-What day is it? I-I think I have a m-math test Monday."

Carlisle tried to hide his laugh with a cough while he and Esme share a smile. I stare at them with squinted eyes trying to figure out what's funny about what I said. "It's Monday, Bella." Carlisle tells me.

"Oh no. . . I'm not gonna do good on that." I realize with a frown.

"I'll write you a doctor's note, Sweetheart. Don't worry about that now."

I nod but I don't know if I can trust that right now. "C-could you wr-write me a note to get me out of the rest of the, the year?" He said he owed me a favor. . . But I'll probably have to have this conversation after a few more hours of sleep.

He chuckled. "I don't think that will go over well, Dear."

I sigh, it was a long shot. "When d-did you get back?" That seems like a safe topic no one will make fun of me for.

"The night you and Alice left," Esme answers softly. "Carlisle and I had been hunting and when we got back to the house we were staying at, Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper filled us in on what was happening and all of us came to Forks immediately."

I wonder where they were staying, that would be a good question after some sleep.

"You should be careful of the wolves." I tell them with a nod to myself, glad I can contribute something of importance to our conversation.

"Wolves won't be a problem, Love." Edward says as they all seem to share a laugh.

"N-no not regular wolves. Jake- Jacob."

"You named a wolf?"

I glare at him with narrowed eyes. "Don't laugh at me! Didn't Alice tell you?"

"No, you've been with me the entire time, we didn't talk about any wolves."

"No, the-" I can't think of the word. "The, the treaty." I finally say. "They came back when you left."

"What do you mean, Bella?" Carlisle asks.

I'm glad they're finally taking me seriously. "Werewolves- Alice, she can't see them- Jacob, my friend Jacob." I know I'm not making sense, it makes sense in my head. I take a deep breath and try again. "They come back when there are vampires. After you left, they- vampires- were still here."

"Who was still here?" Carlisle asks, his eyes locked in mine in the rearview mirror.

"Laurent and Victoria." I don't let the fear creep into my voice, the Cullens shouldn't feel forced to stay, that will just make their next departure from me so painful.

"Victoria was in South America. I was tracking her." Edward says, confused.

I shake my head. "I saw her, um, Friday. . . I think it was Friday. A few hours before Alice came. The wolves were tracking her but then Alice came so they had to stay on their side of the treaty line." My voice gets quieter as I remember more and more of that last day. "Jacob drove me home and I saw your, Carlisle's car in front of my house. Jacob didn't want me to go 'cause he couldn't protect me past the border but I knew it was one of you. We had a fight. He must hate me now." I glare at my lap so I don't start to cry, which is more of a challenge because of how tired I am. I need to get back to my point. "Those wolves and your treaty. Just- just be careful." I finish weakly.

I know it won't be a problem for them for long since I'm sure they're leaving again soon.

"I can't tell if you are the luckiest person alive, for surviving all that or the unluckiest because the vampires leave town and you manage to find the only supernatural creatures who are more dangerous." Edward mutters.

"You didn't leave me a choice, Edward. Jacob and his friends- they may hate me now but. . . But I'd be dead if it wasn't for them." I tell him and can see the pain in his expression. I'm sure it mirrors my own.

"We'll be sure to express our gratitude to them for keeping you safe, Bella." Carlisle said in a tone that ended that conversation.

There was nothing more to say about that at the moment anyway.

I feel myself start to fade and no matter how hard I try, I can't fight it and succumb to restless sleep. As much as I didn't want to sleep right now, I haven't felt safer than I have now surrounded by these three vampires, and against my will, my body relaxed into Edward's side as my eyes slipped shut.

"Bella? Baby, we're home." Edward's cold lips kiss my forehead and I open my eyes.

I reach to touch his face, expecting him to vanish into thin air like every other time. My hand touches his smooth cold cheek, and I follow the line of his jaw with my finger, savoring the moment before he's gone for good. That was a nice dream, for the most part.

"What are you doing?" He asks with a smirk on his lips.

"What are you doing?" I question.

"It's time to wake up."

"I don't want to," I tell him honestly.

"We have about two minutes until your Dad comes out with his shotgun." He replies.

My eyebrows furrow. I've never had my dream Edward say anything like that before. I tear my eyes from his and squint at the overcast sky as I get out of the car.

Charlie threw the door open and I flinch back. Charlie looks awful, but I'm sure I'm in no position to judge.

"Bella-" Charlie sounds like he thought he'd never see me again.

His face is grey and haggard like he hadn't slept the whole time I'd been away. . . And it's entirely possible he hadn't.

I reach for Edward's hand and head towards my father. Edward hesitates and I turn back to see him. He looks like he's in pain. I stumble and he steadies me.

When I reach the door, Charlie opens the screen just wide enough to let me in. I stop when I realize he won't let Edward in.

"I'll talk to you soon, Bella." Edward says, looking deeply into my eyes. He pulls me into a hug and leans down to whisper in my ear. "I'll be in your room, if you want me, Love. Open the window if you do, but I'll understand if you don't."

