Massive A/N ahead – you have been warned.
First of all, allow me to apologise for the delay with this. I'm working as an au pair at the moment and taking care of a young child while simultaneously running a house does not allow much time for writing. As well as this my internet connection is VERY sketchy and will be for the next few weeks, so I anticipate another delay with the next chapter... again, I am so sorry, but there's really nothing I can do. We're almost finished, anyway, and once I get back to updating regularly there'll only be three or four chapters to go.
Second of all, I neglected to mention last chapter that the fabulous silversniperofnight was kind enough to interview me for her blog, which can be found at www (dot) sytycw (dot) blogspot (dot) com. Keep an eye on it if anyone is interested to see how I much babble in real time. ;)
Third of all, this chapter is one of the longest I've ever written. It was exhausting to write, and so I anticipate that it will also be exhausting to read... I've had no pre-readers on this one because of the internet thing, so my knees are knocking as I– I hope the answers contained herein were worth the wait.
Fourth of all, I feel like I've reached a turning point here, and so major props are in order this time round. As usual to addicttwilight2 and anaismark, who are my faithful cheerleaders and whip-snappers, along with Beautiful_Distraction who is quite simply the most encouraging validation beta to ever exist . Also to whatsmynomdeplume and silversniperofnight who have single-handedly (should that be double-handedly?) sent more people my way in the past two months than have stumbled by all year. Also to kidmomx4, a_muse1, AndraLee, icrodriguez and SO MANY MORE who have provided constant encouragement throughout the posting of this story – if it wasn't for you guys I would never have gotten this far.
Fifth of all... all standard disclaimers apply. Characters aren't mine, but the plotline is.
That's all folks.
Now I have lost my loss
In some way I may later understand.
I hear the singing of the summer grass
And love, I find, has no considered end,
Nor is it subject to the wilderness
Which follows death...
"Into the Hour" – Elizabeth Jennings
He hadn't planned it like this – hadn't planned much of anything, in fact. He'd felt the need to run, to feel the power of his body pushing him forward – as if his physical strength could somehow buoy him for the battle ahead – and in truth he'd had no real direction in mind.
It was funny, he thought, that unconsciously he'd led them almost straight to the city and the house he'd been born in. Equally so it was funny that the place he'd chosen to hunt – the place where her story was unravelling – was so thick and dense and wild. It had almost, almost been difficult for them to hunt in, and it felt appropriate in a way that their meadow never would have. That was a place for open love, fearless joy – this felt like a place for secrets.
He hadn't spoken in a while, choosing instead to focus all his energy on calming his body. Every time he thought he'd finally gotten used to being around his wife again, something else came along to knock him head over heels. His muscles were constantly bunched, ready to bolt at a second's notice, his body revolting against staying somewhere with so much danger, and it was only by extreme force of will that he could continue to stand in front of her at all. To her credit, she waited for him – but then again, maybe that was only appropriate. He'd waited for her.
He closed his eyes and blew a long breath from his lungs. He could sense her eyes on him, warm trails moving across his face, and he didn't have to look at her to know how scared she was.
"You told them that it was the dog's," he said calmly, eyes closed.
"Don't call him that." Her voice was low, deadly. When he opened his eyes and looked at her, he was surprised at how far away she appeared, though she stood perfectly still in front of him. How the more he knew of her, the more she seemed like a stranger.
He could see no end to this mess, and he was tired, so tired. He just wanted it to be over. He remembered how easy things had been between them once – remembered the constant to-and-fro of conversation, the look of devotion in her eyes, the unsullied brilliance of her smile. He ached to get that back, to once more reach a place of ease and hope with his wife, but the journey there was so hard, and he was weary down to his bones.
He couldn't be considerate, or caring – couldn't pretend that he wasn't a jerk, wasn't a monster right now. Because he loved her, but he hated her too, and right now the hate was winning. It was taking control over his thoughts, his muscles, forcing him to stand stiffly there, preventing him from giving her comfort, choking the words of love and reassurance he wanted to say.
