"I'll need you to take a DNA test." He nodded and started to speak but I cut him off, "We've also hired a private investigator of our own."
His jaw tightened for a moment before relaxing, "That sounds like a good idea actually. I'd like to be involved, if you'd let me."
"Maybe, if you're cleared of all wrong-doing." I couldn't help but smile at how ridiculous I sounded. I knew there was more but for the moment I felt relieved.
He returned my smile before standing and taking both of my hands. "Come on, Tristan will be home soon."
"Wait, there's something else."
He stopped abruptly, his voice concerned. "What is it?"
"Last night, I think I remembered something."
I probably should have waited until we would have more time alone before telling Edward about my memory but I just couldn't keep it to myself any longer. I was relieved that the tension between us had eased. I couldn't help the wide smile that broke across my face as he took my hands and sat back down on the bed.
"Tell me." His eyes were wide and eager.
I felt shy suddenly, "Well, it was the scarf I think."
"I kept it. I couldn't look at it for a long time...but I kept it." His finger brushed my chin as he urged me to look into his eyes, "What was it?"
I searched his eyes, measuring the similarities between the face in the memory and the one before me. "You were so thin and your hair was a little longer." I brushed his hair behind his ear, "We were making love."
As I moved closer, easing myself onto his lap, I considered what I was about to tell him. This was a chance for me to see if he would tell me the truth, if I could trust what he was telling me about our past or if he'd just go along with what he thought I wanted to hear. With just a twinge of guilt, I leaned forward and kissed his earlobe.
"You used the scarf to tie my wrists." I whispered, it felt like my heart was beating out of my chest.
He tensed immediately. He hands circled my arms as he pulled away from me, "No, you're not comfortable with that. I wouldn't..." He shook his head.
"I know." I was smiling again.
His brows were furrowed in confusion before he understood. "Testing me?"
I nodded and his smile matched my own. I circled his waist with my arms and pulled him to me. "I've got you," I whispered against his lips.
Edward held me tight against him as the kiss became more intense, both of us reliving a moment in the past. This kiss was different; there was no frenzied rush of desperation. Instead, there was certainty. He inhaled deeply and moved his forehead to rest against mine.
The quiet moment was brief.
"Mom! Where are you?"
Edward gently squeezed my hand as Tristan's voice echoed through the hall. A feeling of peace and wholeness washed over me like a tangible thing.
Carlisle didn't stay, he dropped Tristan off and handed me a bag of take-out before leaving. Edward took the bag to the kitchen while I ran Tristan's bath. Tristan was rambling about the movie in between yawns.
"You can't stay in too long tonight, kiddo."
"Mom? Mom!" He yelled quickly as I walked out of the room.
I stepped back in, "Yeah?"
"Is Edward staying?" He sloshed around.
I leaned against the doorpost, "For just a little while, maybe. Why?"
"I want to tell him about the movie." He grinned, his bottle green eyes tired but bright.
I nodded, "Just yell when you're ready, I'm sure he'll still be here."
Tristan talked Edward into staying until he went to bed and I managed to talk him into staying until I went to bed. Fortunately, he decided of his own free will to stay long enough to wake me the next morning. I had been too distracted to set my alarm.
Tristan was quiet on the way to school but clearly excited about something. He hummed, giggled, and even skipped a few times. I fought the urge to ask him about it. I had learned that he would tell me when he was ready, until then, any questions would be met with shrugged shoulders and frustrated grunts. Still, seeing him happy made me happy.
I had expected to hear from Alice or Rose the night before. Rose was probably still angry but I was amazed that Alice had been able to reign in her curiosity. I wasn't surprised to see her in my office when I arrived.
"Do you have a few minutes?" She was sitting behind my desk.
I raised an eyebrow and pointed to the sofa opposite my desk. She rolled her eyes before rising and clicking across the room. When she had settled herself on the cushion with irritable "hmmph", I sat down and folded my hands on my desk.
"So, what's up?" I was feeling rather cheerful.
Alice shifted her attitude from annoyance to concern, "Are you okay?"
"It was a shock but Edward cleared it up." I couldn't help smiling. "We're supposed to have another test done in a few days."
She looked down as she fidgeted with her hands, "I need to tell you something."
"Okay." I was worried for a moment; I'd had about as many revelations as I could stand lately.
Alice took a few moments before she spoke, "It's about Edward, or really, it's about his house."
"What does that have to do with anything?" I briefly remembered her strange reaction when he had stopped there yesterday.
"It's where I found you Bella," She whispered, her eyes searching the floor.