I want to laugh at his absurdity but I don't have the energy. "Soon, please."

He pulls back with a smile and we reluctantly let go.

"Inside, Isabella. Now."

"Dad-" I start to say but he cuts me off.

"I don't want to hear it. Get inside and go straight up to your room." He tells me.

I feel my face burn with a blush as I reluctantly leave Edward and wave at Carlisle and Esme who are waiting in the car. I hope I'll have a chance to say goodbye before they leave again.

I stop a few feet into the living room when I hear Charlie start to yell. "And you! You have a lot of nerve showing your face here again. Get the fuck off my property and don't come back or I'll arrest you for trespassing. Understand?" I've never heard Charlie speak this way.

"Sir-" Edward starts.

"Dad-" I say at the same time.

"Isabella Marie Swan don't start with me right now," Charlie warns while I'm frozen, I've never seen my dad like this before.

"I'm leaving. I just wanted to make sure she got here." Edward said trying to calm the situation.

"Oh, you wanted to make sure she got back here instead of leaving her lost and wandering the woods until the search party was able to find her?"

I don't think my face can burn any brighter. I feel the blush down to my chest.

"Charlie, Sir-" Edward's voice is pained and I can only imagine what Charlie is thinking to unknowingly make Edward sound like that.

"She's fine. Thanks for your concern but you're done here. I'll take care of her. I don't know if you're back for good or what but I never want to see your face around here again. Now go on back to your parents before I get my gun." Charlie threatens.

I watch through the front window as Edward climbs in the car and they drive away. Charlie watches in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest until the car is out of sight. Hopefully, they're only down the street so Edward can climb out and come back. I miss him already.

Charlie slammed the door closed and I jumped. "Up to your room." He repeated, barely looking at me.

"What? Am I grounded?" I ask, more snarky than intended. I regret it instantly, he looks like hell and I know it's my fault.

Charlie sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "You look like you haven't slept in days, just go to bed and we'll talk about this later or tomorrow." He sounds resigned, which is better than angry.

"I'm really sorry, Dad," I whisper.

"He's the reason you left? I come back from my best friend's funeral and my daughter is gone leaving only a note behind."

I wince, feeling incredibly guilty. ". . . He needed me."

"I needed you, Bells." He coughs trying to clear the lump in his throat. "Promise to never do that to me again."

I wrap my arms around him and he hugs me back. "I promise." I don't know if it's a promise I can keep, especially with Victoria coming for me, but I'd like to. "I didn't do it on purpose."

He pulls back. "I know."

I chew on my bottom lip. "How long are you going to hold it against him?"

"That depends. How long is he staying?"

"I don't know." I wish I did. "Hopefully awhile."

"Then it'll be a while."

"You'll have to forgive him some time, Dad."

"No, actually I don't. He's lucky I didn't shoot his ass the second he pulled up." He sighs again. "He hurt my baby girl, that means he doesn't get a second chance in my book."

I decide to push my luck a little. "Even if I asked you to give him one?"

"You've asked a lot of me these last few days." He reminds me. "I'd give it some time before you try to push your luck. I'm tempted to get you an ankle monitor so I can track you."

I hope he's joking.

"Go to sleep, Bells. We can talk more later or tomorrow."

I nod, pulling him into another quick hug and kissing his cheek before heading upstairs.

I open my window before grabbing some clean clothes and head to the bathroom. It feels good to wash my face and brush my teeth, the little things. I'm too tired for a shower, though, so that'll have to wait until tomorrow. When I return to my room, Edward is leaning against the wall next to the window, looking as good as I remember.

He wraps me in his arms and I feel myself relax minutely. "It's time for you to get some sleep. You look like you haven't slept since I left."

I grimace at his accurate assessment. ". . . I haven't really." But I crawl into my bed, leaving half-open for him that he takes without hesitation. I notice Esme's jacket slung over the back of my computer chair. "I forgot to give your Mom back her jacket." It was so comfortable, a little big but I didn't mind.

He chuckles softly. "That's really the least of anyone's concerns right now, Love."

"You. . . You won't leave, right?"

He lifts my chin so I look into his eyes. "I'll be right here, as long as you'll have me."

"I hope you're comfortable." In more ways than one. I lean up to kiss him and he kisses me back, leaving me breathless.

If this is a dream I'm going to milk it for all it's worth.

I'm in too deep now.

He pulls me into his side and I rest my head on his shoulder.

"If, if I don't see her before you guys leave again c-can you tell Esme thank you for letting me use her jacket. I-I-I didn't realize how much I m-missed her," I mumble the words as I fight the exhaustion from overcoming me.

"Bella-" he starts.

I don't let him finish. I want to get this out without crying. "Your- Carlisle, too. Thank them for, for br-bringing me back from the, the plane place. T-the drive here was really out of their way so I appreciate them. . . Yeah."

"Bella, no one is leaving. You can tell them yourself after you sleep, I promise." He whispers in my ear, his cold breath making a shiver cut through me.

I felt him still staring at me, waiting on my reply. . . But I didn't have one.