"What happened, Bella?" His voice was more clinical than it should have been. The hate broiling in him wouldn't allow him to show any weakness.
He heard the air shift around her before he saw her move. Slowly, surely she stepped back to rest her body against the body of an immense tree. Her hands lay against the trunk, fingers following the flow of the grainy wood, and she stared at the gnarled branches twisting above her head.
"I never, ever expected that you could get me pregnant," she admitted quietly, "and I know you didn't either, but Edward – you would have been happy, right?"
He hadn't expected that, wasn't ready to think of their baby in a concrete sense. Somehow his mind had been able to process the fact that he'd gotten his wife pregnant without thinking I was going to be a father or I am a father or I could have been a father. In fact, he realised with a flash of shame that the only time the word father had even entered his mind was when he'd wondered if the child was Jacob's.
He drew breath to speak, and he had no idea what he was going to say – but that was all right, because she interrupted him before he even started.
"I don't know why I asked you that... you would have been happy. I know you would have, because I was ecstatic, and we were just two halves of a whole back then. I was ecstatic, Edward."
He nodded infinitesimally, thinking hard. He would have been worried about her, and a tiny voice whispered that he might have doubted her a little, even then, even with no reason to. But yes – he would have been happy, simply because anything that made Bella describe herself as ecstatic had to be beloved to him also.
She slid slowly down the trunk now, coming to rest between two thick roots, her hands clenching fistfuls of grass and soil. Silently he lowered himself to sit cross-legged opposite her, leaning in to rest his elbows on his knees. She allowed him to crowd her, tipping her head back to stare up once more at the tree's dappled leaves.
He watched the smooth white column of her throat as she swallowed and began again.
"I felt so much in that window of time between me finding out and the Volturi coming – so much hope, so much joy. I imagined me singing our baby to sleep in a rocking chair, both of us leaning over our child's crib to kiss him – I always imagined a boy – goodnight. And beyond all of that, I felt useful, Edward. Like I had a purpose, like I could finally give you back some of the happiness you've given me for as long as I've known you... like we would finally be equals as parents."
A few filtered rays of sunlight made their way through the thick foliage, falling across her upturned face, casting diamonds across her cheeks. She closed her eyes against the light, swallowing deeply.
"And then they came, and I knew it would never be a reality." Her forehead creased – he could tell she was trying her hardest to maintain her composure. "I tried to deny it, but that first day my image of a family in a little cottage vanished. I knew it would never happen, but still I had to try – for our son's sake. For yours."
One hand rose from the grass she'd been clutching now, and he watched as it came to rest on the gentle swell of her abdomen now, her fingers stroking back and forth. He wondered whether it was a conscious act of grief for the child she'd once sheltered, or a completely unconscious gesture of tenderness and protection for a child she still imagined to be there. He wasn't sure which would be worse.
"He would have been so beautiful, Edward," she sighed, and her voice was so full of sorrow, so clogged with tears that he had to swallow repeatedly just listening to it. Her use of tense hit him like a clenched fist against his heart. "Our little bronze-haired boy... I always pictured him with your hair and my eyes. Your strength, my impulsiveness, your patience, my stubbornness, your gentleness, your capacity to love and forgive. Half you and half me, Edward. Knowing you've made a baby by loving your husband - it's an indescribable feeling. Loving someone without ever having seen their face, loving them without knowing them... You can't imagine what it was like. I couldn't have imagined what it was like.
"And that's why I told them it was Jacob's. Ironically enough I was trying to protect you and your baby by claiming I'd been unfaithful. And it worked, like I'd suspected it would. They found it... delicious."
She shuddered, a shadow passing over her face.
Aro's face, gleeful and cruel. "The all-knowing Edward Cullen, cuckolded by a dog and slip of a girl!" The response – the mocking laughter shrilling in her ears, bouncing off the trees around them, the sound magnified further in the small space. Her stomach churning even more, her hands clenched in fists.
