A/N: Thank you so much to my amazing beta, Bethaboo, and Sleepyvalentina for pre-reading. You both provide so much support and advice, and I don't know what I'd do without you. Seriously.
Thank you to everyone who is reading. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your feedback and support.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. I don't own Legends of the Fall. You should really know that by now.
Edward and Bella sat in their car at the end of the ranch's long driveway.
"Are you certain this is what you want, Bella?"
She shut her eyes, willing herself not to snap at him in response. Even after their fight on Wednesday, she knew he didn't believe her words. She continued to remind herself that he only had her best interests at heart—it was unfortunate that all she wanted was for him to have his own.
"Yes, this is what I want. I love you. I choose you. This is the right decision for all of us, even Carlisle." She took his hand in hers, and looked into his eyes. "Trust me, Edward. Please."
He took a deep breath and nodded. "I do." Their situation was impossible, but he had never once believed that she would choose him over Carlisle if given the chance. Now that she was doing exactly that, he found it difficult to wrap his mind around. Instead of arguing further, he decided to have a little faith in her, and started down the long, dirt driveway.
Carlisle was waiting on the front porch, and Bella's eyes slipped shut against the image. It was everything she had dreamed of for so many years, but she couldn't look past the horrific reality that marred the moment. He wasn't her husband—not really. Her husband would have remembered the words that bound them together. Her husband would have recalled how perfect that day in the Public Gardens had been when he proposed to her. Her husband would never forget the feel of her skin as they made love.
Carlisle had forgotten all of these things. Edward remembered every moment they shared since the moment she stepped off the train in Glasgow. Edward knew her well enough to understand why she wore Carlisle's engagement ring and necklace. He knew that giving her earrings to honor her love for her lost husband that included a reminder of him would mean more than any other gift. He knew when she was upset, and when she was happy. His arms made her feel safe and loved.
She ignored the voice that reminded her that his lack of memory wasn't Carlisle's fault. She was making the right choice, and she knew that, given time, Carlisle would come to see that. She just didn't know how to tell the man wearing Carlisle's face that she could not be with him.
Steeling herself against her nerves, she took a deep breath, and opened the car door. Carlisle's smile was large, and she could see the relief that colored his features. She couldn't imagine why he would ever have doubted that she would return, but it was clear that he had.
"You came back," he said, drawing her into his arms and burying his face in her neck.
"Of course I came back, Carlisle. I promised you that I would."
"I know. I knew you would keep that promise, but I…I just feel a bit lost at the moment, and had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm glad to learn I was worrying for nothing."
She didn't want to have this discussion with him yet, so she remained quiet. Seeming to sense her discomfort, Edward made his presence known, and moved to embrace his brother. Though he was still uncertain how this situation could possibly be resolved favorably for all parties involved, he had missed his brother every day. Carlisle had always been the best of them, and even without his memory, Edward knew that he always would be.
Carlisle greeted him warmly. After his discussion with Charlie, he had made a concerted effort to show his father that he was grateful for the opportunity to get to know him again. When Charlie was noticeably happy at his attention, he realized that he had been remiss in his distance. He had been so disheartened by the way Bella reacted to his return that he forgot that his other family members had missed him greatly. Charlie had agonized over Carlisle's "death," and to see him again was truly more than he could ever have hoped for.
Edward kept his arm around Carlisle's shoulder as they went into the house. After noticing Carlisle's limp, Edward asked about the injury. He had been so fortunate that Carlisle was so skilled a surgeon that he hadn't been left with a limp, and Edward was truly saddened that Carlisle himself had not been so fortunate. Old sentiments of guilt surfaced in Edward; he was the one who had wanted to prove himself in battle, and Carlisle was the one who had suffered. While Edward was grateful that he had not, in fact, been killed, he lamented that in many ways, Carlisle had still lost his life.
They joined Charlie in the sitting room, where they proceeded to tell one another about their weeks. Edward had explained that he had told the men trying to convince him to run for congress that he was not interested—that he wanted to focus on his family. While he had initially been convinced by Bella's desire to start a family and be able to devote more time and attention to a future child, he now knew that both Carlisle and Bella would need his support in the coming weeks and months.
They all enjoyed dinner together, and the surreality of the moment was not lost on Bella, Edward, or Charlie. Only Carlisle could not fully appreciate how wonderful and strange it was to have dinner as a family again, and how odd to have Edward be the one at Bella's side. Carlisle described his life in the German camp as they ate, and everyone was struck by how positively he had viewed the Germans. He considered them friends, and frequently credited them with saving his life. They had given him an opportunity to do what he had intended to do in the war: save lives.
