Twilight and all recognizable characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I do own this particular plot, however...
Thanks to my beta, Nic xoxo for her time, patience and mad skill :) Thanks to all of you who review. I know you don't have to, so it means a lot when you do... these chapters don't always come easy (despite my posting weekly) and knowing I connect with the reader makes me breathe easy. Thanks also for the faves and alerts! ;)
The silence must have become audible, because Edward did look up after a moment, recoiling slightly when he saw me. It quickly became embarrassingly obvious how inappropriate my being there was, and my heart sank. Edward dropped his eyes after a moment to carefully release the wiring in his hands and I took the opportunity to step back out of the room, almost queasy with the acute need to leave.
"Bella," his voice called quietly, but I didn't need to hear whatever he was going to say.
I simply needed to deal with it.
There was a flurry of murmurs in the bedroom, and footsteps right behind me as I reached the front door.
"I didn't...sorry," I began to open the door but his hand shot out and slammed it shut, startling me, making my heart slam manically in my chest as if it was trying to escape the prison of my ribs.
Edward didn't say anything.
The edge of his jacket touched my arm and I stared at his shoes, swallowing compulsively as I tried to calm the storm within myself.
Why are you acting this way? You know what he does, who he is…
But maybe I'd been looking the other way a bit too often, letting the things he didn't tell me fade away enough so that they simply didn't exist. It was easy to ignore the unsavory details, to disregard death and destruction when I was losing myself in his gorgeous green eyes.
Maybe I was just a God-awful human being, subjugated by my desires, acting because I loved Edward and not out of any true sense of morality or purpose. At that moment I didn't know who was worse, me or Edward, and if I even had the right to be so self-righteous.
"Why'd you come?" His voice was hard, not a tone normally reserved for me. "Ye can't just be traipsing about, especially by yourself… they know who y'are now."
"I got off early…" I exhaled slowly and looked at him, finally.
He avoided me, looking at the door instead, and I panicked a bit on the inside, feeling shaky and out of sorts with how wrong the distance between us felt. Desperate to connect, I hooked my little finger through his, drawing his attention back to me.
We regarded one another for a while, our eyes flickering back and forth between one another's. Although my heart was slowing to a more peaceful pace, my stomach continued to coil and cramp anxiously.
Edward leaned against the door, keeping his eyes trained on me as if he was studying the details of my face.
"I wanted to see you," I said, letting my finger go slack so it slid from his. "But I'll go."
"I want to see you too, but this is not the time."
"I see that," I shifted my weight, tightening my grip on the strap of my backpack.
"I'll have one of the boys drive you-"
I shook my head. "No."
"Ye can't stay, Bella."
"Obviously," I muttered.
"Then what's the problem?" he asked impatiently, straightening up.
"I don't want one of them to drive me. Just let me go, I'll be fine," I said. I knew why he wanted someone to accompany me home, but I was so tired of being coddled. It had been a mistake to come, I knew it- everybody in the flat knew it-and all I wanted was to go back the way I'd bleedin' come.
"Not by yourself."
"Fine!" I snapped, the nervous energy within me manifesting in irritation.
Emmett walked out of the bedroom, pulling his jacket on. "Come on, Bella, I'll take you."
Edward shook his head, frowning. "Maybe I should just go, Emmett."
"Don't be a wanker, I'll take her. Go finish up, ye can't just leave that shite layin' about," Emmett sighed. "Where are the keys?"
"Kitchen counter," Edward shoved his hands into his pockets, watching me once again. I knew there was more he wanted to say, I could see it on his face and feel it, but he didn't speak up so I didn't ask.
"I'll see you later, okay?" I whispered, opening the door.
But he followed me into the hallway and turned me around, snarling his fingers in my hair.
"If something happened to you, I would never forgive myself," he said in a fierce whisper, his eyes dark and wild.
"I know," I whispered, feeling my innermost parts collapse in on themselves.
"I am always making you cry," he shut his eyes and touched our foreheads together.