He flinched, and she winced. "I'm sorry," she said softly, looking directly at him for the first time since she'd begun, and he shook his head, unable to speak.
"They asked me what I was going to do," she continued determinedly, her eyes holding his, "and I told them that I'd just found out, that I was on the way to tell Jacob – that I would decide after hearing his reaction, but that we were... that we were planning to leave together... that I was planning to leave you.
"They gave me two hours. They had no desire to follow me into Quileute territory – one of the leaders has an overwhelming fear of the Children of the Moon, and besides that they regarded the wolves as little more than ants – not even worth the effort it would take to kill them."
She drew a deep breath, and her eyes finally dropped from his, eyelids drooping slowly as though moving at all was more effort than she could afford.
"So I ran," she said softly, watching her hands. "I took the Volvo and it felt like another betrayal. I drove to Jacob's house and I woke him up and I demanded that he come with me. He put up a fight – initially told me to get the hell of his property, in fact – but I was hysterical enough that he eventually listened. And I lied to him. I told him the Volturi had threatened the pack directly, that I'd begged for their lives, that if he didn't come with me his entire family would be killed... and oh, Edward, they were my family too... I loved them, but I loved you more...
"Eventually he followed me. I demanded that he betray his mate – he'd imprinted on Leah two days before everything – and pretend to still be in love with me, to be proud to be the father of my child, and he did. I demanded that he betray his family, his heritage, and pretend to be ashamed of what he was – pretend to be awed by the vampires, to look up to them and their way of life, even, and gloat in front of them about pulling the wool over your eyes – and he did. I demanded that he risk his life, and he did.
"I took him back to the clearing, and they were still waiting, like they'd done before – none of them had moved a muscle. I was so scared, constantly worrying that I'd vomit or faint, and I knew it was my only chance, my last chance... I didn't know whether Aro would be able to read Jacob's thoughts or not, you see, and I knew if he did we were all going to die, slowly and painfully.
"Jake was so brave – so much braver than I was. He never came close to losing control over his human form, and he never once let go of my hand. Not even when it became painfully clear to him that I'd lied, exaggerated, whatever, to get him to come with me. Not even when he realised that the entire reason for them being there was that I hadn't yet become a leech, as he termed it. And it worked, Edward. Aro couldn't read Jacob's thoughts, and he swore blindly that he was my lover, the father of my son.
"Aro congratulated us. On our child and on getting away with it, as he put it. He found it highly ironic – said he'd never known a human to trick a vampire, and especially not one as smart as you... but then he laughed and said that you loved me stupidly, beyond reason. That it made you weak. I think – I think he resented your refusal to join them in Italy more than we realised at the time. I think he resented your confidence, and your arrogance – resented that I was enough for you – and I think it satisfied him mightily to think of how you'd suffer when you found out.
"He asked what our plans were, and Jacob told him that we were going to go to you, together, and explain. And just for a moment, I hoped – I thought we'd get away with it. That I could talk to you, tell you what I'd had to do, and you'd make it better, make it go away like you always did. Jacob could go back to his life, and we could start ours – as a family – and one day we'd tell our son about what happened the night Mommy found out she was pregnant... look back on the memory and shiver, and dismiss it, and go on with our happy lives..."
For the first time, her voice broke, her breath catching on a sob. And her control slipped.
Aro frowning, lines etching across his papery forehead. "Oh no, Mrs. Cullen," he berated, sounding almost as though he was reprimanding an errant child, the words almost sing-song. "I'm afraid that won't do at all."
For a split second, he could hear her enormous struggle to control her shield before it finally yielded, snapping back between them. "I'm sorry," she moaned, her hands cupping over her ears as if she could barely bear to hear her own words.
She continued before he could shape the words to tell her stop saying sorry, you owe me nothing, I deserve so much worse.
