Chapter Thirty-Four—Only Human II
It was hours later when Bella whimpered and cried out, searching for Edward with flailing arms and hands. He did what he could to stop the tears from coming, holding her as she cried. Minutes passed, his chest against her back, when she finally said a word.
Her voice, throaty and sensitive, cracked as she spoke. She slipped her fingers between his, his hand on her stomach.
"Sixteen people passed through those doors, and we helped them all in some way. Most are living lives they thought would never happen after falling to addiction. I don't regret setting roots in Mexico, but I do regret not pulling out sooner. I knew it was a risk, but for some fucked up reason, I thought our success was due to a facility."
"Even I know that's bullshit. You also didn't know he would attack," Edward said, unsure why he still had a need to comfort her.
"I knew he was capable of it."
He shook his head, resting his chin on her shoulder. "Maybe, but you got us out of there."
"Not without consequences," she sobbed gently, quickly wiping away another tear. "Marcus asked me to stay, to help him bring down Carlos, to find those responsible for a drug that's killing a lot of people."
"You said no, because of me." If she didn't have the responsibility to bring him home, she could've done as the authorities requested.
"I said no because I couldn't have any more blood on my hands. If I stayed to help, it would've come to that, if it hadn't already."
He squeezed her hard. "You are not responsible for Alec's boyfriend." For a while, neither said anything. It was Bella to break the silence minutes later.
"I went up onto that roof to say goodbye. Guess it was good thing I did, because if I hadn't there would've been no warning. I was lucky that they threw a flash grenade first or else…"
His fingers tighten on her stomach. "Some of us might not have made it." The clinic where Emmett and Rosalie stayed had gone up in flames within minutes. If they had fired something else that first time, Bella wouldn't be there.
The events of what happened rushed through him, along with all the fear and emotions that he tried to push back for hours. She turned in his arms, wrapping hers around him tightly. There were little tears from him, but many words he said that he barely understood. Incoherent as she held him until he lost to the inevitable fight with his exhaustion.
Only a short while later, Edward woke up to find her draped across his chest. He slipped his fingers through her hair one last time, caressed her back with his hand, lingering on the tattooed words he would take to heart. He coaxed her to his side, whispering to her until he was sure she would stay asleep. It wasn't until he pulled away that he knew he had to do something to protect himself.
Bella awoke the scent of coffee, turning toward the source and taking a deep breath. Bright sunlight intruded the darkness behind her eyes, becoming orange instead. She didn't want to wake up, and she wanted to stay inside her dreams.
She was determined not to hate herself for the things that she'd done. To love him even as he berated her as he would when she told him it couldn't happen again. Not when he thought that she betrayed him for all the wrong reasons. Not when he needed to stay focused on his recovery.
"I got you coffee," she heard him say from across the room. "We should hit the road soon." They should, she realized, the drive was over eighteen hours.
She reluctantly opened her eyes to look at him, expecting something other than indifference. Anger would've been preferable, but then again, she knew it wouldn't be easy to wake up on the day she would have to say goodbye to him.
The sheets were rough against her sensitive skin as she sat up against the headboard. A glass of water and two dark orange pills sat on the nightstand beside the bed. Her heart ached, not knowing what to make of the gesture. Crying usually gave her a horrible headache and he remembered from the time she had the nightmare weeks earlier.
"Thanks," she said, taking the pills and glass, and sipping. She watched him over the rim and wondered what he was thinking. He was hard to read sometimes, a mask usually in place when he wanted to protect all that he was. It had thickened considerably in only a few hours.
"I took a twenty out of the money in the bag," he said, waving his hand toward the two stacks of bills in case of an emergency in Mexico.
"I thought about taking the car," he said, shrugged, his gaze moving away from hers. "I walked down the street instead. I spent money on two coffees, one donut, and a bottle of ibuprofen."
The steaming cup sat on the nightstand too, and she grabbed it, drank from it gratefully.
"Please get dressed," he said, his breathing ragged. His eyes wandered from his lap to where the sheet around her chest draped dangerously.
"I will," she said softly. "Look at me, Edward."
His lips thinned as he did what she asked. "What?" The word sounded harsh. "I already know. You don't have to say it."
"It can't happen again, Edward."
"Yeah, I fucking figured that." He stood up, dropped his full cup of coffee in the trash, and walked out of the room.
She expected it, hated herself. Even then, she couldn't regret their night together.
"Fuck, 3B, I'm too tired to drive." Edward pulled over, having driven for four hours of their journey.
