~Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda~

"How does it feel now, Bella?" Carlisle asked as he put the last bit of tape on the gauze around Bella's arm. It had taken twenty-two stitches to close the gash that Victoria had rent in her flesh.

"It's better, Carlisle, thank you." She stiffly slid off the counter where Carlisle had sat her to sew her arm up. He helped her to get stable before stepping back to wash his hands.

"You're going to have bruises where Jasper caught you, you know. You should take a Jacuzzi bath in mine and Esme's room later. I have some Epsom salts that you can add to the water. That will help somewhat. You'll just have to keep this bandage dry. I have something to help you sleep too. It will help with the pain from the wound. I'll be sure to give it to you every four hours." He dried off his hands and she waited to walk back into the living room, where the rest of the family waited for them. Bella had been calm while he worked over her, but now he could hear her heart rate begin to spike. Slipping his arm around her shoulders he whispered quietly in her ear, "Remember those new facts you found out. Hold onto that."

With a nod, Bella allowed him to lead her into the brightly lit room. Edward was standing at the floor length window, looking out. She let her eyes travel across his shoulders briefly. He had changed into clean clothes. Jasper came to greet her and she wrapped her good arm around his waist. "I can't thank you enough for catching me, Jasper."

"Of course I had to catch you. Alice would never have forgiven me if I'd let her BFF crash to the ground." Holding her close, he led her to the loveseat where Alice was sitting. She moved over and Bella sat carefully down beside her. She was beginning to get stiff.

"Here, let me put my hand on your waist…the coolness is almost as good as an ice bag." Bella chuckled quietly and allowed Alice's hand to rest against the hand shaped bruise that was coloring quite nicely.

"Okay, we're all here. Now tell me what happened after I passed out after Jasper caught me. I really wish I could get past that blood thing." She glanced again at Edward's back. He hadn't moved except to square his shoulders when she walked into the room.

Emmett leaped to his feet, anxious to fill her in on the fight. "Well, we came around the corner and didn't really need the Pixie's warning of blood. We could all smell it on the air. Eddie there is right; your blood does smell good." A low growl came from the direction of the window and Emmett smiled at Bella, winking.

"Victoria thought that by making you bleed and throwing you toward Jasper that a feeding frenzy would break out. She was wrong." Emmett walked to Jasper and pounded him on the back. "This guy caught you as gently as he could, handed you off to Rosalie who put her hand on the gash to stop the bleeding and beat feet back here to the house so that Carlisle could fix you up."

Bella stopped his recitation to smile thankfully at Rosalie, who grinned back at her. "Hey, I've finally got you trained, just like she said; you don't talk when I'm working on the cars."

Shaking her head at Rose's comment, she asked, "What happened to Victoria? Has she moved on? Do I still need to worry about her coming back?" Bella's anxiety levels caused Jasper to send her some calming waves while he motioned for Emmett to get on with it.

"It was great, Bella! You should have seen Eddie boy…he and Victoria were practically dancing back and forth while the rest of us circled around so that she couldn't get away. She really wanted to follow you and Rosie, but she couldn't get around us. Edward kept taunting her with the stuff that Alice had told her. She finally couldn't stand it anymore and leaped at him. He had her pinned in a nanosecond and when I was going to rip her head off, Alice stopped me." He waved at Alice and she took the story up after wrapping her arm around Bella's shoulders.

"It only seemed right to me that I should be the one to end her. You're my best friend and she hurt you. She never would have given up and she would have hurt Charlie too. That was one decision that she had made and I saw it. I ended her and Emmett got the fire going." Turning to look into Bella's eyes, she finished, "She'll never hurt you again. You're safe now."

A harrumph came from the window and a feeling of anger filled Bella's chest. She had been so happy to see him, to remember the love she had for him, but it seemed that he didn't feel the same.

"Do you have something to add to this discussion, Edward?" Bella asked. Everyone in the room could hear the anger in her tone.

Never one to leave well enough alone, Emmett offered, "Want me to get that baseball bat, Bella?"

Esme shushed him as she moved to stand next to her bronze haired son. "What did I say about hitting, Emmett?" He was cowed by her look and Jasper felt satisfaction coming from Edward at Esme's rebuke. That satisfaction was knocked aside by shock when Esme's hand snapped up and smacked Edward on the back of his head. The sound reverberated through the room.

"Well, Mom, you said you'd smack him yourself and then hug him." Emmett was laughing as Edward turned to look down in shocked dismay at the woman beside him. Her arms came around his waist and after a moment he hugged her back. His eyes finally rested on Bella where she sat glaring at him.

Getting slowly to her feet, she approached mother and son. Esme kissed him on his cheek as she left him to his fate. "Just remember, you brought this on yourself," were her quiet words.

Looking like a deer caught in headlights, Edward watched his mate approach. There was no doubt in his mind that she was his mate. The strength of the pull that he had felt the closer he got to Forks told him that. Bella's eyes were blazing when she finally stopped inches away from him. A small part of his brain told him that she had never looked more beautiful. Another section was very aware of the fact that she was angrier than he had ever imagined that she could be. The exquisite burn in his throat was welcome; it meant that she was close enough to touch. He wanted to touch her, to hold her and to never let her go. But surely he had lost that right when he had lied to her all those months ago.

Trying to hide from the look in her eyes, Edward's gaze darted around the room. His roving attention was caught when he spotted a photo in a silver frame set prominently at the front of the mantle. He could see the crease where it had been folded in half, where Bella had hidden the half with herself in the scrapbook. It was the same picture he had placed under her floorboards on the night he left.

The night he had told the woman who would always hold his heart that he didn't want her.