Charlie had seen a very different side of war against the natives—where the side he fought for was clearly in the wrong. To help the native inhabitants seemed like the more honorable course. Listening to his experiences provided Bella with a glimpse of the man she had married. She had been viewing him like a stranger; his flesh was the only familiar aspect to the man she once knew. Now, she had to admit that helping others, no matter what they had done, was something her Carlisle would have done.
Edward, however, was angry that Carlisle would have saved the lives of those responsible for taking lives of innocent and defenseless people. He didn't understand how Carlisle could have betrayed the allies. Didn't he know the destruction that the Germans caused? Didn't he realize how their cruelty had taken so much away from everyone—from Bella? He realized with a start that he had been so angry with the actions of the German army because he blamed them for Carlisle's death, which, in turn, caused Bella years of anguish. Hearing that they had actually saved Carlisle, and treated him well, sent him reeling. He bit back the angry comment in his mind, and realized that perhaps it was time for him to push old prejudices aside.
Once they had finished dinner, Carlisle asked to speak with Bella in private.
Carlisle shut his door once they reached his bedroom. Bella was grateful they had not met in her room—ever since they first arrived in the ranch in 1914, they had rarely spent time in Carlisle's room. She took a deep breath, knowing that she had to tell him about her decision. As she opened her mouth, he raised his hand to stop her speech.
"Please let me speak first? I feel I must explain something to you. Is that alright?"
She released her breath and nodded. "That's fine. Go ahead," she said, and waved her on slightly.
"I need you to know that everything I have done has been in an effort to come home to you. In the beginning, I rationalized this as thinking that finding my way back to you would allow me to find my family. As I read your diary, I found myself fascinated with the way you thought, the way you reacted to certain situations. Your capacity to love despite the loss you've experienced is astounding. You're so strong, and so passionate. I may not have actually remembered our past, but I know that I love you. You're intelligent, kind, compassionate, and honest. Every word I read pulled me back home, towards you. I was desperate to know you again, to love you again. I'm glad to have found my family, but Bella, you are my family. You're my passion, my North Star, and my wife. To have finally found my way back to you means everything to me."
"I'm glad you've found your way back to us, Carlisle. Your family and I have missed you so much." She drew a deep breath and held it inside as her eyes sought purchase on the ceiling. He sounded so much like her Carlisle in that moment, yet she knew that he wasn't; he couldn't be. "I hope you know that I'll always be here for you as your friend. I want to be part of your life…but I don't think it can be as your wife. I'm not the same girl you married, and you're not the man you were. I made vows to Edward—vows we both remember, and too much has changed between you and I to think that we could do anything besides hurt one another."
Carlisle felt as if the world around him was melting through the floorboards. He grasped onto the arms of the chair he sat in, hoping he could stop its seemingly rapid descent into oblivion. "Please, don't say that. Every action I can remember taking has been done so I could finally come home to you. You've been my focus –my purpose–for so long, I don't know how else I can live my life. How am I supposed to live in a world when I can't be with you, Bella? How can you ask me to?"
She saw the pain swimming in Carlisle's eyes, and couldn't prevent tears from falling from her own. "I'm not saying that I won't be part of your life; I just can't be the only part in it."
"You're also saying that I can never know what it's like to have you in my arms. You have those memories, Bella. I never will. I'll never know what it's like to make love to the woman I'm in love with. What you're asking is impossible. I don't understand how you can ask me to let you go when I just found you."
"It's not impossible, Carlisle. I've done it! You don't think I know exactly how it feels to lose the most important thing in your life? You're losing a past you never knew. I lost my entire future when you died!"
The words escaped her before she had thought them through. The silence permeating the room was stifling. They each stood stock still, staring at one another, as if either of them could simply vanish into the air around them. A single sob tore through Bella's chest before she spoke again.
"I lost everything, Carlisle. I didn't have any family left, except for yours. I didn't know where to go, what to do, how to survive each day without you. I had nothing, except this hole within my heart. It was like a loose thread in a shirt that keeps getting caught on everything you pass, until all you're left with is a rag that no longer resembles what it used to be. I didn't even know which was worse: when I was in agony with grief, or when I became simply numb.
