There wasn't any particular reason why I was being carried on Edward's back. I think we both knew that I could run on my own, but it didn't make any difference. In a way, it reminded me of what it felt like when I was human. I didn't want to let go of him – not even for an instant – and, by the way he'd held me close, I was pretty sure he didn't want to let me go either.
I hardly noticed our surroundings as Edward ran. Instead, I focused on him, becoming hyper-aware of the smallest details. The way his bronze hair blew in the wind, the sound of his breath; soft and even, never changing despite the distance we covered. His swift movements were comforting, lulling me into a daze. We're heading home.
Internally, I thrilled at the word. The only home I'd had up until now was my truck, but it was merely something to return to. I felt no glow of pleasure when I came back. There was no one to greet, no one to welcome me. With Edward, I could have a true home where somebody would care about me.
Now, I can finally live instead of existing as nothing more than a shell of my human self.
On impulse, I leaned forward and kissed Edward lightly on the back of the neck. He his head swung around to look back at me, his expression slightly startled. I grinned at him.
Overcoming his shock, he smiled back before turning his gaze back to the trail. Before I even realized what was happening, he dug his feet into the ground and leaped sharply to the left, narrowly avoiding a large tree. Instinctively, I clung to him so that I wouldn't fall off. But I my mind was stunned. There was no way that could have happened.
He so did not almost run into a tree.
I looked over and saw that his expression flustered, almost bewildered that he could have done something so clumsy. And then I just couldn't help myself.
Edward's embarrassed expression quickly changed to surprise at the sound of my laughter. Clearly, he hadn't expected me to react this way. Even he could understand that laughter was a rarity for me. The night that Jacob had died, most of my ability to feel had died as well. But right now it felt good. I was laughing so hard that, if I were human, there would be tears in my eyes. For once, I felt real. Not a mannequin, but a creature that could think and feel. Such a strange sensation – but I liked it. And then another voice joined mine.
It was far deeper in pitch, but just as beautiful. The sound of Edward's laughter mingling with my own took my breath away. His voice rang with joy and contentment, harmonizing perfectly with my own.
We continued to laugh for a long time, reveling in this foreign happiness. Once our mirth had finally dimmed, Edward set forth again. I had hardly realized that we'd stopped moving before.
As we got closer, my temporary feelings of bliss were overcome by nerves. Nothing seemed to stop the raging doubts that flooded my mind. Edward had accepted me, but would the others? Somehow, I couldn't be sure. I shifted on his back so that I could watch his expression. With an effort, I kept my voice from reflecting my nerves as I spoke.
"I-I" I cursed myself for stuttering. "I was wondering if the others were angry with me."
His eyes flashed, first with surprise and then incredulous. I winced at the expression on his face. Oh boy.
He skidded abruptly to a stop.
I gulped and forced myself to continue.
"Are they angry because of how I've acted? I mean, I ran away from them without even trying to listen to what they had to say. Aren't they mad at me?" I asked, whispering the last part.
Edward's eyes calmed and he pulled me gently from his back, holding me by the tops of my arms like a toddler. He stared me directly in the eye, his expression stern, his voice daring me to argue.
"Of course they aren't angry with you. They all understand. You've been through a lot, so of course you were wary. They couldn't have possibly expected anything more from you. The way you reacted was entirely understandable."
His tone became softer. "Never doubt that we will always love you – no matter what. I'll make sure that you'll never have to feel alone or abandoned again."
"Promise?" I whispered, my voice soft and trembling with unshedable tears.
"I promise." He told me, his eyes genuine. Then, tentatively, he reached forward and stroked my cheek with his fingertips, being cautious not to startle me. Then, when I didn't move away, he leaned forward and kissed me lightly, reassuring me without using a single word. His hand moved to brush back my hair, stopping to rest against the back of my neck. But he made no move to hold me against him. He seemed to know that – in the back of my mind – I was still afraid. It wasn't possible to erase all those thoughts and feelings I'd had over the last few decades--the feelings of rejection; the fear of trusting affection.
It would take time to heal, but I would heal, eventually.
Slowly, I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, savoring the feeling.
"Thank you," I whispered. He smiled, his eyes glowing. Then, very reluctantly, he pulled away. My skin tingled as his fingers brushed my throat.
"We had better get going –" He grinned. "– because I know that the others have been wanting to see you."
He waited as I climbed onto his back before taking off. I rested my chin on his shoulder, not really seeing the trees rushing past us. I didn't want to let go of this feeling. It was like finally getting to rest after a long race. I no longer need to tell myself that I had to hold on for just a little bit longer – just keep running for a little bit longer. The finish line was finally in sight, and I now had someone to guide me the rest of the way.
Nestled tightly against Edward's shoulder blade, I closed my eyes. The miles flew by almost imperceptibly. Gradually, I started to pick up the scents of the other Cullens as we entered their territory. For a moment, the scents--which I recognized from our earlier encounter--caused me to become tense. Was I really ready for this?
Feeling me stiffen on his back, Edward took my hand in his and lifted it to his lips, gently kissing the tip of each of my fingers.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered. And then, to my surprise, he began to hum a familiar tune.
As if on cue, I felt my body relax. And, although I couldn't sleep, I began to feel drowsy. Unconsciously, I snuggled against his neck, my eyes closing. Edward continued to hum, his voice filling my once-empty heart until I felt that it was going to burst. I intertwined my fingers with his and gave them a gentle squeeze. I could feel his chest vibrate as he hummed his beautiful, heartwarming tune for me. I wanted to thank him but I didn't know how, so I merely lay there on his back and listened without saying a word.
As we came into a clearing, a house suddenly came into view.
