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Hot Landing Zone
At dawn, Edward stood on the beach as the rescue chopper landed on the shore, then helped Bella into the seat. He threw in their gear, then climbed in beside her.
Men smiled at him, the rescue pilot grinning. "We took you two for dead."
"Maybe if I was with a sailor," Bella said, smiling at Edward. "But not a Marine."
The Marines it the chopper muttered an ooh-rah, and Edward squeezed her hand as the chopper rose and headed to the ship. Their arrival caused an uproar, nearly the entire crew cheering as they stepped off the chopper.
Bella smiled and waved, greeting the captain, making jokes, but wanting Edward by her side. It was almost overwhelming, the attention making her light headed, but when Edward's hand pressed to the small of her back, she felt a wave of comfort and the tension eased.
Bella was ushered by an embassy official and a CIA agent. Edward was ordered to report in two hours to his commanding officer. He looked over his shoulder as they dragged her in the other direction. She looked scared, and he stopped, moving toward her. The CIA agent had a hold of her and Edward pried him off.
He glared. "Listen Marine-"
"No, you listen. She's not used to this- you're scaring her. Give us a minute."
Edward pulled her aside, away from the onlookers, and there were plenty. Few women were on board the carrier, none looking like Bella, wearing a short, tattered skirt and his camouflage shirt.
She met his gaze, so mush hope and uncertainty there that Edward felt stabbed by it.
"Will I see you later?"
"This is it, Bella. We part here."
She frowned, confused. "Why are you being like this?"
Edward had thought about this, planned his words, but when they came, he felt almost ashamed of them. "Look, I was a little excitement for you, Doc. We're too different for this to go further."
"Further that practically devouring each other?"
"Yeah. My life isn't nine to five. Yours is. Beyond sex, what so we have in common?"
She couldn't say. Did they have to have anything in common to love? Didn't opposites attract? "So I was convenient and willing."
He hated how that sounded. "It was mutual."
"That was with the Edward I knew on the island. Not the one I'm seeing now."
"This is me."
"No its not. It's the man who is too ready to face death for his country, but scared out of his mind to risk his heart for me." Her voice broke, and it slayed him.
"Bella, my heart was never in this."
His brows shot up. "My life is like this. I won't give it up."
"I didn't ask you to."
"And I won't ask you to give up all you've worked for."
"Isn't that my choice?" When he said nothing, she snapped, "You are the most pigheaded, asinine man I have ever met!"
"I imagine so."
"And a moron! You don't get it, do you, Edward? I lov-"
"Ma'am, we need to go," the officer interrupted.
"Wait a minute!" she snapped, then looked back at Edward. His expression, so stoic and void of emotion, warned Bella that there was no use talking to him now. But that didn't stop her heart from shattering, each piece falling away to melt into the emptiness she'd lived in for years. Her eyes burned with tears, and she looked up at him and in a dead voice said, "Thank you for keeping me alive, Gunny." The CIA officer grasped her elbow, guiding her toward the hatch.
Edward stood there as the officer led her away, almost dragging her. From him, from his life. He couldn't ask her to be apart of it. But as the hatch closed behind her, Edward knew he'd just let the best thing to ever happen to him walk out of his life.
Sergeant Whitlock walked up beside him. "And here I thought you were the smartest man I knew, Gunny."
Edward snapped a look at Whitlock, scowling.
"Apparently not," the Sergeant said, shrugging as he walked away.
Marine Corps Air Station
Port Angeles, WA
The aircraft touched down, and inside, the cheer was deafening.
A couple of hundred Marines were eager to disembark, but Edward dreaded this part. The end of the deployment, the drip home, and landing on the Port Angles Airfield to the trumpets of the Marine band. And the scores of family, wives, girlfriends, and children littering the flight deck, impatient for a glimpse of their Marine.
All Edward saw was the drive home to an empty house and probably some dead plants.
The image of Bella had plagued him through the mission, threatening his concentration. All he could see was the hurt so vivid in her eyes; hear the venomous words she'd thrown at him. She'd been right. He was scared. He had so little in his life outside the Corps, but it was moments like this that he felt like the kid in the orphanage, wishing for more and knowing he'd never get it.
Though Edward had always been greeted by his fellow Marines' families like he was a part of theirs, he never was. He was an outsider, alone, and as he stepped off the hydraulic tongue of the C-130, he never felt more isolated than at this moment.
Man, you royally screwed up a good thing this time, Cullen.
The noise on the flight deck pumped with energy in true Marine fashion: music, joyful screams, and cheers. He walked alongside his team, each spying their wives or girlfriends.