"It's not like that," I shook my head slightly.
"But it is. How am I good for you?" he asked.
I pulled back a little, prompting him to open his eyes. "Do you love me?"
His fingers withdrew from my hair and he nodded.
"Then you're good for me."
Emmett came out and I turned to follow him down the hallway.
"I'll be by later," Edward promised from behind me. I spared a glance over my shoulder to see him turn and disappear back inside the flat.
Emmett slowed, wordlessly offering his arm, and I slipped mine through it.
Hanging around the kitchen while Mum made dinner almost always helped me focus my thoughts and feelings. It wasn't that I wanted to forget what I'd seen at the safe house earlier that afternoon; I simply craved normalcy, and the soothing, aromatic warmth of my mother's kitchen provided that. This was the one room in the house that had remained the same my entire life, and that in itself was comforting.
Besides, she was making a pound cake for dessert, and I'd always had a knack for baking.
Emmett brought Rose by around six and then left again, saying he had to run a few errands. I had my suspicions about what sorts of "errands" he meant, but needless to say I kept them to myself.
Once dinner was assembled and simmering on the stove, Mum made a kettle of tea and sat with Rose at the table while I lost myself in the catharsis of cake-baking.
Rose had been going to mass with our family regularly for the past month. At first, she'd found a few of the practices a little odd, like being locked in a tiny booth for confession, but she seemed to be getting used to it. She'd also begun conversion classes in September; the full RCIA process would take until Easter, but Father Harrington had agreed to meet with her twice a week instead of the customary one in light of her situation.
Being raised Catholic, I sympathized with the staggering amount of information Rose was now having to process; it was like going to university. What had taken Alice, Em, Edward and I thirteen years, Rose was going to have to accomplish in six months. She was preparing now to make her first communion, something we had all done at age seven.
Additionally, Em and Rose had been attending pre-marital counseling sessions with Father Harrington once a week so that they could be wed as quickly as possible. While Father didn't approve of the fact that Rose and Emmett had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, he could appreciate their desire to make it right.
The wedding, which would be a small, simple ceremony at St. Mary's, was scheduled for the first of November. Mum and I were helping Rose plan it, along with the intimate gathering afterwards in our backyard. The narrow space behind our house was small but pretty and very welcoming thanks to Mum's green thumb.
It made me a bit sad that Rose's parents would not be present, but she'd assured me that this was for the best. She was still estranged from her father and his side of the family, and though she spoke from time to time to her Mum, they weren't close, either. Still, I couldn't imagine my own flesh and blood disowning me that way, and the fact that my parents so welcomed Rose as a daughter, despite religion and the unplanned pregnancy, truly warmed me.
Mum and Rose were going over potential wedding cake designs when Emmett and Edward came through the front door. My heart still beat funny when I knew he was near and I rolled my eyes at myself, tearing off a piece of wax paper with which I could butter the cake pan.
"All right, all right, keep your alans on," Emmett boomed obnoxiously into the room, smacking loud, wet-sounding kisses on Mum and Rose. I cringed, waiting for the assault and sure enough he planted one on me next. Edward's entrance was subtler, and even without turning around I suspected he was hugging my mother.
"Are ye staying for dinner, love?" she asked him, and I turned to see her rubbing his arm affectionately.
Edward glanced over, smiling crookedly when our eyes met. "I could, yeah."
"You should," I said nonchalantly, turning my attention back to the batter. Carefully lifting the heavy glass bowl, I emptied its contents into the waiting pan.
"An hour, right?" I called over my shoulder, sliding the pan into the oven.
Mum jumped up from her seat, unable to resist sticking her hand in the proverbial pot. "Right," she nodded, setting the timer herself. She checked the pots and pans on the stove and, satisfied all was well, returned to the table where Rose was showing Em a sketch of the cake she liked.
Edward leaned on the counter next to me, lazily licking the wooden mixing spoon I'd been using.