The trip so far had been awkwardly tense and silent for the most part. She gave him directions and tried to talk to him, but he refused and usually responded by turning up the stereo. Twice she tried to explain once again why it had to be that way, but he wouldn't listen.
"Didn't you sleep?" she asked before jumping out of the truck.
As they passed each other, he replied, "Maybe a fucking hour or two."
She rolled her eyes and climbed into the driver's side. "Well, get some sleep. You're going to need it. I didn't sleep very well, either."
"Whatever," he grumbled as he slipped the bill of the baseball cap he wore lower, adding, "Just fucking drive."
She bit back the need to tell him off, understanding where he was coming from. He'd been cranky all morning and for good reason. From the corner of her eyes, she watched as Edward settled against the door, arms crossed over his chest, his body taking half the seat.
She slipped on her Bluetooth and dialed up James an hour later. "Hey," he greeted her. "How's the drive going?"
"It's going about as fun as a root canal," she replied, keeping her voice low. "Edward is catching up on some sleep and I'm driving."
"Any word from Alec?"
Bella clicked on the GPS device she hooked up earlier, looking for a less than typical route to Montana. Marcus had called before they hit the road and said that Carlos had disappeared from their radar the moment he got wind that Manuel Villarreal Perez was looking for him. He also stated that at least four of his known associates were in the states.
She wasn't taking any chances. While Edward had gone for another walk after she woke up, she got dressed and did a thorough check of the truck. Edward helped when he returned from his walk and after she explained. Finding nothing, they checked out and left.
"He disconnected his phone," she answered, pulling into a gas station. With the keys in her hand, she walked inside and grabbed a few things in the hopes they would help keep her awake. "I need pumpkin seeds," she said to herself as she grabbed a bag. "I don't know what else to do."
"Bella?" His voice had a touch of concern.
She kept the truck in her range of vision, thankful for the floor to ceiling windows. "Yeah?"
"How you really doing?" James asked.
She sighed, wishing she could talk to him about it all. For some reason, she wanted to keep what happened with Edward close to her heart. "Am I doing the right thing?"
"What do you think?"
"God, I hate when you answer a question with a question?"
"Says the fucking therapist," he said, laughing.
"Asshole," she hissed and grabbed some of Edward's favorite things to munch on, too. "You know what I mean."
"No, I don't. When you say you don't know what to do, do you mean Edward or Alec?"
"I meant Alec before, but now I'm not so sure."
"You know you can't go back there."
"How did you know?" she asked, making her way to the cashier.
"Because you want to save everybody," he stated firmly.
"Now you sound like my therapist," she said and paid for the items in her hands.
"No thanks, I have my own issues to work through." Considering everything her brother had been through, she always wondered how he was so well rounded. Aside from a revolving door for a few years, he was a generally good person.
"I better go," she whispered. "Love you."
"Me too, sis. Please be careful and call Banner. He wants to talk to you about Jasper."
As a rule, when a friend becomes a patient, they didn't talk about him on a personal level unless they were face to face. It happened with Jacob and would with Jasper. Though he had yet to ask for drugs, he had all the telltale signs of a junkie desperate for a hit. He was under in the care of Dr. John Banner and his sponsor in Montana. Jasper requested isolation for a few days, and though it wasn't unusual, she worried.
She couldn't stay in Montana. If she did, she'd be tempted to see Edward as often as possible. He wasn't ready for that and she had to give him the space he seemed to need. He wasn't ready to hear all she had to say.
Until then, she had to go home and decide where she'd go from there.
As she walked toward the store's exit, she passed a colorful display of condoms and male enhancement pills. She stopped and internally cursed. A few weeks before, Rosalie and Bella had an awkward talk with James and Edward about Vicky. Alice, along with her father and Charlie, had spoken with the woman and she broke down, admitting she'd known all along. She had taken tests, and though everything else came back normal, she was positive for clap. She also admitted to her addiction to sex, which was why she continued, despite the fact she could transmit the disease.
Bella had her picked up and taken to her Los Angeles facility that specialized with that addiction. Since Vicky had taken the test six months earlier, Bella and Edward should be okay in the STD department, especially since his clap cleared up. She pulled out her calendar and breathed a sigh of relief.
However, she was due for a depo shot in two weeks. Her period was due any day now and all should be okay. Still, she knew better and felt stupid for not thinking of using protection earlier.
How could she though? Before she even set foot in the hotel lodge, she hadn't come to decision to be with him. It wasn't until she made the arrangement and her subconscious automatically asked for a room with one bed, that she made the choice.
Outside, the sun reaching the highest point in the sky, she felt his eyes on her. Under the low bill of his cap, he stared at her through squinted eyes. "No regrets," she whispered to herself, "Except one."