"I was so completely lost. It was Edward who finally managed to show me that I was even capable of short moments of happiness. Even that wasn't enough. You have no idea the things I've done, Carlisle. I've made mistakes that I don't know I can ever make amends for. Edward told me he loved me, and I didn't even have the decency to acknowledge his words. I just slept with his brother instead." She was so consumed in her own words, she missed Carlisle's wince at the information.
"Seeking physical comfort with someone isn't a terrible thing, Bella."
"It is when you know that your actions could hurt someone you care about."
"Then I am just as guilty as you," he admitted softly. She narrowed her eyes onto his face, before they widened slightly in question. Even if she couldn't be with him, the thought of him being with anyone else sent ice through her veins. He nodded in confirmation. "Her name was Heidi. She was a nurse in the German camp with me. She was a good friend for a long time, but it turned into something more after a while. It's no excuse, but I needed to feel close to someone. You were like a fairytale to me—something beautiful and magical that I could never have. We had a physical relationship, and we made love once before I was turned over to the Canadian government. She wanted to come with me, but while I loved her, I was in love with you."
Bella was breathing rapidly, as if more air would help the weight constricting her heart. She had no right to be angry with him for finding happiness –however fleeting it may have been–with someone else, when she herself had done the same. Still, she couldn't escape the knowledge that while she believed him dead, he had known she was alive; she had still felt guilty for betraying vows she thought were nullified, while Carlisle had broken his willingly.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," Carlisle said softly. He saw her distress, and, for the first time, finally understood how horribly he had disrespected the woman he claimed to love. Perhaps she was right to reject him.
"I can't condemn you for things I did to myself. It's not the point, in any case. Being with Jasper made me realize that I had lost my way. I wouldn't have been capable of a true relationship with anyone at that time, because I was so consumed by my grief and loss that I forgot what I had wanted for my future. You and I had always planned on doing so much. You were going to be a doctor, and I was going to be a teacher. If I couldn't stand on my own and make a future for myself, what good was I to anyone?
"It wasn't until I stopped living for what I had lost, and started living for myself that I truly became happy again. I made new friends, had a good career, and a family –your family- who loved me. When I saw Edward once again, we fell into a relationship easily. He's a good man, and once he found some purpose for his life, it was easy to fall in love with him. It wasn't planned, but he's helped me through so much—we've helped each other through so much. I truly do love him, Carlisle, and I can't hurt him like that. He doesn't deserve that."
"Yet you can hurt me? Did you stop loving me?"
"Of course I haven't stopped loving you. I will always love you…but I don't know you anymore."
"How are you so sure I'm not the same—you've spent so little time with me since I came back! Every choice I made, I asked myself if it fit with your descriptions of me. I have put forth every effort to ensure that I was still the man you described falling in love with. Don't you see? I have to be who you remember, because I'm nothing but who you said I was."
"That's exactly the point. You've been trying to be a man you think you should be instead of allowing yourself to trust your instincts. I can't know who you'd really be because you don't know who you really are."
"Then, tell me Bella. Tell me what am I supposed to do?" Carlisle yelled at her.
"Life doesn't come with instructions. Live the life you want to live, how you feel you should."
"I feel that I am in love with you. I don't want to live without you."
"I never said I wouldn't be in your life; I simply can't be your wife."
He hung his head, and rubbed the heel of his palm against his forehead—a gesture the Carlisle Bella had married used to perform habitually when he was extremely upset. She heard a quiet sniff from him and knew that he was crying, as well. She questioned her next action, but knew that she had to fulfill this promise.
"These are my journals," she told him, drawing a small stack of leather-bound notebooks from her satchel, and handing them to him. "When you went to war, I promised you that I would write to you every day until you returned. Even when they told me you were dead, I kept writing in them. I had to. It wasn't until the day I married Edward that I stopped. I couldn't put you first in my heart, pretending you'd come back to me, when I promised to love him and honor him. I'm sorry I broke that promise by stopping, but I thought I had to.
"They're yours. You can keep them, read them, use them as decorations, or burn them. They belong to you. I always liked to imagine that you could somehow hear my words, wherever you were—I guess there's a long delay before delivery." Bella smiled sadly at him, and leaned forward to kiss his temple. "I will always be here for you, Carlisle. Always. I hope we can be friends, but you will always be my family."
Bella let her lips linger against his temple once again as he continued to cry. "I love you, Bella."