"They wanted proof." She spat the word out as though it disgusted her. "Confirmation that we were telling the truth. They told me they were being lenient, that the situation was unorthodox, and stood there and waited till I thanked them for it. And when I'd scraped enough for them, when I'd told them how grateful I was to them for tearing my life apart and dancing on its ashes, they told us that we had precisely seven months to get our affairs in order. That they expected us to present ourselves in Volterra before I gave birth. That they'd make their final judgement then. That they'd be staying in the area, to watch us, to make sure we were what we said we were, and that if they suspected, even slightly, that we were lying, they would kill us and our families. First it would be Jacob who would be killed in front of me, then Charlie, then Carlisle and Esme, your brothers and sisters, and finally you. Aro told me all of this, Edward, and all the time his voice was full of glee. He sounded like a little boy planning a game of tag."
She raised dead eyes and looked at him. "And that was that. I was six weeks pregnant, and alone. Jacob went back to the reservation and told Leah everything, and she moved away for a while to make sure that there was no way she'd run across either you or Aro. He broke from the pack so that nobody would have access to his thoughts, and he bought a little cabin high in the mountains – on the other side of the treaty line, so the tribe were powerless against the vampires they knew were there. I met him there once a week to make sure that whoever was watching thought we were really having an affair. You came home three days after it all, when I'd had a chance to calm down, to think things through... and I started to break your heart."
Get away from me. Don't touch me. You sicken me, you're so cold. You're dead, for Christ's sake. I'm married to a corpse.
He was shaking, he realised, and he couldn't tell whether that had been his memory or hers.
Her hand twitched as though she wanted to reach out to him.
"Edward," she said desperately, "Edward, that wasn't me. I had to kill myself to say those things. You are the person I love most in this world, and I knew I was destroying you, saw it every day, every moment. But Edward, every time, every single time I was destroying myself too. I ached for you, for your voice in my ears and your lips on my skin, and I couldn't have you. You were so close, and so far away.
His entire body was trembling, vibrating with his desire to speak, to scream, to cry. He locked his jaw, refusing to interrupt her. He reminded himself that when you drew poison from a wound, you did it all in one go.
"One time, at the very beginning – oh god, you were in the garden, pruning the roses, and I came home from the grocery store, and I tripped coming up the path and you caught me, and I smiled and thanked you and squeezed your hand. Just lightly, just a small touch – once I would have kissed you... and still, later that night, when you'd left to hunt, someone sent me a picture message of the pair of us standing there smiling at each other with the words you'll have to do better than that. They were always, always there, Edward, and nobody knew but me. I have no idea how they did it, no idea how they evaded Alice's visions, all of your heightened senses – but they did it. It was like sleeping in a nest of vipers – I was afraid to breathe.
"I knew I'd have nightmares, so I started taking sleeping tablets. They didn't stop the dreams from coming, but they must have weighed my muscles down because you never mentioned me having night terrors. One day I forgot and the next morning you told me I'd screamed in my sleep. I made up some ridiculous excuse and after that I forced you to let me sleep alone.
"I went to an obstetrician in Seattle when I was twelve weeks pregnant. I was worried that something supernatural would show up in the scan, but it was perfect, Edward. I'd been right – it was a boy. I saw our son's head, his fingers and toes. I heard his heartbeat. And that was the best day of my life in so many ways, because once I'd seen the proof, the actual physical proof that we'd made a baby together, I knew it was worth everything, any sacrifice. I convinced myself that if you knew why I was doing what I was doing, you'd agree. That you'd withstand anything I could throw at you, any pain, any torment, to keep our son safe.
"That was a good day," she admitted, her voice very small. "That... things weren't always so clear. I loved my son, our son, loved him from the first second I realised he existed, but there were times when I hated him. A helpless child, Edward, an unborn baby, and I blamed him for the fact that I was still alive to suffer, to make you suffer... I knew they would have killed me if I hadn't told them I was pregnant, and I blamed him for that. I blamed him for not making me sick in the mornings, for not making my body bloat up like a balloon overnight. I wished he'd had your strength, your skin – that he could have cracked a rib while I slept. Anything so you would realise what was happening."
