Author's Note: Unbeta'd as usual. This story has been nagging at me for a while now and it feels good to finally get it written. Inspired a little bit by The Antlers' concept album, Hospice, which is a really beautiful piece of work that you all should listen to. It's meant to be somewhat vague and disjointed, but hopefully not so much that it doesn't make much sense. I hope you all enjoy it.
When I try to move my arms sometimes,
They weigh too much to lift.
I think you buried me awake
(my one and only parting gift).
But you return to me at night,
Just when I think I may have fallen asleep.
Your face is up against mine,
And I'm too terrified to speak.
- The Antlers
He wakes from terrifying nightmares – the kind that renders you mute with fear. The room is too empty, too large, but strangely claustrophobic in its silence. He struggles for air, eyes wide and unfocused as his racing heart aches with each beat. His fingers reach over, desperate and greedy for the comfort of her touch and he lets out a pitiful whimper as his fingers grasp nothing but an endless expanse of sheets. He's terrified to close his eyes, afraid to give in to the sleep that whispers promises of forever in his ear, dreams that remind him of the warmth and feel of her body asleep next to his. He rolls over to her side of the bed and thinks that if he breathes deeply enough, he can still detect the faint hint of freesias and strawberries, lingering despite her absence.
He closes his eyes and tries to fight against her whispered pleas, begging for him to sleep. He refuses to sleep because when he does, he dreams. He dreams of her. She murmurs proclamations of love and safety, and he feels the weight of her lips on his forehead. Her fingers run through his unruly hair, scratching his scalp in a calming manner.
"I miss you so much," he cries, fisting the sheets and burying his face into her pillow. The ring on his finger feels heavy and he sobs out an apology because he didn't mean for it sound like their marriage was a burden. He doesn't have the heart to remove it because taking the ring off would be like acknowledging that she was really gone. That she wouldn't be coming back.
He opens one eye and closes it quickly. The bed shakes with her silent laughter.
"I know you're awake," Bella remarks, wiggling her way closer to his body.
"I always sleep with one eye open," he replies, pressing a loving kiss to her temple, but allows both eyelids to flutter open to gaze into her wide, brown eyes. She's smiling lazily and he's reminded of sweet, languid kisses.
"Just in case I try to kill you."
Edward snorts. "You haven't got a mean bone in your body." He pokes her to prove his point and she squirms away, laughing breathlessly.
She inhales quickly before he swoops in to kiss her, effectively stealing her breath away again.
"I love you," he whispers as his hands roam her soft curves and she shivers despite her heated skin.
"I love you," she repeats, her palm splayed across his chest – all points north, a compass to his heart.
There are fingers brushing his hair away from his sweat-soaked forehead.
"Bella," he moans and he feels a sharp, painful ache where his heart should be. He is desperate to open his heavy eyelids but his whole body feels like lead and exhaustion weighs his limbs down. He feels warm lips against his skin and he's hot, too hot.
"Sweetheart." The fingers are now running along his face, urging him to open his eyes. The voice reminds him of love, warmth and home – but it's not the one he wants to hear.
"You need to wake up, get out of bed, do something," she pleads. "I can't lose you too."
If anything, his mom fights dirty. He pries his eyes open and stares at her despondently. She smiles tearfully at him and releases a shaky breath.
"Hi, baby," she murmurs, her hands still tracing his face, through his hair. He pulls away, her touch burning him, unfamiliar and unwanted. She looks hurt and clasps her hands in her lap. "You haven't been answering your phone."
He turns away from her, curls further into himself and desperately wishes this was all a nightmare.
"This isn't healthy, Edward. I know that you're grieving but…Bella wouldn't have wanted you to hurt yourself. You need to eat." She wrinkles her nose and adds as an afterthought, "And shower."
He's sick of people telling him what to do, how to deal with the big, gaping hole in his chest. "What would you do if dad died?"
His mother doesn't answer him and he knows he's made his point. There is no life without your soul mate – nothing ever looks the same, feels the same, tastes the same; everything is muted, dull, lifeless.
"We love you, Edward," she finally says, her fingers wrapped tightly around his wrist, like a lifeline, holding him steady despite the fact that he feels as though his entire world has tilted on its axis.