"Alice has lost weight," Jasper said.
"Well, my wife gained some."
Edward spotted Emmett's wife. She was three months pregnant when they left; now she looked ready to deliver their firstborn on the flight deck. Grinning, Emmett hurried toward his wife, the two other single men following alongside him. The young Marines searched the crowds for familiar faces. Edward didn't bother. The one he wanted to see wouldn't be there. And it was his fault. All his.
Edward didn't pay attention; some young Marine always had a new babe waiting for him, ready to welcome the warrior home properly.
"Man would you look at that hair."
"Forget that, check out the body in pink."
Edward looked up, his gaze slipping over the crowed. He stopped dead in his tracks and just stared.
Surrounded by Marine wives and families, Bella stood out in the flowery pink dress, her hair blowing wildly under the straw hat that made her look more delicate, more lovely. She took his breath away.
The instant her gaze met his, Edward knew without a doubt that his world had just tilted right.
"If she's here." A Marine said. "Then she belongs to someone."
Something locked up inside him as Edward said, "Yeah, to me." And without taking his eyes off her he started walking faster.
Bella stood by a very pregnant Rosalie McCarty, watching Edward come near, her heart pounding. He looked tired and wary. She almost turned to run, to go back to her well-ordered, very boring life. But she couldn't. She knew the instant that Edward touched her that her future was right here.
She hoped he was going to smarten up and see that.
Nearby, Emmett grabbed up his wife, kissed her passionately, and then looked at her. His eyes went wide. "Doctor Swan?
She smiled. "Hello Emmett."
"You're the Isabella Rosalie's been writing me about?"
She nodded, winking at Rosalie. They'd met a couple of months ago, and Rosalie had been gracious enough to introduce her into the Marine life. Bella considered it her greatest challenge and admired the women who stood by these men. "Welcome home, Marine."
"Thanks for watching out for her, but does the Gunny know-?"
Bella followed Emmett's gaze and turned. Edward was inches from her, his gear on his shoulder.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. He realized that he hadn't drawn a decent breath till this moment.
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No, its not." Edward's heart skipped a beat as she stepped near, her hand slipping behind his neck to pull him down for a kiss. Passion flowed, wrapped them warmly, and Edward dropped his gear, pulling her into his arms.
Bella knew she'd just arrived exactly where she belonged. Edward needed her as much as she needed him. This man fought for freedom, yet no one had fought for him. No one had ventured beyond the rough exterior to understand how alone he was in a crowed. He wouldn't let them. Protecting himself, but isolating his heart. Trapped on the island with him, she'd seen it, the gentler side, and the part of him aching to be a part of something that was bigger than the Marine Corps.
She wanted the chance to love him, and she'd follow him anywhere to do it.
"I missed you, Edward." Tears caught in her throat, her voice cracking.
He smiled for the first time.
"I have been waiting for you to come home. To me."
Home. God help him, it was the brass ring he wanted to catch, to grasp and never let go. He swallowed hard, taking a step into the unknown. "Bella, this is not an easy life. You're alone a lot."
"I was completely alone before, Edward. I think I can handle it."
As people spoke to her, saying hello, wishing them well, Edward stared down to her. "What did you do?" he didn't really have to ask. She'd already given up her life to be here, a part of his life.
She touched the side of his face, her expression so tender and loving that the world around them tumbled away. "I fell in love with you, Edward."
"Oh, Bella." He swallowed hard, his throat raw and tight.
She rubbed his lower lip. "I love you, Edward Cullen."
"I love you, too. It took me a while-"
"That's because you're a moron."
He grinned, crushing her to him, burying his face in her throat. "Yeah, I know. I lied to you. My heart was in this from the start."
"I know, Edward, I know you."
"Yeah, you do." Edward felt a heavy weight lifting off him just then. "God, I missed you." He ground kisses up her throat to her mouth.
"Me, too," she said against his lips, then drew back enough to look him in the eye. "This is where we belong."
Edward choked, staring into her soft eyes, his love for her so shining and strong that people stood back and smiled. "Marry me."
"Marry me, Bella, let me love you forever."
"Ar- are you sure?"
"I might be a moron, but I'm smart enough to recognize a gift when I see it."
Her smile sent tears tumbling down her cheeks. "Yes. I will." She tightened her arms around his neck, rising up on her toes to kiss him. "Forever sounds good to me."
She heard a soft ooh-rah from him, unaware of the audience witnessing their love blooming before their eyes. But Edward didn't care. His world was in his arms, and a new life awaited both of them.
For once in his career, he was glad the mission had gone bad.
Love you guys!