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Edward gains a chance at humanity when all Bella wants is to be immortal with him. He becomes human for a hesitant Bella, and danger follows his decision. Human or Vampire? Which is safest?~*~*~*~*~ "It seems as though humans - at least a very private, elite group of humans - know about our existence and have been studying our kind for quite some time. They have come up with a way to fight against a vampire's inhuman strength." "How?" I was sure I didn't want to know, but I asked Carlisle anyway. "By making the vampire human again."

Summary: Edward returns to Bella and his family in a fragile state. As they tend to him they unravel the mysteries of his absence and come to a fork in the road - one where Edward and Bella fight for two different outcomes to their story. Edward always thought himself a monster that endangered Bella, but becoming human doesn't prove any safer for the star-crossed couple. This story is AU only because there are no wolves/Jacob. Takes place well after New Moon. Edward left, and Bella saved him in Italy - just like in the book. Bella is 19 now, and Edward has been missing for several months. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

1. The Returning

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“Do not watch the petals fall from the rose with sadness; know that, like life, things sometimes must fade before they can bloom again.”

Alice sent me into the woods alone, knowing that it was the safest way. I didn’t know what to think when she leapt at me from across the Cullen’s living room. Her face was a blur of emotions. Surprise and fear. Joy and panic. She had just experienced another one of her impulsive visions.

“Edward,” she breathed, and the name sent the entire household into a flurry. Before I could even exhale, I was surrounded by the family of vampires, each with their own pain etched into their face. There was something else there too. Trepidation. Did anyone dare to hope after so many dead ends?

I still hoped, even if the effort was slowly killing me. Edward would return. He would be saved, and in turn he would save me from this torture that was a life without him.

Seven months is but a blink of an eye to the blessing of an eternal life such granted to vampires. But I was a mere human. When warring with the madness of not knowing what happened to him, I had to claw my meager way through each minute of each day. This internal battle proved to me that I was stronger than I thought; maybe it made me as strong as Edward always believed me to be. Though I felt like a shell of myself, I would bear this for him. I would live up to what he thought he saw in me.

Those seven months trudged by, and now, a vision of Edward had finally come to Alice. He had been absent from her flashes for so long. She had suffered almost as I did, fighting her own mind to lift even a strand of her brother’s future. And until that cloudy afternoon in the Cullen home, nothing had come.

She didn’t see much. She said the image was more scrambled than anything she had seen before. Carlisle readied the family to leave, but Alice stopped him.

“They … the ones that took him. They know what we are. They’ll be able to track us if we go.” Her eyes clouded, and I knew she was shifting through our options. Her eyes then slid into a fierce clarity that replenished the dwindled faith in my bones. She looked at me.

“Bella will bring him back.”

Alice didn’t even realize how strongly she was clutching my arms as she spoke, but I didn’t care about the quickly-forming ache. Elation so strong it nearly bowled me over was flooding my veins, and as Alice hurried through her jumbled vision, it was decided that I would be the one to retrieve him.

And so I ended up floundering through the dimming night alone. I was angry with myself for not being able to traverse more quickly through the woods. I stumbled and tripped my way across the forest floor, twice face-planting into the mud. I used to see the beauty in the gnarled trees and their protruding roots. Now, they were simply obstacles. They were evil, and my growing desperation made me hate their mere existence. I continued to whisper Edward’s name into the settling darkness. He would be able to hear me long before my human senses would ever detect his presence.

I knew better than to second guess Alice, but I was truly unsure about how I was going to find him out in the middle of the woods with no super powers bestowed upon the immortal to aid me. The sun was long gone, and Alice and Carlisle waited nearly a mile away so as not to create a track in which they would alert the unknown dangers. A disgruntled Emmett waited back at home with the others. I had never seen him as upset as when Alice insisted there was no way for him to help Edward and that he couldn’t follow me to find him.

“The squirt is going to get herself hurt,” he huffed, bulking his massive chest up in determination. “I can get Edward and have us both back before she even finds the forest.” He glanced over to me with a grin. “No offense, Bella.”

Only Emmett could get away with a sense of humor in even the tensest moments. I loved him for it. But Alice denied him and so he was left behind, grappling over his inability to help his family.

