First of all, the swarm of "OMGWTFBBQ?!" comments about Em's last letter reminded me – I'm a dumbass! I spent months being so proud of the Emmett in my head for coming up with the flower thing on his own and then I went and forgot to tell you all what it means. *face-palm* The letter, as one reader was clever enough to Google and discover, reads "I love you" in Vietnamese. Kudos, mer79 – I'm proud of you. lol Now! The flower. Those pretty pink petals would be from the Vietnamese lotus. Here's the brilliance – Em chose that flower before I searched and discovered it represents estranged love. How great is that? I'm so proud of my craziness. lol
Another thing, I have Muse tickets for next weekend and tickets for TwiCon in July, and the outrageous Visa bill for them doesn't say "Stephenie Meyer" on it. Just thought you should know.
Now that that's all cleared up… I was watching a Criminal Minds rerun the other day (what? I have a Gube fetish. Lemmelone. :P) and something Prentiss quoted really spoke to me for this chapter. I'm not abandoning the song lyric habit (as evidenced by the title), but I think I'd like to set this off with a quote first.
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. –Washington Irving
It is with that in mind that I would like to offer what I see as possibly the most sincere and meaningful dedication in this story:
Thirty-seven years ago this week, the first US prisoners of war were released by the Viet Cong. This chapter, as insufficient and untimely as it may be, is dedicated to each and every one of them. To the men and women of the US Armed Forces – the organized Armed Forces of any country, really – the living, the dead, the lost, the found, at war or at peace, I salute you. *bows head*
Now how's about we get on with the show, eh? ;)
If you leave me
I'll never make it alone
Believe me when I beg you
Don't ever leave me alone
- "Oh! Darling", The Beatles
Time passed and things were good. Really good. Emmett was fine and Jasper was home, so Rosalie was elated. Alice had her soldier back and he was proving to be a tremendous asset to her protest group. Best of all, I got to spend my every free and waking moment – as well as several unconscious ones – with Edward. Life was good. Almost unbearably so.
I guess that's why none of us saw it coming. I mean, what're the odds of it happening twice in such a small group?
But it did happen. With one dry, emotionless announcement, the love of my life went from a unique, multi-talented man who stood out in a crowd to a faceless, nameless number. And my little utopia crumbled down around me.
"It'll be okay, Bella," he lied as tears streaked down my cheeks and across his hands as they held my face up toward his. I could feel his eyes burning into mine, but I couldn't make mine meet his. I knew what I would see there if I looked, and I didn't want to see the doubt, didn't want to believe his confidence was as fake as I knew it to be.
"Bella, you have to calm down," Rosalie said from next to me. Her voice sounded unimaginably far away. Something touched my arm, but I hardly registered the feeling. I felt like I was floating, like I was drowning.
"Help me," I muttered incoherently as everything around me went black.
The word came to me so slowly it may as well have swum to me. I could practically see it turning into a fish and making its way to me, so slowly I couldn't even be sure it was moving.
It was a fish this time. I could see it, clear as day. It was blue and green and the oddest shade of pink and its eyes sparkled at me with an alarming familiarity. An Edwardfish. I wondered if there was such a thing and if one could be purchased and kept as a pet.
"Bella, please…" the Edwardfish pled in the musical voice I fully expected it to have.
Then, my beautiful Edwardfish slapped me. Hard.
"Damn it, Bella, wake up! You're scaring me!"
"What the hell did you do that for?!" My Edwardfish was arguing with someone, another fish perhaps. But I didn't see any other fish. Instead, I watched as the Edwardfish slowly retreated and the deep, black sea we shared gradually became colorful once more, as though the sun had finally risen somewhere above it.
"She did it to me when Emmett left! It worked then, and it'll work now. Watch and see." Rosalie. Of course the sea would light up when she jumped into it. It only made sense. "See? She's opening her eyes. I told you it would work."
"Bella? Babe, are you okay?" Edward asked nervously as his eyes scanned my face and his fingers brushed my hair from my forehead.
I looked around, confused. I was on the floor. My knees hurt like hell. Edward was cradling my head like I'd hit it on something. If the pounding near my forehead and ringing in my ears were any indication, I probably had.
Then it hit me. Not like the Edwardfish, which I now realized was a figment of my loopy imagination, had. This hit hurt so much more.
Edward was leaving. Leaving me, leaving Chicago, leaving the country. For all I knew, leaving this Earth.
"Oh God," I moaned as Edward helped me sit up. Reality struck me so hard and fast it made my head spin. I tried to keep it at bay, but I couldn't. Wave after wave of nausea washed over me as I stood and bolted for the bathroom.
"Bella?" Edward called, confusion and concern heavy in his voice. I heard his footsteps pound after me as I slammed the door behind me and lurched for the toilet. I retched until there was nothing left in me but the butterflies that made me ill in the first place and the terror over letting Edward go.
Letting Edward go… The words sounded so foreign in my head, so blatantly wrong. They ran through my mind time and time again, as if trying to force me to make sense of them.
Let. Edward. Go. I couldn't.