"It will never be enough."
They meet on a Tuesday, officially.
He has been watching her every Friday night at the Red Door bar for the past three months without gathering enough courage to speak to her. She's always alone, dressed in dressy slacks and a button down shirt, and he wonders if her slightly tousled hair is as soft as it looks. He wonders if it's inappropriate for him to run his fingers through her hair or smell it because he thinks it must smell divine – like something sweet or fruity.
She pays her tab at the bar without glancing his way and he watches her walk away despite the pull of the attraction he feels towards her.
It's just coincidence, or fate, or some higher power at work that he happens to run into her at a coffee shop on the second Tuesday of February. This time he has no bottle to hide behind, or the dim, dark atmosphere of the bar, when he happens to spy her sitting in a back corner sipping delicately from a styrofoam cup. His heart jumps up into his throat and he doesn't seem to have any function over his body as he finds himself walking towards her.
This time she looks up at him and she quirks an eyebrow, silently asking what he thinks he's doing.
"I've been stalking you for the past three months," he blurts out, then winces when he realizes what he just said.
She looks uncomfortable and glances around the shop, eyeing the best means for escape.
"I mean, I uh…I've seen you at the Red Door and well, I thought you were really beautiful." He lets out a nervous chuckle and fiddles with the zipper of his jacket. "And I just never really had the courage to say anything to you, but uh, running into you here. It must be fate or something, right? So I just thought I'd um, introduce myself. Yeah, so, hi."
She blushes and he thinks it's the cutest fucking thing ever, but she's smiling shyly so that means he hasn't scared her off, yet.
"When you say you're going to introduce yourself to someone, that usually includes telling them your name." Even her voice is beautiful and he thinks he's falling in love.
He feels the burn in his cheeks and ducks his head, looking up at her through lowered lashes. He hears her breath catch and smirks, at least he has the same effect on her that she seems to have on him. He steps closer to her table and holds out his hand as he says, "I'm Edward Cullen and I've admired you from afar for the past few months. If I could I would like to admire you up close now. I mean..."
The lack of control over his body obviously includes the filter in his brain as well and he's mortified by the words coming out of his mouth. But she giggles and places her tiny hand into hers. "Bella Swan."
"I don't normally say things like this," he says, almost bashful-like, and he scuffs his toe on the floor. This girl has turned him into an awkward mess but she appears amused, at least.
"I don't normally invite strange men who have admitted to stalking me to sit down for coffee."
"Are you?" Edward asks. "Asking me to coffee, I mean?"
She blushes again, a delicate shade of pink, and nods. "If you'd like."
"I wouldn't have come over here and acted like a moron if I didn't want to have coffee with you."
He pulls out the chair across from her with unbridled enthusiasm, the legs scraping obnoxiously against the floor.
"I have something to confess," Bella finally says, after they had been staring at each other for a few silent moments. He raises an eyebrow, a sign for her to continue. "I've seen you at the bar too."
"Really?" He wonders if she's thought of him like he's thought of her, so many lonely nights spent dreaming of her soft, warm body – his imagination running with what little he's seen of her figure through her work clothes.
"A few times." She shrugs and tears her napkin into small pieces, littering the table with the evidence of her anxiety. "It's difficult not to notice you in a place like that."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know," she whispers, painfully shy. "You're just…so beautiful. Every woman, and even some of the men there, their eyes are drawn to you. You must know the affect you have on everyone. You're dazzling."
Edward grins, all teeth, and it should look predatory, but it only comes across as sexy. "Do I dazzle you?"
She worries her bottom lip between her teeth then lets her tongue sooth the ache and his eyes are drawn by the movement. He swallows hard as he watches her mouth part and he barely misses it when she breathes out a "frequently" because he's so drawn to the curve of her lips and the hint of her pink tongue. A promise of what's to come.
"You affect me the same way," he admits.
He stares at her, all nerves and excitement, but also overwhelmed by the feelings she has evoked in him – feelings he has never felt before, especially from someone he knows next to nothing about. This, he thinks, must be remedied immediately.
"Tell me about yourself," he begs, drawn to this beautiful woman, and unwilling to let her leave his sight.