I didn't know how to respond. I knew I should be surprised, but I wasn't. I didn't remember it, but it felt right somehow.
She waited a few moments before continuing. "I didn't even think the place was important. I just thought it was some shack you were squatting in. If I had, I don't know, just kept looking or waited; maybe we would have found him and everything could have been different."
"Did you tell him?" Edward had said that they talked, but he didn't mention anything about his house.
She shook her head, "No, I wanted to tell you first." I could see that she was still replaying the what-ifs in her head.
"Alice, you did the best you could. All of you did. I didn't exactly give you much to go on."
Alice sniffed a little before leaning back into the cushion, "I know."
"Edward said that you two talked, that you'd come to an understanding."
She smiled softly at this, "We did."
"And?" I waved my hands around.
Her smile widened, "It was private."
"Mary Alice Swan!"
"Fine." She hesitated a moment, her eyes going back to her manicured nails. "I asked him about the time you spent with him, the time you don't remember. He knew things that you wouldn't have just told some random guy." She dropped her hands to look at me again. "I know where he asked you to marry him. I promised I wouldn't say anything; and I won't. He wants you to remember on your own."
I fought the urge to pressure her for more and tried to suppress the tone of disbelief. "So, you believe him now?"
"I do." She stood and quickly moved to the chair directly in front of my desk. "It wasn't what he said or what he knew. It was in his eyes. When he talked about the two of you, his eyes lit up from the inside. It was like he was reliving everything." She inhaled deeply and offered me a sweet smile before sitting back in the chair.
I shook my head and flipped open my laptop with the hope of actually getting some work done. "You sound like quite the romantic all of a sudden."
"Maybe, but you know what I'm talking about. That look; the little light from the inside that shines whenever he looks at you. It's the same way with Emmett and Rose." She looked down at her hands, "I would toss the list completely for a man that looked at me like that."
Alice stood up quickly and slapped my laptop shut, just like she used to when I was in the middle of my homework. "Well, I need to head back to the shop. Try to get done some work done today, will ya?"
"Out." I grinned at her while I pointed at the door.
I heard her laughing after the door closed while I sat there, not so patiently waiting for the laptop to power up again.
The next few weeks were a blur. I still wasn't sure what Edward had said to Carlisle to win him over, but he had clearly decided that his intentions were pure. Rose still hadn't come around, but their interactions had improved, somewhat. They went from avoiding each other completely to grunts of acknowledgment if they accidentally crossed paths. Emmett lived for those moments; he began creating reasons to throw the two of them together whenever possible just to watch the resulting moments of awkwardness. It took them exactly four days to realize what he was doing; it was Edward's good humored response that finally won Emmett over.
I also had my first meeting with Jasper Whitlock, the owner of Whitlock and Associates. He had requested to speak with each of us separately in order to get a clear account of what had happened from each of our perspectives. I was nervous at first; the office was a bit stuffy and intimidating with dark paneled walls and heavy wooden furniture that had clearly been polished recently. Mr. Whitlock put me at ease. In simple jeans and a blue button up he seemed as out-of-place as I felt. After shaking my hand he flipped his shaggy honey blond hair out of his eyes and took a seat behind his desk.
After a few moments, I felt like I was discussing my life with a psychologist instead of a private investigator. I told him everything I remembered. He asked very few questions but took several pages of notes. I had thought about giving him my journal or at least telling him what it said but I was hesitant. I already knew that man I wrote about was Edward, aside from that, there was nothing to learn from it.
I left his office feeling lighter for having recounted my story, yet again, but this time to someone who didn't walk on eggshells or look at me like I was going to break down. He also didn't act like I was hiding anything like I had anticipated he would. I suppose hiring someone to find something you wanted to remain hidden would be a bit nonsensical.
The next day Edward and I went for the second DNA test. The local lab was so straightforward and business like that it didn't occur to me to be nervous. There were however, a few surprises when the results came in.
I met Edward at his office. I walked through the door and he immediately handed me two envelopes. One, still sealed, that confirmed that he was Tristan's father and the other, paperwork to revise Tristan's birth certificate. All that was needed was my signature and it was ready to be filed. I only hesitated for a moment; one stroke of the pen and I would be sharing my parental responsibilities, and more importantly parental rights, with another person.
It only took one look at Edward's face, full of hope and possibility and I signed.
"This will be a matter of public record soon. We need to discuss security." Edward's voice was all business as he placed the documents back into his briefcase.
It was not the response I was expecting. "What kind of security? Why?"
"For Tristan." He turned and leaned against the table before crossing his arms. "It's just a precautionary measure. I have a security team that accompanies me almost anywhere that I am scheduled to be."