A news story I'd seen days ago flashed through my mind and I knew what I had to do. What we had to do.
I wiped my mouth on a towel, flushed the toilet and headed for the door, breezing by Edward just as he opened it.
"Bella?" he asked for probably the thirtieth time in less than ten minutes. I hurried wordlessly past him and into my bedroom. "Bella, what are you doing?"
I rushed to my bed, fishing under it for the first in a list of many things I knew I would need. It was almost a third the size of my bed; it couldn't have gotten very – a-ha! I dragged it out from its hiding space and threw it purposefully on my bed before popping the top open and moving on to the next item on my mental list.
"What's she doing?" Edward gave up questioning me and turned to Rosalie for his answers. It was a good decision on his part, since she knew me even better than he did. At times it was like she could read my mind.
"She… doesn't handle bad news very well." From the corner of my eye, I barely caught the confused look he shot her as I buzzed from my bed to my closet and back again. "She's planning," Rosalie explained.
"Planning what?" he asked as I threw an armload of mismatched shirts and pants into my open suitcase.
"To run," she answered simply. I could almost hear the gears in his head turning as he tried to make sense of Rosalie's terse answers and my hectic activity. Suddenly, light dawned on his gorgeous, marble head.
"Bella, no," he said, rushing over to the closet where I stood pulling item after item carelessly off their hangers.
"Yes, Edward," I insisted, bustling back to the bed to throw my new pile of God only knew what into the waiting suitcase. I had the perfect plan. It worked for so many others; they said so on the news every night. Why wouldn't it work for us?
"Bella… I have to go…" he argued as though it were an obvious truth.
"No, Edward," I snapped. "You don't." I heard his exasperated sigh across the room even through all my shuffling and rustling and turned back to the closet for yet another armful of clothing.
"We've talked about this a hundred times, babe," he sighed. "We agreed – if they ever called me, I would go. I would hate it like no other, but I would go. It's the honorable thing to do, Bella." I didn't have to face him to know how he'd look – his beautiful face distorted in pained frustration, his hands gently tearing at the coppery locks I loved. It hurt me to think of him hurting so much, broke a piece of my very soul, but it was nothing compared to the shattering devastation I felt when I thought about where he would be in a few short months' time if I didn't do something.
"I changed my mind. It wasn't real then. It's real now. And I changed my mind." I turned, intending to toss another pile of mismatched cotton and denim in the suitcase. Instead, the clothing pooled at my feet as I noticed the shrunken form of the man I loved, slouched dejectedly on the edge of my mattress. "Edward?" I whispered nervously.
"Why are you doing this to me, Bella?" he asked so quietly I wasn't sure I was even supposed to hear him. Excuse you? Why am I doing this to you? You're the one with the death wish here, not me. I fumed silently for a moment before my mind fully registered how quiet and shaky his voice had been. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn he was on the verge of tears, and it confused and scared the hell out of me. What did he think I was doing to him? I wasn't doing anything. I was just trying to save him…
"You've always been so strong for Rose. You've been so strong for her and for Alice and even for Jasper… Why can't you be strong for me?" He looked up at me, his suffering written clearly on his face. The characteristic luster of his deep, emerald eyes was gone; in its place, the faint sparkle of glistening disappointment. I wanted to fight against his tear-fueled accusations. I wanted to tell him that I was being strong for him, that it was taking all the strength I had to stand here with him and not just collapse on the floor and cry like Rosalie had when she went through this. But I couldn't argue that. I couldn't argue any of it. He was right; I was being weak, trying to push him into running. I honestly wasn't sure I had it in me, but if anyone was worth being strong for, it was Edward. I loved him with every fiber of my being, and if he needed my strength, I would find it wherever I could and give him every tiny ounce of it.
"I'm sorry," I whispered as I crossed the room to stand before him. "You're right." I brushed my hand across his cheek, wiping away the single tear he'd been unable to stop from escaping. "You're completely right, and I am so sorry."
"It's okay," he replied, his voice still soft and quiet, as Rosalie soundlessly left us to ourselves. He took my hand from his face and held it between both of his, smiling sadly at me. I couldn't stand the pain I saw in that smile. I couldn't stand at all.
I sank to my knees and rested my forehead against his leg. "I just… I can't lose you," I said to the floor.
"I know, babe." He ran his fingers through my hair in the way he knew always managed to calm me. "I can't lose you either."
"You won't." I could feel the tears coming in earnest now, the prickle in my eyes, the inability to breathe. I found myself oddly thankful that I was finally having a rational reaction to our situation.
"And you won't lose me." I hated it when he lied to me, even little white lies. This was no little white lie.
"You don't know that," I sniffled.
"Hey," he started, leaning down to place his finger beneath my chin. I pulled away as he tried to lift my face to meet his. He wanted me to be strong and here I was crying. Crying wasn't strong, and I couldn't let him see it. "Hey, look at me." He tried again, and this time I let him. Our eyes met and what I saw there both touched and terrified me.