It was very much like the house in my memories; probably a century old and restored to perfection. A grapevine twisted around one of the stone pillars and crept along the trim of the roof. The front door was solid wood and I could see lacy white curtains through the window. It looked so warm and comforting. I'd forgotten what a real home looked like. I climbed down from Edward's back and moved to stand beside him. He smiled at me before looking at the house.
"We're home," he called out, his voice loud enough for any nearby vampires to hear. It was quiet for a moment and I felt a small wave of unease. Then the front door opened.
Alice came out first with Jasper in tow, smiling hugely. Jasper glanced at her as she pranced forward--her soft footsteps becoming a dance of delight--and rolled his eyes. But as I looked at him I realized that he was smiling too. Esme and Carlisle followed them out and I watched as Carlisle glanced between me and Edward. Edward grinned back at him and it dawned on me that Carlisle must have said something in his thoughts.
Esme's eyes lit up when she caught sight of me. Her joyous gasp of surprise caught Carlisle's attention and he turned his head to look at her. Seeing her delighted expression, he smiled and gave her an affectionate squeeze with one arm. Nothing registered in my mind when he kept it wrapped tightly around her waist.
I was surprised that Rosalie next one out the door and even more so when she offered me a tiny smile. I returned it, not quite used to this lack of hostility from her. After all, she had made a point of showing her distaste for me when I was human.
I expected Emmett to come out next, but several moments went by and the doorway remained empty. Yet, for some reason, I had a feeling that he was in there. Edward followed my gaze and squeezed my hand supporting. But I was confused; where was Emmett? Rosalie seemed to notice that he was missing and turned, walking back into the house. Nobody spoke, but, after a moment, I heard the whisper of two sets of feet walking towards the door.
Rosalie emerged first, walking out with a confident stride and moving to stand beside Carlisle. A few seconds later, Emmett appeared.
He stopped immediately after the door and didn't move, his eyes fixed on the ground. I stared at him, puzzled. This wasn't the Emmett I had known. He was usually loud and enthusiastic, not like this silent figure waiting by the doorway. I continued to watch him until he slowly looked up, meeting my gaze with his. I was surprised by the sorrow in his eyes and, when he smiled, the apology in his expression.
I took a step away from Edward. Emmett looked startled and his body stiffened.
"Bella." His smile was small and unsure.
My mind moved quickly, trying to add it all up. Tiny details were beginning to stand out. Alice didn't try to hug me. Carlisle kept his arm wrapped around Esme. Emmett acted timid and ashamed. Suddenly it all clicked into place.
They were doing exactly what Edward had done. They were being cautious in an effort to keep me from feeling trapped and panicked. A strange mix of gratitude and embarrassment flooded through me.
It was hard to comprehend this fact after I'd spent so long rejecting such a notion. All I knew was that, at that moment, my face was lit up with a smile and I was suddenly darting forward. I grabbed Emmett by the arm and started pulling him towards Alice and Jasper, wanting to be with all of them at once. He was so surprised that he merely followed, a grin slowly beginning to build on his face. Overcoming his initial shock, he swooped forward and picked me up, pulling me into a crushing hug. I heard the sound of Alice's twinkling laughter before she pounced on us, her arms wrapping around my neck.
"Bella! It's so good to see you again!"
I hugged her tightly in response. I saw Jasper in the background, smiling wider than I've ever seen him smile before. To my surprise, he came forward and joined our little group, holding on to both me and Alice.
Happiness flooded through me. From behind me I heard Edward approach, his arms suddenly going around my waist as he buried his face in my hair. I moved my head so that it rested against his, feeling overwhelmed with joy. I closed my eyes for a moment, letting the emotions wash through me. When I opened them, I suddenly noticed that Carlisle was holding Esme up as her knees buckled out from under her. She turned her face into his chest and began to gasp helplessly. It was then that I realized that, were she still human, she would be crying.
As I listened, I could hear her whispering: "Oh, thank you. . thank you. . . my family!"
Carlisle looked up at me and smiled. At the same time, Edward leaned down and murmured in my ear, "She's fine. She's just so happy that she's a bit overwhelmed."
I relaxed, relieved. All of these different sensations at once were beginning to make me feel overwhelmed as well. I wasn't used to caring for anyone other than myself. I wasn't used to this foreign feeling of joy. I wasn't used to not feeling an aching pain in my chest at such a touching scene.
"I missed you. All of you." I whispered.
Emmett snorted. "Well of course you did! What's not to miss?"
I looked up, startled for a moment by his casualness, before grinning. "Hmm. You're right. It was so horrible having no one to make fun of me every time I tripped."
I saw Rosalie roll her eyes before she leaned in to give me a hug.
"Welcome back." She whispered. Her voice was so soft that even my enhanced hearing could hardly decipher the words. I blinked, surprised by the acceptance in her voice. A bit akwardly, I hugged her back.
"Thank you," I said softly. She smiled before turning away and tugging on Emmett's arm.
"Come on! You promised that we would go out today!"
He looked at her, caught off guard, before quickly pulling away from us, giving me an apologetic grin. With a quick salute, he ran off after Rosalie, who had already disappeared towards the cars by the side of the house.
Alice pulled away to look at me expectantly. "Speaking of going out, how about we go shopping? From the looks of things, you could really use some new clothes."
She eyed my worn shirt and pants disapprovingly, and I couldn't help but laugh at her expression.
How is it that all of this happens so naturally? Why do I suddenly feel like they had never been gone? What is it that allows me to feel so happy--so alive? I couldn't seem to bring myself to care about all these answers. For now, I was happy. How could I ask for anything more?
I'm sorry that it took so long to write this chapter! I've been unbelievably busy! Also, the results from the poll are in and I WILL be writing an epilogue! Now that all of that is out of the way, please write a review for this chapter! I have the epilogue planned out, but I really need motivation to get writing! It'll be written sooner if you review!