I remembered the men in black, "I haven't seen them with you lately."
"As I said, only when my schedule is readily known." His whole body tensed, I could tell he was hoping to avoid this conversion.
I matched his stance. I was going to need a better explanation if he was planning to disrupt Tristan's routine. "Why would a five year old need security? I mean, big guys in suits following us to school? That might scare him. What about the other kids?"
"To hell with the other kids, Bella!" He shouted before pacing across the room. "Someone could take him...because of me or my family. Because they know we could pay a ransom or maybe they just don't like some decision I made and they want me to pay." He stopped and turned towards me, his fists clenched, "I won't let that happen."
I stood there in disbelief; I had never considered the possibility. "How would it work? I don't want him to be afraid."
"I'll put Aro on it." Edward walked back to me and put his hands on my shoulders. "He's very discreet; you'll never know he's there."
This didn't put me at ease one bit, "That just seems a little creepy, Edward."
"Not like that." He smirked, "He'll keep his distance when you walk Tristan to and from school. We'll let him know of any other events that he'll be needed for." His hands moved up and down my arms. "I've known Aro all my life, I trust him."
I tried to be reassured by his words. "When can I meet him?"
"He'll be up in..." he glanced at his watch, "five minutes."
His mood brightened with my agreement to meet with Aro. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. I felt the tension leave his body in a deep exhale as he brought his head to rest against mine. I was getting used to this; the quick shifts in Edward's demeanor; the way he expressed his anxiety over almost anything through not so subtle displays of control. The cold, heartless businessman that I was once intimidated by was no longer there; just a man trying to hold on the things he cared about most.
Aro was younger than I expected. He was in his early twenties when he began working for the Cullen family so he was now in his early fifties but could easily pass for mid-forties. He wasn't a huge, burly bodyguard; instead he was tall and thin. My first impression when he took my hand was that he reminded me of a snake; his lithe body and near-black eyes always seemed to be moving, always aware. But then he looked at Edward, his entire countenance changed. It was a look full of love and pride. It reminded me of the way Carlisle looked at Tristan and I couldn't help smiling at the thought of this man being charmed by a similar little boy.
Edward spent a few moments explaining exactly what we needed from Aro, the interaction was more professional than what seemed necessary and I knew it was for my benefit. I was assured that Aro would be waiting for us outside of my building in the morning and that he would make every effort to be discreet.
A few days later, we were discussing Tristan's plans for Halloween. Edward was appalled by my suggestion that we go trick-or-treating. I didn't give a damn what his concerns were, it was a tradition and I was not going to give it up because Mr. English Aristocrat was being paranoid.
"Are you trying to drive me insane?" He pulled and tugged at his hair. Aro observed this gesture with a slight grin, he had no doubt seen it often.
I couldn't understand why he was so concerned, "We go every year. Plus, Aro can come with us right?"
"Well, yes but it will be crowded; kids in costumes everywhere. There could be a lot of confusion." He paused, his brows drawn together in thought.
After a moment he picked up his phone and began clicking away, "I'm sure we can work something out. So, what is he going to dress up as this year?"
"Spiderman." I smiled, satisfied with my victory. It faltered a bit when Edward placed his phone back on his desk just before Aro removed his from his jacket pocket. I assured myself that he could be reading a text from anyone.
Halloween turned out to be a busy day. After I walked a very excited Tristan to school, I had to hurry to the office to meet with Mr. Whitlock. He was coming to my office so that everyone could be there to hear what he had found so far. The office would also provide some protection against being noticed by the press; we hadn't had too many problems with photographers so far but there were always a few here and there. A visit to a private investigator's office would certainly draw more.
Edward and Alice were already waiting for me; Emmett, Rose and Carlisle arrived a few minutes after. The uncertainly over what we were about to learn put everyone on edge. I may have actually startled a bit when Angela knocked on the door before letting Mr. Whitlock in.
He put us all at ease quickly, asking us to call him Jasper and making polite small talk as he unpacked a few documents and a small notebook. When he finally had everything arranged as he wanted, he asked us to sit. "I have been reviewing the preliminary information and I must say I'm surprised you needed my services at all."
He opened a folder and pushed it towards me, "Jane Doe, matching your description, collapsed on the street and was brought to the emergency room with head injuries on February 16. I spoke with the attending physician this morning. Dr. Malori stated that the female she treated had most likely been attacked. There were multiple bruises and abrasions, blunt trauma to the head and a probable concussion, no signs of sexual assault. The doctor said that the female would not say what had happened and became agitated when she was informed that the police would be taking a statement. Malori was with another patient when a nurse informed her that the female had calmed down and asked for pain medication. When they returned to the bed, the female was gone."