Following his line of sight, Bella glanced at the photo. Taking a deep breath she took a step back from him. His scent was making her head spin and she needed to keep her wits about her. She was angry and she needed answers to her questions. Her traitorous heart was telling her to just fling herself into his arms and to just rest there, forever.

"Edward, I've learned some things in the last couple of days that have changed things that I thought were facts. Carlisle told me about the Pack, that there are werewolves in addition to vampires. That my dad's best friend could have been one himself! That his son is a werewolf." Bella spun away from him and walked over to the mantle. She picked up the frame and smiled down at the happy couple in the photo.

"The fact that you left these things in my room made me rethink what you told me that night. Your family has been helping me to ferret out the truth. They've told me what they think the truth is; the truth about vampires and their mates. The truth about how you might really feel." Her anger had subsided into sadness and tears were in her eyes as she looked at him from across the room.

"Edward, did you lie to me when you left?"

Many answers ran through Edward's mind. He could continue to lie to her, although Jasper was already thinking that it was too late for that. Jasper could feel how much he loved her, just like he had when he left, and he was thinking that Edward should just give in to the feeling.

Everyone was thinking the same thing. They knew he loved her and they were all telling him, and showing him through their memories, how much Bella loved him. He gasped at the depth of the agony he saw on her face in their memories. He felt their fear when she had almost faded away.

Rosalie was still calling him an idiot, nothing new there and he suddenly smiled at her.

"Rose is right…I am an idiot." Bella put the photo down and waited while he walked slowly toward her. "I should never have said those things, they were all outrageous lies. Can you forgive me, Bella? Can you let me try and make it up to you? I'll try until the end of forever if you'll just let me."

Bella's heart was thrumming, like it wanted to take flight from her chest. She took in another deep breath, tasting his scent as it surrounded her in comfort. "Edward, has anything really changed? Instead of making a decision unilaterally, you should have talked to me about your fears and concerns. We could have worked things through together. Then we wouldn't have been apart, and in pain, these last several months."

Lifting her hand to cup his jaw, Bella touched him for the first time in what felt like forever. Edward closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth of her touch. "Edward, can I trust you to not make decisions without me again? Can I trust you to be my equal? Yes, I get that I'm a human, but that doesn't make me any less than you."

As her hand slipped from his face, Edward felt the pang of separation and loss. It was just a whisper of what he had been through since September. Just a hint of what he had put her through. He could see that from the memories they were still bombarding him with. He had been wrong, on so many levels; he really did know that now. Squaring his shoulders Edward looked down into the face of his beloved, his mate, and he made a decision.

Alice tried to keep her squeal low when she saw the future begin to play out in her mind. Jasper clamped a hand over her mouth before the cry could get loose. Bella glanced at them and smiled weakly before focusing back on Edward.

Edward cupped Bella's face with his hands, gently wiping away the tears that had spilled over during their conversation. "Bella, I truly am sorry that I took away your choice in this matter, your prerogative in helping to make decisions that should have been made by both of us. I was wrong. Please let me make it up to you. Will you give me a second chance?"

Looking up into Edward's golden eyes, Bella felt like the hole that had lived inside her for so long was finally closing up. She knew it wouldn't be an overnight thing, that he couldn't just say he was sorry and it would wipe away the pain of the past several months. She would have to learn to trust him again and she didn't know how long that would take.

Even knowing that the hurt was still there, she also knew that she could never walk away from him of her own free will. He had thought that by walking away it meant that he loved her the most. She knew that staying together and working on their problems would be hard, but it would also prove their love. Relationships were a lot of work, but looking up into his face and feeling in her heart how much she loved him, it would be worth it.

"Yes, Edward, I will give you a second chance." Edward smiled, his eyes glowing in relief, as he leaned down to press his lips to hers, but a small hand on his chest stopped him. "Heed my words, Edward, if you ever do anything like this again, I will let Emmett hold you while I work you over with a baseball bat. Do you hear me?"

Rapidly nodding his head in total agreement while the family laughed in relief around them, Edward finally pressed his lips to hers. The women all sighed with joy at the sight.

Jasper was nearly a boneless pile of mush on the loveseat next to Alice from the feelings of happiness and satisfaction that was radiating off of the two of them. He groaned, but instead of rebuking them, he decided to bask in the feeling.

He figured that with these two, both strong willed and stubborn, there would be harder emotions down the road. For now, he would take pleasure in the bliss they were feeling. In the mood to share, Jasper flooded the room with the feelings and took in the smiles that were rampant from his family.

Their lives together seemed to end with a paper cut, but it looked like they were now on the right track. Slipping his arm around his wife, who had finally stopped squealing, Jasper decided that forever never looked brighter.

The End

Thank you, everyone who participated in the Nashville Relief Fund, either by donating to the Fund or by writing something for us. You are all such a blessing!

I hope you all liked the direction that I took this story...I really hated that they ALL left, I just couldn't believe that ALICE would leave her BFF without a word. I didn't think it would keep Bella from being totally depressed to have the family close, but I did think it would have helped. Also, by having Jasper really get to know her, to acclimate to her, things like papercuts wouldn't be such a danger.

Thank you all so very much for the reviews (which I still can't answer until I get back to my own computer), the alerts and the favorites. I've got 512 emails right now! Thank you for coming along on for the ride...

Dang...the reason I can't begin to answer reviews yet is because I missed my flight in Portland...road construction and then a three car pileup caused me to be delayed...the bad news is that it would have cost me a whopping $800+ to get another flight into OKC...the good news is that I'm now driving home with my family. Of course that's three days across the boring part of the USA...at least I have time to work on the GUARDING EDWARD outtake that I was commissioned to write by Team Guarding Kat for the Fandom Gives Back Auction...it's coming along well...if you are iinterested in reading that, make sure you have me as an Author Alert...

Again, thanks so much for all of your support!