"It'll taste better when it's cooked," I remarked, trying to ignore the way his tongue lapped the batter. Plucking the spoon from his fingertips, I leaned in for a quick peck.
"I guess I couldn't wait to taste it," he replied, smirking at his own suggestiveness.
We had heavier things to discuss, but in moments like these there was no denying how close we'd become, how easily we got along. I'd seen enough long term relationships and marriages to understand that the butterflies and blushes wouldn't last forever, but that was okay.
I wanted to be with Edward always, to have what my parents had.
And I knew "always" was a fairy-tale word, that plenty of people promised "always" and "forever" and ended up with nothing; sometimes I wondered if I was naïve to think that after just a few months Edward and I would be any different. If he hadn't indicated that he thought about the future, I'd be a lot more careful about protecting my heart.
The sound of Em scooting his chair closer to the table roused me from my reverie, and I snuggled closer to the oven, glad for the warmth it provided in an otherwise drafty kitchen.
"When's Da comin' home?" I asked, eyeing the clock. It was past seven, and he was usually home from the pub by now. He still spent plenty of time socializing with his chums from the past; apparently no violence or threat of danger was severe enough to keep them from enjoying their pints each evening.
"Ah, the car was givin' him trouble again. He stopped off at the mechanics after work, so he did," said Mum.
"In that case, we'll be upstairs. Call me when the timer goes off, yeah?" I said, catching Edward's eye. He followed me out of the kitchen, placing his hand at the small of my back as we climbed the stairs.
Making sure to shut the door soundly, I sat on my bed and patted the spot next to me.
Edward sighed, the faintest smile playing at his lips. "I'm supposin' ye want to talk it out," he said.
"Yeah," I shrugged.
He flopped backward on to the bed, making the mattress - and me - bounce.
"This is where you first kissed me," I mused romantically, lying back also so that we were side by side.
"It is, isn't it," he said, watching me sideways. He chuckled and shook his head a bit, probably at my utter girlishness "So, out with it. I can tell you've been stewin' all day."
Rolling onto my side, I scowled lightly. "How d'you know what I've been thinkin' on?"
"Because I know you. You were ready to eat the head of me earlier," he teased.
"I was not!" I shoved him.
"You were," he said softly, lacing his fingers behind his head.
"I wasn't angry," I sighed. "I was caught off guard, and really scared… for you."
He didn't say anything for a while, and I stayed quiet, choosing my words. There was plenty I needed to say, and would, but I hadn't brought him upstairs only to gripe. Sometimes, just being with him was enough, and I could let myself appreciate that if nothing else.
Still though, seeing the bomb today had unnerved me, and I wanted him to know.
Life is fleeting enough without shoving yourself in harm's way every chance you get…
He took a deep breath and I turned to him expectantly.
"What do you want me to say, Bella? We can't keep on having the same discussion over and over. This is what I do."
"You said if anything happened to me you wouldn't be able to forgive yourself," I began, propping myself onto my elbow.
He nodded, staring at the ceiling.
Forcing myself to look at him, I spilled out the words that had been running through my mind -in one form or another - all day. I didn't have the energy for tact or evasive language.
"Don't you know I feel the same? Nothing I say can stop you from doing this. It calls to you, and I accept that. But ye need to put yourself in my shoes. Pat died doing the very same thing you were doing today, and the thought of losing you that way kills me. You say you'd never forgive yourself if I was hurt, but I'd lose it entirely if anything happened to you. I love you, but I hate this. I hate this life. I can't have forever with you if you die!"
At this point the tears that had been threatening me all bloody day came seeping out and I sat up, wiping my face. Frankly, I didn't care if he saw me crying; this was my truth, and he could do with it whatever he wanted.
The bed shifted as he moved closer. "Bella," his voice seemed very hushed.
Sniffling, I looked at him, self-conscious about how unapologetically direct I'd just been.
He rested his hand on my thigh and squeezed. "You really want that?"
My mind felt jumbled up and I frowned, confused. "Want what?"