I hope my dream Edward isn't lying. There's nothing I can do if he is.

"Do you still love me?" I asked, needing to know.

"How could you even ask me that question?" He rested his forehead against mine, his dark eyes holding mine.

Would you trust me if I told you "I'm only seventeen,

I don't know anything. . . But I know I miss you."

I had a sense that I've been deeply asleep for a long time. My body was stiff, like I hadn't moved once through all that time, either. My mind was dazed and slow; strange, colorful dreams and nightmares swirled dizzily around the inside of my head. They were so vivid. The horrible and the heavenly, all mixed together into a bizarre jumble. There was sharp impatience and fear, both part of that frustrating dream where your feet can't move fast enough. . . And there were plenty of monsters, red-eyed fiends that were all the more ghastly for their genteel civility. The dream was still strong, I could even remember their names.

. . . But the strongest, clearest part of the dream was not the horror. It was the angel that was the clearest. He was more beautiful than I let myself remember. His voice was so smooth, enticing, and comforting, better than any song.

It was hard to let him go and wake up. This dream did not want to be shoved away into the vault of dreams I refused to revisit. I struggled with it as my mind became more alert, focusing on reality. I couldn't remember what day of the week it was, but I was sure Jacob or school or work or something was waiting for me. I inhaled deeply, wondering how to face another day.

Something cold touched my forehead with the softest pressure.

I squeezed my eyes tighter. I was still dreaming, it seemed, though it felt real, possible. I was so close to waking, any second now, and it would be gone. . . But I realized that it felt real, too real to be good for me. The stone arms I imagined wrapped around me were far too substantial. If I let this go any further, I'd be sorry for it later.

With a resigned sigh, I wrenched back my eyelids to dispel the illusion. "Oh!" I gasped and threw my fists over my eyes.

Well, clearly, I'd gone much too far; it was a mistake to let my imagination get so out of hand. Okay, so let was the wrong word. I'd forced it to get out of hand, pretty much stalked my hallucinations, and now my mind had snapped.

I think I'm honestly more surprised my mind didn't snap sooner.

It took less than half a second for me to decide that as long as I was truly insane now, I might as well enjoy the delusions while they were pleasant.

I opened my eyes again and Edward was still there, his perfect face just inches away from mine.

Could this really be happening? Was Edward really here after all the tears I had cried over him? It had to be a trick, a cruel twist of fate.

"Did I frighten you?" His low voice was anxious.

I touched his face, running my hand along his cheek. I had to make sure that he was real.

This was very good, as delusions went. The face, the voice, the scent, everything. It was so much better than the last time I saw him while drowning. The beautiful figment of my imagination watched my changing expressions, with alarm. His irises were pitch-black, with bruise-like shadows under them, probably not too far from how I've looked. . . (Or look, I'm sure my appearance at the moment is nothing spectacular.) This surprised me though; my hallucinatory Edwards were usually better fed.

I blinked twice, desperately trying to remember the last thing that I was sure was real. Alice was part of my dream, and I wondered if she had really come back at all, or if that was just the preamble. I thought she'd returned the day I'd nearly drowned.

"Oh, crap" I croaked in realization. My throat was thick with sleeping. . . or hoarse from drowning.

"What's wrong, Bella?" He looked concerned.

I frowned at him unhappily. His face was even more anxious than before.

"I'm dead, right?" I moaned as the realization set in. "Fuck. I did drown. Crap, crap, crap! This is gonna kill Charlie."

Edward frowned, too. "You're not dead."

"Then why am I not waking up?" I challenged, raising my eyebrows. Arguing with my hallucination. . . that's new. Usually, it's more one-sided.

"You are awake, Bella."

I shook my head. "Sure, sure. That's what you want me to think. And then it will be worse when I do wake up. If I wake up, which I won't, because I'm dead. Shit. This is really fucking bad. Poor Charlie. And Renee and Jake, too. I never got to thank him for being my only friend. God he's going to blame himself and. . ." I trailed off in horror at what I had done.

"I can see where you might confuse me with a nightmare." His short-lived smile was grim. "But I can't imagine what you could have done to wind up in hell. Did you commit many murders while I was away?"

I grimaced. "Did I commit any murders? Obviously not. But I was the cause of at least a few people dying." Laurent for one. "If I was in hell, you wouldn't be with me." I'd rather be with him in hell than without him in heaven. Honestly, though I thought heaven would be much more pleasant.

He sighed.

My head was getting clearer. My eyes flickered away from his face unwillingly for one second, to the dark, open window, and then quickly back to him, thankful he was still there. I started to remember details and I felt a faint, unfamiliar blush warm the skin over my cheekbones as I slowly realized that there was a chance, albeit a remote chance, that Edward was really, truly here with me, and I was wasting time being an idiot.

"Did all of that really happen, then?" It was almost impossible to reassign my dream as reality. I couldn't wrap my head around the concept.

"That depends." Edward's smile was still hard. "If you're referring to us nearly being massacred in Italy, then, yes."