"I showed her this photo," He pushed a copy of my high school graduation picture towards me, "She was positive that this was the female she treated."
He looked at me expectantly. My mind was blank as I looked around the room; everyone was on edge, all of them waiting for me to say something. If the doctor had said it was me, I didn't doubt her. It simply made no difference; I still had no memory of the incident. Of course, if I had a head injury, it would explain my memory loss.
"I suppose that's it then?" It all seemed anti-climatic after all of these years.
Jasper shook his head, "Well, no. If anything there are more questions. According to Edward and your university records, you are accounted for until February 14. That means that this event, the head injury, occurred sometime between classes on February 14 and when you showed up at the hospital on February 16. You then disappear again until Alice found you on March 29." He rubbed his hand against his jaw, "It will be difficult to determine exactly what happened but I'm still looking, this is just a preliminary report. The important thing is, you were clearly attacked. Now, we can't say for sure that it was a stranger or someone who set out to do you harm."
I felt Edward's arm tighten around me as Jasper continued, "I don't mean to be presumptuous, Mr. Cullen, but you are aware that most of the information I collected should have been far easier for your own investigator to acquire."
"I was not aware of that, no. I wasn't really...available when he was looking into Bella's whereabouts. I trusted that he would be honest with me." Edward's voice trailed off as a he realized that his assumptions were wrong.
Rose brought him back to the conversation immediately, "How do we know for sure that Edward wasn't involved? He was with Bella all of that time; it was his investigator who found nothing." She turned a bit to look directly at Edward, "He was in a rehab facility, right? There's no telling what he may have done to her."
Jasper flipped through a few pages before answering. "Edward was on a flight to London on February 10 and arrived on time. Bella's attendance record at the university has her present until the 14th. His return flight was three days after she was seen in the emergency room. He stayed at the Waldorf until two men employed by Edward Cullen Sr. checked him out and transported him to St. Peter's Rehabilitation facility. Mr. Cullen received inpatient services for 30 days and had a return flight to London scheduled the same day he checked out of St. Peters. He was on that flight."
"But he hired an investigator; they should have found her!" Rose was on the edge of her seat.
Jasper rose to leave, "I'm sorry Ms. Hale but there is no reason to suspect Mr. Cullen of any wrong-doing. He was not in the country at the time of Bella's assault. As for the investigator, I am not here to attest to anyone's competence." He turned to me, "Ms. Swan, I'll get back with you as soon I receive more information. The most important thing for you is to be cautious. You could have been attacked by a random mugger, someone with a grudge against you, or someone who was upset by your associations with Mr. Cullen. Being that your relationship is becoming a bit more public this time around, I would be mindful of my surroundings."
"Thank you, Jasper." I stood to walk him to the front, Alice beat me to it.
She edged in front of me, "I'll walk you out."
I stepped out of my office and watched them make their way to the front.
"Emmett said you were from Texas." Alice asked rather loudly.
He glanced down at her briefly, "I am."
"I thought you would have an accent or something. You know, golly gee ma'am and all that." She put her hands on her hips as if she were challenging him, a typical move for her when she was trying to flirt.
Jasper studied her for a moment before replying, "It's a state, not an episode of Hee-Haw." He dismissed her as he pulled the front door open and walked out.
I dodged back into my office before she noticed I had seen.
When I turned and faced everyone, it was clear that I had interrupted an argument. Emmett had a hand on Rose's shoulder that matched the one Carlisle had placed on Edward's. Rose shrugged Emmett's hand away and crossed her arms. So much for quiet acceptance.
"I'm sorry Bella, but there's no way he couldn't have known his investigator was feeding him a load of shit!" Rose pointed a finger in Edward's direction.
Carlisle moved away from Edward and shifted towards his sister, "Rose, Edward did the best he could, just like we all did. We could have easily looked harder or hired someone sooner."
I decided to chime in, "I didn't want to know, not really." I was surprised by the words when they left my mouth; had I ever admitted that before?
"Let's just move on." I continued, "As far as we can tell, I was mugged on the streets of New York. I mean, I love this city as much as the next person but it's been known to happen. As for my memory, I suffered a head injury. Maybe I'll get some of it back, maybe not. I just want to move past it."
I noticed tears forming in Rose's eyes. I moved to her and put my hands on her shoulders, "We have come too far and have too much to be thankful for. We can't keep getting sucked back into the past. I'm okay, Tristan has his father..." I turned my head to look at Edward, "a father who loves him. You have Emmett. We have to move on." She sniffed as I embraced her. I felt her arms wrap around me as the door clicked open again.