She lowered her head so her forehead touched her bent knees, her voice muffled. "I blamed you for not realising, even though I knew there was no way you could have. I loved you enough to put us both through hell and back, but I hated you too sometimes – for getting me pregnant in the first place, for loving me so much through everything, for not leaving me, for not letting me push you away. You fought so hard, Edward, and I hated you for it, for making my job harder. I wished they'd killed me. I wished you'd killed me. I was weak, and I wanted to die."
His mind, his heart, his muscles and bones, all of them aching – not a screaming pain, but a soul-deep throbbing that permeated through to the very deepest part of him. His jaw clenched tight, his knuckles straining white, his eyes and ears screaming with the need to close and protect against this assault. Be still. For the love of god, be still.
As though rebelling against his inner plea, she suddenly unfurled her body and began to pace, her hands going through her hair. He remained seated but scooted his body back, curling into himself. Suddenly, she turned and punched a neat hole straight through the trunk of the tree she'd been leaning against. Her free hand gouged at the wood, huge chunks splintering away from the whole.
He understood why she did it – understood her need to break something that had once been whole, and so feel like something existed in the world that echoed how she felt.
Her two hands rested flat against the maimed trunk, her shoulders shaking and her head dropped. She was crying without sound and without tears, her body heaving violently, and still he could not go to her.
He felt, somehow, as if the only way to survive this was to make himself small and quiet and unnoticeable. To blend and become part of the background. To not question, or interrupt, or fight against what she was saying – just to let her say it, and deal with the raw words when they settled. He felt somehow that if he were to disturb her story with his own accusations, or his memories, or his desperate need to reassure her, they would never leave the forest, and he would never hear the truth.
In any case, his entire body felt chafed and sore, and he could not bear to entertain the thought of even wiggling his toes, let alone standing, and walking, and comforting. Couldn't, or wouldn't – he didn't know. He just didn't know.
An indeterminate amount of time passed. She wept, her body drawn tight, and he clamped down against every instinct that told him to go to her. Everything animate and mobile in the forest had long since fled,aware of the threat that the both of them represented. The air was muggy as it pressed down on him, the fabric of his clothes gathering the moisture from the air, hanging heavily from his frame. He wished for a breath of air, a whisper of wind.
Her sobs were lessening now, he noted in relief, clenching arms that wanted to envelop her and draw her near. She hiccupped wetly twice, her body spasming, and then stilled.
She turned to face him. He was ashamed, but he couldn't manage to look at her face.
She leaned back against the trunk and spoke, and her voice was more dead than he'd ever heard it.
"Of all the things I did and said to you in the four month period between the Volturi coming and me finally leaving, only two things were really real. I proved myself to be a damn fine actress with you – I controlled my voice, my breathing, my speech, my heart, my soul and even my desire, but still I was only human, and I slipped twice."
She was watching him, he knew, and he couldn't tell if she took his refusal to meet his eyes as rejection. He knew he would have, and though it wasn't his intention to torture her like that, still he could not force himself to look into her face. He could not see the horrors he heard in her voice there.
"Once was when you snuck up behind me and touched my shoulder," she said quietly, "and once was the night before I left, when I left the bathroom door unlocked and you came into the shower with me. When I cried on your shoulder, and kissed you, and made love with you."
The touch to her shoulder – when she'd flinched away. He wondered if it was the same incident that he himself remembered as the point when he'd realised how deeply their relationship was damaged. It had been halfway through those four months. He realised with a shock that she'd been three months pregnant at the time.
"We had to check in every two weeks with them – an actual face to face meeting with Aro," she said, her voice bitterly amused. "We met in restaurants, in hotels, in bars – always in public places. So he could make sure I was actually pregnant. So he could make sure Jacob and I were still together. Most of all so he could gloat, and taunt.
