Title: Flavors of Love and Loss
Prompt: iPhone, alcoholic, pie
Thanks to antiaol for beta'ing even though it broke all her rules except one.
Thanks also to EchoesOfTwilight and letmesign for pre-reading and to bmango for both pre-reading and holding my hand throughout the entire, intensely emo process of writing this.
But the most profound thanks go to bemily for giving so generously during the Fandom Gives Back auctions. She purchased this piece and came up with the prompt and was also generous enough to share it with all of you.
Disclaimer for the legal folks: Stephanie Meyers owns Twilight. I own an imitation iPhone and a damn good recipe for cherry pie. (Actually that's a lie. I don't even have a cool phone. But occasionally my hubby lets me borrow his.)
Disclaimer for the wussperv folks: This story will be sad. But hopefully not unbearably so.
The days blur together, an endless stream of coffee cups and glittering glass bottles, broken in the sun. The slipstream of time and night and waking is punctuated by the heavy clink of a fork on a plate and bitter crust in my searing mouth. Images dance by, my thumb and forefinger closing in on the details I am fighting so hard to hang on to as everything falls away, an unrelenting dance of burn and numb, zooming in and out. In and out.
So many fucking images.
I watch the pictures rushing past, sunsets in cherry red and blueberries, softly pinking peach like her thighs, and a background of strawberry set off by pale and brown. Staring at the screen like it holds the key to my existence, I let our life that I have lost flow past me until it is a hazing blur. Until I am lost again in another lingering dream of her laugh behind the static vision of her cheeks and lips. Until I am reaching out, the world that I am exiled from so close I can almost taste it, fruit and warm and dripping down my chin, lush apple and cherry between my teeth and on my tongue, my hand extended, grasping.
But my broken, missing fingers close around nothing, the hollow ring of metal on plastic breaking through my consciousness as I stare again at the screen. Where the claw makes contact with it, there's an over-saturated rush of pixels being pressed upon too roughly, like lightning over my eyes from her hands squeezing tightly against my lids.
The passage of time is marked by another coffee cup, another pie plate. An empty bottle of rum smashed across the pavement outside my hotel and my ass resting sharp against the shards when my legs fall out from under me, my head in my one good hand and my life spilled out like so much booze. Leaking and trickling. Seeping and spent.
Another day drags by, another night gone in an instant.
I awake this time to the clicking sound of heels coming toward me across the tile floor of the diner. To my surprise, I am wearing a new pair of jeans that isn't torn from asphalt and glass. A shirt that isn't stained with my own vomit and blood.
Alice sets another piece of pie down on the table in front of me, the sound of the porcelain on formica making me jump. I almost drop my phone I am so surprised, my thumb stilling for just a moment against the onslaught of images, the rush of lives and loves destroyed pausing, if only for an instant. I grasp at the phone desperately with both my false hand and my real one, the cold metal claw a reminder of all that I have let slip away from me as it clinks again against the illuminated screen, my foggy head just barely keeping from collapsing as I look up to find kind, sad eyes staring back at me.
"Apple," Alice says quietly. "Your favorite."
And then, like everything else, she is gone.
Inured to her absence, I flick my index finger across the screen as I take in warm apple and cream, seeking out the images that I always turn to on nights like tonight. Chewing absently, struggling through the fog to stay grounded, to savor this one little connection to all that I cannot have, I hone in on the folder strewn in amber dust and ochre, leaves and autumn and gold.
Because apple has always tasted like home.
It was five years ago that we bought our house. Bella stood beside the counter on the day we closed on it, slender fingers tickling softly across the granite she had longed for, her gaze falling on cabinets and ovens.
Her cabinets. Her ovens.
I couldn't tear my eyes from her, from the pale blush of her cheek, the gentle fall of hair in waves of auburn and mahogany and beautiful as a backdrop to her profile. Each motion of her hand over the surfaces where she would work captivated me, a sparkle of diamond and gold against the dark and mottled grey.
I had meant to let her look in peace, but the sight of her there, her hips full and lush beside the stone, her finger dressed in my ring ... it did something to me. Something deep and pounding, and with three short steps, I closed, her body warm and perfect in my arms.
She lifted up that sparkling hand, those tiny fingertips buried softly in my hair, her body yielding automatically to my embrace. When my lips closed over hers, our noses brushing in glancing touches, she pulled me in even closer, so much warmth and comfort in the tender motion of her mouth, so much sweetness in the flickering dance of our tongues.
When I finally lifted her onto the counter top, her thighs spread out before me and my body hard and ready for her, it was with the knowledge that this was all I would ever need to truly feel at home. My hands, whole and strong, made gentle circuits up and down her legs, the yielding material of her skirt bunching gently around her hips as I gave in to my need for her. I silenced her giggling about health codes and regulations for the sterilization of work surfaces with my tongue between her teeth, my hands flicking softly across the wet flesh I knew so well.
She gasped into my mouth as I slid into her, surrounded in warmth and love. And as we rocked there, christening the place as our own, I smelled the hint of apple behind her ear, tasted the dust of flour and talcum powder on her neck.
And I knew that wherever she was would always be home.