"What did I miss?" Alice asked before stopping abruptly.
Edward was the first to speak, "We're just a little upset that we didn't do more." He leaned back on my desk before addressing Rose. "Rose, I know that you care about Bella. I know that's why you always give me such a hard time. I wish I could have been with her, but I am grateful that she's had you and Alice to help her through everything."
He moved closer to Rose; I stepped aside as he took one of her hands, "I also know that you're the reason that I have my son and I can never thank you enough for that." He squeezed her hand as the tears fell on her cheek. "I'm not going to argue with you anymore, Rose."
My jaw dropped as Rose pulled Edward into an embrace and she fell apart in his arms. I looked at Emmett who mirrored my surprised expression. We looked to Carlisle who just shrugged. After a few moments, Rose pulled back, sniffing and wiping at her eyes.
"We should go." She walked over to Emmett and took his hand.
He gave her a proud smile before nudging my shoulder with his fist, "See ya later, little mama."
"Yeah, I'm going to head out too. Will you be in today, Edward?" Carlisle waited by the door.
Edward's eyes were a bit wide and could tell he felt a bit overwhelmed, "Uh, yeah. After lunch, okay."
They all began milling out of the room, except for Alice. She had plopped down on my sofa.
"Well I never thought I see that happen." She gestured towards Rose before addressing Edward, "I'm assuming you have all sorts of security in place."
He nodded in response.
She leaned further into the cushions as her lips curved into a slight smile. "So, what do you know about Jasper Whitlock?" She twisted her necklace with her fingers as she stared at the ceiling.
Rose stepped back in, "Alice?"
"What?" Alice sat up, looked rather annoyed.
Rose scrunched her eyebrows, "Come on, Emmett knows more about Jasper than they do."
Alice sighed before she hopped up and gave me a tight hug.
I went the door, "You guys will be over for trick-or-treating tonight, right?"
I heard various versions of "yes" before the made their way towards the front. I shut the door behind me. Edward had moved to the sofa; his elbows were resting on his knees, his hands covering his face. I had no idea why he would be upset, I thought things were turning out better than we had expected.
"What's wrong?" I sat down beside him and ran my hand up and down his back, enjoying the way he felt beneath my fingers.
He peeked at me from beneath his fingers, "Something is off here, Bella." His knee began to bounce and I could feel his muscles begin to tense.
"Nothing's fine!" He stood up abruptly and began to pace. "Don't you see(?)! Demetri should have found you. He can find fucking anything, Bella, so why wouldn't he be able to find you?"
I didn't have an answer, "I don't know. It doesn't matter; we've found each other now."
"It doesn't matter?" He was yelling now. "I missed the birth of my son, five years of his life! I missed you! Of course, it fucking matters!"
"That's not what I meant. It's just that we can't change it now." I moved toward him slowly, it was like trying to corner a wild animal. "I'm sure he did the best he could."
"The best..." He shook his head, "It's my parents, Bella. They paid him! They didn't want me to find you, so they fucking paid him!"
I could tell that if he were anywhere else, not surrounded by my furniture and Tristan's toys, he would have been tearing the place apart. His fists were shaking when I took both of them in my hands.
"It's going to be okay." I brought his hand up and kissed his knuckles. "They didn't know."
He closed his eyes, the anger was still there but the trembling had stopped. He reached out and pulled me to him. "I don't care what they knew," his voice was calm, too calm.
He kissed my forehead, "They'll pay for this, Bella."
His quiet composure made me thank God that his parents were thousands of miles away.
I know its been a long time. RL has been a pain but I'm positive many of you are dealing with a lot worse so I'm not going to bore you with the details. Thank all of you who have checked in with me and sent encouragement my way, it really helps. It has been suggested that I finish the rest of the story and then post it all at once but I just don't want to do it that way. It wouldn't be fair to those who want to read the story as it updates. Those who want to wait until it's finished can just ...wait. I do plan to update more regularly now that the kids are in school and I can string together a few thoughts together without being interrupted to pour kool-aid or make PB&Js. Of course, we know what can happen to plans sometimes but I am do the very best I can. I am on the twitter now, I may throw out teasers or other random nonsense from time to time.
As always, much thanks and love go to my beta, nise and prereader; fit2beme. They find all kinds of mistakes and urge me to fix them. Any mistakes are due to my compulsion to keep tinkering with the chapter until seconds before I post it on ffnet. Graciehartford had to quit working with this story after the last chapter was posted. She was fantastic to work with and I wish her all the best in the world.