"How strange," I mused. "I really went to Italy. Did you know I'd never been farther east than Albuquerque?"

He rolled his eyes. "Maybe you should go back to sleep. You're not coherent."

"I'm not tired anymore." It was all becoming clear now. "Oh, I have to pee." I spring up in bed, clutching my head as the room spins. Once I'm sure I won't collapse, I feel my way to the bathroom.

I feel like I haven't peed in days, like to the point that I probably peed like a nine-month pregnant woman of twins.

I stood in the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was a mess and there were deep bags under my eyes that made me look ten years older. I washed my face and brushed my teeth before taking a sip of water from the faucet.

Then it was time to head back to my room to face my possible hallucination again. Even if he's fake, I hope he's still there.

He was waiting for me. I climbed into my bed next to him. "What time is it? How long have I been sleeping?"

"It's just after three in the morning. So, about fifteen hours."

I stretched as he spoke. That's why I was so stiff.

"Charlie?" I asked.

Edward frowned. "Sleeping. . . Like you should be. You should probably know that I'm breaking the rules right now. Well, not technically, since he said I was never to walk through his door again, and I came in the window. But, still, the intent was clear."

"Charlie banned you from the house?" I asked, disbelief quickly melting into fury.

His eyes were resigned. "Did you expect anything else?"

"Kind of?" It came out like a question. "I mean he doesn't know what really happened."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he thinks your parents are the ones who made you move, not the other way around. In his eyes, he should think there wasn't much you could do since you're a minor. You did break my heart. . . but I feel like it would look like it wasn't completely your fault. You were an ass, don't get me wrong, but still."

I was going to have a few words with my father, perhaps it would be a good time to remind him that I was over the legal age of adulthood. It didn't matter so much, of course, except in principle. All too soon there would be no reason for the prohibition. I turned my thoughts to less painful avenues.

"So. . . What's the story?" I asked, genuinely curious, but also trying desperately to keep the conversation casual, to keep a firm grip on myself, so I wouldn't scare him away with the frantic, gnawing craving that was raging inside me.

"What do you mean?"

"What am I telling Charlie? What's my excuse for disappearing for. . . How long was I gone, anyway?" I tried to count the hours in my head.

"Just three days." His eyes tightened, but he smiled more naturally this time. "Actually, I was hoping you might have a good explanation. I've got nothing."

I groaned. "Fabulous."

"Well, maybe Alice will come up with something," he offered, trying to comfort me.

And I was comforted. Who cared what I had to deal with later? Every second that he was here- so close, his flawless face glowing in the dim blue light from the numbers on my alarm clock- was precious and not to be wasted.

"So," I began, picking the least important though still vitally interesting question to start with.

I had been safely delivered home, and he might decide to leave at any moment. I had to keep him talking. Besides, this temporary heaven wasn't entirely complete without the sound of his voice.


"What have you been doing, up until three days ago?"

His face turned wary in an instant to stare at the ceiling. "Nothing terribly exciting."

"Of course not," I mumbled.

His eyes meet mine again. "Why are you making that face?"

"Well. . ." I pursed my lips, considering. "If you were, after all, just a dream, that's exactly the kind of thing you would say. My imagination must be used up."

He sighed. "If I tell you, will you finally believe that you're not having a nightmare?"

"Nightmare!" I repeated scornfully. He waited for my answer. "Maybe," I said after a second of thought. "If you tell me. . . But if this is a dream. . . I don't want to wake up, Edward." I said his name and the pain in my chest was gone, the hole inside dully aches but I'm. . . okay.

"I was. . . hunting."

"Is that the best you can do?" I criticized. "That definitely doesn't prove I'm awake."

He hesitated, and then spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. "I wasn't hunting for food I was actually trying my hand at tracking. I'm not very good at it."

"What were you tracking?" I asked, intrigued.

"Nothing of consequence." His words didn't match his expression; he looked upset, uncomfortable.

Parts of yesterday's conversation from the ride home from SeaTac are surfacing. "Victoria. You said something about South America or something?"

He hesitated; his face, shining with an eerie blue cast from the light of the clock, was torn. "I-" He took a deep breath. "I owe you an apology. No, of course, I owe you much, much more than that. But you have to know," the words began to flow so fast, the way I remembered he spoke sometimes when he was agitated. I really had to concentrate to catch them all. "I had no idea. I didn't realize the mess I was leaving behind. I thought it was safe for you here. So safe. Safer without me, my family, and the danger we've exposed you to. I had no idea that Victoria," his lips curled back when he said the name, "would come back. I'll admit, when I saw her that one time, I was paying much more attention to James's thoughts. But I just didn't see that she had this kind of response in her. That she even had such a tie to him. I think I realize why now she was so sure of him, the thought of him failing never occurred to her. It was her overconfidence that clouded her feelings about him that kept me from seeing the depth of them, the bond there. . ." He trails off.

I nod for him to continue.

"Not that there's any excuse for what I left you to face. I realized that you had to put your life in the hands of werewolves, immature, volatile, the worst thing out there besides Victoria herself." He shuddered and the gush of words halted for a short second.