"He insisted on almost constant physical contact with us. Usually he made us sit beside him and slung his arms over our shoulders. He maintained that he might still someday be able to hear our thoughts, and so all the time I was constantly on edge, waiting for the moment where one of us would slip and everything would come spilling out. Jacob got really, really good at controlling what he thought about – which you saw when he came to see us last week. We planned that too, by the way – I coached him on what to say in the event that we made it back to Forks. Back to you. I needed him to be vague enough that it wouldn't garner much suspicion if we were still being watched, and at the same time I wanted to make sure you knew that I had no choice – especially if I wasn't there to tell you myself.
"It never happened – Aro never got anything from either of us. Jake always told me that it was just another part of the pack's natural defences against our kind, but... oh Edward, I thought – I think it was the baby."
He closed his eyes against the note of fierce pride in her voice as she continued. "I know Alice can't see Jacob anyway, but I think our son strengthened my shield somehow so she couldn't see us even when we were away from Jake, and Jasper couldn't feel us, and Aro couldn't hear us. I don't know if it's true – I guess I'll never know... but I liked to pretend.
"You – when you touched my shoulder like that, just for a second I thought you were him – that Aro had come into our bedroom to taunt me some more... and I flinched, and you were hurt, and I said sorry. Do you remember? It was the only time I ever said sorry to you."
Yes, he remembered – and yes, it was the same incident that had stood out in his mind. He didn't know how that made him feel – that he'd somehow known, even then, even given her treatment of him, that her recoiling from him so violently was beyond the pale.
He had gone so long without speaking, without breathing that a fine layer of dust lay over his lips and lined his nasal passages. He cleared his throat, then coughed to clear it.
"What about the other time?" he whispered. His voice was cracked and dry. He braced himself for the answer – because of all the things she'd done, making love to him just before she left had been the worst. For a brief shining moment he'd believed that they could work things out, and then it had been snatched away – and he'd fallen even harder than he might have otherwise.
It had felt sadistic at the time, and even knowing her probable reasons, he didn't know if he could ever forgive her for that – even begin to forgive her.
"Edward, please look at me." Her request was quiet and defeated – she didn't expect him even to try, and that knowledge wrecked him.
He raised his head, struggling, and finally rested his gaze on her mouth. He noted that she'd bitten her lip so hard it was oozing venom slowly. That must have stung, he thought dully.
"That week, I told you I was spending two nights with my father, when really I was going to Seattle with Jacob to meet Aro again. I was tired – being pregnant was starting to take its toll physically, and I wanted to sleep between meeting him and coming back to you. I knew the deadline was approaching: I had to leave soon, and I wanted to start preparing myself."
She took a deep breath. He dropped his eyes from her mouth and focused instead on how her body was braced, ramrod straight and proud above him.
"It was a good thing in the end that I did," she admitted quietly, "because... because... oh Edward..."
She broke off, her hands coming up to cover her forehead. Her body rocked slightly, back and forth. I can't, I can't, I can't...
"Take a deep breath," he said carefully, not wanting to push her, but needing to know.
Her shoulders straightened out, her hands dropping to her sides. He swallowed deeply as his wife faced him, her shoulders down, her body open and vulnerable.
He took a deep breath, and finally looked at her face. A low groan built in his chest as he registered her expression: sadness and pain and loss and fierce, fierce love, and bitter relief at this finally being said.
"I snapped," she told him sadly. "I wasn't strong enough after all. I told Aro – I told him that I couldn't betray you, couldn't go through with it, couldn't leave you."
"But my dear, you've already betrayed him." His voice was mocking, or maybe that was just her imagination. "You've created a child with another man. What could possibly be worse?"
"I told him I didn't want to leave my family behind. That I wanted to pass my baby off as yours and stay with you. That I felt guilty about taking advantage of your trust. That Jacob wasn't ready to be a father, that we'd started fighting. I told him everything and anything I thought would stop him.
"We were sitting upstairs in a crowded bar, and arguing in whispers. Not even arguing – I was pleading and crying and begging and he was laughing, Edward, sitting there chuckling like some indulgent uncle... but eventually he got tired of it and stood up to go.