Homeless now, I sleep and wake and drink in a squalid hotel room not a mile from our door - from her door, I correct myself in anguish.
Dragging the angry tips of the metal claw across my forehead, I have to remind myself again and again that it is her door now alone.
The only times I ever leave the room are to go to the diner or to the store to buy more booze. Like Alice, the man behind the counter at the liquor store knows me by name now. He knows my erratic hours and my preferences and my indifference to anything except the images in my memory and the fire in my throat. He used to smile at me when I came in. Now he mostly shakes his head and frowns.
I see in his eyes the reflection of my own haunted ones. I know he knows I'm trying to drink myself to death. I know he knows I'm disappointed I haven't had much luck with that endeavor yet.
Occasionally, I wander down to the bar at the end of the street, but the music and the voices there are usually too much for me. I go because the aching loneliness becomes unbearable, the hours and hours of solitude a rough contrast to the sounds of bartered sex in the room down the hall, my untouched body strained and tense and indifferent. It usually only takes me a few minutes there, a few flashes of too-bright neon light against the darkness, a couple waves of acrid smoke and broken laughter to send me running again.
Because anything, even the torture of my own lonely company, is better than the sound of other people's laughter.
Alice knows to fill my cup only two thirds full. I tell her it's because I like a lot of room for cream, but her sad eyes don't miss the fact that the little bowl of creamers by my mug almost never goes down. By the time I'm done with it, I'm drinking little more than coffee-flavored bourbon anyway, the bitter and the burn all mixing together on my cracking lips.
Another plate, another coffee mug, more clicking of tiny heels moving away across a cold tile floor. I don't even have to ask for what I want anymore, and Alice always brings me more.
Today it's peach and raspberry. Innocence and sex. I gulp down another sip of coffee-flavored booze and cut into the crust, the fruit an orange-crimson stain against the bone-white of the plate. With shaking hand and claw I take a bite, my vision blurring and I don't even know why, the fork clattering to the plate and my thumb is grasping for my phone.
So many fucking images.
Bella, sweet and young, her complexion a soft-pale peach against the springtime green. Bella in raspberry, the sultry pout of her beautiful mouth, her bottom lip so full as her mouth opens to me, swollen from my kiss. Bella's sex and the blush on her breasts as I drink her in.
When I first met her, Bella was still an assistant in a little bakery. She still had that virginal air about her, this peach-cream blush that rose slowly on her cheeks when she caught me staring at her, smiling for no reason beyond the beauty of her face. I'd stand in the back of the line, never bemoaning the wait. Just watching her. Knowing already that I would do whatever I needed to do to make her mine.
I was in my last year of my residency at the time, my body a ball of nerves, a tight line of exhaustion running from the base of my spine to my shoulder blades. Impossibly long shifts and the weight of holding people's lives inside my hands was wearing on me heavily. It didn't matter that I was being touted as the next big celebrity surgeon, the wonder boy. Steady hands and a precise eye.
Forget that my one remaining hand is anything but steady now.
Every morning I walked into Bella's bakery, her smile the only thing that could soothe me, her food the only thing that could fill me.
For months upon months, I stalked her there, my lonely heart desperate for any sign from her that she might see me the way that I saw her. The way I saw her behind my eyelids as I drifted off to sleep. The way I saw her in my dreams with her tiny hands inside of mine.
I didn't know then that she was as shy as I was. I didn't know then that our secret longing lay dormant deep in both our hearts.
When I finally got up the courage to speak to her about more than coffee and pastries, her warm eyes were all I needed to give me strength. The sight of her sweet, pale face lit up over our two shared mugs in the back of the little bakery made my frozen throat explode in words. More words than I had ever strung together before in all those shy and awkward years. I found my life's story falling out of my lips, her patient fingertips reaching out so tentatively, so subtly toward my wrist.
The first time she touched me there, that tiny bubble of intimacy of a breakfast between two lonely people, it was like a world in black and white had exploded into color and I found the confidence to become everything I had ever wanted to be. I found my hands steadier than they had ever been, both around my scalpel in the operating room and around the soft curves of her cheek as I held her face between my fingertips.
When I finally kissed her, our bodies miles apart across a glowing pastry case, her soft, full lips held the lingering taste of raw dough dripping with peaches and brandy.
When I finally made love to her, naked in her apartment on the floor, I learned that she wasn't virginal at all. I learned that she was warm and sensual and that her sex tasted of berries and girl.
The following morning was the first time she ever baked me a pie, the warm scent of it waking me from the soft embrace of her bed. She fed it to me in her kitchen, sitting on a stool with my body standing close to hers, between her legs.
It tasted like Bella and like dreams.
In short, it tasted like heaven.
I still dream about her sometimes, in rare moments of lucidity when I'm not so drunk that I just pass out wherever I stand.
I dream of her body, spread out before me on our bed, of the light of excitement that would come over her face whenever I would enter the room. The look of intense concentration when she was working on a new recipe, her steady hands on a knife, fruit and berries in the air and her fingertips inside my mouth, feeding me.
I dream of our life together when we were whole. When I was whole.