"You can't blame yourself for the danger I can't help but attract."

He continued as if he didn't hear my objection. "Please know that I had no idea of any of this. I feel sick, sick to my very core. Even now, when I can see and feel you safe in my arms. I am the most miserable excuse for-" I cut him off.

"Stop," I interrupted him again. "For one, self-loathing is my department, it's not a good color on you."

He stared at me with agonized eyes but there was a new smirk on his lips.

I tried to find the right words, the words that would free him from this imagined obligation that caused him so much pain. They were very hard words to say. I didn't know if I could get them out without breaking down. But I had to try to do it right. I didn't want to be a source of guilt and anguish in his life. He should be happy, no matter what it cost me.

I'd really been hoping to put off this part of our last conversation. It was going to bring things to an end so much sooner.

Drawing on all my months of practice with trying to be normal for Charlie, I kept my face smooth. "Edward," I said. His name burned my throat a little on the way out. I could feel the ghost of the hole, waiting to rip itself wide again as soon as he disappeared. I didn't quite see how I was going to survive it this time. "This has to stop now. You can't think about things that way. You can't let this, this guilt rule your life. You can't take responsibility for the things that happen to me here. None of it is your fault, it's just part of how life is for me. So, if I trip in front of a bus or whatever it is next time, you have to realize that it's not your job to take the blame. You can't just go running off to Italy because you feel bad that you didn't save me. Even if I had jumped off that cliff to die, that would have been my choice, and not your fault. I know it's your-" I try to find the right word- "your nature to shoulder the blame for everything, but you really can't let that make you go to such extremes! It's very irresponsible. Think of Esme and Carlisle and-" I was on the edge of losing it. I stopped to take a deep breath, hoping to calm myself. I had to set him free. I had to make sure this never happened again.

"Isabella Marie Swan," he whispered, the strangest expression crossing his face. He almost looked mad. "Do you believe that I asked the Volturi to kill me because I felt guilty?"

Obviously, I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it, I can't lie that well. I could feel the blank incomprehension on my face. "Didn't you?"

"Feel guilty? Intensely so. More than you can comprehend."

"Then what are you trying to say? I don't understand."

"Bella, I went to the Volturi because I thought you were dead," he said, voice soft, eyes fierce. "Even if I'd had no hand in your death-" he shuddered as he whispered the last word. "Even if it wasn't my fault, I would have gone to Italy. Obviously, I should have been more careful. I should have spoken to Alice directly, rather than accepting the news secondhand from Rosalie. But, really, what was I supposed to think when the boy said Charlie was at the funeral? What are the odds?"

"Those were pretty bad odds, but still-" I started but he cut me off again.

"The odds" he muttered then, distracted. His voice was so low I wasn't sure I heard it right. "The odds are always stacked against us. Mistake after mistake. I'll never criticize Romeo again."

"But I still don't understand," I said. "That's my whole point. So what?"

"Excuse me?"

"So what if I was dead?"

He stared at me dubiously for a long moment before answering. "Don't you remember anything I told you before?"

"I remember everything that you told me." Including the words that had negated all the rest.

He brushed the tip of his cool finger against my lower lip. "Bella, you seem to be under a miscomprehension." He closed his eyes, shaking his head back and forth with half a smile on his beautiful face. It wasn't a happy smile. "I thought I'd explained it clearly before. Bella, I can't live in a world where you don't exist."

"I am. . ." My head swam as I looked for the appropriate word. "Confused." That worked. I couldn't make sense of what he was saying.

He stared deep into my eyes with his sincere, earnest gaze. "I'm a good liar, Bella, I have to be."

I froze, my muscles locking down as if I'm preparing for a devastating impact. He doesn't want me. He lied to the Volturi. The fault line in my chest rippled; the pain of it took my breath away.

He shook my shoulder, trying to loosen my rigid pose. "Let me finish! I'm a good liar, but still, for you to believe me so quickly." He winced. "That was. . . excruciating."

I waited, still frozen, braced for the imminent devastating blow.

"When we were in the forest, when I was telling you goodbye-" he started.

I didn't allow myself to remember. I fought to keep myself in the present second only.

"You weren't going to let go," he whispered. "I could see that. I didn't want to do it. . . it felt like it would kill me to do it but I knew that if I couldn't convince you that I didn't love you anymore, it would just take you that much longer to get on with your life. I hoped that, if you thought I'd moved on, so would you."

"A clean break," I whispered through unmoving lips.

"Exactly. But I never imagined it would be so easy to do! I thought it would be next to impossible, that you would be so sure of the truth that I would have to lie through my teeth for hours to even plant the seed of doubt in your head. I lied, and I'm so sorry. Sorry because I hurt you, sorry because it was a worthless effort. Sorry that I couldn't protect you from what I am. I lied to save you, and it didn't work. I'm sorry."

"To save me?"

"But how could you believe me? After all the thousand times I've told you I love you, how could you let one sentence break your faith in me?"