I couldn’t tell how long I had been there or even how far I had gone. It was a dream-like state. I felt like I did in nightmares, the ones where I'm trying to run as fast as I can, but I don’t seem to be moving at all.

I heard a great owl hooting ominously somewhere overhead. I shook in surprise and my sneaker lost its precarious grip on the boulder I had been trying to maneuver over. I felt my feet slip out from underneath me and I tumbled off the rock and landed butt first into the mud. I hissed in annoyance. Now I was desperate and pissed off. I breathed deeply, trying to expel the feelings and return to my mission. Instead of smelling fresh soil and moss, though, I smelled … rusty blood.

I checked myself over quickly. I was covered in mud and pine needles, but I didn’t feel any new cuts. I crawled over and went to right myself when my fingers came across a warm softness.

I gripped tightly. Not rocky earth. But something soft. Soft skin. Warm skin. I yelped in shock my hands trekking further along the skin. It was an arm. It was tight and muscular and so familiar to me that my heart started to race. The skin was warm, though, and so I dejectedly pushed the excitement from my mind.

My palm came to rest upon the body’s back, and I was at once terrified and relieved when I felt a shallow rise and fall, proving the figure alive. “Hello?” I whispered. “Are you okay?”

Cursing the blackness of the night and the moon’s decision not to be on my side that night, I fumbled around in my back pocket for my house keys. I always stuck them there, no matter where I went. I dropped the set in the dirt twice before I finally separated a small led light from the keys. I pushed the button on and let the small but powerful beam fall onto the prone figure beside me.

His chest was in a shallow puddle of old rain water, his legs sprawled, and the back of his head facing me. Darkness ebbed all around my shred of light, but I knew that despite the mystifying warmth that radiated from this body that I had found him.

Edward lay before me and the realization caused me to lunge. In the quickest movement I had managed to muster all night, I was on top of him, grabbing his shoulders and pressing my fingers into his hair.

“Edward,” I whispered. “Edward!”

He didn’t stir. I gripped his shoulders and bit my lip as I pulled him onto his back. My breath hitched in my throat. His eyes were closed. Almost every inch of his face was covered in dried blood and filth. Had he recently fed? Shadows clung beneath his closed lids, but his skin was not nearly as pale as I was used to. He must have hunted recently, I decided, but I could not explain away the new warmth to his familiar skin. I pushed his mangled tufts of hair away from his forehead and rocked him in my aching arms, calling his name over and over. I no longer cared that I was sitting in the middle of a black forest and that Alice had sensed in her vision a danger that held malice toward us. My greatest gift and been returned and was lying there in my very arms. It felt like fleeting moments, but my gut feeling led me to assume that I had sat there much, much longer until he finally twitched to life. I gently coaxed him to wake up.

And he did. And my world was swallowed into his eyes, a shade I had never seen before. Green emeralds struggled to gain focus. He blinked harshly and then spoke. It was my name that stumbled over his dry lips, questioning. His voice was but a hoarse whisper, but I revered the sound.

Tears that I had refused so many times were bursting now, smearing the dirt on my face. I pushed them away so that I could try to see him better. I shined my light into his face but he flinched. I released the button and unhappily remained blind for the moment.

“Edward, are you okay?” I felt a minute nod, and his muscles struggled beneath his skin as he tried to sit up. Fear tinkered on the outskirts of my mind, trying to tell me something. But for these moments, all I could allow in me was the relief and the purest joy I had ever experienced. His long fingers wrapped around the shaking arms that enveloped his frail frame. Those were my arms that shook so harshly.

“Are you okay?” he asked me back, and a sob erupted from the depths of my chest, sounding more bitter than I would have ever wanted. He weakly pushed his face into my shoulder. Fighting the overwhelming desire to lay down beside him right then and there and neglect the world, I cradled the back of his head.

“We have to get out of here. Carlisle’s waiting with Alice for us.”

He made no movement, no response. I only heard labored breathing.

“They’re back about a mile. Do you think you can make it? She says the ones that did this to you can sense them. We need to go before they find you again.”