And when I wake it is always with a crushing sense of loss for what I wasted. For the tears I wish she'd never had to shed. For the vision of a world where I still had the privilege of falling asleep inside her arms, warm and safe and loved.
I turn over, cold and exhausted and reaching unsteadily for another drink and for oblivion.
Reaching for whatever it will take to finally make this all go away.
Our lives fell apart on a sunny day, our breath frozen, our eyes sparkling as brightly as the ice hanging from every awning, sharp and jagged in the sun. We were walking through downtown, our hands clasped, perfect smiles on love-struck faces, so caught up in each other we barely noticed what was happening until it was too late.
Too late for me. And almost too late for her.
The light had just changed, our steps in perfect sync as we stepped off the curb into our little patch of forever.
The squealing of tires was the loudest sound I had ever heard, brakes failing on so much ice and snow. My body did whatever it could, an instinct as deep as my love as my hands collided with her side, my arms pushing, stretching, protective and using too much force.
My eyes connected with that of the driver, careening through the light that told him not to go, his terror as strong as my sense of peace knowing Bella was safely on the other side.
I didn't even feel the impact, my body giving in to it, a tumbling in slow motion, every mote of air and sky and ice in perfect resolution in my mind. As the pavement rose up to swallow me, I smiled. Because I would take any amount of pain if it didn't come to her.
A single second lasted for years, prone on my back, clouds and red across my vision. And it wasn't until the moment the tires rolled across my outstretched hand that I knew that nothing would ever be the same. In that instant there was only fire and pain.
And then the world went black.
And I felt nothing anymore.
I came to in a world of white and bleach, hushed voices and tears from the most beautiful voice in the world. It was wrong. Everything was wrong.
Her voice should never sound like it was in pain.
My broken body only made itself known in fits and starts, little brushes of awareness through the fog of whatever the fuck they had me high on. I heard the blinking of monitors as I felt the bandages on my head, the tightness in my ribs.
I took it all in through waves of sleep and aching numbness, the pain so close to the surface it threatened to break forward at any moment. But then someone would push another something into the IV and I would slip into a dreamless sleep all over again, the rolling rush of artificial calm asking me to give in to this. All I could feel were Bella's lips, warm and wet as she kissed my cheek and let her tears slide down my face.
And I thought I had given in. Gotten ready and accepted that I would never be the same man when I finally found clarity again.
But nothing could have prepared me for the moment I would roll over for the first time.
For a stump where there used to be a hand.
For cauterized skin and crimson gauze where once there had been a livelihood. Where once I had held such power over other people's lives.
Where suddenly my life was gone.
And it was only then that I started to scream.
I wake up to the sound of my own own voice screaming again, my head pounding, shards of glass from another broken bottle I must have hurled against the wall scattered across the bed. Wasted whiskey has soaked into the sheets again, but the pillow is dry beside my head.
With a groan, I sit up, my hand on my head as the claw I hate closes around the closest bottle on my nightstand. A welcome, cleansing burn rushes down my throat, the parched and sticky feeling receding, everything before me falling away.
I undress mechanically, half man and half machine that I am. There is a numbness to how I take in my own skin, like I'm not really here in this body anymore. My fingers trace over glass wounds and scars, remembrances of pain both old and new. Most of the more recent ones are a mystery to me, drowned inside a heavy fog of loss and alcohol.
Not that it matters, I think, the pounding of the shower spray just hot enough to push away the numb but too cold to melt my bones the way I wish it would. Because the visible scars are superficial anyway.
Because the greatest pain doesn't leave a scar that you can see.
The walk to the diner is second nature now. In fact, I think I've done it in my sleep. The little bell rings as the door yields beneath my palm, the pattern of black and white tiles swimming before my bloodshot eyes. I put my hand on the counter to steady myself, my body weaker than it has ever been before, and I can't decide whether to be alarmed or relieved.
The joint where metal meets flesh twinges, phantom pain, a strange pressure, and then there are cool fingers against my wrist. I look up, everything a blur from the too-fast turning of my head, black and ivory and rose.
I imagine for an instant that it's Bella. That she's come to find me, and I feel love and need and shame. I want to reach for her, to touch her, to kiss and tell her that I'm sorry and to beg for her forgiveness. But I know there's no one who can forgive me but myself. I want to hide, to keep the shrunken skeleton that I have become, the ghost of who I was when she was in love with me, out of sight so maybe she can remember me the way I was.
The way I will never be again.
After a few steadying breaths, the world resolves again into recognizable patterns, Bella's face dissolving before my eyes. It takes three blinks to realize that it's really Alice in front of me, her look a more worried one than she has ever worn.
And even though I thought I had grown so immune to hurt from a year and half spent drowning in it, there's a pain in my chest when I realize I've made another woman frown with the way I've destroyed myself. With the way I've let myself be destroyed by everything that's happened to me.
She guides me gently to my usual table, and even though my heart is too proud for this, I let her. Because stumbling over my own feet wouldn't do much for my pointless pride now, either.
Alice lets go of my wrist once I am safely seated, her hand lingering for just a moment on my shoulder, her face still twisted into the saddest expression I can imagine as I start to tilt but catch myself on the table before I fall.