I didn't answer. I was too shocked to form a rational response.

"I could see it in your eyes, that you honestly believed that I didn't want you anymore. The most absurd, ridiculous concept! As if there were any way that I could exist without needing you!"

I was still frozen. His words were incomprehensible because they were impossible.

He shook my shoulder again, not hard, but enough that my teeth rattled a little. "Bella," he sighed. "Really, what were you thinking?"

And then I started to cry. The tears welled up and then gushed miserably down my cheeks. The pain in my chest was back and I wrapped my arms tightly around my middle to hold myself together. "I knew it," I sobbed. "I knew I was dreaming."

"You're impossible," he said. He laughed once, a hard laugh, frustrated. "How can I put this so that you'll believe me? You're not asleep, and you're not dead. I'm here, and I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. I was thinking of you, seeing your face in my mind, every second of every day that I was away. When I told you that I didn't want you, it was the very blackest kind of blasphemy."

I shook my head while the tears continued to leak from the corners of my eyes.

"You don't believe me, do you?" He whispered, his face paler than his usual pale, if that was possible. I could see that even in the dim light. "Why can you believe the lie, but not the truth?"

"It- it never made sense for you to love me," I explained, my voice breaking twice. "I- I always knew that."

His eyes narrowed, his jaw tightened. "I'll prove you're awake." He promised with conviction. He caught my face securely between his iron hands, ignoring my struggles when I tried to turn my head away.

"Please don't," I whispered weakly.

He stopped his lips just half an inch from mine. "Why not?" he demanded. His breath blew into my face, making my head whirl.

"When I wake up-" Edward opened his mouth to protest, so I revised. "Okay, forget that one. . . When, when you leave again, it's going to be hard enough without this, too." I was angry at myself for feeling this emotionally attached to someone who left me so recently.

He pulled back to stare into my eyes. "Yesterday, when I would touch you, you were so. . . hesitant, so careful, and yet still the same. I need to know why. Is it because I'm too late? Because I've hurt you too much? Because you have moved on, as I meant for you to? That would be. . . quite fair. I won't contest your decision. So don't try to spare my feelings, please. Just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I've done to you. Can you?" He whispered.

A very unladylike snort comes out of me. "What kind of an idiotic question is that?"

"Just answer it. Please."

I stared at him darkly for a long moment. "The way I feel about you will never change. Of course, I love you, and there's nothing you can do about it!"

"That's all I needed to hear." His mouth was on mine then, and I couldn't fight him (not that I really wanted to). Not because he was so many thousand times stronger than me, but because my will crumbled into dust the second our lips met. This kiss was not quite as careful as others I remembered, which suited me just fine. If I was going to rip myself up further, I might as well get as much in the trade as possible.

So I kissed him back, my heart pounding out a jagged, disjointed rhythm while my breathing turned to panting and my fingers moved greedily to his face. I could feel his marble body against every line of mine, and I was so glad he hadn't listened to me, there was no pain in the world that would have justified missing this. His hands memorized my face, the same way mine were tracing his, and, in the brief seconds when his lips were free, he whispered my name.

When I was starting to get dizzy, he pulled away, only to lay his ear against my heart. I lay there, dazed, waiting for my gasping to slow and quiet.

"By the way," he said in a casual tone. "I'm not leaving you, I can't and I don't want to."

I didn't say anything, and he seemed to hear the skepticism in my silence. I sat up and crossed my legs underneath me, and he mirrored my position, our knees touching.

He lifted his face to lock my gaze in his. "I'm not going anywhere. Not without you," he added more seriously. "I only left you in the first place because I wanted you to have a chance at a normal, happy, human life. I could see what I was doing to you: keeping you constantly on the edge of danger, taking you away from the world you belonged in, your family and friends, risking your life every moment I was with you. So I had to try. I had to do something, and it seemed like leaving was the only way. If I hadn't thought you would be better off, I could have never made myself leave. I'm much too selfish. Only you could be more important than what I wanted, what I needed. What I want and need is to be with you, and I know I'll never be strong enough to leave again. I have too many excuses to stay. Thank heaven for that! It seems you can't be safe, no matter how many miles I put between us." His hand gripped my chin, pulling me close so his lips could touch mine again. "I'm trying to be the man you deserve, Bella. Please be patient with me because I know I'll make mistakes. I'm trying, truly."

"You are trying. Very." I laugh at my own comeback, Emmett would have enjoyed that one. "Just. . . Don't promise me anything," I whispered, "please. If I let myself hope-" and it came to nothing, that would kill me. Where all those merciless vampires had not been able to finish me off, hope would do the job.

Anger glinted metallic in his black eyes. "You think I'm lying to you now?"

To put it simply: yes. "No, not lying." I shook my head, trying to think it through coherently. To examine the hypothesis that he did love me, while staying objective, clinical, so I wouldn't fall into the trap of hoping. "You could mean it. . . now. But what about tomorrow, when you think about all the reasons you left in the first place? Or next month, when Jasper or someone takes a snap at me?"

He flinched.