She shut her eyes tightly before she stepped away and out of the room. She shut the door behind her, and whispered, "I love you, too," into the air. He wouldn't have heard her, but she hoped he knew, nonetheless.
After Bella left Carlisle's room, she immediately sought Edward in their room. When he wasn't there, she crept down the stairs until she found him, sitting and talking quietly with Charlie. As soon as he saw her face, he said goodnight to his father, and crossed the room to take her in his arms. He carefully picked her up, one arm around her shoulders, and the other beneath her knees, as she buried her face into his chest and cried. Once they were in their room, he lay her gently on the bed, and stroked her hair.
It was several long minutes before her tears slowed, and he could ask her about what happened. She told him of her conversation with Carlisle—about how he didn't want to let her go, but she knew it was for the best. She told Edward how she no longer knew Carlisle, and that he wasn't the same man. After two lengthy conversations with Carlisle himself, Edward knew that Bella was in for a rude awakening in the near future. Though he may no have any memories of his life before the war, he clearly was a man with a generous heart, and passionate emotions; in short, he was the same Carlisle he had always been.
Edward didn't know what that would mean for their future. Bella had convinced herself that the man with Carlisle's face was a stranger, and Edward was afraid of the consequences this would incur when she realized he was the same. For all Bella had convinced herself that the man whose heart she had just broken was not the man she married, she wept for the man who wore his face. He had been so convinced that merely returning would solve his problems, but she knew that his troubles were only beginning. She couldn't consider what would happen if Carlisle were to regain his memories.
She didn't know if it was possible for the two of them to ever be close once again. Though she had loved Carlisle's heart and mind, she couldn't deny how physically drawn she had always been to him. It was a desire more powerful than she had felt with Edward…even more powerful than the lust she felt with Jasper. The knowledge made her desperate. She needed to be reminded that even though he had her husband's face, he was not her husband.
No, the man holding her as she wept once again for her past was the man she married. She kissed the skin of his neck in appreciation, delighting in his sharp intake of breath. Though he could taste her tears when he kissed her, Edward was grateful for the whispered reminders of her love. As they came together quietly, reverently, he knew that it would not be the last time they made love.
He knew that it would not be the last time he held her as she cried over Carlisle, either.
Carlisle was lost and broken after Bella left his room. Mercifully, he was unaware of her actions with his brother. He knew that she had loved the Carlisle she married, but he was now uncertain as to who that man was. Wouldn't she have seen it had he been the same? He couldn't imagine the author of that journal ever being unable to recognize the man she seemed to know and love so well. How was he different? The problem was, hearing the stories that Charlie, Edward, and Bella shared were like hearing amusing anecdotes shared by close friends. You can imagine yourself in the situation only to a point, but don't know for certain if the reactions fit your instinct.
He considered Bella's words. Was she right? Had he been so concerned with being the Carlisle she described –the Carlisle he assumed he had been- that he had changed? Certainly, he had thought about her characterization of him before he acted, but he couldn't recall a time in which he felt he had acted incorrectly.
What he knew was that he felt as if his entire future was vanishing before his eyes. In that respect, she was right. Despite the cruel ache in his heart, he knew himself guilty of her accusations. He had been living for her—every step he made was an effort to find his way to her. He had achieved his goal, and he wondered if his new goal should simply include an adjustment. She had been in his dreams for years, both innocently and less innocently. He couldn't deny that she was the embodiment of his ideal woman, and that he wanted to feel her in his arms; it was time he realized that some dreams weren't meant to be realized.
She was willing to be his friend. He wouldn't press her to change her mind, as it would only cause her more pain. He was, however a doctor, and it was time that he put his knowledge and skills to work. He needed to work in a proper hospital, where a surgeon's skills would be required. The best hospital in the area was in Helena, and he decided to take her advice. He was going to do what made himself happy, and live his life as he wanted to.
In Helena, he would be able to be close to Bella, and at least be her friend. He would also be close to Edward, and could visit his father every other weekend. It was not the life he envisioned upon his return home, but it was as close as he would be able to achieve. It would break his heart to see his wife in the arms of another man, but it would be a much worse fate to not have her in his life. He would begin arrangements to move to Helena within the week.
The next time Edward and Bella returned to the ranch, they left it with Carlisle in their car as they helped him begin his knew life.
A/N: Next update on Monday. It might be slightly late, because these chapters have been tough for me, but I'm hoping to get it up on time. We're nearing the last few chapters.