Then she does something she's never done before.
Sighing, she sits down across from me, her hand twitching across the table from me like she wants to touch me but doesn't know how to. And it's such a familiar expression that it's almost heartbreaking, my chest seizing all over again with a pain that has no name.
"I'm worried about you, Edward," she breathes, her high voice dull inside my ringing ears.
"Don't be," I slur, the world spinning again around me.
"You've never - you look - " she starts, but then hesitates. "You're a mess, Edward."
I laugh, a sound so unfamiliar and so foreign it's disorienting. And I wonder what it used to be like when I laughed freely. When I laughed into Bella's hair, holding her close as we touched and danced around our kitchen, thinking life would always be like that. Quiet moments of perfectly shared intimacy and love instead of absence and the ghosts of heartache.
"What did she bring today?"
Alice knows what I mean, but her face is reluctant. Like she wants real answers but doesn't know if it's her place to say anything.
"Cherry," she admits quietly, and I freeze.
"Fuck," I curse. "Why the fuck did she have to do that?"
My thumb is twitching already around my phone, the light pad of skin there making contact with the screen and scrolling to images of crimson and love.
I realize slowly that Alice is still sitting there staring at me, her eyes darting between me and the glowing screen of my phone.
"She asked about you the other day, you know."
My head jerks up and the world swims again, images of Bella and cherries and the way that they've been sullied, surprise and uncertainty and a longing I didn't know could possibly still be so strong.
"How did she - she knows? How?" I sputter, my mouth numb and fat and almost failing to form the words.
"Of course she knows," Alice says quietly and it's all I can do not to sob. "She misses you, you know."
I harden instantly against the lie I know I cannot hide behind.
I know that Alice is lying.
Because there's nothing left of me for Bella to miss.
"Can I have my pie now?" I ask, anguish dripping through garbled syllables that speak of everything I need and the only way that I can have it.
Alice's sad eyes linger over my bent posture, my missing hand and the circles under my eyes. And with a sigh she rises to bring me the only thing that still ties me to the woman that I love.
She returns moments later, my mind already lost in the slide show of photographs that remind me of Bella in cherry. My parched and aching eyes leak tears I didn't even know that I had left anymore, an unstoppable, slow stream of them over the hollowed cheeks I haven't shaved in a week.
Bella in scarlet, her body beautiful and ripe in swaths of satin. Bella and I, our bodies pressed together so tightly as our lips part to taste each other's warm wet skin. And the very image of it makes me cry again.
I cry because cherry always tasted like love before.
But now it's sullied by the salt of her tears.
Without even bothering to look up or to brush away the wetness from my own sad cheeks, I raise my fork, falling into memory and biting into the pie I buy from Alice that Bella used to make just for me.
The night I left was the last time Bella had baked for me. I'd let the tang of cherries, sweet and sour and ripe in the hollow of my mouth wash over me, tasting in them a new world of love for her and disgust for my own indolence, my useless, wasted life and the traitor that was my broken body. Fruit and crust had melded with bourbon, the low glow that I had come to depend on to help me forget all the things Bella had forgiven in me, but that she couldn't forgive forever. All the ways that I could no longer be the man she needed.
She sat across from me that night, her posture tense, her eyes hard, the disgusted expression on her face finally echoing everything I felt for myself.
"Edward," she said quietly, a simmering, near-silent anger as she stilled my good hand, stopping me from reaching to pour another glass of bourbon to help to take away my pain.
I scarcely registered it, that fucking claw closing coldly around her skin to pull her off of me, my numbing mind unwilling to hear her voice for what it really was.
For a plea.
"Don't you dare push me away," she screamed, her tiny wrist twisting, slipping between the angry talons of my missing fingers as she pushed her chair back and stood. Sniffling and trying to hide the way her eyes were set to brim, she turned away from me, the long curtain of her hair a wall between us.
When she spoke again, my body frozen against her anger; it was with a voice full of loss and frustration. Full of everything I couldn't be for her anymore. "I can't - I can't fucking do this, Edward." Turning back to me, her hands in fists at her side, her eyes were a flowing symphony of pain. "I won't watch you destroy yourself."
"You shouldn't have to," I mumbled quietly around my glass, my treacherous hand still clutching it, thinking another sip of numb was all I needed, when all I would ever need was the woman before me.
"Please, Edward. Please," she whispered, her features soft again as she sank into herself, her elbows on her knees before me as she rested her tiny head across my lap. I didn't touch her. Couldn't hold her. Didn't want to sully her with my touch when I was the source of all her pain.
She looked up at me, wide eyes searching for a hidden spark of who I'd been. Only I wasn't him anymore. There wasn't anything of me left to find.
"Please help me, Edward. Help me find you again. This - " she reached out to touch that wretched metal claw again, her fingers grasping the angry line where I ended and my loss began. "This is nothing. It's not who you are. You were more than this. More than a doctor. More than any of that bullshit they fed you."
Her hands closed around my face, rough stubble on such smooth skin as she held me to her, soft kisses I couldn't feel because I didn't want to. Because her love for me, broken and wasted as I was, was the only thing I wanted and the only thing that could destroy me, reducing me to ashes and dust.