Their timing sucked.
"You're practically asleep," Edward said, popping his neck. It had been several hours, their trek a third of the way done. "Pull over for some food. We'll eat and I'll take over."
"Since when did you get so fucking bossy," Bella argued, trying to fight a yawn. She lost.
"I don't know," he said, shrugging and pointing at a pizza place. "Around the time you lost the right to do it to me."
She cursed under breath, pulling off the busy road. Detours had lengthened their drive, but they both acknowledged it was for the best. If someone was tailing them, they weren't willing to lead them to the Montana facility, where over a hundred people stayed.
"I'm hungry anyway," she said as she parked outside a KFC.
"I said pizza."
"I know, but that's not what I want. Your pizza place is two buildings down. You can go there if you insist." She handed him some money, pulled out the keys and stepped out of the truck without another word or a look back.
He followed her, but made it clear it was his choice and not hers.
"How much longer do we have?" he asked as they sat down to eat after they got their food.
"I thought we could go a few more hours and stop somewhere for the night."
He stilled and the chicken leg he had in his hand feel onto his plate. "No. We keep going."
She watched him, carefully choosing her words. "We're both tired."
"I can drive…" Even as he said the words, she knew he was holding back the need to yawn. He hadn't slept much on her turn to drive, and every time he managed some, he would wake up from a nightmare. Startling awake or crying out her name often.
"There's a rest stop a couple of hours out of this town. One of those real nice ones, we'll catch some sleep for an hour and then hit the road."
Edward nodded after a moment, returning his attention back to his food. "I ain't talking to a damn shrink when I get there."
"Edward," she said, waiting until he looked at her. When he did, all the anger he had for her bled into his eyes, making them almost black. "The longer you hold out, the longer you'll stay there."
"That's just fucking fine with me."
"Don't make this about us. Damn you, after everything, you're willing to allow your recovery to fall apart?"
"You're willing to walk away."
"I have my reasons."
"I don't care what they are." He pulled back, having only noticed that they had leaned toward each other. Even now, as anger radiated out of him and toward her, there was an undeniable pull. He grabbed his plate, tossing it in the trash and walking out of the restaurant. She watched as he walked out of sight toward the pizza place.
Thirty minutes later, they were on the road. He said nothing when she pulled into the rest stop hours later, her exhaustion causing her vision to a blur. "If you can drive, go for it. I'm hopping in the backseat and getting an hour of real sleep."
She climbed into the back from the front seat, grabbing one of the pillows she bought during one of their stops.
"I could drive home right now and you wouldn't even notice," he said as he watched her using the rearview mirror. His voice was rough from not speaking for hours again.
"You ready to head home?" He answered by tossing the keys at her. She heard him settle in the front seat, grunting about the steering wheel digging into his leg. "There's a lever on the side, quit complaining and sleep."
She woke up almost two hours later to Edward startling awake from someone knocking on the window. "Fucking hell," he hissed and rubbed his face. She sat up to see what the commotion to find a transient outside the window.
"Fuck, we overslept." Bella climbed over the seat, pushing Edward out of the way.
"Can you spare a dollar, sweetheart?" the man asked. Even though she couldn't smell him, since the window was all the way up, she saw that the man was in desperate need of bath.
"How about a night at the local hotel?" she asked. "You could have a shower."
The old man, his white hair matted against his dirty forehead, seemed to think about it. "I'd rather have the money."
He grinned, and she noticed he had two chipped teeth, yellow from years of smoking and drinking. "You want me to lie to you and say it's for food?"
"You can't save everybody, Bella," Edward said from the passenger seat. She sighed and realized that he had said what her brother, her father, and her therapist had told her a hundred times already. She handed the old man some money and the bag of chips and the cold sub she grabbed for later.
"Maybe you'll have more luck with the next one," the man said before walking off with his loot.
Bella looked at Edward. "I hope so." She drove off before he could say a word, though she felt his eyes on her for next few minutes. A few miles down the highway, she realized something else. She couldn't help anybody until she helped herself.
She thought she was over her mother's suicide, but she wasn't. As soon as she was home, she'd call her therapist.
"You want to tell me what the tears are for?" Edward asked.
She hadn't realized she was crying. "Did I ever tell you I have an eidetic memory?"
"Yeah, you said your photographic memory was what allowed you to get through school faster and ace your tests. Why?"
"I remember every moment of my life since I was about six, down to the smells and the emotions I felt during a particular moment." He hummed, acknowledging he was listening but said nothing.