"What do you want to know?"
He reaches across the table and tucks an errant piece of hair behind her ear, reveling in the smooth silk of her skin. "Everything."
He turns the shower on as hot as it will go. His grief acts like a second skin and he wishes the water could burn and peel the hurt away. His hands shake as he grips his shampoo bottle and he's honestly surprised that it hasn't slipped to the floor yet. His whole body is shaking, trembling like a lone leaf still trying to hold on in the midst of a destructive hurricane, and he realizes belatedly that he's crying again. Unlike a shower, there is no faucet to turn his tears on and off, and he wonders when, or even if, he'll run out of tears to cry.
Bella is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and all she's wearing is a pair of dark wash jeans and a snug sweater, the blue a startling contrast to her pale skin. His fingers tap an uneven rhythm against the steering wheel as he drives them to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner before a movie.
"This is my favorite restaurant," she exclaims excitedly as she takes in the sign above the building, flashing him a brilliant smile.
"Mine too," he agrees readily. He gets out of the car and meets her on her side of the car, resting his hand on the small of her back and shutting the door before leading her into the restaurant.
He spends the evening getting to know her better, trying to understand her quirks and worries. She's a twenty-five year old free-lance writer, trying to write her own novel on the side. She grew up in a small town with her dad, a police chief, struggling to deal with the absence of her free-spirited mother.
"She's settled down a bit now," she explains, "since she married Phil. But we never had that connection you get when you rely so much on your parents growing up. She's just like a friend now, rather than a mother. And maybe it's better that she didn't try to raise me."
She says it just so nonchalantly but he can't comprehend how he could have grown up half the man he is today without the love and guidance from his own mother, Esme.
"Despite it all, you've turned into such a beautiful, caring woman, Bella," Edward replies, his tone tinged with admiration.
She blushes, and he's learned that she does so frequently, especially when she's being complimented, as if she was unaccustomed to such attention.
"Thank you," she mumbles, before shoving some food in her mouth as an excuse to not talk.
The rest of dinner is spent exchanging comfortable chatter. When they get to the movies, Edward allows Bella to choose the movie and he's pleasantly surprised when she chooses an action film. His body is on sensory overdrive when the lights in the theatre dim and he can almost feel the electricity crackling between their bodies. His hands tremble with the need to touch her and he grabs her hand from her lap, cradling it in his own, before he can stop himself. He sees her glance at him quickly, but she doesn't remove her hand and he allows himself a smile of victory, giving her fingers a gentle squeeze. She squeezes back.
Food tastes like cardboard but his brother is watching him like a hawk, threatening him with hospitals and IVs if he doesn't get something in his stomach.
"Mom is worried about you," he says over a cup of coffee.
He continues shoveling tasteless food into his mouth. Chew, swallow, repeat.
"Everyone is. Damn it, Edward, have you looked in the mirror lately? You look like shit."
He blinks up at his brother but doesn't say anything.
"Bella is gone, Edward. She's dead. We understood when you didn't answer our calls and we gave you space, so you could grieve. But this is not normal, bro. You need help. You look like you've barely slept for the past few weeks. Have you been sleeping?" Emmett squints at him, like he's trying to figure him out, and trying to fix him with honesty.
He shrugs non-commitedly. "Nightmares," he admits, and it's the most he's said to anyone about what's plagued him, what's threatened his sanity and his family's attempts to get him to grieve properly.
"I see her, all the time. I still feel her asleep next to me," he whispers brokenly. "Her face is right against mine and I can't speak because I'm terrified that if I open my mouth, she'll disappear. But then I actually wake up and I can't find her and everything just hurts even worse because I realize that she's not there."
"You're avoiding the pain, Edward. You aren't grieving properly. You keep telling yourself that she's still alive, but you need to let her go."
"Don't tell me how to feel."
Edward invites Bella to his family's annual Fourth of July barbeque. They enjoy an afternoon of grilled food and good conversation. Edward is secretly thrilled that his family has taken so quickly to her, that they can expand their already bursting hearts to include her. She's never had siblings but he knows she's fallen in love with his and that she likes this feeling, like she finally belongs.