"Please let me help you, Edward."
"I don't need fucking help," I cursed, my chest on fire with that stupid pride that would doom me every time to a life of loneliness with nothing but loss to save me. I pulled away, desperation in the face of her pity keeping me from the heaven of her embrace. My unwilling hand reached to refill my glass again, but she was faster than me, her own hand closing around the bottle and flinging it away, glass and booze and my only line to sanity pouring out across the floor.
And I lost it.
Worthless, hopeless wretch that I was, I became even more unworthy, more despicable in the face of her contempt for me and in the sight of the only comfort I had left, seeping, wasted, between cracked and dirty tiles.
If the sound of skin on skin, the sting in my palm and the angry red line across her cheek hadn't been enough to finally shatter me, the look on her face would have been. A look of so much sadness I could hardly take it in. So much pain and shock and the weight of wasted years of playing nursemaid to me. Wasted years spent loving me when there was nothing in me that was deserving of her love.
Horrified at what I had done, that I could possibly lash out in violence against the woman who had sacrificed so much for me, I staggered, falling backwards out of my chair to get away from the scene of the only crime I could never forgive.
She moved to block me as I raged up the stairs, knowing finally that I was the one who couldn't do this anymore. Couldn't hurt her in all the ways that I was bound to. Couldn't take her to the places I was going. Compounding my sins, I pushed her out of the way, needing air and space and release from my own personal hell, not standing still for long enough to watch her crumple to the ground.
I slammed and locked the door to our room, gathering what little I would need for how long I planned to need it. Her sobs on the other side of the wood just pushed me harder, knowing I couldn't let her live this life with me when she had so much left to do and be.
The vision of her beside the open front door as I walked away forever would haunt me until the end of my days.
My Bella, broken, her face swollen and tears in her eyes as she begged me to forgive her. Me. As if there was anything she could do that I wouldn't forgive.
"No, Bella," I swore, denying myself even the comfort of her kiss, the last kiss we would never have, as I pushed my way out the door. "I just hope someday that you can forgive me."
I took with me nothing but a week's worth of clothes and enough cash to keep myself in booze and a hotel room for long enough to die.
And my phone.
Her picture on a loop in peach and apple and cherry.
But cherry would never taste the same again to me.
I stop by the bar on my way home, needing to feel something and to not be completely alone, the bitter taste of cherries giving slowly to the burn of bourbon and rum.
A brunette with sad eyes keeps trying to catch my gaze as I pound down another shot. And for a moment, I wonder if I'm drunk enough to let my aching body pretend. To try to feel something good, warm and soft and flesh around my need and some release.
But I can't.
Because there's nothing but Bella for me.
And without my Bella there's nothing left of me.
When the anonymous brunette steps up to the bar beside me, long and sickly nails in a hard line against my thigh and a cloying sickly sweetness in my drowning lungs, I push her roughly, slurring out what I do not want only to feel those artificial talons slapping, a sting and a sharpness across my face.
"Fine, you one-handed freak," she spits, bubble gum lips moving in slow motion. And for all that she reminded me of everything I cannot have, there is absolutely nothing about her that is like the softness and the realness of my Bella as she stalks away.
I gulp down a half a dozen more glasses of amber-colored forgetfulness before the bartender tells me gently that it's time for me to go.
I walk out feeling nothing.
Not rejection or loss.
Not even the pavement beneath me.
The stairs to my hotel room loom higher and more impossible than ever before, each monstrous plateau more frightening and out of reach than the last. I take them slowly, so much sluggishness in limbs that won't quite move the way I tell them to.
Though my body being a stranger to my commands is nothing new.
The entire stairwell reeks of piss and sex and nothing like the floral perfect home of our stairs. Of her stairs, I remind myself. Of steady footfalls taking me closer to my Bella with every step.
I climb with a faintness of breath, swimming visions of slate and grey and concrete rising into impenetrable air, a sense of climbing and aching height and then of the stairs themselves rising up to meet my face. There's a strange sense of falling, panic and my limbs all flailing, the claw grasping in vain as spokes and railing slip uselessly through twisted metal teeth.
I hear the clatter and the crack before I feel the impact, my ass and head hitting hard on sharp corners and my foot crashing down on something that slides away as I drop down another step.
There's sick and warm and wet between my fingertips.
And then everything is black again.
I come to with a roar in my ears and lightning in my skull. The blood on my hand is dry and the air tastes of rust and pain. Still reeling, I try to sit, scratching with the claw for purchase on the painted metal railing without success. Waves of dizziness float by me, my stomach turning and there's vomit on the stairs. It must be mine.
Unsure whether it's night or day, spread out and wincing in the glare of an insistent fluorescent bulb, I reach for my phone and the world tilts a little further, my stomach and brain churning harder when my hand comes up empty.
I search blindly, sheer panic and images of my Bella in grey and steel flipping fast across my screaming mind, and I rise up more quickly than I would have thought I could, everything spinning even further out of focus and a rush of nausea and pain and the world falling away beneath my missing fingertips.