He was hurting just as much as I was. He couldn't stand any of this either. He wanted to go just as much as I wanted him to, but he was stronger than I was. And even though he was so much stronger, he was crying, and he wasn't even trying to hide it.
The tears were just one thing though, and behind them lay a hundred scattered emotions. Pain, frustration, anger, adoration, sorrow, pity – I hated recognizing that one – and, most prevalent of all, fear. He wasn't just scared, he was terrified. And he didn't believe a word of what he'd told me. Or what he was about to tell me.
"You are not going to lose me, Isabella. I will not let that happen."
There was a fire in his eyes I couldn't help but love and respect. It didn't burn with confidence or security or any of the dozens of other things I'd seen light his eyes aflame before. It was determination more than anything. He was determined to make me believe him, determined to make me let him go, and, thank God, determined to come home. When my man was determined to accomplish something, he accomplished it, no matter what got in his way. I couldn't find the heart to disagree with him when his eyes burned at me like that.
"I know," I lied.
I summoned all the tiny bits of poise and strength I had within me and looked at him with renewed – and entirely feigned – confidence.
"Yes. I do. I believe you."
A sad yet satisfied smile crept across his face, and, though it was easy to notice it didn't come close to reaching his eyes, I pretended it did and did my best to mirror it.
"I love you, Bella Swan," he said as he pulled me off the floor and crushed me to him. "And I will come home to you. I promise. They won't lay a hand on me."
"It's not their hands I'm worried about," I mumbled into his shoulder.
"You know you can't ask her to marry you now, right?" Rosalie's voice came from the doorway. Neither of us had heard her come back. The girl should be a ninja.
Edward loosened his hold on me and looked at me with the most loving look I had ever seen. It even put the way Emmett looked at Rosalie to shame. It took my breath away. He brushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear and smiled a genuinely happy smile for the first time all night.
"And just why can't I?" he asked Rosalie without taking his eyes off me. My breath caught in my chest. He couldn't possibly have been saying what I thought he was. It was too much. It was too soon. It was perfect.
"Because she'd see it coming. Been there, done that. And you're not allowed to overshadow Em. I won't let you," she said, leaning casually against the doorframe and raising a shiny red apple to her lips. A part of me found it funny to the point of hilarity that she could be so calm, collected and casual at a time like this – my world was falling apart around me… or maybe trying to piece itself together again. I wasn't sure. Either way, a part of me marveled at her composure. The rest of me wanted to slap her. If I'd been nearly that cool when Emmett had been drafted, she would've thrown me out the window.
"And what're you going to do to stop me?" Edward asked, my favorite crooked grin playing on his lips, his eyes still locked on mine. I loved that look. Maybe more than I loved what he was saying.
"I have my ways," Rose said darkly before taking another bite of her apple.
"You owe me," Edward responded. "Don't forget that."
"Hey, I turn the other cheek when you two have your little sleepovers. We're even."
"That is perfectly innocent time spent together, and you know it," he returned. It was a total lie. There was virtually nothing innocent about our "sleepovers" at that point, but he knew I liked to keep some things secret, even from my best friend, and I appreciated his humoring me.
"Uh huh. Sure. Whatever you say, Eddie." Crunch. "You still can't ask her. Bet you don't even have a ring."
"Don't talk with food in your mouth, Rosalie," I shot, my eyes just as relentlessly locked on Edward's as his were on mine. "And he doesn't need a ring. He could ask me with an onion ring and I'd say yes."
"Good to know," he said with a smirk.
"He doesn't have an onion ring either," she pointed out, her voice full of feigned sarcasm. She didn't care one way or the other if he asked me now or ever – she was just out to lighten the mood. And she'd done just that. I loved her for it.
"She's right," Edward said, shaking his head as though he were confessing something sad and almost shameful. "I am onion ring-less."
"That's a shame," I said, trying my damnedest to frown when all I wanted to do was laugh.
"I guess I'll just have to wait and hope you'll say yes to a real ring." His eyes burned with that same fire from before, but this fire was far more intense. It was almost wild – a wildfire in his emerald eyes, a forest fire of sorts. And right in the center of that fire was a tightly clustered grouping of the most wonderful things I had ever seen – love, truth, sincerity and a promise.
I couldn't fight it anymore. My elation won out, and the biggest smile I had ever smiled stretched across my face. My cheeks hurt from the exertion, but I couldn't bring myself to care. Let my cheeks hurt. Let my heart hurt. Let everything hurt. Edward wanted to marry me – nothing could hurt me.
"I guess so," I said, hoping he could see the fire I felt burning in my own eyes. The fire that burned only for him. The fire I now knew would never burn for anyone else as long as I lived.
Ain't that beautiful? *sniffles and wipes tear* But really, I ran it through the Cheese-o-Meter and Chester Cheetah didn't come running, so I figure it should be okay. Lemme know what you thought.
Oh, and since I forgot to do this last chapter:
For last chapter – Reviews are better than loving and being loved in return. (Yay Moulin Rouge! Hehe)
For this chapter – Reviews are better than onion ring-less half-proposals.
Yeah, I know they're both total bullshenanegans, but hey, it's tradition. :P