I thought back over those last days of my life before he left me, tried to see them through the filter of what he was telling me now. From that perspective, imagining that he'd left me while loving me, left me for me, his brooding and cold silences took on a different meaning. "It isn't as if you hadn't thought the first decision through, is it?" I guessed. "You'll end up doing what you think is right."

"I'm not as strong as you give me credit for," he said. "Right and wrong have ceased to mean much to me; I was coming back anyway. Before Rosalie told me the news, I was already past trying to live through one week at a time, or even one day. I was fighting to make it through a single hour. It was only a matter of time, and not much of it, before I showed up at your window and begged you to take me back. I'd be happy to beg now if you'd like that."

I grimaced. "Be serious, please."

"Oh, I am. Completely. I'll beg on my knees if it would help," he insisted, glaring now. "Will you please try to hear what I'm telling you? Will you let me attempt to explain what you mean to me?" He waited, studying my face as he spoke to make sure I was really listening.

I was listening, just not sure if I was believing.

"Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars, points of light and reason. . . And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn't see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything."

I wanted to believe him. But this was my life without him that he was describing, not the other way around.

"Your eyes will adjust," I mumbled.

"That's just the problem: they can't."

"What about your distractions?"

He laughed without a trace of humor. "Just part of the lie, Love. There was no distraction from the, the agony. My heart hasn't beaten in almost ninety years, but this was different. It was like my heart was gone like I was hollow. Like I'd left everything that was inside me here with you."

"That's funny," I muttered.

He arched one perfect eyebrow. "Funny?"

"I meant strange, funny. I thought it was just me. Lots of pieces of me went missing, too. I haven't been able to really breathe in so long." I filled my lungs, luxuriating in the sensation. "And my heart. That was definitely lost."

He closed his eyes and laid his ear over my heart again. I let my cheek press against his hair, felt the texture of it on my skin, smelled the delicious scent of him.

"Tracking wasn't a distraction then?" I asked, curious, and also needing to distract myself. I was very much in danger of hoping. I wouldn't be able to stop myself for long. My heart throbbed, singing in my chest.

"No." He sighed. "That was never a distraction. It was an obligation."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that. . . even though I never expected any danger from Victoria, I wasn't going to let her get away with. . . Well, like I said, I was horrible at it. I traced her as far as Texas, but then I followed a false lead down to Brazil, and really she came here." He groaned. "I wasn't even on the right continent! And all the while, worse than my worst fears."

"What the fuck were you thinking?" I half-shrieked as soon as I could find my voice, shooting through two octaves. I hadn't really processed the fact that Edward was going against Victoria on his own until now. I can't. That was so beyond stupid, he was going to get himself killed.

Charlie's distant snores stuttered, and I held my breath until they resumed a regular rhythm again.

"I wanted you to be safe, to live a long safe, and happy life, even if I wasn't a part of it. So I was hunting Victoria. . . And not well," Edward answered, studying my outraged expression with a confused look. "But I'll do better this time. She won't be tainting perfectly good air by breathing in and out for much longer."

"That is out of the question," I managed to choke out. Insanity. Even if he had Emmett or Jasper help him. Even if he had Emmett and Jasper help. It was worse than my other imaginings: Jacob Black standing across a small space from Victoria's vicious and feline figure. I couldn't bear to picture Edward there, even though he was so much more durable than my half-human best friend.

"It's too late for her. I might have let the other time slide, but not now."

I interrupted him again, trying to sound calm. "Didn't you just promise that you weren't going to leave?" I asked, fighting the words as I said them, nor letting them plant themselves in my heart. "That isn't exactly compatible with an extended tracking expedition, is it?"

He frowned. A snarl began to build low in his chest. "I will keep my promise, Bella. But Victoria-" the snarl became more pronounced-"is going to die. Soon."

"Let's not be hasty," I said, trying to hide my panic. "Maybe she's not coming back. Jake's pack probably scared her off. There's really no reason to go looking for her. Besides, I've got bigger problems than Victoria."

Edward's eyes narrowed, but he nodded. "It's true. The werewolves are a problem."

I snorted and rolled my eyes at him in exasperation. "I wasn't talking about Jacob. My problems are a lot worse than a handful of adolescent wolves getting themselves into trouble."

Edward looked as if he were about to say something and then thought better of it. His teeth clicked together, and he spoke through them. "Really?" he asked. "Then what would be your greatest problem? That would make Victoria's returning for you seem like such an inconsequential matter in comparison?"

"How about the second greatest?" I hedged.

"All right," he agreed, suspicious.

I paused. I wasn't sure I could say the name. "There are others who are coming to look for me," I reminded him in a subdued whisper.

He sighed, but the reaction was not as strong as I would have imagined after his response to Victoria.

"The Volturi are only the second greatest?"

"You don't seem that upset about it," I noted.

"Well, we have plenty of time to think it through. Time means something very different to them than it does to you, or even me. They count years the way you count days. I wouldn't be surprised if you were thirty before you crossed their minds again," he added lightly.