Everything shakes as I consciously fall down the last three steps to the landing, to shattered plastic and the image of my heel in a spiderweb of broken lines across the screen. Chanting no and please over and over again, I grasp the broken world that I have lost inside that monstrous claw, my thumb teasing buttons before I give in to smashing them. Smashing my already aching head against the wall and subsiding into quaking, tattered sobs like choking.
There's no flicker. No spark.
Every fucking thing I had left of her is gone.
And I'm still alive.
And I don't even have the will anymore to live long enough to die.
The key slips past the lock three times before my shaking hand finally makes the connection, bolts and tumblers clicking into place and the door closing behind me as I enter a room that feels more like a tomb.
I place my broken memory on the unmade bed, my body falling as I fold my arms protectively over the screen that still refuses to light. I know within my aching heart that it will never wake. That I will be trapped inside this dark and faceless place without even the image of her smiling eyes to keep me afloat.
My memories are gone and I'm still alive.
I stay there, crouched on knees digging deep into ancient, dusty carpet with my face buried in dirty sheets, a phantom feeling in my missing hand as I imagine it curling into a broken fist again and again. Time passes, that endless slipstream again, and it's all pain. Pain in my head and in my chest and in my gasping sigh. Pain in wracking sobs that sound like dying.
Only I know I'm still alive.
Because if I was dead, it wouldn't hurt so much.
I stumble to the bathroom eventually, my stomach still lurching and an icy throbbing in my skull. I pass rows of glittering bottles, amber and empty and some still half-full, but for once I do not pause for long enough to grab at one. My body collapses down onto cold tiles, everything retching, a need to push all of this out, all this want and hurt and anger and longing. Always longing. Longing I still can't seem to shake for the life I was supposed to have. Longing for the girl who made it the life I wanted anyway, this hopeless, lost existence receding for just a moment in memories of her warmth and her lips and her hair.
And it occurs to me only after my stomach empties itself again and again into dirty porcelain that the memories of my Bella in my head are not so static as they were on my phone. Not so still. Not so lost. In my mind she moves like the wind, her body soft and supple and there's the music of her laughter that makes my too-dry eyes water all over again. There are tears without sobs, sadness and a wish for something better instead of the violence of knowing that I let everything I ever had slip through my one good hand.
]I rise unsteadily, the flushing sound of my sick and my bile being washed away ringing out in a mere echo of the lingering roar inside my head, everything rushing and a threat of blackness washing over me again and stars. But I'm standing and I'm alive, water in my mouth and I drink it down. Over and over, the small reservoir of my single lonely palm cupping only a sip at a time and it is still some kind of sustenance to me.
And I try to remember the last time I drank anything except alcohol or coffee.
I try to think of the last time I ate anything but Bella's pie.
Rising, those stars and the fuzzy feeling of my head not quite being attached to my neck making me reel, I almost jump when I see a stranger before me. Realization dawning, yet more hopelessness in a world of lonely grey, I extend one twisted hand. Reaching, I touch my own unfeeling face as the stranger brushes a hand across the shallow outline of a cheek, jagged bones and ragged stubble. I gasp and wince and close my eyes against the shape of parched lips cracked with blood, hollow eyes and a twisted metal claw reaching subconsciously, unthinkingly, to fail to grab at too-long hair, the talons tangled in matted crimson, dried and aching.
Unthinking, unseeing, my chest expands and collapses and I'm not there. Just a ghost of a man who used to be someone. A man who was a husband and a lover and who saved lives. And I'm not him anymore and I'm still alive and I can't fight the rush of feeling and wanting. Those harder, rasping shakes set in again, deep sobs and everything I ever wanted still so far beyond my reach.
I open my eyes and when I take myself in again, I do not flinch. I just stare.
Unseeing, I stare at my reflection for hours, the air icy for the first time in weeks without the burn and the flush, my head pounding from more than just the impact with the stairs now and it's with a certain amount of horror that I realize that this is what being sober means. That I'm naked and without my internal armor, without anything to keep the lonely, freezing shakes away and there's horror at more than just my sobriety now.
There's horror at every. Fucking. Thing.
The mirror shattering reaches my numb, unhearing ears, a spiderweb trickle of blood and an endless repetition of the jagged corners of my face reflected in every glittering shard. And somehow, for being shattered I look more whole.
I collapse onto the disgusting bed, a smell of booze and vomit and piss and sweat and me, and I wonder if that's what I smell like. It should probably bother me, only it's exactly what I feel like.
And I'm still alive, my eyes closing.
I'm still alive, sleep washing over me in a way it hasn't in fucking years, an exhaustion like drowning.
And I idly wonder if my body will float, soulless, someday to the top.
I ride on waves of lucid dreaming, visions of chestnut hair and quiet laughter, delicate fingers wrapped in mine and shared breathing. Just breathing, so close to my Bella that I can taste her.
In my dreaming mind, I hear her voice telling me she loves me.
Telling me she forgives me.
The tears on my cheek are fresh when I open my eyes, so certain that she's here that I half anticipate the motion of her lips on mine, feel in a fevered blend of dream and memory her tiny hands on my face and I am reaching, always reaching and grasping at nothing.