The night is warm but comfortable and he feels content with her wrapped tightly in his arms as they sit on a blanket in his parents' backyard, waiting for the fireworks. Bella holds her breath as the first firework explodes into a brilliant shower of purple and red sparks. She grips his forearms, pulling his arms tightly around her.
"I love the fireworks," she whispers, afraid of ruining the beauty the night has bestowed them with.
He gazes down at her as she lifts her eyes to his face, thrilling in the way her face is illuminated by the light of the fireworks, and he smiles gently before kissing her tenderly. "I love you," he declares.
She forgets to breathe for a second and Edward looks at her worriedly before she exhales noisily. She scrambles out of his arms and he panics briefly before he realizes she is just turning to straddle him. "Say it again," she demands, looking at him with wide, bright eyes.
He grins. "I love you," he repeats, and these three words, they're easy to say, even if they don't fully encompass his feelings for this girl. They aren't enough, nothing would ever be enough to explain how in the few months he's known her, his life has revolved around her. "You are my life now."
She tilts her head and presses her lips against her, her tongue running along the seam of his mouth, begging entrance. It's warm and wet and Edward feels like she's using her tongue to coax the words out of his mouth, again. "I love you," he breathes as he pulls away gasping, his breathing erratic.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," she murmurs, kissing him soundly on the mouth each time.
He wanders through the house and each lonely step echoes, reminding him of the empty house. His eyes land on the photographs lining the mantle. Her beautiful, smiling face stares back at him from each photo, mocking him, a reminder of happier times. A surge of anger runs through his veins and he has to stop himself from smashing every frame.
They look like the perfect couple in their wedding portrait. Her small, petite body fit contentedly against his tall, lean one. Her white dress a perfect contrast to his dark suit.
"I love you," he hears her whisper, and he drops to his knees and claws desperately at his hair, trying to maintain some semblance of sanity.
"Please, Bella," he begs. "Please, come back to me."
He's a bundle of nerves, of anticipation, as he paces anxiously awaiting his future.
Emmett chuckles. "Cold feet, bro?"
Edward shakes his head vehemently. "I just can't wait to make Bella my wife, to finally call her mine, and to show the world how much I love her."
Emmett mutters, "You're whipped and so girly."
"Shut up, Em," Jasper snaps, resting a relaxing hand on Edward's shoulders. Edward couldn't be more thankful for his brother-in-law than in that moment.
"Thanks, Jas," Edward murmurs, running his hand nervously throw his hair.
Jasper glances at him briefly, shaking his head. "Alice is going to kill you if you mess your hair up anymore."
Edward frowns and tries to flatten his hair before shrugging and giving up. "It won't do anything I tell it to anyway. She'll never know."
Emmett looks down at his watch and gives them both a nod. It's time. Edward taps his foot as he waits and he will grudgingly admit that the bridesmaids look beautiful as they walk down the aisle, but no one compares to the angel dressed in white. The woman who was soon to be his wife. He can't stop the giddy grin from erupting on his face and Bella looks at him with such overwhelming adoration. She kisses her father on the cheek, before Charlie places her hand into his, and Edward gives her a reassuring squeeze.
"I love you," she mouths as she takes her place beside him, where she will stay for…forever, if Edward has any say in it.
When the priest finally gives his blessing and allows Edward to kiss his wife, Edward gives her the sweetest kiss; a declaration, a promise.
"I love you, Mrs. Cullen."
He feels a body curl up next to him in bed. The body is too small, the fit of her body next to his imperfect.
"I miss you," she whispers, her voice thick with tears.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes, his thumb turning his wedding ring, the weight a reminder of all the promises he made her.
"Edward," she says, her tiny hands trying to turn him to face her. He lets her roll him over even though he could have easily shrugged her off. She looks at him with glassy eyes and Edward swallows, trying to keep his own tears at bay. "Edward, I'm pregnant."
"What?" he croaks.
She smiles, though it's cautious and hesitant. "Jas and I are having a baby. Will you be the godfather?"
He runs his hand through her short, spiky hair – the first loving gesture he's done since the funeral – and offers her congratulations. But it's half-hearted and he can barely hear anything else that's coming out of his sister's mouth through the pounding in his head. There is an ache in his chest that stretches and pulses until it hurts to breathe. He will never hear those words coming from the mouth of the woman he loves.
