A/N: Hey from TFMU. Sorry for the delay. My words got eaten, and I had to start over. There's a lot of alcohol here, so… ya know. Any mistakes are mine.
Bella was aware, though not in any concrete sense. She simply was. She was aware of herself, and aware of the murmur around her. Someone was upset. An important voice sounded with anguish, and, right then, she was made of the need to comfort it.
She could hear the tone of his voice, tortured and afraid. She wanted nothing more than to wrap her essence—for that was all she was at that point—around him. To pull him into herself and soothe away the anguish. It was a powerful need, but not as consuming as the blackness that tugged at the edges of her awareness.
The blackness won, and she returned to a dreamless sleep.
When the awareness returned, her most stubborn thoughts found enough purchase to fight through the haze of her mind. They turned from liquid and vague to something concrete, and she realized more of what she was feeling.
Drugs? Had she done some weird drug? Had she overdosed? She could find no explanation for the lack of control she had over her body. A sense of failure washed through her, bitter disappointment. Had she fallen as she'd always expected she would someday?
Edward. She felt his soft fingers on her cheek, streaking her cold world with warmth. Her body was heavy and lethargic, but she thought maybe she could get her eyelids to work if it meant she could see him.
"You're okay. Shhh."
She hadn't realized until that moment she was whimpering. Almost instantly, she calmed. If Edward said it was okay, she knew it was. She concentrated on breathing and opened her eyes.
"Hey, you." He picked up her hand, cradling it in his, and kissed the backs of her fingers. "Don't be scared, beautiful. There's not a thing wrong with you."
He swallowed hard, and even in the state she was in, Bella could see the color drain from his face. He looked like death warmed over, terrified and just so...angsty. Edward's natural state, but amplified by, well, a lot.
"You lost a lot of blood," he whispered. "You've had blood transfusions." He hesitated a beat, his eyes gone even more anguished. "And you've been through surgery. It was your kidney. A nail gun." He laughed, totally without humor. "Those nails are so damn long. It clipped your kidney, but the damage was easy to repair. Just a scare. That's all."
She wished more than anything she had the strength to touch him. Just to cup his face. He needed the comfort. He needed to believe his own words as much as she did. She would be fine. It took a while to recover from blood loss. A lot of sleep.
She closed her eyes and slept.
"It wasn't your fault," Bella said.
She was sitting up in bed now, still drained but at least not so exhausted that she couldn't keep her eyes open. They clung to each other, fingers entwined.
He looked down, playing with her fingers. "I was useless to you. That shouldn't happen."
"An asshole construction worker shouldn't have a nail gun in his hand with the safety off." Bella shook her head, taking his hand in both of hers. "Edward, it's not your fault."
He didn't answer, and he didn't look at her. He kept playing with her fingers.
"Edward, I love you."
That got his attention. His head snapped up so quickly, she heard the snap of his neck muscles. She laughed and smiled, ducking her head. "You had to know that, but I'm sorry I've never said it before." A lump rose to her throat and she squeezed his hand too tightly. "Edward. I love you."
He let go of her hand and sat up straight, taking her face in his hands. He stared into her eyes, and her heart beat hard against her chest. She wrapped her hands around his wrists, brushing her thumbs over his skin.
He laughed. A wry sound. Shaking his head slowly as he kissed her with a kiss so gentle it about broke her heart. "I live that day over and over again in my head. It was one day in high school, and I should have forgotten it so long ago. Instead, I see it all the time. I always have." He took a shuddering breath. "I was a name on a piece of paper a lonely, fucked up kid used to mark people for death. So were so many people I loved. I lost so much that day."
Again, he paused, closing his eyes and tilting his head against hers. "I never let myself have anything that was my own. I lived their lives for them, because I was too scared to have a life I wanted." He lifted his head, staring into her eyes. "Bella," he whispered. "This life we've built together. You. All of you. I almost lost everything. Again.
"Not saying the words, not telling you that I'm going to love you for the rest of our lives, didn't keep you safe. And it won't." He took her hand and pressed it to his cheek. "I love you. I should have told you every day so you would never doubt. I love you, and I want to build a life with you. Our life. Together. A little you and a little me and a lot of both of us."
She tilted her head, studying him. Tears stung her eyes, and a lump had risen to her throat. "What are you saying?"
He stood up and sat on the edge of the bed, still clutching her hands to his chest. "Bella, I don't know how much it means to you, given that I failed you the minute you really needed me, but I want to be the one who protects you always. I want you, always."
She took his hands and brought them both to her cheek, tilting her face against him and then lifting her head to look at him. "It's a mutual thing, baby. I have your back, and you have mine. You needed me more than I needed you. It was a freak accident, Edward, and I'm sorry I wasn't there to walk you out of that hellacious panic attack."
He scoffed, looking briefly away. It wasn't easy for him to admit. He'd hyperventilated and passed out almost at the same time she did, but that wasn't his fault. He was damaged. So was she. They always would be in some way, and didn't that make them perfect together?
"Marry me, Bella," he whispered. "Whatever happens, let it happen to us. Not to you. Not to me. Us."
She wrapped her arms around him, hiding her face in his neck, trembling. "Yes," she whispered back.
In her life, she'd had so many things that were meant to be ephemeral—people, homes, jobs. Piece by piece, her life had gained some semblance of permanence. Permanence by human standards, anyway.
Nothing remained the same forever. Despite what they'd already been through, there was no promise they were safe from devastation. She could lose him, yes, but that was true whether or not she admitted her love; whether or not she twined her life with his on paper, before their friends and family.
"I love you," she said, raising her head to kiss him.
"I love you," he said, wrapping her in the velvet embrace of his arms.
Because they understood each other.
Because it was the most right and wonderful thing she'd ever felt in a world so often painted different hues of bad.
Because they could still have beauty, even though, once upon a time, someone—a lost, lonely soul—had brought ugliness and loss to their lives.
Because sometimes, bad things happened, but so did the good. And they were very, very good.
A/N: So many thanks to Mina, Betsy, MoH, Packy, and Eleanor, as always. I have a great team.
Shout out to Ausha for helping me figure out the perfect way to end this little tale.
Extra shout out to my impromptu betas, Nan and Breaking Aurora. They double checked me because I was more than a little drunk as I was writing this. LOL.
Thank you. I hope you enjoyed.