“They … won’t,” he mumbled but pushed himself out of my arms anyway. He seemed to be battling his own body, fighting even to stand. The fear in me did not tinker at the edges any longer. It was dancing viciously in the forefront of my mind. His physical struggle was in no way all right for a vampire. My immortal Edward had never displayed so much as an inkling of discomfort from his perfect body. I now seemed stronger than he was, however. I quivered at the thought.

When we were both standing, he leaned heavily on me. I accepted his weight eagerly. I only wanted to be his crutch in that moment. I would help him. We proceeded along even slower than I had imagined, and he tripped over those evil roots more than I did. Each stumble felt like a dagger to my chest. Something was not right.

There was a war raging within me, though. Edward was back, and that was all that mattered to me. How could things not be right if that was true?

I became impatient to be free of the obscurity of the night. Why hadn’t Alice come to us? I knew it wasn’t safe enough for that, but logic was quickly losing its grasp within me. Edward clutched the side of his chest that leaned into me and winced. I was almost dragging him.

“What I’d give to take one of those hell-raising rides on your back through the forest now, huh?” I grimaced under his weight but giggled in reassurance. I could hear the smallest of chuckles rattle in his chest, but it never quite reached his throat. His fingers grasped at my skin as he fought to keep his balance. Carlisle will fix him, I thought. Certainly, he will fix everything.

“What are you thinking?” I asked after minutes of silence, stealing one of his favorite lines to me.

“You. Only ever about you.”

I pulled my face up and kissed the cheek that hovered over me. I tasted dirt and salt and blood. When my lips moved away his face fell wearily onto the top of my head. He breathed in and I felt his nose pushing through the locks of my hair.

“Bella,” he moaned. His arm squeezed tightly over my shoulder in a seeming last effort of control and then it limply fell away. His knees buckled, and he crumpled to the ground. I followed him down, falling to my knees.

“Don’t do this, Edward. You’re okay. You’re going to be okay,” I whispered as I shakily attempted to collect his lanky figure – again unconscious - into my arms. I decided I would drag him if I had to. My adrenaline rush would come. A mother could lift a ton of metal to save her child in the most desperate of moments. I laid him on his back and locked my grasp under his still arms. I dug my heels into the ground and pulled. His head lolled back and we awkwardly inched further. A patience that I never knew dwelled within me now settled over my senses, and I concentrated on the present moment – nothing else. Inch by inch, I moved him. Inch by inch, I dragged him closer to his family and the salvation that they would provide. I freed the hope that I had held caged in my heart out and embraced it. I shoved away my fear over Edward’s current state into that cage and thought no more of it. He needed me and I would save him this time. It was my turn.

Minutes or hours fell by. I no longer had a sense of time. Sweat trickled down my temples. My side ached and my breaths were ragged, but I would not even stop to wipe the moisture that collected on my brow. I readjusted my grip on Edward and shifted my weight onto my heels, prepared to heave his weight again when I heard a swift voice behind me.

“We’re here, Bella.”

I let go of Edward in surprise, falling unceremoniously onto the ground. My breaths and the scratching of my shoes in ground had been the only sound for so long. The voice broke my concentration. It shattered my focus. It scared the hell out of me.

Alice’s lithe arms encased me then, bringing me back to my feet. I looked back to Edward only to find him hanging limply in Carlisle’s arms already. Alice hoisted me onto her back and then the wind slapped into my damp face as the blackness swirled around. We were flying through the forest.

She set me back on the ground beside the jeep. The moon had decided to emerge. I wanted to stick my tongue out acidly at its poor timing. You’re too late, I thought up at it.

“What’s wrong with him, Carlisle?” I asked as he loaded Edward gingerly into the back seat. My arms ached with the need for his touch, and I crawled into the other side of the vehicle. I lifted his head and let it lay in my lap. I gasped in the dim blue light. His cheeks were sunken in, gashes covered his face and new blood seeped over the dried scarlet. New blood. He was bleeding.

I shook my head determinedly. He wasn't. He couldn't be. I stared up at Carlisle, and my heart crashed into my stomach as I found fear pouring from his gentle eyes. He looked at Alice who had just hopped into the passenger seat. He looked from his daughter down to his son and then back up to me. He proceeded to speak words that made no more sense to me than if they had been uttered in a foreign language.

“His heart is beating.”