This story was originally written for the Fics for Nashville compilation. To all those that donated or contributed, thank you again. It parallels the end of the story told by Edward in Chapter 7.
My thanks to mycrookedsmile, 3wolveshirt, and InstantKarmaGirl for assuring me I wasn't crazy, and to averysubtlegift for her beta magic. But most of all, my thanks to all of you for your generosity toward those affected by the flooding in Tennessee. You humble me.
Twilight and and all characters contained therein belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement intended.
Too Far From Home
I've heard it said that your life passes before your eyes in the minutes just before you die. That you see your childhood, your folks, your brothers and sisters, every happy memory you ever had before the end comes to take you.
I'm here to tell you, that's a load of cockamamie nonsense.
From the second that damn ball came flying out of that damned Reb's damned gun and buried itself in my guts, all I could think about was the pain.
When I sunk to my knees in surprise, I didn't see my mama's face as she smiled at me when I was a little boy. When I slumped to the ground, huddled with my knees pulled up, I didn't see my pa's approving smile the first time I managed to drive a wagon straight enough to keep it on the road. And when I clawed at my innards, trying to hold them inside my stomach, I didn't see a damn thing but black and red spots in front of my eyes.
But when that damn Reb skittered up alongside me, I could see every line on his face. I could see tears unshed in his eyes and so much pain in the creases of his forehead I almost wondered if I'd hit him too on my way down.
And so, for some damn reason, I cracked a joke. I cracked a joke because one of us would live through this day, and I'd liked this man in spite of the color of his coat. So when he apologized, begging me for mercy even as I wanted to beg him for some of my own, I mustered every ounce of compassion I had. I knew if I didn't absolve him here and now, I'd have this man's blood on my own cold, dead hands, for he'd go and do some fool thing and give up before he even had a chance to have half the life I'd had before I left.
And in that moment of kindness, my life crashed in on me.
She was my moment, the life I'd looked for to fly before my eyes. I saw her when we were children sneaking into the orchards before the harvest and eating so much fruit we were ill, but we couldn't help ourselves. Juice had leaked down our chins and onto her dress and my shirt until they were stiff and sticky, and we'd giggled all the way home even as we held our full bellies and moaned.
I saw her smile shyly before the first time I'd kissed her, and again the first night we shared a bed. Her anger for some fool thing I'd done dissolving into mirth when I'd chased her around the parlor on my knees, clutching at her skirts like a child and begging forgiveness even as I was unable to keep the laughter from my own lips.
I saw the curve of her belly, the swell of her breasts, the flush that began in her face and ran down her neck, between her breasts, and across her belly at my touch.
And I saw her face the morning I'd packed my things and left. I saw that face most of all, awash with tears and full of pain and worry and sadness. But most of all, full of abandonment and betrayal, because I was leaving her.
And leave her I had, out of some misplaced sense of duty that had done nothing but rip us apart forever.
I looked up into the teary face of this man I might have called friend, and I saw the same look, and in that moment I knew as clear as day what I had to do.
I scrabbled with fingers already stiff from the effort of clutching at my guts and reached for the hidden pocket inside my coat. I felt a wave of blood gush from my wound and knew I wasn't long for this world. Shaky fingers clasped around the warm metal oval, and I drew a ragged breath.
"You remember what I said, Johnny, 'bout my wife?"
He looked at me, eyes wide, and nodded.
I took another breath, one of my very last I thought, and conjured every picture of Bella I'd ever put to memory. I begged him to find her, to tell her how I loved her right up until the end. I pushed on as his face contorted in a masque that I felt certain mirrored mine, the pain in his heart matching the one in my gut.
I felt myself growing cold, the shaking in my fingers turning into shivers so violent they racked my body and left me wanting to whimper, to moan, to cry out, but I bit back the pain for the most important part.
I ordered him not to tell her he'd done it. In my addled, blood-starved brain, they were maybe the only hope the other one had in all the world. He mustn't spoil it by telling her. He had to find her and bring her peace, not pain.
I saw his features relax minutely, finally accepting my absolution as he promised to do as I bade.
He thanked me without words, reaching up to brush the hair from my sweat-slicked forehead. I welcomed the gesture for what it was: the last bit of comfort I would receive on this earth.
I tried to tell him her name, how to find her, where to look. I was too far from home to make it back to her, but I tried so hard to tell him how to do it for me. I tried to tell him how I'd have been proud to be his friend, to know him if this damned war had never started, but the words wouldn't come through the shivers, and the blackness began to take over.
The last thing I felt was that hand, gently stroking my forehead, reassuring me that somehow all would be well.
And in that last second, the last thing I saw was my life before my eyes.