"There were three pills out of sixty spread out on the bed, two more on the floor and somehow one had bounced its way out into the hallway. She hadn't closed the door all the way, but it was the first thing I saw when I came home, and when I knew what she'd done."
"Pull over, Bella."
"One little white pill contrasting brightly over her new fucking cherry wood floors she had her son and husband put in only days earlier. There was a smell in the air, bile and just something I can't even begin to describe."
"Pull over, Bella."
"I loved her. She knew I'd be the one to find her. She knew my dad had taken her illegitimate son, who she had yet to accept, fishing. She left me a note, one I couldn't show to my dad and brother. Even to this day. You know why?"
"No, I don't."
"She blamed them and then she asked me to save them all since I couldn't save her."
"Bella," he said, putting his hand on the wheel and guiding the truck onto the shoulder. She took her foot off the gas and allowed him to take over, shifting it into park.
"How could she do that to me? I remember every word of that note in my head. I'll remember that and everything that's hurt me for a long time."
"Despite that, you'll keep doing what you're doing. Makes a you a stronger person than I think you realize."
"Stupid sounds better to me."
"You know you don't mean that."
She looked at him, wary eyes watching her. Internally, she berated herself for losing it for the second time in as many days. He didn't need to see it.
"We're almost there," she said, looking out onto the road.
He was hesitant when he asked, "How long?"
"About four hours."
"What happens then?"
She told him what to expect and how to reach her if he needed her. "Jasper and James will be there. Rosalie and Emmett will be there when she feels up to it."
"When can I go home?"
She shrugged. "That all depends on you and your new therapist."
"In other words—never," he said, allowing his head to fall back onto the seat.
He said nothing in return.
"Thanks," she said, breaking a two-minute length of silence.
"I didn't do anything."
"You listened when I needed to say something."
She watched him, even with her eyes on the road again, his hands clenched on his thighs. "I hate that you remember everything."
She looked at him and started the truck again. "Sometimes, I do, too." Some days and memories, she wished she could forget, but some nights are worth keeping forever.
He said nothing, but sat back and watched the world go by his window.
Hours passed, the only words in the truck were sung on the satellite radio. Despite all that happened, they still moved in a way that accommodated the other. She would reach for a drink, and he automatically had it ready for her. If a song came on that he often changed in the past, she'd switch channels without questioning the reason why.
The hot summer night had wind circulating through opened windows. They stopped once to charge the air conditioner for it to die completely halfway through the drive. The road turned from asphalt to dirt road, during the last leg of the journey. Static, despite the service, was the white noise to their tension-filled silence.
The ranch came into view, the main building a pinprick still lost in the night, except for the bright lights near the stables. The bright red barn came into view after turning the truck down the long driveway.
Edward said nothing, his only reaction was to sit up straighter and watch from his passenger window.
"It's three hundred twenty five acres of various terrain, including mountain. We have a creek that's great for fishing this time of year, if there isn't a drought. We also have couple of abandoned mines on the property."
Bella hated how much she sounded like a real estate agent, desperate to sell a lot of land that no one would touch. She didn't know what to say to him, or if she should say anything at all. She pulled up to the main building, having texted James and Banner that they would be there soon over an hour ago.
They were waiting for him and they would until he willingly walked inside.
She put the truck into park and turned it off, expecting nothing from him other than hurtful words now that he was facing with their departure.
"Do you regret it?"
She hadn't expected that, but she should have.
"No. When you're ready you can ask me why."
He looked at her then, his eyes dark chips of green sea glass. Beneath them, his skin was darker from the lack of sleep and the emotional roller coaster that they rode together.
"What if I'm ready now?"
She touched his cheek, dropping it when he flinched away from her touch. A wary smile, accompanied by tearful eyes punctuated her reply, "We both know you're not."
He said nothing and stepped out of the truck, slamming the door closed. She watched him as heavy drops of unexpected rain fell, becoming another wall between them. He walked through the doors without another look back.
She started the truck after a few minutes, drove down a side road for a several miles, and stopped outside the tiny cottage she always stayed at while in Montana. She dropped her forehead onto the steering wheel as her tears started to fall.
She thought she cried enough, she couldn't have been more wrong.
Her brother found her and carried her inside an hour later, listening as she apologized for unknown reasons. It wasn't until he laid down in bed that he noticed the marks on her neck. "Bella."
She looked at him and rubbed at the colored skin, her chin and bottom lip trembling. "I'm only human."
He nodded and listened to her instructions. She would fly out the following afternoon. No one but Banner and he were to know she was there or where she was going.
She was bringing Alec home.