Horror washed through me.


So his promises meant nothing, in the end. If I were going to turn thirty someday, then he couldn't be planning on staying long. The harsh pain of this knowledge made me realize that I'd already begun to hope, without giving myself permission to do so.

"You don't have to be afraid," he said, anxious as he watched the tears dew up again on the rims of my eyes. "I won't let them hurt you."

"While you're here." Not that I cared what happened to me when he left.

He took my face between his two stone hands, holding it tightly while his midnight eyes glared into mine with the gravitational force of a black hole. "I will never leave you again."

"But you said thirty," I whispered. The tears leaked over the edge. "What? You're going to stay, but let me get all old anyway? Right." I was skeptical.

Mortality and time meant something more to me now that the real world was closing in on us. Neither of mine were infinite.

His eyes softened, while his mouth went hard. "That's exactly what I'm going to do. What choice have I? I cannot be without you, but I will not destroy your soul."

"Is this really-" I tried to keep my voice even, but this question was too hard. I remembered his face when Aro had almost begged him to consider making me immortal. The sick look there. Was this fixation with keeping me human really about my soul, or was it because he wasn't sure that he wanted me around that long?

"Yes?" he asked, waiting for my question.

I asked a different one. Almost but not quite as hard to voice. "But what about when I get so old that people think I'm your mother? Your grandmother?" My voice was pale with revulsion. I could see Gran's face again in the dream mirror from so many nightmares ago.

His whole face was soft now. He brushed the tears from my cheek with his lips. "That doesn't mean anything to me," he breathed against my skin. "Cougars are hot anyways."

I roll my eyes. He sounds like Emmett. "Be serious, please."

"You will always be the most beautiful thing in my world. Of course-" He hesitated, flinching slightly. "If you outgrew me. . . if you wanted something more. . ." He sighs. "I would understand that, Bella. I promise I wouldn't stand in your way if you wanted to leave me." His eyes were liquid onyx and utterly sincere. He spoke as if he'd put endless amounts of thought into this asinine plan.

"You do realize that I'll die eventually, right?" I demanded.

He'd thought about this part, too. "I'll follow after as soon as I can."

"That is seriously-" I looked for the right word. "Sick. I mean really, what the fuck?"

"Bella, it's the only right way left."

"Right way." I scoffed. "Let's just back up for a minute," I said; feeling angry made it so much easier to be clear, decisive. "You do remember the Volturi, right? I can't stay human forever. They'll kill me. Even if they don't think of me till I'm thirty." I hissed the words, "do you really think they'll forget?"

"No," he answered slowly, shaking his head. "They won't forget. But-"

I cut him off when I realized he wasn't going to continue. "But?"

He suddenly grinned while I stared at him warily. Maybe I wasn't the only crazy one. "I have a few plans."

"And these plans," I said, my voice getting more acidic with each word. "These plans all center around me staying human." It wasn't a question.

My attitude hardened his expression. "Naturally." His tone was brusque, his divine face arrogant.

"So in this scenario, what I want doesn't matter?"

"It's not like that Bella."

We glowered at each other for a long minute.

It is that, though. Exactly.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, I pushed his arms away so that I could get up.

"Do you want me to leave?" He asked, and it made my heart flutter to see that this idea hurt him, though he tried not to show it.

"No," I told him. "I'm leaving."

He watched me suspiciously as I climbed out of the bed and fumbled around in the dark room, looking for my shoes.

"May I ask where you are going?"

"I'm going to your house." I told him, still feeling around blindly.

He got up and came to my side. "Here are your shoes. How did you plan to get there?"

"My truck." I say like it's obvious. "I'm not going to walk, Edward." I pulled on a sweatshirt over the clothes I fell asleep in and threw my hair into a ponytail.

"That will probably wake Charlie," he offered as a deterrent.

I sighed. "I know. But honestly, I'll be grounded for weeks as it is. How much more trouble can I really get in?"

"None. He'll blame me, not you."

"If you have a better idea, I'm all ears."

"Stay here," he suggested, but his expression wasn't hopeful.

"No dice. But you go ahead and make yourself at home." I encouraged, surprised at how natural my teasing sounded, and headed for the door.

He was there before me, blocking my way.

I frowned and turned for the window. It wasn't really that far to the ground, and it was mostly grass beneath. I balanced on the balls of my feet, stretching to ready myself.

"Okay," he relented with a sigh. "I'll give you a ride."

I shrugged. "Either way. But you probably should be there, too."

"And why is that?" He sounds skeptical.

"Because you're extraordinarily opinionated, and I'm sure you'll want a chance to air your views."

"My views on which subject?" He asked through his teeth.

"This isn't just about you, not anymore. You're not the center of the universe, you know." My own personal universe was, of course, a different story. "If you're going to bring the Volturi down on us over something as stupid and inconsequential as leaving me human, then your family ought to have a say."

"A say in what?" He asked, each word distinct.

"My mortality. I'm putting it to a vote."

"Fuck me." He mutters the words under his breath and I don't think I was meant to hear them.