"You said," he paused, and for one of the first times ever I saw his vulnerability. "Forever?"
So much for feckin' subtlety.
Maybe barreling on ahead would be the best approach, after all. "Yes, I think about…that."
He nodded thoughtfully, staring at the floor.
"I've known you my whole life; there's just not anyone else," I blurted, silently cursing my inability to be even a bit couth.
Edward snorted, looking at me. "So I win by default?"
"Yeah," I grinned, averting my eyes. This conversation wasn't going the way I'd expected at all, which was both good and bad. Good, because we were talking about us, bad because we were avoiding the real issue.
"Jaysus, you're scarlet," he remarked, running the back of his hand across my warm cheeks.
Silence ensued. The front door downstairs closed loudly, distantly; Da was home.
"I don't want to lose you, Edward, not when I just got you," I admitted, taking his hand off of my face so I could hold it on my lap.
"This makes everything so hard," he said, staring at our hands.
"Sometimes it's easier to die for something than to live for it. I don't want to break your heart, Bella."
"Too late," I whispered.
He turned my face so that I was looking at him. "I can't promise you nothing bad will happen, but I will do my best to prevent it. It's going to have to be enough for now."
I nodded, understanding. This was what I had agreed to from the very beginning, whether I'd realized it or not. The bad came with the good, and that's the way it was.
"This is why it's easier not to get involved," he laid back, pulling me gently with him. "You complicate me."
"Sorry," I said, both regretful and delighted at his words.
"You're on my mind at the worst times," he said.
"Good," I said, and he wrinkled his brow.
There was a knock at the door. Wiping my face, I sat up, leaving Edward to marinate in his thoughts.
"We're going to eat," Rose called, and I wondered why they'd sent her of all people to tell us.
"All right, we'll be down soon," I replied, wondering how long we'd been upstairs and if the cake was nearly done. Knowing mum, she'd likely taken over and dealt with it herself.
Edward pulled me back down, making my stomach flip at his touchiness. "You'll be fine, yeah?"
"Sure," I pulled myself closer to him so our mouths were almost touching. Sensing what I wanted, he pushed me onto my back and bent to kiss me.
"I've a mouth on me," Da was saying, drumming his fingers on the kitchen table. He shook his head in amusement when Edward and I walked in. "Ah, kind of you's to join us."
"Hi Da," I went straight over and hugged him as tightly as I could, kissing both cheeks affectionately.
"Are ye French now?" he teased, his eyes glowing.
"Not that I know of, unless Mum's keepin' secrets," I sassed back. The timer went off and I turned quickly, smug when I reached the oven before Mum.
The cake was perfect when I pulled it out, and I inhaled indulgently.
Crowding 'round the table, we hurriedly intoned the usual grace of "Bless us Oh Lord" before digging into Mum's supper.
Mum and Da were sitting side by side, talking quietly, chuckling every now and then at some private joke or another. Em rested one hand on the back of Rose's chair while the other steadily shoveled food in to his mouth. Every now and then he'd kiss her cheek or touch her hair, and she'd feed him a bit of food from her plate.
"I'll have to go in a bit," Edward whispered in my ear, stealing my smile.
"Already?" I asked. "Don't you want cake?"
"I'll have a slice," he nodded, putting down his fork.
I rose from the table, collecting some of the other empty plates and placing them in the sink. While I was incredibly glad for my brother and Rose, seeing the closeness they shared tugged at my heart; soon they would be leaving with Edward, free to spend the night - and the rest of their lives - together, and I would be stuck home, alone.
Jasper, Alice and I stood outside the library, observing as crowds amassed for yet another civil rights sit-in. There had been rain earlier, and both the grass and concrete were still damp in places, but for the most part the weather had dried up nicely, leaving the day brisk and bright. Thursdays were my free days; I'd made sure to call Mr. Connelly just in case, but the shop was quiet and he'd encouraged me to enjoy my day off.