The room is all sun and brightness, too much light that presses harshly against my eyes, so much pain in my head, and legs that buckle as I rise. There's nothing but shaking, a terrible wracking of my whole body in shivers and sweat, and I swear for a minute that I can fucking see her and she's calling to me and there's a sadness on her face that speaks of lonely miles.
But I can't touch her.
She's not there.
Through the shaking and the tremors I find myself at once nauseated and ... hungry. The memory of hunger and satiation is far away and close and my mind skips to the diner, to Alice's anxious eyes and how she'll be worried if she doesn't see me.
Only it's a hunger I haven't felt before. Not in years.
And I don't want Bella's pie served to me through an intermediary, no way left forward for me to lose myself in taste and vision and memory. Good memories.
Because all I have left is the pain.
I stumble twice, my feet traitors to me before I find myself under the hot water of the shower spray, blood and stench being washed away from me, alcohol in my pores and I can smell it in the rush of water swirling pink and filthy down the drain.
Naked in every way, clammy and freezing and trembling, I beat my head again against the realization that I'm still alive and I don't know how the fuck I ever ended up this way.
But it's the way I am.
And it's a sinking rising feeling, something dawning on my fuzzing mind, lucid and screaming, that I may be doomed to stay that way.
And all at once I understand that if I have to live, I can't live this way.
Curled into myself on the floor, cold and tired even though I've done nothing but sleep, I hold myself tight against the shaking and the things moving through my vision and I can't even tell if they're real. The sun sets and there's no difference between the blackness swimming over my closed eyes and my open ones, everything obscured and so much distance between the world and my lie and I can't live this life.
It's the longest motion my body has ever made. One stretching push, something straining between my shoulder blade and my rib. Metal connects with plastic.
And somehow, some way, I flip the swtich.
And there's light.
I don't worry about my clothes, ruined and reeking as most of them are. My mind, still shaky and still making barely glancing touches with what is real and what is imagined, acknowledges that there are more of them than I remember starting with, but I can't close the loop to make that thought make sense. They lie in dirty, crumpled balls, strange shifting shapes of a missing man.
The single, lonely suitcase is upturned and vomiting things I don't need and I grab the bottles as I go. There are so many of them, their tales of a madman and of loneliness spelled out in tattered labels and inches of abandoned, stagnant booze. Blinking hard against the phantom visions that refuse not to come every time I open my eyes, I try to focus on the task at hand, leaving the empty bottles, knowing the past is dead and gone and gathering up the ones that still have some stories to tell. Overflowing, the suitcase refuses to zip but I tug at it, grunting and swearing all the time and somehow I am clothed, the door opening before me and a dusty hallway stretching out into nowhere.
And that's where I'm going.
It's the longest trek of my life, stopping constantly, so much weakness and there's still this fucking shaking, Bella and life and I can see the image of my hand the way it used to be superimposed over metal. Flesh gripping at the too-thin strap as I drag the suitcase numbly, ripping and friction against asphalt and it's all I can do to hope it holds.
I give up three times, a collapsed huddled mass by the side of the road and my hand and spine and neck trembling and I'm cold. So cold.
But I can't live this life and I'm on my feet once again.
And then I'm crying, stumbling to my knees on a lawn that smells like girl and honeysuckle and cream, my head in my hand and metal tearing at my scalp, the same gesture of fear and frustration I used to have, only without the fingers that used to pull at my impossible hair.
The zipper almost breaks I'm pulling at it so hard, needing to get the thing open and then I'm doing it. What I once slapped the only woman I ever loved for doing. There are glass necks, cold and slipping in my hand that won't stop shaking and there's glass everywhere, whiskey and rum in the fabric of my ruined jeans, my tears and my pain watering the grass.
And I absently wonder what flowers will grow of this scorched and burning earth.
I crash the bottles one by one, the tips of the claw raking at shards and playing in blood and alcohol as I smash them all. Every fucking one in a silent, roaring scream and it's all flowing away from me, my darkness adding to the night and I'm all wrapped up in them both, unable to break free.
Until there's light.
I can barely see for the tears and I don't know if it's another hallucination, delirium tremens and my body needing the wasted booze and my mind not caring. But I see her. She's framed in the door, long hair and her face as pale as the missing moon in a soft kind of amber light spilling out across our porch.
And she's still the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Even if she's only in my memory.
She's close, so fucking close, and I can hear her voice again but I can't even hope it might be real. She's there, her scent and that sweetness, and I don't want her kneeling with me in this mess - this devastated landscape of broken bottles that crack like bones. I can almost feel her hands on my shoulders, her lips so fucking close as her forehead comes to rest on mine.
I'm reaching. One more time I'm reaching.
And finally my hand connects with sweet soft flesh.
"Bella," I shudder, and it's all I can do to repeat her name again and again and again in continuous sobs, dimming down to a gentle rain that slides over my face like relief and the final end of pain.
My eyes open and she's still there, her hand in mine and she's so fucking beautiful and it's all a desperate plea.
"Help me, Bella. Please help me."
The silence is all around me, tears still dripping and I think they're hers and mine as one, one shared shame and grief and I want it to be relief. There's tension in her silence, my body steeled to fall and to be left alone, so much she could never possibly forgive, and it's as if my body is rending, still shaking and torn along invisible seams, the stitches giving as I feel her pull away.