He had to move at a human pace, you know, because of course we were in public – and I got up from my chair to follow him. Jacob tried to hold me back, but I wouldn't listen. I followed him, and..."
She broke off suddenly, her face creasing into a look of such intense pain that Edward felt it echo in his gut.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I can't," she said, babbling feverishly now. "I thought I could, but I can't, and you have to see, Edward, you have to –"
And suddenly he was her, submerged so utterly in this memory that her hands as they reached towards a man in a dark tweed jacket were his, her voice his as it pleaded, as it cried Aro's name, her nails his as they scrabbled ineffectually at the vampire's back. So he watched Aro turn, too sharply, through eyes that were his but not his, and he felt something he could never remember experiencing himself – vertigo. Ah, he realised, even as his body – his and hers – overbalanced and fell, he'd been standing at the top of a flight of stairs... He heard Jacob's voice yell his wife's name through the blood pounding through his ears, saw Aro's eyes widen, the ghost of his smirk the last thing his eyes caught as he fell down, down.
And she twisted her body, though she knew it was useless, that it was already too late – still she twisted her body to protect his son, and he felt his wife's arms going around the soft precious bump of pregnancy one last time, as if her frail bones were enough to protect it against the dirty concrete floor rushing too fast towards him – much too fast.
Something hit his head and knocked him silly. The last thing he saw before the dark closed in was his own face, smiling down at him – at her – the face she loved most in the world, smiling at her sadly. And his loss was her loss.
Her shield came crashing down, and his mind and body was his own again. He gasped for air, groaned, the act of breathing searing holes through his lungs.
Then, finally, he was moving, his muscles releasing, his body unbending. His feet stumbled drunkenly towards her, and her breathing froze. She backed so she was pressed fully against the tree, and he knew by the way her body was set that she was expecting him to shake her, hit her even, expecting him to try and break her even more.
As tenderly as he was able, he raised his shaking hands and cupped her cheeks between his two palms.
"Bella," he sobbed. "Oh, Bella."
Her mouth had half-opened at the first touch of his skin on hers. She clutched his fingers almost desperately, her grief emerging from her throat in hoarse cries.
He manoeuvred them so his back was to the wood of the tree that had supported her, and sunk down with her, cradling her small form on his lap, gathering her close. They rocked back and forth together. Her hands clung to him, moving restlessly through his hair, over his face, down past his shoulders to hold onto his shoulder-blades.
Bitterly he remembered that this was precisely what she'd done that last time they'd made love, when she'd stopped fighting him, stopped crying and screaming – remembered her heat wrapping round him as her soft fingers grabbed whatever she could of him and kept him near, her skin sliding against his under the spray of the shower.
At the time he'd surmised that she was as desperate for him as he'd been for her; now he knew precisely what had caused her to latch on to him as if she'd never let him go, what had caused her eyes to squeeze out tears even as she shuddered in pleasure. And as last time, his lips kissed every particle of her skin they could reach. Her forehead. Her eyelids. The space behind her ear. He'd meant it as a prayer of thankfulness then. Now, with the realisation of their shared loss blazing through him, he meant it as thankfulness, but also as comfort, as empathy, as finally understanding.
"Our baby, our baby, we lost our baby," he moaned into the silk of her hair, and her hands clutched him closer in response, her voice howling with his, caught in the maelstrom of grief and loss for a child neither of them had ever known or would ever know.
They clung to each other for a long time after that, crying and shaking, bodies intertwined. Her fingers laced around his neck, one of his arms tight around her back, his other hand between them, resting against the skin that had sheltered his son.
When night fell, he drew a shuddering breath and rearranged her so her cheek lay between his shoulder blades, her arms and legs wrapped firmly around him. One of her hands lay over his heart as he started to run.
When she finally spoke, her voice was heavy with exhaustion. "Where are we going, Edward?"
He gave her the only answer he could find. "Home, love," he said simply. "We're going home."
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