Teeming with the young and idealistic, Queen's was still quite a hot spot for sit-ins, protests and marches, especially those of an irenic nature. Jasper and Alice had attended the events a lot in the beginning, but lately the break outs of violence were a deterrent. I was usually working, out of the loop and oblivious to any of the excitement - good or bad.
Today's protest was a joint effort between the campus NICRA group and the People's Democracy, two student organizations coming together to speak out against sectarianism and police brutality by task forces like the RUC and the USC, known by most as the B-Specials.
We found a less crowded spot near a bench and took a seat, a little ways back from the majority of the chanting, sign-wielding students. Speakers took the make shift podium one by one, inciting everyone and even I began feeling feisty.
Jasper grinned in amusement after I'd yelled in approval following one particularly eloquent call for unity.
"Okay, so it's hard to resist," I grinned back, shrugging.
"They're a charismatic bunch, that's for damn sure," he drawled, lacing his fingers behind his head as he slouched comfortably on the bench. "Doesn't matter where you go, Belfast to Boston, this is what's happening."
"How long d'ye think you'll stay?" I asked.
"I'll probably head back for good next spring," he said, glancing briefly at Alice before squinting ahead.
"Oh! Sooner than I thought," I said, also looking at Alice to see how she felt about that.
She felt me watching and shot me a sideways glance, shaking her head almost imperceptibly. We'd be chatting about that later, I'd a feeling.
"Yeah, well… I originally wanted to do a year, but I've been making a lot of headway with my classes. I hardly go out, unless it's with little miss here," he said affectionately, stretching his arm out to pull Alice close.
"I can relate," I sighed, thinking of my own hyper-active class schedule.
Just then Deklan Crowley walked by, doing a double take when he saw me.
"Hey," I said, sitting up straight. Immediately, I scanned the faces in the crowd, wondering if Edward was around.
Deklan walked over, nodding at Jasper.
"Yer into this shite now?" he laughed, jerking his head back toward the commotion.
"Yeah, it's all the same, isn't it, minus the guns," I shot back, narrowing my eyes, but smiling too.
"I suppose, yeah," he conceded, looking around.
"Are the others here?" I wanted to know.
He tilted his head in the direction from which he'd come. Tyler, Seamus, Emmett and Edward were strolling up the path along with four or five other boys I sort of knew.
Standing, I shoved my hands in to the pockets of my jeans. "What're ye all doin' here?" I asked Deklan quietly, noticing the second Edward's eyes found me.
"You don't really think everyone is here for peaceful protest, do ya? Come now, yer a smart one," he replied.
The others stopped when they reached our bench, Emmett winking at me before squatting down to speak to Jasper. Edward and I met in the middle, and I tiptoed to kiss him in greeting.
"I didn't expect to see you here," I commented, my heart fluttering as the wind tussled his hair.
"Didn't expect to see you here, either," he said. His voice was sweet, but his body language seemed off, tense somehow.
"Is everything okay?" I asked, looking around nervously.
"It's fine, just…" he trailed off, his eyes continually scanning the crowd.
Then I understood, and the potential for something awful happening pricked at my sense of well-being. When would our lives ever be calm?
After a time, Emmett tapped Edward's arm. "Where's Tyler now?"
"Went to the shitter, so he did," Deklan answered.
"He's been gone awhile, hasn't he?" Em insisted, frowning.
Deklan leaned up against a nearby tree. "Maybe it was that new fish and chips place, I told him not to go but he…"
I blocked him out at the point, having no interest in his brother's digestive woes. Edward looked troubled, even more so than before, and I touched his arm.
"What is the problem? Are those blokes here today?"
He looked at me sharply. "Yeah, actually, outside on the street."
"I'm going to go look fer him," Em announced, looking meaningfully at Edward. I looked apprehensively back and forth between the two of them, growing more disquieted by the second. Was there a reason they were this mindful of Tyler's absence?
Had this anything to do with all of the almost-fights he'd been getting into?
"Jaysus, fine," Deklan muttered, pushing off the tree. I really didn't understand him; it was his brother in question; why wasn't he more concerned?