I am ready to collapse back in on myself, to find some new way to die and silence all the pain in the wake of her mute rejection, her turning away.
Only as she's turning, it's with her hand closing softly around mine.
And the sight of our whole fingers intertwined, blurry as it may be through so many tears, is a new day for me, something bright and warm in a night when I thought I might finally die alone.
There's pavement beneath my feet, a shuffling up a walk overgrown with weeds, the path to our home and her heart so obstructed with lack of care. With abandonment. And I shudder to know I left her so.
I'm still shaking, my eyes blinded by light and she's kneeling before me, my boots giving way beneath delicate hands as I lean my cheek into the cool plaster of the wall to keep from falling as I lift one foot and then the other. There's a tinkling of glass and tile as she brushes the shards from where they have stuck to my knees and I don't want her lower than me when it's me who should be groveling. But I'm at her mercy.
The too-bright glow grows and recedes and it's too much, so much stimulation and my senses too broken from years of numb. There's a floral perfect home and a shaking stumbling motion up stairs, my body only failing to fall because it's her arm wrapped softly around my waist.
And it even fucking smells like home.
I open my eyes and I'm in our kitchen, sensation still overwhelming me and she's letting me go, easing my body into the same chair I sat in so many weeks ago when I threw everything away. The head of the table. And I'm crying again to know that that's a seat that's still open for me.
Every step of her body away from mine is one too many and the gathering weakness in all my imperfect limbs is threatening to break me, not enough of anything left in me and this wasn't where I was planning to die.
But it smells like home.
The world is gauzy, a broken vision as my eyes turn, dry and pained and she's there. The fucking vision of my dreams, bent over an oven and there's a pale creaminess to her thighs, a sweetness in tiny arms that disappear into fuzzy red mitts. And she's turning. And she's crying and smiling, and even though my face barely remembers how to, so am I.
She sets the plate down in front of me and I breathe it in, every last ounce of will and fight evaporating and I'm giving in. And I don't mind. I stare at it, unmoving, feeling her eyes on me and I know she's expecting something. But I don't know what.
Sad, empty eyes meet mine, that same pale face looking at me with so much worry and fear and yet … relief. I want to whisper her name again, only my lips are parched and don't know how to speak.
I watch numbly then as she takes the fork from where she placed it near my still-whole hand, grasping it gently, and she slices softly into flaking pastry, warm fruit, a scent assailing me that would bring me to my knees.
She holds it out for me, the fork just inches from my mouth and for the first time I dare to touch her. And she's real. My fingers wrap around her wrist, the bones tinier than I remember and I can't tell if she's shaking, too, or if it's still just me.
"You baked for me?" My voice is a croak, a broken line and I barely recognize it.
Her eyes are swimming and we're crying as she's nodding. "Every day, Edward."
She prods my tired lips, pushing against my grip, my hand relaxing just to feel her skin.
There's apple and warm and my eyes rolling back in my head. She places the edge of a glass at my lips and I drink deeply, cold and white. It's not mother's milk but it heals me all the same. For long moments, she simply feeds me, and I take it all in and it sustains me, a certain kind of strength and in bones that haven't known anything but weakness in so long. There's still shaking, but it's less now, and I'm increasingly certain that this is reality and not the delirium talking, showing me the things I need to see.
But I'm seeing them all the same.
She places the fork down quietly, her tiny fingertips entwining themselves with mine to lift me until I am standing. There's moving and I'm in a place so warm I can hardly stand it, my world quaking and going to pieces, but I know there needs to be breaking so she can put me back together again.
My Bella silently undresses me until I am all but bare, but there's nothing to hide myself behind now anyhow. So gently, she lays me down in the drowning softness of her bed, and there's a foreign sensation that tastes like hope in the back of my head - a thought that maybe it still might be our bed.
She shuts the lights off one by one, a rustling of sheets and it's all I can do to keep it together when the heat of her body envelops me, my Bella beside me. Still unsure if this is real, I grasp her face in both my whole hand and my missing one, and she doesn't wince at the metal chill. She's so close to me, so close I can feel her breathe.
And there's nothing but pure joy, an impossible perfection from my lips to my fingertips and my feet as softly, so softly, she kisses me. I know there's more for us to talk about, so much I need to rebuild. But in a strange and shivering instant, I feel whole again, her mouth wet and her tongue silently speaking to me.
Kissing me, she tastes like apples and flour.
She tastes like love.
She tastes like home.
Author's Note: Delirium Tremens is a severe state of alcohol withdrawal, characterized by uncontrollable tremors, confusion and even hallucinations. It is found only in people with a history of chronic alcohol abuse. Unlike most forms of substance withdrawal, it can be fatal, which Edward, as a doctor, will know, and they'll get his shaking ass to a hospital just as soon as they finish making up, I promise. If you'd like more info, I suggest you follow fuckward's advice from WA and wiki that shit.
While I cannot speak of substance withdrawal from personal experience, I can speak of review withdrawal. Pretty pretty please let me know what you think. Thanks!