The phone call came in the middle of a Wednesday, six months after their wedding. It is a standard hospital call, vague and impersonal. He reaches the hospital, worry rising like bile in his throat, and scrambles towards the OR waiting room, where he finds his dad waiting for him with a grave expression on his face.
"I'm sorry, son," Carlisle says and Edward collapses at his feet, his heart being ripped from his chest, out his throat, with each heave of his body. "There was nothing we could do. The damage was too much."
Carlisle kneels beside his son and pulls him into his arms as Edward sobs, the sound anguished and frantic.
"I need to see her, please, please let me see her," Edward is pleading, begging.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Edward," Carlisle warns.
"She can't be dead," he screams and he clings to his father, pulling at his lab coat, desperate to cling onto something real and solid. "She's not, she's not gone, please let me see her."
Carlisle holds his son just as urgently, kissing his hair. "I'm sorry, son. So sorry."
"I can't live without her," he says.
"I know it's hard," his father replies. "But you need to move on. Bella wouldn't have wanted this for you. Don't you know that? You need to live your life as normally as possible."
"I have no life without Bella."
"You need professional help, son. Therapy to help you grieve."
He shakes his head. "Just…let me deal with this on my own. Please," he implores. "Give me more time."
His father rests a hand on his shoulders. "It's been months, Edward. We've given you time, space."
"I'm tired," he sighs. "Can we talk later? I'm sorry."
His father gives him a hug. "Answer your phone the next time we call, okay? We just want to check up on you, make sure you're okay. You know how worried we all are."
He nods. "I'm sorry," he repeats, resting on her side of the bed.
He can hear the front door close behind his father and he pulls himself out of bed, stumbling to the bathroom. He opens the medicine cabinet and pulls out a bottle of pills, pouring a handful into his palm before shoving them into his mouth. He trudges back towards the bed, curls up, imagining the smell of freesias and strawberries, and falls asleep.
He thinks it's ironic that it's pouring rain on the second worst day of his life. He's dressed in black, but unlike the black suit he wore for his wedding, he's somber now and alone. The rain plasters his hair to his forehead and he can feel various hands on his body, trying to anchor him to the ground, keep him here and safe. He doesn't feel safe without her.
Everyone tells them how sorry they are, how terrible it must feel to lose his wife when they hadn't even been married for a year. He wants to tell them all to piss off because none of them can understand what he's going through, what he's feeling. They think they're sorry? Apologies won't bring back the love of his life; they won't redeem the man who ran a red light, who ran away from the scene and left Bella's car and body broken beyond repair. Apologies won't ease the constant throbbing in his chest or the painful memories running like a film on replay in his mind.
"I miss her," he cries, and Alice grips his hand tightly, offering her support as he falls apart.
He wakes from terrifying nightmares – the kind that renders you mute with fear. The room is too empty, too large, but strangely claustrophobic in its silence. He struggles for air, eyes wide and unfocused as his racing heart aches with each beat. His fingers reach over, desperate and greedy for the comfort of her touch and he lets out a sigh of relief as he roughly grabs her hand.
"Edward?" she murmurs, her eyes fluttering open, staring at him worried before sitting upright when she sees the tears in his eyes. "What's wrong?"
He pulls her close, molding her body to his, and kisses her hard. She's real and alive, breathing and staring at him with unveiled concern. "Baby?" she whispers, brushing hair from his sweat-soaked skin.
He buries his face in her neck, breathing in her sweet, floral scent. "Bad dream," he replies, his fingers stroking the soft skin of her back, running along the ridges of her spine.
"You okay?" She's still whispering, still touching him and he basks in the feel of her body against his, a perfect fit. His wedding ring glints in the moonlight, his fingers tangled in her hair, and he brings her left hand to rest on his chest, her own ring evidence of their love.
"I love you." He presses kisses to her eyelids, her cheeks, her nose, everywhere he can touch, before drawing her down for a deep kiss. He sighs, breathing promises of forever against her skin.
"Forever," she assures him. "I'll be with you forever."