The Crowleys had never been known for smarts but Jesus, Mary and Joseph, this one was thick as a ditch.
Jasper stood up, too, sighing. "As usual, the shit's about to hit the fan, so I think I should escort you ladies to a safer spot."
To the naked eye, nothing seemed amiss. The rally was still going strong, the speeches punctuated by loud chants and cheers, everyone behaving civilly. Of course the presence of RUC officers on the fringes, making sure the activities remained peaceable, were an eyesore – especially since it was their methods the rally was protesting – but otherwise all seemed well.
"I'm taking them to my apartment, okay man?" Jasper said to Edward.
"Yeah, good," Edward replied, absently, already in motion. My stomach churned sickeningly; I hated when he got this way, acting on his nerves and going on autopilot. If anything, not knowing only added to my stress.
"Alice, give him Jasper's phone number so he can find us later," I said. She quickly tore a piece of paper from her book bag and jotted down the number, handing it to her brother.
"Go on, I'll be by for you later," he said, glancing at me.
We diverged upon reaching the edge of the campus, Edward and the boys turning left onto the street and Jasper leading us right, in the direction of his flat.
RUC trucks and even an ambulance idled on the curbside, waiting in the event things turned ugly. Jasper said he lived only three blocks away, and we walked quickly, silently acknowledging the need to get off the street.
Suddenly Alice gasped, jerking Jasper and I to a stop.
Before I could ask what was wrong, I followed her gaze into the alley we were about to pass. Tyler Crowley lay in a bloody heap on the ground, one of his legs bent at an unnatural angle.
"Oh, my God!" I cried, racing down the alley. Jasper was right behind and he dropped to his knees, carefully holding Tyler's wrist so he could check for a pulse.
"This isn't good, I can hardly feel anything," he said breathlessly. Standing, he looked around wildly. "Where's the nearest phone?"
"There's already an ambulance out there!" Alice whimpered, tears streaking her face. I was crying too, shaking so hard I could barely breathe.
Without another word, Jasper sprinted out of the alley. Alice and I stayed with Tyler, whispering and praying over his motionless body. His blonde hair was soaked with blood, his face stained incarnadine, black and blue.
"Alice, his eyes," I sobbed.
"What?" she leaned down, crying out when she saw for herself how swollen shut his eyes were, how bruised his face was.
The ambulance pulled up out on the street and two paramedics rushed out, promptly pushing us out of the way so they could assess Tyler's injuries.
"Can I ride with him?" I asked moments later, once they had secured him onto a stretcher and were wheeling him into the ambulance.
"Only one of you," the dark-haired paramedic answered, never taking his eyes off of Tyler.
"I'm going to go," I told Jasper and Alice. "I don't want him to be by himself."
Jasper nodded. "If I see the others, or if Edward calls, I'll let him know."
Inside the ambulance, I asked if it would be okay for me to hold Tyler's hand, but apparently there was a good chance some of his fingers were broken. I gazed down at his broken body, hot waves of pure fear and helplessness washing over me.
"We see this shite all the time…" the other paramedic sighed, shaking his head. "…'tis a bleedin' shame."
He looked directly at me, finally. "You can put yer hand on top of his; just don't hold it, yeah?"
Gently, I did just that, praying the whole way.
NICRA - Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (campaigned for civil rights for the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s and early 1970s. )
People's Democracy - (felt the only way rights could be achieved for N. Ireland's Catholic minority would be to establish a socialist republic for all Ireland. Often worked with NICRA in terms of marches etc (although NICRA didn't share the extreme left politics) ).
USC/ "B Specials" - Ulster Special Constabulary (reserve police force; welcome by unionist (loyalist/Protestant) community because the felt it helped defend them against the IRA. Mistrusted and disliked by the Catholic/nationalist community, who felt the USC was anti-Catholic.)
RCIA - Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults (basically, the official set of Catholic conversion courses. For adults.)